The Lonesome Road

Where do we go now?
We are going to need some answers

What the hell is going on

Im pretty sure its not every day you wake up with a spllitting headache, attached to a bunch of strangers, all whom looked like Hannibal Lecter on a rope. Even me, Cornelius, the Technical Overseer at Auburn Creek. We were doing so well as a budding township. We’d just gotten electriks to all our homes working AND found an abandonded guzoline tanker to keep us going for a month or maybe more if we ration it proper good…But its doing me no good to think of home just now. I’ve got a sulky giant glaive who doesn’t know his letters good never mind his words, a pasty boy..I think…, some mutant who’s skull I see in the good light glork brings us and some jack who seems nice enough all to trepse through the outside with and find us some answers.

Weren’t no slavers near Auburn Creek that we knews about who could have took us and marked us for themselves, where is Auburn Creek form here I wonder?

Luckily we got us enough scraps to put us an automobile together from the wreckage on what looks like the land trains that sometimes stopped by us for repairs. I seemed to have forgot how to put an engine together though..its this damned headache..Hopefully we’ll find some place to stop on this long and lonesome road, maybe they know whats going on cause I sure aint remebering anything good since I was last at the Creek. I just remember being in our council meeting talking about getting some pipes put around town…

I have so many questions.. But its my turn to drive…I sure hope the repairs we done on the auto gets us somewhere safe.

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Appears Out of Nowhere, Ain't What He Seems

He lay in the back of the car, the hot plastic seats a welcome relief from the grit of the desert. His skin was thick with smoke, grease, dust, oil, and blood, the sharp stink of it all oozing through him, sinking into flesh. He took another pull of the bottle, enjoying the slosh of liquid over the sounds of the others: the crunch of footsteps, the little metal noises of the repairs, Cornelius’ chatter, nearby breathing. The alcohol, so fiery on the throat, seemed to be soothing the ragged shrapnel wounds across his back. It even dulled the insistent pain of the seared skin around his head and neck.

It couldn’t dull the vision.

Great roiling blooms of fire. Smoke so thick and black it was death to breathe. The air buzzing with molten metal and heavy with the gristle and gore of men. In seconds that had stretched into lifetimes, he had seen a Hell as hungry as that which had devoured the earth. Each blossom of carnage had caught, and spread, and blossomed again. And in the midst of Hell, a Devil.

The smoke couldn’t touch It, the fire seemed to bow to It, the fury heat and the hissing metal and the whole burning world suddenly seemed so unreal against It. It had the shape of a man, distinguished, detached, sharp-faced and sinister. A tall, handsome man in a dusty black coat, coasting a flawless car through the fires of Hell like he didn’t have a care in the world.

And It had seen him.

Somewhere out there the Devil had seen his name in the book of the living, and was preparing to strike it out.

He opened his eyes to clear the vision. Eli, the kid, was staring down at him over the window.

Damn strange kid.

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Waste disposal

Eli curled himself up in the front seat of the car as the others debated around him whether to press forward. The valley lay ahead of them, sharp rock dwindling away into a deep crack in the land and towering up above in impossible cliffs. He pressed his knees up to his chin, coiling himself into the smallest ball he could. The wind blew through the cracked windscreen, lifting his hair and gently scattering particles of sand around the vehicle and into every tiny gap. He shut his eyes, as if it would maybe make it all just… go away.

Have I been bad? Is this my punishment?

He didn’t know what was happening. He remembered being put to sleep, same as always. They were going to move him again. But this time when he had woken up, he hadn’t been in a safe white room. He had been in a whirling storm of noise and light and horror. Everything was unfamiliar, utterly overwhelming and terrifying. Even now that he had started to slightly get used to being… outside, it still filled him with an ongoing inner panic. He had to get inside, back to the facility where it was safe. He hoped that was where they were taking him.

He felt in his pocket. The little singing egg was still there, its smooth round shape comforting him as he clutched it tightly. It was familiar, a symbol of things that he knew. If he held onto this, it could lead him home, back to the people and the world he belonged in. He hadn’t told the truth when the man had asked him where he had got the egg from – he knew. Lili had given him the egg, from her box of precious things. He had to look after it. Lili had made him promise.

His fingers touched on something else. It was soft and almost elastic. He carefully pulled out the two small lumps of his flesh that the man with the knife had removed. He held them delicately in his fingers, staring at the strange black mark. Eli wasn’t sure if he had always had this mark. The other people had been similarly marked, so maybe it meant something. But they didn’t want him to have it, so he had let them take it off. He didn’t know what these shapes were, if they were important. But he knew that he wasn’t supposed to let the… doctor, the other men had called him a doctor, keep things.

Don’t let anybody else ever take samples. Only your masters are allowed.

Eli stared at the parts in his hand. He had never been given anything back before. Nobody else had ever tried to take anything. He wasn’t sure what to do with it. He supposed he could give the samples to one of the other men. The new people hadn’t tried to kill or hurt him yet. Perhaps this was a test, a chance for him to rise above his imperfections. He had been helping them, doing what he was told. He had helped heal two of them, helped heal their machine. They could be his new masters.

They had nowhere to take it to for tests though, and he knew that it would be no use soon in the heat. He couldn’t just leave anything, in case somebody found it. He sat and stared at the little pieces that used to be a part of him whilst the others talked in the background. Eventually he ate them.
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A Good Day

As he stood by the car, looking back on the smoking ruins of the village, keeping an eye out for Mr Echo, the Duke reflected on the series of events that had lead him there.

I shouldn’t be surprised, really – bad things tend to always happen in threes.

First I wake up in a ruined caravan, then the car crashes, then we get attacked by lizard things, and then the village gets attacked, forcing us to flee in a not-fully-functional car.

Wait. That’s four things. Well, when you’re on a roll you’re on a roll I guess.

On the plus side, I’ve probably met God and probably made a friend. God was a bit weird, and did not look the way I would expect a god to look. Seemed nice enough though.

My friend is a young kid who is named Eli, and who seems to believe he needs someone to be his master. Poor lad looked like he was gonna have a panic attack when we tried to explain the concept of freedom, so I volunteered to be his master.
Better me than the others, I figure. Don’t know them well enough to know for sure, but Mr Echo has a bit of a temper, and Cornelius doesn’t always seem to be all there.
And Snowy… he’s a nice enough dude most of the time, but his moral compass doesn’t quite point north. I wouldn’t trust him with the kid.

So now I am an adoptive parent. Or something like that. Poor Eli looks like he’s had the worst of shitty childhoods, but things are looking up for him now. After all, he’s about to enter The Duke’s School of Life.

The Duke looked over at the group that stood around the car. They were all damaged somehow, he imagined. As was Duke. But they had company, they had food and water, and they even had a car. At the end of the day, was that not enough?
It was for the Duke.

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Not alone in the dark

Click

Eli turned in the darkness. Outside in the hallway he could hear movement and talking. Somebody was calling his name, although it was a little muffled now that he had a wall between him and the rest of them. He had stepped back to get out of Snowy’s way as the man had charged down the corridor and the wall had just… slid closed in front of him.

He heard the Duke move away down the other corridor, sounds getting fainter. The frustration in the man’s voice was clear. Eli wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. Was this part of the test?

Click

He clutched the knife that the Duke had given him tightly in his hand. There was something else here with him, down the tiny hallway with the little side rooms. He could feel it faintly, although the presence it was emitting was one that was entirely alien to anything he had ever experienced. He remembered what the Duke had told him. He was to call out for help if he was attacked, and use the knife to stab the attacker. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do before he was attacked.

It was getting closer to him. The only description he could find of the feeling it was projecting was… hungry.

Clickclickclick

The thing came out of one of the side rooms. Eli shrank back in terror. He had never seen anything like it before. It was wet dark eyes; a bulbous body covered in spines and too many protruding legs; huge sharp knives on the front of its face. It swung its head back and forth in the stagnant air, the face-knives clashing together with a loud snapping snikt. Its legs made a strange noise as it turned towards him, feet tapping quickly against the hallway floor.

Clickclickclickclickclick

He slowly slid down into a crouch, his back pressed against the door. It didn’t open again behind him. He was holding onto the knife so tightly that his knuckles were white. The creature started to move towards him.

He could feel the mounting fear that had been bubbling just below the surface for the last few days, ever since he had awoken in the wreckage. Until now it had been running at almost a constant pitch as he had struggled to cope with everything that was happening so quickly around him. Even with the other people being nice and telling him what to do, it hadn’t really changed how afraid he was. Still, he was managing to hold it like he had been taught.

He was sure that this was part of the test too, but he didn’t know what he was being tested for, how to pass. He had been trying so hard to be good, to do what he was told. Now it was starting to rise and spill over. He knew that he shouldn’t let go, that he needed to keep control. Maybe that was the test; they had done that one before. It had never been like this though. He didn’t want to hurt anyone.

Clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick-

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Another Good Day

The gun was loud. The metal stung and burned in his stomach. He was thrown into the air, feeling almost weightless for a brief moment, before gravity reasserted itself and sent him tumbling down the slope a second time.

It was not as bad as the first time.

He landed in a heap near the car. Mr Echo and Snowy had quite concerned looks on their faces, so he had to be in pretty bad shape. The fact that it hurt to walk, and that his intestines, if left to their own devices would escape his body, was also a strong indication thereof.

Nonetheless, he started trekking back up towards the – apparently not abandoned – house on the ridge._

‘I have to get back up there,’ he told his friends, ‘Because A, she has Cornelius at gunpoint; and B, I think she likes me.’


The Duke stared into the spherical object in his hands. Cogs and gears spun silently around one another inside it, in a strange intricate pattern. He had seen the things in the room, and just had a feeling that some of them belonged together. He had never, as far as he could remember, been much for creating gadgets like this – and yet, in almost no time at all, he had made this.

It would make people forget. Duke didn’t know how he knew that – presumably the same way he had known how to build it. Maybe the last time he built one it misfired, and he wiped his own memory? Maybe the knowledge had been imparted to him by the weird doctor-looking fellow who he had seen in his dreams before waking in the ruined caravan?

Regardless – if used with care, it could likely be a useful tool. He was glad he had it.

Duke put the orb away in his pocket, next to the scalpel. It was a rusty thing, the scalpel – you wouldn’t want to use it on your friends, nor likely on anything you intended to eat, but for self defence it would do just fine. It was a fair bit lighter than his regular knife, but he had given that one to Eli, so that the kid would have something to defend himself with if things went bad.

With luck, he will never have to use it, but maybe he’ll feel a bit safer having it.


The Duke stared absent-mindedly down the corridor. Snowy had run off in a great hurry after he discovered that the reactor, which Cornelius and Mr Echo had gone to, was deadly to be around. The Duke hoped Snowy would get to them in time.

He had elected to not go with Snowy, because one could carry the message as easily as two, and someone needed to stay and watch the kid. No way they were taking Eli into the radioactive death-zone, nor leaving him here. So the Duke stayed here, keeping an eye on-

Hang on, where is he?

The Duke looked around, a slight look of concern on his face. Eli had been right next to him a moment ago. How could he had disappeared? And to where?

“Eli?” he called out.

No answer.

Right, kid doesn’t speak much. That might make it tricky to find him.

The vault seemed long since abandoned, but he wouldn’t want to bet on it. But hey, at least the kid had a knife, and instructions to defend himself.

Movement from down the corridor caught his attention. It was not Eli, unfortunately, but it wasn’t hostiles either.

Oh, hey, there’s Snowy with Mr Echo and Cornelius. They look a bit worse for wear, but both alive. And that’s a LOT of gasoline. Great!

Now that they were safe and alive, they were just about done with the vault. It was time to get Eli and leave. This was not a nice place for anyone to be, least of all kids. Too claustrophobic. Kid is scared enough as it is.

Eli wouldn’t go far, so it was a matter of searching every nook and cranny until they found him. His quiet nature could make it take a while, but hey – The Duke had told Eli to shout if he was in danger, so if he didn’t make any sounds, it meant he was safe.

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Nothing is simple

Today I nearly had my head turned to pulp

What is it that I have done to deserve these punishments?!
Not long after we managed to have our marking covered up by a physician do we end up battered, bruised and threatened after looking into an empty shack atop a cliff. Granted, the big guy did take a bit of a sidewall down. I can understand the anger but there was a fire in that woman that would burn through steel I’d Suspect. At least she let us stay and rest overnight and point us in the direction of somewhere we mght call home.

I’m beginning to think thaat Ill never see the home I once knew ever again.
hopefully things will get less mad once we find somewhere, maybe we can even establish a new collective! That would be so wonderful! Maybe I can convince the others once we’’ve got this.. vault safe and sound!

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~<3~ Best Friends Forever ~<3~

“And a lot of this equipment, even though it all seems different, is really surprisingly standardised. Like look at these old water pipes here. All tangled up and screwy, right? But back where my people were setting up, in Auburn Creek, we had this old water purifier…”

“Uh-huh”

“Oh it was a beauty! Not old tech, you understand, I mean she had a few old pieces in here here and there like eveything else. Heck, I bet even you and me have some old bits of pre-war tech rattling around in us somewhere! I know I do! Like, look at this I found in the medlab upstairs…”

“Uh-huh”

“Just a little nub of metal right! No! It’s actually a biotech implant, regulates hormone imbalance. You can tell by the markings here. See here? Hey, look, look at this it’s really cool…”

“Uh-huh”

“There’s actually a lot of people still walking around with ‘em. The old doc told me, back in Auburn Creek, he told me, well, he wasn’t really talking to me he was talking to Old Nan Starch but I heard him say there was all sorts of times he’d be rooting around in someone, you know, for a bullet or to close a bleed or something…”

“Uh-huh”

“And this was people he’d helped deliver you know? People he’d known since they was babies who’d never been near any old tech ruins or anything, and he’d be rooting around in ‘em and whoops but he’d find these little nubs of metal just working away. Keeping up blood pressure, or connecting nerves, or protecting babies. Said he could never figure out how they got there. Which makes me wonder about other stuff…”

“Uh-huh”

“Like those lizard things we fought? You remember? With all the water and such? And there was this one that was clawing at me and I held him up against the wall and I was all like “Get it! Get it!” and you whacked him with your hammer? Man that was great. Anyway those things, makes me wonder if they have any bits of metal or tech or anything inside of them. I never got a chance to check before and I was gonna but then the water was pouring in and by they time we got back to the Doc he took the bodies. Hey, he was kind of a weird guy, wasn’t he? I didn’t know if we could trust him at first."

“Uh-huh”

“And he did take those bodies and he wanted to take that little bit of Eli which was just kinda, rude, really. I mean who does that? I mean I’ve been wanting a closer look at that kid too but you gotta respect people’s boundaries, you know? It’s one of the things Glork teaches us. Oh man, I don’t think I’ve even told you about Glork! Hey, listen to this, I’ve got some Good News for you!”

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Catch-22

“Drink.”

The barman grinned amiably, “Hope you don’t mind me asking son, but you got any rattlin’ caps in that big ole vest? Big feller like you, I’d be mighty troubled to have to throw you out. And you done look like you jest spent your last two-dollar chip fer a plate o’ nothin’ and a can o’ whoop-ass.”

The barman waited for a reply, casually wiping a rag back and forth across the oily counter, but none came. The heavy-set newcomer simply stood, scowling at the bottles lined up just out of reach.

Obviously a problem case. Working one of the two bars in Swell you got used to picking out those the wastes had chewed up and spat back. First you took care to avoid them, then maybe you resented their careless wandering. After twenty-five years serving up drinks to the homeless and broken, he had to admit he’d developed a soft spot. “Alright son, if you got anythin’ worth tradin’ for, I’ll set you up. Even give you some change, maybe.”

The stranger seemed to consider this. After a few moments, he slowly unbuttoned a pouch on his vest and drew out an old demolition charge, worrying scratched and battered.

The barman let out a low whistle. “Damn, son, I oughta throw you out jest fer bringin a dangerous thing like that in here. Assumin’ it still works, that is.”

“The other one did.” The stranger rumbled, staring at the mottled skin that marked his right arm up to the elbow.

“That so? Well, I know fer a fact Jules has been try’n shift a dang rockfall blocking the way to his ‘stead. A charge like that’d do the job, no problemo. And fer yer trouble, you can have a whole bottle.” He reached under the bar and placed a fresh bottle opposite the stranger. “Plus twenty caps fer the spendin’.”

Again the stranger seemed lost in though, staring at the bomb that sat like a child’s toy in his palm.

“Bomb’ll only go off once. A bottle of prime shine will be good fer a whole week.”

“Once is enough.” The words were heavy with earned knowledge. The barman decided not to press the issue.

“Well, there’s always the other way.”

The stranger looked up.

“Lotta people in town been worried ‘bout that ole’ Vault-22. Sayin’ it’s finally burst it’s shieldin’ and has fouled the water. Big tough feller like you, bet’choo could go up there, take a look-see, be back in no time. Really put people’s minds to rest. Might seem only a little thing, but people round here would be mighty grateful to a stranger willin’ to do some scoutin’ fer the town.”

“Ehhh, shaddup Yoss.” an oil-splattered mechanic called out from a few feet down the bar, halfway through a tin cup of something that smelled worse than the oil, “Yer wastin’ yer breath. Maisie’s got that exherbishinist boy up in her byoodwor. Five minutes workin’ her magic and he’ll be up to the Vault an back down before this one’s got his boots on.”

“That so?”

“That so.”

“Hm. Well, no reason two can’t go is there?”

“It’ll be three, I’m thinkin’.” Another voice cut in as a bearded man in a grey duster stepped in off the porch. “Just finished a card game ‘cross the way. John’s busy browbeatin’ some poor joe into headin’ up that way hisself.” He pulled up a chair and began idly shuffling a deck of filthy cards. “Four akcherly. Had some poor damn kid with him.”

Yoss and the mechanic looked to the stranger, who was either deeply considering his options or had forgotten where he was.

The pause was broken by someone rattling the iron windowframe. A soot-smeared youngster poked his head over the sill, “Hey Yoss! Sumthin’ goin’ on at the market. Lawman’s gone to sort it out but he says it’s likely to do with the water goin’ short now the river’s afouled. Says don’t serve no more strangers lest he says so. Need to ration what we got fer local folk.” His message delivered, the boy jumped back down and ran up the street, more news to carry.

Yoss picked the bottle off the bar and considered it a moment. “Stranger, I ain’t no philosphiser, but by my reckonin’ you can either head on up to Vault-22 or you can head on up to Vault-22” He sighed and placed the bottle back on the rack.

“It’s a hell of a catch, that Vault-22.”

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Clothing optional

The sun was warm on his skin as he stood by the river and waited for the Duke to tell him he could put his clothes back on. Eli stared, fascinated by the rushing water as it roared past him and away over the falls. He didn’t know where it was going, or why it had to get there so fast. He didn’t know why it wanted to take away Mr Echo and Snowy and Cornelius either. Maybe there was something good where it stopped. It had wanted to take him too, along with the Duke and the car, but then the Duke had changed his mind. Now they were standing in the sun and waiting. Snowy had promised Eli that he would come back.

He liked the river. It was big and loud and scary, but it drowned everything out too. He couldn’t hear people when he was standing next to it – everything was muted by the roar of the water. It was freeing to not have to feel everyone all the time. He had never seen anything like it before – he had never seen most of the things he had encountered over the last few days before. His favourite thing was probably stars, although he had liked the music too. Finding little things had made the whole experience a little easier to try and cope with. It had been a stressful few days.

He woke up every morning expecting to be safely in his room, and he wasn’t. This made him feel anxious and upset.

He followed every instruction he was given in the hope that maybe the men would take him back or tell him where they were taking him, but they didn’t. This made him feel anxious and upset.

He waited every day for the tests to be made clearer, for them to ask him to do something familiar or take some samples, but it didn’t happen. This made him feel anxious and upset.

And every day the Duke kept asking him what he wanted to do, how he felt about things. He could feel that it made the Duke unhappy when he didn’t respond correctly. He didn’t know how to answer, what was the right thing to say. He didn’t understand why it mattered. This made him feel anxious and upset.

Eli didn’t want to think about the events in the vault, because it made him panicky and guilty. He’d lost control, he’d let the fear out and he knew it had affected the others even if they had somehow managed to act as if it hadn’t. He’d been able to feel it radiating off them back at him and it had made him even more afraid. He wasn’t supposed to let go like that and he was still waiting to get into trouble for it. So far nothing, but it couldn’t be forever. The… ant had bitten him and he’d panicked and just kept screaming and screaming. Even when the Duke had gotten him out and was holding him, trying to heal him, it hadn’t changed anything. The Duke didn’t have the same purpose Eli did, and Eli had healed on his own anyway. Then the others had staggered out and their faces and bodies were melting from the poison in the air in the vault and Eli had screamed again.

He had spent that afternoon sitting in the back of the car between Cornelius and Mr Echo, radiating restorative energy and sometimes gently touching them if he thought they wouldn’t notice so that they could get better faster. Their skin had been the worst, bubbly and pussy to the touch, but it hadn’t bothered him so much when he was up close. Watching the blisters disappearing and the dead skin sloughing away as they slept to be replaced with fresh new skin had made him feel better, like he was doing things properly. He touched Snowy too occasionally to help him as well, although the man always seemed to go wide-eyed whenever it happened. Eli didn’t understand why.

They were almost back to the way they were in no time at all – the worst was gone within the day, and he spent the rest of the week checking on them all during the night. He would always wake up in the dark. It took him a while to realise that it must have been the time when the people in the white coats would have woken him to do tests or take samples. He’d had no real concept of night and day before. Eli felt bad for being afraid now – it wasn’t their fault they had been poisoned. He was rapidly learning that these men didn’t have the same purpose as him, couldn’t do the same things. He wondered what they had been made for.

The Duke called him from the car. Eli turned away from the water, feeling almost reluctant for a second. It was a strange, unfamiliar urge, one that rapidly disappeared. He went to go and do what he was told.

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