Look away from the sky

We were told that where we were going the terrain would get too rough for J-Lo, so we were loaned a thing that was kind of like a dune buggy but barely bigger than a four wheeler.  I was surprised at the offer since a vehicle seems to be the most valuable commodity around here.  But I suppose we are going to save everyone and everything so it’s the least they could do really.  Martialla drove that thing, which I have named Modest Mouse, while I trailed her in J-Lo until we could find a good place to stash her. 

I’ve never been one of those people that got emotionally attached to their cars.  They’re like coffee makers to me, as long as they work I could give a shit about them.  It’s funny how living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland can change your viewpoint on inanimate objects.  I’ve come to view J-Lo as our home and leaving her behind was tough.  It seems like there’s no chance that someone won’t come along and steal it or it will just fall in a crevasse after an earthquake or something.  It felt like I was a turtle being asked to leave my shell behind.

Walking out of Cryogenics West was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  Just being “out there” I felt so exposed and vulnerable, like anything horrible could happen to us at any time.  Once we got that car the fear of death went down a full eight percent, which is pretty good under the circumstances. 

And I don’t think it’s just because it’s covered with armored plates, I think it’s more having a base of operations – or just something that’s ours.  I assume this is how old timey nomads felt about their horses or camels or wives or whatever they rode around on.  It becomes your whole life.  I never thought that I would be capable of loving a car, but here we are. 

Once we had J-Lo stashed away, we made our way upriver and the land did get pretty rough but Modest Mouse handled it like a champion.  At one point we saw some guys with spears watching us from not that far away.  We had been told that there were exiles up here that weren’t able to fit into even the loose civic standards of a mudhole like Bosstown.  I can only imagine what kind of kill-crazy lunatics they must be if they can’t hack it in what passes for “civilization” around here but they didn’t do anything.  What could they do?  They had spears. 

Late in the day we came across a couple of mud-brick huts with roofs that looked like they had actual shingles on them.  What is that about?  When did shingles become a thing?  Is the shingle an older technology than I think?  Can you make shingles out of mud?  The place looked abandoned but we did find some saddles and other leatherwork in a half-shed type thing, so maybe it was a ranch or a farm.  We also found out that one of the things we thought was a storage shed or a small building was actually an armadillo shell (skin?) that, I kid you not, was the size of a VW Van.  What the hell do you do with something like that? 

While we were debating staying the night there, we heard the sound of engines approaching.  Good job us for not being caught off guard for once!  We sprinted (well Martialla sprinted, I was a few steps behind, there’s no reason for both of us to run right?) into cover at the edge of the compound and saw a pile of trash coming our way.  It looked very much like the wagon of the peddlers we met at the cryo place, only it was being pulled along by these freaky little things that looked like the front half of a motorcycle attached to the back of an El Camino.  Martialla called them half-track motorcycles which is a dumb name.  There were three of them pulling the heap of garbage like it was a chariot in one of those old homoerotic sand and sandals movies.

The people driving/riding them looked a lot like those traders as well.  I guess it’s like a family resemblance?  We yelled out at them not to come any closer but they didn’t listen.  Or maybe they didn’t hear us, those things they were on were awful loud.  They pulled right into the place with us and seemed surprised when we brandished our pistols at them.  Overall they were a lot less skittish than their cousins we met before.  Their leader (or at least their spokesperson) had a piece of metal strapped to his forehead for some reason and wore a black pelt that looked shiny like it had oil on it or something.  He seemed more annoyed than frightened that we had them on overwatch.  That’s a term right?

“Digger hi baker!” I yelled at them hoping that it wasn’t a deadly insult. 

We put our weapons away once it seemed they had no hostile intent and they just wanted to trade.  Although they were kind of hostile about the trading itself.  Hostile like a pushy car salesman hostile.  I told them we weren’t interested and even if we were, we didn’t really have anything to trade but they wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Like a telemarketer, oily pelt insisted that I look through their mountain of refuse.  There was a crowbar and some nails, things like that, but most of it was trash.  What am I going to do with broken pieces of brick or some old empty toothpaste tubes? 

Oily kept asking me what I wanted and eventually to shut him up, I said that we were more interested in information than things.  I asked what they could tell us about what we might find upriver.  His response, reasonably, was to ask how much it was worth to me.  I told him again that we didn’t really have anything to trade and he was barking up the wrong tree.  He said that we must carry a lot of food since we’re so huge and we could trade that.  Rude. 

Before I could say anything in response, there was a crack of thunder and I have to admit that I hit the deck like a frightened mongoose.  Martialla had blown one of the other traders away.  Literally, I saw him get lifted off his feet by the force of the bullet and he was airborne for a second with his ratty clothes puffed up around him like he was a kite.  She immediately spun and started firing at someone who appeared at the side of one of the buildings holding a rifle. 

Oily Coat brought up what looked like a literal hand cannon.  It was as thick as a pipe under a bathroom sink – I think it actually was a pipe of some kind.  I can’t remember why but Martialla had told me to put my gun on my left hip even though I’m right handed.  So when I ducked down (cringed might be more truthful) and my hand went to my right side and I felt nothing, I thought my gun was gone. 

On the ground was a machete that we had found in one of the buildings.  It looked like it was made out of fiberglass or something but it was sharp as hell.  It had a big chip out of it about a third of the way down that made it look like an elongated Easter Island head.  I kind of grabbed it and swung it up at Oily Coat’s hands in the same motion as I was straightening out.  He kind of turned to point the pipe-gun at me at the last second.  I don’t know if I hacked into it and it went off, or if he fired at the same time, or if the damn thing exploded – all I know is the next moment I was flat on my back with my ears singing and his mouth was open in a scream I couldn’t hear while he clutched his bloody wrists together.  I’m glad I didn’t get a good look because just in profile, his fingers looked like shredded cabbage. 

His other friend came at me with a blade that was so bent it looked like a boomerang.  Why do people in the future not like straight blades?  Is there some reason you want a thing like that instead of a knife?  I finally remembered I had a gun on my left hip and I grabbed it.  Apparently I can only shoot when I’m sitting on my ass in the dirt.   I fired at least seven times and I didn’t hit him once, but a fifth guy (from where?) coming up behind him with a speargun looking thing got hit several times and kind of stumbled/crumbled onto his face.  It reminded me of when someone sacks a quarterback by taking out their knees – they don’t fall so much as they collapse. 

Boomerang knife ran at that point but Martialla chased him down and bashed him a couple dozen times before walking back and knocking Oily Coat down and putting her knee on his throat until he stopped moving.  She looked over at me with her knee still on the man’s windpipe. 

“Are you okay?”

At least that’s what I think she said, I still couldn’t hear anything.

October 17, 1973 – Measure twice, rob once

I rummaged around behind the bar looking for the bottle of vodka “You are giving me such a headache.” 

Blue put down the gun he was examining “You always have a headache.” 

“We can’t rob a bank, we’re the good guys!” 

Martialla and Blue glanced at each other and then spoke simultaneously “We are?” 

“Of course we are!  Why would you think that we weren’t?” 

Martialla frowned slightly “I sank a whaling ship the other day.” 

I grabbed another caffeine (or some other stimulant) berry to add to the vodka “Whaling is immoral, so that’s fine.” 

“Most of the people on board probably died.  I certainly didn’t rescue any of them and I didn’t see any other water people in the area.” 

I waved my hand as if I could wave away her point “Sure that’s more of a grey area but collateral damage and so forth. . .” 

Blue snorted “Don’t you watch movies? People like me are always villains.” 

“What movie has someone like you in it?  Creature from the Black Lagoon?” 

Martialla raised her hand “Wouldn’t I be the one from the Black Lagoon?  Because of the gills you see.” 

I pressed my palms to my eyes “You two are giving me such a headache.” 

Martialla looked at Blue “I heard somewhere that you always have a headache.” 

“Why would you even want to rob a bank?” I pointed furiously “And don’t you even say ‘because that’s where the money is’ or I swear to god I will throw someone into the ocean.” 

Martialla looked like she was going to crack wise again but Blue put a restraining paw on her shoulder.  Do lizards have paws?  What do they have?  Hands?  That doesn’t sound right.  Claws?  He has claws but what is the whole thing called?  It can’t be a hand right?

“Ela take a breath, you’re getting all worked up over nothing.  Serenity now.  After you disappeared we paid a visit to the harbor ourselves and found out that the Shadow Lords have Martialla’s niece.  So we need to get her.  That means we need to go to war with the Shadow Lords.  That means we need guns.” 

I gestured to the pile on the table “You have guns.” 

Martialla grinned with her sick fish lips “More guns.” 

Blue flicked his tongue sideways “Yes, more guns.  What we have here is a good start but if we’re going to take on the Shadow Lords, we need a lot more.  And not just guns, also grenades, body armor, communications equipment, the whole nine yards.  We need to put together an operation, like in the old days.” 

Is it possible for a lizard to be wistful?  He sounded wistful.   

“Well where did you get the money for these guns?” 

Martialla jerked her thumb over her shoulder “There’s like a million shipwrecks out there.  I found one that had a waterproof safe in it and Lucien ripped it open once I brought it up.  Inside there were a bunch of papers – insurance documents, Alojzy’s friend said.  Someone wanted them really bad and they paid us, and then we got the guns.  And now we use those guns to get money for more guns.” 

“Why do you need to rob a bank?  Just dive back down for more treasure, there’s probably gold down there!” 

Martialla snickered “Gold?  Why would there be gold?  Those aren’t 16th century Spanish galleons down there, they’re container ships.  There’s not a lot of resale value for boots with seaweed growing on them and crates of potatoes infested with eels.” 

“You found a safe though, there has to be other valuable stuff down there.” 

Martialla shook her head resolutely “It would take too long to check them all, I got lucky with that safe.  I need to get my niece now.” 

“Okay.” I thought for a moment “But why a bank?  I’ve never even seen a bank around here.” 

Blue piped up “They’re all downtown.” 

I gestured “Exactly.  Downtown is where all the police are.  And by police I mean dudes with machine guns who have no compunctions about shooting anyone they don’t like.  This isn’t the RCMP we’re dealing with here, these guys are serious.” 

Martialla cocked her head “Machine guns?  You mean sub-machine guns.  I doubt very much anyone down there is lugging around an RPK.” She and Blue laughed like that was the height of wit. 

“Whatever!  Men with guns is the point.  You want to go downtown and start a firefight?  How do you think that’s going to work out?  Even if you get away with it, you’re not going to get away with it.  How many other eight-foot blue lizards do you think are in town?” 

Blue set down a handgun he had been fiddling with “That’s a good point actually.” 

I scowled “Actually?  What do you mean?  I’m always making good points.  Look, I’m not saying that we couldn’t use some cash to fund our league of heroes, but we need a more palatable target.  Why not go after one of the Shadow Lords operations?  We get the funds we need and we hurt our enemy was well. It’s a two for one deal.   They must have casinos or drug-holes or slave auctions on creepy yachts or something.  We make one of those the target.” 

Martialla set down another weapon and glanced at Blue “That actually is a good point.  My only concern would be tipping off the Shadow people that we’re after them.” 

“They’re already after me, and they already took your niece, I feel like the cat is out of the bag on that score.” 

After some consideration, they agreed that robbing a bank was not the best first step.  Martialla went to scout some potential non-bank targets while Blue stashed and organized the small arsenal they had acquired.  Not sure that the owner, who is totally not laundering money for some other criminal syndicate, is going to be okay with that, but one problem at a time. 

Blue tossed over his shoulder “By the way, we talked to some other people from the ship.  The word is the people that experimented on you and then sold you to the Shadow Lords are a group called the New Founding Fathers. 

“Who the fuck are the New Founding Fathers?” 

Montresor 29 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar) part 2

You cut one guy’s face off and all of a sudden people look at you strangely.  You’d think that the Duke’s personal guard would be made of sterner stuff.  I’m sure they’ve done all manner of depraved things in service of their lord and master the Duke.  Who are they to look askance at me for one defacing?  It wasn’t like the guy didn’t deserve it.  Everyone deserves it.  Justified or not (it isn’t) Bolbec and Cavnas are eyeballing me like a dangerous forest cat.  Finchley would occasionally grin at me like we shared some private joke.  The other guy whose name I don’t know and never says anything was the same.  I guess I can take comfort in that. 

Eedraxis’s . . . compound I’ll call it, was much the same, the tree looked a little more sickly and burned perhaps and there was some manner of glowing weather-vane thing sticking out the top of the main building but otherwise it looked like the same madman’s workshop was I visited almost two years ago looking for poisons.  I think that if I had found a normal black market alchemist instead of this lunatic things would be much different now.  I made a lot of mistakes in those early days.  With a reliable source of drugs and poison I think I could have handled my business much neater and more quickly.  The Duke would probably be dead by now.  Maybe I should learn alchemy myself.  You know, in my spare time.

While the compound itself was the same the surrounding area was much different.  There was a large bonfire nearby and a roped off area with several wagons.  Big wagons.  Big wagons heavily laden with junk.  It was as random as collection of junk as you’d ever want to lay eyes on.  There were a couple of ruffians listlessly guarding the piles and up “front” was a battered table where a dozen or so people were queued up to hand over their junk.  Manning the table was a brawny scruffy looking fellow who looked like a lumberjack but was dressed like a prosperous merchant.  He had on a tight cap that was pushing out a mass of hair at the edges like a reverse muffin.  With him was a female gnome with eyes that bulged out like those of a tree lizard and who had an extra joint between the elbow and the wrist.  I haven’t seen a lot of gnomes but I don’t think they’re supposed to look that pale and glistening.  Kind of like a slug’s flesh.  Brawny was examining whatever the people brought up to him and the gnomette was freaking everyone out with her weirdness and then handing them a couple bricks of wandermeal. 

If you don’t know what wandermeal is consider yourself lucky.  It’s an edible rock made of flour and water with some other surprises.  It keeps for months without spoiling.  People say that it was invented in the Shire but that is utter bullshit.  Shirefolk would never create a foodstuff so terrible.  The best wandermeal is bland and tasteless.  The worse has all kinds of flavors.  Fun fact about wandermeal, it fills you up but it has little to no nutrition in it – if that’s all you eat you have zero energy and eventually you die for malnutrition.  The scheme playing out was as simple as it was obvious – the war is starting to make things scare so come trade all your worldly possessions for a couple handfuls of what is technically food.  An alchemist can turn out wandermeal by the basketload easily.

The ruffians by the wagons looked over incuriously as I headed for Eedraxis’s cottage but bustling out from the front door (inasmuch as the random collection of wood and iron can be said to have a front) was the gatekeeper – a Kostelos man dressed in the motley of a renegade.  He was a tall fellow with a tall hat that made him seem even bigger, although he was skinny as an elf-maiden.  He had a hatchet on his belt that his hand strayed to touch for comfort every few moments.  When he pointed at the table and its two odd inhabitants his arm wasn’t quite straight – like it had a little crook in it from being broken and not healing correctly.

“No one is allowed inside, if you want to sell something you go over there.”

“Oh I’m not here to sell anything, I just want to chat with my old pal.  He used to get very upset if people came around here, looks like he got over that huh?  Commerce can do wonderful things for people’s attitude.  Some say that war profiteering is bad but look what it’s done for Eedraxis and his social anxiety.  Marvelous isn’t it?”

“Eedraxis isn’t seeing anyone.”

I moved to walk past him “I’m sure he’ll be happy to see me.”

Put his non-crooked arm out to block me “No one is allowed in.”

I gave him a cool look “Take your hand off me sir.”

The Duke’s guards weren’t right there with me but they were nearby, and they look like some bad men if you don’t know better like I do.  The Kostelos man looked at them nervously but he didn’t back down.  He did draw his hand off me though.

“I can’t let you in.”

I snapped my fingers “Hey, I know you don’t I?  You’re Grey Horse right?  You’d skulk around on the edge of town selling phony charms and potions?  I remember Augrim talking about what a disgrace you were.” I chuckled “Man did he want to kill you.  The whores used to talk about you too, you’re the one with the dick that . . .”

“No one calls me Grey Horse anymore, my name is Sartorious now.”

“Wow, that’s about as un-Kostelos a name as you can conjure up now it’s it?  Decided to join the winning side huh?  Good luck with that.  Look Sartorious, I don’t want to get into a while thing with you here, can you just go inside and ask Eedraxis if he wants to see me?  I’ll just stay here and wait.  Maybe I’ll check out those junk wagons, perhaps there’s something I’d be interested in buying.”

He seemed dubious but I convinced him with my winsome smile.  I can winsome as fuck you know.  A moment after he went inside I turned to the Ducal Guards and gave them wink before disguising myself as the merchant woodsman and going inside myself.  The inside of the complex had been altered radically – I get the feeling that Eedraxis is constantly changing the place up to facilitate whatever crazy stuff he’s working on.  I’m sure he’s got body parts he’s trying to reanimate in there somewhere.  I didn’t see Eedraxis but I did see a couple more weird looking gnomes – I didn’t get a good look but I could swear that I saw one that had a carapace like a beetle.  I give wizards a hard time (and rightfully so) but alchemists are into some pretty freaky shit as well.  Let us not forget that Eedraxis was chased out of Graltontown for kidnapping and experimenting on dwarves.

Grey Horse was surprised by the appearance of whoever it was I appeared like and was about to say something when I grabbed one of the many flasks of bubbling shit the gnomes were working on and hurled it into a small fire that was in the middle of the room.  It exploded into a cloud of choking vapor because what else was it going to do – explosions and poison are what alchemy is all about.   That and addictive drugs and graverobbing and turning people into weird bugs.  I held my breath and covered my eyes and knocked over more stuff until the place was well on fire.  When I finally ran out noxious smoke was pouring out of Eedraxis’s hut.  But it wasn’t going up into the air, it was creeping along the ground like animal.  It was pretty strange.  Bolbec and Cavnas had their swords out as I ran over to them and started coughing like an old man.

“What happened?  What’s going on?”

Eye burning eventually I was able to speak “Wrong house.  I think my friend lives north of here.”