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Red Denver

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*Red Denver *

*A Post Apocalyptic Short Story *

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D. L. DENHAM

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Also by D. L. Denham

*REHO *

*The Hegemon Wars *

Book One

For a current list of books,

Visit dldenham.com

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ii

Red Denver

*Red Denver *

*The Hegemon Wars *

*Prelude to REHO *

*D. L. Denham *

  • *

  • *

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*Edited by Susan Hughes *

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*Cover Art *

*By D. L. Denham *

iii

D. L. DENHAM

Red Denver: A Post Apocalyptic Short Story

Print edition: ISBN: 9781500593759

E-book edition: ASIN: B00IBO1DBC

Published by BlackHats Publishing

Second Edition: July 2014

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents either are the

product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance

to actual persons, living or dead, business, establishments, events, or locales is

entirely coincidental.

Copyright 2014 by D. L. Denham

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,

or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written

permission of the author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or

cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition

being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Author Photograph by Michael Tortorich

[*Did you enjoy this book? *]

I love to hear feedback from my readers.

You can email me at [email protected]

To receive spam-free updates or to see what new books I am working on,

visit[* www.dldenham.com*]

Thank you for your support!

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iv

Red Denver

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*For Jeanette *

v

D. L. DENHAM

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vi

Red Denver

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*Contents *

*All Rights Reserved *

*Acknowledgments *

*Red Denver *

[*Want to Show Your Support? *]

[*REHO: A Science Fiction Thriller SAMPLE *]

*About the Author *

vii

D. L. DENHAM

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viii

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*Red Denver *

*Six Weeks Prior to REHO *

*Red Denver, Red Hall holding cell *

* *

A shrill scream woke Reho from a deep sleep during

his last hours in Red Denver. The sound had

reoccurred several times since arriving at Red Hall. It

came from outside the building and filled his head

with memories of that mangled wolf dying out in the

Blastlands. Reho had stopped its deathly howl and

screams. Now they had returned.

Reho looked down at his Analysis Interface

Monitor, AIM. The multileveled Red Hall had already

been mapped.

Level two contained the holding cells where he

waited, imprisoned for killing one of Soapy’s goons.

Above him, the top level housed administration,

where the judge would determine his fate. Below was

the processing level where both he and the goon’s

body had been brought in and registered. The

enforcers had taken and tagged his personal items.

The other guy was tagged and destined for the

crematory across the street.

The high-pitched sound returned.

Across the gloomy, dimly-lit hall, Reho watched

the other occupant stir in his cell. They had only

spoken once. He’d referred to himself simply as an

old man and had been silent since their last

D. L. DENHAM

conversation. He’d warned Reho not to eat the food,

perhaps the best advice he knew to give. He’d then

returned to his strange exercises, a ritual that Reho

found fascinating.

Reho watched as the old man stood erect.

Through the darkness, he could see his slow-motion

movements as his left leg rose with practiced

precision, and his arms waved through the air. He had

seen fighters exercise before but never like this. Quick

and hard had always been the focus of those fighters.

He displayed a strength and single-mindedness unlike

anything Reho had witnessed before. Reho rose from

the tattered mattress on the floor and walked to the

cell door. The bars were OldWorld: iron spaced eight

inches apart. The rust from the cell door stained his

hands, a guilty sentence already delivered before the

judge had even spoken. Reho watched him and

thought back to his instructor in Virginia Bloc. As a

boy, he had exercised only when he was forced to do

so. The need for practice never seemed necessary.

Growing up, he’d always been the quickest and

strongest, always been the victor. This gift was

double-sided. Whether it was racing OldWorld

vehicles at the gasolines or fighting some knock-

down-drag-outs, Reho consistently won. But there

was also a down side, the inevitable bad karma. The

end result this time found Reho here—in a dank, dark

holding cell in Red Denver.

It was the gasolines that had driven him from his

home community of Virginia Bloc 4E. Being

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2

Red Denver

unbeatable meant making points, but with that came

making enemies, too. The OldWorld vehicles used in

the gasoline races were a part of him. The power

roaring under their hoods gave him a rush he could

find nowhere else, producing an intoxicating

chemical that became deadly to anyone challenging

Reho. Nothing in the Blastlands or in Usona could

rival that feeling. But his unrivaled victories came at a

great cost. Six years ago it had cost him his home

community. Today, Soapy and his men thought it

should cost him his life. But Reho had no intention of

dying—not today. He’d gone along with the arrest

and would deal with whatever the judge decided. He

would do what he was meant to do: win.

He ran through the facts in his mind. All of this

was because of Soapy, one of Red Denver’s crime

bosses. Everyone knew he managed the gambling and

controlled the bets for the gasolines, a business that

earned many high-ranking community officials a slew

of points. He had spent the past year winning every

race, turning the gasolines into a one-man show and

making him a sure bet. For the past five races, all bets

were placed on Reho, bringing an end to Soapy’s

gambling in Red Denver. Soapy had done what any

efficient crime boss would do: he’d sent his best

henchmen to visit Reho.

The enforcers had charged him with the murder

of one of Soapy’s employees, a courier sent to deliver

Reho an important message. The message contained

an invitation to a private gasoline race for some high

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D. L. DENHAM

paying community members out in the Red Basin.

There was no such invitation delivered, but the

enforcers had found a letter in the dead henchmen’s

pocket.

[_If the blasted goon couldn’t kill me, the least he _]

_could do was frame me. _

The judge would never hear the truth of what had

happened.

*****

“You Reho?” the goon asked, approaching Reho in an

alley a block away from the market. It was mid-

January, and the cold froze his words in the air as

Reho turned. The goon took out what looked like a

homemade cigar and flicked his lighter. Heavy pillows

of smoke clouded his face.

Reho had sensed he was being followed since he

left the Southside Tenements. He did not recognize

the man, but knew he would be working for Soapy.

Until Reho had started racing, no one cared about

another foreigner in Red Denver. Now everyone

either cheered or cursed his name. Being undefeated

had made him enemies. It was only a matter of time

before someone made a move on him. And now here

he stood, looking into the beady black eyes of the

goon Soapy thought could handle his “Reho

problem.”

“What does Soapy want?” he answered the goon’s

question with one of his own. The icy weather pricked

his skin as he warily removed his hands from his

  • *

4

Red Denver

jacket pockets.

“You’ve really messed things up. You’ve screwed

with the gasolines. A lot of people are pissed.” The

goon shifted his weight. Reho knew what to expect.

“I race. I’ve been lucky enough to win,” he replied.

“Everyone loses sometimes.”

Reho

waited.

Every

fight

should

begin

defensively—the one thing he had learned in his

youth.

The aggressor’s eyes turned to ice as he dropped

his cigar and released a metal blade into the air.

Reho dodged the assault, rolled sideways, and

quickly unsheathed his knife. He paused as the goon

launched his body toward him. His attacker held a

shockblade. Reho had seen one of these before. They

cut into the skin, blasting 50,000 volts of electricity

into the body.

Reho avoided the thug’s first few attempts without

attacking. A blue current danced on the blade’s metal

surface. He watched the blade and its possessor’s eyes.

His attacker breathed heavily, and he knew the goon

would soon rush him carelessly asmind panicked. He

hadn’t expected Reho to give him this much trouble.

The shockblade once again cut the air, this time

close to Reho’s face, the current stinging his cheek

and leaving it blistered.

Reho waited for one more assault before he took

control.

With the shockblade aimed at his chest, he

planted his knife into the goon’s left thigh. The man

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D. L. DENHAM

quickly pulled back, Reho’s knife still in his leg. Reho

closed in and grabbed his attacker’s arm, raising the

shockblade high into the air. In one swift move, the

goon fell back, his right arm snapping across Reho’s

knee. A dreadful, childish scream flooded the alley.

Reho knew spectators would soon arrive to see what

was going on.

As he removed his knife from the goon’s thigh,

another bloodcurdling wail filled the alley.

“Tell Soapy to find a new business,” he said,

standing over the suffering hit man. A maniacal laugh

replaced his screams.

“You don’t understand Soapy. You never did.

Soapy sent me to kill you. I can’t go back if you’re not

dead.” With his good arm, he pulled a pistol from

behind his back.

Three shots sounded, each wild, as Reho buried

his knife deep into the goon’s skull. The crack echoed

off the buildings nearby, and a thin fog formed as

body heat now seeped from the exposed arm and

shattered skull.

Reho looked ahead. A crowd was forming.

It hadn’t taken long for Red Denver’s enforcers to

find him in the market, purchasing food and charcoal.

Now, Reho sat. Soapy had charged him with

killing one of his employees, supposedly an innocent

man sent to deliver an invitation to a private race. The

enforcers claimed to have found the invitation in the

victim’s pocket but not the shockblade. He knew it

would be pointless to argue against this setup. He

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6

Red Denver

would wait for the sentencing and then make his

plans.

*****

Reho studied Red Hall on his AIM. The enforcers on

the processing level had unsuccessfully attempted to

disable the device. Implanted deep into his arm and

powered from converted energy in his own body, the

device could only be removed surgically.

Reho watched as the old man slowly lowered his

body into another carefully practiced position. They

were alone in the holding cells, enveloped in an eerie

silence occasionally punctuated by an anguished,

beastly cry.

He froze in another strange pose and spoke for

the second time since Reho arrived.

“You are strong, but your mind is not calm,” the

old man stated.

Reho still stood at the bars. His eyes searched for

the old man’s gaze. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the

prisoner’s eyes were closed, his body as motionless as

a statue.

“What are you doing?” Reho asked.

Apparently, the other prisoner had said all he

intended to, so Reho pulled his hands away from the

bars and turned toward his abandoned mattress.

“Control is stronger than muscle. Where I come

from, we don’t learn to kill. We learn to control our

situations,” the old man said, his accent prompting

Reho to wonder where he was from.

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D. L. DENHAM

“Neither of us is from Red Denver. We’re

foreigners. Where are you from? And if you haven’t

killed, then why are you in here?” Reho asked.

“I am here not because I have killed. I am here

because of what I have seen.”

“And what is that?” Reho asked, returning to the

iron bars. The other occupant’s eyes were now open

and fixed on Reho. He held his gaze, but his body

slowly lowered on one foot as the other stretched

forward. _He avoided telling me where he is from. _

“That Red Denver has resurrected the demons of

the OldWorld.”

“Demons?”

“They are only death. And meant not for this

world. Red Denver doesn’t flow red with the blood of

men but glows green from the veins of the

OldWorld.”

“What does it mean?” Reho asked, wondering if

the old man was crazy.

“The Blasts destroyed our world. It is as true in

my community as it was in yours. What kind of

power could have done that?” He paused before

continuing. “The same power that still kills in the

Blastlands. Radiation. Its source still exists. And it’s

here in Red Denver.”

Reho listened and watched. The old man was now

parallel to the floor in a pose Reho thought

impossible. Control.

[_The source exists in Red Denver? _] Before Reho

could put his thoughts together to ask the prisoner to

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8

Red Denver

explain himself, the iron elevator door slid open.

Three enforcers approached the old man’s cell.

Reho watched as they unlocked the cell and

bound his hands and feet, running a chain through

both bonds that allowed one enforcer to easily control

his movements. They took him without a word.

Reho returned to his bed, still wondering where

the old man was from, and what would come next.

  • *

*****

Reho heard the elevator groan to a stop. He stood and

waited at his cell’s door. The rust had not rubbed off

of his hands. The other prisoner had been gone for at

least three hours. Reho did not expect to see him

again—at least not in Red Denver.

They chained him as they had the old man. He

knew things would go quickly. Any plan to escape

would have to wait until after the judge was through

with him.

The elevator shook as it ascended to the third

level. He had switched his AIM to standby mode,

hoping it wouldn’t be mentioned before the judge. If

he were placed in a work camp, there would be talk of

having it removed. He wasn’t sure if he could escape

before they went through with the surgical procedure.

It had been painful enough to have it implanted; he

would kill everyone in the building before letting

them come close enough to take it out.

The elevator door opened.

The third level contained no interior walls. He

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D. L. DENHAM

had never seen anything like it. The floor was buried

beneath thick crimson rugs embellished with

elaborate gold designs that mirrored the heavy

brocaded curtains hanging throughout. Columns and

statues scattered the room, and expensive-looking

paintings and gilded mirrors filled every available

inch of wall space. A large throne, to which

everything in the room seemed to gravitate, sat

empty. A dozen people sat behind monitors that

looked familiar to Reho. He’d seen similar ones

before, smashed in buildings out in the Blastlands.

These monitors, connected to OldWorld computers,

actually worked.

He watched as a door across the room opened

wide. He recognized the judge, clothed in a red and

black robe as bulky and thick as the furs he’d seen in

communities near the Great Lakes. He held a black

book in one hand and a red gavel in the other.

Following him was Soapy. Their eyes met across the

room. Reho knew that whatever sentence the judge

delivered today had been decided beforehand behind

closed doors.

The enforcer who held his chains pushed him

forward.

He shuffled toward a long, wooden table and

halted before a man dressed in strange OldWorld

clothing who was seated there. Soapy sat at another

table to his left, talking with a man dressed in the

same strange clothes. Their suits seemed more like

brightly colored costumes—complete with bows

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10

Red Denver

around their necks—then formal court attire.

The man at Reho’s table spoke.

“I am Traylor. I will be representing you before

the judge. I feel confident we can get this reduced to a

minimum sentence of labor. Do you have any

questions?”

Reho looked at his appointed counsel, his words

as ridiculous as his attire. His tight, purple jacket and

the strange red bow around his neck certainly did not

inspire confidence. Reho’s eyes must have spoken for

him, as his representative’s smile faded to an insulted

snarl, and he turned back to his stack of papers.

Reho looked over at Soapy, whose eyes burned

right through him. Reho detected a cynical smile

beneath that hateful gaze, as the skin around Soapy’s

lips twisted and puckered. The look told him that

Soapy had already won and was patiently waiting for

him to burn for all of Red Denver to see. Tomorrow,

the gasolines would resume as they had before Reho.

He had known men like Soapy all his life. Even

Virginia Bloc had men like him—men who craved

control, power, and wealth without restraint. Men like

Soapy always won . . . until they crossed someone like

Reho. People like Reho made it their business to put a

permanent end to scum like Soapy.

The judge pounded his gavel three times,

prompting everyone to stand. Reho did so and

glanced behind him. Even those at their desks

responded and waited for the judge to speak.

“Will the accused please respond,” the judge

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D. L. DENHAM

demanded.

“Here,” Reho responded.

The judge looked at Reho then down at a piece of

paper that had been handed to him by one of the

members of the court.

“Will the accuser please respond.”

Reho watched as Soapy straightened and replied,

“Here, Your Honor.”

The judge nodded toward Soapy, then looked at

Reho and Traylor.

“Who represents Reho . . .” “What is your full

name?”

“In my home community, we are not given

second names,” Reho answered.

“And which community is that, foreigner?” The

word spewed from the judge’s mouth like vile

profanity.

“Virginia Bloc,” he answered.

The judge scanned the room, inviting everyone to

hear his words. With a deep, patient voice, he spoke:

“I believe in keeping these things brief. Justice

must be given equally to both natives and foreigners

to Red Denver, to both champions and to those

defeated.” There was a pause, and Reho watched

Soapy straighten at the word defeated.

“I have read many law books that suggest

spending months working through evidence and then

analyzing all sides. But I have learned in practice that,

for Red Denver, such a process is not just a waste of

time and points, but of men’s resources.” The judge

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12

Red Denver

spoke, his stern eyes oscillating rapidly between Soapy

and Reho before stopping on Reho.

“I have looked at the evidence, and there is no

doubt that the accused took the life of an employee of

Soapy’s Enterprise and Exchange. A man known as

Blackwell.” Reho’s muscles tightened as he forced

himself to remain still. Everything seemed to be

moving in slow motion, unfurling silently, not unlike

the old man and his meticulously focused exercises in

his cell.

“Motives are not always clear,” the judge said,

“but we must ensure that our consequences are. The

accused is left with two options.”

Reho felt Soapy’s eyes on him. He looked at

Traylor; he stood limp. Perhaps he had meant to help

him, realizing that his fate had been decided

beforehand and without him. Traylor’s presence was

as ceremonial as the OldWorld statues scattered

across the room.

The judge cleared his throat. “You have a choice,

Reho: either ten years in the Red Basin work camp or

take your chances at Red Rocks. At Red Rocks, you

would fight to the death an opponent chosen by

Soapy’s Enterprise and Exchange. And your decision

will be effective immediately. Do know, our next

series of fights at Red Rocks Arena is this afternoon.

Here at Red Hall, we don’t believe in delaying justice.”

Soapy made no effort to contain his gnarled,

yellow-toothed smile; he already knew what Reho’s

choice would be. Around the room, everyone took a

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D. L. DENHAM

deep breath as they paused, eager to learn which

choice the former gasoline champion would make.

“Which do you choose?”

Reho straightened. He thought of the old man,

how straight he’d held himself back in the cell. The

judge shook the red gavel, ready to close the case.

“Red Rocks,” Reho answered, his eyes locked on

Soapy’s as they exchanged unspoken—but deadly—

promises. Reho would not just kill whichever fighter

Soapy presented. Before the day ended, he would rid

Red Denver of the crime and corruption that Soapy

had spread.

*****

An hour later, Reho sat in a second holding cell in the

back of an OldWorld gasoline as they moved closer to

Red Rocks Arena. He had attended a fight there

before deciding to settle in Red Denver. The

competition had been brutal. He had thought it too

much for entertainment. He’d seen dozens of men

die, but always in a real fight with a purpose other

than to entertain ten thousand viewers. Out in the

Blastlands, only the victors remembered the fight. In

the arena, everyone watched. Everyone remembered.

The gasoline stopped. The metal cage was ice cold,

and Reho could see the hot breath of the enforcers

who talked outside near the door. From the lone

window he could make out part of the overhang they

called Creation Rock. He had arrived at Red Rocks.

Across the way, another massive structure called

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14

Red Denver

Ships Rock overlooked the arena stage. He couldn’t

see it, but he knew it was there. Soapy would be atop

it, watching and waiting for Reho’s blood to be

spilled.

Suddenly, a familiar cry erupted from somewhere

near Red Rocks. He’d heard the sound before, but it

sounded closer than it had at Red Hall. Whatever it

was had been brought to Red Rocks.

His chain tightened as both doors flung open.

Startled, he pulled back, slamming one of the

enforcers into the side of the vehicle.

“Jesus!” he said as he yanked Reho out of the back

of the OldWorld prison and into Red Rocks’ freezing

winds.

Five enforcers circled Reho. Two held his chain as

they led him to what Reho thought would be another

temporary cell where he’d be stashed until the games

started. His watch and other belongings had been

taken. He looked at the sun and estimated it was at

least six o’clock.

Despite the blinding sunshine, the temperatures

had dropped significantly since early that morning.

He would wait until they placed him in a cell; then he

would use his AIM to gather information on the

stadium. Killing the fighter Soapy chose for him

would be the easy part of his plan. As he passed

through the opening to the back of the arena, he saw

the source of the muffled rumbling he’d been hearing.

The archaic, earthen seating area was already packed

with spectators. Another loud, high-pitched sound

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D. L. DENHAM

rang out, but this one was different from the beastly

screams; it sounded electrical. The whine rose and

fell, then rose again to a shrieking squeal. The ground

shook as a rhythm replaced the chatter of the crowd.

He knew the noise.

A live band played near the arena stage. The

music filled the stadium as a voice sang out to the

crowd. At first, he couldn’t make out the lyrics but

could hear the crowd’s approval. The tune was

familiar enough. He’d heard it before in near

OldWorld Detroit. The soundtrack to Reho’s funeral

seemed to include the chorus from a song called

“Worlds Colliding” by a post-blast band called Nifhel.

The lyrics followed Reho as he moved toward his cell.

_The rain washes away the ash _

_The oceans wind carries away _

_The taste of death _

_The fire burns as _

_Worlds collide _

Reho sat. Alone. He activated his AIM. He could

see nothing within the arena that would be useful in

his escape attempt. Along the perimeter, several

towers ascended above Red Rocks. There would be

eyes on him anytime he was outside the cell. His only

hope, as he could see it, would be to win the fight and

wait to see if they kept their end of the bargain.

He had felt the bitter winds cut through the air; in

the arena it would feel below zero.

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16

Red Denver

Reho’s door opened.

“Let’s go,” commanded the lead enforcer who was

dressed in a red ceremonial uniform meant for the

arena. Reho stood, his chain lifted by another

enforcer cloaked in white.

They guided him away from the holding cells. As

they approached the backstage stairs, he watched as

several costumed entertainers practiced their tricks

and flips. Reho had seen the group before at one of

the theaters in Red Denver. He saw the thick-muscled

giant who could bend OldWorld steel. He wondered

why Soapy hadn’t chosen him. At least that guy would

stand a chance.

[* *** *]

The old man stood on the stage, facing the roaring

crowd. His body was calm as his opponent danced

around him waving a large OldWorld sword in the

air. Each time the sword cut through the air, the

crowd thundered. The stage rumbled; Reho could feel

the vibration and hear his chains rattle. The old man

never moved.

From atop Creation Rock, a resounding voice

addressed the crowd. Both the rumble and music

ceased.

[_Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to our first night _]

[_of the twenty-sixth season of “Fight! Fight!” We will be _]

_showing two fights every night from now until the next _

_new moon. To kick off our new season, we have two _

_special fights for you tonight. _

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D. L. DENHAM

The announcer waited as the crowd chanted,

“Fight! Fight!”

_Our first bout is already center stage. We have the _

_foreigner, a man who silently stood by as an unnamed _

_assailant murdered the Ricardo family. He watched as _

_they were slaughtered, their blood spilling at his feet. _

[_And why? Because he loves death and refuses to _]

_interfere in the fate of others. So, let each one of us ask _

[_this question: Will he interfere and prevent his own _]

[_death here tonight? _]

The crowd hissed and cursed at the foreigner. The

old man stood, unresponsive. Reho had spoken only

briefly with him. _Would he let a family be murdered if _

[_he had the power to stop it? _] Then again, he thought

about his own reason for being at Red Rocks. He

believed the old man’s fate had little to do with the

lies being told to the crowd. He was here so the blade

could silence a silent man—a man who had witnessed

Red Denver’s secrets.

The announcer continued.

_As punishment, the Ricardo family has hired one of _

[_your favorite fighters! You loved him when he _]

[_beheaded last season’s Red Basin Rapist and broke the _]

_spine of the Tenement Arsonist three seasons ago. You _

[_know him by name! Give a deathly roar for Nordic! _]

The crowd erupted, drowning out the band. The

archaic, steel blade swung in the air as Nordic worked

the crowd for its approval. His muscles reminded

Reho of an OldWorld movie poster he’d seen of a

man named Rambo. Nordic’s hair was blonde and

  • *

18

Red Denver

braided into two long tails that draped across his

shoulders. His face was scarred. There was no doubt

that he’d spent his entire life fighting. Judging by his

style, he was just as much a stranger to Red Denver as

Reho or the old man.

Red-clad enforcers led the foreigner and Nordic to

opposing ends of the arena. As the band played,

electric guitar riffs set the mood for the first fight of

the night. The announcer’s voice boomed over the

screaming crowd.

[_Let the fighting begin! _] An OldWorld gunshot

sounded from atop Creation Rock.

Reho watched as Nordic worked his blade in every

direction, showing off his skill and trained precision.

[_How could the old man compete? _]

Nordic struck first. His challenger quickly moved

past the blade and stepped behind Nordic, jabbing the

giant’s leg with one smooth movement of his arm.

Nordic dropped to one knee but quickly jumped to

position, distancing himself from his opponent who

stood patiently, waiting.

For a moment, Reho thought the old man might

have a chance.

Nordic stood about two feet taller than his

opponent. Reho understood the odds were stacked

against the foreigner. Despite his speed, the sheer

aggression and power of his opponent would be too

much.

The old man evaded move after move. It worked

for a while, but Nordic soon had his opponent figured

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D. L. DENHAM

out.

Nordic unleashed a fierce battle cry that brought

the cheering crowd to its feet. His opponent stood

calm as before, but Reho sensed a change in him.

Then the old man closed his eyes, just as Reho had

seen him do in the holding cell.

Nordic cursed him, attempting to bully him into

opening his eyes. The old man lowered himself on

one leg, his other leg extended. This time he lowered

his chest, bringing his head parallel to the ground.

Reho didn’t understand. [_Has he given up? _] _How was it _

[_a fight if he surrendered? _] Then Reho understood. _He is _

_choosing not to fight. _ Reho watched as Nordic raised

his OldWorld steel into the air, then brought it down

to the earth.

The old man’s head rolled.

The stunned crowd stood in awed silence, broken

only by the clang of the blade as it sliced through to

the stone floor. They seemed shocked at the end

result, expecting, perhaps, to see the old man move

quickly to evade his opponent one more time.

Instead, a pool of blood flowed at the victor’s feet. The

announcer’s mechanical voice broke the silence.

[_Our champion! Four seasons with eleven kills! _]

[_Nordic! _]

The crowd slowly filled Red Rocks with praise as

Nordic made one last show of his sword and walked

from the stage. For a moment, their eyes met as the

victor cast a shocked look toward Reho. [_The old man’s _]

_unexpected surrender had caught him off guard, _

  • *

20

Red Denver

_leaving him numbed by his unexpected final blow. _

Unlike Nordic, the crowd would quickly forget the

old man’s death as they shouted for the next fighter.

Reho watched a mop-up crew clothed entirely in

black take the stage to clean the carnage and remove

the body before the next fight. The chanting grew

louder and filled the arena.

“Fight! Fight!”

Then Reho heard a voice behind him and turned

to find two teens jabbing each other in the side. One

of them, sporting a thin mustache and deep, dark

eyes, held the possessions taken from Reho at Red

Hall. The other had a face filled with pimples, dirty

brown hair, and a smile as wide as the Canyon.

Neither was big enough to possibly be any help

behind the arena.

“You have to excuse my idiot friend here,” the one

with the mustache said. “He usually just stays in the

concession stands on the other side of the arena. But

he’s seen you win every gasoline race. I’m Jester, and

my friend here is Siek.”

Reho nodded.

“I bet you’re wondering why we’re here,” Jester

said, shifting Reho’s heavy items in his hands. Reho’s

OldWorld rifle was strapped to the boy’s back. _Who _

[_would give these kids weapons? _]

Reho nodded again as two additional enforcers

approached the boys, but didn’t interrupt their

conversation.

Siek gleamed with excitement and moved closer

21

D. L. DENHAM

to Reho. He wondered if he was going to try and

touch him. The other one continued.

“Well, Soapy sent us to let you choose one item

for the fight. I did hear him say he took the shells out

of your rifle, so you probably wouldn’t want to choose

that one.”

Reho watched the guards move in closer. Siek

reached out to touch his AIM The chains restrained

him, so if the boy wanted to touch it, he could. There

was nothing he could do but ignore the awkward kid.

Besides, he was not the killer Soapy, the judge and,

soon, the announcer would make him out to be. Reho

looked at his belongings. Only one would be useful in

the arena.

“Leave me the knife. And I want you to go back to

Soapy and deliver a message for me.” The boys stared

at him, wide-eyed, taken aback by his harsh tone.

“Yeah?” Jester asked.

“Tell Soapy that when this is over, I’m going to cut

his face off with that knife,” Reho said, “and drag his

body out into the Blastlands to rot in the radiation.”

He left it at that, his icy words hanging in the frigid

air. Both boys remained silent. _Now I am the killer _

_they want me to be. _

One of the enforcers took the knife and sent the

boys on their way. _Apparently that message just made _

_everything much worse. _

Then a scream tore through the air, that high-

pitched squeal that had haunted him since his arrest.

Reho watched as a monolithic metal container

  • *

22

Red Denver

hovered in the sky and lowered onto the arena floor.

Its rectangular body landed where Nordic had

entered the arena. Whatever it was, it was intended

for him.

[* *** *]

[_Welcome, Welcome, Welcome! _]

_Oh, have we got a treat for our patrons. As the air _

[_becomes ice-cold, only the blood spilled in the arena _]

[_will warm us tonight! _]

The crowd repeated its usual cheers.

_ You know him from the gasolines. Many have _

_placed bets on him. Many have become rich off his _

_name, and many have lost everything because of his _

[_racing. So tonight, we have Reho! Red Denver’s own _]

[_Red Killer! _]

With chains still on, several of the arena enforcers

escorted Reho to center stage. He looked at the

massive container to his right then at the crowd. Red

[_Denver’s own Red Killer. _] He understood that Soapy

had taken every precaution to make sure he would

not leave the arena alive. Whatever was caged in that

container, it wasn’t human.

[_For the first time since season two, we have for you: _]

[_man versus beast! _]

[_Come on Red Rocks! Let me hear you scream! _]

He looked toward Ship Rock. He could see the

platform and make out Soapy against the light of the

moon.

[_Many of you knew Soapy’s most beloved employee, _]

23

D. L. DENHAM

_Blackwell Denver, a man whose family has been part of _

_this community for three generations. His wife and _

_children are here tonight, abandoned and left to defend _

_for themselves because of one man. His family is here _

_tonight looking for justice. _

The crowd erupted.

[_So, Soapy’s Enterprise and Exchange has spared no _]

_expense by purchasing one of the few domesticated _

_warbeasts. Some of you are old enough to remember _

_when the Hegemons unleashed dozens of these, sending _

_them to tear through Red Denver. That was nearly _

_three decades ago. Now we shall see one bring justice _

[_instead of chaos to Red Denver! _]

Two spotlights highlighted the enforcers as they

approached the container.

They removed the bolts and let the metal front

slam to the ground. A fearful gasp spread through the

stadium. The chill of the night pierced Reho to the

core as the bonds on his legs and hands were

unlocked, his chains removed. He watched as the

enforcer placed his knife on the ground several feet

away, then walk from the stage. Behind him, as the

last enforcer left, the gate closed.

He hadn’t noticed it before, but a blue wave of

electricity washed across the arena’s fence. Perhaps it

hadn’t been activated until now. They seemed more

afraid of what lurked in the container then they had

of the sword-wielding Nordic.

It was pitch black inside the container. There was

no movement, no sound. A bright spotlight

  • *

24

Red Denver

illuminated Reho.

Others were focused on his knife and on Ship

Rock. The intercom crackled. This time it wasn’t the

voice of the Red Rocks announcer but one much

more familiar.

[_Reho of Virginia Bloc 4E! _]

Reho looked up. Soapy stood, the spotlight

bathing him in a holy glow. The crowd waited, eager

to see the drama unfold. _Reho from the East. Cursed. _

_A coward run out of his own community for the death _

_of an opponent in a gasoline race. Tell me, Reho. Was _

[_winning so important that you let Dink die? _]

He clenched his fist and forced himself not to

lunge for his knife. He felt the familiar anger return,

burning through his veins. He had been younger

then, more reckless, and some lessons were learned

the hard way. The image resonated in his head, filled

his mind. The tunnel had been open to both Dink and

Reho, the last two racers in Virginia Bloc’s 4E Annual

Gasoline Race, its dark entrance a quarter mile ahead;

their gasolines passed 120 miles per hour. Both

battled to enter the single-lane tunnel.

His natural ability to outmaneuver had

inadvertently caused Dink’s gasoline to lose control. It

rolled ahead and lodged between Reho and the mouth

of the tunnel. As it exploded, Reho drove through the

flames, tearing into the gasoline and its driver. He

could still see Dink’s body burning as it crashed

against his windshield. He had won the race, but its

consequences had cost him his home and a life in

25

D. L. DENHAM

Virginia Bloc.

_Your sins follow you, Reho. You think you can run. _

_You think you can trust those you love the most. But _

_everyone has a price. Especially when they discover _

_their former lover is a murderer. _

A fourth spotlight illuminated a girl in the crowd.

Jena. Reho reached out, but there was nothing to hold

on to. His head pounded as images of Dink tangled

with his memories of Jena: lying together in his bed,

their naked bodies entwined as they shared their

darkest secrets. It was on one of those nights that he

had told her about Dink. About everything. She had a

past, too. Running away from Ascension Bloc, she

had left behind the man her family had forced her to

marry.

She was a few years younger than him and

desperately wanted Red Denver to be that safe haven

she desired—and for him to provide the stability and

happiness she hadn’t found in her home community.

They’d been wild about each other. She told him it

was his eyes that made the difference, made her say

yes to his dinner invitation. She felt safe with him; her

fears evaporated when she looked into his soft, honey-

brown eyes. Looking at him was like opening a

window to her soul. But he lacked the one thing she’d

needed more than physical passion and protection.

Jena needed someone who could be satisfied with a

simple life in Red Denver.

He chased the adrenaline of the gasolines. She had

accepted his abilities and differences. She understood

  • *

26

Red Denver

him as much as anyone ever had. But the thought of

losing him later prevented her from loving him now.

Jena left . . . and Reho chose to stand by and watch her

go. He then focused all his time into becoming the

best gasoline racer on this side of the Blastlands.

_Your past always finds you. This man must be _

[_stopped here today. By all means! And the only way to _]

_ensure that is to unleash our worst nightmare. We say _

_these captured warbeasts are domesticated, but it’s a _

_lie. _

The crowd gasped then chanted. [_Warbeast! _]

[_Warbeast! Warbeast! _]

_ The beast is just as much a killer as this man you _

_bet your money on, a man who kills anyone who stands _

[_in his way. Men like Blackwell. But no fear, Red Rocks! _]

_We do offer some protection from this warbeast. The _

_fence you see has over 100,000 volts running through it. _

_And this remote controls the warbeast. _

The crowd cheered then quickly quieted as Soapy

continued, the remote held high.

_We control when it attacks. And we control who it _

_attacks. _

Soapy activated the controller. The holding-

container shook, followed by the familiar scream. The

spectators covered their ears as they roared in

approval. He searched the crowd for a glimpse of

Jena. He spotted her—elbowing her way through the

crowd as she tried to leave the arena.

Reho hadn’t seen her for almost a year. Their time

together had been brief. One particular night they’d

27

D. L. DENHAM

spent together haunted him. He had awakened from a

terrifying nightmare of a man in a bright city who

guarded a door to what looked like a tall office

building from the OldWorld. Reho could never see

his face, but his hands stood out, despite the blinding

light. His fingers were long and sharp like claws. He

was dressed in a black suit. Reho could always make

out the tag on his suit, a triangular symbol with an eye

and a single name under it: Jimmy. The nightmare

had only occurred a few times, but that particular

night he’d been with Jena.

Jena had been full of compassion and concern, so

he had shared the dream and much more. He’d told

her about Dink, his home community, his years in the

Blastlands, his time east near OldWorld Los Angeles,

and north around the Great Lakes. Somehow Soapy

had known they’d been together. Now it didn’t

matter. Their lives were on two different paths. And

for Reho, his primary concern was whatever lurked—

hidden and waiting— in the container across the

stage.

The spotlights shut off one by one. He quickly

grabbed his knife as the remaining spotlight went out.

The arena lights came on, illuminating the stage with

an eerie blue glow. He could see the electricity as it

sparked along the fence. Nothing moved in the

container.

The temperature had dropped. He activated his

AIM: it was 7 degrees Fahrenheit. There was no

escaping the arena. Killing whatever waited for him

  • *

28

Red Denver

was the next step, his only choice.

A thick, icy fog blew from inside the container. He

tightened his grip on his knife’s handle.

The spotlights were gone. Now it was just Reho

and the beast that Soapy controlled from atop Ship

Rock.

He saw its eyes first. Two luminous green spheres

moved closer to the opening of the container. The

cheering crowd and screeching instruments faded

into the background as Reho focused on the task at

hand.

As if on cue, the creature launched out of the

container and landed several feet from the electric

fence. It hissed at the crowd, which shrunk back,

suddenly wary.

Surprised by its size, Reho got his first look at one

of the genetic creations of the Hegemons. The alien

invaders had created these beastly soldiers for one

purpose: to kill humans. It was certainly large enough

for the task.

Tales of these genetic mutations were often on the

lips of adventurers and wanderers who traveled

throughout Usona, but few had actually seen one. The

beastly killer was twice the size of the cows they raised

in Virginia Bloc. Its skin was black and shiny like the

whales he had seen in picture books as a child. The

creature’s head was tagged. He recognized the

embedded metal as a Colorado license plate from the

OldWorld. The plate read: SO-7APY3. The numbers

clearly marked the warbeast as Soapy’s property.

29

D. L. DENHAM

The creature crouched and moved closer to the

cheering crowd, distracted by their noise and

movement. The beast reared back and launched itself

toward the fence as panicked spectators on the first

few row pushed their way into the upper rows. The

warbeast hit the fence.

Thousands of sparks lit the cold night sky. The

warbeast shrieked and backed away. It thrashed and

struck its tail at the fence like a giant whip. Then its

attention was on Reho.

Reho could see diamond-shaped burn marks on

the beast’s tail, courtesy of the electrified fence. Its

skin was tough. He wondered how hard it was going

to be to get his blade into its side. He stared into its

glowing eyes and moved back as the beast headed in

his direction. It bared its teeth, revealing what looked

like dozens of genetically designed razor blades.

Both Reho and the creature were momentarily

distracted as the large crane returned and lifted the

container out of the arena. The beast jumped at its

swinging cage, hitting its side and falling back to the

ground.

Reho moved back and positioned himself in the

center of the arena.

The beast returned its attention to Reho. For a

moment he thought of the old man, how he’d stood

motionless in the face of his opponent. Reho calmed

his body. Always let your opponent strike first.

The beast leapt, its mouth open, teeth flashing

their intent. He evaded the attack. As the beast passed,

  • *

30

Red Denver

its tailed whipped across Reho’s chest, launching him

into the air. As he landed on his side, the jolt sent his

knife skidding across the arena. It sparked as it hit the

fence. The beast circled in front of him. He knew he

had no chance without his knife. He waited for the

beast to strike again.

The beast moved for Reho. It had already learned

his reactions, and it shifted its attack to interrupt his

dodge. Reho felt its thick body knock against him. He

hit the ground and immediately rolled in the

direction of his knife, which rested nearby. He

grabbed the weapon and moved into position as the

beast approached.

He plunged the eight-inch blade into the beast’s

side, surprised when there was little resistance, as if

he’d stabbed a bag of flour instead of a tough, scaly

surface. He would have to reach much deeper to do

any critical damage to the beast. No wonder Soapy

had let him choose his knife for the fight. _Bastard is _

up there laughing.

He pushed himself away from the beast, dragging

his knife across its side. A sticky, white and blue jelly-

like substance spilled out and quickly coated Reho’s

side. The beast retreated to the corner of the arena.

Reho refocused.

From across the arena, the warbeast crept toward

him. The substance still dripped from its side, but it

wasn’t enough to stop its attack.

Reho noticed something else: its claws. They were

now fully extended, each larger than Reho’s knife.

31

D. L. DENHAM

The beast’s eyes glowed brighter. He needed

something larger to stab the beast deep enough for a

critical wound.

His breath hung heavy in the air, clouding his

AIM. He looked at the knife again . . . at his powerful

hand . . . at his muscular arm. [_That’s it! I have all the _]

[_weaponry I need to win this! _]

He moved confidently toward the warbeast. This

time he would be the aggressor. He thought of Soapy

on top of Ship Rock, sending the beast to finish him

with one final attack.

He dove straight for the beast’s chest, his knife

and arm extended.

Reho felt his own skin rip as his arm plunged

through the beast’s warm chest cavity. Pain shot

through his left shoulder and down his back as three

of the beast’s claws found a home there. Then the

claws stopped moving. The shaking in the beast’s

chest ceased. The band stopped playing and the arena

went silent.

The warbeast’s claws remained buried in Reho’s

back as he retracted his arm from its chest. His hand

could not break free. It seemed tangled in something.

He twisted his wrist, refusing to let go of his knife. He

yanked hard. His hand and knife freed, along with

what appeared to be wires and some sort of device. He

saw lights on the device fade then turn off.

He lifted the dead warbeast’s claws out of his back

and rolled away. Looking up, he thought of Jena for a

split second. [_Had she decided to stay? _] He looked over

  • *

32

Red Denver

at Ship Rock. No spotlight. The moonlight revealed

an empty booth.

He stood, blood flooding down his back and onto

the arena floor. He would heal, but it still hurt like

hell. The crowd roared with excitement. Then, the

announcer congratulated him. Several enforcers

entered the arena as the gate opened.

Reho walked out, his head held high.

Behind the arena, a medical technician dressed

Reho’s wounds. Reho let him. The stitches would stop

the bleeding much quicker. His jacket would also

need stitching.

*****

The technician had been gone for a while. A tall, older

man with long, black hair and round glasses

approached him. He wore a tie and a wide smile. As

soon as he opened his mouth to speak, Reho knew

who he was.

“That was the most magnificent fight we’ve had

here in Red Rocks. And I’ve been doing this for nearly

twenty years,” the announcer said, lavishing Reho

with another of his salesman smiles.

“I’m not doing it again, if that’s what you’re

getting at,” Reho said.

“Oh no, no. I’m Donald Rackette. You can call me

Donnie,” he said, extending his hand toward Reho.

Reho made no effort to raise his hand. Instead, he

faked pain from his shoulder even though the wound

had begun to heal and the pain had nearly ceased.

33

D. L. DENHAM

“Oh, sorry. I forgot.” Donnie said. “It isn’t often

that we have a fight like tonight’s. I know the law says

you have to leave Red Denver. I have a friend out on

the East Coast who runs a sister version of what we do

here at the arena. If you’re interested in making some

good points by fighting, they’re always looking for a

new star to fight their criminals.”

“You forgot something else,” Reho said, his eyes

as cold as the night air.

“What’s that?”

“I am the criminal. Now get out of my way,” he

said, putting on his jacket as he stood. He grabbed his

sack and other possessions and started for the gate.

  • *

[* *** *]

The road leading away from Red Denver was empty.

Reho had been down this road and others like it

hundreds of times. He checked his AIM. The next

stations for food and other supplies were twenty miles

down the road. He’d made a quick stop at his

apartment in Red Denver. He owned few possessions,

all of which were now in his traveler’s pack. From

here he would head into the Blastlands. It would take

at least six weeks to reach Virginia Bloc, but he knew

he needed to return. There was nothing left for him in

Red Denver, just as there had been nothing in South

Usona, the West Coast, the Great Lakes, or in the

Blastlands.

In each place, Reho had kept his abilities a secret.

But they’d always found a way to reveal themselves

  • *

34

Red Denver

and expose him as a threat. His domination in the

gasolines was due to his unnatural ability to anticipate

what would happen next. It made him fast. And his

body had a remarkable healing power. He had been

shot by both OldWorld rifles and pulse blasters; he’d

been stabbed and exposed to lethal doses of radiation,

yet nothing killed him. He traversed the Blastlands

without an oxygen suit, which attracted the worst

attention as traveling parties either attempted to help

him or kill.

Reho traveled the Safety Zone line running along

the Blastlands as he waited to fulfill a promise he’d

made back at the arena.

*****

The Blastlands lay before Reho. He had enough food

and water to make it for at least two weeks. The next

travelers’ station would be at least ten days away.

Already he’d seen other trekkers in the distance,

oxygen suits on, prepared for the journey to either the

south or the east.

He checked his AIM. Having been here before,

this part of the Blastlands was already mapped out.

He wondered if he should have stopped sooner. He

looked back in the direction he’d come, toward Red

Denver. Then he saw them, several figures silhouetted

on the horizon.

*****

Reho had known they would follow him. He’d been

traveling for most of the morning and was almost

35

D. L. DENHAM

outside the Safe Zone of Usona. He had used his AIM

to walk along the Safe Zone to give them time to catch

up with him. He intended to keep his promise to

Soapy.

They wore no suits. They were on the verge of the

Blastlands and must have expected to reach Reho

much sooner. If Reho had not slowed down and

waited for them, he would have been in the

Blastlands, leaving them behind.

“You can’t go much farther without a suit,” Reho

said as three men approached. He looked at each

goon, then at Soapy. The massive one they called

Smacks back at the betting booth in Red Denver

stepped forward first. Reho figured he was here to do

what the warbeast couldn’t.

“We don’t plan to go any farther than right here,”

Soapy said, raising his OldWorld rifle at him.

“You follow me as though you made a promise,”

Reho said.

“I’m just making sure you keep yours,” Soapy

replied.

“Here we are. The Blastlands behind me and Red

Denver miles away,” Reho said.

Reho could tell by Soapy’s snarl that he’d gotten

the message about Reho cutting off his face and

dragging him into the Blastlands.

“You idiot. We hunted you down. This is our

show,” one of the other goons said from behind

Soapy.

“Boss, let’s blast this guy!” Smacks added, lifting

  • *

36

Red Denver

his gun toward him. Reho dove forward, grabbed

Smack’s rifle, and knocked it aside. The OldWorld

weapon blasted, tearing a hole the size of a loaf of

bread into one of the silent goons.

Reho quickly drew his knife and released it toward

his assailant who had just aimed his pulse blaster. It

released two energy blasts, both hitting the gunner’s

own foot as Reho’s knife struck his chest. Reho lifted

the rifle off Smacks and fired twice into him. An

explosion of blood and flesh showered the area.

Panicked, Soapy managed to fire his rifle twice,

sending the shots into the ground. Reho fired at

Soapy’s arm, which caused him to drop the OldWorld

rifle.

He pulled his knife from the dead goon and

approached Soapy.

“I am breaking my promise. There has been

enough death,” he said, kneeling next to Soapy as he

attempted to crawl away.

Soapy turned and fired twice at Reho with an

OldWorld pistol he’d tucked behind his back. One

shot went wild as the other skimmed Reho’s shoulder.

Reho buried his knife deep into Soapy’s leg.

A scream much like the warbeast’s echoed

through the Blastlands.

“What did you expect? Your arrogance and

ignorance brought you out here to the edge of Usona.

And it’s your ignorance that got you killed,” Reho

said, grabbing Soapy by the collar and dragging him

deeper into the Blastlands. He had no intention of

37

D. L. DENHAM

keeping his full promise to Soapy, but he did plan to

keep the most important part. Soapy would not

return to Red Denver and continue to spread his

disease of corruption and greed. He checked his AIM.

The radiation levels were climbing. A mile into the

Blastlands, he let go of Soapy.

He removed his knife.

“You’re going to stay here,” Reho said.

“The radiation will kill me,” Soapy said.

“I know.”

“I’m not a freak like you. My body can’t take this

stuff.”

“Could be worse. I could have kept my promise

and left you out here without a face. That’s not what

you want,” he said. He glanced at his atomic watch;

they’d been in the radiation area for almost twenty

minutes. Reho stood silent and removed his

OldWorld rifle. It still didn’t have any bullets. He

wouldn’t need them anyway, as he waited for the first

signs of radiation sickness.

The sun was high in the sky. If he let Soapy go

now, he could make it to one of the OldWorld

buildings before nightfall.

_Bluargh. _

Soapy vomited. Reho told Soapy to stand. He

could see that the man’s skin had begun to redden.

“Go back to Red Denver. Use the time you have

left to do some good. Or don’t.”

Soapy wobbled then looked up at him.

“Doesn’t matter. Once I’m dead, there’s always

  • *

38

Red Denver

another to take my place. You can’t stop us. If it’s not

me–” Soapy stopped as another dreadful bout of

vomit spewed forth.

“Then they’ll have to answer for what they do. Just

like you,” Reho said, then turned his back and walked

away.

*****

After two years in Red Denver, he was once again a

wanderer. His brief time with Jena had not lasted. His

success in the gasolines had only resulted in tragedy.

For now, he would trek east. On the other side of

the Blastlands, the Virginia Bloc community where he

grew up would have to make a choice: they would

either accept him or send him away once more.

For the first time in years, his thoughts went to his

aunt and uncle. Both had sacrificed everything to

raise him. Now Reho wondered if there was a place

for him in their lives again.

Thoughts of home faded in and out as he

continued east. The old man had chosen his own

death over being a killer. He controlled his own fate—

something Reho did not yet understand. Whatever lay

ahead, it waited beyond the Blastlands. The old man’s

words resounded in his head: [_Demons… Red Denver _]

[_doesn’t flow red with the blood of men but glows green _]

[_from the veins of the OldWorld… _]

Suddenly, a strange cry filled the air, yanking him

back to the present. Except this time it wasn’t the

horror of a warbeast or the agony of a dying wolf.

39

D. L. DENHAM

_Ahrooo. _

It was just before dusk. Ahead was the abandoned

building where he would spend the night. Just past it,

he saw the silhouette of an animal. Its howl was unlike

anything he had heard before. At first it had sounded

like the noises that had plagued him, but it was

different. The long howl soothed him somehow as he

moved farther away from Red Denver. He was not the

only thing that moved in the Blastlands without an

oxygen suit. Its red eyes followed his every step.

Perhaps he would have some company on his journey

home.

  • *

40

Red Denver

Thank you for reading

*Red Denver *

*Prelude to REHO *

* *

See the story continue in

[*REHO: A Science Fiction Thriller *]

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41

D. L. DENHAM

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42

Red Denver

*Sample Chapter *

[*REHO: A Science Fiction Thriller *]

  • *

Prologue

_*The sun burned* as it had for five billion years. It would burn for _

_another five before it exhausted its nuclear fuel. Humankind _

[_hadn’t been so lucky. They’d used most of their nuclear energy _]

[_during the Blasts. And what hadn’t exploded in the form of a _]

_nuclear warhead went the way of Three Mile Island. _

[_The sun’s heat boiled the air to temperatures above human _]

_survival rates. Yet some areas were still safe enough to occupy, but _

_not here. Outside the Safe Zones, the radiated atmosphere acted as _

_an accelerant. _

_In all directions, nothing moved. Only Reho. _

  • *

*1 *

Reho checked the Analysis Interface Monitor (AIM) embedded

in his wrist. The radiation levels were stable. Only the sparse

pockets of high radiation would affect his body. For anyone else,

the levels of polluted air would result in death within twenty

minutes. He had seen it before. Like the boy who had followed

him out of that desolate community near the Great Lakes.

The boy had tracked him for a day until he’d gone too far

outside the Safe Zone. Reho had heard his screams, but it had

been too late. The sweat-soaked boy had vomited; his skin barely

had time to blister before he died from radiation poisoning.

Reho had left him there. There were few choices in the

Blastlands. Most lead to death.

The sun was at its peak. The atomic watch on Reho’s other

wrist displayed OldWorld time. It was 12:31. Reho had found the

watch a few years before on the corpse of an unfortunate.

“Unfortunate” was what his uncle called those unprepared

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people who ventured too far beyond the Safe Zones. The watch

was black and had an OldWorld name written at the top of its

face: Casio.

Even though it was advanced technology, his AIM did not

provide the basic resources one needed when wandering the

Blastlands: the ability to tell the time and play music. Reho

thumbed the power button on his Walkman and blasted

“Nothin’ But a Good Time” into his headphones as he trekked

east.

Reho had followed the sun as it rose; soon it would be to his

back as he continued east, toward home. After six years of

searching in the West for something he could never fully explain.

He’d always been different from those in his community. He’d

felt like a dangerous outsider, a foreigner, living among good

people as he grew up. But now he was ready to return to that

community—if they would have him.

Something shimmered ahead.

Reho disliked encounters with those traveling across the

Blastlands. One of two things always happened. Most of the

time, they were low on oxygen and expected him to share. Upon

seeing that he had no oxygen suit, they immediately became

defensive, flighty, and scared. Other times, they were violent and

looking for trouble. Reho had heard these sorts referred to as

knock-down-drag-outs. Reho hated this sort, because encounters

with them always ended the same way.

Then, there was always the chance a group of Hegemon from

Omega would pass through. These alien invaders preyed on the

planet, converting biological life into weapons and attempting to

control what remained of humanity. Their presence restricted

communities from networking with each other. Few merchant

crews existed anymore because of this. But the Hegemon rarely

had reason to come to Usona. Reho hadn’t seen one since he was

a child, and even then he hadn’t really seen it, only its suited

body for a brief moment. No one in Reho’s community knew

what they actually looked like beneath—except maybe his

mother and the others who’d been abducted.

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Red Denver

Reho continued east. The shimmer was what he’d assumed:

two oxygen helms crossing the Blastlands. Reho judged that they

were militant, most likely of the knock-down-drag-out sort.

Their suits were metallic and reflective. Their oxygen helms were

not combat, though, which meant the suit was piecemeal. Stolen

or bought, it didn’t matter. Both carried sizable rifles. Judging by

their length, Reho assumed they were OldWorld rifles. Those

hurt the worst.

Reho heard metal shift and clank above his music as one of

the OldWorld rifles readied a bullet. He saw the rifle level and

center on him. The taller of the two forms, unarmed, approached

Reho first. Reho thumbed the power button to his Walkman and

waited for them to speak.

The helmet’s exterior speaker beeped. “I won’t ask you why

you don’t have a suit,” a gruff, mechanical voice said. “That

much I can guess for myself. So, let me ask, why don’t you have

your gun drawn?” The man’s voice was deep and raspy,

reminding Reho of a hard shine seller from Red Denver.

Reho shifted his OldWorld rifle on his shoulder. “I have no

intention of taking anything from you.”

“Oh, I know you won’t rob us,” the taller of the two said with

a derisive snort. “I meant to keep your face from being smashed

into the blastsoil. To keep us from shoving a mouthful of death

down your throat.” Reho eyed the rapid rise and fall of the tall

man’s suited chest.

The other form stepped closer to Reho, placing the

OldWorld rifle near Reho’s chest.

Reho looked the gunman in the eye. “I’d rather just tell you

that there’s a town six days’ walk west, where you can get oxygen

and water.” He hoped they would lose interest. Knock-down-

drag-outs rarely did.

Reho watched as the one who’d done the speaking fingered

the OldWorld holstered on the side of his right thigh, ignoring

the larger rifle strapped across his back. He squinted and swiped

his tongue across his lips.

The sun was unbearable. Fighting both seemed pointless; any

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D. L. DENHAM

harm inflicted on them ultimately ended in death in the

Blastlands. Words were ineffective outside of one’s own

community. Actions spoke louder in places like this.

Reho moved first. The short man’s OldWorld weapon

blasted into the air as Reho thrust the barrel up and spun behind,

breaking the man’s arm, the bone snapping and tearing through

the tight oxygen suit, poisonous atmosphere replacing the suit’s

purified air. The other man ran, but Reho caught up with him.

No problem.

“No, God, just let me—” Reho rammed his elbow through

the tall man’s oxygen helm before he could draw his pistol.

Outside air filled the suit, as it had for the other man. Reho knew

the radiation had already crept in through their skin and eyes,

and in a few moments, it would fill their lungs as they gasped for

life. Reho looked back. The short man screamed and thrashed on

the Blastlands. Broken glass had punched into his cheek, and

blood poured from his oxygen helm and spilled onto the dead

ground. Reho thought this was better. Suffering would be worse,

but death would come much quicker. He watched as the man

tried to speak. Nothing intelligible escaped. His eyes widened as

his body convulsed. Reho remembered his mother for a

moment, how her eyes had widened as the life left her body.

Reho could remember the smell of flowers, her magnolias and

dogwoods, filling the house that day.

Killing came easily after six years of wandering Usona. Reho

wondered if there was somewhere to escape, somewhere to start

over. Someplace filled with people just like him, a place where

confrontations did not always end with death.

He continued east.

As he walked, he heard a final scream, then nothing, as he

lost sight of the two men behind him. Survival was hard enough.

Being different from every other human on the planet did not

help things either. Human evolution hadn’t stopped before the

Blast, but continued at an accelerated pace as a result. Some, like

his aunt, had developed negative mutations. Her weak,

matchstick legs only left her dependent on others. Reho was

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Red Denver

different. Every time a crisis occurred, he discovered a new

adaption and ability. Then there were those like his uncle and his

mother, unaffected by the spikes of human evolution. His uncle

had told him that his father had been like Reho: strong and, most

importantly, different.

The sun beat down on Reho’s back. Its heat burned his neck

through his head covering. He checked the Casio: 5:02. He

scanned the eastern horizon with his binoculars. There it was,

maybe an hour’s walk away.

Reho spotted Traveler’s Rest Stop, a relief to those who

crossed the Blastlands headed for the coast. Reho had talked to

dozens of walkers from the mountains who were preparing for

the journey. Each knew that Traveler’s Rest Stop was the sign

that the journey could be finished, that the greater dangers of the

Blastlands were behind and old highways lay ahead.

*** Reho saw them first.
p.

The town was empty, except for the two boys kicking a

dilapidated ball against a wall and an aged woman making her

way to what would be her home just outside the station. Each

wore a minimalist oxygen suit. The old lady was too far away.

She would never notice that he’d arrived. The two boys stopped

playing and stared when they heard him approach.

Reho acknowledged the boys with a wave and removed his

head cover. They continued to stare.

Reho approached the taller of the two.

Reho swiped the sweat and sand from his forehead. “Which

building is the inn?” He knew the answer but wanted to initiate

conversation with the boys.

The taller boy pointed to Reho’s left. Correct.

He scanned Reho. “Where do you come from?” His voice

sounded as all voices do when coming from an oxygen helm

with no outer speaker—muffled and hollow, as if rebounding off

the walls of some unending tunnel.

Reho pointed behind the boys. “From the east near the

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coast.” The boy looked in that direction, as if he was trying to see

Reho’s community somewhere in the distance. The younger boy

mimicked.

“You have blood on your boots,” the younger boy said. He

could be no older than eight or nine. “Are you a bounty hunter?”

Reho looked down. The sides of his boots were indeed caked

in blood, gritty and flakey from the sand and heat. The kid knew

what blood looked like, probably had already seen his share of it

by now.

“Yes,” Reho replied, “let me see your ball.”

Hesitating, the younger boy looked to the older. He nodded.

The young boy threw the ball to the stranger. Reho held it. It was

partially deflated. Reho dug a plastic air pump out of his pack.

As he pumped the ball a few dozen times, he sniffed its rubber

surface. A flash from his childhood flooded his memory and his

senses. He missed the hoop nailed to the side of his uncle’s

house. These sorts of sentiments seemed to matter the most out

in the Blastlands.

Reho dribbled the ball a few times and bounced it to the

younger boy.

“Good as new.”

The older boy stared at the pump.

“What can you trade for it?” Reho asked. No one expected to

get something for nothing out in the Blastlands.

In a flash, the boy held up a cracked whistle made of red

plastic.

“Toss it,” Reho said. He blew into the whistle. It sounded

awful as air escaped through its splintered side.

“You have to cover the crack with a finger for it to work,” the

older boy said.

Reho covered the crack. _Whoot. Whoot. _

He held the air pump out to the boy. “Deal.” The boy

retrieved it, his movements cautious. _Smart kid. _

The boy stuck out his hand. “My name is Dell, and this is my

kid brother, Ralfie.”

The boy’s gloved hand felt withered in his own. _When was _

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Red Denver

[_the last time they had a decent meal? _]

“What’s your name, mister?” Dell asked. “My dad always

used to say, ‘Shake on a deal and get the person’s name.’”

Reho looked at the kids. Both needed a bath and proper food.

He could tell from their faces they hadn’t seen a shower for some

time. Reho wondered if they lived with the old woman or at a

nearby residence. Or perhaps they lived alone, waiting for the

next serviceman and pretending that their parents were just sick,

despite the fact that they hadn’t moved or breathed in a week.

Reho had seen it before. Kids could fall into denial just as easily

as adults and could live an elaborate lie for months.

He looked at the inn’s entrance panel then at the two boys.

“Reho.”

Reho noticed the patched holes in the side of the inn’s wall.

Despite any violence that might have gone on outside, the inn at

Traveler’s Rest Stop’s sign lit green. Reho tried its Com Panel.

He jabbed the assistance button and requested admittance.

The panel flashed, and an automated voice replied. “Thank

you for your interest in Traveler’s Rest Stop. Our current

minimum spending requirement is forty points. Please insert

your smartcard to ensure that you have adequate points.” The

voice was mechanical and sounded like an OldWorld payphone

operator.

Reho inserted his smartcard into the slot. The device sucked

it in, then immediately spit it back out. “You have sufficient

points. Please enter the Decon and secure your oxygen suit and

all lethal belongings into the privacy locker. You are assigned to

Rec Room 15. And as always, thank you for choosing Traveler’s

Rest Stop: the oasis of the Blastlands.”

Reho retrieved his card and entered the Decon. The room’s

exterior door shut behind him, as a panel flashed to his right.

“Privacy Locker 143. Press ‘Open’ to access.”

Reho took off his coat and rifle. He needed a shower. The

stench from six days of walking across lands that should have

turned him into fried bacon left him smelling as such. Luckily,

no one supervised Traveler’s Rest Stop. It was fully automated. A

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service person ventured to the station once every three or four

weeks. A range of services were offered in stations such as this

one: food, a place to sleep, showers, and, of course, hard shine

for those looking to dull their pain or loneliness. For some, it was

both. Reho avoided the hard shines, due to his body’s inability to

consume them properly. He’d never been inebriated.

A few other services were offered in other stations. Places just

for food or sleep pods lined the walkway across from the inn. In

the past, more people had traveled across the Blastlands; now,

few possessed the funds or the balls to travel it. There was

nothing better on the other side. But one had to cross to the

other side to realize this.

No one lived at the stations permanently, though a handful

of homes surrounded the station for the servicemen who had to

stay for days or weeks at a time to do repairs.

The door to Rec Space 15 hissed open. Reho had no way of

knowing how many occupants were here. He could have asked

the boys how many travelers had come through, but somehow it

just didn’t seem important. Not as important as the smell of the

basketball’s rubber and talking—even just for a brief minute—to

someone he wouldn’t end up having to hurt.

*** The room was simple: a worn, two-cushioned brown sofa left
p.

over from the OldWorld doubled as a bed. A square table with a

wooden chair pressed against the opposite wall. A single bulb

cast a soft yellow light across the room. There were no windows.

One wall had once been painted over with a light blue. He could

see the graffiti beneath it: an airbrushed A followed by some

indecipherable markings and a four foot skull. Reho guessed it

had been a detailed piece of art before being covered up.

Inside Rec Space 15, the air was clean. Filtered. Reho could

tell the difference. Even though the radiated atmosphere never

affected him, something about clean air still made him feel more

alive. It had been six days since he’d enjoyed such a simple

pleasure. Even so, the air couldn’t compare to that in his home

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Red Denver

community, Virginia Bloc 4E. He recalled running through the

pastures as a kid. Although the area had suffered from the Blast

almost a century before, the radiation was minimal, and the early

community members had reformed the land. With few

limitations, the community thrived as it had before the Blast.

Reho activated the panel on the shower door. “Please insert

smartcard for options.”

Reho set it for cold. Few pleasures existed in the Blastlands.

“Six points required. Do you accept?”

Reho pressed the green yes button.

The water sprayed down. A timer at the top of the shower

displayed 3:59. Less than four minutes to shower away a week’s

filth.

The cold water revived Reho. His parched, black hair and

blistered skin drank in the liquid as it hydrated his body. The

watered hammered down on his thick, scarred shoulders and

survival-hardened chest. He dispensed what was left of the soap

across his chest and back, the scar on his shoulder reminding

him of where he’d been had come from. An indention the size of

his index finger now remained where the warbeast’s claw had

once entered. He felt the stubble on his face, prompting him to

shave before the water ran out.

The constant headache he’d had since disarming and

crushing the two knock-down-drag-outs dissipated under the

running water. His thoughts escaped to the mountains. The

showers there had been ice cold. And the view was like nothing

else in Usona. Reho thought back to the Western Coast and the

desolate, half-submerged city of what an OldWorld map had

labeled Los Angeles. The water of the ocean had been equally as

cold. Now he just longed for the Eastern Coast, for home.

Reho accessed the entertainment panel from the table by the

sofa. A red X was placed next to some options, showing that the

feature was no longer accessible: Films, X. Reho had hoped to

watch a movie, an instant escape, as OldWorld movies reminded

people of what life had been like before the Blast. Reho pressed

Music. Most of the names and bands he’d seen before; some he

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had even heard.

After deducting three points, the music played. He closed his

eyes, his head resting on the arm of the sofa. He wouldn’t even

bother undoing the bed. He lay naked as the music faded and he

dreamed.

*** The dream was familiar. It was one of several that returned to
p.

him, always at unexpected times. His dreams had always felt real,

as though they were moments he’d already lived or perhaps

would live at some point in the future. Jen had once said they

were of the future or maybe of another life. She had read books

about civilizations before the Blasts that believed such things.

In this dream, he woke from a fetal position. Sand shifted

beneath him as stood. Fresh blood poured from somewhere on

his body but he could never find the wound. It formed a puddle

around his feet, mixing with the sand. The tide was too far away

to wash the mess out to sea. Behind him a fire raged. With his

back to the ocean, he could see a city-sized, foreign military

compound burning. A mountain had exploded, sending a

mushroom-shaped cloud into the atmosphere above it. The

flames rose higher than he could see. The scene was familiar

enough. Once he had ventured off the beach, but each time he

became lost in the jungle.

Now he looked out onto the ocean; a ship sat far away. He

raised his hands and waved. [_Can they see me? _] The ship shrank

from view. Rain poured as he waited on the beach, the dried

blood running off his body as the rain persisted. The ocean’s

angry waves crashed against the beach, driving Reho farther

back. He could still see the ship through the storm. It grew closer

as the storm pushed wind and rain onto the beach, stinging his

eyes. The boat was coming back.

Reho felt something crash against his legs. An umbrella _. _ As

the water receded, Reho saw two other objects: a full-faced

rubber gas mask with the canister missing and a dark, corked

bottle. Reho snatched up the items and retreated farther inland.

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Red Denver

He put down the umbrella, a five-foot OldWorld style that

looked as though the span would be at least six feet in diameter if

it were opened. The gas mask was strange enough; he checked

inside it for a name or company but found nothing. The dark

bottle was void except for a single item wedged in near the neck.

Reho yanked on the cork and retrieved a piece of paper. It read:

_Kingdom . . . _ The second word had been smeared.

An aggressive wave returned, covering his waist and

retreating with the other items. A mammoth rock pushed up

from under the beach. Reho fell back, barely avoiding the rising

ground. It rose thirty feet above ground level. The tide returned

and swept him under. Disoriented and panicking to find the

bottle, he pushed farther out to sea.

The storm howled and something— a human voice?— rose

above the winds and thunder. Reho lifted himself off the beach

and ran to the jungle. As he ran, the voice returned. Its sound

was unnatural, like a wild animal trying to talk, but its words

were clear as it repeated:

_The stone, once dropped, wants to move toward the center of _

_the earth. _

_The stone, once dropped, wants to move toward the center of _

_the earth. _

_The stone, once . . . _

_ _

_ _

*** Reho woke, his sweat-drenched body shaking in the cold room.
p.

He pushed the dream to the back of his mind and adjusted the

thermostat, then selected a peanut butter sandwich from the

vending machine in the room. He ordered a few extra

sandwiches and stuffed them into his pack. At an inflated cost of

nineteen points, he would have enough calories to make it the

rest of the way. Points were never an issue for Reho. He had

more than he could spend from his winnings at the races in Red

Denver. After eating, he stretched again and returned to the sofa.

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_End of Sample _

  • *

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Red Denver

  • *

*About the Author *

D. L. Denham is a native of Ascension Parish in Louisiana. A life longer

learner and lover of education, history, science fiction, and writing, he

pursues a career both as a Social Studies educator and Science Fiction

author. He is an alumnus of Southeastern Louisiana University and will

finish his Master of Arts in History in Spring 2015.

When he is not teaching, he can usually be found at local coffee shops

hammering away at his latest book or reading about kings and assassins

from a bygone era.

Reho is his first full-length novel and is the first of three in a planned series

called The Hegemon Wars. Red Denver was his first published work and

includes the protagonist REHO.

Visit him on the web at *www.dldenham.com *

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  • *

56

Thank you for reading

*Red Denver *

*Prelude to REHO *

* *

See the story continue in

[*REHO: A Science Fiction Thriller *]

[*amazon.com/author/dldenham *]

I love to hear from my readers!

Your feedback and reviews are an essential part of my

writing process.

Get connected today!

Visit www.dldenham.com


Red Denver

Red Denver, one of several successful communities in Usona, post-Blast America, has thrived because of OldWorld machinery and a strong community government. With his past behind him, Reho has made a new life for himself in Red Denver. Until Soapy, a local crime boss, starts a chain of events that leads to a climatic final face-off between Reho and one of the genetically-modified warbeasts designed by the Hegemons--an alien race determined to see humankind go extinct.

  • ISBN: 9781311422767
  • Author: D. L. Denham
  • Published: 2016-06-30 23:20:09
  • Words: 13773
Red Denver Red Denver