Harder Better Faster Stronger 

Putting Martialla on the “bed” seemed like an even worse option than leaving her in the dirt and filth on the ground in terms of cleanliness.  I found a tarp, brought it into the room where she lay, and rolled her over onto it.  She made a chirping noise as I did it.  Like a noise you might expect from a tiny baby kitten.  I saw that the burns across the left side of her upper body stopped in a stark line across her chest, neck and face.  And then I saw why, she had shielded herself with her arm, which was horrifically scorched.   

Once I had her on the tarp, I was able to pull her into the main room.  As I was dragging her someone came over – I don’t know if it was a trader or a Paradiser or who they were.  I shot them until I ran out of bullets.  I didn’t even think about it.  I just did it.  I can’t say why really.  I guess I was trying to help Martialla and I thought that someone walking nearby might interfere with that.  That’s where my mind was I suppose.  Or maybe I was just sad and had a gun in my hand.  I heard Martialla gurgling something and I stopped pulling to kneel down and put my ear by her mouth.  Her one open eye seemed wildly distended and distorted next to the other one which was sealed shut by blood and pus and mucus.   

I eventually figured out that she was saying that I should have saved a bullet for her.   

I ranted and raved about how she wasn’t going to die like someone in a bad medical drama on network television.  I told her that she couldn’t die.  I ordered her, as her employer, not to die.  I begged, I prayed (as covered before), I screamed myself hoarse.  At one point in a fit of rage I hammered on her chest, which is a great way to help a critically injured person.  I felt like she had betrayed me by getting herself killed.   

Illogically I thought if the future (present) people fight and kill each other all the time, shouldn’t they be familiar with wounds and know how to patch them up?  Maybe they don’t have doctor doctors but shouldn’t they have someone with laudanum and a saw that can stitch someone back together?  But that’s now how that works.  The Mongols were great at making people dead, they turned entire cities into piles of bones, that didn’t make them good at fixing people.  Martialla went through a phase where she talked about the Mongols.  It was fucking annoying.  Did you know that their combat doctrine made infantry nearly obsolete for a time?  I do.   

Occasionally people came to try and talk to me.  I guess because I instigated this takeover they thought that I was in charge of something.  If I had any ammo on me I would have shot them, as I did not have any such ammo I just screamed at them to leave me alone.  They seemed confused by my concern for my friend.  I can only imagine that death is so commonplace for them that they don’t make a big deal out of it.  Oh, my best friend died, oh well back to eating dirt and rubbing mud on my face.  I hate everyone in this time.  They should all die and Martialla should be alive.   

In her moments of lucidity Martialla told me to put her out of her misery.   

I told her no.   

Eventually she told me if I wasn’t going to end her suffering there was only one other thing to do.  I thought she meant that I should kill us both.  She didn’t.  She told me it was time to try the canister and see what it does.  Impossible.  What could it do?  But when you have no hope you’ll try just about anything.  My first thought was that I hadn’t left her side in I don’t know how long.  Days it felt like.  And my next thought was that if I did leave her just for a minute to grab my backpack she’d die.  Like me being there was the only thing keeping her alive.  I was plotting out how far away I remembered the bus-truck being and wondering if they moved it since I got off and estimated how fast I could run there and get back.  Can you outrun death?  How fast do you need to move to do it?

But the pack was on my back.  Because it’s a backpack.  I clearly remember taking it off and setting it down in the wheel well of the bus when the fight started.  I remember the feeling of it against my knee as I was leaning forward and shooting out the window.  I must have thrown it back over my shoulder when I went looking for Martialla.  I don’t remember doing that but it seems like a smart thing to do.  Someone could have grabbed all my stuff otherwise.   

When I pulled it out and set it down by Martialla, immediately her shoulder and upper body started glowing, traced through with tiny blue lines under the skin.  They were concentrated all around her terrible wounds, radiating out like a spider-web.  Honestly before, I don’t know if I believed in nanobots or not, I just said that I didn’t to needle Martialla.  In that moment I hoped against hope that she was right.  I imagined swarms of tiny robots inside her working feverishly and desperately to try and knit her back together and all they needed were some reinforcements.   

The canister whirled open like before and I put the injector gun into a slot that filled with blue paste.  I didn’t stop to think about it because if I did I’m sure I wouldn’t have done it.  Logically you can’t inject some unknown blue liquid into someone and not kill them.  But I didn’t stop to think about it, I just did it.  I figured if it was going to work I should put the nanos right where they needed to be, I jammed the gun right into her burned shoulder.  I didn’t push a button or anything, there wasn’t one, I just saw the reservoir empty and the blue light started shining through her skin so brightly that it hurt my eyes to look down at her.   

Her body went rigid like a corpse and then started convulsing.  It was like her knees and elbows were locked tight but she was trying to flail wildly at the shoulder and hips.  I did my best to hold her down but it was like trying to pin down a rabid hyena.  The pressure she was putting on me as I tried to bend her limbs back was so intense that I thought my bones were going to snap.  Blue lines started glowing in my hands and arms like it was some kind of bioluminescent communication between bacteria in our bodies.  Were they screaming for help or just saying hello?  I can’t imagine that I feel asleep.  I must have passed out.  Or maybe Martialla knocked me unconscious with her out of control limbs. 

I just know that when I came around, I was splayed on top of her like she was a ‘67 Shelby Mustang and I was a calendar girl getting paid twenty bucks.  Her voice was clear but weak. 

“Can you get off me please?” 

I rolled back and looked her over, she looked a little better maybe, but still on the edge of death.  I saw her see me seeing her and she flickered her eyes down towards her mangled leg.  It looked much better but that wasn’t really saying much, it had progressed from looking like the end of a New Year’s party horn to more like a human leg stump.  She saw me see that and the look on my face and she told me to look closer.  I scooted around and forced myself to peer at the fleshy bloody mass.  It did look less ragged I guess.  Even as disgusting as it was there was something in the middle that made me look closer. 

“What the fuck is that?  Looks like a micro penis.” 

She smiled in a grotesque Joker grin “It’s a new toe, my foot is growing back.” 

She wiggled it at me and I shrieked like a nineteen fifties housewife being confronted by a mouse or a spider or a communist.  I followed this by immediately by jumping up and skidding away like the selfsame mouse narrowly avoiding getting its neck broken by a snap trap. 

O sisters, let’s go down

I went to church with my parents as a kid.  Back home everyone went to church on Sunday.  It was just what you did.  I think I was raised some kind of Baptist because I remember getting dunked.  I think mainstream religions just sprinkle some water on your head.  Even as a kid I never really got into it.  Church was boring.  I almost said boring as hell but that would be silly in this context.  I sang in the choir because I like singing and I like attention.  That was about it for my interest in religion.  Once my parents stopped making me go, I never went again and never thought about it much. 

Turns out that I’m a huge hypocrite because I prayed over Martialla.  Maybe prayed isn’t the right word, begged is a better one.  I begged a god that I don’t believe in to make her not die.  I begged in a way that I didn’t think was possible for me to beg.  I felt like I was being torn in half right down the middle.  I don’t think I could beg like that again if I was begging for my own life.  I hate to say it, because it makes me sound like a sociopath, but what I was really begging for was not to be alone.  Saving Martialla would be great sure, but the main thing was for me not to be left alone.  That’s job one.  I don’t feel good about it, I don’t like that about myself, but that’s what it was.   

The idea of Martialla dying and me being alone here in this world frightened me in a way that I can’t comprehend.  If we’re being honest, and I feel that we are, I’m disgusted by myself for that fear.  I’ve never felt so helpless and hopeless and whatever other lesses you want to toss in there.  I guess I’m not as strong as I think I am.  I suppose none of us are in the end.   

I told her, I fucking told her, if she was going to go and fight with that stupid axe of hers like this was some period piece movie about knights and . . . whoever knights fight (Saxons?) that she had to stay where I could see her from the bus.  So I could cover her and help her.  I fucking told her.  And she agreed.  So what happens?  The instant, the very instant, that she and the quarrpeople all go running out of the truck-bus and start bashing Paradisians, she chases a guy around the corner where I can’t see her and leaves me cursing her oily hide.   

How did the battle go?  I shot some people.  They might have been enemies.  They might have been people there to trade.  I know I didn’t shoot Martialla or any of the quarry people, but other than that?  Shrug.  I can’t say that I accomplished much with the rifle on account of the fact that I never fired a rifle before in my life.  Fun fact, shockingly, it’s nothing like firing a pistol.  Who could have ever possibly guessed that?  Why the hell didn’t Martialla give me some lessons on that instead of judo throwing me to the ground like a drunken abusive husband?  What was the dirty bitch thinking?   

I did much better once I ran out of ammo (okay I still had rifle ammo, I just couldn’t figure out how to reload the damn thing) and switched to the handgun.  I for sure shot the hell out of some people with that.  One guy was running towards the bus-truck with a big can of gasoline over his head like a 2001 ape creature with a bone and I shot him all to pieces.  I’m pretty sure he was an enemy.  I also shot a guy with a big wrench, I’m less sure about that one.  Fifty-fifty on the guy with the shotgun-chainsaw-flamethrower but no matter whose side he was on, if anyone’s, I think taking him out before he started that thing up was a good idea for everyone involved.  

Once the bodybuilders started pulling Paradise people into a line and executing them, I figured the fighting was over.  After the battle is when the real killing starts I’ve learned.  Makes you wonder why anyone would surrender.  Desperation I suppose.  You know you’ll probably die but there’s a chance you won’t.  No one knew where Martialla was, or if they did know where she was I couldn’t understand them when they told me, so I went looking for her.  At that point it didn’t occur to me that she might be dead or injured, I assumed she was jacking around somewhere just to annoy me.   

I went into the “main” building of what used to be a Texaco that looked to be a gambling zone, there were a couple tables with some chips on them and a bloodstained cage where I would imagine a bloodsport of some kind took place.  There was a big dead man on the floor that looked a lot like Sloth from the Goonies (without the Superman shirt) with a stupid serrated blade in his hand.  There was so much blood that I can’t imagine it was all his.  How could that much blood be inside one person?   

There were doors in both far corners, one of which led to a storeroom filled with trade junk that was currently being looted by traders, and the other which led to an office-bedroom-security room-junkpile that had a single functioning TV screen thing for a single functioning camera.  The camera was currently pointed at a dead woman outside who looked like she had been flattened by a cement truck.  I probably would have stopped to marvel that there was a working piece of video technology if not for the other contents in the room.   

There was a lean hairy fellow with no visible ears dead on the ground.  This did not give me pause in the slightest.  What gave me pause is the foot.  A few weeks (and a hundred years) ago, a severed foot would have been enough to put me in check in and of itself.  Sadly those idyllic halcyon days are behind me now, a foot on the ground normally doesn’t bother me anymore.  The thing about it was that it was too clean.  That’s what made me take a second look.  There were a few flecks of ugly green nail polish on the toes.  You know what’s stupid?  My first thought was “what happened to her boots and socks?”   

My next thought, if you can call it that, was a feeling that I have to assume the dinosaurs had when they looked up and saw that meteor streaking across the sky – the world is about to end and there’s not a damn thing you can about it.  I don’t know why I picked it up.  But I did.  In that moment I was like a toddler picking up whatever is in front of them.  There was no thought to it.  I just did it.  It wasn’t nice and even like a fake foot the propmaster would make for a movie out of ballistics gel and corn starch and pork roast, it was all ragged like that time I watched a show about shark attacks with a warning about graphic content.  It looked like someone had tried to jam a brick of corned beef into a paper shredder.   

I found the blood soon enough.  And don’t worry, there was plenty of it.  The middle of the room was dominated by a pile of trash with some disgusting rags thrown on that I think was being used as a bed.  Earless deadman was on the near side, Martialla was on the far side.  She was sort of facedown halfway on her side with one arm outstretched and her legs kinked up underneath her like she was trying to roll into a ball.  Her shirt and jacket were mostly gone, the shirt reduced to a sopping bloody belt-strip around her waist and all that was left of the jacket was one shoulder and part of a sleeve melted into her flesh.   

As you probably figured out, her one leg ended not in a foot but in a stump that was red and black and brown that looked like a piece of string cheese that kid with only a couple teeth had been gnawing on all day.  I’m guessing the reason her shirt and jacket were mostly gone was because they burned off, this I base off the blackened flesh across her shoulder blade and mid-way down her back.  The burn was so bad that in several places it had cracked open and thick pinkish blood was seeping out sluggishly like it was molasses.   

She had a wound on her right flank that looked like someone had been digging at her with a trowel.  The skin around it was brittle and hard like a corn chip and flaked off between my fingers like ash falling off a campfire log.  What causes something like that?  Poison?  Acid?   

It was the most revolting and brutalizing sight I’ve ever had the misfortune to behold.    

I assumed she was dead at first glance.  Why wouldn’t I?  How could she be alive?  But then I saw her finger move.  Her one arm was outstretched but the other was clenched up against her body like she was sheltering a baby bird.  And on that hand I saw her finger twitch.  What came out of my body wasn’t even a proper gasp, it was like a wind passing through me.  It was like a full body dry-heave.  She was broken and mutilated beyond recognition but somehow, against all logic, she wasn’t fucking dead, and what the hell could I do for her? 

And if you feel like I feel, baby

In the movie when the brave American paratroopers are headed to the dropzone to kill dirty Nazis, they sit in rows and they laugh and joke around and swap cigarettes and looking at girly mags and chatter away.  I wonder if that’s a real thing or if it’s just something that happens in the movies.  I grant you that a bus isn’t a plane but regardless there was none of that on the way to Paradise.  The tunnel people just sat there stone-faced (pun) and hardly said a word to each other the entire way.  Martialla and I did our best to gab like girls but it was a long ride and eventually we lapsed into silence as well.  At least until we started to get close and Martialla began gearing up. 

“Is that an axe?” 

Martialla held up the axe she was holding and halfway laughed “Why yes, this is an axe, good eye.” 

“Why do you have an axe?” 

She gave me a quizzical look “Are the nanobots eating your brain?  We’re about to go into battle.  Why wouldn’t I have an axe?” 

I frowned at her “You’re not thinking about going out there, are you?” 

She looked at me like I was the crazy one “What else would I do?” 

I gestured “I thought you were going to stay in here with me and shoot people in the back while they were fighting someone else like the heroes that we are.” 

“We don’t have that many rounds Ela, even with just you using what we have, you better be careful about what shots you take.” 

I grabbed her arm as the bus swayed “Are you insane?  Why would you go out there with an axe and try to kill anyone?”  I jerked my head at the mob of quarry people around us “That’s what they’re for, not us.  We’re the generals who are back in a tent away from the front lines drinking cognac and looking at maps while other people go and die.” 

She eyed them and then whispered back like it mattered “Say it a little louder will you, I don’t think everyone heard.  They’re strong but they’re not warriors Ela, they need someone to lead the way for them, put a little iron in their spines.  I get the feeling that as long as they have someone to tell them to do it, they’ll fight fanatically. Left on their own . . . I think they’ll just die.” 

My jaw was practically on the floor “And you think the person to do that is you?  You’re my driver!  You’re not a medieval man at arms, if you go out there with an axe you’re going to die!” 

She gave me a cold look “You know how many people I’ve stabbed, bludgeoned, and bashed since we got out of the damn tubes?  Because I do.  I know that exact number.  I stopped being the person who picks up your dry cleaning and breaks up with dudes you don’t want to talk to anymore sometime after the third or fourth one.”

“I’m not . . . I didn’t . . . mean that . . . ” I threw my hands up in dismay “This is different!  This is like a battle. A battle battle.  I’m not questioning your resolve or your commitment or your ability to commit murder or whatever, I’m saying that this is a terrible idea.  We’re too valuable.  You’re too important! Don’t go out there with them, stay here with me.  Who cares if we run out of bullets after twenty seconds, we can just duck down and wait for it all to be over.  If we win great, if we don’t, too bad we’ll try again.  Or not, we’ll go somewhere else and forget everything here.  All that matters is that we survive.” 

She shook her head stubbornly “We’re going to have to take some risks to make this work Ela.” 

I reached out, not even sure why, and was left gesturing strangely at nothing “All we do is take risks!  Every minute we’ve been here is a risk.  I can’t lose you Mar, what am I going to do without you?  If you get killed . . . I don’t know what I’ll do.  Please don’t leave me alone Martialla.  Please.” 

She rolled her shoulders uncomfortably “I’m not . . . I mean . . . I don’t . . .” She sighed “Look, if I fight I might die, if I stay here I’ll live, for a while, but . . .” 

I snorted “Don’t you fucking trying to Braveheart me Martialla.” 

She looked like she was pinching herself on the leg “There’s nothing for it Ela, if we want to win this is the way it has to be.” 

I looked at her for a moment and she looked at me.  When I went in for a kiss her eyes widened in alarm and she threw up an elbow that smacked me in the chest and knocked me on my ass.  I looked up at her with eyes watering, not from the sting of her rebuke, but from the sting in my boob. 

“Ow, Jesus, you hit me right in the nipple!” 

She gawked at me like a sideshow freak “What the fuck was that?!” 

I rubbed at the pain “I just thought . . . you know, you keep going on about your husband being dead and all . . . so . . . I just thought . . .” 

She all but spat at me “I mentioned it maybe once!  Jesus Ela, this isn’t Cinemax After Dark.  You can’t just . . . just . . . you just can’t!” 

I crawled to my feet in disgust “What are you so upset about?  How do you think I felt?!  Your lips are so chapped they look like two dead flat worms dancing on your face, a face which looks like a dried-up old catcher’s mitt by the way.  I was just trying to make you feel better.  Give you a reason to live, whatever.” 

She turned away in revulsion “You are insane.” 

“You’re being more than a little homophobic right now Mar.” 

She spun around, arms failing “You’re not gay!” 

“Exactly, and I was willing to let you . . .” 

She threw up her hand again “Stop Ela, just stop.” 

I pulled my shirt out and glanced down “Jesus Mar, I think you ripped it off.  Thank god it wasn’t the good one.”  

It doesn’t get easier, but kind of it does

As you well know, Martialla and I have been in a couple of scrapes here in the future (present).  The thing about those incidents is that they all jumped off quickly.  If we had any notice at all before the violence started it was only a moment, there was no time to get uptight about it.  Not before anyway. After, there’s plenty of time.  Having a ten day wait before we Trojan Paradise is just the tiniest bit interminable.  It’s way too much time to think before a violent confrontation.  I liken it to when married couples schedule their sexual activities.  Where’s the spontaneity?  I saw the calendar at Martialla’s house once and it had “date night” on it.  Shudder. 

Martialla, being the fussbudget that she is, thinks that having time to plan before the fight is a great idea, but what is there to plan?  We’re going to go there and jump out and battle and either we’ll die or we won’t.  What plan is there?  She’s gone back to “scout” Paradise a couple of times and she has lots of conversations with one of the bigger triangle mutants but I think it’s just to keep her busy.  What could they honestly be plotting out?  One goes east and one goes west and one goes over the cuckoo’s nest?  I guess it’s a good thing they don’t let women be generals, we’re too honest, the grunts probably wouldn’t like it if you told them to go out there and wing it even if that’s what they were going to do anyway and everyone knew it.  People like the illusion of someone above them knowing what the hell is happening.   

Martialla and I did some “training” amongst ourselves but I called an end to that after a couple sessions.  Her slamming me to the ground repeatedly doesn’t teach me anything.  I took some self-defense classes in the old world but they aren’t terribly helpful for two reasons.  One is that shouting “That’s my purse, I don’t know you!” doesn’t do much good in the current situation.  Two is that all those lessons were about how to escape and then run away from a larger stronger attacker.  What I need is advice on the best way to attack a smaller and weaker opponent since most of these future people are shrimpy and ratlike on account of malnourishment.  Where are those lessons?  Hmm department of parks and recreation?   

I decided that the best thing for me to do was to conserve my energy and work on my tan.  I was doing just that when Martialla crawled out from under J-Lo covered across the face and upper body with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle slime as she often is when she’s tinkering around under there.  I was supposed to be in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Four but Paige Turco scuttled that whole picture because of some contractual creative control she had.  I never got the full story on what happened there.   

I lifted my shades like the villain in an eighties skiing movie to regard her “Why are you always slimed like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters when you go under there?” 

She did her best to wipe herself off “The biosludge they use to fuel these things is also food for mold, which grows under there, and slime drips off that mold.  I’m sure it’s totally fine and I’m not going to be riddled with tumors in a few months.” 

“Your imaginary nanobots should take care of that anyway.” 

“Indubitably.   Be careful with my sunglasses.” 

“I’ll buy you another pair at Sam Goody next time we’re at the mall.  Remember how you used to harangue me about tanning and how it was bad for me?  Well look at me now, without a base I would have been burned to a crisp here in the blazing sun of the future.” 

“I never tanned before and I’m fine.” 

I flipped her shades back down “Probably because you’re constantly covered in slime that protects you from the sun.  And you tanned at least once, I remember the director made you for Beach Bikini Killer Creature.” 

I felt J-Lo rock as Martialla climbed up and sat beside me “I don’t know why they even hired me for that.  I’m a stunt double not a body double, in a bikini I look about as much like you as a shaved orangutan.” 

“I couldn’t have said it better myself.” 

“You did say that to everyone on set.  Remember that time we found that porn movie your body double from Triple Indemnity did?  That was wild.” 

I snorted “We found?  I remember you coming to me with that little gem.” 

She was quiet for a moment before speaking again “So how are you feeling?” 

“Like I played twenty years in the NFL.  My wrist and hip are still bothering me pretty much all the time but all things considered, not bad.  I don’t feel like I’m going to die anymore nor am I in so much pain that I want to die.  I don’t know what’s going on, because obviously it’s not nanorobots, but there’s something up.  I’m not a doctor but we shouldn’t be recovering from injuries this quickly, we shouldn’t be recovering from some of them at all.” 

She nodded absently “That’s good, but I meant more like how are you feeling mentally.  We’re about to go into a fight here and you’ve expressed . . . reluctance about that before.  Killing people . . . and so forth.  How’s . . uh . . . how . . . are you feeling about that.” 

“Don’t worry sarge, I talked to the company chaplain and I got my mind right.” 

She poked me to look at her “I’m serious.” 

I sat up and passed her back her shades “Serious how?” I lay back with my hands behind my head “You know the old saying there’s no atheists in a foxhole?  I don’t know about that, but I do know that there’s no point in naval gazing after the apocalypse.  Are you asking if I’m okay?  Of course I’m not okay.  Being in danger every second for the last however many weeks we’ve been here has made me hyper-aware of my own mortality.  A side effect of that is that I don’t really care what happens to anyone else, besides you, as long as it means that I get to keep living.  There’s nothing okay about that, but that’s what’s happening.  And it’s probably what needs to happen right now, what with survival and all.  Not so good on the set of the Full Monty Two, but par for the course in a real-life Mad Max wouldn’t you say? As a wise man once said, I’m not crazy, I’m just ahead of the curve.” 

Never give up, never surrender, never think things through

We traveled with the Quarryfolk back to their hole but they were adamant that we couldn’t go into their caves.  I was equally as adamant that I never wanted to go in them.  I never thought much about caves before, why would I?  But now that I’m confronted with the idea of living in one?  I find that I don’t care for that at all, not one little bit.  Maybe I have PTSD from falling into those tunnels.  Maybe I just don’t like the idea of living like a dirty mole rat. 

I almost changed my mind about caves the first night sleeping outside when I woke up with a furry blob gnawing on my leg that looked like a massive gatordog head on a body made up of pieces of a camel, a pig, and a bontebok.  I didn’t wake up because I felt any pain, I woke because I felt something tugging at me.  It was like that Massive Head-wound Harry sketch from SNL only with my leg.  Martialla’s theory is that the beast has aestheticizing saliva like a leech or a vampire bat (she claims anyway, I never heard of such a thing) my theory is that I hate it and want it to burn in the fires of hell. 

We should probably always sleep in J-Lo to avoid such nighttime leg foraging, but it’s not very comfortable being inside her.  If you know what I mean.  Sometimes you just want to stretch out.  Stretch out on the wet hard ground covered with itchy and stabby gross little plants.  Have I mentioned that the future sucks lately?  Martialla and I haven’t had a ton of chances to trade, but we’ve had a few, and I have yet to see anything like a sleeping bag or a bedroll or anything to toss on the ground to keep slime scorpions from crawling in your mouth while you’re asleep.  I feel like these future people just flop in the mud like mangy stray dogs.  I used to hate when we went camping and I had to sleep in the old camper van my parents borrowed from their hippy friend Lincoln.  Now I would kill people for just one night in it.  How many people?  That’s a good question. 

As we loitered on the rim (if you know what I mean) from time to time more of the bodybuilder people who always skip leg day would come out to speak with us.  I figured in order to get them to go along with my plan, Martialla would have to fight their leader in a kal-if-fee battle to the death or she’d have to marry and bear the children of the clan member with the most robust aroma.  I assumed she’d have to be humiliated or commit bloodshed of some kind to get things moving.  But instead after a couple days, the triangle shaped muscle people just said (paraphrasing) “sure, I guess we’ll violently revolt against our masters”.  Just like that.   

While we were waiting for that delcaration Martialla, being the stick in the mud that she is, asked me why exactly I was trying to get them to rise up against their masters.  I tried feeding her some line about freedom of the human spirit and dignity and huddled masses yearning to breathe free but she didn’t go for it.  The funny thing is I was only mostly lying.  Some part of me did want them to be free without any other ulterior motive.  If you want to enslave people that’s one thing but you don’t have to be a dick about it.  The Paradisians could have just taken these people’s oil, they didn’t have to treat them like garbage on top of everything else.   

I leveled with Martialla and told her that I didn’t like the Paradise people and I wanted them to die.  She pointed out that we never even talked to them.  There are always a few assholes in the bunch, maybe they’re not all like that.  Plus, even if they are all like that, making deals with assholes is what life is all about.  Even if we want them to die, having them die fighting against the Invincible would be far more useful than fomenting (is that a word?) rebellion against them.  She went on to say that the whole reason we wanted them on our side is not just because they have planes and armored cars, but they most likely know how to use them and seem to be experienced and skilled fighters beyond that.  Plus they may have other client villages that have resources of their own to call upon – warriors and weapons and supplies and so forth.   

I admitted that these points were all well made, but what did she want me to do?  Back out of the plan to Trojan Horse them?   

“Yes.”  Was her response.   

Poor, poor, sad, plain Jane Martialla.  She’s a natural born follower so she doesn’t understand the burden of leadership.  You can’t change horses mid-stream.  Once you’ve decided on a course of action you have to stick with it, no matter how stupid or suicidal that decision turns out to be.  Changing your mind is a show of weakness and you have to lead from a position of strength.  I explained this all to her but she still didn’t get it. 

“That’s asinine.  You change your mind all the time.  Plus you are weak.  I know that.  Who are you trying to impress?” 

I thought about it for a moment and then grunted noncommittally “Alright, I just don’t like those Paradise people and this is what I’m doing about it.  Happy now?” 

“No, not at all, why would I be happy that you admitted you’re being unreasonable?” 

“Well, there’s no going back now, the wheels are in motion.” 

“They said it’s going to be ten days before they’re supposed to deliver anything to Paradise.  There’s plenty of time to go back.  I would say anything up until we’re actually inside the compound with a bunch of armed men is on the happy side of the point of no return.” 

“Well . . . technically . . . maybe.  But this is what we’re doing.” 

She sighed “Is this a Rob Lowe situation?” 

I nodded “Yes, I’m playing the Rob Lowe card.  This has nothing to do with logic or reason, this is pure and simple hatred unfettered from such concerns as good sense and accountability.” 

Take me down to the paradise city, actually on second thought, scratch that idea

Martialla and I scoped out Paradise for a while.  Partially because we wanted to see if they would send anyone out to accost us and then we could open up a dialog without having to go down there.  But mostly because we just really didn’t want to go down there while simultaneously we knew that we probably should if we were serious about forging a coalition to attack the Invincible.  They never did send anyone out, there’s so many people coming and going they probably didn’t notice our loitering.  Something else interesting did happen, we observed the arrival of a small convoy of three bus-trucks.  Is three enough for a convoy?  What’s the minimum number for a convoy? I want to say four but I just said three was a convoy so that would make me look the fool. 

The Paradisers chased off all supplicants hanging around the outside who had been denied entry (and killed some of the slower ones just for laughs) and then waved in the three vehicles.  One of them offloaded footstuffs and other sundries like that while another was hooked up to hoses and drained off what I think was crude oil.  The third offloaded a thick grey slime that neither of us had any idea what it might be.  During this transfer process we saw that the Paradisers did have vehicles stored (hidden?) in some of the buildings, a ton of bikes – like real bikes from our time not the usual scrapcycles we’ve seen – a few SUV type things with mounted machineguns, and a real-life airplane.  Martialla said it was a Helio Rattler.  Like she knows anything about planes.   

Once the goods were handed over, we watched as the bus people stood meekly in a line while a couple of the Paradisers randomly grabbed a couple of them out of line and beat them savagely for no apparent reason other than shits and giggles.  The rest of the Paradisers laughed at this piece of comedic sociopathic violence but something about it seemed perfunctory, like it had happened enough times before that they were no longer truly amused by it, but they laughed anyway because it was the established pattern.  You don’t want to be the one not laughing.  It’s like watching Friends, it’s not really funny anymore but if you don’t participate what do you have to talk to people about?  I was supposed to do a guest spot on that show but Jennifer Aniston said she didn’t want anyone prettier than her onscreen.   

After the beatings were doled out, the bus truckers got back in their vehicles stoically and drove out of Paradise.  Without exchanging a word, Martialla and I mounted up and followed them.  I couldn’t figure out if they didn’t notice us following them or if they didn’t care or if there just wasn’t anything that they could do about it.  When they stopped for the night and we approached them, the answer was revealed.  They assumed that we were Paradisians following to subject them to additional harassment.  We explained to them that we weren’t from Paradise but they didn’t seem to care, their attitude was more that whoever we were it wasn’t going to result in anything good so it didn’t matter in the end.  Resigned is the word, I think.

As you know by now all future people are either monstrously hairy or suffer from alopecia, and the bus truckers are the hairless kind.  They have thick ridges above their eyes that makes it look like they have eyebrows but it isn’t hair, it’s skin.  As is also required for future people they’re short, I don’t think any of them topped five feet, but they look strong.  They’re thick across the shoulders and through the chest and arms, making them look like ungainly inverted pyramid people.  They didn’t wear much in the way of clothing unless you count dust and grit which they had plenty of.  If you must know, their genitals were unimpressive.  If you must know.

In addition to not showing much emotion, they didn’t say much.  They parked their bus-trucks in a protective triangle and then sat in a ragged circle to munch on whatever gross food they had stored in their loincloths and stare at each other.  I didn’t see anyone drink a drop of anything.  At first no matter how much I talked they would barely respond to me, and I talked plenty, I tell you that.  Once Martialla passed around some of our precious sugar booze they started to loosen up a little bit.  That they drunk up like . . . like . . . well like something. 

Once they were sufficiently plied with liquor, they told us that their community was an old quarry or mine.  Are quarries and mines different things?  A quarry is just a mine for rocks right?  But isn’t all mining for rocks?  Iron ore is a rock, right?  What’s the difference between a rock and metal?  And ore?  You wouldn’t say a gold necklace is made of rocks?  Anyway, they live in caves in some kind of hole in the ground and deep inside those caves is oil.  The Paradisers like oil so they came there a few years ago and killed a bunch of people and said “bring us the oil and we’ll kill you less”.  And I guess the little bodybuilder people thought this was the best deal they could work out under the circumstances.   

I thought this was another weird future thing but Martialla said there’s oil all over (under actually) in California.  When I told her that didn’t sound right to me she talked about the La Brea Tar Pits, claiming that tar pits happen when fault lines cause petroleum to seep up to the surface and then the lighter parts of the crunk evaporate and leave the tar behind.  First of all, even if that’s true, why does she know that?  That’s a crazy thing to know.  Secondly, I never heard about any oil wells in California.  Thirdly, oil evaporates?  So there’s like oil in the air?  So we’re breathing in oil all the time?  What the fuck is that about?  Fourthly, you can just find oil sitting in a cave?  Fifthly, the bodybuilder people call oil blood of the earth.  They must be fans of Big Trouble in Little China.  Is that movie racist?  I still can’t decide.   

Did you know they used asphalt to build the walls of Babylon?  Martialla did.  I would have guessed that was invented in like the nineteen fifties.   

I asked the muscle triangle people if they had tried to fight back against the Paradisians and they drunkenly shouted that they fought their hardest but there was nothing they could do because Paradise has all the guns and all the machines and all they have is their bulging bodybuilder muscles and some rock hammers.  I asked them what difference that made when the Paradisians were letting them into the compound by the busload.  Guns and armored cars and planes are surely useful out in the open, but when you’re right next to someone it seems like a hammer whack to the noggin would suffice just fine.  I suggested that the next time they were supposed to make a delivery, just pack their truck-busses with their strongest angriest fighters and then bash everyone.   

They hadn’t considered this Trojan Horse move (which I shall name the Ela Maneuver here in the future, suck it Virgil!).  I can’t understand these future people.  In some ways they seem very crafty – they are capable of refining fuel for instance, and in creating a new kind of engine for machines that run on garbage juice.  But on the other hand they see extremely dull sometimes, they just sit around and let bad shit happen.  Maybe what they lack is motivation.  Maybe they’ve just become so inured to a shitty world of shit that they need an ambitious and motivated and sexy outsider with legit acting chops, a soulful singing voice, and a powerful vocal range like myself to shake things up.   

Nebraska Everyman and the Labyrinth of Medjed

Paradise is on old interstate eighty, we would have hit it on our way to Colorado Springs if I hadn’t been distracted by the Invincible slaughtering the tree village of the mole people and cancelled that road trip.  From the outside it looks very unimpressive (depending on what you find impressive I suppose).  The core of Paradise appears to be a Chevron station/Subway that was once across the street from another gas station with something attached to it.  Radiating out from that like poisoned veins from an infected wound are scrap-buildings, shanties, and tents. 

I swear I saw some cardboard in the mix on some of the rigged together buildings.  How is that possible?  When did cardboard manufacturing come to an end?  Decades ago at least right?  It rains every day now, how can there be any cardboard left?  How long does cardboard last anyway, even if it doesn’t get wet?  I should have paid more attention when we went on a field trip to that box factory in fourth grade.   

The perimeter was surrounded (can you surround a perimeter?  Do you create a perimeter?) by big ugly hunks of jagged chain that I assume are the spike strips of the day intermixed with pits and big things that looked like jacks for giant children that Martialla called anti-tank obstacles.  Maybe I did see something like that in a D-Day movie.  In my unprofessional opinion this is a better defensive set-up than the walls I see at other places.  I think you could smash through those walls easily if you get one of the junkmobiles of the day up to speed and slam into it.  What does Paradise have that’s so much more important to protect?

For the first time in a long time, we smelled gas.  Gasoline gas not the bio-sludge they use as fuel in everything we’ve seen so far.  But the question is, even if they have gasoline in there, what difference does it make if all vehicles run on fermented vegetable oil now?  The only thing I can figure is this.  The vehicles of the day are pretty slow compared to what I’m used to.  J-Lo is a fast machine and I don’t think she goes much more than forty miles per hour pedal to the floor.  There’s no speedometers so I don’t know for sure but I’m pretty confident in that figure.  From what I’ve observed, most vehicles manage more like thirty topping out.  I’ve assumed so far that’s because they’re pieces of shit made by idiots, but maybe it’s because of the fuel.  Maybe it doesn’t burn as good or whatever fuel does.  I didn’t pay much attention in chemistry class.   

So, if these Paradise people have a gas source maybe they have better/faster vehicles.  The only problem with this theory is that I didn’t see any vehicles.  No vehicles were allowed inside so there’s a big impromptu parking lot of junk heaps outside the defensive perimeter but those belong to visitors.  I’ve never said perimeter so much in my life.  Inside I didn’t see any vehicles at all.  There were a lot of buildings big enough to hide them I guess. 

Maybe that’s why we were told that if we wanted to get a force together to fight the Invincible we should start with these people.  Maybe they have the good “armor” of the day.  Or maybe it was just because they have a lot of guns.  Good guns too, not the plastic toys of the CHiPs or a blunderbuss MacGyvered out of a stop sign, some mud, and some chewing gum (there is no chewing gum but you know what I mean) but legit assault rifles that looked like they were from our day.  How long do guns last if you take care of them?  Forever?  Could you still fire a musket if it was in good shape?   

There are two gaps in the razor-perimeter (I’m not saying that word again) where supplicants come to supplicate themselves for potential entry.  If they have any weapons worth taking, the guards take them.  And I don’t mean for safekeeping, I mean they take them.  If they have any trade goods they’re let in after being humiliated and abused to whatever extent the guards want.  I saw a lot of sex acts performed in just the hour or so that Martialla and I watched from a good distance away.  Clearly these are the kind of assholes that enjoy their jobs.  A lot of people were turned away, even after the guards fucked with them.  I knew going in that Paradise was going to be an ironic name, but I didn’t realize that it would be the most miserable shithole we’ve come across so far.  Good joke post-apocalypse.   

I glanced over at Martialla “I’m not thrilled about going down there.” 

She snorted “What, you’re not interested in getting railed by that one that looks like a wart that came to life?  What would be thrilling is if we went down there and jammed one of those Dragon’s Teeth up the collective asses of those guards.” 

“I like the sentiment but I’m pretty sure that would be impossible.” 

“We’d have to sharpen the end first.” 

“Of course.”  I sighed halfway theatrically “We’re pilgrims in an unholy land here, Mar.” 

She nodded “Good flick.” 

I frowned “What?” 

She frowned back “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?  You just said Sean Connery’s pilgrims line.” 

I shrugged “Indiana Jones?  Never heard of it.” 

She rolled her eyes “Shut up, that’s like saying you’ve never heard of Jaws, it’s one of the biggest movie trilogies of all times.” 

I scoffed “What the hell kind of name is Indiana Jones?  Was Nebraska Everyman already taken?”  I stopped her rebuttal with a raised hand “What about this idea?  What if we entice the Invincible to attack this place?  That way we have one of those inciting incidents for everyone else like the Germans bombing Harbor Island and hopefully all these assholes get murdered.  It’s a win win.” 

She crossed her arms crossly “Now you’re just trying to upset me.  That might be a good idea if we knew why it was recommended that we needed these people to kickstart our army.  And if there was a good way to get the Invincible to come here, they seem specifically to be nipping at the outer edges.  How exactly would you entice them to come here even if it was a good idea?” 

“I’ve had good luck with mooning before.” 

She raised an eyebrow “Good luck with inciting what?” 

A possible disaster at the fashionable Malibu beach and the department’s annual charity fundraiser keep Jon and Ponch busy

Martialla and I have been driving around the wastes trying to drum up support for my fully prudent and justified war against the Invincible.  At first, some Roadrunners and Road Hogs chaperones tagged along with us so they could feel important and in control of the situation but when they realized that it was just talking and not violence they lost interest quickly and went back to whatever it is they do.  People in the future (present) must play a lot of video games because they have no attention span.  See that’s a joke because there are no video games.  Their games are of the non-video variety like lighting a lizard on fire or a worst smell contest.  Spoiler alert everyone always wins that one.     

It’s been tough sledding so far getting people on board with my war idea.  Future people have little to no problem with murder on an individual basis, but they don’t seem be into the idea of doing it in an organized fashion on a large scale.  Most of them, not all but most, are very afraid of the Invincible but they don’t want to do anything about it other than cower in their dirt-holes and wait for death.  I find this violent yet cowardly attitude odd.   

I got fired from a movie once that was going to be about “borderers”.  According to the screenwriter, who quit being a doctor to write screenplays in what can only be considered a very poor move for society (although maybe not, maybe he was shitty doctor) and drank McDonald’s milkshakes like they were water, in the seventeen hundreds the people on the border of England and Scotland essentially gave up on society and turned into packs of raiders attacking anyone who was weak on either side because they were out for themselves.  These were the “borderers”. 

When a real war came though, as it often did, they generally made themselves scarce because they didn’t like the idea of fighting in a war even though they fought each other all the time.  I don’t know how historically accurate he was, but regardless that’s what the future-present people remind me of.  They don’t mind fussin’ an a fightin’ an a fuedin’ but they aren’t interested in structured military shenanigans.  You and your buddies mounting up to go steal some goats and women (and men, seems like nobody cares much now) from your neighbors is one thing, but facing down a powerful enemy straight up?  They’re not down with that.   

Why did I get fired from Auld Wat of Harden?  Good question, I’m glad that you asked.  My character was supposed to be the motivation for the plot by being kidnapped back and forth between the two male leads.  I kept agitating for her to have more agency in the story instead, and this annoyed the director enough that I got canned.  Martialla likes to needle me about being a bad feminist, but I would have had a lot more work if I just kept my mouth shut, took my top off and smiled.  Plus she’s the one who got married, so who’s the real gender traitor? 

In our quest for peace through war, aside from all the piddly little nothing villages around we also went to the “big cities”.  There was the place that had a bunch of onions.  And I mean a bunch of onions.  They’re onion farmers you see.   Outside of the valley I guess pickled onions and chutney are a big part of a balanced diet, and now that the valley is open, everyone here can “enjoy” that bounty as well.  The united council of onion farmers were more interested in their war on onion eelworms than the kind where you kill people.   

We visited Gastown which – as you might have surmised – is where a lot of the fuel is made.  Talk about a stink.  It’s a lot like Bosstown, only bigger and worse.  Instead of giant mud pits that people were digging through for the “good” mud, Gastown has vast fields of pits filled with rotting organic matter being stirred with long poles.  The Gastowners were less chapped but they seemed even more miserable than the Bosstownies.  The lord of Gastown, who had a snoot like Steve Martin in Roxanne and too far apart eyeballs, wasn’t too concerned about the Invincible.  “Everybody needs fuel” he said.  “They don’t need you though” I said, to little effect. 

The highlight/lowlight of the journey was our visit to Defcon City, current home of the California Highway Patrol.  We’d heard about it a few times, but I still didn’t really believe that CHiPs was a thing until we got there.  Defcon City isn’t a city so much as it is a military base, one of those ones in another country where people have their families and there’s schools and stuff.  They have a bank of four locomotive engines, the old timey ones with steam I mean, that they keep working to provide them with electricity.   They had solar showers.  I’m eighty-eight percent sure that the root of Defcon City is one of the old CalFire inmate camps.   

Some of them were wearing California Highway Patrol uniforms, which honestly freaked me out, it’s too incongruous.  But most of them were wearing park ranger outfits and everything else under the sun.  It was a mishmash of any kind of uniform that looked official.  A hundred years doesn’t seem long enough to lose your history, but I suppose those early days were pretty chaotic.  My theory is that a bunch of different city and state and country officials gathered here to flee the cities and their descendants have just inherited whatever uniforms they had.    

The other thing they have is guns.  Lots of guns.  They’re the crappy ones Martialla hates so much but they have them, which makes them better than most people.  They make them, you see.  Martialla was pretty interested in how but unlike everyone else, they’re too smart to give people tours of their critical facilities.  They also make ammo for their plastic guns.  And they have body armor.  Looks like the Russian stuff that Martialla was grousing about at the swap meet.  They have discipline, they have order, they’re a quasi-military organization with what they call “materiel” in the form of vehicles and radios and logistical support.  Who better to form the core of my coalition of the willing against the Invincible?  The strong spine on which the forces of the less well equipped and trained can rest? 

Someone else apparently.   

The dumpy fellow in charge, who I swear was wearing a post office uniform, expressed that the California Highway Patrol is dedicated to neutrality like the dirty dirty Swiss of old.  Their mandate is to protect and maintain the remaining roads, which are the lifeblood of the new world after all, who drives on them and what they do isn’t their concern.  They don’t dabble in politics.  He said they were more likely to pursue military action against the Road Hogs and the Roadrunners because they blow up bridges and tear up roads in order to keep the Invincible out of their territory.   

I argued on moral grounds.  I begged.  I flirted.  I cried.  I threatened.  I employed every rhetorical strategy I knew.  I used all of my considerable charms.  The post master general was unmoved.  I threw the sins of the Invincible in his face: slavery, murder, rape, torture, dogs and cats living together, the destruction of society as we know it.  He shrugged.  One society is as good as another, he said.   

And check this shit out, even though we have some of their dumb currency (ill-gotten though it may be) they wouldn’t sell us any weapons or even let us use their showers or eat their non-maggoty food.  The only services they offer are parts and repairs.  I was mad enough to spit.  So I did.  Not on anyone, but I spit I tell you what.   

Next stop Paradise. 

Live free or don’t

The machine the Roachbackers have bundled together with spit and mud to cart around their dignitaries/expendables looks a lot like the truck from the Beverly Hillbillies.  Because what you want when traveling through a dangerous area is to be put on a pedestal with no cover of any kind.  A guy hitting on me at a party once told me that his dad was a button man for Eddie Mannix back in the day and he was supposed to rub out Buddy Ebsen because of some shady deal involving rare coins.  Pro tip from me, Ela, if your move with the ladies is to talk about how cool your dad was, you need a new move.  Sidenote they should make a movie about Ed Mannix some day, that would be an interesting story.  If done right.

The people of Redrum didn’t have any vehicles of their own, their representative just jumped on the Roachmobile as we dusted through town.  And I mean that literally, they didn’t even slow down much, she just hopped aboard like a flea leaping onto the behind of a mangy hound.  Speaking of, I would kill for a RedRum right about now, as long as they went easy on the cinnamon.  The Treehorn contingent joined the convoy with a rickety piece of crap that looked like a rusty bedspring on wheels, only less sturdy.  But the Iron Springs people came correct with a long armored car beast with a front end painted like a shark, which is cool but how do they know what a shark is?  It looked tough as hell but the only weapons it seemed to have were slingshots of some kind.  It was incongruous.  It would have been cool if the Bristleboar guy was riding a giant boar but he was just on a bike like me and Martialla.  Big missed opportunity there.   

When we got to the Crossroads, representatives from Smashweed and Bosstown and all the other piddly little villages involved in this mess were already there along with the Vultures and some other mercenary bird people.  I wonder how word was sent ahead about us coming.  But not enough to try and find out.  It turns out that we weren’t supposed to leave all the filters in Roachback but that all got hashed out with only two people dying.  Which would be a lot for a meeting in my time, even in Hollywood, but I’ve figured out that you can’t have a summit of these sorts without a couple people dying, it’s just not how things are done now.   

While the various parties in their Eyes Wide Shut style sex beaks and BDSM underpants and gas masks and other futurewear were sorting out the filter issue with violence and childish name-calling, Martialla and I excite biked our way out into the badlands to retrieve J-Lo.  She was right where we left here.  “Ela how did you ever find her again, you have a terrible sense of direction, you got lost on the Warner Brothers lot once.”  First of all, Warner Brothers is a confusing layout.  Second of all, I found her the same way the swallows migrate annually to Goya, Argentina in October and return to their spring and summer home in San Juan Capistrano each March.  You feel it in your bones.  When you have a connection, something real, nothing can keep you away.  Nachgochema Anetaha Anachemowagan. 

Now there was a nova scorpion in the back seat and a rattlesnake the size of Shaquille O’Neal on the hood but we were able to prod them away without too much trouble.  Is a rattlesnake that big even venomous?  The fangs would go right through you so there would be no way to inject the toxin into your bloodstream right?  Otherwise how could it kill prey though?  Are there constrictor rattlesnakes now?  Bigger isn’t always better you know.  I remember thinking that while I was looking at an exhibit of some bones from a giant prehistoric beaver.  What does a beaver gain by being the size of a smart car?  The lodges they would have had to build would have been enormous.  That’s probably why they died out.   

When we got back to the Crossroads G8 summit of post-apocalyptic freaks with J-Lo, there were a lot of new arrivals in the form of the heavily armed bands of Roadrunners and Road Hogs.  Turns out they are not happy with us.  They feel that we had upstaged them with our daring hero’s quest to retrieve the water filters.  This feeling was not helped by Martialla telling them we wouldn’t have had to save everything and everyone with our courageous actions if they were doing their damn job instead of running from the Invincible like whipped dogs.  Thankfully cooler heads, mine, prevailed.   

After I pacified the Runners and the Hogs with some sweet lies about how we were just helping them out, I gave my inspirational address to the assembly masses.  I went thirty percent opening scene of Gladiator, forty percent the Patton speech from Patton, twenty percent Braveheart, and the rest various odds and ends from cat posters and fortune cookies.  They ate it up like a Shaquille O’Neal sized rattlesnake swallowing a castoroides.  Who can blame them?  I am a powerful orator and an inspirational leader.   

They were all “ra-ra” yeah, but I could tell they didn’t catch my drift so I explained to them what I was about.  The vain Duke Eagle and his horde of the Invincible are coming for us all and we need to make a move while we have the chance.  I told them about the attack on the doctor’s compound.  I told them about the attack on the convoy.  I told them about the attack on the hairy mole people.  I told them about a couple other atrocities committed by the Invicible that I made up.  I told them that things had changed.  They’d been safe behind their mountain walls (or however a valley works) for a long time but that time was over.  The Duke and his wretched mob of scum and villainy are loose in the valley and there is no option but war.   

They weren’t nearly as enthusiastic once they understood what I was talking about.  A lot of them started to drift away and commence an impromptu trade session and/or chat about the stupid water filters.  In order to win them back, I picked out a random guy (I think) out of the crowd with purplish-yellow skin and a mouth full of pointed teeth like a demented jackal.   

“You there, answer me this question, which is stronger, one or five?” 

After a moment of confusion, I think over being singled out but maybe about how numbers work, he held up his hand with his five fingers held out wide.  I nodded to Martialla and she bashed his fingers with her fist, mangling his digits with her beefy man-paw to much guffawing from the primitive crowd.   

“You see that?!  That’s what I’m talking about people.  The Invincible, they are one, we are many.  This isn’t the tit for tat raiding bullshit you’ve been doing for all your lives.  This is different.  This is war.  The Invincible don’t want to steal your crops or carry off a couple of your women, they’re coming to end you.  They’re burning the fields and they’re killing everyone in their path.  This is something new and you need to get up to speed right fucking now.  We need every warrior, every vehicle, every gun, every blade, and we need it now!  Every day we delay they grow stronger.  We need to gather the combined power of every community in this valley and we need to go on the attack, take the fight to them.  Who’s with me?!” 

A lemon faced little troll came forward rubbing his hands together like a praying Mantis “You said something about tits?” while everyone else went back to chattering about whatever stupid thing they were chattering about.

Blacula VS Son of Kong

Assuming Martialla is right, and I feel like at this point I have to allow for the possibility that she may be, and there are nanobots, I am obsessed with figuring out what happens with them.  How does it work?  What do they do?  Does this injector only do something if you already have nanos inside of you?  Could I grab a rat and inject it and see what happens?  Would that create a mega-super rat that would bite my face off?  If it did bite my face off, could I nano-inject myself a new face?  What would that face look like?  The pull to inject myself with whatever is inside that canister is strong.  But Martialla is right, that’s insane.  It’s not far off from finding a syringe on the beach and jamming it into your arm out of curiosity.  It would be a crazy thing to do.  And yet.   

I thought about getting some of the paste out and rubbing it on a cut to see what would happen rather than injecting it, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to get the nanos out of the cylinder other than by coupling up the bedazzler gun.  I did learn that the paste changes to a different color based on which tube you entice them into.  One is blue, matching the glowing stuff inside us, one is red, one is yellow, one is green, one is orange, and one is purple.  They’ve got the whole rainbow covered.  I may have to give the injector gun to Martialla to keep away from me to keep from doing something stupid.   

We passed another fuel depot/trade hub/fort/whatever but we didn’t stop.  Makes me think we must be on a trade route but we’ve seen zero other vehicles on the trip.  It doesn’t make much sense to me.  In history class I often wondered (okay often I wasn’t paying attention but once when I did pay attention I wondered) when the teacher was talking about trade in old times; what does that mean?  When it takes six months for a shirt to go from Paris to London, how is trade conducted?  Plus they didn’t even have money until paper was readily available?  It was all serfs and slaves and simpering pox-ridden nobles in big castles right?  How do you make an economy out of that?  I still haven’t figured it out here and maybe they haven’t either.  I should have asked that lawyer I dated how the prison economy works.  That seems like a good equivalent to a post-apocalyptic economy.   

We did stop when we reached the stately village of Roachback, which as I’m sure you remember is one of the villages in the confederation that started this whole mess and sent us after the filters in the first place.  I had assumed based on the name that the people of the village would be roach-men or they would be raising giant roaches as a revolting foodstuff or something else horrible in the roach milieu like that, but I didn’t see anything that made it apparent why they might have named their village after gross bugs.   

Roachback is the village farthest upriver and therebecause (which is a word now) has the weighty responsibility of maintaining the water filtration system for the villages downstream.  Said filtration system looks like a big rusty grain auger on its side in the river to me, but it must filter out enough of the poison for these gross mutants to survive.  You might expect such a critical piece of the local infrastructure to be heavily defended, but those expectations would be dashed.  The Roachbackians seem to have gone hard the other way, they had no defenses of any kind, I didn’t even see anyone carrying weapons which goes against the law of the wastelands as I’ve seen it.  Maybe the idea is that they’re so important no one would ever attack them?  That could have made sense before the Invincible got into the valley. 

Before Martialla could say “that doesn’t seem like a good idea” I excite biked my way into town center and shook the filter bag triumphantly over my head in the middle of the shanties and hovels.  When no one really reacted to that, I dumped the filters out on the ground, which finally prompted them to slowly come over and start doing something to them.  Maybe they were cleaning them.  Maybe they were just rubbing them for good luck.  It seemed somewhat ritualistic.  Martialla pulled up beside me. 

“Don’t you think we should have assembled all the interested parties before we turned those over to anyone? They may not need all the filters here.” 

I thought about it for a moment “Well now I do, where were you a second ago?” 

“Trying to catch up with you as you raced ahead of me.” 

The leader of Roachtown, or at least the guy (I think) assigned to deal with us, was standard apocalypse size (short) with pale greyish purple skin and abnormally large eyes, like eyes the size of ostrich eggs.  And the head those eyes were in wasn’t any bigger, so they bulged out on the sides giving him a bit of a hammerhead shark appearance.  I didn’t care for the cut of his jib at all.  But then I haven’t seen too many people here in the future (present) that caught my fancy.  I suggested to peepers that since we had just saved the entire valley civilization at great personal danger, they should have a mighty feast in our honor.  He agreed and we sat down in the dirt with some other bulging eyes freaks to drink some shockingly palatable beer out of slimy gray cups and eat something that tasted a lot like chicken salad.   

Since it was the only real food I’ve tasted since waking up, I had to know where it came from even though I didn’t think I would like the answer.  I figured that they were going to tell me that it was ground up roach eggs at best.  Instead they took me to a series of little pens where they were raising a chicken-like proto-creature.  Aside from the horns and the fangs, and the tail (a tail tail not like a bird feather tail) they weren’t too much different from the chickens from our time.  They did hiss at me like a cat but that’s less annoying than a morning crowing maybe.  They also had a fenced in area with two donkeys that were nuzzling up against each other like newlyweds on a plane to Hawaii.  Can donkeys feel love?  If so, that changes my entire outlook on donkeys.  While Martialla and I leaned on the donkey pen enjoying the sight of something familiar (if smelly), I posed to her a very important question.

“Which movie of mine is your favorite, Mar?

She thought for a moment “The Three Musketeers Versus the Wolfman.”

I snorted “Fuck you, I’m serious.”

“I am being serious.  It’s a good action horror flick.  Honestly the only thing wrong with that movie is the title.  People hear that and they assume it’s some shit like Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy.  If they hadn’t tried to wedge the Musketeer thing in there and just made it a movie about some sixteenth century swordsmen fighting a lady werewolf, I think that movie would have been as successful as Brotherhood of the Wolf.”

I scoffed “In what sense was that movie a success?  I remember people leaving in anger after five minutes.”

“That’s because Americans are, err, were I guess, illiterate boobs that would rather die than watch a movie with subtitles.  Brotherhood of the Wolf made seventy million dollars, Ela.  I’d call that a success.”

“Sure, internationally, if you want to count that.”