June 15, 2016, 2 pm
Somewhere in the desert
Battery Monster: How long have you known Dr DeathDefying?
PartyPoison: All my second life.
The diner's dilapidated façade if it could be called so even when it was brand new looked no different from usual, the three remaining letters on top of it spelling out their normal cheerful wish directed at anyone who'd care to look. For a moment, I wondered if it was time to loosen up on the usual paranoid level of security and simply swerve off the road towards the entrance. From what I could tell, no one showed up here for months at a time. No regular patrols, no caravans not even a Better Living representative to restock their vending machine. They probably thought that the gasoline burned to get here offset any possible profits from it, and were right about it. The only chance visitors to this place would be a very lost traveler or a squad on a mission, and neither of those would have a reason to hide their ride behind the building as I was intending.
I didn't give in to the impulse to make things easier for a change. Even if no one passed this way while I was inside, the tracks in the dust would give out my visit here for days to come, and there was absolutely no need of that. So I took the usual route, a long detour shaped so that I could always keep my eyes on the road in front of the diner just in case. Finally, I parked at the back and headed inside.
A check of the kitchen cabinets showed that no one had indeed been there in the few weeks since my last visit. That or they took care to replace however many cans of food they had taken. Next I checked the water pump, the only real reason this place could get any visitors. It worked fine still. Now, were I a bit less optimistic person by nature, I could just disable the bloody thing and lock it up so that no one but me would ever use it. That'd make sure that eventually, all but me would forget the way to this place, somewhat more godforsaken than the rest of the land. It would then be a near-perfect intermediary base. Near-perfect, because any place only visited by one person draws more suspicions than a place visited by several unrelated people at irregular intervals. Plus, there was always the chance that the water would come in handy to some poor sod in bad need of it. Hence the optimism part, my hoping that someone passing through here would deserve that water.
I drew two jerry cans of water from the pump and put them by the door before going into the main part of the building. My next target was what used to be the manager's office and what now was the place for my private stash of some food, fuel and water in case the pump did break down. I didn't keep the door locked that was the prime way to ensure someone blasted it open just to see why it was locked in the first place. Instead, the stuff was hidden in a strongbox kept under an otherwise unremarkable section of floor.
I navigated my wheelchair along the familiar route, from behind the counter and across the customer area. It was a beeline to the office from there, but I was suddenly in no hurry to cover that distance. Something was different from the way it was the last time I was here. I had to know what it was before I proceeded. Of course, chances were it would be something insignificant, like a broken window that used to be whole or less broken before. But I needed to know nevertheless. If I had made a habit of ignoring details, I wouldn't be surviving out in the desert on my own, much less running a pirate radio station and sticking various fingers up at very dangerous people.
After two minutes, I finally had it. The bathroom door. It had the kind of handle that would keep it closed, and neither wind nor any creature without opposable thumbs would open it easily. It was closed the last time I was here, mainly to keep out the smell. However infrequent the visitors were, they never seemed to realize that lack of water from the bathroom taps likely meant no water in the cans, either.
So. Someone had been here after all. Nothing to trouble myself over, though. It was clear they were gone there wasn't a vehicle for miles. It would be a good idea to close that door again, however, so I moved closer to it.
What the hell? Now that I could see inside the bathroom, that was the main thought in my head. I turned out to be wrong when I thought no one was here. From where I was, I could see a figure sitting slumped by the wall, head drooping onto their chest. I readied my raygun quietly before proceeding.
There was no reaction to my presence, nor to my hollering. I moved closer to see more clearly.
A kid, with ridiculously bright red hair, dressed in black battered jeans and tee. Somewhere in his twenties. His age, though, wasn't the only thing I saw when I pulled his head back to look at his face.
" I muttered, staring at two livid red burns on either side of his neck. I'd seen wounds like that before, and it was always Korse. Korse or his kind, anyway. But what would they want with this boy? Someone like him was no more danger to them than an average stereo-waving motorbaby. Kids like him roamed the desert until they either grew tired of it and went back into cities, settled in an outlaw community somewhere, or died. A drac could blast someone like him when feeling all too bored or particularly vicious, sure, but a mind burn, personal treatment of one of the higher-ups why?
There was another implication to this. There was no way this boy got here on foot from anywhere, not after a mind burn. That meant he was brought here. That meant Korse's gang visited this place, and that, that was no good at all.
"Sorry, kid," I said quietly, lowering his head back down. "You deserve to be buried in a nicer place, but I've got a feeling that unless I split now, this dump here can be both our graves."
As I turned my wheelchair around, one of the wheels hit the boy's foot, and I wondered if I imagined a sound coming from him. Chances were that I didn't have time for empty guesses, but if he were alive
I turned again, once more pulling his head back and trying to find a pulse on his neck. Before I could feel anything under my fingers, though, I saw him wince, his eyes still closed.
Right. So I very nearly left this kid here to die. Well done, me. There would be better times to beat myself up over this, though. Right now, getting out mattered most, so I pulled the still-unconscious boy up to my chair. Getting through the doorways with him slumped across my lap would be tricky, but it wouldn't be the first time I had to transport someone on my own.