After the break we have the first single from the new album Freaking Digging Machine

A mysterious hole in the ground containing a large slab of metal in it was intriguing enough that we stuck around Wyo despite the fact that it could have just been a big piece of an old sign for the world’s largest rocking chair.  We lost even more people to the monotony of excavation.  I suppose that’s the drawback of enticing people to fight for you purely on the basis of fun and profit – once there’s no longer any fun or profit to be had how are you going to keep them down on the farm? 

Once we had done enough digging that it clear that we had no interest in killing Sordee the rest of his facepaint 127 people crept into town in small groups.  All in all those small groups ended up being more than a hundred people with more than two dozen fighting vehicles.  Ten of these vehicles were heavily armed and armored, which is a lot of heavy armed and armored vehicles by the standards of the day. 

Martialla pointed out unhelpfully that if they had participated in the defense of Wyo they could have shifted the balance against us.  When I told her to stop being a nervous Nelly she pointed out even more negatively that if they wanted to they could probably recapture the town/slaughter us right now since most of our horde had left.   

She’s a real buzzkill that one.   

While our people weren’t super pumped about digging for days the 127ers approached the task with something bordering on religious fervor.  They dug into the ground like it owed them money or slept with their spouse or both.  Someone on our side did bring in a six-wheeled segmented machine with a digging blade/drill/saw/arm on the front.  Where the hell did that come from?  Was that with us the entire time and I never noticed it?  Why would someone have that?  Did they just build it right there?  Wherever it came from it was helpful. 

Even with a freaky digging machine (note to self-Freaky Digging Machine would be a good album name) the work was mostly people hauling buckets of dirt and breaking their backs like in a movie where they dig up an old Egyptian tomb that unleashes a horrible monster or a curse.  Or a monster’s curse.  Or a cursed monster.  People in movies really shouldn’t be digging up old tombs.  Of course that would be a pretty boring movie if they didn’t.

While the excavation was going on some of the people that weren’t interested in digging but hadn’t left yet took what salvage was left from the battle and hammered together some more vehicles.  These future mutants don’t look like much but I’m impressed by their ingenuity.  Maybe that’s the blessing of junk-mobiles, they’re low tech enough that they’re kind of modular?  One gets smashed to bits and you just add those bits to something else. 

While we were digging some of the Wyomins that headed for the hills came back to town.  I don’t know if they were expecting us to have left so they could go back to their homes or if they wanted those battlefield scraps but they looked disappointed either way.  Some of them talked to the 127s and eventually they came into town and jointed the fun.  Most of them anyway, some of them went back into the mountains.  To die I assume.   

On the third day we found an edge to the metal and when we dug down alongside that we uncovered a door and what was left of a twisted catwalk and/or ladder.  At this point Martialla once again brought up that what she’d really like to have is some ground penetrating radar.  I hate when she does that.  I’d like to have an ice cream sundae and a beer that isn’t made from squashed armadillo testicles but it aint going to happen.  There’s no use in pining after the impossible.   

They turned the digging machine on the door but it didn’t do shit other than permanently damage the hearing of everyone in a fifty-foot radius with the sound of screeching metal.  Our most powerful explosives (which Martialla said weren’t very powerful but what the hell does she know about it?) didn’t crack it open either.  Additional digging uncovered some massive slabs of concrete, and I mean massive.  Like Hoover Dam massive.  I wonder if that thing is still around.  I can’t remember if they said that the Hoover Dam would last forever or if it would fall apart in like a week without maintenance.  It was one of the two.   

A guy with giant hands and spindly chicken legs told us that based on what he was seeing it would take weeks or months to dig up the whole thing.  He speculated that this was an underground complex that had been buried and then the earth shifted and part of it had been broken open.  He suggested that if we did some directional boring (which sound boring!) in a spot where he claimed he could tell there was a fissure that might get us some answers faster.  Seemed as good an idea as anything.  I admit that at that time I was losing enthusiasm for the project, I probably would have agreed to almost anything.  Almost.   

The man with the plan and the giant hands was right.  They carved out a reverse step pyramid into the ground to the south and they dug into a collapsed section of concrete, torn asunder by the mighty power of the earth rolling over like a lazy cat on a couch.  At this point the digging became even more slow and boring, painstaking I suppose you’d call it.  Which is a strange word.  Seems like it should mean that you’re betting an amount of pain.  Language is a funny.   

Now then, once they started pulling out debris and bodies it became a lot more interesting.  At first it was some big twisted sheets of metal.  And a bunch of smaller chunks mixed in with the dirt and concrete.  Then came the arm.  Aside from being dark blue, almost purple, it was a perfectly  preserved arm.  Actually preserved isn’t even the right word, it looked like it was still alive.  When you touched it, which I did, it felt like touching, you know, an arm attached to a person.  I’m not expert on wounds by any means but the ragged end didn’t look like anything I had ever seen.  The arm had been ripped off and there was stuff dangling but it didn’t seem like it was damaged if that makes sense.  It was as if a super realistic dummy had been made and then you tore its arm off.  

Clearing out more rubble revealed pieces of what looked like giant metal coffins along with a staggering array of pieces of human bodies.  It was simultaneously less and more horrible because they were toy-like and bloodless.  It seemed like you could just stick them back together like some kind of demented puzzle.  But you couldn’t.  Because by all accounts they were actual body parts.   

Eventually came to what looked like a piece of a roof that had been twisted down like a pipe cleaner and after digging underneath that and clearing away more dirt (and other stuff) we were inside a what used to be a room.  Scattered through the dirt (and other stuff) were more intact pieces of the metal coffins, enough that you could decipher their original size and shape.  They were as large as a small car and each one appeared to contain just one body.  By the flickering light of a lantern filled with glowing bug-guts I looked over at Martialla.   

“Well this is about the damnedest funerary practice that I’ve ever seen.  Is this a modern mummification deal?  Are we going to find traps and a big room filled with gold donkeys?” 

Martialla shook her head “This isn’t burial.  Well, it is because they’re literally buried, but they’re not dead.  Or they weren’t rather.  Not when they went under.” 

“What are you talking about?” 

She pointed to the wall where you could just barely make out, in large block letters with a red and white background written in both English and French “Bio-Stasis 7”. 

Joey Indiana and the Stuff from the Bible

Martialla and I (and Paul) did pick through Wyo while the majority of our “army”, excepting our core cadre and some other hopeful lingerers, headed back west to spread the tales of their victory and enjoy their ill-gotten gains.  We didn’t find anything that explained why they were there.  Martialla thought maybe they went into the mountains to forage for food, but why wouldn’t they just live in the mountains then?  Why would they form a community at all?   

As Martialla and I were picking through people’s shanties and tents (not that there was much to pick) one of the Prairie Dogs (or whichever animal gang they were from) started hooting and hollering that there were people coming, and indeed there were.  Three ragged looking people in the brown shirts, red headbands, and stupid facepaint of the folks we had fought up in the hills.  They had their hands, not up exactly, but out in the universal gesture for “please god don’t shoot us we don’t really want to be here”.   

Since I had just survived one assassination attempt I had them thoroughly searched (and I mean thoroughly you catch my drift) and stayed well out of knife range just in case.  I wonder how long that level of caution will stick with me.  A couple weeks maybe.  The designated speaker said that her name was Bjorn Borg or Kolnjorn Hejne or some other Ikea sounding words.   

Here’s the deal with these future people, they are technically speaking English (mostly there’s some other stuff in there too) like they’re using the same words, but they’re not using them the way you expect and they’re talking really fast like they have marbles in their mouths.  It reminds me of Inspector Kemp in Young Frankenstein, you can more or less make out their meaning but you can’t really understand it.  Does that make sense?   

Anyway, the three Facepaint people pulled up their rags like the world’s worst strip tease and showed me that they all had the number 127 burned/carved into their ribs.  They seemed to expect that this would mean something to me.  I nodded sagely and told them to continue with their mostly incoherent mumbling. 

The gist of it was that their leader wanted to speak with me but sent them in first to make sure we weren’t going to attack them.  I assured them that everything was totally cool and their leader could come on out to chat.  There was then an interminable amount of time trying to set up the meeting and where it would be and so forth, made more painful by the fact that half the time I couldn’t make out what the hell they were saying.   

Eventually I says to them I says “Look, your dude wants to talk to me right?  So have him come here tonight.  You can see how many people are still here, if that scares him then don’t come, I’m tired of talking about this.” 

A few more folks drifted away during the day when it became clear that there was nothing more for them to kill or loot and nothing was on fire to entertain them, but there were still a couple hundred people clumped around Wyo when the leader of the Facepaint brigade came to town.  At first I thought it was a woman riding a mountain goat coming our way (which would have been cool) but instead it was just a very slight man with delicate facial features that had on giant furry leggings that included the goat-head right over his junk.  Since its one hundred and nine degrees his lower body has to be cooked like a Christmas goose under that shit.   

Sordee (as I think his name is) came alone, I assume because he didn’t want any of his people to die if we turned on them – which is dam high standard of wastelands leadership.  I’ve been thinking for a while that it’s weird that I can usually understands the leaders here better but I realized in that moment that what’s happening is that by the time I get to talk to someone in charge I’ve already spoken to an underling, so it’s not that they speak “better” it’s just that I’ve already started to pick up on their accent or whatever you want to call it.   

He showed me the ‘127’ etched into his ribs.  Then he pulled from a crude knap-satchel a ragged piece of cloth that had a patch on it, red and gold with a sun and a horse on it that said underneath 127th Armored Cavalry Group.  Then he said, clearly and perfectly understandably “The vigil has been kept.”  I had no idea what to do at this point so I just nodded and he got up and went into a shed-hole and grabbed a shovel and started digging.  Martialla waved over some more people to start helping him dig with whatever implements they could find.   

Martialla looked over at me with an actual legitimate grin “This is exciting, maybe we’ll find the Well of Souls like Indiana Jones.” 

I frowned “Well of Souls?  So these Indiana Jones movies you claim are so popular are supernatural horror stuff?” 

She frowned back at me “No . . . well, I mean yes . . . kinda.  At the end the power of god does melt a bunch of Nazis.” 

I snorted “Yeah, sounds like a great movie.” 

She stomped petulantly like a little kid “It is!  Raiders of the Lost Ark is considered one of the greatest films ever made!  The Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry last year for its historical, cultural and/or aesthetic contributions to society.  And I know you’ve heard of it!” 

“Raiders of the Lost Ark?  I thought you said it was called Indiana Jones, get your story straight.” 

Watching people dig isn’t all that interesting so I admit that I nodded off.  It was well after sun-up when Martialla woke me up and took me to a huge square (more of a rhombus really) they had dug away down a good four feet to reveal a big slab of metal like the side of a silo.  Sordee sat on the side the edge with his feet dangling, one hundred percent grimy with dirt sticking to the sweat on his body, his hands ripped to shreds and beaming a smile like a new father posing for a picture by his exhausted unsmiling wife in the maternity ward.  I hopped/slid down into the hole, my feet hitting the metal with a happy “ping” noise, and hunched down to take a look at the uncovered metal. 

“Huh, well I’ll be.” 

Let me knife you a question

About half the Wyomins left of their own accord went up into the mountains to try make it on their own.  A couple asked for a lift to Crow, a couple managed to integrate themselves into one of the bands on our side, and the rest resigned themselves to a life of mudding in Bosstown.   

Nemecrie was one of the contingent that she wanted to go to Crow, I was halfway considering asking her to join us since she seemed to know what was up but my enthusiasm for that project was dampened when she tried to stab me.  Martialla and I (and Paul) were sitting by J-Lo enjoying the bounty of our victory – cooking up some mashed dick-potato soup and enjoying the lights in the sky – when Nemecrie approached us with a ceramic jug of a wine-like liquid that was horrid but pretty good by the standards of the day.  She joined us for a bit and we chatted and drank and then when she was passing me the jug she lunged at me with a blade.   

I flopped back and she took a strip out of my jacket instead of my flesh.  Martialla tackled her and she had a brief moment to rant about how the Invincible were unbeatable (or invincible if you will) and that Duke Eagle was going to make me his personal slave and so on and so forth before Paul hobbled over and twisted her head like a soda bottle cap.  I guess she was a little more of a partisan for the Invincible than she let on before.

I nudged her dead body with my foot “You know if there’s one good thing about the world of tomorrow . . .” 

Martialla interrupted “Which there isn’t.” 

I nodded “Which there isn’t, but if there was it would be that there doesn’t seem to be a glass ceiling anymore.  Possibly because it’s kind of hard to tell a lot of time what gender people even are.” 

Martialla picked up the jug carefully to avoid spilling any more precious horrible wine “Here’s to you Emmeline Pankhurst, we did it!  Sort of.  And all it took was the total collapse and destruction of all society everywhere. 

“Good work bodyguarding guys” I said as I examined the hole in my jacket. 

Paul’s head snapped around and he stared me with strange wet eyes.  I couldn’t tell if he was going to jump on me and bite my jugular vein or if he was pleased or what was going on behind those crazy eyes.  After holding my gaze for a moment he kind of bobbed his head like an ostrich and then set about dragging the corpse away so it wouldn’t disturb our great feast.  Martialla sat back down and continuing stirring her punch bowl of potato moosh bisque.   

She glanced at his figure retreating into the shadows “I don’t think Paul’s gotten much positive reinforcement in his life so far.” 

I shook my head “I’d be locking my door with that guy around if I had a door.” 

Martialla shook her head absently “He’s harmless, well not harmless he’s killed tons of people, but you know what I mean.” 

“I have no idea what you mean.  So, why do you think this place is here?  Everywhere we’ve been there’s usually there’s some resource like mud or grass or stinking dead fish or some reason why people would want to live there.  I don’t see crops or anything, and it definitely isn’t a trade town so what’s the appea; of this place, why was anyone here?” 

She thought for a moment “That’s actually a good point.” 

“What do you mean actually?” 

Martialla made a vague conciliatory gesture “I just mean that . . . you know . . . usually you don’t . . . you know . . . uh, anyway maybe we should take a closer look around in the morning.  I’m sure they looted this place good but they may not have noticed some things that might be interesting to us.” 

“Speaking of, when the looting stage of the battle began I’m surprised that our side didn’t start fighting amongst themselves.” 

Martialla snorted “What makes you think that they didn’t?  Not all our casualties came during the fighting.  Not even most of them maybe.” 

“Wonderful.  Well, at least we got this campaign off on the right foot with a victory, that’s what matters right?  Good for morale and so forth.” 

“And what’s the next stage in the campaign fearless leader?”  

“We saw a couple Invincible towns or strongholds or whatever when we were scouting right?” 

Martialla raised an eyebrow “Stay on the attack?  Could be a good idea.  I think the general military opinion is that of offense over defense.” 

“Is that why the Lakers never play any defense?”

“Derek Fisher is a solid defender, and Shaq lead the leagues in blocks!”

I snorted “Blocking shots is not defense, you play defense with your feet not your hands.”

Martialla snorted right back “You don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

I nodded my head “True.  My original thinking was that if we provoked the Invincible they’d mobilize more strongly against us and then we could use that to rally people to our cause, but I think now that if we’re going to keep this rabble together we need to stay on the move.  Like a shark we have to keep swimming or we’ll die.” 

“Except the nurse shark.  And the sand tiger.” 

“Shut up Martialla.” 

To the victor go the spoilt potatoes

Martialla harped on me for using too more nanos before I knew if I needed them.  I told her that we didn’t even know how many we had.  She said “exactly my point”.  Her hand wasn’t just bloody, in falling  down the tower she had ripped off her thumb and the tip of her finger next to it.  She also managed to get hit in the face by a ricochet like an idiot.  So she got a shot of the sweet blue stuff as well.  When Paul eventually came out of the woods drenched in blood he was doubled over and limping badly.  His fire pole slide down the tower had ripped up his quads and his hammies and his calves and whatever else leg muscles you have.  I saw that happen to a stuntman once on a jump/tear away awning bit.  I don’t think the stunt even went wrong, I think it was not a well-designed stunt.   

We (well Martialla did since he still can’t look at me directly ) asked Paulie boy if he had any nanos inside him since he’s from the future-past.  He had no idea what we were talking about.  When we explained a little he didn’t seem to know what a robot was.  What was going on Twenty Thirty-Four?  All he seems to remember about the “before time” is candy and Hostess fruit pies and Pop Tarts and cartoons.  And maybe that he had parents of some kinds.  I wonder if he wasn’t sixteen when he got frozen like he says but instead six years old.

Even though she had just been scolding me about wasting them Martialla injected Paul with some blue nanos as well.  Whenever we use them for a while you can see blue lines glowing under our skin like we have circuits under the skin, Martialla says we look like the people in Tron but I wouldn’t know because I’m not a dork.  Nothing like that happened with Paul.  I assume that means they don’t work on him but we’ll know for sure if he’s still limping around in a few days.   

I’ve been wondering about Paul.  He’s walking gingerly but he is walking around on two busted wheels.   He’s sturdier than he should be I feel.  I remember coming home drunk late one night and watching a show on the Discovery channel about how extinct human-like hominids were a more robust than modern humans.  As in they could get trampled by a wooly thoctar and just walk it off.  It wasn’t fun, they weren’t happy about being trampled, but they would live.  Paul seems like that.  Maybe in his time genetic engineering was a thing and he’s not like us physically.  It’s frustrating that he can’t remember and/or is too traumatized to tell us about his life and what was going on then.  I wish he’d quit being a mentally damaged baby.   

We assumed that since we had come under attack that meant that the assault on Wyo was fucked.  I guess that’s self-centered.  Which is on brand for me I admit, but still.  While we were injecting each other like NFL players before the big game we fretfully grabbed our binoculars, expecting to see that “our” forces had driven into a trap and were being ripped apart.  Instead we saw that things were proceeding fine.  The Invincible trucks had moved out to form a makeshift wall in front of the city but it didn’t make much of a difference.  The city (or town, whatever) had no other defenses in place so it was a whirling demolition derby of a battle anyway and our side had more vehicles.   

I bet a real army with that kind of numerical advantage could have taken the town without suffering a lot of casualties but since it was a bunch of violent yahoos on rocket-sleds instead the battle was more tit for tat.  More of them died than “us” but if there had been such a thing as training or tactics or coordination I bet the ratio could have been far more slanted in our favor.  This must be what war was like in the Stone Age, the plan is “hey go over there” and then it’s everyone for themselves in what my dad would have called a donnybrook.  Which is probably racist but he didn’t mean it like that. 

I watched the battle for a while and then helped Martialla gather up all the rifles and other gear from the fallen.  Her gun fever took over and she spent the rest of the time up there fiddling at them.  I wasn’t really listening but she was saying something about how they were muzzle-loaders and that’s why they were never firing shots in quick succession.  She was pretty taken with them for some reason.  I don’t know why you’d be so over the moon about guns that look modern but function like crappy muskets old time, meaning slow.

Once it seemed like the fighting was over and the looting was in full swing Martialla and I (and Paul) headed down to check it out.  Some people were whooping and hollering and shaking their crude weapons in triumph.  The smarter ones were getting down to the serious business to stealing everything.  Everyone was pleased with the outcome but if you break down the numbers I’m not sure it accomplished much, if anything.  Two of the trucks had been filled with skinny weird potatoes that look like dicks, one had weapons and ammo, and the other miscellaneous parts and a couple bikes.  That’s all good but we lost eighteen vehicles in the attack and only captured three combat machines.  With that and the trucks is that a net gain?  I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as people are happy and spread the word that attacking the Invincible is fun and easy.   

I assumed that everyone in the town would be dead after the battle, actually I hadn’t thought about it at all but if you had asked me I would have assumed that, instead there were a bunch of Wyo people standing around waiting to see what horrible fate would befall them.  And everyone was looking to me like I was going to know what to do with them.   

I picked out the tallest of the bunch, she may have been as much as five three, assuming she was the leader.  She said her name was Nemecrie.  I had a tough time understanding her futurespeak but I gathered that until the earthquake opened up a path to the valley the Invincible didn’t come around much on account of some other group – the people with the facepaint and headbands – but once the valley was accessible the Invincible started coming in numbers so the facepaint people left them to die.  So they made a deal with the Invincible.  Which was working out pretty well for them until we showed up.   

I think she’s smarter than your average future mutant, likely because of her great height, because she was laying it on thick that given the situation they had no choice but to sign on with the Invincible and that if our beef was with them we were jerks for attacking Wyo and hurting innocent people.  She may actually have something of a point, but they weren’t hostages to the Invincible.  They signed on with what they thought was the winning side and it didn’t work out for them.  Sucks but that’s life.   

I told her that we had just come to steal all their stuff and we had no designs on raping them to death or whatever normally happens after battles now, they could stay or go or do whatever they wanted.  She pointed out that since we were stealing all their stuff they’d die if they stayed.  I told her we could drop them off at Bosstown if they wanted, as I understand they’re always looking for mudders.