May 1, 103 PN
I rested on the floor that night, listening to his deliberate snoring drowning my ears. He was curled up on the couch, his back turned to me. I groaned and rolled to my side. Back on the base, I would have no trouble falling asleep; the endless noise of construction, late-night gunfire, and the stray animals had that touch to put me down for a good few hours. Of course, that was on the base, where I knew I'd be safe. I tossed back and forth in annoyance, hands gripping the imaginary pillow. It wasn't the snoring that got to me, it was the silence.
In the wastes, silence meant death. A man could walk through a hail of gunfire and come out virtually unscathed, but would then find himself dead when all he heard was nothing. Even my father had his moments when everything turned quiet. I had no idea how I was able to remain so calm; the nightmare still plagued my mind. Those clicking boots, that voice, his damned smile. I looked to my new acquaintance, a single question bouncing back and forth in my head.
Did he truly meet the Hangman?
I rose to my feet, being wary of the creaking boards beneath, and walked to the window, peering from one of the many bullet holes. There was nothing familiar I recognized upon my entering; the diner was nowhere to be seen. Actually, there was nothing to be seen. No lights, no stars, nothing. By now, the bandits had stripped my motorbike down to the gas tank. I could already hear my father scolding me for being so stupid. We spent years scavenging for the parts, twice almost getting killed for a wheel and gas pedal.
My head shot up as I heard a muffled thud from behind one of the closed doors. To my surprise, this one wasn't barred. I hesitated, then made my way over. Admittedly, it was hard to walk in the dark (but I would not admit almost tripping over my feet). I felt around for the doorknob as my eyes began to adjust, but stopped. In the back of my mind, I heard a little voice telling me to get back. Then came another voice, one with a persuasive tone, pushing me to open the door.
You'll regret it.
Go on, turn the knob.
It's not safe!
Curiosity never stopped you before.
With a quick whip of my hand, I slapped the back of my head, the voices instantly dispersing. I rubbed my eyes and looked back to my ally for the time being. He remained in the same position, still as a statue. How could anyone be that relaxed, especially here? I went against my better judgment to awake him; the last thing I wanted to hear was sarcasm oozing from his mouth.
Out of all the old states, Maryland had become one of the top three most dangerous areas. Rumor had it that the Iron Brigade had a massive training camp somewhere in Maryland, but despite years of searching, we would always come back empty-handed. Any trace of anything connected to the Brigade vanished. We weren't exactly surprised.
Ivanhoe Hellser, the leader of the Irons, had eyes and ears everywhere at anytime. Little was known about him; ten years ago he emerged as the new leader of the Brigade after their former leader left under 'mysterious' circumstances. What we did know about him, however, was his terrifying ability with a knife. Of all the Crossers thinking they were good enough to take Hellser down, only one out of the many survived with their voice box stabbed and losing only an ear and three fingers. He wasn't about to let anyone dare take what was his.
I begun to open the door when I heard a loud crash from below, followed by a stampede of footsteps. Quickly I ran to my ally's side and shook him awake, not caring about the weapon he held loosely in his hands. It took him precious moments to wake up, and even more to wonder what the hell was going on. As soon as I told him what I had heard, he jumped to his feet, rifle tight in his grasp. He pulled a clip of .25-06 rounds from his pocket and loaded them without a second thought. He grabbed my arm and pulled me down behind the couch. There wasn't much I could do about that; without my weapons, I was powerless.
"Well?" I whispered.
His eyes didn't leave the front door. "Under the couch. I'm going to need some back-up."
Nodding, I did as I was told. I pulled out a revolver with the initials 'A.E.' near the bottom of the grip... it was mine! I had no time to act shocked or ask questions upon the whereabouts of my other belongings and opened the cylinder, counting four bullets. I felt around for the other rounds in my pocket, relieved they were still there.
"Where do you want me?" I pulled back the hammer and moved into a crouching position.
He gestured his head to the door I had been near. "In there. As soon as they burst in, let loose on the first one you see."
"And if they're Crossers?"
He let out a scoff. "Do you really think your people would sound like that?" He moved to the end of the couch and rested the rifle on the arm.
"Point taken." Without wasting anymore time, I moved to the room, finding nothing but an empty closet and a single board. I walked in and knelt on one knee, barely peeking from the door frame, my weapon aimed at the door. The sound was getting louder, I judged whoever they were to come in less than a minute.
"As I'll ever be..." I let out a heavy sigh and positioned my index finger directly in the middle of the trigger.
I gave a wince as a powerful kick felled the door and sent it crashing down. One quick glance of the skull medallion draped around their necks gave me all the information I needed. Irons. Four, from where I stood. Before any had a chance to pull out their weapons, I fired. The bullet erupted from the barrel and pierced one in the chest, killing him instantly. As soon as he fell, my ally shot the next man in the head, then another in the stomach. I saw my ally scramble back as the sound of a shotgun screamed through the air, destroying the part where he was. I heard the cock of the weapon, then pushed myself from the closet and fired again, shooting them in the head. I prepared for the worst, but saw no more. I sat against the door frame, sighing, then looked to him. He appeared fine, no wounds I could see.
"What do you think?" he asked, sitting up.
"I don't know what to think, really." I re-opened the cylinder and pushed in three rounds. "What about you?"
"I think we're not quite done..." He rose and picked up his rifle, checking it for damage. "Trade places?"
I stood as well. "As much as I love to almost get blown away, I prefer having some form of..."
My sentence was cut short by a small canister rolling into the room, stopping almost in-between us. We only had a moment to look at each other before our sight became blinded by a blast of white smoke. I instantly started coughing and clapped a hand over my mouth, stumbling backwards. Outlines of men appeared and quickly advanced on us. I raised my revolver and pulled back the trigger, but suddenly shrieked as a loud explosion rang through my ears. My fingers retracted into a horrible twist; bright burns greedily appeared all around my hand.
Two pairs of hands broke from the smoke and grabbed my arms and shoulders. I kicked out, landing a swift boot on a kneecap. There was a loud grunt, then I was slammed to the floor, my head bouncing against the wood. Barely conscious, I was hefted onto a shoulder and carried out, left with the thought of my friend.
Eventually, the pain in my hand became too strong and I blacked out.