A group of people in a post-apocalyptic world come to a reformed Omaha.
| Jacob stared into the ruins. The clutter and destruction ran for miles into the distance. What used to be the main drag was pockmarked with craters, the blood and burns long ago worn away by wind and time. Memories of a young boy driving to the outdoor mall with his parents and a young man's first romantic date filled Jacob's mind, but he quickly shook them away. None of that was real anymore. His parents had been dead for ten years, killed by insurgents. The last he had heard the girl had been sold as a slave after being repeatedly raped by her captors. The city he used to live in and love was nothing but a rotting, foetid corpse.
The man with him was the closest thing Jacob had to a friend. Buck Samson, standing a mighty six foot-eight, scanned the area in front of them, his sharp eyes playing over every detail of the landscape. Jacob and Buck were scouts for their tribe. As the Tribe traveled throughout the land they would ride ahead. Scouts were both soldiers and diplomats, establishing contact with towns and merchants before the Tribe arrived as well as finding hostile elements and screening the Tribe's movement. This had been Jacob's life for eight years. The comfortable, happy life he had known as a boy was long gone, nothing but a distant dream.
Jacob lightly kicked his heels into the flanks of his horse and moved forward, Buck close behind.
“How long now, Jacob?” Buck asked, breaking the silence they had held for the past six hours.
“Eight...maybe nine years,” Jacob replied in a gruff voice.
Jacob looked around, picking out familiar landmarks.
In fact he remembered it all. The road they were taking into the heart of the city was called Dodge Street. As a kid with a new car he and his friends would burn down Dodge to quickly get to the hottest parties and events. A thin grin creased his weather-worn face at the memory of a friend standing up through the sunroof of the car and flipping off a cop. Jacob's house had been just off the 156th street exit, a large green house with maroon trim. The grin faded as Jacob's eyes searched through the devastated area. Any houses that had been there had been flattened by war. Another memory swam to the surface in Jacob's mind, a memory of artillery rounds razing whole neighborhoods as the military tried to flush out the fanatical insurgents. Jacob had never held it against the military. Those had been desperate, chaotic times. And by that time Jacob had been alone in the world. If anything those artillery strikes had done Jacob a favor by burying his painful past.
“We're entering populated territory,” Jacob said as he made sure that a round was chambered in his assault rifle.
Buck nodded and did the same. “Never know with town-folk.”
The Tribe had been to dozens of towns over the years. Normally they had maintained a constant route to only a handful of towns that they knew were safe. Every once in a while they would pass by a different town if there was an emergency or if certain goods were running low. Sometimes things went well. But other times they didn't. A year before the Tribe had gotten into a scrap with a group of bandits that had taken over a large town in what used to be Illinois. Jacob and the others had battled for over a day to keep the rapacious brigands away from the main caravan. Ten of the Tribe's warriors had been killed. But dozens of bandits had gone down with them. A fair trade in anyone's mind.
Now Buck and Jacob had their weapons at the low-ready, their senses keener than ever as adrenaline began to course through their veins. They had to be ready for anything. They crested the expressway and rode toward ninetieth street. Suddenly it was as if the two scouts had crossed into a different dimension. The buildings were new and generally well kept. People walked the streets on their way to jobs or shopping at the market. Vendors on the sidewalks called and bellowed about deals and produce for sale (because their's was the best for the best price).
Buck nodded towards a hotel to the left.
“Be a good place to hole up for the next couple a days.”
Jacob nodded his acknowledgment. He didn't normally like staying in towns, but the condition of the ruins had made Jacob wary of making camp on the outskirts of the ninetieth street border.
“Let's make reservations,” Jacob said at length. “Then we can report back to the elders.”
Just as the two moved towards the hotel three horsemen galloped towards Jacob and Buck.
“Howdy,” Jacob said as the trio stopped in front of them. “Can we help you?”
Both Jacob and Buck had their weapons trained on the strangers, and people around them seemed shocked and scared.
“Whoah, fella,” the man in the middle exclaimed. “We'ntin' any trore not wauble. We're Nebraska Rangers.”
Jacob lowered his weapon. “Law enforcement.”
“On the plains?”
The man gave Jacob a big, toothy, white grin.
“Four years ago a buncha folks met in Lincoln and cobbled together a sort of government. The Rangers were born the same day.”
Neither Buck nor Jacob trusted them. Something wasn't sitting right. Almost a decade on the plains had given both of them a sharp sixth sense about things. These Rangers were raising red flags in both their minds.
“Will it be a problem if our Tribe rests in town for a few days?” Jacob asked. “And our leaders will want to meet with the town leadership.”
“I think we can arrange that,” the Ranger said. He put out his hand towards Jacob. “I'm Sheriff Henry Weiss. And you are?”
Jacob hesitated for a second, then took Henry's hand. “Jacob Vance. This is Buck Samson.”
“Well Mr. Vance,” Henry replied. “Welcome to Omaha.”
Three hours later the rest of the Tribe passed ninetieth street and entered Omaha. Surrounding the main caravan and forcing a path through the sea of people with their mounts were the Tribe warriors, armed to the teeth with firearms and blades. These were the line soldiers, the backbone of the Tribe's small military and the Tribe's main line of defense. They were all veterans with dozens of fights under their belts.
Jacob and Buck stood patiently in front of the hotel, their horses tied close at hand. The lead warrior jumped off his horse and greeted both of them with a handshake and a hug.
“You've both done an excellent job,” the man said.
“Thank you, sir,” the both said respectfully.
“Captain Herzog,” came a voice from the caravan. “Let us approach our scouts.”
Immediately Herzog stepped aside and bowed his head and Jacob and Buck followed suit. Five old men hobbled forward, their heads covered by the hoods of their cloaks. The lead elder, Logan Xavier, placed his hands on the shoulders of the two scouts and looked into the sky.
“Thank You, Lord, for guiding our brave scouts and protecting them on their journey,” he prayed in a voice that carried over the block. “And thank You for bringing the Plains Coyote Tribe here unharmed. We know we are in Your hands and that it is You, oh great Shepherd, that defend Your flock from the wolves of the enemy. In Your son's name we give You thanks.”
“Amen,” the whole Tribe intoned as one.
“Come, respected Elder,” Jacob said, his head still bowed. “We will take you to the rooms.”
The rest of the Tribe dismounted their horses and carts. Seventy-eight men, women, children, and elderly followed Jacob and Buck into the hotel.
A distance away Sheriff Henry Weiss and two of his deputies sat on horseback and watched the procession of tribesmen. He took a bite of an apple and looked at his compatriots.
“So, what do you two think,” he asked at length.
“Don't know,” one, a man named Johnathon Parks, replied. “They seem harmless enough. But those warriors of theirs are some real beasts. Did you see some of the knives they were carrying?”
“I think those were short swords,” the other, Raymond Fuchs, shot back. “I'm afraid one of those brutes is gonna flex his muscles and break my neck.”
“Hmm,” Weiss mumbled. “Well, keep an eye on 'em. If they start anything, I want to know right away.”
Both deputies nodded and rode off to continue their patrols. Weiss continued to watch the last tribesmen enter the hotel.
The next day Jacob and Buck accompanied the five Elders, Captain Herzog, and Herzog's second in command, Lieutenant Daniel Tverdik, to the town hall. There the mayor and his administration met the tribal leaders with broad smiles and numerous handshakes. Cameramen captured the event for live television. Jacob couldn't believe that such a small town still had that kind of technology. Some people were even using camera phones and digital cameras to capture the event.
“Strange,” he commented quietly.
One of the Mayor's entourage, a curvy woman with long, brown hair noticed Jacob's interest.
“Isn't it great?” she asked as she moved closer to him. “Our trade lines go all the way out to California. Ever since the government was set up technology has slowly been trickling into Nebraska again.”
“California, huh?” he asked.
“Oh yes. The Alliance has brought a lot of prosperity and order to the region.”
Jacob looked at her quizzically. “Alliance?”
She smiled and puffed her chest (which was very well developed and Jacob couldn't help but notice). “The States of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, and North and South Dakota have bound themselves in a common defense and trade alliance. The Great Plains Alliance is the stepping stone for rebuilding our country.”
“Uh huh.” Jacob had heard that kind of talk from dozens like her in dozens of other towns across North America.
He had to admit, though, an alliance that large and far reaching was something. The fact that law enforcement was a viable force was another surprising fact. Maybe this sexy brunette had a point. Jacob didn't really care either way. His place was wandering the empty plains and re-surging forests of North America with the Plains Coyote Tribe. They were the closest thing to a family that he had and he wasn't going to lose that again.
“I'm Alissa, by the way,” the woman said, extending her hand. “I'm Mayor Henderson's PR advisor.”
Jacob hesitated for a second, then slowly took her hand in a tight grip and shook it.
“Jacob. I'm a scout.”
“Nice to meet you.”
The speeches and words of praise and friendship had ended. The Mayor and the Elders had signed a pact of peace and trade and now the two parties were going their separate ways. Alissa fixed her hair and moved towards her charge.
“I'm sure we will see much more of eachother, Jacob,” she said before departing.
He watched her go. For the first time in a long time he noticed how beautiful a woman was. And Alissa was exceptionally gorgeous.
“Jacob,” Herzog called. “Let's go.”
The next three days were spent haggling with vendors and purchasing goods the Tribe would need for the next month. For the most part things went smoothly. The Tribe members stayed in the hotel if they weren't out buying things. The Elders, Herzog, and Tverdik were invited to numerous dinners and social events as a sign of good will.
Jacob, Buck, and the nine other scouts were preparing for their next reconnaissance. The eleven men and their leader, Sergeant Bill Birch, sat crammed like sardines in a can in their hotel room around a coffee table.
“Our next destination is going to be Kansas City,” Birch said as he smoked a cigarrette. “This is another town that we have no post-war info on. The rumor mill has it that it's actually pretty stable since it's one of the capitol towns of this new Alliance.”
As he spoke his head ticked. Birch never noticed it. Before the War he had been deployed to Iraq where he was the platoon sergeant for a gun truck platoon. Long, tense days on the road had given him a permanent tick, as well as made him a very light sleeper.
“Now, I have no clue how accurate this is,” he continued with another tick. “Mayor Henderson said he has it on good authority that Kansas City is as safe as Omaha, whatever the hell that means.”
The scouts laughed.
“The guy's gotta dick up his ass,” another scout, Sam Brenner, exclaimed.
“No shit,” Birch agreed with a grin. “Did you like it how he called the Elders by their first names? What a load of horseshit.” Birch shook his head. “Anyway, in two days we'll all start on what used to be Interstate twenty-nine.” He traced his finger down an old, worn driver's map. “When we hit the I-thirty-five exit we'll split up into our scouting parties and recon the area. Davis and Walters, I want you to make first contact. You know what to do if they're hostile.”
“Runaway to fight another day,” Walters piped up.
Their meeting over, the scouts left to begin packing their belongings. Jacob left the hotel to purchase a few more goods he wanted while traveling. As he walked he looked around, scanning the three and four story buildings and the alleys for any trouble. For every nook and cranny he checked visually there were a dozen more in every direction. He stopped in the middle of the street. It suddenly dawned on him that he hated towns. They were so enclosed and full of danger. Long years on the open plains had made the vast expanses home. He wasn't comfortable here. He felt as if he was always being watched.
“Something wrong, Mr. Vance?” It was Sheriff Weiss, his rifle cradled in his hands.
“Good to know.”
The two stared at eachother for a while, hostility building like an electrical storm between them.
“Is there something I can help you with?” Jacob asked through gritted teeth. He thumbed the selector switch on his rifle from safe to semi.
“Why are you here, Mr. Vance,” Weiss asked. His soft, gentlemanly drawl had started to gnaw on Jacob's nerves.
“I'm a scout for the Plains Coyote Tribe. I make contact with towns and make sure they're safe. My Tribe has to replenish their stores before we keep moving. That's all.”
“Ya know, a bunch like you came to Omaha about two years ago,” Weiss said. “Nice folk. Just “passing through.” But ya know what?”
“They didn't just pass through. Third day they were here they went on a rampage. Turns out they were bandits come up from Mexico. Killed a lot of people before we gunned 'em down like the dogs they were.”
“And you think we're gonna do the same,” Jacob replied. “Sorry, Sheriff. We're not here to give you the glory you're lookin' for.”
“I sure hope not, Mr. Vance,” Weiss said with a smile. “I'd hate to have to come after you.”
“The moment the thought enters your mind to hunt me down, Mr. Weiss, you'll already be dead and I'll be long gone.”
“Suit yourself.” Weiss turned around. “You've been warned, Vance.”
The urge to shoot the man in the back boiled in Jacob's core, but that wouldn't help the Tribe. He thumbed his weapon back to safe and began to move forward when a hand caught his shoulder.
“Hey you! Remember me?”
Jacob turned to be greeted by the tanned face of Alissa.
She gave him a big white grin.
“Told ya we'd see more of eachother. What are you up to?”
“Shopping before I leave.”
“Aw, don't wanna stay and see me every day?”
His face remained unemotional. What was with this girl?
“Hey! I'm out and about too!” she exclaimed with glee. “Why don't we shop together?”
“O...k...,” he replied.
Before he knew it she had taken him by the hand and was dragging him down the main strip. As they moved he couldn't help but notice her firm rear end, broad thighs and thin waist. She was classically beautiful, accented by her shimmering, sapphire vixen eyes.
“Oh, these are some of the best oranges,” she explained to him as she filled her cloth bag. “I have to buy at least five every week. A little pricey but so worth it.”
“How do they hold up on long trips?”
She shrugged as she plopped the last orange in and paid the woman behind the cart.
“Dunno. I've always lived here.”
“So where are you from?” she asked, that bright smile returning to her round face.
“Nowhere,” he replied as he inspected an orange.
“You can't be from nowhere.”
He shrugged and put the orange down. “I guess the Tribe is my home. For the last eight years I haven't known anything else. Just traveling from town to town. Staying on the move is staying safe. You stay settled for too long and someone 'll come after you. At least that's been my experience.”
Alissa looked up at him with those long, saline eyes. “You ever think about settling down? Maybe give it a try. I'm sure you could find a good woman somewhere.”
“In a town? Hell no. Too crowded. I'd never want to live in such a filthy place for long. If I'm going to settle down it will be within the Tribe and I'll keep on going.”
Alissa looked slightly heart broken, but the mask of sadness quickly subsided to give way to its normal joyful look.
“Let's do a little more shopping, then I'll take you to lunch. There's this great little deli you just have to eat at.”
So Jacob followed the energetic Alissa around that morning. She bought more than he did, but somehow Jacob ended up carrying her bags. Memories flooded into his mind. Suddenly he was standing in JC Penny attached to the Oakview Mall, carrying bags of clothes for his girlfriend.
“What do you think of this one, Jacob?” Mary asked. She held a black lace top over her lean form.
He smiled as he moved in to give her a deep kiss.
“You would look amazing in that.” Kissing her from her lips down the length of her neck he gave her a wolfish grin. “You'd look even more amazing without it.”
She laughed and gasped as he touched all the right spots with his lips.
“Jacob,” she complained with a giggle. “We're in public.”
“There are dressing rooms we could use.”
The two laughed as the rushed to dressing rooms and began to tear off their clothes.
As if by magic he was back. The memories subsided and Alissa stood where Mary should have been.
“Jacob, are you alright? You look sad.”
Jacob blinked and shook his head.
“I'm fine, just...thinking...”
“Nothing,” he replied in a monotone, his composure regained. “Where's this deli you were talkin' about?”
Alissa dragged him two blocks to a small corner restaurant. They sat and ate, exchanging small talk here and there throughout the light meal. All Jacob wanted to do was leave. All the memories that had been attacking his brain were causing new aches and pains he had thought he'd forgotten. Jacob hated these reemerging feelings, and he wanted them to stop. He would have cut them out if he could, but he was forced to live with them.
“Isn't this place amazing?” Alissa babbled on. “My girlfriends and I come here all the time fur lunch. They know us by name.”
Alissa looked at her watch and sighed. “Well, looks like I gotta go. We should probably pay.”
Jacob's male instincts (if you could call them that) suddenly kicked in and he moved to the register before she could. He pulled out a few ragged green bills and handed them to the man behind the counter.
“Are those US dollars?” the gray haired man asked. “Geez! I haven't seen those for ages. Sorry, though, we only take coin.”
“Don't worry, Jacob,” Alissa cut in. “This is my treat.”
She paid and the two walked back out onto the street.
“I sure had fun today,” Alissa said with a smile.
“Yeah,” Jacob replied. “Fun.”
“Maybe I'll get to see you one more time before you go, maybe even change your mind,” she said with a wink.
To his surprise she reached up and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“See ya 'round.”
He just stood there, baffled, and watched her as she walked away, her hips swinging back and forth. What a strange girl.
Deputy Raymond Fuchs was taking his shift patrolling the entrance to town. It was another uneventful day. No one was leaving, and no one was coming in. That was just fine with Raymond, he hated change. The arrival of the Plains Coyote Tribe was enough to last him the next year. He planned on an easy afternoon.
That idea was quickly shattered as figures began to appear coming down the expressway. Fuchs sighed and rode up to meet the newcomers. He waved as they approached, and quickly regretted the decision. Thirty men, all tanned with cruel looking weapons and numerous firearms rode up to the lone deputy. He swallowed hard as the leader approached him.
“Where is the nearest bar?” the lead man said in a surly, heavily accented voice. “We're thirsty.”
“In town, about a seven minute ride from here,” Raymond replied.
Raymond watched them go and bit his lip in deep thought. Something was very wrong about this group. When the band of men had ridden off he started his horse moving to report to the Sheriff.
King Leon was truly a king to his men. He laid down and enforced a sort of law, and he lead them into battle and earned them riches. It didn't matter that those battles were with townsfolk protecting what little valuables they had. King Leon and his personal, loyal army were stronger and in their mind that entitled them to whatever they want. Today was no different. As they rode his men cat called to different beautiful women and made derogatory gestures in their direction. King Leon smiled at their antics. Soon enough they would get their fill of women.
King Leon didn't actually care about the bar. He had been to Omaha before, several years ago when he was still a nothing, just a lone nomad trying to eek out a living on the unforgiving plains. He smiled when he thought of how far he had come since then. Truly, was there any greater King that he?
Leon and his thirty loyal followers rode right past the bar and straight to the steps of the city hall. Two men were on guard at the door and stopped King Leon as he dismounted his horse and walked forward.
“I'm sorry sir, but no one is allowed inside without the express permission of the Mayor,” one said.
Leon hissed and spat.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked in a fit of rage. “Your mayor has been expecting me. All of you have. I am King Leon.”
With that he pulled out two revolvers and shot both guards in the blink of an eye.
“Thank you,” he said courteously to the two bloodied corpses. “You are too kind.”
King Leon walked in, his entourage close behind. The King had come to claim his kingdom.
Several deputies approached the hotel, their weapons locked and loaded. Captain Herzog met them at the doors.
“What is this?” he demanded. “Why do you approach us ready for war?”
“We don't have anything on you, Captain,” Sheriff Weiss said as he rode up behind his men. “We have a problem. Bandits road into town and now they have the Mayor and his administration hostage.”
Jacob had just walked up when he heard what Weiss had said.
Herzog called to Tverdik.
“Lieutenant, gather all of our men, scouts included.” He turned to Weiss. “Sheriff, my guns are yours.”
Weiss gave Herzog a long look. “This doesn't mean I trust you anymore.”
“And we don't trust you, either, Sheriff,” Herzog replied. “But you are in need, and we can help.”
King Leon's men were actually behaving themselves very well. None of the women had been raped (although the men had taken the liberty to fondle each one) and everyone was still alive. Things were going better than planned. The Mayor sat, hogtied on the ground, sweating profusely and talking more than King Leon liked.
“Omaha will never give into your demands,” he was saying. “I would rather die than let this town be taken over by scum like you.”
“That can be arranged, Senior,” Leon replied nonchalantly. “But I need you alive to bargain. So, for the time being, you will live.”
That seemed to quiet the annoying puke down for the time being. King Leon was becoming bored very quickly. His eyes wandered over to the group of terrified women and his gaze fell on a curvy brunette.
“Walters,” Leon yelled to one of his men. “Bring me that woman. I wish to have her in the Mayor's office.”
The girl screamed and kicked as she was dragged towards King Leon. He like a woman with some fight in her. This would be interesting. He could already feel himself getting worked up over the thought of plowing this girl.
Shot rang just outside the doors of the town hall and the screams of some of Leon's men quickly followed. King Leon drew his two pistols and waved to his men.
“Forget the girl,” he bellowed. “Now we're going to have some real fun!”
His men hooted and hollered as they readied their own weapons and prepared to meet the oncoming attack.
They were caught from behind as a handful of burly assailants crashed through the back windows and began tearing through the hoard of bandits with machetes and short swords. The doors broke down and the bevy of Rangers stormed forward, picking off Leon's men with pin point accuracy. He roared as he began to poor fire into the attackers.
“Kill them!” he roared at the top of his lungs. “Kill all these stinking bastards!”
The inside of the town hall had quickly devolved into a war zone. Bodies littered the floor and blood had spattered everything and everyone. Combatants hid behind desks, chairs, and pillars as they exchanged dozens of rounds. At first it seemed that the bandits were going to be slaughtered wholesale, but then one of Leon's men charged through the oncoming Rangers and created a path for their escape. The raging gun battle bled over into the streets. Omaha citizens yelled and screamed as they dispersed from the area, running into shops and down streets. Leon began to think that he and his men were losing the Rangers, only to be greeted by the flanking fire of the strange, fanatical gunmen they had first encountered.
“King Leon!” one of his men yelled over the din. “We need to get the hell out of here.”
“I know, you idiot!” he retorted.
He didn't have time for anymore words as the volume of fire pointed in their direction increased immensely. Where had those bears of men come from? King Leon had never seen them before. Interest soon subsided in favor of survival.
“Quick,” he yelled to the last handful of his men. “Run this way and we'll escape out of town.”
Most of his men followed. Some, sensing defeat, threw down the weapons and put their hands on their heads.
“You cowards!” Leon roared back. “I'll kill you when I return.”
They were close to the town border. Just another hundred meters and they would be home free. A hail of bullets from their left cut off their retreat. It was more of the strange men.
“Who the hell are these guys?!”
Sergeant Birch and the scouts emerged from a side street to ambush the escaping bandits. Each man poured burst after burst into the disorganized ranks of villains. Jacob picked his targets, bringing down one after another with well aimed shots.
“Keep firing!” Birch bellowed. “We almost have 'em!”
While the Tribe warriors came up behind the bandits, Weiss and his Rangers rode ahead and cut off their retreat at ninetieth street. The three groups encircled the men, all weapons trained directly on their heads.
One of them, obviously the leader due to the nicer weapons and clothes, stepped forward with a grin and dropped his twin revolvers.
“Alright, amigos, you caught me. We give up.”
Jacob aimed and fired, placing a round directly between the man's eyes. There was a distressed cry from the surrounded men and then all of them were gunned down within seconds. Jacob nodded and placed his rifle on safe.
Weiss dismounted and walked over to Herzog.
“Captain, thank you for the help. We would have never stopped them were you not here.”
Captain Herzog shook his head. “Think nothing of it, Sheriff. Allies were in trouble, it was our God given duty to help.”
The Rangers moved forward to clean up the bodies and the Tribal warriors began to disperse back to the hotel. Jacob walked past Weiss as he left the gruesome scene.
“Mr. Vance,” Weiss said in passing.
Jacob turned and stared Weiss straight in the eye. Weiss took off his glove and held out his hand.
“I am sorry for ever doubting you.”
Jacob stopped for a moment, then continued walking. “You can tell that to the Elders. I'm just a scout.”
Out of the corner of his eye Jacob caught sight of Alissa running
“Jacob!” she called. “Oh Jacob I was so scared.”
As she ran she passed one of the bandits that had surrendered. He quickly caught her around the neck and pulled a knife from his pocket.
“Don't anyone try anything,” the man said. “I'll kill 'er!”
Alissa screamed in terror as the bandit pressed the point of the knife harder against her jugular.
Jacob moved like water, brining up his assault rifle, switching it to semi, and squeezed the trigger. The round flew true and lodged itself in the man's shoulder. He let go of Alissa's neck and flopped harmlessly to the ground. Jacob sprinted over to Alissa, his sights still trained on the wounded man. The moment he was close enough he ended the man's life with paired shots to the head.
Alissa stood there, stunned. She just stared at Jacob, her mouth gaping, her eyes wide with shock. Jacob stared back, unphased by what had happened.
“How could you...” she began.
“See,” he said, cutting her off. “I could never settle down. This is the life I live.” He paused and looked at her, a sense of longing filling his soul. “You could never accept it.”
With that he turned around and walked back to the hotel. He left Alissa and all of his old memories and pain behind and never looked back.