"Jeurridam Ch. 14: Red Canyon Finale" Pt. 1.


Everyone just looked at me like I was just so anomalous! It just made little sense to anyone how I managed to escape the Vault Matrix. It was very early in the morning, the sun probably ready to rise at any given moment. Beth sat down in front of me, the puzzled look on her face being just plain hilarious.
“What the hell happened?” She asked, wanting to hear me explain in explicit detail.
“I um… Someone popped an EMP grenade when Zeek and I were trying to escape. My brain implant shut down and as a result, I passed out. When the brain implant booted back up, I was in this strange virtual world… Detecting that something was wrong, the brain implant wiped all sensitive data and was trying to wake me back into consciousness. It was telling me to be aware that what felt like reality, wasn’t… And eventually, the machine overheated and they had to unhook me. They said there was an intruder fucking shit up and were locking down the base. Realizing what was happening, I got mad, very mad and shit started getting ripped apart. When shit started hitting the fan, the manticore came out of fucking nowhere and toted me off down a tunnel… It all happened so damn fast, man. What actually did happened? I can barely remember…” I asked back, trying to recall the events.
“You fucking blew up the Hoover Dam!” June said.
“And took out the Secondary bridge…” Julio added.
“Oh no…” I said, this sounding terrible!
“Yes,” Big Daddy began, hovering forth in sentry mode, “You produced a density field so powerful it caused  everything caught in it’s path to be ripped apart… You must be very, very careful with this power, son!”
“I mean, I knew I was making one but I had no idea that would happen… I.. I..will be…” I said, wondering how the hell could I have possibly ripped apart a seven hundred foot tall dam. My mind just couldn’t wrap around that.
“I um…” Zeek began, scratching the back of his head, “I was hooked up to the same machine. They called it the BrainEngine…”
“BrainEngine…?” I said, “Where did I hear that before?”
“You saw it in my old blueprints in the archival data. It was a theoretical machine designed to transfer consciousness from one mass to another…” Big Daddy said back.
“You designed that?” I asked.
“I designed a lot of things… too many things to keep tabs of. I don’t know how the Revivalists got a hold of it.” He said.
“And they weaponized it…?” I asked, not liking this at all, “Do you realize the things they can do with that machine???”
“It was never intended to be used that way! They were only rough ideas I kept archived for possible ways to help people!” He said in his defense.
“Oh, help people…” I sighed, not buying it one bit.
“Look,” He said sternly, “I’m sorry I flew off the handle back in A51 but you kept me chained down! You treated me like a machine, didn’t give me any say so any more, only came around when you needed me! When things took a turn for the worst, things I warned you about, of course I was angry! We just stopped being effective communicators! You started placing distance between us!”
“I just didn’t want to be consumed with worry anymore… All you did was worry me about something that if I had a choice, would have known better… would have turned down completely! I’m sorry, but I would… This is not at all fair to me.” I said, shaking my head.
“I get that, and I am so happy you’re sticking by me through this… If, the UCAC get here in time, don’t worry about it! I’ll finish where I left off with my work. They have the power to make an actually efficient BrainEngine that can transfer my consciousness to a possible clone. They still have my genetic makeup on file… You’re right… What I did was wrong!” He said, truly apologetic.
“And what will I do here?” I asked laughing, “I mean I’m in this shit know and it’s all I know. We can work as a team!!! Our little issue we were having, we’re past that now… But how in the HELL did you fix the manticore?????”
“It was your programming! The new protocols that placed it under your command made the remaining cytocites clump into nanites and rebuild the damage I had done… but nanite restructuring is a resource hungry process so the mech was feeling the thirst… I didn’t know what to do so I took it to the Acid Swamps and the Leer hatched an idea revolving the tube grass. Their roots have so much cytotrolic acid… Like naturally occurring, organic cytotrolic acid! So the Leer and I figured out a way to juice them and fed it to the manticore and it’s regen process sped up substantially. But still though, it’s metabolism is relatively fast and in a few months, will need to get fresh acid… Cytotrolic acid doesn’t seem to have a long shelf life especially for a fast and active mech like the manticore…” He explained.
“Wow…” I said back at a loss for words, “Just wow…”
“You were right! The tube grass was the answer from the start!” Big Daddy said.
“So what does this mean for your research… your innovation?” I asked.
“For now, not much… I just want to know how in the hell did the Revivalists level up like this! Ten, twenty years ago… they weren’t shit but now they are truly a formidable force! Their army is potent and in large numbers, might prove to be unstoppable… But that in itself, I don’t think is the issue… The issue is that they obviously have found a way to synthesize cyotrolic acid before the UCM which gives them a huge advantage…” He said.
“Call me dumb,” Heaven said, bringing us all plates of food to devour, “But, what’s so bad about the Revivalists…”
“On the surface nothing… It’s more so how they run things and destroy what’s in their path to get what they want… They want the world to return to the way it was seven hundred years ago… a complete restoration. The UCM, on the other hand doesn’t want old war technology being as commonplace as it once was. The Revivalists have this fixation on old war mechs and thinks they should still be around while the UCM wants them to be done away with because old war mechs are extermination machines!!! Why hold onto something meant to kill millions?! Then you have the Ravagers another extremist group that wants technology just done away with and for humans to start fresh! They have previously stormed into colonies and took away everything the people used to survive… How in the hell the Ravagers and Revivalists joined forces is beyond me but together, they do have a military force about thirty percent larger than the UCM. I don’t quite know exactly how advanced the Revivalists have become but it is definitely concerning…” Big Daddy explained.
“So…” I began, “They specialize in mechs, while the UCM specializes in cybernetics… The Ravagers specialize in heavy military tactics and being a brutish force to face… How the hell can the Revivalists and the Ravagers work together without conflict… What the hell happened… Wait, do you think they’re amassing a mech army?”
“Oh God, I hope not… if so, we’re fucked sideways and eternally! The UCAC was constructed to deal with problem mechs! The UCNC was constructed to deal with problem people… Ever since my visions both came to fruition, they’ve become clouded and twisted… I don’t know how well the UCM has advanced in the past two decades since I left. Back then, the UCAC had a hard time taking down mechs… sure they can do so more effectively now, I hope…” Big Daddy said back, truly worried.  
“How fast do you think we can get a ground core off the ground?” I asked.
“For cybernetics…? You’re looking at a three to five year projection if we hustle…” Big Daddy sighed.
“What about with nanite fusion…? I saw that in your archives and used the base formula for a lot of designs, especially the Leer… The Leer is a nanite fusion device and the manticore could be as well!” I said back.
“What ways do you think you can implement it with a brain implant?” Big Daddy, asked, curious.
“Think of it like the nano-conduits with my gravity blades… They’re extensions of my thoughts… Look at the nanites in my body… they’re extensions of my emotions! The outer structure of the Leer is a one hundred percent computer designed exoskeleton. However, internals are entirely constructed from cytocytes fusing to form nanites, fusing to form nano-conduits, fusing to form liquid flesh, so on and forth… The program, the sustainability program used to make mechs adapt to changing environments can be reworked to fit around a brain implant. I just would have to figure out a safe way to make the nanites work as an extension to the brain implant rather than the way mine does. My nanites have a mind of their own.” I clarified.
“Yes, this could work… You know more about constituting nanites than I do currently so this may be your field of expertise, come the next few years. I’ll look into the design of the actual ground force as well as the pooling process for finding the right type of candidates… With your work ethic, and the entire UCM backing us, I’m looking at a projection for two years…”
“The candidate, process… is that difficult?” I asked.
“God, you have no idea. I’ve put kids through so much turmoil so they can become apart of the UCM… For one, we send scouts everywhere, around the globe… We then pay the family to literally buy the child from them and commence research on the child. After that, the child is separated from their home, sent into surgery and given a brain implant… After that, it’s none stop training up until they get to the age where their bodies can withstand the cybernetic suits… But then again, that was over thirty years ago. The process may have changed… I know that the spinal surgery is incredibly dangerous and painful and we’ve killed and paralyzed many in an attempt to get them ready to be a cybernetic…” Big Daddy sighed.
“That’s… whoa….” Zeek said, astounded by the toughness of the process.
“But, I still think that a union between man and machine is so much better than relying on just man or machine… Sure, the process for unifying man and machine is gruesome, torturous even, but the result is breathtaking! When you see the UCAC fly in, looking like great majestic birds, you will have to stop everything you’re doing just too bear witness… I’ll be just as speechless as you all because I know for a fact the new advancements will leave me shocked!” Big Daddy clarified.
“Hopefully the process is not as torturous anymore… But if the UCAC come to Jeurridam, that’d be great!” I said, “The last thing we want is Jeurridam being taken… This city, Phoenix to the east, and Tijuana to the west are major points of control and are rich in resources… Jeurridam may be the most rich, though. It is why so many people come from far and wide to sort through its heaps of junk… Sooner or later, it was bound to bring some military attention.”
“That makes sense…” Zeek said thinking about it.
June and Julio came in from the rear door. They were followed by two of Miguel’s children, Emanuel and Elijah…
“Guys, I’m heading up the canyon to pick up Alistair and Dale. I’ll be back in like two hours…” June said.
“Alright.” Beth said.
“And I need to refuel but since the bridge was destroyed last night, I’m gonna have to go to Phoenix...and I don’t know my way there.” June smiled, “I tried asking these two but they never have left A99…”
“I know how to get there… I mean I’ve never been, but I know how to get there.” Heaven said, walking over to him.
“Fair enough… Cielo.” June said with a devilish smile. A whole bunch of lustful thoughts popped up in June’s head. The two wasted no time in leaving the house, heading towards the buggy.
Beth looked at her two younger cousins like they were such miserable little beings.
“You two need to get out into the town…” She said.
“Noooo!” Elijah said, apprehensively, “All they do is fight in Jeurridam. I don’t wanna go there!”
“Trust me, Jeurridam is a lot better than being here…” Zeek teased.
“Well you’re the wildcard of the family so that is easy for you to say!” Emanuel said.
“Hey, watch it boy!” Zeek warned, warranting a laugh from us all.
“I’m just saying, it’s no life for you here. You gotta get out there and find you something of your own.” Beth smiled.
“We have what we need right here!” Elijah said.
“God, tio has you both so brainwashed…” Beth said, clenching her head.
“I was mentioned…” Miguel said, coming from down the hall.
“What are you doing to these kids?” Beth asked laughing.
“What do you mean what am I doing? Raising them!” Miguel said, getting defensive.
“You need to let them breathe some! One day they’ll wake up and be like, this is soooooooooo boring… I wanna go!” Zeek teased.
“No, they won’t. You, Zeek, just like to test the waters. Not every child will be like you.” Miguel said, coming to sit down.  
“Maybe you’re right but they should experience just a little bit of freedom…” Zeek continued.
“They get it. Right before dinner I give them an hour to go and play in the desert with their friends.” Miguel said, feeling that was more than enough play time for the boys.
“That’s not… See… Elijah is fifteen and Emanuel will be seventeen really soon. You basically will have men on your hands, uncle.” Beth said.
“Yeah, you can’t baby men forever…” Zeek continued to tease.
“Baby them?” Miguel asked, laughing.
“Yeah you kind of do…” Beth chucked.
“Zanir,” Miguel called out, causing me to tense up, “Do I baby my kids?” All I could do was sip this awesome nopal tea Heaven had made.
“This is some good ass tea!” I said, dismissing the topic. Everyone laughed at me.
“So, Zeek… We never ever talked about how things went in the desert. Martha told me you were doing goooooood.” Miguel said.
“Yeah, I was doing alright. Nothing really to talk about. I did what I could to make some extra money but the Revivalists stole my safe so I’m back down to zero…” I sighed.
“How much money did you scrape up?” Miguel asked.
“A few hundred thousand pesos…” Zeek said, feeling it was no big deal. Both Miguel and I choked on the tea!
“How the hell did you make that much money in like two in a half months?” Miguel asked. Hell I was curious too!
“It’s something you don’t want to hear me discuss…” Zeek sighed.
“Damn… I’m sorry! I just don’t believe you raked in that amount…” Miguel said, shaking his head. It warranted a stern look from Zeek.
“Well, believe it…” Beth chimed in, “June and I took Zeek to collect the safe and both of us were floored when he opened it…”
“June? That little boy you like… You know you shouldn’t be involved with anyone, Beth, especially a Merchant Clan member…” Miguel said.
“Uncle…” Beth said leaning in, “I don’t give a DAMN!!!  June and I are a team!!! We work good together! I am twenty two years old! I’ll do what the hell I want… And I’ll say it to my father too!”
The vast amount of side eyes she got from her brothers and cousins was hysterical. This community was indeed quite small minded…
“My, my, everyone here’s so brainwashed…” Zeek sighed, coming to her defense.
“Why do you all hate this place so much?” Miguel said, not seeing what they found so wrong.
“Oh, because of how controlled and obscured this place is. Everything I’ve learned about how to be a man, how to survive, how to be a team player was because of what I learned in the streets over the course of the past six almost seven years. Dad didn’t even want me to learn to read! He wanted me to be dumb, pathetic and useless! Beth had to teach me how to read so I wouldn’t go crazy when I was going through what I was going through… The best thing that ever happened to me was the fact that dad repeatedly kicked me out! He showed me how big this damn world is and that being trapped and imprisoned by a demeaning and degrading family is no way of living!” Zeek said, full of passion and angst.
“I kind of agree with Zeek but to less of an extreme. I just didn’t like how hard I worked here and didn’t have shit to show for it! I fixed what your son Zion messed up so he wouldn’t have to hear your mouth! I’d help Heaven in the kitchen when he’d get overloaded! I’d have to run to the infirmary to help all twelve zillion of your wives do their job… They seriously are… I’m just gonna say not qualified, to sound nice! Not to mention, I had to do laundry every day for thirty men while cleaning up after you all… And you all just took me for granted, Feliz and Yendo making my job hella difficult for shits and giggles! You think I, as a young woman want to suffer through that? It was a lot easier when mom was here but since she left, I had to pick up a lot more work. I’m outnumbered, here and the misogynistic attitudes you all have towards women is sickening…” Beth let out.
“Yeah… You all treat Beth like she’s weaker than she is! Not many girls I know can do what she does!” I added.
Zeek and Beth’s hard words didn’t go so kindly with Miguel. He was clearly offended by the harsh truths but these were exactly what they were, truths!
“You all act like no one here has ever had a hard time… All these boys are pushed to their limits everyday…” Miguel said.
“No they’re not! I used to come around the back of the Veranda to see Joel and Chris sitting, procrastinating the day away. Zion and Gabriel would let mechanical work build up on them and be swamped when all kinds of vehicle problems swarmed in! If they didn’t have someone constantly in their ear telling them to get off their asses then they’d be on their asses and shit wouldn’t get done! You obviously can’t keep tabs on your own damn kids to know this…” Beth said, shaking her head.
“Neither you or dad raised saints. Everyone that lives in this house always tries to find a means of getting over, if not out!” Zeek sighed. It forced Miguel to sigh, to rethink all of what he said.
“Well what can I say about that?” Miguel asked.
“Really? You were the one who asked us why we weren’t happy… We told you! You got your answer. There’s nothing left to say.” Beth shrugged, before getting up to leave. This was now getting pretty damn awkward…
“I wonder what kind of fine tunings I could do to perfect the manticore.” I said, with a stroke of the chin, getting up and heading out into the yard. Zeek was right behind me. He seemed to have a lot on his mind, like he wanted to talk.
The manticore was curled up in a state of torpor, it’s wind bladder moving ever so slowly. I scanned it with my watch looking over every small detail about the robot.
“Hey…” Zeek said. I turned to him, curious to what he wanted.
“Wussup?” I asked nonchalantly. He began stroking the back of his head, this conversation definitely about to go down a path I was not ready for.
“Um… The other day, I thought I was a gonner! I thought those folks were going to just kill me. I never got the chance to thank you for saving me… Like really, thank you!” He said, just so gratified.
“No problem…” I said back, continuing to overview the scans.
“Can I talk to you about anything?” He asked.
“Sure…” I said, unsure where this discussion was about to head.
“Well hear me out to the end… I um.. Ever since you broke my addiction, you’ve been the only one on my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I hurt you that day yet how you still went out of your way to help me… and for the matter you still did! I um… got this terrible habit of falling heart first for people and I um… I’ve definitely fallen for you,” He sighed, those words being quite cringeworthy, “But, as I’m starting to see, we’re just not meant to be together…”
“What makes you think that?” I asked curiously, often fascinated by Zeek’s mind.
“We’re just meant to be… brothers! It’s how it’s always been! I have your back, you have mine! And plus, do you know how god-awful close to incest it would have been if you and I ever like… hooked up?” He chuckled.
“Well since you’re being honest, do you know how big a crush I had on you, like, growing up? I just always thought you were this amazing free spirit and deep down, I wanted to say fuck my long term goals and wanted to be just like you! It was like you just came and left as freely as you wanted and to see how it seemed your father could do nothing about it was just awesome!” I giggled, looking over the tail mechanism for the manticore.
“Oh, God! Don’t tell me that. I feel like I treated you like crap during those years! Why make me feel worse than I do, huh?” He asked laughing. I looked at him, remembering that I, after all, was the cause of him running away!
“Sorry!” I said.
“But are you saying if things were different we could have tried it?” Zeek asked.
“Yeah, most definitely! You’re a survivor and it’s something about that in itself that just draws me! In fact, it draws everyone to you! You have this calling on your life to motivate people, to push people, to lead! That is a gorgeous trait to have! But since things took the turn they did, I don’t think I can ever love again…” I sighed.
“What? Why?” Zeek asked, truly surprised.
“You see this mech right here?” I said, stroking the flanks of the manticore.
“Yeah…” I said back.
“Eh, you probably don’t want to hear this considering you and him didn’t like each other but I spent a whole week trying to convince Galveston that this mech was special. He finally believed me and we decided we were going to work together on it… It was hard too! This particular mech caused him a lot of issues in The City of Rust but I just kept on him about it, telling him that it was only trying to survive… Like what made this mech so different from him? I made a comparison between the hive mentality of the mech and the structure of the Merchant Clan hierarchy and it opened his eyes. He finally understood the mech. Then Galveston passed away, and everything we had to tackled together, I had to tackle alone… This mech will be my way of always remembering him… If being heartbroken hurts this damn much then I don’t want to ever fall in love again… That’s only fair right?” I asked.
“It is fair!” Zeek smiled, surprising me by his support, “I know that feeling so well! As a person who tends to fall in love with everything that moves, I get that feeling all the damn time!” He made me laugh, “As for Galveston though… It’s not like I truly didn’t like him. It was my guilt that made me not want to be around him, kind of like with June… I fucked June over royally and I just couldn’t stand to be around him after what I’ve done…”
“Yeah, um…” I began, “That’s a bit of an issue we’re going to have to work on, Zeek! You tend to feel guilty over your past, straight up haunted by that shit and tend to think people won’t forgive you because you can’t forgive yourself!” It seemed to strike a chord with Zeek, the boy having to sit after such heavy words. His eyes welled up with tears.
“I know. I um, I came to terms with that when I was strapped into that machine! All the things I was guilty about in the past came to fruition… hell, even killing the mer came to the surface in the damn weirdest way! But what got to me the most was when I relived the desert slaughter and instead of Rion holding me hostage… It was you with those blades and you just couldn’t forgive me! The blades themselves weren’t my immediate concern, it was trying to beg for your forgiveness because that was all I wanted! But you just didn’t care… After the machine overheated, when I got free, I sat down and thought about it. Yeah… my guilt haunts me…” He said, his voice quivering.
“Zeek,” I said grabbing his hand, “I forgave you a long time ago! Everyone here is not holding your past against you! You’re holding your past against you! Look, we may not know everything you’ve been through in the past six years but we do know it has been full of tragedy and that no child should have had to go through that… We all got to heal from somethings… I’m slowly getting there, don’t know when I’ll be one hundred percent, but you gotta heal!”
“I can’t! I’m just no good, Zanir,” Zeek said shaking his head, “I have no redeemable qualities! I can’t even come to tell you some of the things I’ve done… I’ve stooped to some monstrous levels, SERIOUSLY monstrous levels, more often than not!”
“Do you not see the trend here?” I asked, “The only one holding your past against you is you! And Zeek, you do have redeemable qualities! You have to realize the things you’re holding against yourself were because you had to survive and the fact that you were a bit naive… What person in this house hasn’t done something stupid because they didn’t know any better? Believe it or not, I actually have!” Zeek looked at me for a long time with those gorgeous honey colored eyes. Then his gaze drifted as he returned to thought.
“I just wouldn’t no where to start to get over myself…” He said.
“Well there is a thing called trauma and grief therapy… To me, it sounds like you suffer from classic PTSD which is perfectly treatable.” I suggested.
“Really?” Zeek said intrigued.
“Yeah.” I responded.
An hour had eventually passed, the sun rising just above the sky. Beth came outside with her laptop, looking very perplexed.
“Okay…” She began, “It’s like the Revivalists simply vanished!”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes, no lie! I scanned all of Primm Road! I scanned the vaults in the west the tunnels in the east! They’re gone…” She shrugged.
“No… there must be an area we’re not looking.” I said back.
“I don’t think those tanks could move very fast to have disappeared like that.” Zeek noted.
“You’re right… they couldn’t have.” I said, “DAAAAAAADDDDD!!!!”
The sentry came out of the door, scanning.
“Yes?” He asked.
“Beth said the Revivalists just up’d and vanished… um, any thoughts?” I asked.
“I don’t know. The last I’ve seen was that their force was heading north toward Dredge Valley after the dam collapsed…” He said.
“North?” I asked alarmed.
“Oh God,” Beth said, “You don’t think…?”
“I wouldn’t put it past them! Where’s the spectrum recorder?” I asked.
“It’s in the garage! I set it up as soon as we got back…” Beth said rushing off the stoop to the garage. We all did. It was about a twenty minute walk! As we arrived, June was just getting back with Alistair and Dale. Both looked extremely perplexed.
“Guys, I have a bit of news…” June said, scratching the back of his head.
“Yeah?” Beth asked.
“Early this morning, my spectrum recorder picked up a mayday on the nineteen hundred megahertz band…” June said.
“That’s the frequency I told Basil to emergency broadcast on!” I said, rushing over to the spectrum recorder configured in the garage.
“Yeah, I got the message but was out of range since my radio doesn’t have a signal amplifier.” June said.
The spectrum recorder was a machine that recorded all wavelength signals it detected a possible broadcast on. The recorder’s memory was actually filled!
“Did you erase the data before setting it up?” I asked Beth.
“Yeah.” She said.
“Well the memory’s full!” I said.
“Really?” She said, finding this odd. She hooked her laptop up to the sepctrum recorder, playing the audio back.
“Area 51 is being marched upon by cicada tanks and racers!” The first message said, “I repeat, Area 51 is being marched upon by tanks and racers! They are several miles out but will be here within the hour!” Everyone’s heart dropped to their stomach.
“They’re invading… I repeat, they’re invading! Mayday… We need support!” The second message said.
“Zanir!” This time it was Basil speaking, “The Revivalists are here! If you are getting this message please come! They’re rallying us up and and concentrating us in the hangars! We don’t have much time… They’re destroying our greenhouses and blowing up all our buggies! Zanir… Anybody… please… They’re here….”
“Hands where I can see them!” A Revivalist said. The sounds of scuffling were picked up over the microphones before the last few messages began to play. They were on a completely different frequency, a frequency highly encrypted… it sounded like static!
This made me angry, incredibly so. Beth then suddenly grabbed my face.
“ZANIR!” She screamed. Everything in the garage rumbled. It came to halt as I calmed down.
“Those scrambled wavelengths are obviously Revivalists broadcasts… Its a safe bet to make that they’re calling for reinforcements” June inferred.
“I agree!” I said. June turned to Alistair who was not very pleased about this either.
“Boss, what do you want to do?” He asked him.
“We need to try to get those kids out of there! The Revivalists will either slaughter them or take them to the west when the cavalry arrives.” Alistair advised.
“Yeah I don’t like it one bit either… But how are we supposed to go up against the Revivalists? They still have more than what we can manage.” Zeek said.  
“You all are not going against anybody!” Dale said, “You all are staying right here! No more danger! No more life threatening situations. The UCAC are on their way! They can handle this!”  Zeek looked menacingly at his father.
“So,” Zeek began, “When I actually want to go and do something productive, save lives, you want to keep me here?” Dale didn’t take kindly to his son’s standoffish attitude at all.
“It’s not about keeping you here, it’s about keeping you safe! You just cause trouble, son…” Dale said. It made Zeek incredibly angry.
“SON?????” Zeek asked, “Oh, now I’m your son?!? After seven DAMN YEARS OF STRUGGLING TO MAKE IT OUT THERE, I’m finally your damn son?”
“You better watch it…” Dale warned.
“Or what?” Zeek said, stepping forth, not willing to back down any longer. He had dealt with his father’s dictation for far too long.  
Beth stepped between them, pulling Zeek out of the garage.
“Come on…” She sighed, completely understanding Zeek’s rage.
“And where are you going?” Dale asked, her.
“Um… I gotta figure out how to save these kids… um, kids that saved your own kids! We kind of owe them.” Beth said, not bothering to look back at him.
“You think you’re about to go out there?” He asked, ready to stop them both.
“Dad, I’m twenty two… Zeek’s twenty three! What in your right mind makes you think you can stop us from leaving? What makes you think we wanna stay here… Do you know how toxic an environment this is you have created? Why would we want to stay here?” Beth asked. It was a blow to Dale.
“I took care of you both! I raised you, made sure you had food on the table, clothes on your back, electricity, running water… and this is how you thank me for trying to keep you safe?” Dale growled.
“Raised me?” Zeek said, ready to retaliate before Beth planted a firm hand over his mouth.  
“Dad, how about you not try to hold that over our heads like that validates the toxicity of this place! You think you’re right…?” Beth said, trying to keep her cool.
“We are a family! A family must stick together no matter how tough it gets! I didn’t stop raising you when it got tough on me so why flake on your family when we need you! You’re not leaving!” Dale said sternly, rushing over to her.
“Yes… I… am…” Beth responded with equal sternness. He grabbed the girl’s arm, dragging her back into the house, “STOP!!!!!!!!!!” Her laptop fell, breaking.
It did nothing but infuriate Zeek.
“Dad…” Zeek said, his tone quite advisory, “Let, her go… NOW!!!!!” He did so, turning back to meet Zeek’s challenge. June swooped in, to get Beth out of there as Alistair came in to be the barrier that kept Zeek and Dale from fighting.
“You ungrateful, pathetic little bastard! You think you can talk to me any kind of way, like I didn’t bring you into this world? You think I won’t take you out? After all you’ve ruined you think I’m above it?” Dale said, trying to get to Zeek. Alistair kept him at bay, but barely.
“Dale, calm down…” Alistair begged. Zeek stood there utterly unphased.
“You didn’t raise me… Jeurridam did!” Zeek said storming off.
“COME HERE!!!!” Dale demanded, breaking away from Alistair.
“Big Daddy!” I shouted. Dale came within inches of grabbing Zeek with those powerful hands before, he was lifted and placed on the roof. He stared at Big Daddy, shocked that he had done this.
“Sorry,” Big Daddy began, “But you’re being ridiculous right now. Your whole view on family is unrealistic and trying to force people who don’t want to stay to stay is inhumane… No matter what your contribution to them was, these people have proven that they don’t need you or your family to sustain themselves and you, as a sensible human being, should understand and accept that. You may have paved your way into your position by brute force and power alone, but forcing your will upon others is unacceptable and never will be acceptable…”
“These people?” Dale responded, “These people… Are my children!!!”
“They are of age now that even your youngest offspring doesn’t have to comply with what you say. The way you force and manipulate people to get what you want has to end, Dale! Do you even understand why Zeek is upset with you? He’s upset with you because you’ve been a terrible father to him since the time he was conceived! You never paid him any fatherly attention, never taught him anything resourceful and often neglected him particularly in his crucial stages of maturity! I’ve been around since then to have seen it with my own optics to know for myself! Zeek left because of you, because you pushed him away! You made him feel that he had no significance here so he went to find a place where he could feel this significance! Own up to your wrongs… and let… him… go!” Big Daddy said sternly.
“I’m wrong?” Dale said, not buying any of it.
“Zanir,” Big Daddy said as he hovered just beyond the roof, “The density is real with this one…” I looked at Dale, so upset fucking upset!
“You broke my damn laptop… That was the fucking last one I had. Just stay up there on that roof!” I said shaking my head. I picked the shattered laptop up off the ground, walking over to the buggies. Beth was inside the buggy with Zeek, trying to cool the boy down.
“Um…” I said, “Your laptop’s fucked…”
“Really?” She asked, very disappointed.
“I’ll make you a new one.” I said.
“Where the hell is Julio… I want him to get back here before things get bad… I’m sorry I didn’t get involved Beth but your dad is crazy…” June sighed.
“You did the right thing…” Alistair said.
“Yeah.” Beth added.
“I just hope he gets the picture that it’s not always about him and what he wants…” Zeek sighed.
“That’s the thing with your father. It’s always about him and what he wants. I know this all too well.” Alistair said back, thinking back on his long twisted past with Dale.
“Julio!” June said, over the air.
“Yeah?” Someone said back, sounding like Heaven.
“Heaven? Man where the fuck is Julio?” June asked.
“He’s in the turret… We’re like thirty minutes out.” Heaven said.
“Well blow past A99 and meet me at the Colorado. Shit hit the fan here! I’ll fill you in when you get here.” June sighed.
“Okay…” Heaven said back. June noticed that something sounded a bit off about Heaven just then but said nothing of it.
“So you’re just gonna leave him on the roof?” Beth asked.
“Didn’t he just break my laptop?” I responded.
“Good point.” She chuckled, “But, yeah let’s get a move on…” I summoned Big Daddy, Orb, The Leer and the manticore to follow as we made our way out of here.
“You just CAN’T LEAVE ME UP HERE!!!!!!” Dale screamed as he saw us leave in the buggy. Alistair looked back, shaking his head at the sad man as we made our way north toward the Colorado river basin.
We arrived shortly after, waiting for June and Heaven to show. I got out, looking at the wreckage I had caused. I had made a mess!!!!! I tore the gorge the Colorado river ran through clean open!  
“Wow… I did that?” I asked.
“Yes and nearly killed us in the process. I don’t know what to say about that power of yours…” Beth chuckled but was all so serious.
“How the hell are we gonna cross this thing?” June asked.
“I’ll tote you across.” Big Daddy said.
I looked over at the manticore which sniffed the ground that had been ripped open by my gravity fluxes… I had a feeling about his tail, that I needed to make some kind of modification to it. The EMP bolas were old and outdated at this point. The mech needed something with more stopping power. We’d definitely need it!
“Okay, my gut is telling me to change the bola launcher on the manticore’s tail. I don’t know, I just feel like something else might be more useful.” I said.
“If that is what your gut is telling you then do it! Your gut tends to be right.” Zeek chuckled, climbing out of the car looking down into the ruins, “Damn, you fucked that up…”
“What do you have in mind?” Big Daddy asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe I can make a railgun out of the nano conduits of the blades but that means I’d need projectiles. Or, I can to turn the tail into like a one hundred thirty millimeter photon canon since…  All I’d need would be a light source, a lens, gravitanium core and a cooling system… I wouldn’t have to change much with the tail…” I said back.
“That would be a more powerful pulse cannon that what I have! That probably could down a ship with a single shot!” Big Daddy noted.
“What materials would you need and how much time do you say we have?” Alistair asked, really wanting to get to Area 51.
“It’d be a stretch. I’d need a fifty watt LED array, a very, very reflective surface, a thick piece of convex glass, like maybe three or four inches thick, a gravitanium semiconductor which I can salvage from a few blades, and something to weld with… If I get the materials, a simple pulse cannon would take no less than fifteen minutes for me to build…” I said.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Alistair said, tuning into the radio to see if he could broadcast the Merchant Clan wavelength, “Fuck, we’re out of range…”
“Here comes Julio…” June said.
The buggy pulled up right beside us all. Julio’s eyes fell right upon the manticore.
“That thing is huge…” He said. The manticore just lazily shook itself.
“Big Daddy, you know what to do…” I said, heading over to Julio’s buggy. Zeek was close behind. We entered the buggy noticing a faint bleachy smell. The look on Zeek’s face was hysterical. He wasn’t upset, but shocked, very familiar with this scent.
“Wow…” He said. I looked at him, trying not to laugh.
“What?” Heaven asked.
“Nooooothiiiiiiiing.” Zeek cheesed, warranting an alarmed look from Julio, “Did you all spill bleach or something… It’s quite strong back here.”
“Zeek…” I sighed.
“Maybe I should get a  black light.” Zeek teased. Heaven slowly turned to him, not pleased at all.
“Shut. The. FUCK. up!!!!!” Heaven snarled, warranting nothing but giggles from Zeek.
Julio sighed, realizing Zeek managed to figure out that there were things going on between him and Heaven. We watched as Big Daddy toted June’s buggy across the river.
“I’m back in range,” Alistair said over the air, “Sandles…. Sandles are you there?”
“Yes boss?” Sandles said back.
“We’re on our way to rendezvous with you in Red Canyon. We’re like an hour drive away. This is what I want. I want you to find the highest wattage LED array you can find, a very reflective heat resistant material and a very dense convex glass lens. All of this needs to be present as soon as we get to the camp!” Alistair asked.
“Sure, no problem boss but we do have some issues…” Sandles responded.
“We’ll talk when we get there.” Alistair said back.
“Alright…” Sandles said.
Big Daddy planted the analog buggy on the other side of the Colorado. He came back to tote Julio’s across. Julio seemed quite distressed sitting in that seat. I looked to Zeek who picked up on it too, looking a the boy scaldingly. He seemed to know he pushed things a little too far. Julio was a very, very sweet kid! Rugged, driven and no-nonsense but nonetheless, the most bubbly person of us all! To see him going through such an internal struggle like this was no fun for either me or Zeek.
The ride to Red Canyon was long and silent. We all were happy to arrive and get out the buggy. It was a shock to see how well organized the camp was! Everything just seemed so in place and clean! And there were so many buggies, buggies I’ve never even seen before! The Merchant Clan was far bigger and more organized than I previously thought.
Alistair wasted no time in leading us over to Sandles. Sandles was mesmerizing! He was a very tall, dark skinned multi-racial, probably a mixture of Mojave with African. His eyes were a startling grey and his hair kinked into wild curls, pulled back into a messy Zulu knot. His face was thin and chiseled, with budding stubble around his chin. He was covered from the neck down in a number of strange tattoos and keloids, obviously a very rough and tumble guy! He and Zeek locked eyes, seemingly becoming entranced in one another’s gaze.
“Sandles…” Alistair said, snapping him out of it. A look of worry and disappointment spread across Sandles face. He couldn’t look Alistair in the eye.
“We found the items you were looking for…” He said.
“Okay?” Alistair said, picking up on Sandles’s nervousness, “Spill kid…”
“I’ve been struggling to hold down everything while you were gone. Some of our forces flaked in the middle of the night and made off with some… assets…” Sandles said, shaking in fear. He didn’t know what Alistair would do.
“What assets?” Alistair growled.
“Kido and Bronze tried to make off with the rotor bikes… We stopped Bronze but Kido got away. All we know is that he headed west towards Death Valley but it’s impossible to catch him on one of those things. I’m so sorry boss! The Earthquake last night scared a lot of our men. Some of our buggies, supplies, rations, and ammunitions are also missing.” Sandles said. Alistair sighed, not pleased by this. He looked out at the remaining force, seeing the numbers were pretty strong.
“You did what you had to do! You still managed to hold down the fort on your own. Kido and Bronze’s betrayals won’t be something I forget.” Alistair said, placing a firm hand on Sandles’s shoulder, “But anyways, this is Zanir… the mad boy genius of the Mojave! He was Galveston’s partner in crime, the reason we got so much done in so little time!”
“Yeah,” Sandles said, looking at me intently, “I remember you!” He held up his hand, only there was no hand, “You did this to me not too long ago!” He smiled, seeming to enjoy the fact. However it grinded me to the core.
“I am so sorry…” I said, clenching my miserable little head.
“No sweat, dude.” Sandles smiled before getting back serious, “So what exactly do we need the materials for?”
“You see the dust rising in the desert?” I asked him. He turned, looking down the valley side into Jeurridam. There was a stream of dust rising as if something was hauling all kinds of ass to get here.
“Yeah…” He said, unsure what to make of it.
“That is a mech of mine called… let’s call him Emann. Emann has a weapon called an EMP bola launcher that I want to get rid of and replace with a more energy efficient pulse weapon. We may need it.” I said back.
“That’s cool.” He said as the mech arrived. Every single head turned as the thirteen foot tall manticore came strutting through the base like he owned it.
“Where are the materials?” I asked.
“WYATTT!!!!!” Sandles screamed.
“Coming boss!” A shrill voice youngster said. He carried a crate full of the materials collected, handing them to Sandles.
“I hope this will be to your needs.” He said, unsure if this was enough material. I looked in the crate, pretty content with the findings.
“Good enough…” I shrugged, taking the crate from him.
“Before you get started Zanir,” Alistair said, standing in the distance, “I wanna show you something…”
“Sure!” I said rushing over. The manticore was right behind me, people having to move and duck to avoid the machine, “Do you realize you’re the size of an elephant? Stay with the others!”
“I just wanna tag along!” The manticore responded, flooring me! Since when could he speak?
“BETH!!!!! Did you update him to the latest firmware?” I asked.
“YEAH???? Problem?” She asked back, unsure if this was good or bad.
“No! Just surprising!!!” I laughed, following Alistair.
“Okay.” Alistair began as the manticore joined up with Big Daddy, “For about three years, me, Galvy and a team of other mechanics were designing these speeders of our own. I ordered for them to be moved out of The City of Rust the other day when shit got real.”
“Alright…” I said back.
“I was wondering do you think these things could go up against the revivalists’ racers…” He said. We entered a massive tent where I could finally see these beauties.
One was missing but seven remained! They had motorcycle-like chassis but no wheels. Instead of wheels, they had coaxial rotors, two in the front and two in the back. The rotors spanned about four and a half feet but were folded back into the chassis for stowage. The bottom rotor had pitch spokes for multi direction control, an actually marvelous design for something so small. The speeder stood on two retractable legs that could become seamless with the chassis. Sitting atop the chassis was a motorbike-like seat with yolks for control. In front of the yolks were a number of screens, obviously for controlling this thing.
Sitting atop the front rotor mount was an interchangeable weapons system, much like the system for the buggies. The weapons mount seemed fixed, probably a wise decision considering how little area for control the speeder had. The only control surfaces I could see were two dihedral stabilizers in the back which probably helped a lot for maneuverability.
However, not all of the speeders were built to the same specification. Some were much leaner looking with only two blades per rotor, and no stabilizers while others were more heavy duty looking with five blades per rotor and anhedral stabilizers. Despite the heft, there was a noticeable trend amongst all of the speeders. They lacked armor!
“Wow…” Was all I could say.
“We call them rotor bikes.” Alistair said.
“How functional are these things?” I asked.
“Very! When I designed them, I had low altitude coursing flight in mind. But these things are capable of multi-directional flight at up to thirty thousand feet and have a top speed of over three hundred miles an hour! Some look more crude than others but they have the same ground hugging programming, and computational abilities. Galvy made sure of that when he was programming them. Do you think they can go head to head with the racers?” Alistair said.
“Just from looking at them, I can tell they are incredibly mobile. They lack armor which concerns me though. The racers do have armor, light but enough to ward off against anything less powerful than a thirty millimeter cannon. Can the rotor-bikes withstand that type of firepower?” I asked.
“No, they’d fall apart. They are invisible to radar though and can be outfitted with the tank buster cannon.” He said.
“Well, to me it sounds like these are the perfect strike vehicles. They can get in and get out while doing a whole bunch of damage in the blink of an eye. They’re utterly traceless… I’d have to see these things in action…” I shrugged. Alistair squeezed his watch.
“Sandles, get in here.” He said.
“Roger.” Sandles said, arriving within seconds.
“Show Zanir how these things work.” Alistair smiled.
“Okay.” Sandles said. He put on a harness, a parachute and a helmet before climbing into one of the big black matte racers.
Alistair opened the tent as Sandles powered the thing on. The rotors produced a low pitch swooshing as they sped up. The bike lifted off the ground, Sandles guiding the machine out of the tent. Everyone in the camp stopped to watch this thing take flight. Once it was out in the open, I could finally see what this thing was capable of.
Sandles ascended banking hard to the left. The rotor bike accelerated swiftly before entering a steep vertical climb. It banked hard into a hammerhead stall before diving back at the ground. Sandles pulled the rotor bike out of the dive in a screeching fly-by. My watch said he was doing nearly three hundred forty miles an hour. He then did several two hundred plus mile an hour fly bys, banks, rolls and inversions to show just how nimble a craft this was. This machine had zero turn radius even at it’s top speed!
“Yeah,” I began, “These things could run circles around a racer the same way your buggies run circles around the cicadas. At one point that thing was traveling one hundred miles an hour faster than a racer’s top speed! You have an incredibly mobile force… it could be just the surprise we need to take on the Revivalists for this second time…”
“But ultimately, racers are the bigger threat to these. I wish we had more of them…” Alistair sighed.
“I’m gonna come up with a plan. Don’t you worry…” I smiled. Alistair nodded as Sandles brought the rotor bike in for a landing.  He parked the bike back in the tent, coming out with the helmet. His hair knot was all squished down.
“So do you like the rotor bikes?” He asked.
“Yeah, they’re kind of awesome…” I said, heading back over to the manticore.
“So what about your mechs?” He asked, looking at them as we came over.
“They’re all shitty terrible people,” I teased, “Especially that big red one… but he’s kind of my father.”
“What?” Sandles laughed.
“When my father died, we saved his brain and put him in the big red robot. Now he just bosses me around and we squabble like children.” I shrugged with a laugh.
“Well sorry to hear that your father is dead but that’s kind of cool!” He said.
“It is.” I said, looking at the manticore, “Why do I have the feeling he’s gonna give me the hardest time.”
“Why?” He asked.
“He’s like a little bit… um…  hard headed. Very free spirit, that mech has.” I chuckled.
“You talk about them like they’re living breathing creatures.” He noted.
“They’re not but very close… Like scary close! They think they’re alive and they actually do breath and feel the need to survive.” I said.
“Wow… I just thought they were mere killing machines.” He said.
“That’s what they’re supposed to be but when you take the killing protocol out of them, this is what they become… sentients.” I said back, reaching the manticore.
I climbed on his back, looking at his tail. It had so many pieces and segments… The end though is what I was most concerned about. How difficult would it be to turn this bola launcher into a pulse cannon? It all would depend on the temperament of the the manticore. He rolled over looking at me.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“I wanna upgrade your tail.” I said.
“Are you serious?” He asked, flipping over to his feet. I was thrown off but somehow manage to catch myself with a gravity field.
“Easy!” I said.
“But I like my tail the way it is!” He said back.
“I’m just gonna make it better.” I smiled.
“No…” He said, standing. He was off sprinting down the valley side like a toddler having a temper tantrum. The only thing was that this toddler was thirteen feet tall and two thousand pounds.
“Big Daddy!” I said, running after the manticore. Big Daddy came swooping in! I lept onto his back in one seamless motion. We flew after the manticore, my watch locking onto his signal. Once it did, I shut him down! The mech came tumbling to a halt in the soft dirt of the valley floor.
“So sorry about that…” I said as Big Daddy and I came in for a landing, “His nanites are easily commanded. This can be something that I program to be done!”
“Really?” Big Daddy asked.
“Yes! His nanites can be restructured for just about any purpose. A pulse cannon for sure!” I said, “Let’s take him back to camp.”
Big Daddy did so and things went underway. After programming his nanites on what to do, they reconstructed the end of his tail, placing a powerful one hundred thirty millimeter photon pulse cannon on the end. Many stood watch, including Alistair and Sandles.
“What just happened?” Alistair asked.
“Um, the manticore threw a temper tantrum. He didn’t want me to work on his tail.” I laughed.
“God, something that big doesn’t have any business throwing a temper tantrum.” Alistair said, freaked out by the very thought.
“I’m setting it up so he won’t notice the tail change, like it has always been there. I just don’t want to deal with him getting upset anymore. And I’m also giving him an actual name… Emann.” I smiled.
“All of that from that little watch on your hand?” Sandles asked.
“Yep.” I said back as a few gravity blades came floating over from the back of June’s buggy. Sandles eyes lit up with horror.
“Oh God…” He said, stepping back.
“Don’t worry. These blades are being re-purposed. I’m using the solenoids and conduits from the blades for the gravitational properties.” I said, hoping to reassure him.
“Still though… I’ve been stuck thinking about those blades since what happened.” He said, having to leave. I felt bad for the kid. These blades did seem to leave in engraving on whomever caught the wrong end of them.
I continued to scan the manticore, watching his nanites closely. They were fusing with the blades, deconstructing them to re-apply them to other regions. This would be finished within a few minutes. Zeek came over, looking at the big mech, lying on the ground.
“You like that Sandles dude?” He asked plainly.
“He’s cool.” I said, before realizing what he meant, “Wait you mean do I… like him? No…”
“You sure?” Zeek asked with an innocent smile.
“Yeah… Right now I’m kinda over the whole relationship thing. He’s a really pretty and genuine guy with scars and a strong ability to lead… You should go after him. He seemed to like you…” I smiled back.
“You really think so?” Zeek asked, unsure.
“I know so!” I said.
“Was there something I missed?” Zeek asked.
“Well of course you couldn’t see the waves transferring when your eyes locked onto his.” I smiled.
“Really?” Zeek said, taken aback.
“Yes… You should try him!” I smiled.
“Eh, I don’t know.” Zeek said back, quite unsure. There were not many things that could make Zeek feel unsure. For Sandles to be able to do that meant he must had something Zeek was weak for. Hopefully he’d come around so he could talk to Sandles. It was weird seeing Zeek be shy…      
Minutes later, everyone had crowded around the table. It was time to discuss how this was gonna go down.
“Okay this is…” I said having to pause as I looked down at my watch, “Oh no… This is not good…”
“What?” Beth asked.
“Orb is picking up some massive, massive ships coming from the west.” I responded.
“The West?” Alistair asked alarmed, “This definitely is not good! How many ships…”
“Five.” I said, “With a number of small reinforcement carrying brigates. This looks like a continuation of the Occupancy…”
“Fuck…” Alistair said.
“Yeah those kids may be screwed. It might not be wise for us to engage. You think we can try the same trick twice to see if it can work?” I asked.
“That depends on how locked down they have this place.” Alistair responded.
“It’s tight! Thermal scans reveal all the captives are being kept in a hangar that is heavily guarded. I can get in there myself but I’d need some cover. I want to steal a transport…” I said back.
“Do any of the ships have a charged particle cannon?” Alistair asked.
“Yeah two…” I said looking at the massive vessels.
“Do you think they can be taken down?” He asked.
“If it was just one, it’d be alright. Two is a bit of a stretch. What I am doing is moving the remaining turrets into position around the base. They will provide ranged cover to anything! The Manticore has a powerful pulse beam that can destroy a tank or down a small ship. Big Daddy has dual pulse beams that can do the same. Orb is good for anti-personnel and small vehicles with her beam cannon…”
“What about the deer looking thing?” Someone asked.
“It’s not a combat mech.” I said, which seemed to shock everyone.
“So, they have a fleet coming to land at the base…” Alistair noted.
“No,” I said confused, “They’re just hovering in place… I don’t get it.”
“Really?” Alistair said, finding this intriguing.
“It doesn’t matter… We can go after the thrusters and crash them… Wait,” I said watching the feed, “The three smaller ships have landed. They’re opening their bays!”
Everyone became tense as we all began to watch the video feeds. To our horror, mechs began to come out of the cargo bays. There were dozens in each ship. The mechs began patrolling the surrounding area, which had us all perplexed.
“So they’re avoiding Jeurridam all together? What are these people planning! This is quite a huge force they brought here!” Alistair said.
“We can’t go against them… They brought the cavalry this time!” I said, not wanting these good people to be hurt.
“Come on! We need to push those tyrants out!” Sandles said.
“Yeah!!!” A cosigner in the rear responded.
“I don’t think we’d have the same element of surprise as we did before. I don’t think the Revivalists will fall for the same tricks…” I said, just not sure.
“The only thing they have different know is mechs and two Juggernaut ships this time… They obviously aren’t gonna deploy any more tanks or racers after suffering such heavy losses. If we strike at the same times, take out the mechs while we take out the Juggernaut class ships, they’d be defenseless… again…” Alistair said.
“How can we be so sure that this is the only fleet on the way. I don’t want to get there, wipe the floor with them only to have another fleet that was only a few hours away come in on top of us… We’d be fucked!” I said back.
“But we can’t wait either! Area 51 is like the gateway to Jeurridam with all those resources and vast amounts of information it has. Not to mention the five hundred or so kids being held captive there… The more time we waste, the more likely we are to lose out… I’m sorry but we just can’t wait on the UCAC… This is more urgent than they understand!” Alistair said.
“True…” I said, having to think about it, “How far out did the UCAC say they were?
“They said six to eight hours away give or take an hour or two….” Alistair shrugged and that was early this morning when we finally made radio contact.
“Eh…” I sighed, “Then let’s do this…”
Everyone began to prepare for this mission. We expected it to be considerably more grueling than the surprise retaliation we had on them before. I made tweaks to all the mechs, making sure they were in good order. Lastly, I booted up the manticore, the big mech looking around. He was a bit disoriented but it was okay.
“What happened?” He asked.
“Um…” I began, not wanting to lie to him, “I had to make some changes. You have a new tail.”
He looked at it, flexing it.
“Strange… I don’t remember getting this.” He said.
“Good.” I sighed.
“Hey…” Someone called out from behind. It was Sandles. He had this excited grin on his face that went away as soon as he saw the Manticore up close and personal.  The giant mech was intimidating yet mesmerizing at the same time.
“Yeah?” I finally responded.
“How does the tail cannon work?” He asked, “I was really curious when you um… said you were gonna make a cannon out of light bulbs and mirrors.”
“Well, it’s fairly simple actually. The fifty watt light bulb produces light that is reflected across several mirrors. These mirrors amplify the light produced by the bulb thousands of times. The light passes through a lens which narrows the beam. Before the beam can escape the barrel of the cannon, countermeasures create a field of gravity so dense that light particles are frozen in place. These particles link together and become photonic molecules that continues to grow the longer the light bulb is on. The the countermeasures reverse the field and fling the light particles at an incredible velocity. Whatever it hits is burned by twelve million degrees of raw energy.” I said.
“That’s insane. So a simple lightbulb and mirrors allowed you to produce an energy weapon?” He asked.
“Yeah but the blades have gravity repelling properties as well as gravity amplifying properties. I use that to make the beam of light incredibly powerful and dense.” I explained.
“How much damage could that do?” He asked.
“It’s more so a weapon designed to penetrate dense armor and travel long distances. However I can make it so that the photonic molecules are so unstable they hold onto the gravitational energy produced by the conduits and cause whatever it hits to not only be melted but collapse because of the gravitational energies. One blast can take down a tank easily. One long held charge can probably down a brigate. I don’t think it can down a juggernaut though.” I said.
“That’s wicked.” He said before getting serious, “But do you think any of your friends can fly one of the rotor bikes?”
“Beth probably can but Heaven and Zeek? I’m not so sure about them…” I said.
“What about the really tall brown eyed one?” He asked.
“Zeek? Um Zeek is really good at gun and hand to hand combat but machines aren’t really his thing.” I said.
“Are you two, like a thing?” He asked, a very legit question.
“No.” I said, seeing where this was going.
“You two seem to like really, really communicate well. Saw you two talking a few minutes ago and it seems you both make each other so happy!” He said.
“We have a very brotherly relationship but are not willing to take it any farther. What? You like him? You seem like the kind of guy he’s into with the scars, tattoos and missing limbs so take the leap! He really deserves someone who makes him happy! He’s had it tough.” I responded, a bit teasingly though.
“Really? When I first saw him, I felt this switch flip and it… Um… I can’t explain it! I just feel like I need to get to know him!” Sandles said, quite unsure.
“Well, get to know him!” I responded. Sandles took it into consideration.
“Okay…” I responded.
He went over to Zeek who was talking to Beth. The two turned to look at him.
“You!” He said, pointing to Zeek, “I got a job for you…”
“Me?” Zeek asked, unsure about this.
“Yeah…” Sandles said, leading him back over to the buggies, “I’m gonna be piloting a rotor bike so I want you to pilot my buggy… We need the men…”
“A buggy? Oh god, I never learned how to drive one! They have yolks like aircraft!” Zeek said, unsure.
“No, it’s simple!!!! A lot easier than driving! I’ll show you right quick!” Sandles said, the two arriving at the buggy.
The buggy was bright yellow with dense armor angled towards one direction like a blade! It’s wheelbase was quite complex attaching to sophisticated axels that could rotate two hundred seventy degrees. On top of the buggy was a seventy five millimeter cannon known as the tank buster. It two was yellow and looked downright menacing.
“You’re lucky…” Sandles said, “Not many people get to touch Armarillia… Let alone pilot her! You’re in charge of my most prized possession, my very being, my soul!”
“I won’t let you down…” Zeek said, a bit intimidated by this.
“Well let me give you the rundown! She’s pretty much all terrain. What drives her is this powerful V-twelve engine that can crank sixteen hundred horses! She can go from zero to sixty in two point nine seconds so watch your head! Her stabilizers have wonky sensors so you may get vibration warnings but she’s fine!The left yolk controls throttle and stray,” Sandles said reaching between Zeek’s legs to grab it, “And the right yolk,” He said, his hand streaking across Zeek’s thigh, “Controls your turning and turbocharger. With the left yolk, you can travel forward and backwards,” He said, pushing the yolk forward and backwards to demonstrate, “But the right yolk, only goes forward because you can only turbo forward… And with turbo, you can go up to… Actually I never tested her straight line speed… The fastest I’ve ever gone was one eighty six…  The right yolk is also a bit sensitive,” He said swirling the head of the yolk with a gentle thumb, “So make your turns as slight as possible. The right hand also has your two weapons...your tank buster cannon and your mini gun. The trigger, is for the main cannon while little red button on top is for the minigun. The helmet above your head has eye tracking and aim assist so that is how you pick targets. That’s not too hard right?”
“No…” Zeek said, liking the way Sandles demonstrated.
“Good,” Sandles said, closing the cockpit behind him, “Now if you do a good job, I’m gonna have a little somethin’ for you…” It made Zeek smile with anticipation.
Sandles headed over to the tent where the rotor bikes were. June, Julio, Heaven and Beth also were going to be piloting rotor bikes. June and Julio both taught Beth and Heaven the simple controls.
“See, they’re no different than a buggy.” Julio said to Heaven.
“Okay…” Heaven responded.
“Long time no see boys!” Sandles said, going up to greet them.
“I know…” June said, coming in for a manly embrace.
“Ya’ll ready to do this?” Sandles asked.
“Most definitely!” Julio smiled.
“Okay!” Sandles said, hopping onto his rotor bike.
Lastly Alistair came in. He powered up his bike and they were off. Alistair flew over to me, looking as I sat on the back of the Manticore.
“You ready for this?” He asked.
“Hell yeah!” I responded.


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