Flash Fiction: "Ex-Ranger"
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
This is for a flash fiction challenge from my writing group - word and an object. My object was a red and white six-sided die, and the word was "lenient."
It's set in the world of the "Fallout" video games, specifically "Fallout: New Vegas." Why? Just 'cause.
The sun was almost directly overhead, as the two men tied back-to-back in front of the Lucky Seven Casino stirred. The neon in the dice atop the Lucky Seven had flashed for the last time more than a century past. The once red paint had faded to a rusty brown, and the reflective material of the spots had flaked away to where they only showed a ragged three, instead of the two and five that had once lured in travelers too impatient to wait and lose their scratch in Vegas. Like everything else it the wasteland, it was falling to dust.
Karl forced one eye open. It had to be a hundred and ten in the shade. Not that there was much shade around. It was just like the thrice damned Legion. That legate had offered leniency if he surrendered. Some leniency. Instead of a bullet to the brain, he drew exposure and dehydration. They were even nice enough to leave one canteen hanging on the old casino's door. He supposed it was better than hanging on a cross like some of the poor souls he had seen along the road.
He pushed and stretched. The ropes weren’t that tight. He could probably get out, eventually. He spotted a likely looking rock off to the left.
“Hey, farmer boy.”
“Rightie-o. Farmer Shane. See that rock yonder?”
Shane tilted his head as far backwards as he could. “Ayup.”
“Good, we’re gonna shimmy over there and cut these ropes. On the count of three. One, two, three.”
Karl pulled to his left. Shane wiggled and shoved. It was awkward, but they slowly made progress toward the rock. The sun baked their faces dry and cracked their lips. Karl could almost taste the water in that canteen.
With one last push, they were at the rock. They turned and twisted until the ropes were close enough to rub on the edge of the basalt rock. The work was slow. It wasn’t long before blood from cuts on their hands slicked the ropes.
Karl gritted his teeth. “So, farmer Shane, why did you do it? Why’d you try to blow that bridge?”
Shane grunted. “Why did you?”
“Hell, the Families offered me a fortune, but I'm guessing you didn't risk your skin to make a few bucks.”
“No,” Shane said. “Not for money. If you really want to know, I got a wife real sick back on the farm. I ain't gonna let her die in the back of a wagon, or get butchered when the Legion comes. I got to stop them. Slow them down at least.”
“How's that going for you?” Karl said.
"I ain't dead yet."
“Any idea how far we are from the nearest settlement?”
Shane studied the sky. “We’re at least two full days walk from Vegas to the west, and three days from any kind of real help to the north of south.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Karl said. He eyed the canteen hanging on the door of the Lucky Seven. It was enough water to keep one man going for two days if it was full, and if a man was careful. Well, Karl knew how to be careful.
"Only half a day back to the Legate's camp," Shane said. "Still got time to stop them crossing. We can get more water there, food and weapons, too."
Karl rolled his eyes. Shane was big enough. Hard work had built some impressive upper body strength. But Karl had one last ace. He felt the stiffness of his right boot where his well-honed switchblade was still stuffed in the lining. At least he’d show farmer Shane enough mercy not to let the desert kill him slowly.
When the rope snapped, they both immediately bent and ripped the ropes away from their feet. Shane stood and stretched. He nodded at Karl. “We work together, we can do this,” he said.
Karl’s hand was still at his boot. With one swift motion, he stood and pulled out the switchblade, already opened. He flicked his wrist and sent in flying into Shane’s upper thigh. The farmer grunted and dropped to one knee.
Karl shrugged. “Sorry farmer-boy. I was aiming for the mercy kill. Guess my hands are a little numb. Thing is, I need that water to get back to Vegas.” He turned his back and walked to the old casino. He grabbed the canteen and opened it. It wasn't quite full, but he could live on it long enough to hit Vegas and resupply. Maybe he’d head to Canada. He’d heard things were better up north.
Karl had just screwed the lid back on the canteen when pain exploded in his left kidney. He scrambled at his back and felt the hilt of his own knife sticking out. He yanked the blade out, and watched with fascination as a puddle of crimson flowed into the sand at his feet. His knees melted away under him and he collapsed into the sand
Shane bent in front of Karl and picked up the canteen and the knife. He bent to clean the blood of the switchblade on Karl's shirt before folding the knife and placing it in his belt.
Karl’s vision was fading. “You… just a farmer,” he croaked.
“I never said I was always a farmer,” Shane said. “You know what they say, ‘there’s no such thing as an ex-Ranger.’ You should have worked with me when I offered.”
Karl’s eyes closed for the last time as Shane headed east. He had a bridge to destroy.