Free City of Rising
Wednesday, February 22, 2051
It’s been forty-five minutes since the stampede began and Rising was overrun with Gnox. The Lazarus group’s rented Amur remains wedged into an alleyway, its oversized trailer sticking out into the open air, unprotected but for the vigilant defenders standing upon its roof. Their dedication to their craft is open for all to see – for a zone ten meters in every direction, the area around the Amur is a killing field. Over one hundred bullets fired, most of them hits; if the weapons of 2050 still had cases the Amur would be swimming in brass. On the other side of the trailer, numerous Gnox are piled up deep in the alley, cut in half by strategically placed monowire traps; only three yards from the Amur’s front bumper lie a half-dozen Gnox carcasses, almost completely filling the alley’s small space.
It has been three minutes since the last plaintive cries of ‘moo’ could be heard, and even longer since a Gnox could be seen. The dust storm has already passed outside, and the remaining dust and wind within the underground city has been slowly coming to a standstill. Things aren’t exactly returning to normal, but at least they’ve become a little more quiet.
Pitbull looks around at the slaughter, content with the damage done, but a look of worry is crossing his face. The audible crack of his Reaper all that is heard from him as it racks a round into it’s chamber. Wormwood listens with augmented hearing for a second or two, then slumps onto the roof of the Amur, exhausted. “It’s over, they’ve gone.” He pauses for a second as his inbuilt computerized familiar does a body count, “And I’ve still got one more to my tally than Pits does!” Pacoy opens his jacket and activates one of the tiny little Pinbots to use as an extra eye on the scene, making sure the danger is over. Mac winces, finishing digging the remaining shells from his shotgun bag and loading them in. Two remaining – a lonely number, not even enough for a happy cake. “That’s us tied up too, Wormwood. But how are we going to back this box out of here without hitting one of those brutes?”
Pitbull smiles at Wormwood, patting him on the shoulder to avoid the urge of punching him in his jealousy. “I’ve trained ya well, huh cowboy? But I’m wondering if we’re going to have to deal with the pissed rancher whose lost the bulk, if not all of, his livestock.” “Hell, screw the rancher – he can pay our damn security deposit on the van!” Pacoy answers. Mac looks down at all of the fresh meat, then his grumbling stomach. “Never got to finish my meal…” Wormie grins, slotting a fresh magazine as he drops two empty ones into the Amur’s back seats, “Unless he’s tougher than his Gnox, I don’t care. Shall we see about getting the car out of this hole?” He turns, “Pac, can we reverse out now or are we going to have to move some of this meat first?” “Oh, this is going to be a JOB, better get some locals to help clear this out of here!” Pacoy answers, looking at the street full of dead cattle.
Seranya jumps down from her position on the roof of the Amur, approaching one of the deceased Gnox. She kneels down to it, petting its head with her good arm before looking plaintively back up at Pitbull, Wormwood, and the others. Wormwood notices her, “It was them or us, Siri. Sorry and all, but that’s the law of the wild I suppose.”
“I’m obviously not one to give fucks about what the law will have to say on this, but I’m sure this slaughter may count as a crime of some… type?” Pitbull grates, trying to come up with the words to properly bring his concern to bear. “I agree with… which ever one of us came up with the idea to leave immediately. I vote on us getting the fuck out before someone comes up with charges to stick to us.” Doing a double take, Wormie gapes at Pits, “Now I know you’re from Texas. Only in cowboy delirium could defending ourselves from a stampede of crazed heifers be a crime.”
Seranya brings her mechanical limb down onto the side of the Gnox, pressing the clamper ‘hand’ up against its flesh – and then your ears are filled with the sound of a blender, or maybe a power drill, as her hand begins spinning at superhuman speed. The spinning transforms her arm into a hole saw, cutting deep into the animal’s flesh and splattering blood everywhere. The sound dies down and she pulls her hand back out of the creature’s hide, holding up a neatly-sliced circular lump of flesh. She stands up and walks over to Mac, holding the meat out to him.
“I hear ‘defending yourself from a raging heifer’ is a common defense against killing your wife in Texas” Pacoy quips. “No, but the legal shit could have us stuck here for more than our time frame. We may not get convicted for anything, but the legal proceedings may require us to stay in Rising until it has been… um… concluded, if that’s the right word.” Pitbull grates, again struggling with words as he tries to calm himself down from the fight.
“Wow…” Pacoy responds to the androids sudden actions, “It slices, it dices – wonder if it makes fries?” Mac gives the offering a cursory inspection before popping it into his mouth carefully, ensuring not to make a mess on his suit. “Thanks doll – never had the chance to try fresh Gnox before. A bit raw, but nothing some heat and some salt can’t fix.” He gives the girl a smile. “Beats the boxed food we’ll be eating for the rest of our trip, that’s for sure.” “Well if that don’t beat all…” Wormie murmurs, “the metal chick has a crush on our Mac.” Mac sucks one of his fingers clean. “That’s not bad at all, guys – if we’re going to get these beasts out of the way, you’ll need the energy, so give it a shot.” Damn, Pacoy thinks to himself, there goes Mac blowing his “fairly normal, presentable human being” roll.
Wormwood finally shakes his head and goes to get some rope from the trailer. “Come on, big guy, we need to clear a path for the Amur to back up some. Then we can unhitch the trailer for a bit and use the car to clear a path out for itself.” Pitbull gives Mac a perplexed look. “Fuck, you Yanks are some weird ass people… I mean I’ve eaten snake, fried and raw. Fried snake feels like fish and tastes like chicken, raw snake is ok. Y’know desert sushi. But raw Gnox? I’ve seen it all now, I tell you what…” Mac smiles, draping his trenchcoat over Seranya’s shoulders. “Try not to get any blood on it, alright doll?” He throws a grin over at Pitbull. “Fresh Gnox – you telling me you aren’t curious?” He begins rolling up his sleeves and preparing to move some Gnox out of the way. “Naw. I heard the parasites in their muscles can be deadly. Or they give you the shits. Don’t remember which…” Pitbull adds as he yanks off his filtration mask and fishes his cigarette box out of his coat. Mac pales, looking down at his stomach, then at Pitbull in despair. Pitbull laughs as he pats Mac on the shoulder. “Hope you have yer will and testament in order. And a diaper.”
The pinbot Pacoy launched earlier begins showing clear views of the city, small stretches at a time. The Donny parking lot is clear of Gnox, but three vehicles have been completely crushed and the hydrogen and gasoline pumps at the nearby refilling station have both been destroyed – the only reason an explosion didn’t occur is someone was smart enough to hit the emergency shutdown button. The entire scene is covered in a thick cake of dust. The redheaded waitress from the diner is standing at the balcony overlooking the carnage, wonder, insecurity, and fear all evident in her eyes.
Other streets show much the same thing – enormous property damage, with several killed Gnox here and there and a few isolated areas of shear slaughter, around the local school, the police station, a few others. The entire city is covered in the dust of the storm, and the residents of Rising are milling about, almost aimless after one of the greatest disasters in the cities short life.
Watching the feed from the bug, relayed via Pacoy’s implant, Wormwood whistles low. “The city isn’t going to be much use to us now – let’s get this show on the road.” He grunts and tries to drag a big chunk of Gnox off to one side by the rope he’s tied around it. Mac heaves at the other side of the same Gnox, his face a grotesque facade of disgust and concern. If I make it through this, I hope this town is going to be okay… Why didn’t I ask to see if it was safe? Sometimes I can see why Chivalry is dead – because it makes you do some ill-advised things.
watches Wormwood heave and steps up to him, looking down at the rope curiously. She reaches down with her mechanical arm and a small light suddenly shines upon her shoulder, gleaming yellow in the night. With her hand on the Gnox’s side, she sets her feet and pushes. The motors in her arm whirr and protest as they spring into action, almost tossing the Gnox a good three yards – but the sounds are accompanied by a sharp ‘crack’ and the suddenly outgassing of what almost looks like steam coming from her arm; the light on her shoulder turns red and begins to blink, and Seranya cradles the limb in her true hand, looking back at Pacoy. “I think I overstressed it.”
Pitbull sits back and starts cleaning his Reaper, cigarette hanging from his mouth as he stares into his work and remains completely oblivious to everyone’s attempts at pushing the Gnox carcasses out of the way.
“Umm, Yeah..” Pacoy stammers, “I can fix that. Let’s get on the road, as far and as fast as we can.”
Wormwood scrambles to get out of the way of the flying Gnox meat, and sees Pitbull. He yells, “Hey, you great lump of under-educated, cud-chewing, inbred cowboy in battledress…Get down here and help!” Pitbull stands up, fury radiating off of him in an almost palpable aura. “Hey, asshole! I don’t chew the fuckin’ cud! Do I look like a damned cow to you!” “Well, now that you mention it…” Pacoy says to Pit, smiling. Wormie grins, “Mooooo-ve it, buffalo soldier!”
Mac looks at Seranya, “That’s a heck of a thing you did there, lass. Why don’t you hop on into the Amur, and Doc Pacoy will patch you up when we get on the move. Pacoy, we’ve got enough room to start backing the Amur up – just come straight back and forget the mirrors.”
Mac stares at the Gnox and glances back at Pitbull. “Skull seems about as thick, if I’m honest…” “Someone else care to drive while I patch up Seranya?” Pacoy asks. Mac helps Seranya into the Amur, clambering up to the drivers seat, motioning at Pacoy to see to the lady. “Alright boys, I’m going to hit the gas, so stand in the way!”
Pitbull lightens up almost as quickly as his ire was raised. “Alright, alright! I’ll come down there and show you how body clearin’s done!” Seeing that there’s a clear path for the big SUV, Wormwood stomps over to it and climbs inside. “Jobs done, Pits, ya barracks wuss.”
Seranya smiles to Mac, touching his face with her good hand in simulated gratitude. She seats herself in the back, holding her hand out to Pacoy. Eris moves to sit right behind the driver’s seat, poking her head out to look at Mac. “Really? You just scarfed down completely-raw wild Gen Nu meat? Haven’t you heard any of the horror stories?” “If he grows an extra head I’ll shoot him myself” quips Wormwood as he ostentatiously begins to clean his rifle. Mac looks back at Eris, not pausing in his reversal of the Amur. “I don’t really get out much, Ma’am. But you should have seen her face – I couldn’t not accept the gift. There something wrong with it? It went down smooth enough.” Pitbull laughs, and crudely mimes someone straining on a toilet in Mac’s direction, before hopping back into the Amur, guffawing to himself.
“Through the city or back out the way we came in, Mac?” Wormwood asks once the SUV is rolling. Mac drums his fingers, wishing for a map to read before consulting a digital version with a sigh. After he checks the shortest distance, he calculates the amount of damage the Gnox might have done. “We’re going to punch through – it’ll be the fastest, and we have to make up for lost time.” He guns the engine to get going as quickly as he can through the damaged streets. “Sounds good to me,” Wormie replies. “Let’s blow this hamburger stand!”
The hamburger stand has begun to smell a bit like the cook has been taking the day off and left the freezer open, letting the warm air in to get at the meet. The smell of blood, death, and the beginnings of decomposition assault the senses as the Amur traverses through the city, kicking up dust even at its low velocity. Pitbull, conveniently forgetting to exclude Mac form the com-net, comms the whole team in a hushed whisper. “Keep yer eyes on Mac. If he spouts a bony-bit or a tentacle, y’know what to do…” He finishes his comm with a crude snigger, as he turns to the window to act affably innocent. Mac swerves to avoid a Gnox carcass, wishing he had a window to roll up as he glares back at Pitbull. “Not too late to stop and pick you up a snack, cowboy.” A devilish grin flits across his face before he returns to the road. “So… there any doctors between here and where we’re going? Just… in case?”
Pacoy makes a slight sucking noise on his teeth as he finishes fiddling with the androids arm. “There,” he says the android, “That should do fine until we get back to a real shop.” Seranya smiles at Pac as he tweaks her arm; the light on her shoulder moves from red to yellow before finally landing on a nice, solid green – and then turning off. “Thank you, Pacoy.” Mac smiles weakly. “Be easier if you could just patch me up like her. I’m too pretty to die from a hamburger…” Wormwood snorts laughter and finishes re-assembling his rifle. "I know some first aid, my self. I’m still trying to remember my best advice, besides “induce vomit”." Pitbull growls, finally lighting the cigarette hanging from his face.
The big Amur pounds forwards, pushing a large Gnox heifer out of the way of its journey before Mac can gun the engine again. They pass by the school Pacoy’s pinbot had seen earlier, very carefully avoiding the killing field around it – and the armed mothers and fathers standing by the entrance, still protecting their children within. “Don’t worry, Mac – I assure you: what ever happens, you won’t be too pretty.” Pacoy says in a mock serious tone. Mac’s eyes flit to the rearview mirror, locking onto Pacoy with false anger, betrayed by the wrinkles around his eyes. He tries to speed through the city as best he can, ignoring the growing unease in his stomach.
Wormwood muses out loud, “Y’know, that fence failing was just a wee bit too convenient just as the storm came in – they surely must have built to take those things around here. So the question becomes – was it aimed at Rising or at us? And before anyone says anything, yes I’m paranoid. In my line it saves trouble later.” Mac nods. “A bit too convenient to bother with wondering, pal. Question is, who pulled the plug? Someone aiming to outgun us?” “The timing was too coincidental,” Pacoy agrees, “There was the noise at the gate just as storm started, plus something out of place spooked these beasts.” Pitbull nods in agreement, racking his brain at the potential identity of the perpetrator.
Wormwood continues, “Who pulled the plug is a good question, Mac. Also – how did they know when to pull the plug. They have to be watching us from afar, so keep your eyes peeled and see if we can spot them.” Eris leans towards Wormwood. A camera drone floats outside the Amur, pointing in to watch the conversation. “Do you really believe that, Wormwood? Someone caused all this-” she waves her hand, indicating the destruction around her, “-just to slow us down?”
Mac cues in a private line to Wormwood, sending him a lingering glance as he does, sending a burst text, “Who says they have to be watching from afar?”
Wormie looks around at Eris, “Yes. The car dealers too, remember? There are amazingly few coincidences in life, I’ve found.” “Best case: competition for the race to our destination. Worst case: Someone who hates our individual or collective asses to try to get us killed. Our odds sound like they suck, dudes.” Pitbull growls through another jet of smoke, as he turns his vision to outside the vehicle, staring at a Gnox-corpse sprawled over an upturned semi.
Wormwood texts back to Mac, including Pac in the message, “Also true. Could we be bugged by other than Eris? Or…?”
Aloud he says, “Not necessarily, Pits my friend. If we can ID them we can do some of that good old ‘Do Unto Others’” Mac grimaces as he heads towards the exit of Rising. “That they do, Pitbull. The odds are never in our favor, are they? Always someone playing with a stacked deck.” He eyes the road, silently composing to Wormwood. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been burned by a beautiful dame, Worm. She did know where we were picking up the car…” “Which is harder to believe, that someone is causing mass destruction for personal gain, or that a sandstorm hit at the exact time the gate system failed and a herd of Gnox are whipped into a frenzy?” Pacoy asks the intrepid journalist.
Pacoy latches onto Mac’s metaphor and rolls with it, “I find that when the odds are stacked against you, well counted cards helps even the spread. Now we just have to find out who has the aces and who is holding the jokers.” Eris leans back. “Wow. That’s… scary. I mean, look at all this – this must be millions of dollars of property damage, and that’s not even counting the cost of the cattle or the human injuries or deaths. I know that some people really don’t want us to get there before them, but this is a little extreme.”
Pitbull growls “Just fuckin’ hoping it isn’t the Sarge. He may still be detained in Texas, or he may be right behind us for all we know, and he’s pretty fuckin’ hell-bent on making sure there isn’t enough of me to make a bootstrap out of, that’s fer damn sure…” Then, once again he does a mood flip that’d give an on-looker whiplash. “But if it’s him, I’ll be damn sure there isn’t enough of him to fit in a bullet-case. Observe. Identify. Engage.” Pitbull grates with a feral grin, his Reaper automatically racking a round into it’s chamber at Pitbull’s bloodlust.
The Amur slowly trundles forwards, finally seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – the final exit from the underground city, still open and shining from the starlight outside. “Maybe we should send out one of Pac’s drones as a scout.” Wormwood muses. “Not a bad idea.” Pacoy agrees, readying a Kestrel for a quick launch.
Mac looks over at Pitbull. “He’s got that kind of clout? Finally, we’re out of here…” “Shit! The Texas Rough-Riders are the best! And he trained us assholes! He’s crazier than a sack full of cats on PCP, but he’s a tracker, hunter, jailer, and executioner. I’d be damned surprised if we don’t see his sorry ass out here.” Pitbull growls with a grin, traces of admiration lacing his words. Eris leans back, a frown on her face. “I’ll have to interview you more about him. He sounds like he could be quite the threat.”
Wormwood pulls up his internal map “Well, our next stop is supposed to be Foundry Free City – about 12 hours if we’re lucky and its all badlands. We better be alert.” Wormwood punches up the night vision and infra-red options on his cybereyes. Mac looks at the end of the tunnel, slowing to allow the Kestrel to get ahead. “Tell you what, pal. He shows up at the end of this tunnel, I’ll goose this bad boy and hit him with all the horses, how about it?” Taking a look at the sky up ahead, he looks back into the cab. “If you lot need to catch bunk on the way, feel free – I’m not going to sleep with this hunk of Gnox gnawing away at my innards, so I might as well keep driving, right?” Wormie pats Mac’s shoulder, “I’ll keep you company, Mac. I’m happier at night anyways, used to it.” Mac grins. “Bet you are, Worm. Night’s when I do my best digging, thinking, and some of my best eating, too.” And my worst sleeping… it’s been too long since I’ve had a restful night. I should really see a doctor.
The Kestrel powers up, spitting out a heady wind in the confines of the Amur. As Pacoy launches it, the fans kick up a nice dust trail until it rises high enough away from the sand-and-dirt caked ground. The Kestrel zooms forwards, neatly slipping out of the city and into the night air. The drone flies up into the sky, the gun ready to fire if given the command while the robotic eye turns this way and that, looking for any sign of threats.
The scene, to Pacoy’s trained eye, is mostly quiet; not a vehicle to be seen for miles around and the same lack of any sign of actual civilization – the people of Rising are quite good at camouflaging their urban enclaves. The only truly startling thing he notices is a large herd of Gnox, ambling about a few dozen yards from the roadway and moving swiftly away from it. The herd is a bit smaller than the one seen on the other side of the mesa – maybe half the size, though not much less.
Pitbull scrunches his face as a question dawns on him. “Hey Mac? When was the last time you actually slept?”
“Heads up, guys!’ Pacoy warns “More burger-beasts up ahead.” Mac blinks, taking one hand off the wheel to rub at his eyes. “Oh good, I forgot to take one to-go…” He sighs, returning both hands to the wheel. “Last good night of sleep I got, Pit? Last time I blacked out, most like. Can’t remember the last time I had a good rest in a bed.” “Over a month of time? I’d hate for your brain to die from that. One month of no sleep and you die, y’know?” Pitbull growls.
Wormwood groans at Pacoy’s news. “Maybe we can avoid them, Pacoy, or use the Kestrel to spook them out of the way?” He leans out of the window so he can use the advanced sights on his rifle to look ahead. “I don’t think the kestrel is going to spook them, Worm” Pacoy answers, “But they seem to be moving away from the road at a quick pace… Damn, maybe they are running from something more threatening?” Mac grits his teeth in a grin. “Yeah, Pac. I’m hungry and they know it.” He scoffs a laugh. “I don’t know, Pitbull… has it been a month? I can’t tell. I work a lot of nights, then a lot of mornings. It all blends together after a while. I’m sure I catch naps in there somewhere.” Right? Suddenly, Mac bursts into laughter, whether from sleep deprived insanity or genuine mirth it’s hard to tell. “It’s us. Those burgers with legs are running from us – they’re scared! It’s the same herd we thinned out earlier!”
Pitbull takes a long look at Mac, his realization about Mac taking form. There is something… Not right about him. He’s an awesome dude and love him like a bro’, but there is really something off about him. Sometimes it’s like he’s not quite human. I dunno. Probably just overthinkin’ it…
Wormwood relaxes and settles back into his seat, comming subvocally over the team‘s net, “About time we caught a break. Guys once we get a chance to stop safely a ways down the road, lets go over this heap with a fine tooth comb looking for transmitters and bugs we and Eris don’t own.” Mac nods, eyes on the future ahead. “That’d be nice, get a bit of investigation in – been feeling like I’ve been out of touch with my old job for a while. But for now, lets all kick back, relax, and enjoy the wide open road.” He lets his arm hang out the open window, feeling the wind rush over his skin, oblivious to his lack of goosebumps. Another long night ahead – not a second to spare for time in bed.
The Amur bursts out into the open night air, Mac finally able to give the great beast some gas as it accelerates down the open highway. The great Gnox a dozen yards away bleat out a loud, disconcerted ‘moooo’ as they move away from the big vehicle.
As the Lazarus team rolls on into the night, Mac takes one last look back in the rear view mirror just in time to see a Rising Free Militiaman stand up from a crouch by the city’s entrance, briefly holding up a hand to the Amur as if to say ‘no, wait, come back! We have paperwork to do!’ before he just shakes his head and lowers it, shooing the group off onto the next step of their adventure.