Chapter 24:

Chapter 24 - A Rumpus on the Outskirts


The shadow crossed the cloudless sky at an incredible pace. Its approach was heralded by an unusual noise: a thumping sound, as if it were somehow beating the air around it into shape. The object’s uppermost protrusions moved too fast for the eye to follow, and Roulette found herself thoroughly perplexed by the display; what, in all of nature, could move that fast?

As it drew closer, the answer became obvious: the thing was not a product of nature at all. It was a sleek, black vessel of some kind. She could tell by the way the sunlight glinted off its metallic frame. Without thinking, Roulette reached for her gun, noting with some concern that Marka had done the same thing. Even he doesn’t know what’s coming, she thought. It probably wasn’t sent here on behalf of a Truvelan crime syndicate, then…

She frowned up at the flying machine. It was just above them, now, hovering in place. Government? Military? That last possibility shook her the most. If the Truvelan military had sent someone to pursue her in a vehicle of such advanced and intricate design, they were probably aware of her plan to move against the local Gun Czar.

…And whoever was on board had probably been hand-picked to ensure her demise.

“Unbelievable!” Marka exclaimed, goggling up at the mechanical marvel with his mouth agape. “No balloon? No wings? How can such a thing exist…?”

It began its descent. The few locals who had yet to quit the streets promptly did so, rushing into buildings and scrambling through sand-clotted alleyways to get clear of the landing site. By the time the craft touched down in the middle of the street, the thoroughfare was well and truly clear. Every soul, right down to the last stray dog, had hustled out of view, leaving Marka and Roulette alone with their pursuer.

The machine’s fast-moving blades started to slow, allowing Roulette to recognize their true nature: they were joined to each other by way of a central hub located at the peak of the device’s hull, forming a great propeller. Its final rotations, sluggish as they were, still stirred up a mess of sand and detritus dense enough to blind the two Gunslingers. They each raised a forearm against the hail of grit… And, when it had finally dispersed, they found the pilot standing confidently before them.

He looked like an idiot.

He wore a copper-colored skin-tight bodysuit embellished with a leopard print pattern. Brown straps lined with myriad pouches had been tightened haphazardly around his waist, limbs and chest, and a red, sweat-stained bandana encircled his head. He had spiky brown hair and a prominent brow. His cheekbones were high, and his jawline chiseled… But his attitude was so palpably unpleasant that no amount of conventionally attractive facial features could overpower it. His expression seemed to be locked in a perpetual state of broody determination, and he carried himself as if every muscle in his body were tensing in anticipation of a bowel movement.

The man looked between them, disinterested, until his eyes fell upon Roulette’s vibrantly pink hair.

“You,” he said, pointing with one leopard-spotted hand. “Pink hair, huh?”

“Yeah. What about it?” Roulette answered, giving her curls a little toss. “Thinkin’ of tryin’ it yourself? I’ve got the dyes on me, if you need…”

He threw his hand out to the side. “...No way. Pink is for girls.”

She sniffed. “Hm. Suit yourself.”

“What do you want with us?” Marka interjected. He held his gun warily, ready to turn the barrel on the mystery man at a moment’s notice. “...And what is this thing you have arrived in? Why have I never seen one before?”

“Oh, this?” the man replied, resting his hand on the transport’s sliding door. “This is my RUMP.”

Roulette regarded him flatly. “...’Scuse me?”

“RUMP–Ridiculously Unstoppable Machine with a Propeller. The boss let me name it myself,” he declared proudly.

“That’s a terrible name!”

Marka nodded his head in agreement. “Surely you could come up with something better…”

“No. Nope, my instincts for vocabulary have been honed to a razor-sharp edge by decades of grueling combat,” he said. “I’ve picked the best name possible for this thing. I wouldn’t expect PLEBs like you to understand.”

Roulette was almost afraid to ask. “...PLEBs?”

“People Less Educated than…” he said, screwing up his face in concentration. “...Uhh, I’m still workshopping that one, actually. The point is you’re stupid.”

The girl rolled her eyes. This was getting old. “Fine, okay. We’re stupid. Can we go now?”

“No! Are you kidding?” he barked. “I mean, shit, I haven’t even done my introduction yet!”

“Get on with it, then,” Marka said. “We are eager to leave this place.”

The patently unstable man before them started to laugh; a harsh, rasping sound that could only be achieved through decades of dedicated tobacco use. “Oh, you won’t be leaving…” he began, lifting a hand to cup his chin with machiavellian aplomb. “...Because you’re standing before the greatest stealth operative the world has ever seen. The clever and resourceful, and debonair, and strong well-hung guy who makes all the ladies swoon; the relentless shadow of unrelenting justice that haunts the moonlit night, hungry for revengeance; the ultimate and perfect warrior who has mastered a thousand arts and, uh, styles. And weapons:

Hard Viper.”

Marka and Roulette looked at each other. They had been through so much lately–so much heartache and pain. It had weighed on them heavily. Cheer was hard to come by, and even a sliver of mirth had become a rare commodity between them…

But this? This reopened the floodgates.

Before she knew it, Roulette was doubled over with laughter. She could hear Marka’s own loud guffaws echoing throughout the neighborhood, and it was so good to hear! In that moment the two companions seemed to forget the troubles of their past, losing themselves in a fit of infectious laughter that seemed to have no end…

…Except it did have an end: it ended with a crunch.

Roulette snapped back to attention just in time to see Marka reeling, blood spewing from his nostrils. He teetered backward, narrowly avoiding another blow, as the man who called himself Viper advanced in a flurry of kicks and punches. To her surprise, his motions were fluid–even graceful. He actually seemed like a competent fighter!

This realization was borne out a half-second later when Viper’s boot connected with the side of Marka’s knee, dislocating it cleanly. The big man went down like a sandbag. He barely had time to gawk up at his foe before Viper had slid into a crouch and struck him squarely between the eyes, knocking him out cold. Roulette could feel her eyes bugging out of her head; how had they underestimated the man so completely? How could such an obvious buffoon actually have the skills to back up all that bluster?

Damn it–now she was alone!

Viper rose to his feet, turning to regard her with a self-satisfied smirk on his face. “Y’know, it’s pretty rude to laugh when a cool guy like me takes the time to introduce himself.”

“C-Cool?” she breathed, trying to get a handle on the hammering of her heart. “You’re not ‘cool’ at all! You knocked out my friend–and your name’s a JOKE! If your head wasn’t full of rocks, maybe you’d be able to tell it’s a double entendre!”

Viper closed his eyes. The smirk remained. “I’ve never heard that word before. But let me explain something to you: when you grow up on the battlefield, like me, you don’t have time for double entendres. You don’t even have time for one entendre. All that matters on the battlefield is survival. And today, on this battlefield, you told survival ‘no thanks, I’m good, I’d rather laugh and have fun with my big, dumb friend than pay attention to the enemy in front of me.’ That’s on you. This is all on you.”

Roulette had to resist the urge to hang her head. What could she even say? He was right. And, considering the fact that he’d brought down Marka of all people with a few well-placed blows, she doubted that she’d be able to overpower him. If killing her was his goal, he was well-positioned to make it happen.

Her fingers tightened around Lady Luck’s grip. If only she were stronger…

“...You’re lucky, though,” he continued. “You’re not my target. And, since I’m not threatened by you at all, that means we can probably have a little fun…”

She looked up at him sharply. “...What are you suggestin’?”

“Nothing much. Just a little game,” he said, casting an appraising glance at the squat, weathered buildings standing on either side of the street. “I need information from you–the location of a guy named Morgan Sarada. If I win–and I’m positive I will–you’ll tell me where he is. Then I’ll probably kill you. If I lose, I’ll leave you alone and go find him myself. Deal?”

Roulette hid her surprise as best she could. This was all about Morgan? Just what had that man been mixed up in, back in the day?

Oh well. Whatever it was, she didn’t much care. He could fend for himself. She was half-tempted to tell Viper his whereabouts outright… But she supposed that wouldn’t be very sporting.

“You’re on,” she said, her confidence renewed. “Name the game; and get that RUMP ready, ‘cuz it’s about to get kicked halfway to Sebastopol.”

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