Amazing Grace – A Pale Horse

CUT TO: 

INT. MAIN TEMPLE – DAY 

The main temple is much the same as Lust’s shrine only bigger and more elaborate with even more outrageous scenes of debauchery and torture on the walls featuring Sevensworth. The sexy lady goons are holding Grace on her knees before Universe/Sevensworthand his two accomplices PRIESTESS, think Danai Gurira, and TOWER, think Aya Cash.  There are some others in ceremonial garb as well.  

AMAZING GRACE 

So what’s the spell? Opening a portal to hell?  If you’re going to be killing millions of people it must be something big. 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

Why would I want to open a portal to hell? 

AMAZING GRACE 

I honestly don’t know, but that’s what people like you are always trying to do. 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

There are no people like me. 

AMAZING GRACE 

Groan. Did that come right out of the evil wizard playbook? This whole thing has been paint by numbers you basic bitch. Please for the love of God tell me that you’re going to kill everyone in LA for something good. Are you going to open up the portals to the Martian pyramids? That at least would be helpful to NASA. We could get some of those rovers back too, those things cost a fortune. Plus I hear they’re lonely up there.  Have you heard about that one that sings itself happy birthday?

 
UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

There are pyramids on Mars?

AMAZING GRACE 

Why don’t you just tell me what your evil plan is so I don’t have to guess. 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

Gladly. I know you’ll appreciate this.  Once the preparations are complete and the bombs are triggered I will harness that energy of those deaths to enact the Conbulum Mectrotitium and expand my natural life span by 150 years. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(shocked)

That’s it? You’re not going to become a god or something? You don’t need to kill twelve million people for that! I took out a blood mage once that could do that with just six people! You are seriously wasting a lot of lives dude.

PRIESTESS 

You killed him? 

AMAZING GRACE 

Yeah, the spell doesn’t make you invincible, you can still be killed, it just keeps you from aging. 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

(annoyed) 

Silence!  Don’t, don’t listen to her, she’s just trying to confuse you and lead you away from our preordained mission. The bombs aren’t going to blow up the entire city anyway, you’d need a nuclear weapon for that. 

TOWER

Or a lot more bombs. 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

Or a lot more conventional bombs. We’re only going to kill a couple thousand people, and that’s for immortality for five people. That’s efficient.

AMAZING GRACE 

(stubborn)

The spell doesn’t make you immortal, all it does is  . . .  

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

(annoyed) 

Do you know anything blood sacrifice? Because I don’t think that you do! There’s never been a blood mage that could pull of what I’m about to do with just six sacrifices, you don’t know what you’re talking about! The number of people we’re about to kill is totally appropriate for the spell we’re going to be enacting! The priests of the Aztec Empire . . .  

AMAZING GRACE 

Oh my fucking god, enough with the Aztecs! Please don’t tell me you’re one of those dark wizards who claims that the Aztec empire spread across all of North America conquering everyone and their power was based entirely on a system of blood magic sacrifice.  

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

It was! Don’t act like I’m a flat earther or something, the archeological evidence is there! 

AMAZING GRACE 

I thought you were way into Crowley, not made up Aztec bullshit. What does an old British dude have to do with the Aztecs? Why not go full Hellboy and toss Rasputin in there too?  That guy got a bad rap, all he wanted to do was smash puss and somehow people decided that he was an evil wizard.  I guess he did smash a lot and he was a fuggo, maybe that warrants some questions.

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

Shut up about Rasputin!  I think you’re failing to see what I’ve accomplished here.  I’ve improved upon Master Crowley’s works. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(pan to show that her bullet wound has healed and her back is writhing with blue magical energy, Godzilla power-up style) 

With cultural appropriation? 

Before he can answer Grace uses magical super strength and hurls off the women holding her like Neo in the Matrix throwing the Agent Smith copies. Climactic magical fight scene. Grace summons several copies of herself to hold off the goons as she goes for Universe/Sevensworth. The other leader types intercede and she takes them out one by one, think Scarlet Witch against the Illuminati in Multiverse of Madness.  

Priestess transforms into a massive snake in an homage to Conan. Make sure that’s not racist somehow, I don’t think it is but if that’s a problem have her turn into tiger instead. Grace is narrowly able to avoid the attacks of the massive serpent as her copies fight with the sexy lady goons in the background. Finally Grace is able to transform her hand into a butcher’s blade just like the man that attacked her outside of the occult shop and uses it to decapitate the snake, which then turns back into Priestess, dead.  

Universe/Sevensworth working with Tower sends a column of water blasting into Grace’s face, drive itself into her mouth and nose like tentacles. She chokes for a moment and then expels the liquid like a water tower blowing up. 

AMAZING GRACE 

Your ninjas already tried to down me in your pool, use a new element already. 

(rolls out of the way of a blast of flame like the breath of a dragon from Tower) 

No one ever uses earth. 

Grace dodges more dragon’s fire and then is attacked by the lead goon that shot her and Tower in melee combat, all of her copies are been shattered. Little pieces of those copies lay on the ground still “alive” like Mantis in Infinity War.  

Grace struggles to contend with her two attackers as Universe/Sevensworth moves around on the edge of the fight trying to get an angle for a spell. The tide turns when Universe/Sevensworth unleashes his blast of flame but Tower shifts right into the path and is burned to death instantly.  

The head sexy lady goon redoubles her attacks with a battlecry, driving Grace back, but Universe/Sevensworth summons a cloud of small daggers and hurls them at Grace’s back with a gesture. Grace takes control of them and send them into the head sexy lady goon, pincushion her. She stands there for a moment impaled by extreme prejudice. 

LEAD GOON 

You idiot! 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

How dare you speak to me that way! 

Lead sexy goon topples to the ground dead, Grace smashes Universe/Sevensworth with a blindside kick by shadow jumping. No magic now, she pummels him with strikes as he tries vainly to protect himself. He’s clearly not a fighter. 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

(on the ground, bloody, throws hands up) 

Stop! Stop this! Join me . . .  

AMAZING GRACE 

And together we can rule the galaxy? Is this the part where you talk about how because we’re magic we’re better than everyone else and their lives don’t matter as much as ours and we can do whatever we want? That we should join together and do evil magic shit together? 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

(desperate) 

Our lives are more important than theirs!  You have to know that!  The things we can do, the powers we wield . . .  

AMAZING GRACE 

No sale guy with no nose from Harry Potter. Tell me where the bombs are or how I turn them off or whatever I need to do. 

UNIVERSE/SEVENSWORTH 

And you’ll let me live? 

AMAZING GRACE 

No. 

Universe/Sevensworth licks his palm and starts chanting in Latin. Grace lightly touches him on the chest and it explodes outwards like in Alien, his heart flying into the air in an arc to slap down wetly on the floor. She spits on the corpse. 

AMAZING GRACE 

Look what you made me do! I hate that spell! 

(she looks around at the blood and carnage) 

I’m going to hate this even more 

CUT TO:

INT. KITCHEN IN SEVENWORTH’S MANTION – DAY

A pile of viscera sits on the counter.  Grace is rummaging through the sleek rich-person refrigerator.  She comes out with a couple bottles of fancy imported beer (product placement).  She pops the top of one, drains half of it, and sets the bottles down by the bloody mess.  Upon closer look there’s brain matter in the clump. 

Grace takes a deep breath and then shoves a gob of the bloody viscera into her mouth.  She fights for a moment not to gag, bracing herself against the counter.  After a moment she starts to mumble a spell around the disgusting lump in her mouth.  Blood spatters off her lips as she speaks with her mouth full.

Eventually the spits out the bloody gob with a coughing fit.  She drains the last of the first beer and most of the second before spitting some more and another coughing fit.  She turns on the water in the sink, sticks her mouth in the stream for a moment before pulling back and finishing the second beer and taking a big drink of the third.  She spits again angrily.

AMAZING GRACE

Fucking fuckers!

(she blows her nose on a towel expelling some brain, takes another drink of beer, slips out her phone and dials)

Yeah, you need to get in touch with the bomb squad, I have the locations of four bombs that have been placed around the city.  Yes, I have the exact locations, I can give them to you when you’re ready.  I don’t know, they can be triggered remotely but I don’t know if there’s a timer involved.  No, I’m not the one who put them there.  No, I don’t know what demands the people that did put them there had.  No, you can’t speak to them, they’re all dead.  I mean, I think so anyway, maybe some of them got away but most of them are dead for sure.  Yes, I can stay on the line.  Yes, I have the exact locations.  Yes.  Yes.  Uh huh.  Me?  I’m nobody, don’t worry about it.

(spits, looks around, softly to herself)

There must be a spare toothbrush in this place somewhere.  No, sorry, I wasn’t talking to you.  No, I don’t want to tell you where I am.  Terrorists?  I guess, what does it matter who they were now?  I just know okay.  Yes, I know this is very serious, I assure you this is not a prank of any kind.  If you don’t find any bombs where I tell you feel free to try and find and arrest me.  Yes.  Uh huh.  No.  I mean, yeah, kinda.

CUT TO: 

EXT. SUNNY BEACH – DAY 

Grace and MMA Dude are sitting at a picnic table drinking some White Claw (or other product placement) and digging into various containers of take-out.  Grace is wearing a classic lady jean-shorts and bikini top combo, showing that her legs and torso are covered with gnarly scars, livid bruises, and other blemishes – think Batman in Dark Knight.   

MMA GUY

So you actually know how to do the Dim Mak?

AMAZING GRACE

(around a mouthful of food)

Yeah, I hate it.

MMA GUY 

Huh.  I thought that was just a cool name.  Do you eat like this all the time?  You must work out a ton. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(laughs) 

Hell no, you know how many calories I burn casting spells all the time?  I basically ran a quadruple marathon and then climbed Mount Everest and then went fifteen rounds whoever is big in boxing right now the past few days.  I’ve almost died of exhaustion more than once, almost magicing myself to death.  Anyway, like I was saying I’m no phys-ad but my friend 42561 is one of the best and she will be there and she’ll be able to help you through it. 

MMA GUY 

Why is her name a bunch of numbers? 

AMAZING GRACE 

Long story.  Actually it’s not a long story at all, it’s just stupid.  This just a bug hunt so you’ll be fine. 

MMA GUY 

It’s not dangerous? 

AMAZING GRACE 

Oh no, it’s incredibly dangerous, there’s a very good chance that you will be killed.  I just mean that you’ll be fine, you know? 

MMA GUY 

I have absolutely no idea what you mean. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(answers her phone) 

Hey Ranni.  Yeah it’s all taken care of.  I saved the entire city and probably the world yet again, hooray for me!  Yeah.  I know.  I should have talked to that gold-digging widow about it.  I bet she sent the money to Dash’s account and now Ela is going to get it and put it up her nose or use it to hire mercs to try and kill me. 

(laugh)

Yeah.  Yeah, I know.   

(sigh) 

I’m sure.  I’m sorry Ranni, I don’t know how it works, if it’s genetic or what, no one knows really, but some people are magic and some aren’t.  I can’t teach you to do what I do.  I wish I would, I need all the help I can get, that’s just not how it works sadly.  Yeah.  Yeah.  I know.  It sucks.  Good to meet you, keep in touch, all that.  Yeah.  Yeah.  See you Ranni.  Stay tight. 

CUT TO: 

INT. RANNI’S APARTMENT – DAY 

Ranni is on her couch, a copy of the Necronomicon ex Mortis lays open before her.  The shadowy ghost of ALEISTER CROWEY, think Jonjo O’Neill, lurks nearby.

Aleister Crowley’s ghost

(otherworldly)

She’s lying.  With my method anyone can work magic.

RANNI

(thinks for a moment)

How do we begin?

FADE OUT:

“Season of the Witch” plays over end credits.

Amazing Grace – A Pale Horse

CUT TO: 

EXT. GRACE’S APARTMENT – DAY 

Grace is walking up the exterior stairs to her apartment door when a man in a dark hoodie and face covering like from the alley appears out of nowhere and lunges at her. With a quick move she sends him tumbling down but there several more are coming towards her by clinging to the walls like geckos. 

Grace magic-jumps to the next roof.  Sweet roof-top chase scene, think Fast Five or Quantum of Solace. During the process Grace smashes through the skylight of a heavy manufacturing plant and takes a bad spull. The goons magically float down after her and they engage a running battle through the dangerous and claustrophobic factory. Think Taken mixed with early Jackie Chan.  Grace makes use of the environment and improvised weapons along with brutal vital strikes to take down her foes. 

Magical flourishes – Grace climbs up a wall by stabbing her glowing fingers into it like climbing claws, one of the attackers leaps up at her and she drives her two fingers up through his chin and throws him like a bowling ball. Grace blinds a group of attackers with a flash of light and then knocks them off a high piece of machinery with a mighty gust of wind. Grace “catches” a magic blast of energy from one of her attackers and turns it into a massive super-jump into a double kick to the chest – super slow mo style.

Min-boss fight – Think Khabib Nurmagomedov or some other hot MMA star. Grace is headed for the exit when one last goon appears before her. He rips off his mask and hoodie, dude is scary looking. They’re both too exhausted to work any more magic, this is pure fisticuffs. Think John Wick vs Ms. Perkins in John Wick or Donnie Yen vs Collin Chou in Flash Point. 

Grace is victorious and stumbles out of the loud oppressive factory. 

CUT TO: 

EXT. CAMPING SITE – DAY 

Grace is sitting semi-nude on a picnic table healing herself with flashes of soft white life. Her bruises and nicks and cuts slowly disappear. It’s obviously an effort and she’s sweating buckets of bullets. Once she’s done with that she slips into the water, cursing at how cold it is, and immerses herself quickly, springing up and flinging her hair back. She holds her arms out with hands outstretched and chants softly. 

We see a magical red mark flare into life on her chest, then fly off and dissipate. And oily greyish light plays over her body for a moment. She trudges back out of the water and starts to dry off with some spare clothes. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(getting dressed) 

Try tracking me now you fuckers. 

CUT TO: 

EXT. SEVENSWORTH’S MANSION – DAY 

Sprawling rich person mansion in the sprawling hills.  Grace is approaching the complex through a wooded area adjacent to the compound finishing off a beer (product placement). She’s not sneaking, just walking normally, almost casually.  

As she nears the fence – WARNING ELECTRIC – she considers tossing the bottle away but then thinks better of littering and tucks it in her pocket. 

Grace rolls her shoulders and her neck for a moment and then takes a deep breath, reaching up and starting to rise into the air like she’s pulling herself up an invisible ladder with her hands and arms only. With a wave of her hand a camera on top of the fence shorts out and she swings her legs over and into the complex like a gymnast, stumbling and not quick sticking the landing. 

As she approaches the complex Grace defeats additional security measures. Two guard dogs come charging at her but she kneels down, slaps her hands on the ground and suddenly they both appear outside the fence whining and confused. A drone flies overhead but with a gesture it malfunctions as well. She bypasses two guards by pulling an Obi-Wan from A New Hope “what was that?” maneuver.  

Grace comes to a smaller building apart from the main building and slips in through an open window. The building is a shrine to the dark arts. Each wall covered with is arcane symbols and paintings like old Biblical manuscripts about the tortures of hell – people being devoured whole by weird beasts and demons in sadistic ways. Central on all these walls are depictions of great demons or dragons or other mythological creatures with the face of Sevensworth himself – think Mads Mikkelsen or Eddie Redmayne.  

Towards the front of this temple is a dark magic alter upon which a terrified woman in a sheer white dress, bound and gagged, struggles weakly.   At the same time Grace notices the sacrificial victim, a door opens and ELOISE MUNSON/LUST in cumbersome red and purple dark magic regalia comes out of a bathroom wiping her hands with a towel. Think Aubrey Plaza or Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  

LUST 

(tossing the towel behind her) 

Are you the exterminator?

AMAZING GRACE 

Yes. 

LUST 

Where’s all your gear? 

AMAZING GRACE 

We’re an all-natural outfit, environmentally friendly, I find the vermin and just crush them by hand. No chemicals.

LUST 

You could make some good side money on Onlyfans with that. Since you have violated the Sanctum of Lust you must however die. 

AMAZING GRACE 

Lust? I thought you were doing a four horsmen thing, not a seven deadly sins deal. Shouldn’t you be Famine or Death? 

LUST 

We’re based on the Tarot actually. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(eyes widen) 

Holy shit! Doesn’t that mean there’s like 80 of you?! 

LUST 

Just the major arcana cards, and we’re still trying to fill some spots.  There’s a hiring shortage right now you know. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(thinking) 

How many is that? I never paid much attention to tarot cards. Embarrassing for a magician I know. Your step-mother sent me here you get you.  She’s very worried about you.  Although I have to admit that you’re looking great.  You look 20 years younger than the pictures she showed me.

LUST

(runs hand over cheek)

The blood of the innocent does some amazing things.  It’s better than botox.

AMAZING GRACE

Getting right down to it huh?  On a scale of one to five what’s your level of interest in giving up your wicked new lifestyle and coming with me back to your stepmothers house?  Also, telling me what your boss mentor lover AC is up to would be great.  The full flip, like when James Bond fucks a lady and then she’s totally on his side because of his magic cock.

LUST

(dreamily)

He’s a great man.

AMAZING GRACE

Uh, James Bond or your Aleister Crowley loving master?

LUST

He is a prophet.  The world is sick but he’s going to heal it with our help.

AMAZING GRACE

Let me guess this world healing technique involves a bunch of people dying in horrible agony?

LUST

(smiles)

Sacrifices must be made.

Grace starts to move towards and Lust responds by aggressively licks her palm, chants some Latin and then holds her hands out like she’s pushing over a soda machine. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(looking down at herself)

Was something supposed to happen? 

Lust tries to make a run for it but is hampered by her robes and Grace catches her easily and knocks her out by smashing her brutally with the bottle from her pocket. Grace pulls a jeweled knife out of a sheath on the front of Lust ornate garb and uses it to cut the woman on the alter free. The woman has been drugged but Grace grips her by the waist and purges the drugs from her system with a crackling of canary yellow magic light. 

VICTIM 

(terrified) 

What’s going on? 

AMAZING GRACE 

(taking out her phone) 

I just saved your life. Venmo me whatever you think your life is worth later. For now you better get out of here. Head down the hill and I’ll have an Uber pick you up. Might take a while for them to get out here so hide in some bushes or something. 

VICTIM 

No, no you shouldn’t use Uber they treat their workers terribly, you should call Lyft. 

AMAZING GRACE 

(quizzically) 

I thought Lyft was the one were all the drivers were rapists. 

VICTIM 

Can you get a TaskRabbit to pick me up? 

AMAZING GRACE 

I am a TaskRabbit. 

(points to Lust)

Help me find something to bind her with, you’re going have to take her with you and keep her under wraps until I can get back in touch with you.

VICTIM

(aghast)

I don’t want to do that, she was going to kill me!

AMAZING GRACE

Yeah, but she feels really bad about it, she told me so just before.

CUT TO: 

EXT. SEVENSWORTH’S MANION – DAY 

As Grace is walking by the pool towards the main building yet another masked/hoodie minion tackles her into the water. More mystic assassins are splashing into the pool and they try to down her by pure weight of numbers. Think the scene in Unbreakable where Bruce Willis’s character almost dies.  

Grace manages to survive by flash-boiling the water into steam and horrifically burning her attackers. She slowly and painfully crawls out from under the pile of terribly burned men. Their flesh sticks to her like jelly as she hauls herself out of the pool and lies panting on the lawn for a moment. The toll of casting so many spells is starting to take its effect on her.  

She hauls herself up and soldiers on. 

CUT TO: 

INT. SEVENSWORTH’S MANION – DAY 

After passing through a kitchen and a hallway Grace is in a planning room where the evil plot is charted out like on a storyboard for a movie – they’ve planted 4 bombs across the city and they needed the computer system with the magic booster in the occult shop to be able to detonate them remotely with a spell and harvest the soul-energy.

AMAZING GRACE

(to herself)

I knew it was going to be a fucking bomb.  It’s always a bomb.  Fuckers.

She examines a progress chart reads –  

Universe – Complete 

Priestess – Complete 

Lust – In progress 

Tower – Complete 

Magus – In Progress  

While Grace is looking over the other documents strewn about she’s is shot in the back by a small caliber pistol. She turns and sees the lead sexy female goon with a gun in her hand. Grace tries to fight her way out of the room but more sexy lady goons in sexy outfits come in and between that and her injury and her exhaustion she’s overwhelmed by them and dragged away.

Amazing Grace – A Pale Horse

CUT TO: 

INT.  CLUB OBSIDIAN – NIGHT 

In the bathroom BATHROOM GUY, think Sam Rockwell or Bill Hader, is standing in front of the mirror giving himself a pep talk.

BATHROOM GUY

Tonight’s the night man.

(points)

Your night!  You’re going to score and score bigtime!  Take it to the hole like Ron Jeremy man!  Who’s the man?  You the man!

(awkwardly shadow boxes)

You’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, you’ve got the moves!

(dances even more awkwardly)

You’re coming for them and they don’t even know it!  They’re gonna get it!  Wham!  Right in the ass!

(talks to crotch)

This is it bud, you’re going to come out and punish some bad bitches tonight, you’re gonna . . .

Behind him there’s a small flash of light in one of the stalls and then Amazing Grace walks out, Bathroom Guy shrieks and jumps forward in surprise, smacking his head on the mirror so hard that it cracks.  He falls to a sitting position on the floor holding his bloody head.

AMAZING GRACE

Oh shit, sorry man, I didn’t think anyone was in here.  You’re very insignificant, I mean cosmically on that level, that could really come in handy.

BATHROOM GUY

(trying to stanch the blood from his head)

What are you doing in here?  This is the MEN’S room!

AMAZING GRACE

(looks him over)

You sure about that briz?

(she starts to walk out but then turns back)

You know what bruh?  I want to apologize for that last remark.  Just because you’re small and weak and based on stink of Axe body spray coming off you a douchebag doesn’t mean that I should imply that you’re not a man.  I shouldn’t have said that.  That wasn’t cool.  I don’t want to contribute to the culture of toxic masculinity by being one of those woman who cuts down a man for not conforming to a certain body type for way of dressing or whatever.  That’s not what I’m about.  I’m sorry.

(helps Bathroom Guy to his feet)

BATHROOM GUY

(straightens clothes)

You know the best apologies come from the mouth but not like that.

(reaches for fly)

You want to apologize apologize to the Punisher.

AMAZING GRACE

(moves forward slightly and crushes Bathroom Guy with a punch to the liver, leaving him twitching on the floor)

You know what man?  I don’t feel great about what I just did there either.  I come from a world that preaches ‘talk shit, get hit’ but that doesn’t make it right.  We all learned that from Chris Rock and Big Willy right?  You were being gross but responding to words with violence is just the kind of childish nonsense I was just talking about not being in favor of.  I am sorry that I bought into chauvinist stereotypes and I am supes sorry that I blasted your liver, and I think made you crap your pants based on the new stink that your Axe body spray can’t even cover up.  Also I’m sorry because I don’t think a liver punch can kill someone but you kind of look like you’re dying.  So, uh, I’m gonna go now then.

(she turns to leave and sees the bathroom attendant)

Have you been there the entire time?

BATHROOM ATTENDANT

Yes ma’am.

AMAZING GRACE

(shakes head)

I am off my game tonight.  You’re not a shadowman are you?

BATHROOM ATTENDANT

I don’t think so ma’am.

AMAZING GRACE

Huh.  Well, have a good one man.

Club Obsidian is not a pulse-thumping dance club.  It’s a low-key upscale domicile for the rich and unfamous.  It’s a place for rich people who want to go out and make bad decisions without being hassled.  It has an air of decadence and quiet desperation.  Grace exits the bathroom.  She looks around and  spots RANNI sitting at one of the smaller bars.  Think Nicole Scherzinger.  Grace takes a seat next to her.   

RANNI 

(eyes Grace coldly) 

I’m waiting for someone 

AMAZING GRACE 

(peeks behind the bar) 

Good new, I am someone.  Bad news, you’re waiting for Dash and he isn’t coming.  Do they have beer in this place or just like bathtub gin in a jelly jar or some shit?

RANNI 

(getting up to leave) 

If Dash isn’t coming then I guess I don’t have anything to wait for here. 

AMAZING GRACE  

(sits back down) 

Can you just give me two seconds here?   

RANNI 

(rolls her eyes) 

Let me guess, you’ll make it worth my while? 

AMAZING GRACE 

(shakes her head) 

What?  Like with money?  Hell no, I’m flat ass broke.  Nah, I’d like you to just tell me what you were up going to tell Dash.  

(looks towards the end of the bar) 

Do they have nuts or pretzels here or something?  I got stood up for lunch and I’m starving. 

RANNI 

Why would I tell you anything? 

AMAZING GRACE 

Well I’ll tell you why, because Dash is dead.  And I have to assume that it’s because of a case he was working on.  And because you’re the only person I know he was working with.  So what’s it going to be?  How about you tell me whatever you were going to tell him and I’ll get out of your hair.  Speaking of that’s a very flattering haircut.  I’m not much of one for hair usually, you can probably tell that from looking at my haircut, but what you have going there?  That’s stylish.  I like it.

RANNI 

(incredulous) 

Who even are you? 

AMAZING GRACE 

A friend of Dash’s 

RANNI 

(shaking her head) 

Dash didn’t have any friends. 

AMAZING GRACE 

Oh sure he did, Dash and I were thick as thieves we were.  You don’t have like an energy bar or something in that tiny little purse do you?  Or a Snickers maybe.  I mean, you don’t look like you eat candy bars, just something like that you know. 

RANNI 

(apprehensively) 

Is Dash really dead? 

AMAZING GRACE 

(nods) 

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a person who was deader.  Maybe once in Tuscon.  Maybe.  I don’t think he had a single solitary drop of blood left in his body.  You weren’t going to tell him something about vampire were you?  I hate vampires.  They’re not like in the movies you know.  They’re gross trash monsters like raccoons.   I just had a vampire deal a few months ago, I’m not ready for another.  They’re awful.

Vampires are not like what you see in the movies.  They don’t have super strength, they can’t turn into bats, they don’t have mystical powers, they’re very sick people who are forced to feed on the blood of others to survive.  They need to be put out of their misery.  One thing they got right in movies is that turning someone into a vampire is a curse, and curses don’t make you cool sexy immortals who own nightclubs and ride motorcycles.

RANNI 

(confused) 

Vampires? What are you talking about?

AMAZING GRACE 

(stifling a sigh) 

Look, you don’t have to trust me, can you just give me a hint about that you were helping Dash with?  He’s dead, nothing you tell me can hurt him now and I’d like to know what happened to him.  We were friends.  Plus there’s a missing woman.  A missing woman with a very rich relative, sort of, who wants her back if that’s the kind of thing that motivates you.

 RANNI

I don’t feel safe talking here.

AMAZING GRACE

Alright then, s’go, I can stop somewhere on the way and grab some Twin Bings, I’m starving.  I missed lunch.

CUT TO: 

EXT. NARROW ALLEY BEHIND CLUB OBSIDIAN – NIGHT 

Ranni and Grace exit through a staff door, immediately a man in a dark hoodie with a face covering slams the door into them.  Ranni is sent sprawling, Grace is unmoved and unharmed.  Grace knocks the attacker back with a front kick and slams her forearms together like she’s clapping.  Blue energy bursts into life from her fingers down to her elbows.  Think Godzilla powering up for atomic breath. 

Another man in the same fake ninja get up charges at her from the other end of the alley.  A short but brutal fight takes Grace and the two men.  Grace leaves traces of blue magic “electricity” as she strikes and sometimes red light on her feet as she leaps and sidesteps.  She knocks one man out by windmill slamming him on the ground.  The other she chokes unconscious.   

Ranni sits on the ground dazed with a bloody welt on her forehead.  Grace kneels in front of her, taps her fist on the ground twice, whistles a short tune and then runs her finger over Ranni’s forehead.  The wound closes up like a zipper shutting.  Grace tears a piece of her ratty Wal-Mart t-shirt off and hands it to her.   

AMAZING GRACE 

There you go, good as new.  Unless you have a concussion.  Nothing I can do about that. Concussions are tricky.  I met a witch once who could deal with them but she lives up in the mountains.  It’s a real pain in the ass to find her let alone actually get there.

RANNI 

(wiping the blood off her face) 

What was that? 

AMAZING GRACE 

(glances at the fallen attackers) 

Probably the guys that killed Dash.  They must have been waiting for you.  Or maybe they followed me from his apartment?  Whoever killed him is magic too so maybe they’re scrying on us right now.  Mostly they might be scrying on you because I’m protected from scrying.  It’s tough to pull off but people can do it.

(flipping the bird in random directions)

Fuck you whoever you are if you’re watching us right now!

RANNI 

(waving her free hand) 

Not that, YOU!  What were all those lights?  You lifted that guy off the ground with one hand! 

AMAZING GRACE 

Oh shit, did you not know about magic?  Magic is real and I have it.  Pretty cool right? 

Point and click

I guess this a move the raiders like.  Attacking right after a thunderstorm.  The travelers that you want to murder huddle up to get out of the rain and then you swoop down on them before they get back on their killer go-karts.  I’m no military expert but it seems like a solid move to me.  Although it didn’t work out so well for them this time so maybe not.  They should have listened to Jah Youth and gotten right at this time because there may not be no next time.   

There’s a stupid shot they always do in action movies or war movies where everyone is standing around dialoging and then suddenly someone’s head explodes to signal that the fight scene is beginning.  I hate it because it’s pandering.  Come up with some new shit directors.  

But what I’ve learned in my new life in hell is that is pretty much is how an ambush starts on when you’re the ambushee.  One minute your attention is locked on a disappointing spaceship and then you see a dude’s head explode Scanners style.  You’re just glad that it was someone else’s head and not yours.  That’s why I always stay in the middle of big groups.  The gazelles know what they’re doing.

The only thing that’s different is that in the movies after the head explosion there’s beat where all the main characters stand around emoting.  That doesn’t happen because that first shot is followed less than a beat later by all the others.  The ambushers are working together you see.  They set up a whole ambush together.  They’re not just as shocked as you are when the first guy snipes someone’s melon off their shoulders.  They’re on the move.

When everyone started getting shot I noticed something interesting.  The renegade plainspeople were not getting shot.  In fact they were taking out long knives (short swords?) and other killing tools and they were going to town on the water people.  I guess they’re not renegades so much as spies and double agents. 

I shot one of the non-renegades in the chest and then kicked him off the hovercraft with my foot.  S/He looked pretty surprised.  I wonder if not all of them were in on the scheme or if they just forgot that we have guns. 

I’m pretty sure on an episode of the Rifleman they said that the best thing to do in the case of an ambush is to go on the offensive.  Or maybe it was Mannix.  It could have been China Beach.  There’s an outside chance that it may have been Party of Five.  Or it could that Martialla told me that going on the offensive is the worst thing to do in case of an ambush, that when you get bushwhacked what you need to do is survive the first few moments as best you can with the goal of GTFO. 

It was one of those.

I jumped down out of the hovercraft into one of the non-renegade kill-buggies.  I don’t know who was more surprised by our collision, me or the person trying to slither into the driver’s seat.  Probably me since I don’t think dead people can be surprised.  My foot got tangled in whatever you call the upper structure of a buggy and I came down with my leg out like it was World Wide Wrestler and I was doing a legdrop.  The guy leaning in the side got it right across the back of the neck.  A neck breaking doesn’t make as much noise as foley artists would have you believe.  It’s more of a pop than a crack.

That’s a thing I know now. 

I was trying to roll and kick and get into the seat and get the dead guy out at the same time when the machine rocked backwards on account of Paul jumped on the back and macheted a guy that was just about to skewer me from behind with a pointed stick.  I won’t call it a spear because it was too short.  It was like a sharpened baton.  The guy was split from shoulder down to the hip like this was a Friday the 13th movie.  Paul’s machete was ripped out of his hand and he tumbled ass-backwards, getting caught up in whatever the back part of a buggy is and hanging horizontally.

I got to return the favor one second later but shooting a guy who came to hack him with what looked like a T-square.  I shot him until my pistol went click.  Martialla would be very disappointing in me for shooting myself dry.  Which sounds gross.

Unlike us townies these plains nomads don’t seem to be worried about theft because the buggy started up with just a kick pedal thing instead of complicated ignition sequence.  I hauled Paul up and we took off, swinging around to try and come at the attacker’s vehicles laterally. 

As we lurched and almost flipped I saw Paul struggling to get his machete out of the two-thirds of a person hanging in the buggy between us.

I gestured upwards frantically “The gun Paul, man the gun!”

I could barely hear him over the wind and the engine “I don’t know how!”

“Just point and pull the trigger!”  I heard a rattle and saw some dirt fly up ahead of us and I started waving frantically at the rapidly approaching enemy vehicles “Point Paul!  Point at the enemy damn it!”

Epic fight music

Once the hooting and hollering of the assembled horde reached a fever pitch, it seemed like it was time to go.  Martialla and I sat across from one another perched in J-Lo’s empty window holes and looked at each other.  Why didn’t we just get in the car and look at each other?  It is a little dark in there but mostly because it was cooler.  Actually that’s a lie, the real reason is that it seemed like once we were inside that it was really happening.  You know what I mean?  I tapped on the roof a couple of times and she did the same like that was a thing we did. 

I glanced at all the dust being kicked up by the mile long demolition derby about to unfold “Too bad we don’t have a tape deck, some tunes would be nice.”

Martialla nodded “Ride of the Valkyries or Eye of the Tiger, something like that?”

I rolled my eyes “You are such a hack Martialla, next you’re going to be suggesting Fortunate Son.”

She looked hurt “I thought you liked Credence.”

“I do, everyone loves CCR, but that song lost its luster in this context after playing over a scene of chopper in Vietnam after the fiftieth time.”

Martialla glanced out at the field as the sound of chattering automatic weapon fire and the screeching of metal on metal was growing into a roar “I suppose we should go.”

I took a look as well, although there wasn’t much you could see with all the grit in the air “Yeah, I guess we’ll just have to go into battle with Fantasy playing in our heads.  Did you know that was the first song to debut at number one by a female artist?  And that was nineteen ninety five.  It took that long Mar, think about all the great female singers throughout history and not until the end of the century did a woman debut at number one.”

“Well that was over a hundred years ago Ela, it was a different time.  Do you think Mariah Carey really knows how to rollerblade?”

I snorted “Hell no, I’m sure they had her trussed up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to keep her upright.  She carries fifty percent of her weight in her boobs, I’m surprised she can even stand up, there’s no way she can operate on wheels.”

“Unlike us.”

“Unlike us.”

We slid inside, put the armor in place, and strapped in.  I asked Martialla if she was good but the battle had grown so loud that I don’t know if she could hear me.  Either way she gave me a thumbs up, clutching the nanocanister to her breast like a mother chimp with a baby.  The idea was that we would drive along the road (flanking Martialla insisted on calling it) and then turn towards the fighting and try to ram the Invincible vehicles from the side.  Since J-Lo has no weapons and she’s great off-road this seemed like the way to go. 

Of course there were Invincible vehicles on the road coming at us head-on, so the entire idea was rendered moot immediately. 

The first thing coming at us looked like the front of a semi (the tractor I guess it’s called, but to me and everyone else a tractor is a farm machine) cut in half horizontally with a little platform on the back that had a rocket launcher.  The mutant on the back fired off the rocket, seemingly engulfing him/herself in flames in the process, and the projectile whirled around like a bottle rocket.  It was spinning so crazily and randomly that I figured there was no chance it would hit us but it did.  Direct hit from something that seemed to have the flight path of a drunken one winged grasshopper.  How is that possible?  J-Lo jumped up in the air but it was just like hitting a speed bump.  I have no idea what she’s made of but it seems to be pretty close to being indestructible.  Or invincible if you prefer. 

The visibility out J-Lo’s driving slit isn’t great so I couldn’t tell where it was coming from but I could hear bullets clattering off the front armor.  You cannot imagine how loud that is from the inside.  It’s like putting a bunch of batteries in a blender and then putting your ear where the top thing goes before you turn it on.  What is that top thing on a blender called?  It must have a name.  Some shrapnel ricocheted through the vision-hole and hit me right in the earlobe.  I wonder if that would count for a purple heart back in the day.  No more earlobe for a bit.

Even in a nigh-indestructible car, a head on collision seems like a bad idea so I cut to the right and whipped back over immediately for a sideswipe (a rake actually, but I’m not going to go over that again, except I just did I suppose).  I guess there must have been enough clearance for J-Lo to get underneath them like a cougar flipping over a porcupine because the next thing I see is wheels going over the vision slit and we were rocked like a VW Bug being crushed by a monster truck. 

When I came around I saw the half-semi (quarteri?) standing up on its nose like a seal balancing a ball.  It was as if it had been dropped from a crane.  I saw a couple people struggling to crawl out and I floored it at them like a dirty redneck splattering a family of raccoons crossing a gravel road.  Chunks of what used to be people flew in through the slits like we were at the front row of a Gallagher concert.  Which we were not.

Splash one bandit I guess.  That’s what they say in the war plane fighter movies right?

Something slammed into us from behind but by the time I could swing around I didn’t see anything.  Could have been someone on our own side for all I know since we weren’t even facing the right way anymore.  Although how could there be a right way?  All I could see of the battle looked like a prison riot, how could you even tell who was on your side? 

Coming around again back the right away and continuing up the road, some Invincible bikes scattered like frightened birds ahead of us.  One of the crazy fuckers jumped onto J-Lo.  I know this because his arm came through the vision-hole with a knife like that guy who was stabbing women through the windows of their apartments.  What did they call that guy?  The papers gave him a name.  I didn’t get a chance to learn this guy’s name because Martialla reared back and stomped on his wrist and made his arm bend the wrong way and then I threw him free with a hard swerve.  A couple of his fingers ripped off his hand as he was hurled and landed in my lap.  I’ll think of a joke for that later.  Something dirty.

Off the side of the road I saw one of those stupid Invincible log cabin machines just sitting there and I decided it was time to get in the fight.  I took a gentle left and hit it in the side.  The damn thing split in half like the boat in Man with the Golden Gun.  It would be crazy to say that it was like driving through tissue paper but it was easier than it seems like it should be to literally drive through another vehicle.  Maybe the front part attaches to the stupid wood part with duct tape.  It was ridiculously easy to destroy. 

Splash two. 

I started off after one of the Invincible observation vehicles where the bumpy-head people sit and watch (although this time they were shooting a SAW like mad, I saw bullet casings flying off like candy in an explosion at a piñata factory) but I was intercepted by a thing that looked like the Munster’s car with three Mad Max spinning engine things on the front.  The Munsters cut in front and fired a thing at us that looked like a bunch of harpoon guns from a whaling ship banked together like a missile carrier. 

That hit sent us spinning like an old Mo-Town singer when they take their hat off during the chorus.  By the time I got my bearings the Munsters had reloaded and were lining up another shot.  We spun around each other three times like two drunks both trying to grab each other’s ass for a conga line before I slammed on the breaks and whipped the wheel around to plow into them like a butt-first torpedo.

Martialla shot through the hole and peppered the driver in the chest while their gunner launched the harpoons.  The impact felt worse than any of the crashes we’ve been in.  I swear it knocked J-Lo back ten feet.  How can those things have more force behind them than actual rockets?  One guy was trying to re-load harpoons while another tried to drag the dead driver out of the seat while a third jumped off and hoofed it.  I guess he was the smart one because I backed up and bifurcated the Munster-mobile like a fruit stand in an action movie car chase. 

Splash three.

Next thing I know one of the log-cabin mobiles slammed into us.  I don’t know if it was an intentional ram or if it was just a crash in the chaos.  What I do know is that J-Lo slid inside them like a very sensual leg into a silk stocking – only with way more splintering wood and scraps of metal and screaming and blood flying everywhere.  Suddenly we were in the pitch dark.  I drive to reverse out of the wreckage but the tires spun uselessly like we were on ice.  Martialla waved for me to stop and then injected herself with some red nanos – right in the chest like a psycho.  She could have at least done it into the arm or the thigh for my benefit. 

She unstrapped herself, took down the armor panel on her side and spun to the side to kick her legs out the window into the shell of the other car around us.  Since she wasn’t anchored in any way she flew back into me like that time my dad put me in the back of the old pick-up with a washing machine and told me to hold onto it while we drove out to the junkpile.  I elbowed her in the back of head.

“Jesus, watch it, you’re fucking crushing me!”  She slithered partway out the window between the two cars like a sliver between your fingernail and skin, and I saw her grabbing J-Lo’s edge for support “Hey, don’t bend her frame!”

Martialla managed to swing-kick off enough of the wrecked Invinci-car to get around the back and pull J-Lo free.  Since the armor was down on her side I saw a spike-buggy thing coming at us and shouted a warning at her.  She jumped out of the way and the spike-buggy slammed into J-Lo’s side with several spikes coming free and flying in the “open” window and hitting me in both elbows.  One on the outside and the other going across to hit me on the inside of the other.  You ever have a rusty spike driven through your elbow?  It fucking hurts. 

While I fumbled for the nanoinjector with my suddenly bloody hands, Martialla grabbed the side of the buggy and flipped it over like an angry toddler with a toy truck.  The driver tried to crawl out and she stomped on his melon, which crushed under her boot far more easily than an actual melon would have.  I’ve seen a lot of twisted stuff lately but that’s really going to stick with me.  That guy’s skull cracked like it was an egg, barely any resistance.  Those red nanos are no joke.

I finally managed to shakily inject myself with some blue nanos as I watched Martialla yank an axle (something long anyway) off the bottom of the overturned buggy and leap onto the wreckage of the first machine where she used it like she was spear-fishing to pin another Invincible car to the ground like that one kid in class did to bugs. 

The blue nanos are weird, they immediately make you feel high off your ass but they also make you feel like you’re not really in control of your limbs for a moment.  I should have just waited for them to do their thing but it felt important in that moment to try and drag the spike out of my arm even though I had the coordination of a drunk teenager playing pin the tail on the donkey. 

I shouted out the window at Martialla “Get back in here!”

She jumped back down by the window and I handed her the injector on account of the bloody bullet-hole in her side and she helped herself to some blues as well “I don’t think I need to.”

“Why not?”

She looked right and left “I think we won.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the name of the other bar in Cheers?

From Mad Max, credit to ???

Despite never having ridden (driven?) a motorcycle before, I was able to pick up how to excite-bike my way across the wasteland without dying.  Martialla had a much harder time getting the hang of it.  She almost busted the ass that she doesn’t even have the first time we got into rough terrain.  Probably because she’s so gangly and mantis-like.  I’m not sure why it was so much easier for me than it was for her.  Are there transferrable skills from horsewomanship to motorcyclemania?  I’m a great equestrian you know.  Maybe she’s just not used to having anything with so much power between her legs.  Mega-burn!  Call the trauma ward for that burn!  I guess that’s really more of a burn on her dead husband than her, now that I think about it, which is less fun. 

The following day we came to another trading fort.  The last one wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs but it was fine, this one was much less fun. You know how in your home town there’s that bar that people consider to be kind of shady but is actually fine?  And everyone calls that the bad bar?  Well there’s another bar across town that makes that bar look like the swankest yuppie gin joint around, a bar where you can shoot up in the bathroom and no one gives a shit because a hooker just got stabbed in the parking lot.  This place had that vibe.   

I admit that I may only think that because of the sign though.  It said (in English surprisingly) that what they had for sale was water and slaves only, because they were out of stock on ammo.  I’ve assumed/expected that slavery was a thing because that seems awful so why wouldn’t it be, but seeing a sign for slaves was still a kick in the snizz.  Of course my first thought was to buy them and set them free.  There are two problems with that idea. 

Back home one time, a church group got the idea that they would go around to all the places that sold magazines and buy up all the dirty, dirty pornography so no one else could get it.  Anyone who took economics in college or has been alive in the world can see the problem with that.  As long as you pay for the stuff, the person selling it could give a shit what you do with it, all you’re doing is creating demand which results in more supply.   

The other problem is that turning these people loose right there with no food or water is either a death sentence or more likely the fort-traders would just grab them up again and sell them once more.  The only solution, as always, is murder – kill all the slave sellers and then the former slaves could have their stuff and live in their trade fort if they want.  I gave Martialla the “should we” look but she shook her head.  The two of us and our one gun against them didn’t seem like a great plan, I admit.   

If you ask me (and you are in a way by reading this) why we even went in the place after seeing that sign, I couldn’t tell you.  It’s probably for the same reason those same Christian porn people went to see The Last Temptation of Christ, they wanted to get upset about it.  Unlike the last trade fort, you could just walk right into this one.  There were definitely people with guns around, but no one seemed to be a “guard”; they were just armed and loitering.   

As soon as we walked in, a dude that looked like Tigris of Gaul if you melted that helmet to his head and sprinkled in some mushrooms to the molten silver and then that mess turned into skin sauntered up and tried to put a collar on me.  Just walked up like I was presenting myself to him to sign up for his slavery program.  Like he thought I was just going to stand there and let him collar me up.  Like he was a dog catcher sweeping up friendly strays.   

I will admit that when I twisted away from him and kicked him in the knee, it didn’t do jack shit.  It felt like I was kicking a tree stump.  I’m fifty percent sure I broke a bone in my foot with that kick.  I credit him that.  What I don’t credit him for was when I swung the crowbar-hatchet-cleaver that we just traded for the other day at him, he tried to block it with his forearm like it was a Nerf bat.  All the flesh from the mid-part of his lower arm to the elbow sheared off so easily that I lost my balance and almost faceplanted into the dirt.  It was like swinging a sledgehammer at a concrete wall and finding out the wall was actually made of soap bubbles.   

Have you ever see in an action movie or a kung fu flick or whatever when a bad guy gets his hand chopped off and he holds up the stump and looks at it like “huh”?  And you think “that is so stupid, that would never happen”.  Well, that’s exactly what he did.  He held up his arm, showering down blood like water when you open the washing machine before it’s done, and gazed at it with a stupid look until Martialla sunk a meat hook-spear-golf club into his chest.  His response then was to swing a wild backhand at her that she fell ass over twat trying to dodge.   

I don’t know if he was trying to tackle me or if he just fell or what happened, but the next thing I knew I was being crushed into the ground with him on top of me reaching for my throat.  It was like I was a mechanic working under a car and the jack fell out from behind the wheel.  I’ve never felt pressure like that.  I swear to god a horse rolled on me once and this felt seven thousand times heavier than that.  I tried to keep his hands away from my throat but I would have had better luck bending the wing of a Seven Forty Seven.  There was no fucking way.   

Thankfully for everyone involved, Martialla shot him through the ear.  First the left, then the right.  And when he still didn’t go down, she shot him twice at the base of the skull.  When he finally collapsed on me, I thought that I had died as well.  Martialla used her murder stick as a lever to shift him enough for me to slither out from under him.  Once I stopped gasping for air, I realized that no one was even watching.  That skirmish wasn’t even an interesting enough occurrence for anyone to turn their head for more than a second.  Martialla gave me a hand getting to my feet and a greasy looking guy with a furry hat wiped his filthy hands on his filthy pants and came over to us.   

“We sharrig the needies same to us?” 

Keep your hands inside the vehicle until it comes to a complete stop

Driving around with Martialla trying to fire on the move proved to be useless.  Part of the reason was my wrist was hurting so badly that I couldn’t grip the wheel with that hand.  I had one hand on the wheel and then I jammed my forearm through the wheel-hole on the other side to kind of make it so I could steer.  Point being it was much easier to turn one way than the other.  Shifting was a problem.  

But shattered wrists aside, I figured out quickly that it made more sense to get into what I thought was a good field of fire and then come to a complete stop so Martialla could shoot from a stationary position.  Then when a clump of enemies started coming our way, I’d take off again.  That worked better than the old run and gun, until Martialla ran out of ammo.  Which happened in very short order.  

She switched to the crappy plastic assault rifle from the swap meet and we were able to take out a couple of Invincible vehicles (the drivers really) by way of me pulling up aside them and her firing off a burst.  Their machines seem to have a lot less armor on them than J-Lo.  Which I wish we were in at the time instead of that fucking flimsy dune buggy.  I heard Martialla cursing and slamming her rifle into the buggy frame, I think it jammed almost every time she fired and had to be cleared.  That ammo was gone even more quickly.  Quicklier?     

Looking back on things, that is the point when we should have gotten the hell out of there, if not before.  In the moment it’s hard to realize what’s going on.  The defenders were fucked.  Nothing we were doing was going to make a difference.  And what’s worse was we had done enough damage to the Invincible to start attracting too much attention.  I wonder if there’s a military term for getting into a fight and kicking ass at first so hard that it makes you blind to the fact that you’re about to get bent over the barrel.  I suppose that’s just called overconfidence.   

Two very clear things stick in my memory.  One is that I was mouthing the words to “Got Your Money” under my breath while I was driving.  I’m not much of a rap fan, I don’t know why I was chanting that like a mantra, but I was.  The second thing is that one of the Invincible-mobiles tried to sideswipe us with spinning blades on the side and it made me think of Grease and how strange that drag race scene is.  

So these are high school kids right, and they’re racing around, and one of them pushes a button and some whirling blades of death come out of the Scorpion guy’s car like it’s James Bond and tear the shit out of John Travolta’s car?  What the fuck is that about?  Where did that come from?  That would be like if Anna suddenly lashed out at someone with a lethal karate kick to the head in the King and I.  It’s nonsensical.  But when you’re a kid you just think “oh yeah, that’s how street racing works, why wouldn’t it?”  

I turned to get out of the path of the spinning blade machine and I cut too hard and the buggy went over on its side.  When I was a kid once I fell off a horse and broke my collarbone.  That was bad.  I must have learned something from the experience though because somehow I managed to come through flipping that damn buggy without much more than bumps and bruises – honestly it barely felt different to me than when you’re drunk and you go to sit down and you fall on your ass because there was no chair there.  

Back in Martialla’s position there was no harness exactly but there was like a cargo net thing that kept her from flying off the back.  When we went wheels up, I distinctly heard a thud-ping that I’m pretty sure based on the massive amount of blood on her face was Martialla’s skull smashing into the bar she was holding onto on the back.  I scrambled out and saw Martialla hanging onto the net with one arm and clutching a pistol with the other.  Somehow she didn’t drop her gun, it looked like she was eighty percent unconscious.  Points for persistence. 

I drew my pistol and fired at the spike-car as it wheeled around towards us until it went “click, click, click”.  I must have hit something (or someone more likely) because it veered slightly and then continued our way at like three miles an hour.  I didn’t slap Martialla so much as I pushed her in the face with my hand and I yelled for her to help me get the thing back onto its wheels.  When she didn’t move, I yanked on her hair and demanded that she help me but she barely even moved then.   

I think I could have rocked it back over on my own, like I said before it didn’t weigh a ton and it seemed like it was kind of built to flip back around, but it turns out that I didn’t have to because while I was trying to push on the frame, another Invincible car (with a limbless torso stuck into the front grill) came at us with a sideswipe maneuver.  I think technically a sideswipe is when both vehicles are going in the same direction, and it’s called a rake when they’re coming at you head on, but no one would know what I was talking about if I said it tried to rake us.  

I jumped up out of the way and did like a hanging crunch on the frame of the buggy to avoid getting my pretty little guts splattered across the plains.  My trainer Maurice would have been so proud of me if he wasn’t long super dead.  He was always on my ass about working out my core.  I told him a hundred times that I don’t need core strength because I’m a sexy actress not a lady athlete but he never listened.  He was Algerian or something so his grasp of English wasn’t great.  I doubt I could do that again under normal circumstances, adrenaline is a hell of a thing.  I didn’t even feel the oblique I ripped to shreds doing it until later.  

The impact of the rake ram sideswipe knocked the buggy back upright and I jumped back into the seat and floored it.  Martialla wasn’t shooting anymore but I don’t know if that’s because she was out of it and wasn’t able to shoot on account of being bashed or because there was nothing much more she could do because our two longarms were both out of ammo.  

I realized at this point that more and more hostiles were buzzing by us subjecting us to wildly inaccurate gunfire and stabbing at us with various long implements and/or trying to ram us while simultaneously realizing that there seemed to be no defenders left in our area at all.   Aside from the looming threat of death, the scariest part was how fast it happened.  Even though we were engaged in a deadly fight, it felt like we were safe until then you know?  It felt like we were on the side (the flank they call it in the army I think) and we had better range and maneuverability and we were kind of okay.  Then all of a sudden we were surrounded in like eight seconds flat.

I tried to get off the dirt tracks and cut through the fields hoping that we had better ability to travel through the wheat crop (or whatever the hell it was) but this backfired horribly as we were immediately slowed down and the Invincible machines seemed to handle it just fine.  I jerked to the right to avoid a fucking rocket that someone fired off the back of a truck at us and moved directly into the path of a thing that looked like an airplane engine that someone had put wheels on.  Out of all the insane bullshit vehicles I’ve seen in this junkyard of a world, that one was the insanest and bullshitest.  It slammed into us a dozen times harder than that rocket would have, I bet.  

I remember a brief feeling of weightlessness and then boom, lights out.

It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way, If we’ll keep on the sunny side of life

One thing I’m trying to do for myself is think about the good aspects of waking up in a post-apocalyptic hellscape.  For example, in the before time I dated a guy who would use the expression “all fucked out”.  Such as, we’d be at a restaurant and we’d be out of bread and he’d say “Ela, can you grab the waiter next time he comes by, this bread is all fucked out.”  Or I’d ask him to get me a beer and he’d say “Sorry, the beer is all fucked out”.  I told him that I hated this expression but he still kept saying it.  In his defense I don’t think he was doing it to be a dick, I think he was just used to saying it and he didn’t make an effort to change.

One time he said “all fucked out” at brunch with my friends and I wanted to stab him in the forehead with a fork.  But I couldn’t because pre-apocalypse you got in trouble if you fork stabbed someone.  At the very least, people would be upset.  At worst I might go to jail.  Can you even imagine?  Me?  Ela?  In jail.  Martialla will tell you that I was in one of those “caged heat” type movies but Certainty of Debt wasn’t like that.  They did add in a shower-fight scene post-production but that wasn’t me, they shot that with a body double.  They really screwed that movie up in editing.  Anyway, my point is that now I can stab whoever I want and it’s fine.  So that’s a good thing about my current predicament.  

Even though he was just accusing us of being part of the attack, Mr. Codpiece scooted off after his friends a second later and left us standing there.  We heard more bells ringing and some of the bug people tending the fields ran and jumped into little tunnel-holes in the ground while some of them ran towards the northwest.  We saw a bunch more of the non-bug warrior types coming out of the woodwork too, on horseback, on those stupid scooters, and on foot.  They didn’t seem to have much in the way of sturdy vehicles or firearms.  Some of them did have bangsticks, I learned all about those when I was in Shark Huntress 2: Blue Eyes.  Fun fact, I got warm water hypothermia working on that movie.

In retrospect, going towards the sound of fighting was not a wise thing to do.  Martialla and I probably should have just driven the other way as fast as we could.  When I jumped behind the wheel of our borrowed buggy though, I knew where we were going.  Martialla did too because she didn’t get in the seat beside me, she jumped on the back thingy where you go when you want to shoot stuff and unlimbered the rifle we took from the traders that tried to kill us for no reason.  

I know why I did what I did.  I was desperate to see what was going on at the doctor’s lab and figured this was a good way to curry favor.  Not the research, I don’t care about that, I mean does she have power?  And maybe therefore air conditioning?  Refrigeration?  And maybe therefore real food instead of smashed-up worms fried with mud?  Are there beds?  Showers?  Could I shave my legs?  I know a lot of women hated shaving their legs but I like it.  And all the feminists who gave me shit about it are all dead now so there’s another good thing.  

But why did Martialla immediately jump into battle mode?  Despite her churlishness did she realize that making nice with the doctor was our best chance for survival and she didn’t want the place to burn just like I did?  Was she merely backing me up, falling back into the old pattern of following my lead?  Or was she simply in the mood to shoot something?  Ever since she found out that her husband was super duper dead along with all her friends and family (except me, her best friend) she’s been in a mood.  Maybe I’ll ask her later.  

War movies have told me that after a battle, soldiers have to write a report about what happened in that battle.  Maybe that’s just the officers.  I wonder if they learn how to do that in soldier school because it seems impossible to me now that I’ve done it.  There’s a lot going on in a battle.  It would be like trying to write a report about what happened when a three-ring circus exploded because a train hauling dynamite and bouncy balls and hookers collided with an airplane carrying some of the worst criminals living and the US president.  I was supposed to be in Con Air you know, but my idiot manager double booked me and I was on set as a corpse on ER the day I was supposed to shoot my Con Air scene.  

Broad strokes are the best I’m going to be able to do here.  The main thing I can tell you is that being in a battle sucks.  And yet it’s kind of easier than the couple of scrapes Martialla and I have been in so far.  See when you shoot a dude in the neck and then just stand there and watch him bleed out/suffocate, that’s troubling.  On the other than when you’re zipping around all over the place shooting at dozens of people, you can kind of ignore the results.  It’s like the difference between hitting a raccoon with your car and having to beat a raccoon to death with a sharp rock.  As long as it’s over quick you can go back to listening to the radio and put it out of your mind.  

The attackers were Invincible.  I saw those fucking stupid red and blue fists they like painted on a bunch of their shit.  I think it may have been the same crew we saw attacking those people outside of Bosstown.  Some of the vehicles looked familiar.  It’s hard to say for sure but I think there were a lot more of them.  I saw a couple bigger armored things that I never saw before, they were kind of like tanks but maybe more like garbage trucks with armor bolted on them and some platforms.  They build some top-heavy shit around these parts.

The Invincible opening move was a bunch of truck/bus type things that came forward and offloaded dudes on foot who charged forward.  They all had blades and clubs, I didn’t see a single firearm in that first group.  After wave one was engaged with the defenders, the Invincible bikes and buggies moved in to attack.  I’m no military strategist (obviously) but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Isn’t the idea behind armor that it goes first and punches a hole for the infantry to exploit? (phrasing)  Maybe it’s a cannon fodder scenario.  Maybe the machines are more valuable than the people.  

The bigger vehicles stayed back out of the fray which makes even less sense to me since they seem like they’re the ones that would be the hardest to damage or destroy.  Some of them had cannons or harpoon launchers but a bunch of them had, I shit you not, catapults on them that hurled jagged scraps of metal and rocks into the fight, but a lot of them just sat there and did nothing other than offer the people in them a good view of the battle.  

The defenders were outnumbered badly I think.  The Invincible seemed like they were everywhere.  When the guys trying to fight them stood their ground, it didn’t go well.  Things worked out much better for them when they hid in the rows of crops and jumped out with their bangsticks to attack the wheels of the attackers’ vehicles.  I don’t know why they didn’t do that more.  The worst was the little bee-people.  They had no weapons, they ran forward and threw themselves at the attackers like suicide bombers – only without the bombs.  They were just trying to gum up the machines with their flesh.  It was nauseating but it worked a couple times.  More than once I saw one of the leech guys grab one of the little people and “bite” onto them with their hideous lamprey-mouths and then toss them aside like a crushed soda can.  I don’t know if that actually did anything to make them fight better or if they just liked doing it.

Unhinged

I hung my arm out the window and glanced over at Martialla as the ugly landscape crawled by “You know I haven’t seen a single roach here in the future.”

“Present, you mean.  You say that like you’re disappointed.  Why do you want to see roaches?”

“I don’t want to see roaches, who would want to see a roach?”

“An entomologist.”

“Shut up Martialla!  The point I’m trying to make is that back in our time they always said that after the end of the world the only thing left would be the roaches, so where are the roaches?  Swarms of giant carnivorous roaches hungry for our tender meat.”

Martialla frowned “Why do you want there to be roaches?”

“God damn it Martialla, I’m not saying that I want there to be roaches. What I’m saying is that they told us there were going to be roaches everywhere after the world blew up so where are they?”

“They were wrong.  Roaches being left after the bombs drop is one of those things that someone said once based on nothing and it sounded good, so other people kept parroting it.  Like that old chestnut about how you lose ninety percent of your heat from your head or that if you wake up a sleepwalker they could die.  Roaches evolved in tropical rain forests, the only reason they can survive in other environments is because humans have heated houses for them to live in and create literally tons of garbage for them to eat.  Anything that took out humans would take out the roaches too, except in the jungles where they evolved to live.”

I scowled at her “Why do you know so much about roaches?”

“I dated an entomologist in college.”

“Stop saying entomologist!  I don’t think you have any idea what you’re talking about, need I remind you that you’re an adult woman who doesn’t know what third base is.”

I know what third base is, you’re the one who thinks that millions of women are out there getting fingered all the time in the back of cars!”

“I never said anything about fingers going inside anything, everyone knows that third base is when you . . .”

I trailed off when I saw the smoke. The road was elevated maybe thirty feet, the parts of it that are left anyway, some of it had dropped off on the north side.  I’ve driven out to Reno before (don’t ask) and I don’t remember the interstate being on the side of a hill like this.  How could any of the road be intact if the topography has shifted that much?  The future present makes no sense. 

I think we’re in the general area of what used to be Truckee, but I don’t think there were ever rice fields in Truckee before.  That’s what was off the road to the north.  It looked like something out of a movie about Vietnam.  Not just the terraces and the rice plants but the scene – blood and mayhem – was what you would expect from one of those movies too.  I mean except for the motorcycles.

The smoke was coming from a burning stand of trees crowded in-between the fields.  Most of the smoke was issuing from little huts that were built into the branches like a treehouse for a little kid.  Tearing ass around the fields were a half dozen guys on dirtbike-like contraptions flailing about with chains and clubs as other people on foot fled in terror before them.  They tried to flee in terror anyway, a lot of them got bashed down from behind, you know because you can’t run faster than a minibike.  Generally speaking.

I saw a clump of a dozen or so people with spears form up into a little square like they were going to fend off a cavalry charge in olden times.  One of the bikers skidded to a stop in front of them, spraying up a big wave of mud and rice-stalks (?) and then hurled a stick of dynamite at them [Martialla’s note, it was a black powder fuse grenade, not dynamite] and blew them to pieces.  It was just a thing that happened.  A bunch of people turned into bloody mist right before my eyes like that’s normal. 

Across the field there was a vehicle that was one of the ugliest wrecks I’ve seen here so far.  The frame looked like it was that of a big off-road truck or utility vehicle but the body looked like a horizontal tepee or something – I swear that a lot of it looked like it was wood.  There was a friggin’ turret on this thing.  I have no idea where the engine even would be in something like that.  Standing near this Frankencar were three of those lumpy-headed people watching the carnage and having themselves a laugh.  They were bald like all the potato-head people we’ve seen so far, so I can’t say for sure, but I think the one in the middle was a woman.  She (?) had a crazy looking gun over her shoulder that looked like it was four feet long. 

“Jesus Christ what are you doing!”

That’s what Martialla said when I turned our car, fishtailed like crazy, and took us over the side into the field.  I guess it was a pretty steep decline.  I should have given her a heads up.  Especially since this thing has no seat belts.  Here’s the problem with J-Lo.  Armored plates are all well and good for protection, but it leaves you with just a small slit to look through.  It’s not so bad when you’re on the road, but when you’re driving around a terraced rice field trying to run over nimble dirt bikes you really need a full field of vision.  I never wondered before how tank drivers in World War Two were able to see where they were going but now I do.  How the hell did they know where they were going? 

I stuck my head out the window so I could see better and in doing so I managed to clip one of the bikers on the back wheel and send it and him tumbling through the air.  I tried to come around to take another crack at him but J-Lo got bogged down in the mud and plant material in the fields as I turned.  We weren’t going anywhere.  Martialla grabbed me by the seat of the pants and dragged me back inside.

“Get the fucking armor up, that’s a saw!”

I would find out later that saw can mean Squad Automatic Weapon.  Why couldn’t she just say machine gun like a normal person?  Why did she have to say saw?  Say saw.  Say saw.  That sounds weird.  A moment later the car started trembling like it had those hardware store paint can shakers on each wheel.  The sounds of the bullets slamming into the armor was outrageous.  You cannot imagine how loud it was.  I ducked down in the seat and prayed not to get hit with a ricochet.  Based on the sound alone, I imagine that even a deflected bullet would have ripped me in half. 

My ears were ringing when the firing stopped so I didn’t even realize that it had stopped until I felt Martialla yanking on me again and shouting.  I couldn’t hear what she was yelling about but she dove out the window and a second later I saw one of those dynamite things [Martialla’s note, it was another fuse grenade, see above] clatter onto the hood of the car.  I guess Martialla didn’t think J-Lo would be able to take the blast.  Oh she of little faith. 

The explosion was actually surprisingly tame by comparison to the sound of that gunfire.  All it did was knock J-Lo out of her rut.  I put the hammer down with my sights set on one of the motocross murderers.  Another one of the bastards came whirring up beside and tried to stab in through the window with an L-shaped blade.  That didn’t work so well though because Martialla sprayed him with a burst of fire in the back from her position hugging the side of one of the terraces.  I could hear her cursing as the rifle jammed on her after a split second of fire. 

I felt a big thump, so the blade-guy must have fallen right under the back wheels.  I tried to bring J-Lo around to head up towards the woman (?) with the SAW but the incline was too steep and the purchase was too poor for me to make any headway.  I watched as the remaining bikers excite-biked their way up there and the potatohead people piled into their stupid looking machine and slowly drove away.  Martialla was yelling for me to turn, go laterally, and head up a dirt path on the other side of the burning trees but by the time I realized what she was trying to get me to do, they were gone. 

From the moment I spotted them to the time I saw them drive away wasn’t more than thirty seconds I bet.