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New American Animus, or: Last One to Die


New America was as much of a festering wound as old America. Jules hated the absolute stink of the city; the smog from the factories along the shores of Lake Ontario, the stench of sweat and piss lingering on every side street, the foul odor of hundreds of bodies packed tightly together in one dense urban area. Like a cattle pen or a hot morgue.

She'd been thinking again and it was driving her up the fucking wall. She spent so much time on the road or in the brush these days. As long as her feet were moving and her hands were filled, she never had to think. At least... not until some innocent something brought an unwelcome memory bubbling up to the surface, anyway—the name on a street sign, or the color of a set of window shutters on an old empty house, or the make and model of a scorched car half devoured by moss and kudzu.

Jules had a few outlets for when she couldn't slow her roll. One of them was beating the shit out of strangers for cold, hard cash. Money that she didn't need, really, since her job paid pretty goddamn well. Jules would never admit it to the quartermaster, but she'd probably fight for free if he didn't pay. Split knuckles and lips and bruised ribs had a way of distracting from the cerebral like nothing else could.

She slipped down a side alley, headed for the back entrance of the space beneath a dive bar where the fights happened. She wasn't sure if the graffiti on the wall was recent or old world, but it read


Howie was always surprised by how fucking pleasant Fairpoint was.

Pittsford was a dirty, greasy pit that he only visited for work, if he could help it—but Fairpoint reminded him of home. Same trees, same winding creeks and rivers, same smell... West Virginia just had bigger hills.

Hell, he almost felt bad, interrupting the quiet small-town America vibes with the deafening blast of his sawed-off twelve gauge. The security guard was not prepared; he staggered back in shock, looking like a man who had just been kicked by an unruly mule. He wasn't dead before he hit the ground, but the pellets that shredded his chest robbed him of the light in his eyes before he understood what had happened to him.

"Get your hands in the goddamn air!" Howie hollered at the bank tellers. "I said put 'em up! No radios! No alarms! Show me your fuckin' hands!"

They backed right into the wall behind the counter, reaching for the sky like they were hoping to sink three pointers. Lizzie and Javier worked the small crowd of bank-goers who had been looking to make a withdrawal, bandying guns and violent promises.

Howie vaulted the counter and clocked the only teller who was bigger than him, smashing the butt of his shotgun into the guy's jaw. He crumpled and Howie leveled his barrel on the two standing tellers.

"Cash! Put it in the bag!" he demanded, tossing two empty canvas sacks at them. "Notes and gold—no silver, no copper. Work fast and I won't fuckin' kill ya."

Eager to keep breathing, the tellers got right to work. Howie couldn't help but grin beneath his mask when they started dumping bundles of Coalition bank notes into the bags, emptying freshly stocked tills before moving on to neatly wrapped stacks of gold coins. He couldn't keep track of the grand total, but his inside man had guaranteed at least a quarter mil.

That was retiring money, goddammit.

The radio clipped to Howie's belt squawked; "You've got Peacekeepers coming in for a look-see," Aaron told him. "Just two."

"Two Peacekeepers comin' in!" Howie called to Lizzie and Javier. They stacked on either side of the door, guns held high, and waited. As promised, the doors popped open and two armed and armored Peacekeepers waltzed into the bank, hands on the guns holstered at their hips. They struggled to make sense of the scene; a half-dozen people cowering on the ground, a dead rent-a-cop, and Howie parked behind the counter beside two shit-scared tellers.

"Howdy, fellers," he greeted. Lizzie and Javier emptied their magazines into the Peacekeepers' backs. They collapsed to the floor in bloody heaps, already dead.

"Back to it!" Howie demanded of the whimpering tellers. They got back to work and soon enough the bags were half-full and there was no more cash to be taken. There was a vault in the back, of course, but Howie just didn't have enough juice to put hands on the sort of explosives he'd need to pop the latches or hire a safe cracker.

"We're done here," Howie called. He took one bag at a time from the tellers, cinching them up and tossing them over the counter to his accomplices. Clearing the counter, Howie followed Lizzie and Javier out onto the street.

Cars were rare in Pittsford, given the tight security and packed streets. You had room to stretch your legs in Fairpoint, so they'd picked up a beater and a wheel man. Aaron had grown up driving trucks between farms in rural Pennsylvania, so he was as useful behind the wheel as any of them.

Howie, Lizzie and Javier had piled into the sedan and Aaron took off. They blew through the checkpoint on the southern side of town, whooping and hollering, barely able to believe they'd pulled it off.


Blood throbbed just behind her ears. The adrenaline was working its way through Jules' body. Dispersing to collect their money or curse their luck, the crowd was thinning; she stood off to one side, unwinding bloodied wraps from her split knuckles and bruised forearms.

"Lynch," called the quartermaster. "Boss wants to see you. Something big. Get your money and go the fuck on."

It took her just shy of forty-five minutes to rewrap her hands, change her clothes, collect her winnings and travel from the bar to the nearest underground tram—which took her all the way to the Coalition's paramilitary headquarters. She wandered through the lobby hallways until she made it to the commanders' offices and pushed her way into her boss's room without knocking.

"You're late," he critiqued, sliding a dossier across his desk towards her while she sat down. "And you look like shit. Smell like it too, actually."

Grunting, Jules opened the manila folder up and perused the documents inside. Pictures for three and rap sheets for four, and a ledger detailing their apparent crimes, known haunts and how much they were worth.

"Dead or alive, huh?" Jules asked, flipping through the photos. "Worth a pretty penny, too. They robbed a bank?"

"First National New American Credit Union in Fairpoint."

"Figures. They wouldn't even have gotten their gear through the checkpoint on this side of the Cities. How do we know they did it?"

"They had an inside man in the Fairpoint Peacekeepers. Tried to skip town after the robbery, but a Ranger caught him."

"So somebody worked him over?" she asked.

"They did."

"Which means he didn't get to meet up with his bank robber buddies."

"He did not."

"Which means they know we're onto 'em."

"Very likely."

Jules leaned back in her chair and huffed. It was gonna be a long job—she could already tell. They would abandon any safehouses or locales their Peacekeeper buddy knew about, which meant she'd have to check every single one of them to see if they'd left any other clues behind.

Damn if it wouldn't pay for beer, food and supplies for the next half a year, though.

"Yeah, all right," she agreed, climbing to her feet. "See you when I see you."


Howie Grooms, 38; armed robbery, murder, unlawful possession of a deadly weapon in Coalition territory, fleeing arrest.

Lizzie Beaton, 34; armed robbery, murder of a law enforcement officer, unlawful possession of a deadly weapon in Coalition territory, fleeing arrest.

Javier Correia, 36; armed robbery, murder of a law enforcement officer, unlawful possession of a deadly weapon in Coalition territory, fleeing arrest.

Aaron Flagg, 23; armed robbery, murder, unlawful possession of a deadly weapon in Coalition territory, operating a motor vehicle in accessory to a crime, fleeing arrest.

Jules had been hunting for just shy of six weeks. She'd checked four safe houses and the general regions in which Grooms' gang was known to lay low after a score. No concrete leads, just the occasional whisper of their passage. She was starting to wonder if they'd left the state.

That's when she caught a break.

She'd spotted a fire on the horizon just after the sun had gone down, at least a quarter mile out. Jules urged Rocin towards the distant glow. When she arrived, she found most of an old red barn engulfed in flames. It was surrounded by deadheads—and there was a young man perched on the roof, too scared to try and make it down safely while so many corpses milled about below.

Jules was patient and precise. The fire lit the whole place up like daylight, and at thirty yards she couldn't miss, even ahorse. She picked off deadheads one by one, like she was shooting particularly agitated fish in a barrel.

Once the place was cleared out, Jules walked Rocin as close as she could get to the barn—the fire made him a touch skittish—and hollered commands at the fellow on the roof. She talked him safely to the ground, where his features were revealed by the glow of firelight.

She called out, "What's your name?" as he approached.

"Aaron," he told her, looking awfully thankful—right up until she jammed her boot into his face from atop her horse, putting him on his ass in the dirt.

Aaron Flagg came to strapped to a tree. He was quick to talk; Jules barely had to lay hands on him before he told her that Grooms' gang had fucked him over. He was the new guy, and that made him disposable. Howie, Lizzie and Javier had been pulling jobs together for so long that their bond ran damn near blood deep... but Aaron was an outsider. When he'd raised a fuss about getting paid, they'd whooped his ass and cut him loose.

He placed them in Mumford, a farmers' hamlet about a day's ride away. Mumford's greatest draw was its tavern and distillery, where enterprising outlaws could blow some Coalition cash on booze and hot meals till the heat wore off.

Since he'd been so helpful, Jules opened up an artery in Aaron's neck. Once he stilled, she cut him free and stripped him down, then wrapped him in a canvas sheet and tied him to her horse's flanks.

He'd keep till she got to Mumford.


"Another round! Whole house—on me!"

When Howie got drunk, he got generous. His words ran together and his purse strings loosened, and everybody in the tavern whooped and hollered their thanks. Once the beer was poured into tankards and the head wiped clean off the rims, Howie got back to his card game.

He'd been bleeding cash all night at the table, but he had enough money burning a hole in his pocket that he just didn't give a damn. In leaner times he'd probably have accused somebody of cheating and shot them dead already—but right now he was flush and flushed, and he felt damn good.

Lizzie was playing across from him and doing much better. Javier was hogging a pool table in the back, playing eight ball with a fellow he'd been making eyes at all night. Neither man had found the courage to take the other up to bed just yet.

The trio had decided to lay low in Mumford for a couple months. It had enough amenities to keep them occupied, and it was far enough from Pittsford and Fiarpoint that Rangers rarely stopped by unannounced.

Just as Howie wrapped another godawful hand, a stranger sauntered up to the table. He wasn't so drunk that he couldn't appreciate a very strong looking redhead; when she asked if there was room for one more, he gestured towards the vacant seat to his right with a big, toothy grin that he thought was very charming.

They played another two hands, and Howie held up the game more than once quizzing the stranger. Was she a local? Not exactly, she said. Mercenary? She had the build for it—that earned him a laugh! Was she spoken for? The redhead flashed him a coy smile, but offered no answer.

Howie was just about to excuse himself to piss when the redhead shot him in the chest.

He wasn't quite sure how it happened. They were talking, flirting, when apropos of nothing her hands were occupied by pistols. Tilted onto his chair's back legs, Howie took two rounds between the ribs and toppled, rolling onto his belly in the floor.

He couldn't move. He could hardly think. But he could see the redhead open up Lizzie's forehead with the .45 in her right hand. He could see Javier turn towards the stranger and charge her with a pool cue, earning two bullets for his bravado, one in the throat and another in the chest.

The redhead stood up, silent as the reaper while all hell broke loose around her; townsfolk screaming, fleeing, knocking shit over in their mad dash for the exit. She never said another word to Howie—she just raised her pistol and squeezed the trigger one more time, and Howie was g—
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