The first of a collection about a wasteland wanderer named Vatican Wade.
Just east of the centre of the blasted desert that may or may not have once been London, six figures stood apart from a seventh.
Vatican held his rifle raised, finger taut on the trigger. He didn’t look away; he was too afraid to avert his eyes. He couldn’t, however, let them see that. His acute eyes had already taken in all the details when they were still hundreds of paces away. Three of the men held rather long, sharp blades, while another two held nothing at all. The last man, the one with his arm raised towards back Vatican was holding some old kind of revolver. It looked like it would hurt if it could still fire.
‘So, boss, I’m going ask jus’ one more time.’
‘Well, boss, I ain’t gunna answer.’ The bandit with the revolver laughed.
‘Now ain’t this shiney?’ Vatican’s voice went shrill as he saw the bandits’ faces harden. His wasteland instincts kicked in and he reviewed several courses of action. The optimal, of course, would be to shoot them all before he got shot – this could be difficult, however. He could kill Revolver, but then he’d have to cock his rifle. He again skimmed his ideas, but it was no use. So he decided to rely of good old chance.
He dug his foot into the sand and dropped into a crouch. As his right knee hit the ground, he exhaled quickly and squeezed his finger. The rifle recoiled as the gunpowder exploded and the slug burst forth; tearing through air and Revolver’s skull alike.
As the rifle kicked against Vatican’s shoulder he pushed himself into a back-roll over his shoulder, flicking sand and gravel off his foot towards the other five men in hopes it might catch their eyes. He was reassured when he heard a few cries.
When he was again on his knees, two paces back from where he first shot, he looked up. As he pulled the bolt, he saw the men escape their shock and begin to charge. Blowing through pursed lips, Vatican fired again, this time catching an unarmed through the throat. He fell, gurgling. The other man suddenly hesitated, and pausing too suddenly, tripped himself.
Rising and cocking his rifle again, Vatican had one of the stupidest ideas he’d ever had. He began waving his arms around and charged, screaming, right back at the three oncoming knife wielders. They slowed, confused. After four paces, he dropped the rifle to his shoulders and fired a third time. It wasn’t a kill shot, but the slug did take a sizeable chunk out of a knifey’s leg. He collapsed, howling.
The last two men stopped running and looked at each other. Ridiculously, they began to approach cautiously. Vatican almost laughed as he pulled back the bolt, sighed, and shot out a lung. The last man stopped, just stood still. He was within range for a leap, and Vatican couldn’t cock his gun that quick, but the bandit didn’t know that, so he just waited.
‘Right an’ shiney,’ he said. ‘Innit how you said, mister?’
The bandit dropped his long, sharp blade and began to walk away. Vatican didn’t even consider shooting; he had limited ammunition – as usual – and wasteland instincts decreed that you didn’t kill a worthless man. Unless there was money to be made. In this case, there wasn’t.
Vatican watched the man walk away for a few moments, until he was sure he was leaving, and then went about rummaging through the corpses packs. He picked up one of the knives, and swung it a bit. It felt good; good weight and aerodynamics. When he examined the blade itself, however, he noticed some extensive blood rusting, and dropped it.
He managed to find a few trinkets on the other knife wielder, which he could trade for a fair meal, a bed and maybe even a woman. Taking a second look, however, he guessed it wouldn’t be enough for a clean one, so it would probably be safer to leave it at bed and breakfast.
He moved on to the unarmed. As he pulled open the first man’s bag, he heard sand crunch behind him. He cursed himself for forgetting that the other one had only tripped over. Casually moving his hand down to his knife, he waited until the man’s shadow passed over him.
Seriously, how did these bandits survive so long?
He kicked his left leg backwards, and dodged sideways. He heard a small pop and saw the bandit’s leg bend sideways slightly as he fell. Vatican jumped on top of him and pulled his knife. Clutching it in both hands, he drove it down at his throat. The bandit reacted quick enough to block, but Vatican squeezed his knees. He heard a crack, and the man’s arms dropped and his cry was reduced to a loud gurgle as Vatican’s dagger severed his windpipe. Blood sprayed onto his face and collar.
When the man stopped writhing, Vatican wiped his knife on his already bloodied coat and replaced it in his belt. He found another necklace and a ring. The ring he places on his left index finger, leaving only two more unadorned, and the chain he dropped into his satchel with his other treasure.
Vatican made his way slowly over to Revolver, who, in the desert heat, already stank. He studied the man’s handgun. It was old, and he could tell it had a few pieces missing – a spring here, a pin there – but if he managed to fix it this would be worth its weight in gold, which, though not a huge amount, would buy him enough clean women for a year. He patted down the bandit’s pockets, and was disappointed to find no rounds for it.
Ah well, he consoled himself, he was not planning to shoot it anyway.
He rose and looked towards the sun, a deep red hovering on the horizon. Using his shadow as a compass, he saw, six or seven kilometres away, a new city.
Without looking at the bodies, he tucked the revolver in his pack, slung his rifle over his shoulder and set out for bed and breakfast and women.