As usual, here is your warning that this story has cursing, sex (not graphic), innuendo, and violence. It’s my Rated-R action adventure called Derailing Bedlam. This is the fourth outing (third official) for Cassidy and Lloyd, so feel free to click on one of the two covers to see how it started. Each one is 99 cents!
Having put the mesh strainer on the end of the hose and walked it out into the lake, Cassidy uses the lull in activity to rest on top of the water truck. Her soaked clothes are draped over a nearby branch while she rests in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt with a colorful girl on the front. The white towel beneath her is slightly damp, but she figures it is a small price to pay for some relaxing solitude. Flipping onto her back, the mercenary knocks on the tank to see how full it is and guesses she still has another hour. Glancing at another coiled hose, Cassidy considers setting that one up as well to quickly finish the job. Instead, she sits up and puts on more suntan lotion that she found abandoned in the gym. She chuckles at a distant memory from her childhood, her mother’s voice ringing in her ears about having learned her lesson about needing protection from the sun. The ensuing days of peeling skin and wishing she could remain naked in her room to avoid clothing bring a faint tear to her eye. Shaking her head clear, the mercenary finishes putting on the lotion and returns to watching the clouds.
A winged form crosses Cassidy’s field of vision and she turns to watch the gliding bird soar over the lake. It takes her a minute to realize it is an osprey, which brings back another flood of more recent memories. She tries to figure out how much longer they will be on the train and how hard it would be to reach Cleveland afterwards. It is a pointless waste of energy since she is not sure where they are right now and continues to have a sinking feeling that their situation is due to get worse. As the raptor dives to catch a wriggling fish, Cassidy closes her eyes and focuses on listening to the sounds around her. It is not long before she picks up on a faint noise that makes her sigh and climb off the water truck.
“Hey, I was only sent here to make sure you were okay,” Lloyd says, offering his friend the two muffins. He tries to make the one he cannot identify more appealing, but she snatches the blueberry treat instead. “Things are tense back there, but we’ll be ready to go in two hours. As long as we get the water. Not trying to rush you since you obviously need some time alone with your thoughts.”
“And yet you’re still here,” Cassidy snaps, immediately regretting her tone. Nibbling at the food, she checks the tank and considers stopping now to avoid a lengthy conversation. “I can’t get some stuff out of my head. Cola was a nice guy and I thought he was fun to talk to, but him being a traitor isn’t the problem. It’s that he was here in the first place. How could Tyler have missed that? Not to mention a track detour that connected three states. Heck, that’s not even a detour. That’s a whole other branch of the rail system. There has to be something else happening here.”
“Here I thought you were sick of Luca being an asshole,” the serial killer claims with a smirk. Climbing onto the water truck, he stands with his arms out in order to enjoy the cool breeze. “You know the old line of this being above our paygrade? I feel like invoking that, but know it won’t solve anything. On one hand, there have been so many problems that one has to consider a conspiracy. The stolen key, the kidnappers, the new leader of Alexandria, and now this thing with the Nebraskan gangs have all come out of nowhere. They appear unconnected unless you consider what Andy said about a bounty. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that the people behind that also set up the other problems. Would anybody in the country have that level of influence and scope?”
Joining her friend, the mercenary drapes the towel over her shoulders and anxiously moves it from side to side. “Nobody that I can think of, but such a person could be keeping their existence a secret. That type of life could be in danger if people are able to travel across the country with ease, which is why the train is a threat. The limited spread of information, supplies, and cultures is the only reason you have so many unique power structures. Wow, imagine if things began getting back to normal and the country unified. Any secret mastermind who has benefited from the chaos and hates being in the open would freak out.”
“But wouldn’t they be able to make sure the unification happens on their terms?”
“Not to mention setting up puppet leaders.”
“They’d also be risking their identity by going after this one train.”
“It is rather sloppy for a shadowy mastermind.”
“Do you know what these means?”
“I’m fucking paranoid and you’re buffalo shit crazy.”
“You mean bison.”
“Shut the fuck up, Lloyd.”
Their laughter is cut off by the sound of distant rumbling and a faint series of smoke trails rising in the distance. An explosion and plume of fire makes them jump, the sight of chunks of rock sailing into the air giving them an idea of what is coming. Cassidy leaps off the water truck and swiftly connects the other hose, which has already been fitted with the mesh strainer. Not wanting to lose a second, she turns on the secondary pump before running the extension into the lake. She goes under for a moment when the suction catches her by the thigh, but she wrenches herself free and comes out of the water with nothing more than a red imprint on her skin. Waving for Lloyd to get in the truck, the mercenary gathers her clothes and tosses them through the window. Climbing back onto the vehicle, she unlocks and opens a hatch to get a better look at the rising water.
“I give us around five minutes before it’s full,” Cassidy says while jumping on top of the cab. Leaning down, she gently pushes Lloyd into the driver’s seat, but stays outside. “Turn on the engine and the instant I whistle, you drive like mad. Give me your machete because I’m going to stay out here. If the hoses get stuck, I’m going to chop them off because we don’t have the time to properly disconnect and put them away. Not if we want to warn the others that Laurencia is coming. By the way, how did you know I came to this lake? There were two others that I skipped because I wanted more privacy.”
“We activated that tracker on the truck,” Lloyd answers, wiggling the blinking box out the window. Turning the engine on, he takes another look at the approaching smoke, which is getting closer, and glances back at the device in his hand. “Don’t tell me those nutcases have been following the tracks and waiting for us to do something like this. How would they even react so quickly? Tanks aren’t known for their speed.”
“I know, but here they are,” the scowling mercenary mutters to herself more than her companion. Figuring that they have enough to make their escape, she closes the hatch and whistles as loud as she can. “Hey, Lloyd, I want to tell you something that has to stay between us. I’m wondering if Cola wasn’t the only spy, saboteur, or whatever on the train. Not saying they’re connected, but Tyler’s enemies might have sent out a bunch of agents. We need to keep an eye out for anything suspicious.”
Swerving to avoid a tree stump, the serial killer sticks his head out the window to make sure he is heard. “I think that’s a slight mistake. Don’t get me wrong, kid. People looking twitchy and nervous are a clear sign of issues. Yet, Cola didn’t do anything like that. We’re talking about people like us. Professionals and possible sociopaths. They’ll look and act as normal as everyone else. Can we tell Katie or Bart?”
“I’d rather keep them in the dark until we know what’s going on,” Cassidy replies while clinging to the side of the truck. Gripping the machete, she prepares to swing down at the hoses until they come out into the open plains. “Again, I might just be paranoid. With any luck, I’m wrong and having an idiot moment. Still, I’d rather be that than caught unprepared. Be nice to see one of these problems coming.”
“Yeah . . . I just realized an issue with the train.”
“What is it?”
“How do we move it without running over or pissing off the bison?”
Cassidy opens her mouth to give an answer, but stops because she does not have an honest answer. Remembering how docile the animals were when she left the train, the mercenary assumes they can get back on the Holly Sage Express without a problem. Having had no encounter with a guardian, she is sure the animals are wild and unprotected. Still, she gets the distinct sense that there is more to the situation than she realizes. Her suspicions grow tenfold when a coyote suddenly sprints across the path of the truck with a human arm tightly gripped in its mouth.