A deuce of dusty suns leer over the ridge. One a great bright ball of smouldering yellow, the other a dull red. Like a machine eye. Smoky and malevolent. Choke sits on a promontory, sucking on a long cigar the colour of dirt. Hard hammer hewn face, stoic as stone, gazes far off into a horizon blurred through slow ripples of heat.
Long plume of dust rises in the distance, like fire smoke, but no fires out here in the desert. Nothing to burn. He raises a hand. Hollers.
‘Violate, mah Darlin’!’
Hard heels clack, hit sparks and dust from red stone. Long fingers, tipped in vicious nails, scrape down across an unshaven cheek, draw beads of blood. A full, red mouth by his ear, drawls.
‘Didn’t I tell you never to call me that?’
He chuckles, blows out a puff of smoke. ‘If I can’t call you by your name, then I’ll jus havta call you Sugarplum.’
Nails tighten on his face, make red crescent moons. Small white teeth grip the soft tissue of his ear. Then a tongue licks the rim. ‘S’why I love ya,’ she purrs. ‘Whassup, shug?’
Choke nods toward the far off dust plume. ‘They’s here.’
* * *
Throaty roar of engines. Wheels spin; kick up flumes of dirt dust. Choke grins round an unlit nub of cigar. Eyes red as the second sun. Bloodlust. He whoops and five great machines push off down the slope, pick up speed. Swallow the hillside hungry as a storm. Silvery iron flashes, bright as lightning. Huge wheels turn; heavy steam belches out long pipes, a thunderhead.
On tall leather pillions, grasping fluted handlebars, they lean forward, eyes fixed through grey lenses on the dust ahead. A clamour of cat calls issue from grinning mouths as they tear up the desert floor. Lycids bigger than steers, sleek and wolf-like, race alongside, high shoulders barely reaching the axles of these churning behemoths of steel and steam.
Land ship comes into view, made minute by distance. Its vast caterpillar tracks slice the desert floor, crack and rumble. Long shining funnels sweep the sides; belch a thick fog of steam. Men small as ants run the sides on ropes and wires. The flash of sun off eyescopes, then gun barrels. A faint lullaby of screams as passengers scatter to cabins, a louder wail of siren. Then small puffs of dust bite up under ricochet, impact. Pepper the black walls of spinning rubber.
Choke snatches out his rifle, rests the vast barrel on his handlebars, cocks and fires. Screams rise to fever pitch as the shot blasts into the hull. A long shot. Bang on target. Cocks and fires again. Steam explodes in a flurry, the ship’s wounded serious now. Violate whoops past. Accelerates to racing speed. Raises a fist to Choke, spinning it, throws a grin like a razor cut. Choke laughs, turns to Carbine, man almost too big to fit a machine that dwarfs Chokes TriBike, an open truck body on two great wheels. Hollers up.
‘Got the thunderbuss?’
Carbine laughs into the wind. ‘Got ever’thang!’
Throttles growl, wheels bite, spumes of dust thick as squid ink roil in their wake. Front of pack, Violate hefts a solid metal crossbow, rises to stand. Black bulk of her Turbike held straight between strong calves shod in crimson leather. She takes aim. Careful. Slow. Teeth bared between plump lips in a feral grin. Long dark spit of bolt hits dead on, cable coiling out behind. An endless spiral slung at the back of the TurBike rattles away, throws out yard after yard.
She snaps on clockwork rappels from her belt, unsheaths two pistols long as her forearms, brass glinting on polished wood. Soars off, garters on display, whooping and firing. Each bullet loud as stone cracking. Blooms of bright red cover the ship’s sides, chaotic as spilt paint. Then it’s under swarm. Choke, Carbine, Dime and Dagger roar up, firing in concert. The tracks begin to seize and grind as the Land Ship slows to a halt, subdued, dragging Violate’s Turbike in its wake.
* * *
Choke stands solid on the deck, lowers his face to re-light that stub of cigar. Nods to a group of ladies huddled in a corner, whimpering.
‘Mornin’, nice day.’
Faces turn away wailing. Rich bitches cowering in crinoline, too scared to even beg. All but one. Blond, stringy looking woman with a hook nose and no tits, dressed in plain brown, no hoop. She gives him the stank eye, spits on the floor by his boots. ‘Filth!’
‘No ma’am,’ he says tipping his hat, ‘Choke. Though my daddy had a fixin’ to call me Rape. Mama wouldn’ stand fer it.’ He shakes his head, blows thin smoke plumes out his nostrils. ‘She got herself religion; thinks sex’ll bring a soul to evil. It’s a wonder I wuz born to be named any damn thang, tight as her legs go.’
Then he strolls away, puffing quiet tokes on his stogie. Boots a solid clack upon the deck. Dagger and Dime, brothers alike as daytime and dusk, hurtle out the hold. Dime, the tallest, grey hairs crawling through beard and grizzled chest, bald head stained walnut by sun, blows snot out his nostril to land steaming on the deck, browned with baccy and small curls of blood.
‘T’aint here,’ he says, disgusted.
Choke stares. ‘You whut!”
Dagger, slender, a foot shorter than Dime and mean looking as a snake in the heat, shrugs, loose limbed. ‘It t’wurn’t there, Choke. We done search high and low, but t’aint nothing down thar but con-sarned baggage. Found some gold in them safes though, bout seventy bars.’
‘Gold?’ Choke takes a long step to loom over Dagger, face blacker than a town after razing. Sneers. ‘Whut the ever livin’ fuck do I want with gold?’
‘You could buy me somethin’ purdy,’ Violate murmurs, twining round him like ivy, all curves and soft flesh in too little leather.
Chokes gestures about the deck, taking in the carnage. Stinking pools of blood, abuzz with flies, shadowed by a wheel of carrion birds in flight. Torn and ruptured corpses, staring sightless, the mirror of their eyes reflecting blank with blue sky.
‘Ain’t this purdy enough for ya, Sugarplum? I done tried mah best.’
She sighs. ‘I ‘spose. But it ain’t silk pantyhose.’ She slides a leg up Choke’s thigh, peers out from under long, long lashes, eyes bluer than sky and twice as hot as double suns. ‘Is it now?’
Choke smiles long and slow, flicks a finger at the brothers, Dagger’s weasel eyes fixated on Violate’s leg, exposed right up to a shadow of crotch. ‘Get the gold. We’ll move back toward Ridgetown, buy us some new weapons, somethin’ big. There’s a giant ole interstate Land Ship scheduled next week. That fucker’s just got to be the one, I feel it in mah spleen.’
‘Brother,’ Dime says, as he wanders away back to the hold, dragging Dagger by the scruff, ‘we ain’t never gunna get that damn Angel. Turk’s gunna bust us to bones and briskets.’
‘Amen,’ Dagger cries, snatching his ragged hat to his chest, ‘a-fuckin-men!’
© Ren Warom 2011