The highway stretched endlessly in both directions, bathed in the harsh late-summer sun. The stretch of road was empty, an unbroken line of blacktop marred by no other visible traveler, human or otherwise. Malcolm’s worn boots clicking across the deserted road broke the idyllic silence that hung heavy in the warm air. The unforgiving sun shone on his face as he walked, causing the man to squint behind his mirrored sunglasses. A gentle breeze cooled his sun-browned face and rolled playfully through his short, dark hair. He had gotten a shave and a fresh haircut in Boston just before skipping town – as much a survival precaution as a fashion statement. The man preferred his hair short – it stayed out of his eyes and was more difficult to grab in a fight, a problem common to his line of work specifically and the world generally.
Despite his relatively recent grooming, Malcolm’s hair and skin felt like it had been greased with motor oil, and dark stubble was already spreading across his face. The man scratched at it absently as he continued his unceasing and unhurried pace westward. A battered and faded backpack bounced cathartically against the small of his back as he walked. It was loaded heavily with supplies, though the bulk of the weight was not due to good strictly necessary for survival. A pound and a half of hash, two kilos of heroin and a liter of pre-infection whiskey filled the majority of the pack; a small fortune that tugged at his shoulders and slowed his pace. A stolen fortune, taken as a parting gift from his associates in Boston. Associates that one would not want to see again, if one were inclined towards one’s survival.
As the miles increased and the hours dragged into days, Malcolm had allowed himself to quit worrying about what trouble he left behind him and began to wonder about what may lay ahead. There were few options in directions for travelers leaving Boston these days; East was ocean; to the south lay New York – a sprawling death trap of terror; Canada to the North, a frozen wasteland where small groups huddled together, fighting over scraps and waiting to die. So he walked west, approaching the first major obstacle of his trip and the end of his immediate planning.
The soft gurgling of the Hudson flowing past its banks drifted lazily through the warm late-summer air. Empty highway stretched in either direction, and trees lined the blacktop right to the edge of the water; a setting peaceful enough to be printed on a post card. Not that there were such things as post cards, not any more. And Malcolm had never cared very much Kevin Costner. These were the thoughts that drifted through the man’s head as he leaned against the front bumper of an abandoned car, looking across the highway bridge that spanned the murky water. It was the only crossing for fifty miles in either direction – a fact that made it a prime spot for a raider ambush. And so the man sat and watched, his battered boots resting on his worn pack, arms crossed over the chest of his brown leather jacket, waiting and searching for any sign of trouble. Raiders, however, were not the only thing he was waiting for.
The sound of her steps, steady and confident yet light, was the first sign of her approach. Malcolm had noticed the person following him late this morning. His first thought was an assassin, sent from Reese to kill him and return the shit he had stolen, but a hired gun would have no such tact, no need for stealth; they would have chased him down and shot him like a dog. And so Malcolm had slipped behind the car knowing that, like so many of life’s mysteries, time and patience would reveal the answer. As she approached, Malcolm slipped his revolver from its holster on his right leg, straining his ears to guess when she would pass the front of the car and be visible. ‘Uh... Strangers... I hate this. Do they want to share what they got or take what you got? Do you say 'hi' or do you blow them away?’ he thought, bringing him back to a different world, where heroes still existed, if only on the big screen.
She was startled when he rose up beside her from the cover of the car, his calloused thumb working the hammer of his revolver as he stood. Time seemed to slow as took stock of the girl in front of him. Malcolm’s dark eyes studied her as they stood on the empty highway, the cool summer breeze tossing her red locks about her face. The man decided to open with a customary greeting of travelers meeting on the open road under such circumstances. “What the fuck do you want?”