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Chapter 4  

  Previously, Avery “Wort” McEwan, a renegade brewer, decided he needed a weapon to destroy Canute, a Bureau computer that tracked citizens with ruthless efficiency. Elizabeth, a handmaid, convinced him to bring her Inside, where he could obtain such a weapon. Once Inside, they found themselves trapped by Sparta’s clan.

  As soon as the shadows appeared to block their escape, Papa slipped behind Wort and Elizabeth. His back against Papa’s, Wort slipped his hand into his pocket and said, calmly, “You need to let us leave.”
  “You’ll have to fight,” Sparta replied.
  “We’ll shoot our way out,” Wort said.
  “And break The Code?”
  “Your Code means nothing to me,” Wort replied. “I’m an Outsider.”
  The admission surprised Sparta, who glanced into the shadows to his left. “I have something from Outside that will interest you,” Wort continued. He pulled a small bottle from his pocket. “Cerveza loca. I will give it to the clan that provides us with the weapon I seek.” He turned his head. “Let’s go,” he said and the three of them moved slowly toward the entrance. The shadows remained in place, forcing them to stop near the exit.
  “Give us the bottle,” Sparta said. Wort set the bottle down on the floor. “Dejenlos.” The shadows separated, allowing the trio to exit. “The X-men don’t have weapons,” Sparta said, before they reached the door.
  “Malcolm said he would get it,” Wort said.
  “Malcolm lie,” Sparta said.
  “Money can make a person do that,” Wort replied. “We’ll be under Battle Bridge at two.”
  “A pelea goin’ down at two,” Sparta said.
  “Sounds like a good time to buy weapons,” Wort said. He pushed the door open and followed Elizabeth and Papa into the cooling Inside night.

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  The area under Battle Bridge had been shaped into a small arena, resembling a small coliseum. Wort, Elizabeth and Papa arrived early. “This is not good,” Papa said.
  “What?” Wort asked.
  “Sparta’s power is being challenged by Big Ali.”
  “Is that who he kept looking at?” Wort asked.
  “Yes, that’s his warrior chief. Sparta’s vulnerable right now. Many of his clan support Big Ali and want them to fight. Sparta’s trying to maintain power by redirecting the conflict to the X-men.”
  “Why is that bad?”
  “The X-men are trying to win peace. But every time a leader’s power is challenged, he tries to win turf for his clan, to prove himself. And the easiest clan to battle is the Xmen.”
  “Why does that save Sparta?”
  “It won’t, it will just buy him time, because Big Ali has to fight,” Papa said. “What’s worse, this will mean a wider war. I hope we can get this exchange done before that breaks.” Wort thought he detected fear in their guide’s voice.
  “You did the best you could,” Elizabeth said, looking at Papa with what looked like reverence.
  Pangs of jealousy rose in Wort. He suppressed the feeling and the questions that tried to surface about the relationship between Elizabeth and the old man. “What’s the plan?” he asked with a practiced nonchalance.

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 The trio’s wait ended at 2:00, when lights suddenly illuminated the stadium arena. Clan members wearing their colors filtered into the seats on both sides of the stadium. Above the coliseum hung a huge sign, which read, “Strife is the father of all and the king of all; some he has marked out to be gods, and some to be men; some he has made slaves, and some free. Strife is justice.
  Papa had chosen a spot between the two sides, far enough away for an easy escape. Once the clans had settled, two men entered the ring. One combatant was far larger, a huge, muscular man who had stripped to the waist. His body was well oiled. “That’s Big Ali,” Papa whispered.
  The second combatant, a smaller, younger man, held up his hand and began to read: “Malcolm predicted this. Once again, the white devils have us fighting ourselves, instead of against injustice. I have volunteered to sacrifice myself, but before I do, I would like to propose a different solution. A treaty exists...
  From Sparta’s side, the crowd began to catcall, then chant, and the combatant’s voice was drowned out. Once he realized he could no longer be heard, he raised a clenched fist above his head. The clan members on his side of the arena all stood and did likewise. In the now quieted crowd, the Xmen combatant said, “I offer you one last chance to make peace,” he said loudly. “Asante.” He held his hand out to Big Ali, who slapped it away. “Then we must sacrifice another black man to the white devil,” the man said, and bowed.
  The two combatants began to circle each other warily, urged to strike each other by the small groups of clan officers who were allowed to remain in the arena. Big Ali was the bolder of the two, knowing that his weight and size would help him if he could clinch his enemy, who warily kept his distance.
  Suddenly, Big Ali closed on the smaller challenger. Once he had a good grip he picked him up and, amidst a roar from the crowd, threw him to the ground. As the noise increased, Big Ali stepped on the smaller man’s neck. He raised his hands and twisted toward his clan’s side of the arena. A bottle flew out of the crowd and landed in the sand near his feet. Big Ali picked it up and urinated in it. He handed it to his fellow combatant, seeking the ceremonial sign of defeat. The Xman knocked the bottle out of Big Ali’s hands.
  The snap of the smaller combatant’s neck under Big Ali’s foot was lost amidst the roar that went up from his clan. For a moment the air was tense, as if someone was about to open fire. Reverence for the stadium held strong, however, and the losers began to file away from the ring.

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  Outside the arena, next to an ice cream truck,Sparta and several of his clan stood with Wort, Papa and Elizabeth. Wort stood over a four foot tier of cases of cerveza loca. Sparta held the weapon he sought. “This strap holds 50 APDs. They’ll go through a fuckin tank.”
  “Four cases,” Wort replied, pointing at the cerveza loca. “All fresh.”
  “I want the ruca,” Sparta said. He was flushed from victory, and a strong dose of narcose.Wort saw fear in Elizabeth’s face and his hand immediately sunk into his pocket, grasping his Extinguisher. For a moment no one spoke. Then Elizabeth turned to Wort. “You take the weapon and go.”
  “And you?”
  “I’ll stay,” she said.
  Wort chose his words carefully. “I thought they’d settle for the cerveza.”
  “Sparta’s got all the cerveza loca he wants,” Papa said.
  “You knew that?” Wort asked, directing the question at both of them.
  “I knew you wanted the weapon,” Elizabeth responded.
  “And you didn’t tell me?” Wort continued, not hearing Elizabeth. A tense silence fell over the group, as Wort realized he’d been fooled. “I’m not leaving without you,” he finally said.
  “You must, or we all will die,” she said. “I will see you again, Outside. You know the path back.”
  “I’m not leaving without you,” Wort repeated. “I didn’t ask you to risk your life for me,”
  “Can’t you see!” Elizabeth yelled. “I don’t love you! I love Papa!“
  A screeching of car tires interrupted the standoff, and a large 20th century auto raced out of the gloom behind them. “Die muthafuckas!” a voice yelled. Two clan members pulled weapons and started shooting. Wort grabbed Elizabeth and pulled her behind the pile of cases. As glass and beer splashed him, she yelled for Papa, who stood dazed.
  Without waiting, Wort leapt to the ice cream truck and yanked the front door open. He grabbed the driver’s arm and pulled him across the front seat, then spun with the surprised man in front of him. Several bullets struck the driver and Wort let him fall. “Get in the back!” he screamed, emptying the beam on the other clan members. Elizabeth grabbed Papa’s hand and ran to the back, opening the door, and pulling him with her. Bullets started to ping off the truck as Wort started it up and took off.
  The trip up the river bed was fast and rough. Wort slowed only twice to weave around huge mudholes, wanting to stay ahead of any pursuit. When he neared the spot where they had originally crossed, he stopped the truck. Racing to the back of the truck, he pulled open the door. “Let’s go!”. But Elizabeth and Papa were gone!

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If God be for us, who can be against us?
Romans 8

  The sign meant he had crossed the border, but Wort continued his quick pace, trying to remember the landmarks Elizabeth had pointed out. A half an hour later, he slowed as he felt the vibrations of an electronic surveillance area. Just over the rise lay a guarded entrance to the Outside. Above it, a huge neon sign read:

In accordance with Amendment 28, we have determined that no entrance into our community needs to be permitted after midnight. Passage to other sectors can be effected through Entrance #7.

  He had strayed off course; the grove was further east. As he turned he noticed an area where the fence needed repair, and decided to check it out more closely. If he could get through, he might be able to get across the giant ditch, and save himself a lot of time. He took aim at the light overhead with his new weapon and shot it out. Moving quickly to thefence, he crawled under it, wincing at the hum of high voltage that whined just above his back. Once under, he began to walk along the ditch toward the grove near where he and Elizabeth had entered. He should have paid more attention to the signs crossing between Elizabeth and Papa. He never should have gotten so involved. Where had they gone? He held his new weapon tightly as he walked.
  “Freeze!” The voice came at him from a deflector, preventing Wort from knowing its direction. He swung anyway, pulling out his replenished Extinguisher. A humming began in his ears, growing louder as he fell. They had stunned him, realized. As he fell, paralyzed, he wondered why they hadn’t just flamed him.


Chapter 5

By Bill Metzger

Copyright 1994, Southwest Brewing News