Apocalypse (əˈpäkəˌlips)

2. An event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.

(Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis; "lifting of the veil" or "revelation")

(50 miles west of the Columby Ruins)
The Carolinas, Confederacy Territory

Trip moved the torch lightly down the seam, sealing together the last few inches that would secure the metal plate to the frame. Which was good, since he was about out of methanol, so the generator was gonna sputter out in a minute and it wouldn't matter how many rods he had left.

Probably should have thought of that when he traded that dog food for the rods. But, damn, how often can you expect a whole crate of 'em to drop in your lap like that?

Shutting down the torch and pulling the goggles up off his eyes, he gave the weld a critical examination. Outside the garage, music thumped rhythmically up the street from the Wreck Haul, and somewhere farther beyond that a dog barked in response.

It was pretty late but there were still people milling around in the street right outside the open door, which always made him feel a little exposed at a time like that. Suddenly aware he'd been focused entirely on his work for a good long time, rather than how someone might waltz in off that street and crack him in the head. Make off with all his gear.

That'd actually happened once. He'd managed to get most of it back, though, since someone shot that guy and robbed him as he tried to drag a stolen tool chest with a missing wheel down the street. Which had been pretty ironic.

But the weld looked good enough to hold. At least until the whole plate got chewed up anyway by the few hundred rounds of soft lead some raider would be dumb enough to waste on it…

"Yo, Trip!"

He looked over, already standing to go switch off that generator and save maybe a few drops of fuel.

Romeo, the hauler who's truck he'd been working on all night. Just in time to pay up.

"Yo, Romeo." Trip said, smiling. He dragged the goggles off his head and tossed them on the hood of the truck before turning to flip the generator off. More to save fuel than to make negotiating easier.

"How's my baby?" Romeo asked, coming around to take a look for himself, while Trip killed the generator and hung the torch back on the kludged together welder.

"That's a half inch of steel over the engine housing." Trip said, turning back around again. "That ought to offset what I've got on that tank in the back but that damned wedge in the front is still dragging you down. You'll have to keep up maintenance on the suspension, with all that weight on it."

Romeo shook his head, even as he stood in front of the truck admiring the handiwork.

"Need the ram." He said, distracted.

Trip frowned. "If it's really getting that bad out there, then you need to start hauling in teams. Get the other haulers together…"

"Need the trade, too." Romeo grinned, glancing over at him. "Not enough to go around."

Trip sighed. Couldn't really argue or anything. Times were tough…

"Well, I'm not going to complain again about what you're doing to your fuel efficiency with this kind of set up. I did what I could to clean up your engine but…"

Romeo nodded sadly. "Yeah. Well, if you can't get the goods there in one piece, fuel don't matter anyway. Speaking of which…"

He raised his head, raising up on his toes to try to get a better look at the roof and the steel dome over the right side of the cab.

Trip nodded and walked around to the front with Romeo.

"Ball bearings and a lot of silicone." He said. "Again, something you're going to have to keep up. Sand gets in there and gums up the works, that gun won't swing around as quick as you need it to."

"But it's the same setup you had on Nell's hauler, right?" Romeo asked. "'Cause I rode shotgun for her a few times. Liked that gun of hers."

Trip nodded. "More or less. This one should glide a bit better, though. As long as you keep it up. And you'll need someone to actually ride shotgun with you. You can't drive and man the gun."

"Yeah, Clover's riding with me."

Trip stared. Until Romeo realized he was being stared at and met his gaze.


"Clover's crazy, Romeo."

Romeo gestured at the pivot turret atop the truck.

"That kinda crazy, right?"

Trip frowned. "Yeah, I guess so. But a couple of other kinds of crazy, too."

"Don't be so protective, Trip. Girl's gotta eat. She's not gonna get any work around here."

Trip shook his head. There wasn't really much he could say about that, either. It wasn't like Clover had any kind of life worth not risking anyway. Hell, none of them really did out here. Life was…pretty cheap these days. For a mutie, even cheaper.

"Alright." He nodded. "But just…take care of her. Okay?"

"I'll keep her buttoned up, don't worry so much." Romeo assured. "Go there, get paid, get back. Nothing to it."

Trip smirked at that. "I think you forget I rode with you a couple of times."

"And we're both standing here talking about it, so I guess I got you back alive, didn't I?"

"Yeah, I guess." Trip said. But he was already distracted by what was walking by outside the garage door.

Her clothes were as ragged as anyone else's…but she was clean. Her face and hands anyway. And she was damned good looking. Stunning, in fact. Enough that he had to shake that off pretty quick or she'd have walked on by before he could even say anything.

Because he hadn't seen her before, which meant she'd come from somewhere else. And Romeo was the only hauler in town at the moment, as far as he knew. Which meant she probably had her own wheels…

"Ma'am." He called, loudly enough to be heard out there as he stepped forward. "Help you with somethin'?"

She stopped, which was good. And gave him a quick assessing look.

Which wasn't near paranoid enough, he thought. So she either had backup somewhere or she wasn't very smart.

She had a cap pulled down tight over her head, all the way down over her ears even. Wasn't that cold out but...kinda made her look pretty cute. On top of being jaw-dropping to begin with. Which was a whole other kind of weird. Any woman with half a brain didn't walk around clean, good-looking and cute without armed bodyguards or something.

Hell, the smart ones just plain didn't walk around at all. They found a safe place and held up there. Did what they had to do to survive, like everybody else. This lady was just asking for trouble. And Scraptown was bound to oblige, so he'd better hurry and make what profit he could.

"No. Thank you." She said. But she didn't walk off just yet.

"Well, if you need directions or anything, I'm happy to oblige." Trip said, stepping out into the street with her.

She didn't say anything to that, so he pushed forward to try to hook her a bit before she got away.

"This is Trip's." He said, gesturing at the garage behind. "I'm Trip. Only greaser around here, if you find you need one."

She considered that for a second. And kept whatever she was considering to herself, too. Not so much as a flicker on her face anywhere. So maybe she was smart.

"I'm new here." She said. "What can you tell me about this place?"

"Scrap?" Trip asked. "Not much to say. Just another trade town, like any other. We've got the Bunker down there but that hardly matters. They won't have anything to do with you."

He stepped up beside her…not so close as to get stabbed or anything, but enough to show polite interest in this, hopefully, potential new customer.

"We've got the Wreck Haul down the street there." He said, pointing. "In case you want a drink or something. They've got music for maybe the next hour. More if you've got the trade for it. Got a clinic right across the street from that, two doors down from us."

He nodded directly across the street at the building there. "The Bungalow, if you're going to be here long enough that you need a room. Main Trade's right next door to us here but they won't be open until the morning."

"I see." She said, with only polite interest. If even that.

"Romeo here's the only hauler in town, that I know of." Trip said. "So if you got here on your own, you should probably bring your vehicle in and let me take a look at her. I've got Main Trade right next door to me, so I take pretty much anything in pay."

"That won't be necessary." She said.

Which…was not good. Because it was necessary, if she had any kind of vehicle at all. So there was something a little off here…

"I have heard about the Bunker." She said smoothly. "How much of that is true, Trip?"

Trip grinned. "I guess it depends on what you heard. But I'd say most of it isn't. Just a bunch of military types hold up down there. They trade a little…kinda what got Scrap going in the first place…but they don't do much but stay safe down in their bunker. Just let the rest of us scratch out a living up here and trade for what they need."

"But I understand the goods they trade are of an unusually high quality." She said. "Much of it equipment pre-dating the last war."

Trip smiled politely while he processed that. Everyone was curious about the Bunker, sure. And there wasn't a year that went by that some gang out there didn't try to raid the town trying to get to it. So folks always asked about it when they passed through.

They just didn't use phrases like 'unusually high quality' and 'equipment pre-dating whatever' all that often.

And there was something funny about how her lips moved when she talked. Like she was fluent enough in English but spoke some other language first. Enough that her mouth tried to form words in that other language, but it came out English instead. Didn't even give her an accent or anything, either, that he could tell…but it was odd as hell.

"That's right." He said. "They've got a lot of pre-war gear down there. Or they did, anyway. I guess they've traded most of it over the years. It used to be an old cryo-bunker. The folks running it now are all the kids and grand-kids of the folks that came out of cryo way back when."

"Trip came up from down there." Romeo said, leaning casually against his truck now. Grinning. "He can tell you all about it."

Trip tried not to scowl. But he couldn't help it. But at least she'd turned to regard Romeo for a moment, so she missed it.

Damned big-mouth haulers...

"Aren't we done, Romeo?" Trip said. "You can leave when you're ready, you know."

Romeo shrugged. "Well, I was gonna pay you, but…"

Trip cursed under his breath. "I'm sorry, ma'am. Let me take care of this real quick…"

He darted around her, hoping to square things up with the hauler fast. Before she got away.

Not that he was trying to score trade for greaser work anymore. It was clear she either didn't have a vehicle or it wasn't hers and she didn't care. But if she was here to stir up some kind of trouble with the Bunker…

…well, hell. He guessed maybe they had it coming, squirreling away down there and doing nothing at all to help the people up here. But the town still needed the Bunker. They had Romag generators down there. And educational videos…

And, really, he still needed them…

Trip sighed once he reached Romeo, who as already unlocking the cargo area of the truck. "Whatcha got for trade?"

"Well…" Romeo said. "I've got two cases of can food, most of 'em are still good…"

"You got three?"

"Nah, just two. Got a case of MRE's, too. And I've got methanol, so…"

"How do you have…? Never mind. Fifty gallons."

"Fifty? Are you kidding? I have to run this thing, you know…"

"Told you about that, Romeo." Trip shrugged. "All that armor's heavy."

"Okay, look. I've got three long-handle axes here. In good shape. Tremor loves tools. The farmers can't get enough of..."

"Is that a microwave?"


"That. Right there."

"I dunno what that is. Looked tech so I grabbed it."

"That, fifty gallons and the MRE's."

"You don't want the axes?"

"Toss 'em in if you want to. I'll take 'em."

"Nah, you're not that pretty I'm gonna just throw my trades at yah."

"Alright." Trip said, rubbing his hands together. "Give me that microwave there. Be careful with it, though."

Oh. And crap.

He glanced over his shoulder.

But she was already gone.