Nyko watched the scenery unfold in front of him. In the course of half a day, the landscape went from rocky canyons to tall mesas, then to scrubby desert. The first saguaro cactus appeared, standing nearly ten feet tall; it hadn’t sprouted any arms yet.
He was admiring the cactus, a plant that thrived in the harshest conditions when he was thrown forward in his seat. He stood up and moved hand-to-seat up the aisle. The train was moving slow in an attempt to conserve fuel as well as check out the integrity of the tracks. By the time Nyko made it to the end of the car, they were at a dead stop.
The boss stepped out to the platform between cars and looked towards the front of the train. In the distance through the low, scrubby brush he could see something the tracks. Jonas was waving frantically. Nyko stepped down to the ground and walked up towards the locomotive.
Nyko heard the sound of roar of Andy’s buggy flying across the desert, coming towards them, but he was on the other side of the train, out of sight.
He finally got close enough to hear Jonas over the roar of the diesel engines. “Boss! Marauders!”
“Fuck,” Nyko said to himself and broke into a trot up towards the locomotive. He reached the steps and heard the first shots ring out from the crow’s nest on top of the tanker. It wasn’t the machine gun, but a steady staccato of rifle shots, half a second apart. He bounded up into the engine and winced at the pain in his side. “How many?”
“Lots. Fifty maybe?”
Nyko stuck his head out the window. Andy was heading for the train, followed by six trucks about three hundred yards away. Behind them, men were running. Another shot from the crow’s nest sent a dark shape tumbling out of the bed of one of the trucks.
“Is that Terrell in the Crow’s nest? Damn that fucker can shoot.” He bent over the bench in the locomotive, opened the seat and pulled out two rifles. Jonas’ rifle started off as a police issue Sig-Saur MPX, a small pistol-like sub machine gun. Brian added a modified, shortened folding stock, a red-dot scope, and a flashlight under the short, six and a half inch barrel. Brian called it the T-Rex gun; It was so short even a Tyrannosaurus Rex could shoot it. It fit Jonas perfectly. A curved thirty round magazine arced out of the receiver.
The second was a stock version of the same gun. Inside the bench were half a dozen magazines, and ten boxes of .40 caliber Smith and Wesson ammunition. They had enough bullets in the locomotive to kill a small army, if they made them count.
Andy pulled up beside the locomotive and stopped. “More than a hundred. Coming this way. Four trucks and two big armored trucks in the rear.”
Brian vaulted over the back of the rail buggy into the gunner’s position. “Let’s go wreck them motherfucker brother!” He shouted, strapping in.
“Be careful. Let them come to us. Swing wide and come at them from the back. If you can, take out the two armored trucks first. That’s probably the leader. This is what we built this train for. Heat this son of a bitch up.”
Jonas idled the engines up to the eighty percent mark. “Generators at one hundred percent, captain.”
“Dude. Was that supposed to be a Scottish accent?”
“Aye Captain. I don’t know how much more she can take. Dilithium crystals are almost at maximum capacity.”
“Damnit, Jonas! I need more power!”
“I’ll see what I can do, but I’m already givin’ ya all she’s got. Maybe if I could adjust the fuel injection I could give you another twenty percent.”
Jonas grinned as he turned the dial the rest of the way up. The engines hummed, vibrating the entire train. “Captain, I don’t know how much more she can…” Jonas quote was cut off by the sound of bullets pinging off the metal exterior.
“Sound the horn,” Nyko ordered, stepping up onto the wooden platform inside the locomotive.
Jonas sounded four blasts, long, short, long, short. “Now we wait.”
The marauders in the trucks stopped, and seconds behind them the running group passed, swarming the train. Nyko flicked up a little red switch cover, revealing two plastic toggles underneath.
Nyko flipped the first switch. “Charging.”
Jonas looked out the window. “Wait for it. Ten more seconds.”
Nyko counted down to three in his head, then said “Three. Two. One. Now!” He flipped the second switch, sending five hundred thousand watts of power generated by the train’s diesel electric generators along massive cables to the external plating of the train.
Small arcs of lightning lept from the train to anything nearby electrocuting the attacking marauders instantly.
Nyko flipped both switches off and stepped down off the train and walked back to the first passenger car. When he stepped up, a marauder lept through the doorway at him. Nyko fired two shots from his sub machine gun and kept moving forward, stepping on the corpse in the aisle. He crouched and moved his way back through the cars, killing two more marauders as he went.
Both the crow’s nest and one of the two rear miniguns spun up, the sound of ten thousand angry hornets amplified a hundred times. The sound was the sort that rumbled in the chest and reverberated throughout the entire train.
Nyko cringed at the amount of ammunition being used. Each minigun fired four thousand rounds per minute from its six rotating barrels. Every thirtieth round was a bright phosphorus streak, a tracer round that helped the gunner aim the storm of lead.
Nyko stopped between the last sleeper car and the caboose to watch. This wasn’t a fair fight, it was carnage. Dead marauders carpeted the ground beside the train, three of the four trucks were burning, ignited by the two thousand degree trader rounds. From the top of the train, Derrick was pouring rounds into the second armored truck. Nyko watched him walk the bullets from the rear tire to the front, and then concentrate several thousand rounds in the engine compartment before the truck started smoking and stopped. Brian and Andy spun sideways beside the truck, coming to a rest facing the driver’s side door.
Brian held something to his mouth, then tossed a small bundle under the truck. Andy reversed the buggy quickly, and seconds later a huge explosion lifted the truck off the ground, flipping it onto its side. Andy deftly brought the buggy around facing the back doors, and parked.
Both miniguns stopped firing. Nothing moved on the field. Jonas sounded a quick wah wah on the massive locomotive’s air horns, indicating the all clear. On that signal, Andy and Brian returned to the train. Nyko could hear Brian as he made his way through the caboose.
“Shit man, you see that motherfucker! Whoom! BLAM! Blew that motherfucking truck right on its god damn side! I swear to god I thought that shit was going to knock me off the buggy! Shit!”
Nyko hopped off the end of the train.
“Boss, you see that? Holy shit!” The word holy came out as four or five syllables.
“Yeah. What the fuck was that?”
“Me an’ Andy made up a whole rack of pipe bombs outta some old plumbing shit we had layin’ around. Them sumbitches got some serious power!”
Nyko shook his head. “You two are gonna get yourselves killed. What’s that on the tracks?”
“The tracks are done, Boss. They’re going to have to be replaced. Looks like they blew them up, then piled a couple old train cars and trash on them. The whole thing’s a setup to try and derail anyone coming down the track.”
“How far ahead is Phoenix?”
“I think I saw it in the distance from a bluff about five miles up. Wait until you get a glimpse of it. If that was Phoenix, it looks a lot different than it used to.”
“The whole place is surrounded by a huge white wall. Practically glows in the sunlight. I’d guess I can see about fifteen miles out here, so maybe twenty miles away?”
“Any chance of repairing the tracks?”
“We’ll have to dig up and replace the ties, weld the new rails in place, and grind the track smooth.”
Jonas reached the end of the train as Andy was answering. “We found all the stuff to do that in the barn, but I don’t have any experience welding like that. We’ll have to creep across the welds the first few times, to make sure they can support the load.”
“I don’t suppose you found a manual?”
“Well, yeah. Everything had its documentation, but welding is an art,” Jonas replied. “We can do ‘er, but it’s going to take some time, and we’re sitting ducks out here.
“Here’s what we’ll do. There was siding about an hour back. We’ll run back there, and drop the last two cars in the siding, then pull behind them and push them back here. Two men stay here and get to work on clearing the damaged sections.”
The look on the men’s faces was one of dread. They had to have known they were going to come up on stretches of damaged track.
Nyko continued, “The rest of us will run back to a pile of ties and load a dozen or so. I haven’t seen any since the bridge, but I haven’t been looking. There’s got to be a stack somewhere between here and there. We’ll pull up a siding if we have to and use that rail. Who wants to stay?”
Brian and Andy looked at each other. “We’ll stay. We can use the buggy to pull most of that shit off the tracks.”
“Good men. Let’s get to work. I want to be on the other side of this mess in three days.”
Dropping and repositioning the two cars took less than half a day. It was late evening by the time Andy and Brian parked the buggy beside the caboose and freight car and watched the rest of the train disappear back the way they’d come.
“Wonder how long until them sons of bitches get back.”
“Which?” asked Andy
“Which what,” said Brian, pulling a flask out of his thigh pocket.
“Which sons of bitches?”
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