I. The Obsidian Army
A Wicked Synthetic Force Wreaks Havoc on the Land...
“Keep ‘em busy Boys, I’m gonna get a lock!”
The soldiers of the Moto Corp thundered along on their iron steeds, kicking up the dust of the desert into a tremendous storm cloud in their pursuit. The urgent command belonged to the soldier Gibson, his words cutting through the cacophony of the battlefield. It was a firm, curt order issued with the authority of a veteran, for that was precisely what he was. In the heat of battle, no title to his name, the tan wolf had an uncanny knack for leading. Such a knack came in handy when the automated forces of Haven were bearing down on the men beside him.
The group in Gibson’s vicinity heeded his commands with utmost intent. Barrels held aloft, secure on the handlebars of their motorbikes, they rained all they had on the mechanical monolith. Though some crushing blows were dealt by the hailstorm of electric lead, the automated tank remained relatively undeterred.
Gibson had veered away from the pack of soldiers. He revved his bike up to a full roar, his well-worn black leather jacket, jeans, and brown harness boots keeping him from ripping apart at the speeds he warred at. The darksome behemoth that roared beneath him, his Black Shadow motorcycle “Exciter,” was so damn well reinforced, she’d stand a better chance of ripping a dust devil apart than having it the other way round.
The wind battered both rider and ride as Gibson surveyed the tank’s side. From behind the silver Aviators upon his snout, dark brown eyes scanned the mobile wall of synthetic steel. In no time at all, he spotted the chink in the armor he was after. It was small, but distinguishable; a sliver in the fortified turret ring. His leather bedecked digits gripped the twin Colt Peacemakers fastened to the motorbike’s bars.
“I’m fighting for you Baby,” he soothed to his ride, “Do the same for me, alright?”
Her only reply was the fervent roar of the engine, both cylinders thundering away as they charged forward. Gibson smirked as he readied his aim. All he needed was that one…good…
A laser blindsided him. His jacket was singed, but he was no worse for wear. Graced but shaken, he fought for his bike’s stability, leaning into the line of fire just enough to steady her. She rode out the evasion and was back on course, ready and rock-solid. Gibson snapped out of the shock to quell the shivering of his hands. The nails of his fingertips leapt out as the adrenaline coursed through him, the wind wicking away the dewing sweat on his fur.
“Hold it together Exciter,” he encouraged, “We ain’t licked just yet.”
His fingers back on the triggers, he aimed and squeezed off every round the electrolaser cartridges had in them. Red-hot lines of light flew through the air, sliding into the narrow space in the automated tank’s build. He whittled away at the spot, the sliver growing into a slot, the slot growing into a hole. To him, there was nothing left on the battlefield. No soldiers, no rides, no enemies. Just that single spot. A spot that was cut deeper and deeper into, until a final blow sent the turret sputtering and bursting into flames!
The monstrous war machine groaned and buzzed as its top tumbled to the ground. It rolled right over the flaming debris, setting off a chain reaction throughout its guts, ending in an eruption of cool blue flames. The last standing tendril of the City’s distant dictator melted into near-molten scrap before the eyes of the Resistance’s forces. The last one on the field at least.
The mercifully few dead were being scraped up off the battlefield as the salvage team sifted through the enemy’s remains with their customary diligence. As the post-battle procedures were carried out, it was time for the remaining soldiers to be brought back into base. The commanders and captains rallied their sharp-clawed compatriots and headed back to HQ. Hundreds of souped-up rods and chopped hogs thundered off home, their weary but spirited riders as battered and beaten as they were, but all victorious at the end.
Gibson had stopped to watch calamity befall his towering prey. Even with the others rolling past him, he stoically gazed upon what was left of the goliath. He unzipped his jacket and drew from beneath his shirt a cross, hung upon a plain silver chain. He kissed the cross as he nodded solemnly in silent prayer. After a moment of peace, he replaced the cross, zipped up the jacket, and holstered his .45s before barreling off alongside the others.
Waiting for everyone outside the Base was the big man himself, General Adam Knox, sitting on the hood of his world-weary dark green Barracuda. The elder gray stood guard over the old school which housed his forces. He was decorated in his usual; only the finest tan work boots, blue jeans, and white T-shirts the Base could find. With his mechanical arm resting on his lap, he greeted each soldier home with a solemn nod. Each soldier gave a salute in kind. Each soldier, safe for Gibson. He and Knox gave each other something that resembled less a nod and more a bow, that of a pupil to his sensei. It was a brief gesture, one of utmost respect, and one shared mutually in a way few of the others did.
After a quick trip to Sickbay, Gibson was on the mend. It didn’t feel too bad at first, but the moment the nurse brought out the hydrogen peroxide, the nature of the wound hit him like a Howitzer. The jacket had absorbed enough of the blow and energy to save him the worse of it, but there was still enough force left to sock him one in the triceps. A round of bandaging later, and that was that. He rested up in his quarters for the remainder of the day, finding a surprising amount of comfort in the usually stiff military rack. It was later that evening that he was to be treated to a somewhat unconventional rest cure.
By most others’ standards, that is.
“Ride 17.32, Please,” intoned the kind, husky voice of Auto Corp member Evelyn Blanc.
From the red bandanna wrapped around the top of her head to the work boots she kicked around in, anyone would’ve suspected her as one of the boys. The main giveaway being her cropped top, one that highlighted her more buxom qualities.
“Taking the Man for a ride, eh Teddy,” teased the Garage clerk.
“He needs to take a load off,” the brown wolf replied, “Shoulda seen the gash, Man. Was like someone slammed a Louisville slugger into ‘im.”
“So you’re gonna shake the load off him with your world-class driving,” the clerk egged on, “Is that it?”
“You sonofabitch,” she scowled. The tone was playful, but the winding back of her gauze-wrapped fist told a different story. Before things could come to blows, a tan hand, couched in a black fingerless glove, grabbed her arm.
“Easy Tiger,” Gibson soothed.
For a moment, she tried to keep the momentum going, but Gibson’s nails sunk in just enough for the idea to leave her. She yanked herself free, swiped the keys, and marched away. Gibson gave a playful salute to the desk attendant before following her.
“Of all the hot-heads on the Force, I picked the hottest,” he ribbed, “I know you can fight, but wait for the tournament coming up in a few weeks. You look good in that Old Glory getup anyways.”
At first, all he got was a cold shoulder, but the moment he slipped his jacket onto her, the ice had melted. They made their way to her beast of choice, a black-and-bronze Rebel Machine. She slid into the driver’s seat, and he into shotgun. Once inside, she broke her silence.
“You doing okay,” Evelyn smiled as she turned the key.
“Yeah, could’ve been worse,” Gibson replied, “Nothing the boys could’ve helped. If that tank is what circling the drain looks like…well that’s a hell of a slump.”
“Maybe it’s just putting all that processing power into fortifying her machines,” Evelyn pondered, “I mean A.C.E.S. is dying, but she’s not stupid.”
“It’s possible,” came the reply, “Guess we’ll have to wait for Agent Steele and Lita to spill those beans. But hey, enough of that. Open him up for me, alright?”
Evelyn grinned as she coaxed some warm revs from her ride. She threw him into gear, and the muscle car roared out into the garage and up the exit ramp to the desert beyond.
It was the simple thrill of it that soothed his nerves. Gibson was a two-wheeled man, but having a gal on four wheels meant the kind of R&R only a V8 and a firmly planted boot on the floor could provide. The attendant wasn’t far off about Blanc’s ways of easing her man’s mind and body. She would cut the wheel and drift a little. She’d thunder off into the horizon before whipping around and drawing a few donuts in the desert sand. She’d burn out into a plume of pure white smoke.
She was rough behind the wheel, sure, but it didn’t matter to her. She knew three things every time she stretched her Rebel’s wheels: the hot rod could handle it, her man would love it, and she couldn’t get enough of it. It was in these moments that Evelyn and Gibson talked of the little things; old friends, good music, and the silly little ideas that pop into your mind at the most inconvenient of times, like on the battlefield. After a while, Evelyn hit the brakes, bringing her four-eyed ride to a grinding halt.
That was Gibson’s cue.
She killed the engine and turned to her man. He met her halfway with a kiss that could stop time. With one gloved hand held behind her back, he worked the other up her stomach, the shades of fur striking in their combination, and the warmth of the pads on his digits sending chills up her spine. The gracing of his nails across her was just his charming way of spicing things up. He caressed her with every ounce of passion within him, she returning the affection. While they would usually enjoy the night uninterrupted, it was mid-make-out when something startling occurred.
A body fell onto the hood of the car. Both lovers’ ears perked up and their eyes shot open. Evelyn reflexively dropped her boot on the throttle. Gibson could sense her going for the ignition.
“Easy Teddy,” he hushed, caressing her face, “Let’s check on him before we do anything crazy now.”
She sighed and nodded. They got out and rushed to aid the man that lay before them. Gibson turned him over and propped him up; he was a gray, no older than 19, with shredded clothes and bloodied nails. Evelyn held his head up.
“What happened Son,” she asked softly.
“A-a-a-a-a” stammered the gray. He dropped off in his delirium, but Gibson and Evelyn patted him back to the world of the living.
“A-what my boy,” Gibson encouraged.
“A-a…ndroids,” came the answer, “R-r-r-r…aid. My-my village. They won’t stop. They k-k-keep killing and killing and killing and KI—”
The young man never finished his sentence.
Evelyn checked for a pulse on his wrist; nothing.
Gibson went to check his heartbeat; nothing.
They hung their heads, the distant winds of the Wastelands wailing for the lost souls they had been told of, and for the boy before them.
“Intercom working in the Rebel,” Gibson asked.
“Yes,” Evelyn replied.
“We’ll rest him on the back seat, behind the ammo racks,” he continued, “I’ll radio for backup. If he was right, and I don’t have a damn reason to believe he ain’t, we’ve got a fight to take to those metallic bastards.”
Evelyn could only nod. They walked the body to the Rebel, gently setting the gray in the back. Once settled, the duo flew into the front. Evelyn turned the engine over as Gibson radioed in to HQ.
“This is GW to HQ, over.”
“Coming in clear GW, what’s eating you?”
“My gal and I found a young man from a village. He passed away. They’ve got androids and it sounds like they got ‘em bad. He came by foot, so my money’s on the settlement Saffton. Requesting reinforcements. We’re coming back to base to drop off…the body. I’ll organize the band from the—”
“—Hang on Gibson—”
“—Teddy, what the—”
“—Look damn you!”
Gibson looked up to see a most startling sight.
“Well I’ll be…”
The wolven figure was jet-black, with an athletic body shape. In lieu of eyes, a blood-red visor sat above the snout. In lieu of a hand; a gun barrel.
Pointed squarely at the Rebel.
“Gun ‘im,” came his curt command.
In a split second, Evelyn flicked open the top of the gear lever and tapped the button held within it. Outside the car, two guns emerged from beneath the chassis of the car. Within it, underneath the accelerator, a small patch of the footwell slid up to reveal a red button. She threw the car into high gear and slammed on the gas.
Electric bullets poured from the barrels as the Rebel Machine flew forward. She steered the car away and around the mountainous android, ensuring its legs got every ounce of lead she could give them. The menace fired on the hot rod in kind. It wailed away at the Rebel’s tires, but the run-flats all of the Force’s four-wheeled fighters were equipped with kept him rolling towards the Black Android. Bit by bit, the legs of the lumbering robot were whittled away. Evelyn, seeing her chance, whipped the car around and slammed the side of the trunk into the bot. That finished the job. The torso rolled over the trunk and onto the other side as the legs fell back.
By this point, Gibson had already loaded one of Evelyn’s Berettas, having pulled it out from the gun rack by the gear lever. Holding it by its cobra-inscribed grips, he unloaded round after round of laser fire into the head, right through the visor. He pulled his own back into the car in the nick of time. The android’s head erupted beneath them, rocketing a disgusting gray gak outward in every direction.
Evelyn pressed the gearshift button again, retracting the guns and sealing off the floor trigger. Before taking off, she drew closer to the dismembered legs. Without missing a beat, she rolled down the window, grabbed a match from the inner right pocket of Gibson’s jacket, struck it with her nail, and dropped it on the android’s remains. They were in flames in seconds. She threw her ride into gear and barreled on back to Base, crushing the head under her wheels for good measure. Normally she’d relish it all with a grin, but all her mind could think about was the young man in the back seat.
“That one was for you Kid,” she sighed.
Gibson nodded in quiet agreement. The score was one down, God knows how many to go.
Knox had authorized a small team to go out with Gibson, though his lover wouldn’t be joining him. Evelyn stayed behind to get her car back to full working order. Damage was damage, no matter how insignificant to function it ultimately was. Instead, Gibson would have the honor of riding with a kingpin of these kinds of missions: Captain Tomás Herrera.
“Grim,” as he was called, was the kind of fellow you wouldn’t want to get in a fight with. The kind of fellow who could push most anybody’s shit in with the swift breeze of his fist and could dual-wield M82s like they were pocket peashooters. Rumor has it his bones were fashioned in .50 cal and his muscles are forged of pure lead. His Western wear, from his black hat to his steel-capped cowboy boots, decorated with silver Concho ornaments all over, had sealed the deal on his macabre nickname. A name that as much stood for his pitch black fur and appearance as it did for his average body count.
The Captain rolled over in his jacked-up SUV, a roofless dark blue International Harvester Scout, and tipped his hat to Gibson.
“Get in Chico,” he intoned with his soft, low growl, his Latin heritage tucked somewhere in the depths of his voice. Gibson complied without hesitation.
“Saffton you say?”
“Yes Captain,” Gibson replied.
“What’s the plan?”
“Take a stealth approach,” he said, “Limit civilian casualties and snuff them out from the shadows.”
“What if there are too many?”
“We call for backup and fight ‘em however we can.”
“What if there’s nothing left to save?”
“Then we kill every last one of the rat bastards.”
“Stay tough Soldado,” he said, turning his attention to the rest of the soldiers, “Company, roll out. We halt about a mile outside of Saffton Town.”
“Sir Yes Sir,” came the chorus of replies.
And just like that, the small band rolled off.
The iron-clad caravan soldiered along the dusty roads towards the village, the stars placid in the night sky above. A cool haunting breeze lingered about the unit as they rolled on. The team was comprised of exclusively Auto Corp members. Not that it mattered to Gibson, but more that it mattered to the pride of the Corp that they were now at the beck-and-call of a member of the much younger Moto Corp. Fortunately for him, the Captain was above the clannish bull. He could sense Gibson was a capable sort, and he would merely give him the legitimacy needed to keep the others in line.
“Ain’t no jeers tonight Soldado,” Grim soothed, “They know their place.”
Gibson nodded gently as he surveyed the map of the town. Even without a fleck of it on his face, Grim could sense the young man’s stress.
“Here,” he smiled, digging into his trench coat’s inner pockets, “Smooth it over with this.”
He handed Gibson a flask of the good Captain’s drink of choice; Brandy de Jerez. The real McCoy too.
The tan soldier knocked a shot back in seconds, as did the Captain in kind.
“Let’s pick the pace up, shall we?”
Gibson nods as Grim pats his Scout’s steering wheel. He leaned on his beast’s throttle, the SUV thundering off and away, resetting the pace of the march towards Saffton.
With the charge forward renewed, it wasn’t long before the pint-sized settlement was within sight. The flames of some of the buildings could be seen from miles away. Worse still, there was a mass of black in the town’s center, firing out at whatever moved. When the group came to a stop, Grim turned to Gibson.
“Talk to me Soldado,” he started, “We got a collective of ‘droids keeping tabs on every point of entry. You think stealth is still an option?”
Gibson pondered, looking at the town lit only by fire’s glare and sharp rays of green light cutting through the streets like daggers.
“We know they aren’t impervious to bullets, it just takes a lot to knock ‘em down.”
“And I don’t think Teddy’s way of doing things will fly with that thick of a crowd.”
“You sure got that right Cap,” he quipped.
Gibson returned to his thoughts. The battle from earlier in the day drifted across his mind. He recalled his securing of the weak spot of the tank, and his breaking away from the soldiers to secure it.
“There is one way,” Gibson proposed, “Their weak spot is the visor, but it takes a lot to cut through it. Teddy rocks her electrolaser in 9mm Luger and I had to pump the cat full until he gave in. I know you got yours in .50 cal. How many of the other guys here have ‘em chambered big like that?”
Grim chuckled a little.
“Just ‘cause you’re playing with the big boys doesn’t mean we all play with that sort of firepower.”
“I know,” Gibson said, “Just tell me.”
“You’ve got me with the Barretts, Johnny Metcalfe with the Dragunov, and everyone’s carguns rocking .30-06.”
“Then here’s what we do,” Gibson started, “Get four rides in park at the ends of the four streets and get them to unload. We get you and Johnny up on the rooftop. You guys go for the visors and they get the legs. That’ll shred ‘em fast.”
“What about friendly fire,” Grim pressed.
“Angle them so they are not shooting directly across. The guy’s that’ll have to come through the center of town will have to worry about that the most, but the two side streets are naturally angled.”
Grim paused and thought about it. After a moment, he gave a nod of approval and went for his intercom.
“Here’s how we’re doing it.”
In a matter of moments, everything had been set in motion. The four rides cordoned off each street, and unleashed everything in their racks. Jonathan Metcalfe, a sharp-eyed Arctic, sidled up alongside the Harvester, his rifle riding shotgun in the rack of his dark red Camaro. Both rides slipped behind a tall building, a small apartment complex with a rusted ladder dangling off of it. As the firefight dragged on, Johnny made his ascent, gun slung on his back. Grim followed suit shortly.
“Cover us with the other rifle,” he whispered to Gibson.
The tan wolf was startled at the prospect, and Grim could sense this.
“Hey, recoil isn’t that much of a bitch. Worse that could happen is your pecks hurt in the morning,” he dryly remarked, “Have Teddy kiss ‘em better when we get back.”
With that, Grim clambered up the ladder, and Gibson bellied up and loaded the gun. He stood by and awaited the outcome, whatever it may be.
Up on the rooftop, Grim and Johnny picked their spots.
“Just you and me again, old sport,” the white wolf teased.
“Sí, señor,” Grim gibed, “Perdón. Sí, señora.”
“You’re lucky we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” he chuckled.
They proceeded to rain every ounce of electrified hellfire in their chambers, right into the visors. Johnny was getting them in two shots, but all it took was one round from Grim for the gray blood to flow freely from their heads.
“Guess I am,” Grim winked.
Civilians were able to flee freely as the synthetic brutes fell to the awesome firepower unleashed upon them. The soldiers on backup had formed a wall of sorts to give the villagers cover from any potential escapees. As they filed out, one man didn’t seem all there. He was a brown wolf, plain-clothed as they all were, but as he made his way forward, he began to twitch. His head twisted and contorted. It came with an uncanniness that sent a chill down Gibson’s spine. A chill amplified by the man’s next motion: his eyes locked onto the tan soldier.
It raised its hand. A pistol held in its grips.
The mechanized man trembled, a hesitation in his gesture. At once, two souls seemed locked in a brawl for control of the body, the private war made manifest by the unruly convulsions.
For the love of God man, fight it, Gibson pled from within.
The arm lowered; it seemed the better half was coming through.
A stray bullet put a stop to this progress.
In a split second, the mechanized man snapped around into the direction of the wall of soldiers. Gibson sensed precisely what was going to happen, and squeezed off a round.
The last thing it saw was a sharp streak of red.
Gibson breathed a grave sigh of relief as a call was heard from the rooftops.
“The whole group is wasted,” Johnny exclaimed, “But it’s…it’s…amalgamating or some shit. Never seen anything like it!”
Gibson was at first puzzled, but then he realized what was going on.
“Ah shit,” he started to himself before shouting aloud, “That’s the nanotech kicking in!”
He gunned it for the Harvester’s intercom.
“Soldiers in the town square, cease fire immediately! We’ve got to burn the other detached elements. We got to get them at both ends.”
In an instant, the guns stopped. Gibson leapt out of the Harvester and booked it for the center of the town. Scurrying across the dry grass, he picked up a stick of wood on his way. He was going to need a bigger torch than what his own matches could provide. Leaping over the sputtering corpse of the cyborg, he struck a light and dropped it off to finish his deed. Once he was sure the flames had taken hold, he bounded into one of the alleyways.
He darted pass one of the soldiers, the gray Laura in her black pickup truck, and rounded a corner to one of the flaming buildings. He lit the stick on the flames, taking his time to make sure the fire took hold. Trapped within his focus, he didn’t see a piece of falling debris heading straight for him. The flaming side panels making their turbulent descent, gaining speed with each floor they passed. A menace Gibson didn’t see.
Laura did however.
She sprung into action and punched it, burying the throttle in the floor. Her truck roared towards him, and with mere moments to spare, punted the young soldier with her bull bar, catching the debris on her hood. Once she caught it, the gray soldier gunned the truck in reverse, sending the flaming wood onto the ground.
Gibson, stunned but wired, leapt back up. The realization of what may have been hit him harder than her truck. One look at the growing mound of synthetic terror snapped him out of the shock.
With a quick exchange of salutes, he hurried towards the fusional bonfire.
Gibson spotted a pair of legs that had yet to be absorbed and lobbed the stick at them. As he booked it for the closest cover he could find, the electric limbs caught fire, a fire that began to sever the emergent bonds being forged by the nanotechnology. A shrill cry of technological anguish grew as the flames continued to cut off avenues of regeneration. The sound was tantamount to a transformer going off. In a matter of moments, the flames had finally destroyed any chance of the androids rebuilding themselves, and in a bright, blinding light, the monstrous hive of machines finally gave in to total destruction.
Gibson made it back to Laura, ducking into the bed of the pickup. He whooped with glee as the mound began to crumble and implode. Suddenly, a knock on the rear window came, and a piece of it was slid open.
“Hun, you wanna say somethin’ on the radio,” she asked with all the innocence of a newborn Southern belle.
“Sure,” Gibson replied in kind, clasping it, “Everyone: the threat’s been neutralized. We’ll have to wait for it to burn down completely. In the meantime, I’m going to radio in for some assistance with supplying water to help minimize the fire’s spread and see if we can salvage some of these buildings.”
Gibson had Laura tune the device to HQ’s frequency. While the Force’s fire tenders would be there quick as they could, every minute was counting and for the first time since they had taken on the mission, all they could do was watch. Watch with baited breath, watch in both joy and fear, as the minutes and hours ticked by. At least one of the buildings had collapsed by the time the Force could join the band of soldiers. Gibson had everyone clear the way for their assistance, worried that one building may fall onto of any of their men or women in the town.
By the grace of God, that apartment was the only one truly lost. The rest were either singed or suffered minimal structural damage. In time, the Force’s firefighters were on the scene and saving what they could.
To Gibson’s surprise, General Knox had joined them and aided in quelling the remaining flames himself. As the operation wound down, he pulled Gibson aside.
“Anything we can do for ‘em now,” his pupil started in.
“I’m pulling some strings with some other settlements,” Knox replied with his smooth rasp, “We can at least give them a different place. If not for now, then presumably permanently.”
“How about the dead?”
“I already called Eric, he’s willing to preside and carry out the preparations,” Knox nodded with solemnity. The General put his cybernetic hand on Gibson's shoulder, patting it gently. The younger wolf bowed his head with honor.
“Guess that wraps it up.”
“Not quite. Nic wishes you could have saved a scrap for him to study though,” Knox remarked dryly, “Me too, but I think the pair of us understand that this was something…frankly extraordinary. A.C.E.S. must be up to something if she’s running mad dogs like these on innocents this far out. All the same, some of the fire crew are going to set about procuring something worth analysis.”
Gibson had no response, just another quiet bow of his head. Captain Herrera silently strolled up alongside the pair.
“Ah, evening Grim,” the General smiled, “Capital work here.”
“Thank you Chief,” the Captain said, tipping his hat, “And Gibson?”
The soldier turned to the towering officer.
“Good work Señor,” he smiled.
Gibson simply grinned and shook on the compliment.
“Swing by my quarters if you need a stiff drink,” he offered. With that, the Captain walked off, leaving Gibson somewhat puzzled.
“Well. You must’ve gotten in well with him,” Knox teased.
Gibson just shrugged his shoulders and chuckled. He and Knox made their way back over to the last of the operation’s tasks in town.
The soldier got one last good look at the mangled mound of android parts, heads and limbs melded into one another. The metal shells had solidified into porous piles, creating some haunting expressions in the process. For all their lack of emotion, lack of anything resembling life beyond form, their last testament was a twisted sea of contorted, anguished faces. Agents of horror, their final form a horror onto itself. Gibson stared into the remains and drew his cross. With a kiss and a quiet prayer, he had now completed his work here. But he couldn’t help but feel that this wouldn’t be the last of these things. Not at all.
But that was for another day, and another fight.
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