Chapter 40:


From Nowhere to Sender

They arrived during the break of dawn two days later, just as Guell resolved to leave the apartment in search of his mother. Who hadn't yet returned to witness his act of self-preservation. Eight men, all armed and cautious in their movements, began by removing the body of the deceased. He thought to request the return of his blanket so that he might wash it, but upon witnessing the reactions of the men when he made to ask, he instead resumed his silent observations.

Unlike he'd been taught, Guell hadn't attempted to hide himself upon the forced entry of the group. There hadn't been enough time to move the shelf anyway, and part of him hoped his cooperation would afford him a chance to ask the men of his mother's whereabouts. Which concerned him over his own well-being at this point.

Once they'd removed the body the men ordered him outside the apartment, where they placed restraints around both his arms and legs. Such would have been an opportune time to ask about his mother, but Guell found himself too distracted by the reality of his surroundings for the first time.

As it turned out their apartment was very high up, among the top level of a massive housing complex. Far below he could make out what appeared to be the colored tops of various tents and canopies. The market his mother made regular mention of perhaps. But before he could spend any more time taking in these surroundings, someone shoved him hard from behind. A signal to begin moving.

It was as the procession began descending a long flight of stairs that Guell found his voice and asked the men around him if they knew of his mother's location. Not one of them answered, making him question whether they'd heard him at all. Or perhaps his speech had been incoherent. A combined result of his nerves and complete lack of social interaction to this point. The men also seemed hard pressed dealing with all of the individuals crowded on various sections of the stairway.

Some appeared to be playing a sort of game involving cards and tiles, while others consumed meals consisting of jerky and crackers. Everyone else appeared to be asleep. Contorted in various ways, some nursing a bottle in their arms as they snored soundly. But the soldiers marched straight through all of them, ignoring the occasional cries of disapproval or meeting them with threats of arrest. Is that what was happening to him, was he being arrested for killing that man?

Guell built up the courage to try asking again and this time got a response from one of the elder guards.

"You did no disservice by killing that man. Your apprehension rests on your usefulness to the great project."

Guell didn't know what the guard was talking about, but seeing as that this man had responses to give, he once again tried asking about his mother.

"If you're referring to the woman whose name was on that apartment, she has since relocated to a new residence. No more questions."

Confusion wracked him. His mother had moved somewhere else? Suddenly the restraints on his limbs felt much heavier and the unfamiliar surroundings he passed by no longer piqued his interest.

"But...what about me...?"


Crowbar in hand, Cade debated whether he should brave returning to the back deck to remove the spikes from above or do so from the weak side platform. Ideally he'd do it from above where he could better utilize his weight to remove the spikes, with the added bonus of not having to turn his back to any raiders who happened to pass by or sought to board as well. But with so many bodies already battling it out on the back deck, adding another had the potential to hurt the group more than help.

Cade settled on the idea of climbing back up to the deck using the spikes he meant to remove, that way his appearance would be less distracting and or conspicuous to those up top. He could also deter more raiders from climbing up by kicking them down. Better yet if he removed his uniform jacket before climbing up the other party members might mistake him for a fellow Volt. To better sell the illusion he could even collect attire from one of the bodies onboard.

This was slippery slope though, sell it too well and Cade ran the risk of being shot by Lux or Evan on reflex. And while part of him believed Lux would be the end of him at some point in the future, he didn't intend for it to be so soon or direct.

Exiting onto the platform he saw that combat with the boarding parties had calmed down considerably, with both Engler and Gandlin more focused on staving off further approaches. Cade did note that they were taking turns shooting however, a reminder of how dire the ammo situation must be becoming convoy-wide. He stopped Gandlin before he could completely toss one of the bodies overboard.

"Wait! Let me grab his buckler!"

Rushing forward he plucked the gear from the raider's arm and went about fastening it to his back.

"I'm going to remove the spikes from above, to discourage more company. If you could keep 'em off me."

"Shit, so someone did get up..."

Gandlin looked in the direction of the deck as he released a drag. The man looked exhausted up close. Quite literally an embodiment of the expression running on fumes.

"Thought I saw the commander in the corridor just now, is it that bad upstairs? Should I head up?"

"You did, surprised me too. But they should have it handled. I wouldn't head up unless you get a call from the bridge."

"If you say so."

Cade glanced briefly in Engler's direction and saw that his bullet wound must be affecting him. His skin appeared clammy and his breathing labored just from staying upright. He would need proper medical attention upon arrival. Sliding the crowbar alongside the buckler on his back, Cade moved to the edge of the platform and tested putting his weight on the first spike. He offered some words meant to encourage the pair of security officers.

"New Kantler should be visible any minute now. Won't be much longer until we—"

His words were cut off by the sounds of another deafening explosion. This time from the direction of the lead Crusader. Seems the rocketeer was also aware of that fact, and with one sharpshooter distracted and the ammunition of the deck officers dwindling, things weren't looking up.

But Cade looked up anyway and carried on with his current task. The success of convoys hinged on everyone doing their jobs regardless of circumstances. By all means, this was business as usual.