Chapter 4

Copyright© 2000 by Al Steiner

Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story: Chapter 4 - When Comet Fenwell crashes into the Pacific Ocean one October day, it spells the end for most of humanity. Those that survive find themselves in a greatly changed world filled with different morals and the same old urges.

Caution: This Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Ma/ft   Fa/ft   Consensual   Reluctant   BiSexual   Science Fiction   Post Apocalypse   Group Sex   Sex Toys   Violent   comet crashes into earth story, end of civilization story

"Mitsy, get the hell out of that bathtub right now!" Paul yelled at her angrily.

"All right, all right," she said, pulling herself off of Brett, her voice far from regretful. She stood, unashamed before Paul and Jessica, stepping down and heading for the towel rack.

"Are you okay Honey?" Jessica asked her gently, her gun pointing at Brett.

"Okay?" she said, grabbing one of the towels and starting to pat herself dry. "Of course I'm okay."

"Thank God for that," Jessica said, continuing to glare at Brett. "How dare you abuse our hospitality like that," she accused. "We invite you into our town, feed you, allow you to bathe and you repay us by attacking the girl who was guarding you?"

"Attacking?" he said, raising his eyebrows.

"How else did she get into that tub with you?" Jessica asked. "And just what happened to Hector?"

"Christ almighty," Paul said, shaking his head sadly. He put his gun back in its holster and then turned to Jessica. "Jess," he said, "I don't think Brett attacked Mitsy, did he Mitsy?"

"No," she admitted without shame. "It was actually more the other way around." She bent over to dry her legs.

"You attacked him?" Jessica asked in disbelief.

She shrugged. "He has a nice ass," she said. "And I was horny. What's wrong with having a little fun?"

"What's wrong with it," Paul said, "is that you were supposed to be guarding him. What if he was dangerous? What if he had attacked you? Nice ass or not, we don't know this man! Anything could have happened, anything! For Christ's sake, Mitsy, he is in the building that we store our goddamn food and ammunition in!"

"Sorry," she said softly, her eyes downcast now.

"Sorry," Paul repeated, mocking her. "And just where is Hector, your partner in this guard detail?"

"I'd rather not say," she replied. "He's all right though."

Paul buried his face in his hands for a moment and took a few deep breaths. When he looked up he noticed that Jessica was still pointing her gun at Brett, murder in her eyes. "Jessica, would put that freaking gun away before you accidentally shoot something with it?"

"Put it away?" she asked. "What about him?"

"What about him?" he returned. "At least this proves he wasn't trying to attack us from the inside, doesn't it?"

"It doesn't prove anything except that he's an animal willing to come in here and take advantage of our hospitality by..."

"Oh please," Paul said, cutting her off. "I hardly think it makes him an animal because he responded to the seduction of a beautiful woman after he's been out in the wilderness for two weeks."

"Do you really think I'm beautiful, Paul?" Mitsy asked, beaming, immediately interested.

"Shit," Paul muttered. He turned to Brett. "Are you about done with your bath now?"

"Uh... yeah," he said. "Look, I'm really sorry about all of this. The last thing I wanted to do was..."

"Don't sweat it," Paul told him. "Just get out and get your clothes on. We'll get you a bed set up in one of the rooms."

"You're not going to let him stay here after what just happened, are you?" Jessica asked.

"I don't see how this changes anything," Paul replied. "You know as well as I do that what just happened is far from unusual in this town these days. I probably should've known better than to have Mitsy guard him. I should've found two of the men. But then I probably would've had both of them run off to screw someone and Brett would've been free to wander around at will. At least this way someone was with him."

"I don't think we need to discuss town business in front of him," Jessica whispered, although loudly enough for Brett to hear. "Especially not... you know?"

"He already knows about it," Paul said. "I filled him in earlier on the various games that are played here."

"You did what?" she asked, horrified.

Paul ignored her. "Now you see what I mean, right?" he asked Brett, smiling a little.

Brett smiled back hesitantly. "A very graphic lesson," he agreed.

"Sorry we came rushing in here with guns," he said. "We heard moaning and splashing coming from in here and we thought that maybe... well..."

"That I was hurting her?"


"I didn't realize we were so loud," Mitsy said, embarrassed now.

"Nobody ever does," Paul said. "Nobody ever does. Get yourself dressed, Mitsy and then I'd like to have a word with you in the office."

"Okay," she said, dropping her towel and grabbing her clothes. She began to put them on.

"Jess," he said, turning to her, "can you go get Jeff from the front and have him take over watching Brett for us?"

"You want me to do that?" she asked with distaste, as if she was being asked to gut a fish or slaughter a chicken.

"Yes, please," he said, just a hint of sarcasm tinting his words. "If it's not too much trouble that is?"

"I don't like the way you've been talking to me tonight," Jessica practically hissed at him. "You seem to have forgotten what your place in this town is. Remember..."

"I wasn't a resident," he said before she could. "I know. You've only told me that a hundred times or so. And as for forgetting my place, I think that it's the opposite that's happening here. I think I'm just starting to realize my place as well as your place."

"Are you threatening me?" she said, taking a step closer. "Because if you are, you'll be out of here so fast..."

"Take it for what you want, Jess," Paul told her, standing his ground. "We've already been over this once tonight, haven't we? Now, if you're finished, would you please go get Jeff so we can make sure that Brett doesn't find himself in any more mischief tonight?"

"I am far from finished," she said angrily. "We will talk about this some more."

"Fine, let's just do it later, okay? It's been a hell of a long night and we have a lot of people to talk to tomorrow."

"You're overstepping your bounds," she warned, pointing a finger at him. "And you'd better check yourself." This statement might have had a little more dramatic effect had she not then turned and headed off to do exactly what she'd been told to do.

"Fuckin' bitch," Mitsy, who was now completely clothed again, muttered once she was gone.

"Enough of that," Paul told her wearily. "I'll see you in my office, Mitsy."

"Sure," she said, sulking to the door. Before she went out she shot an affectionate look at Brett. "See you later," she told him.

He gave no acknowledgment to her and a moment later she disappeared. Once she was gone he looked at Paul. "Sorry about all this," he told him. "I seemed to have created some power struggles for you."

"Nothing to be sorry about," Paul said. "I'm kind of glad that all this happened tonight. Jessica and Dale need to be taken down a few notches and this struggle over you has given me the means to do it."

"I see," he said. "Will this incident with Mitsy affect how people feel about me staying?"

"No, not in the least. Trust me on this. You'll be voted in as long as I'm with Jessica when the story about you gets told. You're a man in a town where men are scarce. You'd have to be Ted Bundy before these women would vote to exclude you. If nothing else, the rumor about what happened here tonight will strengthen your case. After all, they'll know you can be seduced, right? That's the best thing you can say about a man in this town."

"That's good to know," he said.

"Don't be so happy about us accepting you though," Paul warned. "Once you're a member of this community, I'm going to move to put you in charge of defense and training. And then you can be the one who deals with all of this guard duty crap. I imagine it will be the toughest job you'll ever have."

"So I hear you bagged Mitsy," Jeff, the nineteen-year-old guard that he had first encountered at the front entrance, asked him with a shrewd smile. He seemed to have put his hostile feelings aside. "How was she? She was one of the virgins but I was thinking about maybe giving her a try." They were walking down the hallway of the community center, Jeff in the rear, lighting the way with a flashlight.

"Virgins?" Brett asked, raising his eyebrows a tad. Mitsy certainly had not been a virgin.

"You know," he said, "it means none of the guys have tapped her yet. Nobody's worked their way around to her yet. So was it worth it?"

"Jesus," Brett muttered. "I'd rather not say. I prefer to keep my experiences to myself."

"Bummer, dude," Jeff said sadly. "But I can get down with that, you know? That's the same thing Paul and Matt do. They don't say shit. Sometimes I think they're out there getting more pussy than anybody." They arrived at a small storage room near the back of the building. "Here's your suite. Sorry it ain't much." He shined the flashlight inside, allowing Brett to have a look at it.

It was pretty much a case of what you see is what you get. It was a windowless room with only one door. About ten feet by ten feet, the floor was covered with the same industrial carpet that covered the rest of the building. There was a rollaway bed of the sort usually found in motels set up in the corner. A neatly folded stack of linen sat atop it. On a small table next to the cot was a candle, unlit, with a pack of matches next to it. Brett walked inside and picked up the matches, lighting the candle and allowing Jeff to douse the flashlight.

"So, dude, you were like a cop and all, right?" Jeff asked, pulling a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his flannel shirt.

"That's right," Brett told him, picking up the stack of linen. It was soft, dry, and smelled faintly of laundry soap. Clean linen! Amazing. He began to unfold it and place it on the bed. He would get to sleep in a real bed.

"Well," Jeff said, "even though you were a cop, I guess it's only polite to ask. I'm not a Bogart you know?"

"What are you talking about?" Brett asked, looking over at him.

"You wanna burn one with me?" he asked, holding up a tightly rolled joint. "It's good shit."

"You want to smoke a joint with me? The man you're supposed to be guarding?"

"Hell yeah," he said, putting the joint in his mouth and pulling out a disposable lighter. "I ain't never smoked out with no cop before. It'll be the bomb." He lit it, taking a large hit and filling the room with the pungent smell of marijuana.

"My work is going to be cut out for me here, I can see that."

"So what do you say?" Jeff squeaked, speaking and holding his breath at the same time. "Wanna get loaded?"

"What the hell?" Brett said, reaching out and taking the joint. "I guess they can't fire me now, can they?"

"You the man," Jeff squeaked, grinning at him.

Though he had not smoked any since his high school days, it really was like riding a bicycle. He put the smoldering joint between his lips and sucked, drawing a medium hit into his lungs. "This is some good shit," he squeaked back as he handed the joint back to Jeff. "Where'd you get it?"

"Are you kidding?" Jeff asked, dipping the ash that had formed onto the floor. "We have more than a pound of this shit in storage. When we went through all the houses looking for supplies we found pot in more than half of them. I guess these rich people liked to smoke out. They bought quality buds too."

"Really?" Brett said, exhaling a plume of smoke.

"And that ain't all," Jeff said, holding the joint near his mouth but not hitting it. "We got enough booze, wine, and yuppie beer to kill everyone in town five or six times. There's enough Prozac, Xanax, and Valium to paralyze an army, and even some coke and crank. In one of the former doctor's houses we even found some morphine and a box of syringes. Fuckin' rich people. They're disgusting, ain't they?" He took a hit, sucking up more than a quarter inch of the joint in one inhale.

"I guess it shouldn't surprise me," Brett said, "but somehow it still does." He grabbed the joint and took another hit. "So what's your story?" he asked once he'd exhaled and handed it back over.

"Me?" Jeff squeaked, once again talking while holding in a hit. "I'm from Salt Lake City. I was here on my mission."

"Your mission?"

He blew the smoke out and handed what was now nearly a roach to Brett. "My mission," he said, coughing a little. "You know, for the Mormon Church. I was up here riding a fucking bicycle around spreading the word."

Brett found this extremely funny. He began to laugh, unable to stop once he was started. "You," he chortled, "are a Mormon?"

"Fuck no," he scoffed, laughing himself. "But my family was. If I wanted my piece of the pie, then I had to play the game, right? Now my parents couldn't afford to send me to Japan or Russia or anything like that, so I was doing my time here in California. I was gonna start at BYU next semester and major in business and be a part of my old man's firm but the comet kinda toasted those plans." He shrugged. "I don't mind though. This is, without a doubt, the best time that I've ever had. I mean, I got to score some pretty good puss back in SLC, you know, being a football player and a future BYU student, but I never imagined anything like what we got here. I've been laid at least once a day since the comet hit, usually twice. My friend, you are now living in paradise."

"Paradise," Brett said, feeling his head reeling from the pot. "You ever listen to The Eagles?"

"The who?"

"No, not The Who, The Eagles," Brett said. "Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh."

Jeff shrugged. "Maybe my parents did. Didn't they sing Hotel California?"

"That's them," Brett agreed. "I remember the last line of one of their songs. The song was The Last Resort. The line was about paradise."

"What was it?"

"If you call some place paradise," Brett quoted, "kiss it goodbye."

Jeff didn't get it. "What the fuck does that mean?" he asked.

"It means that you people have something that everyone is going to want. You have paradise. It's apparent just by watching you from the outside but its even more apparent by watching it from the inside. Somebody's gonna try to take this place away eventually. It's human nature. And you, as members of paradise, will give it to them by your inaction."

"Why are you telling me this?"

Brett took another hit. "I'm a guest of yours right now," he said. "But pretty soon I won't be. Pretty soon, I'm going to be in charge of security here."

"Yeah? So what?"

"So enjoy your pot-smoking on guard duty while you have a chance, my friend. Once I'm in charge, you won't be doing it. Nor will you be fucking anybody on guard duty. I guarantee it."

Jeff started to laugh. "Oh, dude," he said, pulling out an expensive looking roach clip and inserting the joint into it, "you don't know the people in this town very well."

"Oh, I think I do," Brett replied with a smile. "They just don't know me very well."

For most of the night Jason, and especially Chrissie, had lain awake, tossing and turning, their minds worried sick about the fate of Brett. Was he dead? Was he alive? Had he been taken prisoner in Garden Hill? Or had he fallen to his death from the bridge? They did not know, could not know and their minds, insisting upon dwelling on the worst possible things imaginable, refused to shut down and let sleep take over for more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a time.

Finally, after what seemed like days, first light touched the sky, turning the blackness into indistinct shadows and shapes. Wearily, both of them with bags beneath their eyes from fatigue, pulled themselves from their sleeping bags and put on the same wet clothing that they had worn since that day at the trailer.

They ate a breakfast of spaghetti-O's, washing it down with sips of water from their canteens. They talked little as they ate, neither wanting to vocalize the fear that was gripping them. When the can was empty and the rumbling in their bellies quieted, Chrissie felt a familiar fullness in her lower regions. Though their limited diet had certainly cut back on the frequency of bowel movements in this new life, the mail did still go through every few days or so. It seemed that this was going to be one of those days.

"I gotta go around the corner for a few minutes," she told Jason, using the euphemism for "I have to drop a load" that had developed among the three team members.

"Don't use the poison oak to wipe with," Jason warned, repeating an overused joke between them, formulated on their first day with Brett when he had given them an amusingly serious lecture on that very subject.

"I'll try not to," she dutifully replied, picking up her rifle and slinging it over her shoulder. "Once I get back we'll climb the hill and start looking."

"Right," Jason said, deliberately injecting a note of optimism into his tone. Brett had instructed them to climb the hill and keep an eye on the bridge starting at first light. If his plans had gone well, he would wave them over.

Chrissie walked out of the lean-to and into the rain, feeling the first icy sting of water on her face and wincing a little, as she always did at the first contact of the morning. She put her head down a little and trudged around the rocky outcropping they had made camp at. It was in a wider section of the canyonside cut, about two hundred yards from the tall ridge overlooking the bridge. She worked her way out of the rocks and into the area where the trees and foliage grew, sliding in between a group of pines. She found a relatively clear area and then dropped her pants, squatting down over a small hole she'd dug with the toe of her boot. She set her rifle down on the ground next to her, within easy reach.

It was just as she was finishing up, just as she was wiping with a handful of wet leaves, that she began to get a very uncomfortable feeling. It was like what Brett had described to her when he'd sensed the two gunmen that had attacked him on the ridges. Her neck began to tickle, the hairs on it standing on end. Her pulse was suddenly beating faster and she had the strong sensation that she was being watched. Brett had told her that she should never ignore such a sensation, that non-mentally ill people rarely had such feelings for no reason.

She dropped the leaves onto the ground and quickly pulled her pants back up, buckling the belt just enough to keep it from unfastening. Her eyes were looking outward as she did this, tracking over every rock, bush, tree, and mound of dirt, searching for whatever was jigging her senses. She saw nothing that she consciously considered to be out of the ordinary but, for some reason, she kept coming back to a group of boulders that was sitting about thirty yards away. They were just ordinary boulders, no different than a thousand others that she had seen, grouped in no particular pattern, but, as she looked at them, she became convinced that someone or something was behind them. Her adrenaline began to flow faster, her pulse to hammer harder. Where was the nearest cover?

Slowly, trying her best not to look as if she was alarmed by anything, she reached down to pick up her rifle, wanting it's comforting weight in her hands. Just as her hand touched the plastic of the grip, there was movement from behind the boulders and a man suddenly emerged. He was wearing filthy blue jeans and an equally dirty forest green down jacket. His face was heavily bearded but did not have the sunken, haunted look of starvation. Whoever he was, he had been eating regularly. He carried no rifle but his right hand was hidden in the pocket of his coat. His eyes were looking at her as he walked forward, his mouth formed into a broad, ain't-I-glad-to-see-you smile that Chrissie instantly did not trust.

"Well hello there, young lady," he said with obviously forced friendliness, his eyes remaining locked on her as he continued forward. "Wherever in the world did you come from?"

Chrissie moved fast. If Brett had been there to see it, he would have been quite proud of her. In one swift motion she picked up her rifle and sidestepped to her left, throwing herself behind a tree. Once the trunk was between her and the mysterious man she swung towards him, bringing the butt of the rifle to her shoulder, her eye peering out over the sights. "Stop where you are!" she yelled, loudly enough for Jason to hear back at camp. "Don't come a step closer to me!"

"Whoa," said the man, holding his left hand up in a gesture of appeasement. His right hand however, stayed in the jacket. His pace slowed a little but did not stop. "Nothing to get excited about. You don't need to go pointing a gun at me. I'm harmless."

"I said stop!" she said. "Take your hand out of your pocket!"

He slowed a little more but continued to move forward. He was now fifteen yards away. "Where did you find that gun anyway, sweetheart?" he asked. "It's awfully big for such a young girl. You really should put it down before you hurt yourself with it."

"Stop, motherfucker!" she yelled. "I mean it! I'll shoot you!"

"You don't want shoot anyone, do you?" he said, continuing his slow advance. "Really now. I'm here to help you. I'm a good guy. Why don't you..."

"Don't take another step!" she warned, her finger tightening on the trigger.

"Sweetheart," he said, "you need to put that gun down. I know you don't want anything bad to happen here, right?" He took another step forward. He would never take another.

Chrissie squeezed the trigger twice causing the rifle to thump against her shoulder and sending the crack of two shots echoing off the rocks. Two holes appeared in the man's jacket, right in the center of his chest, sending a small puff of goose feathers out into the wind. He screeched as the wind was driven from his lungs and there was a flash from his right pocket as the gun he had hidden in there was fired. The bullet ripped a hole in the jacket and ricocheted off the ground about ten feet in front of her. The man then fell to his face on the ground, his hand still pinned beneath him.

"Chrissie!" came Jason's voice from behind her. "What's going on? What's happening?"

Before she could answer him, before he was even really done speaking, three more shots suddenly rang out from the boulders where the first man had come from. They were pistol shots - by now she was able to tell the difference - and she caught a brief glimpse of another bearded face in the gap between two of the rocks. Two of the bullets that had been fired whizzed by on her left. The last one struck the tree she was hiding behind.

Before she even realized she was doing it, her finger was squeezing the trigger again, sending a hail of rifle bullets right back at him. The pinged and sparked as they hit the rocks. She fired five times and then stopped, her sight trained on the spot where she had last seen him.

"Chrissie!" yelled Jason again, frantically this time.

"Jason," she shouted back, "stay down. Take cover. There's one down and at least one behind some rocks over here."

"Are you all right?"

"So far," she yelled. "I'm behind cover."

She continued to watch the rocks, her body tense, her eyes dilated, her heart going nearly one hundred and eighty beats per minute. She saw nothing but the rocks, heard nothing but the rain and the canyon. Had she hit the gunman back there? While it was possible, it would not be a good idea to assume that, or even to assume that there was only one more of them back there. What now? she wondered. Why the hell wasn't Brett here? Brett would know what to do.

On the other side of the rise, near the lean-to, Jason was even tenser. He lay on his stomach behind a rock, his rifle trained outward towards where Chrissie had gone, but he couldn't see anything of the area where the shooting had come from. He did not know exactly where his sister was or where the gunmen were. He was useless. He needed to change that. Slowly, moving rock to rock, crawling on his belly, he inched forward until he was against the mound of rocks and sparse shrubs that stood between he and where he figured Chrissie had gone. He began to climb up it, step by step, foot by foot, picking his footholds carefully and making sure that his head stayed below the crest. When he reached the top he peered over, keeping his face behind a rock. He was able to see a body lying on the ground, face down. After a moment's searching he was able to see his sister. He could not, however, tell which rocks their enemy might be behind. There were simply too many rocks down there. Now what?

Meanwhile, Chrissie had an idea. "You, with the gun," she yelled from her position behind the tree. "There are two of us out here with rifles. Come out now with your hands up and we won't kill you." As to what she might do if her offer was accepted, she did not quite know, but it was a mute point. The gunman or gunmen did not come out or give any indication that she had been heard.

"Goddamn it," she muttered to herself, not even realizing she had spoken aloud.

"Chrissie," hissed a voice from behind and to the right. It was Jason. "Don't look up here. Just nod if you can hear me."

Though she was desperately afraid that her brother was exposing himself and though every big sister instinct that she had was commanding her to at least take a look, she kept her eyes forward. She nodded twice.

"Where are they at?" he asked her next.

"The group of rocks at my two o'clock," she said back, talking only as loudly as she thought necessary for him to hear her. Hopefully the gunman wouldn't hear as well.

"The tall group with the big egg-shaped rock in the middle?" Jason asked.

"That's right," she said. "There's at least one back there with a pistol. I don't think I hit him when I shot. Can you see anything back there?"

"Nothing," Jason whispered after searching the formation with his eyes for a few moments. "What do we do now?"

Chrissie looked around her for a moment, checking the terrain. There was not much to the right of her as far as cover or concealment. Trying to move that way would be a mistake unless she could verify that her assailants were down. But the left however, that led deeper into the trees. A person could find lots of things to hide behind back there. And even better was the fact that the tree line extended forward. "Hmmm," she hummed to herself, her mind spinning a thousand miles an hour. She risked a look over her shoulders, up to where her brother's voice had come from. She did not see him, but she gave him a series of hand signals. "Cover me," her gestures said, "I'm going to flank him to the left."

"Are you sure, Chrissie?" Jason's voice called down.

She nodded, positioning herself to run. She took a few deep breaths and gathered her courage and then gave Jason one more signal. The go signal.

Jason began firing down into the rocks, several shots a second, giving her covering fire so she could move. Again the sparks began to fly and the bullets to ping and ricochet around. Rock chips exploded upward. As soon as she heard the first shot, Chrissie broke from behind her tree and sprinted to the left and slightly forward, moving into the area of thicker foliage, throwing herself down behind another group of trees that provided a better angle of attack. She rolled over onto her stomach and aimed out towards the rocks just in time to see two flashes of the gunman's pistol as it rose over the rock to return fire. She aimed her rifle in that direction but could see nothing but the man's hand extending upward. That one glance only lasted a second or two before the hand dropped back down. She did not fire.

Jason held his fire for a few moments, waiting to see what would happen next. When the man behind the rock had returned fire he, Jason, had aimed for the arm that had poked up but he was pretty sure he hadn't hit it. He looked downward to where Chrissie was, searching for a moment and finally finding her. She was looking up towards him, unable to see him but trying to attract his attention. "I got you, sis," he yelled down at her.

Chrissie, gratified that she hadn't hidden herself too well, gave him another set of hand signals, indicating that she wanted him to cover another advance. Now she knew why Brett had told them so many times that the key to a successful battle was communication and coordination. Without being able to signal her intentions to Jason, she was pinned down and trapped, with being able to do that, she was nearly invincible.

"Got it," came Jason's voice, drifting downward at her.

"Good," she mumbled to herself, gripping her weapon and slowly raising to her knees, preparatory to running. She took another deep breath and gave the go signal. Gunfire once again exploded from Jason's position, pattering down on the rocks. She jumped to her feet and dashed through the open ground to the next set of trees, moving strictly forward this time. She glanced at her enemy's position and still saw nothing but rocks. Jason continued to fire and she dashed forward again, diving behind a fallen log and scrambling as far forward along its length as she could go.

The gunfire from Jason's rifle halted again and there was no answering fire from the pistol this time. Slowly, cautiously, she raised her head up and peeked over the log, ready to dive back down in an instant if she saw danger. She did not. What she saw instead was a man crouching behind the rocks, his body as close to the edge of them as he could physically get it. He was in profile to her, holding a pistol in both hands, pointing it upward. Even from twenty yards away Chrissie could see that he was scared shitless and didn't know what to do. He was close to panic, finding himself pinned between two armed people.

Had she more time and inclination to think the situation through, she might have felt sorry for the man, might have hesitated to shoot at him as he cowered there. But she didn't. She acted as Brett had taught her. She took tactical advantage of the situation. She brought her rifle up and sighted in on him, aiming at the bulk of his body. She fired four times in rapid succession, seeing more goose down fly, seeing blood splatter on the rocks, hearing the startled scream of the gunman even over the sound of the rifle fire. He slumped to the ground, the pistol falling from his hand into the mud. He did not move.

"Chrissie?" Jason's voice yelled from back at his position.

"I got him, Jase!" she yelled back, her breath raggedly moving in and out of her lungs, terrified sweat running down her face with the rainwater. "Move down to where I'm at. I'll cover you from here."

As she waited for her brother to come down to her she began to tremble with fear overload. Her hands, which had been steady as a rock during the battle, began to shake, making it difficult to keep the barrel of her rifle steady. She closed her eyes for just a second and commanded herself to be calm. This wasn't over yet. There still might be others out there.

There wasn't. Jason came down and she signaled him to find a position opposite of her. He did so and, after a furious exchange of signals, they moved in, advancing to the rise behind where the gunmen had emerged, searching with their eyes the downhill portion of the forest there. They saw no signs of anyone else, nor did they receive any jigs on their nerve endings.

"I think those were the only two," Chrissie said when they finally stood together behind the trees. "If nothing else, we're secure up here."

"Jesus, sis," Jason said, trembling himself now. "What the hell happened? Where did they come from?"

"They must've just been two people that were heading for the bridge when they stumbled onto me." She told him the story, her voice breaking a few times as it came out. "It's a good thing I finished my business before he came out," she concluded, feeling the giddiness that she remembered from her last firefight now. "If he would've came before, I'd be cleaning it out of my panties about now."

The thundering roar of water rushing through the canyon had masked all sounds of the battle from Brett, Paul, and Jessica, who were standing just in front of the SUVs on the Garden Hill side of the bridge. All they knew was that it was first light, the agreed upon time for the two kids to show themselves, and they hadn't done so yet. Brett, starting to become seriously worried now, kept waving his hands every few minutes towards the hill, giving them the pre-arranged signal. They were supposed to stand briefly and acknowledge the wave and then move down the hill towards the road.

"I'll give them ten more minutes," he said to Paul, "and then I'm going over there to look for them. Something's wrong."

"Hmmph," Jessica said from around a large wad of gum she was chewing. "It wouldn't surprise me if something happened to them. I still can't believe you left a couple of children out there alone all night. And with guns. That's criminal behavior if you ask me."

Brett glared at her, giving her such a seething look that she took a step away from him, her mouth stopping in mid-chew. "They're not children," he said to her. "They're more capable out there than anyone I've seen in this town so far."

She said nothing, just glared back at him.

"Maybe they're having trouble getting up the hill," Paul suggested, trying, unsuccessfully, to break the tension a little. "You said they have full packs to lug, not to mention your pack and your weapon as well."

"It shouldn't have taken this long," Brett said, reaching his hand beneath the black rain slicker he had been provided and itching at his chest. He had discovered that his body was so used to wearing wet clothing that it did not know what to think of dry clothing. The material of the shirt, jeans, and underwear he had been given felt rough to his skin, almost like sandpaper. A strange irony.

The minutes ticked by slowly, agonizingly, and finally, just before Brett was about to begin heading for the far side on his own, he spotted movement atop the hill. "There," he said, pointing, his voice full of relief. "Do you see it?"

All three of them peered intently upward until they saw two people, so dirty that they would not have been visible had they not been silhouetting themselves deliberately. They both waved their hands back and forth for a moment. Brett waved frantically back, giving them a "come down" gesture. They stopped waving and began to scramble downward, towards the road.

"They're not going to fall, are they?" Jessica asked. "Shouldn't they go around the hill to the other side?"

"They're a lot safer coming down that way," Brett said, keeping his eyes on their progress. "God only knows how many lowlifes you have camped out in the forest over there."

"But if they fall..." she started.

"You weren't very concerned about them last night," Brett said. "You were perfectly willing to leave them out there to the wolves. Why are you so worried about them now?"

"I did not say I was unconcerned for them last night," she barked at him. "I just told you that we couldn't afford to feed outsiders. I still feel that way. I'm just shocked that you allow children to carry guns and camp out in the woods by themselves. And that you encourage them to climb over wet hills where they could fall and hurt themselves."

Brett opened his mouth to retort, and God knows what might have come out of it, but Paul, keeping with his role as mediator, stepped in between them. "That's enough, you two," he said, holding up his hands in a gesture of supplication. "Really. It looks like the two of them are coming down just fine. There's no need for anyone to worry."

Brett let his mouth close. Jessica, after a moment's consideration, did the same. Silence ruled during the rest of the descent.

As soon as Chrissie and Jason put their feet on the roadway and started walking towards the bridge, Brett began trotting towards them. By the time they reached the first set of barricade vehicles that guarded the entrance, he was running and so were they, Brett's backpack held between them. Jessica and Paul stayed back, neither willing to venture any further out of town then they already were (this was, in fact, Jessica's first trip to the bridge since the impact itself).

"Brett!" Chrissie yelled, dropping her half of his backpack to the pavement and rushing into his arms. She hit him nearly hard enough to knock him over, her clothing leaving a dirty smear of mud on his rain slicker. He didn't care. He put his arms around her and hugged her tightly to him, kissing her muddy face.

Jason came up right behind her - after carefully setting the pack and Brett's rifle down - and joined the embrace, not caring if people thought he was a fag for hugging a guy. He could not remember ever being so glad to see someone in his life. Brett let one arm come off of Chrissie and put it around his shoulders.

"You're safe," Chrissie said, her voice choked. "You made it in!"

"Fuckin aye I did," he said, continuing to hug both of them.

"Are they gonna let us stay here?" Jason asked, fighting back tears of his own.

"We're working on it," he told them. "We'll know by the end of the day, but it's looking good."

"Did you shake 'em up like you said you would?" Jason asked.

"Even more," he said, pulling back from the embrace. "Even more."

"My God," Chrissie said, looking at him closely for the first time. "You don't even look like you. You're clean!"

"And you shaved," Jason put in. "I never saw you without the beard before."

"You like it?" he asked, running his wet hand over his reddened, itchy face. "This is what I used to look like before."

"It's different," Chrissie said, reaching out to touch the bare skin.

"What took you guys so long?" he asked.

Their expressions darkened. "We ran into some trouble this morning," Chrissie said.


They explained what had happened, Chrissie doing most of the narration but Jason throwing in a few comments from time to time. As they talked, the happiness they had shown at seeing him again turned to fear and despair at what they had been through.

"When I got over along that log," she said, trembling a little at the memory, "I saw him just sitting there, cowering. He still had the gun in his hand but he looked so scared, Brett. He looked terrified! I shot him anyway, four or five times, until he fell down."

"That's exactly what you should have done, Chrissie," Brett told her, sensing that she was feeling guilty for killing someone who hadn't actually been shooting at her at that moment. "You did everything just right. Perfectly. Both of you did."

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