I25, 200 Miles Outside of Foundry
The Hunting Lodge Diner
Previously Trinidad, Colorado
Friday, February 24, 2051
A wall of fire dances just a few dozen yards away, out past the Lodge’s thick windows and across the street, on the opposite side of the parking lot. The flickering flames are starting to overpower the Lodge’s electric lights as shadows begin to play across the interior of the diner-cum-hunting-lodge.
The Lodge’s waitress comes bustling into the room, talking on a telephone handset that seems incongruously connected by a wire to something on the other side of the wall seperating the dining room from the kitchen/storage room. She’s speaking quietly, but loud enough for some of you to hear, whispering “Come on, Jethro, pick up. Just pick up, please…”
“Time to eat and scoot, gents,” Wormie says, wheeling at best speed towards the door. Mac stands up from the table, crossing rapidly to the window, staring at the dancing flames as they lick at the growth like hungry children. “That’s an understatement… Is Pitbull’s date going to be okay?” Pitbull successfully hides a smirk and an Austrian accent as he runs to the waitress. “We’ve got to get out of here. Immediately. Put the phone down, or I will carry you out.” Pacoy scarfs down a last bite as he scrambles to assist Wormwood to the door. “Thanks, Pac” Wormie says as his friend gives him a push. “Pitbull, let’s go, bro! You’re the designated driver, remember!”
Mac turns back to Seranya and their erstwhile employment representative. “Ladies? I do believe we’ve overstayed our welcome. Shall we?” He makes a half bow before scooting them towards the door. Pitbull tilts his head and shrugs. “A’ight, Worm.” Pitbull then turns to the waitress again. “Decision making time is over. Al-ee-oop!” Pitbull says as he grabs her by the waist and throws her over his shoulder, with no more effort than a man shouldering a bag of dog food.
“Hey Pac,” Wormie calls out as he hits the diner doors, “It occurs that a drone up high to see where it’s safe to drive too would be nice.” Seranya holds tightly to Mac’s arm, casting a fearful glance out the window. Eris stands up on her own, nodding to Mac. “Yeah, that might be a good idea.” As she gets up, one of her remaining camera drones can be seen taking flight through the window as it pops out of the trailer, immediately heading upwards to get a good view of the situation as another comes out to record the fearsome heroes exit from the diner. “On it!” Pacoy calls as he redirects the buzzbot that scouted the diner earlier.
Meanwhile, Annabelle tries to resist Pitbull’s sudden grab, even using some moves that show she’s quite skillfull at grappling, but he overpowers her and she gives a little scream as she goes over his shoulder. She keeps hold of her handset as she goes and, using it and Pittbull’s own maneuver as leverage, wraps it around his neck, applying enough force with it and her own arms to get his attention. Mac calls back from settling Seranya into the APC, “Pits, this is kind of an emergency – there will be time for snogging later!” He shakes his head. “That guy’s got no sense of priority, Worm. Wrong time to get all grabby with a dame.”
As soon as he reaches the APC, Wormwood quickly swings out of his chair and into the driving seat up front. Over the teams comm-net he calls out to Pits, “What’s keeping you, man? I have no desire to be crispy-crittered because you got horny!” He starts the APC’s engine and systems. “Mac, go get the bit lunk, huh?” Mac throws Wormwood a mock salute before wheeling and heading back to the Diner, knocking before sticking his head in. “You two lovebirds decent? We’ve got a fire going out here, so we need to scoot faster than two beetles rolling down a hill. Antyhing you care to save out of here, Miss? I’m glad to lend my back to carry anything you don’t want to lose to the blaze.”
Annabelle uses her own not-inconsiderable weight, and her presence as a balance over Pitbull’s shoulder, to swing her legs up and tie them around his chest while he’s trying to deal with the distracting phone cord as her body weight shifts slightly, but just enough to tip the balance – and bring Pitbull down, hard, to the floor, with Annabelle riding him like a cowgirl.
Mac blinks, rubbing his eyes before blushing and averting them. He sends an irate text back to Wormwood, copying the whole team except Pitbull. “You set me up! You rat! You fink!” After securing Wormwood’s chair, Pacoy rushes back into the diner, only to stop short at the sight of Pit and the waitress. “*Seriously*, Pit, Priorities!” Pacoy averts his eyes and looks for a way to be useful.
“Good one. My turn.” Pitbull rushes back up, and hugs onto her waist. He comes back to his feet while simultaneously throwing her back over his shoulder and charges out the door. Annabelle yells as Pitbull begins to carry her off. “God-damnit, I can fucking walk on my own! Let me fucking secure the place before it burns all the merchandise down, you fuckwit!” Mac grimaces. “Secure it how, ma’am? I’ll take care of it for you lickety split.” He begins to look for shutters to lower and a way to secure the diner. She yells in a bout of incoherent rage for a moment, before pointing to the bar. “Button behind the counter. God-damnit!”
Wormwood checks the APC’s sensor feeds, looking for a safe path out of the fire. As he does so, he calls over his shoulder to Eris, “I swear, sometimes these guys could make a production outa zipping up, y’know?” On the comm-net, “Hurry it up guys. It’s getting far too close!”
Pitbull stops and sets her down as they are out of the threshold and in the now blazing night. “Alright, do your securin’. I wanted to be sure you were out to safety an’ all, but go on ahead, then.” Pitbull growl as he reaches into his coat and pulls out his smokes, now a tad buckled from her straddling his chest. Mac looks back at Pacoy. “Pit sure does know how to win a lady’s heart, yeah?” He skips behind the counter and jams the button behind the counter before heading for the exit, ushering Pitbull, Pacoy and Annabelle out.
Pitbull texts the team. “Should we leave her? She seems a little dumb to put the merch over her own life.” "Fine by me, "Wormie texts back to Pits. “In fact, doors up in 30 seconds with or without your dumb Texan ass!” Mac sends a glaring text back. “Move! You’re taking just as long as she is! Get your Texan sized machismo in gear and get into the APC! Why is the man with the crippled legs faster than you?!”
Annabelle glares at Pitbull. “You could have at least given me a second to say something before picking me up and running off with me! Jesus.” She shakes her head as she watches the results from Mac’s action: steel plates come slamming up from hidden recesses around weaponry, locking it in tight. There’s a similar noise coming from the back room; the trophies in the front don’t get the same kind of protection, and neither do most of the rest of the survival-style gear, but the guns look as safe as they could likely be. “Oh what could have I said? ’There’s a fire and you should really be fuckin’ running right now- oh wait I can’t because I’m trapped under burning wreckage’?! Something like that?!” Pitbull roars, furious that his rare and difficult display of heart wasn’t appreciated. She reaches in behind the bar to grab something – looks like a key ring – before finally taking off at a jog out the door. She stops to grab Pitbull by the head and pull him in for a long, wet kiss that lasts a little longer than it should, considering the circumstances. “Thanks for thinking about me, but you can be a big lug some times, you know that?” She slips something into his trouser pockets – and grabs something while she’s down there – before taking off at a jog to the rear of the building.
Mac shakes his head as he watches Annabelle trot off and he ducks into the APC, glancing warily at the approaching flames as he does. “Some things you just can’t unsee…” As Pacoy boards the APC, Wormie calls out, “Pac, can you send the feed from your bot to the team net so I have an overhead view I can use to see the way out of here easier?” Pitbull stands bewildered, thoroughly confused, and staring at the direction that she went. “I might be able to wipe that memory for you when we get back home, Mac!” Paocy grins as he slides into the APC. “It’s up now.” Pacoy answers Worm, activating the feed to the team channel. Wormie yells, “Pits, now!” and slams his hand down on the button that shuts the rear ramp tight as he revs the engine.
Mac grimaces. “I’ve never been happier to not be human.” Eris grins a little at Mac’s comment. “That’s a little hyperbolic, Mac. You’ve only had a few days of knowing that you’re not human, after all.”
Pitbull snaps out of his reverie at Wormie’s words and the whine of the access ramp of the APC shutting and makes for the fastest run anyone has ever seen someone so large sprint. He scrambles over the hatch and lands heavily on the floor. “Hey, you know – I didn’t pack any of my fire-fighting bots on this trip… Yeah, Planning!” Pacoy says sarcastically. Mac tilts his head to the side. “That may be true, but it seems like a lot longer to me. Especially now that I can spend my nights being productive instead of fretting about not being able to sleep.” Mac looks at the supine Pitbull and breaks out in laughter. “Thought you were a fighter, Pit? Never thought I’d see a broad put you on your back. Ugh, Pacoy! Help!”
The APC seems to close up just in time, as the intense heat of the wildfire has begun to seep into the surrounding air. The fire, just two dozen yards away at this point, is burning out of control. Pacoy’s drone shows that the fire covers a wide area to the north-east, though the northern road – the road to the Citadel – is still clear. At least, for now. “Let’s GO!” Pacoy urges, pointing out the blaze on the display. As soon as Pitbull throws himself on board, Wormie spins the big APC towards the likeliest escape route, watching the HUD display show temperature gradients and carbon monoxide concentrations. “Pits, get up here and get the environmental systems online!” he yells. A warning siren begins to blare as the calm, Texan voice speaks out of the APC’s speakers. “Temperature conditions exceed threshold parameters. Recommend immediately evacuation of the area.” “Ya THINK?” Pacoy grumbles at the alarm.
A big old-style SUV comes barelling out from behind the diner, Annabelle at the wheel. The silver four-wheel drive vehicle blazes to the south, going directly away from the fire. “Sam Elliot is right, dudes. Alright Worm!”Pitbull yells, as he rushes into the cockpit and jams his HUD jack into the co-pilot port. Now that the APC is moving in the right direction, Pacoy smiles “Looks like we have a new name for the APC: Sam it is!” Mac looks at Pacoy, then grins. “That means I can tell this heap of Texan steel not to play it again whenever Pitbull has the radio, right?” “That’s the idea, Mac,” Pacoy nods.
Mac winces, drawing away from the bulkheads. “Why is it every time we stop it takes us away from our destination?” Wormwood curses, “We’re not going South, it’s the wrong damn way and we don’t have the time!” He wrenches the wheel around and instead points the APC due North, at a portion of the fire front, before gunning the engine and accelerating. “It’s not the detours I mind so much as all of the collateral!” Pacoy answers. Wormie mutters, “C’mon Sam, get us through this and I’ll buy you a pair of fluffy dice.” “Honestly, I’m sure that every time we drive someone tries to kill us and everytime we stop, nature tries to finish us off.” Pitbull growls as he wills the environmental systems and A/C on.
Mac sighs. “I am just looking forward to a bit of downtime after this is all sorted out – you’re not the only one who’s dizzy with a dame, Pitbull!” “I blame all of the horrible karma you people bring!” Pacoy says mockingly. A thoughtful look crosses Mac’s face. “Do robots even have Karma?” “I’ll install some later.” Pacoy nods.
Pitbull takes that moment to inelegantly fish out the item Annabelle stuffed down his pants. It’s a bullet – older mark, case and all of a .50 BMG. He stares at it for a brief, intense second before stuffing it in the pocket of his ballistic trench-coat. Mac catches a glimpse of the movement up front. “Say, what was that, Pitbull? She give you a tube of her lipstick, or did you pack that?” “Mac, you goin’ blind? You and I both know it’s Creep-on-Wheels that packs the lip-stick! But naw, she gave me a bullet.” Pitbull growls. Mac blinks. “Is that what the Texans call it?” He shrugs at Eris and Seranya. Wormie throws a glance sideways as he tries to concentrate on driving the rough road he’s chosen as their route. “Looks like a CoverGirl No5, Pits. The color would suit you.” Pitbull reads the inscription on the side aloud, “The South Colorado Hunting Lodge and Diner. Annabelle Simmons. ‘email@example.com’.” Pitbull growls before smiling. “The dame gave me her contact info.”
The stolen Texan instrument of war makes its break for it northwards, driving as fast as its big wheels will take it. The wildfire continues to the east, a constant reminder of the peril the team is still in. The road they’re on – still the old I-25 – bends towards the wall of flames and a number of animals, no doubt running from the wildfire, greet them. “Hang on to your ’nads, folks!” Wormie yells as he points the APC at the fire where it’s thinnest. Mac straps himself in after making sure the ladies are secured. “Shame Annabelle isn’t here, Pitbull – I’m sure she would have volunteered for that.”
Smaller animals dodge past the big APC, but a few bigger ones don’t seem to think much of a couple of tons of steel. In fact, two hellpigs – big fuckers, maybe a ton and a half all together, continue trotting forwards almost as if they can’t see it – or as if they’re charging it. Maybe they think it’ll protect them from the big wall of flames. Maybe they’re just stupid as shit. Wormie wrenches the wheel hard over to avoid the crazed pigs, but then…“Shitfucker!”..as one of the two hellpigs decides to double back right into the APC’s new path. “Bacon inbound!” Pacoy shouts, pointing out the hellpigs on the feed moments before impact. With a crunching splat of Hellpig and bushes, the APC plows into a ditch and stops. ‘Buggeration!" Wormie yells as he revs the engine and tries to negotiate his way out again. Mac jerks against his restraints. "For once, can we not hit something? I mean, I’m happy I didn’t get thrown out of the vehicle like last time, but seriously!" ‘Sure, Mac, just stick your fucking head outa the top hatch and yell ’Go away nasty Hellpigs’ next time, huh?" Wormie sounds upset. Mac drags his shotgun bag closer to him in the webbing. “Give me a heads up next time, and I’ll have a choice word or two with them, Worm.”
Letting the automatic gearbox pick its own tune, Wormie begins the process of rocking the APC back up out of the ditch. As he finally gets the big vehicle back onto the road and checks his HUD feed, Wormie groans. “Guys…uh…the bit of fire I was aiming for is now forty feet wide instead of only ten…” Mac grimaces. “Ladies, away from the bulkheads if you please – it’s about to get as hot as the last roast I made back in the hangar. Good thing we had those auto-extinguishers installed!” Wormie backs up a little, then accelerates as hard as possible at the thinnest area of fire he can see on the overhead feed.
Pacoy swoons, visibly pale and drenched in sweat. “Doesn’t thins damn thing have AC?” he pants. Pitbull, barely noticing the sweat on his face, replies to Pacoy. “Bah! Not as hot as Texas, I tell you h-what! Why I remember the summer of 2043 as being the most unpleasant summer I have ever experienced! Heat stroke might as well have been as common as sneezin’ in the dusty wind!” Pitbull leans his arm against the wall of the APC, which immediately poaches and boils the skin of his arm under the burn resistant sleeve of his trench coat. He feigns being unharmed as he looks away and winces off the pain. Wiping sweat from his eyes, along with a fair bit of makeup and latex from his disguise, Wormie guides the big bus over the bumpy ground and through burning bushes with a crackling of flame and branches.
Mac jostles a bit as the APC’s suspension fails to conform to the terrain and feels his back arc up and come into contact with the bulkheads – he lets out a string of gratuitous Russian as he slaps at the quick release on the restraints and cowers in the center of the APC. “I’m going to need a new shirt by the time we get to Omaha.. And maybe some new skin as well.” His ‘nerves’ around Pacoy’s patch job seem like they are alight – Mac can’t help but wonder at how they are actually working.
Suddenly, the APC breaks through the flames into the scorched area behind the fire front. With a sigh of relief, Wormwood immediately slows and guides the team through the ashes and burnt tree-trunks back towards the road. “Well guys, we’re back on track and no lost time.” Eris looks down at a slightly-smoldering Seranya, whose facial skin has become even more malformed than normal by the heat. “On-time, maybe. But not quite all in one piece.” She looks around the cabin. “Anyone else hurt?” Mac winces. “Looks like all it takes to get us moving is to light a fire under us, yeah? Ah, poor Sis – when we get a chance, can we see if we can patch her face up, Pacoy?” He looks to Eris. “I’m a bit singed, but otherwise no worse for wear.” Pacoy was about to voice an opinion about everyone alive being in one piece, but then bites his lip with a quick look to Mac as he asks about patching Siri up. “Yeah, Mac, we get some supplies, I can patch her up like new.” “Eh, minorly poached and boiled, but I’m cool.” Pitbull growls, his tone nonchalant.
Wormwood pats the dashboard, “Well done, Sam. I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying that in the Amur.” Mac looks distrustfully at his seat. “How many more days are we out, do you think, Worm?” “About two days to Omaha, Mac. Maybe seven or eight hours to Citadel for a bio-break.” Wormwood replies.
Pitbull stares out the window, as Mac and Worm chatter, his thoughts on the last few hours. Without looking away from the black, smoke tinged night, he reaches back into his coat and pulls the .50 bullet back out and firmly clenches his hand around it. THAT was a woman. By fucking Christ in a Rodeo, I will see her again. He thinks to himself, as he pulls up his fist with the bullet in its palm to his chin.
Wormie reaches out and hits the APC’s entertainment center, and the strains of “Riders On the Storm” by the Doors fill the cabin. He chuckles…he decided against the more obvious track by the same band. The APC, ‘Sam’, marches onwards, leaving the flame-charred wreckage of a once-proud forest behind. The Lazarus team inside continues its way northwards, through the Citadel on their trip to the nuclear wasteland surrounding Omaha.
Up in the sky, above the verdant hills and mountains spread out around the APC, flies a single black vertol, its spotlight shining downwards as it tracks the forest fire. The side of the vertol is lit up, just barely, by its landing lights. While looking up at the aerial intruder, Wormwood can just make out some white writing on its side: