The Vanguards of Darkwind
The life and times of the Vanguards, a gang struggling to survive in the wastelands of Evan, based on the game Darkwind by Psychic Software

Mar
09

“This is insane.”

The words were spoken out loud, even if there was no one to hear them.

The klaxon blared, declaring Weapons Free. Amy tightened her grip on the steering wheel as she accelerated, jockeying for position with the other Sunrises.

The crackle of super-heated air startled her, and she jerked the wheel to the right. The foetid atmosphere in the car worsened, filled with the stench of burnt ozone and the acrid fumes of scorched paint.

“####,” muttered Amy. “Thought he was further ahead. Well, it’s not just lasers on these babies.”

She punched buttons on the dash and targeted. Her peripheral vision kept Dirge’s Sunrise, painted in its distinctive livery, lined up with the launching tube on her left side.

Phssssssh-Bang.

The rocket streaked out and slammed into Dirge’s right hand side. Cracks and splits appeared in the armour.

“Alright, time to win this race. And show that bloody idiot hillbilly that being in the front may be brave, but it’s stupid, and it’s not how you win.”

Mar
06

Amy Banuelos tightened the straps on her helmet. She checked them, then checked them again.

Ever since Old One-Eye hit that wall at 90 in a Vampire, she always triple-checked the helmet. The medics said death was instantaneous. Because his straps were loose.

“Amy, you don’t have to do this you know.” ‘Earl’ Hickey leaned in the window. “The lads all trust you.”

“That’s not true and you know it, Earl,” Amy shot back. “They chose that hillbilly as their leader. He’s all testosterone and stupidity. He’ll get us all killed.”

“If winning a few races is what it takes to convince these bozos that courage is not all you need to be a good leader, then goddamn it, I’ve got to win a few races.”

Earl heard the resolution in Amy’s voice. “Well, you’re locked and loaded, and I’ve tweaked this baby as much as I can. Give ’em hell, Banestorm.”

His words were drowned out as the engines of fifteen cars surged with power.

Feb
15

Howard Spicer sat alone in the bar. He nursed a glass of firewater, the fiery spirit of distilled cactus sap known as Mezcal.

“Hey, Boss.” Amy Banuelos ambled over and pulled up a chair. The team’s scout, she was effective and popular, although Howard knew that the gang had more respect for the conspicuous bravery of his best gunner, Darrell. Still, he was trying to give Amy more responsibility, more opportunity to prove herself, so the crew would accept her as his second-in-command.

But today, Howard was feeling sorry for himself. Two more deaths, and the weight of responsibility left to him by his dead brother Charlie was crushing, sapping his strength and rendering him listless and apathetic. So he took himself over to a quiet corner of Jake’s to be alone with his thoughts, and his darkness, and his Mezcal.

Amy seemed to sense his mood. She just sat, her own bottle of beer in hand, letting her eyes adjust to the fusty gloom in Howard’s sanctuary.

After an aeon, Howard spoke.

“I had a dream last night, Amy. A strange dream.”

Amy didn’t say anything. Just waited for Howard to continue.

“I was in a war. A battle. Not the grinding fight for survival like we have here. A traditional battle, a medieval battle, with swords, and armour, and those big metal balls with spikes on the end of a chain.”

“The bad guys were lined up in a row. Persians. They were Persians. Don’t ask me how I know. I just do.”

“I was running late for the battle, running along the line, looking for my squire who was taking my place in the line. He stood there, a naked broadsword in his hand, waiting. I ran there,” Howard’s words faltered, “and it was Charlie. Charlie standing there to hand over to me his sword.”

Howard gulped another mouthful of Mezcal.

“So I took it, and stood in line. I faced this Persian warrior, tall, proud, strong and,” Amy was startled to see tears in Howard’s eyes, “and I was scared, Amy. I was scared I was going to die.” A burst of raucous laughter erupted from one of the tables in the saloon, and Amy glanced in that direction. When she looked back, Howard had brushed all traces of moisture from his face.

“And then… and then it started raining. And I’d been trained to keep my sword and armour dry. So I turned around, Amy, I turned around and I ran. I ran and sheltered under a tree and hoped the battle would happen without me.”

Howard reached down and picked up a half-empty bottle of Mezcal from the sand-strewn floor. He poured himself a generous measure.

“So what does that make me, Amy? A fool? A loser? A coward?” Howard drained his glass.

“It does none of those things, Howard. You’re a strong leader, a good man, and you’re suffering because some of the people you lead, they die, and you take it hard. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“But the dream..”

Amy interrupted. “It’s just a dream, Howard. Just a dream.”

Feb
13

It took a lot to surprise Dexter.

Dust storms, mutant rad-frogs, gangs blowing off steam (and each other’s ears) in the compound.

But when Robert Hickey walked to the bar early in the morning, Dexter knew something was up.

The normally ebullient Hickey was pale and drawn. His stare was fixed as he shambled across the wooden floor. Dexter didn’t wait to be asked. He gave a tumbler a quick wipe with a dirty rag and filled it with firewater. Then he waited.

It didn’t take long. Hickey started talking, almost to himself.

“It was a voice from beyond the grave.” He looked up, and Dexter was startled to see the terror behind Hickey’s clear blue eyes.

“I had him lined up. A damned Siren. God I hate Sirens. With that heavy gun and slippery handling. He had no armour left, and it still took me 10 seconds to get a bead on him.”

Hickey downed the firewater. Dexter refilled the glass.

“I had him. A gaping hole in the side armour, two full multi-barrelled bursts. I saw his fricking head explode.” Hickey’s voice faded to a whisper, and he gestured with both hands, extending his fingers. “Poof!”

Another firewater empty. Another refill.

“I turned away to target a Chomper on my right. Concentrating. Trying to survive. And then I heard it, Dex. I heard a dead man speak.”

“‘I bring the alocalypse.'” With astonishing speed, Hickey’s left hand shot out, gripped Dexter’s forearm tight.

“Am I doomed, Dexter? Cursed by the voice of the man I killed.”

Hickey didn’t wait for an answer. He released his hold and stood, shambling into the morning sun.

Dexter gave the firewater glass a wipe, and returned it to its shelf.

Feb
12

Windows rattled as the dust storm outside hurled fistfuls of pebbles at the streets of Somerset.

Howard Spicer pushed hair matted with dust away from his eyes. A smear of ochre marked where his hands had moved across his perspiring face

The Vanguards had fallen on hard times since their leader died in an Arachnid ambush. Jake had been well-liked and respected, but most of all he had fine instincts. He knew which missions to take and which would find pirates lying in wait. He knew when to scout and when the solar winds would flare up making a scout a suicide mission . He never ran into trouble on the road. 

Which made his death all the more shocking. 

Some of the Vanguards muttered that it was an inside job. That someone had betrayed him. Howard still hadn’t figured out if Jake had died through betrayal or sheer dumb luck, but he hated the distrust it engendered. The Vanguards were a fractured gang – his gang now, after his unexpected promotion to fulfil his brother’s role – and the whispers and rumours of a traitor in the crew were invidious and destructive.

To make things worse, the gang’s finances were in a parlous state. A couple of scouts gone wrong (the old hands muttering about how Jake would never have made such easy mistakes), and worst of all, the death of Carlos “Cojones” Henderson. Cojones was an old-timer. Twenty-eight years old in a career where living past twenty was an achievement, Carlos had accepted Howard as the leader, giving his authority a much needed boost. And then, on the most recent trip, his Chomper had been turned by a gang of pirates within sight of Somerset’s palisade fence. Cojones didn’t surrender. Hanging from his harness he pumped round after round into Satan’s Sisters, making two of the pirates turn tail and flee. He didn’t stop fighting until a lethal shard of shrapnel sliced through his brain. The Vanguards lost two cars that day, but most of all, they’d lost lynchpin of the gang. Howard worried that the gang may never recover.

The door burst open and Robert Hickey stormed in. He slammed the door against the raging winds. “Hey, boss.” Howard smiled. Robert had been the first to call him that, and had never stopped. It was good that someone thought he deserved the title. “I think I’ve found the solution to all your problems.” Howard became on guard. He knew the young mechanic was optimistic and open, but he also had delusions of grandeur for the Vanguards.”Go on.” he said cautiously.

“Holy Rollers are desperate. They’ve got a shipment of food to Gateway, and the penalty clause is a bitch. If they don’t deliver it in 48 hours, they get nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. And here’s the kicker.” Robert reached out to grab a chair. “Even if they don’t get paid, they’ve still got to deliver the goods.”

He swung the chair round and sat down, legs either side and arms folded on the wooden backrest. His boyish face broke into a round smile.

“And why this so good for us?”

“Don’t you see, boss. These guys are so dead keen to get this shipment there, the spondulicks will be enormous.” Robert rubbed an oil-encusted thumb and forefinger together. “I just came from Dexter’s. It’s over a hundred and thirty big ones.”

Howard sat back and exhaled. A hundred and thirty grand would make a big difference. Replace the losses. Get the gang back on the map. And pay for a headstone for Cojones. A proper one of granite, with an inscription. In Latin. He’d get the old priest to say a few words. It was the least Howard could do. He made a decision.

“Tell them we’ll do it.”

Jan
15

The Badlands of EvanThe Mercenary rolled up to the fortified wall of the Badlands Truckstop. As it weaved its way into the compound, he could hear the dull slapping of rubber against the dusty, rocky road.

A girl got out. No, he thought, a woman. She must have been in her mid-twenties. Not many live that long anymore. Fatigue shadowed her face and her dark hair was matted with sweat and dust. She pulled off a pair of stitched leather gloves and chucked them in the car, then cracked the knuckles of each finger one by one.

“Tough ride?” he called. The Merc’s armour was shattered. Holes riddled the rear and sides, and his practiced eye could make out the epicentre of rocket blasts. The decals – a red V over a medieval shield – were almost indecipherable, between the damage and the volcanic dust that covered everything that fought its way through the blasted wilderness.

She snorted. “No, it was a breeze.” She loosened the leather jacket she wore. Underneath it, a flash of red, a blouse perhaps, drew attention to the honey-hued skin at her throat. “Just like Howard said.” She mimicked a male voice, young, charming. “ ‘Charlie used to run the wilderness all the time. You’ll manage. Just put your foot down and nothing can touch you.’”

She turned and then kicked the nearest tyre. Shreds of rubber hung loose of the twisted, deformed rims. “Well, Charlie must have had better kit than this piece of garbage. Dune tyres, off road stuff.” She looked accusingly at him. “Those aren’t roads out there,” she said, pointing north. “They’re lava flows. Molten rock turned solid. Razorsharp.”

He stared to the North. “Yeah, it’s unforgiving place, alright. “ He turned back to look at her, but knew the answer before he asked the question. “This your first run?”

The girl looked at the point of exhaustion. “Yes,” she said, the anger draining from her as if he had pulled a plug. “But I can’t stop. These documents have to be in Firelight tomorrow.”

Stefano straightened and looked her in the eye. “You’ve no choice. The mechanic’s busy right now, and you’ll need a rest before you set out. Besides, it’ll be dark soon, and the Badlands are no place to travel at night.” He took her arm, and she seemed grateful for the support. “Come on in and have a bite to eat, something to drink. I’ll sort out the Merc for you, and you’ll be right as rain in the morning.”

“Thank you.” She ran her fingers through knotted hair, then self-consciously patted it into shape. “I don’t even know your name.” He knew she was hooked.

“Names? Names are just labels. But round here, most people call me Jet.”