Gordon's smile was bitterly thin as he sat up carefully, backing along his rocky perch until he felt sure he was out of view of the slope below. He plucked his travel belt free of twigs and drew the half-full canteen for a long, desperately needed drink. Bless you, paranoia,he thought. Not once since the Doomwar had he ever allowed the belt more than three feet from his side. It was the only thing he had been able to grab before diving into the brambles. The dark gray metal of his .38 revolver shone even under a fine layer of dust, as he drew it from its holster. Gordon blew on the snub-nosed weapon and carefully checked its action. Soft clicking testified in understated eloquence to the craftsmanship and deadly precision of another age. Even in killing, the old world had made well. Especially in the art of killing,Gordon reminded himself. Raucous laughter carried up from the slope below. Normally he traveled with only four rounds loaded. Now he pulled two more precious cartridges from a belt pouch and filled the empty chambers under and behind the hammer. "Firearm safety" was no longer a major consideration, especially since he expected to die this evening anyway. Sixteen years chasing a dream, Gordon thought. First that long, futile struggle against the collapse . . . then scratching to survive through the Three-Year Winter . . . and finally more than a decade of moving from place to place, dodging pestilence and hunger, fighting goddamned Holnists and packs of wild dogs . . . half a lifetime spent as a wandering dark age minstrel, play-acting for meals in order to make it one day more while I searched for . . . . . . for someplace . . . Gordon shook his head. He knew his own dreams quite well. They were a fool's fantasies, and had no place in the present world. . . . for someplace where someone was taking responsibility . . . He pushed the thought aside. Whatever he had been looking for, his long seeking seemed to have ended here, in the dry, cold mountains of what had once been eastern Oregon. From the sounds below he could tell that the bandits were packing up, getting ready to move off with their plunder. Thick patches of desiccated creeper blocked Gordon's view downslope through the ponderosa pines, but soon a burly man in a faded plaid hunting coat appeared from the direction of his campsite, moving northeast on a trail leading down the mountainside. The man's clothing confirmed what Gordon remembered from those blurred seconds of the attack. At least his assailants weren't wearing army surplus camouflage . . . the trademark ofHoln survivalists. They must be just regular, run of the mill, may-they please-roast-in-Hell bandits. If so, then there was a sliver of a chance the plan glimmering in his mind just might accomplish something. Perhaps. The first bandit had Gordon's all-weather jacket tied around his waist. In his right arm he cradled the pump shot gun Gordon had carried all the way from Montana. "Come on!" the bearded robber yelled back up the trail. "That's enough gloating. Get that stuff together and move it!" The leader,Gordon decided. Another man, smaller and more shabby, hurried into view carrying a cloth sack and a battered rifle. "Boy, what a haul! We oughta celebrate. When we bring this stuff back, can we have all the 'shine we want, Jas?" The small robBrin, David is the author of 'Postman', published 1997 under ISBN 9780553278743 and ISBN 0553278746.