Authors: Rob Buckman
Copyright © 2016 by Rob Buckman.
All rights reserved. This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
First Electronic Edition: 2016
Penn cycled the hatch open and eyed the surly looking human on the other side. Unshaven, shaggy haired and bulging eyes, he looked like an angry warthog. Behind him stood a very large Gort for intimidation and muscle, not that Penn was impressed. He’d run into this species before, they’d dance and the Gort would lose. Penn looked up at the big fellow, frowning slightly seeing the look of surprise on the Gort’s rubbery face. The look on the other human’s face spoke volumes. He was pissed.
“Who the fuck are you,” He demanded, “and where the hell is Captain Drago?” The man stepped forward, fists clenched.
“Was that his name?” Penn murmured. “I never asked his name before I slit his throat.” The man stopped and took a step back.
“You did what?”
“Just told you, I offed the low life scum sucker, now who the fuck are you?”
“I’m Drago’s partner, Marlow, and this is my ship.”
“Not anymore.” In answer, Marlow’s mouth pulled into a nasty grin and he motioned with his hand. “Kill him.” He snarled.
Anticipating an acrimonious meeting, Penn had already tensed his stomach muscles in preparation, but he didn’t anticipate what happened next. The huge humanoid reached out, grabbed Marlow by the back of his neck, and lifted him off the deck.
“Not me you stupid idiot!” He screamed, face screwed up in pain.
“What you want me to do with him, Penn?” The Gort asked, grinning from ear to ear.
“Class! What the fuck are you doing here? I sent you home.” The Gort walked over, still holding the human in the air by one hand and gently squeezed Penn’s shoulder. Gorts looked so much alike it was almost impossible for a non-Gort to tell them apart.
“Came looking for you, friend Penn and Major Ellis.”
Arizona - Beginning And Ending.
A hot bitter wind pushed a small dust devil across the parking lot of what was once a clean urban shopping center, growing as it picked up odd bits of trash, dust and discarded debris. It died after a few feet, redistributing the debris across a different portion of the cracked asphalt as if too tired from the heat to carry it any further. The supermarket was now nothing more than a burned out shell, the associated businesses, smashed and looted of their contents. The air tasted of dust, alkaline, ash, and decay, with a touch of despair as a side dish.
“This the place?” The yellow-eyed man asked. His female companion sighed, and nodded in reply.
“Yes, from what I can remember. I'm sorry to say it is.”
“This place is a shithole if you ask me.”
“Yeah, it is now.”
Where the once bustling, modern center of Tucson, Arizona had once stood, nothing remained except a big hole in the ground and a lot of smashed rubble, full of two and four legged scavengers. On the outskirts of the once proud city, the apartment buildings and shopping centers that had survived the initial blast from the KEW were now eroded into dilapidated slums. Nothing more than a home to ragged bands of human survivors left over from the rebellion against the Tellurian Empire. The relentless sun still beat down on the inhabitants in the summer, and the cold winds froze them in the winter. It wasn't a place for the faint of heart. Fifteen-odd years after the blast from the impact of a thousand ton, nickel iron rock had smashed down from space, the few survivors didn’t remember air-conditioning, or central heating. Not that those on the outskirts of the city had much of either before the destruction, except maybe in the local bars, or supermarkets. Those businesses were gone, as were the never-ending chain of big rig trucks that had once crisscrossed the state to feed the insatiable appetite of the populace.
“Damn. It's a wonder there’re any people left.” Richard Penn looked around at the inhospitable desert behind them, and shook his head. He liked it green and wet, instead of hot and dry.
“Those that stayed don't have any place else to go,” Ex-Sub-Major Ellis, late of the Tellurian Military murmured, “none of the other major cities are in any better shape than this one, so why move?”
In some way, the dusty streets made Richard Penn think of what this place must have looked like back in the days of the so-called 'old west'. The only resource they still had in abundance was what had put Tucson on the map in the first place, water. On either side of the cracked asphalt streets, small businesses still tried to eke out a meager living. Between them were the remains of abandoned, or burnt out shells of flower shops, liquor stores, and bakeries. All the businesses you'd find on any main street in any town. Since the regular supply of diesel and gasoline had stopped, horses had come back into their own, now standing at old-fashioned hitch rails, flicking their tails to chase away the biting flies. Horses meant the return of such things as corrals and livery stables. An old Hertz sign caught Richard's eye, and he smiled slightly. Someone had taken over the establishment, and crossed out the 'Car' in the sign. It now said, 'Hertz Horse Rental'. There were a few old cars and pickup trucks parked along the street, so some gas and diesel was getting through from somewhere. Probably from the old refineries near producing oil fields that still worked. The supply was strictly regional, or, as always, for the rich.
Electricity came from somewhere, evidenced by the flickering neon light over the entrance to a saloon half way down the block. The scene brought a smile to Richard's face as he looked at the bat wing doors at the entrance. He'd only seen places like this in old videos, back when such things had existed. The hot wind flapped the ends of their long, dark brown leather coats against their legs, giving quick glimpses of what was underneath. Richard’s preference ran to a dark blue silk shirt, black pants tucked into well-made combat boots, and a utility belt that held a sidearm and one of his preferred weapons, a knife. The other, a long blade was now hidden down the middle of his back under the coat but within easy reach. Ellis leaned to the wild side with an electric blue body suit that clung to every wonderful curve of her beautiful body and upper thighs in a daring, open display of femininity. Some might say there was more skin showing than body suit as the plunging neck line almost came down to her navel, but Penn wasn’t complaining. He liked what he saw, knowing the display was for him and not an open invitation to others. Nor did he concern himself about her looking at other men, as they were bonded together by something far stronger than words spoken over some book, or the exchange of rings. For anyone considering putting their hands on that lovely body, her accessories might give them pause to rethink that idea. Twin fighting blades were strapped to her thighs above the calf-high, high heeled boots and the dark stockings, while twin pistols rode under each arm in shoulder holsters. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, the well-used imperial battle rifle in her hands might make them reconsider their options for a long life. Her choice of clothes was at odds with what Penn had seen her wearing the first time they'd met. Then it was a tailored imperial military BDU, and a well-used blaster on her hip, which she still wore, now with a twin in the shoulder holsters. Richard did remind her that dressed like that, she was liable to start a fight.
“Bring it on! I'm in the mood to kick some ass.” She grinned, wetting her red lips in an enticing manner.
“Yeah?” He smiled quickly, watching the tip of her pink tongue trace the outline of her lips. “You could try me.” He looked at her invitingly.
“You're no fun.” She huffed. “I can hardly land a punch on you, let alone hurt you.” Ellis fluffed out her mane of red gold hair. “Besides which, we usually end up doing something else instead of fighting.” She sniffed, her grin spoiling the delivery.
“Yeah, true, but what a lovely way to end a fight,” he laughed softly, “You sure this is the place?”
“As sure as I can be after all this time. If my grandfather is still alive, someone here will know how to get to Stone Mountain.”
“Hell of a place to start building an army.”
“We have to start somewhere. There are a whole lot of warriors around here someplace, just waiting for a chance to kick someone's ass.”
“I’m still wondering about that um… vision you had.” Ellis shrugged.
“I can’t explain it any other way. That's what I saw.” Penn reached up and stroked her cheek for a moment. Ellis leaned into the caress, drawing in his spicy cinnamon scent.
“I understand. From what I’ve seen in this world so far, I wouldn’t discount anything. Let's just hope it's the Empire's ass those warriors want to kick.” Ellis knew what he meant. Her vision while in the silent room inside the pyramid was of thousands of fully equipment combat troops, human combat troops, all dressed up and ready to go to war with someone.
The click-clack of her stylish high-heeled boots masked Penn's soft footsteps as they walked along a short section of cracked concrete sidewalk. They could feel the hidden, hungry eyes of the citizens watching their progress toward the saloon. To those eyes, this young couple was worth a fortune in today's currency, and too many thought them ripe for the picking. Not that Penn or Ellis worried about such things. If they came up against something they couldn't handle with their hands, hidden beneath the folds of their open coats was enough firepower to start a small war. Now, as back in the days of the old west, the saloons weren't just a place to get a drink. They were a meeting place, an information exchange, a whorehouse, gambling den, sometimes even a post office. The saloon became the center of life around which all activity revolved in these dirty pockets of the shattered city. Penn and Ellis walked through the bat-wing doors together and in step, hearing the 'flap-flat' behind them as the bat-wings slowed to a halt on squeaky hinges. The placed smelled of stale beer, cheap booze, and even cheaper perfume with a hint of garlic. Only five people beside the bartender inhabited the place. Two guys' playing cards near the door, a drunk nursing an empty bottle sprawled across a table in the corner and a tough looking female in a revealing dress talking to a man at the end of the long bar. Penn was a little surprised at how tidy the place was. The plank floor had a fresh scattering of sawdust, smelling slightly of cedar, while the bottles behind the bar were all neatly lined up and dust free, as were the shot glasses and beer mugs. All that belied the outward appearance and spoke of something else. Besides the slight odor of cedar, he couldn’t place another scent for a moment. Then he had it, gun oil. On the surface, a bar this might be, but he suspected there was something else going on here. It wasn’t a trap in the normal sense of the word, just the positioning and look of the people here told him they had him and Ellis covered from three sides. A slight touch from Ellis’ hand told him she’d spotted the oddity as well.
“Two beers, if you have them,” Penn ordered as they walked up to the bar. “If not we'll have whatever you’re passing off as whisky around here nowadays.” Penn said, keeping his head down.
The tough looking barkeep eyed Richard hard as he rolled the stub of a cigar around his mouth. Obviously a tough guy and used to intimidating people with his sheer size and attitude. Penn recognized the Marine Corps tattoo on the guy’s left arm and knew where he was coming from. Not that Richard cared. He was here to stir things up, and this was as good a place as any to start. From what he'd seen from orbit, and now down here, the human race was content to let their numbers dwindle. What did they have to live for? Or bring children into a shattered world. If Michael's numbers on births and deaths was correct, the human race was going down the drain fast. Apathy can be just as deadly as a bullet or bombs.
“We got beer, but it will cost you.” The barkeep growled, eyeing the two teenagers up and down. He pegged them for a couple of rich kids, maybe from California, wondering where they'd hidden their ride. It was the young man’s eyes that shocked him. He’d never seen anyone with eyes like that. He felt a chill run up and down his spine like some small furry animal with ice cold feet. You don’t see humans with eyes like a tiger, or a golden eagle.
“What's the going rate?”
“What you got? Imperial credits, gold, silver, drugs… or something else to trade?” His eyes slid to Ellis. She looked back at him with a perfectly arched eyebrow, but said nothing.