It got worse, of course. When food and water started to dwindle, survival hinged on controlling what supplies remained and on acquiring new. But few knew how to forage adequately in a world poisoned and fouled so badly that even the soil could kill. Few knew how to develop new sources, and the demons got to those who did. A reticence to share with those less fortunate settled in, and the compounds became symbols of tyranny and selfishness. Those within were privileged, less threatened by hunger and thirst and sickness. Those without, some already beginning to change as their bodies adjusted to the poisons and the sicknesses that infected them, were labeled enemies for no better reason than that they had become different from everyone else.
Freaks, the regular humans called them. The street kids had given them other namesLizards, Croaks, Spiders, Moles. Mutants. Abominations. They were called that and much worse. Infected by radiation and chemicals, they were the monsters of his time, banished to the ravaged land outside the walls of the compounds and left to their fate.
Logan Tom looked out across the Indiana flats, reached for the AVs ignition, and turned it on. The engine purred softly to life, and he felt the thrum of her metal skin vibrate beneath his seat. After a moment, he engaged the clutch and steered out from the trees back onto the cracked surface of the road, heading west.
The real enemies were the once-men, humans subverted not by radiation and chemicals, but by false promises and lies that went something like this: Do you want to know what it will take to survive? A willingness to do what is needed. The world has always belonged to the strongest. The weak have never been meant to inherit anything. You choose which you want to be in this life. By your choice, you are either with us or against us. Choose wisely.
Demons had, of course, been telling those lies and making those false promises to humans for centuries. But those to whom the demons whispered were more willing to listen now. The world was a simple place in the aftermath of civilizations destruction: either you lived within the compounds or you lived without. Those without believed those within weak and afraid, and they understood fear and weakness instinctively. They had been culled from the remnants of broken armies and scattered law enforcement bodies, from failed militias and paramilitary organizations, from a culture of weapons and battle, from a mind-set of hate and suspicion and ruthless determination. Once they embraced the propaganda of the demons, they fell quickly into the thicket of resulting madness. They changed emotionally and psychologically first, then mentally and physically. Layer by layer, they shed their human skin; they took on the look and feel of monsters.
Outwardly, they still looked mostly humanapart from their blank, dead eyes and their empty expressions. Inwardly, they were something else entirely, their humanity erased, their identity remade. Inwardly, they were predatory and animalistic and given over to killing everything that moved.
They were once-men.
Logan Tom knew these creatures intimately. He had seen good men who had changed to become them, some of them his friends. He had watched it happen over and over. He had never understood it, but he had known what to do about it. He had hunted them down and he had killed them with relentless, unshakable determination, and he would keep hunting and killing them and the demons that created them until either they were eradicated or he was dead himself.
It was the task he had been given in his service to the Word. It was, by now, the definition of his life.
He was not, he understood, so different than they were. He was their mirror image in so many ways that it frightened him. He might claim to occupy the moral high ground, that he was only doing what was right. He might rationalize it in any way he chose, but the result was the same. He killed them as they killed others. He was simply better at it than they were.
Excerpted from Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks Copyright © 2006 by Terry Brooks. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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