No, this isn’t connected to any other story yet. Just a bit of post-apocalyptic character building.
As I gazed around the interior of the ruined building, uneasily noticing how the other members of Terry’s crew seemed to occupy their spare time by using pointy objects to pick at their teeth or nails, or sharpen their blades, something nagged at the back of my mind. Something about Terry’s description of his allies.
“Wait a minute,” I said, turning towards Terry. He was still standing beside me, obviously enjoying my discomfort, thrust into this world with which I was totally unfamiliar. “You said that you had four other people in your crew, right?”
“I did,” he agreed, grinning at me. His hands hung free, but I knew that, if I made the slightest aggressive move, he would have the pistol at his waist free in a heartbeat. Although I doubt he’d waste a bullet on me. Not when a knife would work just as well, and be much cheaper.
I glanced around the dusty, shadowed interior. “I only count three,” I said, my eyes roaming over each of them in turn. Jhang was using a dagger to clean his nails, perched contentedly atop an overturned shelving unit. Kali was using a whetstone to hone her many daggers; a small pile sat on the ground beside her, waiting to be sharpened before she would tuck them back up her sleeves. And Wade, whom I had yet to hear utter a sentence more than three words long, was sitting cross-legged atop a small stool, his eyes closed in meditation and his long, straight-edged blade lying across his lap.
“We’re a tight-knit crew, sure, but there’s always more to be done around this place,” Terry commented, spreading his hands wide to take in the disarray. “So sometimes, while most of us are out on missions, like retrieving you, I’ll send one or two of us off to get some real work done.” His eyes flicked away from my face, over my shoulder. “Ah, and here he is now!”
I turned, and was stunned as I took in the newcomer. I couldn’t believe he had managed to get this close to me before I noticed him.
Approaching at a slow tread was the largest man that I had ever seen. He stood well over seven feet in height, and had shoulders as wide as axe handles. Each hand, hanging open loosely at his side, must have been as big as a dinner plate. He was walking with his back slightly hunched, but I was still amazed that he was able to fit through a door frame.
“Our last member!” Terry declared loudly as the giant joined our rough, ragged circle. “Meet Smasher. Oh, it’s an obvious name, to be sure, but it just suits him so well!”
The giant gave a slight grumble, a low-pitched rumbling noise deep in his throat. Terry crossed in front of me, reaching up to pat the massive man’s arm in a curiously dismissive manner. “Smasher doesn’t do much talking,” Terry went on. “Not really his thing. But he’s our go-to for the heavy lifting, and he certainly pulls his load!”
I looked back up at Smasher. Now that I looked closer, I could see that his wide face was curiously childlike. He had a protruding brow which, coupled with his wide, flattened nose, made him appear slightly as though he had walked face-first into a wall. His eyes, nestled deep into his face, looked calm, unworried. That made one of us, I thought darkly to myself.
“Wonderful,” I said, directing my voice towards Terry as I surreptitiously took a step or two away from the group. “So now you’ve brought me here, under the threat of violence-“
“Implied violence, mate!” Terry interrupted.
Behind us, Kali laughed, a sharp, harsh sound. “As if there’s any real difference,” she spat out. “No room for sneaky lies or fancy words in this world any more.”
Terry made a tutting sound, clicking his tongue at her. “Oh, subtlety is alive and well!” he insisted. “But yes, Ambassador, we have brought you here for a reason. Oh, that is very certain.”
“And what reason is that, pray tell?”
The leader of this villainous gang swung his hand wide, arcing around to indicate the dark recesses of the large building that held us, pointing off down the dim corridors. “We may be some of the best out here in this God-forsaken wasteland, but look at our digs!” he exclaimed. “This place isn’t much more than a hovel. No power, no light – basically every system that could break has done so.”
I nodded. “Sure, but I don’t see what this has to do with me.”
Terry’s finger, previously taking in the decay, now swung around to point straight at my chest. I noted uneasily out of the corner of my eye that Kali had stopped sharpening her blades, and that her and Jhang’s eyes were locked on mine. “You, my dear boy,” Terry said, “are going to fix it.”