The Salt Worms: Part Twelve


Nathan squared his shoulders against the rock and kicked out with his feet, sending his assailant flying back.

“Who are you?!” he demanded, groping on the ground for a rock to use as a weapon.

Everett didn’t respond. He just fought to regain his footing, then charged back into the fray.

“Listen,” Nathan panted as he dodged one fist, then got Everett’s other arm locked up at the elbow, “I could kill you now if I wanted, and I will if you don’t stop fighting!”

“I doubt that!” Everett grunted, using his free hand to pummel Nathan’s broken one.

“ARRRRGH!” Nathan collapsed to his knees and Everett wriggled free.

Everett delivered a heavy uppercut and Nathan was sent sprawling to the ground. Everett whipped out his pistol. It was empty of bullets, but he flipped it around to wield it like a club. He gave a powerful, overhead swing that Nathan barely got his arm up in time to block! Everett raised the gun back overhead, but Nathan suddenly pelted the rock hidden in his hand at Everett’s face. Everett fell backwards, and in a moment Nathan was upon him, knife clicked open, and blade pressed against his throat.

“Listen to me, you idiot!” he snarled. “This is my last night on earth and I had wanted it to be a peaceful one. For one night, just one night, I wanted to not have to run, and fight, and kill…. But I absolutely will again if I have to.”

Everett gurgled meaninglessly.

“Give me an answer!” Nathan pulled Everett’s head up and slammed it back against the rock. “What’s it going to be?!”

“What does it matter?” Everett finally gasped out. “You’re planning to get us all killed anyway!”

Nathan gave a shout, drew back his hand, and buried his fist in Everett’s stomach. Just before contact, though, he flicked the blade closed so that Everett was doubled up in pain, but not mortally wounded. With a grunt of exasperation Nathan stood up, picked his and Everett’s handguns off the ground, and slung his backpack over his shoulder.

“That isn’t going to happen. Not after I’ve fought and bled this much. My plan will work.

Everett tried to respond, but it just came out as painful wheezing.

“And even if there were–unintended side effects, and everyone in New Denver had to be sacrificed to clear the way forward for the rest of the nation…it would still be a worthy cause. Now I’m going to go on my way, and make no mistake, the next time we cross paths I will kill you.”

Nathan slid a fresh magazine into his pistol, then turned and stomped over to the end of the bowl, disappearing over its lip.

Everett lay there on the ground, panting and wheezing and crying, urging the throbbing in his gut to quiet down enough to move. He ground his teeth together and clenched his fists, distracting himself from the pain enough to roll back onto his knees. Slowly, laboriously, he pushed his way up to a stooping stand.

Perhaps Everett had underestimated Nathan, but the man was a fool if he thought that Everett would give up the chase. Everett turned so that he faced the end of the bowl that Nathan had disappeared behind and took a halting step forward. As he did so his body seemed to knit itself back together and he was able to take his next step with greater confidence. Another and another, and now he moved into a heavy stride, reached the lip of the bowl and deftly swung over it.

BANG!

Everett never felt the bullet that rang out from directly behind. He just collapsed dead on the ground. From underneath the bowl’s overhang Nathan emerged with the gun, ready to shoot again…but he saw that it wouldn’t be necessary to finish the job.

“Now was that necessary?” he sighed, then continued on his way.

***

“This is New Denver Operations. I repeat, this is New Denver Operations. Everett are you there?

It was early the next morning as the radio operator tried to raise the ranger. He looked up to Samuel Iverson and shrugged. “No response.”

The door to the room flew open and Thompson rushed in, sweat shining on his face.

“Sir,” he gasped. “He’s there! He’s out on the salt flats right now!”

“What?!” Samuel roared as he dashed out of the room and made for the western-facing wall. Samuel mounted the five stone steps onto the parapet, coming upon a crowd of Elders and guards who were all looking through their binoculars at something in the distance.

“Someone hand me their binoculars!” Samuel ordered, snapping one from the three that were offered. “Where?” He pointed them in the direction indicated.

There was Nathan, about a third of a mile past the edge of the city, having just emerged from the canyon and now walking across the ocean of salt that stretched nearly as far as the eye could see.

“He’s not running,” a guard up front observed.

“Doesn’t want to pull the worm to him,” another concluded. “But he must know that we can see him.”

“Sir, what do we do?” Thompson asked.

“Put a battery into the truck.”

“Sir, you mean to send some of us out there?!”

“I’ll drive it myself if no one else will! And where is Maxine?”

“Here, sir,” a tall, chubby guard with a round face and blond ponytail rushed up the steps.

“It’s a third of a mile,” Samuel said, handing her the binoculars and pointing in the direction of Nathan. “Can you do it?”

“Third of a mile?” she peered through the lenses. “It would be a new record for me…” she spun the knob on top, adjusting the focus. “Someone grab my rifle. Let’s do it!”