Buck Who? Chapter 18

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 18: …We’ve got fun and games.

May 2nd, 2668: The Community, early morning

Eyes as dark as the night peered through the leaves and branches. The form shifted his weight ever so slightly to re-adjust its balance. The movement sent a slight ripple through the tree, as if in protest, but anyone watching would attribute it to the slight wind.

Only a few dozen meters from where the form watched, two figures sat on the grass and enjoyed a meal. One was an older humanoid, well past her prime and cub-bearing years. The other was just that – a cub, although her resemblance to the humanoids was uncanny, not like her birth-mother.

It had been a sad, mournful day when the discovery of the butchery had occurred. So many of the forests inhabitants had been cut down and turned into food for the ground and the other life. The cub’s mother had been a great protector and hunter, and she was missed.

Especially now.

The figure watched, knowing deep in its chest the cub he was watching was in fact his. The cub should have had at least one sibling, and would have if fate had decreed otherwise.

He took his eyes away from the cub and shook his head. It would be so easy for him to climb down from his perch, kill the humanoid woman, and take his cub and leave. He ached to do just that, but he could not. As he watched, the creature could see how much the cub and the old humanoid woman had bonded. She had taken to the old woman as a surrogate mother.

Would it be right to take her away from the old woman? Would it be right to bring her into the fold and raise her with the other Uplifts, to become one with the forest and a protector? He just could not make up his mind.

They had known of the Uplift Otres and how he had joined the community. The small Otter Uplift had never been involved with the politics and the wardens that protected the forests. He was too enthralled with the humanoids to bother with them.

He had to wonder – was it because of his ability to fix the toys the humanoids used, or was it something else that drew them to him and visa-versa?  He had to figure upon it being his ability to repair technology that made him so valuable to the humanoids.

Watching as the old woman fed the cub, his cub, he felt the heavy, sharp claws of his forepaws dig deeply into the branch he was perched. That was what he should have been doing right now. If the she-bear he had mated with had been just a little more intelligent and not driven by instinct, his cub would be with him. No, he corrected, his cubs.

The instinct to leap from the tree and kill the humanoid to take his cub was almost overpowering. He took a deep breath and let it calm his nerves. He had to think about it, actually think. He was no mere animal - he never was. They were going to have to deal with the humanoids and come to an understanding.

The saving grace was how much the old humanoid appeared to love his cub. It caused his heart to ache; he knew he would have to leave her in the woman’s care.  Slowly he relaxed his grip on the branch and forced his claws to relinquish their grip.

He would remain in the area, and he would constantly watch. Staying hidden from the patrols and guards the humans sent out was easy. Slipping into and out of their community was a little more difficult, but he could do so without being spotted.

With a sigh, he sat and continued to watch his cub and the old woman.

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven, late night

“Wait a second, you’re not Tara! What the hell are you doing in her bed?” Declan slurred drunkenly. Babs was standing over at the foot of the bed, one hand crossed over and holding her side, the other covered her face. Her whole body appeared to shake with laughter.

“Your bed?” Ra’naa cried in outrage and struggled against his grip. “You’re in my room, you moron!”

The more she struggled, the harder his erection became and he could feel the heat of her skin as he pressed against her back. He squeezed her soft breast with his hand and licked the back of her neck. “Hey, since we’re both naked anyhow… I wouldn’t mind getting some of that tail,” he said huskily.

She growled inarticulately and the next thing he knew, Declan was flat on the floor. He looked up as she climbed off the bed and glowered down at him. “I don’t mind the floor,” he giggled.

“God, Doc, you are a maroon!” Babs scolded but she was still laughing.

Ra’naa came to stand over him and she lashed out with her tail. It wrapped around his neck and began to squeeze. “How about this for a little bit of tail,” she snarled.

He stared up at her naked body, still feeling highly aroused. “Damn, woman, I didn’t know you liked it rough!”

“Doc!” Babs cried out now, but there was still a trace of humor in her tone and on her face. “She is saying no, dammit!”

“No means yes,” he muttered and then gasped as the tail tightened. He began to see starbursts before his vision. With a wrench, Declan grabbed her tail and pulled her off balance. She let out a startled yelp and landed hard on him, her tail still wrapped around his neck.

They began to struggle, Declan giggling like the drunken fool he was. Ra’naa realizing just how intoxicated he was, especially after smelling his breath. She finally relinquished her choke hold on his neck and was straddling him, her hips on his belly as she held his hands down and up from him. “Declan, you’re drunk and you don’t want to do this. Think of Tara – remember, she loves you.” Her tone was softer and all the anger had fled.

He looked up at her and relaxed under her grip. “Right – Tara, she loves me and wants my babies,” he muttered and then closed his eyes. A second later, light snores came from his open mouth.

Ra’naa stared down at him and shook her head. She was still angry at the pilot, but it was fading fast. It really was a simple mistake. She knew it had to be just that. She glanced over her shoulder at his still fully erect manhood and felt more than just a twinge of desire. It took a supreme effort of will to shake it off. She was not going to have sex with the man, no matter how much she would like to. She was saving herself for the right man, and Declan was not that man. Besides, she loved Tara like the sister the Tiger-woman was to her. To have sex with the man she claimed as her own would be a betrayal.

She climbed off Declan and looked around the room, realizing Otres was nowhere to be seen.

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven, late night

The first thing Otres noticed when he entered the hotel and climbed the stairs was the stench of alcohol. He grinned and chirped, thinking someone must have had a good time. When he got to the second floor and noticed the scent trail went to he got concerned. His alarm grew steadily when he saw the door to the room was slightly ajar.  

He was not quite prepared for the site which greeted him when he burst through the slightly open door. There was Ra’naa, buck naked and sitting atop of Declan. Ra’naa, no! He cried out and suddenly the entire picture filled in. He took in the fact that Declan was not inside her, and her tail was wrapped around his neck. The bed looked disheveled, as if there had been a struggle. He could also smell her arousal, and that caused his head to spin. It was too soon after his encounter with the girl Arleen. There was also a very heavy scent of male sexual pheromones, which Otres attributed to Ra’naa’s heightened state of arousal.

Ra’naa’s head whipped around and she stared, wide eyed at Otres. “It’s not what it looks like!” She blurted out, half panicked.

Otres bobbed his head up and down and patted the air with his hands. I realize that now, but you better get off him before Tara comes in and finds you like that!

Almost reluctantly, Ra’naa stood up and relaxed her tail from around Declan’s throat. She walked over to the bed and removed the blanket. Wrapping it around her naked body, she shook her head. “He’s drunk and came into my room by mistake.”

Otres shook his head and motioned with his hand towards the light on the table. She saw it, despite the darkness filling the room, and lit the lamp. Scattered across the floor was a trail of Declan’s clothing, leading from the door to her bed. Without a word, they gathered the discarded garments and dressed Declan. He still had a massive erection and that made things – interesting.

“Where did you go?” Ra’naa asked as they finally laced up his boots.

Otres would not meet her eyes. Instead he looked over at the door separating the two rooms. I needed some air and went out for a walk. He looked at the now clothed by disheveled pilot. What happened here?

Ra’naa quickly related the story and by the end, Otres was chittering with laughter. At least you didn’t permanently hurt him!

“Oh, I would have ripped that off him if he wasn’t so drunk,” She growled under her breath. “I wonder what he was doing away from Tara, and where he got the drinks?”

At that moment there was a light tapping on the door separating the two rooms. Before either could respond, Tara opened the door and stepped inside. She had not bothered with using a blanket to cover her body, so she was naked. “Have any of you seen,” she began, the sleep still clear in her voice. She saw the snoring figure of Declan sitting on the edge of Ra’naa’s bed and frowned. “What is he doing here?”

“He mistook our room for yours,” Began Ra’naa. “And passed out inside the door. We were just about to wake you and bring him in.”

Tara rubbed her eyes sleepily. “Passed out?” She asked in confusion and then smelled the alcohol in the air. She frowned slightly. “Where did he get the hooch?”

That’s what we were wondering, Otres confessed.

She took a whiff of the air and her frown deepened. “He’s hotter than a three-balled Brute!”

Ra’naa laughed nervously. “I noticed,” and before Tara could say anything, she continued quickly. “Do something about it, would you? He’s producing so strong a scent I want to fuck him!”

Tara laughed; she actually laughed as she came across the room and took her lover’s arms in her hands. With Ra’naa’s help, they helped the unconscious pilot to his feet.

He opened his eyes slightly and grinned. “Whoa,” he slurred. “Too much to dri…” and his chin abruptly hit his chest. When they had maneuvered the man to Tara’s bed, she paused and looked directly into her friends eyes. “Why not join us?”

Ra’naa’s face turned a bright red and she could feel the heat of her embarrassment. “No, not a chance. I love you but that would drive a huge wedge between us.”

Tara nodded. “Not if I offered. I still want you too, you know.”

“I know,” Ra’naa replied. “Thanks, Tara, but no.” She left without another word and closed the door behind her.

Working quickly, she undressed Declan and smiled when she pulled off his pants. She gripped him in both hands and laughed ever so lightly. “There is no way I’m letting this go to waste!”

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven Early morning

When Declan awoke, he found himself alone. The sun was streaming in through the curtains, hitting him square in the face. He groaned and covered his eyes with his forearm. “Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad, I feel like shit,” he whined. Babs laughed and he winced. “Shit, Babs, cut me some slack!”

“Forget it ya screwball,” she laughed again. “You brought this on yourself!”

“I feel like I went six rounds with an Annunaki emissary,” he moaned and tried to sit up. A yelp of pain escaped as his manhood pulled and tugged on his leg, stuck there from the dried fluids. Opening his eyes, he noted how red he was, and frowned at the scratches and what only could be bite-marks on his thighs. His eyes widened as he noted how close they were to his balls. “Holy shit!”

Babs looked down and then bent closer. She reached out with one hand, finger extended to poke at his manhood. He was about to slap her hand away when he realized she could not physically interact with his body.

And then the memories hit him and he shuddered. “I can’t believe I fucked Ra’naa,” he whined remorsefully. “I was so drunk and she was there…”

For once Babs did not laugh at him. Instead she met his gaze steadily. “You didn’t.”

He blinked. “Seriously?” He looked at his member. “I remember crawling into bed with her, although I thought she was Tara, and trying to slide it between her butt-cheeks.”

“Feel your throat,” Babs suggested.

He raised one eyebrow and did as she asked. His throat was tender to the touch and he realized it was sore to speak and swallow. “Ow! What?”

“She nearly choked you out with that dragon-like tail of hers. She would have, if she hadn’t realized just how drunk you were,” Babs shrugged. She then reached down and stroked his thigh.

It shocked him to silence. He actually felt her fingers run across his thigh. He looked up at her, his eyes even wider and gaped.

Babs shrugged. “Oh, that…” She sighed. “I’ve been experimenting with your tactile senses, and I discovered I can trigger the nerves, allowing it to feel like I’m touching you.”

When Declan finally managed to get his voice working, he frowned. “That’s kind of creepy.”

She stared at him, her furry face emotionless for only a moment. She then leaned in and kissed him. Declan was even more shocked to discover he felt her soft lips against his, and could feel the whiskers tickling his cheeks. He reached out and touched his face. “That felt so real,” he said in wonder.

“I’ve been analyzing the tactile sensations from your memory and nervous system,” she grinned. “And I’ve wanted to do that for a very long time.”

He let his fingers trace where their lips had touched, it felt so real. “Babs, what are you telling me?”

She shrugged. “You’re my best friend,” she confided. “And I honest to god wish we could actually touch. We’ve been together for a very long time and I feel like I’m a permanent part of you.”

He leaned back against the headrest of the bed and took in her words. “This is pretty unexpected.”

“You got that right, Declan.  No matter what, I’m always with you.”

Declan got up and pulled his sticky member off his leg with a wince. He went over to the bowl of cold water and used the provided soap and cloth to wash his body. He looked down and saw that Tara had been – aggressive. He was used to the tenderness she had been exhibiting and this sudden shift was disconcerting. What was worse is could not remember any of it.

He remained silent as he cleaned his body. Some of the bites and cuts from her claws opened and were beginning to bleed freely. Declan shook his head and did what he could to clean the wounds. He was also lost in thought, thinking about what Babs had said to him. He did not want to admit it, but it sounded dangerously close to her admitting she loved him, and wanted to take their relationship another step further.

Declan dressed quickly as he pondered that. It was not unknown for AI’s to fall in love; especially the far more advanced and experienced models. Babs had been programmed with a woman’s persona and emotions, but it was tempered by logic and intellect. He knew the dangers inherent with allowing an AI to piggyback on an internal hard-drive, and wondered if their three-hundred plus years had somehow corrupted her programming?

“Any idea where Tara is?”

“I heard her get up while you were still out of it and mention something about getting a bite to eat. She called through the door to Ra’naa’s room and I heard Ra’naa reply she would join her.

He checked to make sure his pistol was secured on his hip and then he walked over to the door separating the two rooms and knocked lightly. There was an unexpected squeak of surprise and a second later the door opened. Otres was standing there, staring up at him. “Otres, I half-expected to find you down with Ra’naa and Tara.”

I just woke up and I was about to come over to see if you two were awake.

“Doc, he’s lying. I think the little shit was standing at the door listening to you talk to me.”

“Really?” Declan laughed slightly. “I was just going to do the same. I guess our ladies decided to leave without us this morning.”

Are you hungry?

“Famished, and seriously dehydrated. I need something to drink.”

Otres dropped to all fours and scampered through the room. Let’s go downstairs then. The hotel has a kitchen and dining area.

Declan followed the little Uplift and soon they were seated with Ra’naa and Tara. Both women looked tired, and Ra’naa gave him a sharp, angry look, but it quickly faded. He decided to jump straight into business in hopes of avoiding the rather uncomfortable encounter. “What are we doing today?”

“As much as possible. We’re going to see some of the arms traders and then go talk to the management at the Legion’s headquarters,” Ra’naa explained and then took a mouthful of scrambled eggs.

Tara leaned in and kissed Declan, letting her lips linger for only a second before pulling back. “Feeling better?”

“Dehydrated, and I have a bit of a headache.”

She smiled slightly. “We have to talk about you leaving me like that in the middle of the night.”

“It wasn’t the middle of the night,” he protested. “Besides I needed some time, to try and get my head wrapped around everything.”

The waitress came over and placed two plates filled with scrambled eggs, links of meat, and toast. She left a big pitcher of water on the table and then left.

“Still,” Tara grabbed a link and began to gnaw on it. “You should have told me.”

“Right, sorry,” Declan tried to look contrite. He also guessed maybe that is why he had so many painful scratches and bites on his body.

They continued to eat in silence, and Declan noticed Babs was standing at the nearest window, looking out into the street. When he looked, he realized he could see quite clearly and she must have been using his eyes to take in as much as possible.

About half an hour later, they were on the bustling streets of the city and were moving deeper into the reclaimed section. Most of the buildings were reclaimed residential structures, but they were interspersed with newer construction as well as what had been light commercial buildings before the fall.

All around them they saw every sort of business imaginable, all dealing with trade-goods brought in from the ruins of the city. There were vendors selling clothing, machinery of all make and manner, tools, even metals which had been melted and reshaped into bricks for ease of transport.

They were approaching what had been a school before the final wars. There was a huge stadium built into the rear of the structure. Even after all these years, the structure had returned to its original purpose. It was in fact a school. Declan stopped at Ra’naa’s prodding and he looked at a large sign near the entrance. “Grades 1-12, plus vocational and trade-skill training,” he read aloud.

An Uplift, this one clearly a canine with a humanoid body but dog-like face caught him looking at the sign. The Uplift was dressed in a pair of short, black pants, cut to accommodate his legs. He had on a white dress-shirt and tie and there were a pair of glasses on his snout. Declan figured the Uplift’s ancestors must have been German Shepherds.

The Uplift approached him and spoke in a gravelly but understandable English. “Are you looking to enroll?”

His initial reaction was to refuse, but curiosity got the better of him. Babs morphed her appearance to a female version of the Uplift and began to shamelessly flirt with him, despite the Uplift’s inability to see her. “Possibly, what kind of courses do you offer?”

The Uplift barked, actually barked a laugh. “How about narrowing it down a little for me, what are you interested in learning?”

“Well, how about robotics and android maintenance?”

The Uplift looked surprised and then nodded. “We have that available, and some excellent hands-on training. The scavengers bring us a wide variety of bots and droids every week,” he tapped his muzzle thoughtfully. “It also depends on your background; such courses have a lot of prerequisites.”

“What’s with the big stadium?” He quickly changed subjects.

The Uplift gave him a predatory grin. “That is where people who happen to have…” he paused and considered his words. After a moment he continued “problems can resolve them without getting into trouble with the Legion.”

“Doc, I think I have a pretty good idea what he’s going to say,” Babs told him.

Don’t keep me in suspense.

“Think of the countless movies and vid’s you’ve seen, where two enter, one emerges. Sort of a Gladiatorial arena.”

Declan said as much and the Uplift nodded. “Indeed, and that is why our streets are so much safer than many other communities, even the scavenger shanty-town set up near the ruins of Vancouver.”

He noticed the others were waiting, and Tara had a clear look of impatience. He nodded at the Uplift. “Thanks, I’ll have to think about it.”

The canine Uplift nodded in return and then left.

They continued to walk, and passed a shop which sold rebuilt and scavenged robots, androids and the parts for each. Although he was very tempted to go in and see what they had, especially with Babs oohing and ahhing, he declined. He wanted to do on his own. There were butchers, bakers, craftsmen of all manners and every conceivable item imaginable.

Declan had to admit he was impressed.

They passed a massive hospital, which looked as new and modern as anything he had seen in the years before the final wars. He stopped and stared at the structure. Even Babs was impressed. “I’m detecting all sorts of wireless communication, and the presence of at least a dozen or more AI’s. This place is well equipped.”

“What’s up with the hospital?” Declan asked casually.

“It was one of the first facilities the Scav Cartels commissioned. They purchase and trade for every piece of medical equipment and device they can. The fees they charge are pretty exorbitant, but you won’t find a better facility to heal anywhere in at least a thousand kilometers,” Ra’naa explained.

“Oh, I don’t know…” Tara said with a grin.

Ra’naa rolled her eyes and her tail began to twitch. “Really, Tara?”

“The Order of the Twisted Helix  provide free medical care and healing.”

“They don’t have the same tech though!” Ra’naa said, throwing her hands up. “If I needed medical help and we didn’t have access to the stuff dad has hoarded, this is the place I would want to go.”

Ladies, let’s not get into such a stupid argument, Otres interjected. I know of the Twisted Helix and they are good people. Most of the healing they perform is through mutation or the concoctions they have discovered. It’s all natural. Both have their advantages.

They continued to argue over the merits of both as they approached the inner wall of the city. There were numerous gates opening into the ruins which lay only meters beyond the heavily fortified and guarded wall. Members of the Legion patrolled on the top of the wall, which had to rise at least seventy or more meters into the sky. It was constructed of the remains of other buildings, reinforced with scrap metal and concrete.

There were men and women of all races and creeds coming and going at a nearly constant pace from the various entrances. Declan stared in wonder, seeing the variety of life, as well as the fact not a single individual was unarmed. The amount of weaponry he saw being openly carried would have given a peace officer before the final wars a coronary.

Yet it was peaceful. Chaotic and seemingly random, but still peaceful.  

They walked along the wall until they came to a large structure. It looked as if it had been a strip-mall, but was now devoted to one form of merchandise – weaponry. Each section of the strip-mall catered to one form or another of weapons. There were primitive ranged weapons such as bows, crossbows and thrown weapons. Another shop catered directly in bladed weapons. There was a section devoted to ammunition, while most of the structure was used for the display and sales of all manner of firearms.

Declan blew out his cheeks, seeing the selection. Otres looked up and grinned at him and at the very same time he and Babs spoke. “Cool your jets, Doc, if you get any more aroused, you’ll poke a hole through your pants!” Babs laughed.

It Looks like you’re in love, Otres chuckled.

“You two look around,” Ra’naa instructed. “I’m going to speak to the owner, see if we can make a deal for his wrecked and useless weapons.” She looked at Otres. “Will you come with me? I could use your expertise.”

Of course!

And they did just that.

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven Early morning

“I’ve seen but not initiated contact with Ahteen,” Wrench spoke into the tiny communication bud in his helmet. He had just finished eating and was sitting in the small room he had rented for the night.

“Explain,” came the reply.

“We have a situation. The Purists are here as well. I have personally seen Bradly Travis. I estimate he has brought at least a full squad, if not more with him.”

“Observe for the next twelve hours and report once again,” replied the speaker.

“Understood.”  He broke the connection and removed his helmet. The feeling of being away from the installation was exhilarating. He rarely left the installation and the freedom was almost intoxicating.

Wrench got off the bed and left the room. He had his helmet with him and it was stowed away inside the backpack he was carrying. A moment later he was in the streets. A few quick and discrete questions gave him the information he was seeking. A group like Ra’naa’s was not hard to spot in a city this size. Though there were plenty of Exotics and others, they still stuck out. A Dragon Exotic, a black tiger exotic, an Otter and a human.

About half an hour later he was standing on the street corner near the wall. He saw his quarry. They were examining weapons that were for sale. That did not surprise him. There was a war coming and they needed firearms, armor and more importantly manpower. Without any of the three, the war with the Purists was futile and they would lose.

He watched as the Tiger-Exotic and human went off to inspect some of the exotic energy weapons. That left Ra’naa and the little Uplift. They entered the building and were quickly lost from sight.

Wrench stood there and pretended to look over some of the weapons on display, only a half-dozen meters from where he waited. He was conflicted. To fulfill the orders he had received, or to go and initiate contact as soon as he spotted Ahteen. He decided he would wait until she emerged from the building before contacting her.

The weapons displayed were varied and many, especially the hand-crafted blades, were beautiful in their deadliness. Over the centuries since the end of the final war, hand-crafted weapons had returned, and with that came mastery. Some of the blades were magnificent, and he was overwhelmed by the craftsmanship evident. One caught his eye and he indicated the blade. “May I see it?”

The proprietor nodded and then carefully handed it to him. “Watch the edge,” he said.

Wrench lifted the weapon, whose blade was silver-blue. It was incredibly light and felt like it would snap the first time it was used. Heedless of the warning, he went to test the edge with his thumb. The proprietor paled and then shouted. “Stop, you’ll cut your thumb right off!”

Wrench instantly halted his movement and carefully placed the blade back on the display case. “Molecular edged?” He asked.

The proprietor, a man in his mid-to-late forties, nodded. “You know your weapons.” He came over and picked the blade up by the hilt and placed it back on the wall, out of easy reach.

“How much?”

The proprietor looked him up and down, as if gauging his worth. After only a moment’s hesitation, he answered.

Wrench blinked. Not only was the weapon expensive, he realized he had enough to pay for it, and still have plenty left over. “Does it have any other properties?”

The man shook his head in the negative. “No, I can tell you it was created before the fall, however. We don’t know the history of the weapon, but I am assuming it was made for a collector. They rarely used these types of weapons, as it turned out. They preferred to keep them for display.”

“Do you think it might have been created by the Tuatha?” Wrench asked.

The man blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Wait, are you talking about the aliens?”

Wrench nodded. Most of the population would not know about the aliens, other than long-forgotten rumors and legends. He knew all about them, as did the people who lived at the Installation. The Tuatha were renowned for using edged and other melee weapons, and if history was correct, had taught humanity how to create the molecular edging.

He nodded. “Yes, the aliens.”

The proprietor shrugged. “I have no idea, maybe?”

Wrench pulled out his stash of platinum and gold and handed over the amount the man requested. A second later, he held the magnificent blade in his grip. The man produced an equally beautiful scabbard and belt, which Wrench then strapped around his waist. “Thank you!”

Happy with his purchase, he continued to browse the wares and armor. In the space of almost an hour, he kept his eyes on the Tiger-Exotic and the human, but never approached either.

As he pondered the goods, there was a commotion behind and to the south. Turning, he spotted an armored figure surrounded by a squad of men. Wrench felt his heart go cold when he realized it was Travis and his men approaching. He might have to make contact Ahteen sooner than planned after all.

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven, morning

“And that’s my final offer, take it or leave it,” the man said. He was a burly fellow, standing at two and a half meters in height. If it was not for the height and the muscles, he could have passed for a human.

Ra’naa stared up at the owner of the shop and chewed on her lower lip. She was about to purchase over two hundred badly corroded and damaged weapons. They had been discovered in a sunken ship out in the bay, and over the centuries, water had seeped in and entropy, combined corrosion, had its way. Still, it was a mixture of energy weapons and man-portable magnetic accelerators, including a dozen sniper rifles. The price was more than she was willing to pay. Essentially, she was paying the price of one for every ten she took off his hands.

That was the only stickler for her. She had spent a great deal of gold, platinum and gems and knew the man was just being greedy. The money had gone to purchasing well over a hundred firearms – everything from pistols to rifles to assault rifles. She even managed to purchase several energy weapons as well as explosives. On top of that, she acquired a few dozen suits of combat armor. She had been hoping for some powered armor, but a single suit of that would have taken all the money they had brought. They would still owe the arms-dealer.

She uncrossed her arms and picked up one of the sniper rifles. The barrel had been corroded to the point she could see through in spots, although the magnets seemed untouched. She figured if she salvaged all the individual components, she might get a total of ten working weapons from the batch.

“Well?” The mutant owner asked.

Ra’naa had one last card to play and she decided to go with it. “Listen, Mar, I plan on using these against the Purists, you know that!”

The man named Mar winced at the mention of the mutant hating group.

“So, I’ll give you seventy-five percent of what you’re demanding and I’ll take the weapons. You know you’re taking me by asking so much. I will be lucky to get ten working models out of this batch.”

“Purists, eh?”

She nodded. “Yeah, the same assholes who would kill you on the spot just for existing. And me,” she pointed at herself, “and him,” she waved a hand at Otres, who was studying an intact pistol. “And anyone who doesn’t look perfectly human.”

“Alright, you drive a hard bargain, girl,” he said, holding out one fist, which was bigger than Ra’naa’s entire head.

She reached into her jacket and pulled out a heavy bag and opened it. Carefully, she poured the contents of the bag into his hand and waited as he counted out the strips and chits until he had the agreed upon amount. When finished, he dumped the remaining into her waiting bag.

“Glad we could come to an agreement over this,” she said, finally relaxing and smiling.

He nodded and his entire demeanor changed. “How’s your father doing?”

She shrugged and glanced over at Otres, who was trying to heft an assault rifle, bigger than he was. It caused her to smile and she chuckled. “He’s doing well, but as you can figure, he’s preparing to retaliate against the Purists.”

The man nodded and ran a thickly calloused hand through his midnight black hair. He was not a bad looking man, but his sheer size and build intimidated most people he encountered. Ra’naa knew he was of a sub-group of humanoid mutants known as the body masters. They had numerous physical mutations, and were typically massive in size and strength.

“So little lady, you found a steady yet?” He grinned.

That was not quite what she had been expecting to hear, but she shook her head and closed her eyes. Her tail began to twitch in slight agitation. “No, not yet.”

“How about dinner with me tonight then?”

How to let him down without hurting or insulting him, she thought. “I’m sorry, Mar – we need to keep this on a purely business level. I don’t have anything against you, you’re our arms-dealer, and that’s how it has to remain.”

If he was disappointed or angered, it did not show. “Can’t blame me for trying,” he laughed lightly. “Or is it you prefer girls?”

For the second time in less than a minute, she was slightly shocked. “No! Not at all, I just have to keep our relationship purely professional!” Ra’naa did not like where the conversation was going so she decided the best tactic would be to change it. “When can you have these delivered?”

He nodded. “I’ll have everything crated up and send them out in the morning. You want to pay for extra security?”

She nodded and counted out another handful of platinum strips before handing them over to Mar. “Definitely. What’s the point of buying all this firepower if it falls into the hands of bandits or tribals?”

He pocketed the platinum strips. “Or worse, the Purist assholes themselves. The last thing we want to have happen is you paying for their firepower.”

“The Legion will handle the transport and security?”

Mar nodded. “Yes, not even those half-wit genetic purists would think about attacking a heavily armed convoy, nor would they want to mess with powered armor.”

Ra’naa looked wistful. “I’ve always wanted to be trained in the use of armor, but due to my ancestor’s obsession with dragons,” she waved a hand at her tail. “Unless I have a suit specifically designed for me, it will never happen.”

“Something might be arranged,” Mar gave her a wicked grin. “Maybe we could talk about it over a meal and a beer?”

She laughed and slapped his biceps. It felt like she was hitting a granite wall with her hand. “You never give up, do you?”

“Nope.”

Ra’naa put her hand over her face and tried to hide the grimace. She looked at Mar through her fingers and was about to reply when Tara rushed towards them, Declan in tow. “We need to leave, now!”

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven, morning

With all the confidence borne of arrogance and supposed birthright, Bradly Travis and his guard boldly walked through the entrance. He only barely managed to keep from pushing the non-humans they encountered out of the way, knowing doing so would have severe repercussions.

He paused here and there to look at the weapons on display. He admired the killing devices and day-dreamed how well they would work against the genetically inferior scum he saw around him.

His guards began to gather up weapons and they were making their way to the back of the store. Almost out from nowhere, one of the biggest mutants he had ever laid eyes upon stood, barring his way. “Leave, Travis, you and your kind are not welcome here,” the giant rumbled.

Bradly fought the urge to draw his weapon and gun the mutant down, just barely. “Out of my way, freak. I don’t deal with your kind. I’ll buy these weapons from the owner.”

The large mutant leaned down and stared at Bradly, the hate barely concealed in his craggy face. “I am the owner and I will pick and choose who I deal with. Now get the fuck out of my establishment, or do I have to bring in the Legion?”

He could not remember the last time anyone, let alone a genetic inferior had spoken to him in such a manner. The instinct to pull his weapon and put a large caliber round between the mutant’s eyes was nearly overpowering. A fine red haze came over his vision and it took him several long seconds to get his mounting rage under control

“Fine, asshole,” Bradly replied when he felt he had re-established enough control.  He took a sidelong glance around and noticed there were several members of the Legion standing outside, their weapons drawn and already pointed at him and his men. He knew there was no way to possibly win in this situation. “Drop the toys and let’s go,” he ordered.

The first of the weapons hit the floor when there came a low, deep growl from the mutant. “Your motherfucking men will put the weapons back where they found them, and they will do so with respect, or else.”

The sheer nerve of the mutant stunned him. Did the mutant not have a clue who he was addressing? Frankly, the creature should be cowering in abject terror, not trying to bully him. Slowly he turned and glared up at the mutant. “Or else what, freak?”

“Or else the Legion will either escort you out of the city, or simply kill you and your men,” he spat, “on the spot.”

There was the sound of rushing feet and a few muttered curses. Bradly felt his face growing hot with the mounting rage and embarrassment. He turned away from the mutant, very slowly, and found that four of the Powered Armored members of the Legion were facing him.            

They had their weapons drawn, although one was cracking his gauntleted knuckles.

“Put the weapons back where you got them, and do so very carefully,” Bradly ordered, although it pained him greatly to do so.

As him men complied, he returned his gaze to the mutant. “This isn’t over, freak.”

“Yes, yes it is. And call me freak one more time and we’ll meet in the arena.”

Bradly ground his teeth together, fighting the urge to do just that. Without another word, he and his men strode out of the building.

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven, morning

Tara, Declan, Ra’naa and Otres left the large weapon shop, keeping well out of sight of Bradly and his men. Wrench had been about to go and warn the young Ahteen woman when her friend Tara had spotted the men and went in to warn her.

He had to admit when he saw the Legion escorting the Purists out of the building under guard, he was deeply pleased. Then again, if the mutant owner of the building had sold weapons to the purists, that would have surprised him.

Deciding to keep at a discrete distance, Wrench followed as they ducked into several alleys and side-streets and made their way back towards the middle of the city. He was sure to keep at least a half block or more away from his quarry, not knowing if they were paying all that close attention. He silently cursed himself for purchasing the sword, otherwise he could have changed jackets. Doing so would have altered his appearance and as such would have reduced the chances of the group noticing him tailing.

Twelve hours, technically about ten and a half to go before he was to finish his observation and make contact with the group. He wondered why his handlers back at the Installation had decided on that. Wrench had grown up with them, and had learned everything he knew from them, but he was not part of them. What they did often made little or no sense to him, and when he questioned it, the answer was always the same. Do not ask. It is not for you to know. If you need to know, we will tell you.

The only saving grace is when they thought he should know, they told him in very clear terms. It still rankled him, but he had grown used to it.

Finally they returned to the hotel they had been staying at. It was closer to the brothel than he had realized and he considered switching venues. They entered the building and disappeared from sight. He paused and considered his options. If he hung around for the next ten hours, it would draw way too much attention. Then again if he left and returned to the hotel he had rented, it was possible they would leave without him knowing.

In the end, he decided to return to his hotel and get some rest and food. A simple spy-cam, strategically placed, would suffice and he could use that without fear of discovery.

Wrench dug into his jacket and pulled out the tiny device. To the naked eye, it looked like a pin. He quickly glanced about and found the perfect location, a couple of loose bricks in the wall of the building. It was a simple matter to slip the device into the crack and when he looked, he knew no one would see it. You had to know what you were looking at.

Shielding his actions with his jacket, he pulled out a small data-pad and in seconds had the camera synced and he was pleased to see it was transmitting. A couple of deft strokes of his fingers and he had the device programmed to alert him if Ahteen or the others left the hotel.

Satisfied, he turned and nearly tripped over the little Uplift Otres.

Why are you following us?

***

May 2nd, 2668: Scav Haven, morning

Bradly had his helmet on and was in a livid rage. He screamed, cursed and used such colorful phrases that many of the men with him were in shock. Anyone watching would simply see a figure dressed in powered armor, surrounded by bodyguards dressed in combat armor. They would never have guessed what was going through the man’s mind.

“Spread the word, I’m looking for an assassin,” he demanded over the links. “We know the Whispering Wraiths have a guild set up in the city, and as long as they are human and not the fucking genetic freaks, I want to hire one!”

The squad link was quite until one of his men spoke up. “I’ll get right on it,” he said. They continued to walk and one of the guards broke away from the group and disappeared into the crowd.

It was not long before they were in the residential section of the city. They had found a sympathizer to their cause and the man had opened his home to Bradly and his inner circle. It was a good place for them to meet, and at least two of his men would stay in the house. He and the rest of the men found other lodging in the city. Several were already engaged in various tasks, but Bradly just wanted to get the meeting over with and then relax.

Bradly knocked on the door and it was opened almost instantly by an old, stooped man. He had already removed his helmet and the man took a single look at his face and scowled. “I’m assuming it did not go well?”

“Understatement of the century,” he grumbled as he pushed past the man into the meager dwelling. It was not richly appointed or furnished like his home back at the compound, but he had endured worse in the field. The floor was bare but clean and the old man had a serviceable couch and several chairs in his living room. Bradly chose to sit on the couch, which groaned and protested under the weight of his armor.

“Tell me what happened,” the old man asked.

Bradly told him the story of the mutant shop-keeper, who had forced him out of his store. The man grimaced, hate for the mutants showing on his wrinkled face. He looked towards the large window, through which sunlight was pouring through, adding life to the small room.

“I’ve got some news for you then,” the old man said after a minute’s silence.

“Don’t keep me waiting,” Bradly prodded.

“Word has spread like wild-fire through the city and those of us who hate the mutants are ready to join your side. We’ve even gotten word of a few of Legion soldiers who are willing to desert and bring what they can with them.”

Bradly perked up, feeling some of the anger wash away. “For real?”

The old man nodded. “For real.”

“And they’ve been told where to go?”

He nodded.

“You’ve also told them about the genetic screening we perform, right?”

Again, he nodded. “You’ll lose some recruits that way; the touch of the mutation demon can hide in the most human-appearing of us.”

“There will always be those who have to be sacrificed. It can’t be helped. Once the world has been purged of mutants, Exotics and others, then we can finally begin to clean up and rebuild.”

“What are you planning on doing now?”

Bradly considered the question. He might be able to accomplish several of the tasks his father assigned him, as long as he sent the right people. Many of the proprietors were mutants and as much as he loathed having to deal with them, some of his men were capable.  They would have to be the ones to acquire the goods he wanted. Finding recruits and manpower, he could handle that.

“Keep the word out and see how many more we can recruit. A city this size should give us a few hundred, maybe more.”

The old man nodded.

After finishing the conversation, Bradly and his guards left the old man. They made their way through the city to the rooms they had rented. Once inside, Bradly donned his armor and helmet so he could speak to his father.

It took several minutes for Guardian to summon Martin, but when he did, Bradly noticed how pleased his father looked. He asked him as much.

“It’s really quite simple, son,” Martin grinned. “One of our techs was able to re-establish contact with the satellite. We even know who is responsible for taking it away from us.”

That was indeed good news. Bradly quickly filled his father in about the men he was sending to the compound for screening. If it was at all possible, his father’s grin grew even wider. Even when Bradly mentioned the one group wanted weapons and armor, the smile did not falter. “Tell him we will have what he requested, ready for those who pass the screening and are capable of joining our ranks.”

Bradly nodded. “It’s not all good news though,” he frowned.

Martin raised a single eyebrow in curiosity. “Oh?”

Bradly explained the situation with the arms dealer. Martin listened, his hands held before him, the smile disappearing, but he did not frown.

“I see,” Martin said. “There are other avenues open for trade, it just might take a little longer for you to sort them out. I have complete faith in you.”

Bradly nodded, feeling a little relieved. “I’ll see if I can send someone who was not with me back to that mutant piece of shit. If my man can succeed in on purchasing the weapons you asked for, think of the irony – dying at the hands of his own merchandise.”

Martin laughed. “Oh yes, that would be justice,” he leaned back and considered his next comment. After a minute he nodded. “Good, although right now what we need more than the weapons are the recruits. A lot of those coming to join our ranks have weapons and armor of their own. Of course what they have is not the same quality we possess, but beggars can’t be choosers.”

He nodded in agreement. “I’ll let the hunter and his rangers know then and I’ll send them to the compound.”

“We will be waiting.”