|Publication date||March, 1995|
| Preceded by|
| Followed by|
When all is lost, there is always the future
Deathlands is a world savaged beyond recognition by a centuries-old nuclear blast. While many prosper on the savagery of this lawless land, Ryan Cawdor and his band of warrior survivalists carry the seeds of hope and courage in a daring quest to find the gateway to the future....
TREE OF KNOWLEDGE
The warrior survivalists are reluctant guests in a reactivated twentieth-century medical institute in Maine. Here scientists still pursue their abstract theories, oblivious to the realities of a world gone mad. But when they take an unhealthy interest in Krysty Wroth, the pressure is on to find a way out of this guarded enclave.
Before they can escape, Ryan's loyalty will be tested, and Krysty's special powers may threaten her very existence.
In the Deathlands, the war for domination is over, but the struggle for survival continues.
There is a belief that somewhere in the world everyone has an identical double. If I ever meet up with mine I'd ask him how he copes with being so irresistibly charming and sexually attractive to all women. No, listen, that's a joke, right? If I really bumped into my double I'd figure that I was either mad or dead. Probably dead.
- Heads I Win, Tails You Lose by Lucky Giordino, priv. pub. NYC, 1982
At the start of the story, Ryan, JB, Abe, and Trader are on their way back to the ranch in a Volvo. More specifically, they've stopped to fix a rattling exhaust part on their way back. Doc and Sukie Smith are also on their way to the ranch from another direction.
Both groups catch sight of the farm and notice that something's not right - there's no movement. Doc and Sukie get there first, and Doc goes inside, but everyone is gone. Ryan and the others show up soon after. Ryan asks if there was a note - the farm looks like it was evacuated in good order, which means Krysty would have left one - but Sukie and Doc deny finding one.
They make a more thorough sweep of the house and find two people (a man and a woman) in Doc's room. Both show signs of severe rad poisoning; the woman is long dead, and the man is on death's door. Ryan and JB check their rad counters, and they're off the scale.
Trader looks at the back door, then smacks Sukie and tells her to give up the note. After some work, Doc finally convinces her to hand it over. It says that the two people inside arrived in a wagon carrying a leaking nuclear warhead, which is now in the barn. After putting them in a room, everyone at the farm packed up and left, moving to a rendezvous point ten miles away. Ryan and the others, after some discussion, post warning signs on the doors and barn and quickly leave to find the others. Since they're taking the car, Doc is forced to leave Judas the mule behind.
The next morning, they discuss what to do. The farm is no longer viable, and Trader wants to try out the gateways he's heard about. Everyone else is ready to move on, but Sukie wants to visit her sister in Hope Springs, Colorado (and wants Doc to go with her); Doc convinces her to go along with him and the others. They return to the Dulce redoubt and prepare to make the jump. As the process is getting underway, Sukie panics and tries to leave the mat-trans chamber and is disintegrated.
They arrive in a new redoubt. This one is empty, but they find a short dead-end passage with evidence of it having been used for a firing squad execution. The rest of the redoubt is sealed off, but they have access to the dorms (beds and showers), so they spend the night.
Abe gets up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and walks in on a horde of mutie spiders pouring out of the air vents into the bathroom. His screams wake the others, who pull him out and kill most of the spiders before closing the bathroom door. Unfortunately, the spiders have blocked the air vents, which sends an alarm to the central computer. It issues an alert that an automatic venting procedure will start in 15 minutes. The companions race back to the gateway as the system starts to suck the air out of their section and barely make it in time to jump without suffocating.
They arrive in a new redoubt, this one also empty. After making sure there are no more threats, they sleep the night and leave in the morning, finding themselves on the top of a mountain in Maine. JB uses his Sextant, and places them in Acadia National Park, and he redoubt is located deep in the Cadillac mountain. They head down into the forest, shoot a deer for lunch, and make camp near a lake. Later in the afternoon, they hear Dean calling for help and the snarl of what sounds like a wolf. They come running to see Dean holding off a large German shepherd. Mildred shoots it, and they find a collar around its neck with a tag bearing a long string of numbers and the letter "A". They take the collar and toss the body into the lake.
Later, Jak and Ryan return to the same spot and they encounter the same dog. At least, it appears to be the same dog; after they kill it, they find another collar with the same string of numbers and the letter "B". Spooked by the identical dogs, they decide to move on around the lake.
They head up into the hills and find a good spot for a camp for the night. Ryan's on watch and wanders a bit away from the camp when he finds a dying man. He gets help bringing the man back to the camp, where Mildred examines him; the man has lots of cuts and bruises, probably from his escape, and bears a large number of surgical scars. The man tries to speak, very faintly; Dean picks up the words "twins" and something that sounds like "coning", then the man dies.
Not long after, they hear men and dogs. They decide to take no chances and build up the fire to a raging blaze, then toss the dead man on it. The men approach the camp, and their leader introduces himself as Professer Ladrow Buford, and his chief sec man as Ellison. Buford asks if they've seen any dogs, and Ryan says they spotted a pair near the lake the previous day, but didn't come close. Satisfied, Buford invites them to return with him to the "institute". Intrigued, they accept.
On their way back, they come across a fallen spruce tree. Dean, who's been running ahead of the group the whole time, is climbing on the tree when it suddenly gives way, rolling over and pinning him. There's not enough room for more than one person to get a hold and move it, so Krysty is forced to use her Gaia power to lift it high enough for Ryan and Jak to pull the boy free. Exhausted, she collapses afterward and remains unconscious for a few hours. After she wakes up, they decide to carry her the rest of the way.
They arrive in the valley holding the Crichton Institute not long after and Buford gives them quarters to rest and get cleaned up. Later, he comes to ask if he can study Krysty (for "purely scientific" reasons). They demur, and he leaves, saying he'll return later to take them to dinner.
Ryan decides to take a walk around the building to check things out. Along the way, he runs into Ellison, who has apparently shaved off his mustache. He doesn't recognize Ryan and is about to shoot him when Buford shows up and makes Ellison stand down.
Later at dinner, the companions meet the head of the institute, David Crichton (grandson of Melissa Crichton, who founded the institute). He makes a deal with Ryan - they can study Krysty if she agrees to it; meanwhile, Buford would take them on a tour of the institute.
The next day, they take a grand tour. Buford tells them that most of their knowledge was lost in a fire about 40 years ago, and they haven't been able to do much of anything since. In one area, though, Ryan notices a sign that has been painted over - it's the standard sign posted above the entrance to a mat-trans control room.
The day after that, it starts to snow. Krysty is due to do her interview; Mildred elects to stay with her, while Buford and another doctor, Thea Gibson, take the rest of the companions and a handful of sec men bear hunting.
Once they're outside the valley, they split into three groups; Ryan, Trader, and five of the sec men go with Thea Gibson. The snow quickly turns to a blizzard and the temperature drops, so everyone decides (independently) to turn back. Gibson's group, however, gets lost and ends up finding the bear's cave by accident. Two of the men go inside and anger the bear; one of them is killed, and the other runs out of the cave and straight over the cliff. Everyone opens fire when a large bear emerges; they kill it, only to find it was a cub. The cub lets off a dying moan that draws the mother. Ryan, Trader, and Thea hide, but the other three men flee down the trail, drawing it after them. While it's gone, Ryan goes into the cave to ambush it - they wouldn't be able to fight it on the trail. They manage to kill it, though it knocks Ryan unconscious.
Meanwhile, back at the institute, Krysty is being interviewed. Mildred feigns having a migraine so that she can go wander around unchaperoned. She ends up in a secured area guarded by two men. A third man comes down and tells them that two of the hunting parties have returned, and that Gibson's group is missing, then says they're needed for the search party. All three men leave, and Mildred sneaks into the room. She finds a series of cells holding a variety of failed experiments, and a sec man finds her.
Ryan, Trader, and Thea Gibson are stuck on the mountain as night falls, so they dig an igloo in the snow and spend the night there, then head back to the valley in the morning. Thea Gibson tells them of another path into the valley, a little-used trail, which they use to get back in. They run into a three-man sec patrol on the way, and Ryan and Trader kill them.
Mildred and the others are disarmed and confined to quarters, while Krysty is also disarmed and imprisoned in a separate room. The next day (the same morning Ryan and Trader make their way back), she is taken to the lab. David Crichton explains their work to her, which turns out to be cloning - they can duplicate a living being, altering genes and personality to suit their whim, effectively creating a new copy without mutations.
Ryan, Trader, and Thea Gibson get back into the building via an unlocked window. Thea Gibson tells them that she can do no more for them, so Trader kills her. As chance would have it, they're right near the cells with the failed experiments. They kill the two guards then check the cells. One holds a two-headed woman, the most coherent of the bunch, so they let her free to help them.
They make their way through the halls and end up in an operating room. Buford and two guards just happen to be walking down the hall outside, so Ryan lures them in and ties Buford up. The sec men say that Ryan and Trader can't shoot them, or everyone else will hear, so they turn to leave, but the woman slashes one guard's throat with a scalpel. The other stabs her, and Trader stabs him.
Meanwhile, Ellison walks into the room where the rest of the companions are being held. Mildred stands by the window and mumbles something, which forces him to move toward her to hear, and Jak kills him with a throwing knife. Ellison's clone comes in then, and Doc shoots him with the LeMat he recovered from the first Ellison. They take the shotguns from the dead men and head toward the restricted area, only to run into Krysty in the hall. She says that she has to find Ryan immediately, so they head toward where they think Ryan would be headed - the center of the institute.
Which is exactly where he's going. He has Buford take them to Crichton's quarters, where they find their weapons. Krysty and the others appear from another door, and the Krysty clone immediately attacks him with a knife. Buford steps in between them and tries to order her to stop, but she slashes him to ribbons. By the time she finishes, Krysty (the real one) and several sec men enter the room from different doors. The Krysty's have at each other while the companions deal with the sec men. Crichton dies of a heart attack during the fighting, and the real Krysty kills the impostor.
After the fight is ended, the companions head for the exit, stopping along the way to toss a couple grenades into the cloning chambers. They leave the valley, head straight for the redoubt, and jump out.
- This book was authored by Laurence James.
- Audio Cassette was released in March, 2000.
- Doc mentions Ralph Waldo Emerson, a famous essayist, lecturer, and poet, when he beholds Acadia National Park.
- Mildred Wyeth states in the novel that the region of Maine they are in is close to Stephen King country.