End Program

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No one waits long for trouble in Deathlands—it's everywhere in the remains of a nuke-altered civilization. The American dream was annihilated more than a century ago by the country's own unchecked power play. But the worst may be yet to come.


Built upon a predark military installation in former California, a ville called Progress could be the utopia Ryan Cawdor and his companions have been seeking. A place where humanity and technology thrive, it's the nucleus of a new hope for Deathlands. The successful replacement of Ryan's missing eye with a cybernetic prosthetic nearly convinces the group that their days of surviving hell are behind them. Then they discover that the high tech in Progress isn't designed to enhance human life, but to destroy it. To block the final assault, the companions must stop Ryan from becoming a willing pawn in the eradication of mankind.

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Ryan lay flat on his back, naked, cold. He stared up into black, nothingness all around him. He raised his head, struck something just an inch above his forehead and felt pain run through his face. The pain made his nose twitch, as if he needed to sneeze, and a flash of brightness seemed to lance across his eyes in a firework burst.

He moved more cautiously the second time, arms first, feeling around him. There were walls to either side of where he lay, their cool hardness running the length of his body. Ryan estimated that there was no more than an inch gap between the limits of his broad shoulders and those cool walls, as if he had been placed in a narrow tunnel.

He flexed his feet, noticing for the first time that he was not wearing his boots. Those boots had been with him for more miles of Deathlands road than he cared to remember. He would have removed them to sleep, but he could not recall where or when that had been. But now he was naked, his body cold.

When he stretched his toes, he felt another wall, pressing close enough that he could not stretch his feet to their fullest extension. Above too, a wall or roof pressed at his feet, and he could not bend his knees without meeting it.

Where was he?

His face still hurt. It was more than just the sudden shock of striking the panel above him, he knew. There was a rawness there, running down the left side of his face, where he had lost an eye to his deranged brother, Harvey, who had made a power grab to rule the barony of Front Royal. That had been a long time ago, before Trader, before J.B. and the others, before the long roads of the Deathlands.

Something nagged at Ryan as he thought that, and he reached up to his face and probed gently, tracing the cicatrix scar and continuing to the eye patch that should cover his missing eye. The patch was gone.

Ryan closed his eyelids and touched at the depression of flesh all around his left eye, reaching for the alien thing he could sense was there. When his fingers touched the surface of the eyelid, he could feel something hard pressing back: An eye? He had an eye where he not had an eye in more than twenty years.

"An eye," Ryan whispered, barely believing it. The words hissed out and were gone, but saying them somehow made it more real in the darkness.

He ran the tips of his fingers across the surface of the closed eyelid, brought up his other hand and did the same with his right eye. They felt similar but different. The right eye gave under a little pressure, sprung, like a lump of jelly quivering on a plate. The left eye was harder with no give, more like a rock that had been planed off and worked into the empty socket.

He had been cycloptic for so long that he had almost forgotten what it had felt like to have two eyes, the way it changed how one saw dimensions and distance. In darkness, Ryan could tell nothing about the new orb that resided within his left socket. It could be dead, unworkable.

Ryan drew his fingers away and opened his eyes, staring into the darkness once more. He could see nothing, just blackness, the way the countryside got at night when the moon was in hiding and the stars had been painted over by clouds. And yet, he could see something, the way that even in complete darkness a person could still see something-edges, shapes.

"Where am I?" Ryan muttered, reaching up again for that panel that rested above him. "And how the nuking hell did I get here?"

His mind drifted back, recalling the last hours that he could remember.

* * *

It had been raining right outside the mat-trans chamber. Ryan and his six companions had materialized inside the familiar hexagonal chamber, whose armaglass walls were tinted the color of grass at the height of summer, when it had not seen water for a month.

Ryan had led the way out, opening the chamber door, his blaster-a SIG Sauer P226-held ready in his right hand: mat-trans jumping was dangerous.

The mat-trans was a matter-transfer system used by the U.S. military, with sender-receiver units located in hidden redoubts dotted across what had once been the United States of America and several other countries. The United States was no longer what it once was, ruined by the nuclear exchange of 2001 that had seen the U.S. and its ideological counterpart, the Soviet Union, engage in a push-button conflict that had lasted little more than a few hours. Afterward, North America and other parts of the world had been left in scarred ruins.

After the nukecaust came the radiation, warping what survived into something that at times was barely endurable. A hundred years later, Ryan and his companions trekked the lost roads of what was now known as the Deathlands, hoping to find something better, searching for a promise of a better tomorrow.

The companions used the mat-trans to travel the Deathlands, but their method of transportation was unreliable. A CD containing destination codes had been lost, so when they entered the chamber and initiated a jump, they never knew where they''d end up.

However, the mat-trans had one advantage over conventional travel-it was by and large secret, and utilized by few others.

"All clear here," Ryan announced as he stepped from the mat-trans doorway, crossed the anteroom and scanned the control room immediately beyond.

The one-eyed man stood in an area that resembled a predark greenhouse, with rain pouring through a large gap in the roof. That meant that this part of the redoubt was aboveground. Plants were everywhere, corded creepers twisting down the walls and across the surfaces of the ancient comp desks that ran in twin lines through the control room. Reeds and ferns spread across the room in spearheads, one group driving into the other like some alien game of chess. Flowers were dotted here and there, spotting the room with flourishes of color, as if a deranged artist had dropped paint on the swath of green.

Ancient lights flickered to life, automatically engaged by the movement sensors that detected that the mat-trans had been operated. The lights flickered for a few seconds before finally dying. Ryan peered at the ceiling. The fluorescent lights had been overwhelmed by creeping vines. Luckily, the hole in the roof provided enough illumination.

The floor was soft, and when Ryan looked down he saw a thick green carpet of moss stretched across the whole room beneath the plants. It smelled of life and of decay.

Ryan was a tall man with broad shoulders and a curly mane of black hair. His face, considered by some to be handsome, was hard and lean, bearing the scars of that lifeor-death struggle with his brother, Harvey. He wore a black leather eye patch over his missing left eye, the tied knot hidden within his thick hair.

Ryan was followed from the mat-trans by his second-in-command, a shorter man called John Barrymore-or J.B.-Dix. He wore a battered brown fedora and a pair round-framed spectacles was propped on his nose. An expert in blasters, explosives and booby traps, J.B. was also known as "the Armorer." He was the companions'' weaponsmith.

He stepped from the mat-trans door with a mini-Uzi in his hands, while other weaponry was hidden in various pockets and pouches. J.B. also carried a satchel on a leather strap crosswise over his chest, within which were detonators, explosives and a variety of ammunition and spare parts.

Jak Lauren, the third member of the group and a unique presence in any environment, sniffed the air as he crept from the mat-trans chamber.

"Smell wrong," Jak said, shaking his head.

A few inches over five feet tall, Jak was a slim man with the physique of an adolescent.. He was an albino, with chalk-white skin and bone-white hair, and eyes the color of blood. He moved fluidly like a stalking cat, his .357 Magnum Colt Python blaster raised and ready in his hands. Jak was a master of the blade, and had several throwing knives secreted about his clothing.

Behind Jak, the remaining members of Ryan''s team were passing through the chamber doorway and anteroom, then into the redoubt''s control room.

First came Krysty Wroth, a tall, curvaceous woman of stunning beauty whose vivid emerald eyes were mesmerizing. But it was always her long, bright red hair that people noticed first because it seemed to be almost alive. In fact, Krysty''s hair was very much alive-she was a mutie, and her hair responded to her circumstances and moods, twisting or uncurling depending on her state of mind.

"It smells okay to me," Krysty said with a smile.

The next member of the group laughed at Krysty''s comment. "Jak always thinks something''s wrong," he said. He was a handsome youth named Ricky Morales, sixteen years old with shiny black hair and dark brown eyes. He held his Webley Mk VI revolver so casually in one hand that it gave the impression that he had been carrying the weapon since birth. Ricky hailed from a small seaport on an island once known as Puerto Rico but was now called Monster Island. An even-tempered youth with a happy-go-lucky attitude, Ricky had traveled with the companions only a short time, but he fit in well. He looked up to Ryan and the others, especially J.B., who reminded him of his uncle, Benito, who had been a weaponsmith too.

Striding behind Ricky, Doc Tanner thrust his ebony sword stick in front of his younger companion to draw his attention. Doc was dressed in a long black frock coat with a dirt-stained white shirt and dark pants beneath. "Watch your tongue, lad," Doc said. "Jak hass never steered us wrong."

Ricky began to argue but stopped himself
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Additional Information

Gold Eagle
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Published on
May 1, 2014
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Fiction / Action & Adventure
Fiction / Science Fiction / Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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