It's Hell to be Famous

A "what were they doing while...?" piece, part of the ReaderVerse AU. How Chris, Buck and Josiah ended up out on the trail to meet up with Ezra and Vin. Written for a list challenge on the Drinking 'n' Fighting list.
The ReaderVerse this story is based in is a post-apocalyptic world based loosely on the world as portrayed in the series "Jeremiah" and the readers are based on the Espers in Alfred Bester's book "The Demolished Man."

The roar of the old truck driving into the settlement alerted everybody, heads poked out of windows and doors, kids ran into the road to follow. By the time it was parked next to the Quonset hut, fully half the population was there, waiting to see what Josiah had managed to bring back from his trading trip.

Chris Larabee!

Chris winced at Josiah's telepathic bellow. On my way, he sent, but at a more subdued level. The only reason he wasn't already in the street with the others was that he was elbows deep in their generator. He took enough time to secure the bolts, then wiped the grease off his hands, dropping the rag on top of his tool box.

Unloading was well underway when he got to the truck, and he stepped right in, grabbing up a large crate and joining the line of folks carrying them into the hut. When he came out to get another load, Josiah was waiting for him, Buck beside him. A problem?

Could call it that. Josiah sent an image of a snarling rabid dog. Hopewell's on the rampage. Somebody took down one of his bosses down south.

Buck grinned. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

I'd agree, except he's got it in his head that Chris was involved.

Which of his bosses was it? Chris asked.

Fella called Horace. No other name given.

Chris frowned. Of the few of Hopewell's people he'd run across, that name wasn't familiar. Down south, you say?

Close to the border. Story is that the whole compound was blown to smithereens and everybody was murdered.

Son of a bitch. That's going to mean trouble. He turned to continue unloading the truck. We'll talk about it later. "Hey, Josiah, you manage to find any spirits this trip?" he asked aloud.

"Nothing but heathen out there, Chris, but I did manage to find a fine fermented grain beverage."

Chris laughed at that, making sure the case that Josiah indicated was kept separate from the rest of the supplies.

Once everything was unloaded, the sorting began. Most of the goods would stay in the Quonset hut, which doubled as the general store, under the care of the Potter family. A few things were special requests by some of the villagers and were set aside for them to pick up.

Nodding, Chris watched the normal bustle of the village, the people greeting and thanking Josiah for his efforts on their behalf. He caught Josiah's eye, nodded toward the village tavern. The sooner they found out the full news he'd brought back, the better.

They got mugs of the locally brewed ale and took them to a table in the back. "I figure we best keep this on a level the normals can hear."

Josiah nodded. "I got this at the Salt Flat Trading Station." He reached into his shirt and pulled out a flimsy, handing it to Chris.

Chris nodded as Buck joined them, then spread the flimsy flat on the table. It was a report of the destruction of the New Alby compound and a request for any information leading to the apprehension of the murderers involved, and an offer of a reward. In fine print, it was suggested that anyone who could link the outlaw reader Larabee to the crime would be doubly rewarded.

"Great. I never even heard of New Alby, and now Hopewell thinks I took it down." Chris crumpled up the flimsy and shoved it in his pocket. "How'd it look out there? They looking hard on this one?"

Josiah rubbed his hand over his mouth before he answered. "Looks like it. They might let it go after a time if nothing comes to them."

"Might, huh..." Buck looked hard at Chris. "You thinking it's time we moved on?"

It wasn't something he wanted to do, he liked this settlement. But if Hopewell was hunting him, he didn't need to implicate these people as accomplices. It was rare to find a village that welcomed readers. Oh, many places tolerated them, but this village had declared itself a haven for readers. At the moment, the three of them: Buck, Josiah and himself, were the only readers living there. And soon, it seemed, even they would be gone. At least until the search for the New Alby destroyers was over.

But Buck had asked out loud, and he needed to answer, even though he knew his partner had already read the answer. "Yeah. As long as Hopewell has this stuck in his craw, any place we stay too long won't be safe. Guess the only way we can end it is to find out what really happened." He reached out and took Buck's hand. "I know you like it here. Might be we can come back when it's over. But I'm leaving in the morning." He knew Buck would go with him. "Josiah, you're not implicated in this, you can stay if you want."

The wide toothy grin on Josiah's face answered the question as much as the image of a braying donkey did. Josiah would be going with them, too.

By the time they left the next morning, they'd made their goodbyes to the village, arranged for most of their things to be kept safe and packed the things they needed for camping rough for a while. They chose to go on horseback, not being sure where the quest would take them, and knowing that it was still often easier to feed a horse than gas up a vehicle.

They cleared the narrow pass out of the valley and rode down out of the forest to the flats below. "So, Chris, where from here?"

He stared at Buck, annoyed at being asked to say it out loud. "You know fucking well where. South. Sooner we find out what happened at New Alby, sooner it's off my back."

"It's hell to be famous, stud."