by Joel rieves
“It can’t be much further,” she muttered to herself, as she adjusted the hood of her jacket. The wind had pushed it back and was nipping at her ears. The weather, while it fluctuated wildly at times, was in one of its more settled periods. Unfortunately, that period was a cold snap, so she was wrapped up in an old N-3B parka that she’d inherited from her father, a pair of winter boots salvaged from an old sporting goods store, and a couple of layers of clothing. Not as many as she’d started out with. It had been downright frigid that morning, but it had warmed up to merely “cold as hell”. She continued trudging along beside the goat cart that Reynaldo, her favorite goat, so dutifully pulled. At least there wasn’t any snow, she thought. Not that it’d last long. Neither cold snaps nor heat waves hung around these days. The weather cycled through its changes quickly and sometimes violently. A couple of times, she’d wondered why she was out here. But then, she remembered the story about a great trove in this desolate place that was once called K-Vegas. Everything she read said it was located between what was left of the Boro, the Dash, and Shake City but she wasn’t having much luck. There didn’t seem to be anything out here but decaying buildings and junk no one wanted. It didn’t help that the tip she’d gotten was short on things like an exact location. But she felt it was her duty to check it out. Besides, tips like this had panned out before and pretty handsomely a couple of times. She was beginning to wonder if that would hold true on this trip. It had been decades since anything in this area had been occupied by something other than wildlife and what she was after didn’t fair that well when exposed to the elements for an extended time. She looked around again and thought this might be the emptiest place she’d ever seen. All the stories said K-Vegas had been an entertainment center for workers in the factories and transport facilities that filled the remnants of this part of the old Mid-Atlantic Metro Center. But when the corporations automated those facilities, the workers moved on. And, without workers to partake of the sex, drugs, and violence (literal violence. She’d read that the town had been a major hub for the old Intergalactic Murderball league) that made up the corporate idea of “entertainment” for workers, there wasn’t any reason for the “entertainers” to hang around. Now, everything out here was overgrown or falling down. She was really beginning to wonder if she’d find what she was looking for.
The entire time she’d been out here, she’d been wondering what she’d find when, or if, the tip panned out. The old man who’d told her about it made the whole thing sound fantastic. Maybe too fantastic. She’d been in the collecting business long enough to know that pilgrims passing through the area weren’t exactly the most reliable source of information. And the fact that he’d told her it was this K-Vegas place didn’t lend an abundance of credibility to his tale. If K-Vegas had been the den of sin she’d read about, why would anyone stash a treasure like this one in it? When she’d pressed him on that, he said “What better place to hide something than where no one would ever think to look?” That was when he’d hooked her, and she knew she’d be heading out to find it. Of course, those primo samples he’d shown her hadn’t hurt either. If they were any indication of what was waiting, this would be a major haul.
She was about to give up and make camp for the night when she finally found it. Looking for a building to hole up in — she’d camped in the open before but didn’t really feel safe that way — she’d come across an old roadway, the pavement cracked and uneven, weeds growing all over the place. Hey, she thought, roads generally lead places so maybe there will be something decent down here. She tapped Reynaldo’s side with her walking stick and he dutifully turned down the lane. She saw the outline of a building through the trees and underbrush and said, “Score!” accentuated with a fist pump. Then, she immediately dialed her expectations back. It was way too soon to get excited. She had no idea what kind of shape the place was in or what it had been used for. Once, on another trip, she’d found a place that looked like a perfect spot to spend the night only to find that it was dangerously contaminated from years of storing chemicals. That probably wouldn’t be the case here — if this was K-Vegas, any chemicals they’d had might have been addictive, but they wouldn’t give you cancer — but who knew what she might find when she got there? Another turn and then she got a better look at things. The road made one of those weird circle things and beyond that was a large building. At first glance, it looked like any of the other old warehouses that dotted this section of the metcen. But as she looked closer, she began to make out hints of the orange and green shades the old traveler had said adorned the home of the trove. And there were the multiple roll-up doors he’d mentioned along with what were once sliding glass ones. But the glass in these latter doors was long since gone. Had she just randomly stumbled onto the very place she was searching for? Was it possible that she’d actually gotten that lucky? There was only one way to find out. She gave Reynaldo a scratch behind his ears and said, “Wait here, pal. I’m going to check this out,” and stepped inside.
It was amazing, she thought, as she looked around the large open area. There were boxes stacked everywhere. The ones near the front, which were more exposed to the weather looked rough, but the ones a bit further back seemed to be none the worse for the wear. She walked over to one of the stacks and opened the flaps of one of the boxes. She gasped and pushed it aside and tore open another. And, then another. She pulled a light from her pocket and shined it across the room. Rows upon shelves, each stacked high with boxes. The old man’s story was true. The trove was every bit as big as he’d said. Maybe even bigger. It would take multiple trips to haul away all the treasure she’d found. And it would make her collection the largest one in the entire region. Well, the largest she’d heard of anyway. She knew she needed to get Reynaldo in and set up camp before she lost what little light there was left that evening, but she couldn’t resist looking around a bit first. She walked about halfway down one of the long, high rows of shelves before stopping randomly and selecting a box. She pulled out an item, opened it, and read:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .”