The three men that had escaped from the ECO facility in orbit around the moon, have been forced to travel in stolen, scrounged together and barely running vehicles that they took from bandits and murderers.
As they drive north, with no real goals or purpose, they see the glow of lights over the hills ahead of them. AS they get closer, they see that there is a small collection of buildings, scattered around both sides of what remains of the highway. Illuminated by tall, brilliant white lights, and protected by armed men bearing bearing long arms and at least one turret mounted weapon that none of the travelers recognized, the sign that stands over everything proclaims that they have arrived at Uncle Al’s Truck stop and Auto-mall.
At least a hundred people are moving about. They seem to be standing around in various stages of inebriation. Loud music is being played from the giant stack of amplifiers and speakers piled up outside the main building. A man there is trading clean water and food, along with anything else he can get away with, in exchange for using his collection of universal jacks and a hand crank generator, to charge up hand held devices and portable entertainment devices. People are getting charged up, trading songs, showing pictures that the Ancients left behind, and discussing the purpose of the many, many icons and apps that they do not understand and likely never will.
Another large group of people are passing beers back and forth, leaning under the hoods of their cars, and swearing at every time smoke bellows from the exhaust, or loud pops indicate that a recent change has not gone well. They seem to be making repairs to several vehicles that are battered, and well armed. At least one of them has a rocket launcher mounted on it!
The rest of the people are mingling. They are trading from the backs of vehicles, tending to the sturdy draft beasts that draw their wagons and carts, or sharing information about distant places and far away people.
For One, it is a typical barter town, albeit a seemingly wealthy one.
For Jack, it is a third world nightmare that shows him in no uncertain terms, that his world, the world of America, and American sensibilities is over.
For Ernest, it is a scene straight out of a lame Australian apocalypse movie. Not only is it seemingly chaotic and dirty, it also fills him with an inexplicable rage and a need to kill.
However, after a moment’s notice, Ernest admits to himself, if not anyone else, that pretty much everything fills him with an inexplicable rage and a need to kill.
One, being the most outgoing, leaves Ernest to explore the truck stop while he helps Jack limp along, with many gasps and grunts of pain, to greet the many people.
One quickly discerns who is in charge when they approach him with rifles and shotguns.
The larger man, calling himself Gates, asks if they are there to offer trade or if they come looking for something specific. One establishes that they are on the way to Lootapalooza.
Once the conversation starts, it is hard to shut Gates up, and he goes on about how the truck stop’s boss, Al, is going to be sending a team to Ruin’s Edge to compete and try to earn enough new stock to open up a franchise in Ruin’s Edge.
Suddenly, some sort of alarm sounds, and people start moving with purpose. They grab extra beers, pick up aluminium and plastic chairs, and head towards the back of the truck stop.
Following along, One, who finally stops holding up Jack, finds a large pit dug into the earth.
The floor of the pit is baked mud, with several strange things in the bottom of it. A patch of red hot coals, a single large refrigerator that leans precariously to one side, a sort of engine mounted upright with several sharp blades that spin at deadly speed, and a couch.
After a quick discussion, One learns that every week, people volunteer to fight in the pit against whatever terrible thing that Al has dreamed up. Sometimes it is some horribly mutated beast from the purple desert, other times it is simply a fight between people in ridiculous and deadly situations. In the past couple of weeks, for example, there have been fights with a scavenged and jury rigged industrial labor robot, men armed with chainsaws that were forced to face off against a man driving a compact car covered in spikes and blades while spectators hurled bowing balls into the pit, and a trio of men that fought a sort of ape, that could somehow turn the blood of it’s victims into a sort of increase to it’s own energy and power.
One was instructed that the rules for the pit indicated that volunteers must be in the pit before they learned what they were going to fight. Once in the pit, they would not be allowed back out until the fight was over, and the fight had to continue until one side or the other was victorious. Being Curious, One volunteered immediately.
As One signed up to be a post-apocalyptic gladiator, Jack was moving slowly through the crowd gathered around the pit. His wounds from the car crash earlier in the day, were very, very serious, and he opted to rest in the cab of the semi until it was time to watch One compete in the pit.
Being unlucky, he had drawn the attention of one of the two legged predators in the crowd…
One watched as several short, brutal fights took place in the pit. These were people with personal grievances to settle, people with something to prove, and people that were paying off debts. While the people in the pit seemed to enjoy the blood sport, they stopped the fights before anyone was maimed or killed. Mostly.
Finally, Jack found his way back to the pit in time to see One leap down to the dried muddy, floor. A group of men climbed down a rope ladder, and started the engine on the spinning blade contraption. One began to think of it as a slice and dice for some reason. Then they poured precious kerosene all over the couch. They did not light it on fire, but it was very close to the bed of coals that the men began to stoke. The refrigerator was not tampered with.
At last, A large box truck backed up to the edge of the pit, and men on it’s top used sharp sticks to poke at something they could see through the hole cut in the top.
A group of smiling, toothless men moved among the crowd, handing out long poles with very, very sharp points on them to everyone at the pit’s edge.
A small pick up truck, with a single elderly man, dressed in overalls and sipping a from a battered beer can riding in the back on an aluminium lawn chair, pulls up into a spot reserved for it. As soon as the truck’s engine shuts off, the box truck nearby, has it’s rolling door thrown up with a clatter.
From inside the truck, a dark piece of disgusting, chitinous, Ugly begins to crawl out, poked and prodded by the men wielding spears. One watched in disgust as an enormous cockroach crawled on incredibly thin legs from inside the cargo space.
Unable to go anywhere but into the pit, the cockroach scurried down the mud walls of the pit, and scanned the arena. It did not see One, who had hidden behind the couch as he fought to control his revulsion at the sight of the massive, gross bug, with it’s pulsing abdomen, and strange, tiny head.
Taking his fate into his hands, One leaped from behind the couch and hurled his spear at the bug before it could catch his scent and hunt him down. He had the drop on it!
For a second, as the spear hurtled with deadly precision towards the hideous bug, One could swear he heard a voice coming from the head of the thing. A voice impossibly curious, and seemingly somewhat befuddled. He thought that it might have said something along the lines of:
“OH! Hello there! Have you any idea what these savages mean to do to us? They seem to have tossed us both into this disgusting pit!’
But then the spear struck home and the roar of the crowd drowned out what must have been simple clicking and gurgling from the twisted and snapping mouth of the cockroach.
After that, One was sure the creature spoke to him.
“What the hell!?” It cried. “You fucking speared me in the thorax you cunt!” It screamed at him.
“For that i am going to chew through your disgusting chest and lay eggs in your lungs!”
Terrified and consumed by blinding rage, the normally docile cockroach charged to try and carry out it’s promise.
One moved close, and was quickly able to determine that the thing had hideous strength to match it’s throbbing, yellow fluid leaking nightmare of a foe. They were evenly matched. One could not help but hit it, each blow from his fierce axe was turned aside by the thick exoskeleton of the cockroach, and each snap of the roaches mandibles was easy for One to avoid, but if the creature grabbed him in it’s jaws even once, One was doomed!
The fight held the attention of everyone at the pit’s edge, especially those that hoped for a chance to prod the combatants with the sharp spears Al had provided them with. Everyone likes to participate. The only person not really paying attention was the woman that was reaching into Jack’s pants.
Jack was keen, and saw her moving in to try and take his gun from his waistband while his attention was diverted by the fight in the pit. He caught her hand, and turned to give her such a look, while showing her that he was still gripping a fully functional stun baton.
No one else really noticed the exchange, but whatever it was she saw in Jack’s eyes, it shook here to her very soul. She was terrified. She had no idea what the stick he threatened her with would do to her, but she could tell by the look on his face, and the determination she saw there, that she would regret trying to steal from Jack if she stayed near him for even one more second.
She ran, as fast as her legs could take her. She did not stop until she collapsed, out of breath, her heart beating nearly out of her chest. She hid herself behind a car near the truck stop’s mechanic’s bay. It was there that Ernest found her. She was not seen again.
Back in the pit, the cockroach had threatened One with a strange, mutated ovipositor. One responded by whacking the disgusting appendage with his axe. Left with no choice, and anxious to avoid the razor sharp mandibles, One used every ounce of his courage, athleticism, and strength to leap onto the creatures back. He struggled for purchase, desperate to keep his balance, One’s mind raced, deciding what his next move would be.
The cockroach could not shake the nimble One from it’s back, so it tried to scrape him off using the whirling blades of the slice and dice. That did not work, so it rolled across the bed of hot coals, going against it’s every instinct screaming to retain it’s footing.
The trick worked, and One and the roach, easily the most deadly enemy he had ever faced, squared off against each other. One moved first. His axe cleaving one of the roaches legs almost clean off as it smashed into a joint where leverage and strength managed to penetrate the bug’s think exoskeleton.
Still screaming obscenities, the roach tried once more to slice the head off it’s enemy, but was too unbalanced to pull it off. One, almost as weary and battered, was able to remove a second leg completely. The roach dropped. it could have crawled away, it could have escaped, but to where? Humans lined the pit’s edge armed with sharp spears that kept it trapped, and the pain from it’s wounds was overwhelming. The bug collapsed in from exhaustion, fear and lack of…whatever the hell that stuff is that was leaking out of it.
The crowd cheered wildly, and someone kicked a rope ladder into the pit for One to use.
Several men descended on the roach, one of them mumbling about using some scrap parts and an old pneumatic drill to replace the missing leg…
Al, the old redneck man in charge, called One over and promised him a prize. One would be allowed to pick from the latest collection of scavenged gear and supplies. It was an unceremonious moment, and One picked up a strange sort of sword. It was well made, and appeared to be slightly humming when he gripped the hilt of it. A few practice swings told One the weapon was one that he should keep. jack was able to convey to him the complexity of the weapon’s design, and explain that it would cut through the armor of his enemies as if it did not exist. One was pleased.
In the morning, after many drinks, some hot food, and a good night’s sleep, One and jack bartered away to cars that they towed from the sight of the previous day’s ambush to the truck stop.
In exchange, they got a pair of rounds for the cannon that was found on the back of One’s semi, as well as a promise of the addition of shield to protect the gunner’s seat, and plates to protect the anyone in the cab.
They intend to role out towards Ruin’s Edge as soon as Jack can travel safely.
In the meantime, something large and very, very angry is homing in on the signal being generated by One’s repeated use of the ECO hand held unit…