We reached a doorway and Linford held out his hand. “Sharks.”
Sharks. What a stupid name. They were feared for no good reason. Sharks were a ramshackle band of thieves and black market scroungers. I suppose it didn’t take a war to create a system where the strong prey on the weak, but it certainly made it very obvious who to avoid.
In a dark alley between apartment blocks three men stood around a fire. Shadows danced across brick walls and the smell of cooked meat made my mouth water, though I suspected they weren’t cooking a nice pork chop. Only the rich could afford such luxuries. The gang talked quietly, yet confidently, unafraid of who might see or overhear them.
“I take care of it,” Linford said.
He strode out of the door way and marched toward them. They reacted quickly, drawing their knives and facing Linford. My guide held his arms out wide, revealing his own arsenal, and stopped a few feet away. There was a brief discussion and Linford returned to the door way.
“We go now.”
“That was easy,” I said.
“Ha. They jus' boys,” Linford said. “Keepin warm and shootin' their shit.”
We left the Sharks and navigated overflowing bins and junk. I thought the apartment block smelled bad, but the alley was home to years of rotting detritus. At the end we stopped again. Linford surveyed the street and pointed to another alley between a liquor shop and a gunsmiths. Neither of us spotted a drone and Linford moved off. Before we reached the mouth of the alley I glanced behind me.
The fire was still burning, but the Sharks had gone.
My senses ramped up and I was instantly on alert.
Something felt wrong.
A shadow twitched beside the gunsmiths and I grabbed Linford’s arm. “Company.”
Linford wasn’t as confident in his surroundings as he made out. We stopped under a dim street lamp. It was the worst place to stand still. Anyone lurking in the shadows could see us. I stepped away from Linford, leaving the weak orange pool of light behind, seeking the safety of the shadows.
“Is nothing,” Linford said.
“You sure about that?”
“Jus' shadows and ghosts.”
Nevertheless he withdrew one of his machetes. A gang of Sharks emerged from the alley. They surrounded Linford who removed his other blade.
“You boys know me,” he said. “Know who I serve. This be foolish.”
“Foolish you, dark skin,” said a tall boy holding a large hammer. “These streets belong to the Sharks.”
They paid me no attention as I lingered at the edge of the light.
I stood still and waited.
“Harm against a servant of Rhema be harm done to the lady herself,” Linford said. “Wise boys no attack. Jus' go back to your whorin' and theivin'.”
“Rhema ain’t nothin' but an' old whore witch,” a boy to his right said.
Linford pointed a machete to the boy. “You. I will chop off your hand first.”
The boy, probably no older than sixteen, glanced at his fellow Sharks. The others laughed and closed in. Linford darted forward, his machete sliced through the air and a hand dropped onto the cracked tarmac.
The rest stopped dead.
The boy stared at his hand and jet of blood streaming from the stump at the end of his arm. He howled like a wounded wolf, snatched up his hand and ran screaming into the darkness.
I closed my eyes and silently cursed my stupidity for watching. Yet another memory of violence added to the pile.
Linford pointed his blood soaked weapon at another boy. “Next I cut off your balls.”
“Fuck you,” the leader said. “He can’t take us all at once.”
There was a moment of hesitation. I prayed they wouldn’t believe their leader and run while they still could.
The Sharks attacked.
Linford swished both machetes across the crotch of the boy to his left. In the weak orange glow I couldn’t see details but I was sure that boy no longer had any testicles. Linford removed the arm of a third before the leader struck his hammer against the side of my guide’s face.
Linford staggered and took another blow. I waited a moment longer, but I knew he wouldn’t recover. Linford’s brain would soon be smeared across the street. Those who fought in the war knew battle cries were dangerous because they attracted unwanted attention.
I crossed the street in seconds, silent and fast. I disarmed the leader, brought the hammer down on his arm. It cracked and I slammed my elbow into his face.
I threw the hammer away and tackled the next Shark. He was tall and quick on his feet, but overly confident in his reach.
I ran at him, dropping to my knees as he swung his baseball bat. I snatched it out of his hands, kicked his left leg, forcing his knee cap to pop and his thigh to snap. Before he hit the ground I jabbed the bat into his face, his nose burst open with a spurt of blood and snot.
Linford’s remaining attacker had him around the throat. I dropped the baseball bat and strode toward them.
“Hey. Boy. Fight’s over. Fuck off.”
Only then did the lad realise his gang was ruined. He pushed Linford toward me then turned and fled.
Linford held onto me as his vision cleared. When he could stand unaided I retrieved his machetes and handed them to him.
“How you do that?”
“Just lucky I guess,” I replied. I didn’t want to share my history with Linford or anyone else.
Linford sheathed his weapons. “No. That not luck.” He studied me as if for the first time. “You soldier.”
“Whatever. Let’s go before a drone sees the mess we made.”
“You made mess,” Linford said. He looked at the Sharks and smiled. “Is good mess.”
“No it’s not. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“You are warrior. You fight with power and heart. Why not do this?”
“Because it’s wrong.”
I didn’t expect Linford to understand. In Zone 1 the elite worship money, not people and skills like mine. In the Wastelands strength and violence were the main currency.
“We shouldn’t be killing each other over dumb shit like this.”
Linford frowned. “What else can we do?”
“I don’t know. I just want to forget.”
“The war. You are slipping. Memories kill soldiers.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
Linford took a few steps then turned and put a hand on my shoulder. I stared into his eyes that looked so white against his dark skin and the shadows.
“Thank you, warrior. A debt I owe to you.”
“Just get me to Rhema and we’ll call it quits.”
“No. No quits until debt is repaid. My vow to you.”
Linford led the way and I followed. His words echoed in my head. I was surprised to find any shred of honour left in the Wastelands.