Two human figures stood in the middle of a vast, flat expanse.
“She’s the only one who got out alive,” said the woman. “We have to save her.”
Thrax, the male of the pair, nodded and looked down at diced bodies. They were haphazardly arrayed around an empty patch of trampled, blood soaked prairie grass.
The only sound was of buzzing flies.
He shivered against the chill prairie breeze, knelt down, and tapped a slab of meat with his fingertips.
It was cold.
“This where she was last seen, Kit?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Yeah, that’s right,” answered Kitty, his statuesque android companion. She wore an outrageous latex and feather Carnivale outfit that only her enhanced physical features could pull off without looking ridiculous. Instead she was drool worthy. In her toned arms she cradled an energy pulse gun slash rocket launcher. Her favourite weapon, if he remembered correctly. He noted the safety was off.
Kitty spat out a wad of InfiniteFlavour™ gum and narrowed her eyes. “What gave it away, Sherlock?”
Thrax ignored the snark. A combat repurposed sexbot, she still retained older legacy code the DNA Jockeys couldn’t strip out. She and the other upgraded sexbots now defended Pleasurepit Five, the last bastion of human civilization on a post-apocalyptic earth. Thrax could only marvel at what a bunch of kinky perverts the godlike Ancients really were. He scanned the horizon with his view sheet. Mountains to the west. Irradiated city to the south. Farms of the cuddly, rotund mutants to the east.
That left north.
“There. That’s where she is.”
He pointed into the distance, towards a tower that jutted out of the horizon line like a magnificent silver needle. It must be over a kilometer high.
Kitty tried to suppress a laugh. “You better be right. That’s gotta be at least twenty clicks. Horses are tired.”
“Don’t care.” Horses were just a means of conveyance. They weren’t even cute like cats or puppies.
“I do,” snapped Kitty, furious. “Andromeda was like a mom slash drill sarge for me. Won’t be time to try another direction. It’ll be too late. She’ll be dead by then.”
“Oh.” Thrax reevaluated her objection. Stood up and stretched his back. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”
Kitty pointed her rifle south. “I say we hit the city. Most likely place they’d take her. Tracks lead that way.”
Kitty screwe up her face into an expression of sheer incredulity and let her shoulders drop. “What the hell are you talkin’ about?”
“Irregular tracks,” replied Thrax flatly. “Straight as an arrow to this spot, then they go all wobbly, willy nilly towards that bombed city.”
“So Andromeda wasn’t on the horse anymore. It wandered off on its own. Look,” he stepped over to the bodies, gesturing. “No other tracks leading here. Blood spatters trailing south, but briefly. Deliberate misdirection. How’d her attackers get here, eh?”
Kitty considered this for a moment. “Hunters. Covered their tracks.”
“Nobodies that good. Her attackers flew.”
“How?” scoffed Kitty. “These bodies don’t have wings.”
“Cut’em off. Took’em.” Thrax flipped a torso over with a foot. In addition to irregular gashes, there were two short, vertical gouges on the upper back. Thick circles of bone glistened at the centre. “See? Consistent. Too regular to have been done in battle. And that bone shouldn’t be there.”
“Sheeet,” breathed Kit. She looked at the other bodies.
They all had the same marks.
“Angels,” she breathed.
“Faux angels. And they wouldn’t be strong fliers, from the look of it. Wings pretty small for the body size. They’d have to glide. Easier.”
Kitty looked at the horizon. “That tower would give’em range.”
“Exactly.” Thrax tapped into his implanted memory chip and scanned for information on ‘angels’. Results popped up instantly: they were a cosmetic enhancement. A brief fashion trend started by the success of an entertainment franchise, endorsed by creatures known as ‘evangelical hipsters’. Whatever those were.
Sadly, the records of Pleasurepit Five, his home, were fragmentary. Patched and written over again and again by bored archivists who’d sought to improve history’s narrative, only to leave the world’s continuity a dreadful mess.
“Okay then,” said Kitty. She slipped her rifle over her shoulder into its leather holster, then back flipped six times, landing in the saddle of her magnificent white charger.
Show off, thought Thrax. Damn sexbots were always doing that sort of I’m-so-awesome show-off shit. They had a flair for the dramatic.
He held up a hand and started to say something about caution and–
“Heeyah!” Kitty bellowed. She snapped the reigns and jabbed her six-inch-heeled combat boots into the beasts fleshy flanks. The horse bolted forward, from zero to sixty in under five seconds.
Dust clouds obscured her as she dwindled into the distance.
Thrax shut his mouth, shrugged and sauntered over to his own mount. No stopping Kitty when she was all worked up. Thrax wanted to save Andromeda too, of course. She was an accomplished squad sergeant, tough and a no-nonsense fighter, adapted from a warrior model sexbot. It was the one stereotype Thrax was grateful for and he relied on her thoroughly. Thrax himself was only eighteen. This was his first squad of androids to command. Andromeda’s help had been invaluable.
Not to be forgotten was the zinc load she was bringing back for The Pit’s replicator boxes. That’s what her team had been sent out for. Without it, their reploboxes wouldn’t be able to produce essential goods. They could get all the other molecules from fauna, flora, water or dirt. Not zinc. And without it, the system would collapse.
He put the horse into drive and set off at a trot, just fast enough to keep Kitty in sight. The ride gave Thrax time to berate himself for not being there with his team when they were attacked and betrayed by the dealers. He and Kitty had been sidetracked by a beguiling teaser ad for an ancient car dealership. The immortal energy meme hypnotized unsuspecting travelers and lured them to what was now a collection of metal slag. Task complete, the poor meme had apologized for the inconvenience and given them gift certificates.
He considered the task ahead. The faux angels would have lookouts, unless they were complete incompetents. Kitty could draw their attention. Then Thrax could do what he did best: kill stuff.
Why, that was practically a plan, he thought to himself.
What a relief!
He let his mind wander again. The angels must have been after the zinc. Had to be. But how had they known she had it? Molecular scans? A leak? The miners or dealers set her up? Were the angels just counting coup like a bunch of jerks?
Thrax had nothing to trade for the zinc, or Andromeda. Unless they wanted a sniper grade plasma rifle and a bag of old sticky-pop grenades. He doubted it.
Which meant a fight.
And that was cool, too, because Thrax loved to fight.
Hours later, slightly dehydrated and with a now sore butt, Thrax neared the spire. It rose up out of the ruins of a mag rail station. Passenger cars, filled with dirt, had been double stacked and arranged into a wall encircling the crumbling foundations.
Kitty was out ahead still. Maybe five hundred meters.
He scanned the sky with his sheet and caught sight of black specks.
The tower had CAP: Combat Air Patrol. These guys were organized. Competent.
Thrax put his horse in park and hauled his rifle from its holster, braced it against his shoulder and sighted.
The first angel the scope flitted over was preternaturally good looking, he thought. Blonde locks, androgynous, big fluffy white wings. Had a dozen light, metal spears in a belly quiver. Another in hand.
What a joke, he thought, and squeezed the trigger.
Angel exploded into a mist of blood and feathers.
He tracked another.
There was a noise to the right.
He lowered the weapon in time to see the ball of a foot as it smashed into his face. He flew from his mount into tall, waving grass. Lost his rifle. He rolled repeatedly and came up in a combat crouch, hunting knives out.
He cursed himself for being overconfident. The angels had been clever, distracting him with high fliers while others sweep in low and sucker punched. Or kicked, as the case may be.
He caught sight of one of the sneaks.
It swooped round and skimmed the ground towards him.
Then a dry rustle–behind him.
He rolled sideways and struck out with his knives, catching the angel sweeping in behind him in the chest and gutting him all the way to his, or her, or its navel.
The manbird crashed into his horse, Bolton, spattering it with guts, but the horse just snorted with derision. Thrax smiled. Bolt had seen much crazier stuff than this. But now he’d have to wash his horse.
He had the angel M.O.: misdirect, then strike from behind.
A sharp jab of pain in his side as a spear grazed him.
He spun and blindly threw his second knife, catching the remaining angel in the forehead. The corpse crashed into him, and they fell in a tangle of limbs. He flipped the body off and raced towards Bolton, bent low.
He was now completely unarmed.
A glance up revealed trouble: Three angels were diving towards him, flinging spears as they came. Murder was in their eyes. At least, Thrax imagined it was, because it oughta be. He’d eviscerated their comrades.
“Fifi!” he shouted. “Fifi!”
Obediently, his rifle began to squawk.
Five meters away. He ran like mad. The angels would be on him any second.
A flash of horrible pain. A spear hit him in the back, sliced between his ribs and pierced a lung. He almost fell. With a thought he turned off his pain receptors and kept going. His hands swept the grass.
Fingers closed around the grip. He swept round and fired three times. All three assailants plummeted earthward. One target per shot. He tried to be frugal.
He noticed the spear in his back shifted as he moved. It didn’t hurt, but it couldn’t be good. No time to worry about that yet. He spotted Kitty. Two angels where sweeping in low behind her while she shot at two in front. Thrax leveled the sniper rifle, held his breath, thought of The-Man-With-No-Name, and blew birdmen out of the sky.
Scanned the sky. All directions. All clear.
He felt something wet flowing down his back. Warm. Blood. He strained, almost dislocating his shoulder, and reached around. He wrapped his fingers around the spear shaft and ripped the damn thing out. Immediately felt better. He smiled. His medibots would repair the wound shortly.
Then he was hit by an overwhelming wave of dizziness.
He must been losing a lot of blood.
The world spun.
He grew wobbly.
And he did.
“Nice going, dipshit.”
Kitty’s voice, filled with scorn as usual.
“Whua?” Thrax dribbled back into consciousness slowly and awkwardly. He eventually kenned he was tied to a post. So, captured. That or Kitty was getting up to her kinky shit again. Thrax opened his eyes. The room was dim, lit by torches and metal bowls filled with burning oil. Red curtains draped the walls.
Kitty was beside him, similarly restrained.
She looked good tied up. “Bring me up to date, babe.”
Kitty leaned her head back against the pole. “Guess.”
“Aw. C’mon. Spill.”
“You blacked out and the bird guys got us, you freakin’ moron.”
“Yeah, I knew that,” replied Thrax, covering. “Just messing with you. Got us in here, didn’t I?”
“Angels,” said a deep, sonorous voice out of the gloom.
There was an edge of irritation in it.
“What? Who’s that?” Thrax looked about the chamber. His eyes began to adjust. The speaker sat atop an elaborate throne of metal and bone. He looked like a bodybuilder, at least eight feet tall with long blonde locks, and he was, disconcertingly, buck naked. He also had great, fluffy white feathered wings.
“Hmm,” muttered Kitty appreciatively. “This may not be as bad as I thought.”
“Oh come on,” admonished Thrax. “This is serious.”
“Angels,” repeated the burly blonde solemnly. “We are totally not, like, birds. That’s just way offensive, dude. Episode Thirty-Seven, Act Two: ‘Yea, for I am an angel, officer. Your new partner, and I do not answer to ‘birdman’. For that term is rude.”
“Amen!” came a chorus out of the dark.
“Whatever,” Thrax snorted. He nodded at the naked guy on the throne. “Put some clothes on, or there’s no way I’m gonna sit on that thing. Honestly, if you fly, I think it’s expected you wear pants. Hold that junk in.”
Annoyed, the giant angel chucked aside his Pablo Neruda poetry meme ball and rose to his perfectly formed feet. “How dare you speak to me so! I am Archangel Gabwell, Divine Watcher over the Holy Audience. It is your second Uncool in this, The Way Sacred Place. Verily, for such bogus trespass, I shall cut out your tongue.”
“For that?” laughed Thrax, incredulous. “Your priorities are out of whack. What about for icing your birds earlier? I must have killed a dozen of you.”
“Half-a-dozen. And for that, I am going to kill you,” said Gabwell casually. “After I cut out your tongue. Then we will pray to the Holy Sponsor, valued be his name. So show it be!”
“SO SHOW IT BE!” echoed the other angels, stepping forward out of the chamber’s gloom.
Two winged goons flanked Thrax. They grabbed his head and forced open his mouth.
“Wipeout, bro,” snickered one, nasty smile smeared across an incongruously beautiful face.
“Unngh!” slurred Thrax. “Fuggers, leggo oh eee!”
Gabwell approached. He held out a hand. A minion pressed the ornate handle of a long dagger into his palm, then spritzed it with window cleaner.
“Any last words, oh vulgar one?” asked Gabwell, drawing close and holding up the sparkling dagger. He wiggled it so that it flashed with reflected torch light. “Bitchin’,” he cooed.
“Unh, yea, lods o lass wuds. Loooods an’ loooods. Ow-ahs of ’em.”
“Dude, I can’t understand you. Shush. Hold still.”
Gabwell planted a meaty hand on Thrax’s jaw, and angled the dagger into his mouth. Prepared to slice.
“STOP!” bellowed a woman’s voice.
Everyone froze, for the voice was laden with authority memes. Thrax was sure of it. Could only be Andromeda. She strode into the torchlight, dragging chains behind her. Her neck and wrists were shackled. Even so she was tall and regal. Thighs of steel. A powerfully built uber-woman in resplendent Hellenistic armour that reflected the dim light so powerfully you’d think it was atomic powered.
“Andromeda!” shouted Kitty, obviously delighted to see her old mentor.
“Eee? I ’old you I’d find her,” asserted Thrax triumphantly.
“Where you been, girl?” queried Kitty.
Andromeda rubbed her eyes. “Asleep,” she replied. “This tribe has been holding me captive. But taking me cost them the lives of thirty of their best men!”
Gabwell let go of Thrax and waved his minions back. He turned to Andromeda. “You know these two filthy foots, these dirt walkers?” He waved the dagger at Thrax and Kitty.
“Comrades-in-arms,” replied Andromeda, drawing herself up to her full height. “We would gladly fight and die for each other.”
Thrax started to object. He wasn’t keen on dying, nor was he moved by all that noble warrior code B.S.
Gabwell whistled. “Way,” said the self-proclaimed Archangel sagely. “Way of the warrior. Episode Five, Pre-Credit: ‘For I shall fight only with honour, biker.’” He rounded on Thrax and leveled the knife. “Oh, Vulgar Dude! I, Archangel Gabwell of the Sacred Audience, hereby challenge you to a battle to the death for your hot warrior bunnies!”
“Say what?” replied Thrax, shocked once again.
“I don’t need anyone fighting my battles,” objected Andromeda, indignant.
“You defeated them in battle,” intoned Gabwell solemnly, looming over Thrax. “Once I defeat you, they will be bound to me! So show it be: Episode Thirty-Three: The Mating Game.”
“Fine,” said Thrax. “Let’s do this then.”
Andromeda and Kitty exchanged a look.
“You think we’re his bitches?” laughed Kitty. “Honey, I don’t think so.”
“SSSH!” hissed Thrax fiercely. Kitty could be such a loudmouth sometimes. Not big on strategic thought like Thrax was.
Angel minions cut him free and handed him a sword. “Thanks, pal,” he blurted out on autopilot. It was a pretty crappy little sword to be honest. He hefted the weapon in his hand and grinned at his chained comrades. “This is our chance, ladies. Watch, learn, and be blown away!”
“Not with your fighting skills we won’t,” huffed Kitty. She gave one of her patented eye rolls, just to piss Thrax off. He was sure of it.
“Oh fer…!” said Thrax, fumbling and almost dropping the sword. “I’m about to fight for all our lives. Come on! Seriously?”
Kitty paused for a moment. Blinked. Finally she said, “Go kick that hot blonde God’s ass!”
Thrax sighed. “At least you tried.”
There was blur to his left as Gabwell struck at him with a great, flaming sword.
Metal clanged against metal.
The giant’s mighty blows rained down on upon Thrax’s blade. He stumbled backward, parrying every step, as Gabwell pressed his superhuman attack.
Flames licked Thrax’s exposed flesh, leaving red welts.
He noticed his blade had fracture lines. They spread with each blow.
It wouldn’t last much longer.
“I don’t blame you, baby,” shouted Kitty. “You do what you gotta do!"
She was talking to the blonde guy. “Shut up Kitty!” Thrax dodged behind support pillars and anything else that could bring relief from the deluge of fiery strikes.
He didn’t fight often with swords, but then, he imagined, neither did his opponent.
Thrax quickly evaluated the situation: he was smaller, more agile, and his stamina was enhanced by oxygen providing nanites in his bloodstream. But Gabwell had mass and power. How to take advantage of that?
He had an idea. Ducking under another theatrical blow, Thrax ran up to the top of a lumpy mound. It was composed of ancient, non-biodegradable chairs and petrified popcorn.
Gabwell stepped after Thrax, but his foot plunged deep into the mound. He was too heavy to climb on top of the mess. Mighty wings unfolded and flapped. Thrax leapt from the top of the stack, hurtling himself at Gabwell’s head, sword slicing at the angel’s throbbing carotid. Gabwell brought up an arm protectively. Thrax’s blade cut it to the bone.
“First blood!” exulted Thrax as he landed awkwardly. He spun and sliced at Gabwell’s hamstrings.
He wasn’t quick enough.
The winged behemoth hurled a chair, hitting him squarely in the chest and knocking him backward. Then Gabwell chucked a hapless, shrieking minion at Thrax.
“AIEEEE!” screamed the angel flunky as he hurtled past.
“It does not matter who strikes the first blow, dirt walker, but the last!” bellowed Gabwell, and he swept down his sword. Thrax side stepped. It hit the floor with enough force to dent the diamoncrete.
“Getting tired big guy?” asked Thrax, dancing away jauntily. “Ready to call it quits?”
“Never!” thundered Gabwell. “Andromeda shall be my warrior bride, and together, we shall give birth to a new race of bitchin’ warrior angels that shall go forth and conquer the world, just as the holy program The Archangel and Mrs. Smith foretold! So show it be! Season Finale, Third Act!”
“Oh,” breathed Kitty, aghast. “That show was pure suckitude. McClure couldn’t act worth shit.”
“Wait, what?” blurted Thrax. He held up an arm as Gabwell prepared to strike again. He’d been backed into a corner. There was nowhere left to go. He tried to hold off panic. “Hold it! Hold it right there! WAIT! WAIT!”
Gabwell paused, suspicious. “What? Speak your last, dirt walker!”
“Andromeda’s an android. A repurposed sexbot.”
The archangel glowered, flames dancing in his eyes. “Do not speak ill of my future bride, dirt walking dude! WAY UNCOOL!”
“No, no, I mean she’s sterile.”
Gabwell paused, confused. “What does ‘sterile’ mean?”
“It means I cannot have children,” declared Andromeda. “I could not bear you heirs if I wanted to.”
Gabwell seemed to deflate. He stepped back, and lowered his sword. Eyes still on Thrax, he addressed Andromeda: “You speak true? You swear upon your honour, hawt mighty warrior bunny?”
“It is so,” replied Andromeda, putting a hand on her chest, over her heart. “I swear it. But do not call me bunny again or I will rip out your tongue.”
Archangel Gabwell stood frozen for a moment. Finally he uttered a single, heartfelt word: “Bummer.” He waved at his naked minions. “Minion-bro’s: Free the prisoners! Fly them back down to the World of Dirt from whence they came, away from our Holy Sky Pad. The show is over. Cancellation.”
“We can still have fun, big guy,” suggested Kitty, biting the air and licking her lips provocatively. “Meow!”
“No,” replied the archangel. “The mood is ruined. The moment is over.”
Thrax lowered his sword. “For real? We can go?”
“Yes,” muttered Gabwell dejectedly. “Show’s over.”
“Booyah! The lady had a bag of metal when you took her…”
“Yea, you shall have your dirt back, have no fear. I care for it not. Dirt has no place here.”
As soon as she was released, Kitty shoved past Thrax, ran over to Andromeda, and hugged her. Andromeda embraced her back, and they tapped heads together, android style. She looked over at Archangel, who had pulled back a drape and was gazing out a tall, narrow window. Beams of sunlight spilled over him, giving his face an unearthly glow.
She walked over to the blonde giant.
Curious, Thrax followed.
She put a hand on Gabwell’s left cheek. “You are a true warrior. I should consider it an honour to spar with you in future.”
Ugh. Sappy stuff, thought Thrax, wishing he hadn’t followed.
The angel looked down into Andromeda’s beautiful brown eyes, and they shared a moment. “I should like that,” rumbled the big lout.
And a smile flitted over his face, like a really big butterfly.
I hope you enjoyed the story.
You can get the Magnum Thrax and the Amusement Park of Doom for Kindle over at Amazon.
I hope you enjoyed the story.
You can get the Magnum Thrax and the Amusement Park of Doom for Kindle over at Amazon.