Cassidy sat with her scuffed boots hanging over the veranda. The luxury to sit on one’s rear end was a precious commodity in Fairfield, just like beer or bullets. Everyone was fighting to get some and you were lucky to enjoy either for very long. Conscious of the fragile nature of this brief interlude she gazed ahead at the back of her outstretched hands. Wiry black sigils wound their way around her fingers, across her palms and circled her wrists. Her father had told her they were her mother’s work. He used to mutter that they were her ‘twisted idea of protection’. Ironic really considering what the townsfolk would do if they could see her now. What they had already done to her dear mother down there in the courtyard all those years ago.
She laid the rifle beside her and began to fish around in one of the crates beside her looking for a fresh bottle or two to speed things along. When none was forthcoming she flopped back with a sigh. Daywatch was laborious, long and hot. At least at night you had the cool breeze and the cover of darkness. Out here in the noon sun she was little more than a sweaty bullseye surrounded by empty beer bottles.
If she peered out of the east gate she could see a small pack of leercats rolling and kicking in the dirt. This close to town the hum from the lines sent the damn things crazy. It was one of the unexpected safety features of civilisation. She’d heard from a local wiretap that it was due to some sort of magnetic field given off by the unshielded wires. Even deep in the ground, the buzz came up through the earth and screwed up their senses. Most of them hung back by the ridge having already learned their lesson, others actually seemed to enjoy the sensation. Either way, they were lousy hunters when they got the urge to roll around in the dust and easy prey for a bored sniper on watch.
She turned her attention to the Western gate. Of all the trouble that could come in from the east, it couldn’t compare with the trouble that came in through the western gate once a month. The western gate faced the towering edifice that was the City of Ironhaven.
"All human life is here" she muttered under her breath. It was one of Ironhaven’s many motivational mottos. It blared out from huge speakers somewhere within the boundary. Some said it was found scrawled on the outside of the original city wall back before they started reinforcing it.
If that’s the case, she thought, what does that make us?
Picking up the rifle again she peered down the sight at the western gate, the wavering mist of heat distorting the view along the road. She was about to move her attention back to the eastern gate when a figure began to resolve just beyond the curve of the road. As the figure neared the town she could make out a dark robe.
“Preachers”, she cursed. “I fucking hate Preachers”.
Once a month Ironhaven elected to send a detachment of ‘missionaries’ out to the poor heathens in the towns and outposts along the trade route. They were interested enough in bringing the towns under their wing but, from what she’d heard, those that had signed up just became a little bit crazier and a great deal poorer all of a sudden.
The preachers were always polite and well-behaved but they had a habit of stirring up the worst in the more traditionalist caravans. Despite being well received in Holden’s Ford and Morris, preachers were a cause for alarm in Fairfield. Cassidy could already feel the hairs prickling on the back of her neck. Minutes from now word from those stalls closest to the gate would reach the large stone building that represented the core territory of the Domarah elders in Fairfield. Even now, tiny figures sprinted behind the shacks and tents; the eyes and ears of the elders. Cautious eyes peered out from behind darkened windows.
The robed man strode cautiously along The Avenue, his face hooded from view, his hands held together loosely in front of him. Cassidy shuffled toward the edge of the veranda, peering down at the man as he disappeared beneath her feet and entered the bar.
She tipped her head back, closed her eyes and counted.
3.. 2.. 1...
Cassidy winced as the unmistakeable sound of a glass tankard breaking against a bar table made its way up the stairs. The sight of a preacher was like a red rag to a bullhorn in Fairfield and as far as most were concerned The Oasis was sacred ground. As usual it'd be up to her to stop the situation getting out of control. She allowed her head to loll forwards again and chucked the rifle on a pile of rags behind her seat. Reaching into her waistband she grabbed her leather gloves and dragged them on as she turned and made for the bar.
“Break’s over”, she sighed.