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Table of Contents
<<Chapter 7 Chapter 9>>
Nyko and Jonas worked furiously to get the truck moving. Once they had the air pressure lowered, Nyko drove, following the tracks, deep into the desert. Within about thirty miles, the desert gave way to sandstone and rock. The landscape was beautiful, if barren. The occasional cactus was the only green in the reddish landscape.
Jonas found a rail map in the pocket of his door and unfolded it out over the dash. “There’s a big canyon coming up in about a mile. The tracks and the road parallel each other there. I think that’s where we’ll find our maintenance garage.”
“And the fuckin’ marauders. Those sons of bitches back there weren’t alone. I’d bet twenty they were a scouting party.”
Jonas looked at his map again. We could cut east, over to the road. We’d have more cover coming in on the road, and an easier time getting away.”
Nyko spun the wheel hard to the right. “Good idea,” he said as he straightened up the steering wheel. “Plus, I’d rather they didn’t think about the fact that we were coming down the rails. I’d rather they thought we were Ratton’s men coming from Vegas.”
Several minutes later, a string of houses appeared in the distance, each with concrete walls surrounding the yard. Nyko veered to the right again, now almost back-tracking, angling to go around the houses. He stopped in the vacant lot beside the outermost house, and put the truck in park.
“I’m gonna go check it out on foot. If you hear gunshots, come get me. If I’m not back in an hour, go tell Charlie and the boys and come get my corpse.”
“You sure? Seems like a bad idea.”
“Yeah,” Nyko replied, shaking his head. “I’m full of those, it seems. Keep the truck off. We don’t have a lot of fuel to waste. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
He hopped out of the truck and opened the bin, removed Black Bettty and slung her over his back, stuffed a box of shells in his pocket, and at the last minute put a bottle of water in his back pocket. He jogged over to the edge of the wall, and in a mock show of bravado peered around it with his pistol in his hand like he’d seen cops do in the movies.
“What the fuck am I doing,” he said to himself after he was around the corner.
The street was like any small desert town. The front yards were very small; every one of them contained a rock garden of some type. All of the landscaping was long dead; without people watering, even the hardiest ornamental plants died off. The only green, just like out in the desert, came from the occasional cactus and one, lonely looking mesquite tree halfway down the block.
The houses were like all small town Nevada houses. Small, stuccoed one-story ranch houses with terra-cotta shingles.
He looked for any sort of cover, but there was none. The walls in the back yards looked to be six feet tall, a struggle to get over. Nyko wasn’t an athlete. The last two years of hard living had toned him up some, he knew he was in the best shape of his life, but he knew vaulting over half a dozen walls was out of the question. Plus, walking too close to the houses was likely to rile up the infected inside. The last thing he needed was a bunch of zombies making a racket.
Ultimately, he walked down the center of the street. Just a random guy out for a stroll. The houses were all intact. The front doors all had iron bars, which were intact. He took that as a good sign.
The street curved, heading towards the train tracks. As he rounded the bend, he saw that Jonas was right, the railroad maintenance shed was there. It was also occupied. Nyko backed up so that the house was between him and the railroad building again, and considered his options.
From his brief glance, it looked like two dozen or more men. The building had roll up doors in the front for trucks like the one Nyko was in and roll up doors in the back with tracks leading out. The barn looked like it held at least six locomotives, hopefully the maintenance locos were in there. From the street, his view was blocked by an antique train parked in the cul-de-sac in front of the building.
He studied the picture in his mind trying to make out any more detail, but he just hadn’t gotten a good look. Nyko crept towards the house that was blocking their view of him, laid down on his belly and stuck his head around the corner.
At least fifty marauders. Four vehicles, and every one of them armed with some kind of weapons. One, who was wearing a buzzard carcass as a hat carried a shovel that had been carved and sharpened into a battle axe.
As Nyko watched, he heard a car coming from the opposite direction. The tires squealed from blocks away, and the engine revved. The car, a hard-top mustang with the top cut off, no doors, and no trunk came flying around the corner, headed straight for Nyko. All four fenders had been cut to make room for enormous balloon tires. At the last minute, the driver yanked the wheel, turning towards the rail barn, skidding sideways through the yard. The driver and gunner were screaming and hollering with delight.
They were so close to Nyko he was hit by hundreds of rocks as the car spun through the yard. A man standing in the back seat holding on to a machine gun mounted to a pole lost his footing. His feet flew out of the car, and the gun swiveled as the man whipped out around the driver.
The gunner tried to bring his feet down on the hood, but just as he did, the driver smashed into the train. The gunner was ripped off the machine gun and flew backwards, hitting the side of the train as the rear of the car bounced up in the air at the sudden stop.
The driver killed the engine, still carrying on, except now he was bleeding profusely from a cut on his forehead. His whole face was covered in blood. The gunner slumped down the side of the train, and hit the hood of the car face-first.
The driver shook his friend, trying to wake him. When he didn’t wake, the driver pulled out a pistol and shot him in the head.
Buzzard Hat screamed, “What the fuck are you doing!”
The driver pulled a flask out of his pocket and unscrewed it as Buzzard hat walked over. “Aww, Captain, we was just funning. Guess Tim-o hit his head a little too hard. I didn’t want him to turn inta one a them things, so I fixed him up good.” The driver turned towards the building and yelled, “Hoist a glass to Tim-o, mates!”
“Huzzah! Tim-o! Huzzah!” The crowd of marauders cheered.
“Did you find the fuckers that killed my scouts?” Buzzard Hat yelled. His voice cracked as he spoke.
“No, we figured they high-tailed it back wherever they came from, Cap’n. Tim-o there said he couldn’t find no tracks, on account of it was out in the dunes.”
“Fucking failures!” The captain reared back with his huge axe and swung it in a huge sideways arc. The driver’s head flew off, landing several feet away.
Nyko nearly puked.
The Captain picked up the driver’s head and held it high. “Anyone else want to fail me? All of you motherfuckers go find the son-of-a-bitch that killed my men! First one back with that fuck’s head gets a bottle of liquor and a carton of smokes.
One man in the back raised his hand. The Captain nodded towards him. “What is it, Daryl?”
“Uhh, sir. What, uh. I mean, what I mean to say is, uhh. What kind of liquor?”
The Captain grinned as he pulled a massive pistol out of his waistband. The barrel must have hung to his knees inside his pants. Without missing a beat, he aimed and fired at Daryl, who’s head exploded in a mist of atomized blood and gray matter, coating the men around and behind him.
“Anyone else wanna ask any stupid fucking questions? Now get to work!”
To a man, they all ran to the trucks. One of the men dragged Tim-o off the hood of the mustang and jumped in the driver’s seat. Another man stood in the back seat and grabbed the machine gun. To Nyko’s surprise, the engine fired with no trouble. The driver backed out from under the train, and drove off. They wouldn’t get too far though, Nyko could hear the low, thb thb thb thb of the fender rubbing against the tire.
The Captain was alone, standing there with his pistol in one hand and the driver’s head in his hand.
“Fucking idiots,” he said, dropping the head and shoving the massive revolver into his pants. The Captain walked towards the building.
Nyko figured now was his best shot. He unslung Black Betty as he stood up and stepped around the corner of the building.
“Captain,” he yelled. He heard Jonas approaching from behind.
The Captain turned to see Nyko holding a rifle on him. “Who are you, boy?”
“Name’s Nyko, and I’m not your boy. I want to make a deal for some the equipment in your barn.”
“Captain Juke, pleasure to make your acquaintance. Typically I am disinclined to negotiate under duress.” He paused, and then spread his arms. “It’s not for sale.”
Nyko stepped forwad and lowered the gun, so that it was pointing at the dirt about halfway between them. “Everything’s for sale, it’s just a matter of agreeing on a mutually beneficial exchange. I need a railroad plow, and regular passage past your barn, and in exchange I’m willing to trade aggressively.”
Captain Juke thought for a minute. “You’ll be heading to Phoenix then? I’ll trade for safe passage and entry into Phoenix. You get me out of this hell on earth and into paradise and I’ll give you whatever you need.”
“I can’t even guarantee they’ll let me into Phoenix, but I’ll promise safe passage,” said Nyko. “We have a fully stocked bar and restaurant car. I’ll offer you first class accommodations and all the credits you can drink in the bar.”
Jonas pulled the truck to a stop beside Nyko, put it in park, opened the door for Nyko, and slid across the bench.
“That’s a deal. Come back tomorrow to pick it up,” replied Juke.
Nyko’s intuition punched him in the gut. “I think it’s right now, or never. We’ll get her running right now and start clearing the way back to the station. We’ll pick you up on the way through in five days. Just you, none of your men.”
“It sounds as if we have an accord, Master Nyko. Will you shake on it?”
Nyko lowered his gun and met Juke in the middle. Juke grabbed his hand and pulled him close as he drove a dagger into Nyko’s stomach. He whispered, “That’s for killing my men,” before dropping the man. Jonas stepped out from behind the truck and fired both barrels of Nyko’s shotgun, hitting Juke in the neck and face.
Faster than he could have believed, Jonas was at Nyko’s side with a first aid kit, ripping the packaging off of a large square bandage. “Press hard,” he ordered his boss. “I need you to get into the truck, I can’t drag you in.”
Nyko staggered to the truck and slumped down in the passenger seat. “Charlie. Get me to Charlie,” was all Nyko could get out as blood ran out of his mouth. Then he lost consciousness.