enhanced hearing caught the sounds of people outside. Grip motioned her to duck down and join him, so she crossed the room silently, stopping to pick up a wooden table leg, before squatting next to him. Grip put a finger to his lips, and then slid the finger across his throat. Paisen raised an eyebrow questioningly, then raised herself slightly, peering between two girders.
Three men wearing dusty civilian clothes were sorting through the scrap they had collected in Tina’s cargo bed. The duffel bags of spare clothing and supplies Paisen and Grip had brought with them were already slung over the shoulders of one of the men, who was tapping the blade of his machete impatiently against the toe of his boot. The other two appeared to be armed as well – one with a makeshift spear, another with a massive metal wrench. Paisen’s eyes narrowed. She shifted her position, and looked around the street for signs of other men.
Grip saw her surveying the street and nodded. “Definitely more,” he mouthed silently. “Hiding.”
The looters decided that none of their scrap was worth stealing, and the one with the metal wrench swung it in a high arc, bringing it down hard onto the sled’s control panel. There was an audible crunch, and Paisen saw Grip flinch and shake his head in chagrin.
“Thanks for the grub,” one of the men shouted, laughing. The three headed off down the street, and had soon disappeared from view. Grip shifted and sat down, putting his back against the rubble heap.
“We’ll wait ‘til it’s dark,” he whispered. Paisen sat next to him, laying her club across her lap.
When they snuck down from their hiding spot nearly an hour later, they found Tina’s screen shattered and non-responsive. Grip swore quietly.
“Fuckin’ waste,” he observed in a low voice. “Come on, let’s get back to the compound. Gonna be a long trip without Tina to guide us.”
“Who were they?” Paisen asked.
“Inmates, just like us,” Grip told her. “Mostly folks with long sentences. They got no chance of parole, so why bother hauling scrap? Better to just live out here on their own. They steal from us, and scavenge what they can from the city. Best to avoid them – fighting will get your sentence extended. This is their territory, and they feel like everything we haul out is something they might have wanted to use.”
“Why did they break the sled?”
Grip shrugged. “To piss us off. Stops us from hauling our scrap back to the compound, and costs the prison company money to repair it. Be happy that’s all they did.”
“How many of them are there?” Paisen asked.
“I dunno. Couple hundred, I think. They roam in gangs, mostly. The biggest – and nastiest – are the Warriors. Stay away from sector J22.”
“Yeah, they’re soldiers, or used to be. Mercenaries. Rumor is they herded a whole town’s worth of people into an air transport after a battle, and then programmed it to take a nose-dive into the ocean. The whole platoon got brought up on war crimes, and sent here, all twelve of them. They’re the most dangerous gang out there, so over the years they’ve attracted some followers who tag along with them for security.”
“Were those Warriors today?”
“The ones that smashed Tina? No. You’ll know Warriors by the red tattoo on their cheek, of an animal skull. The original ones have it, at least – they don’t let the new recruits get tattooed. If those had been Warriors, we’d be dead – they would have set fire to the building, then killed us when we tried to come out, just for fun. They might have let you live, though – they usually keep the women alive.” Grip cleared his throat to cover the awkward silence. “Anyway, if we see Warriors, we run.”
Rath and Beauceron met the following day at a conferencing facility downtown, where Beauceron reserved a small meeting room with a computer terminal and a display board. He showed up several minutes early, but