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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never give up, never surrender, never think things through

We traveled with the Quarryfolk back to their hole but they were adamant that we couldn’t go into their caves.  I was equally as adamant that I never want to go in them.  I never thought much about caves before, why would I?  But now that I’m confronted with the idea of living in one?  I find that I don’t care for that at all, not one little bit.  Maybe I have PTSD from falling into those tunnels.  Maybe I just don’t like the idea of living like a dirty mole rat. 

I almost changed my mind about caves the first night sleeping outside when I woke up with a furry blob gnawing on my leg that looked like a massive gatordog head on a body made up of pieces of a camel, a pig, and a bontebok.  I didn’t wake up because I felt any pain, I woke because felt something tugging at me.  It was like that Massive Head-wound Harry sketch from SNL only with my leg.  Martialla’s theory is that the beast has aestheticizing saliva like a leech or a vampire bat (she claims anyway, I never heard of such a thing) my theory is that I hate it and want it to burn in the fires of hell. 

We should probably always sleep in J-Lo to avoid such nighttime leg foraging like that but it’s not very comforting being inside her.  If you know what I mean.  Sometimes you just want to stretch out.  Stretch out on the wet hard ground covered with itchy and stabby gross little plants.  Have I mentioned that the future sucks lately?  Martialla and I haven’t had a ton of chances to trade, but we’ve had a few, and I have yet to see anything like a sleeping bag or a bedroll or anything to toss on the ground to keep slime scorpions from crawling in your mouth while you’re asleep.  I feel like these future people just flop in the mud like mangy stray dogs.  I used to hate when we went camping and I had to sleep in the old camper van my parents borrowed from their hippy friend Linclon.  Now I would kill people for just one night in it.  How many people?  That’s a good question. 

As we loitered on the rim (if you know what I mean) from time to time more of the bodybuilder people who always skip leg day would come out to speak with us.  I figured in order to get them to go along with my plan Martialla would have to fight their leader in a kal-if-fee battle to the death or she’d have to marry and bear the children of the clan member with the most robust aroma.  I assumed she’d have to be humiliated or commit bloodshed of some kind to get things moving.  But instead after a couple days the triangle shape muscle people just said (paraphrasing) “sure, I guess we’ll violently revolt against our masters”.  Just like that.   

While we were waiting for that delcaration Martialla, being the stick in the mud that she is, asked me why exactly I was trying to get them to rise up against their masters.  I tried feeding her some line about freedom of the human spirit and dignity and huddles masses yearning to breathe free but she didn’t go for it.  The funny thing is I was only mostly lying.  Some of me did want them to be free without any other ulterior motive.  If you want to enslave people that’s one thing but you don’t have to be a dick about it.  The Paradisians could have just taken these people’s oil, they didn’t have to treat them like garbage on top of everything else.   

I leveled with Martialla and told her that I didn’t like the Paradise people and I wanted them to die.  She pointed out that we never even talked to them.  There are always a few assholes in the bunch, maybe they’re not all like that.  Plus, even if they are all like that, making deals with assholes is what life is all about.  Even if we want them to die having them die fighting against the Invincible would be far more useful than fomenting (is that a word?) rebellion against them.  She went on to say that the whole reason we wanted them on our side is not just because they have planes and armored cars, but they most likely know how to use them and are seemed to be experienced and skilled fighters beyond that.  Plus they may have other client villages that have resources of their own to call upon – warriors and weapons and supplies and so forth.   

I admitted that these points were all well made, but what did she want me to do?  Back out of the plan to Trojan Horse them?   

“Yes.”  Was her response.   

Poor, poor, sad, plain Jane Martialla.  She’s a natural born follower so she doesn’t understand the burden of leadership.  You can’t change horses mid-stream.  Once you’ve decided on a course of action you have to stick with it, no matter how stupid or suicidal that decision turns out to be.  Changing your mind is a show of weakness and you have to lead from a position of strength.  I explained this all to her but she still didn’t get it. 

“That’s asinine.  You change your mind all the time.  Plus you are weak.  I know that.  Who are you trying to impress?” 

I thought about it for a moment and then grunted noncommittally “Alright, I just don’t like those Paradise people and this is what I’m doing about it.  Happy now?” 

“No, not at all, why would I be happy that you admitted you’re being unreasonable?” 

“Well, there’s no going back now, the wheels are in motion.” 

“They said it going to be ten days before they’re supposed to deliver anything to Paradise.  There’s plenty of time to go back.  I would say anything up until we’re actually inside the compound with a bunch of armed men is on the happy side of the point of no return.” 

“Well . . . technically . . . maybe.  But this is what we’re doing.” 

She sighed “Is this a Rob Lowe situation?” 

I nodded “Yes, I’m playing the Rob Lowe card.  This has nothing to do with logic or reason, this is pure and simple hatred unfettered from such concerns as good sense and accountability.” 

Live free or don’t

The machine the Roachbackers have bundled together with spit and mud to cart around their dignitaries/expendables looks a lot like the truck from the Beverly Hillbillies.  Because what you want when traveling through a dangerous area is to be put on a pedestal with no cover of any kind.  A guy hitting on me at a party once told me that his dad was a button man for Eddie Mannix back in the day and he was supposed to rub out Buddy Ebsen because of some shady deal involving rare coins.  Pro tip from me, Ela, if your move with the ladies is to talk about how cool your dad was, you need a new move.  Sidenote they should make a movie about Ed Mannix some day, that would be an interesting story.  If done right.

The people of Redrum didn’t have any vehicles of their own, their representative just jumped on the Roachmobile as we dusted through town.  And I mean that literally, they didn’t even slow down much, she just hopped aboard like a flea leaping onto the behind of a mangy hound.  Speaking of, I would kill for a RedRum right about now, as long as they went easy on the cinnamon.  The Treehorn contingent joined the convoy with a rickety piece of crap that looked like a rusty bedspring on wheels, only less sturdy.  But the Iron Springs people came correct with a long armored car beast with a front end painted like a shark, which is cool but how do they know what a shark is?  It looked tough as hell but the only weapons it seemed to have were slingshots of some kind.  It was incongruous.  It would have been cool if the Bristleboar guy was riding a giant boar but he was just on a bike like me and Martialla.  Big missed opportunity there.   

When we got to the Crossroads, representatives from Smashweed and Bosstown and all the other piddly little villages involved in this mess were already there along with the Vultures and some other mercenary bird people.  I wonder how word was sent ahead about us coming.  But not enough to try and find out.  It turns out that we weren’t supposed to leave all the filters in Roachback but that all got hashed out with only two people dying.  Which would be a lot for a meeting in my time, even in Hollywood, but I’ve figured out that you can’t have a summit of these sorts without a couple people dying, it’s just not how things are done now.   

While the various parties in their Eyes Wide Shut style sex beaks and BDSM underpants and gas masks and other futurewear were sorting out the filter issue with violence and childish name-calling, Martialla and I excite biked our way out into the badlands to retrieve J-Lo.  She was right where we left here.  “Ela how did you ever find her again, you have a terrible sense of direction, you got lost on the Warner Brothers lot once.”  First of all, Warner Brothers is a confusing layout.  Second of all, I found her the same way the swallows migrate annually to Goya, Argentina in October and return to their spring and summer home in San Juan Capistrano each March.  You feel it in your bones.  When you have a connection, something real, nothing can keep you away.  Nachgochema Anetaha Anachemowagan. 

Now there was a nova scorpion in the back seat and a rattlesnake the size of Shaquille O’Neal on the hood but we were able to prod them away without too much trouble.  Is a rattlesnake that big even venomous?  The fangs would go right through you so there would be no way to inject the toxin into your bloodstream right?  Otherwise how could it kill prey though?  Are there constrictor rattlesnakes now?  Bigger isn’t always better you know.  I remember thinking that while I was looking at an exhibit of some bones from a giant prehistoric beaver.  What does a beaver gain by being the size of a smart car?  The lodges they would have had to build would have been enormous.  That’s probably why they died out.   

When we got back to the Crossroads G8 summit of post-apocalyptic freaks with J-Lo, there were a lot of new arrivals in the form of the heavily armed bands of Roadrunners and Road Hogs.  Turns out they are not happy with us.  They feel that we had upstaged them with our daring hero’s quest to retrieve the water filters.  This feeling was not helped by Martialla telling them we wouldn’t have had to save everything and everyone with our courageous actions if they were doing their damn job instead of running from the Invincible like whipped dogs.  Thankfully cooler heads, mine, prevailed.   

After I pacified the Runners and the Hogs with some sweet lies about how we were just helping them out, I gave my inspirational address to the assembly masses.  I went thirty percent opening scene of Gladiator, forty percent the Patton speech from Patton, twenty percent Braveheart, and the rest various odds and ends from cat posters and fortune cookies.  They ate it up like a Shaquille O’Neal sized rattlesnake swallowing a castoroides.  Who can blame them?  I am a powerful orator and an inspirational leader.   

They were all “ra-ra” yeah, but I could tell they didn’t catch my drift so I explained to them what I was about.  The vain Duke Eagle and his horde of the Invincible are coming for us all and we need to make a move while we have the chance.  I told them about the attack on the doctor’s compound.  I told them about the attack on the convoy.  I told them about the attack on the hairy mole people.  I told them about a couple other atrocities committed by the Invicible that I made up.  I told them that things had changed.  They’d been safe behind their mountain walls (or however a valley works) for a long time but that time was over.  The Duke and his wretched mob of scum and villainy are loose in the valley and there is no option but war.   

They weren’t nearly as enthusiastic once they understood what I was talking about.  A lot of them started to drift away and commence an impromptu trade session and/or chat about the stupid water filters.  In order to win them back, I picked out a random guy (I think) out of the crowd with purplish-yellow skin and a mouth full of pointed teeth like a demented jackal.   

“You there, answer me this question, which is stronger, one or five?” 

After a moment of confusion, I think over being singled out but maybe about how numbers work, he held up his hand with his five fingers held out wide.  I nodded to Martialla and she bashed his fingers with her fist, mangling his digits with her beefy man-paw to much guffawing from the primitive crowd.   

“You see that?!  That’s what I’m talking about people.  The Invincible, they are one, we are many.  This isn’t the tit for tat raiding bullshit you’ve been doing for all your lives.  This is different.  This is war.  The Invincible don’t want to steal your crops or carry off a couple of your women, they’re coming to end you.  They’re burning the fields and they’re killing everyone in their path.  This is something new and you need to get up to speed right fucking now.  We need every warrior, every vehicle, every gun, every blade, and we need it now!  Every day we delay they grow stronger.  We need to gather the combined power of every community in this valley and we need to go on the attack, take the fight to them.  Who’s with me?!” 

A lemon faced little troll came forward rubbing his hands together like a praying Mantis “You said something about tits?” while everyone else went back to chattering about whatever stupid thing they were chattering about.

Ela Halloween Special #3

Luciens howls and scrambles forward as a zombie grabs at him relentlessly.  Crawling, hopping, and staggering after Ela with his bad leg.  He yells curses at her in Canadian for leaving him behind and eventually she stops and waits – slapping him across the face and then helping him to catch up with the others.  A few minutes later they’re together on Main Street Sueno Beach.  A street strewn with poorly parked cars, doors open and clogged with half-devoured bodies. There’s blood, bile, guts, bullets, and octane everywhere. Ela and the gang hunker down behind a mini-van in front of a movie theater – the lobby filled with more gnawed-on bodies. There don’t seem to be any zombies in this area for now, but you can hear them not too far away.

Ela is sweeping her eyes around the area alertly “Okay, here’s the plan, we need weapons, and lots of them. So what we’re going to do is . . .”

Elvis wipes at the blood seeping off Lucien’s gnarled leg with his bee-suit “Weapons? We need to get to Lucien to the hospital. His leg is bleeding badly and I don’t think I can stop it.  We need to fix him up and then we can . . .”

Ela all but spits at him “Are you stupid? What do they have at hospitals? Morgues. And what do they have at morgues?  Dead bodies. And what are zombies?  Your honor, I rest my case.  The hospital is zombie central, that’s the last place we’d want to go.”

Martialla is almost in Ela’s hip pocket she’s so close to her “Besides, all the doctors are probably dead anyway.”

Lucien is streaked with sweat and laboring “I think going to the hospital is good idea, no matter what the risk is.  Not just for [untranslatable Canadian gibberish] but for all of us.  Even if there are no doctors left there’s going to be medical supplies, bandages, painkillers and the like.  I think we’re going to need supplies like that before the night is out one way or the other.  I know I could use some prescription strength shit right now.”

Ela is rummaging around in a blood-spattered sedan “Whatever we do, I say we leave Duke to die as we do it, it’s his fault all these zombies are here anyway.”

Duke’s eyes about bug out of his head “WHAT?!”

“Oh yeah, that’s what happens buddy – you mess with Ela and the whole world goes to hell.”

He throws his arms up helplessly/angrily “How did I ever mess with you?  I never did anything to you, why do you hate me?

Ela slaps him “I said shut up.  Fine, we’ll go to the hospital, but first we need to get some weapons if we’re going to have any chance of making it there.  I’ll head to the police station. Martialla, you head to the army surplus store. John, you filthy trash-eating stink bug, you go to the hardware store. Tina, you’re going to head for the sporting goods place.  Elvis, you stay here with Lucien and watch over him.  Look for weapons that are easy to carry and don’t weigh much.”

Martialla waves her hands like a referee calling off a play “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa there lady.  I am amazed at you, split up?” She laughs incredulously. “Split up?” She laughs again, but it’s kind of fake laughing. “What is this, amateur hour? Splitting up is the worst thing we could possibly do! If we split up, they’ll pick us off one by one – we need to stay together! Above everything else we need to stay together, safety in numbers.”

Duke gets in Ela’s grill “Yeah, what gives you the right to boss everyone around?  Who died and made you pope?”

Ela shoves him back angrily “I’m the only one here who’s fit to lead.  I’m the only one here with the guts to get us out of here alive.  Who do you want to put in charge, you human cockroach?”

Elvis points “What about Lucien?”

Ela scowls “What about him?”

Martialla looks down at her injured friend “Yeah, what do you think Lucien, do you want to be in charge?”

Lucien shifts uncomfortably as all eyes turn to him “I think we should stay together and head for the hospital, if any of those places are on the way, we can stop and see what we can find. But I think either way, weapons aren’t as important as staying on the move, we should get out of here right now.”

Elvis helps pull Lucien to his feet “Great, let’s go.”

Ela, holding a tire iron she scavenged from a car looks like she’s about to say something, but just then zombies come bursting out of the shadows. The smell of human flesh fills their flapping rotten nostrils and they hungrily surge forward as fast as they can.  Ela swings the tire iron and bashes one of the zombies in the noggin – its skull bursting like an over-ripe melon and spraying her with some kind of thick, blackish liquid.

Ela looks at her comprehensively befouled clown shirt with dismay “Gross! Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit drinking.”

In their mad dash to escape, our survivors scramble over cars, slip and slide through bloody pools, dodge half-eaten corpses like they’re running through tires at football practice, and struggle to stay together.  This last part is hard because each and every time they come to a crossway, they all start to head in different directions. It turns out their argument about where to go was completely pointless because they can’t head to the hospital anyway – all they can do is go where the zombies aren’t. They end up in a veterinarian clinic, where Elvis and Duke are doing what they can for Lucien’s masticated leg while Tina looks on, concerned and useless. Ela and Martialla stand outside the front of the building keeping watch.

Lucien is gritting his teeth so hard it seems like they’re going to fly out of his head like Pez “[incomprehensible Canadian gibberish] it burns like the fires of Hades!”

Duke is sewing him up with callous disregard for his discomfort “Don’t be such a baby.”

Elvis looks on apologetically, holding Lucien’s hands for comfort “Sorry, but I don’t know anything about dog tranquilizers, I didn’t want to give you too much.”

Ela pokes her head back in through the door “So what’s the prognosis?” Lucien gives her a thumbs up with an unconvincing grimace.  “Good, finish up.” She jerks her hand at Tina. “Come on, Riverdale, we’re going to take a look around.”  They stride out together and Ela waves at Martialla to move out. “Let’s check this street out and see what’s what.”

Martialla mumbles under her breath “That’s a semantically null sentence.”

Tina looks around as she trails after them “Shouldn’t someone stay here to guard the door?”

Ela scoffs “If a zombie gets inside they’ll notice, they don’t need you to tell them about it.”

Martialla frowns “But the point of keeping a watch is to tell them before the zombies get inside isn’t it?”

Ela raises her hand “Do you want to get smacked?”

Martialla shrugs “I little, I’m not proud of it.”

Tina sighs “Can we just go die?  Getting eaten alive is better than listening to you two flirt.”

They carefully creep around to the nearby buildings – trying to stay hidden while not sure that it makes any difference to stay hidden.  How do zombie senses operate? Do they need to see you?  Any which way, keeping a low profile can’t hurt. They don’t find anything useful right away, aside from a couple of flashlights at Radioshack, but the lawn and garden store has some goodies.  Ela and Martialla are standing in an aisle arguing, as is tradition.

Martialla throws a shovel down angrily with a clang “I told you Ela, get hoes, not shovels!”

Ela purses her lips and puts her hands on her hips “Martialla, I hardly think this is the time for that kind of thing.  I admire your womanly desires, being able to keep up your carnal appetite at a time like this, but it’s not really helpful. Not to mention which, I’m sure all the prostitutes got killed already since they were out on the streets walking around, as is tradition.”

She grabs up a hoe “NOT HOOKERS you dolt!! Hoes!  Like this! You know, the kind you use in the garden?” She swings it through the air, kind of near Ela’s head.  “See that, it’s more effective as a weapon than a shovel, what are you going to do with a shovel?  Dig your own grave?”

She gets to not prove her point immediately, as zombies come busting in the big front window with much shattering of glass and moaning, scaring the holy beejeeses out of the both of them. Martialla attacks with her hoe but it gets stuck in a zombie’s chest – which doesn’t seem to inconvenience it one little bit.  Ela knocks it down with her shovel and then whacks off his head, putting an end to his flesh-eating days.  But there’s a whole heapin’ helpin’ of visceral pain coming in zombie form right behind that one, so they high tail it once more.

Ela shouts at Tina as they run past her “Incoming!”

Tina turns to follow them, but her eyes spot something and she gets a gleeful grin on her face. It’s one of them glass cases with a fire axe inside that boldly declares “Break in Case of Emergency”.  This certainly seems like it qualifies, don’t you think?

Tina smashes the glass with a flower pot and reaches through gingerly “Jackpot.” She seizes the axe like a llama attacking a waffle and turns back to the shambling horde coming up behind her.  “Who wants a piece?  You want a piece?”

Ela and Martialla have exited out the back and are out in the street ten yards or so away from the lawn and garden store, once again arguing.  Although for variety this time, they’re also wrestling over the shovel like two tweens in a jeans commercial.

Ela yanks the shovel her way “No! You are not going to lose our only weapon, Martialla!  Tina is dead! Forget about her! She’d be out here by now if she was going to come out!”

Martialla yanks the shovel back her way “We can’t leave her behind! It’s not right, just let me go back in there and check!”

Ela shakes her head and yanks the shovel back her way “Go back in there if you want, but you’re not going to get this shovel out of my hands! It’s all we have, we can’t risk it on the hopeless notion that Tina might be alive in there still. Face facts, she’s zombie-chow!  Which is more use than she ever was in life, honestly”

Martialla lets go of the shovel and Ela suddenly almost falls over backwards “You are such a coward! You never think about anyone but yourself!”

Before Ela can respond, Tina comes walking up to them with an axe over her shoulder – covered from head to toe with gore and zombie skruge “Come on, we better get back to Lucien and the others.”

October 23, 1973 – Dingo day afternoon (only at night, or morning, whatever)

Who leaves a six million dollar military grade prototype robot killsuit sitting unattended in a bar?  Who?  Can you tell me that?  Can you?

“Ela you keep saying you’re the leader – doesn’t that make everything ultimately your responsibility?”

No!  Don’t even try to pull that crap on me.  I shouldn’t have to tell people every little thing.  What about common sense?  Everyone should know NOT to leave a six million dollar military grade prototype robot killsuit sitting unattended in a bar where the asshole we stole it from could waltz right in, steal it back, slip it on, and then come find us for the killing. 

Do I have to do everything?  Do I need to tell people how to take a shower?  If I don’t tell them to turn on the water and how to use soap, will they just wander around the tub?  Granted I don’t think Blue showers because he’s a giant lizard and Martialla is a fish.  But you know what I’m saying.  Right?

Martialla asked the doctor for their guns back so they could kill the Red Bishop.  The JCPenney catalog model doctor was trying to kick us out for bringing trouble to his establishment.  I was trying to keep everyone calm and under control so I could deal with the situation.  And all the while, robot-voice was shrieking at us to “stand and deliver so that you may be judged.”  I went outside to see the robo-suit hovering in midair.  And by hovering I mean blasting giant fucking rocket boot flames at the ground.  I’m surprised the entire neighborhood wasn’t on fire.

I shielded my eyes from flying debris and shouted up at the annoying robot-suit man “This is a hospital damn it, stop shouting!”

“What?  I can’t hear you.”

“That’s because you have rockets strapped to your feet!”

“WHAT?!”

“LAND GOD DAMN IT!!!!!!!!!!”

I don’t know if he heard me, but he did land, and then immediately he pointed one of the red gewgaws on his arm at me.  Just being targeted, but whatever it is made me feel like my stomach acid was bubbling.  I could feel my ovaries shriveling up inside me.  I’m pretty sure this guy is giving the entire city cancer just by flying around in that thing.

“Hey, don’t point that thing at me, I want to have kids some day!”

It’s amazing how well the suit’s voice whatever thingy conveys confusion “What?”

“Just point a missile at me or something while I still have a few eggs left!  What the hell do you want?”

“You and your friends are under arrest.”

“What are you talking about?  We didn’t do anything.”

“You were robbing the casino!”

“That was Lady Marmalade and her sex slaves, we were innocent bystanders!”

“I saw your friend picking up the money!  Plus you attacked me.”

“First of all, it wasn’t even that much money.  One night of drinking and it was gone.  I still can’t figure out how much the money here is worth.  The other day I saw someone give over a bill with a neon green shrimp on it and they got a whole bushel basket of some kind of fruit, but when I give someone the one with the winged goat on it . . .”

Something on his suit lights up with a dangerous red glow “Shut up!”

I held up my hands “Okay, okay I was getting off track.  We attacked you because you were the one killing everybody!  You popped one of those kids like a pimple.  For what?  A simple robbery?  What kind of justice is that?  Robbery is probably barely even illegal here.”

“They had guns, they were endangering lives.”

“YOU were the only one who was killing people, you’re the dangerous one.”

“I was protecting people!”

“Who were you protecting?  You probably gave everyone who looked eyeball cancer with that damn radiation machine you’re wearing.  And where did you get it anyway?  Somehow I have the feeling that you’re not a Burlington Industries test pilot.”

“I am the Crimson Cardinal!”

“Okay look, even if you arrest us, what does that mean?  I don’t think you’re part of the Madripoor police department.  What are you going to do with us?  I don’t think they’re going to put us in jail on your say so.  If they even understand you.  So what are you going to do with us?  Do you have a floating Cardinal Fortress somewhere nearby where you strap people to walls and punish them with your Cardinal Rod of Justice?  By which I mean your . . .”

“I know what you mean!”

“So what’s the plan here chief?  I’m giving myself up.  What are you going to do with me?”

“I must stop you!”

I threw up my hands “From doing what exactly?  I’m trying to get medical care for my friend who was stabbed.  Where were you when we were being attacked by the Stab Gang?  That’s some crime you could have stopped!”

His robo-head darted back and forth for a moment before locking back on me “This is an illegal clinic!  Drugs are sold here, it must be destroyed!”

He fired his rocket-boots, which I’m pretty sure melted some of the street, but before he could get off the ground, I threw a ’62 Impala at him.  It didn’t look like it was in very good shape, even for an 11 year old car.  Which is confusing.  There aren’t a lot of cars here.  The people that have them tend to be wealthy.  So who owns a beater like that?  If you’re rich, you’d keep it in good shape right?  But no one else can afford cars.  What’s the story of that Impala?

How does a robot suit work anyway?  Even if the metal is strong enough to not get broken up by a flying car, isn’t the bulk of that impact transferred to the guy inside it anyway?  I’ve been told that if you wear a bulletproof vest and you get shot, it’s still like getting kicked in the chest by an elephant – the vest just defuses some of the force and keeps the bullet from ripping through your heart.  How much can an armor suit of space-age metal protect you rather than just being indestructible itself while you get pulverized inside like the ice for a daiquiri?  If any engineers our there can explain it, let me know.

The car slammed the Red Rocket to the ground and pinned him there like a butterfly on display.  I was ninety percent expecting the car to go flying as he tossed it away with robo-strength and then he’d stand up like Dracula coming out of his coffin and fire an omega beam of death at me — but nothing happened.  The suit just laid there like a broken toy under the car.  Some kind of liquid may have been leaking out of it.  I waited for a moment and then shrugged and went back into the clinic.

Which was empty.  Elvis’s bed was empty.  Blue was gone.  Martialla was gone.  LBK was gone.  The doctor and his staff, everyone was gone.