J-Lo Origins : Project Satan

The collapse of the United States of America was followed by the formation of more than a dozen short lived successor states, including the unfortunately named Coalition of Midwestern Americans.  For the entirety of its twelve year history the Coalition was engaged in active war with the Russo-American Mercantile, a conflict which ended at mutual collapse of both nations. 

A secret inherited by the Coalition at the dissolution of the USA was silksteel alloys – so named because until their invention, spider silk had the highest tensile strength of any terrestrial substance known to science.  Silksteel was the product of attempts by the United States to meet the demands for new materials that were flexible and strong enough to withstand the incredible stresses of the robotic factories.  The creation of silksteel relied on reactions involving metal borides. 

One of the first (and ultimately one of the only) military projects undertaken by the Coalition was research dedicated to discovering the chemical composition of silksteel for use in vehicle anti-ballistic armor plating.  The exact stoichiometry of silksteel alloys remained the subject of debate through the end of the Coalition. 

Coalition strategists felt that the production of armored fast attack vehicles was of critical importance to survival in the new world.  The theory held that due to the economic potential of world powers having been largely shattered, traditional combat doctrines had been rendered irrelevant.  The presumption was that the coming conflicts would have to be fought principally, if not entirely, with weapons and tactics fifty years out of date at the time of the disaster. 

The claim was that the nation state that was able to effectively martial its limited pool of existing resources to create an effective fighting force for a new style of “old” warfare would rise to dominance.  The adaptation of existing technology for the new environment would be the key.

Given the absence of once abundant robotics, guidance systems, satellite networks, air power, and effective long range communication, along with the prohibitive expense of artillery and other munitions in the new world, the Coalition leadership envisioned an army of low-cost, low-maintenance, easy to transport, wheeled vehicles that would be based on the same hull style.  The weaponry designed for these vehicles was planned to be shorter range in return for more penetrating power that would favor close range engagements.  This fleet of vehicles would rely on mobility to make this strategy combat doctrine. 

How did this proposed theory result in a 1000 horsepower 50 lb-ft torque Hellephant-V8 powered Charger widebody immune to small arms fire and light anti-tank weapons? 

Several teams were given the charge of operationalizing the use of silksteel armor in a Coalition combat vehicle.  None would succeed, but the group “humorously” self-named Project Satan would deliver into the world six nigh-invulnerable muscle cars that were used for stress testing and proof of concept. 

After the fall of the Coalition, three of the six silksteel cars were destroyed by weapons powerful enough to bypass their armor.  One was driven into a swamp in Alabama where it remains to this day, much to the delight of an ornery snapping turtle that makes it a home.  The other two were used by a succession of incrementally more primitive raiders and post-apocalyptic psychopaths as any such things as States and Coalitions and militaries and governments faded into a dream.  Once the gasoline reserves were gone, they were both abandoned in favor of new vehicles made from the bones of the old that had the advantage of being able to use the fuel available. 

The two remaining coalition test vehicles were never scrapped out to become new apocalypse-mobiles because their engines were useless in the new world and being made out of super-dense silksteel meant they were immune to the crowbars and crude cutting tools of the new breed of engineers. 

The vehicle now known as “J-Lo” sat untouched in what was once called the Black Rock Desert for decades before a mechanic known as Crazy Mel decided to convert it to run on bio-fuel used by contemporary vehicles.  Why do they call him Crazy Mel?  Because he does things like converting old super armored muscle cars to run on bio-fuel instead of using his god given talents to make proper junkmobiles and scrapcycles.  Also because he wanders the wastelands instead of staying put where people can find him and pay him dead lizards to do mechanic stuff.

After the conversion was completed Mel apocalypsed the vehicle up a bit with some skulls and other ornamentation, added some removable armor plates in place of windows and windshields and then rolled into the Road Hog swap meeting hoping to score big.  Like those of many a high school senior on prom night, his hopes were never to come to fruition. 

No one wanted to trade much for the thing.  Sure it was fast but it had no weapons.  Where’s the harpoon gun?  Or the bank of crude rockets?  There wasn’t even so much as a blunderbuss bolted onto the thing.  And would it kill you to put a big ram-prow on the front?  Come on man!  And Mel told them it was tough, but they didn’t care to find out because it didn’t LOOK tough.  A few metal skulls weren’t going to fool them.  Where were the spikes?  Where was the rack for dead body display? 

In the end a dejected Crazy Mel traded the mean machine for a butter churn and the covers of a couple of anime DVD cases.  You know the ones I mean.  The man who picked up the car, Lagos, then turned around and pawned it off on a couple of rubes named Ela and Martialla for a rat-king’s ransom of tools and fuel and scrap. 

They say nobody survives a deadly kiss

Like many of the Frankenvehicles here in the future present, it’s hard to describe it exactly.  You know that old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee?  I feel like that applies to the cars (or whatever you want to call them) now.  It’s as if the decision was made to build a car and everyone involved showed up with one part without discussing anything about what it was supposed to be beforehand and then they went ahead and whatever they had was bolted together and everyone shrugged and said “this is fine”.   And they drove the monstrosity off into the desert.

This thing was part dune buggy and part steamroller.  I know what you’re thinking, “Ela that makes no sense, steamrollers are huge and rugged, dune buggies are small enough to fit in my pocket and they fall apart if you breathe on them too hard, how could they be joined together?  It’s unholy it is, that ain’t in the Bible”.  I’m just telling you what it looked like.  It also had some kind of crane-arm on it with a sawblade taller than me, so what do you think of that, smartypants?  It was parked beside what was left of a wall of a building.   

It was impressive (or weird maybe) enough that we didn’t notice the dude next to it taking a leak until a second later.  He looked pretty normal by the standards of the day. Other than the fact that he had no nose and his earlobes went down to his shoulders, he could have passed for a modern (past) day human.  The most interesting thing about him to me was that he was wearing what seemed to be a modern (past) day black t-shirt.  It looked like there should have been a logo on it for a shitty punk band.  He wheeled our way when Martialla dropped the “presso” sign she was holding with a loud clang (is there such a thing as a soft clang? Maybe.) and his little beady hominid eyes went wide at the sight of us.  And who can blame him?  We’re quite the pair to behold.

“Hel . . .” 

As far as I got before Martialla shot him in the face.  I have to give her this much, a headshot with a handgun is pretty hard to pull off at any kind of range.  You’re supposed to aim for the “center of mass” which is a nice way of saying the chest because that means you’re more likely to hit something vital. Headshots are for snipers I think.  She did it though.   

I spun on her, incredulous “Why did you do that?” 

She gestured with her pistol “He made a move.” 

“A move?  What move?  Like he was getting fresh with us at junior prom in the backseat of his mom’s El Torino?” 

She motioned again “He had a weapon.  He was going to try and kill us.” 

I looked and there was something by the body.  I guess it’s a weapon.  It was a flexible little stick-thing with a nest of spikes on the end.  Maybe it’s a blackjack, only for killing people instead of knocking them out?  It looked more like a torture tool from a museum exhibit about the Inquisition than a weapon weapon.  It looked like what they’d beat a woman with about the belly, groin, and buttocks who had committed the sin of their husband having impure thoughts about another woman.   

“Jesus Christ Martialla, maybe let me get a couple words out before you kill someone, will you?” 

She looked at me for a moment, a look that I couldn’t decipher.  That scared me more than anything else she’d done since we woke up because until that moment, I could always read her like a book.   

“He who hesitates is lost.  Or she in this case.” 

After waiting a bit to see if Earlobes had any friends in the area that were going to jump out at us, Martialla started looting the body.  Just like that.  I was more than a little disturbed by what had just happened, but what was I going to do about it? 

I can’t explain exactly why, but what came to my mind in that moment was a book they made us read in school about Vietnam.  We were only assigned to read some chapters but I read the whole thing.  Which wasn’t like me ordinarily, to do more work in school, but I did it that time for some reason.  One chapter is about the army guys finding a water buffalo or an ox or whatever they have in Vietnam and they befriend it and feed it and nurse it back to health and then they torture it almost to death and throw it down a well.  The narrator talks about how doing this filled them with an almost religious ecstasy and refilled them with purpose about what they were doing and gave them the strength to soldier on.  He wasn’t saying it was a good thing, he was saying it was objectively awful, but because the situation they were in was so insane, doing something like that somehow gave them hope.  It made no sense to me then.  I can understand why that part of the book wasn’t required reading.   

I don’t think Martialla killed that guy because of anything like that, but that’s where my mind went.  Maybe because it was about therapeutic violence.   I’ve never been afraid of Martialla before, why would I be, and I’m not afraid of her now.  That being said, it was like back home on the farm when I was a kid and saw our dog Lucky rip a possum in half and then drag the bloody half-possum up to the house wagging his tail.  It’s like “oh, right, I forgot this loyal and shaggy creature is also a killing machine”.   You have to remember that.

Whatever kind of moral quandary or existential crisis or whatever the heck may have been going on melted away in an instant when Martialla waved me over to the Frankencar and showed me what was wrapped in a coarse cloth in a little cubbyhole by the driver’s seat.  Blackberries.  Tons of them.  Like a quartsworth of blackberries.   And right next to that in a big ceramic pot was a mound of mulberries, figs, pecans, and walnuts.  It all looked like it had been picked (or whatever) just minutes before.   

Maybe that’s the lesson.  Get hungry enough and you don’t give a flying fuck what happens to anyone.   

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.