Southeast Wall, Sacramento
9:15 a.m., April 12th, 2070
Standing on the wall, Marine sniper Trisha Adams stared at the endless columns of uncheering soldiers marching across dry, brambly ground a quarter mile outside her city. It was the last great coalition force of humanity, the whole feral army of the wasteland, joined together against the common enemy they loathed and reviled: civilization. Their leader had seen the balance scales dip against him, the future of the wasteland uncertain, and prepared his last stroke against the steel-bossed Western shield. He was desperate to scapegoat Sacramento for his failures to his people, to vent their communal rage at the harsh struggle of survival upon those whom they saw living in safety they could only imagine. Once before, he had tried that spear-rush west and was halted. Today was a chance. This was a chance. Somewhere in that teeming mass of humanity, the leader of that feral army weighed the chance in his mind, reflecting — staring towards the wall where Trisha waited for him.
The King of the Yumans knew that Sacramento had been weakened. From his spies, he had learned of the Armorer attack against the Republic. He knew that the aggressor Dynasty had fallen, but he also knew Sacramento remained unbalanced — a boxer, dizzy from a heavy blow and not yet stably on her feet again. And with the Armorers gone, there was a vacuum to be filled. The Mojave had become a wide, empty frontier into which the Yuman King could expand his dominion, now that it was no longer held by occupants much too powerful for him to grapple with. The lands of the Kingdom of Yuma were depleted, famine was a constant threat, and water was harder and harder to come by. He had to expand or die. And so he was leading his armies in expansion. But spilling into the harsh Mojave would mean nothing for the survival of his people if they did not have water to farm; and the Republic of Sacramento held the water of the region securely. The Sacramento River ran through the center of their city, and they jealously defended it both inside their borders and upstream with military outposts and checkpoints. Downstream from the city, there was nothing left but muddy dregs. The despots had dammed the Sacramento River years ago, swelling their aquifers and gloating over a surplus of water that they kept to themselves, while the peoples of the wasteland died of thirst, or were poisoned by the tainted water supplies the Republic had left them with, decades ago…
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me with this,” Trisha mumbled, squinting into the distance, shading her eyes from the sun. The army had been advancing slowly but was now hunkering down. No ultimatum had been issued, no envoy had come to Sacramento, and no declaration of war had been given. The Yumans were coming without warning. Hours ago, the mass army had been spotted by a surveillance drone crossing the fields, and Trish, along with a host of other army infantry and Republican Marines, had been dispatched to the southeast border wall.
“Has it even been more than a day since we got rid of the Armorers?” Trish wondered aloud. “And now this shit?”
The Marine closest to her, a man named Morgan, scoffed. “Of course,” he said. “That’s why they’re here. Desert animals always go after prey they know is weak.”
“I don’t know about weak,” Trisha said. “They might be surprised.”
“You might be surprised,” Morgan said, grimacing. “I guess you haven’t heard the full damage report, since we cleared out the Armorers and took stock of what they were up to before we were able to engage them? They bombed our fucking fuel depots. They wanted to cripple our fuel production capacity in preparation for an invasion of their own, so we couldn’t use any of our war machines against them. So, we don’t have any mother-fucking gas, and we don’t have any mother-fucking edge over those barbarians out there. See how outnumbered we are? There’s nothing evening our odds right now, like you think there is. We’re in shit every bit as deep as it looks.”
Trish flinched as Morgan told her about the fuel depots. She hadn’t known that. The fog of war had barely lifted from the city since the last of the Armorers were killed, and this was the first she was hearing about the operation they had been running to hobble Sacramento’s defensive capabilities. And now the Yumans were coming at exactly the right moment to take full advantage of that — either they had been in communication with the Armorers up to now, or they had a much better spy network than Trish would have given those yokels credit for. It didn’t really matter which of those possibilities was true. The situation was just as bleak either way.
“What are we going to do?” Trish asked the still air, and no one answered.
“That’s got to be Yuma’s whole damn army,” a Marine said, pacing along the wall and stopping near Trish. He whistled. “It’ll be a picnic today, boys. Yeah, it’ll be a regular basket picnic.” He whistled again.
“Shut your trap about picnics, Ace,” another Marine called. “You’ll make me too hungry.” He sighed out loud. “We had enough of a picnic recently. I haven’t felt right in my stomach since.”
“I wonder who we’ll get today?” Ace said. “Those Armorers we had the other day were a mean-shooting bunch.”
“Now don’t you worry,” Morgan answered him. “We’ll get plenty.”
“Can you make ’em out?” Ace asked.
“Sure, but they’re pretty far,” the other Marine answered. To the naked eye, the horde of Yumans was a rippling line of miniatures stretched across a contoured map. The details and colors ran together and were lost. That mile of living men was obscured by distance and glare — the long mile of men and guns and horses and fires and wagons, teamsters, surgeons, generals, orderlies; ten thousand living men, pacing or eating or thinking or writing brief notes on the thought of death, shooting dice or swearing, standing guard as the slow sun marched across the clear sky overhead — that mile line of men was just an ill-defined blur to the Sacramentan soldiers stationed on the wall. They could not hear their gruff voices, their bitter jokes, their horses cropping grass, their breath going up in a great chord of life, in the sighing murmur of wind-stirred wheat.
Trisha Adams thought to herself, before she sat down on the wall and waited, We got it hot with the Armorer’s, but we’ll get it hotter today.