A General's Quest: I

On the surface of the desolate little rock that barely passed for an island her voice was an annoying whisper, a frantic little mosquito. She sounded so alone and scared, I couldn't help but stay tuned in. I guess I thought I owed it to her. Even though I know she couldn't hear me, I found myself talking to her after awhile.

It didn't take too long to set up camp. After the capital city massacre I didn't have too much gear left. But I unloaded the skimmer and tied it off to the rusted out dock as best I could. I knew a storm could rip it loose, but I wasn't really planning on staying very long. Back in those days there were still a lot of fanatics, wacko "loyalists" still clutching the emperor's dead, irradiated hand like it was the only thing left in the world. Maybe it was.

So I tried to stay moving. I was a high profile target, after all. When I heard the stories coming out of the north about General Aeneas' men, I thought it was best to stay real low on the radar. Those poor bastards didn't do anything wrong, they were just following orders. And the man lead them into a loyalist meat grinder.

Haaj was a cruel bastard, but he still had one of the best pocket books in the free world. If loyalty to the crown didn't grease the mouths of peasants, hard gold sure as hell did.

I was alone. The last of my men laid down weeks before. They paid the worst cost. They didn't even make it a mile out of the capital. That kind of hard radiation would cook an egg in under a minute. I really shudder to think of what they felt when they cracked open their shelter, so meticulously built over the years only to take a deep lung full of scorching Uranium 259.

They had survived a direct and focused nuclear strike. Not the dirty bomb bullshit those mud folk along the coast like to play with. But hard, unadulterated superpower shit. I could see them drop from the skimmer.

Tasris even managed to radio me from the beach. Through the periscope I could see she was torched. She said goodbye and told me to get the hell out of dodge. Pity the bomb played tricks with circuits. The poor girl couldn't even off herself, she just laid down in the surf and bled out.

The annoying little mosquito talked about that, the capital city disaster while I set up shop in one of the abandoned barracks. She was certainly well informed for a woman sealed beneath a quarter mile of granite.

At first I never intended to help her. I didn't think the begging would have much of an affect on me. In my years I'd heard it all, some bitch who found herself in the land of the lost didn't really fit on my list of folk to meet.

But I kept the radio on anyway. She was with me for days while I tore the surface compound apart, looking for supplies. She even sounded nervous when I found a couple of the "locals" and put them out of their misery with the last couple of shots left in my gunblade.

For the epicenter for the virus, they went down pretty easy. Still as hungry and dim witted as ever, I couldn't tell if they were the Haz-Mat techs abandoned here, or the original poor sods who were just dumped here from the mainland.

Curious, though. I didn't find any munitions. No power cells, shells or scraps of rod-fuel. Most of the food was gone, too. I don't know if those scrawny, flesh hungry bastards knew how to work a can opener or what, but the place was picked dry.

But she was always there for me. She'd explain her day, how she went about watering her crops, replacing light bulbs and purging her CO2 filters. She didn't sleep much, saying she was too old to waste much time on it.

So, one day I just up and decided to do it. I broke out my headlamp, grabbed my radio and crammed my rucksack with whatever food I could and that was it. I climbed into what was left of the access tunnels to the compound below and I set off.

She said she was waiting. I didn't realize how serious she was.

Altima seemed like such a beautiful name when I thought it belonged to someone human. Now, not so much.


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