Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Road to Vault City

He stood there in the wasteland for half a day while his wounds healed, while burns cooled and cuts squeezed themselves tight shut. Stood there until he felt good and strong again, enough to be moving off at any rate. His few scattered possessions he gathered once more in the capacious pockets of his homemade suit of armour: an assault rifle from before the war, a customised handgun, a combat knife, a sledgehammer, 200 rounds of ammunition, half-a-dozen grenades, a well-stocked medical kit, a selection of cold cuts from various mutated beasts, a torn and soiled leather bodysuit, a small potted plant, three bottles of whisky and nearly 1,500 bottle caps. The spear that had that very morning pierced his side lay close to where he stood and he thought about taking it with him as a keepsake but decided not, for fear of overburdening himself.

For three days he walked, his eyes fixed always on the grey horizon. After a time it seemed like the sky and the earth were trembling where they met, like it was fear of the other’s touch that kept them always apart, that kept him always from reaching his destination. He didn’t see another soul, save for a pack of wild dogs that he blew to pieces with a fragmentation grenade. One of them survived the blast, and he finished it off with a punch to the groin as it tried to limp clear; despite the pain, the animal made no sound. He thought about this and tried to imagine the music of his own death, now surely but weeks, days, hours away. He was headed south and that was where his death was going too, closing with each step until the appointed hour when it would draw level and cancel him out once again. He thought on how he felt about this and realised that he felt nothing at all. Dying was a regular chore in the wasteland; no sooner did you get it done than another morning’s light would creep over the horizon and it was time to do it over.

The first settlement he encountered was no more than a couple of ruined shacks and some ruined people huddled about them. A green luminous haze marked the city limits, if you could call them that, and exotic music drifted up from somewhere out of sight. He first approached a ragged woman with a missing face but she just kept saying the same thing over and he gave up on the conversation quick. The second person was a kid wearing armour just the same as his, and he talked about raiders coming from the east and killing whoever they saw. Men and women with rifles and shotguns who never did anything but fight and kill and die, so far as anyone could tell. The kid asked for help and he said he would help, but first he needed to find a certain place that was supposed to be nearby, did he know where it was maybe? The kid said that he would tell him afterwards.

It was only a few seconds later that they came. Five of them, armed like the kid had said and screaming death like they were bringing down a curse on all mankind. He took aim with his assault rifle and put three rounds in a stranger’s skull, blowing it to pieces. It was as if he’d let out some great pressure that was already locked inside there, waiting for the right moment to obliterate the small chamber of bone and all its delicate contents. The others he killed quick in the same manner, and after he’d done it he felt only a sense of enlargement, like the removal of these other people had given him space to expand. To ascend to some new level that was indistinguishable from the one before but different all the same.

Thanks mister, said the kid who’d asked for his help. That place you want is a ways south of here. Maybe a day’s walk if you hurry. He thanked him and accepted a handful of bottle caps in payment. Then he set out again.

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