Derek stopped searching the pile of junk and raised his head for a second, looking to the distant column of black smoke that loomed over the horizon. It seemed static, almost as if it was painted over a canvas, but after staring at it for some time he determined that it was moving slowly as if carried by the wind. He hadn’t lost track of it all morning long, so he also knew that the smoke was fading away and getting thinner. Whatever was the reason for the thick smother, it had ended long ago.
– Elena, hand me your visor – said, turning to look back.
The addressed woman, small, weathered by the sun and with a long brown ponytail running down her back, also turned around. She was lying over a blanket, taking cover behind another pile of crap that they had already searched, sweeping the scorching desert that extended for miles in every direction with a potent long rifle equipped with a lithe spyglass she had attached over the barrel as a scope. She lifted her goggles to put them over her forehead, turned around completely pushing aside the tails of her long overall and grunted an answer.
– And what should I use to look for uninvited guests?
– It will only be a second, come on – Derek clapped his hands and opened them wide, as if he was encouraging her to throw the device to him like in a circus trick.
Elena snorted, laid back over the blanket, took a last look to the Wasteland and, after being sure that no one was on sight, disassembled the spyglass with two quick wrist turns. Then she folded it very carefully, as if it was the most valuable relic in the world, stood up, dusted her ornate clothes full of straps, buckles and small pouches, and walked towards her partner. She put the spyglass directly in his hands, but before releasing it she forced him to look her in the eye.
– If I ever see you throwing my visor through the air like the punk you are, the next thing flying around will be your teeth. Capicci?
– You know I would never do that, Eli, chill… – said Derek with a smile overrun by the nervous gulp that came after a second.
He extended the artifact again to its full length, knelt over a tire and put the lens in front of one of his eyes. Clearly the bottom of the smoke column had already faded almost entirely, its source already extinguished, and what was still lingering in the air would soon be wiped away by the wind. But the thing he could not determine from his position was the origin of the huge smother, as even with her partner’s magnifying lenses the distance was too great. And wouldn’t be him the one to get closer to the Great Waste. Getting bit by the adventuring bug after reading a couple of news in the Scrapbridge Gazette about the explosions heard by some high gangers was one thing, but risking his skin just to satisfy his curiosity was an entirely different story.
– See something? – said Elena behind him.
– Nope. But something is going on over there. Where there is smoke…
– There is a fool looking at it – said the woman, while she turned back once more to scan the Wasteland behind them, using her hands as a screen to protect her eyes from the sun.
– Haven’t you read the Gazette? I am not the only one who thinks that the Final Waste is not inhabited or deserted as it seems. I would say someone is waging a big war there, if you ask my opinion.
– A war? You hallucinate even more than those Red Viper shitheads. But I’m sure you could have your conspiracy theory printed on the Gazette, because each month they slip more garbage between the news just to fill space.
– And how would you explain that huge column of smoke we have been seeing all morning long? – said Derek with a grin, without separating his eye from the spyglass.
– Anything could have caused it under this blazing sun, dumb ass. A shard of glass that ignites some shrubs, a tank full of chemical products that gets overheated… Ask any Dynamo back in the camp, they are used to things that explode on their faces and can tell you a thousand ways to start a fire.
– And why no one is coming back from that zone? What is so special about it? – the man pressed on.
– Extreme radiation, that’s my guess. A source of contamination so strong that not even the Mutards can stand it.
– Produced by?
– Who knows, I am no expert in ancient history, but you have seen the remnants of old settlements, factories and all kind of buildings scattered around. And we haven’t yet discovered a tiny fraction of it. The Wasteland still holds a lot of secrets…
– In that I agree with you, partner… – whispered Derek while he scoped the source of the smoke for the last time. Only a thin grey hue in the sky marked the fading existence of the smoke column.
– Can we go back now? – asked Elena impatiently.
– Yeah. We have taken some interesting stuff and I have satisfied my curiosity… for now.
The woman had walked some steps away from him while they were speaking, walking around the garbage dump while watching tirelessly the desert behind their position. That was the reason why Derek had the instinctive reflex of throwing it back to her with a whistle, but as soon as he moved his arm back to do so, Elena guessed his intentions, opened her eyes wide, frowned and raised an accusing finger. Her partner tried to disguise his movement pretending to stretch out and faking a yawn, after which he jogged down the pile of trash, got near to the woman and put the visor in her hand.
– Thanks – said to her, just before turning his eyes away from the killing look his partner gave him.