The bunker echoed with its first human sounds in decades, the slap and squeak of rubber soles on marble flooring.

A slight figure sprinted out of the corridor into the three storey atrium, hurdled a chaise and slid to a halt in a crouch. With a sweep of her legs, she turned to face back the way she had come. There may have been the hint of amusement in the eyes as she looked back down the corridor.

Her black hair was cut haphazardly, and a scarf covered her mouth so she didn’t have to breathe all the dust she stirred up. Only her eyes and a slit of dark skin around them were visible. Dressed in loose trousers, dark body suit and light jacket and with an old courier bag over her shoulders, she had weapons and exploration equipment carefully secreted about her body. She was ready for the men who chased her.

Her name was Maxine, and it was her job to be the decoy. She was enjoying it more than she should.
She couldn’t yet see her pursuers, but they made enough noise to compensate for that. They were doing what they were supposed to, following her into the residential wing so she could lay a trap for them. Now that she had them here, she had to work out what that trap would be.

White circles in the ceiling were light domes, diffusing the daylight far above that had been channelled through mirrored light tubes. Rectangles set into the wall lit up with uncertain flickers. They would be powered by the mini nuclear plant far below the floor. Even after all these years, the automated systems still worked, which was impressive. Maxine studied the newly illuminated room, doing a tactical assessment.

The atrium was circular, with only one entrance on its lower level, the one Maxine had entered by. A semi-circular balcony looked down from the level of the first floor opposite the corridor, a dark wood double door at the mid point. Curved stairs led up to the balcony, and a jumbled mix of marble and bronze statues were gathered around the walls. So far, so much like the plans Maxine had seen.

Darting toward the nearest statue, Maxine jumped up on to its hunched shoulders and pushed off from its head to grab the balustrade of the stairs, clambering over them. It saved her whole seconds over the less flamboyant route from the foot of the stairs.

The double doors swung open easily, opening onto a darkened room. As more motion sensing lights turned on, Maxine closed the doors behind herself and drew a seat across to barricade them. It wouldn’t hold for long, but she only wanted to create a small delay. She studied the tableaux revealed by the lamps.
She was in a large dining room, dominated by a long table. Three desiccated figures were sat before their final suppers. Judging by their attire, two women and a man. One woman was sat nearly upright in her chair, head twisted toward the door and mouth open in what could as easily be a smile as pain. The other woman, across the table, had slumped forward into whatever she had been eating.

The man sat at the head of the table. There was something lopsided about his head. As Maxine neared him, she recognised what was wrong. Most of the left side of his skull was missing. She walked around the back of his chair and there, still clutched in the leather wrapped bones of his right hand, was a large semi automatic pistol. The fingers snapped off as she pulled the weapon from them. On the table beside the man’s meal was a box of cartridges.

Outside the room, there were voices, shouts of orders, then a hammering as her pursuers tried to force their way in. She held up the gun. Pulling back the slide to chamber a new round, she didn’t like the feel of it. She had seen too many guns disintegrate under test firing to trust this one. There was a .38 revolver in a holster under her arm that she did trust, and a 9mm on her hip, but she wasn’t sure the guys on the other side of the door were worth the expense of bullets. She felt like improvising.

False windows in the walls looked out onto idealised visions of the world before, back when there had been abundance. They looked like nothing Maxine had ever seen. She imagined they bore little resemblance to the world that had led the occupants to build this bunker, either. Under the windows were long tables laid out with the pretty and pointless possessions the rich folk hiding here had felt were important. An array of big watches caught Maxine’s eye. There was a pile of pashminas and shawls in silk and cashmere beside the watches. She wrapped one of the soft wool scarves around her fist and picked up the heaviest, most unnecessarily knurled of the watches.

Beside the doors, there was an override switch for the room’s lights. Maxine turned the lights off and stood beside the switch as the battering on the door began to splinter the chair barring it. It gave way, finally, with a creak and crack, and the door pushed open. Two figures entered, back lit from the atrium.

“She be here?” the nearest one said.

“Must be. None else to go to.”

“Why no lights?” said a voice from the balcony.

“She hide. We find her.”

“We find her, we do her good.” the nearest one said.

Continues in Pickers 1: The Find, which is released on July 4th. You can pre-order it now.

Pickers 2: The Trip is released on July 18th, and can also be pre-ordered.

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