Layla and Quinn - Chapter 3


Chapter 3
Several hours later, it was beginning to get dark and the boy was starting to rub his eyes, gradually walking slower and slower.  
They had been extremely lucky so far, and hadn’t seen another person on their walk south, nor had they come across any type of settlement, either.  It was probably for the best that they hadn’t encountered any bandits.  Those lowlifes enjoyed staying near roads, killing and robbing easy prey.  She was no easy prey, but She really didn’t want to have to kill some useless thugs in front of a small boy who most likely just saw his parents mugged and killed not three days ago.  
The boy hadn’t said a word on the walk, just trudged along like a soldier with a destination clear in his head.
Off to the right, she saw a broken down building.  It was one of those that were present every fifty miles or so.  Each one built the same, and off from the road about a hundred yards.  They had survived from the old world.  The road they were traveling down had once been much larger, easily wide enough for four wagons to travel side by side.  During the Time of Storms, the snow and ice had crept into the concrete, frozen and cracked the solid stone roads.  In the intervening years, small shrubs had grown up in the cracks, creating a broken maze of a roadway.  A single lane was clear in the middle, where wagons, caravans, and walkers traveled.
She veered them off the road towards the ruins of the building.  Coming closer, she could see the roof had given way a long time ago; one wall had crumbled down.  Grass was starting to grow through the tiled floor.  
She motioned to the boy to be quiet and stay where he was as she crept forward to make sure no one else the same idea.  She pulled the revolver out of the waistline of her pants, checking to make sure the six bullets she had loaded were in the chamber, and sneaked to the edge of the wall.  She listened for a few seconds and then quickly popped out on the other side of the wall, gun drawn ready to shoot.
No one was there.  It looked as though no one had used this rest stop in a few weeks.
She came around the front to yell at the boy to come on, it was clear, and he was gone.
Oh no.  She ran over to where she left him, and there he was.  The little guy had curled up on the ground and went to sleep while she was scouting around.  She had forgotten kids aren’t as hardy as adults, let alone her.  She supposed this was a long way to walk in one day.  He probably hadn’t had to walk far since his parents had owned that wagon.
She checked her gun, turning the safety back on, and stuffed it back into her pants. Then bent and picked up the kid.  He was light.  She would be surprised if he weighed 35 pounds.  
She set him down inside the building, so she could pull out her blanket.  Her blanket was made from a lot of small different pieces of fabric she had found, bought, and reused from her old clothing.  She had sat several nights and had sewn the pieces together in her spare time.  Over the last five years, she had managed to sew several layers together, so it was quite warm and broken in.  Sewing was a skill she had learned on her father’s farm as a child, and it had come in handy during several of the lifetimes she had lived.

She moved the kid to the blanket and climbed in behind him.  She pulled the other half blanket over both of them.  It was summer, the days were warm and the nights were chilly, but neither were they the summers she remembered from before.  The summer days were more akin to the late spring days, warm, but not the oppressing heat that could suck the life out of you.  The nights were warmer, but with just enough of a chill that a blanket was welcomed.


Layla and Quinn - Chapter 2


Chapter 2

This was her luck.
She was standing between a relatively clear stream and the main highway.  Next to her were an overturned wagon and the two bodies of her targets.  They were dead, and had been for about three days from the smell of them.  They were naked, their clothing too valuable to remain behind.  The woman’s throat sported the red smile, cut from ear to ear, whereas the man’s body had multiple stab wounds and lacerations.  Their belongings were missing.  All that remained was a small safe.  
She kicked the safe with her foot.  It was too heavy to carry, that’s why it was still here.  Pry marks were evident on the lock.  It was an old world safe, no wonder the bandits weren’t able to open it.  Whoever had killed her targets were clearly in a hurry or didn’t have the manpower to carry the safe.  It must hold something valuable.  All safes do.  
Dejected, she sat on the ground, staring at the rotating dial on the safe, willing it to open.  It was at these times she wished her magic worked.  It would make this a lot simpler.  
Long strings of expletives were running through her head.  
The watch has to be in that safe or I am royally screwed, she thought, this would be so much easier if I could concentrate.  If I had my magic, if I had Quinn to open it.  He had an affinity for mechanical things that I never did.
Thinking of Quinn brought a familiar ache to her chest.  When she had resurrected in this timeline in a rundown shack, the tugging sensation was gone.  She had waited, thinking the magic needed more time to find the connection.  After six years, she had no awareness of him at all.  She was alone in this desolate world.  She searched for six months, going as far away as 2 months walking time, and no one had any idea where an infant boy had been born.  
Nowadays, no one kept track of births.  There were no governments or churches for the people to report to.  This time had no law.  The world had ended and humanity had barely survived the Day of White and following years, for there were twenty years the earth had been covered in ice.  People had forsaken all inhibitions in an effort to survive.  If it could burn, it was used for heat.  If it could be eaten, it was eaten.  
Humanity’s attempts to keep itself alive took it back to a time as primitive as the Dark Ages but armed with guns and knowledge of technology.  They salvaged and rebuilt what was important to them, creating something crude yet new.
“You’re doing it wrong, lady.”
She jumped as she heard the voice of a small boy behind her.  She turned and looked and found him standing behind her.
She judged him to be between four and five years old; he was small and scrawny.  He was dirty and his clothes were too big.  Underneath the dirt, he had shaggy brown hair and green eyes.
“If you look left, think up and down at the same time, it will open.  Don’t know why you want Mama’s shiny things, but she won’t be using them anymore.”
“Crap. The targets are this kid’s parents, and he’s just standing here talking nonsense about opening the safe,” she thought.
Collecting herself, she asked, “Come here, boy.  That’s not how a safe opens.  What’s your name?”
“It is too how!” he replied.
“Now I’ve stepped on a four year old’s pride, sheesh,” she internalized.
Here’s the luck she was missing.
“I show you.  Watch, lady.”
He sat down beside her and stared to the left of the safe.  
Amazingly, the safe door clicked opened.  How in Duat did he do that?  She looked inwardly to see if she could sense any magic at work.  She sensed nothing.  She kept hoping that one day it would come back to her.
The little dirty boy sat there with a smug smile on his face.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Mama said not to tell strangers my name.”
“Okay, my name is Eshe.  It’s nice to meet you.  See? Now we’re not strangers.” For some reason she gave this child her real name.
She smiled as sweetly as she could at a four year old.
He looked down, picked up a rock, and said in a small voice, “Galen.”
“Well, Galen, my boss wants what’s in this safe, so I have to take the stuff inside.  Do you have any family I can take you to?” she asked.
She leaned forward and inspected the contents of the safe.  Crap, there were a bunch of old world watches and necklaces, all gold.  What were a couple of merchants doing with so much metal?  
She wasn’t a scavenger or a raider, and she knew that if she handed over all all this gold to Mr. Wesson, it would surely buy her better contracts. But, she wasn’t being paid to return all the gold, just the watch, and she wouldn’t receive a square more than Mr. Wesson had promised her. She decided then to only return the contracted watch and keep the rest of the metal. This was about her survival and that much gold could buy a lot of things. She didn’t worry about Mr. Wesson doubting her loyalty. She was a mercenary and she went where the money was, and right now that was herself. At the end of the day, she wasn’t living in a civilized world, and she needed to eat too. She was her own priority.
“No, Mama was my second mama.  My first mama died when I was a baby, and Mama found me and took me.”
More crap.  Now she was going to have to find a place for this kid.  She couldn’t take him with her, a mercenary life didn’t allow room for family, but she knew she didn’t have the heart to let a child roam the wasteland on its own. If he didn’t starve to death, he would most likely be picked up by slavers looking to make a few squares off of young boy flesh.  She had no idea what to do with a four year old, other than they needed to be fed every day.  Did she know a relatively safe place that would take the kid in?  
Thinking about where to take this kid, she started separating the necklaces from the watches.  Mr. Wesson could have the watch, but she wasn’t being paid enough to turn over this much gold, especially when this was more than what she made over the course of several years.  She could hide this somewhere and use it later.  She fantasized about buying a horse and a better pair of boots.  
She pulled out her spare shirt and wrapped the excess gold in it and stuffed the bundle way into the bottom of her pack.  She took the watch, wrapped it in a cloth square and stuffed it into the pack as well.  
She straightened up and knocked the dirt off of her pants.  She looked towards the two dead bodies, wondering if she should bury them or move them or something.  Then she decided better of it. The raiders who had killed them might be back to try their luck with the safe again.  Missing bodies would tip them off that someone else had been here.
“Galen, can you lock that safe back to the way it was?” she asked.
He shook his head yes and shut the door on the safe.
“That’s it? No fancy up-down thoughts to lock it?”
He smiled at her sarcasm, “No, lady.  It does it on its own when the door is shut.”
She shook her head, fooled by a four year old.
“Well, Galen, do you know where you could go?  Of anyone who would take care of you?  Or anywhere you’d like to go?” she asked the small child, hoping that maybe he had some type of extended family.
“Miss Cotton has the best pie I’ve ever eaten.  I would really like some.”
Well, at least it’s a start, she thought wondering just how much of a detour this Miss Cotton was going to be.  She was to return within a week with the watch to Mr. Wesson, and being late would uncharacteristic of her. Maybe she could give him two watches to make up for the delay.
“I would like some pie too.  I haven’t eaten pie since 1917,” she offered.
“What’s 1917?”
“I’ll tell you about it on the way.  Where does Miss Cotton live,” she asked.
He pointed southward.  Why is everything to the south?  She must live at the top of the world or something.  
She strapped her pack to her back and scuffed the dirt where her footprints where in the dust.  Nothing else here, and she had a kid she need to pawn off on someone.  She motioned for the boy to follow her and started the long walk to the south.



Layla and Quinn - Chapter 1


Chapter 1
“Layla, are you listening?”
Joe knocked the handle of his knife on the table in front of her.  She was sitting in his office, even though it resembled little more than an empty room with a table and two chairs in the middle.  He always met with his employees in this room.  The table was crudely made of salvaged wooden planks and the chairs little more than stools, their back having rotten and broken off long ago.  Discolored wallpaper was missing from the walls in places, revealing water-damaged wood beneath.  It was at one of these bare spots that she stared, making pictures in her head of the lines the water had worked into the wood.  
“Woman, do you have any idea what I just said?”
She rolled her eyes at the feminine name they knew her by and looked back to Joe, “Find this couple of wandering merchants, and bring back that thing you wanted by any means necessary.  Mr. Wesson, I have been with your company for five years.  I have outlived most other associates, so why am I still doing the rookie jobs?”
“This isn’t a rookie job, Layla.  I need someone I can trust to do the job and that I trust will return with my property.  You don’t need back up; you know when to shoot and when to talk.  Just make sure you get the watch.  Here’s the upfront payment.  You’ll get the rest when I have my property,” he said, as he tossed a small, flat square of silver onto the table in front of her.
She took the square and tucked it into her pants pocket.  She was chafing at the solo retrieval jobs.  She wanted a caravan escort job at least.  Those were the exciting jobs, and they paid a lot more than five meager squares.  She wouldn’t have to rob innocent people just because her boss wanted what they had, and she would be able to afford more than just food and her gun payment each mission.  She would welcome a new pair of boots and more than a dozen bullets.  If she could get an escort job, she would have people to talk to, and shooting the occasional highway robber wouldn’t be that hard.  
She left Joe’s building and went to see Shaun, the bullet man.  Shaun made bullets for everyone in the Sharp Company, for a fee of course.  After each mission, associates brought him their casing and he would refill them.  Shaun ran his business out of an old world Post Office.  The solid brick building was the sturdiest and the most secure in the outpost and housed the only metal tables for at least 100 miles around.  He didn’t want to take the chance of accidentally catching the town on fire or someone from a rival company sneaking in a stealing his ammo either.  
Bullets as well as guns were a status symbol.  There were very few left in the world after the Day of White; Joe and Shaun were the only people in the region that knew how to build both guns and bullets.  It was a heavily guarded process, and Joe only sold guns to his employees after they had proven themselves to him.  It was how he kept his power and had been able to provide for the twenty odd mercenaries in his employ.  
All the mercenaries, who called themselves associates, lived in this small outpost when they were not out on a job.  When work was slow, the outpost echoed the sounds of associates grumbling over gardening, building repairs, and occasionally sewing.  Joe tried to keep most of the associates out on missions, letting the other towns under Sharp Company’s protection provide any supplies the outpost needed, not to mention Joe wasn’t making money when the associates were in the outpost.
Shaun produced the six shells she had refilled, “Okay Layla, this will make the last bullets that you have on that square you paid me.  Are you going out?”
“I get to go play puppy for Mr. Wesson and retrieve his lost toy.  I’ll pay for another set when I return and get my payment,” she replied.
After leaving Shaun’s, she stopped by the common house where associates slept.  The common house was one of the few buildings the associates had rebuilt voluntarily.  They salvaged part of a roof off another building to patch the holes in the steeped roof.  They had planked over the broken pieces of the stained glass windows.  The inside was mostly untouched.  The grey bare carpet had once been a lush purple.  Murals of a long dead religion faded along the walls.  They had dismantled and re-purposed the solid oak pews into platform cots and trunks for personal storage.  Most of the cots were untouched, their owners out on a job.  She stopped and rummaged in her trunk for her pack and revolver.  This was all that she owned, but it was all that she needed.

Having everything she would need, she hopped onto the back of a wagon leaving through the southern gate.  She watched as the mismatch of multi-color roofing tins and chain-link fencing disappeared into the half-dead forest.  


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