The Fall of Man: Chapter 1

 

            Dominic stood in the shadow of Genesis Tower 2. He removed a waning pack of smokes from his duster. Damn, last one. He shook it loose, placed it between his lips, and tossed the empty pack to the ground before striking a match.

The Genesis Towers were twenty stories tall, twin titans of glass and steel. They were connected by a thin metal enclosed walkway, suspended hundreds of feet above the ground; all shine and straight angles, dark mirrors reflecting a brilliant sun. They were direct contradictions to the landscape spread out beneath them; a sea of dust and crumbling idols left over from the old world. As Dominic stood there, contemplating the view, caravans pushed past on either side; men with their mules and their rickety carts of scrap. Two Union soldiers stood at the lobby entrance of Tower 2, rustling the caravan riders, turning things inside out and upside down. The riders seemed used to the routine. They stood back, smoking their cigarettes, waiting for the soldiers to finish and usher them through.

Dominic waited until everything was clear. He approached the checkpoint, arms spread. “Let me save you some time, I’m clean.” The cigarette wagged loosely between his lips, sprinkling ash like a salt shaker.

The skinnier and younger of the two soldiers ran his hands across the underside of Dominic’s arms and down the sides of his chest.

“What’s your business here in Genesis?” the other soldier asked, as if reading from a script, sweat soaked hair peeking in clumps from beneath his black cap.

“Just passing through,” Dominic replied, as the hands reached his inner thighs. “Careful, I’m ticklish.”

“We’re not an inn. We’ve got a bar inside and the caravans have a market set up in the lobby, but unless you’ve got family here, there’s no getting upstairs or passing the night. Once everything closes down, you’re out, we clear?”

“As the morning air,” he grinned, pinching the cigarette between his front teeth.

“Alright, get out of here.”

The lobby smelled like a considerable pile of shit wrapped in a heavy blanket of musk. It was enclosed by thick walls, gray and water stained. The sun flowing in through the open doors lit the room by day and torches lit it by night. The caravans were spread out in a layered circle. The riders were holding their wares high above their heads, rattling off the finer qualities of each item, along with the accompanying prices, “Cannot be beat I tell you, these prices cannot be beat! Be the envy of Genesis!”

Tower residents were trickling from the stairwells with their coin purses at the ready. They were whispering to one another in excited tones, smiling, pointing; downright giddy at the prospect of exploring an alien land so far below their station.

Dominic slid between the carts and around the riders, doing his best to dodge the wagging heads of the whimpering mules.

“Sir, you seen anything like this?” The rider held out a ragged bouquet of fake flowers; hints of pink and yellow still managed to shine through the muck and mire.

“I have, actually. She was a looker with a deep purse. She used them as a piece for her table, they had a vase too.”

“I can get you a vase. In fact, I’ll get you two.”

“Nowhere to put them,” Dominic replied with a shrug.

“Give them to a beautiful lady.”

“The only beautiful ladies I know take coin, not flowers.”

The rider gave a knowing laugh before zeroing in on his next target. “Ma’am, ma’am, have you ever seen anything like this?”

At the center of the circle there was a single cart. The contents were being sorted by an old man with a long white beard. What little hair he had left atop his head clung to his sunburned scalp in solitary wisps. His hands, like bird talons, gnarled with overgrown fingernails, picked up choice trinkets and balanced them around the outside of the cart atop the weather beaten wood. His head rose slowly as Dominic approached. His eyelids were clumps of rolling flesh that forced him to lift his chin slightly in order to see. “Greetings, I’m still setting up, but you’re welcome to browse what I have.”

“I’m not here to browse your wares, old man.”

“Ah,” the relic tugged at the end of his beard, “okay then, okay then, come.”

Dominic met him at the back of the cart.

The old man hummed quietly as he pushed pieces of formless metal aside with the backs of his hands. “Ah, yes, here we go.” The old man fished a piece of knotted blue cloth from beneath the heap. “Tell me, do we have any admirers?”

Dominic scanned the growing crowd. “Not that I can see.”

The feeble fellow began untying the package with surprisingly nimble fingers. “Your employer paid me very well for this package, very well.”

Dominic’s eyes flashed over his shoulders once more before picking up the silenced pistol. “This is a nice piece.” He locked the slide back and checked the magazine; loaded and ready to go.

“These papers will get you upstairs. They won’t stand up to scrutiny. But they should be enough to get you in and out.”

“Accepted into Genesis; never thought I’d see the day.” Dominic smiled and leafed through the dozen or so pages before dropping the booklet into his pants pocket.

“Like I said, don’t get too comfortable, you don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of the line. Don’t let the gloss fool you, they treat their good-for-nothings as shitty as any other hellhole on this god forsaken land; maybe even worse, just cause they got the time and resources.”

“Don’t worry old timer, getting caught ain’t really in my job description.”

“And smuggling weapons into Genesis on a mule cart for over-confident bounty hunters wasn’t in mine, but alas, here we are.”

“And you’re a richer man for it.”

Dominic turned into the crowd and began moving towards the residential staircase.

 

***

 

            Pepper’s Pub was located on the fifteenth floor of Genesis Tower 2, just below the resident’s quarters. The location was no accident. It was a recipe for profit. A proverbial neon sign buzzing away, attracting the overworked like flies. After the sun fell there was rarely a lull in traffic. The seats were always occupied. The air was always buzzing with conversation and always choked with clouds of thick smoke, while ice cubes played the walls of highball glasses like muffled piano keys. It was a melting pot of the highest and lowest order. The only place in Genesis that never closed. Inside Pepper’s Pub there were no hierarchies, no lines in the sand. Everyone had one thing in common; they were there to drink and forget.

Dominic walked through the front door with his broad shoulders and wild hair. A thick scar ran down the right side of his face, splitting the top part of his shallow beard. He was wearing a black duster with a torn tee shirt underneath, a pair of faded jeans, and black boots that hit like hammers. He moved smoothly through the crowd and took the only available seat at the center of the bar.

A pudgy man stood behind the bar wiping glasses out with a grungy towel. “The name is Rudy, what can I get for you?” he asked as he buffed away at a streaky mug, tongue wrapped tight across the front of his teeth.

“Something dark and bitter,” Dominic spoke in a low growl.

“That’s pretty much all we serve.”

“Then I guess I’m in luck.”

Rudy set the glass aside. “I guess you are.” He twirled another glass up from beneath the bar, letting it slide across the top of his hand and down onto the surface without as much as a rattle.

“Neat trick,” Dominic said with an approving nod.

“I’ve had a lot of practice.”

“Looks that way.” He glanced around the room at the hustle and bustle. Saxophones and a driving bass line were rising from the jukebox sitting in the far back corner.

“Ice?”

He shook his head. “Leave the water for the ladies.”

Rudy chuckled and plucked the stopper from a half-full decanter and began pouring. “Long day?”

“Yeah,” he signaled for Rudy to stop, “it’s not over yet.” He lifted the glass and emptied the contents with one swift flick of his wrist. “Give me another.”

Rudy poured again.

He emptied the glass just as quickly.

“Unless you got yourself a cast iron stomach, I’d suggest a little food with that. That’s one of the strongest batches we’ve rolled through here. How about a pork sandwich?  They have been breeding them like crazy this year.”

“Nah, never developed much of a taste for pork. I could use some smokes. Get me a pack of Blues.”

“You really smoke that Outlander shit?”

He shrugged and turned the glass with one hand. “You get used to it.”

“The hell you do,” Rudy scoffed, “no more than you’d get used to eating shit every day.”

“You speaking from experience?” He looked up at Rudy over the tops of his eyelids.

Rudy held his gaze for a moment but quickly gave up and went back to buffing. “We don’t carry Outlander shit; liquor and smokes are all from right here in Genesis.”

“Color me impressed,” he slipped a white book of matches from his pocket and dropped them next to the empty glass. “Give me what you got.”

“We got King’s and we got Cassie’s.”

“Whatever, shock me.”

Rudy knelt down and rummaged beneath the bar. He came back up with a white cardboard box wrapped in brown twine, the word King’s was stamped across the front. “I figured you’d appreciate the more masculine vibe.”

“It’s the same shit.” He tossed the twine aside, flipped a loosely wrapped stick of tobacco into his lips, and set a match to it.

“Cassie’s are more aromatic.”

“Aromatic? Genesis Towers, I swear.”

“We’ve got our tastes.”

“Your liquor is passable, but this,” he held the smoldering cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, studying it with disgust, “I could have rolled a better smoke with dust and air.”

“Of course the liquor is good, yours truly is responsible for it.” Rudy took a small bow before he returned to his buffing duties. “You ever wonder what they drank and smoked back in the old world?”

He shook his head and blew a gray cloud up towards the rafters. “Not really.”

“No imagination, is that it?”

“I like to keep my eyes forward.”

“That’s not a bad philosophy. What’s your name, forgot to ask?” Rudy dried his hand on the towel and extended it stiffly.

He propped the cigarette between his lips and returned the gesture. “Dominic, the name is Dominic.”

“Nice to meet you, Dominic. So, I take it you’re not from around here?”

“I make it that obvious?”

“It’s the coat, can’t remember the last time I saw a duster.”

“Ah, well, I don’t imagine there’s much use for it in Genesis.”

“Yeah, I don’t imagine there is. So, since you’re up here, I’m assuming you’ve got family in Genesis?”

Dominic nodded. “Yeah, an uncle.”

Rudy shook his head. “Some uncle, leaving you to rough it in the Outlands.”

“It’s by choice. I’ve always had a thing for the great outdoors.”

“Better you than me, brother. Give me a roof and a soft bed any day.”

“The electricity is a nice change, I’ll give you that.”

“It’s not perfect, it flickers out now and then, but it beats racing the sunlight every day.”

Dominic took another drag from the cigarette and slapped the ashes off on the edge of the bar. “So, what’s so special about that glass?”

“What do you mean?”

“That glass, you’ve been going at it with the rag since I sat down.”

Rudy held the glass above his head and examined it against the hazy light. “This glass is for one man and one man only.”

“Ah, and who might that be?”

“The man above men, the Lord Marshal himself.”

“This guy walk on water too?”

Rudy smirked. “Perhaps I was being a bit dramatic, but one thing is for sure, he doesn’t like a dirty glass.”

“Think I could get another hit of that home brewed shit?” Dominic tucked the book of matches away. “So, what happens if he gets a dirty glass?”

“You never know,” Rudy said as he brought the decanter up and poured, “he may break a few things, or he may shut down the bar. Last time, he shut down the bar.”

“Sounds like a real hero.” Dominic conquered another mouthful of whiskey and stamped the cigarette out.

“Oh, but he is, a real hero,” Rudy said with an almost spiritual conviction, raising his eyebrows and nodding his head like a fool.

“Yeah, I’ve heard the stories, the brave Lord Marshal and his band of merry men, destroyers of the recreant hoard.”

“Hey man, cool it with that shit. The wrong ears pick up on that and they’ll find a permanent place for you down below. You feel me?”

“You gonna tell on me?” Dominic leaned forward and fixed him with a hard glare.

Rudy shrank away. “Me? What? No! Really, I could give two shits about him or his men…it’s just, you know, they’ve got eyes and ears all over, gotta play along to get along, know what I mean?”

Dominic winked and slapped him on the shoulder. “I appreciate the concern, but I don’t plan on sticking around long.”

Rudy sighed. “Alright, I tried.”

“There is one favor you can do for me, if you’re so inclined.”

A frazzled man with white whiskers pressed in beside Dominic and grunted for a beer. Rudy popped the top off a brown unlabeled bottle and slid it across the counter without a second glance. “You can ask, I can’t promise.”

“Fair enough. How about showing me the works? You know, where you make the magic?”

“Our distillery?”

“Yeah.”

“The Outland doesn’t have distilleries?” Rudy asked incredulously.

“Call me deprived. I’m always moving from place to place, the roses seem to pass me by.”

Rudy snorted. “I suppose they do.” He looked up and down the bar. “Well, everything seems to be under control here. I suppose I could take you in back for a second and show you the guts of the operation. Just don’t go trying to steal my secrets.”

Dominic stood, opened his coat, and wiggled his hips. “Want to check me for pen and paper?”

Rudy let loose with a goofy chuckle, he seemed excited by the opportunity to show off his craft. “Come on around.”

There was a steel door beside the cash register with a grimy porthole carved in the center. Rudy held it open and ushered Dominic through with a lazy wave of his hand. “Step right up. Prepare to be wowed.” Rudy flipped a switch on the wall and the room came to life with a series of electric pops. “Ta-da!”

It wasn’t a large room, a little smaller than the bar area. There were rows of oak barrels shelved against the far wall. In the center of the room there were large silver and copper drums with metal tubes running from the top. There were handles and gauges and fat canvas sacks stacked as high as a man.

“This is…something.”

“A little more complicated than you imagined, huh?”

Dominic yawned into a closed fist. “Yeah, a little.”

“Did you think that drink you were pounding just magically appeared in the bottle? It’s over two weeks of hard labor and waiting. Then you want to age it, which is what we use these barrels for.” Rudy kicked at one of the shelved barrels with the side of his shoe. “So, what do you do to get by?”

Dominic wrapped his lips around another cigarette and set a match to it. “This and that, mostly contract work.”

“Contract work? That sounds vague and exciting. Want to elaborate a little?” Rudy rubbed a hand across the top of one of the barrels, while checking his reflection against the surface of one of the copper drums.

“I do jobs for people; a little of this, a little of that.” Dominic leaned back against the wall by the door.

“Sounds like you get around.”

“That I do. What about you? You get out beyond the Towers much?”

Rudy shook his head. “Nah, not really, I’m not the adventurous type.”

“Not really or never?”

Rudy shrugged. “I mean, yeah, I’ve been out there before, but I prefer home. You plan on taking me on vacation or something?”

Dominic stubbed his smoke out on the wall. “Where would I take you?”

“It was…I was being sarcastic. Come on, let’s get back to the bar, I’ve got customers.”

Dominic held a hand up as Rudy tried to push past.

“Hey now, don’t be putting your hands on me, stranger!”

“Answer my question, where would I take you?”

“I don’t know where you’d take me. Now take your fucking hand off me, I’m leaving.” His previous demeanor, the calm and well mannered bartender, was nowhere to be found.

Dominic got nose-to-nose with him, his hands resting calmly at his sides. “Perhaps I’d take you to Karaville.”

Rudy stumbled back, catching himself against one of the barrels. “Karaville?”

“Yeah, you know Karaville, charming little settlement, southwest of here? They attract a fair amount of visitors. They’ve got a tree, green as can be, sprouting right up out of the ground. It’s really a sight to behold. It gives you hope, you know, seeing that little bit of green in the middle of all that brown and gray. I hear the mayor’s daughter is a fetching sight as well.” Dominic paused and held up a finger, as if remembering an important piece of information. “But wait, you already know that, don’t you? I mean, that’s why you raped her and tried to bury her outside the fence line, right? Except, the ground was too hard and you were too dumb to try to find another spot, so you left her there and ran.”

“Now hold on a minute—”

“She turned you down, didn’t she, Rudy? A fat bumbling piece of shit like yourself, you just couldn’t take it. Was she nice to you? Was that it? Made you think you had a shot with her?”

“You don’t know what the —”

“You’re right, I don’t know. What I do know, is that you’re coming with me. We’re going to walk out of here, real quiet like.”

Rudy’s knuckles crackled like brittle leaves as he wrapped one fist up inside a chubby palm. “You want me? You’re going to have to make a hell of a racket getting me.”

Dominic pursed his lips and shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. See, I’m not too keen on fighting, especially with a burly boy like you. So,” Dominic reached inside of the duster and retrieved the black pistol with the suppressor, “I brought this.”

Rudy’s cheeks went from punch red to paper white. His hands slowly unfurled. “Hey now, you’re not allowed to have that inside Genesis.”

“And yet, I do.”

“How’d you even get that past the front—”

“That doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fully loaded magazine and the fact that, if you don’t walk out peacefully, I’m going to empty every single bullet into your face. The contract on you says dead or alive. Make the call?”

“You’re bluffing.”

“No, Rudy, I’m not. If I’m anything, I’m a man of my word.”

His shoulders sank as he emitted a sigh of defeat. He approached Dominic with upturned palms.

Dominic grabbed Rudy by the collar and shoved him back through the steel door. He kept a firm grip on him. His other hand kept the pistol concealed just inside his duster, the barrel pressed against Rudy’s lower back.

“Come on man, not so rough,” Rudy hissed over his shoulder.

“Shut up and keep moving. You’re not any safer in here than you were back there, so don’t get stupid.” Dominic steered him around beer soaked tables and overturned chairs, through lusty whispers and drunken stammers.

“Hey…Rudy…I need ya to fill me up. Where ya goin’?”

“Be back in a second. Feel free to help yourself,” he called back.

He was actually going to pull this one off. “Smart, almost there, just keep it moving.”

The doorway to salvation darkened. The light streaming across the cement floor extinguished and the crowd went silent.

“Oh, you’re screwed now,” Rudy said, renewed hope flooding his voice. “It’s the Lord Marshal. Man, you’re in the shit. Better just let me go.”

“You’ll be the first one to catch a bullet. Remember the gun, Rudy, remember the gun.” Dominic released Rudy’s collar, but kept the pistol at his back.

The hulking figure in the doorway stepped forward into the dimly lit bar, his face sliding through shadows: a pockmarked cheek, a silver mane of hair, deep set eyes. He was tall, much taller than Dominic; a human pillar supporting the weight of the room. He wore khaki pants and a tan shirt that hugged his muscular form. He was backed up by a small contingent of men. All wearing puffy leather jackets, dark brown berets, and carrying sub-machine guns strapped across the front of their chests. They moved in sync, staying two steps back from the Lord Marshal, their eyes locked forward, their features hard lines of granite, patiently awaiting his command.

“I come in for a drink and here you are, running out the front door. If I were a more sensitive man, I think I’d be a bit bruised by your untimely exit.” The Lord Marshal reached into his pocket and returned with a cigarette. He set it delicately between his lips and snapped his fingers. The soldier over his left shoulder made haste with a light, toasting the end of the smoke as the Lord Marshal sucked eagerly. “You know,” the Lord Marshal removed the cigarette from his lips and suppressed a small cough with the back of his hand, “you shouldn’t leave the coffers unmanned during business hours.”

“I’m sorry, sir. We were just,” Rudy looked back nervously over his shoulder, “going to take a break, take in the view on the Sky Bridge.”

The Lord Marshal nodded as if it were a perfectly acceptable explanation. “Of course, the dawning of the twilight hours; I can hardly blame you. Who is your new friend? His face is unfamiliar.”

“He’s an Outlander; he’s got family here.”

“My name is Dominic,” he sniffed and stared past the Lord Marshal. He counted the paces to the exit, then he counted the bodies standing between him and that exit; he had more than enough ammunition to go around.

“Dominic,” the Lord Marshal rolled the name around on his tongue like a fine wine, “I don’t believe that I know a Dominic. Lieutenant Bates, do I know a Dominic?”

The soldier over his left shoulder shook his head. “No sir, I don’t believe that you do.”

“Splendid, well then, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Dominic. I’m Lord Marshal Van-Hause. But you may refer to me as Hause. God knows, it’s easier on the palette, and we’ve no need for pageantry here in the Towers.”

“Well, alright then.” If he could just get a hold of one of those machine guns he’d really be set, he could carve a path straight to the lobby.

“So, what is it you do, Dominic?”

“A little bit of this and a little bit of that.”

“Well, I’d imagine that there’s a lot of this and that that needs doing in the Outland, get a little more specific with me,” Hause’s voice was firm. He wasn’t asking for answers, he was calmly demanding them.

Dominic sighed. “I bounce around doing odd jobs. Fixing and tinkering. I don’t keep a bed or a roof; it’s all inn’s and elbow grease.”

“So you’re a handy man?”

“Guess you could say that.”

“Boys, we’ve got a traveling handy man in our presence.” The contingent of soldiers didn’t react, they didn’t move a muscle, their eyes remained straight ahead, and their grips remained firm about their weapons. “Maybe you can show our man Ricky a thing or two. The bastard can barely replace a ceiling tile. I only keep him on because his Daddy jumped on a grenade for me during the war. I figure the least I can do is make sure his boy earns an honest wage.”

“Sounds like a pretty square deal.”

“No, Dominic, it’s not a square deal. Did you not hear what I just said? His dad jumped on a fucking grenade for me. The blast powdered his spine. Can you put a price tag on that?”

“No, Hause, I suppose I can’t.”

“Damn right you can’t.” Hause made popping noises with his lips as his eyes jumped back and forth between Dominic and Rudy, deciding on his next target. “So, Rudy, you never told me you had any friends. How is it that you two know each other?” Hause took another drag off his dwindling cigarette and expelled two columns of thick smoke from his nostrils.

“He just came in, needed someone to show him around…we were gonna take in the Sky Bridge and then I was gonna show him over to the apartment blocks.”

“He’s been a big help to me,” Dominic confirmed, without hesitation.

Hause clasped his hands together dramatically. “So, it was fate?”

“Something like that, yeah,” Dominic said.

“Well, who am I to stand in the way of fate?” Hause let the cigarette fall. It sparked against the ground right before the heel of his boot stamped it into submission. “But I must insist that you put your field trip on hold. I’m parched, as are my men.”

“Yes sir, I was just going to take him—”

“You’ve got a full house, my boy. You’ve got empty glasses and no one to fill them.” Hause looked around the room as if realizing, for the first time, that all eyes were on him and his men. “There’s nothing to see here people, get back to your business.” The engine of drunken murmuring slowly revved its way back through the gears. “So, you see, I can’t let you leave.”

“Sir, let me just take him up and I’ll be back down in two shakes.” Rudy was starting to lose his composure. His voice creaked like an old house.

“Rudy, I’m not asking you, as your Lord Marshal, I’m ordering you!” Hause caught his temper by the coattails and forced an unconvincing smile. “It’s the Sky Bridge. It’s not going anywhere.”

“Actually, Hause, I’ve got myself a pretty tight schedule.” Dominic crooked his neck and met Hause’s eyes with the iciest gaze he could pull together, given the situation. They were walking that tight rope, that little space that divided the calm and the storm. Dominic had been there before. He knew the feeling well, the moment right before the guns were raised. Rudy wouldn’t make much of a shield, not against the artillery Hause’s men were packing. Those high caliber rounds would strip the meat from his bones in a matter of seconds. The tables wouldn’t do much good either. They were thin circles of scrap wood. The rounds would eat straight on through. There was the bar, thick and sturdy. But then there was all that glass to contend with. It’d shred him up nice and quick. He’d have to get back through the steel door, back inside Rudy’s distillery. He could make a stand there.

“Well, you’ll have to forgive my line of questioning, Outlander, but what schedule could you possibly be speaking of? The sun is setting; it’s far too late for you to be leaving the shelter of the Towers. The Sky Bridge, as I stated, isn’t going anywhere. I’m sure your uncle is willing to wait just a bit longer for your arrival. So, do tell me, where is it you’re so eager to be?” It was a challenge, a verbal chest bump; Dominic felt the prodding in each syllable.

Beads of sweat began forming on the palm of his gun hand, the adrenaline of ensuing confrontation. “I’d rather not get into details.”

“Tough shit!” Hause barked. “You’re going to divulge details! I’m your Lord Marshal! I’m asking questions and you’re going to provide answers!”

Dominic didn’t flinch. “I’m not from the Towers. You’re just another guy with a gun where I’m standing.”

Hause exhaled slowly, pursing his lips. “Your Outlander friend seems to have left his brains in the sand dunes. Listen, Dominic, I’m not sure which rock you’ve been living under for the past few decades, but there was a war, we won it. So, Towers or no Towers, I am your Lord Marshal.”

Rudy held up a pair of rattling hands. “Listen, he just…he doesn’t know how it works around here, alright. Give him a break.”

Dominic almost felt bad for the guy…almost.

Hause nodded. “Yeah, I’ll give him a break, just not sure what kind yet. Pour us a drink Rudy. You,” Hause hissed, pointing a finger at Dominic’s forehead, “sit your ass down on one of those stools and have a drink with me.”

Dominic sucked at his teeth and shook his head. “I’ve drank my fill for the day. I’m afraid I’ll have to decline.”

Hause gave a short chuckle and crossed his arms over his broad chest. “You are something, Outlander. I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist. Boys, sit his ass down at the bar.”

The soldiers at Hause’s back moved in quick.

Dominic moved quicker.

He shoved Rudy into their arms and fired three shots into his back.

Dead or alive. Looks like it’ll have to be dead.

The soldiers stutter stopped and raised their machine guns as Dominic rolled across the table at his back. The patrons around the table scattered as Dominic toppled it sideways, glasses of beer and whiskey crashed to the floor. The bullets ripped into the wood and tore it to pieces around his head. He scrambled up to his feet and retreated towards the bar. He slipped and slid towards his target, blind firing to cover his ass. He slammed into the bar at full speed and rolled up and over to the other side as high caliber rounds mangled the liquor shelf above his head. Shattered glass and dislodged whiskey poured down on top of him. The firing squad drummed away on the other side of the room as he crawled across the floor on his hands and knees. He could hear the patrons screaming as they fled the battlefield.

He was almost to the edge of the bar.

Almost to the steel door.

Just a few more feet.

There was a muzzle waiting for him at the corner of the bar counter. He saw it as he was about to break cover. He reached and grabbed and pulled. The rifle was strapped across the soldier’s chest; the force took him straight to the ground. The soldier reached and clawed, desperate to correct his mistake. It was no use. Dominic already had his pistol planted against the man’s throat. He squeezed the trigger and blew the back of his neck out.

Dominic rolled from cover and dragged the sagging body on top of his own, back to chest. He gripped the machine gun in both hands and used the corpse to stabilize his fire. The men that had been lying in wait scattered, tripping across tables and chairs as Dominic strafed the room with gun fire. Hause ducked down by the front door, his pistol out of its holster, watching the commotion with a look of excitement as bullets embedded themselves just above his head.

When the magazine clicked empty, Dominic let the weapon slide from his grasp and began pushing backwards on the floor with his heels, using the dead soldier’s body to shield against the incoming volleys of gunfire. Bullets splashed into the corpse, blood flew into the air in great spurts, like crimson oceans smashing against a rocky shoreline; the waves came down and splashed across Dominic’s face, blinding him. The salty liquid invaded his mouth, his nose, and oozed into his ears. He frantically wiped it away as he continued pushing backwards under the storm of lead. The top of his head hit the door and he felt it give way. He pushed harder, slithering back, further and further, holding on tight to his disintegrating shield. When he had the upper half of his torso inside the distillery he let go of the soldier’s body and rolled backwards into cover, letting the door swing shut as bullets crunched into the metal and blew the porthole out, sprinkling the floor with glass. He crawled towards the barrels of whiskey, stood, and began pulling them from the shelf. His breathing was labored and his heart pounded in his ears as he dropped down behind the tottering whiskey barrels.

He checked the magazine on the pistol.

Eight rounds left.

He’d been there before. Outmanned and outgunned. He should’ve died a thousand times over. He’d prepared himself for the moment. That’s the one advantage he had over the men he faced. Most of them hadn’t shaken hands with the reaper.

The last of the gunfire died and he could hear the expended brass shuffling against the floor as the soldiers closed on his position. They weren’t the stealthy type. They moved like migrating oxen, heavy and determined. Dominic pushed up and took a knee behind the barrel, resting his gun across the wooden lid, setting his sights on the door, waiting for the first head to emerge from the swinging barrier.

“Dominic, my friend, you alive in there?” Hause’s voice sounded alarmingly close.

“I’m still kicking.”

“Those are some pretty fancy moves you’ve got. You’re about the handiest handy man I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s how I keep the customers coming back.” Dominic wiped a line of sweat from his brow and readjusted his elbows; his arms were starting to tingle.

“So, tell me something Outlander, where’d you get your training?”

“Not sure what you mean.”

“Oh, I think you know exactly what I mean.”

Dominic switched knees. “Are we going to do this or not?”

“Do what?” Hause sounded mystified. “We’re just talking.”

“No, you’re biding time while you get your men set up to overrun my position. I’m one man, what are you worried about? Let’s get it done.”

“You’re a soldier, aren’t you? I can tell.”

“Right now I’m a guy with a loaded gun and his back against a wall.”

“You’ve got that ice flowing through your veins, that emptiness behind your eyes. You’re not holding onto anything because you’ve seen how quickly it can all be stripped away. Yeah, you’re a soldier.”

Dominic thought he could see a shadow moving under the door, he removed the slack from the trigger as he readjusted his aim. “Uh-huh, anything else?”

“You fought in the war, didn’t you, with the rebels? You weren’t one of my boys, that is for damn sure.”

There was shuffling on the other side of the wall to his left.

Glass crunching.

Bottles being pushed off shelves.

He kept his eyes on the door. One way in. One way out.

“So who’d Rudy piss off?”

Dominic knew Hause was biding his time. Making sure all of the cards were in his possession before he made his play. “He got my drink order wrong. I’m particular about my whiskey.”

“So, you’re contracting out? Plying your trade? I wish you’d have come to me. I’ve got plenty of work for a man with your skill set.”

“I’m not really partial to those uniforms.”

“No, you don’t strike me as the infantry type.”

There was a hard knock against the other side of the wall. “You planning on hammering through?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

Dominic heard the explosion. Felt the heat against his face. Something heavy hit him in the side of the head. And then everything went black.

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