To Live Another Day

Dogs, Rats and Mystery Meats
Dogs, Rats and Mystery Meats

CansThey thought they’d licked the plates clean, but they were awoken to the howls of wild dogs. A pack of the slavering things was closing in. Lock and load, thought Vincent 430, as he took aim with his rifle. He was more rueful of the ammo he was about to spend than fearful of the dogs. With a snap shot and a yelp one went down. The Rat shot at another with his crossbow, and the newcomer Val Clewes fired off a few rounds with his fancy officer’s pistol. Then the remaining dogs were about them, snapping and growling. Vincent preferred this sort of work to wasting ammo. He grabbed a snarling pooch and snapped its collarbone.

The dogs were soon driven off. Mike was delighted with the meat they had gained, and immediately started butchering the carcasses. From starvation to plenty in just a day! But the carcasses would attract predators, human and otherwise, so it was time to move on. Vincent shouldered four of the dogs and the three packed up and moved out.

They cautiously moved through the Rubble. Vincent was scouting ahead. He heard a man’s shouts. He was about to investigate when several rats burst out of the rubble and headed straight for the group. They didn’t last long. Within minutes two of the rats lay on the ground and the others had fled. More meat. This was really getting ridiculous. Vincent was distracted by the rats and forgot about the man, who popped up suddenly. Vincent spun around and found himself facing a wild haired old man, with one red-glowing mechanical eye and a crazed expression. “Wotan of the Rubble!” shouted Mike, “what in Hell are you doin’ here?”

“You know this old guy?” asked Vincent, nonplussed. Wotan chuckled.

“I’ve got a treasure map. You can have a share if you help me.”

“We’ll think about it, old man,” said Mike. “Why don’t we discuss it over gumbo?”

The mystery meat gumbo was soon cooking. The old man licked the grease from his fingers. His treasure map, he explained, was a sure-fire thing. Vincent430 could scarcely understand how the old coot had survived as long as he had if he habitually followed such schemes, but he ended up agreeing to go along. Mike decided to hold his tongue about the stash until they returned.

The ‘treasure map’ led them to a hole in the rubble. Cackling, Wotan descended, followed by Val Clewes. Rolling his eyes at his own insanity, Vincent followed cautiously. He found himself in a rubble-strewn chamber. There were the sounds of rats — the big ones — all around. The chamber led to another and another. Vincent followed the voices of Wotan and Clewes, keeping his eyes peeled. The rats were squeaking and moving around. It seemed to be some kind of collapsed military bunker. Vincent picked up a few valuable items including some military grade armour. Vincent caught up with Wotan and Clewes in another low chamber. The old man was cackling and stuffing his pockets with trinkets he’d scrabbled from the dirt. They made their way out into the fresh air where Stanislavski waited for them. He said a horde of the giant rats had exited the hole and run off. Vincent was glad of that.

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Trust is a full stomach
Ya dog food or yer life

The survivalist´s cache would be good for trade but it didn´t fill an empty stomach. Vincent430 was hungry, and it was time to hunt. With a nod to Mike he took his snares and his rifle and headed into the Rubble to grub for maybe some worms or bitter roots; perhaps some drinkable water.

Val Clewes, D.R.A. specialist first class, stumbled through the Rubble, dazed, lost and closer to death than even he knew. Just days ago, unknown blue mutants had swarmed and destroyed his outpost. He had lost contact with Command and had no idea where he was. He clutched a salvaged box of dog-food cans. It was food, pretty good for the Rubble too.

Vincent had had no luck until he spotted Clewes in his clean uniform, settling down to camp. The BEP crept up stealthily. Before Clewes knew what was happening there was a knife at his throat. ¨Your dog-food or your life, pal!¨ Vincent430 hissed.

Something stayed Vincent´s knife hand. Maybe it was the impossibly clean uniform Clewes wore. Maybe it was the strangely untarnished D.R.A. badge. This was not a typical gang banger or mutie. In any case Vincent430 decided to only take half of the guy´s food.

¨Wait!¨ shouted Clewes as Vincent430 retreated with his prize ¨I don´t have anywhere to go.¨

Vincent was amazed that he didn´t just shoot this cretin (although now the advantage of surprise was gone, he noted the stranger was well-equipped and had a firearm). Instead, he heard himself inviting the stranger to his campsite. There was a lot of food in that cardboard box, Vincent rationalised. A shame to let it fall into the hands of the next lowlife gang-banger this guy ran into. They set off at a trot.

¨Mike, we got company,¨ Vincent430 yelled as they approached camp.

¨How many?¨ called Stanislavski, cautiously.

¨Just one, and he´s brought dinner.¨

Mike emerged and the three sat down to their dinner of dog-food, eyeing each other warily. At one point Clewes jumped up, saying that he could detect many non-human minds around. When Vincent430 and ¨The Rat¨ jumped to defensive positions, the minds retreated. This mystery man Clewes was a telepath. Who knew if he could be trusted? But there was food to eat tonight.

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The thief and the hole

One night Mike “The Rat” Stanislavski was woken by a rustling near him. He woke to see a huge (metre high) rat fossicking seemingly intelligently for his toothbrush. Stanislavski swished his machete at the rat, but it dodged. Mike called hoarsely and Vincent430’s eyes flicked open. He leaped at the rat and grabbed it by the scruff. “Breakfast!” he grinned. They had not eaten for two days.

The rat made terrified squeaks. It was wearing a makeshift vest with primitive tools. Mike realised it was intelligent. It gestured frantically at a notepad. “Trade points!” grinned Vincent, but Mike gestured to allow the rat to sketch on the notepad. “Breakfast is still the prime option, rat, so this had better be good,” he told the creature, which could clearly comprehend some language.

The rat sketched a metal hatch, and indicated that it was not far and that it could lead them there. Mike and Vincent looked at each other. It could very well be a trap, or an opportunity for the thing to escape…or it could lead to interesting discoveries, or at worst a delayed breakfast. They set off into the thick Weed which overgrew the old Hollywood Hills, hacking it slowly with Stanislavski’s machete. After a while they found a small clearing with a piece of corrugated iron on the ground.

Vincent430 looked cautiously around, lifted the iron and saw a sturdy metal door with an opening wheel. He turned it, and the door swung open to reveal darkened steps. They had no light until…Mike spotted a dynamo torch half buried in the ground! Already wealthy from this find, the rat had half redeemed itself. Mike handed the torch to Vincent430 who descended. The stairs went down a good few metres below ground, so Mike and the rat joined Vincent below. The passage ended at another door which led to an anteroom. There was a metal cupboard containing shoes — it was turning out to be a lucky day after all — and an inner door. Inside that was a low-ceilinged hexagonal chamber. It was survivalist’s bunker. The survivalist had not performed his function — his corpse was slumped in a chair in the middle of the room with a handgun in its fingers. Vincent automatically removed the handgun and checked it for ammo (just one spent cartridge).

The survivalist’s bunker was a real find. There was plant room (no gas or oil left), a bedroom with clothes, pillows, sheets, a fully equipped kitchen with knives and other utensils, a pantry with no food but — ah! toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and a laundry/bathroom. There was enough stuff in here provide good trade. But no one else must know about it. The rat…might need to disappear. Mike knew Vincent would do it without question, though neither of the humans felt quite the same about breakfast now. Instead though, Mike decided to let the rat go, even though it might cost them dear. He gave the rat a toothbrush, some toothpaste, a polar fleece and told it to get gone and not return. The rat squeaked excitedly and Vincent430 escorted to the entrance and watched it leave. Stanislavski and Vincent gathered a sack each of easily transportable tradeables from the bunker and cached them nearby. They planned to observe the bunker from a distance in case of any other incursions. Can’t be too careful in the Rubble.

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