“. . . and this is DJ Wargasm signing off.”
Rex turned off the radio. He always felt a twinge of sadness when the music ended. So much had changed over the past six years. It seemed like just yesterday he could stream music from his computer or grab a moment to listen to a few songs on his iPod while waiting for the bus. Now, he had to chase down pirate frequencies, fighting against the ambient radiation and dead batteries, to hear those sweet chords that represented freedom.
Sgt. Fancy was overdue. The Dracs had been ranging farther and farther into the wastelands, emboldened by fresh recruits from the South. Many thought that it was time to run, deeper into the interior, farther out into the country. It was a dangerous idea. All they had to go on were rumors but one thing was certain: the farther in a person went, the stronger the anti-mutant hate and the less likely you were to survive. None of the Killjoys who had made the journey were ever heard from again.
He looked at his watch. It was forty minutes past curfew. They were running out of time. This was supposed to have been a routine snatch and grab. The food convoy was rarely protected this close to the old Metro lines and they had done it countless times. This was the first raid he spent back at camp, waiting and watching for everyone’s return. Earlier in the day, he had drawn the short straw and no amount of protesting would change Sarge’s mind. Everyone draws the short straw, she had said. It was maddening, just sitting here, alone, waiting.
“They’re late,” he said aloud in the firelight as he kicked a rock with his boot. Four years ago, he had taken five pairs from the Doc Marten store when The Riot swept through old downtown. This pair, his fourth of the five, was already scuffed beyond repair. Each mark, like a scar in the black leather, reminded him of the countless escapes, scrambles, watches and fights that made up his life now.
He fiddled with the radio again. It’s when you’re alone that the dark thoughts are the hardest to quiet. What if something happened to Sarge? No. I’m not going there, he thought. They were fine. The raid was a success and Sarge was just taking her sweet time leading the team back, no doubt staring at the stars. She would spend hours, late at night, just staring at them. She said that being able to see the stars again made the pain from all the destruction a little easier to bear. She was a romantic at heart, though he knew she would never admit it.
A rumble in the distance pulled his attention away from the twinkling lights high above. Straining, he could make out three separate rumbles. As the sounds came closer, he could hear the distinct whine of motorcycles. The Dracs didn’t ride bikes. These must be Killjoys. The only problem was who. Queen Bambam’s team rode bikes but they had supposedly headed South. Blitz Puppy and his team used to ride anything they could find though no one had heard from them in days. Who was left? It couldn’t be Puke’s team. After the parting, they had taken off North in hopes of crossing the border.
From his vantage on top of the butte, he could see three bikes making their way up old Fremont to the turn off that would lead them into the park. He extinguished the tiny volcano that had been serving as his camp fire, grabbed his gear and crouched down in the brush. Killjoys or no, Sarge had always told him that “Trust can kill you. Unless, it’s family. Then, it just hurts.” The engines were echoing loudly now as they exited the tunnel on the road to the top, to the camp, to him. He lowered his mask and bit into the leather gag. The smell and taste of his leather puppy mask reassured him. He had the advantage. And, besides, they must be Killjoys.
The bikes reached the top of the road and slowed to almost a stop. Rex could see the riders looking from one side of it to the other. Between the darkness and the headlights, it was tough to make them out. All he could see were long pink boots on the rider bringing up the rear.
Rex stood up. “This planet’s ours to defend,” he said.
“Ain’t got no time to pretend,” replied the rider in the pink boots.
“Blitz! Fuck, man. We thought you had been ghosted. No one’s heard from you guys in days.” Rex walked out of the brush, as Blitz shut off his bike and rested his helmet on the handlebar clamp.
“That makes two of us. We’ve been riding for three days solid now. We were hoping to catch you guys before you broke camp and it looks like we lucked out. Where’s Sarge?”
“She took the team on a convoy raid.” And she’s overdue, he thought.
The other riders dismounted. “You remember Sister Spooky,” Blitz said as he pointed to the lead rider, clad in their signature black leather cloak and riding leathers. “And, this is Cherry Dust. We picked her up sixty clicks East of here.”
“Pornicus Rex, you horndog you. Looks like Sarge is using a longer leash these days. How’s you?” said Spooky as ze slapped Rex on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you.”
“Ditto,” Rex replied. He never knew what to expect from Spooky. Hir mood was mercurial, shifting and flickering the way the shadows that surrounded her danced in the headlights.
“Nice to meet you,” Cherry said, stepping forward. “I lost my team in a freak rad storm, trying to get over Hood. Blitz found me humping along 30. And, thank God he did. After my ride caught fire, I thought I was a goner.”
“Yeah, nice to meet you too.” Cherry was about his size, covered in torn denim that had been painted various shades of yellow, purple, green, and black. Her braided hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was covered in glitter.
“Well, if it’s all the same to you, can we crash here?” Blitz asked. “I have the motherload of 411s to drop on Sarge. And, we can ninja up some SPANC, if you’re hungry.”
“Sure. Sarge will be happy to see you. And, I’ll pass on the SPANC.”