Author : Ray Daley

It’d been a great day in Red Zone. We’d been first to apply for passes since it was classified safe.

800 years is a long time. Even then, it was ‘droids doing the rad sweeps. Residuals had dropped below the safe limit so The Council lifted the blockade. When we reached the barricade, troopers were waiting to process those crazy enough to want to be first to enter Red Zone.

“Okay Citizens. You signed waivers so you know the risks. Laws of Salvage apply within Red Zone but everything returning through this checkpoint will be scrutinized. It will be manned until 23:59 when it will close until 06:00 tomorrow. Science Division highly advises not staying after dark.”

As the timer above the checkpoint rolled over to 06:00 the troopers opened the barrier and started checking the groups through.

Rule #1: You may only enter Red Zone in a group of two or more.

“Here’s your detector, Citizen.”

Rule #2: Rad detectors must be worn in plain sight at all times.

We walked the mile into the outskirts of the old city. The more cautious carried hand detectors which remained silent. I felt safe enough, my research had trawled up a few useful points from some of the oldest databases. Most thought the old dirty Nukes had been used in the Conflict. My findings said otherwise. Red Zones environs had been hit by what they used to call “Smart Bombs”, weapons that killed people but left buildings and infrastructure intact.

They had minimal fallout and the shortest half-life of any bomb. The danger had been gone for well over 700 years. Ignorance and fear kept Red Zone closed. That and propaganda.

We left the group, heading down a side alley off the main streets. We’d found a few maps so had some points of reference. Most of the people we left behind hung around for up to an hour. They were lookey-loos, just there to say they had been.

Some snagged small souvenirs, we were here for bigger game.

Just before noon when we found what we were looking for, the building clearly marked, its function carved into the stone facing. We knew we didn’t have long to gather much, the journey back to the checkpoint would take us as long to do and we didn’t want to be stuck in here overnight.

There was no specific target in here, everything was equally important. I filled my bag and started on a second when the voice behind me reminded me “We can only carry one bag each.” Jax, dependable and logical.

“Attention! Five minute warning!” I’d programmed the chrono as our only safeguard.

“Jax, time to go!” I called to him.
“I only half filled the bag!” he replied.
I threw him the second bag I’d started, hoping what he’d gathered plus my enthusiasm would equal the Salvage limit.

We were running now, back through Red Zone. No time to enjoy the beautiful old architecture. We ran hard for the first hour then had to slow to a fast walk, all the time keeping to the reverse of our outbound route.

Our headlamps lit the way through the last few dark blocks, the checkpoint visible in the distance. Another hard run to beat the clock.

The troopers scanned us, checking the bags. “At weight.”
We’d keep our booty.

“Open the bag”. Time to see if our risk had been worth it.
“Anything on the forbidden list? What are these?” asked the Trooper.

“Just books.” I said.
“Never heard of them. Salvage passed.” replied the Trooper.

Treasure. And more waiting.

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