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A Dying Peace: Chapter 23

Blue sky stretched across the desert like a perfect sapphire ocean. It juxtaposed so sharply with the orange sand below that to Rafen it seemed that the earth and the heavens were of two distinct dimensions. Where the land radiated stifling heat and filled the air with choking dust, the atmosphere above was endlessly untainted and cool as an aquifer – if only he could reach it. Somewhere, Chalice would be flying a similar orbit around Cruor, tantalising close but separated by a sea of vacuum impassable to the natives of this failed colony.

Raysor was a moon primarily covered by desert – the colony-building fleet had endeavoured to harness the aquifers buried deep under the scorched dust and sand to nurture agricultural land fertilised with their own mixtures of organic material. That was before the people of Raysor spat them out, ensuring they suffered in squalor for eternity.

Rafen’s scrapper thundered in an undignified dash across the sand in shuddering bursts of speed, its suspension bobbing to keep the vehicle stable. Rafen sat in the passenger seat while Maren wrestled with the steering wheel next to him, his sinewy arms flexed and taught with effort. Behind him was the newcomer Black, who fought the endless jostling with one hand on the roll cage and the other firmly on her rifle.

Rafen’s scrapper was in basic design a dune buggy with a few modifications. Most of the roll cage had been fitted out with steel plating except the bars which created the roof; good steel was scarce, and the sides and front had been a higher priority to reinforce. Rafen had put little effort into ornamentation which singled him out from his colleagues, more often barbarian than professional.

Maren had been Rafen’s driver since he’d been given his own scrapper around three years ago. They were a good team and had since developed a semblance of friendship, perhaps the greatest reason for this was that Maren didn’t seem to be affected by the same madness that plagued most of Rafen’s peers. It was rough country out here and the people who rode these sandy plains were equally coarse.

Black, on the other hand, was as mysterious as they come. Maren said she was a street thug from Primary but others said she wasn’t from Raysor at all. Rafen hadn’t had the chance to pry further and so she managed to remain as enigmatic as the day she had been assigned to his scrapper. The chick could shoot, and although mute, appeared to be sane.

The scrapper cleared a small rise with a brief dash through open air before its tires tore back into the dune below and sent the vehicle surging downwards. As they ploughed through the downslope of the dune, the outpost came into view ahead. Behind the makeshift base stretched Hell’s Ditch, a herculean canyon, a geographical mystery, and a notable break in the monotony of rolling desert dunes. People went in there looking for the wreck of one of the CBC ships, Rafen didn’t know of anyone who came back out. On the crumbling edge closest to the outpost, pipes the size of trucks protruded from the earth, reaching into the void, truncated by sublime forces and whose original purpose was unclear.

Watching the outpost approach Rafen racked the slide on his AK and checked his pocket for the spare magazine he had stashed there. The whine of the engine rang in his ears as he turned around and yelled a warning at Black who nodded in reply, her emotionless face smeared with thick engine oil. The scrapper picked up speed as the plain levelled out and Maren fed the throttle.

The outpost itself was a single structure made from pieces of sheet metal and plastic, shaped like a box with a low roof and a broken wire fence surrounding the perimeter. On one side the fence had been torn down and a small vehicle, what looked like a pickup truck, sat baking in the sun.

The scrapper approached at about sixty kilometres an hour, moving in a direction that would see them pass by the front of the building. Rafen craned his neck to look past Maren as they sped by the building looking for movement. He saw someone duck inside as another stood up on the roof above. Maren slung the scrapper into a wide drift, throwing the back of the vehicle out as he circled round to the back of the building. At that point, the first shots rang out above the engines screaming and Rafen flinched as something struck the metal plating beside Maren.

“Head back round the front!” Rafen yelled at Maren above the noise, his voice cracking with the effort.

Maren swept the scrapper in another wide turn, throwing dust out behind the rear wheels. The vehicle arced back around to the front of the building as a Molotov sailed past and exploded a few meters behind them. Rafen slapped Maren’s shoulder as the vehicle slowed and pushed the heavy door open; suddenly the desert stretched out in front of him with the cruel blue sky taunting above. He fell out of the vehicle.

Rafen rolled onto his shoulder and grunted as he thudded into the grit and sand. Shots rang out in the dry air as he scrambled into a half crouch and headed back towards the building, soon he was ducking behind the rusty flank of the pickup truck as bullets thumped into the chassis, punching into the metal with deafening thuds. He wiped the dust off his face before he poked his head over the tray and sprayed the roof of the building with a burst from his AK. More shots kicked up dust behind him as the wine of scrapper returned from around the building. Maren slung the vehicle in a wide corner again and brought the vehicle to a halt, Black then popped up from the top with her Winchester shouldered.

She began firing whilst pumping away at the lever with the weapon shouldered. The Winchester barked like the crack of a whip, sharp and authoritative – nothing like his AK which chattered and grumbled like a tortured mechanical beast. Rafen heard the lead slap into the metal sheeting of the building whilst yelling could be heard from somewhere inside. Meanwhile, Rafen steeled himself for action, the only way to stay alive in a gunfight was to move, Rafen had learnt that by watching countless others make the mistake of doing the opposite.

His hands shaking, Rafen ducked around the back of the truck with his AK raised. A bearded man swathed in a sand-coloured cloak and armed with a pistol was heading in his direction. Rafen fired his rifle reflexively, the AK chattered and the man fell to the ground with half a face and his gut shot out. Rafen sprinted past the corpse as a rifle opened up from above him, kicking up dust behind his feet and making him instinctively cover his head with his arms. He tripped as he reached the side of the building and fell face first into the dirt beside the corrugated steel wall. He heard yelling inside the building right beside him and, he raised the AK and fired two bursts through the rusting metal wall. Weary of return fire, he scrambled away from where he fell. He glanced back to see Black sprinting across the dirt towards the pick-up truck as the gunner on the roof sprayed the dirt around her. Maren poked his handgun out the driver’s side window and shot back before revving the engine and lurching into motion.

Rafen grunted in surprise as the wall beside him exploded outwards in a crash of metal and smashed him back into the dirt, the rough iron ground against his face and chest as something scrambled on top of him. He smashed the butt of his AK against the metal and pushed himself out just as his attacker appeared screaming above him. Rough hands grabbed his vest and slammed him to the ground, his head hit the dirt and his vision blurred. He groaned as he desperately clung onto the rifle as the squealing man tried to rip it from him.

He swung a punch at the crazed figure and connected with the man’s temple, sending him reeling. Rafen rolled over onto his stomach and tried to stand. A kick slammed into his ribs and sent him sprawling as he began coughing uncontrollably. A stock whip slapped the air and something fell onto him, more blood coursed onto the back of his head.

He groaned as he pushed the corpse off and crawled back to the wall. He got up with his head throbbing and put his back to the wall beside the now gaping hole in the corrugated iron. He wiped the blood off his face with a forearm and peered back to the front of the building. Black was pinned behind the truck and Maren was nowhere in sight.

Rafen swore, his hands were shaking so much with the adrenaline the AK was rattling softly in his grip. He made a decision. He pointed the rifle back at the wall and emptied the last of his magazine into the building before sprinting to the rear of the structure. At the back of the ramshackle structure, he found an overturned dumpster which made up a large proportion of the back wall. He slung his AK over his shoulder and pulled himself up.

As he pushed himself to his feet on top of the dumpster, a face appeared above him, silhouetted against the brilliant blue sky. Rafen jumped up and grabbed a booted ankle, the man squealed as he was pulled off his feet and over the ledge. Rafen stepped to the side as the man fell feet first past him, crashing onto the dumpster briefly before somersaulting and landing face first on the ground below. Rafen panted as he watched the man groan and writhe on the ground with his eyes closed. The scrapper came flying round the back of the building, Maren shouted something out the window but Rafen couldn’t catch the words over the engine’s roar.

Rafen pressed on. He jumped and caught the ledge of the roof before pulling himself over the rusty lip of steel, feeling his clothes snag as he did so. The rooftop was flat metal sheeting and now solely occupied by a mow-hawked bandit with an assault rifle. A small stool sat roughly in the middle of the space and a couple of spare magazines were scattered amongst what looked like bottles of liquor and other trash. Bullet casings were strewn about him as he peeked over the low wall at the front and fired down at Black.

Rafen pulled a shiv out of his combat boot and stalked up to the man, his boots clunked softly against the metal. Three steps away he inadvertently knocked over a bottle and the man glanced over his sunburnt shoulder. Rafen lunged and drove the shiv into the thug’s ribs; the man screamed and lashed out at Rafen with one hand, the other still on his rifle. Rafen flinched as he took a punch to the jaw, he palmed back blindly and bent the shiv in the wound. The man screamed again and dropped his rifle, grasping at Rafen’s hand which was now slick with claret. Rafen punched the man in the head and then in the throat, he wanted the piece-of-shit to stop screaming and just die. He punched again as the man fell to his knees, one hand on his throat and the other on Rafen’s wrist. His eyes were bulging in the most peculiar way, they were bloodshot and yellowed, glistening with moisture in the sunlight.

Rafen pulled the shiv out and plunged it back into the man’s chest, the metal punched through his dirty singlet and dug in. The thug bent over backwards while groaning, blood poured from his side and welling up eagerly around the base of the shiv. Droplets hit the metal sheeting and sizzled softly as they boiled.

Rafen grit his teeth and pulled the shiv out again, wiping the blood on his dusty pants. At that moment their scrapper came drifting round from the right, its metallic edges shining brightly in the daylight. A flaming bottle came sailing through the air from somewhere to his right, it somersaulted in the sun, the wick struggling to stay alight as it tumbled end over end. The scrapper reached the apex of its turn just as the bottle smashed against the tallest strut of the roll cage. A small explosion blossomed, momentarily obscuring most of the top half of the vehicle. Rafen felt his throat constrict into a yell.

The scrapper lost power and ground to a halt, still largely covered by fire. A second later the driver’s side door clunked open and Maren burst out, swatting at flames that clung to his shoulders like a cloak. He made it four steps before he was wracked with automatic gunfire, his body shuddered as shots stitched across his torso and rocked his head back. He stumbled and collapsed lifelessly as blood splattered on the orange sand around him, his back was still on fire. Rafen yelled something incoherent in horror.

He ducked down, crouching down as the scream quieted. He grunted and suppressed a sob as tears welled up in his eyes. He shook his head and blinked furiously. No, no, no, not Maren. Somewhere below people were cheering. The Winchester split the air in reply and other shots followed.

He pulled the AK around and dug into his pocket to find the spare magazine. It wasn’t there. He swore and balled his fists. More shots come somewhere from the left. He tossed the AK over the edge and picked up the rifle from beside the dead thug, he ejected the magazine and scrambled around on the hot metal till he found the spares he had seen earlier. He stashed one in his pants pocket and locked the other one into the receiver. He racked the slide and stumbled to the back of the building. He half lowered, half fell onto the dumpster and then to the dusty ground below, his knees complained as he took his first steps. He rounded the corner of the building he hadn’t cleared yet and was rewarded with the sweaty back of the gunner who had presumable shot Maren.

Rafen yelled himself hoarse and strangled the trigger of the Galil. The shooter in front of him stumbled forward as he received countless shots to the back, when he hit the ground he rolled over with his rifle still in his hands. Rafen ducked to the side as the weapon fired back in a shaking spasm. Rafen fired the Galil again and emptied an entire magazine into the man. As the gun clicked on an empty chamber the shooter’s t-shirt had become so riddled with blood-rimmed holes it was now more oozing craters than it was material. Rafen ejected the clip and slammed the last one home.

He called out to Black and received a whistle in reply. He moved to the front of the building and found her on the opposite corner, presumably where she had been exchanging fire with the man he just killed. Her black face was stretched with anxiety and her white eyes stood out like bone-coloured pebbles on charcoal.

She gestured into the building with her Winchester. He nodded, his head was throbbing badly and it hurt to move his eyes too far to the left and right.

The two of them moved to the front of the building and Rafen kicked the rusty door open with his boot. The door squealed on its hinges and crashed into the wall inside. Black ducked inside with her Winchester shouldered. Rafen ducked in after her, the gloom temporarily rendering his vision useless. No one shot him.

The room was small, the floor made up of the desert floor and the only furniture was a severely abused leather couch. Reclining there and seemingly unarmed was the outpost’s commander, Moritz The Spider. Mortiz grinned a yellow-toothed smile at them, he was dressed in brown cargo pants and a stained grey tee shirt. On the ground next to him were three empty bottles of homebrew and a pistol without its magazine.

“Welcome to my humble kingdom” he croaked. “I’ve been expecting you”


Rafen hauled Mortiz outside into the blistering sun and pushed him towards the base of the closest dunes. Rage was surging through his body, a black fuel, like a quickening which rumbled away in his chest and sent tendrils out into his gut and his limbs.

“Like I said, I want to join the Firebirds, that’s why I sent that message to The Boss, that’s why we’re not shooting at each other right now” his voice sounded like the grinding of rusty iron cogs. Rafen felt the bile inside twist and rage with each word the man said.

“Move.” Rafen pushed the man forward again, his boots kicked up small puffs of orange dust as he stumbled slightly.

Moritz turned and spread his arms, he smiled again. “Come on man, be gentle, we’re gonna be comrades soon.” Moritz had a centimetre of hair on his scarred head and patches of off-coloured skin covering his face. Rafen thought he was just about the ugliest son-of-a-whore he had seen all day. Out here, that meant a lot.

“Alright alright, so you don’t wanna talk, let’s just get in your scrapper and get the fuck out of here” He scratched his bald head and squinted up at the sun “it’s fucking hot out here”.

Rafen felt the mass inside of him shift and fury boiled up like a fetid stew left over the fire. As the feeling grew, he suffered a stab of despair when he glanced over at Maren’s corpse, just meters away from the scrapper he had driven with such finesse.

Black trotted over to the pair holding Rafen’s AK, she gave him a questioning look. Rafen turned away, blinking away the beginnings of tears.

Mortiz turned to face them as he reached the scrapper, a big grin across his face again, it crinkled his discoloured skin in the most appalling way. “So, which is my seat?”

Rafen dropped the Galil he was carrying and punched him square in the jaw. Mortiz stumbled back and yelled in surprise, clutching his face.

“What the fuck?” He wiped his face and stared at Rafen with anger plain on his face. “Have you got a fucking problem or what?” He lunged at Rafen who stepped back out of range. Rafen looked at Black and gestured at her Winchester. She tossed it to him without a word.

The anger faded from Moritz’s face as fast as it had appeared, he stared at the weapon with wide eyes. “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” Rafen checked the safety was off and wrenched the lever action open and closed with a double metallic click. He had never killed anyone in cold blood before, but the desert was hot and the sun unrelenting, no-one’s blood was exactly cool out here. And Maren was dead. His only real friend in this psychotic hell hole. He clenched his jaw as the rage came back stronger than before.

Moritz was incredulous “No, no, no, no. Put that away, please? I thought we had a deal. Fuck. What about the deal with The Boss? I know where the laser is, you know, the Stone Breaker” He put one hand up in a futile gesture. “C’mon man, this is fucked up, you can’t do this.”

Rafen raised the rifle “You make the Molotov’s right?”

Moritz paused “Yeah, course. I make them real good. It’s the thickener, sticks to everything.”

Rafen stared at him, thoughts of Maren on fire splintering his mind’s eye.

Moritz didn’t get it “Look, I can’t show you here, take me back to the Boss, he’s gonna wanna know where the Stone Breaker is real soon.”

Rafen blinked as sweat dribbled into his eyelid. He motioned with his head at Maren’s burnt corpse.

Mortiz was reluctant to take his eyes off the gun but he glanced to his right and then realised instantly what was about to happen.

“No man, c’mon, I didn’t throw that shit, I just made them!” He got down on his knees “Please don’t fucking kill me, c’mon man, this is fucked up – I know where Stone Breaker is! He needs it, the Boss needs it!” His pleading was even more infuriating when it grated out of his throat like a tire over gravel.

“Maren’s dead. He would have been fine if the scrapper didn’t cop one of your fucking molotovs. Maren’s dead.”

Mortiz opened his mouth to speak again and Rafen fired. The shot hit Mortiz in the gut and he shuddered before issuing a tortured howl. It saturated the silence around them so completely that Rafen thought that it might stay there permanently, baked into the dirt and the sand. The sound crumpled out of his throat and then stopped. Mortiz looked up with blood on his lips and agony in his eyes.

Rafen wrenched the lever again and a shell tumbled to the dust. He aimed and fired again. Mortiz’s head rocked forwards and even as his body slumped back and thudded onto the desert floor. A spray of blood and brain matter now painted the front of the scrapper.

Maybe he would leave it there. For Maren

Continue reading with Chapter 24

Back to Chapter 22

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