A light rain was falling on the road to Perth, and Siobhan and Carthage were keeping a watchful eye on their PDAs. Joseph hobbled between them, five rifles strapped haphazardly to a rucksack full of other valuables looted from the corpses of his former colleagues. Though he seemed to struggle under the weight, he hadn’t complained. Whether or not any of the extra gear would be of value to the residents of Perth remained to be seen.
Their new companion had identified an alternative route to the town, a road that ran parallel to the coastal highway but about half a mile further west. It offered more options for cover and concealment should they run into trouble, and the young canopy above from the thickening forest provided some protection from the rain. So far, radiation levels remained low, but it was well known to the locals that precipitation could quickly change that.
It was just past noon when Carthage awoke. He and Siobhan had swapped their sack time five hours earlier, and she roused him with a gentle kick to his thigh. He pulled his poncho liner from his face and blinked at the bright sunlight streaming through the open windows.
“What did I miss?” he asked, sitting up.
“This place is deader than heaven on a Saturday night,” she replied, returning to her chair. “If there’s anyone else alive in there, they haven’t ventured outside.”
He stood up, and looked out of the north side window. “That’s good. What have you been doing, other than keeping watch?”
“I had some breakfast, then took the liberty of cleaning the NMP, which was in desperate need of attention. Other than that I’ve been keeping an eye on the complex and playing Solitaire.”
All but one of the men broke west toward the ridgeline, firing indiscriminately. One figure knelt by a tree near the fence, and Siobhan settled the reticule of her scope on him. She aimed at his sternum, and squeezed off a round. Her rifle was a bit quieter than Carthage’s, but the shot still deadened her ears. Her target collapsed behind the tree, so she opened her left eye and shifted her attention to the left side of the glade.
Carthage had already stopped shooting, and he rose to a crouch. He gestured for Siobhan to move up the right side, and the pair cautiously advanced. Aside from the groaning of a wounded man, the glade had returned to silence. The entire fight had lasted less than six seconds. Siobhan approached as far as the man she had hit, and moved a rifle away from his motionless body before waiting. She breathlessly scanned the far side of the glade, but saw nothing until Carthage emerged into the moonlight. She swung her rifle in his direction, catching herself before the muzzle crossed his body. He looked at the man she’d shot before speaking, his voice sounding far away.
The road to Perth followed the coastline, carved out of the side of a steep hill that steadily rose in elevation. It was a cloudless night, and Skye’s larger moon was rising in the east, over the ocean, casting a bluish glow and deep shadows over the highway. Carthage and Siobhan had sneaked out of Abernathy two hours after sunset, and made their way north along the road.
Carthage wasn’t happy that the roadway lacked any appreciable cover, concealment, or defilade, but using it was the easiest way to scan for anomalies. Siobhan wasn’t happy about traveling at night after a long, exhausting day, though lessening the possibility of encountering more weird monsters was a plus. If they kept their current pace, they would reach Perth by dawn, hopefully with enough time to find a defensible position should that city be plagued with the same problem as Abernathy.
Even more reserved than his typically laconic self, Carthage trudged along dutifully, with a wary eye on the high ground to the west. Though his face betrayed little about his mood, Siobhan had been with him long enough to know that the revelation of a deeper plot against his mission was troubling him. Though he had expressed frustration with any further speculation on the matter, she wanted to talk to him about something to break the tension.
“What the hell was that?”
On the street in Abernathy, Carthage had made his way to Siobhan’s side. They crouched beside the stairs to a brownstone walkup, and peered in either direction down the road. The mysterious sound hadn’t repeated in a few minutes, and the town was back to the eerie silence that had greeted them upon arrival.
“I have no idea,” replied Carthage, “but it sounds angry.”
“What do we do?”
“We need to get to higher ground, fast. That bell tower will have a good view.”
Siobhan nodded, and they headed for the church, mercifully only a block away. The beefy double doors in front were locked, so Carthage led them around the side to a flimsier door. He threw a swift front kick without hesitation, and the jamb splintered into dust. Rushing inside, they quickly located a heavy cabinet and dragged it in front of the door. The shuttered window for the room cast little light, so he pulled out a small flashlight and looked around. Siobhan pushed on the cabinet to make sure it was as secure as possible.
The old watch tower on the edge of Abernathy was a perfect place for Carthage and Siobhan to rest, eat some food, and observe the town. The sun was low in the western sky, opposite from the town’s position on the shore. Their first impressions were not positive; Abernathy seemed to be abandoned. It was difficult to tell from their vantage point on the tower, but it looked like no one had been there for at least several years.
Carthage had his feet propped up on the railing of the tower, and munched on a small packet of ancient crackers. Siobhan had unwrapped a portion of pork sausage from brown wax paper, and leaned against the railing while she ate. Radiation levels were even lower here than in Romanby, so they weren’t concerned about hanging out for awhile.
Chapter Four is up! You can catch up on the previous chapter here:
When Carthage returned with the rest of his gear, Siobhan was still in her bedroom, trying to decide what to bring with her on the trip. She bid him to come in, so he stood at the doorway. She did a double-take when she saw his rifle, then went back to staging items on her bed.
“No problems out there?” she asked.
Carthage shook his head. “If Ludain went for help, there’s no indication yet. You’re not planning on trying to take all that stuff, are you?”
“No, I can only reasonably carry twenty-five pounds, so I’m choosing which things to take. Your rifle is a SCAR, right?”
“Yup. FN SCAR-H, seven-six-two. My pistol is a Beretta PX4, in forty-five, and I grabbed a spare from the ship. Have you worked on them before?”