Dust packed, collected his equipment for the mission and stepped out into the fresh morning air. In spite of what was to come, he enjoyed the prospect of being free again; escaping and being let out were two very different things and he found the air sweeter, the sun brighter, when he was being allowed to leave.
He looked around at the familiar sights of the Solution. Its facility was built like a castle; thick sandstone walls surrounded the central courtyard, where horses, prisoners and the enormous three-story main building were held. The stables were at the east-facing wall, where whinnying horses let their owners know how nervous the things stored deep in the facility still made them. The prisoners did something similar to the west, though they had hard labour to distract them from the weirdness below. The main facility stood on a slight rise, a mansion looking down at everyone else. Speaking of the Triangle’s toys, there was a small section of the northern courtyard for them, walled off and secured by wards. The various things the Solution kept would be taken there whenever a new weapon needed testing.
Because they didn’t just study Dust here, no. America’s bridges to the Indians had been thoroughly burned over the years and none of their spiritual leaders would share their secrets. Which Dust didn’t blame them for. The Solution only had Dust to rely on so it was widely accepted by that the best way, the only way, for them to fight the Triangle was to use their Old Gods’ strength against them. That was what the eggheads worked on all day, every day; toying with and probing at unholy things in the hope of weaponising them.
And people thought Dust was the scary one…
“Morning Dust,” someone said, nearly surprising Dust.
He turned. It was Jacky, a young uniform with a Jack Russell’s grin and a two-cent haircut. He was carrying two armloads of bandages and a severe sunburn. A combat medic by trade, he had taken a shine to Dust. Whenever Dust wanted some jerky without having to go through Dick, it would be Jacky who’d bring him it.
“Morning,” Dust replied.
Jacky grinned, his smooth face showing his age. “They finally letting you loose?”
“Something like that.”
Dust was not much of a talker, even with people he could abide. Most didn’t seem to mind that and women certainly seemed to like it. Perhaps that was what people wanted; a guy who’d listen and not make too much of a fuss.
“You watch out for yourself out there,” Jacky said. He rubbed his forehead against his shoulder to clear sweat from his brow. It was a pretty warm day. “The Badlands have been pretty rough lately; a few patrols have come back scared shitless, beaten to within an inch of their lives. We patch ’em up and try to gee ’em but it’s hard to make a fella go back out there when they’ve experienced something… horrible, y’know?”
“No, I don’t.”
Jacky laughed. “No, I suppose you don’t.”
“Say, speaking of being fearless, the Naismith… kid… is at the stables. Looks all excited, like a cat with cream.”
“She waiting for you?”
Dust sucked in some air through his teeth. “Yeah.”
Jacky laughed again. “Well, maybe you don’t need to watch out for yourself; you’ve got someone who’ll be doing it for you!”
“I thought so. Good luck Dust.”
Jacky shifted the bandages so he wouldn’t drop them, tipped Dust a nod and walked on. Dust watched him go and wondered idly how many men he’d treat that day; a few? Six? A dozen? Could the Badlands have taken such an awful turn since he’d last been out there? He could scarcely imagine that was possible but Jacky wasn’t the type to flap his gums on matters he didn’t understand.