After the first of the two moons reached the horizon, I woke Cain for his guard shift, albeit with great difficulty. The man was a very sound sleeper. I was forced to roll him off his makeshift bed platform onto the cold sand.
Despite borrowing Cain’s blanket, the night was long and cold, and I awoke feeling miserable. From the depths of his pack, my companion managed to scrounge up two bars of some unidentifiable protein, disguised in a shiny plastic wrapping with language I didn’t recognize. “Everything ends up in Outworld,” was the only response I received when I inquired as to their origin.
We resumed walking through the desert, past the abandoned ships. After several hours of plodding through thick sand, I finally asked where we were going.
“Salvation,” Cain replied over his shoulder. I paused to consider this response. As a newcomer to Outworld, I hadn’t given up on hope that all this wilderness had an edge, that civilization waited just around the corner. “It’s a dump, of course,” Cain continued, dashing my meager hopes. “Desert town, mainly just folks drinking away their days out here. But it’s better than the wilds, at least.”
The next couple of days passed in a blur. The days were spent hiking, keeping our eyes open for game, and the nights were spent shivering in the shadows of ruined ships. Soon, dust still swirling around our boots, we stood at the outskirts of Salvation.
I stared in dismay at the collection of ramshackle wooden buildings, seeing walls made from salvaged plates of corrugated steel and wooden roofs sagging inward. “It looks abandoned to me. It looks like it has been abandoned for years.”
Cain merely grunted. I watched him unshoulder his rifle with apprehension. I followed closely behind him as we entered the town, scanning the boarded windows for any signs of life or movement. I saw nothing.
The largest building, at the center of the town, was the first to show signs of life. The shutters on the doorway swung slightly in the dry breeze, and the wind bore the faint sound of an out-of-tune piano to our ears. Still holding his weapon in one hand, Cain pushed through the shutters. I hurried to stay near him, hiding in his shadow.
Inside, I had to blink several times before my eyes adjusted to the dim interior. A long bar ran the length of the room, across from us. Behind it, a wiry man in a dirty apron polished the stains on the bar with a rag in one hand, while the other hand gripped something hidden below the bar. I had little doubt that it was a weapon of some sort. Several other grizzled men, seated at the bar on wooden stools, had also turned to watch us. Their hands rested on the pistols in their belts. In the corner, the small fellow seated at the upright piano had stopped plinking the keys and was eyeing us over the lid.
Cain only gave the spectators a passing glance, his eyes sliding over them without pause as he headed for an open bar stool. He nodded to the barman, who didn’t change his suspicious glare. “Drink?” Cain said quietly.
The other didn’t move. “What brings you back to Salvation, Cain?” he asked. “Last time you were here, you made your intentions plain. We weren’t sad to see your backside.”
Cain nodded over to me as I pulled myself onto a stool with difficulty. “Newbie. Just looking to get him on his feet.”
The barman’s judging glance pinned me to my seat. “Doesn’t look like much. Bill’s gonna be here soon.”
In response, Cain merely hefted his rifle, placing it sideways across the bar. He also reached down and removed his sidearm, placing it on the bar in front of me. He opened his mouth to say something more, but was interrupted by a loud bang as the shutters on the front door were thrown violently open.
“Cain, you son-of-a-bitch!” came a yell from the entrance, as the outline of a man filled the doorway. “I warned you what would happen if you showed your face around here again!”
I watched as my companion’s fingers tightened on his rifle. “Our score is even,” he replied. I could hear the undercurrent of tightness in his voice. “I’m just bringing in a newcomer. Nothing to do with you.”
“P’ah, it’s too late for that!” came the cry from the door, and the shadowy figure in the doorway raised the outline of a gun and pulled the trigger.
Next chapter in the Outworld saga.
Next chapter in the Outworld saga.