"Cat, I know it's kinda the heat of the battle but, did you see any lawnmowers on the way here?" his speech was improving, but he was still in major pain.
"Also, can you check my bag for some painkillers?" he didn't want to seem needy, but he was on the verge of death.
"Sure you can". She was glad that he seemed to be in better shape, but his concern for lawnmowers made for a worried look on her part. To make sure to not overdo it, she gave him two weak painkillers out of his own backpack. They'd dull the pain, but he'd still be strong enough to survive, at least for now.
Wanderer of the Wasteland
Rob could feel all the pain as Cat removed the fragments, it felt like he was dead, although he couldn't say that because he never died before.
"We should take shelter in a different area, this place might have attracted a lot of attention," he managed to say, without coughing blood everywhere.
"Don't worry Rob, for now you focus on getting better", she said, removing the last couple of fragments she could see. He'd make it, but traveling was out of the question, unless they transported him. But then again, he was right. Sustained gun fire was, although frightening, also a sure way to attract everyone's attention. If they didn't move soon, they'd have to fight even more bandits. Something they were definitely not ready for right now.
First, they needed to be completely safe however, and then they needed to cover their tracks. So, for now, all they could do was wait for Silent and Nails.
After Eric's ill-advised plunge into fire, he shrunk back into the door frame and turned to Cat with a grave expression. "Is there anything..." he was already fairly sure that no, there was not anything he could do to help Robert right now. Eric was visibly shaken, his eyes as wide as a frightened deer's. His distress only intensified when he finally felt the sharp pain in his right shoulder; he had somehow failed to notice the centimeter-wide chunk missing from it. "Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck!" Eric's voice grew in volume and desperation. The wound was unlikely to be life-threatening, but it was more serious than any Eric had ever sustained before.
Only now did Cat notice Eric. Oh poor, silly Eric. His courageous covering fire had got him a nasty graze in his shoulder. Nothing serious, but it looked bad. "Don't worry Eric. Sit down, I'll have you patched up in no time." Grabbing some thread and her Multitool, she began sewing up the wound. "Shit, that hurts", Eric moaned through gritted teeth. "You'll be fine in no time, my friend. You were very lucky, you know that? Might just call you Lucky Eric from now on." She said, winking at him with a playful smile. It did the trick, and Eric forced himself to smile back. "So, all done. The bleeding will stop soon as well, you should be fine to go in no time."
Having watched the battle from his vantage point, the fighting seems to have subsided. The only looter remaining was a fleeing man. A man who was being chased by Nails.
Although he regretted not having fired earlier, Alexander realized that, although his spot as a Sniper gave him excellent opportunities to shoot somebody, firing would only have alerted his presence to them...and he's right out in the open once he's fired.
Leave it aside, and there's still ammunition concerns...still, with the last man running, he took the liberty of watching him...
With his eyes set on him, he watched as the old man ran into a patch of vegetation, before stopping and swinging back, his rifle in hand...
You will not evade me...
Centering the scope upon the looter's chest, he trusted himself to instinct, and fired...
Sergey felt the pain before he heard the bang. "damn it, they must have had another shooter!" he thought, before his legs buckled. The bullet had torn through his shoulder and he was loosing blood quickly. "Is this how it'll all end?" he thought, as his vision started to blur in and out of focus. Slowly, the light started to fade. Just before his vision turned to black though, he saw a man approach him. He said something, but he could no longer understand it. Then, black.
Cat had heard the bang. "Silent must still be alright", she said reassuringly to the other two, then went outside of the building. A few hundred meters ahead, she spotted Nails and from the looks of things, he was carrying something- no, someone- back to them. A couple of minutes later, Nails was back and propped the old shooter against the wall outside of her makeshift hospital. Silent's bullet had torn through the old man's shoulder, just inches away tom the heart. His pulse was faint and he was still breathing, but he wouldn't make it for long without some help.
She doused another bandage in the rest of the whisky and used it to plug the wound, then stitched it and wrapped him up with the whisky soaked bandage. Then she made sure he wouldn't be a threat and tied him up, against a chair in the middle of the room. Although Rob was right and they needed to make a move soon, they should first regroup and get some info out of this guy here. Fun times.
For now she was checking up on Nails, who had been hit by his own cover. Upon closer inspection, she confirmed his suspicion- one of the ribs was cracked. He'd be in some pain breathing and sleeping for a while, but there wasn't much to do. Then she tended to the graze in her thigh, quickly dressed it and then wrapped around a bandage as well. Just waiting for Silent now.
"Don't worry about me having trouble sleeping, miss", - Nails' was in a better mood now, since he learned that everyone is still alive, and wanted to cheer up his companions however he could. "Those ribs are many for a reason, good Mother Nature, she is... I can afford to break some, especially with all those muscles of mine holding 'em together". He smiled a bit, almost mechanically, as he was inspecting Rob. "This lad needs all your attention, me thinks. Tell you what, i got this old man's rifle, and i'd like to keep it, if you don't mind. With whatever ammo i can find in his pockets, i'll go check him now".
He stopped for a moment, thinking, and then continued: "I'll then be trying to find Silent, if he won't show up himself first. Then i'll try to make a travois, we could use it to transport Rob. Gotta move, both because parts of this house are infected, you know, - and because gunfire could attract unwanted attention. I'll try to remain in vicinity at all times".
Old man's rifle looked much used and warn out, but all internal parts were well lubricated, and the barrel channel was quite clean. The optical sight had no trace of rust on its metal parts. "This man knew how to take care of his rifle", thought Nails almost sadly, as he searched dying man's pockets. As he expected, the old man was resourceful, even more than Nails could hope: 7 JHP rifle rounds and impressive 15 FMJ rifle rounds were found, each type in a separate man's pocket. Putting this little tresure into pockets of his own trousers and hoodie, Nails was feeling truly rich. With 2 more JHP rounds still loaded in the rifle, his total ammo reserve was 24 bullets; he felt almost a one man army. "Gotta ask Silent how much ammo he got, if he's low, i'll give him some of those".
It took few moments to quickly clean the sauce pan - blood on its bottom was still fresh, so it was easy. The arrow in the throat of the skinny man - the one Nails killed earlier, - was easy to take out, and remained almost as good as new, as it only penetrated soft tissues. The other arrow, however, was stuck in the man's ribs; Nails tried to forcefully pull it out, but the arrow broke.
... our lifestyles, mores, institutions, patterns of interaction, values, and expectations are shaped by a cultural heritage that was formed in a time when carrying capacity exceeded the human load. (c) William R. Catton, Jr
With a thud, Alexander landed on the floor of the second floor, as he hopped off the ladder leading to the attic.
Having not looked around during his sprint to the top, he thought to look around the house first. Turning away from the ladder, he was stopped in his tracks by a gruesome sight.
In front of him lied three corpses. One was lying in a fetal position, dried blood surrounding him. Another one had a gaping hole in it's chest, as if something tried to rip it apart. And the third sat by the side, impaled by a chunk of falling debris.
He had not noticed the dead present before...were they even there in the first place? Judging by the fact that most of them were half-rotten, yes, they were...
Suddenly nervous, he quickly turned and ran for the door, opting to leave the building as fast as he could.
"So, how bad is my leg?" Rob said "I mean, can I walk without dieing?" he felt fine, he even moved his big toe, without anyone noticing, he knew he should rest, but his instincts told him to move.
Rob didn't have much medical expertise, but he did know that the JHP had exploded at an angle, leaving the rest of the area intact, had he not thrown himself to the wall it would have gone right through his chest, exploding inside of his body.
"If I can walk, I want another spear," holding up his old spear, which had broken at the tip.
But before he could hear a response, he fell to the pain and fatigue, now in a more hibernation state.
"Don't worry Rob, your leg will be fine, it's only muscle damage from what I can tell. It'll hurt like hell though." She knew they had to get going, but they'd need to wait for Nails' travois, if they wanted to get any ground covered. Satisfied that Rob was alright, she went checking the bodies of the bandits that attacked them.
She stripped them off their t-shirts and ripped them into rags. With a bit of cleaning they'd make anything from bandages to air filters. She also found two cigarette lighters in one of the man's pockets. Searching through their stuff, she found that one of them had a photo and a newspaper clipping, with a name scribbled in the margin. Tanja. From the looks of it, she was the guy's daughter, and the newspaper article gave some hints as to where he thought she'd be.
Checking further, she found a mobile phone on one of them. It must have been the signal Eric managed to pick up. Maybe he could hack into it and give them some more information about the group that was following them, but chances are they were just in the area, completely random. However, any information might help them in their interrogation of the old sniper. With that in mind she returned to Rob and Eric.
"Eric, once you've scavenged what you need, could you try and give me a hand with this phone?"
"A-alright." Eric nodded forcedly at Cat. Even though the battle was a resounding tactical success, he could never be pleased about what he had just seen take place. Doing his best to ignore the shattered bodies the group had left behind, he shuffled down the street for about a block, going through the motions of searching for valuables. Of course, if anything of value was out there, he wasn't really looking hard enough to find it. Instead, he was replaying the battle in his head. Gunshots, screaming. Crunch. A flashlight sinking into the thin bone of someone's temple.
Eric couldn't understand why the bandits had behaved as they did. He knew, of course, that the wastes would contain its share of predatory scavengers, but those ruffians didn't even try to elicit surrender. They went straight in for blood. Who knows what would have happened if they'd decided to talk? It wouldn't have killed them. In fact, it could have... Crunch. That horrible sound came back. Eric retched.
After a minute of deep breathing, Eric turned around and returned to Cat for the cell phone. Next to her and Rob, he slumped into a tight, hunched sitting position and retrieved the laptop from his backpack. Eric winced; his shoulder still stung like hell. "I'll see what I can do", he said after a sharp inhalation. Fortunately, he had dished out good money for jailbreaking software, and after the phone was connected, it offered little resistance to Eric's digital incursion. A progress bar filled in the middle of the screen, and an ETA - why did they even bother with those? - fluctuated wildly before the phone let a satisfying "click" out of its tinny speaker. The phone was now unlocked, its contents laid bare for the group...
Leaning against the outside wall, it took a short while before Alexander got over it and looked back inside the house...
It was a mess. Debris scattered everywhere, metal rods jutting out at odd places, furniture scattered everywhere and smashed.
Looks like a bomb went off in here.
Picking through the debris, he found what seemed to be the remains of a gun rack. All the guns were already looted, but knowing that ammunition was always bound to be near a gun rack, he hauled aside a piece of wood and a chunk of concrete apart as he searched the area near the gunrack.
Dusting some of the dust away, he picked up a half-empty case of shotgun shells, totaling four. Disappointed, he quickly did a mental check of the current weaponry that the team had, noting that they had nothing that the shells would fit into.
He almost flung the case aside, before deciding to hold onto the shells. They could always bargain with them. Or throw them at people.
Leaving the house without checking upstairs, he slowly walked back towards the rest of the group...
Cat was right, he could feel himself slipping away, though he knew he would recover, he just wished it would happen soon.
He began to wonder what he could do with the bottle of oil he had, it wasn't much but if the rest could find some hair spray, he would be able to wrap the chain around the bottle, and sacrificing a cloth or torn piece of shirt, he could make a basic bomb.
He also hoped that the rest of the crew was okay.
But, he opened his eyes, well one of them, just a bit, he saw the old man.
"Jerk" he mumbled, and to his surprise, the man opened a eye and looked at him.
Even though he had crippled him, he felt kind of sad, he was probably sixty, or fifty, trapped in this mess, "not even he deserves this" thought Rob.
Meanwhile, Nails' hope to find some branches below one of several trees down the street - was not fulfilled. Probably picked up by travellers coming in and out of DMC, all the fallen branches were gone; he didn't find a single one. And he wasn't exactly the high-tree-climbing type, either. Especially not with a broken rib. On his way back to others, Nails found the solution, though.
Back at the bloody scene of Rob's fight, he picked up the baseball bat and the crowbar, which were still lying on the ground near bodies of their former owners. For now, he drove them into his duffle bag, which was wide enough to fit enough of both without them falling out. Then he walked to the van, and picked up three larger metal sheets he prepared as traps. With the rifle on his shoulder and his bow in the other hand, it was not exactly pleasant walk to the house, but thankfully, it was rather short one.
He dropped metal sheets, the crowbar and the bat near the entrance, then went in. "Hey, Rob, i'll borrow your spear, OK?", he asked, more as a formality. Rob's response was unintelligible. His spear had its tip broken, so it wasn't any good as a weapon, anyhows. Nails took it outside to other parts.
With all parts in place, Nails then used two medium strings to firmly tie the bat and the crowbar together, forming a single shaft long enough to serve as one side of the travois. Then he took out his monkey wrench, and flattened barbed edges and pieces of metal sheets. Packed the monkey wrench back into his backpack, and then tied flattened metal sheets tightly to the spear on one side, and the crowbar-and-bat thing on the other side of sheets. Holes in metal sheets through which they were initially assembled to form the doghouse - proved to be highly useful. "God bless screws and nuts", thought Nails while finely adjusting junctions with his multi-tool.
Using few more strings, Nails made rather long handle, with which this improvised travois could be pulled, and then entered the house. "Cat, i've made a hybrid of a travois and a sled. I think it'd be able to carry Rob. Could be a bumpy ride for him, so we better use some clothes or whatever else soft for him to lie on. Nothing suspicious outside, so far. Didn't see Silent, so far. Any instructions?"
Having taken a sudden detour, The Silent emerged from an alleyway behind the house.
Still brooding, he entered the house, jumping the frontdoor steps. Stepping out from behind Nails, he quickly walked past him, as Alexander found a corner from which he could sulk in.
With his eyes, however, he looked at the half-dead old man. Noting the shoulder which he had shot, Alexander shaked his head.
One inch closer, and you would've been dead
Normally, he would've aimed for the head. Normally, he would've ensured that his mark died. But on this one very occasion, he had refused to perform the killing shot, instead aiming to cripple him.
Examining the Looter thoroughly, he felt that he had done the right thing, not going for the headshot. He was old, almost as old as he was, maybe even older, and he knew that, at this age, the looter should've been sitting comfortably at home, not out in the wilds fighting for survival.
And mercy, it seemed, was hard to find these days...
But looking upon Robert, he almost felt guilty, not punishing the looter for what he had done to this young fellow.
Closing his eyes, Alexander leaned against the wall, letting out a deep breath.
"Ah, Silent! As invisible as usual, huh!" - Nails' voice was giving away his good mood. Nails went towards Silent and waited a bit until Silent opened his eyes. "I'm just glad you're not just in one piece, but apparently in one not wounded piece, even. Naturally, you won't tell us what was going on in your parts, but it's good it didn't hurt you. See, we got Rob seriously hurt here, Eric will have rather manly scar on his shoulder, Cat has a few holes in her skin - nothing too harsh, though, - and yours truly has a broken rib. So please don't hug me next week or two, OK?" - said that, Nails laughed. "Other than being unwilling to hug people, i'm quite fine though" - he got serious again, - "here, Silent, take those", giving Silent 5 JHP and 7 FMJ rifle rounds. "This is half of rifle ammo supply this old man had, - i'm sure he won't need them anymore, you know. Since i can't ask you for how much ammo you have yourself, i ask you to count for me. I'd like to have same number of shots - plus minus one if the total is uneven, - for us both to have. So i expect you'll give me some of those back, after you've done counting".
Nails leaned against the wall next to Silent, and added: "And please don't be too proud to take some of those, Silent. It was your shot, you know. The guy went vegetable before i could kick his butt. Oh, and thanks for not blowing his brains out, i actually intended to tie him up and ask him a few questions. I guess Cat will do that, seeing she's bandaged him".
Nails went silent for a while, and then said in low and monotonous voice, so that only Silent could hear him: "you know, his rifle is very well maintained, and he's probably not an idiot, surviving to his age... But he did a mistake going together with that bunch we took out, and he did another mistake leaving his position and trying to run away. If not Rob's crippled legs, i'd even consider to carry him with us, if the interrogation would show he's anything worthy of a man. But now, we'll probably have to leave him around here, with almost nothing to defend himself with, and barely any food or water, if any at all. He'll die, with that wound of his, for sure. It'd possibly take quite a long and painful time, but he'll die even if we'd leave him untied. I don't like to make people suffer for a long time, Silent. I think that if nobody else will finish him, then i'll put an arrow right to the back of his skull when we'll be leaving... But, if you want to do it yourself, then you can borrow my bow. Feel free to take it even now. I was intending to give it to Rob anyways - his spear is a goner. It sure saved his life, though. For the old man, we can't use a rifle shot 'cause it's loud - and our mobility is severed, with Rob's legs crippled, you know. I wonder, if one day someone would be kind enough to make a shot of mercy to you and me, eh"...
Taking the bullets from Nails, Alexander quickly went over his ammunition.
Two in my pockets, 12 being handed to me...
Pocketing three JHP and seven FMJ rounds, he handed two of the lethal JHP rounds back to Nails, as he nodded in appreciation.
However, it ended simply at the rounds. With the coldness of steel, he looked back at Nails, as he heard about his plans to "Interrogate" the old looter.
I would rather tear down the Walls of the DMC with a fork than assist in your "questionings"...
Looking back upon the old man, he saw a reflection of himself as he thought upon what would happen...
The cruelty of necessary evil is a terrible one indeed...
He looked at the heavily injured Roberts, his leg horribly mutilated by the JHP round that the Looter had fired.
Perhaps you do deserve it after all, old man...
Nails noticed the look Silent gave him, but it wasn't clear which words caused it. Lowering his voice even more, he then said, making brief pauses now and then: "Look, Silent, i am not forcing your hand. If he'll still be alive when we'll be leaving, i'll finish him myself, if you won't want to. Doesn't bother me".
"I am willing to borrow you my bow only because i think you may feel moral obligation to finish what your bullet started, your choice if you do it or not. See, if i'd be him, i'd be grateful for a killing shot".
"And if you doubt my intentions to interrogate him - man, they were following us, advancing to our position weapons drawn, and did nothing to avoid the fight - quite the opposite. This old man's bullet bumped into piece of metal i was holding, broke my rib. And Rob's leg, you've seen yourself. What you expect me to do - give him a shower of rose petals"?
"Still, i didn't mean torturing him. Just asking questions without untying his hands, - this is interrogation in my book. I am not cruel, thought you'd know this by now. Just doing what's right, even if it's not a pleasant thing. Don't judge me".
Rob, looking at his legs.
One was fine, felt fine anyways, the other was a mess, no longer bleeding, but still painful, and very much stiff and limp.
Then, staring at the old man, his mind kept telling him to say 'Kill him, kill him now!', but that wasn't the answer, he had killed two men today, could he kill or cause the death of another?
"His face, weathered from the wastes, I can see that he's been through lot's, to much," pausing for a good time "When...if we kill him, doesn't that make us as bad as him," pausing again "It's not human to kill another, I know this from experience,"
Rob just wished that people that were as old as this man would have taught his generation to be like them, but instead they tried to kill the people that had brought them down.
This man had something in common with Rob, they both had no family, that can drive a man insane, knowing that your family is dead, even watching them die.
He had dreams about that night many times.
Nails went to Rob, gave him some water, held his hand a bit, and spoke with sadness in his voice: "Rob, this old man is already dead, just not right now yet. His hours are numbered, i think. Let's hear what Cat thinks, though. She's a medic, after all. Anyways, don't feel guilty, Rob. He attacked us, then tried to run away. Should we not take him down, he could follow us and try to avenge his friends. He made his choice when he fired at us. Like it or not, he's an enemy, and should be treated as an enemy. If you pity your enemies, then you won't survive to his age. This means, he'll most likely seek to harm us or kill us, if he will have a chance. Because he survived to his age, you know. Now, try to rest".
Cat didn't like the decision she would be about to make. Her instincts took over when she bandaged the old man, but Nails was right, he'd have days to live at best. Turning to the man, she shook him to wake him up. "Look, you'll die. In fact you'll die very soon. We can make it painless and quick, if you help us. Or, we can leave you out here in these wastelands where to wolves will probably get you before the fever. Your choice." The old man just smeared at her, teeth stained with blood. The man must be lung shot and in terrible pain. "What do you want that I could possibly give you?". Then he turned his head and spat on the floor. "It's time ol' Sergey is going to the land of his fathers. I can't help you, I just wish that you make this as quick and easy as you can."
Cat's frustration showed on her face. She knew it would come to this, but she didn't want to give the order. Looking over the group, her gaze landed on Eric. The kid was green as hell and definitely not the type that liked to kill. He'd be perfect for this, making sure the old man didn't suffer. He had already helped her with the man's phone- unfortunately a dead end. "Now he'll do this too", she thought. "Eric, you do it."
Seeing that Eric will need some time to digest Cat's order, Nails went forward, and sat on the floor before the old man. Their eyes were almost on the same level, despite the old man sitting on a chair. Nails spoke slowly. "Sergey, your shot broke my rib, i chased you, i took your rifle. But i don't hate you. You did what you had to, i did what i had to. I want you to tell me why your group followed us. I want to know why this bloodbath happened".
Sergey was silent, for the moment. Nails then added: "And if you have anyone who care about you, i can try to find them and tell them your words. If you will tell me who they are and where to find them, i will deliver your message to them. It is the only thing i could do for you now".
Sergey just sneered at the big guy in front of him. He wanted him to tell him were his family was? In a mass grave in the Greater Lakes Region. Small pox. nothing he could have done. Although he told himself these things for over eight years now, the truth still stung just as much. "You wanna know why we followed you?" he said to the big guy, before he turned his eyes on the hacker that was supposed to give him the killing blow. "He knows already, it's all there on the phone. We knew about Mr Stout and, well, we knew that you just came from the DMC, loaded up with supplies." He hoped this was enough, but it was amusing to see them struggling to get to grips with what he said. They didn't see the truth… even though it was so obvious. With a crooked and blood red smile he added, still in the direction of the nerdy kid, "So, you gonna do it? Make sure you strike true, or give me a mercy shot. Don't wanna be around for a second attempt." Seeing the kid swallowing the lump in his throat, he went on " Come on, don't make me wait, do it or let it be, but get on with it."
Nails stood up. "We can't do it with a gun. Noisy, you know. We don't want possible extra attention. But still, it'll soon be over, Sergey. I'll remember you".
He went back to the spot near Silent, leaned to the wall, and started to reload and check Sergey's rifle, without paying much visible attention to anyone. Despite the looks, though, his brain was paying most attention to the wide picture which side view of his eyes was capturing - which was nearly all volume of the room.
Unsure what would happen if he didn't comply, Eric took up a position behind the old man and readied his crowbar for a coup de grâce. The old bandit was literally asking to be killed, he reasoned. To leave him alive would be an act of cruelty in its own right. That dry ethical justification didn't make the task any more pleasant though. Eric gingerly gripped his crowbar, closed his eyes, murmured a shaky apology, and swung the curved end of the tool into the back of the captured bandit's skull as hard as he could. The sensation of bone and flesh yielding to the crowbar was the worst thing Eric had experienced up to that point, and he'd been shot that very day.
He didn't need to check the man's pulse to determine that he'd never get up again. Eric quickly backed off from the fresh corpse, and his crowbar fell to the ground with a sharp, unpleasant clang. He stared with revulsion at the blood-drenched tool, and refused either to meet anyone's gaze or to speak. He had dreamed of exploring the world beyond Detroit, but this mission had already taken on the character of a nightmare.
Seeing as Eric struggled with just having killed an old and defenceless man, Cat wanted to move them onwards, not dragging out the whole thing.
"Ok, lets secure Rob on the travois. I'd suggest that Nails, you take the first shift of pulling it, after that, I will. We need to get a move on and get out of here. Earlier, I saw what looked like a forest maybe five miles from here to the northwest. For now, I think it's as good as anything to head in that direction."
The group seemed just as eager to get away from this place as she did, and Rob was tightly secured in no time. After just ten minutes, they were on the move again.
No one said anything, but Cat went through the recent events in her head. They had gotten just a day away from the DMC without incident, and now they were markedly slowed down and weakened. Between them, they had only enough food for the next six hours and only enough water for the next day. They urgently needed to stock up on food and water, and she desperately hoped that Rob would heal quickly, as at the current rate, they ran serious danger of running out of supplies well before reaching the next town. She hoped that the forest would provide them with some of the things they needed, ideally even some game. At least some fruits and berries, otherwise they'd be starving only three days into their travels.
Nails had given him a bow and some arrows, though he didn't know how many arrows he had, he intended to make good use of them.
Also gripping the handle of the rusted knife. "some many different things I could make of this" he thought.
Won't be good up close, to dull, if we find a stream I could sharpen it, but it might be a while.
Once again, slipping into a sleep.
Rob, still moderately awake, had been watching as the group moved.
He noticed that they had passed up a few edibles on the way, and what looked like a game trail, though he knew they had to move, he wished they would stop and drink a little.
Mainly because he had been through these parts a few weeks ago, and back then it was like a marsh, they would need all of their strength.
Once Eric dealt the mercy blow to the old guy, Nails spent few more minutes checking his rifle - now, with Sergey's being dead, it became "his" rifle indeed, - adjusting its optics to his own vision, checking - as much as possible, - if the optics is well aligned with the barrel (it seemed perfect), and loading it with JHP bullets.
One JHP and eight FMJ bullets remained in reserve. He placed those into his hoodie's pocket, along with a lighter and 10 clean rags. The multi-tool was relocated to his trousers' pocket. This way, he had all those quickly accessible without the need to go through his backpack.
Before leaving the house, Nails picked up the rusty knife and gave it to Rob; he also gave Rob his bow with the 4 remaining arrows. "Your arms are still good, Rob, and if need be, you can shoot even without standing up. Or cut someone's achilles if they get close. Try not to waste arrows though. I can make more, but not as good ones as those. Aim well". Then he untied hands of Sergey's body and thrown the string to Cat: "he doesn't need it anymore, does he".
Outside, he picked up the hammer, which was still lying near the van, and gave it to Cat. "You seem to do well with a blunt weapon, miss, and i think this is both more durable and more damaging than your mighty flashlight, isn't it".
Pulling the sled with Rob on it was exhausting, and after nearly a mile, Nails felt it'd do the group more bad than good if he'd continue to do it; at least, if he'd continue alone. "Hey, Cat, your turn. But i think you won't make any far at all if you'd do it alone. Silent, you're the only one unhurt, would you kindly help our lady while i take some breath. Oh, and Eric, if you'll help me pulling it when it'll be my turn again, then i think i could last much longer, probably all the way till the forest".
Visibly calm and content, Nails' mind was all but. The old guy - Sergey - mentioned Stout's name. This means, their task was made known to his bunch. If it was made known to them, then yet more people might know. "Who's the rat, or was it an accident? Stout himself has no use to set us up - not after spending two grands on our gear, at least. Also, he'd do it much better - not with a bunch of rookies, old rifleman and one or two mediocre melee fighters"...
"Hatter? What he'd need it for... Also, same thing - too inefficient to be Hatter's work. Even if he'd have something against Cat, he wouldn't do it so sloppy"...
"Probably not a set up at all, even... More like someone eavesdropped, or one of us has a tongue too loose... Perhaps during market time... The former possibility? Slim, considering Hatter's guards... Really unlikely"...
"Which leaves the chatty-chatty-person thing being most probable cause. Who? Not Silent... If he'd somehow tell anyone, then only on purpose to take out this group... Going out of our sight would be a proper move, then, possibly shooting us 4 from behind while others attack from the front... But he's not as stupid as to count of that bunch to do most of the work... Probably not him, but heck, what do i really know about him - and who does"?
"Cat herself? Not a chatty-silly type none... Wouldn't be Hatter's officer otherwise. Suffered much injuries, too. Not likely it's she"...
"Rob or Eric? Could be either of them... Possibly chatted some extra bits while shopping, while not ever thinking a tiniest bit about the possibility we'd be hunted as a result of their talk... If so, then there may be more people who would try to hunt us down"...
"Or may be it's a set up after all, and this first bunch was not at all intended to take us out - merely weaken us, and there's more to come... If so, then i can't trust Silent, can't trust Eric - Sergey said it's all in the phone, but Eric didn't tell us a darn thing, who knows if it's failure to hack or intentional attempt to hide it... Should then trust Cat. Not much use to trust Rob with anything, with his current condition, but well, he's the only other person than Cat to possibly talk about it"...
"In those circumstances, shouldn't talk to anyone right now though, won't help anything, no firm conclusions possible... Gotta wait. But Eric, Silent, even Rob - they are possibly thinking about it right now, too, and one of them could perhaps make some wrong, premature conclusions... Even if so, hopefully they won't make any move about it until things get at least somewhat more clear. Gotta be ready for it if they'd try, nonetheless".
"Fine start this expedition has... Not. Let's see if Cat will appoint a guard for a night time; if she won't, i might rather split for the night, just in case".
It was not the most pleasant walk Nails ever had, and the future seemed as uncertain as it can ever be.
Cat took over the travois and Silent immediately came to help her. Nails was right, the sled was much easier to pull with two people and they made some good time. But despite that, she wasn't all too happy. She could feel tension in the group. That weasel Sergey had managed to sow dissent among them, and there was no telling whether he was lying or not.
"Eric did not find anything on the phone, but she wasn't sure whether he ha told them everything. And heck, even if Sergey lied, he still knew about Stout. Someone must have told him, but who? Nails seemed very unlikely, seeing as he had been pulling his weight since the very beginning. Rob seemed unlikely too, given that he had been severely wounded. Then again, if this was an accident and he was overheard at the market, this could have been a punishment. But no, that was ridiculous, paranoid talk. Even someone as skilled at finding things and people as I am would have struggled to pinpoint our location, and even more so to take out one person in the middle of a heated battle. That left Silent and Eric. Silent had taken a very long time to get back to them after their meeting with Hatter, and he didn't fire any shots until the one that crippled Sergey, when the battle was already won. But then, what would he be after? Even if he was after Stout's reward all for himself, why not wait longer? It didn't make any sense. Lastly, Eric. He had not told them about anything on the phone, but that might just have been a ploy by Sergey to distract them. He had also hesitated to kill Sergey, but then again he was young and green, that was hardly a crime. It's no use, everyone and no one is a suspect."
Cat knew that now, trust among them would be more important then ever. She turned to the group and proclaimed: "We still have some supplies and water. Once we get to the forest, we should make camp, gather some resources and share a meal. Tell each other about ourselves, get to know one another. Silent, it would be nice if you shared something too, but I understand if that's not your thing." She was convinced his silence was the effect of something traumatic, and maybe, just maybe, in the right environment, she could help him open up again. It would be vital for them all to trust each other, and trust was gonna be very important for what was to come.
Nails' brainstorm intensified while he was walking unburdened by the travois, and it produced a result. Then, Nails picked a moment when Eric fell back few dozens steps, looking at something, then he approached Cat and Silent who were pulling Rob forward, and quickly said with a voice barely louder than a whisper, making sure Eric didn't hear what he had to say, adressing all three of them (though being not sure if Rob is awake enough to comprehend his words well):
"Listen, guys. The bunch we killed tracked us fast and well. Considering the fact there are tons of tracks near DMC, it's quite possible we were tracked via GPS or something like it - something electronic. Eric bought his devices on the market. It's possible there was a bug implanted into one of those devices. I can imagine some traders on the market doing business like this: selling electronics with radio or electronic beacon, and then telling about the signal to their "pocket" looters/killers parties, sharing the profit with them. If so, then Eric may well be oblivious that his device - or even devices, - are luring killers to us. I can't be sure, of course, but here's an idea: when he'll fall asleep, take his backpack - he has at least his notebook in it, - and put it some half a mile or so away from our camp, for the night. See what happens. Don't want Eric to hear this, though, he got enough stress for today when he had to finish the old guy. Give it a thought, Cat, and let me know what you'll decide if you want me to assist with it".
Then he continued in full voice, "so, guys, what you think, how many hours of daylight we'll have when we'll make to the forest? Can do quite alot of things while it's still not dark, wanna know what can i count on. I like the idea to get to know each other more, Cat, but this can be done night-time, near warm remains of a good fire. And we'll need fire to boil water anyways, i guess. Right"?
"A fire sounds good right now, but we would have to burn little," announced Rob
"As for getting to know each other, I could say yes or no," All his life he had tried to forget his past, but know it seemed he was getting closer... his past tortured him so, to the point where if he thought of it to much, he could hear, and taste, and see it all again, just like how it really happened.
Rob said nothing after that, he just wished he wouldn't let out his past, at least not to much.
Totally oblivious to the ensuing intrigue, Eric lagged behind the group and reflected on the harrowing day. Even in his guilt-ridden fugue, he recognized that something or someone had betrayed the group's mission. He wasn't sure what the old man, Sergey, whom Eric had snuffed out of existence, had meant about the phone. Eric's cursory hacking efforts hadn't yielded anything of interest. The mission had always been dangerous, but now that it had been compromised to Michigan's criminal underground, the odds seemed overwhelmingly grim, and that fact was slowly sinking into Eric's mind.
Did it matter? Even if he lived to see his cut of the profit, Eric would probably return to the Sprawl a far worse person than he was when he left. He couldn't imagine returning to his parents' home for any occasion after doing the things this contract would undoubtedly ask of him. Eric wanted to stop in his tracks and curl up in a sleeping bag. Instead, he picked up his pace and returned to his colleagues, well after their hushed conference had taken place. Eric stood ready to take his shift at the travois; however upset he was, he had an obligation to his companions that he took quite seriously.
Silent had not given much thought to Sergey's words. However, hearing Nails plan, and what seemed to be suspicion brewing, it was clear that what he had said had disturbed them.
Letting out an exasperated breath, he left the younger ones to their games of paranoia and intrigue, when it was clear that they are simply pointlessly pointing and imagining daggers.
This is a world where precaution has no meaning...
Looking over his shoulders, he looked over everybody...Wariness and paranoia has taken root, with each member seeking to catch each other in the act.
Fools. There are many ways to die out in the wasteland. Survival is a matter of relying on yourself if alone, or relying on each other if in a group. And here, unfolding infront of him are intricate conspiracies and festering suspicion.
Left unchecked, this would only result in everybody stabbing each other in the back. Decades of being out in the wastelands have already made it clear to him, a group survives on trust. Right now, the only thing that these young fools are intent on, is weaving together conspiracies to point fingers at each other.
Let them be, he opted, as he looked straight forward, accepting the fact that Wisdom does not come easy to those who haven't survived as long out in the wilds.
With a quick cast towards the skies, he hoped that the party would give up their fantasies of hidden blades and daggers, and focus on the reality. But knowing the childishness and hot-headedness of young survivors, he doubted it.
Confining himself to the fact that they will most likely kill each other jumping at shadows with knives long before something actually does them in, he continued walking.
Yes, they should be engraved. One by one...
Cat was really glad when the edge of the forest appeared in front of them about an hour later. She could feel the tension in all of them, even when some tried to put on a calm exterior. They needed to stick together, now more than ever. First they'd need some resources and they would have to build some shelter for the night. But Nails had a great idea about Eric's backpack. In fact, they could easily spin it to their advantage. But she wanted everyone ready and fed first.
They continued for about another half hour, but pulling the travois through the forest became a real pain. When they reached a clearing, Cat called them to halt.
"This looks like as good a place as any for us to take a break and build some shelter. We need at least two people gathering some edibles and water, ideally someone that knows about plants. Nails and Eric, how about the two of you? Silent and I will build a fireplace and some basic shelter. Rob will stay here with us. I want to check up on him later, to see how he's doing. In fact, once we're all back, before we start cooking our food, I'd like to check up on all our injuries, just to make sure that no one's infected or anything. Everyone ok with that?"
"Will do", said Nails while brushing some sweat off his forehead. His voice was giving away his feeling of joy about being in the forest. "Silent, if you guys will need our help against any foe, make a shot, and i'll hurry back. I hope you guys have a lighter among you, if not, i'll borrow you mine until i'm back. You may need fire before i return. I'll search for a clean water source while we gather food, too. Eric, if i get too far - anything more than 30 meters from you - call me to wait for you".
Then Nails turned around and slowly walked away, stopping now and then to pick a piece of bark, a dry branch, a leaf of some seemingly insignificant plant or to stare at something closely for a second or two. His large figure in a fur coat and gloves could even be mistaken for a bear at distance - sometimes. He looked relaxed, as if he was at home in this wild forest; and he indeed was.
Cat started gathering some firewood and small kindling and dry leaves. Piling them up in between some flat sones, she then took out Nails' lighter and started their fire. The kindling caught in a flash and she had a nice fire going in no time. Then she took out two of her empty bottles and filled them with mechanical parts, before tying them around their camp for noise traps.
After they had a secured camp with fire, she started moving some of the larger objects away, so as to clear a space to sleep at night. Once she was happy with her efforts, she turned to Rob and his injured legs.
"So Cat, are you sure that this leg can't move?" Rob hated to burden others, and would rather walk on a broken leg than slow down their mission, "Maybe I can make a crutch or two, it would also give me something to do, then we could also use this make shift sled to pull some extra food, if the others find some," he patiently waited for a response.
Looking at Rob's mangled calf, she knew that it would be very painful to support any weight on it. The other leg seemed ok though. She thought it might have been broken, but from the looks of it, it was just swollen and badly bruised, but still intact.
She looked Rob in the eye and said "It's gonna be painful as hell to walk on that leg, but with a crutch I think you could do it. Plus, given the muscle damage, it's best you start using your leg sooner, rather than later. Just in case though, if the pain becomes too much, I've got a painkiller for you. It's not very strong, but it might just take the edge off. Only use it when the pain becomes a real problem though."
Rob thankfully accepted and Cat turned her attention to her own wounds. Her thigh was already healing over and she could take the bandage off, it'd definitely need to be washed or disinfected before being able to be used again. Her arm still stung a lot however, and removing the bandage, there was still a long open gash facing her. At least it looked like it didn't bleed and wasn't infected. She quickly used a new bandage and wrapped up her arm again. Now she'd be ready to help out wherever she was needed.
Nails found large amount of blueberry bushes. "Eric, before you start to collect blueberries, you eat as much as your stomach will want", he said, "i'll do it too. This is the best way to do it". The two were far enough from others for Nails to be sure they won't be heard.
Then Nails talked, making pauses after each phraze or two to eat a handful of berries. "Listen, kid, you got it harsh today, but i want you to concentrate now. You're a hacker, so i know you can think logically. Imagine that what i'm going to tell you now - is a hacking problem, ok?" - "Ok...", Eric replied, "what you got?".
Nails continued. "When Cat and Silent were pulling Rob forward, and you fell back a bit, i told them that the group which we killed probably tracked us by a signal. Some bug or beacon in one or even few of your devices. Lots of tracks near DMC, they'd have a hard time following our tracks among all those".
"It's true, i believe. It's possible traders in the market sold you some device with a bug implanted in it. But this would not explain how Sergey would know the name of that Groat-Stout-whatever - our employer, you see. When i ask myself how he could know it - i see two possibilities. Either someone spied on us when we had the talk with Hatter and Stout, or the meeting after market - or there is a rat".
"Spying is hard to believe. Hatter's guards are tight. If he'd allow himself to be spied upon, he'd be out of business in no time. So it seems to me quite likely that there is a rat. We know 7 people knew about the job Stout gave us, initially - Stout himself, Hatter, and 5 of us. It's difficult to imagine Stout himself would set us up - why would he spend two grands for our equipment. Still, it's possible. Next, Hatter: he didn't spend a dime, but Cat is his officer. It may be Hatter wants to get rid of her, but such an exotic method would be strange, plus i don't think he'd want to piss off that Stout guy. So, once again - could be possible, but it's unlikely".
"That's how i arrive to conclusion that it well may be we have a rat among us, Eric. But i am sure it's not you". Eric swallowed a bunch of berries he just collected, and asked curiously: "why is that?". "Because i've seen your face when Cat ordered you to finish the old guy. It was greenish, Eric. Literally. I don't believe it's possible to fake this. You never killed a helpless man before, obviously, and in general, you're not a scum".
"Now, to the practical part. You see, Eric, logic dictates we can't know for sure if we have a rat among us or not, but if we want to live, we have to act as if we'd have a rat in the group. As a precaution. To this end, i have a plan. I told others that i want your backpack, with your devices in it, to be moved away from our camp, for the night. There may be other group - or even groups - who are following us, with a goal to take us out. Sergey's bunch could be one of several parties sent to take us out. If there are bugs in your devices, then moving devices away will lure attackers to a wrong spot, you see".
"But in order to try to see if we have a rat in the group, i want you to put all your devices into a plastic bag - i have one, found it in the appartment building even before the fight we had. You yourself hide the bag here in the forest, far enough from our group's camp. You'll return for them tomorrow. If there is a bug, enemies will come for the bag, not for our camp. In doing so, we will save ourselves and others, you see".
"Then i want you to put some branches and stones into your backpack to keep its weight and shape the same. Others will still think devices are in your backpack. And then, if one of them is a rat who carry such a bug - some sort of beacon, - then he, or she, will find a moment to put it into or near your backpack when it will be taken away for the night. The rat would do it to make others think it's your devices which are luring enemies to us, you see. And later, when we'd be leaving this forest, the rat would pick the beacon back, in order to keep enemies hunting us. The group would probably toss your devices away in this case - but i won't let it happen, because you and me would then tell others what we did. If enemies would come to your backpack during this night, - filled with branches and stones, - then you and me would know we have a rat. We will then tell others about it, and the rat will be found. Because then we will know for sure that we have a rat in the group, and this means, going on would be a suicide mission, you see. The sooner we'd find out who is it, the safer it is".
"And, if the rat will do as i expect, then enemies - if any will be, - will come not for the bag with your devices, but for your backpack. This would also save our group, or at least it will allow to ambush those enemies if they'll start searching around. Personally, i don't think i'll have much sleep this night - if there are more enemies following us, then they may well catch us here in the forest while we are not moving".
"You see, Eric, if we have a rat among us - if this is what's going on, - then my primary suspect is Silent. He doesn't talk, he's been somewhere for a while after we got our job exsplained to us, and noone knows where he has been. During the fight, he didn't shoot until it was clear that i will catch Sergey. And he's old and seasoned - the opposite to yourself. All that said, personally, i sure hope we don't have a rat in the group, i sure hope it was either Hatter or Stout who set us up. But i just want to know for sure".
"Oh, and one other thing. For my plan to have a viable result, i want you to use all your knowledge and skill about electronics to check everything in your backpack - all items and the backpack itself, - for bugs. Right here and now. I don't want to falsely accuse anyone. For my plan to work, you and me - we both have to be completely sure that your backpack and items which would remain in it - do not contain any bug or radio beacon".
"And finally, in case we actually do not have a rat in the group - then my plan will not do any harm. Your devices will remain in a place only you know, safe in the plastic bag; and i don't think your backpack will take any damage being half a mile away from you for the night, too".
"So, Eric, you now know what i think about the situation at hand. Our lives - mine and yours included, - may depend on what you will decide now. Do you agree with my plan? Will you do as i ask? Can you remain silent about our talk - till the next morning, that is, - and will you fake sleep and allow others to take your backpack and put it some half a mile away from the camp? And, what you think, yourself, about why Sergey knew the name of our employer, and what it means"?
Rob was in fact, and conveniently next to a tree.
It took a while to get his arm to a branch-which looked alive-and pull it over.
"Now, how to make a crutch?"he whispered to himself, "Ah," he whispered again.
He looked at the branch, and in a half-sloppy motion, pulled out the multi-tool.
And, after a while, he had what looked like a crutch, but seemed a bit to... odd, simple but so strange, he quickly dismissed the idea that it would break under his weight.
Rob tried to stand, holding onto the tree next to him.
"Hhmmm" he grunted as he stood, "Well, I can walk, I think,".
He was right, and did a few laps around the fire.
"So Cat, anything I can do around camp?" He was so eager to help, it practically radiated from him.
Cat was glad to see that Rob was back on his feet. Looking at his eagerness, she said " The other guys are out foraging, but we could also set up some traps around here. Why don't you start over there" indicating what looked like a game trail some fifty meters away from the camp. "With any luck, we might catch a squirrel or a rabbit."
"Gladly," Making his way to the trail, bow around his back and a couple arrows in his hand.
Well, I better get started, tying a snare to a large, low hanging branch.
Best keep quiet, unless I want the animals to hear me.
By the time he was done, he had placed two snares.
"Know whats down the trail, maybe some food, or some water?" he said softly, making his way down the trail.
Eric evaluated Nails' plan as he grazed on foraged berries. If Nails had not betrayed the group, the plan was sound. In fact, Eric could not imagine a situation in which this plan would help Nails if he were the informant. Eric's capacity to pay attention had gradually returned, and even after his harrowing experience, he knew the group would face a grim death if they didn't ditch their pursuers. After a sustained pause, Eric took a deep breath and nodded. "Alright. I'll find someplace to stash my devices." Eric accepted the plastic bag from Nails and took note of a rotting log nestled in a shallow ravine. At his earliest opportunity, Eric returned to the spot with his bag full of electronics and tucked them away safely in the hollow of the log.
A chill ran down Eric's spine as he considered the possibility that Nails had set Eric up to commit a series of cryptic and suspicious actions for the sole purpose of turning the group against him. He tried his hardest to perish the thought; he knew catastrophic thinking wouldn't help him get out of this situation alive. Nevertheless, as Eric unpacked his sleeping bag, metal can, and water bottles, he made damn sure to tuck the .38 away in his waistband. Eric knew full well that he had spent all of his rounds hours ago; the cold wheel gun gave him an intangible sense of safety, doing a better job as a teddy bear than a weapon.
Away from the group, Eric gathered woodland debris and stones into his backpack, giving it his best approximation of its original load. When he was satisfied with the bag's weight, Eric returned to the group and started looking for a sheltered, enclosed outcropping for his sleeping bag. Occasionally, Eric glanced up at his comrades, wracked with both a desire to talk and a creeping fear that the group had already judged him guilty of treason. Without his laptop and preapocalyptic media, there was nothing to distract Eric from the stark reality of his situation.
Sensing Eric's uneasiness, Cat walked over to him and spoke to him in a friendly, warm tone. "Lemme take a look at your shoulder, just checking everything is alright." Eric pulled up his hoodie and turned his back, for her to inspect. "Hmmm, it should be fine soon, everything's clean".
Seeing the relief on Eric's face, Cat then asked him whether he could gather some more firewood- She wanted to clean some of their bandages and for that, she'd need a small fire, away from the big cooking one.
Eric went away, and Nails concentrated on collecting edibles. His own stomach was already full of blueberries and last half a liter of his sterilized water reserve. After collecting from richest spots in the area, he went towards a nearby higher ground, and found what we hoped for - lots and lots of wild red raspberry bushes, with lots of berries on them.
Then he went downhill, gradually turning back for the camp in the same time. Watching the terrain, he steered to local lowest point, and found what he was looking for - a tiny stream of fresh water, which was invisible for an eye, but obvious to anyone who knew how to read moss growth. Nails filled all 13 empty plastic bottles of his with water, and headed for the camp, filling remaining space in his duffle bag with edible mushrooms on his way.
Nails returned to the camp about two hours after leaving it. "Everything's ok?" - he asked Rob, who nodded in response. "Glad to see you on your feet, but try not to overdo it though, you know. Alright, folks, food wagon arrived", - he dropped his duffle bag on the ground, opening it up, and added berries from his backpack on top of the open duffle bag.
"Should be about three kilos of berries and more than two kilos of mushrooms here, i'm leaving the duffle bag in the camp for now, eat it while it's perfectly fresh, guys. Cat, i'm dropping my backpack here as well, - for now. Please look after it. Oh, and there is a tiny stream of fresh water the side i went from, look for lots of dark-green moss in the lowest area of the forest, it's under the growth, good water there".
Opening his backpack, Nails took out three medium strings. "Listen, Cat, it's bad thing we have that wide track of our travois going straight through the forest to our camp. I'm going to hide it some half a mile away from our camp, will make a small fire there and a rough skeleton of a travois, to mislead anyone who could follow our tracks. I need my lighter back, use Eric's if anything, he's back now". Taking his lighter from Cat, Nails added: "if you can collect some bark for me while i'm away, it'd be great. Bark tea will be good for most of us, i think".
Without weight of his backpack, Nails ran through the forest. Feeling of freedom, hundreds of subtle scents of forests, his tired muscles still performing his wish like a well tuned, precise mechanism - for those few minutes, Nails' mind was freed of all worries, and he just enjoyed the run. Even weak but constant pain of the broken rib went away for a short while.
The he stopped and got to business. Here, when others couldn't see him, he was in an obvious hurry. With two large and several smaller branches quickly found around, he made a rude travois without handle, after using all his strength to rub two large branches against each other several times - to make it seem that the travois was indeed travelling several miles before being abandoned. Next, he spend two minutes clearing a few square feet of all plants, putting few dried bits of bark and a few small dry branches together. Quickly ignited by the lighter, a small fire he made was not smoky, and, as Nails knew, would turn to ash mere 15 minutes after. Then he hidden the group's tracks best he could, made a loop, jumped few times near the fire, turned to the side, and ran over several large fallen trees - making a big leap off each fallen tree in order to disrupt his own tracks.
He went back to the camp mere 30 minutes later. "Our tracks are dealt with", he said. Taking his backpack, he noticed a small pile of bark not far from the camp's fire. "Ah, excellent, thank you, guys! Now, to the bark tea. As promised back in the town, everyone who needs some - can have up to three quarters of a liter of it, from me. It's free".
He made his own fire - tiny and smokeless, feeding it every few minutes with a new piece of dry wood and dry birch bark. Using four strong fresh branches to hang his sauce pan over the fire, he spent most of his time lying down. Boiling each pan took over dozen minutes, and cooling it down enough to poor the tea back into plastic bottles - took about as much, too. The soil was moist, and putting the pan into a small hole in the ground cooled it down quite fast. In total, Nails was going to boil 6 pans to make 4 liters of bark tea, then 4 more pans of water to boil - to make 2,5 liters of clean water. This took him occupied for over 4 hours, well into the night, darkness of which was not any much disturbed by his tiny flame.
A few metres away from Nails, who had now returned to Camp, Cat had prepared her own small fire and started to clean some bandages, using some of the water Nails had brought back. Everyone around her seemed more relaxed and the food had gotten them all into a much better mood. She wanted to wait until Rob returned, hopefully with some game. She sensed already though, that them sitting together by the fires would be a good thing.
Nails, seeing Cat doing the laundry, realized that there is a chance, if slight, that she doesn't know that bark tea has disinfecting property, when properly brewed.
"Cat, look, you probably know, but anyhows: my bark tea disinfects wounds as good as whiskey does. Tell you what, if you want to have some of it just for this purpose, then i can give you extra bottle of it (with the bottle itself, of course). You're our medic, i think you need it. And, whiskey does not grow on a tree. Bark does; we can always make more bark tea if we need. While whiskey can be a good thing to drink, instead, you know. When freezing or something".