"Jeurridam: Henderson" - Chapter 7 (Middle Finale)


Each day started off with a forty minute workout! I’d do one hundred fifty pushups, two hundred abdominal curls and do five minute bursts of speed roping. Then for the last ten minutes, I’d wind down with some power yoga. It was the way you wanted to start your day, doing something positive! In order to want better for yourself, you had to do better for yourself!
I had managed to get a job at the Henderson Justice Office, documenting the people who came in with legal claims. It was a simple alphabetising job that paid much more than it should have. There was no more worrying about surviving on my own. I was thriving! Three months ago, this was something I wasn’t sure I was capable of. Everything changed because of something as simple as learning how to read. Wherever Beth was, I couldn’t thank her enough.
As time winded down, the work shift came to an end. I began the routine walk back to my camp stationed by the Sloan Wall. There was an unexpected visitor waiting for me...Luke.
“I did it…” He said, “I swallowed my balls and ran away. I couldn’t take it! Without you out there with me I just couldn’t rake it in like that.”
“How long have you been out here?” I asked.
“Since early this morning.” He said.
“Awe, kid…” I sighed, walking over to him, “I thought you’d come but not like within two days of me leaving Paradise… Good you can make it though?” Luke didn’t say anything, just steadily leaning on the buggy. There was so much on his mind.
“You think he’ll come looking for me?” Luke asked, justifiably scared.
“Maybe so, maybe not! Jeurridam is huge! He wouldn’t even know where to start looking.” I said hoping to reassure the boy. He looked at me intently.
“This was a long, hot ass wait! Where were you for so long?” He asked.
“I’ve had a steady and peaceful job for the past few days and I’m grateful for it. The change of pace is just wonderful.” I smiled.
“A job…” Luke sighed, “I’m never going to get one…”
“Why?” I asked.
“Unlike you… I can’t read!” He said back.
“Well learn!” I chuckled. He looked at me as if I stated something impossible.
“Learn? How? Who’s gonna teach me?” He asked.
“I can try! My sister taught me and I picked it up within hours and grasped it totally in less than a month. Of course, I had nothing but time on my hands.” I said, going to the rear of the truck.
“I just look at papers with words on them and it’s just… impossible! It’s one of those things you have to be gifted for…” Luke said, warranting a bewildered look from me.
“Not at all! Whoever tried to teach you before is shit-for-brains! Start with the alphabet…” I sighed, a metal rod in my hand.
“What?” He asked, never hearing the word before.
“Lord, they really didn’t teach you anything, did they?” I said, beginning to draw shapes in the sand.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“This is,” I began, “The alphabet! There are twenty six components of the alphabet known as letters. Each letter is what words are composed of.”
“This is not helping. All I see is just scribble scrabble on the dirt…” Luke sighed. I handed him a notebook and a pen.
“Copy the letters.” I said. He looked at me unsure how this would help.
“Okay…” He shrugged, looking forth into the sand and writing the letters down, “And this will help because?”
“It will help you to remember.” I said.
“I just want to be able to understand the words. I don’t get how these tiny little pieces of words will help.” He sighed.
“I said the same thing to my sister… She bitch slapped me and called me stupid and said I better keep writing… I’m not going to do that to you but the little pieces of words come together and when they do… I swear it will blow your mind!” I smiled. He looked at me blinking slowly with very little interest. He continued to copy the letters.
“Okay…” He responded getting to the last one. I began reciting them the boy looking on completely lost. He began to repeat them, slowly but surely learning the alphabet. I showed him the vowels, the consonants and everything else simple but practical. He just wasn’t enthused at all but I stayed on him.
“Now that you know how to say letters… lets try to put them together…” I said, the boy rolling his eyes. I took the notebook from him, “I’m going to write something down… and you sound it out.”
“Okay…” He shrugged as I handed him back the notebook. He looked intently at the paper, “I… am… re...ree...reading… for… THE… Fiiirrrrrsssttt time? I AM READING FOR THE FIRST TIME!!! Oh my god, I am reading for the first time!!!” Excitement lit up his face.
“Now do you understand why we had to do the boring shit on the ground?” I asked.
“Yeah!!!” He nodded, truly mind blown.
“You got to keep practicing, mijo…” I teased. Luke gave me a menacing look.
“Don’t call me that!” He said as I handed him a really simple book.
“I want you to copy down the words onto paper and then sound them out.” I said.
“Okay…” He responded, this time with enthusiasm. 
I picked up a book myself, one of the old Michael Criton books sitting on the hood of the truck. The sun began to set as I read. It was the way I liked to spend my evenings, just relaxing. I had almost forgot Luke was here.
“Luke…” I called out.
“Yeah?” He responded, vigorously writing.  
“You hungry? Been all day, hasn’t it?” I asked.
“Yeah…” He chuckled. I hopped up walking to the back of the truck where he was. He watched as I climbed beside him, reaching for the cooking racks, “Wait you’re gonna cook?”
“I have four hares sitting on ice back here. I wanna cook them before they go bad.” I said, pulling the cast iron cooking stand out of the rear of the truck. It was insanely heavy.
“You need help?” Luke asked.
“I got it.” I said, leaping off the truck bed with it. I planted it firmly into the ground.
“Don’t hurt yourself.” Luke teased.
“No promises.” I chuckled, going back to the truck bag for the flames-in-a-cans. I planted them on the middle rings of the cooking stand, torching them.
“Hand me the cooking racks.” I said to Luke.
“Sure.” He said, picking them up and handing them to me. I stacked them onto the cooking stand, going back to the cooler.
“Got anything to drink?” He asked.
“Apart from some nopal wine, wheat beers and water, nothing special.” I laughed, grabbing two of the half frozen hares out of the cooler. I placed them on the outside of the rack before placing a pan of hickory chips on the center. I doused them in lighter fluid, watching them burn.
“You seem good at this.” Luke laughed.
“I’m nothing special like my brother. That boy can make the best tasting food out of mud, rotting shit and dried leaves…” I chuckled, “Can you pass me the hood?”
“Sure.” Luke said, grabbing the giant wok, “So, you  have siblings?”
“Yeah, five others...Me, Beth, Heaven, Zachary, and Nathan.” I responded, slowly placing the wok over the flame. Smoke began to pour out from the underside, billowing in rings.
“Damn, are ya’ll close?” Luke asked.
“No,” I responded, sitting next to him, “The one I’m closest to is Beth. We used to be all really close then puberty hit and we began hating one another.”
“I had a little brother but he died when I younger… typhoid.” Luke said.
“So sorry dude…” I said, looking at him.
“What’s there to be sorry for if I was too young to understand?” He chuckled.
“Eh…” I sighed, “So what happened back in Paradise? What made you leave?”
“You…” Luke responded.
“Whaaaaa?” I asked, taken off guard.
“Call me stupid, naive or whatever but after those nights we spent together in Paradise I couldn’t stop thinking about you. You have a way of making it and I wanted to make it like you did. I tried making it like you did and I couldn’t… So I came looking for you.” He said.
“You weren’t right for that life… I’ve seen first hand what it can do.” I said, shaking my head. He looked at me intently.
“What happened between you and that guy that night?” He asked.
“Rion? Um… he’s. He took me back to his spot and tried to get me back involved with his gang. I told him I wasn’t and things escalated quickly. I pulled out a gun and told him that things would be different and if he wants this to go down this way that I didn’t care. I even begged him to kill me because my family would come for him with an iron… fist.” I explained.
“Your family? Is your family an affiliation or something?” Luke asked.
“Yeah, Logatti. My dad’s the legendary Dale Logatti.” I said. Luke’s jaw fell.
“Seriously?” He asked.
“Yeah…” I shrugged, “I thought I told you?”
“Maybe you did, but that’s big… I would have remembered.” He laughed.
“It’s not that big. I’m lying low… don’t want anyone to know who I am. Nothing good could come of it.” I said.
“I see why. Everyone I know hates the Logatti.” He chuckled.
“It’s not my fault. My dad is cutthroat as fuck… even with me. It’s why I had to leave! If things aren’t run his way, they aren’t run at all and things haven’t been going his way for a long time now.”  I sighed.
“Well, maybe things will be better and you can go back home one day.” Luke said, being hopeful.
“I don’t want to go back home. That’s what he wants. He wants me to go home so he can humiliate me again but I’m not… I’ve finally found something of my own and I plan on keeping it! I’ve been having gold for luck these days and I don’t want it to change… That man probably will take all my money and say I owe him and I’d be back at square one. I don’t want to have to go through that…” I said, shaking my head.
“Damn, it’s that bad?” Luke asked, completely shocked.
“You have no idea. I ran away years ago because of him… When I was younger, he told me real men don’t need to read… Real men work! He didn’t show me anything resourceful and I was… inept. I got jealous over the way he treated another son and tried to forge a relationship with my dad but he wouldn’t have it. All that ended up happening was me feeling like I was inadequate, not worthy of the family title and I ran away… I wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere and I ran right into Rion’s arms… to blind to see it was a trap. I got hooked on drugs, was back and forth between A99 and Paradise, doing odd jobs not to make ends meet but to fix my addiction. My dad was so upset, he’d often beat me and made me never want to come back… Last time I came back, mom was gone and I took her jewels to sell because, let’s face it… she’s not coming back… And he lost it. I was kicked out, again but I tried to stay with a brother who was… not really a brother but kind of is. He built machines and I stole one of his for quick cash and things blew up bad. That is when the entire family relationship was strained and how I ended up here…” I explained.
“Okay…” Luke said, it making better sense now.
“Don’t sweat any of it though. I’m happier now! Much happier...” I laughed. It fell silent between us, Luke going into deep thought.
“Ugh, maybe one day I’ll get there…” Luke sighed.
“You will!” I said, “I’m gonna help.” A blood rushed smile came across his face.
We sat on the truck bed for hours, just looking at the night sky. It was chilly with the biting desert breeze wafting around but neither of us cared. We set up the tent as the smell of hare began to circulate around. We both were insanely hungry.
“So,” Luke began, “You going to work tomorrow?”
“Yeah but I get off at two in the afternoon. I wake up reeeaaaaalllly early though.” I warned.
“So do I.” He smiled with a sigh.
“Gonna join me for my morning workout?” I asked.
“It depends…” He said, checking the stakes of the tent, “On what you plan on working out…”
“Well, that depends on how willing and able you are to break a sweat…” I responded, lifting the wok off the flame. I began glazing the hares with a bourbon rub crudely made from ingredients around town.
“Shit when can we eat??” Luke asked.
“Give it about forty more minutes.” I laughed.
“Ugh!!!” He grovelled, obviously quite hungry.
With forty minutes left before the hares were finished smoking, I boiled spanish rice and pickled vegetables. I then sauteed it in brown sugar and soy sauce, letting it simmer on the edge of the rack before placing the wok back over the flame.
“I swear you can do everything…” Luke sighed.
“Trust me I can’t… My sister can do everything! Her best friend… can do things you can’t even imagine…  It’s crazy…” I sighed, sitting next to him.
“The food smells amazing…” Luke said, laying across the freezing cold sand.
“I just wish my little bro was here so he could be the one cooking. It’s actually something I hate…” I laughed.
“You seem quite good at it.” Luke noted.
“Maybe… only the taste test will tell.” I giggled.
The rest of the night was pointless conversation, eating and eventually sleeping. I woke up, my arm wrapped around Luke like we were together for much longer than we were. It felt right with him though, like this was meant to be. I slowly withdrew my arm, exiting the tent. It was time to begin this morning work out.
“Zeek?” Luke called out from the tent.
“Yeah?” I responded. He came out of the tent, seeing me squatting. I was getting in a good groin stretch.
“Oh…” He smiled, eager to join. He squatted as well, placing his elbows on his inner knees and pushing outward, “So what is your routine?”
“Nothing special. Start with a five minute stretch, do a hundred fifty push ups, two hundred curls and close with some yoga.” I said.
“Doesn’t sound too bad…” He said, stretching his arms.
It was then on! It became a competition to see who could do the most push ups and abdominal curls the fastest. Of course I won but only marginally. Then it came down to the closing yoga. We splayed our legs apart, bringing our feet together. I wrapped my hands around his waist, leaning far forward. He pulled back as well, placing his hands on the ground for leverage.
“You really love a good groin stretch don’t you?” He asked.
“This is for my thighs…” I laughed. Suddenly, his crotch came flying towards me face. I was hit by what felt like a living rock, trapped underneath those shorts. I looked up at him, the boy biting his lip. He wanted this to be taken to the next level so bad.
I grabbed his arms, pulling him forth. His arms wrapped around my waist as he felt the pull of the center stretch. Suddenly, the boy’s mouth began to caress the bulge forming under my shorts. Before I could stop him, his hand slipped under my shorts, popping out my shaft. He began sucking on it, sending me into utter euphoria. However, I couldn’t let him take me there! I didn’t want to risk being late for work.
I grabbed him by his head, looking at him menacingly.
“Stop!” I said. All he did was smile, a smile I couldn’t resist.
“Please, just let me…” He said. I couldn’t help it. I leaned down, bringing my lips to his. Both of our bodies were contorted into some very tight positions. I let him resume sucking me off. Truly, I forgot the life he came from. He had incredible skill, his tongue able to pull on every nerve down there. It didn’t take long for him to suck out every ounce of cum I had. Our eyes met, the boy smiling, seemingly gracious.
“I didn’t know any other way to thank you…” He shrugged.
“Thank you!” I chuckled, before looking at my watch, “Yeah… I really got to get to work…” I sprung to my feet, rushing over to the water tank.
“What am I supposed to do for the rest of the day?” He asked.
“My safe’s combination is two, six, two, nine, eight, five, one, six. Go buy you some things around town, things you’ll need. And keep, practicing reading!!!!” I said, stripping down naked.
“Okay…” He said back, watching. I showered on the truck bed, before changing clothes. Never did I think I’d be dressing in a suit and tie with a satchel strapped to my waist but, hey… I was. I brushed my teeth, slicked my hair and was off.
“Bye…” I waved to Luke, “Make sure you put the tent up and the grilling stuff.”
“Okay and Bye…” He smiled back, watching as I walked into Henderson.
The work day was plain and boring, mostly filing, writing down people’s claims and leading them to people who could represent their law claims. Thoughts of Luke would periodically ease into my mind, wondering could we ever have a future out here. I could just him and I building an empire together, right here in Henderson. Hell, I’d want to start a school, a school for the youth so they wouldn’t have to go into the treacherous life we had to. I knew Luke would be on board because he was just that caring of a person. However, that dream would be a long ways off. Not only were there blatant hurdles, mainly financial ones but there would be unseen hurdles and those were the ones I was most worried about. I didn’t want anyone to come for something I was forging and undermine my efforts! That simply wouldn’t fly, especially with children involved. I’d probably be very, very hostile to any threat…
Wow, a long term goal… I never ever formed one before, but I was eager to go back and share it with Luke. I rushed back to to the camp, the boy laying on the hot bed of the truck, practicing his reading.
“Hey!!!” I called out. He suddenly rose up, startled.
“Hey,” He said back, scratching his head, “How was your day?”
“Good,” I smiled, hopping onto the bed of the truck, “We’re gonna go fill up the water tank. I’m running low.”
“Cool…” He said, placing the book down. I changed clothes into something more desert friendly.
“Did you buy anything resourceful?” I asked. A nervous look spread across his face as his hands fidgeted around.
“I um… I didn’t want to go in your safe without you being here…” He said, watching me slide into my shorts. I looked at him, disappointed.
“Bruh, I gave you the go ahead…” I said.
“And?” He shrugged, “I still didn’t want to go in your safe…”
“Okay,” I laughed, “Saturday… We’re shopping but today… we got a few chores to do.” I reached for the keys, climbing to the front of the truck.
“Like what?” He asked, eager to do anything as long as it was with me.
“Firstly, we’re going to the Bay of Vegas to fill up the tank. Then we’re heading down-valley to go jack rabbit hunting…” I smiled.
“Jack rabbit hunting?” He asked, surprised.
“Yep,” I said, cranking up the truck, “It’s not easy without a dog but I managed to kill four in a day before so nothing is ever impossible.”
“I never did it before…” He said, sitting in the truck. I ran around back to check everything, closing the bed of the truck. It was now time to drive off into the desert.
We rode east, heading to the Bay of Vegas.
“I wanna ask you something…” I stated.
“Okay.” Luke smiled.
“This is not something I want to do soon but definitely something I want to do. I mean, I want a stake in Jeurridam one day. I was thinking about opening up like a school or something to teach more people how to read and write. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it or when, but I definitely want to do it!” I said. He looked at me utterly surprised.
“That sounds awesome.” He said, “Like… I mean… what’s a school like?”
“To be honest,” I responded, “I have no idea. I had no idea what a school was until I stumbled across it in a book.”
“There were schools back in Juarez but only the wealthy could afford to use them.” Luke said back.
“I’d have to think of something different. I was thinking about it a lot, thinking about using my dad’s power to just completely overtake Jeurridam… Maybe we can pull a very low monthly tax on the people, businesses and things to have a pool of money circulating. My dad literally has that type of power! With the extra money, we can literally have free schools for the kids but still make money from them. However, with Jeurridam being so perilous, we’ll need to have an army guarding these schools.” I explained.
“Free schools?” Luke asked, the idea sounding too good to be true.
“It’s a big idea but I feel it can be pulled off with enough research, money and control over the population… My dad already has one foot in the door with that but with our relationship so strained at the moment, I’ll have to let him cool down. And he would not buy a single word I say until I can prove to him I don’t need him. And if that’s the case, he may still be upset that I’m the cause of the wrench in his empire and just be too difficult to work with…” I sighed.
“Who else can help?” Luke asked.
“My sister’s best friend can… But I already used him once, don’t wanna use him again. He’s such a nice kid but will fucking hurt you!!!! I don’t even want to open that door again.” I said back.
“Ugh, every relationship you ever had sounded strained…” Luke noted.
“Yeah, I kinda have that effect on people.” I shrugged. He looked at me with a grin, slowly reaching for my hand.
“You have more effects on people than you know.” He said, propping his feet up on the dash.
“I do, huh?” I responded with a chuckle.
“You’re like so driven and cutthroat but really, really genuine and kind despite your ambitions. I’ve seen how people who’re driven can get. I’ve never really seen a person go after their dreams and succeed the way you have yet still stay down to earth. You left the streets, that escort life and not long after, you’re here… with a job, making a way for yourself! Like, who does that? Who can do that? Who’s that driven, let alone blessed. I mean, if you can follow your dreams, I can follow mine…” He said.
“You know I really don’t like praise…” I laughed.
“Sorry.” Luke shrugged.
“And what’s your dream?” I asked, truly curious.
“I know this is going to sound so dumb, but I wanna be with you, Zeek. Like, forget everything else! I just want it to be you and me!” He said, looking deep into my eyes. It truly shocked me. This boy had fallen for me but I wasn’t quite there yet. However, with time, I easily could fall for him just as he’s fallen for me. I tended to fall relatively easily, anyways. Maybe I was a hopeless romantic.
We reached the lake, filling up the water tank with the pumps. Many people were here filling up their tanks as well. This place had me on edge, being too close to Fool’s Paradise for my liking. I looked around and the drum filled up. Da Lagon was known to have informants lurking in unexpected locations when a potential conflict was going on. Considering how high ranking Rion was within Da Lagon and how wicked he could be, I didn’t want to take chances. The beretta was on my hip, ready for any quick action. Maybe I should have rode to the Arizona side of the Bay of Vegas to fill up the tank. Then again, they probably would have expected that and be staked out over there or something, I don’t know. Da Lagon had me just that nervous.
“You okay?” Luke asked, sensing my worry.
“Yeah, um just not a fan of this location. Too close to East Paradise… That’s prime Da Lagon’s territory.”
“Oh…” Luke sighed, now understand. Da Lagon was big enough to be a serious threat to any faction in Jeurridam and had quite a bit of pull. With it just being Luke and I on our own, we stood no chance. I didn’t quite know if Da Lagon was done with me yet, and I’d be a fool to think it was. With Luke being someone I cared for, the last thing I wanted was for him to be caught in the middle. He’d most certainly get hurt.
“Let’s get moving…” I said, the tank reaching capacity.
We left, heading dozens of miles south to Jackrabbit Territory. The Sonoran was nothing but cactus, shrubs and dirt. No one was around for miles, just us. I reached for the glove department, pulling out a scope.
“It is foraging time for jackrabbits,” I said to Luke, “They’ll be out in the open but still are ridiculously hard to see. Look for big pink ears.” He took the scope.
“Okay.” He responded.
I got up walking to the back of the truck. I opened the truck box, pulling out a brand spanking new deer rifle. It was resting next to Uncle Miguel’s shotgun.
“Zeek…” Luke called out, sounding unnerved.
“Yeah.” I responded.
“There’s someone out here.” He said. It caused me to look up. Luke was sitting on the hood of the truck, looking down the scope.
“What?” I asked, going to see for myself. I looked down the monocular seeing a buggy, one with alarming familiarity, “That’s Da Lagon. Damn it, we shouldn’t have went to the lake! I knew we’d get followed.” Luke looked at me, not liking the way I sounded.
“Followed?” He asked.
“Yes… We, my friend, are being stalked…” I sighed, not at all pleased, “An informant must have seen us at The Bay of Vegas… They now know what we look like, what we’re riding in now and probably are relaying every bit of information to whoever’s in charge… I hope they’re not following me for the reasons I think they are… This, man I hope not…” I said, upset and confused.
“So what are we going to do? What does this mean? Are we in trouble?” Luke asked, quite fearful. I didn’t like seeing him this worried.
“Just hold on…” I said, going back to the rear of the truck. I loaded a clip of .306s into the rifle. Luke watched as I entered the truck, rolling down the driver’s window.
“What are you doing?” He asked as I looked down the scope of the rifle. Two shots rang across the desert, startling the boy. He looked at me, completely horrified, “You didn’t…”
“I did… I don’t like games and Da Lagon most certainly thinks we’re game to play.” I said.
Luke looked down the monocular, seeing two dead informants, one’s head pressed against the dashboard while the other hanging half out the bed of the buggy, blood pouring from his head. The boy was so shocked, obviously never seeing dead people before.
“Get in the truck…” I said. He looked on, seeing me in a very different light, now. There was a bit of apprehension but he got in nonetheless. His eyes were locked onto the rifle sitting across my lap. Horror filled his eyes as he saw the truck was heading towards the Da Lagon buggy.  
“Wait… we’re going over….”
“Yeah…” I said, sensing the boy’s fear.
We arrived at the buggy. I wasted no time in searching the bodies and the buggy. Luke just stood there, horrified. I didn’t blame him. He was naive to this lifestyle and he needed to learn quickly, especially if he was going to be with me.
“You okay?” I asked him.
“Yeah…” He nodded.
“Good,” I said, moving the the dead man in the passenger seat to the bed of the buggy, “Follow me in the truck… We got to get rid of the buggy.”
“How?” He asked.
“We’re,” I said, checking every possible nook and cranny of the buggy for a tracking device, “Are gonna drop this buggy in the bottom of the Bay of Vegas… From the Arizona Side…”
“Okay…” He nodded, pushing himself along.
I applauded him for this. Many people would fall apart at the sight of murder but Luke was holding his own. We rode across the Hoover Dam to the eastern shores of the Bay of Vegas. I tied heavy dredging chains to the two men, putting the buggy in neutral. Luke was there to help me push the buggy into the deep water. We watched the buggy and men sink. Despite Luke’s willingness to go along with this, the murders would forever loom in his mind.
“I’m so sorry…” I said to him.
“You did what you needed to.” He sighed, forcing himself to wrap his head around it all. The boy was a straight trooper.
I spent the day taking precautions just in case things blew up. I dropped my safe off with every single thing I’ve earned at the Mill in A99. If my truck was ever looted, no one could steal anything too important. Luke stayed on look out, making sure we weren’t being watched from afar. By the time we sorted everything out, it was nightfall. I couldn’t let us go hungry tonight. We rode to Western Jeurridam, the City of Rust.
“There’s a place,” I began, “Called Sal’s Mojave Kitchen. I used to go all the time but haven’t been on that side of town since I was like sixteen.”
“Cool… they’re still open at this time of night?” He asked.
“They close in about forty minutes so we need to hurry.” I laughed.
We arrived to a very short line. There was a familiar face working the night shift.
“Darren!!!” I called out. The boy looked up, surprised to see me.
“Oh my God, Zeek it’s been so long!” The boy sneered. Luke and I ordered, waiting for our food, Darren just staring at him, “He’s your new boy toy?”
“I wouldn’t say that… we’re trying to make it mutual.” I said, blushing. Luke looked at me with those lustful green eyes.
“Uncle Sal hired this new guy… he’s fucking hot! Like, I feel like I should know him from somewhere but I can’t put my finger on it. He’s like one of the guys you feel love at first sight for. The thing is though, he’s been working here for a few weeks and I don’t know a single detail about him! Not only that but he’s mean as fuck! He had the audacity to make it plain and clear we aren’t friends…” Darren chuckled, preparing our orders.
“He sounds like a real keeper…” I teased.
“Man, I can’t talk to him. He keeps it super work casual… I was running late today because my buggy was having ignition rod issues and he chewed me a new asshole! Then one of the Merchant Clan boys chatted him up about going to the northern Mojave for whatever reason and he was game! I was like what the fuck, you’re gonna go to the fucking wasteland with some scrawny little desert idiot but not even talk to me… I tried to warn him about the Mojave, how dangerous it is but bruh… He wasn’t having it! He was like, you don’t know me well enough to think I can’t handle myself out there so stop trying! I know the damn desert better than you know the crack of your ass!” Darren continued.
“Damn, he sounds vicious…” I joked.
“I mean… no. He actually didn’t yell or shout or anything… he just said it as plain as day like normal conversation… That’s what made it bite the most! That’s how I knew it was genuine disinterest. What made it worse was how he kept saying he needed to get away from it all, take a break, saying he had a lot going on… However, he didn’t go into specific detail always diverting me away. All it does is make me want him more…” Darren smiled.
“It may be a blessing in disguise bruh… This dude sounds uptight as hell. You don’t want a relationship of that kind with someone you’re gonna have to be in the workplace with.” I advised.
“You may be right… What am I supposed to do when I show up to work tomorrow? I always try and talk with him but damn, he’s just too vicious.” Darren asked.
“I don’t know…” I said shrugging, “With someone like that, I’d suggest you keep it super work casual with them. No small talking, just straight professionalism. This dude seems like he’s totally stressed about something and taking it out on you because you’re coming off as the odd man out. In a way, you’re bringing this upon yourself… I know you Darren. Don’t be late to work! Don’t use your title over him! Don’t even prod into his life… This is what you do bruh… impress the dude with work efficiency and crack little jokes every now and again to try and see if he has a sense of humor. Do not be pushy… I know how you get when you want something.”
“Bruh, thanks!” Darren laughed, “You always got that good words to spare…”
“Thanks.” I said back, Darren handing us our food, “We’re off…”
“No! NO!” Darren shouted, coming out of the shack, “How the hell you’re just gonna appear like this then vanish the same way… with you and your boy toy… No, you’re gonna tell me how you’ve been.” He pointed to a bench, ushering us to sit.
“Man, about three months ago, I was strung out. Did something stupid and got out of it by the grace of a helpful friend and a determined sister. I’ve been clean since but that little stupid thing I did, ruined my dad’s empire and now he’s piecing everything back together… I got kicked out and have been on my own for about a month and a half and things are looking up for me.” I sighed.
“God, bro, where are you staying?” He asked.
“I’m camped out in Henderson.” I said.
“Damn, that’s not safe! Bruh, that’s not safe at all!!!! You know you can stay with me…” Darren offered.
“No, that’s not an option. I got a goal bruh.” I smiled. Darren slowly turned to Luke.
“And you?”
“Zeek and I are just,” Luke said, nothing but lust in his eyes, “travelling together…”
“Zeek? He let you call him that… You’re doing more than just traveling together…” Darren prodded.
“See, this is why that guy you like at the restaurant is treating you like shit for remarks like that!” I joked.
“Bruh… please tell me you’re not boning each other! Please let me be wrong! Y’all can’t lie to me!” Darren laughed.
“I mean…” Luke responded, unsure how to answer.
“Oh God, you are! How’d you two meet?”  Darren asked. Luke and I looked at each other.
“We were escorting the same stretch of street… Decided to work together… have been inseparable ever since.” I shrugged.
“Damn…” Darren said, liking the way it sounded, “Just wish I could meet someone that way…”
“You will bro…” I said, getting up, patting Luke on the shoulder, “Come on…”
“You two seem to be in a rush…” Darren said, watching us leave.
“I got to wake up early for work tomorrow!” I laughed.
“Come back soon, ya here!” Darren said.
“I will!” I smiled.
Luke and I rode back to Henderson.
“You two seem to know each other quite well.” Luke noted.
“We do… He’s an old family friend… a bit of an idiot but seems like he’s getting his shit together so I’m glad for him.” I said.
“Not even gonna lie,” Luke began, “That was my first time in the City of Rust…”
“Really?” I asked surprised.
“Yeah, it’s beautiful… like a metal forest.” Luke said, “I can’t believe people actually live there…”
“It’s not like the rest of the desert. It’s quite comfortable there… Not even gonna lie, if my relationship with the Merchant Clan wasn’t so strained, I’d move there in a heartbeat.” I chuckled.
“Merchant Clan?” Luke asked.
“Biiiiiggggggah tribe of bandits. Huge! Almost as big as the Logatti. They control the northwest, we control the Logatti control the southeast. When they clash, everything caught in the middle is just obliterated!  Gangs like Da Lagon, Raging Diablos, and the Sky Carps get the hell out the way. No one wants that kind of heat…” I said.
“Damn.” Luke said, truly astounded, “So… we’re being stalked by Da Lagon?”
“Yeah and I’m not at all happy about it. Da Lagon’s mercs are masters of surveillance… I mean it’s scary how good they are at it. That’s why I wasted no time in killing those two goons.” I sighed.
“So why are they coming after us?” Luke asked.
“They’re not after us… They’re after me! Rion obviously doesn’t want to let me go. He said never step foot back in Paradise and I didn’t. This though, stalking me, can’t be good.” I sighed.
“So am I in danger then? What are we going to do?” Luke asked.
“I don’t know…” I shrugged, “I say we carry on at Henderson but just be extra on guard… We don’t have single off guard moment…”
“You know,” He began, “I will ride with you until the end… Like, no matter what happens out here, I want it to be you and I.” I looked at him intently.
“It will be…” I said. He held my hand, this bond we were foraging becoming something I knew would last forever.  
As soon as the truck parked in Henderson, the boy was on top of me! He quickly began undressing me, kissing me every which way. He was nothing but raw passion. Slow kisses led down to yet another amazing blow job. However, this time, he didn’t finish me off with a cum-ready tongue. He stripped out of his clothes and was ready to hop onto it.
I couldn’t let him simply do that. I laid him across the dash, spreading his cheeks. My long tongue slid between his splayed ass, hitting all the right marks. The boy’s body squirmed in pleasure as I laid my tongue down right. I brought him back down to my shaft, it sliding into his ass with an audible pop. Every inch of my shift disappeared up his ass. Luke knew how to work that ass! He’d go down loose, spreading his ass. Then he’d come up with his ass clenched adding an intoxicating amount of pressure. Gawd, he knew how to work this ass.
It was only a quickie but it was everlasting in our minds. That night, we slept cradled on each other in the back of the truck until the blare of my watch sounded. The routine was the same, a brisk morning workout followed by some kinky morning sex in the desert. I’d work, come back to the camp to find Luke studying his heart away. Then we’d go out hunting, growing closer and closer to one another. It was all I could ask for, all I ever wanted…
Saturday came and it was my day off. We spent it rummaging through the town, shopping for necessary things and talking to the Henderson locals. Despite this being a camping settlement with many lesser privileged people, these people were some of the nicest most genuine people you’d ever meet! Everyone knew each other well and Luke and I were starting to become local favorites, despite it only being three days.
We were in a market warehouse, sorting through produce. We wanted to try something a
bit different for dinner tonight. Luke stood over the long rows of fruits and vegetables, unsure what he wanted.
“How the hell do they even grow this out here in the desert?” Luke asked.
“You haven’t seen Star Nursery right up the road in Whitney, have you?” I asked him smiling.
“No, what is it?” He responded, looking at me.
“It’s a mega greenhouse with like every plant growing there! It’s Logatti…” I chuckled.
“I swear, everything on this side of town is Logatti.” Luke said, not too surprised.
“Yeah, their hands are in absolutely everything…” I said, looking at the custard apples on the stand. They were very firm and healthy. I remember Heaven making a salad out of this.
“So there’s an entire building filled with like… plants other than desert shrubs and cacti?” Luke asked.
“Yeah, but it’s heavily guarded since it’s the highest desert commodity.” I said, chuckling, “Let’s get some turnip greens and head out.”
“Okay.” He said.
We got a small amount of groceries, heading back to our camp. It was a walk made quite uncomfortable when Luke’s keen eye noticed a vaguely familiar face tailing us. He tapped my shoulder.
“Zeek…” Luke said, sounding weary.
“Yeah?” I responded, looking at him. Worry was written all across his face.
“There’s this guy…” He said, quickly glancing back, “He’s been following us all day but stay just out of like suspicion range, or so he thinks… Not to big a fan of this…”
“Do you have your pistol?” I asked.
“No, I left it in the safe back in A99.” He said.
“I told you to keep it with you at all times!!” I said through the grit of my teeth.
“I didn’t think I needed it, when I’m with you!” He said back, as innocent as ever.
“Look… This place will throw you a curveball faster than you ever could think!” I said, reaching into my pants, “Here,” He grabbed my spare matte baretta, “Keep this on you at all times…” He looked at me, somewhat shocked by this.
“Okay.” He said, putting the gun under his clothes.
We arrived back at the camp, setting up some chairs around two large kettles. Luke looked around trying to find the mysterious man following us but he had vanished into the camp grounds. He sighed, watching as I began stripping the greens off the stem.  
“This is what you wanna do…” I began, “You want to grab the stem and gently twist the leaf off, then drop it in the kettle. Like this…” I demonstrated it to him. He tried it but found it quite difficult.
“This… is damn impossible.” He said, looking at me.
“Try tearing the leaf from the stem like one inch at a time then snap the stem off halfway up the leaf.” I suggested. He did so, this way of picking greens proving much easier for him. We finished sorting through the first small bunch.
“You think you can pick them by yourself?” I asked.
“Yeah…” He said, getting up to grab the second bunch. He looked around, his eyes scanning for anything out of place.
We’ve been camped on the southeastern edge of Henderson for a very strategic region. All other camps were northwest of our location and sitting on lower ground. As a result, we could see anything coming from that direction. Directly to the south was the Sloan outer perimeter. Nothing could come from there. To the east was vast open desert, Luke’s eyes scanning the ground ahead, looking through the windows of the truck.
Despite the seemingly isolated location, were simply were on the edge of the camping grounds. It wouldn’t draw attention to us being out here considering our camp looked no different from anyone else’s. There was nothing to be suspicious over.
Luke returned to his seat, beginning the long process of picking greens. I grabbed the already picked bunch, rolling them up. He watched closely as I cut the bundle into wide chunks. They fell into the other kettle.
“And you think you can’t cook?” Luke asked.
“I’m telling you, my brother would put me to shame. If he was here, he’d be like no, no! You’re doing it all wrong!!!! Seriously! He’s the best!” I laughed.
“Really?” Luke asked, throwing a stem to the ground. It got me to thinking.
“I wonder what they’d taste like pickled…” I said. Luke looked at me, not pleased at the thought.
“I wouldn’t try it… sounds gross.” He said with a shutter.
“You know I’m pickling these greens right?” I asked him. He looked at me completely horrified.
“Foreal, bro?” He asked.
“Noooooooo…” I laughed, “I’m gonna salt the custard apples then saute them in worcestershire sauce along with some peppers and sausages. The greens, I’m just gonna sautee them shortly but why don’t you like vinegar?”
“It smells so bad, like I can’t with it.” Luke responded.
“Have you ever tried it?”
“No…” He laughed.
“You know the vegetables from the other night?” I began.
“They were pickled…” I said.
“NOOOOO!!!!” He said, unable to believe it.
“I’m so serious! Go get the jar… Pop it open and you’ll smell vinegar...” I said. He placed the bunch of greens in the chair, walking over to the truck. The faintest gunshot was heard in the distance.
Suddenly, Luke fell. I grabbed him before he hit the ground, this being quite strange.
“Bruh, you alright…” I asked, trying to figure out what caused him to trip. The ground was smooth around his feet. It didn’t make sense. I looked at his face wondering he was staring so blankly. He didn’t even blink! No breath was drawing from him, “Luke?”
Something damp was pooling in the hand I used to support Luke’s head. Blood was dripping on the ground.
“Luke!” I said, shaking him but he didn’t respond! I looked at that fixed face seeing something unmistakable. There was an exit wound right at his hairline. Luke had been shot! Everything around me was drowned out by silence as reality slowly began to pour in. Luke was dead...
Sickeningly familiar laughter caused me to turn around. Rion prowled around, hands behind his back.
“Were you two in love?” He asked, “You think that shit was legit? Were you trying to live  your happily ever after?” I couldn’t even come to respond. Rage began to swelter within me unlike anything I ever felt before.
“Short of words, huh?”Rion continued, “You think it was that simple? That you could just walk away?” I reached under Luke’s shirt grabbing the matte beretta.
“I hope you know what you’ve just got yourself into…” I said through the grit of my teeth. I stood to look at the boy. Fear filled his eyes but if it was one thing I knew, fear fueled Rion. That cautious glare turned into a stomach churning smile.
“I do…” He nodded. Suddenly I was struck from behind. A sack was placed over my head as I fell. Several men were holding me down, and they had better did so! If they weren’t, I’d kill Rion three times over…  


Everything at this point was in preparation for Saturday. It was going to be the official testrun for the cyberlope! I wasn’t one to get excited, but damn I was out of my mind! This meant were were closer to beginning the long journey north, the journey to Labrador. I couldn’t wait to hit the road with Galveston. Maybe we could grow closer together. I was just a terrible boyfriend… Every time he’d try to get closer to me, I’d push him aside for something relating to working on the machines. Truly, I’ve grown to really, really like Galveston and at this pace, I’d probably fall in love with him soon. The idea of love, something I thought I’d never get to experience, was right around the corner.
However, it wasn’t my only concern. Galveston stood, tweaking some settings on Big Daddy. I really must had a soft spot for him. He was after all fiddling with the very precious android that was my father…
“Galvyyyyyyyy.” I said.
“What?” He responded.
“Have you noticed anything strraaaaaaaannngeee since we left the Acid Swamps?” I asked. He looked around the shop, his eyes falling on the manticore sitting on one of the tables.
“Apart from seriously running out of space, I have no clue.” He shrugged.
“I mean with Swish,” I replied, walking over to him, “And Heaven…” He froze.
“They’ve gotten close!!!!! Super close!!!!!” He said, laughing.
“I’m happy for them! Heaven seriously needed this!” I sighed, sitting next to Galveston. He looked at me from head to toe before giving a brief chuckle, “What?”
“Nothing… You’re just… I don’t know. I keep forgetting we’ve only known each other for like a few months. It feels like we’ve known each other for forever. You have so many facets and when you show one, I’m like… reminded that I don’t know every single page in your book.” He said.
“Really,” I laughed, “And what new facet have you seen?”
“The excited, giddy concern for someone else’s well being.” He said, steadily typing.
“Well, Heaven is still kind of like my little brother.” I shrugged.
“I didn’t mean it like…”
“I get you… I mean, I care for people and shit.” I laughed, “Like, trust me…”
“I believe you…” He said.
“Well that’s good…” I smiled, leaning over the laptop. I placed a small peck on his lips. Galveston was even further surprised. Maybe he just wasn’t used to me being affectionate but, I don’t know, it felt right with him. I felt he deserved it.
“If this was back home in the Southern Remnants…” A stern voice said, “You’d both be hanged on the grand oak tree…” It was Galveston’s father, Alistair, making his way up the ramp, “Which is why I left… Forced to marry some bimbo, had to get her pregnant to consummate the marriage and nine months later, she had a child. I was just supposed to conform to the way around me and not do a damn thing about it. I wasn’t happy so I took my son and headed as far west as I could…”
His words swarmed in my head, only for me to make a stark realization.
“That’s why you left?” I asked.
“Yes, I was only twenty years old with a baby that could not even crawl yet.” Alistair sighed, leaning against the table the manticore sat on, “I say Jeurridam is the biggest blessing in disguise to ever hit you boys…”
Just as he appeared, he vanished. It left Galveston and I looking at each other.
“Please tell me, I’m not the only one who caught that.” I said, shaking my head in utter disbelief.
“No,” Galveston said, uneased, “You’re not the only one… Um, my dad told me from a very young age to never ask about his past and he meant it! I never did… Never would have guessed it but he didn’t give me anything to guess so… but I must say this is totally awesome. The perfect way to find out your dad is cool with his son being gay is if your dad turns out to be gay himself, I see.”  The boy’s tone was just filled with awe.
“If he wasn’t your hero before, I bet he is now.” I chuckled, taking over on the linguistics mapping for Big Daddy.
“You have no idea…” He said, easing onto the table behind him, “You know… I haven’t told him I’m planning on leaving with you… I just was gonna do it, be gone and never come back. I thought my dad would never condone of us so there’d be no point in telling him. I’d just simply up… and vanish, but now… This changes EVERYTHING!!!!” He fell back onto the table, arms flailing to the ceiling.
“What if he says no, though?” I asked.
“I’m twenty three years old now… I think I can kind of leave when I want to. I just don’t want to leave without making sure this place can run well enough without me.” He said, slowly leaning up, “Which reminds me, you should be studying those plant samples!” I turned to him, a nervous grin spreading across my face.
“I promise you I am but I can’t do anything without those giant protein synthesizers back in Area-51. From what I’ve seen of the grass, it’s a bionic… Somehow cybercytes linked with the plant cells and a homogenous balance is formed between machine and plant to the point that the plant can reproduce offspring that are also half machine, half plant. Awesome, right? I know, but my big issue is with the plate mechs… They um… according to their scans, can reproduce sexually but have no genetic make up, so to speak of. They are completely machines yet there is some type of cybernetic variation and physical difference amongst them all.” I said.
“Cybernetic, like...they have brains?” Galveston asked.
“Yes? I don’t know?” I laughed, “I’ve been going over my research, my dad’s old work, even asked him. He’s just as surprised as I am. He mentioned something about the way cybercytes would clump together to form these links he’d call nanites when he gave them a self sustainability program. However, the clumping together of the cybercytes were not at all good for his cybernetic human research and was scrapped. After that, he left it alone.”
“And,” Galveston said, thinking back, “After the first run in with the manticore mech in Sloan, you made the discovery that mechs can mutate and change themselves to survive if they so happened to have that forgotten sustainability program…”
“Yeah, and I put two and two together to understand exactly what was going on. I um, it’s still not one hundred percent clear to me, but I was able to piece enough together to rework the sustainability program into something called the LIFE program! Basically, instead of building all the components for the Leer by using the 3D printer, I only made the outer exoskeleton, the inner hydrocarbon containment cuticle and the liquid flesh nano-conduits. The advanced machinery inside, the mech will synthesize itself based on the information on the harddrive and the production of its on cybercytes. It’s a big departure from my first designs but I got this inkling that it will work!” I said, truly excited.
“Does your dad know how drastically you changed the plans?” Galveston asked. A nervous smile came across my face.
“No… He wouldn’t approve, I just know it. I took this gamble myself and, I’m a bit scared to see if it’ll pay off.” I said.
“Considering all of your other work, it will babe…” Galveston said, as reassuringly as possible.
“I hope so…” I said biting my nails, “Two more days until the official test run…” Galveston just smiled at me, feeling so proud of my efforts.
June and Julio came parading into the garage, parking their buggy. They cheered as they got out of the vehicle, making their way up into the workshop. Both boys just seemed too happy.
“Guys,” June said with the most cheesy grin, “We had an amazing run to Phoenix! Like you think the bandits here are on some weird shit...those fools in the Sonoran are all lethal!”
“Yeah man! That was a chase to get out of there! We got some new bullet holes in the back of the buggy! Come check them out!” Julio said, leading us down the platform.
Indeed there was quite some damage to the buggy. It was riddled with bullet holes!
“Damn!” I said, running a hand across it.
“Thank god for these analog buggies! Not only can they go offroad but they can stop a cannon shell…” June laughed.
“Wait, you got shot with a cannon?” Galveston asked, utterly shocked.
“Yeah…” June said climbing under the buggy, “Here’s the baby… and live too.” Everyone’s eyes lit up and fear.
“June get that shit out of here…” I said.
“Relax… if it didn’t blow up when it hit me, it’s not gonna blow up now.” He said, throwing it to the floor.
“DUDE!!!!!!” I screamed as everyone cowered because of the crazy boy. June just burst out laughing.
Suddenly a loud clash followed by a flux in the power caused everyone to jolt in fear. When the lights came back on, I was on the floor clenching my head.
“Zanir!” Galveston said, lifting me off the ground. I looked at him, knowing exactly what this was.
“EMP…” I said. Shock spread across his face as we all sped out of the garage. From the distance, we could see bright explosions coming from within the Acid Swamps. All of it made my head numb.
“No, what’s happening?” Galveston asked. I looked at my watch.
“Everything’s fried… can’t get a camera feed.” I responded.
“Seriously?” Galveston asked, frustrated. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.
“GUYS!!!!” Someone called out. It was Swish, coming out of his apartment. Close behind was Beth entering from the secret path that connected The City of Rust to the Outskirts… She too saw the bright explosions from her workplace.
“What the hell is going on?” She asked.
“We don’t know.” I shrugged.
Just as quickly as the explosions started, they were over. Everyone looked back and forth between each other, unsure what to make of this. It then hit me!
“Galveston…” I said.
“Those were vampire mechs! It makes sense to me now… There are a handful with sustainability protocols, a handful that take care of the others. In other words, the sustainability program causes a hive mentality…” I said.
“Oh God, you don’t think...” He asked.
“The vampire mech in the lab is a queen! The others are drones!” I said, confirming his suspicions.
“That would explain why it just sat beside us watching that day while the other mechs did the dirty work… It makes sense now.” Beth said stepping forth.
“They attacked within the wall… I think they went after the plate mechs.” Galveston said, rushing forth.
It was about a thirty minute run for us all to reach the Acid Swamp perimeter. We stood daunted by the humongous seventy foot high wall.
“Guys…” A bright voice called out. It was Heaven, running up the hill to greet us. Someone was following him. A look of disgust spread across Galveston’s face as the figure came closer.
“Darren…” He said through the grit of his teeth.
Heaven had to stop to catch his breath, completely exhausted.
“All the power is out in the lower city. What the hell happened?” He asked.
“We’re trying to figure this out right now.” I said.
“You alright, bro?” Swish asked, walking over to ease the exhausted boy.
“Yeah I’m alright.” Heaven nodded.
“Heaven…” Darren yelled out, equally as out of breath. All eyes fell upon the boy as he stood there, “Wait… You’re hanging with the Merchant Clan?”
“Darren…” Galveston said looking as standoffish as ever with those big broad arms folded tight around his chest. Darren’s eyes fell upon Beth.
“Beth? You’re… I ran into your brother last night!” Darren said. Everyone looked back and forth between themselves, wondering how they all had the displeasure of meeting Darren.
“Really?” She said, stepping forth, pointing to Heaven, “You mean him?”
“Wait, he’s your brother???” Darren asked filled with shock.
“I have four others… gotta be more specific.” Beth said, not having the patience for him.
“Ezekiel…” Darren said, steadily panting.
Everyone’s eyes lit up with horror. Ezekiel was just bad news! Everywhere he went, bad luck would follow. Beth’s eyes turned from a loose and impatient wander to an intense and piercing glare.
“What about him?” She asked.
“He didn’t say much, was quite cryptic actually.” Darren said, finally catching his breath, “He’s out on his own again but this time, I think he’s managing quite well. I haven’t seen him look that good since ever… He also had some kid with him… I think the two are a thing. They way they looked at each other, the way they acted. Yeah, they were definitely a thing. He said they worked together in Paradise before hitting the road together.”
“Wait what? So he’s not living with dad anymore… He went back to Paradise after I told him not to and now he found him a little boy toy to accompany him as he parades around the fucking desert? God, I can’t with this boy…” Beth said, clenching her head.
“I helped him as much as I could…” I sighed, “But as I said before, it was all up to him…”
“So you’re that friend he mentioned was a great help.” Darren smiled. Beth rolled her eyes, Darren’s prodding nature being something Beth hated.
“Why was he in my town?” Galveston asked, stepping forth. His massive bulk made Darren take a few steps back, fearing Galveston’s wrath.
“He never said why. They came and got something to eat and were gone… They were in some kind of rush but they were gone before I could ask what I wanted.” Darren shrugged.
“I don’t blame them… If my brother has history with you, then he knows how aggravating as shit you are! I told you not to follow me and you did. I told you to stop asking me questions… and you kept asking me shit and you know damn well I wasn’t going to answer them. You’re like so… Gawd, you’re just aggravating.” Heaven sighed. Darren just stared at the boy, Heaven’s words obviously cutting deep.
“Well look here, Darren. I had no idea you were the dude my brother was having issues with but now since I do, stay away from him!” Beth threatened, “You think Ezekiel’s bad… You think he’s capable of some evil shit? Well I’m that with a period once a month! Come on to my little brother again… I’ll slaughter your family beat your ass and then let my brother come to work the next day and tell your ass to try again…”
It was the coldest threat I’ve ever heard Beth give. Darren was at a loss for words, taken aback by how vicious she was. A smile came across Beth’s face.
“Now run along… Scamper, scamper…” She said, shooing him off. He did so, having to look back to make sure this had just happened. Beth sighed, rolling her eyes, “That was a headache…”
“Who the hell is he?” I asked, laughing.
“Someone you don’t want to know… I mean he’s not a bad guy but once you befriend him… he thinks you’re his and your business is his business. I fucking hate people like that… Not to mention he’s a thirst trap,” She said before turning to Darren, “Heaven, don’t fall for his shit… In fact I don’t even want you working with him.”
“Well where else can I work?” Heaven shrugged.
“You can work with us…” Julio said, slapping a wrist onto Heaven’s shoulder.
“Booze runs?” Heaven asked, not pleased with the idea.
“Do you like guns?” Julio asked.
“Yes.” Heaven shrugged.
“Do you like a lot of money?” June asked.
“Who doesn’t?”
“Do you like high speed chases in the desert?” Julio asked. Heaven and Beth looked at each other with a grin.
“Sure…” Heaven responded.
“What about sexy girls?” Julio continued.
“Not at all…” Heaven said with arms folded.
“You meet four out of the five criterion… If you want a job, you’ll know where to… Zanir…” Julio said, watching my scale the giant wall.
“This boy…” Galveston sighed, following. Everyone climbed up the crude structure reaching the top. The sight was utterly horrifying.
Every plate mech within the Acid Swamps had been slaughtered, drained of their circulatory fluid. It was one of the biggest mech massacres to strike this region in several decades. Considering how advanced the plate mechs were, how they managed to survive peaceful on their own for so long, this was so sad!
“This will become a problem. Who ever is running the hive will be back for more and the only things left are my turrets…” Galveston sighed.
“And the only thing that can stop those manticores is a high velocity armor piercing round. Cannon fodder just bounces off of them like it’s nothing.” June shrugged.
“I’ll think of something.” I said, “We can go back to Sloan and I can find the hive leader… I can shut them all down…” Everyone looked at me. The drear in my tone made it clear I was taking this quite bad.
“No,” Galveston said, “I say we wait for them to come back here then we sweep them offline.”
“That could work…” I sighed. Beth placed a hand on my shoulder.
“You okay bro?” She asked. I nodded.
“I’m good.” I said.
We returned to the garage, everything returning back to normal. Galveston and I made slight tweaks to all the mechs, even the highly damaged manticore mech. Beth, June and Julio stood on the upper platform watching as Swish and Heaven sat on the hood of his buggy, playing a holographic game on a three dimensional console. Julio simply shook his head.
“Disgusting…” He said. It caused Beth to slowly look at him.
“What?” She growled.
“I meant Swish…” He responded in his defense with both hands up. Beth slowly returned to watching her brother and his new found friend have a fun.
June punched Julio’s arm, laughing. Julio looked at his friend, eyes wide with shock. He pointed at Beth.
“She’s crazy…” He mouthed causing June to laugh even harder.
“That’s mine…” June whispered back staring lovingly at Beth.
“You can have it.” Julio said back, not bothering to whisper. He went down to his buggy, ready to start tuning it. Beth was so lost.
“What?” She asked.
“Nothing…” June laughed, wrapping her up in his arms. The girl laughed, obviously glad to have someone as crazy as she was to call her own.
Galveston and I watched silently, laughing to ourselves.
“Seems like everyone’s hitching up…” Galveston noted, “Except Julio... He’s the odd man out.” I stared at the boy as he frustratedly tuned his suspension.
“Is he gay?” I asked. Galveston laughed, looking up from his computer.
“Red flags…?” He asked me.
“Maybe but he has the same frustrations as Heaven just better at hiding it. That whole thing with Beth just proves it. I don’t think he likes the fact that June and Beth are a thing… Beth may be the wedge in the bond the two boys share but I can’t help but feel the bond is much deeper with Julio than it is with June… Even he’ll reach his limit one day. Think we should do something?” I asked, unsure if Galveston was game for this.
“No… He’s not like Heaven. Julio will lash out and get destructive if we prod. I don’t think he’ll ever be okay with his sexuality,” Galveston sighed, “He’s at war with himself…”
“I just can’t stand by…” I said, not liking this one bit. Galveston placed a hand on my shoulder, shaking his head.
“You can’t save em all, babe…” He sighed. It was clear Galveston wanted to help but it’d be hard to find a solution with someone as guarded and difficult as Julio. I couldn’t think of anything either but like Galveston, I’d have to sit and watch, observe until a glimpse of something wonderful was worth pulling out of Julio.
Friday went smoothly, everyone preparing for the weekend out in the Corridor. There was no sign of any more manticore activity within the city but Galveston and I set up a wide sweeping network that would detect the unique signature of the manticores. Upon doing so, the mainframe back at the garage would hack into the machines, deactivate them and notify us.
With that done, Saturday rolled in like freight train. We loaded the six hundred pound, elk-sized cyberlope onto a trolley. We rolled out early in the morning, heading north out of Jeurridam to the wasteland.
“I wonder how this city got it’s name…” Heaven wondered, sitting in the back with Swish.
“This ship that crashed into the ancient city was known as the Jeurridam. It was named after a star cluster on the other side of the galaxy. I remember reading something quite special about it, about there being a tesseract outside of our solar system, inside a wormhole.” I said.
“Really?” Swish asked.
“Yes really. Supposedly, a much more advanced race than our own opened it with the help of a black hole but that’s all I know…” I sighed, “I got a feeling that war seven hundred years ago was caused by this…”
“What the hell is a tesseract?” Heaven asked.
“It is a fourth dimensional space where physics of a three dimensional space such as this universe, the ground we live on, don’t really apply much. It is a place beyond the existence regular spacetime.” I explained.
“That didn’t help much.” Heaven laughed.
“Zanir…” Galveston said.
“You think it was wise to leave the mechs at home? What if something like… goes wrong?” Zanir asked.
“I don’t think anything will go wrong.” I said.
“Okay…” Galveston said, still feeling it wasn’t a wise decision.
We arrived at the wide and open wasteland, the western plateau beside the Corridor. Everyone stood around the bed of the trolley as I began the first boot sequences for the Leer. The diodes in the optics flickered, everyone jumping in anticipation. The machine suddenly stood up, bugling loudly. It stepped off the the trolley, heading towards the beacon source located on my watch. It looked at Galveston and I, inhaling our scent with it’s wind bladder.
The two of us looked at each other, mesmerized. This mech turned out much better than we anticipated.
“Beth, how are vitals?” I asked.
“Surprisingly,” She said looking down at the computer, “Well…”
“Really? So the little guy ain’t showin’ no trouble.” I asked utterly shocked.
“Nope…” She responded.
“Okay, we go ahead with all routine protocols.” I shrugged. Beth punched in commands and the Leer took off into an insane sprint. The machine had unmatched sprint speed, not even the manticores insane abilities could match it. It was designed this way so nothing on the ground or in the air for that matter could catch it. It was built to be the ultimate evasion machine.
Not only that but the machine could cloak itself, completely erasing its signature. The only clue one would have to the presence of the Leer would be the trail of dust it left behind. It wasn’t the only protocol. On its back was a thirty millimeter cannon as well as a micro rocket array. However, with the machine’s insane speed, the small turret on it’s back couldn’t move without seriously sacrificing aerodynamic efficiency. As a result, the gun and the rocket array would recess deep into the chassis, becoming fixed in position. When the mech became stationary or was traveling at a low speed, it could move the turret. Since this was the very first test run, there was no ammunition in it.
With everything going so well, we just let the Leer roam around and explore. We set up camp and relaxed, doing nothing but sitting out in the desert, here for each other’s company. June brought his grill, a ton of booze and a huge fire starter kit. Swish brought his game console, him and Heaven in an intense match. Beth simply brought books to enjoy as well as a bikini. It wasn’t like the girl needed to tan being half Olmec and all but hey, I was in nothing but a sun hat, some swimming trunks and a kimono.
Maybe we should have went to the Lake considering everyone had water attire? Lake Mead was literally thirty minutes to the East. But I didn’t really want to see people I didn’t know so this was more than good enough. I sat in a beach chair just listening to the pounding music Heaven had playing.
“Zanir…” Galveston called out.
“Yeah?” I responded.
“The Leer keeps going into alert mode and staring off to the north.” He said. I looked at the Cyberlope. It was indeed standing incredibly alert with ears and eyes turned to something in the north. It’s tail was completely erect, a sign of imminent danger.
Galveston picked up his scope, scanning the horizon for anything. There was nothing there.
“Huh, strange…” He shrugged, returning to watching June grill.
“Beth, log in and see why the Leer’s at attention.” I asked.
“Sure.” She said, quick to boot up the laptop. She synched with the feed from the Leer, seeing nothing in particular. The Leer then returned to sniffing around and exploring the plateau.
Julio sat on the outskirts of the camp, watching Heaven and Swish interact. Something was definitely wrong with that picture. The sheer amount of disgust on his face spoke volumes about his true feelings! He didn’t share the same sentiments about Galveston and my relationship yet for Heaven and Swish, there was anguish. He had feelings for one of them but didn’t know how to express it. I wondered which boy… I had a feeling it was Swish. The two had quite the history and with Swish’s unexpected changes and new found assertiveness, it probably left Julio hanging… Who know’s though.
I could only imagine how Heaven and Swish’s exchange of googly eyes was upsetting to Julio. Suddenly, something happened. Swish slowly leaned across the hood of the buggy. He kissed Heaven, the two sharing their first truly passionate moment. Everyone’s jaw fell open at the sight. The burgers June was flipping fell off the spatula, back to the grill. Beth was left stunned as well.
“Well Damn…” She chuckled before returningd to reading her book.
Julio couldn’t take it. He got up, walking back to the buggy.
“Poor kid…” I sighed.


My hands were tied behind my back and I was sitting on very, very hot sand! The hood came from over my head. Before me was an incredibly excited Rion, too close for comfort. I leaned back, stared at him with cold indifference.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked.
“You know why I’m doing this.” He retaliated, polishing a bright silver revolver.
“It was over with when I left Paradise! I really don’t know why you’re doing this.” I said shaking my head. He leaned down, planting a kiss on my lips, causing me to cringe. He then grabbed my head pointing down the valley.
“Do you see that?” He asked. I looked but saw nothing but endless, endless plateau!
“No.” I shrugged.
“Look closely.” He smiled. I stared and stared, seeing smoke faintly rise on the horizon.
“Smoke?” I asked.
“Yes!” He said, very glad I finally noticed it, “And you won’t believe who it is!” He placed a scope up to my eye. Horror hit my stomach like a sickness.
“NO!!!!!!!!!” I screamed, “Rion man… What the fuck are you doing? Why are you doing this?”
“You want to go pay them a visit?” He asked.
“YOU KEEP THEM OUT OF THIS!!! THEY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS!!!!” I said, struggling against my restraints.
One of his goons kicked me so hard, I fell over.
“Load him up boys… We’re gonna pay everyone he loves a visit.” Rion said. I was hoisted up and thrown into the back of the buggy. The next thing I remembered was being thrown to the baking hot sand. When I looked up, a terrified Beth, Heaven, Zanir, Galveston and two other guys were being thrown to the ground by Da Lagon goons. Guns were pointed to each one of their heads. Beth’s eyes fell upon me.
“Zeek?” She called out.
“Guys… I’m so sorry!” I pleaded but it was too late. Rion climbed out his buggy, looking at them all in delight.
“You’re fucking with him again?” Beth asked, irate. She eyed Rion with the most caustic gaze. The rays rising off the desert sand could have been her own.
“Yes… whether he likes it or not.” Rion said, prowling around.
“I told you…” Beth said clenching her eyes shut with rage, “Not to go back to Paradise… I fucking told you…”
“Beth, you gotta believe me! It wasn’t my intentions on going back! When you left again, dad put me out and I had no choice! I didn’t even go back to Rion… He…”
“SHUTUP!!!!!” Rion screamed, cutting me off, “You think you could have just walked away from me, walk away from what we’ve made… That this life was something you could just simply not deal with anymore? No… you’re in this for life… You’ll forever… Be… Mine!”
“Rion…” Galveston called out, causing the boy to turn to him. A look of sheer hatred came across Rion’s face.  He despised Galveston! Galveston was just too strong to succumb to Rion’s powers and Rion feared this!
“What?” Rion snarled, prowling over to the boy.
“You don’t have to do this. I know this isn’t your doing! You wouldn’t dare come for us all unless it was an order given to you! This is your boss’s command!” Galveston said. It struck a nerve with Rion.
“What do you know about me?” Rion snarled, edging frighteningly close the boy, “This is why I don’t fucking like you, Galveston! You think you know everyone better than they know themselves! My boss has NOTHING to do with this!” I had a feeling this was what Galveston wanted. He and Zanir exchanged glimpses and brief nods. I noticed  Zanir slip into one of those mysterious metal gloves.
“No,” Galveston fired back, “You don’t like me because you couldn’t manipulate me! You couldn’t get your fingers in my head and control me! That’s all you want is control because you’re a scared little boy…”
“SHUTUP!!!!” Rion screamed, finally coming face to face with Galveston.
Suddenly, Galveston swept his feet under Rion’s legs, causing the boy to fall. He slammed his foot into Rion’s chest before attempting to kick him in the head. Rion caught the other foot, pushing it away. He was quick to get to his feet, taking aim with his gun.
“YOU LITTLE SHIT!!!!!” He screamed, unloading his entire gun on Galveston. The boy fell back, his blood pooling on the ground.
“NOOOOOO!!!!!!” Swish screamed, losing his closest friend. He couldn’t take it! He reach under his shirt, grabbing his very own gun. Just as he took aim at Rion, several goons riddled the boy with bullet holes. He fell to the ground, the boy starting to choke on his own blood. The thick red fluid ran down his cheeks as he gave one last cough. Swish was gone…  Heaven sat there utterly destroyed.
Zanir too was shocked, shocked beyond belief. He trembled in rage as tears rolled down his cheeks. As soon as Rion’s eyes fell upon him, I knew this was going to be the grimmest day of my life... Rion reloaded his revolver, smiling, everyone looking around in horror.
“This must be the infamous Tanzanir you’ve told me so much about, Zeeky?” Rion said.
“Rion, don’t you dare…” I said through the grit of my teeth.
“But you said he’s caused you so much suffering, that he was the reason your dad treated you like shit, the reason you ran away! I can take him out for you!” Rion said, only prying for a reaction.
“No… Please don’t…” Beth cried. Zanir just sat motionless, staring at the Rion with a level of anger I’ve never seen before. He slipped on the second glove while Rion’s head was turned.
“Rion, I swear if you dare… I’ll kill you myself.” I threatened through the grit of my teeth. Rion looked at me shocked, steadily aiming at Zanir. Then the unthinkable happened… Rion nearly unloaded his gun on Zanir. Beth screamed out in horror as bullets pierced through her best friend’s flesh! Zanir’s hand extended out, seemingly pleading for his life. It made Rion smile with sickening joy, having someone beg him for their life.
Surprisingly, the boy wasn’t dead… His blood pooled on the ground yet he still was on his hands and knees! Zanir’s fist clinched closed. Suddenly, a four foot long blade came screeching out of the rear of an analog buggy. It pierced through Rion, embedding itself into the ground. The solenoids locked into place, keeping Rion from sliding down the blade. Then another massive blade penetrated Rion. Rion looked up at Zanir, angered by this surprise retaliation. He aimed his gun at the boy’s head, everyone’s breath ceasing as we were faced with the unthinkable. Before Rion could fire the last bullet in the chamber, his hand was severed off blade. He screamed at the sight as his severed arm, blood squirting everywhere! More and more blades began to embed themselves deep into Rion’s body. The blades then flew in every direction, leaving gaping holes in the boy. Rion collapsed to the ground, dead…
The blades each found a Da Lagon goon to stab repeatedly… This was just a bloodbath! The blades then fell to the ground as Zanir crawled over to Galveston. His heart shattered to pieces as he frantically shook the boy. He cried and cried, getting no response from Galveston. He shook him again, tears steadily rolling down his cheek.
“Galveston…” He cried, trembling. Everything around him grew darker as blood poured from his wounds. He swayed back and forth before collapsing back into the pool of blood. Zanir was dying, too!



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