I hung my arm out the window and glanced over at Martialla as the ugly landscape crawled by “You know I haven’t seen a single roach here in the future.”
“Present, you mean. You say that like you’re disappointed. Why do you want to see roaches?”
“I don’t want to see roaches, who would want to see a roach?”
“Shut up Martialla! The point I’m trying to make is that back in our time they always said that after the end of the world the only thing left would be the roaches, so where are the roaches? Swarms of giant carnivorous roaches hungry for our tender meat.”
Martialla frowned “Why do you want there to be roaches?”
“God damn it Martialla, I’m not saying that I want there to be roaches. What I’m saying is that they told us there were going to be roaches everywhere after the world blew up so where are they?”
“They were wrong. Roaches being left after the bombs drop is one of those things that someone said once based on nothing and it sounded good, so other people kept parroting it. Like that old chestnut about how you lose ninety percent of your heat from your head or that if you wake up a sleepwalker they could die. Roaches evolved in tropical rain forests, the only reason they can survive in other environments is because humans have heated houses for them to live in and create literally tons of garbage for them to eat. Anything that took out humans would take out the roaches too, except in the jungles where they evolved to live.”
I scowled at her “Why do you know so much about roaches?”
“I dated an entomologist in college.”
“Stop saying entomologist! I don’t think you have any idea what you’re talking about, need I remind you that you’re an adult woman who doesn’t know what third base is.”
“I know what third base is, you’re the one who thinks that millions of women are out there getting fingered all the time in the back of cars!”
“I never said anything about fingers going inside anything, everyone knows that third base is when you . . .”
I trailed off when I saw the smoke. The road was elevated maybe thirty feet, the parts of it that are left anyway, some of it had dropped off on the north side. I’ve driven out to Reno before (don’t ask) and I don’t remember the interstate being on the side of a hill like this. How could any of the road be intact if the topography has shifted that much? The future present makes no sense.
I think we’re in the general area of what used to be Truckee, but I don’t think there were ever rice fields in Truckee before. That’s what was off the road to the north. It looked like something out of a movie about Vietnam. Not just the terraces and the rice plants but the scene – blood and mayhem – was what you would expect from one of those movies too. I mean except for the motorcycles.
The smoke was coming from a burning stand of trees crowded in-between the fields. Most of the smoke was issuing from little huts that were built into the branches like a treehouse for a little kid. Tearing ass around the fields were a half dozen guys on dirtbike-like contraptions flailing about with chains and clubs as other people on foot fled in terror before them. They tried to flee in terror anyway, a lot of them got bashed down from behind, you know because you can’t run faster than a minibike. Generally speaking.
I saw a clump of a dozen or so people with spears form up into a little square like they were going to fend off a cavalry charge in olden times. One of the bikers skidded to a stop in front of them, spraying up a big wave of mud and rice-stalks (?) and then hurled a stick of dynamite at them [Martialla’s note, it was a black powder fuse grenade, not dynamite] and blew them to pieces. It was just a thing that happened. A bunch of people turned into bloody mist right before my eyes like that’s normal.
Across the field there was a vehicle that was one of the ugliest wrecks I’ve seen here so far. The frame looked like it was that of a big off-road truck or utility vehicle but the body looked like a horizontal tepee or something – I swear that a lot of it looked like it was wood. There was a friggin’ turret on this thing. I have no idea where the engine even would be in something like that. Standing near this Frankencar were three of those lumpy-headed people watching the carnage and having themselves a laugh. They were bald like all the potato-head people we’ve seen so far, so I can’t say for sure, but I think the one in the middle was a woman. She (?) had a crazy looking gun over her shoulder that looked like it was four feet long.
“Jesus Christ what are you doing!”
That’s what Martialla said when I turned our car, fishtailed like crazy, and took us over the side into the field. I guess it was a pretty steep decline. I should have given her a heads up. Especially since this thing has no seat belts. Here’s the problem with J-Lo. Armored plates are all well and good for protection, but it leaves you with just a small slit to look through. It’s not so bad when you’re on the road, but when you’re driving around a terraced rice field trying to run over nimble dirt bikes you really need a full field of vision. I never wondered before how tank drivers in World War Two were able to see where they were going but now I do. How the hell did they know where they were going?
I stuck my head out the window so I could see better and in doing so I managed to clip one of the bikers on the back wheel and send it and him tumbling through the air. I tried to come around to take another crack at him but J-Lo got bogged down in the mud and plant material in the fields as I turned. We weren’t going anywhere. Martialla grabbed me by the seat of the pants and dragged me back inside.
“Get the fucking armor up, that’s a saw!”
I would find out later that saw can mean Squad Automatic Weapon. Why couldn’t she just say machine gun like a normal person? Why did she have to say saw? Say saw. Say saw. That sounds weird. A moment later the car started trembling like it had those hardware store paint can shakers on each wheel. The sounds of the bullets slamming into the armor was outrageous. You cannot imagine how loud it was. I ducked down in the seat and prayed not to get hit with a ricochet. Based on the sound alone, I imagine that even a deflected bullet would have ripped me in half.
My ears were ringing when the firing stopped so I didn’t even realize that it had stopped until I felt Martialla yanking on me again and shouting. I couldn’t hear what she was yelling about but she dove out the window and a second later I saw one of those dynamite things [Martialla’s note, it was another fuse grenade, see above] clatter onto the hood of the car. I guess Martialla didn’t think J-Lo would be able to take the blast. Oh she of little faith.
The explosion was actually surprisingly tame by comparison to the sound of that gunfire. All it did was knock J-Lo out of her rut. I put the hammer down with my sights set on one of the motocross murderers. Another one of the bastards came whirring up beside and tried to stab in through the window with an L-shaped blade. That didn’t work so well though because Martialla sprayed him with a burst of fire in the back from her position hugging the side of one of the terraces. I could hear her cursing as the rifle jammed on her after a split second of fire.
I felt a big thump, so the blade-guy must have fallen right under the back wheels. I tried to bring J-Lo around to head up towards the woman (?) with the SAW but the incline was too steep and the purchase was too poor for me to make any headway. I watched as the remaining bikers excite-biked their way up there and the potatohead people piled into their stupid looking machine and slowly drove away. Martialla was yelling for me to turn, go laterally, and head up a dirt path on the other side of the burning trees but by the time I realized what she was trying to get me to do, they were gone.
From the moment I spotted them to the time I saw them drive away wasn’t more than thirty seconds I bet.