Going forward all battles will be named after Rage Against the Machine songs

Aside from the CHiPs, who have a few working radios, I haven’t seen any communication in the future more sophisticated than someone tearing ass around on a machine and shouting news at people.  There are no telephones, no telegrams, no newspapers, television, not even two cans on a string, no nothing.  So given this fact how is it that by the time we got back to Paradise people were already gathering in response to the Invincible invasion? 

Are there trained message birds that I don’t know about somehow?  Are the many horrid smells that they emit some kind of pheromone communication like with bugs?  Martialla’s take on how the word is spread was as obtuse as it was stupid –  

“Pimps don’t need to be told to hang around the bus station.” 

I suppose she means that once world got out about our great victory at Wyo people had already started rallying to my banner.  That better be what she means anyway, otherwise I’ll have to have a cross word with her and I can have the quite the sharp tongue when I’ve a mind to do so.  Some of the people that came were Northerners who had already felt the sting of the Invincible and wanted revenge.  Some of them were Southern mercenaries looking for a good score.  The Road Hogs turned up to join their Roadrunner pals to save face/look tough/keep their protection racket going.   

A lot of people showed up for a reason I hadn’t even thought about.  Salvage.  The second best way to get a vehicle is to murder the people that have it and take it away from them.  But the best way to get a vehicle is to find one where the murdering was already done by someone else and just grab it.  I should know that since Martialla and I have done both a time or two. 

Plenty of people showed up on foot with nothing much but a spear or a club hoping to sign on with an existing crew.  It’s a win-win, the established raiders get cannon fodder and replacements, and the newcomers, if they survive, either get invited to join or get a share of whatever wrecked vehicles and equipment they can claim after the fighting is done.  It’s the wastelands equivalent of playing the Powerball, only the odds are better and you might die.   So like the Running Man maybe.  I was supposed to be in that movie you know, but I Jesse “the Body” Ventura muscled me out.  Roided out freak.

Lucien, Martialla, and Lloyd Hud,  the blue mechanic we pulled out of the hole, took command of the small fleet of gasoline powered vehicles at Paradise, making sure they were all in good condition and distributed appropriately to our most loyal murder hobos.  Membership has its privileges.  It’s apparently considered quite an honor to be assigned to one of the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles even though there is no ammo for their guns.  Gunmetal City did send a small group of people with some weapons and ammo to pass out as well, they said they should be able to start making some rounds for the HMMWVs, assuming that they and we survive the battle.   

I think Lloyd’s head almost exploded when he checked out J-Lo and some of the other vehicles from the future.  I know that he’s happy to be working on the other vehicles even though to him they’re also from the future.  This faux time travel stuff gets confusing.  We’re in twenty ninety-whatever with a guy from nineteen eighty-two working on vehicles from some time in the early two thousands.  At least he has a task to focus on, the other Smurfs are pretty much in shock still.  They kind of just sit around and stare.  Maybe they should start a weekly group therapy session with Paul, the psycho killer from Twenty Thirty-Four who treats a stack of old nudie mags like the One Ring itself.   

It’s hard to get a good headcount because what we have is less a military force and more of an anarchic murder circus but I think we have more than twice the force we had when we attacked Wyo.  Is that going to be enough?  Oh, short answer, “yes” with an “if.” Long answer, “no” with a “but.”  Martialla and I, along with Paul and Lucien (who puked his guts out the first time, I guess being chemically inert in a box for a hundred years causes motion sickness) have taken up the plane to scout the Invincible horde a couple of times.  They have us outnumbered but not by a ton.  Overall Lucien and Martialla rate their vehicles to be better than ours as well.  And as Martialla said –  

“Battles are won with courage, tactics, and numbers – mostly just numbers though.” 

So since the numbers are against us what do we have?  We can choose the time and place of our attack.  They call that situation control apparently and it’s important.  By going on the attack we can force enemy reaction, thus denying their ability to act.  Kind of sounds like bullshit to me, I’d rather be the side with more people but as Martialla pointed out it doesn’t matter now because my plan was to entice the Invincible to attack and now they are – I didn’t allow for any other possibility.  I must admit at this juncture that military planning may not be my strong suit.   

Martialla and Lucien have been bickering like an old married couple about another advantage we may or may not have – information.  Martialla maintains that since we have the plane we know the forces the Invincible have but they don’t know what we have on our side.  Lucien insists that they probably have spies all over the place telling them exactly the number and make up of our forces.  Given the way I started out this entry I agree with him – somehow word gets out to people about what’s going on.  Not to mention I don’t know why Martialla is so hung up on it anyway since we’re committed to the battle at this point. 

Our plan is for said battle is going to take place north of old I Eighty in what I think used to be the Tahoe National Forest but now is a field of nothing.  Since our vehicles are lighter hopefully maximizing speed potential will give us an advantage.  I think that’s what I heard someone say anyway.   

In the history books it shall be known as the Battle of Los Angeles.  I know we’re closer to what used to be San Francisco but I like the sound of BOLA better.   

Hey man, nice shot

The Roadrunners are more organized than I thought.  I guess they’d have to be.  I have no idea how they coordinate without clocks or radios or the ability to count beyond the number of fingers they have (hint not usually ten) but they work in shifts.  At a given time a third of them are on patrol/shakedown duty, a third are on hang around but be ready to rock duty, and a third are on do whatever you want but come back later duty. 

Once the deal was struck they shifted their shifts around (shiftlessly) and broke off a war party to send with us, ten ramshackle scrap-buggies, twice that many bikeish-things, and some number of people.  It’s hard to say how many, they all jump around from vehicle to vehicle like athletes going bed to bed at the Olympic village.  I’d guess more than fifty but less than a hundred Roadrunners.  Meep-meep!

With our new friends in tow we hit Paradise and linked up with our resident animal themed gangs plus the mountain riff-raff and headed for towards Wyo.  Why not do more recruiting first?  I was convinced by my local experts that it wouldn’t be necessary.  Their claim was that anyone willing and ready to fight would see the convoy and come of their own volition, lusting after the potential booty. 

They were right.  We picked up our first tail after only a couple miles.  Initially the remora groups would stalk us from afar like people wanting your parking spot at the mall.  I guess this is part of the ritual.  If you see an attack pack that you don’t know the intentions of, you send some expendables to follow the raiding party and see if those sacrificial lames are run off, invited to join, or just left to trail like jackals.  Then based on that response the important people make their move.   Since we didn’t murder them this was the ritual invitation for them to join up with us.

By the time we reached the area of Crow we had increased our numbers over fifty percent, and by the time we passed by the citified red-light district we had doubled that size again.  All manner of freebooters and mercenaries and raiders were getting in on the feeding frenzy.  The assembled collection was quite the clanking, clinking, clattering cacophony of caliginous cogs and camshafts.  It was a force maybe as third as large as the Invincible group I saw attacking the convoy a while back.  Maybe a little more.  We thought that this hode would be supreme overkill for our target.  Martialla and I had scouted Wyo out from above and there wasn’t much going on there.  But overkill is what we we’re going for.   

Before reaching Wyo Martialla and I (and Paul, he’s not normally with us on the road but we jammed him in J-Lo this time like a divorced father with a convertible taking his kids to the carnival) split off from the herd and headed up an old mountain road where the framework of a modern (past) firewatch lookout tower was still standing.  The top bit (is there a name for the top part of a tower?) was gone and some of the metal was bent but it was still solid and climbable and a good vantage point.  Martialla and Paul hauled some debris up there and made a nest of sorts where we could watch the attack from afar.  Martialla and I did anyway, Paul hung above us like a demented circus monkey.   

At first peep we could tell that something was wrong.  There were twice the number of people in Wyo than we expected.  There were four big Invincible trucks parked in the middle of town but even if they had been packed with people instead of supplies that wouldn’t explain where all the extra people came from.  We had the good/bad luck of attacking the same day that the Invincible sent supplies, but where the hell did all those other people come from?   

Martialla and I had talked in circles about if we should come by land or air.  If we winged it that probably would have eliminated any last second surprises like this but we had no way good to communicate with the convoy people other than to land and flag somebody down.  Driving we’d be less well informed but at least we’d be with everyone else and the plane wouldn’t be on the ground where anyone could steal or wreck it.  We probably should have tried harder to come up with a way to split the difference.  I gave Martialla a worried look. 

She shrugged “The old saying is that no plan survives contact with the enemy.” 

I waved my hand semi-frantically “They haven’t even made contact with enemy yet!” 

She was remarkable blasé “We still have the numbers by a lot, and they didn’t know we were coming.  Surprise and superior numbers?  That’s a winning hand.  This could be a good thing.  More supplies there means more for us to capture.  Besides . . .” 

Her thought was cut off by Paul shouting and pounding on the iron frame of the tower.  He speaks so seldom (to me anyway, he and Martialla must do something other than bone) that when he does talk his voice throws me for a loop.  I expect him to squeak like the pimply teenager from the Simpsons but instead he sounds like Isaac Hayes.  A spazz like him shouldn’t have such a deep voice.  He pointed at the tree line and we saw people picking their way through the woods.  They weren’t wearing uniforms but they were all dressed enough alike to give the impression – brown clothes, stupid headbands, and reddish paint on their faces.  And they all had guns.  Rifles to be exact.   

Paul slid down the corner of the tower like it was a pole in a firehouse while Martialla and I were scrambling to climb down.  Whoever they were it wouldn’t be good to be caught up there, although who they were didn’t matter much once they started shooting.  It looked like Martialla got hit and took a tumble, but she actually just lost her grip.  I expected Paul to roar like Godzilla when he saw her jerk and almost fall but that’s foolish.   

That’s one of the things that freaks me out about Paul is that when he fights he never makes a sound.  It’s a time-honored tradition to scream and bellow and shout insults when you’re trying to hack/slash/bash someone to death.  Even the karate men do it, ki-ya!  Now that I’ve been in a couple death fights myself I know why.  Yelling gets the blood going, helps you convince yourself that you’re not afraid, scares the other guy maybe.  Paul doesn’t utter a sound when he’s killing and potentially being killed.  Not a whisper.   

What he did do was probably more helpful than a battle cry anyway – light and throw a bomb he scrounged up somewhere.  Martialla would call it a grenade but if you have to light it it’s a bomb.  I don’t think it killed anyone but an explosion, even a little ones, tends to distract people.  While the Facepaint Brigade was ducking and diving for cover he ran up and took out one of them at the legs like chopping a weed walking beans back on the farm.  He took cover behind a tree as a few shots rang out. Martialla and I climbed/slid/fell the rest of the way down the tower.

It wasn’t even ten yards from the base of the tower to the car but as we ran for cover I was sure that we would be shot in the back.  I wanted to turn and fire back, the instinct was all but overwhelming, but standing out the in open is a good way to get shot in the front.  It seemed impossible to me that we made it over and behind J-Lo without getting killed.  I don’t know if they were trying to conserve ammo or they wanted to take us alive or what but their rate of fire was abysmal.  I peeked around J-Lo’s nose and saw Paul up against his tree while the Facepainters were mostly doing the same, although a handful of them were moving to flank him. 

“Jesus Christ, why isn’t he shooting?!” 

Martialla tried to reach in through the window and dropped back down in a hurry when she saw someone stepped out from behind a tree and take aim at her “Paul doesn’t have a gun, he doesn’t know how to shoot.” 

“Are you fucking kidding?!” 

War of the Coprophages

I don’t know why I expected Gunmetal City to be a towering industrial monolith of pipes and belching smokestacks and pneumatic tubes populated by wretched mutants chained to machines churning out cheap wares.  I should know better by now.   Industry hasn’t been rediscovered yet.  At least not industry the way that I think about it.  I suppose chimps pulling the leafs off a branch to get honey out of a termite hill is industry technically.  Termites make honey don’t they?   

Instead of what I said, Gunmetal City is an old boron mine that people live on in clusters of little huts.  There is one big crane in the middle with is kind of industrial-y but no smokestacks.  I don’t really know what boron is but I’m sure living on it and breathing it in all the time is the kind of thing that causes cancer and birth defects.  Because it’s a mine-hole it kind of looks like they live on the side of a pyramid.  Martialla claims that boron is used in making high-strength, lightweight ceramic but that makes no sense.  How could metal be used in clayware?  Next she’s going to tell me that all those old Roman pots in museums are full of lead.   

She also said that since we find ceramic goods everywhere that’s why Gunmetal City must be so affluent, rather than the guns.  “Affluent” isn’t how I would describe people that live on a boron mine but they aren’t covered in as much shit as everyone else so they must be rich by the standards of the day.  The Gunmetal part comes from the fact that they do have a small facility where they can make bullets and there is ONE family there that knows how to make firearms.   

There were some dudes with rifles in towers and a moat of sorts to keep vehicles away but overall the defenses didn’t seem that impressive for what I have to assume is the most important place in the world.  As far as I can tell these post-apocalyptic assholes raid and fight each other all the time but none of them attack these important places like this.  I don’t get it.  If I were the Vultures or some other merry band of murders I’d conqueror Cry, Roachback, and Gunmetal City and then I’d control the food, the clean water, and all the weapons.  Seems like I’d be queen of the sad little hill then right?  Maybe no one does that for the same reason no one wants to fight the Invincible, they don’t think big enough.   

Speaking of, the Gunmetal City Council are concerned about the Invincible.  It’s a nice change of pace.  Between them and the highlander jerks things are starting to snowball. The Gunmetal city fathers (and mothers) may look like Freddie Krueger Nosferatu Beneath the Planet of the Apes freaky freaks but they’re smarter than the rest of the freaks around here.  When we flew in we were taken to see the city leaders immediately like we had an appointment – bunch of pizza-faced people in big robes that must have them sweating their various genitals off sitting in a dark room with a big table.  They had a lantern on the table for light is all.  A lantern.  That’s what affluence gets you these days.   

The lead Freddie Krueger, who I think was a woman and therefore I shall name Fredwina, explained that unlike a lot of the other communities outside the valley they have never done business with the Invincible.  Not because of morality of course, but because the I-Boys have their own source of guns and ammo and that means that unlike all the other “important” places Gunmetal City has no vested interested maintaining neutrality.   Quite the opposite as a matter of fact.  Sounds like they’ve had their share of skirmishes with the Invincible and have sent many a Freddie Kruger spy to their death trying to find out where the Invincible make or get their weapons.   

So, they’re not cool with the Invincible but they aren’t hot to jump into bed with me either, unlike Julian McMahon.  Like I would even want to be on the Profiler.  Gunmetal doesn’t want to fight the Invincible alone, or at all really, so they’re on our side in the sense that if we can get together a legitimate fighting force in the valley they’ll throw in with us.  If not they’ll try to curry whatever favor they can with the Invincible while they destroy us even though it’s probably not going to work.   

They gave Martialla a couple of guns and a bunch of ammo so she’s in hog heaven.  They gave me a pistol too, which looks fancy but I don’t like the way it feels.  The grip is made of petrified wood or something.  I think if I fire it more than once in a short period of time it’s going to blow up in my hand.  They did give us something more useful than a couple of cruddy guns (Martialla’s note – they’re not cruddy at all, they’re very well made and reliably functional) information.  At the other end of the valley there’s a community called Wyo that’s already thrown in their lot with the Invincible.  They regularly receive shipments of supplies for the Invincible to use as a base for their roving bands of raiders either/and/or/also to serve as a launching point for invasion.   

I realize that I’ve been going about this all wrong.  I’ve been trying to get people to fight for freedom and for their very lives.  That’s not going to work because these people have no freedom and their lives are garbage.  If they knew how Martialla and I used to live they’d all kill themselves, that’s how much their lives suck balls.  The message I should be using instead is “hey, there’s stuff we can take, let’s go get it!”  And now I have a good target.  My new pitch will be, let’s get a bunch of people together and sack Wyo and steal all their stuff because you want stuff don’t you?  Sure you do, so mount up ranger.   

At which point the war will have begun?   

A sky full of stars

I haven’t seen any of the mountain folk since the original meeting at the Crossroads so we paid them a visit.  Turns out they’re major assholes.  Not only did they try to shoot us down when we first appeared, we found out that their major source of income is raiding the lowlanders.  Their community sprung up on the site of the Nakoma Resort and the land around it has been cracked and damaged by earthquakes leaving it so rough and riven with narrow passes that approaching by foot is a literal maze.  This makes it so the place is essentially unassailable.  But that’s the only thing going for it.  They don’t have shit for resources, ergo the town is perpetually short of food and supplies, ergo they take them from others. 

Here’s the funny thing, they’re in.  They want to attack the Invincible.  Why?  Since they’re parasites they realize that if the Invincible kill or conquer everyone in the valley then there’s no one left for them to parasite off unless they can handle the Invincible, which they know that they can’t.  It’s like that old con artist adage that you can sheer a sheep many times but only skin it once.   Is there a lesson in there somewhere?  The only people who are thinking about the future and willing to fight for it are the ones who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves?  Is there some kind of twisted Aesop in there?  I can’t come up with it if there is. 

There is another reason they want to go to war, two actually.  One is that they fear no reprisal, thinking that there’s no way for them to be attacked in their mountain stronghold.  They said that the Invincible could send five thousand men and they would all die in the attempt.  I mean we came here in a plane, but whatever.  The second thing is that they’ve got a few too many people and they’d like to do a little pruning.  Too many old folks who won’t die on their own and “zeros” who add nothing to the survival of the community.  Their leader, Fortykills is eager to send them into battle.  Sounds like they’ll make a crack fighting force to me. 

Where did that term ever come from?  Crack as in highly competent.  Surely it can’t have anything to do with crack cocaine can it?  That term has to predate the drug right?  Does it have something to do with baseball?  Like the crack of a bat?

Anyway, Fortykills and the mountain assholes are on our side.  And she guaranteed me that when the time comes she won’t only send cannon fodder (that one I get) with us, she’ll send a few real fighters with us as well. 

The question is what value will this have as a campaign tool.  If I tell people that the people that attack them and steal their shit are in on the surface that doesn’t seem likely to bring people to my camp.  But maybe I can spin it, say that even those jerks understand the threat so how can you turn a blind eye?  Something along those lines.  Plus I can talk up their fighting prowess, they live by raiding so they’re going to be great allies.  I think I need to change my pitch anyway.  Play up the fact that Martialla and I saved all their worthless hides by getting the filters, lean more on “you owe me” rather than trying to appeal to reason.  Sidenote, now that we have a plane we should zip back over to the underground medical facility and see what’s going on there. 

Mountain town, or Svyatilishche as it’s actually called, is just as wretched and horrible as any place else around but the grounds of the golf course are still very pretty.  After we brokered the deal with Fortykills we wandered around up there for a while and found some dull green and spotted pink eggs in a boggy zone that used to be the back nine.  What laid them?  No clue, but that didn’t stop Martialla from getting a fire going and cooking them up as the sun set.  It was almost enough to make me feel good to be alive.

I lay back on the ground as Martialla puttered around messing with her freak eggs “Have you noticed that the stars are different?”

She glanced up for a moment “How can you tell?  There’s so much pollution you can’t even see the sky.”

I thought for a moment “Is it still pollution if it’s not caused by humans?”

She cursed and pulled her hand back from the fire “Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?  Besides, isn’t it almost certain that all this was caused by humans?”

I thought for a moment and then shrugged “I can see them pretty well most nights, I have excellent vision you know.”

Martialla chuckled “If only you had perfect pitch, maybe then your albums would have done better than Jennifer Lopez’s.  Lopez’s, that’s hard to say.”

I snorted “Perfect pitch doesn’t mean shit.  It’s just a freak ability like being double jointed.  You know who else has perfect pitch?  Bats.  And gerbils.  Have you ever heard a gerbil sing?”

“Um, does Alvin and the Chipmunks count?”

“No, those are chipmunks, it’s right in the name.  The stars are different Mar, and not just a little.  Stars move over time, I know that, but how far do they move in a hundred years?  I don’t see anything I recognize up there.  Where are the Three Sisters?  Or the Charioteer?  Or the Swan?”

“There’s a swan constellation?”

“Yeah, Cygnus.  Zeus turned himself into a swan to hump the queen of Sparta who then gave birth to Helen of Troy.  Think about that Mar, the face that launched a thousand ships was half swan.  Imagine the wedding night, you’re getting ready to rock and finding a cloaca on your bride.  No wonder a war started.”

Martialla shook her head “That can’t be true.”

“Oh, it’s true.  Also a bunch of other people got turned into swans for one reason or another and then got put in the sky.  Whatever happened down here wouldn’t change the stars would it?  Maybe everything got screwed up because the earth moved somehow.”

Martialla peered up at the sky for a moment “The earth is always moving, but I take your meaning.  The good news is that whatever happened now you get to name some new constellations.”

“I already have been.  There’s the alien doing laundry.  That’s Mr. Burns playing basketball.  There’s a frog giving everyone a big thumbs up.  There’s the fat little karate man locked in combat with his eternal foe the other fatter karate man.  The jackalope is over there next to the man in the canoe.  There’s the scorpion king.”

“Which one, the horrible CGI blob of nothing or the Rock?”

“The blob.  They’re making the Scorpion King into a movie you know.  I was up for the part of the Sorceress but they decided that wanted someone less Midwestern.  I wonder if they’ve started filming yet.”

“Started, finished, and everyone involved all died decades ago I would assume.”

I nodded absently “I wonder who got my part.”

Day of the dove

I’m starting to learn that wars are like orgies, they’re tough to get started because nobody wants to be the first one to dive in.  How do you get a war going?  Back in my day the government usually did it by lying.  They’d say something like ‘We have to kill these people because they’re trying to build a bomb to kill us!’  And then everybody would get on board with the war because they don’t want to have a bomb dropped on them.  Its beauty was in its simplicity. 

That strategy does me no good in this case though because there’s nothing to lie about.  The Invincible really are coming to kill everyone, but nobody wants to unite and fight them off.  They’re all too worried about their neighbors stealing their goats to pay attention to the bigger threat.  Is that the Prisoner’s Dilemma?  Or the Unscrupulous Diner’s Dilemma?  Or the Abilene Paradox?  It’s something, I know that. 

I should have paid more attention in my PolySci class but only took it because the professor was dreamy.  He was a low quality lay though, which is a good thing to learn in college – just because a dude is good looking doesn’t mean he’s not lame in the sack.  Tuition money well spent.  Although I guess I would have learned that anyway so maybe not.  Give me back my money!

We’ve been on a whistle-stop tour trying to drum up support, only with a plane, so you know I guess there’s no whistle. Everywhere we go people are very impressed by our “flying car” but for some reason that initial goodwill doesn’t seem to be translating into them also wanting to join an nebulous military operation against a bigger, better equipped, more vicious force.  Speaking of better equipped, Martialla and I (mostly her) have been speculating on why exactly the Invincible have more and better stuff than everyone else.  Maybe Oregon fared better in the collapse of society than California.  We haven’t ventured too far north yet, but so far we haven’t plane spotted any big industrial centers in Invincible land either.  It mostly looks are primitive and lame as everywhere else, if more organized perhaps.

What we have spotted is small bands of Invincible raiding outlying areas, a couple dudes on bikes and maybe a truck setting shit on fire and committing general murder and rapacity.  Despite Martialla’s claim that she would never get her precious plane anywhere near combat we’ve been landing to run off those little groups.  I think she’s comfortable doing that because Paul has been coming with us.  That boy is a lunatic.  Like for real, I don’t mean that in a euphemistic sense.

He won’t look me in the eyes and he still literally runs away from me sometimes when I try and talk to him face to face, yet he hangs out the side of the plane like he doesn’t understand what gravity is (which he may not).  That’s small potatoes though.  When Martialla gives him the nod it’s like she’s letting an attack dog off the chain.  I’ve seen some shit now, but still it’s alarming to see him hack people to bits like an insane woodsman.  I’ve looked in his eyes, there’s nothing behind them but primeval murderous instinct.  I suppose that’s what you get when you take a teenage boy, who is already basically a just creature not a human, and then drop him into this Lord of the Flies bullshit for a couple years.  I don’t know if he’s pussy-struck or if he’s just never had a person be nice to him before but I think if Martialla asked him to rip his own skin off he’d do it without hesitation.   

While Paul charges out with his scrap-hacking tool like a berserker Martialla stays behind him and shoots, not with a gun, but with something I don’t know what to call it.  She got a hold of a slingshot, not a Dennis the Menace slingshot but a big sturdy one for duck hunting or something.  I don’t know if it somehow survived from our time or if it’s something they make now.  Either is possible since there still seems to be a source of rubber somehow.  I should find out where the rubber comes from, that’s important to wars I think.

Anyway, she took that slingshot and built a thing like an archery guard that she puts on her left arm and uses to shoot little spikes or arrows or darts or whatever you want to call them.  She’s pretty damn accurate with it.  Sounds silly but nobody laughs with a piece of metal in their face.  I don’t know how often she scores a kill with it but you get a pencil sized piece of iron in your neck and that distracts you from trying to ward off Paul’s machete.  Have I mentioned that dude is a lunatic?  He’ll charge five guys like it’s nothing.  I don’t know how he’s still alive.  But he is. 

In smashing these little bands of Invincible we’ve earned ourselves some admirers amongst the nomadic northern peoples that are so far feeling the brunt of the Invincible initial push south.  The Coyotes, the Mules, the Dragons, and the Prairie Dogs have joined us at Paradise.  They ride out and do battle when we spot some Invincible they can intercept.  I kid you not, the Prairie Dogs.  It’s not much of an army but it’s a start.  Actually no it isn’t, but it’s something.   

What I need is rallying atrocity of some kind, which is tricky because if the Invincible attack and destroy Scrapbridge that may be enough to get some people moving in the right direction it doesn’t matter at that point because Scrapbridge is destroyed so we already don’t have enough resources to have a chance at the thing that it was supposed to incite in the first place.  It puts me of a mind of the movie I was in where the guy goes back in time to try and warn the Native Americans that they need to band together when the white people show up.  But the Natives don’t pay him any mind because there’s not a good way to communicate how dangerous the threat is until the threat has already happened.  That movie was a real downer but it did well in Singapore.  I still get residual checks.  Err, got anyway.

Martialla and I were in our “office” at Paradise trying to come up with a better idea than continuing recruitment drive and hope that the Invincible attacks become bad enough to make them listen before they become bad enough that it doesn’t matter anymore.  At least we were trying to.

I frowned and looked towards where I think there should be a window “What’s all that racket out there?”

Martialla was cleaning and/or tinkering with one of her pistols as she always seems to be when we have a moment’s rest “You told them they couldn’t use the pit in here anymore so they’re fighting out there.”

I grunted sourly “Savages.”

She looked up for a moment “Isn’t that what you want for an army?”

I shook my head “No, didn’t you promise me there would be killer robots?  Where do I find those?  That seems like the kind of army I would enjoy.”

“The problem with killbots is that they generally try to kill you.”

“According to whom?”

She thought for a moment “Terminator, Terminator Two, Westworld, Alien, Stepford Wives, Bladerunner, RoboCop, Short Circuit, The Matrix, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits, I Robot, Two Thousand One, anything by Philip K Dick, I Have No Mouth, I Must Scream, pretty much every science fiction piece of fiction ever made.”

I frowned slightly “The Stepford Wives were robots?  I thought they were just mind-raped into being sex slaves.”

Martially really popped her P for some reason “Nope, robots.”

“Hmm.” I sighed “What are we going to do Mar?” 

She stood up and stretched “Well, we could give up and just go somewhere else.  You don’t have to indulge your whim to murder Duke Eagle.  We don’t really care what happens to these people right?”

And if you feel like I feel, baby

In the movie when the brave American paratroopers are headed to the dropzone to kill dirty Nazis they sit in rows and they laugh and joke around and swap cigarettes and looking at girly mags and chatter away.  I wonder if that’s a real thing or if it’s just something that happens in the movies.  I grant you that a bus isn’t a plane but regardless there was none of that on the way to Paradise.  The tunnel people just sat there stone-faced (pun) and hardly said a word to each other the entire way.  Martialla and I did our best to gab like girls but it was a long ride and eventually we lapsed into silence as well.  At least until we started to get close and Martialla began gearing up. 

“Is that an axe?” 

Martialla held up the axe she was holding and halfway laughed “Why yes, this is an axe, good eye.” 

“Why do you have an axe?” 

She gave me a quizzical look “Are the nanobots eating your brain?  We’re about to go into battle.  Why wouldn’t I have an axe?” 

I frowned at her “You’re not thinking about going out there are you?” 

She looked at me like I was the crazy one “What else would I do?” 

I gestured “I thought you were going to stay in here with me and shoot people in the back while they were fighting someone else like the heroes that we are.” 

“We don’t have that many rounds Ela, even with just you using what we have you better be careful about what shots you take.” 

I grabbed her arm as the bus swayed “Are you insane?  Why would you go out there with an axe and try to kill anyone?”  I jerked my head at the mob of quarry people around us “That’s what they’re for not us.  We’re the generals who are back in a tent away from the front lines drinking cognac and looking at maps while other people go and die.” 

She eyed them and then whispered back like it mattered “Say it a little louder will you, I don’t think everyone heard.  They’re strong but they’re not warriors Ela, they need someone to lead the way for them, put a little iron in their spines.  I get the feeling that as long as they have someone to tell them to do it they’ll fight fanatically, left on their own . . . I think they’ll just die.” 

My jaw was practically on the floor “And you think the person to do that is you?  You’re my driver!   You’re not a medieval man at arms, if you go out there with an axe you’re going to die!” 

She gave me a cold look “You know how many people I’ve stabbed, bludgeoned, and bashed since we got out of the damn tubes?  Because I do.  I know that exact number.  I stopped being the person who picks up your dry cleaning and breaks up with dudes you don’t want to talk to anymore sometime after the third or fourth one.”

“I’m not . . . I didn’t . . . mean that . . . ” I threw my hands up in dismay “This is different!  This is like a battle. A battle battle.  I’m not questioning your resolve or your commitment or your ability to commit murder or whatever, I’m saying that this is a terrible idea.  We’re too valuable.  You’re too important! Don’t go out there with them, stay here with me.  Who cares if we run out of bullets after twenty seconds, we can just duck down and wait for it all to be over.  If we win great, if we don’t, too bad we’ll try again.  Or not, we’ll go somewhere else and forget everything here.  All that matters is that we survive.” 

She shook her head stubbornly “We’re going to have to take some risks to make this work Ela.” 

I reached out, not even sure why, and was left gesturing strangely at nothing “All we do is take risks!  Every minute we’ve been here is a risk.  I can’t lose you Mar, what am I going to do without you?  If you get killed . . . I don’t know what I’ll do.  Please don’t leave me alone Martialla.  Please.” 

She rolled her shoulders uncomfortably “I’m not . . . I mean . . . I don’t . . .” She sighed “Look, if I fight I might die, if I stay here I’ll live, for a while, but . . .” 

I snorted “Don’t you fucking trying to Braveheart me Martialla.” 

She looked like she was pinching herself on the leg “There’s nothing for it Ela, if we want to win this is the way it has to be.” 

I looked at her for a moment and she looked at me.  When I went in for a kiss her eyes widened in alarm and she threw up an elbow that smacked me in the chest and knocked me on my ass.  I looked up at her with eyes watering, not from the sting of her rebuke, but from the sting in my boob. 

“Ow, Jesus, you hit me right in the nipple!” 

She gawked at me like a sideshow freak “What the fuck was that ?!” 

I rubbed at the pain “I just thought . . . you know, you keep going on about your husband being dead and all . . . so . . . I just thought . . .” 

She all but spat at me “I mentioned it maybe once!  Jesus Ela, this isn’t Cinemax After Dark.  You can;’t just . . . just . . . you just can’t!” 

I crawled to my feet in disgust “What are you so upset about?  How do you think I felt?!  Your lips are so chapped they looked like two dead flat worms dancing on your face, a face which looks like a dried-up old catcher’s mitt by the way.  I was just trying to make you feel better.  Give you a reason to live, whatever.” 

She turned away in revulsion “You are insane.” 

“You’re being more than a little homophobic right now Mar.” 

She spun around, arms failing “You’re not gay!” 

“Exactly, and I was willing to let you . . .” 

She threw up her hand again “Stop Ela, just stop.” 

I pulled my shirt out and glanced down “Jesus Mar, I think you ripped it off.  Thank god it wasn’t the good one.”  

Get stomped like a snake

There isn’t much traffic on eighty these days.  When we were at the pop-up flea market (with plenty of actual fleas) Queen/King Big Belly made a big production out of trade being the lifeblood of the land and so on and so forth and how important it was for the Roadrunners (meep-meep) to maintain control of eighty because if the Invincible or other wicked groups from the north got their mitts on it, trade would be strangled and everyone would die.  The Roadrunners are big heroes you see.  But we’ve only seen one other vehicle on the road.   

That vehicle – which was something that looked like the love child of a nineteen-fifties Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Holiday Coupe and a World War two armored bulldozer (with a couple whirling blades for good measure) – blew past us headed the other way.  Didn’t seem like the kind of thing that could carry a lot of trade goods to me.  Hard to see how it could have been an important lifeline for delivering hope to the wasteland.

Whatever it was, it had a cheetah painted on the side, which begs the question; how do these people know what a cheetah is?  I’ve never seen a cheetah at a zoo, so it can’t be that after the end of the world they got out of the cages and started breeding and they live in northern California now.  Martialla claims that there used to be cheetahs in North America but they died out thousands of years ago. 

Even if that was true, what is she implying with that information?  That somehow the collapse of human civilization caused extinct species to come back like magic?  Whenever I say something like that to her, she reminds me that there was a bug man at the swap meet.  It’s annoying because I can’t really say shit after that. 

That all changed today though.  We saw plenty of vehicles today.   

Martialla was busting my tits about drinking too much and I was reminding her that my wrist is broken (or sprained maybe, or just hurts maybe) so I’m allowed to drink for medicinal purposes and so she said that I shouldn’t be the one driving then and then I said that I didn’t think there were going to be any sobriety checkpoints and then she said I was missing the point, etc.  I’m just setting the scene here, Martialla was carping at me in that shrill tone she gets sometimes when we came upon a hell of a sight. 

We parked like two lovers (or more commonly one lover and one apathetic go along to get along participant) on make-out point to check it out. I think we were somewhere in the vicinity of Rollins Lake, there was no lake anymore but there was a weird series of depressions that looked like where a lake might have been to me.  Skirting those depressions, there was a thing crawling along that looked like one of those giant mining trucks with the bed (or whatever) removed and in its place stacked side by side boxcars from a train.  Flanking it were a few vehicles that were long and low like a flatbed only they had trucks at both ends seemingly.  Around that was a swarm of crude dirt bikes.   

But that was just the beginning.  That mass of machinery was all headed the same way, there was a second blob of machines that was coming at them – a madman’s delight (not a rapper’s delight sadly) of buggies and trikes and things that sort of looked like buses and everything in between.  Many, but by no means all, of the vehicles in this second group had a sort of stylized fist painted on them that I’ve been told is the symbol of the Invincible.  It was like stumbling on the world’s biggest demolition derby, only this one also had guns and people being run over.   

There was gunfire but there were also people throwing rocks and chucking sharpened sticks and whatnot.  It’s pretty strange to see a dude on a motorcycle with a lance like a medieval knight.  After watching for a minute, it seemed like most of the guns were on the Invincible side.  I suppose if you have rifles and everyone else has javelins and slingshots, that’s how you end up with a name like the Invincible.   Based on Martialla’s inexpert analysis, in addition to being better armed she thought that the fist boys had a five to one advantage in numbers as well, and overall their vehicles were better.  I told her that I didn’t think that was very sporting.  She dropped our newly acquired binoculars and looked over at me. 

“What rational person would ever want to give their enemy a sporting chance?” 

A fair point.  There’s three million people in LA, and I believe about nineteen million cars on the LA streets.  Er, there were I mean since they’re all gone now.  Suddenly being alone with Martialla most of the time was eerie coming from that crowded life.  After a few days (and/or a hundred years) of seeing few people and fewer cars, somehow coming upon this scene was even more startling.  It’s like being in pitch black and then having a light flare up in your face.  My first thought was that the scene reminded me of an ant colony attacking a fallen ice cream bar.  Only the ice cream bar was full of blood and bits of metal. 

Martialla and I watched the carnage in silence for a while, only partially because of morbidness (is that a word?  I guess it is now since I’m in charge of the English language now).  The other reason we watched being that sadly, it reminded us of rush hour traffic on the one ten and was therefore one of the most familiar things we’ve seen lately.   

I handed the binoculars back to Martialla “Should we do something?” 

She frowned back at me “Like what?  You want to drive into that mess?  Do to what?” 

I gestured vaguely “I don’t know, to help . . . someone.” 

Martialla raised an eyebrow “Who?” 

“You know . . . whoever the good guys are.” 

“Well, if the good guys are the ones getting their asses kicked, there’s nothing we can do about it.  And if they’re the ones doing the ass kicking, they don’t need our help do they?  Not to mention which, I have a strong feeling that we’re not in a good guy-bad guy world here.  For that matter, it’s highly questionable if the one we came from was ever that.” 

Before I could respond, as if to prove her point, we were both startled out of our britches by the sound of a bullet pinging off J-Lo.