Notes: The idea for this AU sort of popped into my head as I watched a Mad Max movie one evening. The story is set after much of the capitalist world has been devastated and the survivors left to fend for themselves in a state of anarchy. The Mission is supposedly located around the border of southern New Mexico/western Texas. Think: Carlsbad Cavern/Guadalupe Mountains National Park area . . . loosely. J The Mission, or < insert better name here > universe is open, if anyone’s interested. My thanks to Lacey for her help and advice!

Size: Approx. 130K

Chris Larabee reined his horse to a halt on the side of the road. A small boy slid from behind him, dropped to the ground and scurried into the brush. Chris dismounted too, taking a few minutes to stretch while he watched the boy. He was searching for an object they’d seen glinting in the sun as they’d come over the last hill. They’d been out half the day trying to track the small herd of wild horses Chris had seen several times over the past two weeks, but it looked like today they weren’t going to find them.

They already had two horses -- three now that the mare had foaled. Several months back they’d found the black stallion they were currently riding. It had been limping heavily near one of the small, wild herds that roamed the canyons. The quality of the horse had made it stand out from the rest of the herd. Their first thought had been that perhaps it had gotten loose from somebody’s corral and was now trying to run free with the other mustangs.

When they’d gotten close enough to inspect its hooves, he’d not been surprised to find the horse was shod. The shoes had been in poor condition though, one in particularly bad shape, making it painful to walk on, let alone run and keep up with the herd. As for the mare, she actually belonged to Jack Tanner, but Jack had gone missing over six months ago, so Chris had been taking care of her in his absence. The man had taken off on the gray mare early one morning, and nearly a month later the mare had shown up again, without her rider. And shortly afterwards, Vin had shown up, as well.

It had actually been Jack’s idea to attempt breeding horses. He’d figured if they could raise enough horses, they wouldn’t have to rely as much on fuel, which was almost impossible to come by, and likely to run out completely sooner rather than later. Plus, a horse was a lot less conspicuous out on the road and easier to conceal, if need be. Chris had thought it was a pretty smart idea, although Jack’s disappearance had put the entire project on hold for a while. When it looked less and less likely that Jack would return, Chris had finally resolved to follow through with the plan on his own, which was why his present goal was to find another mare.

Chris stroked the stallion’s muzzle, pleased that he was behaving himself fairly well that day. He much preferred to ride the silvery-gray mare they’d affectionately deemed ‘Mary’. She was much more docile and easy to control than ‘Steve the stallion’, but it was much too soon to take her away from her little foal.

Chris watched as Vin’s blond head popped up from behind a bare shrub. The boy jogged back to Chris, a smile on his face as he held out his new prize for the man’s inspection. “Well, well…that’s pretty fancy,” Chris said, inspecting the object then holding it up to his eye. “Know what it is?”

The boy didn’t answer verbally, and Chris hadn’t expected him to. He just shook his head and waited expectantly for Chris to explain. It had been six months or more since he’d first met this boy, and never had he heard him utter a word. He was friendly, affectionate with people he was familiar with, and every now and then somebody – usually Buck – would manage to make him laugh. That he could make that sound was a good sign, but as more time passed, Chris had to wonder if Vin would ever be able to tell them a single detail about himself -- or his father.

He hadn’t known Jack Tanner very long, but oddly, almost from the moment they’d met, Chris had trusted and believed in him. Something he wasn’t in the habit of feeling for total strangers.

Tanner had been a Texas Ranger, as his father had been, but unlike his father, he’d also been a fugitive -- a wanted man, convicted of murder. Chris remembered following the case back when he’d worked homicide. Tanner had been working on an unsolved murder case; had claimed that he was close to making an arrest and felt that was the reason he was set up. The crime scene had been so obviously manipulated that Chris thought even a blind man should’ve been able to tell. But the public had wanted justice for the murder of a ‘helpless, paraplegic – a highly decorated war veteran’. They demanded a quick close to the ugly ordeal and despite Tanner’s own prestigious military and civilian records, despite the fact that there was no clear motive, no viable reason for this respected law enforcement officer and family man to suddenly resort to murdering informants, he nonetheless became the convenient scapegoat.

Chris hadn’t been too surprised that the judge had found him guilty, but he had been a little shocked when he’d found out that the man had received the death penalty. When he’d learned that Tanner had escaped en-route to the prison, Chris hadn’t been the only law enforcement officer to silently cheer him on -- and the rumor was that some had actually done quite a bit more than just cheer him on.

Tanner had been at the Mission with Josiah Sanchez when Chris and Buck had arrived, more than two years ago; apparently he’d been staying there for quite a while, probably since his escape from the prison bus the previous year. Meeting Jack Tanner in person had only convinced Chris that much more of the man’s innocence.

Jack Tanner was a calm, quiet, thoughtful man with honest, expressive blue eyes – the same eyes that Chris saw everyday when he looked at Vin. He’d spoken a few times about a having a wife and son, but Chris thought that he was probably reluctant to mention them, knowing that even on a good day Chris was barely able to contain his grief over losing his own wife and son.

Tanner had suspected that his family was being held in one of the camps, and by the way he talked it was obvious that he planned to find them and bring them back one day; but as far as Chris knew, Tanner had never gotten a solid lead on his family’s whereabouts.

There were so many folks out there who’d been separated from their loved ones that hearing a man vow to find his lost family had become fairly common.

Not all of the camps had guards, or a watchtower, or dogs and lights, but a lot of them did. Those particular camps could be tricky to sneak into, although they’d managed it on many occasions. In fact, they had yet to be unsuccessful in a rescue attempt -- which is why their services were sought out so often. Sometimes they’d be paid well, and the extra provisions helped out a lot when the other party was in a position to offer. But there were times when the only payment they received was the gratitude and appreciation of a family reunited. In truth, that was enough payment for all of them.

Unfortunately, and for reasons Chris couldn’t understand, Jack had never asked for their help, or even told them where he was going. Chris could only assume that the man had gone after his family. He had found no blood on the horse, no hint of a struggle. In all these months he hadn’t been able to turn up a single clue as to the man’s fate. Although, he had the feeling that the answers he was looking for were locked away tightly, somewhere in Vin Tanner’s subconscious mind.

Chris wiped the lens with a corner of his shirt, then held the glass up to his eye again, scanning the horizon, as his thoughts wandered back to the first time he’d met up with Vin.

He’d been in the stable, tending the mare that had just returned after being gone for a few weeks. He remembered brushing the horse, allowing the calming, repetitive motion to help him sort through his thoughts as he tried to figure out what – if anything – he could do to find Tanner. He’d tried to follow the horse’s tracks, but had lost them before he’d even gone a mile. Jack was an excellent tracker, and he’d taught Chris and Buck a thing or two, but they hadn’t gotten in much practice -- not enough to be very useful, not on that occasion anyway.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

“Come on out of there, Larabee!” He recognized the voice, heard others along with it and instinct set his heart racing, his adrenaline pumping.

The small group of rough-looking men had shown up a little over three weeks ago. Their looks alone were intimidating, and their attitudes could be described as arrogant and disrespectful, but they’d gone along with the Mission’s standard quarantine procedure, remaining in the secluded tent for the required two weeks. They’d allowed the doc to run his blood tests, agreed to the terms of living at the Mission -- and they had yet to actually harm anyone. Chris had the feeling that was about to change, though.

The previous day Chris had been given the pleasurable task of asking them to stay away from the widow, Gloria Potter. The Potter family had been one of the first families at the Mission, and Mr. Potter had only recently succumbed to injuries he’d received when a faulty generator had sparked a fire in their newly built cabin. Mrs. Potter and her children were still grieving. She didn’t need these men pestering and scaring her, on top of everything else she was dealing with. Chris had politely requested they stay clear of her, in no uncertain terms. Although the men had made light of it, they had backed off, or so Chris had thought.

Setting the brush down on a crate, he slowly walked outside of the small stable. “Can I help you boys?” He stood for a moment, hands on his hips, sizing up the opposition. There were five of them, and one of him. Not the best odds.

“We come to teach you a lesson, boy,” one of them said – a short, stocky fella with a buzz cut, who looked about as wide as he was tall; the way his arms hung reminded Chris of a gorilla.

“Is that right?” Chris replied with a cocky grin, although he knew he was outmatched. It sure would be nice if Buck would show up right about now, he thought. Maybe between the two of them, they’d fare a little better than a snowball in hell.

“We think it’s about time you learn who’s runnin’ things around here,” the tall, lanky one said. Chris remembered one of the others calling him ‘Stretch’. He reached a long arm out and wrapped it around Chris’ shoulders, squeezing it hard. Chris looked at the hand gripping his shoulder, noting with strange fascination that the man’s hand was enormous.

They surrounded him, forcing him to walk several yards, into the more wooded area.

“Five against one? Don’t seem fair,” Chris mentioned, but he was pretty sure these men weren’t the least concerned with fairness.

“We don’t like to be told what to do. You need to learn your place, sonny boy.” One of the men behind gave him a hard shove, sending him to the dirt. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the man smirking at him. He wore mirror sunglasses and was bald on the top of his head with long greasy strings of hair hanging down to his shoulders. He pulled a flask out of his black leather vest, took a couple swigs, swished the liquid around in his mouth then spit it on Chris. The others laughed like it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen.

With a grimace, Chris slowly rose to his feet, knowing he was in trouble but not willing to just give up. Raising his hands, he tried stalling, hoping some ingenious plan would pop into his head.

Another of the men – big, with a mass of tattoos decorating his bald head -- grabbed him roughly by the front of his shirt, pulling his face close. “I heard you used to be a pig, Larabee,” he accused with menace.

The man definitely needed a Tic-Tac. “I heard that, too,” Chris replied coolly, cringing slightly and trying to pull away from the offending breath. The others thought something about that was funny, but apparently dragon breath didn’t share their sense of humor. He slammed his fist into Chris’ diaphragm and as Chris doubled over, he brought his knee up smashing it into Chris’ face. Oh yeah, that hurt. Chris dropped to the ground and stayed there for a long moment, just trying not to black out.

Another meaty hand reached for him again, pulling him up by his collar. Chris felt the warmth of his own blood flowing from his nose and he tried to blink away the darkness encroaching his vision. All he could see was a crown of stiffly spiked hair and then a fist in front of his face. He managed to duck, somehow finding the strength to take a step back for leverage, then ram his head into the man’s solid mid-section. The force was enough to drive his opponent back a little, but the man stayed on his feet and reached for Chris again.

Chris tried to prepare for the blow he knew would follow, but it never came. Instead, he heard a sound that he figured had to be gunshot. The man suddenly jerked back, releasing him. Chris watched, amazed as the man staggered and fell to his knees, pressing his right hand to his left shoulder. Jesus, that was close, Chris thought as he watched the patch of crimson spreading outward on the man’s t-shirt. A couple inches lower and that would have been him.

The others paused, each taking a step back, looking down at the fallen man then turning to look in the direction the bullet had come from. Seconds later, there was another report and a second bullet grazed the neck of gorilla man, taking out a nice chuck of flesh before sinking into the upper arm of the man with the mirror glasses standing behind him. Gorilla man grabbed the side of his neck at the same moment the other man grabbed his arm. He could tell by their expressions they were both stunned and in pain. He didn’t think any of them had been mortally wounded, although the one with the shoulder wound had pitched forward on his face. Were those warning shots, he wondered. Or a sniper taking random pot shots at them?

Another shot rang out and then another. One bullet landing right above Stretch’s kneecap and the other skimming dangerously close to dragon breath’s manhood – close enough to sting apparently, since the man was now holding his crotch as if he was in desperate need of a restroom. Chris looked carefully through the foliage and scanned the rock formation behind it, trying to get a glimpse of the sniper, but whoever was doing the shooting was staying hidden. Dragon breath managed to pull his spike-haired comrade to his feet just in time for another shot to land directly in the toe of his boot. He stumbled backward into Stretch, who was bent over, cursing and clutching his knee. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“What about him?” the man still clutching his neck questioned, glancing at Chris.

“Who gives a shit?” One yelled, at the same time another said, “I’m getting the hell out of here!”

Chris ran a shaking hand through his hair then tried to wipe at the blood still dripping from his nose. He wondered if he shouldn’t be getting the hell out of there too. He had no idea who the sniper was, but he was pretty sure that standing where he was made him a pretty easy target. If it were Buck or one of the others though, they would have identified themselves, he thought – then wondered why nobody from the camp had come to investigate what the shooting was about. His legs felt like rubber and his heart was still hammering away, but he decided that if the sniper had wanted to hit him, he probably would have done so already.

Chris waited several moments, until he felt a little steadier. He kept glancing in the direction he guessed the mystery shooter had been, but whoever it was didn’t appear. He was curious about the person’s identity, but not curious enough to go snooping around and end up getting shot. He was just about to leave and head back to his campsite when, to his astonishment, a little boy carrying a rifle stepped out from behind a cluster of sugar pines up the hill.

The child approached slowly, cautiously, coming to a halt a safe distance from Chris’ reach. He wore an oversized cowboy hat. His clothing was filthy and tattered; the sleeves of his shirt ripped off near the shoulder, exposing his tanned, sinewy little arms.

The rifle he carried looked like it might be bigger than he was, and upon closer inspection, the rifle was disturbingly familiar to Chris. The kid propped the rifle over one shoulder, and pushed the brim of his hat up, allowing Chris to see his face. Past the dirt and grime was a pair of wide, blue eyes that seemed as familiar to him as the rifle did. Chris thought the boy couldn’t be over nine or ten, and in another time he’d have scolded him for being out alone in the woods, for possessing a firearm. But the fact was, the kid had just saved his ass.

“You got good aim, cowboy,” he said, truly impressed. Something about the boy told him that not one of those shots had been random. The way the boy held himself and seemed confident with the large weapon, or perhaps it was that look in his eyes.

The boy didn’t say anything, just nodded once, took a hesitant step closer and offered him a canteen. Lord, the kid was so young, he thought, maybe a couple years older than his own son would have been, definitely too young to be out here alone. Chris accepted the canteen, taking just enough to wet his lips then handing it slowly back. For the kid’s sake, he hoped the water in the canteen was safe.

“Thanks.” He paused for a moment, using the tail of his shirt to wipe again at his nose, feeling a bit unsure of what to do next. Should he question the kid, or let him walk away and follow him? Should he offer to take him home, or back to the Mission and see if he could get some answers from him back there? “Name’s Chris,” he said, extending his hand. He figured that finding out the boy’s name was probably the best place to start, especially if the name was what Chris thought it might be.

The boy glanced at Chris’ hand then looked up and studied his eyes. Slowly, he shifted the rifle to his left hand then reached out with his right, keeping wary eyes locked on Chris’.

Chris smiled encouragingly, feeling like he was dealing with a skittish, wild animal. “You got a name?” he asked, crouching down so they were on eye level. The boy frowned, looked down at the ground then back up. Chris could tell he was mulling things over, trying to decide whether or not it was wise to dispense such information. Finally, he turned sideways, glancing at Chris then down at his right shoulder where Chris could see a set of black letters peeking out from beneath his shirt.

Reaching out slowly, Chris pushed the material back so he could inspect the mark. Etched permanently into the kid’s tender shoulder was the name ‘Tanner’ in bold, black letters, followed by a set of identification numbers. Obviously he’d come from one of the camps. Some marked their occupants, a procedure that was originally intended as a means of identification, but never had gone over too well. Very few people consented to it, so whenever you saw one you could pretty much assume it had been forced on the recipient.

If this was Tanner’s kid -- and Chris was ninety nine percent sure it was -- did that mean that Jack was somewhere around? He couldn’t imagine Jack letting his boy take-off with a rifle, but maybe the man was injured somewhere, in no shape to look after a child.

“Is that your dad’s rifle?” he asked. The boy just gazed at him, not answering in any way. “It’s okay, I know your dad. He’s a friend of mine.” Still no response. Chris frowned, not sure how to reach the kid. “Are your parents around here?” he tried again. That got a subtle reaction. Chris watched the boy’s face intently as a barely detectable struggle of emotion took place, then he gave the slightest shake of his head and looked away.

Chris sighed, feeling frustration building. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, reminding himself that the boy had probably been through a hell of a lot, more than Chris wanted to imagine. It could be that something very bad had happened to his parents – to Jack – and this child needed to be handled carefully, with all the patience Chris could find. “I bet your name is Vin,” he said, managing a smile. That got another reaction; the kid turned his face back toward Chris, eyes wide with surprise. “Am I right?” he asked, lifting an eyebrow. A small nod, and then the corners of Vin’s mouth turned up in a hopeful smile.

“Well, Vin,” he said, figuring the best place to start would be a decent meal. “Ya hungry?” He didn’t expect the boy to panic, but suddenly he looked like he wanted to bolt. “I have a camper, back at the Mission. Least I can do is offer you some food, and something to drink after you saved my hide.” Chris watched his eyes, knowing when he’d come to some sort of resolution.

Standing slowly, he tilted his head in the direction of their camp and offered a hand. “What d’ya say?” The boy didn’t say anything; he just nodded, looking more than a little scared as he took one step -- a leap – and placed his small hand in Chris’.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

A touch on his arm brought him out of his reverie, and he looked down into questioning eyes. “It’s a spy glass, and an old one at that,” he explained, handing it back to Vin. “Looks brass; if we polish it up it’ll be real nice and shiny. Hold it up to your eye.”

The boy gave Chris a look of mild disbelief but did as was suggested.

“You have to close the other eye, and look through the hole.” Chris reached out and turned the boy by his shoulders then pointed at the western horizon. “Look out that way.”

Vin looked through the glass for a long moment, gazing out over the rough, rocky terrain; then he turned back toward Chris with the glass still at his eye. A rare grin lit his face and he pulled the glass away and blinked as if startled.

Chris narrowed his eyes. “Ya sayin’ I look funny?” he asked wryly, the corner of his mouth twitching up. The boy grinned wider. Chris rolled his eyes then stood up, knees crackling. “Okay, wise guy, we best be getting back.”

When Vin tried to hand over the looking glass, Chris waved a hand dismissively. “It’s yours, you found it,” he said, stepping into the stirrup and swinging his leg over the saddle.

The boy smiled again, and tucked the glass into his belt. He grasped Chris’ hand, allowing himself to be hoisted up behind him. With a flick of the reins they were headed down the long road, towards the Mission.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

In his former life, Chris Larabee had been a homicide detective. Buck Wilmington had been his partner for close to ten years before they’d both been promoted to captain, and Chris had been transferred to the Major Crime division. That had taken place just a few months before the attacks, but it seemed like a lifetime ago.

The city where they’d worked hadn’t been one of those attacked by foreign enemies; instead, it had been pillaged by its own citizens. The buildings were vandalized, the stores and businesses looted. No household was safe from the theft and violence that had spread quickly through the city and its suburbs. The National Guard – what was left of it -- had been sent out to the major cities that had been struck by the enemy forces, leaving the citizens with little alternative other than to grab what possessions they could carry, and flee.

And the enemy didn’t really have a distinct face or name, not like it had in previous wars. It wasn’t any single country in particular, but an elusive organization of wealthy terrorists that included many powerful religious and political leaders. The organization had managed to incorporate into its ranks all of the major terrorist factions of the world, along with the numerous smaller, less organized groups. It had the charisma, power and money to win the support of the third world masses, among others, with its extremist rhetoric and oaths of vengeance to the faceless capitalist enemy.

A little over five years ago they’d unleashed a number of plagues -- diseases once thought to be contained like small pox, bubonic plague, along with a few new viruses and retro-viruses as well. Major epidemics had taken a lot of lives, especially in the more populated cities. It wasn’t surprising that the perpetrators had managed to evade the homeland security measures; Chris suspected that most of them had been living in the country for years.

Two years later, the entire country was brought to its knees within a matter of days. The major cities were hit with small-scale, ‘home-made’ nuclear bombs, the effects of which were still being felt and would be for years to come. High radiation levels made it impossible to live in the sections of the cities still in tact. The water supplies had been tainted; the power hubs shut down or destroyed, cutting the electricity throughout the nation. There was nothing left of New York City, or Washington DC but piles of smoldering rubble.

With no power it was difficult to tell what was going on in the rest of the world. The information from secondary sources was that Europe and Canada were in much the same state as the US. Metropolitan areas in other parts of the world, all allies of the US and her European counterparts, had also been attacked in a similar manner. So there was little hope for relief or aid of any sort.

Chris remembered sitting in his office, going over a report when there was a knock on his door, and one of his detectives leaned in to tell him ‘you’ve got to come and see this’. Chris had been holding paperwork in front of him, browsing through it as he made his way to the break room. What he caught on the television there had been staggering enough that he’d allowed the report to fall to the floor and never did bother to retrieve it.

He’d called home to make sure Sarah and Adam were safe, then called Buck to touch base with his best friend. Initially they’d intended to stay to try and help keep order in the city, but once the power went out things got completely out of hand. The chaos that ensued was beyond anyone’s control.

Riots broke out, the mobs even forcing their way into the police station before setting it on fire. Chris had used a flashlight to search the dark building for wounded, and found Buck unconscious in the hallway just outside of Homicide. He’d hoisted his big friend across his shoulders and headed for the parking garage across the street. Everything from the point of getting them into his truck to the moment he turned off the ignition in his own driveway was still a big, confusing blur. He vaguely remembered trying to maneuver his way through the downtown area and out onto the highway. Then Buck had come to and they’d both agreed that the most sensible thing for them to do would be retreat to the ranch and ride out the worst of the mayhem -- and maybe return to help pick up the pieces afterwards.

Chris had figured his ranch was the safest place they could be. He’d been wrong about that.

What Chris hadn’t figured on – hadn’t even considered – was that in the midst of total chaos, a band of prison escapees would come looking for him. Instead of killing him though, they’d made both he and Buck watch as his house burned to the ground, with his wife and son inside. Then, when there was nothing left but smoldering ashes, they’d left the two men tied to the big oak tree out front, with Adam’s empty tire swing, swaying back and forth beside them.

Apparently they hadn’t figured he and Buck would get loose, or else they hadn’t cared. God only knows why, but they’d left the barn untouched, and hadn’t bothered with his truck or their new camper. The mini-RV was fully stocked, just incase of emergencies, but the stupid bastards hadn’t seemed to notice that anything else on the property existed.

As soon as Chris and Buck had gotten loose, Chris had jumped in his truck, Buck following his lead with only slightly more caution. Within a few days, they’d single-mindedly taken down almost all of the men.

Chris had felt absolutely no remorse in carrying out his own personal sentence. Knowing that each of the men had already been tried and convicted of murder made it just that much easier to live with. Buck, who in the past had always played good cop to Chris’ bad cop, had been just as ruthless as Chris. Being forced to helplessly watch as their family burned had apparently shoved both men well past the point of reason.

Two of the men remained at-large -- out there, somewhere. Whether they were dead or alive he may never know, but he did know that as long as he lived, he’d never forget their faces. He’d never stop looking.

For the next few weeks, they’d stayed in the camper, parked behind the barn. Although they couldn’t actually see the remains of the house from where the camper was parked, it was there nonetheless, like some horrific, white elephant. They spent those weeks doing their best to finish off several bottles of whiskey Chris had stashed away.

Then, one day Chris woke up in the back of the RV, realizing it was in motion. He’d stumbled to the front to find Buck at the wheel, the highway stretched out before them.

Buck had given him one of his characteristic, big cheery grins, “Mornin’ sunshine!” like nothing bad had happened.

Chris, bleary-eyed, not ready to let go of his grief and anger, had squinted out the windshield, silently cursing the sunshine. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

Buck, patient and sober, had looked him in the eye and said, “Anywhere, just as long as it’s away from that place.” He knew then, that Buck had dragged himself back across that line they’d both crossed when they’d watched his house burn, and he was trying to drag Chris back too.

That place is my home, Buck,” he’d growled, feeling the throb of pain in his head increase. How could he leave them? How could he just move on? He’d felt he was betraying them in some way.

“It was your home, pard. Hell, it was my home too. At least that’s what it always felt like. But…being there…it’s no good, anymore. It’s killing you, Chris, and I don’t think I could stand to lose you, too,” Buck had answered solemnly, his voice cracking, his eyes remaining focused on the road ahead.

Chris had wanted to protest, even though he’d known deep inside that Buck was right. He’d wanted to tell Buck that it was none of his business, but the worried look on his friend’s normally happy face made him stop and think. Buck acted like a clown most of the time, but since the first day they’d met the man had always been there, always had his back. There was nobody Chris Larabee respected and trusted more than Buck Wilmington -- and because of that, he kept his mouth closed, and let Buck drive.

An hour or so later, he’d repeated the question, that time with resignation instead of hostility. “So, where we headed?”

“Ya remember that chaplain, used to work up at that prison a few years back?” Buck glanced over at him. “Father Sanchez was his name.”

“You mean that crazy bastard who up and left because he thought the end of the world was coming?”

“Yep,” Buck nodded with a grin, “that’d be him.”

“What about him?”

“Well, he used to come back to town from time to time, to stock up on supplies and such, and visit his sister at the institution. He told me he’s living at an old, abandoned mission a few miles from the border. Said he’s got all the things he’ll need to last out the Tribulation.”

“The Tribulation?” Chris asked, raising an eyebrow skeptically.

“Yeah,” Buck shrugged a shoulder, “that’s what he told me was comin’. He said it’s in the Bible, but I haven’t looked. You got a Bible in here?”

As a matter of fact, there was a Bible in there somewhere, but instead of saying so Chris just looked at him tiredly.

“Never mind.” Buck was quiet for a moment, looking like he was deep in thought, then he continued. “I guess it’s supposed to be a rough time, right before the end of the world.”

“That sounds encouraging,” he replied dryly. “Life sucks and then you die?”

Buck snorted. “Yeah, guess so.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “Maybe he should be the one at the institution.” He glanced at Buck with a slight grin. “Maybe you, too.”

Buck laughed. “Yeah, maybe we all should. Who knows? Anyway, he always said that one day we’d all see that he was right, and if it wasn’t too late, I’d be welcome to join him. He’s been restoring that mission for the past few years and he’s all set up; got all the equipment, generators, radio, supplies, firepower -- everything you’d need to survive for years.”

“Why is this information setting off alarm bells in my head?”

Buck only laughed again.

“We got supplies, firepower, a water filtration system. Why do we need to go there?” When it came down to it, Chris hadn’t been sure he was ready to be around people, yet.

“We can’t just keep driving around, Chris. You got a better idea?”

Unfortunately, nothing came to mind.

“I figure he’s got to have some plan, some idea of what’s going on, what’s going to happen. These survivalist types take this shit real seriously. Everyone thinks they’re off their rockers and maybe they are, but they’re probably the only ones prepared to get through somethin’ like this.”

Chris couldn’t argue with that, besides he knew they couldn’t drive around too long or all they’d accomplish is running out of gas. He’d closed his eyes, drawing images in his mind of Sarah and Adam standing on the front porch, waiting for him to come home, as they’d always done.

Once they got to the mission, they’d found that they weren’t the first to seek out the preacher. There were two other men already there. Chris had recognized one of the men as the fugitive Texas Ranger, Jack Tanner. There was also a doctor, Nathan Jackson M.D. who had met Sanchez years before, while doing his medical residency at the same prison.

Jackson had been at the hospital when the riots began, ended up working long shifts when the casualties started coming in. When the phones went out he’d been unable to call home, and by the time he’d managed to get home his wife and daughter were already missing. He’d gone back to the hospital, but by the time he’d got there it was already engulfed in flames. At first, he’d set out on his own to search for his wife and daughter. It hadn’t taken long for him to become overwhelmed by the destruction and hopelessness around him, and to realize that he wasn’t going to be able to do much of anything for anyone on his own. So, he’d sought out his old friend, the preacher, Josiah Sanchez.