You stir, awakening out in the open. You are alone, away from the people and the craziness of this new world. Your body is already dripping from this heat inside an outfit called a Zone Suit. You know how important the suit is. You've seen what the acid rain can do to a body; a man without protection from the rain can be reduced to a skeleton in seconds.
This may be a brand new world for you, Jonah Hex, but nobody ever accused you of being a slow learner. Even after you were transported from your own time of the 19th century Old West to become part of Reinhold Borsten's "warrior collection" and escaped, you have evaded every kind of hostile element this world has to offer you.
You then hear a quiet voice behind you.
Without thinking, you reach for your gun, feeling foolish when you notice that it's gone.
Then there's another voice; small, sweet.....
"Don't be afraid. We need you."
You shield your eyes from the newly risen sun. You can just make out the face of a girl not more than sixteen.
Stepping closer to you, she says, "Will you help us?"
Dangerous word, that word 'help' ...You realize that already this day's off to a bad start.
Back at a huge canvas tent, the girl tells her story while you sip some bitter coffee. She tells of someone named Alcala, a ruler of a fortified city to the north called Sisco. Once one of the last places where gasoline and water could be freely bartered, the city has turned into a haven for the renegades and murderers that prey on nomad tribes such as this one.
Then there are stories told by the stragglers who've left the city ... of humans hunted down like dogs for sport or people sold into slavery for work, pleasure, or other more barbaric pursuits. Already rich in Soames and water, Alcala has his special soldiers raid anyone suspected of having water, fuel or food.
You look at the girl and ask, "Whut do ya want with me?"
A short bald man with burn marks on his face sits down next to you.
"Excuse me. My name is Edgar. I was, er ... you may not know the word ... A teacher. These good people have asked me to lead them. We live, as you see, very poorly. Our only hope is in our young people, like Princess Elena." He looks at the girl.
"Princess?" you ask.
"Oh, yes. You see, Elena is the daughter of Lord Alcala. She may be the only one who can stop him from his reign of bloody madness. Quite simply, she's our only hope."
"Whut 'bout me?"
"Why, er, we hope that you will take her to Sisco to her father. There are people surrounding Alcala who would stop at nothing to kill his only child. If you can get her to him she can plead for mercy for those like us who hide in the Wasteland. We want you to be her escort."
Edgar reaches down and pulls out your Smith & Wesson from his boot. He places it on the wooden table aling with your bowie knife and your lariat saying, "I'm sorry we don't have any weapons to offer you other than your own. We do have one item, however, that will help you get there faster." Just then, another man brings in a large cycle. "You know how to ride?"
You nod, "Yeah."
"We picked you," Elana says. "Other nomads spkoe of someone powerful, strong, brutal..."
"Brutal?" you ask.
"Yes, but good." She stops and looks at your disfigured face without any sign of shock. "You will do it, won't you?"
"Tell me jus' whut ah'm gettin' muhself into," you say quietly, your curiosity aroused.
The nomads look at each other as Edgar starts talking.
"Sisco is due north about 200 miles from here. It sits on a bay near a destroyed bridge. There really isn't much left of it. The outskirts of the new city are the ruins of an old city, and, from all reports, it's dangerous. Muties and attack droids prowl the whole area."
"Jes' whut are muties?" you ask.
"Mutants. No telling what kind of strange human specimans you'll meet. The inner city is surrounded by a 30-foot wall. It's guarded by Alcala's personal army, as well as a host of electronic booby traps. Once inside, what you find depends on who you've spoken to and maybe who they know. The arean games take place every night, while all kinds of sick behavior fills the narrow streets. Alcala's home is undoubtedly heavily guarded.
"Oh, yes. There's a road north of here that leads to Sisco but there are repots of Alcala's soldiers as well as roving muties and the Road Reapers. To the northeast is the desert. It is a slower, perhaps safer way, if you steer clear of the occasional giant sand worm. The mountains lie due west. Get across them, and you can head north to the city. Whatever route you take, don't forget to keep your ears cocked for any information about Sisco. The towns may have information or some weapons should you need any. There are lakes ahead; contaminated, of course. We can give you some drinking water that has already been treated, some food (enough for 10 days), and 35 Soames to take along."
Just as you stand up, Elana grabs your hand, her tiny fingers pressing your rough skin.
"Will you take me?" she asks.
Where you come from a lady doesn't have to ask twice. You nod in agreement, all the while calling yourself a fool, 'cause only a fool would be an escort to hell.
You walk over to the cycle and Elana follows you.
"You know how to ride this?" she asks tentatively.
"Sure," you mutter, not quite willing to admit that you're still not over the funny feeling you get in your gut when you hear a motor roar to life.
You get on and Elana sits behind you, holding tight.
There are three ways you can go, as Edgar explained. North to the road, northeast across the desert, and west to search for a pass across the mountains to the forests leading north.
"Well, let's say we git goin'." You sit on the motorcycle and press the electronic ignition, kicking up a small dust cloud as the nomands watch you leave.
11/06/2006 : We have one vote for West. Voting will be closed on Friday and the next installment will be on Monday.