Stand and Deliver
Shana Gomez grumbled.
Great gouts of black smoke shot skyward from the engine compartment. Soot and grease, oil and sand, all mixed on the windshield.
“Goddamnit,” she swore, as she leaned out of the Blaster’s ruined side door. Her face was soon black with oil and gritty with dust, but at least she could see the damn road.
“ ‘It’s nothing personal’,” she mimicked. “ ‘You’re just new, and for now, that means you drive the shot-up cars. If we meet anyone on the way home, you have my full permission to abandon the car.’ ”
She wriggled in the seat, closing her mind to the squelching and the sickening miasma of blood and fear that even overheating oil couldn’t disguise.
“Damn right I’ll abandon it, Hickey” she said to the empty wasteland of Evan, and got a mouthful of oily sand for her trouble.
Two hours later, the convoy crawled into through the foothills that marked the outskirts of Somerset. The eight cars, half of them in the colours of the Vanguards, wove between low sand dunes and rocky hillocks.
Maybe it was bad luck. Maybe it was Enrique sleeping on the job. Or maybe it was the black plume of greasy smoke that drew the pirates as surely as a different pillar drew the Israelites out of a different desert.
Either way, the Turpins were waiting.
“Goddamit,” Shana cursed again.
“You know the drill, Shana.” Hickey called over the radio. “Execute.”
Shana threw the wheel hard towards the nearest hill. She propped the gas pedal down with a looted rifle barrel and threw herself out of the door. The Turpins opened fire on the doomed Blaster as Shana ran in a shambling half-sprint, half-crouch towards the rolling dunes and the haven of the corrugated fencing that surrounded Somerset.
The sand was soft and her booted feet sank deep into the treacherous slope. Her breath came fast and perspiration ran down her face. She heard a dull crump as several heavy machine gun rounds blew what little remained of the Blaster’s engine to shreds.
She crested a dune and dropped below the summit before turning back and peeking over the top. The Turpins had made short work of the Blaster and were looking for new targets. The rest of the Vanguards were nearing the safety of the gates but an Enforcer and a pair of Marauders, rocket-toting pickups, slewed round to give chase.
“You’ll never get them, bozos,” said Shana, as she stood bent over, hands on knees, to get her breath back. She saw a volley of rockets miss Hickey’s SUV as he passed the town fence.
“That’s it, losers,” she said. “You ain’t got nothing but a hunk of junk Blaster. Now just give up and go home.” And with that, she turned and started a slow, steady jog across the dunes to the fence.
For two seconds.
A rocket flew past her left ear, maybe two feet away. She was close enough to feel the wind of its passing, for wisps of her dark hair to sizzle in the rocket exhaust. She risked a glance over her shoulder.
The entire strength of the Turpin squad was ranged against her.
Nine cars. Rocket-laden pickups. Enforcers with super-accurate rifles. Even a tiny little Sonic, weighed down by its ludicrously-oversized heavy-calibre machine gun. The entire goddamn fleet was chasing her.
She dropped her head, dug her toes in and ran.
Every few seconds, she pumped another round into the shotgun, swung round and fired wildly before taking off running again. A round from a car rifle hit the ground by her feet and she jinked left. Her breathing was steady and easy now, adrenaline flowing through her as she danced across the dunes. A rocket missed to the right and she swerved again.
Halfway there. Another glance. They were gaining. That pickup must have been doing at least 60 as it barrelled across a dune trying to get a lock. She reached the top of a hillock and leaped down it, feeling sand and rocks peppering her back as three rockets impacted into the sand behind it.
“Come on, you bastards,” she screamed as she ran. “Nine of you against one woman and you still can’t win.”
She heard the whine of an engine as the pickup launched itself over the hillock. She stopped and emptied two rounds of her shotgun into the exposed underbelly, hoping to hit the transmission or an oil-line.
“Don’t just stand there, Shana! Run!”
She looked round. The Vanguards were lining the fence. Every single one of them. Hickey. Enrique. Marcus with his crossbow. Even wingnut had raced out of the hospital, arm in a sling, and rested his rifle on the fence.
She took off as if the hounds of hell were on her very heels. The Marauder behind landed awkwardly and rolled, and the crowd cheered. She dropped her head to watch where her feet were going, instinctively leaping left or right every few seconds. By the time she looked up the crowd had doubled, tripled.
Someone must have told Dexter what was going on. And no-one in Dexter’s wants to miss a scrap. They scrambled for the fence, cocking weapons as they ran. The Madhats and BamBam, The BroadRausters and Cats Laughing. Doc Matthias was there, elegant and dapper, as he braced an antique Magnum on the fence. The Somerset agent of Latte’s Raiders and the War Hippies. A faceless member of the BFF’s and his speaking puppet. Even one of the Klingon’s midget strippers was there, sitting on Enrique’s shoulders with a shotgun held in her folded arms.
She had never felt so alive. This was her moment. Moments stretched into eternity as she jumped and dodged. Her every sense was attuned. She could feel where rifle rounds were going and ducked around them. Her feet found solid ground in the scree and sand and she dropped her head again just as a rocket whistled through the space it had occupied half a second before.
She set her eyes on the fence, between Hickey and Enrique. With every remaining ounce of strength she took three long strides and soared. Her right hand found the top of the fence, her feet didn’t touch. She landed in a crouch and the crowd roared their approval.
And they showed what they thought of the Turpins.
As if they had been waiting for a signal, the assembled gangers turned on the Turpins.
They say that hand-weapons are no match for vehicles.
They have obviously never been on the receiving end of the might of an entire town.
The volley was deafening. And then another. And another. The Turpins turned tail and fled. They abandoned their looted car and scattered, scared bullies running home to mummy.
A hand appeared in front of Shana’s face. She took a deep breath and looked into Hickey’s face. Which broke into a broad smile.
“Congratulations,” he said, as Somerset crowded round.
“I guess you’ve proved your worth. No more Blasters for you.”
Shana exulted as she was hoisted shoulder high and carried into Dexter’s.
She belonged to the Vanguards now. And boy, did it feel good.