You may remember me from such films as the Boatjacking of Supership ’79

Despite Martialla’s snide remarks, I really am a good shot with a pistol.  The guys that said I could shoot competitively were only exaggerating because they wanted to sleep with me, not lying because they wanted to sleep with me.  But here’s the thing, pistols are kind of useless.  Which is likely cold comfort to the however many people I’ve shot dead since falling out of a cryo-tube on account of it doesn’t make them any less dead. 

Armorers on movie sets come in two kinds, Loquacious Larrys and Taciturn Teddys.  A common Larry topic is how in movies everyone is running around with handguns but in real combat, pistols are nobody’s primary weapon, they are a last resort when you have nothing better.  Some Larrys will even claim that a knife is better than a pistol, which is insane.  A Larry said to me once “the only purpose of a sidearm is to give you a chance to stay alive long enough to find a better weapon”.  Other Larrys have said similar things, a few will admit (grudgingly it seems) that in very tight quarters where a rifle is not practical, a pistol may come in handy.   

The closest enemy to me was around twenty yards away, which is not tight quarters.  I can make a shot at twenty yards, oh don’t think that I can’t, but a moving target at twenty yards with cover?  Not as much.  Plus here’s something to keep in mind, when people are trying to shoot you while you want to shoot them, the degree of difficulty goes up a lot.  I mean a lot.  Point being that crouching where I was with a pistol, I didn’t have a lot that I could do so I figured why not try to open up a dialog? 

“Hey . . . uh . . . hello there!  I don’t think we’ve been introduced.  You guys don’t look like Invincible . . . uh . . . so, are you just . . . uh . . . who are you?  What are your names?  My name is Ela.  Do you guys like movies?  You know what movies are?  You ever a find an old DVD player . . . uh, you know, like in a ruined city or something?  You guys see Slumber Party Massacre Four?  I was Millie in Slumber Party Massacre Four.  You guys see that one?  How about Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die or David and Goliath?   Martialla was in that one too.  She’s my friend over there.  She . . .” 

I was interrupted by Martialla sidling out behind J-Lo to shoot one of them who was breaking cover to flank Paul’s hiding tree.  When the flanker went down, another guy tried to dash out and grab him and Martialla shot him as well.  This isn’t something I’ve seen wastelanders do before, leave no man behind isn’t a popular doctrine in the future.  She ducked back down behind J-Lo as some return fire came back her way.  The two wounded men were able to crawl into the underbrush but their designs on Paul were forgotten.

“Don’t . . . ah, don’t worry about that.  We’re not mad, people shoot at us all the time.  It’s . . . uh . . . no big deal you know?  Can we talk for a minute?  Are you with the Invincible?  Or is this your tower?  Maybe you just got startled?  Uh . . .” 

I heard a garbled voice from farther back in the trees “Aronto bosch!  Barton smarsh amine!  Dental hygienists!” 

“Uh . . . I didn’t catch that.  Are you guys dentists did you say?” 

Martialla hissed at me “They shot at us.  We killed three of them, they’re not going to talk to us Ela!” 

I tried to peek around J-Lo’s front “We haven’t killed anyone yet, have we?” 

“Paul split that first guy’s head open like a melon!” 

I squirmed around and tried to look underneath the car “Uh . . . okay then . . . I’m going for the window, cover me.” 

I noticed that Martialla’s left hand was gushing blood and her arm was streaked red as she nodded to me with her rifle clenched in her other hand.  J-Lo having no doors like the General Lee is usually super cool, but in situations like this it’s a real drag.  I tried to stay as low as I could and slip in subtly like a sneaky snake but someone was waiting for that very move.  I think they call that overwatch.

The shots sounded almost simultaneous – one of the forest people shooting me in the left butt cheek, a through and through that let the bullet also smash into the bottom of my left foot, and Martialla’s answering shot.  I heard her shoot several more times as I hurtled into J-Lo and bashed my face on the shifter while simultaneously I banged my elbows and knees and every other hard pointy part of the interior.   

Have I ever mentioned that being shot hurts?  Try getting shot through the bottom of the fucking foot.  JFK assassination people talk about the “magic bullet”, I’d like for them to explain to me how the hell does a bullet go through my ass and then through the bottom of my foot?  Sure I was horizontal going through a window, and my legs were up in the air for a nanosecond but still.  You want to know the stupid thing?  In that instant my nose hurt worse.  Pretty sure I broke it.  Which is a crying shame because I have a great nose.  Everyone said so.   

Martialla was yelling something, I don’t know if her bawling was directed at me or at Paul or at the people shooting at us but I couldn’t hear it anyway.  I grabbed one of the plastic CHiPs rifles out of the back and stuck it out the window on the other side, holding down the trigger until it either ran out of ammo or jammed.  Tossing it back, I shifted the forty-ton window armor into place (wo)manfully and then lay there panting for a moment.  Martialla’s giant face appeared in the other window and I handed her a bomb/grenade from storage.  This one had a fuse type thing on the top that you don’t have to light, so it seems more grenade-y to me.  She bashed it on J-Lo’s side and then hurled it into the woods.  One thing I give Martialla, the girl can hurl.  I think she played college softball or something.   

After the boom I heard a lot of shouting and shooting and the distinctive “thwap” of Paul’s machete removing human flesh from a human body.  I wish that wasn’t a sound I could identify.  I rustled up the nano-canister and gave myself an injection of some sweet blue nanos.  The rush is intense, I tell you what.  It’s like the first time you try coke, only better, makes you feel strong, like you can take on the whole world by yourself.  I wonder if they ever made ones that were purely recreational rather than therapeutic.  I suppose we might have some recro-nanos since we only know what the blue ones do.  Assuming the different colors even do different things.   Why doesn’t it have instructions on the side?

I slipped into the driver’s seat, which didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would with a busted ass, and hauled up the armor on that side as well.  J-Lo’s complicated ignition sequence may make her harder to steal but, like the no-doors thing, it’s annoying in situations like this.  Once I got her fired up I could faintly hear Martialla yelling at me to swing towards the tower and back up slowly.  As I did so, I could see/feel/hear her creeping along using the car as cover as she fired into the woods.   

She signaled for me to stop and I heard her saying to Paul “Go after them, don’t let any get away.” 

Hey man, nice shot

The Roadrunners are more organized than I thought.  I guess they’d have to be.  I have no idea how they coordinate without clocks or radios or the ability to count beyond the number of fingers they have (hint: not usually ten) but they work in shifts.  At a given time, a third of them are on patrol/shakedown duty, a third are on hang around but be ready to rock duty, and a third are on do whatever you want but come back later duty. 

Once the deal was struck, they shifted their shifts around (shiftlessly) and broke off a war party to send with us, ten ramshackle scrap-buggies, twice that many bikeish-things, and some number of people.  It’s hard to say how many, they all jump around from vehicle to vehicle like athletes going bed to bed at the Olympic village.  I’d guess more than fifty but less than a hundred Roadrunners.  Meep-meep!

With our new friends in tow, we hit Paradise and linked up with our resident animal themed gangs plus the mountain riff-raff and headed towards Wyo.  Why not do more recruiting first?  I was convinced by my local experts that it wouldn’t be necessary.  Their claim was that anyone willing and ready to fight would see the convoy and come of their own volition, lusting after the potential booty. 

They were right.  We picked up our first tail after only a couple miles.  Initially the remora groups would stalk us from afar like people wanting your parking spot at the mall.  I guess this is part of the ritual.  If you see an attack pack that you don’t know the intentions of, you send some expendables to follow the raiding party and see if those sacrificial lambs are run off, invited to join, or just left to trail like jackals.  Then based on that response, the important people make their move.   Since we didn’t murder them, this was the ritual invitation for them to join up with us.

By the time we reached the area of Crow, we had increased our numbers over fifty percent, and by the time we passed by the citified red-light district, we had doubled that size again.  All manner of freebooters and mercenaries and raiders were getting in on the feeding frenzy.  The assembled collection was quite the clanking, clinking, clattering cacophony of caliginous cogs and camshafts.  It was a force maybe a third as large as the Invincible group I saw attacking the convoy a while back.  Maybe a little more.  We thought that this horde would be supreme overkill for our target.  Martialla and I had scouted Wyo from above and there wasn’t much going on there.  But overkill is what we we’re going for.   

Before reaching Wyo, Martialla and I (and Paul, he’s not normally with us on the road but we jammed him in J-Lo this time like a divorced father with a convertible taking his kids to the carnival) split off from the herd and headed up an old mountain road where the framework of a modern (past) firewatch lookout tower was still standing.  The top bit (is there a name for the top part of a tower?) was gone and some of the metal was bent, but it was still solid and climbable and a good vantage point.  Martialla and Paul hauled some debris up there and made a nest of sorts where we could watch the attack from afar.  Martialla and I did anyway, Paul hung above us like a demented circus monkey.   

At first peep we could tell that something was wrong.  There were twice the number of people in Wyo than we expected.  There were four big Invincible trucks parked in the middle of town but even if they had been packed with people instead of supplies, that wouldn’t explain where all the extra people came from.  We had the good/bad luck of attacking the same day that the Invincible sent supplies, but where the hell did all those other people come from?   

Martialla and I had talked in circles about if we should come by land or air.  If we winged it, that probably would have eliminated any last second surprises like this but we had no good way to communicate with the convoy people other than to land and flag somebody down.  Driving, we’d be less informed but at least we’d be with everyone else and the plane wouldn’t be on the ground where anyone could steal or wreck it.  We probably should have tried harder to come up with a way to split the difference.  I gave Martialla a worried look. 

She shrugged “The old saying is that no plan survives contact with the enemy.” 

I waved my hand semi-frantically “They haven’t even made contact with enemy yet!” 

She was remarkably blasé “We still have the numbers by a lot, and they didn’t know we were coming.  Surprise and superior numbers?  That’s a winning hand.  This could be a good thing.  More supplies means more for us to capture.  Besides . . .” 

Her thought was cut off by Paul shouting and pounding on the iron frame of the tower.  He speaks so seldom (to me anyway, he and Martialla must do something other than bone) that when he does talk his voice throws me for a loop.  I expect him to squeak like the pimply teenager from the Simpsons but instead he sounds like Isaac Hayes.  A spazz like him shouldn’t have such a deep voice.  He pointed at the tree line and we saw people picking their way through the woods.  They weren’t wearing uniforms but they were all dressed enough alike to give the impression – brown clothes, stupid headbands, and reddish paint on their faces.  And they all had guns.  Rifles to be exact.   

Paul slid down the corner of the tower like it was a pole in a firehouse while Martialla and I were scrambling to climb down.  Whoever they were, it wouldn’t be good to be caught up there, although who they were didn’t matter much once they started shooting.  It looked like Martialla got hit and took a tumble, but she actually just lost her grip.  I expected Paul to roar like Godzilla when he saw her jerk and almost fall but that’s foolish.   

That’s one of the things that freaks me out about Paul is that when he fights he never makes a sound.  It’s a time-honored tradition to scream and bellow and shout insults when you’re trying to hack/slash/bash someone to death.  Even the karate men do it, ki-ya!  Now that I’ve been in a couple death fights myself, I know why.  Yelling gets the blood going, helps you convince yourself that you’re not afraid, scares the other guy maybe.  Paul doesn’t utter a sound when he’s killing and potentially being killed.  Not a whisper.   

What he did do was probably more helpful than a battle cry anyway – light and throw a bomb he scrounged up somewhere.  Martialla would call it a grenade but if you have to light it, it’s a bomb.  I don’t think it killed anyone but an explosion, even a little one, tends to distract people.  While the Facepaint Brigade was ducking and diving for cover, he ran up and took out one of them at the legs like chopping a weed walking beans back on the farm.  He took cover behind a tree as a few shots rang out. Martialla and I climbed/slid/fell the rest of the way down the tower.

It wasn’t even ten yards from the base of the tower to the car, but as we ran for cover I was sure that we would be shot in the back.  I wanted to turn and fire back, the instinct was all but overwhelming, but standing out in the open is a good way to get shot in the front.  It seemed impossible to me that we made it over and behind J-Lo without getting killed.  I don’t know if they were trying to conserve ammo or they wanted to take us alive or what, but their rate of fire was abysmal.  I peeked around J-Lo’s nose and saw Paul up against his tree while the Facepainters were mostly doing the same, although a handful of them were moving to flank him. 

“Jesus Christ, why isn’t he shooting?!” 

Martialla tried to reach in through the window and dropped back down in a hurry when she saw someone step out from behind a tree and take aim at her “Paul doesn’t have a gun, he doesn’t know how to shoot.” 

“Are you fucking kidding?!” 

The greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the led

We figured that it would be wise to give the Road Runners the right of first refusal on our Wyo attack scheme, which I have codenamed Operation Destiny’s Child – Bootylicious.  As the people who are extorting/supposed to be keeping the valleyites safe from the Invincible, the Roadrunners haven’t been happy about . . . well, pretty much everything Martialla and I have been doing since we got here.  And yet despite that deep unhappiness they haven’t tried to kill us even once, which is probably why they suck at their job.  Their incompetence notwithstanding, it seems prudent to try and get them on our side.   

Being nomadic predatory miscreants that need to stay on the move, the Road Runners have no settlements or gathering places we could go chat with them.  So instead we spent a few days driving around the stretch of the shitty roads they “control” trying to bump into them.  It was like when you get a good haircut and you stop by the coffee shop you know your ex goes to on the way to work.  Oh, funny running into you here, yes I am doing something different with my hair, do you like it? 

It was nice to be back in J-Lo (phrasing) after all the time we’ve spent flying around lately.  I understand that objectively and logically, we’re much safer in the sky than we are on the ground since there appear to be no other aircraft in operation nor have we seen any pterodactyls, sky squids, flying killer whales, smog sharks, carnivorous clouds, or any other manner of aerial menace while there is all kind of stuff on the ground that can and will kill us.  Despite those facts, I just don’t feel comfortable up there.   

Maybe it’s because Martialla is the only one who can pilot the thing.  She drops dead and that thing is going down, nothing I can do about it.  Maybe it’s because the plane itself is a rickety piece of crap that could fall out of the sky at any moment even with a pilot.  Maybe it’s because Paul is always lurking behind me being an insane psycho-sexual manchild with a Jason Voorhees machete and the same charm as Mrs. Voorhees’ baby boy.  Maybe it’s because humans are meant to be on the ground.  Whatever the case is, I feel much safer cocooned in J-Lo’s armored bosom than flying through the air in bloody defiance of god and gravity.   

Eventually we did pass/get passed by a truck and a couple of buggy-trike-bikes with stupid birds painted on them and swung around to get their attention.  We did so by ramming the truck from behind, but you know, in a friendly way.  Tap-tap-taparoo.  In response the Roadrunners threw a couple shots at us of course, but that’s to be expected, standard wasteland etiquette.  Jo-L can take a hit, whereas I’m pretty sure that plane would explode if Martialla pinged it with her forearm slingshot thingee.  Anyway, after the desultory (is that a word?) hello shooting we all got stopped and not killing each other.  I explained to the head Road Runner, who ironically has giant Wiley Coyote feet, that we needed to talk to head birdbrain about a major upcoming venture.   

In response to this, Bigfoot did the only thing he could do in the situation and challenged us to a race.  J-Lo smoked their garbage scow on wheels but afterwards I regretted agreeing to the demand.  When someone is being stupid you shouldn’t get down in the muck with them, you should call them stupid to their face and tell them no.  It’s like when a dude at a party bets you they can eat all the cigarette butts in the ashtray.  Just don’t engage.   Instead of thinking to myself “oh, we can win this easily so it’s fine” I should have thought “this moron is willing to risk something this important on the outcome a race?”  That one was my bad.   

Now, Martialla opined that maybe Big Bird suggested the race knowing that we would win as a gambit – a way for him to ingratiate us with his scumbag crew.  Such as, if he just said “sure” to our request his scabby minions might resent us for bossing them around as outsiders, but by showing off our sweet wheels and “winning” their respect instead, they would think that we were a valuable addition to their team.  Possible, but I think she’s giving him way too much credit.   

Regardless, because we won the race we joined up with that group until we ran into another glob of Roadrunners and were passed along from glob to glob until we ended up at the crossroads of what’s left of interstates Eighty and Five.  There we were joined by a slightly bigger band of yahoos with better equipment – the lead yahoo tooling around in a car a lot like J-Lo with better (or worse since it allows more fire at your vulnerable face meat) vision slits and a mounted machine gun.  The person that got out was short even by apocalypse standards and was wrinkled like a shaved Shar Pei with a Frankenstein neck and a huge upper lip that I swear to you went down over his chin when his mouth was closed.   

I told Frank the same thing I told Birdie and all the other leaders down the chain of command.  He did the only logical thing he could based on this information, he challenged us to a race.  See, this is what I mean, once you start down the path of stupidity it becomes a lot harder to get off than if you never started down it in the first place.  It’s like a waterslide.  A waterslide of morons.  I told him that we were putting together a raiding party to attack Wyo, he could come or not.  His response (I think, he was pretty hard to understand) was that we had to earn his respect if we wanted his endorsement.  I was about say that I didn’t care enough to waste our time but Martialla made a good point “We’re already here, why not?”  Solid argument.   

First thing Frank did was cut us off at the starting line and with a bone-rattling ram to the front left panel got out to an early lead.  I don’t know why, but that whack rattled my bones even more than the times people have literally tried to blow J-Lo up.  This gave Frank a good head start but J-Lo was faster.  He tried to box me out but I’m not such a bad driver myself.  I know a few maneuvers.  Once we got in front he started firing with the machine gun, so I guess in his terms a “race” also includes attempted murder.  I should have expected that I suppose.  The sound of automatic fire bouncing off J-Lo’s armor is maddening.  We need some kind of noise suppression in here is what we need.  Some of that soundproofing foam or something. 

All his shooting did was waste a bunch of ammunition and make my ears ring like crazy, we won the race handily.  When it was over, he hopped out of his car and came over to say something and I grabbed his arm and took off again, back towards the crossroad where this all started.  Not the most mature thing I’ve ever done, but I was pissed that he was trying to fucking shoot us in a stupid race.  I almost lost hold of him right away, he was much heavier than I thought he would be, but I managed to keep a grip on him.  For his part, he also managed to fold up and not get dragged much, but when I let go he took a good tumble.  Which you have to expect when you’re going forty miles per hour.   

He lay unmoving long enough that I thought I had killed him, but eventually I saw his fingers twitch.  No one in his crew seemed to care much that I had done that.  Leadership roles are tough here in the future.  I mean present.  Whatever. 

War of the Coprophages

I don’t know why I expected Gunmetal City to be a towering industrial monolith of pipes and belching smokestacks and pneumatic tubes populated by wretched mutants chained to machines churning out cheap wares.  I should know better by now.   Industry hasn’t been rediscovered yet.  At least not industry the way that I think about it.  I suppose chimps pulling the leaves off a branch to get honey out of a termite hill is industry technically.  Termites make honey don’t they?   

Instead of what I said, Gunmetal City is an old boron mine that people live on in clusters of little huts.  There is one big crane in the middle which is kind of industrial-y but no smokestacks.  I don’t really know what boron is but I’m sure living on it and breathing it in all the time is the kind of thing that causes cancer and birth defects.  Because it’s a mine-hole it kind of looks like they live on the side of a pyramid.  Martialla claims that boron is used in making high-strength, lightweight ceramic but that makes no sense.  How could metal be used in clayware?  Next she’s going to tell me that all those old Roman pots in museums are full of lead.   

She also said that since we find ceramic goods everywhere that’s why Gunmetal City must be so affluent, rather than the guns.  “Affluent” isn’t how I would describe people that live on a boron mine but they aren’t covered in as much shit as everyone else so they must be rich by the standards of the day.  The Gunmetal part comes from the fact that they do have a small facility where they can make bullets and there is ONE family there that knows how to make firearms.   

There were some dudes with rifles in towers and a moat of sorts to keep vehicles away, but overall the defenses didn’t seem that impressive for what I have to assume is the most important place in the world.  As far as I can tell, these post-apocalyptic assholes raid and fight each other all the time but none of them attack the important places like this.  I don’t get it.  If I were the Vultures or some other merry band of murderers, I’d conqueror Cry, Roachback, and Gunmetal City and then I’d control the food, the clean water, and all the weapons.  Seems like I’d be queen of the sad little hill then, right?  Maybe no one does that for the same reason no one wants to fight the Invincible, they don’t think big enough.   

Speaking of, the Gunmetal City Council are concerned about the Invincible.  It’s a nice change of pace.  Between them and the highlander jerks, things are starting to snowball. The Gunmetal city fathers (and mothers) may look like Freddie Krueger Nosferatu Beneath the Planet of the Apes freaky freaks but they’re smarter than the rest of the freaks around here.  When we flew in, we were taken to see the city leaders immediately like we had an appointment – bunch of pizza-faced people in big robes that must have them sweating their various genitals off sitting in a dark room with a big table.  They had a lantern on the table for light is all.  A lantern.  That’s what affluence gets you these days.   

The lead Freddie Krueger, who I think was a woman and therefore I shall name Fredwina, explained that unlike a lot of the other communities outside the valley, they have never done business with the Invincible.  Not because of morality of course, but because the I-Boys have their own source of guns and ammo and that means that unlike all the other “important” places, Gunmetal City has no vested interest in maintaining neutrality.   Quite the opposite as a matter of fact.  Sounds like they’ve had their share of skirmishes with the Invincible and have sent many a Freddie Krueger spy to their death trying to find out where the Invincible make or get their weapons.   

So, they’re not cool with the Invincible but they aren’t hot to jump into bed with me either, unlike Julian McMahon.  Like I would even want to be on the Profiler.  Gunmetal doesn’t want to fight the Invincible alone, or at all really, so they’re on our side in the sense that if we can get together a legitimate fighting force in the valley, they’ll throw in with us.  If not, they’ll try to curry whatever favor they can with the Invincible while they destroy us even though it’s probably not going to work.   

They gave Martialla a couple of guns and a bunch of ammo so she’s in hog heaven.  They gave me a pistol too, which looks fancy but I don’t like the way it feels.  The grip is made of petrified wood or something.  I think if I fire it more than once in a short period of time, it’s going to blow up in my hand.  They did give us something more useful than a couple of cruddy guns (Martialla’s note – they’re not cruddy at all, they’re very well made and reliably functional) – information.  At the other end of the valley there’s a community called Wyo that’s already thrown in their lot with the Invincible.  They regularly receive shipments of supplies for the Invincible to use as a base for their roving bands of raiders either/and/or/also to serve as a launching point for invasion.   

I realize that I’ve been going about this all wrong.  I’ve been trying to get people to fight for freedom and for their very lives.  That’s not going to work because these people have no freedom and their lives are garbage.  If they knew how Martialla and I used to live they’d all kill themselves, that’s how much their lives suck balls.  The message I should be using instead is “hey, there’s stuff we can take, let’s go get it!”  And now I have a good target.  My new pitch will be, let’s get a bunch of people together and sack Wyo and steal all their stuff because you want stuff don’t you?  Sure you do, so mount up ranger.   

At which point the war will have begun?   

A sky full of stars

I haven’t seen any of the mountain folk since the original meeting at the Crossroads so we paid them a visit.  Turns out they’re major assholes.  Not only did they try to shoot us down when we first appeared, we found out that their major source of income is raiding the lowlanders.  Their community sprung up on the site of the Nakoma Resort and the land around it has been cracked and damaged by earthquakes leaving it so rough and riven with narrow passes that approaching by foot is a literal maze.  This makes it so the place is essentially unassailable.  But that’s the only thing going for it.  They don’t have shit for resources, ergo the town is perpetually short of food and supplies, ergo they take them from others. 

Here’s the funny thing, they’re in.  They want to attack the Invincible.  Why?  Since they’re parasites they realize that if the Invincible kill or conquer everyone in the valley then there’s no one left for them to parasite off unless they can handle the Invincible, which they know that they can’t.  It’s like that old con artist adage that you can sheer a sheep many times but only skin it once.   Is there a lesson in there somewhere?  The only people who are thinking about the future and willing to fight for it are the ones who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves?  Is there some kind of twisted Aesop in there?  I can’t come up with it if there is. 

There is another reason they want to go to war, two actually.  One is that they fear no reprisal, thinking that there’s no way for them to be attacked in their mountain stronghold.  They said that the Invincible could send five thousand men and they would all die in the attempt.  I mean we came here in a plane, but whatever.  The second thing is that they’ve got a few too many people and they’d like to do a little pruning.  Too many old folks who won’t die on their own and “zeros” who add nothing to the survival of the community.  Their leader, Fortykills is eager to send them into battle.  Sounds like they’ll make a crack fighting force to me. 

Where did that term ever come from?  Crack as in highly competent.  Surely it can’t have anything to do with crack cocaine can it?  That term has to predate the drug right?  Does it have something to do with baseball?  Like the crack of a bat?

Anyway, Fortykills and the mountain assholes are on our side.  And she guaranteed me that when the time comes she won’t only send cannon fodder (that one I get) with us, she’ll send a few real fighters with us as well. 

The question is what value will this have as a campaign tool.  If I tell people that the people that attack them and steal their shit are in, on the surface that doesn’t seem likely to bring people to my camp.  But maybe I can spin it, say that even those jerks understand the threat so how can you turn a blind eye?  Something along those lines.  Plus I can talk up their fighting prowess, they live by raiding so they’re going to be great allies.  I think I need to change my pitch anyway.  Play up the fact that Martialla and I saved all their worthless hides by getting the filters, lean more on “you owe me” rather than trying to appeal to reason.  Sidenote, now that we have a plane we should zip back over to the underground medical facility and see what’s going on there. 

Mountain town, or Svyatilishche as it’s actually called, is just as wretched and horrible as any place else around but the grounds of the golf course are still very pretty.  After we brokered the deal with Fortykills we wandered around up there for a while and found some dull green and spotted pink eggs in a boggy zone that used to be the back nine.  What laid them?  No clue, but that didn’t stop Martialla from getting a fire going and cooking them up as the sun set.  It was almost enough to make me feel good to be alive.

I lay back on the ground as Martialla puttered around messing with her freak eggs “Have you noticed that the stars are different?”

She glanced up for a moment “How can you tell?  There’s so much pollution you can’t even see the sky.”

I thought for a moment “Is it still pollution if it’s not caused by humans?”

She cursed and pulled her hand back from the fire “Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?  Besides, isn’t it almost certain that all this was caused by humans?”

I thought for a moment and then shrugged “I can see them pretty well most nights, I have excellent vision you know.”

Martialla chuckled “If only you had perfect pitch, maybe then your albums would have done better than Jennifer Lopez’s.  Lopez’s, that’s hard to say.”

I snorted “Perfect pitch doesn’t mean shit.  It’s just a freak ability like being double jointed.  You know who else has perfect pitch?  Bats.  And gerbils.  Have you ever heard a gerbil sing?”

“Um, does Alvin and the Chipmunks count?”

“No, those are chipmunks, it’s right in the name.  The stars are different Mar, and not just a little.  Stars move over time, I know that, but how far do they move in a hundred years?  I don’t see anything I recognize up there.  Where are the Three Sisters?  Or the Charioteer?  Or the Swan?”

“There’s a swan constellation?”

“Yeah, Cygnus.  Zeus turned himself into a swan to hump the queen of Sparta who then gave birth to Helen of Troy.  Think about that Mar, the face that launched a thousand ships was half swan.  Imagine the wedding night, you’re getting ready to rock and finding a cloaca on your bride.  No wonder a war started.”

Martialla shook her head “That can’t be true.”

“Oh, it’s true.  Also a bunch of other people got turned into swans for one reason or another and then got put in the sky.  Whatever happened down here wouldn’t change the stars would it?  Maybe everything got screwed up because the earth moved somehow.”

Martialla peered up at the sky for a moment “The earth is always moving, but I take your meaning.  The good news is that whatever happened, now you get to name some new constellations.”

“I already have been.  There’s the alien doing laundry.  That’s Mr. Burns playing basketball.  There’s a frog giving everyone a big thumbs up.  There’s the fat little karate man locked in combat with his eternal foe the other fatter karate man.  The jackalope is over there next to the man in the canoe.  There’s the scorpion king.”

“Which one, the horrible CGI blob of nothing or the Rock?”

“The blob.  They’re making the Scorpion King into a movie you know.  I was up for the part of the Sorceress but they decided that wanted someone less Midwestern.  I wonder if they’ve started filming yet.”

“Started, finished, and everyone involved all died decades ago I would assume.”

I nodded absently “I wonder who got my part.”

OOC – Revenge of the transformers

I saw a headline about some people doing angry social media things because they were at Disneyland and they were cordoned into the lame areas of the park because Kim Kardashian was there and they were closing down the park for her as she wandered around. 

I feel that I must once again share my harrowing story. 

The year was 1988.  Someone was president.  A song was number one on the radio.  A movie was tops at the box office.  Mostly what I remember is that people were falling into wells constantly and we children had to be vigilant to the ever looming threats of Satanists, Dobermans, and quicksand.  Dungeons and Dragons was teaching a whole generation of kids to commit ritual abuse and set their houses on fire. 

Also my family took a trip to Disney World.  I used to think my family was poor when I was a kid, but as an adult I’ve been disabused of that notion.  We had a home and two cars and we went to Disney World once.  We weren’t poor.  It only seemed like we were poor to me because we were always the poorest family in the nice neighborhoods we moved to every few years. 

I was not terribly excited about this trip because even as a kid I wasn’t into trips and since I didn’t really like rides or Disney stuff, what was there to get excited about?  If there wasn’t GI Joe or Transformers involved I wasn’t that interested.  Or wrestling.  I was very excited about my GI Joe wrestling federation.  Stormshadow was a long reigning world champion but I realize as an adult that a guy that doesn’t talk isn’t a great choice for your #1 heel.  I should have given him a manager.  I know that now.

As I recall, the trip to Florida took approximately 8 million hours.  In the backseat of a blazing hot car.  Next to my sister who was blasting Poison at maximum decibels and who would stab me with a nail file if I made a noise or moved or just because she felt like it. 

I remember that outside the window of our hotel room there was a billboard with a naked lady on it.  And I mean naked naked not “you can’t actually see anything” naked.  What was it advertising?  I don’t know.  I never looked directly at it because I didn’t want to be caught looking.  Also it was a few years before I would be super interested in naked lady billboards.  Was having a naked lady billboard legal in Orlando in the 1980s?  I don’t know that either, but it was there.  I remember my mom calling the front desk to complain but what was the hotel supposed to do about it?  I also remember sleeping on a cot. 

We went to a beach covered with dead jellyfish and then it was time for Disney World.  At this point I did get excited because we had traveled millions of miles for this so surely it had to be great.  And maybe it is great, but I wouldn’t know because all I got to see was Main Street USA (no parade) and some gift shops. 

Why?

Because Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley were there.  I kept saying different things I wanted to check out and my parents kept saying that we couldn’t go there because it was closed.  Just a bunch of gift shops.  Gift shops that had no Transformers or GI Joes to buy.  I couldn’t understand what was happening at first because I was kind of a dumb kid (and adult) but eventually I figured it out.  Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel were important, whereas we were scum, ergo it was critical that they get access to the park while we stood there like fucking idiots. 

One image that’s really stuck with me is standing there on GD Main Street USA watching the tram go by that was empty except for Billy Joel, Christie Brinkley, some kids, and various hangers-on and bodyguards and functionaries.  The kids couldn’t have given two shits about what was going on.  Christie Brinkley looked like a stepmom trying her hardest and getting nothing back but shitty comments.  Billy Joel was staring at nothing like a zombie. 

I often say that that’s the day I learned that there is no justice in this world.  I’m only partially kidding.  It was a kind of important learning experience.  Some people are just better than you, societally speaking.  A few years later, in the naked lady billboard interest years, I swore to myself that if I ever saw Billy Joel I’d punch him in the face.  I’ve told any woman I felt might do it that they should do the same to Christie Brinkley on my behalf.  I was mostly kidding. 

Later on I found out that Billy Joel has had issues with depression his whole life and tried to kill himself at least once.  At which point I felt robbed again because now even if I did punch him in the face it wouldn’t be “okay”. 

I’ve told this tale a few times, and blogged about it before – possibly even on this blog – and on one blog 7 blogs ago I threw out this emo-gem about how I was giving up my quest for revenge on Billy Joel –

“Now here’s the funny thing about revenge.  There’s no such thing.  The scale never balances.  Why? Because there is no scale.  If my life is worthless (which it is) and I kill a guy whose life was valuable, how you gonna make the scales balance?  Forget it.  There’s no scale. So don’t trick yourself into thinking that there is.”

That’s some prime childish nihilism right there.  That would have been a good quip to throw into one of the more revenge focused Ela stories.  Well, there’s always the next Ela story right? 

Mildly related final note.  We used to go to a local carnival every year also and I was never much into that either.  Even before a carny whipped out his dick at my cousin and me.  I remember one year asking if I could use my carnival money to buy a Transformer instead of for the dumb carnival.  The answer was no for reasons that I didn’t understand at all then but kinda do now. 

Day of the dove

I’m starting to learn that wars are like orgies, they’re tough to get started because nobody wants to be the first one to dive in.  How do you get a war going?  Back in my day the government usually did it by lying.  They’d say something like ‘We have to kill these people because they’re trying to build a bomb to kill us!’  And then everybody would get on board with the war because they don’t want to have a bomb dropped on them.  Its beauty was in its simplicity. 

That strategy does me no good in this case though because there’s nothing to lie about.  The Invincible really are coming to kill everyone, but nobody wants to unite and fight them off.  They’re all too worried about their neighbors stealing their goats to pay attention to the bigger threat.  Is that the Prisoner’s Dilemma?  Or the Unscrupulous Diner’s Dilemma?  Or the Abilene Paradox?  It’s something, I know that. 

I should have paid more attention in my PolySci class but I only took it because the professor was dreamy.  He was a low quality lay though, which is a good thing to learn in college – just because a dude is good looking doesn’t mean he’s not lame in the sack.  Tuition money well spent.  Although I guess I would have learned that anyway so maybe not.  Give me back my money!

We’ve been on a whistle-stop tour trying to drum up support, only with a plane, so you know I guess there’s no whistle. Everywhere we go people are very impressed by our “flying car” but for some reason that initial goodwill doesn’t seem to be translating into them also wanting to join a nebulous military operation against a bigger, better equipped, more vicious force.  Speaking of better equipped, Martialla and I (mostly her) have been speculating on why exactly the Invincible have more and better stuff than everyone else.  Maybe Oregon fared better in the collapse of society than California.  We haven’t ventured too far north yet, but so far we haven’t plane spotted any big industrial centers in Invincible land either.  It mostly looks as primitive and lame as everywhere else, if more organized perhaps.

What we have spotted is small bands of Invincible raiding outlying areas, a couple dudes on bikes, and maybe a truck setting shit on fire and committing general murder and rapacity.  Despite Martialla’s claim that she would never get her precious plane anywhere near combat, we’ve been landing to run off those little groups.  I think she’s comfortable doing that because Paul has been coming with us.  That boy is a lunatic.  Like for real, I don’t mean that in a euphemistic sense.

He won’t look me in the eyes and he still literally runs away from me sometimes when I try and talk to him face to face, yet he hangs out the side of the plane like he doesn’t understand what gravity is (which he may not).  That’s small potatoes though.  When Martialla gives him the nod it’s like she’s letting an attack dog off the chain.  I’ve seen some shit now, but still it’s alarming to see him hack people to bits like an insane woodsman.  I’ve looked in his eyes, there’s nothing behind them but primeval murderous instinct.  I suppose that’s what you get when you take a teenage boy, who is already basically a just creature not a human, and then drop him into this Lord of the Flies bullshit for a couple years.  I don’t know if he’s pussy-struck or if he’s just never had a person be nice to him before, but I think if Martialla asked him to rip his own skin off he’d do it without hesitation.   

While Paul charges out with his scrap-hacking tool like a berserker, Martialla stays behind him and shoots, not with a gun, but with something I don’t know what to call it.  She got a hold of a slingshot, not a Dennis the Menace slingshot but a big sturdy one for duck hunting or something.  I don’t know if it somehow survived from our time or if it’s something they make now.  Either is possible since there still seems to be a source of rubber somehow.  I should find out where the rubber comes from, that’s important to wars I think.

Anyway, she took that slingshot and built a thing like an archery guard that she puts on her left arm and uses to shoot little spikes or arrows or darts or whatever you want to call them.  She’s pretty damn accurate with it.  Sounds silly but nobody laughs with a piece of metal in their face.  I don’t know how often she scores a kill with it but you get a pencil sized piece of iron in your neck and that distracts you from trying to ward off Paul’s machete.  Have I mentioned that dude is a lunatic?  He’ll charge five guys like it’s nothing.  I don’t know how he’s still alive.  But he is. 

In smashing these little bands of Invincible we’ve earned ourselves some admirers amongst the nomadic northern peoples that are so far feeling the brunt of the Invincible initial push south.  The Coyotes, the Mules, the Dragons, and the Prairie Dogs have joined us at Paradise.  They ride out and do battle when we spot some Invincible they can intercept.  I kid you not, the Prairie Dogs.  It’s not much of an army but it’s a start.  Actually no it isn’t, but it’s something.   

What I need is a rallying atrocity of some kind, which is tricky because if the Invincible attack and destroy Scrapbridge that may be enough to get some people moving in the right direction, but it doesn’t matter at that point because Scrapbridge is destroyed so we already don’t have enough resources to have a chance at the thing that it was supposed to incite in the first place.  It puts me of a mind of the movie I was in where the guy goes back in time to try and warn the Native Americans that they need to band together when the white people show up.  But the Natives don’t pay him any mind because there’s not a good way to communicate how dangerous the threat is until the threat has already happened.  That movie was a real downer but it did well in Singapore.  I still get residual checks.  Err, got anyway.

Martialla and I were in our “office” at Paradise trying to come up with a better idea than continuing recruitment drive and hope that the Invincible attacks become bad enough to make them listen before they become bad enough that it doesn’t matter anymore.  At least we were trying to.

I frowned and looked towards where I think there should be a window “What’s all that racket out there?”

Martialla was cleaning and/or tinkering with one of her pistols as she always seems to be when we have a moment’s rest “You told them they couldn’t use the pit in here anymore so they’re fighting out there.”

I grunted sourly “Savages.”

She looked up for a moment “Isn’t that what you want for an army?”

I shook my head “No, didn’t you promise me there would be killer robots?  Where do I find those?  That seems like the kind of army I would enjoy.”

“The problem with killbots is that they generally try to kill you.”

“According to whom?”

She thought for a moment “Terminator, Terminator Two, Westworld, Alien, Stepford Wives, Bladerunner, RoboCop, Short Circuit, The Matrix, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits, I Robot, Two Thousand One, anything by Philip K Dick, I Have No Mouth, I Must Scream, pretty much every science fiction piece of fiction ever made.”

I frowned slightly “The Stepford Wives were robots?  I thought they were just mind-raped into being sex slaves.”

Martialla really popped her P for some reason “Nope, robots.”

“Hmm.” I sighed “What are we going to do Mar?” 

She stood up and stretched “Well, we could give up and just go somewhere else.  You don’t have to indulge your whim to murder Duke Eagle.  We don’t really care what happens to these people right?”

OOC – A low down wordy shame

A book I’m reading directed me to a research paper called “Explorations in Automated Language Classification” which I didn’t read because I’m not a nerd but I did skim/scan.  The book was talking about how language changes over time, which I knew because I’m so smart, but it also learned me that some words are more stable than others because I’m so dumb.  Some words lose or change meaning quickly, like the word computer, which meant “A woman who performs calculations” only for a few years before it meant “magic box that makes people angry”.

This was brought up in the context of the plays of Shakespeare.  If you read them now someone super smart like me can mostly figure out the meaning but there’s a lot of nuance that is lost and someone dumb like a dumb dummy can’t follow it at all.  And then it talked about Beowulf, which is technically written in English but is incomprehensible to even a super smart person like me.  But even in Beowulf there are words here and there that you recognize today. 

The gist of all this is that the more common a word is the more likely it is to “stick” and the less a word is used the more likely it is to be forgotten or changed.  In the paper they categorized the words that are the same now as they were a 1000 years ago (in English) which they assume have a good chance of staying the same for another 1000 years or longer –

Blood, bone, breasts, die, dog, drink, ear, eye, fire, fish, full, hand, hear, horn, knee, leaf, liver, louse, mountain, name, new, night, nose, one, path, person, see, skin, star, stone, sun, tongue, tooth, tree, two, water

There’s probably some kind of writing challenge that can be made out of this list but I’m too cool and lazy to care about it.  I just thought it was interesting. 

I’m surprised that liver is on the list.  I feel like I hardly ever say liver.  Maybe that was more important in the last 1000 years when people were butchering animals, although neither “save” nor “get” are on the list so maybe livers were so important you didn’t need to tell someone to get it. 

Breasts is on the list of course, but knee is a surprise.  Who knew people were so into knees?  I hate knees.  When summer rolls around and the young people put on their short shorts I hate it.  Cover up your knees people.  I bet most people in olden times had bad knees, but “hurt” or “pain” isn’t on the list so maybe they just said “knee die”.  Or again, maybe everyone knew their knees hurt so it didn’t need to be said. 

At first I thought that louse was another outlier but then I remember that until like 1980 everyone was swarming with lice and fleas and parasites so it makes sense. 

I find it interesting that people mostly only needed to count to two, and that “zero” or “none” or “nothing” isn’t on the list.  I suppose people just shrugged when they didn’t find any livers to eat. 

Anyway, I’m going to change my name to Sun-Tongue Tree-Tooth so people in a thousand years will understand.

Some men you just can’t reach

So.  It turns out we had a little bit of a whoopsie-doodle here with stirring up a rebellion and murdering all these horrible Paradisanians.  According to people who never get invited to parties (not good parties anyway), the turning point in human development was the ability to communicate.  Once humans were able to go “Hey Jim, instead of trying to tackle these mammoths what if we dig a pit and wait for them to fall in?” the mammoths were fucked.  The spoken word brought on a wave of destruction beyond any weapon you can think of, nuclear missiles ain’t got shit on words.  Just ask the saber-toothed tiger.   Oh wait, you can’t!  Humans rule!

What we had here is a failure to communicate.   

You see when people kept telling us that if we wanted to get a war going with the Invincible we needed to go to paradise as step number one, they didn’t mean this town which is called Paradise, they meant that we should go to a place called Crow which is a paradise.  I’m going to put ninety-nine percent of the blame on them for this one.  That would be like telling someone if they ask you where they can get some good cheese they should go to Paris when they mean Paris Texas.  Or maybe not that exactly but the point is they screwed up not me.   

So we got some bad intel and we killed some assholes, no big deal right?  Well, you see in terms of problem levels, here’s the problem.  Paradise was (is?) a client village or vassal or whatever of Crow and they were repressing not just the quarry people but a bunch of other smaller weaker communities in the area on behalf of Crow.  So when we overturned that apple cart it fucked up Crow’s whole regional power structure/house of cards.   

Between you, me, and the mutant chickens I’m not sure I ever actually read Beowulf but I feel like this is the kind of stuff that happened in Beowulf times.  Erik Njorl son of Frothgar, son of Thorvald Nlodvisson, son of Gudleif, the priest of Ljosa water who took to wife Thurunn the slayer of Cudround the powerful, rides for twelve days and nights until he reaches the hall Harken who killed Bjortguaard in Sochnadale in Norway over Cudreed, daughter of Thorkel Long, and kills him because that’s what he thought the king wanted him to do.  But it turns out that Harken was actually a sworn man of the king because of some other thing and then there’s a blood feud for fifty years and a bunch of people all kill each other in error because the king didn’t mention that they were all on the same side.  Also the king is secretly his own grandpa because of some mix-up where he humped someone in the dark.   

I found this all out because a contingent of Crowarians showed up at the gate of Paradise to say “hey, what the fuck?”  The Crowinians are the most normal looking people we’ve seen so far, except for Paul, and he doesn’t count.  They all have freaky David Bowie eyes, alabaster Marilyn Manson complexions, and asthmatic Marilyn Monroe voices but that makes them pretty damn normal by the standards of the day.   Don’t worry though, they had a bunch of the standard post-apocalyptic screwheads with them as muscle – dude with blue skin and three fingers on each hand?  Sure.  Purple dude with zombie freak eyballs?  Why not?  Shark-mouth, oversized heads or feet, unnaturally thin limbs, no nose, No Bones Jones the plastic man, etc.       

They spoke pretty good modern day (past) English too, despite some weird slang and odd syntax I was able to understand them just fine.  They were pretty chill about the whole thing.  Or maybe I’m just a great negotiator.  Probably the second thing.  Point is once I told them “My bad, I didn’t know I couldn’t overthrow your society” they stopped menacing us with their goons.  As long as they get their gas they don’t really care who gives it to them.  See, I thought that the Paradisians wanted the gas just for their old vehicles but instead their mandate was to make sure that Crow has all the oil they need.  Of course, why they need it wasn’t revealed to us but you can’t expect someone to give up everything on the first date.  You have to hold some things back.  You know the kind of things I mean. 

I explained to the lead Crow-man, who I’ll call David Marilyn Manson Monroe, my desire to make war on the Invincible and he clucked his tongue and wagged his finger.  War is bad for business is his stance.  He said that we shouldn’t try to fight the Invincible, we should make a deal with them.  When I told him that that deal was that we knuckle under to their brutal reign of terror his response was, in so many words, “grow up”.  His point was that that everyone serves someone so why not just bend over and get it over with.  I responded with a little speech about freedom and personal choice and truth and justice and the American Way and he looked at me like I was speaking Greek.  Which I was not, to be clear.   

He said that if I wanted to go to war with the Invincible the only way I would have a chance is to get Gunmetal City and Scrapbridge on my side and then also get a bunch of money to bring all the southern mercs into the fight, a prospect which he deemed to be unlikely on account of I had nothing to offer anyone in return for doing anything.  I told him he was dead wrong about that, I have charm, good looks, and a winning attitude.  He agreed and said that’s why I should come to Crow instead of “playing” at being a soldier.  Did I mention that Crow is where all the hookers are?  That’s their whole thing, the “hospitality” industry.  It’s not all hookers, they have other luxuries there like showers and soap and food that isn’t swarming with or made from worms and gambling but those are incidentals, you go for the hookers, you stay for the unleavened bread.   

I told David MMM that my course was set, it was my destiny to defeat the Invincible and put an end to their wicked ways.  He laughed and said that their ways were no wickeder than anyone else and that Crow had enjoyed a working relationship with them for many a year.  I asked him, as long as we keep delivering the gas were we going to have a problem if we wreck the Invincible and slaughter Duke Eagle.  He said that it didn’t matter to him in the least, he’s just a businessman, he doesn’t get involved in such things.   

I’m sure at the very least as soon as they left he dispatched various underlings, evil spirits, secretaries of secretaries, and other assorted minions to contact Duke Eagle to let him know that I’m gunning for him.  Playing both sides and whatnot.   

I wonder if he’ll care.

Whatever happened to Captain Planet?

I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been in a plane before.   Commercial airliner numbers by and large, but I’ve been on small planes a time or two.  Well, four times to be exact.  Thrice working on films, to get to a remote shooting location.  Once when a friend of a friend of a friend flew me in his private plane to a gig in Branson.  Was it worth it to find out that I’m terrible at stand-up comedy?  No, I could have told you that beforehand.  I fired that agent but what I should have done is have Martialla twist his nuts off.  Acting and singing wasn’t enough for you, Ben Reese?  That’s the problem with Hollywood, they always want you to do something other than the thing you’re good at.   You’re good at sports?  You should have a talk show.  You’re a good writer?  Try directing.  It’s like a disease they have.   

In a big plane you maybe look out the window once during takeoff but after that you toss back your Xanax with a rum and coke and you sleep the rest of the flight.  After that there’s nothing to see but clouds anyway.  On a small plane you might watch the ground below you for twenty or thirty minutes but even that gets boring pretty quickly.  That must be why birds are always hopping around on the ground.  The air is lame.  A small plane is the worse of the two because you can’t take a pill lest you put yourself in a position for the pilot to molest you.  You just have to sit there awake and aware and bored the entire time. 

This was the smallest plane ever but even so on this flight I had no desire to pass out, and not just because of the threat that Martialla might feel me up.  I was fascinated by the land below us.  Normally you get up in the air and the land below starts to look a lot better.  Get far enough away and old Lady USA unveils her hidden beauty like a movie librarian taking off her glasses and letting down her hair.  But that was before.  That’s not now.   

The land I saw was ugly and cancerous.  It looks like a mass of scar tissue, as if what’s left of humanity is trying to build a new society atop a giant calcifying septic wound.  The land looks so grey it doesn’t seem like anything could be alive down there, and the patches of bluish-purple that seem to throb like veins don’t give me much hope of life either.  It was revolting and I couldn’t look away.   Like watching Martialla strain to open a pickle jar.

Down on the ground the air seems gritty and hazy, like there’s a low-level dust storm happening at all times.  You get up up a ways into the sky and that clears out, but what was revealed was even worse.  There were no fluffy white clouds, just long banks of swirling air that seemed diseased and yellow.  I wouldn’t call them clouds, they were more like floating mudbanks in a polluted river of air.  Some of them seemed so solid that I could have stepped out of the plane and walked on them.   

Martialla seemed unconcerned by all of this, when we landed all she had to say was “I’d call that a successful test flight.” 

I looked over at her “What was that thing you were always going on about in the land before time, where you wanted everyone to have compost heaps and not flush the toilet because otherwise the land dies?” 

She raised an eyebrow “Ecosystem collapse?  The drastic, potentially permanent reduction in the land’s carrying capacity for all organisms, resulting in mass extinction?” 

I nodded “Yeah, that’s the one.  Do you think that has happened based on what we just saw?  Is this all for nothing?” 

She frowned “Is what all for nothing?”

I held my arms up “All of this, you know . . . everything, surviving, trying to rebuild society.” 

She chuckled wryly “Rebuild society?  Is that what we’re doing?  I thought we were staggering from disaster to disaster like drunks with the vague goal of killing Duke Eagle the Vain for no real reason other than he seems like a dick.” 

I frowned at her harder “First of all, what better reason is there for killing someone than them being a dick?  And second of all, you know what I mean.” 

She hopped out of the plane and started messing with the engine again “Not really.  If there was ever any point to human existence I don’t know what it was.  I’d like the world to return to a state where I could get some ice cream with chocolate syrup.  I’m not sure that makes anything ‘worth it’.  Fires, landslides, flooding, severe weather events, disease, invasive insects, organ thieves, California’s been collapsing for a long time.  Either something else will take its place or it won’t.  We’ve already seen a bunch of different freakshow animals so things are fine I’m sure, ecologically I mean.  Life finds a way and Jeff Goldblum and so forth.  Not like we can do anything about it anyway.” 

“You’re a real breath of fresh air.”   

“So you’re always telling me.  Remember that movie where you played a colonial marine?  You guys ran out of orders on Smarkulon Five so you just started making up your own.  Think of it like that.  Let’s not worry too much about the state of the biosphere.  We just captured this literal Paradise, which is not an ironic name at all, and we have a plane now.  Things are looking up for us finally and now you’re getting all weepy?” 

I scowled at her “I’m not weepy . . . I’m just . . . you know . . .” 

She smiled back at me “Ela I never know with you.”