Daylight crept through the cloudy sky, and Rocco, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, climbed the ladder to the top of the train to inspect the landscape. After a few minutes, he saw a beaten-up wooden sign in the distance. As it got closer, he saw that, in crude red paint it said “Whitethorn Upcoming.” A minute later he saw a tower in the distance, with “Whitethorn” painted on the side.
Now came the hard part: as the trains never really stopped, Rocco would have to jump out. Maybe someday someone with enough tech-savvy would be able to rig the trains to stop at stations. But most of the tech people worked either for the government or for one of the Estates, and neither seemed to care.
As the train reached the tower, Rocco climbed to the side of the train and jumped off by the town’s main gate. One of the guards was kind enough to help him up.
“Welcome to Whitethorn,” he said.
“Thanks.” He brushed himself off, holding his soon-to-be-bruised side. “Name’s Nyriki Rocco. Here to see Mayor Hal.”
“You from southern Cal?”
“I’m from all over. Here to see the mayor.”
“Well, I just wondered if you were from around here, because we don’t have a mayor.”
“I was told—”
“Mayor Hal’s been dead for about a week. Haven’t elected a new one yet. I don’t know what your business is, but you might try your luck with the city council.”
Rocco swore under his breath. “No. My business was private.”
The guard shrugged. “Most of Hal’s files were passed to the council. Even if it was private…”
“Worth a shot, I guess. Where are they?”
“Inside the city, near the hotel. You’ll see a sign.” The guard opened the gate, and Rocco made his way toward the council hall. If they didn’t know about his mission he’d be out of luck. Unless he was willing to break some rules and play unfairly. Which, of course, he was.
Since he’d likely be staying for a while he checked in at the hotel, paid the receptionist with some of the dead guy’s money, and walked to the council hall.
The city was in shambles. Not as bad as a lot of others, but still pretty bad. Most of the rubble had been cleared up, but many of the buildings were completely uninhabitable. To his despair, he saw that the ruined buildings, despite their uninhabitable nature, were inhabited. This town must be pretty bad off. Most of the roads were shattered, and a thick layer of dust, dirt, sand, and God only knows what else coated just about everything. The people themselves looked just as ashen and miserable as their surroundings. A city of death.
When he reached the council hall, he indentified himself to the guard and was allowed entry. The inside looked as bad as the outside. One of the councilmen approached him.
“Forgive the mess, we just moved in here. The old council hall fell apart. Can we help you?”
“I had business with the mayor. So I guess this means I have business with you, now.” He handed the man an appointment card, signed by Mayor Hal.
“It’s pronounced ‘roh coh.’”
“Well, Mr. Rocco, I’m afraid we have don’t know what this is about.”
“So you speak for the whole council?”
“We weren’t given any information about this.”
“You weren’t. Let me speak to the rest of you.”
He began to protest, but seemed to think better of it. “Right this way.” He led Rocco to a room with a broken table and broken chairs. Two men and a woman, who Rocco assumed were the rest of the council, were clearing out debris. He introduced Rocco and explained the situation, but none of them knew anything about it.
“Mayor Hal and I had business, and I intend to finish it,” Rocco said.
“I don’t know how you’ll do that,” said the councilman, “but I wish you well. We’re sorry we couldn’t help you.”
“Right. Good day, councilmen. Councilwoman.” He turned to leave.
“I’ll show him out,” the councilwoman said, catching up to him. As they neared the entrance, she stopped him. “Follow the signs to the mayor’s house. You might find something there. I doubt it, but it’s better than nothing.”
“A city councilwoman is encouraging trespassing and theft?”
She didn’t smile. “If you’re seen, you’ll be arrested, and I will not help you.”
“Thanks.” He opened the door to the dusty wind and set off.
John and Fox were on a draisine, pedaling toward an old abandoned outpost a couple miles from the mine.
“Hope a train doesn’t come while we’re on this damn thing,” John said.
“That ever happen?” Fox said.
“Course it has. We saw a wrecked one once, remember? Back in the Mojave?”
“My wristband says the dead drop is inside, basement level.”
“Nothing more specific?”