An orphaned teen with the ability to transform into a vicious whirlwind latches on to Ryan and the companions as they travel through former North Dakota. Her deadly power seems like a boon at first, until it starts to control her. When threatened, she destroys everything in her path including those she loves. Then a group of outcast fighters kidnaps the young woman and manipulates herand her terrifying mutationfor their own destructive agenda. With the vortex unleashed, the companions face a tough decision: chill the orphan or perish in her violent wake.
Since the nukecaust, the American dream has been reduced to a daily fight for survival. In the hellish landscape of Deathlands, few dare to dream of a better tomorrow. But Ryan Cawdor and his companions press on, driven by the need for a future less treacherous than the present.
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"Waitthere has been a slaughter here!"
A scarf muffled Doc Tanner's words. Each of his companions had one wrapped around his or her face to give what protection the garment could from the powder snow and dust whipped at them by the unforgiving North Plains late-winter wind.
The seven friends staggered across a bright desert of white. Ryan Cawdor had to lean hard into the bone-cutting wind to keep it from pushing him upright. The snow wasn't falling, so far as he could tell. The mat-trans jump had delivered them to the rolling prairie of the eastern Badlands of what had been South Dakota, near the border with the former Nebraska, as near as they had been able to tell from J. B. Dix's minisextant and Doc's calculations.
Ryan drew his SIG Sauer P226. Doc's warning cry had indicated no present danger. Had the old man detected an immediate threat, he would have called it out. Doc had been trawled from his time in the 1880s to the 1990s by the whitecoats of Operation Chronos. Doc had proved to be an uncooperative test subject, so he had been thrust one hundred years into the future to what was now known as the Deathlands. The multiple time jumps had addled his brain, and sometimes he wandered in a fog that filled his brain.
But when it came to danger to himself and his friends, he snapped back to the here and now. He had spoken very clearly in the past tensebut Ryan was not put at ease.
If people had been slaughtered, that meant cold-hearts, and they might still be in the area.
"Weapons out, people," the one-eyed man called. He knew that his companions would most likely have their blasters in hand, but he had to be sure. They were all seasoned Deathlands travelers and fighters, but everybody made mistakes. And they were all worn down by hunger, fatigue and the biting cold.
He had his six companions winged out in a vee formation: his lover, Krysty Wroth, to his right; then Ricky Morales; then J. B. Dix, the Armorer. To the left walked Doc, Mildred Wyeth and Jak Lauren. They were spread out far enough they could just keep each other in sight in the storm.
Jak, a slight, skinny albino youth, normally walked, not point, but ranging in advance of the others to scout out danger. Not today. In this nasty storm, which was worse than a thick fog because the wind-blown dust and ice particles stung the eyes and constantly threatened to clog them, Ryan wanted J.B.'s judgment and skill with a blaster, and Jak's hunting-tiger senses guarding the rear.
That accounted for why the least likely of them all, Dr. Theophilus Algernon Tanner, had spotted something first. Although Doc looked to be pushing seventy hardif not powering right byin fact he was roughly the same age as Ryan in terms of years actually lived. It was his time jumps and the abuse he had suffered at the hands of twentieth-century whitecoats that had prematurely aged him and addled his mind.
"Swing left, everybody," Ryan called. "We need to see what we might be up against"
A man suddenly appeared, stumbling toward them blindly in the hard driving snow.
"Black cloud," Ryan heard him mumbling. "The black cloud!"
The one-eyed man raised his handblaster. The man showed no sign of even seeing the companions, even though he was about to blunder right between him and Doc. Ryan had not kept himself aliveto say nothing of his companionsacross the length and breadth of the Deathlands by taking anything for granted.
And then the shambling man clearly did see them. Ryan could actually make out his eyes going wide in the gore and filthy mask of his face.
"You mutie bastards!" he screamed. Suddenly he was raising an ax above his head with both hands. "You won't take me alive!"
The goggle-like shades, with slits of polarized glass, protected Hammerhand's eyes from the wind-lashed snow, dust and grit as he scaled the peak the Plains folk called Gray Top.
Nothing protected the rest of his massive frame. His muscle-packed six-foot-six-inch body was nude from the black topknot surmounting his side-shaved head to the soles of his feet. Susan Crain, the Crow Nation healer and medicine woman he had sought for counsel, had told him that he had to be naked to complete the vision quest.
The rugged granite rock cut into his palms and feet, but he ignored the discomfort. He was inured to hardship, from the abuse and poverty his tribe and own family had inflicted on him, growing up among the Kaina people of the great Blackfoot Confederacy of the short grass plains to the north.
Of course, the nuking mushrooms I ate might be helping with that, he thought. The magic mushrooms made him hyperaware, his senses unnaturally keen. Yet they made him somehow less vulnerable to those sensations.
They also deadened fear. But he was used to fighting down the terrors that beset him. He'd done that all his life, as well.
The mountain, which took its name from the gray granite cap rock that rose above its pine-clad slopes and the surrounding Black Hills, stood near the Dead White Man Faces Mountain. It was the tallest in the Hills. It was held to possess great power.
It seemed as good a place as any to find the key to his destiny.
Hammerhand wasn't sure he believed in all this mystic shit. Then again, he wasn't sure he didn't. For nuking sure he'd had to put up with the taunts and barbs of those smug bastard Absarokas in order to consult their well-known shaman.
After a generation or two of peace, the two nations, his Blackfoot Confederacy and the Crow, were back to an on-again, off-again war of mutual raiding and occasional battles. The only reason they hadn't shot him on sight was that he was a known exile from his native Blood band, a wild child whose wickedness and ambition alike were too great to be constrained by tradition and stick-up-their-butts elders. But his judgment wasn't trusted widely enough, even by other adolescent warriors, for him to raise his own war band and probe his inner self in any kind of way anyone on the Plains would pay attention to.
Painfully and painstakingly he made his way to the top. That had always been his strength, he reckoned: that he could act with precision or passion, as the need of the moment required. Mebbe both.
It was why he knew himself fit to rule.
The question was how.
And mebbe who. Those questions were what had brought him here: blasted out of his mind, freezing to his marrow and a hundred feet in the air up a cliff of granite made slick by blowing snow, cold enough to dangerously numb the fingers and toes that scrabbled and fought for holds every inch of the tortuous way up.
But Hammerhand persevered. He was good at that, too. That was another way he reckoned he was superior to the people who'd given him life: although they could endure almost anything, and had wizard survival skills, they had a tendency to fly off the handle at random moments. Not at something that required persistence in a physical craftlike skinning a chilled elk or even curing its hide for use in making clothing and lodgesbut at anything abstract.
They didn't have what it took to envision Empire and make it happen. They didn't have the horizon.
Hammerhand did. That part of the vision he had. But he knew he was missing key pieces.
He could see barely past his fingertips when his arms were fully stretched out. For a moment, when through the whirling whiteness he glimpsed rugged gray with only more white beyondjust above his reachhis brain, altered as it was, couldn't process what its eyes were showing it.
His body came to the rescue. Locked in "climb" mode, it commenced to haul his mass up the cliff again, fingers and toes seeking cracks and jutting icy gray stone. The image of the lip of the cliff resolved itself into his brain: the top!
Seeing a bright line of red and yellow halation following the outline of the rock-sky interface, Hammer-hand let his mind ride shotgun as his body pulled itself onto the angled and uneven upper surface. Exercising the power of suggestion as much as his powerful will, he stood upright, bracing slightly against a wind, fierce now that it was unrestrained, that sought to bash him right back over the cliff to oblivion.
"I'm here," he called into the storm. It seemed he could hear the individual impact of each tiny particle of snow, ice and grit as it banged against the lenses of his glasses.
He looked around and could scarcely see more than ten feet from the tip of his nose. The hilly, wooded country surrounding the peak was invisible.
And then, suddenly, it was before him: a masculine figure, as nude as he was and at least twice as tall, floating six feet above the wind-swept granite. Its every muscle was seemingly molded with great precision out of white light. The brightness of the faceless figure didn't hurt his eyes. But the golden radiance that surrounded it dazzled him through his shades, making him blink and try to turn away.
He found that he could not.
"Hammerhand," a voice said like thunder. "Kneel before me."
"Who are you?" he demanded. He was determined not to let the thing see his fear. Even though he had the drug to deaden it, his knees were so loose he was only keeping himself upright by the force of his will.
"I am your destiny. Kneel before me." "I'd rather die standing!"
"It is not permitted," the voice boomed. "Nor is disobedience. I am Fate."
The willpower that held his knees locked shattered like glass struck with a hammer. His legs folded abruptly beneath him. It was all he could do to keep from going over backward on his buttocks.
Then, irresistibly, he felt his torso being winched upward, until he sat up straight. He could feel his muscles doing it, but not by his will, nor under his control.
"You see that resistance is futile, Hammerhand."
"What do you want from me?"
"Only to give you that which you most desire, what you have come here to obtain, naked, freezing and electric.
"Now, hear me "
Chapter Two The boom of the stubby shotgun barrel beneath the longer main barrel of Doc's gigantic LeMat revolver beat the blast of Ryan's SIG Sauer P226 by half a heartbeat. The man was already staggered by the charge of buckshot when Ryan double-tapped him at the center of mass, which was still more shadow than apparent substance.
The .44-caliber upper barrel of Doc's revolver spit yellow flame and crashing noise. The man's head snapped back and he crumpled into the snow.
"Offer accepted," Ryan said, lowering his weapon. "Maybe we should've tried to keep him alive," Mildred said as Ryan cautiously approached the fallen man. She wasn't doing it just to be contraryalthough she was perfectly capable of that. She, like Doc, had been taken out of her own time in the distant past by science. But in her case the motivation was the opposite of Doc's: doctors had put Mildred into cryosleep when a routine abdominal operation had gone terribly wrong, hoping that she could be cured sometime in the future.
"It might have been helpful if he could've told us what happened here," she continued. "And who did it."
Ryan began to see signs of what had inspired Doc's original call-out: ruined buildings and scattered trash on the ground beyond the man they'd chilled. Some of that trash, he saw, was bodies. Much of it appeared to be body parts.
Ryan grunted. "Abstract knowledge doesn't load many magazines," he said.
"I'm a big fan of not getting my skull split by an ax," J.B. commented.
Then he frowned and stepped up to kneel by the chill, pointing the muzzle of his M-4000 shotgun skyward.
"Look at this," he said, while Jak, who had appeared at the fringes of visibility when the blasterfire erupted, vanished back into the blowing snow. Ryan thought about warning him not to get too far from the group lest he lose sight of the rest. But then he knew how ridiculous that was. The albino would find a way to track them through a sealed-up cavern at midnight. As long as Jak lived, his companions would never have to worry about finding him. He'd find them.
Also, Ryan knew the danger in giving orders he knew might not be obeyed. The albino accepted Ryan's leadership. But he had his own notions of how to do his job as scout. And since he was the best there was, Ryan had learned to give him his head in such matters.
Instead he allowed himself to take his eye off the surroundings, where he saw little but still-vague shapes in the blown snow anyway, to look at the man. As expected, he was dead. His remaining eye, bright blue, glared at the keening white void above.
His other, his right, was a bloody socket rimmed with semiliquid aqueous humor. He'd suffered its loss recently, along with the other wounds visible on his face and chest through his ripped-open plaid flannel shirt.
The Armorer pointed to, without touching, red-rimmed rings on his cheek and jaw. Sucker marks.
"Stickie," Ryan muttered. "Ace on the line."
He looked up and around. What little he could make out through the wind-blown snow and grit suggested structures that had never been much to start with but were probably worse now.
"Eyes skinned," he commanded, straightening. "We don't know if the muties are still around."
"Some are," Mildred observed, sounding grim. "The bodies I can see from here are stickies. Or stickie parts, mostly. They're everywhere."
"It looks as if a bomb went off in a stickie colony," Krysty stated.
Ryan moved on from the chill. Almost at once he came close to stumbling over a lump that he quickly realized was a green stickie torsoheadless, limbless, about the size of a ten-year-old norm's body. It was partly covered with drifted powdery snow.
"Could they have been fighting?" Ricky asked warily. He'd had to make some adjustments to his outlook on muties when joining up with Ryan and his group. His homeland, Puerto Rico, was called Monster Island, not just because it was overrun with savage monstersit wasbut also because large colonies of humanoid muties, including stickies, lived side by side with the human majority in perfect amity. Whereas on the mainland mutation was considered a taintsuch that even the gorgeous Krysty Wroth faced discrimination or even violence whenever it was found out that she was, though nearly perfect in face and form, a mutie.
Of course, on the mainland, stickies had earned their reputation as monsters a thousand times over.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Don't have to write a lame disclaimer; I actually bought this book! Devil's Vortex, penned under the house name James Axler is the 125th Deathlands book and the final installment of the series. Note: The final installment not the finale. Sadly, for fans of the series we get no closure, no happily ever after, no peace for the companions. Not at all thrilled with Gold Eagle for just leaving us hanging. The book itself is a good representation of the series. Devil's Vortex was for me a great comeback after the disappointment of the last book. As usual I do not know who the actual author was, or indeed if they have written any others in the series. We are back to the companions being in control of their own situation. Plenty of brain splattering violence, just like we've become accustomed to in The Deathlands. A little reminder here and there of how hot Krysty is and what happens to men who see her naked against her will (it doesn't end well for them). I was amused by the authors tip of the cap to Lerner and Loewe's Paint Your Wagon, naming one of the main ancillary characters "Mariah" (they call the wind...). Nice touch. The kind of thing I often enjoyed throughout the series. I was a bit surprised that the story was set in the Black Hills near MT. Rushmore without mentioning the big base in that mountain which was the focus of an earlier book (no, I didn't bother to look up which one). The story has Indians (excuse me, Native Americans) fighting among themselves, whitecoats behaving badly (they are whitecoats after all), and of course, our old friends kicking butt and not needing to take names. Devil's Vortex is disappointing in that it doesn't conclude the story line, but I have a feeling the author did not know it was such (bad Gold Eagle, BAD!). For some time the Deathlands books have been my secret (sort of) indulgence. I have always liked to fantasize about being the "last man on earth", so I'm sad to see the series end. Fortunately for me, there are still about 20 of the books in the series that I have not yet found or read, so I guess I'm not really done with the series. If your a fan of Deathlands, Devil's Vortex by the ever non-existent James Axler will satisfy your need for a fix of post-apocalyptic violence and mayhem. Enjoy! Mike