Chapter 107:

Chapter 107 - Range Rovers


The car, it turned out, was little more than a pile of scrap held together with screws, solder, and a prayer. It sat parked behind a boulder formation a ways out from the enclave’s devastated northwestern wall, its rough metal edges gleaming in the light of the setting sun.

CJ got to work immediately, hunching over the passenger’s side door and tossing out personal items with reckless abandon. A bandolier. Handcuffs. A comb. She cast them back over her shoulder one after the other, grumbling indistinctly about “Teresla’s junk” until the seat and its environs were mostly clean.

“Who’s ridin’ shotgun?” Morgan dared to ask, smirking around at his companions.

To his utter lack of surprise, nobody volunteered.

“How ‘bout you, prettyboy?” CJ suggested, dusting off her hands. “I don’t have a kind word to say about any o’ you, but given time–and a lot of liquor–I reckon you and me could get along.”

Morgan stifled a snort. “That sounds kind enough to me. By your standards, at least.”

“Get in the car, smartass.”

In the absence of any better options, he obliged. Marka and Roulette piled into the backseat, hard-pressed to find a comfortable perch among the piles of trash littering it.

“You missed a spot when you were tossin’ stuff out,” Roulette complained, giving the back of her mother’s chair a kick.

“You got arms, don’tcha?”

The girl huffed and crossed her arms, unwilling to force the topic further. With a self-satisfied smile, CJ started the car and steered it out onto the open range, black smoke billowing out behind it as it went. The frame of the car rattled and shook, but it moved along at a steady clip.

Morgan glanced back over his shoulder to see Segue Enclave receding from view–a sight that brought him a good deal of peace, given all the indignities he’d suffered there. “Ain’t sorry to see the back of that place,” he said, raising his voice in an effort to be heard over the engine’s roar. “I’m guessin’ you two feel the same?”

Marka and Roulette nodded in unison.

“I woke up in prison,” Marka admitted.

“I got shot and electrocuted,” Roulette added. “Twice.

“Hang on,” Morgan interjected. “You got shot twice, or electrocuted twice?”

“Well, both, if you count gettin’ electrocuted by a gun as bein’ shot.”

Morgan considered the semantics of that for a moment before shaking his head in disbelief. “Damn. And here I thought I had it bad.”

“Ahh, quit yer caterwaulin’,” CJ jeered. “Out west, that’s just a Tuesday on the range. If you think you’ve got somethin’ to complain about now, just you wait–it’s not goin’ to get any easier from here on out.”

Roulette rolled her eyes. “Thanks for the pep talk.”

“Oh, sorry. Were y’all in need of some encouragement? Did you want me to swaddle you up ‘n’ give you a kiss on the forehead while I’m at it?” She cackled and spit out the window, steering expertly between the spindly towers of red rock that stood in their path. “Out here, weaklings don’t get coddled–they get left behind. Thought I raised you t’unnerstand that, but I guess I was wrong.”

Peering between them, Morgan could see Roulette’s cheeks grow hot at her mother’s remark. “You didn’t raise me at all!

“Guess I did a good job parentin’ by example, then!”

She cackled again, leaving Roulette to fume in the backseat. Marka lifted a comforting hand to her shoulder, but she shrugged it off angrily, falling into a moody kind of silence once again.

For reasons he couldn’t fully fathom, Morgan decided to carry on the conversation. “If you weren’t raisin’ Roulette–”

CJ wrinkled her nose. “Petunia.”

“Er, right–Petunia–then what were you doin’ out here?”

Despite her place in the driver’s seat, she still found time to give him the side eye. “Ain’t you heard that damn radio show? Ol’ lunkhead back there loves it.”

“My daughter loves it,” Marka corrected. “I have only listened once or twice. Five times at most.”

“I probably listened, once upon a time. Didn’t stick, though,” Morgan said with a smirk. “But come on, now. I’m not stupid enough to believe that the junk they say about you on the radio is actually true.”

“Not all of it is,” she admitted, scratching at her chin. “They always play it like I’m still in my 30’s… A sassy young thing goin’ around rightin’ wrongs ‘n’ fartin’ rainbows. Oh, I right wrongs, alright–and a lot of those stories do make it into the program–but I ain’t quite the saint they paint me as. Not by half.”

“Odd to see you workin’ for Gunn, then,” he said. “He and his crew aren’t known for bein’ do-gooders.”

She winced, shifting her tongue around in her mouth. “That man turns my stomach,” she eventually answered. “Years spent beggin’ at his feet, tryin’ to get closer–tryin’ to get answers–only for it to all blow up in my face anyhow. Now here I am, on my way to do what I should’ve done to begin with! Serves me right for goin’ against my nature, I guess.”

“You keep talkin’ about findin’ answers. What answers?”

CJ turned her head to give him a strange look, then, her eyes boring into his. “I want to know why all this is happenin’. Gunn, the Nine, the Enclaves… Weapons rollin’ off assembly lines like there’s a war on. I want to know who’s behind it all.

“Basically, I want to meet your old b–”


Morgan jumped, his eyes flicking to the roof of the vehicle. From the sound of it, something had made contact with the top of CJ’s car.

“What was that?” he grumbled. “Did we hit somethin’?”

“Look!” Roulette cried from the back, twisting around in her seat to point out the rear window, “There’s somebody behind us!”

“Aww SHEEeeiit…!’ CJ hissed. “The others have caught on!”

She spun the steering wheel harshly, changing course toward the mouth of an upcoming canyon. The car’s tires threw up a whole heap of dust, obscuring their view of the car behind them, but the persistent rattle of a nearby engine left little doubt:

They were being followed, and whoever was pursuing them was gaining ground by the second.

“More Niners?” Marka queried, taking Voidthrower into his splinted fingers.

Before anyone could answer, the sound of a couple more resounding “thunks” rocked the automobile’s frame. Then, strangely, that sound gave way to another: the rhythmic tapping of metal-on-metal, as if a light rain of needles was peppering the roof above their heads.

The next thing Morgan knew, Roulette was screaming. He whipped his head around to find her wrestling with something. It looked to be some kind of mechanical spider–an unholy tangle of metal and limbs that was doing its level best to wrap its footlong legs around her head. Thankfully, Marka reacted quickly, slapping the stowaway far enough away from her grimacing face that the girl was able to rally and boot it out the window.

“What the ever-lovin’ fuck was that?!” Morgan bellowed, taking his own gun in-hand. His timing couldn’t have been better, either, because the next window to be infiltrated was his. The moment he saw a thin, metal leg extend from the roof and come curling down around the frame, he opened fire, intending to sever it from the spider’s clockwork body.

…Unfortunately, the leg held, and two or three of his projectiles went ricocheting throughout the car’s cramped interior. Everyone but CJ threw up their arms and hollered as the bullets bounced around them, denting or shattering every surface they touched, until finally they streaked out of various windows, leaving everyone miraculously unharmed.

“YOU FUCKIN’ IDIOT!” CJ roared, reaching across Morgan’s lap to punch the encroaching spider out the window. “ARE YOU TRYIN’ TO GET US KILLED?!?”

The sound of more spiders touching down cut their argument short before it could start. Morgan grudgingly took his gun by the barrel and prepared to pistol-whip the next eight-legged abomination fool enough to come within reach. He glanced out the window, expecting another aggressive little visitor to come his way, but found himself met with another unwelcome sight instead.

A rough-hewn scrap-car just like CJ’s had pulled up alongside, and the driver–a clean-shaven young guy with thick spectacles and oily, shoulder-length black hair–smirked back at him, toting a shiny chrome-colored launcher in his offhand. A similarly young woman with a tan complexion and long, black-orange braids leaned out from behind him, her pretty face smeared with something resembling warpaint. She wore light, revealing clothes as vibrantly orange as her highlights, and gripped a much smaller launcher of her own–one with many layers of graffiti painted onto its barrel.

“Where’s my sister, Joan?” she called, pointedly ignoring Morgan. “If you can tell me that, we might just let you live!”

CJ cussed under her breath, keeping her steely gaze on the road. “Teresla’s dead, Tamale,” she shouted back. “You’d best leave it. I don’t want to hurt you!”

Something about the raw, angry screech the girl offered in answer told Morgan that the time for diplomacy was over.

Patreon iconPatreon icon