The road cleared some as Jack and Jason neared the depot.  Instead of large chunks of concreate or a pile of debris, they dodged other vehicles now, each heading into or away from the trading town.  Practically every mode of transport was represented.  Horse drawn wagons ambled slowly, their drivers alert for trouble while advance tech hovercrafts and anti-grav bikes sped past dangerously.  Many people stared as the van rumbled through though Jason couldn’t tell if the attention was out of curiosity or if they were miffed at the noise and dust being kicked up as they passed.

The Depot started out as a small town in the middle of nowhere by an old tech-prospector who used the location as a base.  To the west of the depot was one of the ancient cities, now nothing more than a crumbling shell; but at the time a nice source of ancient tech and resources.   The city, while gutted long ago is still being cut up by a few companies for building materials, but that was all it was good for these days.

Like many towns, the depot has its own militia to keep the peace and they are aggressive in their pursuit of that goal.  Everyone knows that there is no lawlessness tolerated.  Sure the occasional rowdy person was ignored – but any factional violence was squashed quickly. This is what made the Depot such prosperous trading town.  It was relatively safe, more so than many of the other trading towns that have popped up in the wasteland.

They reached the outer perimeter checkpoint around noon, stopping at the closed swing gate that separated the incoming road from a large paring area outside of the Depots protective walls.  A skinny guard dressed in militia colors of Green and blue walked up and asked them what their purpose was.

“Auction Yards and resupply,” Jack said throwing a thumb over his shoulder to indicate they had items to sell and trade.

”Gonna be here long?” the guard asked, scratching something in a little notebook.

“A day or two probably, then we are heading out again.”

The Guard finished with whatever he was writing and away the notebook.  He walked around the van and whistled, obviously impressed.

”This is an incredible find.” He said to Jack once he returned to Jacks window.

“Yep, it’s been a life saver.”  Jack said, patting a hand on the door affectionately.

“From the looks of things you’ve had to defend it more than once.”

“Well it does stand out,” Jack admitted, “But we can hold our own.”

The guard just nodded his understanding and lifted the swing gate.  With a wave he ushered in the van and pointed to an area where other large vehicles were parked.

“No trouble, ya hear?” he shouted as the van moved towards their assigned parking spot.

Jason knew there would be no trouble.  Both he and Jack knew better than that.  He was no too concerned with others causing problems either, the parking lot was always in sight by a militia member patrolling the walls, as well as some on the grounds.  Even if someone had the stupid idea of trying to take the van, it had some of its own security features, so there was no real danger of losing it.

They never unloaded the van the day they arrived at the Depot.  Using whatever was left of the day they usually scouted around a bit before finally ending up finding some diversion at a tavern.  They avoided the brothels most of the time, Jack just wasn’t much of a ladies man. Jason was actually thankful for that.  If ever Jack was in the mood for any serious fun Jason noticed Jack almost never messed around with mutants.   As for himself, Jason never really bothered with the ladies either. He liked to take this time down at the auction yards scouring the offerings there for the latest Tech, or if he was lucky, a chance to look over a working vehicle.

As the daylight faded, both Jack and Jason had made their own way back to the Van.  It was more comfortable than any sleeping arrangements they would find in town, and certain much cheaper.

In the morning, Jason and Jack loaded the grav-sled with the first round of items and headed for the Auction yards.  It was mid-city and took them about thirty minutes to reach the crowed noisy center of town.

The Auction Yards were a collection of open-air markets with vendors shouting out their sales.  At the end of each area was the auction stage, where the auction master would sell to the highest bidder much of the higher end items found in the wasteland.  While the other vendors scattered about tried to sell other smaller items such as food, tools or ammo.

Here at the yards is where people would find the higher end stuff like ancient weapons and vehicles, or even Tech items – like implants and the occasional androids.  Anyone with items to auction would bring them to an auction master who would assess the items and arrange for the bidding, this could take a few minutes to an hour, depending on what was to be auctioned, and how many people were there with items to sell.

As the day progressed, Jason and Jack managed to sell most of their goods dumping what was left at the trash station.  When everything was taken care of the pair of them went off to a seeder part of time to find Jacks contact, a mutant named Farsi Belan.

Farsi was a Tech-Lord who liked to frequent the auction yards.  He and Jack have had an agreement for years now, where Farsi slips Jack some information about potential scavenging sites, and Jack and Jason would investigate.  This has had rewards for both of them.

“You’re looking as spry for an old man” Farsi joked, as he invited Jack into his apartment.

“Thanks – I’m surprised I can even get around considering my age.” Jack said. He feigned a bad back and walked up to Farsi all hunched over.

Both men gave a chuckle.  They talked for a good 30mins about recent finds in the area when Farsi got a little more serious.

“Jack – There is trouble on the other side of the range.  There is a rumor of a Faction on a crusade to rid the world of Mutants.”

“The other side of the range you say?”  Jack said a bit concerned.  “We travel there occasionally, but never found any trouble”

“Well, you and the kid have no outward defects that would single you out as mutants.  But the word is that mutants are being systematically hunted and killed.  They have a very large following and might be trying to extend their territory.

“Thanks Farsi, we’ll keep an eye open,” Jack said as he gave his friend a pat on the shoulder. “I’ll share any information that might come my way.”

“Sure thing Jack.”

They headed back to the van, Farsi’s comments about anti-mutant leader on the other side of the range concerned Jason but in the wasteland – it’s not uncommon for groups to get a bit rowdy one way or another.  Still, it was something to be aware of.

The Van had a number of options for fuel.  Mostly is was Diesel, with a couple of large tanks built into the van and armor protected. There was also Battery power, though it was speed limiting to run on battery but doing so gave the Van almost unlimited range as the battery could be recharged using solar panels deployed on top as well as the energy from the diesel.

Jack suggested they make another run into the ruins south of the depot.  Although mostly picked clean, he thought they might have some luck deeper in, and a few levels underground. It took them most of the day to get to the ruins and find a good place to setup a Base.

“Can you hear me Jack?”  Jason shouted into his com-link.  He ran full speed down a crumbling street, jumping and dodging around the years of debris and decay that has collected there.

About a block behind Jason an ape-like creature was gaining on him quickly. Its fangs bared in an angry snarl.

“Yep Kid, what’s going on?” came the reply.

“Krags.” Jason said breathlessly.  “I’m coming in hot – are you ready to intercept this damn thing?”

“Setting up now – how far are you?”

“About 200 meters, I’ll be hitting the street from your right.”

“Ok Kid – be ready to drop.”

Jason turned sharp to his right around a corner.  The krag chasing him now only a few seconds behind.  It alternating between running on two feet when in the clear to dropping to all fours when it negotiated an obstacle or made a sharp turn.  Jason could hear it’s breathing, labored like his own, with the effort to keep up the chase.

Jason however was losing steam.  He ran with a clenched jaw doing his best to ignore the pain as his sides began to cramp.  The only thing saving him had been his agility but that advantage was disappearing quickly.  He made another turn to his left but as luck would have it Jason slipped on some loose stones and he tumbled.

Falling and rolling just as the krag made a leap at him, Jason’s fall actually prevented him from being tackled by the brutish creature which ended up flying past him as he slid across the stones.  The krag tried to twist in the air as it flew past, taking a swipe at Jason with a clawed fist but missing.  Then with a dull thud it slammed head first into the wall of a building.

The creature was stunned which gave Jason some time to get moving again.  Shortly however, the krag jumped back upright and after shaking its head a few times continued the chase.  Jason was not out of danger yet but the incidence did afford him a few more seconds of time and a little more distance.

As he turned the final corner Jason could see Jack lying prone at the top of their vehicle about fifty meters farther down the street.  Jack was aiming his high powered rifle and as Jason and the mutant creature came running out from the right Jason heard Jack’s voice shout “NOW!”  From his comlink.

With a quick dodge to his right, Jason dropped to the ground with a roll and in just that moment he heard a wet ‘thwack’  followed a second later by the ‘crack’ of the rifles shot.

It was a good hit to the creatures in the head.  The monster did not make another sound as it went limp and tumbled to the ground stopping only a few feet from where Jason had stopped rolling.

Jason lay where he was, his breath labored.  He looked over towards Jack who had climbed down from the van and was now jogging towards him.

Moving to a sitting position but still breathing hard from the chase, Jason looked over at the krag just as Jack reached the pair of them.

“Wow kid, that’s a big one,” Jack said as he reached out to Jason and pulled him to his feet.

“Yeah – there were actually four there but this one took a liking to me.” Jason said hoarsely, “I had to leave the sled.  I’ll go back for it in a few minutes.”

“Sure thing Kid. I’ll pack up the van and when you get back we can inspect and head towards the Depot.”

“Do you think we have enough for a depot run?  Jason asked, “Maybe we should take some time and fill another sled?”

Jack thought about that for a moment but eventually disagreed.  “I need to talk to Farsi at the depot, and we are low on supplies.” He said, “Just get the sled and we can get out of here.”

It took Jason a little more than an hour to get the sled from where he had left it.  Most of that time was due to the need to stay out of sight as he moved through the city to retrieve it, he did not fancy another run in with any of the remaining Krags. The creatures are generally non-aggressive but this morning’s chase had Jason being extra careful.

When he arrived back at the Van Jack was already setup for the inspecting; which consisted of pulling an item off of the sled and sorting it by what its use looked like it could be.  Recyclable metal, tech trash, information; each had a trade value at the depot.  This last haul would be kind of light but they had enough to be able to afford more food, ammo, and fuel.  After sorting thought the items they loaded the van and stowed the sled.  Within an hour they were heading towards the Depot.

Jason was thankful for the Van.  Although calling the armored vehicle they traveled in a Van was doing it a discredit.  The van was an eight-meter amphibious monster designed to drive over almost anything.  It was an incredible find and Jason was not surprised that Jack took to it so easily.   .

As a matter of fact, Jack had this knack with the ancient tech and he could even read the ancients writing.  It had helped them with their scavenging.  Jason did not know where he learned it and if he didn’t understand that it was impossible for Jack to be an ancient, he might almost believe that Jack was one of the first men of legend.

Jason only knew of one other person in the world who knew the ancient tongue and he had not seen her in years.  She had a knack for tech too.  The last Jason could remember seeing her was three summers ago when she headed off to join a xenophobic group known as the Tech-Lords.  The group practically worshiped old tech and she fit right in.

The pair turned north, traveling on overgrown highways.  Bridges were not reliable but that was not a big problem as the Van did well in the water.  In fact – it was safer to drive across a river than to attempt to take the van over a dilapidated and rusting bridge.

The pair had traveled about ten kilometers when they spotted a smoke column coming from behind a hill.  The kid looked at Jack who frowned.

“Sorry Kid you know the rules, we are not getting involved or are we investigating..  Best we stay out of trouble”

“But someone could be in trouble Jack.”

“Yeah – and like I tell you every time, it’s better that it’s not us.”

Jason was disappointed but understood Jacks reasoning.  There was never really a safe place out here in the wastelands. It was a real survival of the fittest.  If the one of the creatures did not get you gangs of scavengers might, or even one of the larger mutated animals.  It was not uncommon to see an injured person or child used as bait to lure in an unsuspecting traveler.  Those who did that kind of thing were called Jumpers, but Jumpers did not usually operate so close to the Depot.  Still, they ignored the smoke they continued on their course.

Whatever group was responsible for the round up didn’t seem to care about any signs of their passing being left behind. Tire tracks crisscrossed the street and the soldiers foot prints were everywhere the dry dirt covering the pavement was thick enough to leave an impression in.  There were other signs of the visit as well; candy wrappers, empty plastic bottles and crumpled up bags of snack foods were just dropped any place that was convenient.  Which looked to Ghanis to be just about everywhere.

“Well they are either Cocky or overconfident, or just stupid,” Ghanis said with a frown.  “By the looks of things though, they are well stocked.

He reached down and picked up one of the snack bags.   It was red and covered with white letters that he couldn’t understand above a picture of a thinly sliced potato.

“Hundreds of years old and this stuff is still good,” Ghanis chuckled as he waved the bag at Jhax. “Says a lot about our ancestors though.”

Jhax gave an exaggerated sniff of the bag and faked a gagging noise.

“Can’t say I disagree Jhax, but it’s doesn’t make it any less impressive.”

He dropped the bag and looked at the manhole.

“Well I guess we tackle this now.” He said pointing at the cover.  Being the bigger of the two and born stronger than most used only his hands to slide the cover up and out of the way.

Naturally the hole was dark.  Jhax wasted no time however in climbing down and scanning for danger.  A short moment later she signaled it was clear and waved to Ghanis that it was ok for Him to climb down as well.   He dropped their packs into the hole, then crawled down into the darkness pulling the manhole cover closed behind him.

Jhax pulled some flashlights out of Ghanis’s pack and handed one to him.  He knew any light would negate her night vision but it was better that both of them be able to see and he thanked her.

From here they had two directions to travel.  They could either follow the tunnel north which oriented with the town’s main road above, or if they choose to, they could follow the south tunnel which terminated in an intersection about 10 meters in.

“It might be difficult to find our way back”. Ghanis pointed out.  He did not fancy the idea of getting lost down here.

Jhax nodded, then after a short search picked up a fist sized stone from the ground.

“We just have to mark as we go,” she signed, and used the stone to scratch a large circle into the wall of the tunnel.

“So which way?” Ghanis asked.

Jhax shrugged and pointed south towards the intersection and started moving in that direction.

The two mutants explored cautiously, marking their path as the did so in order to easily find the entrance again.  Most of the area they explored had been empty, it looked as if the tunnels did not expand much farther than the town’s perimeter.

Ghanis thought about the number of people he saw being herded into the buses.  He supposed that they all could have been hiding in this place as it was, spread out through the dark twisting passages, but even has the thought entered his mind he also figured it was not very likely.  There just had to be a place all of those mutants were hiding

It seemed to the pair that they had managed to explore all of the tunnels.  Most of the intersections were already marked with Jhax’s circle. there was just one or two left to explore. He knew they were almost finished but he was getting tired now and had enough of the dark musty smell that surrounded them.

“We may as well head back Jhax – the place is dead.” Ghanis said.

He turned to face her so he could read her reply when they both heard a metallic creaking sound followed by a solid thud that echoed loudly through the tunnels.  It sounded like had originated from around the corner of one of the unexplored tunnels ahead.

Jhax’s ears perked forward, and she stood alert, muscles tense and ready to spring as she listened for danger.

Upon hearing the thud Ghanis switched off his flashlight a tapped on Jhax’s shoulder signifying that she should do the same, which she did a few seconds later.

Ghanis directed Jhax was to go first.  She brushed past him and peered around the corner.  She turned back and grabbed Ghanis hands, speaking to him again with her fingers.

“There is nothing there, but it looks like it terminates at another dead end about twenty ten meters down the passage.  Wait here and I’ll be right back.”  Moments later she disappeared around the corner.

Ghanis moved up and tried to look around the corner hoping to keep an eye on her but gave up on the idea quickly. It was simply too dark for him to see anything.  All he could do was wait for Jhax to come back.  He kept looking around the corner anyway listening for her muted footfalls.

It was only the space of a couple of breaths before he saw the dim light of Jhax’s flashlight at the far end of the tunnel.  Jhax was leaning there with her ear against a large metal door.  She turned only long enough to wave at him, indicating he should join her, then went back to her listening.

When Ghanis reached Jhax, he crouched down next to her.  “What do you hear?” he asked her.

Jhax moved backwards a bit, giving Ghanis a little more room at the door then pointed at one of his ears and then back at the door, indicating that he should listen for himself.

Ghanis did as she instructed, then gasped slightly at what he heard.   It was barely audible at first, but as he settled in and controlled his breathing the sound he was hearing through the cold metal door was that of a young child crying.

As they two of them rested, Ghanis reached into his pack and retrieved his holomap device.  He wanted to get a feel for where they ended up.  With the intent to head towards their goal again, he was uncomfortable with taking a direct path to their destination from their current location.  He thought it may be better to move in a large arch that would distance themselves from the roads, at least for now.  He discussed this idea with Jhax

“I don’t want to risk crossing paths with those soldiers again.” He said.  “Let’s just swing out a ways to be safe.”

“You’re probably right,” Jhax signed in return. “But I don’t think they will be going much further than that town.”

“Why do you think that?” Ghanis said.

Jhax shrugged, “They seemed as if they had a purpose.  As if they had a reason to be at that town.”

Ghanis reached into his pack and pulled out a canteen.  He tipped it back for a swig, then frowned as he placed it back in the pack.  They would have to find a place to refresh their supplies soon.

He thought about what Jhax had said. Now that things have calmed down and he had time to analyze what the just went through and something did not add up.

“Yeah Jhax, I think you’re right.”  He said, “Something is just not right about those soldiers.”

“Seriously. It doesn’t make sense, it’s a ghost town.” Jhax signed.

Ghanis replayed their encounter in his head.  The town was dead, but they acted as if it was something important.  He and Jhax did a pretty thorough search of that town and found nothing more than some broken furniture.  No Food, no salvageable tech.  Hell the damn town was gutted.  Not only was it empty, but half of the buildings were nothing more than a pile of rubble.  So what did the soldiers want with the place?

“Think they could be setting up a base?” He asked Jhax, “You know – moving in?”

“Does it really matter?”  She replied, then tossed her pack onto her back again and started moving in the direction they had agreed on.

Ghanis didn’t follow.  He stood there rubbing his chin, thinking about the soldiers.  He saw Jhax stop up ahead.  She turned to see if he was following and when she saw that he hadn’t moved she crossed her arms and stared at him.

He recognized that look.  It was the look she gave him when she knew he was considering doing something completely stupid and reckless.

“No!  She said, pounding he chest for emphasis.  “You are absolutely out of your mind if you think I’ll turnaround and investigate.  Did you not notice those soldiers tried to kill use?”

“Yeah, but we can get close enough to them to look. They wouldn’t expect us to go back right?  Com’on Jhax, I just know something weird is going on.”

“We should not get distracted from our mission.” She signed.

We have been traveling for weeks hun, what difference is another day going to make?” Ghanis said.

“It will make a lot of difference if we are dead!”

“Fine, wait here if you don’t want to take a look,  I’ll be back soon.”

Ghanis tossed his backpack over his shoulder and started heading back towards the tree line.  He looked back towards Jhax who was still standing in same spot, arms folded.  Clearly not intending to move.

“I’m going now.” He said.

Jhax didn’t move.

“There will be no one to save me if things get rough.” He said.

Jhax still didn’t move.

“Suite yourself,” he said,  “Just tell Targus I tried and I’m sorry.  You can burn my body and keep me in a jar if you like.”

Jhax rolled her eyes then signed.  “Oh just stop already you buffoon. Fine, if you are so intent on getting us both killed then let’s get it over with.

A short while later the pair of them were back at the tree line.  They crawled up to the edge and stopped when they reached a small bush that seemed big enough to hide their presence.

Ghanis used his binoculars to try and see what was going on in the center of town.  From their current position he could see most of what was happening there with only the edges of his field of vison obscured.  With the binoculars he was able saw that the group had constructed some kind of temporary fence in the middle of the street with a soldier stationed on either side every ten meters or so holding what looks like a cattle prod.  It was apparent that the fence was setup to be a corridor leading to the buses.

“This can’t be good,” he said, handing the binoculars to Jhax so that she could see as well.  “It looks like they’re getting ready for some sort of roundup”

“Rounding up whom though?” Jhax signed, “If they’re using a fence to coral people, it’s not just one or two.  Did you see anyone in that ghost town when you were scouting?”

“Not a thing,? Ghanis said.  “What the hell did we miss?”

“I’m not sure, but whatever it was these guys knew it was there.”

“I need a better look,” Ghanis said, getting to his feet.

Jhax grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back down to the ground before he could move.

“Damn it Ghanis !  There is at least twenty men there!  What the hell do you think you’re going to do?”

Ghanis sighed.  He knew Jhax was right.  It would be suicide to get any closer to the place, hell they barely made it out alive as it was.

They waited, watching the activity at the town from the safety of the tree line while passing the binoculars back and forth between them.  The men stationed at the fence looked bored but did not leave there post.  The pair watched the activity for about another hour before Jhax said something.

“How long are we going to stay?” she asked, as she handed Ghanis the binoculars again.  “Not sure what the hell is going on, but really – we should not let it affect our mission.”

”Your right Jhax, We should just  Ge…” Ghanis stopped talking mid-sentence.   There was something happening in the town.

He could not see from where they were coming from, but one by one – people were moving inside the fenced area towards the busses.   The soldiers were ruffing them up and prodding them as they moved. The prisoners ranged from Old men to young children, in all perhaps thirty people, and each of them Mutants.  Each person Ghanis could see being forced to a bus had some sort of physical abnormality.  One old man had two heads, another man was covered in scales, the variations were plenty and random.

“The soldiers are herding mutants into the bus.”  His tone was flat.  He gave the binoculars to Jhax again so she could see as well.

“That is too much effort for Purity, Jhax signed, “Purity would will kill mutants on sight, not collect them for a mass grave somewhere else.  This has to be another group.”

“What difference does is make?  Ghanis said, “There is still nothing we can do.”

When the round up completed, and the last of the mutants had been put on the bus, the soldiers broke down the fence and loaded everything in the trucks.  After an hour, the convoy left the town the same direction that they came in.  Jhax and Ghanis waited until they were sure there was no chance of anyone returning before they went back. They hoped to find out where these mutants had come from, considering their sweeps had turned up an empty settlement.

The answer was obvious when the investigated the location they knew the fence was setup at.  They knew one end of the fence was where the buses were parked.  Moving to where they estimated the other end would be they found the answer to where all the mutants had come from.  Standing in the middle of the street they found manhole cover they must have dismissed as important during their scouting.

“Should we?” Ghanis asked.

“We might as well, we are here,” Jhax signed.

Ghanis awoke early than usual the following morning. He couldn’t sleep. He was feeling uneasy as if there were danger near. He couldn’t put his finger on what exactly the danger might be but he knew something didn’t feel right.

It was still dark outside. Sunrise was no more than thirty minutes away but the overcast sky selfishly extended the night. Sitting up in his sleeping bag he rubbed his eyes clear and looked blindly about the makeshift camp he and Jhax setup only a few hours earlier. Unfortunately with the fire now only a pile of charcoal it was just too dark for him to see.

He thought about using his flashlight but dismissed that idea almost as soon as it had come to him. Finding the flashlight in the dark would be no problem. He always stored it in one of the small pockets on the left side of the pack; however If his instincts were correct, the light would only attract unwanted attention.

Ghanis ran his hands across the floor until he reached the bedding where Jhax was sleeping, then shook her awake gently so as not to startle her.

“Jhax,” He called, his voice an urgent whisper.

He felt Jhax stir, then sit up. Seconds later he felt her take his hands.

If Ghanis could not see Jhax, then conversing in normal sign language was useless. After years of working together with this limitation the pair of them developed a different kind of sign language that only the two of them shared. Ghanis and Jhax were able to communicate through physical touch – tapping, scratching, and rubbing on each others hands with their fingers to get their message across.

“Danger?” Jhax asked.

“Just got that feeling is all.” Ghanis said. “Do you see or hear anything?”

He felt Jhax let go of his hands, and heard her moving about the room. A few moments later she had his hands again.

“Nothing obvious,” She said. “It’s quiet out there. Let me scout a bit, I’ll be right back.”

The morning light began to win its fight with the clouds, and Ghanis was soon able to see shadowy outlines in the room. This allowed him to break camp and get their items stowed in the packs. He completed the task just as Jhax returned.

“There are vehicles approaching,” she said. There was enough light to see now, so she used the Commons signs.

“Did you get a count?” Ghanis asked.

“My best guess is about eight, six of them transports.” She replied. She reached down and grabbed her pack, swinging it over and onto her shoulders then cinched the straps a little tighter. “We need to leave right now.”

“Yeah .. Yeah , let’s get going Ghanis said, grabbing his own pack and moving towards the door.

In the wasteland vehicles were never a good sign. They attracted a lot of attention, and were never driven unless one had the means to defend them. The fact that Jhax had seen transports in the group was a good indication there were troops as well.

Ghanis was able to peer out one of the windows and watch the lead vehicle as it reach the far end of the town. It moved down the main street, perhaps sixty more meters and stopped. The rest of the trucks in the column stopping as well. He watched the activity, curious as to what these people were up to.

He and Jhax were far enough away and out of sight so He did not feel the two of them were in an danger at this point. Jhax on the other hand was trying to get his attention by pulling at one of his massive arms. He turned to look at her and could see the expression of concern she wore on her feline face as she tried to lead him away from the window and towards the hallway that lead to the buildings rear exit.

Ghanis counted seven vehicles total, Three small trucks, and four beat up buses. Within a few moments the people in the lead truck stepped out and waved at the first bus of the four. The bus emptied quickly. There were about twenty men if Ghanis counted correctly as the men exited the bus. They were armed with old tech automatic rifles, and there was not an obvious mutation in any of the men he was able to see. That fact more than the guns gave him a chill.

There were many factions in the world, each of them constantly grasping for more power, and more influence. Most of these were easy to work around or at least avoid but there was one faction that was deadly to his kind. A faction that would shoot and kill a mutant on sight with no questions and no warnings.

Purity.

Ghanis became aware of his increased breathing and heart rate and forced himself relax a little. There was no sense in getting into a panic and doing something stupid. Panic kills. Whoever this group was it looked as if they had plans that did not involve him or Jhax.

The invaders secured their initial area of the town and began to move from building to building.

Jhax continued to pull at Ghanis arm. When he turned to look at her again she signed in exaggerated motions.

“We need to get going!”

Ghanis glanced at what used to be their fire. It was nothing but cold charcoal now but there would be no way to mask that it was recent. He kicked it around just the same. If He and Jhax were lucky the soldier would not look close enough to determine that this mess was fresh.

“This is going to be close.” Ghanis said as the pair of them ran down the hall to the back stairwell.

They were looking for a window hoping to exit unseen allowing them to get some distance before being noticed. The building would obscure their escape. They were in luck . There was an accessible window at the bottom of the stairwell.  Unfortunatly it was closed and locked.

Ghanis looked frantically around the stairwell for something to break the window with.  He picked up a brick from a pile of debris in one of the corners and swung at the window.

His arm was stopped by Jhax who shook her head.

“I know Jhax,” Ghanis said with a sigh, “But I don’t think we have a choice at this point.”  With a grimace he swung the brick at the glass and watched as it shattered loudly.  Ghanis cleared as much of the shards away as he could, then He and Jhax clamored through the broken window and bolted. The plan seemed to be working despite the noise the glass made as it shattered.  They put as much distance between themselves and the town as they could and for a they heard no shouts of alarm coming from behind them.

CRACK! CRACK-CRACK!”

They watched pieces of dirt jump up like soil fountains seconds before hearing the reports from the rifles.  They had been seen!

There pair of them were too far away to hear any shouting. The distance and their movement saving them from getting hit by whoever was trying to kill them.

As they were running Jhax grabbed one of Ghanis hands to get his attention. She pointed to a tree line to their left. Ghanis nodded and they made for the cover of trees.

Looking over their shoulders as they ran they noticed one of the trucks was closing fast. It bounced dangerously over the uneven ground as it gave chase. If He and Jhax could make it to the trees they might be able to get away. The truck was not going to be able to follow through the thick brush of the trees and it would be unlikely that soldiers would continue the pursuit so far away from the main group.

They had little time to spare as they reached the forests edge. Bullets impacted the trees angrily as the two of them ran in.

Just as they expected the truck stopped when the trees became to close together to get through. When the truck halted two men in green camouflage jumped out of the back and continued to chase them; rifles in hand, for about another fifty meters before being called back.

When the chase was over, Ghanis dropped to his knees gasping.

“Did you .. get.. Close enough to see who they were?” He asked Jhax.

She was out of breath too, and just shook her head.

“Me either, but my bet is on Purity. No of the others would have chased us so far.”

Ghanis and Jhax approached the bridge on alert. They understood the bridge would be a good place for an ambush, especially after they reached its center. If he and Jhax and he were to get jumped while they were on the bridge there would be only one choice for escape, and this was really no choice at all.

Ghanis cautiously peered over the ledge of the river bank while thinking about this. The river below was slow and muddy but not so muddy that he couldn’t see multiple dark shadows swimming just under the surface there. He could not tell if the shadows belonged to some kind of fish or a large reptile and it really didn’t matter to him. The water would be not be a safe place to be.

Survival in the wastelands was a constant balance between luck and paranoia. Nothing could be done about your luck. Each person was given a certain amount and once it was used up – well that’s all there was. Ghanis thought about all the narrow escapes he has managed and figured his own luck was just about used up. He compensated by being a little extra paranoid.

Finding no obvious danger, Ghanis determined that it was likely safe to cross. He walked out first, with Jhax following a few paces behind. They paused when they reached the half way point and scanned both sides of the bridge suspiciously. There was nothing behind them, and the way ahead remained clear.

“Oh well, that’s a little more of my luck being used up,” Ghanis thought.

They traveled another kilometer or so before reaching an intersection. This was the location that Jhax pointed out on the holomap earlier. They could leave north from here and it should not take them very far out of their way. According to the map the road would eventually turn east and run parallel to their main route for a few more kilometers before reaching the location of the town. Ghanis brought out is holomap again to verify their location and route and once satisfied, he led them north along the overgrown path that used to be a road.

The traveled another five kilometers before they started to see the skeletons of the buildings that made up the town Jhax identified on the map.  As with most of these dead sites, everything was in ruins and falling apart with only the strongest of the structures defying gravity. Ghanis had them stop a couple hundred meters outside the main part of the town. Crawling slowly ahead they took refuge under a dying bush, trying to remain unseen. Ghanis pulled a small pair of binoculars from his backpack and scanned ahead.

“Nothing on the streets,” He said. He scanned the buildings one by one, skimming each of windows that were visible for any sign of danger or occupancy. “No sign of life at all.”

He looked over at Jhax. She was carefully keeping an eye on their immediate location so they were not surprised if something came at them out of the wilds. Occasionally she would twitch an ear, or take a sniff of the air. When she noticed his questioning looks she just shook her head.

“Pretty much a ghost town Jhax,” Ghanis said.

He did not really expect anything else, but you never let your guard down in the wastelands. Not everything was what it seemed to be.

They entered the town from the oblique, not taking the main road in. They stayed alert just in case there was something they missed.

“It looks safe enough, Ghanis said, “let’s find a secure place to park and then explorer a bit?”

Jhax nodded her agreement.

They choose a building at the very end of town. It was three stories high and mostly intact. They were able to find a defensible room inside.

“We have a few more hours of daylight, let’s split up and cover as much of the town as we can. We can meet back in this room at dusk.”

With a growl of agreement, Jhax dropped her pack at Ghanis’s feet then disappeared down the hall. Ghanis removed his own pack, and placed both of them inside what looked like a closet before he headed outside to explore as well.

Neither of the pair ran into any trouble. The town was truly abandoned and picked clean of anything that might be useful. They should have expected as much considering the proximity of this town to the main road.

Back in the room they had picked to spend the night in Ghanis activated the holomap one more time. Next to the symbol for the little town he added ‘Empty town 6’

He put the map away with a sigh.

“Don’t get discouraged Ghanis,” Jhax signed. “It’s likely all the places we find will be empty. We’re not prospectors scavenging the hot zones for untouched tech.”

“Oh I know Jhax.” Ghanis smiled at his friend, “The holomap was a rare and lucky find, and that might not have even of happened if you hadn’t fallen into that sinkhole. We had to crawl on our hands and knees for an hour just to get you out of there.”

Jhax made a coughing noise that Ghanis knew was her laugh.

Ghanis carved a couple of wedges from some wood that they had collected, then used the wedges to secure the only entry to their room by knocking them tightly into the space between the floor and the door. Not as secure as a lock or deadbolt but the best they could do at this moment. As far as they could tell the door was the only way into the room considering that they were three stories up. It did not seem very likely anything would be able to reach them through the windows.

They let the fire burn down to coals so there would be little to no light to give away their position. Then each of them spread out their bedrolls and tried to get some rest.

“Have a good sleep Hun.” Ghanis mumbled as he rolled over and closed his eyes.

As the pair exited the dilapidated building they had spent the night in Ghanis looked up at the clouds scudding across the sky and frowned. It was an overcast morning; not cold but certainly damp.

“It looks like we might be getting wet in an hour or so,” he said.

Jhax did not reply but pushed her way past her him to take up the lead position, trudging through the tall grass towards the road they had left last night.

Ghanis fiddled with the shoulders straps of his backpack as he moved in behind her, trying to find a more comfortable position for them. This was always challenge because the backpack was not designed for people with four arms and the straps ended up digging into the backs of his lower pair of arms unpleasantly. He had the area padded with some old socks hoping to mitigate some of the chafing and ultimately he was able to make due but he really wished he could find something that fit.

Being a muted human certainly had its challenges. Finding acceptable clothing and gear that would work for his unusual frame was always difficult and he resigned himself this fact when he was just a young man. Anything he found would need to be modified to in order to fit.

This requirement was not something that just he had to deal with and he understood this. After all there were mutants everywhere and with all manner of physical irregularities. While he had no bases for the assumption, he thought there must be millions.

While he was thinking about this he considered his traveling companion Jhax who was currently walking about eighteen meters ahead of him. He, Ghanis was at least mostly human; his extra pair of arms being the only real sign he was not of a pure DNA strain, Jhax on the other hand was pretty much half cat and half human.

He honestly didn’t know if she was a mutated panther with some human features, or a mutated human with some panther features and Jhax made it very clear early in their relationship that this subject was off limits and never to be brought up in conversation again. If ever Ghanis was ever in doubt of her feelings on this point he had only to run his fingers along the two inch scar that ran between his left eye and his left ear. A warning that Jhax left with him the last time he tried to bring the subject up.

This did not stop Ghanis from trying to figure it out. He noted that she walked mostly upright, had a human torso, and human arms and legs. She had paws where there should have been feet and hands, but even these appendages seemed to lean more towards a human origin. She was covered from head to toe in short but thick black fur and had rather long tail that gave her as much trouble fitting into trousers as his extra pair of arms caused him fitting into shirts. She would constantly complain about having to either cut a hole in the back of her pants to allow her for her tail, or having to tuck the tail uncomfortably down the back of one of the pant legs.

The road they were following was the same highway Ghanis had traced across the holomap earlier in the morning though calling it a road was giving it far too much credit. It might have been better described as a crumbling concrete path considering its current deteriorated condition. The edges of the road were severely overgrown with grass and moss, and there was often long stretches where the passing years reclaimed the road completely; causing him and Jhax to lose sight of it. When this happened they were forced to use the holomap to be certain they were still moving in the right direction. Effective, but not something Ghanis liked to do often because he worried doing so would run down its battery.

“Have you given much thought in what we are looking for?” Ghanis asked as they walked on.

“Not really,” Jhax signed. “I’m just here to keep you out of trouble. Didn’t Targus tell you what it was?”

“Not really,” Ghanis said. “He just told me that it would be some sort of tech, something he hopes will be able to help our settlement in some way.”

Targus was the leader of their settlement and had been leading that group for almost twenty five years now. The people there liked him and what he has done to help them prosper. He has contacts from all over the wasteland and his information is usually spot on. Ghanis trusted Targus completely. If Targus said there was something of value out here, then there was and that was good enough for him. Ghanis knew that Jhax still had her reservations though. As best he could tell, he was the only person that Jhax fully trusted. He was certain this was because he had risked his own life to save hers fifteen years ago.

He knew his immature humor could get on Jhax’s nerves, but she gave him a hard time in return more often than not as well. It was almost a game for him. He also couldn’t help but admit to himself that there was a deeper feeling there and he suspected the feeling to be mutual. After all, why would she have volunteered to go with him on this crazy mission Targus sent him on?

They reached the river crossing shortly after noon relieved that the bridge was indeed still intact though it looked much worse for the wear. There were plenty of holes in the deck, and much of the sides were either gone completely or stubbornly hanging over the edge by thin pieces of rusted rebar. It looked safe enough to cross, at least in a physical sense; but bridges were a great place to get ambushed so they approached it with caution.

Just Chill Already

Posted: March 20, 2015 in Blog

<soapbox>

There is a lot of grumbling going on across social media because of that school in New York that had said the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. At the risk of garnering hate from my friends I have to say that this thing is being blown way out of proportion.

Seriously, It was foreign languages week for crying out loud. Like the written news article pointed out, they had said the pledge in a number of different languages that same week (German, French, Spanish) but that fact never made it to the news or had people gnashing their teeth. This whole thing got blown out of proportion because one of the languages was Arabic and currently as a nation we are paranoid of anything middle eastern. Only then did people break out the pitchforks and torches

I’m not defending the school, but at the same time I’m not going to be filled with righteous indignation about my mother tongue either. I’m not so paranoid that I worry the school is indoctrinating my kids or pushing some Muslim agenda.

When it comes to the pledge people are overlooking one very important point. By saying the words you are publicly declaring that you love and honor this nation. Just like the title would imply, you are giving your oath to our Republic.

Personally I don’t give a damn HOW you say it. You can tap the pledge out in Morse code for all I care. What is more  important to me is the fact that you would be willing to say that pledge and mean it in your heart. That earns my respect and gratitude regardless of what language you say it in.

English might be the official language in the US, but we are a nation of many people and limiting the pledge to only English marginalizes those honest people throughout history who immigrated with every intent of becoming a hardworking US citizen but have not yet mastered the language. Were those people in the wrong for pledging their allegiance?

The only issue I do have with the school is that the pledge should be treated with as much respect as the flag. It should not have been used as a learning opportunity. They certainly could have found other words to teach with, but seriously people – it’s not as big a deal as you are making it out to be.

Too much effort is spent on the words, while ignoring the more important meaning behind the words

</soapbox>

The crisp morning air began to warm as the sun climbed higher into the sky.  Ghanis, a mutant born with four usable limbs, awoke from another terrible night’s sleep and stretched loudly as he stood up, all four of his massive arms extended as he worked out the muscle cramps he had developed over the course of the night.

He and his traveling companion Jhax, another mutant who was half cat and half human; had been on the road now for close to three weeks.  The need to find whatever shelter they could along the way each night usually lead to the pair of them sleeping uncomfortably on the ground more often than not, and as an effect of this, Ghanis was finding he ached in places he didn’t even know he could.

He would have complained of his muscle aches to Jhax as he did almost every morning, but a quick look around their makeshift shelter didn’t find her. Something that was not all that uncommon however, as she tended not to sleep as much as he did and liked to patrol their immediate area as an added measure of safety.

“Probably hunting up some breakfast,” He thought hopefully.

He was confident that this was exactly what Jhax was up to. He noticed her sleeping bag was already rolled up and attached to her backpack, both of which were now leaning against a wall nearby.

Expecting her back soon enough, Ghanis set about packing his own sleeping bag and backpack, placing the completed bundle next to Jhax’s before attending to the fire, which after burning all night, was now just a pile of graying coals.

Ghanis knelt before the circle of stones that had contained last night’s fire and began to blow across it with deep constant breathes, pacing himself so as to not make himself dizzy.

The coals answered with a crackle, glowing orange where there was still some life left.  This pleased Ghanis and he put down some tinder right away, continuing to feed it oxygen with his breathe until the tinder was aflame.

By the time Jhax returned with a brace of hares for their breakfast, Ghanis had the fire burning brightly.

She walked into camp and dropped the hares next to the fire.

“Nice catch Hun,” Ghanis said, picking up the hares and inspecting them.

Jhax glared at him, causing Ghanis to grimace at his error.  He gave her an apologetic shrug.  He couldn’t count the number of times she has asked him not to call her that, but he also couldn’t help himself.  The word just spilled out naturally for him.  He had tried in the past to explain to her how difficult this was for him and how unconsciously the word issued from his lips, but she just ignored him and complained each time it happened.

It was mid-morning by the time the pair finished with their meal.  Once they were done eating they set about tearing down the camp.  This did not take long considering they were living out of their backpacks.  When they finished with this chore the only remaining task was the removal of the ring of stones that had contained the fire and scattering its ashes.  Although they were not currently being pursued it was always a good idea to not leave any signs behind that a marauder could stumbled upon and be tempted to investigate.

When preparations for the days march were complete, Ghanis retrieved a small circular device from the left front pocket of his trousers. The device was about the size of his palm, perhaps an inch thick and completely smooth on the top and bottom. In its center was a lens system that was flush with the top of the device so as to not stick out of it, and a single rectangular button located on its edge.  It was the only piece of tech that he owned.

Ghanis saw Jhax waiting expectantly for him to press the button.   He did so and set the device down on the ground in front of them.

Instantly a three dimensional map was displayed about in the air above the device. The image hovered about a meter off the ground and occupied and area of about two meters. They could see their current location as a bright blue dot. A similar green dot marked their destination.   Using his hands to manipulate the image it was only seconds before he had it focused on their current location and zoomed in.

“Another day to reach this crossing here” he said pointing to a location where the road they had been following crossed a river. “But there is no way to know what kind of condition the bridge will be in.”

Jhax nodded that she understood.  She let her finger draw a path through the image, passing the bridge and stopping at what appeared to be a small village sized settlement.

Ghanis manipulated the map and zoomed into the location Jhax had questioned.  There was a small settlement indicated there, probably no more than a couple of kilometers in size.

“We can check it out, but remember this map is not current. It may not even be there. ”

He knew the mapping device was at least a hundred years old and understood that there could be features displayed in its images that no longer exist, or even new features not noted because they didn’t exist the last time the map had an update.

“I know,” Jhax said, using the common sign language most mutants who could not speak used to communicate. “But it’s not too far off our track, there might be something of value.”

“Yeah,” Ghanis said, “you’re right, it probably wouldn’t hurt to check out another ghost town.”

Ghanis retrieved his mapping device and threw his pack over his shoulder. He offered to help Jhax with her pack but she declined and waved him on.

“How many times do I have to tell you I can handle myself?” She signed.

“Easy girl, I was just trying to me nice,” Ghanis said, “After fifteen years together I’d figured you might have lightened up some.”

Jhax rolled her eyes, “After fifteen years I would expect you to know me better than that.”

Prompt Used: Noises in the Kitchen

(Aprox 1000 words)

Duncan Jori was having a difficult time sleeping.

The trouble was not that he was unable to get to sleep once he closed his eyes; but rather the difficulty was remaining asleep once he had finally drifted off. He would be either too warm causing him to wake and kick off his blankets, too cold causing him to reach out and pull the blankets back on again; or sometimes his pillow was not fluffed correctly requiring him to punch and pull it into a more comfortable shape being sure to flip it over to the “cool” side before assaulting it.

In addition to the normal issues of discomfort he experienced each night, tonight posed a particularly difficult sleeping challenge in that there was at this moment, unexpected noises coming from downstairs in the kitchen.

The fact that there were sounds coming from the kitchen didn’t register for Duncan at first. Still groggy from his interrupted slumber he thought he had simply dreamed about the noises until he heard a very loud BANG that sound as if something had dropped. Upon hearing the bang he sat bolt upright, his breath quickening with the realization that someone was in his home finally sinking in.

Gathering his wits, he retrieved a pistol from the nightstand and swung himself out of his bed, his pistol at the ready. He did not bother to get dressed before carefully walking out of the bedroom and into the hall.

Seeing no immediate danger He quietly made his way to the stairway at the far end of hall, being vigilant about avoiding the squeaky floorboard located just in front of the second bedroom as he passed it, and paused to listen at the top of the stairs.

What he heard caused his jaw to hit the floor. For as impossible as it was, the noises that he was hearing in the kitchen were none other than voices of his two deceased wives; and it sounded to him like they were having an argument.

Apprehensively Duncan descended the stairway being as quiet as he could manage. He then tip-toed across the darkened living room until he reached the kitchen doorway. Stopping just left of this entrance he carefully peered around door-frame into the kitchen beyond.

His eyes widen at what he saw. He knew it was impossible but there was no doubt in his mind that currently in his kitchen stood both of his dead wives. What’s more, the pair of them seemed to be arguing over what sounded to him like the washing of the dishes.

“Samantha Dear,” Duncan’s second wife Jessica drawled in a tone of patient disdained. “You were not sent back to be his maid. Let that lazy bastard do his own dishes.”

“I know Jessie but they needed to be done and I was here anyway,” said Samantha as she finished drying a large salad bowl and put it away in the cupboard to the left of the stove.

Duncan was incredulous. In all of his forty-five years he had never once seen a ghost. In fact he often got a good laugh out of deriding those who insisted that they had seen a ghost. Yet standing in front of him now were two woman he knew for a fact were dead.

Believing that he had gone mad, he no longer tried to remain hidden on the other side of the kitchen wall and strode dumbly into the kitchen, his mouth agape.

Jessie was the first to see him walk in. She turned towards him and gave a curt nod, the barest hint of a smile on her face. It was almost as if she were not glad to see him again.

Samantha on the other hand tossed her dish towel onto the kitchen table and ran to him as soon as she noticed that he had entered. She wrapped her arms around him in a loving embrace, treating the whole encounter as if she had only been away on holiday and not as if she had been dead for years.

“Duncan!” She said happily, and hugged him tightly.

Samantha, Duncan noticed, was very real indeed. There was a physical touch he was certain would not be there had she simply been some sort of spirit. He wanted to return her embrace but her presence was an impossibility that he still could not wrap his mind around it and he just stood there with his arms hanging at his sides as she hugged him.

Samantha seemed to sense this confusion and stepped back to give him some space.

Duncan glanced back and forth between Samantha and Jessie. They both appeared to him exactly like he remembered them. Sam, having always been the more conservative of the two wore her typical brown skirt and loose cotton blouse, while Jessie who enjoyed dressing with the intent to shock, wore a very tight leather mini-skirt and a ripped half tee that exposed a very suggestive tattoo she had just below her navel.

He knew he should be ecstatic to see them. Sam had died almost ten years ago, and Jessie almost three. He was devastated when they had died and he missed them both terribly. However their presence in his kitchen tonight was an impossibility that defied all he had previously believed about the hereafter and as such, he was not convinced they were real at all.

Deciding that there was nothing threatening about the noises in the Kitchen, and as he was too tired to think about the situation just now; he turned on his heel and strode out of the room. He moved through the living room, back up the stairs and down the hall to his bedroom where he closed the door behind him. He didn’t worry about the loud squeak that came from the floorboards in front of the second bedroom. His only thoughts were getting back to his bed, and trying to get some more sleep. Perhaps with some decent rest, he would stop hearing the noises and stop seeing things that were not there.