Buck Who? Chapter 25

Chris Van Deelen

Chapter 25: Home sweet home

May 10th, 2668, The Community

            “Make sure to separate the weapons by category!” General Max Ahteen demanded. The shipment from Scav Haven had arrived only two days previous, several days late.  He had been working with the men and women of the compound ever since to get the weapons ready for the repair work they would require.

            Max had to admit he was impressed with the amount of weapons and other goods his daughter had managed to secure. He just hoped that Otres would be up to the task. When the caravan first arrived, he was going to have all the weapons and gear delivered directly to Ra’naa’s workshop.

            That quickly changed when he saw how much was arriving. It really was quite daunting. Instead, he had all the weapons sent up to the lodge. There was a much larger workshop located on the ground floor, and there would be plenty of people to help with the task.

            He glanced around, rubbing his horns as his tail swished. The war was coming, something they knew long before, and he was still worried. There had hardly been a peep of activity regarding the Purists over the past week and then some What were they up to? He mused. It cannot be good, whatever it is.

            At long last the weapons were separated into types, and then matched up with identical models. The majority of the armaments were slug-throwers, but there were a significant number of energy weapons. Once his daughter and her companions returned, they would have to work on those first.

            “Alright, everyone wrap it up and go grab some dinner. We’ll continue in the morning,” he declared. There was a rousing cheer from the workers, as many had been hard at it since sunrise. He was impressed and heartened by the dedication his people showed. It brought a smile to his lips.

            In one’s and two’s, the men and women of the community filed out of the build, heading to their respective homes. Max felt his own stomach growl in anticipation of a meal, and he smiled. It was not that far for him to go. Just up a flight of stairs and he could sit down to a nice meal. He knew it would be ready for him, his personal staff was that dedicated.

            When he arrived at his personal office, he was not surprised to find there was a covered plate waiting on his desk. A pitcher of water and a couple of beers, each dripping with condensation, were standing next to the plate. He felt his mouth water as he sat down and uncovered the meal. It was standard fare for the community, a meal of vegetables and fish. He had secretly been hoping for steak, but with the catch the fishermen brought in, he was not surprised.

            Just as he was finishing the last bite of fish and washing it down with his second beer, there was a discreet knock at the door. He looked up, slightly surprised. He had not been expecting anyone. With a shrug, he pushed the plate aside and covered it. “Come in,” Max called out.

            “Sorry to disturb your supper,” a young man in hunters garb apologized. He had short, black hair and there was nothing really exceptional about the man. “I was told to report directly to you.”

            Max raised one eyebrow and then rubbed his horn. “Then have a seat,” he indicated one of the chairs in front of his desk. “Who sent you?”

            The hunter looked nervous, and Max realized he was not one of the members of the community. The man held a worn and dirty ball-cap in both hands and he wrung it, displaying nervous tension. At least he did not smell, Max mused.

            “I have news,” he began and then looked at the chairs in front of Max’s desk. As if expecting the chair to bite his ass, he lowered his body carefully and slowly into it. “I would like something in return.”

            Ah, Max thought. That’s why he’s so nervous. “What is it?” He said aloud.

            “Some gold would be nice,” the hunter looked hopeful.

            Without hesitation, Max reached into drawer on his desk and pulled out a small satchel, which was almost empty. He dumped four gold chits into his hand and casually tossed them across the table.

            The hunter stared down at the offered gold and with the speed of a striking snake, he snatched the chits. They disappeared from view. “Thank you.”

            Max leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “Depending on what you have to say, you might earn a little more.”

            “Yes sir,” the hunter swallowed. “I was hunting to the north, and…” he began and relayed the story of how he had witnessed the battle between the drones and the hidden defenses. Of course there was no way he could know of the hidden installation or the inhabitants who were fighting for their very existence. He finished with describing the nearly blinding flash of light and then the huge mushroom-like cloud.

            Max felt his blood run cold as sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead. He reached back into the drawer and was disconcerted to see the hunter cringe. Had the man expected him to draw a weapon and kill him? Such an act would never occur. It was not his way, nor should anyone ever worry about it when dealing with the community. He pulled out a couple of strips of platinum and slid the money across the table. “Your information was indeed very valuable.”

            The platinum disappeared and the hunter stood up. “Thank you, Mr. Ahteen.”

            Max nodded. “Feel free to stay if you wish. You must know by now there is going to be a war between us,” he waved his hand in a gesture to encompass the whole community. “All mutants, Damaged, Uplifts, Exotics, Gaians and others against the Purists. Your help would be appreciated.

            The hunter shook his head. “I’m staying out of this. I have my family to worry about,” he gulped.

            Max nodded. “You know where we are if you change your mind.”

            “Yes, and thank you,” the young hunter turned and left, the door closing behind him.

            For long minutes, Max Ahteen stared at the closed door. Someone had used a bunker-buster or even a low-yield nuke along the shield. He had long suspected at least a few of the defensive installations were inhabited. The fact someone, most likely the Purists had used a weapon of mass destruction went to prove that point.

            He wondered if it was the Androids, the Installation he had heard about through his daughter. Leaning back, Max scratched the flesh around his left horn, lost in thought.

***

May 10th, 2668, Scav Haven

            “What the hell do you mean we’re not coming home?” Bradly said in as calm a voice as he could muster.

            “Exactly what I said,” Martin Travis replied back. “You are to stay put in Scav Haven until reinforcements arrive. We will set up a rendezvous on the outskirts of the ruins and there you will take command of the task force.”

            When his father had initiated contact, this was the last thing Bradly had expected. “Dad, what the hell?” Thankfully the conversation was taking place over a private, encrypted line. He had his helmet on and was standing perfectly still; making damn sure no one could eavesdrop on the conversation.

            “We have located our new enemies, the ones who took control of our recon satellite. After scouting the location with a drone, we sent in a trio. All were lost, but we did manage to drop a nuke on top of the target,” Martin explain patiently.

            Bradly thought about it. They possessed several low-yield nuclear weapons. They would do the job, and the EMP pulse generated would wreak havoc on any electronics possessed by the target. He was not all that keen on heading into a hot zone, armor or not. Bradly realized he had a duty to perform, no matter how much he wanted to go back home.

            “Well?” Demanded Martin after Bradly had not spoken in nearly a minute.

            “Right, sorry dad. Okay I will be waiting. Have you sent any anti-rad drugs along with the forces?”

            “Of course, I have sent plenty of anti-radiation medication as well as purgers. As long as your armor has not suffered any significant damage, it should protect you from any radiation.”

            “Right,” Bradly replied. “When should I expect the task force?”

            “Fort-Eight hours from now, barring any unexpected attacks or delays.”

            “Got it.”

            Martin disconnected and left his son to ponder and begin planning the attack. He had promised to send visual data via the recon satellite, after Guardian and his techs had finished enhancing and cleaning the image.

            “Alright men,” he announced over the loudspeaker. “We are going to be staying another two days, might as well unpack and rent the rooms again.”

***

May 10th, 2668, The Installation

            Awoan stared at the glowing holographic display and chewed her lower lip. It was a strange habit she had picked up from watching the humans who lived in the installation. Try as she might, the habit stuck and was nigh impossible to break. She should have heard back from Wrench one by now, and that worried her.

            Had he made contact with Ahteen? Was he somehow delayed or worse, waylaid while trying to make contact? He was a good man, highly skilled and trained by the best in the installation.

            She began to pace back and forth. The room was fully lit now, since the herculean efforts of the humans and Androids managed to restore power to much of the installation. There were still hundreds, if not thousands of man-hours worth of work to accomplish, and their resources were dwindling rapidly.

            Looking at the holographic displays, Awoan was angered to see how many cameras and sensor pods had been taken off-line. The installation was nearly blind until they could manufacture and place the replacement units.  What made matters all that much worse was the fact the enemy had dropped a low-yield nuclear weapon on top of the compound. All the surface structures had been obliterated, but thank the creators they had managed to get everyone inside the installation. Still, the surface structures were almost irreplaceable and as such many of their most important inner defenses were gone.

            Maybe she should try and contact General Ahteen directly? She thought it might be better to use his daughter as the go-between, since they had a cool yet friendly relationship with Wrench One.

            Awoan just was not sure what to do. Maybe she should convene with the council and voice her misgivings and ask for advice. She shook her head. No, that would not do. They were too busy at the moment trying to bring all the damaged androids back online. After all, it was one of the reasons they chose her as the leader – she was not a pure logical thinker, she tended to use her emotions far more than any other type of android. It was also her experience with the humans and their customs were far more valuable than a pure logic thinker like the scientists.

            The decision was made in a microsecond. She reached out and activated one of the communication screens.

***
May 10th, 2668, The trail along the coastline, northwest of the ruins of Seattle

            “Oww, god-dammit!” Ra’naa cursed as she lay on her stomach. She had pulled her pants off and was sheltered from the eyes of the other members of the group.

            Tara tsked and continued to rub the healing salve into the wound on her rump. “Well, in the future, don’t get shot in the ass!” She had finished removing the round, and instead of stitching the wound, decided it would be best to shove the salve in as deep as her finger could go. Tara was in one of her moods again, and it showed.

            Otres stood and watched the proceedings, wincing and chirping in sympathy. At least you won’t be sore for very long.

            “Small comfort that is,” Ra’naa grouched. Already the chemicals in the salve were beginning to work and the pain from the injury had begun to lessen by degrees. She had to admit she was more annoyed with the damage to her pants than the actual wound itself. Tailoring pants to fit her tail was always difficult, but the tailors back at the community were used to such tasks. She smiled, actually smiled. “I guess this will give me an excuse to wear one of my dresses.”

            Oh, the white one?  Otres perked up, his nose in the air, whiskers twitching.

            “We all wear white,” Tara said aloud, as she cleaned the blood and salve off her hands in a basin of water. She used a towel to dry her hands and then began to pack everything up. It was unusual, her being the one to treat wounds. Ra’naa had far more training when it came to such activities than she did, and was a far more skilled healer. It is rather difficult to tend to a wound in your own ass though.

            Naked from the waist down, Ra’naa rummaged through one of the saddlebags they had removed from the Brutes. Everyone else was settled down, including the family they brought with them. The family had eaten and both children were sound asleep, curled up between their parents.

            The man Andy was still very sick. He had been vomiting almost every hour, mainly bile. Arleen was doting over him, helping the humanoid mutant where she could. He was suffering badly from the effects of the poison he had been exposed to.

            She pulled off the remainder of her clothing and then slid a white dress over her slim body. It hugged her curves and molded to her shape. Ra’naa was a shapely and beautiful woman in her own right, although she never seemed to grasp that concept.

            She re-entered the camp and looked around, her hands on her hips as she took in the scene. To think that just over a week ago it was only her, Tara, Otres and Declan. Four people in total, who had left to visit the city of Scav Haven. Now there twelve returning.

            Not only was the mission to the city successful, but they were coming home with even more weapons and armor. The hunters had proven to be well armed, although the armor they had been wearing would need some serious fumigation. Joey was happy to get his beautifully crafted blade and weapon back from the would-be purists.

            They had made camp about two hours after rescuing the man named Andy from the Flyders. She wanted to ensure they were far enough away from the flying arachnids, which might be out to get revenge for so many deaths. Everyone helped get the camp setup, even the wounded man Joey. He had suffered quite a few wounds in the fight against the purists and the Flyders, but he was stoic about doing his share.

            Otres walked beside her, carefully avoiding eye contact with the young Otter-Exotic. Ra’naa could sense he was troubled, but she respected and loved him enough not to push the subject. He would speak to her when he was ready.

            She knelt beside the fire and stirred the coals, causing a plume of sparks to burst forth. The sparks and embers slowly fell back to the ground. There was little chance of the fire spreading, as the ground had been carefully cleared and a pit dug to encompass the blaze. She pushed the small foil packages around in the coals. It was meat they had brought with them from the city, and it should be just about ready for consumption.

            “Do you want some of this, or would you rather have bread and some fruit?” She asked Otres. Ra’naa was still kneeling next to the fire, enjoying the warmth it radiated, despite the evening being pleasantly warm for a change.

            It smells great, so I’ll have some, but you know, I’ll take some fruit as well. He twitched his nose and looked around the camp. His eyes fell upon Tara and Declan, who were sitting together, their heads close, speaking quietly. Cassidy and her husband were still awake, watching everything and everyone. When he looked at Joey, he paused. The man was obviously in a lot of pain, although he would not allow it to show on his face. Ra’naa?

            “Hmm?”

            The human, Joey, he’s in trouble. He’s hurting a lot and I do believe he’s simply being stubborn in not asking for help.

            Ra’naa stood up and brushed her hands together. She smoothed out the folds of the dress and then walked over to where the first-aid kit was stowed. A moment later, she stood before the wounded man who lived with androids. “Joey, let me help you.”

            He looked up, his face calm and impassive, but the eyes held the truth. He was in a lot of pain and had chosen to ignore it and help out as best he could. “I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” he said in a carefully controlled voice.

            She could smell the blood from his many wounds. “Don’t lie to me,” she scolded gently. “You need our help and if you want the truth, I hate people who lie,” she knelt beside him. Carefully she reached out and began to unlatch the armor he wore. “Help me help you.”

            He searched her eyes, wanting to protest and moved to push her hands away. She grasped his hands in hers. Her flesh was so warm to the touch and her fingers were strong, powerfully strong but infinitely gentle. Joey sighed and then let go of her fingers.

            Together, they removed his outer armor she shook her head. The scent of blood was far stronger now and she could see where the man had taken a lot of damage. His torso had several large wounds, and she could see it was where the armor had not provided the proper cover. “Take your clothes off,” she said. “I can’t properly treat your wounds like this.”

            He stared at her, incapable of hiding the surprise. “Seriously?”

            “Very,” she said. “Those wounds need to be cleaned and sealed, and I can’t very well do that with you dressed.”

            Reluctantly, he pulled off his top and then his pants. He was soon clad in only his underwear. Otres stood and examined his body, making sympathetic chirps. He’s strong, I’ll give him that, the little Uplift commented.

            Ra’naa barely supressed a gasp, seeing the full extent of the wounds. She was glad to have insisted on treating him now. A few more hours and they would more than likely have become infected.

            Opening the first-aid kit, she pulled out the instruments and items she would need and then set to work. Joey never once winced or groaned, and the entire time his face remained impassive, although she had caught him staring at her more than once. She decided to ignore it as she worked.

            Before long, the wounds were cleaned and the healing salve had been applied. She finished bandaging the damage and then stood. “How does that feel?”

            “Better, thanks,” he met her gaze straight on. “Thanks again for helping me against those Purists. At least I got my weapons and my bike back,” he sighed. “If you wouldn’t have come along when you did, I’d probably be dead and they would have everything.”

            “We seem to be running into one another on a regular basis,” she said, crossing her arms under her breasts.

            Joey nodded. “Yeah, that we do. And yes, it is on purpose,” the young man admitted. He was having a hard time meeting her eyes, as his gaze kept sliding down her soft curves. The campfire was directly behind her and the glow from the blaze shone through the fabric of her dress. It was very distracting. He coughed and cleared his throat, then reached for his pack. He had plenty of spare clothing stowed away and quickly dressed.

            “Your people want something from us, don’t they?”

            He nodded as he pulled up a pair of jeans and zipped them closed. His mouth had gone dry and he felt his pulse race every time he looked at her. The curves which were highlighted by the fire were dazzling.

            Otres stood there, watching and listening. His foot was tapping impatiently and his arms were crossed. He was staring directly at Joey and then looked at Ra’naa. He returned his gaze once again to Joey and then as if a lightbulb had gone off in his head, he smiled a toothy smile.

            To Joey’s mounting horror, he realized the little Uplift understood what the young man was feeling. He decided to head off any possible confrontation at the pass and spoke. “I recently discovered my home came under attack.”

            She blinked, and her mouth fell open in shock. “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

            He shook his head, feeling supremely stupid. “Because I had other things on my mind,” he indicated the wounds she had so recently tended to.

            “When and who? Do you know?”

            He nodded. “Yesterday, and we’re pretty sure it was initiated by the Purist movement.” He pulled a T-shirt over his head and smoothed it across his body, making sure not to dislodge any of the bandages.

            “What can we do?” Ra’naa asked. She stepped closer and placed one hand on his chest.

            Joey recoiled from the touch as if he had just been scalded. He looked embarrassed and before she could ask, he answered. “Get back to your community as soon as possible, or contact your father.” He turned and looked in the direction of the community, as if he could just make it out through the foliage. “We are sure the Purists will be following up the attack with a ground assault. All our external defenses have been destroyed and we’re all but helpless.”

            The Dragon-Exotic frowned deeply. She was not sure if her father would be willing to put the lives of his people on the line. The war against the Purists was inevitable, but why risk everything, especially for people they did not even know.

            Joey could see the look of concern on the woman’s face and his heart sank. He was still not completely sure how to interpret the emotions people wore like a badge, but he was learning. It was obvious to him she did not like what she had heard. She could not have been any clearer even if she had spoken the words. His heart fell like a stone dropped in a fathomless pond.

            You need to contact your father, Otres suggested. He could see where it was going and decided to intervene. Think about it, Ra’naa. If the roles had been reversed, wouldn’t your father reach out to possible allies in our time of need?

            “I don’t, know, Otres,” she admitted. “He’s a very strong willed man and…” She almost blurted out the fact her father was probably the oldest living man in this part of the world, but she caught herself. “And he’s cautious. I know we’ve been burned in the past and we don’t want to risk it happening again.”

            “Well I…” Joey began and then he stopped. He could hear the almost inaudible signal coming from his helmet. The Installation was attempting to make contact with him.

            “Hey, Ra’naa,” Tara called out almost at the same instance. “Your communication link is going off.”

            They looked at one another for a heartbeat and then moved away, each reaching for their respective gear.

***

May 12th, 2668, The community

            As the convoy of Brutes and the single hover-bike arrived at the gates, Ra’naa jumped off Zeus’s back and ran into her father’s arms. They embraced as he kissed her on the forehead, directly between her horns. “Welcome home, sweetheart!”

            She kissed his cheeks, feeling a sudden overpowering urge to cry for some reason. She could not explain it but she did not like how it made her feel. Instead she broke the embrace and stepped back. “The past month has been pretty crazy, hasn’t it?”

            Max Ahteen nodded in agreement. “It sure has,” he placed his hands on his hips and looked at the motely group that arrived with Ra’naa. “I see you’ve brought us some new recruits,” he said in half jest.

            Cassidy and her husband led their two children up to come to stand before the leader of the community. “Hello, Mr. Ahteen. We would like permission to join your community,” the man, Aaron, announced formally.

            Max offered his hand and the two men shook. “You’re welcome here, you and your family. I’ll have one of my assistant’s help you find a place to settle in. I’ll want the four of you to come and speak with me at the lodge,” he indicated behind him.

            The man nodded and his family moved away.

            He continued to look over the group, and when he spotted the android, he shook his head and grinned slightly. “Babs, nice to meet you in the flesh,” he held out his hand.

            Ra’naa, Tara and Otres exchanged glances and as one glared at Declan. He gave them a devil-may-care grin and shrugged. “He figured it out right away,” he said.

            The android took the offered hand and shook it. “Nice to be able to speak to you directly, Mr. Ahteen,” she grinned and then released his hand. “I’m looking forward to being able to contribute in the war against the Purists.”

            “Who are these two?” He waved a hand at Arleen and Andy.

            “I’m Andy,” the man said. He was still looking a little pale, but the worst of the effects of the spider venom had worn off. “This is Arleen,” he placed one hand on the Otter-Exotic’s shoulder. “We recently left Scav Haven and decided to offer our services.”

            Max nodded. “You look capable, what can you do?” He asked the man.

            Andy went over what he did at the brothel, and that he could fight and use swords and firearms. “I can learn, and I’d be willing to do whatever is needed. After all,” he grinned and pointed at his head. “I’m a mutant too.”

            “How about you, young lady?” Max asked, looking down at Arleen. She was at least forty or fifty centimeters shorter.

            She had a hard time meeting his eyes. “I can clean, and I can help out in other ways,” she answered hesitantly. “Um…”

            Max waited patiently. “Go on,” he encouraged.

            Arleen looked as if she was about to burst into tears. “I don’t really know what I can do otherwise,” she sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

            She was a prostitute in the city, Otres projected helpfully. I’m sure we can find something for her to do, and she can still learn how to fight. She may be small, but I’m sure we can find some weapons for her to use or train in.

            “Your past means nothing to me,” Max said, trying to sound open and friendly. “And Otres is right, there are plenty of tasks you can help with and we can train you how to fight. In fact,” he said, his voice sounding more serious. “You need to learn, this is going to be a long war and you will have need of combative skills before it ends.”

            She nodded. She and Andy moved to the side.

            Finally it was just the original group and the young man, Joey left. He came up and offered his hand to Max, who took it and they shook. “Joey, or do you prefer to be called Wrench?” Max asked, releasing the young man’s hand.

            “Joey,” he said and then grinned slightly. “Wrench One is what I use when I’m in the field on a mission.”

            “I’ll remember that,” Max nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve been in contact with your people, as you already know.” He stepped back. “Alright I expect all of you to be at my dinner table this evening,” with that, he bowed and left.

            “Otres?”

            The little uplift looked up at the mention of this name. He saw the Otter-Exotic was staring at him, her big eyes searching. “Have I done something wrong?” She asked earnestly.

            He squeaked in confusion and rubbed his whiskers. I don’t understand, what do you mean?

            “You’ve been avoiding me since we joined up.”

            Otres chittered a nervous laugh. No, I haven’t. You’ve been very busy taking care of your friend Andy. There was nothing that I could have done to help, so I left you alone.

            Andy, as if he had heard the telepathic message, took that moment to turn fifty shades of green and he had barely enough time to move over to the gutter before he vomited. He wretched and wretched until there was not even bile left in his stomach.

            Seeing her friend and protector in such distress, Arleen stood beside him and gently rubbed his back as he bent over with his hands on his knees. The man was the epitome of misery.

            You should take him to the infirmary. It’s been a couple of days now and he’s still not recovered. They might have something to help him feel better. Otres suggested. He had come over and was staring at the sick man, concern written on his little furry face.

            “I have no idea where that is,” Arleen said aloud.

            “Otres knows,” Declan offered helpfully, only to gain a glare from the little Uplift. “He can show you.”

            Tara watched as Otres began to protest, squeaking and chattering, his tail bobbing up and down in protest. In a moment he threw up his hands and resigned to the task. I’ll do it. Turning, he looked at the miserable man and the Otter-Exotic Can you support him, or do you need me to help? He asked.

            She had one of Andy’s arms draped over her shoulder and was supporting his weight. She shook her head and smiled at Otres. “I have him, I’m a lot stronger than I look,” she said with a dollop of pride.

            Babs walked up to them and she took the man’s other arm under her shoulder. “It will be easier if I help you as well,” she said.

            Otres nearly sighed aloud with relief. Ah, good, in that case I’ll go with Ra’naa and see about the weapon shipment…

            “Not a chance, squeak-toy,” Declan grinned evilly. “You help that nice young girl and her friend, show them where the infirmary is located.”

            If looks could kill, Declan would have been reduced to a pile of ash. Otres snarled something incomprehensible but quickly fell into step ahead of Babs, Arleen and her friend. I’ll get you for this; He projected so only Declan could hear his thoughts.

            What? He asked, all innocently. You have a great opportunity with her, Otres, don’t let it slip away.

            “Joey, why don’t you go with them?” Ra’naa suggested. “The wounds are healing nicely, but it would be a good idea if you had one of the medics take a closer look. I’m not a fully trained doctor, so there is a pretty good chance I might have missed something.

            There was no argument from the young man. He nodded and fell in behind the growing group.

            Tara took Declan’s hand in hers. “Let’s go home. I could use some rest before we go for supper tonight.”

            When the former fighter pilot looked into her eyes, he could see there would be little rest involved. The nookie on the trail had been all but non-existent, especially with the people who had joined them. He gave her a salacious grin. “Sounds good to me.”

            Soon Ra’naa found she was alone. She let out a deep sigh and rubbed her tender tush. The wound had healed as quickly as she had expected, but it was still uncomfortable. A nice massage would help, but there was no one who she trusted to do that for her. Especially where she needed it.

            Sighing, she turned down the street and headed towards her rustic home. It really was good to be home.

***

May 12th, 2668, Outside Scav Haven

            It took Bradly several minutes to realize he had never seen such a gathering of his forces before. They were on the highway, about five kilometers south of the city of Scav Haven. That is where his father had finally ordered him to meet up with the reinforcements. There had to be at least two hundred men in the gathered expeditionary force. All of the gathered warriors were veterans of the various campaigns they had waged over the past months. Each and every single man had taken lives.

            In other words, they were blooded.

            As such, they had the honor to be chosen for this mission against the enemy which had taken control of their satellite. Had the enemy been taken out by the small tactical nuke they used on them? Bradly certainly hoped not.

            The large gathering of men and combat vehicles was still located inside the area regularly patrolled by the Legion, but they were not there to cause trouble with any of the mutants and other genetically inferior creatures they encountered. That would bring down the wrath of the Legion and they had better weapons, armor and equipment.

            For now.

            It struck Bradly odd that his father had ordered this task-force together so quickly after using the refurbished drones and the nuclear device. He realized with a start his father did a lot of things he found questionable. For the briefest moment in time, he had the thought of overthrowing his father and wresting control of the compound from the old man.

            It was only for a moment.

            Bradly loved and respected his father. He knew whatever the man did; he had his reasons, even if Bradly did not understand them. It was like that growing up. His father often had him do tasks which he found strange and sometimes thought he was being punished. It was never the case – well, usually never. As it turned out, once he had grown, he realized the reasons behind the actions.

            “Sir, we’re ready to roll out on your orders,” a captain and overall leader of the expeditionary force said. He was wearing heavy combat armor, enhanced with an exoskeleton and a personal shield. Bradly knew the man well and had a good working relationship with him. Unlike so many of those under his command, this man did not fear Bradly or his father – instead he respected both.

            “Good, Tennison. We will leave in five minutes.”

            Captain Tennison saluted. “Will you be riding in the C&C vehicle with me?”

            Bradly nodded. “I’m ready to assume control of the expeditionary force.”

            With that, the captain led him to the command and control vehicle. It was an actual military C&C vehicle, which had been part of the compounds inventory since Owen Travis had founded the survivalist retreat.

            The vehicle was sleek instead of blocky, and hovered about a meter off the ground. It was quiet, unlike some of the actual tanks they possessed. The C&C vehicle had a variety of sensors and communication links, all of which could be pulled into shielded compartments on the outer skin. This prevented their loss or disable during combat.

            Getting close enough to the vehicle to damage it would prove to be difficult, as the vehicle was surrounded by a powerful shield. When activated, the shield would stop most weapons fire, and could hold up to a half-kiloton nuclear detonation. The problem is those inside would not be shielded from the radiation released during such an attack. Still, he knew better than to get cocky. There were plenty of measures which could be taken to get past the shielding.

            Someone could sneak up while the vehicle was bunkered down and place a leech mine on the shield. Such a tactic would be deadly, as the shield would be rendered useless in a matter of minutes.

            There were also a number of heavy weapons located around the C&C vehicle, including powerful blaster cannon as the main armament. There were several Gatling lasers – one located on the top in the commander’s turret, two on either side, as well as a third on the rear.

            Approaching the vehicle, his suit indicated the weapons were inactive. The electrical plating, which prevented trespassers from climbing on board, was likewise inactive. Bradly grabbed the strategically placed handles and clambered aboard. He quickly took up the position in the commander’s turret and then settled in.

            A few seconds later the holographic display lit up before his eyes and he saw that every vehicle in the convoy was a bright green, indicating they were ready to roll. “That’s it people, let’s move out!”

            When they rolled past the road leading to Scav Haven, Bradly turned and watched the men, women and genetic inferiors stop in their tracks. They were terrified of what they were witnessing and rightfully so. Pure humans were the rightful masters of the world and they were displaying their might.

            It was tempting, oh so tempting to turn the Gatling laser upon the groups of humanoids and mutants. Then again, the odds of killing many of the genetically inferior freaks of nature were remote. Most of them knew what they were looking at and were making themselves scarce. They did not want to be around if the Purists suddenly opened up with the weapons they had at their disposal.

            Approximately half the convoy had passed the road when the first Legionnaires appeared. They were not the usual soldiers, but instead had the best powered armor Bradly had ever laid eye on. The suits were late generation models, used during the last days of the final wars. Each suit glowed a bright blue, indicating the powerful personal shields were active and they all had weapons aimed in the convoy’s direction.

            It took a lot of will power to keep from audibly gulping when Bradly noticed at least one of the soldiers was armed with a micro-nuke launcher. Just a single round from the weapon would be sufficient enough to take out a significant portion of his force.  He and his C&C vehicle would survive, but once the other soldiers opened up, his life-span would be measured in seconds.

            He opened a convoy-wide channel and cleared his throat. “You all knew this was what we would end up facing,” he said in a calm, confident tone. He was feeling anything but, still he had to make it appear as if this did not faze him. “Keep your hands off your weapons and make sure that any vehicle-mounted guns are pointed at the sky. We don’t want to give the Legion any reason to open fire.”

            A symbol appeared on each vehicle as the commanders inside relayed the orders and signaled they understood what he was demanding. He nodded in satisfaction.

            The fact the Legion had turned him down still caused his hackles to rise. They should be on his side, helping them rid the world of the genetically inferior creatures spawned by the radiation and toxins.

            Martin Travis had hinted at something, that they had discovered a cache of weapons and equipment. Bradly had wondered what other surprises his father had in store.  Could they possibly have come into possession of an EMP device? He hoped so, as he would love to drop it on the Resort and take out the nanotech undead inhabiting the island. He would dearly love to see what was stored beneath the crumbling ruins of the old hotel.

            As the C&C vehicle ate up the ground, he called up the map. It was linked to the recon satellite and in an instant he could see the trail for hundreds of kilometers. A frown creased his face and he zoomed in on several sections of the coastline to the north. “What the fuck?”

            The ancient highway and the trail paralleling it had become choked with debris and was washed out in several areas. The spring thaw in that section of the coast must have been a lot heavier than they were used to seeing.

            Where had all the debris come from? It looked as if entire cliff sides had collapsed, covering hundreds of meters. Some of the slides went as far as the shoreline, sometimes even further. Had the nuclear detonation over the site been responsible?

            Bradly brought up the vehicle’s computer system and had it do a quick calculation. From the debris and the washouts, the computer quickly deduced it would take an additional four days to get to their destination.

            If they had nothing but hover-tanks, APC’s and other similar modes of transportation, it would not be an issue. The problem was the majority of the vehicles were rebuilt salvage, vehicles they had amassed over the centuries since the end of the final wars.

            Those vehicles were the old fashioned wheeled types, which were not very good for travelling off road, especially in the forests and hills of the coastline. If they drove carefully, they should have no issues, but the last he wanted was to have to call his father for more wreckers or salvage workhorse vehicles to come and pull them out of a jam.

            Well, the raid against the assholes who tried to steal their satellite would just have to wait a few extra days.

***

May 12th, 2668, The Installation

            Awoan stood before the gathered androids and the few humans who lived with them. She was disheartened to see so many gaps in the ranks. Over ninety percent of the androids had been disabled during the EMP blast that preceded the nuclear attack.  Of that total, around twenty percent suffered catastrophic damage to their CPU’s and as such could not be revived. It was a huge loss to the community and if she had an organic heart, it would be breaking.

            “Thank you for your diligent and non-stop effort when it came to bringing your fellow androids and critical systems back online,” she paused and took in the gathered faces. Most of the humans were beyond exhausted; some were barely capable of keeping upright. She knew they had worked extra hard to bring as many of the Androids back as they could, and she was grateful beyond measure. “To my human friends, you have done more than enough. I am ordering you all to take a minimum of twenty-four hours to rest, recharge and recover.”

            Several of the men and women began to protest, but she held up a hand, silencing them. “There will be no argument. We estimate an eighty-three percent probability the Purists who launched this attack will follow up with a ground assault. This should occur in the next seven days. Each day that passes beyond this estimated time will reduce the odds of the attack. Still, I need you all to be rested and ready for action.”

            There were a few mumbled comments, but in the end, she knew the humans would end up obeying her wishes. She bowed deeply to her humans and then stood straight and tall. “Please leave, get your rest. We have all but used up our resources and there is no budget assigned to the suspected attack. We will either triumph, or we will perish. It is that simple.”

            One of the humans, a woman in her early twenties, paused and held up a hand. “Awoan?”

            “Yes?”

            “What about the children?”

            “I will be assigning several of you as well as a pair of combat androids. We have been in contact with the settlement to the south, and they have agreed to assist us in our time of need. Max Ahteen will be sending troops to help reinforce our installation. He has agreed to take in anyone who cannot fight,” she paused and then nodded to her. “You and your children will be safe, I can promise you that.”

            One by one, the humans filed out of the meeting hall. Soon she was left with her fellow androids. They all wore calm expressions, but she could feel the tension in the air, as if it was a physical force. Her brethren were worried, just as she was. “How goes the restoration, and defensive preparation?” She asked.

            “We have triggered the explosive charges along the highway, causing numerous avalanches and blockages. If the Purists wish to use that route to attack us, their movement will be greatly impaired,” answered a burly, homely android with a bland face. He was one of the worker units, one of the first to have been revived by the humans. His strength and skill were invaluable when it came to repairing the damage to the installation.

            She nodded, pleased at the report. “Excellent news, anything we can do to slow the impending attack is going to buy us time to continue our own preparations.”  She glanced about the gathered androids and picked out one. “What is the status on our surface defenses, are we able to salvage any of the weapons?”

            The woman, a plain-looking android with a thin frame and large eyes shook her head slowly. “Sorry to report that all our surface systems were destroyed by the nuclear blast. Even those we managed to retract into their bunkers suffered heavy damage. If we had the time, I estimate we could bring back approximately twenty-five percent. If the Purists do not initiate the assault in the next eight point six days, I can have three gauss batteries online.”

            “Thank you,” Awoan said stoically. “What is the current radiation count on the surface, and how far does the contamination spread?”

            One of the scientist androids held up a thin hand. He was tall and dressed in the typical lab-coat all the scientist models habitually wore. “We measured a rad count of five hundred rems per hour on the surface. The radius is only half a kilometer, with the radiation count dropping by one hundred rems every hundred meters. Our emergency escape tunnel is clear of the zone. By my estimation, the radiation should decay to background levels within nine months, twenty-two days.”

            The high levels of radiation on the surface would hinder the attackers, unless they had a good supply of anti-radiation medication and rad-purgers. Then again, maybe the Purists did not care what happened to the rank and file troops they were sure to bring. She gave her head a mental shake – that was not likely.

            “Make sure to send out our most resilient workers into the zone and set up numerous traps and explosives, especially around the ruined main compound. When the Purists attack, we want to inflict as much damage as possible before they breach our walls.”

            “How can you be certain they will do so?” One of the androids, an athletic model, asked.

            “You all knew and worked with humans before their final wars reduced the world to the state it is in. You all know how stubborn and illogical these humans can be. At the same time, how capable of brilliance they are,” she sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I am assuming the Purists are fully aware of what they are getting into and have planned out contingencies. We are in for a hell of a fight.”

            “Is there any way we might be able to use the radiation contamination to our advantage?” The scientist android asked. She had a thoughtful look to her on her plain face. “Some sort of lure we can use?”

            No one had any suggestions, although it had been worth the effort. It was a shame they could not use the electronics they had available, to spoof the sensors the Purists would be using to test the environment. If they had not known about the nuclear explosion and the radiation contamination, it would have been possible to lure them into the area. And there was one aspect of the Purists that was perfectly, crystal clear. They were full of misplaced and misguided hatred, but they were not stupid.

            Finally she crossed her arms under her ample breasts. “Thank you for the reports and the suggestions. Please allow our humans to rest, do not disturb them for at least twenty-four hours. Continue attempting to bring our damaged brethren back online and I will co-ordinate our plans with Max Ahteen. I was ensured he would be sending a force to help reinforce our home against the Purists.

            With that, the assembly hall emptied until she was the only one left. She reached up and rubbed her eyes, it was a gesture she had picked up from the humans, although she was not feeling exhausted in any manner. Mentally, it was a different story. She might not have been organic, but the stress of the past few days was taking its toll on her electronic brain.

            She could only hope his help would be enough to turn the tide.