|Author||Alan Philipson (Primary Story), Mark Ellis, Christopher Lowder, Laurence James|
|Publication date||January 1988|
|Published by||Harlequin Enterprises Ltd|
| Preceded by|
First in Series
| Followed by|
Pilgrimage to Hell
Go back to the beginning with original editorial, and discover the special Collector's information located at the back of this longer-length novel!
THE TRADER YEARS
Stories of the Trader and his convoy of war wagons endure in the badlands of post-holocaust America. A dealer in Deathlands' most precious commodities -- weapons and fuel -- Trader takes note of a young Ryan Cawdor. Surrounded in myth and rumour, Trader sets into motion the beginnings of legend at a place called Virtue Lake....
WINNER TAKE ALL
At Spearpoint, the ultimate redoubt housing a valuable cache of predark technology, two opposing wills clash. Levi Shabazz intends to carve his own empire out of the vast wastelands, but the Trader intends to thwart him and end him bloody siege of power. It all comes to a head at Virtue Lake - a heard lesson for Trader and a grim rite of passage for Ryan Cawdor.
The book begins with a group of random travelers, thrown together by chance, making camp for the night. They eat dinner, then one tells a story of Trader and how he completely wiped out the ville of Virtue Lake over a double-crossed deal. This is a legend among the people of Deathlands, one often told in various forms. The truth, however, is a bit different.
The next chapter leads off with a group of men in a wag headed toward what we later learn is Spearpoint, a huge redoubt. A group of inbreds, descended from a captain who used to run the security for the redoubt, have set traps across the road, which traps the wag, then they unload on it with armour-piercing rounds. They kill one of the men and capture the other two, then sacrifice them to another Cerberus-like creature. Up on a hilltop a half-mile or so away, a trader named Shabazz watches. He has sent the men there to gauge the defenses and test the veracity of the stories about the mist.
Next, we go to Trader, back in his base in the east. His crew is putting the final touches on the booby traps and new roof-mounted machine guns.
And finally, we go to Baron Zeal, the baron of Virtue Lake, which is a stop along Trader's route. He's with Shabazz and Doc, who is somehow under his control. Zeal makes Doc recite a litany of everything in Spearpoint, a huge redoubt; he's planning to use Trader's war wags to get in, get the goods, and set himself up as a lord of Deathlands.
Trader and his convoy arrive in Virtue Lake. After some discussion with the guards at the gate, Trader goes on alone to meet with Zeal, while the others in his party are given some of the local jack and allowed to hit the town. Trader had planned on trading 10 rifles and ammunition for gold, but Zeal's gold is subpar at best, so Trader settles for cut-rate gas instead, which he can trade at other villes along the route for more goods. Still, Zeal settles for far less than he should have, and they both know it - Trader has a feeling he's up to something.
The next day, Shabazz and three of his men take a wag around to Trader's camp, kill the lone guard, then toss a bunch of nerve gas grens into the camp, killing several people and knocking the others out (the wind was strong enough to blow it away before it killed them). They're taken prisoner, but one of the men sets the failsafe on a wag.
Four hours later, the wag's mine goes off, blowing it (and everything else in a 100-yard radius) up. Zeal has his men cordon off the rest of the wags and races down to the prison to get Trader. He then explains what's going on - he's found Spearpoint, the near-legendary redoubt, but he needs Trader's wags to get to it. In exchange for the wags (and Trader disabling the rest of the mines, though Zeal doesn't know they aren't set...), he agrees to cut Trader in on the take. Trader is willing to give them 20% and keep the rest; this is obviously highway robbery, so Zeal decides to give him and his people a tour of the plant.
Meanwhile, Ryan, Poet, and Hunaker sneak back into the ville via the lakebed. They reach the edge of town, an area of slums where the slaves live, when they run into the same boy they encountered earlier - his name is Guy-ito. Guy-ito says he'll show them a safe way to the jail in exchange for Ryan's panga. Ryan agrees, so the boy leads them into town.
True to his word, Zeal has taken Trader and his crew into the refinery. The only thing he's showing them, however, is his torture tank - a huge, stainless-steel holding tank suspended over a series of gas burners, with an automated system to rotate it. He tosses one of Trader's men inside in the hopes of getting him to disarm the bombs, but the man dies first. All the others volunteer to go next, which pisses Zeal off, but Shabazz comes up with a better suggestion, so he has them all tossed back in jail, Trader is taken to Zeal's mansion, where Zeal has his cook make him a fine meal laced with plutonium dust (which has only a speck of actual radioactive material in it).
Ryan, Poet, and Hun, guided by the boy, find their friends in jail and come up with a plan. They go steal some C4 from the wags, then drive to the refinery. They slip in with the slaves at shift change, plant bombs all over the refinery, then settle in to wait for the next shift to leave again.
The next morning, Zeal and Shabazz take Trader to the jail to pick out a skeleton crew to man the wags for their assault on Spearpoint. Ryan and the others leave with the next shift and head over to the jail, where they free their companions and race after Trader and Zeal.
Spearpoint's guardians have foreseen the coming and improved their defenses, but the larger tank traps and rockfalls only serve to slow the massive war wags down. Trader gets War Wag One through the gauntlet and uses the newly-installed rocket pods on the roof to blast the guardians to hell, then Zeal and the other wag pull up behind them. They lock Trader and his people into storage closets in the wags, then disembark.
Zeal tells Doc to dismiss the mist and open the door to the redoubt, but Doc has other ideas - he knows he has a chance to get inside before he's shot, and he fully intends to take it to make his escape. He uses the spheres to dismiss Cerberus and opens the door, then dives inside before it's fully open and closes it from the other side. Zeal, furious, orders all his men forward, but the mist has been reactivated and it kills everyone but Vernel and Zeal. They jump in the last war wag and flee back toward Virtue Lake, running Ryan and his crew off the road. Ryan ignores them in favor of recovering the other war wags - with the bombs in place, he has a huge bargaining chip to get their goods back.
In the redoubt, Doc wanders about for a bit, then heads down to the mat-trans and teleports himself somewhere else. Ryan and the crew get to the wags and free Trader, who tells them what happened. In return, Ryan informs his boss of the bombs they'd planted; with a wide grin, Trader sets them off. Zeal makes it back to Virtue Lake and orders his sec force to fortify the warehouse in the refinery - he knows Trader will be returning, guns blazing, for payback and his stolen goods. About this time, though, the first bomb goes off, and the rest are armed. He sees the red beam of a motion-trigger and realizes he's screwed. He jumps into his torture tank and slams the door just as the rest of the bombs go off.
When Trader and his people return to the ville, they find the place has been wiped out - not only is the refinery completely gone, but Shabazz' stock of nerve gas was hidden nearby, and the explosion set them off, dispersing the gas over the rest of the ville. There don't appear to be any survivors. While they're picking through the wreckage toward the refinery, Ryan finds a sec man with his (Ryan's) panga stuck in his chest. Guy-ito is nowhere to be found.
They reach the centre of the blast area, which is nothing more than a huge crater. Down below, barely visible through the smoke and debris, is a large steel tank giving off a high squealing noise. Rumours abound as to whether or not Zeal survived the blast, and whether or not he cooked in his own tank (making the noise), or whether the noise was just escaping air.