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ORIGINS

The Wasteland Chronicles, Volume 2

by Kyle West

Chapter 1

Samuel was dying.

We had left Bunker 114 and Cold Mountain behind hours ago and darkness cloaked the Wasteland. As we sped east toward Raider Bluff, I wondered if Brux’s parting shot meant our mission had failed before it even began.

Samuel’s eyes had remained closed for almost the entire journey. Wet blood soaked his right shoulder. The congealing agent had slowed the bleeding somewhat, but he wouldn’t last for long. We had to find someone who could remove the bullet and stop the bleeding. If we couldn’t, either Makara or I would have to do it.

The Recon’s bright blue lights pushed back the night, letting us see ahead in a wide arc. Thirty years of red dust covered most parts of the highway. We zoomed past decrepit buildings, ghost towns, and mangled road signs, the skeletal remains of Ragnarok.

Makara was speeding as fast as the heavy Recon would go — about fifty-five miles per hour, the wheels churning to get us to our destination.

I just didn’t know if it was fast enough.

When the highway turned south, a wide dark river became visible to our left, flowing south.

“We hit the Colorado,” Makara said.

It was more water than I’d ever seen in my life. I’d read about the Colorado River in the Bunker 108 archive. It had once been an important river in the Old World, but overuse had dried it up. Now the river was wide — so wide, in fact, that I couldn’t see the other side in the darkness. Above the river on the opposite bank, high up, rose Raider Bluff. The city’s yellow lights glowed dimly with distance, almost unmoving even with the Recon’s speed.

At last, the road turned left, toward the river. A bridge of tall arches spanned the water.

“Silver Arched Bridge,” Makara said. “The only crossing for miles.”

The giant rungs of the arch stretched from shore to shore with the road running straight underneath. The road itself was almost even with the river — maybe just ten feet above it. The pressure from the current must have been enormous. Two Raiders with rifles guarded the bridge’s front.

“Let me do the talking,” Makara said.

We pulled up, and Makara rolled down her window.

A hard-faced, grizzled man peered inside. His eyes widened as he saw who was driving.

“Makara?”

“Chris, step aside. I have a wounded man in here who will die without medical attention.”

“What?” Chris asked. He shined the flashlight inside the Recon, pointing the beam at Makara, Samuel, and then me. “What happened? Where’s Brux? Twitch? Tyson?”

“All dead. Let me through, and I don’t have time for these questions!”

“What happened?”

“Gunshot wound,” Makara said. “Now step aside unless you want me to run you over!”

“Not so fast,” he said. “I’m not putting my ass on the line until you answer some questions. First, who is this?” he asked, pointing at me.

“Look, Chris,” Makara said, “Just give me clearance to Char or I’ll have him wipe the floor with you. I promise, your not listening to me is more dangerous than this sixteen-year-old kid and a man dying from a gunshot wound.”

Chris sighed, his gaze doing its best to match up with Makara’s. But after a moment, he turned away and raised his radio to his mouth.

“Makara’s back. I’m sending her up. Have the gates ready, over.”

“Copy that, over,” the voice said from the other end.

“Welcome home, Makara,” Chris said sarcastically. “You’re clear. I hope you have a better story for Char than you do for me.”

“I don’t need a story, Chris.” Makara said. “I need a doctor.”

Makara was about to gun the accelerator when Chris grabbed her shoulder.

“What?” she asked, shrugging off his grasp.

“Be careful up there. Things have changed. An emissary from the Empire is in Bluff, talking with Char.”

“The Empire?” Makara asked. “What the hell is the Empire?”

Chris frowned. “You were gone longer than I thought. They’re based in Old Mexico. They’re big, powerful — tens of thousands of people.” He paused. “The emissary’s name is Rex. Just don’t get on his bad side. I know you can be mouthy.”

Makara shook her head. “I’ll say what I want, when I want, Chris. Is that it?”

“Yeah. You should head on. Just watch your back.”

Makara didn’t waste any more words on him. When Chris stepped aside, Makara floored the Recon, rocketing it into the night.

“The Empire,” I said. “That sounds sinister.”

“I’ve never heard of it before,” Makara said. “Gone a few months, and this is what happens. The game always changes every time I come back. That’s nothing new, though.”

Despite those words, I saw the worry in her eyes.

“It’s hard to imagine war at a time like this,” I said. “The world is being taken over by the xenovirus. Leave it to humanity to take itself out first.”

Makara sighed. “All the more reason to patch my brother up quickly and be on our way. We have a mission to finish.”

I looked at Samuel. He was out again. Hopefully, it wasn’t for good this time.

“Just a few minutes, Sam,” Makara said. “Hang on.”

* * *

We drove up what seemed an endless series of switchbacks before the land leveled and placed us before the wooden gates of Raider Bluff. These things were huge, probably three stories high. They made the gates of Oasis look like toys in comparison. A giant wooden palisade surrounded all sides of the town, maybe twenty feet high, as if the sheer cliffs weren’t enough. It must have taken an eternity to build. I wondered where they found the labor, until I realized Raiders were notorious for employing slaves.

At various points in the perimeter, large watchtowers rose. I had no idea where they had gotten the lumber to build these walls. Trees were growing somewhere, apparently, if not here. It was a testament to the citadel’s wealth and power.

The gates drew back, sliding into the walls on either side. Thick chains rigged to pulleys moved the massive fortifications. Even though I was about to enter the biggest den of thieves in all the world, I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Makara drove down the main drag. Wooden buildings and saloons lined either side of the dirt road. It was like entering an Old West town on steroids. Signs swung above the open doors — liquor, girls, and guns seemed to be the establishments’ main themes. Raiders dressed in dingy apparel flanked both sides of the road, making way for us as we came in. From their widened eyes, it was clear that none of them had seen a Recon before.

The Raiders tried to get the Recon to stop but Makara honked the horn and sped up when they got too close.

“They’re not going to hurt us,” she said. “They just want to check out the ride.”

Outside, I could hear them yelling her name.

“You seem to be pretty popular around here,” I said.

“They’re all idiots,” Makara said.

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