Chapter 2

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After several hours of pushing further into the city I finally arrive at the building. The structure is constructed of steel and glass, not much left of the place, between the bombing and the years only a fraction remains.  The structure looks as if it imploded years ago, several of the highest floors now rest upon the road and lower floors. The facade intact, consist of what seems to be concrete. This once great place sleeps now an empty shell of its former self.  The shadows of past lives are almost tangible within my mind.  Several of the buildings nearby bare etchings carved into them, numbers and words, ancient methods of identification.  Similar to gravestones, after all this place is one giant eternal resting place.  None of these marks are of any use to me; alongside the building, twisted and broken much like the city rests a sign.  The years of dust and sand building upon the plaque have preserved the words.

“City Hall”

A small cloud forms around my bag as it hits the ground, searching its contents I locate the flashlight, smacking it three times if sparks to life. Ever since I was a kid, the darn thing hasn’t worked right. My lungs fill with air; slowly I exhale and head towards the entrance. The main hall is rather bright, sunlight pours through the massive hole that once made the roof and upper levels. Silently I make my way deeper into the dark tomb. The search is hopeless, exploration of the upper levels is impossible.  Too much time has passed; the sun will be setting in a few hours, not enough to get home.   Made a mistake coming here, gut was wrong.  A set of metal doors is the only thing of any interest, if they contain anything of value this trip will not be a complete waste, need to get them open somehow.  A small panel of buttons sits between them, don’t know why, but I felt the urge to press them, nothing happens.  Maybe I can try and force the doors; exerting all of my energy I’m only able to crack them wide enough to shine my flashlight. The light reflects back, Reflective glass!  Perhaps I can pry them apart, need to find something to get the necessary leverage.  My Attention turns toward the building, ok, I’m resourceful, can’t give up now.  Several desks are scattered about the area, but nothing of use.  This trip is turning out to be a waste; the sun is setting, better set camp before darkness falls.  One of these rooms should work for the night, shining my light around I stop upon a door, something familiar strikes me  The word maintenance is barely visible, years of dust eroding the paint.  This isn’t the first time I have seen this word.  Back in the colony when a purifier breaks you can request a repair team; request and repair are used loosely.

The room is dark and smells of oil, I recognize that stench anywhere.  Haven reeks of the stuff; most of the settlement is covered in a thin layer of residue.  The light flickers a few times, need to trade for some batteries when I get back.  Several cans of oil will be a fare; stuffing a couple into my pack I catch a metal pole with the edge of my vision.  The rod is long and slender with a flattened end.  Heavy, this will be perfect, grabbing the rod I head back. Without hesitation I plunge the flat part of the shaft into the crack between the doors and begin to pry. With the aid of the bar I manage to spread them far enough apart enough to squeeze through. The room cannot be more than a few feet wide. Across, the wall is covered with a giant mirror; this will keep me off the Wastes for a year. Can’t move it on one piece, need to smash it, don’t like the idea, got no choice. After several swings most of the glass has crashed onto the floor, placing the shards into the back a strange tingle starts to creep up my spine. Shouldn’t stay here to long, doesn’t feel right, turning to leave vibrations ripple throughout the area.  Puzzled I look around, wondering what happened. The room shifts one last time as the sound of metal snapping echoes throughout the building.

The taste of blood is fresh, Struggling I try to focus.  A stream of warm fluid flows from my leg, a large open gash now runs the length of the thigh. The pain surges throughout paralyzing me.  Dazed I drift in and out of reality; am I dead, if not death is near. Only a moment passes, who knows for sure, could be hours, waiting for the pain to cease, for the darkness to take me. The ruble intermixed with the broken remains of flesh and bone.  So this is the end, nothing for me now, all alone, just the air passing through the mask to keep me company.  Breath, I can't be dead. Slowly I feel myself drifting back into reality. The throbbing is almost overwhelming, pain is good; lets me know that I am yet to leave this world. The time has come for me to make a choice; stay here and die, or do something about it.  First I need to assess the damage; my hand lowers towards me leg.  Is it broken or simply cut; how bad?  Can’t tell, need to get a better angle.  Never thought it would be this hard to sit up; it takes all the energy I have, but I manage to prop myself against the wall.

The world starts to spin around me; hit my head harder than I thought. Once everything stops spinning I focus, there is a large gash down the thigh of my right leg.  Life oozes out, now it may sound strange, but a slow drip of blood is good.  If an artery was cut I would only have a couple of moments before I bled out.  Still, the warmth is slowly leaving my body, I need to move quickly.  It may be slow, but bleeding out is still an issue, dragging myself across the room I manage to reach my bag.  Inside is a first aid kit, way past the expiration date, better than nothing.  This sets the world spinning around me, I rest a moment, then proceed to tear my pant leg open exposing the wound. Once again, I collapse back against the wall and wait for the pain to subside. One of the things all Wastelanders learn is how to patch themselves up. Out in the Wastes, you don’t have anyone to count on; surviving out here means watching your own back.

The first aid kit contains several items, one of which is a package of quick clot, a powder that stops bleeding.  The pain is excruciating, it burns as the residue come in contact with my skin, does the trick.  As I reach for the bandage a sharp sting shoots throughout my forearm, probably twisted it.  The wrist doesn’t seem to be too bad, nothing I won’t recover from in a few days.  Just got to grit through the pain and drive on, I tie the dressing around the gash.   Ok, got to move, taking several breaths I stand putting too much pressure on the wound, I collapse after a couple of steps.

A cold breeze wakes me; I can no longer feel the warmth of the day and know the night has come. The pain subsided to a dull throb; the blood has soaked through its wrapping, it is dry, the bleeding has stopped. The pounding headache is new; I roll over onto my backside not daring to move. Options; stay here and die or somehow get back to Haven. It would be so easy to just give in, to wait for death to take me. Forget that, I am not dying in the god forsaken Wastes.  No, my only choice is brave the wilds; however first I need to see what is left in the way of supplies, do I have enough provisions to even make it.  The sack contains three days worth of food and water. At a normal pace I was able to reach the ruins in a day.  In my condition I can probably make the trip in two. Not too bad, might actually get out of this alive.  Better get some sleep, going to need every last bit of energy I can get. 

Somehow I manage to set up camp without causing myself too much pain.  Once again I turn to the flint and tinder, another purchase well worth the cred.  Within minutes the fire is cracking, placing the flame at the foot of the shaft it allows the smoke to travel up and out.  With my work done, I sit and allow my body to adjust to the pain. For the first time in a long while I am starving, guess that is a good sign. I pull out a day's worth of rations from my bag. The meal consists of dried meat, recycled water and three hard, stale crackers.

“Oh what a lavish life we Wastelanders have.”

The food goes down, not much else I can say; never thought I would long for the foul chow back home.  No use complaining about the situation, still alive, all that matters.  Better make the best of the circumstances and see if there is anything of value down here.  A surge of soreness ripples thought the wound as I stand.  Got to be careful about putting too much weight on my leg, just causes me to lose my balance.  Which of course I don’t, the pain surges throughout, placing my hand on a desk is the only thing that keeps from collapsing to the ground. Once I steady myself, looking at the powder it puzzles me. Dust is everywhere, but this is different, not the normal mixture of sand and radioactive fallout. This is grey, has an almost transparent quality to; this is the type of dust which accumulates from years of being untouched. There is a simple thought that penetrates my mind, could I be the first person to stand here since they day the bombs fell.  Chills run down my spine at this notation, the last time a living soul laid eyes on this room the world ended.

This must have been used as storage; exploring the area there are dozens of desks and chairs piled up, several of the rooms have stacks of books, great care was taking in their placement.  Everything is covered in a thin layer of dust, compared to the rest of the badlands the years were kind to this place. I run my fingers along the rows of books; a plum of dust disperses throughout the air. US Law, Civil Law, District Law, etc... I go through each row until one book in particular catches my eye. A thin manuscript much smaller than the rest, carefully I wipe away the years of neglect; unlike most of the others, the document doesn’t have a hard cover, the words Declaration of Independence can vaguely been seen etched upon the thin yellow paper.

Through the pain I limp my way back to the fire. The Headache is gone, which means no concussion.  Breaks and cuts are fairly cheap, but head injuries tend to be a bit on the pricy side.  The cred this trip fetches should be enough to cover the doc.  Hyde would make sure I didn’t get enough to cover the injury, forcing me to work for him.  He’s wanted me for years, don’t know why, just does.  Lucky I didn’t sustain anything I can’t manage, still it hurts to move around, a dull ache constant throughout the wound, feels good to be off the leg.  Once settled I use the fire to examine the book closer. Compared to the various other books it is small in size, opening it I am surprised to see the written is bright, not faded like the cover.   There is an unusual air to this tome, contained within is a statement unknown to this world.  The text is full of grand ideas about everyone being free and the governed having the right to be in charge of themselves. It’s clear the author of this book never spent any time in the badlands, where only the strong survive and no one is created equal.  Who were these men, what were they trying to accomplish with such powerful ideas. Perhaps their words where the reason the bombs were dropped maybe they started the war, what a strange thought, everyone going to war over an ideal of liberty.

By first sun the fire is dying, this is how I know I slept, which is a surprise, didn't think I catch a wink with all pain.  Hard to tell morning has come down here, not much light reaches the depths of this floor. The ancient books make quick work of reigniting the flame.  Everything of value is spread about the area, hate to leave anything behind but with my leg I won’t be able to move weighed down.

“Ok, what can we toss, reflective glass will fetch a good price, take whatever possible.  Oil is bulky, not worth more than a few batteries.”

Don’t like leaving money behind, but the need to survive outweighs all, I push the backpack aside.  Only the book is left, useless; I toss thing into the blaze.  Have to admit people could get behind the ideals presented within, to be free.  Forget that, there are those who would pay not to spread its message, but to contain the knowledge.  To the maniacs who hold control, wisdom is power, a force to be used against them. What would someone like Hyde be willing to pay to keep these ideals hidden?  The text is light, won’t take up much space, reaching into the fire I rescue the manuscript before the flame has a full grasp. Time to head back, the only way out of the room is from the entrance above. I can see where I fell from; it is about eight feet overhead. Normally I would be able to climb up, maybe jump, but not like this.  There has to be a way to reach it, looking back down into the area below I get an idea.

The furniture; guess my luck hasn’t run out, could’ve landed in an empty tomb instead of down here.  The leg slows the work, nothing I can’t manage. Not bad, used mostly chairs, couldn’t move the desks.  Now comes the hard part, with only one good leg I have to rely mostly on my arms.  Pain rages into my wrist, at first I give in and fall from the chairs, can’t give in again.  Just bite down and push through, blood drips from my lip as I bit down; slowly I manage to pull myself up.  By the time I reach the room above I am exhausted, flopping onto the floor I stare back down into the hole.  The sounds of my breathing can be heard reverberating throughout the shaft.  Sleep, after that I could pass out for days, the sounds of my dull growl’s can be heard once more, only I didn’t growl.

The End

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