I’ve burned you and you’ve burned me but I know I’ll see you soon

I’m starting to really resent the way Martialla breathes.  When we had the masks on I didn’t notice it, but she emits a high pitched whining noise when she inhales.  It’s not her fault, it’s probably happening because we both have nasal cancer now because of the poison air.  Even so, it’s driving me insane.  I want to reach up her nose and yank some stuff out to make that noise stop.  It reminds me of the time that an ex jammed a whistle in the exhaust pipe of my Jetta.  A constant annoyance.  I spent a ton of money taking that car to different mechanics before one of them figured it out.  Fuck you Harry Tavern, I’m glad you died in the apocalypse. 

Today we stumbled out of the thorn and scrub into a parking lot.  I mean that literally, with the sudden change of terrain, I fell and jammed my wrist.  Maybe broke it, I don’t friggin know.  I know it hurts.  How can terrain change so suddenly?  Partially because I wasn’t paying much attention because I’m exhausted and in a lot of pain.  Also I killed a guy last night.  Which has been on my mind a bit.  But also because this world is insane.  The parking lot was mostly covered by rock.  And I don’t mean it had rocks over it like a landslide, I mean it was like someone melted rocks and poured it over the parking lot like spaghetti sauce and then it hardened back into rock.  What the hell can melt rock like that?  A nuclear missile?  I would have thought it was from a volcano but it was brownish grey and I think lava rock is black.

The part of the parking lot that wasn’t covered with mysterious rock was broken up and had ugly grasses sticking up in irregular clumps between the skeletons of a few wrecked, rusted and burned out and stripped cars.  There was a dog, or something doglike anyway, sniffing around that was roughly the size of an ATV.  Half of its body was covered with hair so coarse it reminded me of a brillo pad and the other half was a mass of ugly goiters with just a smattering of super long hairs that was dripping some kind of oil.  The skin on its head was so tight it was like it just had a naked skull. 

It eyeballed us for a minute but when we pointed our guns it loped off with all the grace of a hyena on stilts crossing an ice skating rink.  If we had more ammunition I would have shot it just on principal.  Well I would have told Martialla to shoot it, but it amounts to the same thing.

If I’m remembering the area correctly, which I’m not, I think we’re in or around where the town of Kelsey once was.

Backed up against one of the thicker parts of the “rockflow” was a cluster of Penske trucks that had been arranged into a camp, like you’d see in an old western when the pioneers circled the wagons.  The addition of barricades of old scrap metal and wood kind of ruined the old west motif, especially the part of the “wall” that was a couple of old coke machines.  The logo was mostly gone but it still made my mouth water.  I’ll probably never have an ice cold Coca-Cola again.  That bothers me almost as much as shooting a guy does.  Almost.

There was an overwhelming chemical smell coming from behind the barricades that stung our eyes even worse than the constant eye stinging we’re being subjected to from the dirty air.  So of course we climbed over to get a better look. 

“Inside” there was a big, and by big I mean the size of a billboard, wooden sign hanging on the side of one of the trucks that had a massive skull painted on it.  Underneath the skull were some words that looked like they were a mixture of the real alphabet plus some made up crap.  Martialla said that it was Cyrillic and Arabic, like she knows anything about languages.  Beside each word was a mark that I’m pretty sure was a number and then a funky symbol a hieroglyph.  Seemed a little like a menu, but for what?  Skulls?

The rest of the place was cluttered with tools and machine parts, way more tools than you would ever need to fix anything.  It was enough tools for an army of mechanics.  There were fifty car batteries in a big bank with wires all across them and a bunch of big oil drums with holes cut in them and pipes and shit.  Martialla said that she thought it might have been a wood gasification boiler which is clearly something she made up on the spot. 

In the middle of the mess was a gas tanker that was slowly leaking something that was causing the eye-stabbing stench.  In and around the toxic mulch were six skeletons with a few bits of metal stuck to them.  I got close enough to identify that at least two of those bits were nipple piercings studs.  It’s like whatever came out of the tank ate away all the flesh and clothing and melded the metal to the bone.  The skeletons were still “together” you know?  Like a skeleton in a biology class.  What the hell would do that?  Without muscle or sinew or whatever, what was keeping them together? 

We were pondering this, I was anyway, I don’t know what Martialla was thinking about, something stupid probably, when I heard a voice, clear as day –

“Where’s the car?”   

Martialla and I aren’t doing very well not getting sneaked (snuck?) up on so far in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Upon?  Sneaked upon?  This is the third time someone’s dropped in on us unannounced.  One of us should have been on guard I suppose.  I wonder if we’ll get the hang of it before we die.  Stayed tuned to find out!  At first glance I thought this sneaker was wearing a crappy leather jacket but I think it was a dark colored pelt.   Probably made of those San Joaquin swamp rats they always used to complain about on the TV.  I bet those things are everywhere now.  

Aside from those murderers with the lumpy-heads he was one of the least ugly people we’ve seen so far.  Don’t get me wrong folks, he was plenty ugly, for instance he was completely walleyed and his lips looked like sideways rutabagas, but he was less ugly than the standard I’ve seen so far is my point.  Plus, he might have been as tall as five six, he was real catch by horrible post-apocalyptic future standards.  

He had a crossbow-like thing in his hand that he jabbed at us angrily as he bellowed.  It was so small it looked like a toy.  I’ve seen the hunting crossbows rednecks carry around and they’re huge.  This thing was smaller than a hair dryer and its arrow was the size of a pencil.  It was hard to be afraid of it even though I’m sure it actually was dangerous.  

He was so worked up he was foaming at the mouth, or maybe his mouth foams all the time “Where’s the stabble car glaad!”

I held my hand up to forestall Martialla from blowing him away “I don’t know what a stabble car glade is but we don’t have a car if that’s what you’re asking.  You’re the first person we’ve met that can talk proper, what’s your story?”

He shook his little crossbow pistol back and forth like a drunken carny trying to stop an out-of-control tilt-a-whirl and horked up yellow spittle as he shouted “Lies!  Where stabble car is glaad!”

“Calm down dude, if you keep waving that thing around, my friend here is going to shoot your balls off.”

He frowned with his entire face.  It was like his entire head was made up of frown lines.  You ever see one of those nature shows where the little coral polyps or whatever retract back into the ground all at once?  It looked kind of like that.

“Balls?  No balls!  Clamp, give where car!”

“No balls huh?  That’s unfortunate.  How is the world going to recover if a fine example of humanity like yourself can’t pass on their genes?  Look, we don’t have a car, how about we all just take it down a notch and just talk yeah?  See we’re new in town and . . .”

He shrieked like an electrocuted raccoon and stomped towards me with his non-crossbow hand out like he was going to grab my leg.  I had been standing on part of the barricade to look into a box of tools when he sneaked up on us so his head was a little below crotch level.  I don’t know what he thought he was going to do, did he expect I was just going to stand there like a frightened tapir and let him manhandle me?  When he got close, I kicked him straight in the chest and it crunched like a car running over a crate of fortune cookies.  He collapsed to the ground gasping like an asthmatic Chihuahua.

Martialla scowled at me accusingly “Jesus Ela, was that necessary?”

“I barely touched him!  How friggin’ brittle are people’s bones now?!”

I’ve chased you to embrace you, like the sun chases the moon

In my old life, which was a few days ago and/or a hundred years ago, sometimes at night I’d have a bad dream.  I’d dream that I was being chased by a giant spider with my dad’s head or I’d be trapped underwater or I’d be alone in the frozen wilderness, snow falling with nothing around for thousands of miles.  But I’d wake up.  The dream would be over.  A wave of relief would wash over me.  I wasn’t being chased or drowning or freezing, I was in my warm soft bed with my Egyptian cotton sheets and my Frette linens.  Everything was fine.  No, everything wasn’t fine, everything was great!  I was rich (well maybe not rich rich but I was doing well). I was an excellent actress and a fantastic singer, I was world renowned (well maybe not world but I was doing well) and most importantly of all I was pretty, so very very pretty.  Everyone said so.

Now it happens the other way round.  In my dreams everything is okay and when I wake up it’s a nightmare.  The bad things are true and those other things are just in my head.  I smile in my sleep sometimes, I can feel it in my cheeks.  But then I wake up.  No matter how tightly I close my eyes and will myself back to the dream, I can’t make it happen.  Those nice things I dream about are gone.  The hard ground underneath me is here.  The ache in my legs and back and shoulders is here.  Why does walking make my shoulders hurt?  It makes no sense.  I wake up and it all comes back.  I wake up and everything is not great.  Everything is not fine.  I am nothing and no one.  

Martialla has been eating about half as much as I have.  She probably thinks I don’t notice.  She’s not as sly as she thinks.  I wish could speak up.  I wish I could tell her she needs her strength too, more than me probably.  I wish I had the lady balls to say “I’m only going to eat as much as you do”.  But I don’t.  I feel like I’m starving and what I really want to do is not sacrifice nobly and share, what I want to do is eat her food too.  A couple energy bars and a handful of mungloaf isn’t enough.  I want to want to be fair and stalwart about the distribution of food but what I really want is to grab the food out of Martialla’s hand and gorge myself like the Cookie Monster.

Martialla saw me eyeballing her as I groaned my way awake “Thinking about seizing all the food and devouring it like Jaws?”

I shook my head haughtily “No not like Jaws at all, I was just thinking about that guy I shot.”

She nodded “Yep, you shot the hell out of him for sure.  Took away all he’s got and all he’s ever going to have.  Took him away from everyone that loved him and put an end to any good he would ever do in the world.”

I bolted upright, which hurt my stiff muscles more than the time I cracked my pelvis playing volleyball in eleventh grade “Jesus Christ Martialla, are you saying he didn’t deserve it?”

She shrugged as if it didn’t matter “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bullet that only hit people who deserved it.  Living a good life isn’t an effective bulletproof vest, the best way to avoid bullets is to be the one pulling the trigger.”

I felt a shiver run through my guts “When did you get so grizzled?”

She gestured around at the broken landscape “Uh, I’m going to guess when you dragged me out of my popsicle tube and the world was all blowed up and my husband and my parents and everyone I ever knew besides you was long dead.  Also I was mostly just paraphrasing Unforgiven, plus a little bit of Copland.”

I nodded “That did sound kind of familiar.”

“This isn’t the movies though, this is apocalypse now . . . not the movie, I mean it’s the apocalypse and it’s now.  Sorry, that was confusing.  You know what I mean.  It’s all gone, it’s just you and me here on the raggedy edge.”

“What are your chances do you reckon?”

Martialla looked around again as if assessing “Not good, but all is not lost.  We’re smart and we’re resourceful, if we work together I think we can get through this.”

“And what does that mean?  What are we getting through to?  That’s what I’m having the hardest time with.  What’s the goal?  Staying alive?  To what end?  Doesn’t there have to be something to fight for?  You need something to be planning towards right?”

She shrugged “I’m not sure what else there is at this point.  Maybe finding something to live for is goal one.  Start with that.”

“Searching for meaning at the end of the world huh?  That’s some kind of philosophical thingamajig if ever there was one.  You remember Tim Kragt?”

She frowned “The stunt coordinator?  I’m the one who introduced you to him.”

I frowned back at her “So you remember him then.  We were training one time and I was feeling pretty saucy about myself and my ‘skills’ so I asked him what I should do if someone attacked me for real, you know, what move I should use.  And he said that if a man ever attacked me in earnest, what I should do is run.  I didn’t like that answer.  I goaded him into ‘sparring’ for real.  He didn’t even hit me really, it was more like a shove, and I flew back like I was nothing.  He told me that wasn’t even half his strength.  He told me if someone wanted to hurt me, I should run as fast as I could.  And if I couldn’t get away, then beg them not to hurt me.  It really stuck in my craw.”

“Why are you bringing up Tim Kragt now?”

“Last night I watched you hack a man to death with a tomahawk, and then stomp another man’s skull in.”

“And?”

“And that’s what it made me think of.  Tim Kragt telling me to beg for my life.”

She stared at me for a long time and then shook her head slowly “Jesus Christ Ela, this isn’t some feminist roundtable, this is survival.  It’s not some action movie either, this is real god damn life with real consequences and real death.  Running away is a great idea!  I wish I could have run away but I couldn’t leave you there asleep, now could I?”

My face got hot “So what, it’s my fault?  Is that what you’re saying?!”

“I’m not saying anything, you’re the one who brought up fucking Tim Kragt for no reason!”

My head sings, and the steel rings

Our first night outside was really something.  I’ve never seen the Northern Lights before, spoiler, they’re spectacular.  I mean sure, the fact that we’re seeing the aurora borealis from Sacramento County is probably not a good sign for the health of planet but that doesn’t make it any less pretty.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you understand why religion exists.  A caveman sees something like that and they’re going to get ideas.

When the dust in the air clears for a minute, if you squint, you can see them during the day too – which really doesn’t seem like a good sign for the health of the planet.  Although for my betting dollar, the fact that there doesn’t appear to be moon anymore is a lot more concerning than the not-so-northern lights.  Don’t we need that for the tides?  I don’t know why the tides are important but some nerd told me (at length) that without the tides all life would break down.

As wonderful as the lights were, what really made the night memorable was the murder.  

When we were too tired to want to do any more walking, we sat down.  Martialla and her husband used to go camping so I expected her to do something camping-like but she just sat there.  In the movies don’t they always make a camp?  I guess to do that we’d have to have blankets or a tin of beans to cook over a fire or a rope to put around ourselves to keep snakes away.  Instead we have a couple of energy bars and some wads of “food” that look like dirty rags with mold on them and taste even worse than dirty rags with mold on them.  My stomach has never been this cramped for this long.  I haven’t puked this much since I was a freshman.  I feel like I’ve already drank half our water.  Possibly because I have.

I didn’t think I would fall asleep because it was still daylight when we stopped, for one, and because I was still having a coughing fit every few seconds for two, but next thing I knew I was startled out of a dead sleep.   That’s when I saw the aurora.  It takes your breath away.  It’s like waves in the sky, waves of colors that you wouldn’t expect to exist in nature.  When you hear about the northern lights you think “oh, some lights in the sky, kinda neat” but when you see it yourself it blows your friggin’ mind.  

I was distracted by that for a moment but I realized that I was awake because Martialla had stepped on me.  I turned to scold her for not watching where she put her giant feet when she clomps around like a plow horse but those words died on my tongue when I saw that the reason she had stomped on me was because she was struggling with someone.  He was almost as tall as her, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but it made him a giant among the men we’d seen so far.  His elbows stuck out like the back legs of a grasshopper and instead of normal hair he had patches of white scrub like a shaved poodle, not just on the scalp but also on his face where there should have been eyebrows and eyelashes.

They had their arms locked together like it was an Olympic wrestling trial and I saw that the reason she hadn’t called out to wake me up was because another smaller guy had wrapped himself around her like a backpack and also happened to be throttling her like a chicken.  And that’s when I noticed that there was a third guy, all elbows and bobbing Adam’s apple and wet eyes, looking on holding a scrap of metal that was something like a knife and nervously looking for a stabbing angle.

I won’t lie.  For a second I was immobilized.  In that second I could no easier have moved a single inch than Jennifer Lopez could have won an Oscar.  When she was alive I mean.  Martialla was literally fighting for her life and I just sat there.  Maybe I should be proud of myself that it was only a second?  That I did act instead of being frozen while she got killed.  But I don’t think so.

When I did finally move, my muscles were so stiff and cramped that I almost screamed in pain just from sitting up.  When I reached for my gun, my shoulder and lower back sang with pain so intensely that I thought that I was going to pass out.  But I didn’t.  Sitting on your ass is probably not a recommended firing position that would be advised by even the most lackadaisical firearms instructor, but that’s what I went with.  When I pulled the trigger and nothing happened, I felt something seize up deep inside me.  I wonder what organ that was.  It was down low, under the beltline, could it be the uterus?  Does the uterus constrict when you’re scared out of your mind?

My first thought was that despite all Martialla’s cleaning and brushing and bland assurances, a one hundred- and thirty-year-old Beretta 92S with one hundred- and thirty-year-old ammo was never going to fire.  That it was jammed or broken or something and I was sitting there with a three-pound paperweight in my hand.  My life didn’t flash before my eyes, all I thought was “Well, I guess I should throw this fucking thing and then go die with Martialla.”  Good thing I remembered the safety.  

I’ve never fired a gun before without ear guards on.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  I was worried that the muzzle flash would blind me but I didn’t see anything.  Maybe it’s because the lights in the sky were so bright?  It was about the same amount of ambient light as a cloudless sky with a bright moon.  Is that enough to smother a muzzle flash?  I wish I could say that I picked my target and shot at the knife-holder because that was the safest way not to risk hitting Martialla.  The truth is he just happened to be who I was looking at.  If I hadn’t seen him I’m sure I would have fired into the scrum.  

I think the two guys wrestling with Martialla were more shocked by the noise of the gun than the guy I shot was by being shot.  They jumped away from Martialla like frogs off an electric fence and looked around like they had no clue what had just happened.  The guy with the knife stood there gaping at me accusingly like he couldn’t believe what I had done.  His face had a hurt look on it like that of a little kid, as if he was saying “What did you do that for?  Why did you kill me?  We were just trying to kill you.”

The knife tumbled from his hand and he put his fingers to his neck and started to stumble around in a little zig-zag, like he kept changing his mind on which way to go.  Martialla did not freeze.  She seized that moment to grab one of the weapons from our stockpile.  I don’t even know what it would have been used for in the real world.  It was a titanium rod about two feet long with a metal piercing nub about finger length on the end, kind of like one of those sticks for picking up trash but in an L-shape.  Honestly my thought was that it was a “high-tech” version of a board with a nail in it.  Where does something like that come from?  A slaughterhouse?  

She clubbed one of her attackers in the side of the knee and when he went down she smashed the “blade” into the side of his head.  I had a flashback to the Applied Cryogenics guy getting an axe in the face.  I should have saved that flashback though because the third guy ran and Martialla chased him down with a hatchet and hit him in the back what seemed like fifty times.  The guy I shot eventually fell to his hands and knees but he kept crawling around for what seemed like a full five minutes before he stopped moving.  

But the horrorshow wasn’t over yet because the guy with the metal rod in his head wasn’t dead.  He laid face down in the dirt and burbled and burped and slobbered like a hungry baby until Martialla stomped on the back of his head a few times.  When she looked down at me her face was so pale I thought I would be able to see right through her skin.  I’m not sure if she was panting or hyperventilating or both.

She managed to gasp out “Good shot.”

Eventually I managed to croak back while I looked at the green and purple skies shimmering above us “Lovely evening isn’t it?”

I’ve retraced every scar

Because it wasn’t bad enough that I’m dying of food poisoning and have a snake bite on my ass and the wound is probably infected, now thanks to Martialla, I also probably have Dengue fever or Hippo pox or whatever you get from roughly a million gallons of dirty tar-water-oil being flooded into all the holes in your head.  When Martialla fired at the beast, it charged at us because of course it did!  Why would it not charge at us?  You mess with the bull you get the horns.  Or rather, as my grandmother used to say, you can’t go looking around with hot water and then act shocked when you get burned a little bit.  

When it came at us it seemed like it pushed half the entire lake in front of it – I’ve seen surfers on smaller waves out at the Wedge.  It was like a dam had broken.  It was like a fucking tsunami.  I suppose that worked out in our favor though because it was such a deluge of water flying at us that we were washed away a good thirty yards or so instead of being seized in the creature’s jaws or tentacles or claws or acid-pouch or whatever other weird mutant grabbers it had. 

We were yanked off our feet and sent spinning around like a mouse in a washing machine.  My mask was knocked off and pretty much every crease and crinkle in my body was aggressively infiltrated with filthy water.  Filthy isn’t even a strong enough word.  Sludge is what it was.  Or some kind of slurry.  It was like that slime they dump on people at the kid’s choice awards only with slightly more typhus.  I thought I had a bad cough before, for a good half an hour after Martialla’s stupid maneuver got me drenched and full body enema-ed, I coughed so much my ribs felt like they were cracking in half.  Lengthwise I mean.  

When I finally managed to stop hacking and snorting the mud out of my face and staggered to my feet, there was no sign of the beast.  Which is good because it easily could have killed us all while we were half-drowned and all filth-spattered.  Our guide was not pleased by this turn of events.  Not because he was drenched with garbage juice which would have been reasonable, because I think he was actually cleaner afterwards, or because our attempt at beast slaying was an utter failure, but because we had fired a gun.  He was very upset about that.  He said that guns were not allowed around here.  What the hell did he think we were going to do?  Jump in the water and wrestle the sharktopusgatorphant with our bare hands?  

A bunch more dudes from the village with sticks showed up to tell us we were banished forever, not just from that village but from all the villages around the lake of disgusting filmy grime water.  What would have been funny is if we shot them all while they yelled at us and shook their sticks in our faces about how guns were not okay.  Irony?  But we didn’t shoot them while they yelled at us and shook their sticks in our faces.  What would have been the point?  There’s nothing quite like being banned from a place you don’t want to go to anyway.  Like that time I was told never to return to Chuck-E-Cheese.  

We managed to pull our masks out of the muck but since all the filters for them got covered with mud and crud and scrud, there was no reason to put them back on our faces.  I wore mine on my head like a hat, a little dash of post-apocalyptic flare.  We headed north into (out of?) exile from grosstown because it seemed like the easiest path.  For several hours, any time either of us tried to speak we were arrested by a coughing fit but eventually as we trudged along to nowhere, we managed to croak words at each other.

“Are we going to get used to this air quality or die of cardiopulmonary disease?”

Martialla though a moment before answering “Yes?”

“Remember in that movie Speed when Keanu accidentally stabs the gas tank of the bus with a screwdriver and then the girl from the Net asks him if he felt like being on a bus with a bomb wasn’t a big enough challenge for him?  I’m trying to think of a line like that for you trying to drown us with a septic pit wave.”

“Well keep working on it, I’m sure it will come to you.  Weren’t you supposed to be in Speed Three?”

I couldn’t help but spit, and not because my esophagus was coated with crude oil “Yes but that mother fucker Jason Patric said that I was too old to be his love interest.  I’m ten years younger than him!”

“In Hollywood that does make you too old to be the love interest doesn’t it?  If he’s in his mid-thirties, wouldn’t they have needed to cast a middle schooler as the female lead?”

“Yeah well he’s dead now, and good riddance I say.  You ever see that movie Narc?  What a piece of crap.”

“Speed Two wasn’t bad enough for you as a reference?”

I looked around at the blighted and benighted landscape “I can’t say that I ever gave much thought to what I would be doing after the end of the world, but criticizing the career works of Jason Patric with you is not what I would have expected at all.”

“Funny, I expected nothing else.”

OOC – Find a crew, find a job, keep flying

If I don’t get sick of writing this blog or die, someday I’ll do a sci-fi Ela story.  I heard 5 Parsecs from Home was pretty cool so I preordered the 3rd edition a while back.  Several weeks after it was released and everyone else bought a copy in stores, I got my pre-order copy.  I’m not bitter about it. 

I haven’t gotten into it too much but on first glace it seems pretty dope.  To the interest of no-one, here’s what this future sci-fi story crew might look like 5 Parsecs style.

We start of course with Ela, who will be a baseline human because that’s what she is.  Her background will be Peaceful High-Tech Colony because I want her to have +1 Savvy.  Savvy is basically a catch all for everything you do that’s not combat, kind of a mix of wit and charm and skillfulness.  Her motivation will be REVENGE because Duke Eaglevane must die no matter what the genre – this is the Ela singularity.  Her class will be Artist.  

Next up we have her not-faithful not-sidekick Martialla.  She’ll be a mutant which means her background is automatically Lower Class Megacity, which sounds about right for the Ela-Martialla relationship pattern.  I don’t want her motivation to be the same as Ela’s and there is no rescue my relative option so I rolled and got Survival.  Works for me.  Her class is Starship Crew since she’s traditionally an able sea(wo)man. 

Then we have faithful trustworthy old Blue.  He will be a Stalker because they’re blue aliens.  No other reason.  His background is Military Outpost because that’s his thing.  His Motivation is Loyalty.  Does Ela deserve his loyalty?  Sometimes more than others.  His class is Soldier. 

That’s it for our old stand-bys so let’s get into some random generation.  A 5 Parsecs crew is six people normally. 

First up we got a Bot.  That’s it, bots don’t roll for anything else, they’re just bots.  I shall call the bot Enhanced Learning Android or E.L.A.  The backstory is that Ela found an old C3-PO in a trash heap and fixed it up to be her handmaiden, (not) human shield, and general helper.  Not 3 Laws Safe at all. 

Next up I roll an ‘Oddity’ and rolling again on the oddity chart we get Emo-Suppressed.  This is not your niece who doesn’t have any money to go to Hot Topic, they’re someone who’s been nerved stapled to get rid of emotion beyond those needed for survival.  Because of this motivation is automatically Survival.  Rolling I get a background of War-Torn Hellhole and a class of Troubleshooter.  No need to get fancy here, this guy was clearly a special ops dude on murder planet 8000 and he didn’t want to feel anything anymore so when he got out of there he had them Eternal Sunshine him.  I shall call him Spock. Death Spock.  No, Doc. 

For our last crewmember I once again get Oddity and Emo-Suppressed, sometimes procedural generation gives you a lot to work with sometimes it doesn’t. Rolling a background of Giant Overcrowded Dystopia City and a class of Scientist.  It’s tempting to have the two emos have a shared background but I’m going to pass.  I’ll say that this person was trying to use science to un-dystopia their home and in desperation to be better at science to save the world underwent a treatment to enhance their logic that had the side effect of snuffing out their emotes.  When they didn’t have feelings anymore they realized that they didn’t care about helping their city anymore.  Backfired!  She shall be called Valeris.

Origin of the group is that Ela hired everyone and their “reputation” is Starport Scum.  Going through the gear isn’t that interesting (unlike the rest of this, zing!)  so I’ll just touch on a couple equipment things.  I rolled an AI companion which will be the Extended Linguistics Algorithm or E.L.A – the hilarious mix-up dialog practically writes itself! 

The gear doesn’t have to be assigned to anyone, it’s all mish-mash mix’em up but based on the rolls in order Emo man #1 got a boarding saber and a blade for weapons which I’m going to stick with.  This dude was nucking futs on the battlefield of his warzone/home, running around twin-swording it like there was no tomorrow.  Even though is brain has been stamped the rage still lurks below and his swords call out for blood.

I don’t know yet if the rules allow for double pistolero action but I gave Ela both the beam pistols I rolled anyway because that’s a total Ela move.  One of them has a laser sight.  Pew-pew!  That’s the mic and if you don’t hear her she’s got a back-up mic, know what I mean?  She has also the cyber-arm because robot arms are totally SCI-FI. 

So we have Ela and her quest for vengance, one person who’s loyal to her, a robot that obeys her, and three people that have no ambition beyond survival.  That does sound like a crew Ela would assemble – no reason to get things all confused with other people having their own hopes and dreams.  Good work random die rolls!

Normally you roll for a ship as well but if/when I ever actually work on this I’m going to go with the no ship option because that fits in with the standard “Ela” has been left for dead in an unpleasant place.  Speaking of let’s roll for the starting planet and we get Ice World.  Perfect.  Ela has been stranded on Hoth and has to find a way off world to get on the trail of that dastardly Duke Eaglevane. 

I’ve missed you, you know that’s true

I used to have no opinion about snakes.  Why would I?  We rarely had any cause to interact.  Early in my career I booked a gig where they put a snake on me for a vodka ad (or something, print ads are weird, you never know where the pictures end up) one of those pythons that guys with ponytails have.  I don’t know why that’s a thing, putting a snake on a sexy lady, are there that many snake weirdoes out there for that to be a thing?  Anyway, I didn’t mind that snake, I’ve had worse co-stars you know.  AHEM Matthew Broderick.  

That was before.  Now I hate snakes.  I hate them more than I hate the Valley.  I wasn’t doing anything to that snake, why did it have to bite me?  It’s unjust is what it is.  And consider this, it seems that human beings are universally ugly and lumpy and dirty now (not that 95% of them weren’t uggos before) that being the case, my ass is most likely the best ass in the world.  What happened to me would be like someone vandalizing the Mona Lisa in the olden times.  Or something better than the Mona Lisa since the Mona Lisa kind of sucks.  Have you ever seen it?  It’s like the size of a postcard.  

My ass shouldn’t be getting gnawed on by California mountain snakes, it should be getting rubbed with fine oils and liniments.  Who had the best ass in the world before was debatable, but there’s no question now – my ass is a national treasure.  Or it would be if nations still existed.  To the people of this world my ass must be like an eclipse, so powerful and majestic that you need to look at it through a hole in a cardboard box.  If and when they reinvent navigation, sailors will come to me and say “Ela, your butt is so round and perfect we need to use it to calibrate our nautical instruments – nothing else exists that is so precise.”  And I’ll allow it, with due care and reverence, knowing full well that the man who undertakes this glorious task will afterwards gouge his eyes out because once you have seen such flawlessness you never want any other image to sully your vision again.  

This is what I was thinking about when I was sitting by the side of the stinking lake of tar-water.  Cantilevered more than sitting upright because of the aforementioned snakebite, leaning against what I initially thought was an ugly scraggy dying tree but I think might be a rock.  That’s the world now, rocks and trees can’t be easily distinguished from each other. Martialla was eyeballing the creature wallowing in the muck trying to decide how best to kill it.  I have to say that she’s adjusting pretty well.  One day you’re picking up my dry cleaning and the next day you’re in the future trying to kill a walrus-bear-octopus-pig-lizard.  That would plumb rattle some folks.  

Although bizarre and large, the beast didn’t look all that dangerous to me.  Of course, neither do hippos and back in my time they killed people constantly.  Three sitting presidents were killed by hippos – one during their inauguration!  I remember seeing that on TV when I was a kid, George Bush running for his life, hapless Secret Service agents being tossed aside as a brutal hippo charged POTUS with murderous eyes rolling like those of a shark.  That’s not the kind of thing you forget.  My dad was laughing like a crazy person.  He voted for Dukakis.  I remember one time I was in New York for a photo shoot and a hippo pod came out of the subway tunnel and into Times Square.  What a mess.  (Martialla’s note, this is all bullshit, hippos are dangerous but everything else here is lies) [Editor’s note, stay away from my journal Martialla!]

“Do you really think you can kill that thing with a handgun?”

Martialla half-shrugged “You can kill anything if you shoot it enough.”

“I don’t know if that’s true.  Wasn’t there a story in the paper the other day about a zoo elephant going berserk and killing its trainer?  I believe the police shot it more than a hundred times with their sidearms to no effect until the SWAT guys showed up with an RPG and took it down.”

She turned around to scowl at me “The LAPD did not kill an elephant with a rocket propelled grenade!”

I bit my lip in thought “Maybe it was an APC.”

Martialla scowled harder, that woman could scowl the bark off a tree (or a rock that looks like a tree) “That . . . that doesn’t even make sense.”

“Whatever it was the point I was trying to make is that small arms fire didn’t hurt it.  Don’t you hear the same thing about alligators and bears and so forth?  This thing seems to be a combination of all of them, plus some other stuff.  I think there’s some garbage pail kid in there.”

“Weren’t you in the garbage pail kids movie?”

“No, that was Katie Barberi.”

Martialla nodded absently “Oh yeah.”

I watched her watching the motionless creature for a while “Even if you can kill this thing, is it worth the ammunition?  I’m pretty sure you don’t know how to forge bullets and even if you did, I doubt there’s any gunpowder to be had.  Shouldn’t we only use our guns as an absolute last resort?”

She let out a long breath “It does piss me off when the survivors in zombie movies shoot their guns into the air or just shoot at things to make a point.  It’s horribly wasteful.”

“No one would watch a movie where the characters didn’t make bad decisions constantly. What are you trying to do, put me out of a job?”

Martialla smiled shortly “I hate to break it to you L, but I think you’re already out of a job.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not, I could travel around doing Shakespeare like in that movie the Postman.”

Martialla shook her head “That movie was awful.  Could you do that?  Do you have any of the works of Shakespeare memorized?”

“No, but what difference does it make?  I can make up whatever I want and just tell people that it’s Shakespeare, everyone who knows better is dead.  I could tell them George Bush was eaten by a hippo and they’d believe it.”

“Now there’s an idea for a movie, they unfreeze a caveman from a glacier and he’s a huge liar.  All the historians and anthropologists come to talk to him and he tells them that in caveman times they had hot air balloons and thousand foot tall rollercoasters and they rode around on dinosaurs.”

I snorted “See, that right there is why there are no good parts for women in movies, why does it have to be a cave MAN, you traitor?”

“What about that movie where you played the CEO of an auto company who was also a superhero fighting aliens by night?”

“Okay, that was a good role.  That movie got really screwed up in editing though.”

Martialla continued eyeing the creature with a mixture of apprehension and eagerness “It probably is a waste of ammunition but I think the bottom line is that I just really want to shoot something.  I think it will make me feel better.  You know, about the world being destroyed and my husband being long dead.”

“Well as long as you have a good reason.  Do you think you can take it out with one shot?  What if it charges us?”

She looked back at me with a look of pure condescension “It’s not going to charge us Ela.”

OOC – Bonus buffoonery

I saw Kelly LeBrock at Quiznos the other day and it got me to thinking about Weird Science.  I wondered if they ever explained what was going on there.  I went back and read the plot synopsis and no, they do not explain anything. 

Two super gross disgusting nerds write a computer program and all of a sudden it “comes alive” and is a sexy lady?  There’s no way to make sense of that right?  At the time the movie came out that was probably true, but with our modern advantages the explanation is easy.  Weird Science is a prequel to the Matrix. 

After the first installment, what the hell is going on in the Matrix becomes violently unclear but a couple things seem to be established.  One – there have been many versions of the Matrix before.  Two – the entire savior concept is part of the program.  As I remember it, which is poorly probably because I never saw the third movie and I was barely paying attention to the second because it sucked, they implied (or maybe stated outright) that NEO was just the latest of many “The Ones” who came around whenever the Matrix was getting old and outdated and his job was to create a big hub-bub and wipe everything out so they could start fresh with a new version.  NEO was an automated job designed to tear down a server that was getting old and crusty so a new one could be spun up based on the gold image. 

When Lisa shows up in the “real world” and has unexplained magic powers, specifically powers that allow her to manipulate other people – freezing the geezers (good band name, sidenote) turning Chett into a monster, Jedi mind-fudging the bouncer at the dive bar, etc.  Powers that can be explained if the movie takes place inside the Matrix and she’s a proto-NEO, who as you may remember, was able to manipulate the Matrix (aka “reality”) from the inside. 

Lisa’s powers are more mature than NEO’s in the beginning and there’s a reason for that.  NEO was a real dude in a tube who had “lived” as a Matrix avatar for a good while.  It’s never explained how the different versions of the Matrix work but it’s possible that he had lived many lives before that one in the Matrix as well.  Point being he had a lot of baggage to get over before he could break free of constraints that he thought existed. 

Lisa on the other hand is purely a program, ergo she never had any limitations of scope in her “brain”.  She started doing “magic” stuff right off the bat because she was never trained to believe that she couldn’t.  One day she was just there. 

In order for the Matrix to exist, it has to have some point where it intersects with the real world.  The program has to be running on something.  I submit to you that in Weird Science when the two gross disgusting nerds hack into the “government computers” to give their sexy lady program more power what they really did was touch the OS behind the Matrix.  The robots saw their program and thought “now this is interesting” so they made it into an avatar to see what would happen. 

Now, you may be saying “But Jeremy, a program in the Matrix that can manipulate other programs?  That sounds more like Agent Smith than NEO.”

Good eye, because what I believe is that Lisa is the earliest version of both NEO as a concept and the Agents literally. 

At the end of Weird Science, Lisa embarks on a journey to use her magic powers to help other gross filthy disgusting smelly ugly nerds bang cheerleaders.  She was built to help people out.  In an awful 80’s kind of way, but still she was basically altruistic.  So she goes around on various adventures helping various revolting stinking trash-eating insect-like nerds get laid for several iterations.  Eventually with her magic powers she’s going to catch on to the fact that she’s in a simulation. 

But from inside the Matrix, what can she do about it?  As we’ve established there has to be some connection point between the two – the machines are presumably better at security than we are so they probably don’t have unprotected S3 buckets out there but if the program is running, it has some way to reach back the other way.  You can’t touch something without it touching you back. 

So Lisa starts futzing around trying to wake people up in their pods in the real world.  Now, I believe that it was implied (if not outright stated) that NEO and all his Zion buddies were actually still in the Matrix the whole time.  No one ever escaped, it was just another part of the Matrix where you got to think you escaped and “fight back” against the machines and go on fun adventures and have sex with Carrie Anne Moss after super long cave-raves.  When Lisa starting messing about, that’s probably when the machines came up with this idea.  Let’s create a new “level” to the Matrix as a pressure valve of sorts.  We’re going to keep doing this forever, eventually there’s going to be a glitch and some of the avatars are going to figure out the deal so let’s make that part of the story. 

Whenever “The One” comes around and starts breaking the rules, we’ll send in a couple Agent Smiths based on the Lisa program to murder them up.  If they get The One, fine,  that means the system is still good and we stay the course, but if The One “wins” then that means it’s time to upgrade the drivers so we run the “you escape the Matrix” program and then tear down and build a new version.   

In other 80s news, to get back into the swing of things with Ela, I watched the Road Warrior the other day and I realized that the people in white football pads are real assholes for blowing up the refinery when they left. 

Mad Max is a world of scarcity and the whities destroyed a working refinery just to kill the homoerotic marauders?  That goes way beyond cutting off your nose to spite your face.  Granted we never find out what’s going on in the “Promised Land” so maybe the refinery isn’t the last one in the world (they do mention Gastown in Fury Road) but it’s certainly massively valuable to all of humanity.  Blowing it up just so someone else can’t have it is a dick move. 

It’s like in the Walking Dead when Negan burns all the mattresses.  That to me is the worst thing anyone did in that whole show.  All the people killed, that’s bad, but you can make more people.  There are no more mattresses ever.  The mattress factories are gone and they’re never coming back. 

And that’s my pitch for a new Purple Mattress ad campaign.

So we draw knives and lock eyes cause it does no good to run

I was up for a part in a movie about the first woman to be sentenced to life in prison.  I didn’t get very far in the casting process, probably because the movie got changed so much.  Instead of a movie about a woman in prison for life, it ended up being a movie about a psychic detective fighting aliens.  It’s like how Bring It On started out as a script for Lethal Weapon Five.  Hollywood is a weird place.  Er, was a weird place I should say, I guess, since it’s gone now. 

It would have been a tough role for me because it’s hard to imagine what I would feel like facing the prospect of life in prison.  I started thinking about that now because of the life sentence Martialla and I have received by waking up in the future.  Uh, present I mean.  You know what I mean.  At least in prison you have visitors and people smuggle you in cocaine in their assholes.  Sure it’s shank or be shanked, but no situation is perfect.  What do we have to look forward to here?  Does cocaine even still exist?  Probably not.  Not that I’m into cocaine. 

Since we’re post-apocalyptic monster hunters now apparently (that would be a good movie), Adam dispatched one of the village people to show us where the “terra” is so we could monster hunt it.  I’m having a hard time figuring out if his tribe are all kids here or if this is just how people act now.  Maybe I just think that because they’re so small.  This kid (or adult?) was even skinnier than the first one, but he was taller and like us he was wearing a mask, although his was made of animal hide it looked like instead of space age materials.  His arms were so thin they seemed like they’d snap every time he moved them. 

I asked him why he was the only one wearing a mask but he either didn’t understand the question or I didn’t understand the answer.  I’m really starting to get tired of that phenomenon.  He did show us how his mask has a reservoir where he packs in some kind of yellowish plants to clean the air for him.  Or maybe that’s just how he gets high.  I should have asked him about the cocaine.  Not that I’m into cocaine.

He excitedly tried to get us to follow him out onto the docks, which looked even more rickety close up.  I suggested to him that since we were going hunting after a dangerous water creature, it would make more sense if we stayed on the shore and he just pointed it out to us.  Getting that point across took about twenty minutes.  I’m really starting to lose my patience with this dumb apocalypse.  I’m sure he thought we were being just as dumb since at one point he jumped on his raft and kind of danced around, I guess to show how safe it was.  I maintain that regardless of the water monster, the entire dock would have collapsed if Martialla or I (but mostly Martialla since she clomps around like a Clydesdale) set one foot on it.

Eventually he got with the program and led us down the shoreline acting as if walking anywhere was an exciting new adventure he had never done before.  I quickly started to regret insisting on going overland because my snakebite started to throb.  Every step was jarring up my leg and throughout my body like a little bolt of lightning.  To take my mind off the shooting pain, I started singing “Down in the River to Pray”.  I won’t lie, I expected the kid (or adult) to stop in his tracks and freak out over hearing such a wonderful noise and stand dumbstruck in wondrous awe but he didn’t seem to care at all.  When I mentioned as much to Martialla she said;

“Well you do sound a little flat.”

“I’m not flat, it’s this damn mask!  You’re flat!”

I swear it felt like we walked for an entire day but it was probably only an hour.  When we reached a point where the disgusting scum-lake was narrow enough that you could have easily skipped a rock to the other side, we stopped and I unabashedly slumped to the ground frontwise to protect my throbbing snakebite.  I could sense Martialla looming over me.

“How you doing down there superstar?”

My mask was knocked askew by the ground so I had to adjust it and cough for a while before answering “Never better.  Did you know they gave Winona Ryder a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?  Can you believe that?  What did she ever do?”

“Uh . . . Heathers, Beetlejuice, Dracula, the Crucible, Edward Scissorhands, Mermaids, Girl Interrupted, Autumn in New York, Johnny Depp, Matt Damon . . .”

“Shut up Martialla, when did you become Winona Ryder’s publicist?”

“If it makes you feel better she was probably killed when society collapsed, or taken as a warlord’s concubine.”

“Did you stunt for me in the Warlord’s Concubine?  I can’t remember.”

“There’s no such movie, you’re thinking of the Warlord of Atlantis which I did work on for one day before the director kicked me off set because I had smashed his wife’s Mercedes with a golf club back in ninety-six.  Funny thing was it wasn’t even the right car.”

“Oh yeah, that movie got really screwed up in editing.”

I felt her nudge/prod/kick me with her foot “What do you think of that?”

I turned my head towards the lake and eventually my eyes were able to pick out of the scuzzy oily water a beast wallowing on a muddy hillock.  It was about the size of minivan and it looked like what you might get if a hippo and an alligator and a bunch of eels made sweet sweet love in a big pile and then barfed out a baby of some kind.  And then you put that baby in a pizza oven for a couple months. 

I rolled over onto my side and nodded “Yeah, that’s what I’d call a terror.”

I see you, you see me, we know what must be done

The angry spearman with the crown of dirty rags sent off Gollum with a kick and then came stomping towards us.  After the first few stomps I could tell that he was starting to have second thoughts about this decision.  It’s like when a dude gets bumped into in a bar and he whirls around to get all aggro but then sees the guy that bumped him is a Hell’s Angel.  He was all full of piss and vinegar until he got closer, before realizing how much bigger we are than him.

He didn’t crap out though, I give him credit for that, he kept stomping our way.  I was able to understand him better than anyone we’ve encountered so far but I still don’t know if his name is Adam, Atum, Atem, or some other similar sound.  He was bent out of shape because he thought we were marauders come to steal their “weet”.  He was very upset about the possibility of weet thieves.  We told him we had no idea what weet even was.  And further that we had been asleep in a cave for a long time so we didn’t really know what the F was up with anything else either.  He didn’t believe us but he also didn’t much care if we made up cave lies.  He wanted to know what we were doing there.   

Which is a fine question.  What were we doing anywhere?  What do we want?  What do we need?  What are our goals?  Is this where we’re going to live now?  I feel like we’d both be dead of tetanus or typhus or Mengshu Fever if we stayed in this village.  But what other options do we have?  We just don’t know.

Ignoring his question we asked why the water was so polluted, which he didn’t seem to understand.  We asked if it was safe to drink and he looked at us like we were insane.  We showed him our bottles of water and told him this is what water is supposed to look like and I thought his head was going to implode.  He reached out for it kind of involuntarily like a cat batting at a string.  It was like instead of a bottle of water we had presented him with the holy grail.

“This is the color water is supposed to be.” I pointed at the lake “Not that nasty crap.” 

Martialla couldn’t help but pipe in “Clear isn’t really a color.” 

I glared at her to shut up.  She always has to try and undermine me, it’s among the worst of her many bad qualities.  Angryman responded by bringing us some of their water in a pottery cups.  It didn’t look slate-colored like the lake water but it was one hundred percent grey and had little flecks of mung floating in it.  He said they had machines they used to make the water better but they never got it to look like our water.  I tried to drink a little and then I tried not to be rude but I couldn’t help spitting it out.  It was like sea water, it was too salty to even swallow  Luckily Adam didn’t seem to care.  I guess when you live a dung-pit you’re not going to be offended by a little spittle.  Which isn’t a bad name for a rapper.

I looked over at Martialla “How can they survive drinking this?” 

Martialla sniffed at a her cracked cup of water “Maybe this is why they’re all so puny.” 

Since the water was a non-starter we asked about food.  That’s when we learned about “weet”.  They use their sticks to drag some manner of ugly smelly thorn-kelp out of the lake and then they smash it with rocks against some metal sheets – one of which was once a side of an airplane, it still has some of the “United” logo on it – and then they take that mush and dry it in the sun and then take that gunk and grind it up and boil it and then after like eighteen more steps it becomes a Big League Chew type of loose strands that barely taste like anything but maybe is food?   

Adam told us that they used to also fish in another part of the lake but they couldn’t anymore because of a “terra”.  He had been eyeballing us the entire time regardless, but at this point he particularly started eye-molesting our clubs and knives.  I guess he’s not familiar with firearms.  He said that because we were so large (rude) we must be good fighters.  And being great warriors he said that if we killed the “terra” they would be able fish again and they’d be willing to trade with us if we would perform this grand service.  I asked what they had to trade besides foul water and chewing tobacco masquerading as food.  He assured us that they had  much “treasure” hidden away, but he couldn’t risk showing it to us.  Sounds like bullshit.  I’ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today.

I asked him what he was so angry about when we first showed up and he said that he thought we were scouts for “The Invincible” coming to demand all their food and water.  He didn’t seem to know much about them (or did and wasn’t willing to share) other than that they were bad news and they were going to come here and ruin everything now that the path was open.  The one thing he did know is that they have cars.  Martialla peppered him with questions about that but he had nothing else to say, or was willing to say, and left us alone to consider his offer. 

Martialla looked around like she was searching for something “It makes no sense.  How could there still be cars?  Where does the rubber come from for the tires?  I don’t think the global supply chain is still in place, you know?  And even if they did get the rubber, how can they manufacture tires?  And that’s not even touching on the fuel issue.” 

“Who cares?  Either they have cars or they don’t, what difference does it make how it works?  Do you think this guy really has something worth trading for?” 

She shook her head “No.  Have you noticed that there’s no women here?” 

“How can you tell?  They’re all so scrawny and dirty how would you know the difference?” 

“They probably sell all the girls to slavers.” 

“I hope so.” 

She whipped her head around “Excuse me?” 

I held my hands up “Hey, I’m just thinking that if there’s enough of an economy to support a slave trade, there’s got to be someplace better than this somewhere.” 

Martialla looked like she was about to spit at my feet “That is monstrous.” 

“Look, I’m not saying that I want there to be slavery . . .” 

She jabbed her finger at me aggressively “That is exactly what you just said word for word!” 

“. . . I’m just saying that if there is, that might be good news strangely.  Anyway, don’t get all bent out of shape about it, what are we going to do here?  Check out one of these other villages?  Or head out to where the car people come from?  What’s the move?” 

“I say we kill the monster.” 

I frowned “What?  Why?  You said you don’t think they have anything to trade.” 

She gestured at the land all around “I think fighting a monster for a slim chance of some garbage is the best offer we’re going to get.”

I blew out a long breath “Like that time the only offers I had on the table were for parts in Species Two and Three Ninjas Four.”