I-76, 50 Miles Outside the Wall
Junction of State Road 34 and I-76
Saturday, February 25, 2051
The APC steams forwards at the fairly impressive rate of seventy miles per hour, eating up the distance to the Lazarus Group’s next stop: Omaha – and, not coincidentally, putting as much distance between one Randall “Wormwood” Barcello and a city filled with well-trained and armed citizens just waiting to cash out a $50,000 bounty on his head. As the Sam Elliot pours on the speed, it passes by a sign on the right. This sign, unlike most on the highway, isn’t old and destroyed from disuse. Instead, it is new, made in concrete and bright, blue paint, announcing that up ahead is ‘Old Fort Morgan’.
“I wonder if there’s a new Fort to go with?” Wormwood muses. “Anyone have the faintest idea what this place is?” Pitbull lights yet another cigarette before answering Wormwood. “Doubt it. Construction? Out here? Shiiiit! A construction site is one of the favorite targets of raiders.” Pitbull growls with a smoke wreathed smile. Mac flips open his paper notebook to a page filled with phrases, the top of which reads ‘Things I wanted to avoid on the road trip’. The date of the writing seems unclear, but Mac’s hand makes a bold strike through ‘Get chased by police’ as he sighs. “Frontiersmen used to build forts to defend against the natives – I don’t think we have to worry about any Native Americans anymore, as they had died out well before prohibition kicked in, or so my memory is telling me. Hopefully this place is just a pass-through.” Wormie shrugs, “Maybe its some kind of trading post?” Pacoy notices the heading of Mac’s notebook and chuckles to himself, wondering where forest-fires, Texan Rebels, Gnox stampedes and car-rental parking lot shootouts fell on the list.
Wormwood concentrates internally for a moment. “Damn, no cellular signal – I can’t even look this place up on the Net. We’re going in cold, seems like.” “There are Native Americans, Mac. They just ain’t goin’ around with horses and bows, knocking over camps of white invaders.” Pitbull takes another long drag off of his cigarette." ‘Scuse me. Settlers." Wormie grins, "From what I recall from reading before we set out, Pits, most of the so-called Indians out here aren’t much more Native than you or me nowadays. They took in a lot of refugees during the Collapse."
Mac barely looks up at Wormwood as he finishes crossing items off his list before flipping the notebook closed and tucking it away. He retrieves his pistol and idly reloads the clip. “Colder than a nuclear winter, and half as blind. Is there any other way? One of these days we’ll walk into a surprise birthday party and a lot of people will end up dead.” “Don’t Worry, Mac, I have a plan – if we run into a pack of ‘injuns’, I’m blaming everything on the White Folk.” Pacoy says with a grin.
Eris looks back from her seat at one of the computer stations built into the APC, where she’s doing some editing of her camera drone feeds. It looks like she’s splicing in part of the all-broadcast commercial about the bounty on his head that came on the air an hour ago. “A few of the nomad bands are still Native American based, especially up by Deseret. The Mormons and the Navajo have been working together for a few decades.”
Mac grins. “For once, I’m glad that I can’t even remotely be considered in that group, Pacoy.” “Well, your as white as any of these guys, and more of a man that a lot of people I’ve worked with.” Pacoy nods. “True. But I also know that we probably won’t be dealing with many Indians out here, anyway. I proudly say that I’m like ummm… 1/128 Cherokee Indian. And I also know that the few times that I met a pure, true blue Cherokee decendant, he wasn’t a raider, a casino mogul, or a lazy ass drunk.”
“Are you saying natives can’t be drunk, lazy casino owning raiders Pit? That’s just racist!” Pacoy says mock offended. Mac snorts and laughs. “I suspect he means they aren’t all lazy, Pacoy. Being a no-good donut running a casino is bad for business, I’ll tell you what.” Eris shrugs. “True enough – but the Navajo have gone a little scary with the biomods. I don’t recommend getting in a fight them or Deseret’s Rangers if you can help it. We had one episode of Edgerunners where the team was supposed to sneak into a facility in old Utah; we had to eventually cut the season short after they fell into some Rangers and one of the Navajo warriors actually bit one of the team’s face off, right on film. The rest of the team quit, even though that meant DreamCorp repossessed their augments.”
Mac stares at Eris, eyes wide in terror. “And this, gentlemen, is why I don’t watch television that isn’t in black and white. That’s just….” Pacoy looks at Eris and nods "Well, I’ve been ‘highly recommending’ we not fight with half of the things we’ve shot at, but we’ll see how things go. We like to play fast and loose with the karma in this group.” Eris nods, “Yeah, I get ya.” She turns back to her work, viewing the spliced-together final footage, then smiles and hits a few buttons. “That’ll work. Uploading to the servers… and my work’s done until that karma comes calling again for you boys.” She turns to look at Wormwood. “How does it feel to have an entire city filled with trained killers out to get you, Randall?”
Wormwood checks his pistols and then his rifle, racking rounds into the chanbers of each. “Having my face bitten off would actually be useful, at this stage.” “I think that girl from Candy’s church tried, didn’t she Worm?” Pacoy asks. Mac looks thoughtful. “Certainly couldn’t hurt your looks. Look at Seranya, just as beautiful as ever.” Seranya gets a big smile on her face and hugs her little brother, brushing her metal face against his faux-skin one.
Wormwood turns to Eris. “I suppose I always knew it was a possibility – but it really blows chunks that I’m being hunted for something I know that I didn’t actually do, rather than any of the things I did, y’know?” “I actually can’t help with that, Worm. I am actually not a dog with the capability of locking his jaw. And I don’t wanna put my face anywhere near yours, make up boy.” Pitbull says before turning around long enough to give a very ribbing smile. Wormie flips Pits off before continuing to talk to Eris. “I may as well tell you, I promised Veracity Blaize an exclusive interview if she can get the evidence that gets me off that phony murder rap. I could offer you and your channel the same deal…” He turns back to Pits. “How about we mosey into town, cowboy, and see if we can find a mule ugly and desperate enough to date you?”
Mac turns and pokes his head up front. “Yeah, there anything up ahead? I’m getting antsy back here. Although I think Pitbull’s dame would be awful sore to hear you suggest that he’d be able to find a mule quite so repulsive anywhere but where she is, Worm.” “Sure Worm! Hopefully the bordello is wheelchair accessible.” Pitbull growls back, once again looking back with a mischievous smirk. “I don’t think that’s what Pit had in mind when he was talking about ‘cruising for some ass’, Worm.” Pacoy ribs in.
Another sign appears, up ahead. Like the previous one, this is new and solidly built from polished and painted concrete. It likewise announces ‘Old Fort Morgan’, with a little subtitle underneath it. “Second Battle of Denver War Memorial, 10 Miles” “Oh fun, let’s have a picnic there!” Wormie suggests in a sarcastic tone. Mac looks over at the sign. “Think it’s only right we stop in and pay our respects. Not like the fuzz is going to track you to a war memorial. What sort of wanted criminal would stop for a picnic?” “Hey, look, a little place to stretch our legs and tempt fate, guys!” Pacoy says in mock cheer “How far ahead do you think we are from Worm’s friends?” “The stupid kind, which is what they are expecting us to be, Mac.” Pitbull growls as he steers around a hunk of car-wreckage.
Mac looks at the back of Pitbull’s head. “But what if they are expecting us to expect that they think we wouldn’t stop, and instead are keeping going on this route, thinking that we know that they’d think we’d stop at the memorial?” “I’ll be honest, I don’t think we should stop if we don’t need to. We’ve been behind the timeline from word one. Let’s make sure none of those gold-diggers catch up, eh?” Wormwood says. Mac grins. “Fair enough Wormwood. It’s gotten bad enough that Eris is editing on-the fly. You’ve just been getting my good side, right, doll?” “I know she’s getting Pit’s good side – she’s been looking at the back of his chair all the way.” Wormie grins.
Eris smirks at Mac. “C’mon, tin-can. All your sides are good for this journalist.” “Worm’s right, Mac’s just crazy or paranoid. Kinda the opposite from usual, but I’m going with Wormy on this one.” Pitbull announces as he hits the skip on his playlist, going from Face-Eater’s “Torture Crate” to Rotting Armadillo’s “Roadkill Sacrifice”. Mac smiles, but inside seems to wilt a little as he considers the implications of the footage getting out there. Reading the song-change on his HUD, he grins. “Curse you and your thematically appropriate music choices, Pitbull.” Wormwood just commands his augmented ears to filter down the noise Pits calls music. then asks, “Did we drive through this town and miss it?” turning up his optical boost and gazing ahead.
Mac looks up at Wormwood. “You’re riding shotgun, you tell me? I got a lovely view of two dames and a geek back here. All things considered, there are worse things to look at, but Eris is a bit pre-occupied, and the other girl’s my sister!” “I’m flattered Mac, but I don’t swing that way.” Pacoy answers. Mac frowns. “But you’re always playing with your other robots…”
The APC chugs ahead, passing brown fields and ruined buildings to each side – and there, up ahead, is what used to be a town. The bombed-out remains were obviously fortified pretty heavily, probably back during the Militia Wars – almost like a prototypal version of the Citadel, though obviously much smaller.
[11/6/2013 9:00:22 PM] Wormwood: Wormwood whistles, “Wow, someone did a number on that place, yeah? What say we go around, guys, and truck on for Omaha?” “Yeah, that place looks like the ‘After’ picture of most of our rest stops. Keep on Driving, Pits!” Pacoy agrees. Mac nods. “Doesn’t look like that place can handle a Gnox stampede or a wildfire – I’m with Pacoy on this one.”
“Already on it, dudes. We’ve gone though our own issues, the issues of others, the issues of finance, and just recently issues with nature. I am tired of being on the road, and I know that when we get back home, I’m taking like a week long vacation.” Pitbull growls as he guns the engine. Mac kicks his heels up on the empty seat across from him. “What does a soldier do on vacation, Pitbull? Shoot targets instead of people? Or are you going to take up macrame?”
The fort doesn’t look to be ‘active’ per se – at least not how it was at its final point – but it’s still an outpost. There are homes that have been rebuilt around it, and there’s a not-insignificant population walking about – and a vertol landing pad, with a night-black vertol with the letters ‘NCPD’ in white on the side lies on the top of one of the buildings on the inside of the fortified area. “Aw shit, the cops! Let’s get outa here!” Wormie yells.
Mac winces. “No, no, it’s ‘Cheese it, it’s the fuzz!’ Worm! And listen to the man, Jeeves! Put the iron to the pavement! Goose it!” Pitbull floors the gas on the APC, and the hunk of metal flies like a bat out of hell through the street.
Wormie hefts his rifle and looks for the window control. “I wonder if I can hit something important on that from here…” Eris points upwards. “I don’t think the windows open like that, Randall. Why don’t you use the hatch?” Mac half-stands and pops the hatch open with an audible thunk. “C’mere, buddy, I’ll let you sit on my shoulders. Although might I advise it as being a bad idea to shoot at the police unprovoked?”
Wormie rounds on Eris, “Because my fucking legs are shot to shit, sister!…Fuggit, OK Mac – it’s gotta be easier than trying to switch driver with Pits mid-getaway.” Hearing Mac’s comment about shooting at police, Pacoy rolls his eyes, “Lube, Worm. This time when you screw with our karma, try using a little lube.” Mac hunkers down to allow Wormwood to access the hatch of the APC. “Eris, love, can you kindly not film this next bit? I could live without ever seeing images of Wormwood crawling all over me.”
Wormie pulls himself onto Mac’s shoulders and opens the top hatch on his side. “I’ll try to aim to disable, Pac, that ok with you?” He swears under his breath and then aims at the cop AV. A few figures in black clothing can be seen running from the roof exit to the vertol as its lights begin to come on, the engines visibly spooling up in the infrared lenses looking its way. Pacoy sighs and is suddenly glad he set the harpy to the drone-chute of the APC, ready to deploy if it becomes necessary.
Pitbull’s rampant driving proves to be effective, as he deftly swerves away from pedestrians and vehicles in his rush out of the city. Wormwood suddenly squeezes his trigger three times, and one of the fat Valkyrie rounds hits the AV’s engine intake in a shower of sparks. “Gotcha!” Wormwood shouts, as he sees smoke begin to pour out of the engine. “See, Pac?” Mac winces as he tries to keep Wormwood stable. “Smoking in an airplane bathroom, Pitbull! Can’t you keep this thing more stable than a drunk on a bicycle? For a sneak thief, our lovely Randall could sure stand to skip a burger every now and again. Are they still coming, buddy?”
The crack of the shot rocks the countryside – a weapon shot in anger, something it hasn’t heard in over a dozen years. The damaged engine doesn’t seem to stop the AV as it begins to rise, the last person jumping into the night-black vehicle even as it takes flight. “Yeah, they’re still coming, Mac! Obstinate bastards.” Wormie calls as he takes aim again. Mac winces as he shuts his eyes. “Going to have another memorial out here soon enough if that vertol catches us now. ‘Here, the infamous Lazarus group were captured and their crimespree was ended by the noble NCPD…’” “So much for disabling them Worm, you’ve just turned us from suspects to targets.” Pacoy mutters.
“You really think we weren’t already, Pac? Listen if it gets hairy, shoot me and surrender, say I forced you all!” Wormie shouts, then murmurs, “You wuss.” “That has been the plan from go, buddy!” Pacoy smiles back.
Pitbull starts jinking across the road, a wide but swift serpentine motion taught to him in vehicular combat training to throw off the enemy’s aim. The track selector on the APC’s music system switches to an oldie, “Guns of Brixton” by The Clash. Mac grumbles. “Ladies! Nobody’s shooting anyone, least of all Worm here, if Pitbull keeps driving like the damn 1/128th Indian he claims to be. Just pretend it’s a damn bangtails race!” He considers for half a second. “Those are horses, Pitbull! Do your people proud!”
The vertol rises into the air, some fifty yards high, and dashes forwards on full blast, easily catching up to the speeding APC. The machine gun on its undercarriage begins to pivot in its mount… Pacoy’s eyes light up as inspiration strikes, “Guys, I have a plan, it’s a long-shot, but I think karma owes me a favor…” Mac’s eyes remain screwed shut in the face of the situation. “Eris, can you pop the second hatch open and stay clear? Sis, there’s a big machinegun in here. You want to test out your new trigger finger and see if you can’t get us some breathing room by making that vertol back up a bit?” He cocks an ear towards Pacoy. “Spill it, bonzo! We don’t have time for dramatic pauses!”
Wormie yells “Any plan right now would be a good one, Pac!” as he squeezes off three more shots, this time targeting the ducted jets on the underside of the AV. All three rounds hit, but the armor on the cop flyer shrugs off all but minimal damage.
With a series of lighting-fast transmissions, Pacoy activates a buzzbot as he opens a hatch. With a snowball’s chance in hell, the bot flies from the open hatch, trying to correct for wind and speed as it races into one of the AV’s intakes like a metallic pigeon. Seranya shrugs. then hefts the machine gun in one hand as she pops open the other hatch, standing on the step to poke her head out. “Let’s see… I guess this switch starts it up… and thus trigger here…” The trigger Seranya pulls seems to be the right one, for about a third of a second. Five bullets go boom-boom-boom-boom-boom out of the barrel of the big gun – but then they just stop, even though the trigger is held down and there’s ammo to spare.
Mac blinks mentally. “That… sounded anti-climatic….” Seranya looks up at Mac, a frown on her face and a tear at the corner of her eye. “I think I broke it.” “You might have an ammo jam, Seranya! Try and clear the chamber!” Pitbull shouts, as he swerves again. Mac hears the sadness in her voice. “’S’alright, love. Just get clear of the hatch and try to fix it. You’re good at fixing things, we all know it. Pacoy, how’s that plan of yours coming along?”
“Flying as fast as it can!” Pacoy says, trying not to curse “Uploading live feed now!” a PIP view of the buzzbots POV sensors is sent to the grouplink. (Mac siezes control of the APC’s audio system and puts on ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ for a lark as the PIP comes up.) The hull of the AV rockets into the POV frame as the Buzzbot nearly slams into the side, a few feet from the intake before pulling back and trying to correct it’s course – only to smash into the cockpit, utterly destroyed without harming the AV.
Pitbull continues his serpentine motion, this time muttering, “This really oughta fuck your aim up, you hovering-assed sum-bitch…” Mac grumbles at Pitbull. “He’s not got a hover-ass yet, so kindly don’t mess with Wormwood’s aim too much, Pitbull.”
The vertol continues to pull up, hovering almost directly overhead – maybe twenty yards away at most. The mounted gun on the underside continuously pivots to keep the APC on target – and then there’s the booming sound of a loudspeaker, near-deafening even over the sound of the vertol. “Pull over immediately or be fired upon!” Seranya, meanwhile, begins poking at the machine gun, still pointed roughly upwards. It takes her a few moments, and then – bam! The weapon discharges a single time out the upward hatch, missing anyone in the APC or the vertol but clearing the jam. Mac shifts his feet, finding them come into contact with his open shotgun bag. “Eris, doll, you mind taking Randall off my shoulders for a moment?” That gunshot was…. not quite fortuitous…
“Pokemo!” Pacoy curses as the bot shatters. “Take two!” A second buzzbot fies up and makes it way out the hatch. Eris looks up at Randall, frowning. “Er… I know he’s a tiny little man, but I’m not exactly a hunk of beef, either. I’m not sure I could steady him like you can; I’d probably tire out almost immediately, but it doesn’t look like you care about the strain at all.” Mac sends a string of question-marks at Pacoy. “What does Pokemon have to do with anything? That’s pretty old, even for me!” then tries to grin at Eris. “Oh, come on Eris – Randall here’s just dying to be on top of you.”
“Fuck you, cop.” Wormie says as he begins to draw a bead on the AV’s cockpit, now pointed right at the APC at close range. Wormwood fires again, and this time all three bullets smash through the less-armored glass of the AV’s cockpit. He let’s out a whoop as the glass shatters. The AV almost immediately begins to lose control; nobody inside seems to have been hit, but it’s no longer making any course corrections at all. It flies off another hundred yards past the APC before crashing down, hard, into the destroyed suburbs to the east.
“Hey, Worm, that shot only worked because my buzzbot marked the glass!” Pacoy grins. Wormie lets out an even louder whoop, then shouts “I’ll give you an assist, Pac,” followed by “Let me down, Mac, and lets make like a bug and get the fuck out of here!” The second buzzbot is recalled and stowed, no longer needed, as Mac begins grumbling something about ‘assisted living’ and de-elevates his friend and closes the hatch. Wormie, grinning ear to ear, punches Mac playfully on the shoulder. “damn, I thought it was going to be a good day to die there, but I have never felt so alive!” Mac rolls his eyes. “I have never felt so much like I needed a shower. Glad you got that thing off our tails, though. Hopefully we won’t see them again.”
Pitbull stops jinking and guns the APC down the road. “Well guys, we are now putting as much fucking distance as possible between us and them! Ride on!” he yells as hear Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone” comes blaring through the speakers. “Day is still young, my friend!” Pacoy reminds Wormwood. Mac smiles at his sister. “You did good, kid – I think you gave them the distraction that Wormwood needed. You too, Pac.” Eris steps between them, grinning – she got some excellent video. She claps Pacoy and Wormwod both on the shoulder. “And remember, next stop – Omaha.”