He smiles and stumbles over to the medical bay. His five patients remain comatose, their minds lost to the maelstrom. Waters stands there ready, his face slack.
“Water’s get me some rags,” Jarhead orders as he feels another warm trickle down his neck.
The boy moves mechanically to the supply cabinet as Jarhead dabs at the blood oozing from his ear. When the child returns he orders him into a makeshift brain scanner.
Jarhead reads the zig zagging green line showing the operation of Water’s brain. Some part of him appears lost. Jahread glances to the coma patients.
“Probably where they went,” he mutters.He peels the white rag from the side of his head. Brilliant red blood stains it. “I need to fix myself first though.”
The inventor grabs some magnets and wires and snags a pair of big saline bags as well. Re-aligning his brain will take a few days.
As he finishes the device, the sound of two women arguing emerges from the workshop door.
Allison raises her voice higher than he’s ever heard it. “I’ve got to talk to him first!”
A moment later the door clangs open and Fire and Allison push their way in.
“Can I help you ladies?” he asks.
“Yes-” Allison starts.
Fire cuts her off. “Alright I’ve got the money. I need to know where Adam is.”
Jarhead searches his mind. “Okay. Give me a few minutes.”
As he turns to Allison, she yells, “Jarhead! What happened to Waters? What happened in this room? What did you do my brother?”
“Personally I think it’s a victory that he is not comatose,” he says. “His mind, well it’s kind of what happened to them.”
She turns her gaze from the coma patients. “Are you going to fix this?”
“Yeah!” he says. “I mean I’m going to do my best. I’ll fix them and him all at the same time. Would you prefer I screw with them first so I can do Waters right or would you prefer I fix Waters first without any test subjects?”
“How could you ask me that?” she sputters. She looks away. Waters stands quietly in the corner. “I guess…just make my brother well again, whatever it takes.”
Fire looms near the tinkerer. Jarhead digs into his workshop for the Tesla Sphere. “Okay let’s see what I can find.”
He tunes the dials on the device to align with Fire’s mental wavelength. Quickly he scans the frequencies for someone that aligns with her, this Adam who she shares a tie with. A green glow envelops him. Someone resonates nearby. Someone in Miami. Thoughts, alien memories bubble up in Jarhead’s mind. The presence is on the ship. He recalls a turnip farm. Blood and fire fill the night. He sees murders, feels the shock of combat. Adam is on the Big Ship. He feels flames, exit wounds, the feel of metal sliding into flesh. A vision of an alligator lunging for his face almost makes him stop. Adam is Gator!
At the same moment Jarhead realizes something else. Gator is Fire’s father. And she really hates him.
“Give me a few moments to figure out what I just saw,” he tells her, powering the sphere down, “and then I’ll let you know. Would you mind getting Gator in here first? I need to talk to him about something.”
“I’m not going to talk to that dictator,” she says.
“Well I need to let him know I need some security here,” he says.
“Why don’t you send one of your flunkies?”
Jarhead turns to one of the muscle hanging by the entrance. ”Flunky, go get Gator for me!”
“Okay boss!” theger minion says before jogging outside.
Gator settles into the worn leather chair on the bridge. Red check marks cover the papers littering the desk in front him. So many infected, so much to patch up.
The door bangs open and a man with half shaven head enters.
“ Jarhead needs to talk to you,” the Flunky says. “Uh Sir.”
Gator eyes the young man as the youth rubs the tattooed part of his scalp. “Well Jarhead can come to me.”
Flunky looks at his feet. “Um, alright. I think he wanted you to come to him. I mean every other time he’s come here, so I figure if he sent me, then he meant for you to come to him. I think. I’m confused now.”
The man behind the desk sighs and cracks his neck. “That’s not really how this works. What does he need?”
“He didn’t say, he just said he needed to talk to you. He was doing some business with that Militia lady.“
Gator pinches the bridge of his nose. “I don’t have time for this. If he needs to come talk to me, he can come to me.”
“Alright,” the young man says as he shuffles out. “I’ll go tell him.”
November wakes up with a start.
The nightmare fades like a sour cotton candy. Blood mixing with rotten turnips. Fires and someone shouting. A man who stood like Gator but with a face marked only by worry. He was standing over a child, his child, who was somehow also Fire. That didn’t make much sense, she thinks to herself.
A mighty first raps at her tent flap. Tossing on a coat, she slides it open.Lafferty towers outside.
“Hey Lafferty what’s up?” she asks, shielding her eyes from the setting sun.
“We’ve got deserters,” he says struggling with the word. “I guess. I don’t know how tight a ship you want to run.”
“The Kite family. They all up and left last night.”
November frowns. “That wasn’t nice of them. Where did they go?”
“I asked around,” the giant says. “You know that big crowd that’s gathering for that woman Violet
November strokes her chin. “They were extra hands but they were also extra mouths.”
“I figured you would want to know.”
“Thanks, I might have a word with them. They could be polite about it,” she tells him.
Lafferty rests a hand on an axe handle. “I can take care of it if you want.”
“Eh, I guess. I’d like to know if someone scared them off or something.”
He nods, the light bulbs hanging from his wide straw hat clinking together like bells. “Okay, I’ll drag one of them back and find out what the story is.“
“Be nice about it.”
As Lafferty heads off, she considers the dreams of the past week. She can feel the strange static even now, the mixture of confusion, pain, pleasure, and chocolate at the same time. Others felt this, others touched by the backwash of the God Smiter, others who want to feel it again.
None of those who were subjected to the machine’s fury had tipped their hand yet. Except Memo. The strange girl never leaves the workshop, spending all her time there. November recalls that others, even Tern, visit the workplace from time to time, perhaps to plan with her.
November gets dressed and heads down.
Violet surveys the fields of tents on the north end of the Big Ship. Over seventy souls from Militia soldiers to Music Bowl refugees had pledged to follow her vision. Her Republicans were stretched thin supplying this crowd. She hefted a heavy bag of barter and headed for the market.
A few hours later, she pulls a trolley stacked with supplies back to camp. She finds a family blocking her path.
The matriarch, Bes Kite, extends a hand. “You know we could help you with that. You look like you spent good money on the supplies but we’ve got some skills in decontamination.”
Violet shakes her hand and searches the broad woman’s face.
“Yeah we could make that nice and pure,” Bes adds. “No potential radiation hazards. For a couple barter perhaps?”
Violet considers a counter offer before looking past the Kites. “Who’s that?” she asks.
A massive man strides up behind them. Light bulbs hang from the brim of his straw hat. “Alright one of you is coming with me,” he booms.
Violet steps around them. “Is there a problem?”
Lafferty looks down at the rough woman. “Yeah these are deserters. I’m taking one of them back to answer to November.”
“It’s not like they signed a contract,” she tells him.
“I’m bringing one back because they need to learn their manners,” he says grabbing a young woman with a peg leg.
Violet puts her hand on the butt of her shotgun. “I don’t stand for that kind of man handling.”
Lafferty stops moving and stares at her and the gun. She continues, “look here, this is not how civilized people behave. If November wants to talk to them she has every right to come and talk to them herself. But I’m not going to tolerate you kidnapping somebody.”
The giant drops the girl. “Fine,” he says flatly. “I’ll let her know. Be seeing ya.”
Bes pulls her daughter to her feet and turns to Violet. “Thank you for that. That was a bit tense there. Maybe I can knock that treatment down a bit. We can take care of it for a barter. I do have to feed the family you know.”
“Much obliged,” Violet says.
Flunky runs back into the workshop. “Boss! Uh, unfortunately Gator said if you want to talk to him, you have to go talk to him. I couldn’t convince him to come down here.”
She glances at Fire. The young woman mouth drops open. Slowly she shakes her head.
“Did you know?” November asks.
“That can’t be,” Fire says, her voice rising with each syllable. “That bastard!”
“Wait, what are you going to do?”
Fire clenches her hands. “That man has failed me my entire life. And now he has failed this holding.”
“How so?” November says.
“We came to bring civilization and democracy!”
“Well you did, yes. I think the first step was taking down White, which he did.”
“And now he’s just replaced him.”
November takes a different tack. “Have you talked to him about it? It seems like he would listen to you.”
”He think he would listen?!” Fire says. “You really think he would listen!”
“He’s always listened to me.”
“I’m not an orator like Violet and I know she’s talk to him,” the armored woman explains. “And if he’s not going to listen to her, the woman who hired him, then the only thing he’s going to listen to is cased in brass.”
Fire draws a massive pistol.
November holds up her hands. “Wait, wait. You know he’s surrounded by a whole bunch of guards? And he’s not a stranger to sniping himself. You are not going to do your cause any good going out in a blaze of gunfire. It’s really not going to work if you can’t get him alone.”
November leans in slightly. “But I can.”
Fire stops moving to the door. “Alright, if we do that, then we do that. Where are we going to set this up?”
“You know what? I just realized that they can optimize their reactor if they extract several of the control rods and use some centrifuges to refine the old fuel rods.” Jarhead’s head swivels rapidly in her direction. “I can show him what I mean and you could set up there. I probably can’t get him there until four hours from now though.”
Fire smiles. “I’ll be there.”
November lets Fire leave first, pausing at a piece of machinery in the workshop. “Oh that would actually work better here,” she says moving a wire.
Jarhead hurries over. “Don’t touch that.” He notices the power output increase. “Wait! What the hell did you just touch and why?”
November just smiles. Then she recalls her original reason for being here.
As jarhead puzzles over the “repair”, November makes a beeline for the now defunct God-Smiter. Memo crouches near it polishing part of the machine.
As the dancer moves in the girl looks up and freezes.
”I know what you are up to,” November says.
”What?” the pale girl says. “Hi November.”
“Hi. What have you got to say for yourself?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” she stammers, letting her long dark hair fall over her face.
November smiles. “You know. All those great feelings flooding in. I know what that’s like.”
Memo’s eyes search around and she whispers, “Did you feel it too?”
“We were all in this room weren’t we?”
“Not everyone had the same reaction.”
November decides to fish for more information. “Yeah but everyone can, everyone has the capacity and everyone should right?”
“Yeah,” the child says.
“In some ways, it even makes it feel better when you can share.”
Memo smiles. “Yes, it feels so nice. We are trying to find people who would be interested. I think Jarhead would enjoy it.”
“Yes but he gets his pleasures from other places.”
“But it’s so nice.” Her slender fingers stroke the machine. “Everyone should get a chance to feel it.”
November focuses on the machine. The odor of scorched metal tickles her nose. In the background some tool whirs. She puts her hand to its cold dead surface. The God-Smiter remains dormant, dead since the battle with the gods. Without the Tesla sphere, it can’t hurt anyone outside this room. The memory of the blue back wash surfaces. It could still expose those nearby to the raw maelstrom. At some point Memo and her fellow addicts will try to start it again.
November turns to Memo. “Hey if you ever going to do again, let me know.”
Then she walks over to Jarhead, catching him out in the hall as he moves the last of his equipment into a side room. “Hey, Jarhead, what are you doing?”
“What now!” he says, his hand on the locking mechanism.
She steps back. “Oh gee, I’m sorry.”
“Can’t you see I’m bleeding from my ears!” he says pointing.
“You should do something about that.”
“I’m trying. I’m working on it.”
“So you are going to treat yourself in isolation and leave the whole rest of the workshop open to other people?“ she says glancing down the hall.
Jarhead narrows his eyes. “Why? What do you know?”
“Well you know that creepy kid you found?” She nods back through the open door. Memo strokes the machine mouthing her pleasure. “Haven’t you noticed that she’s acting even more creepy than usual?”
“Everyone’s acting more creepy.”
“Well I’ve been having dreams about her and other people. They all became addicted to opening their brains to the maelstrom through that machine. I’m not exactly sure if it’s going to affect the world but it’s definitely going to fuck them over. And they are definitely going to power that thing up once you go under. I don’t know what security you have in place but I don’t it’s good for the rest of them. I’m a live and let live kind of girl but it is your stuff and I hate to see good people go to waste.”
Memo glances over at the pair.
Jarhead tells November he’ll take care of it. Over the next few hours he sends all of his ‘employees’ on menial tasks. After some protests he’s finally left alone. He quickly rigs up an electronic lock, disables the God-Smiter, and makes sure his coma patients won’t need food for a few days. Satisfied, he locks up and heads down the hall.
Gator looks out over the bustling market, one hand propping up his chin.
“Oh good,” Gator says letting his hand drop to the desk.
The plain woman tightens her jaw. “Well not entirely great. There’s a little issue.”
“Spit it out.”
“Maybe it will better for your leadership in the long run,” she says quickly. “You heard Violet’s speech for the Militia? They are moving on, which is good because you don’t need a lot of armed folks running around.“
She tries to keep her eyes on Gator. “But a few of the men and some of the citizenry are joining her. I don’t think there is anyone in the citizenry you care about and it is mostly low end people in your forces. I think you’ll be able to make them up easily.”
“Okay,” he says slowly.
“So just a few people. But I, uh, respect you. I think it’s time for me to strike out on my own. So,” she gulps. “I think that Wire will make a great second in command for you. He’s looking to settle down, he’s got great experience, I’ve had him overseeing people for quite a while now. I think he’ll make a great lieutenant for you.”
“What do you mean on your own?” he asks.
“I think there are opportunities to be had at this new holding, Things I can’t do here. I think you understand.”
He leans back in his chair. “I get it. Are you going to be close?”
“Yes the place Violet’s leading us to is a half day’s drive away,” she says breathing more easily.
“So you going to be working for Violet?”
“Nobody is working for Violet,” she says. “She’s just going to lead us there and then we will organize.”
“Really? Cause it seems everyone there is working for Violet.”
She smiles. “I think you’ll agree with me that she’s not the leader type.”
“But somehow people still follow her around,” he muses.
She shakes her head. “I think I heard this conversation before when you talked to Violet. There’s not much more to say. I’ll be seeing ya.”
“Alright. Good luck out there.”
“Good luck to you,” she says stepping back to the entrance.
“Hope it doesn’t descend into chaos,” he calls after her.
Morgana nods and steps out. A moment later Wire steps into the room holding a stack of papers.
“Hey Boss!” he says.
Gator leans forward. “Hey I just spoke to Morgana.”
Wire scans the wall and furniture for signs of damage. “Yeah, how did that go?”
The bushy bearded man sighs.
”Hopefully she can make it out there,” Gator says.
“Okay boss what’s the deal of the day?”
Gator half turns to the window. “Keep it up, Make sure things are still running here. I’ll make an announcement that you are second in command.”
“Alright,” Wire looks over his papers. “I’ve got a list of all the things that need doing. There’s quite a bit.”
“At least we are mostly stable now. I’ve got some extra barter so I think we can upgrade those machine guns.”
Wire smiles broadly. “Then we don’t have to worry about anyone coming after us. Do you want me to get Jarhead
Gator looks around. “He sent somebody to talk to me a little while ago, He’ll come to me.”
“So let him come to us?”
Gator taps his chin. “Just let him know I’m ready to see him and I have a deal for him.”
Wire flips through the papers. “I’ll be swinging by there a little later. Alright boss, get some rest. You look a little bit tired.”
Gator rests his head on his hand and nods. “I need to sleep.”
“I know, I look forward to sleeping,” Wire says flipping through his notes, “next week.”
“Hi Lafferty, how did it go with the Kite family?” she calls to him.
The giant strides over. “ Violet wouldn‘t let me bring one of them back,“ he grumbles.
“They wanted to come back?”
“No they didn’t,” he states.
“I was going to drag one of them back so we could talk to them about manners.”
“She shut me down,” he says grinding his teeth.
November frowns. “She doesn’t like see people giving orders unless it is her. Were you able to talk to them at all?“
He shakes his head, sending the lightbulbs hanging from his hat swinging wildly.
“I’ll have a word with them then,” she says. “I’ve got another fire to put out now. Have you managed to touch base with everyone else to make sure they are still on board?”
“Yeah, they are.”
“Alright I’ll keep an eye on her.”
“She’s been acting a little weird,” she warns him.
Fire tromps in as Boo starts. “I called you all here because we have an opportunity. Those slavers, the ones from the theater we want to claim for our new holding? They are here.”
“Here?” Violet asks.
“Over in the market, right now,” he explains. “There are six of them, not including the slaves. If we want to avoid any trouble, we could stage an ambush once they leave here. What do you think?”
“We should have a vote on it,” AOL says.
A murmur of agreement moves through the group.
“Well what are our other options?” Wisher says. “Maybe we can talk these guys into moving on or joining up?”
Violet speaks up. “The issue I have with that is…slavers. The slaves are not in a position to make a choice.”
Fire nods grimly. “We should bust them up now. If the slaves want to join us once they are free, that’s great. If they want to go their own way, that’s their choice. But I don’t think we should give the slavers a chance to escape.”
Violet looks over the group. ”We need to consider that this attempt to take the slaver’s hideout is our issue. We don’t want to involve anyone on the Big Ship. We should stage an ambush a ways from the ship. That way if anything gets complicated for us, it won’t get complicated for them.”
Boo nods. “Let’s vote,” the older man says. “Who wants to ambush them once they leave the ship? Opposed?”
Wisher votes against it and AOL abstains. Everyone else votes for the ambush on Violet’s terms.
“We will not tolerate slavery in our new holding,” Violet adds.
As the group rallies to divide up the task, Fire turns to Violet. “I’m going to be a little bit busy. If they leave before tomorrow, I’ll catch up.”
As she walks off, Morgana begins picking out snipers. She turns to the others. “AOL, you’ve got the radio right? You stay on the ship and tell us when they leave. There’s a nice path six blocks up from shore that they will most likely take. We can set up snipers at a ruined office building there.”
Jarhead puts his tools away. Other than the soft breathing of his coma patients, the workshop stands silent. He looks one last time at the disabled God Smiter and heads out the door. He slams it shut and keys the electronic lock.
Stumbling up the hall, he turns into room prepared just for him. As he steps inside, a bushy bearded mercenary calls out. “Oh hey Jarhead! I wanted to talk to you real quick.”
“Argh,” Jarhead says slumping against the door.
Wire pauses. “Sorry you probably want to sleep or something. I guess you do that sometimes.”
“Well I don’t know,” he says flipping through his notes. “I’ve got some records here and they say you are almost always awake, but maybe they are wrong. So anyway Gator is interested in getting you to fix the big guns.”
”Can it wait?”
“Sure, sure. You can rest.”
Jarhead stands up straighter. “Good, are there any emergencies?”
“No we are good now, we can finally get to maintenance.”
“Are you okay?” Wire asks.
Jarhead just points to his ears. Lines of blood crawl down to his neck.
“You’ve got to get that looked at!” the mercenary exclaims.
Jarhead holds his tongue as his complexion darkens.
“You don’t look good man,” Wire says backing away. “Alright, you do what you need to do.”
Jarhead turns and stops. He calls back, “before I go, could you tell Gator that his daughter is somewhere on the ship?”
“Okay. He’s got a daughter?”
“Yeah, I wanted to tell him earlier but he was busy.”
“Alright, you rest.” Wire glances down the hall to the workshop. “I see you locked up everything, I guess you are going to rest for a bit. You crash, I envy you.”
“Yes, envy me and my bleeding ears and swelled brain,” Jarhead grumbles.
He pulls the door closed and locks it.
The sun slowly moves towards the horizon. Violet crouches in the ruined building with a dozen other men and women, waiting for word that the targets are on their way.
Violet lets her attention move outward, away from the street and to someplace else. She closes her eyes and sees the fog clad swamp. The maelstrom seems emptier without the dark presence of the gods, less tangible and suffocating.
Marshall smiles at her from a nearby tree. Her lost love’s hair is a little longer and a few wrinkles blemish his face. But his smile remains the same.
“I guess things must be better out there now,” he says. “And I guess in here too.”
“Yeah,” she says studying him.
“So Violet, how are things out there?” he asks walking closer to her.
“Okay in some ways and not so okay in others. We are going to try to make it happen though.”
He leans forward. “Really? Your dream?”
“Yes, there’s a place out there, it’s a slaver’s hideout right now, but I figure if we can clear it out-”
“You can make it your own little place of paradise,” he finishes looking into her eyes.
“I don’t know about paradise,” she says. “But we can make a stab at making it work.”
“That’s great.” He looks away. “I don’t know if it matters to you anymore but now that the gods are gone, those of us who are stuck here have been trying to figure out what comes next.”
“That was one of the reasons I came,” she explains. “Is there anything I can do?”
“I think we need to figure that out for ourselves here. But I heard White’s still out there though.”
“What?” she exclaims.
“I don’t know what you know about White. He’s sort of the bogey man here, part in the Maelstrom and part in your world. He got killed in your world, but he’s not dead here. Some people say he’s still active and he’s got some sort of deal with someone on your side. Somebody building him a body.”
Violet’s thoughts flash to the robotic skeleton in Jarhead’s workshop. “Why in the hell did he do that? Why would Jarhead want to bring him back? I may have to take that matter up with him.”
He shrugs. “Okay, I figured you’d want to know.”
“I appreciate it. Is there anything else?”
“Well nothing you can help with but things are changing over here,” he says. He turns and points into the mist. “We have been finding these and we don’t know what it means. Look through there.”
Violet looks forward as the mist parts. The earth and sky beyond are pitch black, illuminated only by green lines stretching to the horizon.
Someone knocks on the door to the bridge. Gator looks up from his desk. “Come in.”
November slips in. “Hey how are you doing?”
The scarred leader leans back in his chair. Behind him the sky darkens into a deep blue. “Doing okay. Things are calming down which is nice. It sounds like all the other players are getting ready to move along.”
November studies the cryptic hardholder. “I can see you are pretty busy so I won’t beat around the bush. There’s a threat against you but I don’t know how you want to deal with it.”
“What type of threat?” he says sitting up straight.
“To be blunt someone wants to kill you.”
His shoulders drop slightly. “I’ve had that before.”
“They were planning on coming straight here,” she explains, “but I talked them around to expect you by the reactor. Actually I had a really great idea for fixing it but now is not the time. Well not fixing it but if you could just realign…sorry sorry.”
Pushing the lore of the gods from her mind, she starts over. “The bigger point is apparently, and I don’t know how Jarhead figured this out, but apparently she’s your daughter. I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
He narrows his eyes but holds his tongue.
“She also believes you are her father,” she continues. “If I found that out I wouldn’t want to kill you.”
“Wait, back up,” he says. “So Jarhead told somebody I’m their father?”
She nods. “And then she said that you’d been screwing up her life this whole time.”
“So why are you here?”
“I was there when Jarhead told her. She started heading right for you so I had to delay her. I figured you should at least know what is going on. I didn’t want you to blow her away without knowing. Also we are friends.”
“Thank you, what do you intend to do about this?”
She throws her hands wide. “This is it. If you want, I can lead you to this ambush. I was hoping you could, with your superior strategy, capture her and then talk her down. I’m happy to facilitate that in any way I can.”
“So who is this?” he asks.
Gator’s mind kicks into high gear. It could be her. She’s the right age. She actually looks like him, at least how he did before the alligator bit off half his face. “November, would you mind giving a minute?”
November nods and turns to leave. Outside a voice booms, “No I need to talk to her now!”
The dancer slips back into the hall. Lafferty looms over a pair of guards. He relaxes the moment he spots her.
“What’s going on?” she asks.
“I was following Tern and they ganged up on me,” he says, removing his wide brimmed hat
Lafferty rubs the back of his head. “You know that scrawny little girl that Jarhead’s got? Also that freaky guy with the three slashes on his face. I didn’t see the third one but he hit like a girl, a girl with a lead pipe.”
“Are you okay?”
“Bruised up but yeah.”
“What were they doing?” she asks.
“I don’t know. It felt weird. Not right. I got away.” His hand wraps around one his axes. “One of them is wounded.”
November notes the drying blood on the axe blade. Then she turns to the giant himself. The smell of blood mixes with something else, a hint or perhaps a memory of ozone. Something like what the God-Smiter emitted. Weaker however and fading swiftly.
“I think I know what’s wrong with them,” she says. “They got affected by that machine Jarhead built. I think that’s what affected Tern too. Was Tern involved in this?”
“Yes, I was following her,” he explains. “She tried to get back into the workshop. The whole crew were there, messing with a lock or something.”
“OK I’ll take care of it. Do you think you can get some handcuffs for us?”
He puts his hat back on. “Might take a little jingle but I can get a hold of some.”
“You can take those leathers I have.”
He nods. “I can get a couple of pairs and maybe some rope.”
“As much as you can get, enough for all of them,” she says.
“Do you want the gang ready?”
“Yes,” she says after a moment.
“We’ll be back at your tent.” Then he takes off down the hall.
Gator holds his head trying to work how to fix this.
Deciding, he gets up and exit the room. As he heads down the hall, November trails after him.
“I need to talk to Jarhead he tells her.
“He might have some problems of his own,” she warns him. “A bunch of people, Memo, Shazah, Rox and Tern, they were affected by the machine. Not like the comatose guys. They are addicted to the maelstrom. I let him know about it but I don’t know what he did in response. He had figured something out to fix them but it would take time. Anyway a whole bunch of them tried to jump one of my guys. I’m readying my gang to tie them up but he said they were messing with some locks down by the workshop.”
He turns to her. “So Jarhead’s helping these people-”
“No. He knows how to help them but he hasn’t begun the treatment. Otherwise they wouldn’t be free. At least I don’t think his treatment involves them beating people with lead pipes.”
“So Memo is in a gang trying to hurt people?” he says disbelievingly.
“My guy, taking his own initiative, was following one of my girls who was affected when they jumped him,” she explains. “I was going to take care of this myself but they seem to be working in on Jarhead. So if that is where you are going you might want to be ready.”
Gator’s jaw tightens. “That’s enough of this crap. Gremlin, round up a team. We need a police force. We have some unrest we need to deal with.”
His men jump to attention as Gremlin begins organizing the squad. Gator follows them down to the armory where his man begins handing out weapons.
“Alright guys, only clubs!” Gremlin orders. “Hey put down the machine gun!”
Gator nods as a couple dozen men arm up. “Yes, clubs, stun guns, whatever we’ve got.”
Gremlin looks over. “Oh we got authorized for the stun guns.”
He turns to a tall woman in patched up kevlar. “The Tazer too.”
A huge man breaks open locker and pulls out two large steel devices. “Ooh,” Gremlin says, “some cattle prods! I think that’s fine. Is that allowed boss?”
“Yeah that’s cool,” Gator says, “just don’t hold it on for too long.”
“You heard him.”
Gator grabs a Tazer for himself.
Gremlin pulls some bulky items from a crate. “You want one of these plastic shield things? You can see through them.”
He nods and picks it up.
The radio crackles to life. AOL’s voice pushes through the static as Violet and the others lean in. “They are on their way. I think there’s something else going on around here. I saw Gator’s men moving around. They’ve got these clear plastic shields and stun guns. It looks like they are moving to bust heads on something. Just thought you should know.”
“Thanks,” Violet radios back as the others ready themselves for the ambush.
A half hour later they spot a half dozen men and women leading eight slaves down the crumbled asphalt. Violet scans the slavers: three men, two women and a child. Slowly she lines up a shot on one of the men.
The first volley drops two of the men instantly. The survivors fire back but the fighting ends before they get a good idea of where the shots are coming from. One woman lies face down in a pool of blood while the other cradles the final man in her arms. The child crouches behind them.
Violet hurries down with the others to investigate.
Boo gets to them first. He crouches by the man. “I don’t think this one is going to make it.”
He glances into the woman’s blank gaze. “This one is already gone,” he calls back.
“Noo!” the child cries.
Violet orders Boo to grab the kid. She crouches by the dying man to check his wounds. Both rounds passed through his gut and blood is pooling rapidly beneath him. She presses a rag to the wounds and calls Garber over. “Take him back to the Big Ship as fast as you can. Get him to Jarhead, he can save him.”
The giant warrior nods, “They were messing with that thing.”
November scans the area. A trail of blood runs back down the hall. “Look they must have gone this way.”
Gator’s eyes seize on the one door in the hall that’s locked but shouldn’t be. As he reaches for the latch, he realizes that if Jarhead locked himself in he had a good reason. At best he’s drugged up. At worst he’s in a coma. He lets go of the latch, he needs Jarhead functional. He will have to wait for now.
Gator leads the men down into the ship, following the blood trail. In a dimly lit chamber two floors down, they find four people crouched around a fifth. Memo looks up and freezes, Rox and Shazah move to the exits only to find more men moving in from all directions. Surrounded they form a rough circle around their fallen member, Tern.
Blood oozes from a wound on Tern’s chest.
”Lafferty!” November says.
“They were coming at me from all directions,” he protests.
“I told you to look after her.”
“They got in my head!”
Gator moves closer. “Memo? Hey Memo.”
“Yeah,” she says slowly.
“I think you may be sick,” he says.
“I feel okay. But Tern’s really hurt. We tried to get into the workshop to patch her up but Jarhead locked it up.”
“Yeah,” he says thinking. “Alright, medic!”
November signals her people. Silently they surround the affected, handcuffs and rope at the ready.
As the medic looks over the wounded woman, Gator leans over Memo. ”Memo, we’ll take care of her but we’ll need to put you in a room until Jarhead gets up.”
“But we’re fine, we’re okay.” She shivers slightly holding her hands like she wants to reach out grab someone. “I feel great.”
He stands up. “We’re going to have to put you away for a bit.”
“You’ll be fine.” Slowly November and Gator’s people move in.
Memo and the others look around. Outmatched they allow themselves to be restrained.
“Put them in the brig," he orders. "Separately.”
Wire strokes his beard as Gator continues, “I’ll try to keep an eye out for him but let’s get him some real good armor. Actually let’s use my armor.”
As Gator strips out of custom made military gear, Wire pulls out his papers. “You know I’m looking over these notes. We’ve got a guy we can expend, he got lost in shuffle when we were dealing with White. We never handed him over to the Militia
Gator looks up. “We still have Road
“He’s in the brig.”
“Alright let’s use him.”
Wire moves closer. “I feel we should let him go if he survives. I mean he’s out but he can go someplace else.”
“Yeah I’ll let him know,” he says doffing the last of the gear. “I’ll try not to let him get killed.”
“OK he’ll be there.”
After several minutes of climbing and swinging from rusty beams, he spots Fire in a shattered starwell. Her dark hair and blackened armor blends into the shadows. He watches as she scans the area for him, her assault rifle ready and equipped with a grenade launcher.
Deftly he swings silently to a beam directly above her. His leather hands quietly find purchase in the crumbling concrete. He climbs up to the level above her and then slips down behind her.
In a single motion, he sweeps the rifle away from her. She delivers a powerful back kick that pushes him back an inch. He feels an odd swell of pride for a moment. She finishes her turn with a combat knife suddenly in her hand.
“Let’s talk,” he says holding the gun by the barrel in front of him. “I could have ended this differently.”
“I don’t know what we have to say.”
“I’ve heard that I’ve failed you,” he says, lowering the gun.
“You let us get captured,” she yells at him. “You never came. And then I find out you’re this freakin killing machine. And you took over this place? We were trying to establish democracy and you perverted the cause.”
“Perverted the cause?”
“You’ve got A.T. wrapped around your finger,” she says, shifting her stance.
“We just agree on some common ground,” he says. “Listen to me. I didn’t let you get caught. This is a shitty world that we live in. I looked for you for years. That’s how I got to be like I am now. I came looking for the people who took you.”
Fire lowers her blade. “They sold us two days after they hit our home. I don’t know where mom went. I was a slave,” she says blinking away a tear.
“Your mother is gone,” he says calmly. “I saw her in the Maelstrom.”
“I had to fight for my freedom. That’s why I joined the Militia. So I could end it. Slavery, all these tyrants, people controlling people.”
“Was the Militia any different?” he questions. “I thought they just wanted democracy.”
She meets his eyes. “Some of us were in it for more than just democracy.”
“I am no fan of slavery either and I don’t hold any here. And I never have.”
“But now you’re controlling people yourself,” she says.
“No, now I’m making a system that works. Getting people to honor what they say they are going to do. So it’s not just chaos. Just look at the people out there. You’ve seen them, I’d say they are considerably better off than before I came. This isn’t something I want to do, it’s something I need to do.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” she spits back.
Gator spreads his hands wide. “I’m just glad you’re alive. And I’m sorry you’ve taken a life similar to mine.”
“Well you said it was a terrible world we live in, I guess it is, it makes us terrible people.” She drops the knife on the ground. “Alright fine, I’m done here. I’ve got business to do, Violet needs me.”
As his daughter stalks away he calls out to her. “Just keep an eye on her.”
Fire never looks back.
In the coming months, Violet’s holding gets off to a good start. Swelled slightly by the slaves they freed, they convert the old movie house into a home. They elect a leader. They vote. A lot. Gator sends messages to Violet asking about his daughter. She mostly keeps “the dictator” informed. In her spare time she teaches ethics to a new generation.
Many miles away on crumbling highway, November builds her own holding. Her followers mingle with the hungry inhabitants of Willowtree. Together they farm the ocean and build new machines to ease their lives. In time she opens a school with courses in the culinary arts, electrical engineering, and exotic dancing.
As he enjoys some sunshine in the salty air, his head suddenly hurts. White’s voice rasps inside his skull. “I want my body now!”