Drawing a sharp breath, Tepa’s eyelids fluttered. Around her
stood a blurry group of people. She groaned and rolled over
to her knees, reached for her neck to relieve the pressure
still there and found a single wire which she peeled off with
“We thought you were done for,” another, much younger
voice chipped in. “What happened anyway?”
Her vision clearing, Tepa realized there were only two sets
of legs, and all around them were scraps of plastic casing
and pieces of torn faux fur. “I’m not sure,” she said as she
clambered to her feet and focused on the two men.
“Greenly?” she stammered in recognition.
Greenly gave the slightest of nods, then stooped to pick up
half of the bear’s head. It flapped like an empty bag, all
the techknow gone, so he tossed it to the younger man.
His son, Greenly Junior, caught it, shook it himself, then used
it to point at Tepa. “Someone sure saved you, looks like.”
“Yes,” Tepa agreed. The two creatures had been thoroughly
dismantled. Most of the wires were gone, all of the green-
board, and of course any chips they’d contained. “Greenly.
The two of them, a Player and techknow bear. They were
working together. Cooperating.”
Greenly didn’t react to the revelation, but merely asked,
"Tepa. Where’s the D’arc cannon?” His eyes slid to his son,
and they exchanged a critical glance.
“Gah!” Tepa swore.
duck walked to the tree decorated with garbage, with
Greenly giving a hand signal to stop while he surveyed the
The house wasn’t much to look at. A two level, mostly wood
with a six foot line of brick around the bottom. The roof had
collapsed into the second floor and a fire had left black streaks
on the back corner. A seven foot high decorative cinder block
fence surrounded it- it’s pattern allowing them to see through
to the hole Tepa had entered through.
Junior sidled over to Tepa and whispered, “Shouldn’t treat a
cannon like that. Last techknow the Prepocs ever made. No
one even knows how many are left.”
Tepa looked away; she didn’t need to be admonished by a boy,
but he continued to press.
“I’m turning sixteen tomorrow. Soon I’ll get my own cannon,
after First Time.” He reached out and stroked the D’arc
weapon slung across his father’s back. “Ain’t no way I lose
mine like you did.”
“Oh shut up,” Tepa snapped as she threw him a glare. “This
is probably as far out as you’ve ever been...”
Greenly cut the chatter with a flap of his hand and said to
them, “As I see it, there’s two possibilities. First, there’s
more creatures inside. That seems unlikely because you’d
be dead. Second, there’s a Collector in there, kifing your
gear. Seeing as he hasn’t made an appearance, it’s probably
someone we don’t know. Meaning danger.”
Junior made a show of checking out the abode, bobbling
his head this way and that, then settled down and said,
“Can’t see nothing, Pa. What if he’s done left already?”
“Good point, son,” Greenly nodded in approval. “So.
What do we do in this situation?”
Junior unslung his blundergauss and rested it across his
knees as he pondered the question. A full minute passed.
With an annoyed sigh, Tepa reached for the weapon and
said, “I’ll just-”
Greenly grabbed her wrist. Held it there. And to Junior,
After sliding away from Tepa, along with the gun, Junior’s
eyes lit up and he blabbered his answer, “Send Tepa in first?”
“That’s right,” Greenly answered.
Tepa freed her arm with a twist and made a move for the
blundergauss again. “That’s what I was about-”
Junior pulled away, shaking his head. “Nope. Nuh, uh. Your
gear is inside. Maybe.”
duo followed Tepa as far as the hole, and after she
disappeared inside, Greenly turned and said, “Always remember
the Collector credo...”
“Look out for number one,” Junior said. Then, once he’d seen
his father’s approval, he added the joke often heard from other
Collectors. “Or you’ll find yourself going number two.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Greenly muttered.
Tepa appeared in the opening, her hands empty. “The cannon.
My pack. Everything. Gone.”
“Too bad for you,” Greenly said as he stood upright, pulling
his son with him. “I suggest you spend some time searching
the area. As for us, we’re overdue at Silo.”
“Overdue? For what?” Tepa asked.
Greenly flipped a thumb at Junior. “His first time is coming
up. And I have a feeling there’s going to be a vacant Collector
position in the very near future. Good luck.”
Lips pursed, Tepa fumed as she watched them go. Greenly
could be right- D’arc cannons weren’t owned, they were
loaned. Same for the blundergauss, though they weren’t
nearly as rare.
But there was no way she was wandering around unarmed.
One more quick look and she’d head back herself.
Disgruntled Silo authorities be damned.
later in the day, Junior sat by the fire and used a
small stick to tease the coals in it’s deepest parts. They had
started out heading back to Silo, but after an hour they’d
taken a sharp turn south without his father saying why.
Normally, the detour might not have meant anything unusual,
but once they’d settled and build the fire, Greenly set about
inspecting and cleaning all of the guns and gear. All the while,
Junior’s stomach began to clench, tighter and tighter.
Junior: “We’re not going back, are we?”
“Nope,” Greenly answered as he polished the field glasses.
“But you told Tepa...”
Greenly gave one more rub to a lens then put it back in it’s
case. “Remember son, the whole world is still in competition
with itself.” He stared into the flames for a moment then
continued. “Dreams can still go up in smoke. Imagine if we
stumbled on a great find, and someone, like Tepa, followed
our back trail. What would stop her from claiming it herself
first chance she got?”
“So, say one thing, but do another?” Junior asked.
“Good boy,” Greenly said. “Besides, I already spoke with Bo
from Silo- we’re doing your First Time a day early.”
Junior had been sitting cross legged, but now he drew them
in and wrapped his arms around his knees and rocked gently.
At the moment, they were surrounded by countryside not
dissimilar from what Junior had grown up in. Fields and fences,
leafy trees and bushes, there was even a farm visible in the
Tepa had been correct. The broken down house had been
as close to the remains of the Prepoc world as he’d ever
been. But in less than a day, just hours even, he’d be
headed straight into the middle of it all.
It was a strange feeling, knowing that the previous civil-
izations wonders lay out there for the taking. Exhilarating
even. Too bad it was tainted by the techknow horrors that
“Pa, I’m afraid.” Junior whispered.
end part one
edit on 19-3-2017 by shlaw because: corrections