I smiled as the front Vulcan machine guns barked into life. Caseless 5.56 rounds rocketed into the asphalt near the motorcycle gang. They were riding down our throats, their own guns blazing.
I popped the crosshairs down a touch on the heads-up display, tapped the red button again. The thrum of the guns penetrated the sealed cabin of my brand new, still under warranty, undamaged AutoTech Firestreak. I was glad these crotch rocketeers decided to throw their dice, and it came up our number. We needed a chance to burn out our stuff before the Tournament, the 'Streak and me.
Metal twisted and bent as the bullets punched through the lead cycles' armor shell. The front forks dug into the road, sliding sparks until the bike flipped over itself, landing on a wet mush that used to be a soldier for the Chaos Lords. I should have expected them to be operating this stretch of highway just before you got trapped in Los An-hell-es. Raiders were like herpes, always flaring up at the wrong time.
The remaining three bikers triangulated on my front bumper, spewing out black dots of leaden punch that shaved off a couple layers of the front armor. I twitched the accelerator to the floor. My body lurched to the high pitched whine of the YamaFord 2043 power plant. The redlining RPM's of the solid tires ate the road between us and the enemy. We squatted down as the spoiler and airdam bit the wind, pushing us to the pavement. The steering column tightened, moving only at my command. I love this car.
I flicked the Vulcans onto automatic. They fired in a spread pattern; accurate as a blind old man, but mega-intimidating. I lowered my gloved fingers to the firing button for the micromissile launcher mounted in the rear. The Vulcans ripped off the handlebars and the left hand of another Chaos Lord, leaving him a blackened blood streak across the highway. Three idiots raced by, and with a flick of the switch, one biker passed with a 5 pound missile making love to his airbrushed leather jacket. The other two just kept riding with their tailpipes between their legs. Too bad there wasn't a sports helicopter to televise the whole thing. But there'll be enough camera time for me later.
I circled back around and stepped out, grabbed my old Smith and Wesson double action .45. If they decided to play dead and hope to get a cheapshot on me, the adrenalzine burning my veins would scorch my synapses into unloading six rounds before they could get a bead on me. I kicked around the parts that were left, looking for some credit chips. The Law of Salvage was a die hard code all autoduellists followed. Through the muck of burnt flesh rolled up like pencil shavings, I found four hundred and thirty six American dollars. Enough to repair the damage, recharge the plant, maybe get an algae burger and a pack of nicotine sticks to chew on. Once I reached civilization.
My baby and I cruised through the crumbling gates of the old north entrance. I brought up the Tommy Brothers Program, downloading the streets of LA into the nav computer. Old stuff; the Civic Territory, or CT, probably changed hands 4 or 5 times since I updated the software. Wonder how much this place changed since I last blew through here? I had to leave 4 years ago after I shot Cain Hitcher's limo. Didn't look good for his image to have his mobile black phallus tour around with a gaping hole in it's side. It's a bad idea to screw with a movie mogul; one that probably rebuilt the fuckin' city with his own money. But he cut me off.
I didn't pay much attention in History class, so I don't know exactly what happened down here. I'd usually cut to hang out with 'ol Tyler at the auto shop. I was the only one listening to what he said, instead of secreting hormones over the latest issues of Autoduel Quarterly like a wannabe duellist. Magazines don't make you anything but dependent on the newest equipment. I learned to put my faith in a good mechanic and my own reflexes.
The Firestreak and I skirted remnants of fallen skyscrapers, the engine idling at a low humm. I barely felt the edge anymore. The 'zine I dropped back before the gang ripped on me was ebbing away. It was a whole different game in the city. It was easy enough to spot some rovers out on the highway with radar, but in this enclosed area, some group of kids on Black Ice could swarm, skinning us in a matter of minutes, with out leaving so much as a servo motor.
The smog tainted sun started slipping behind the Santa Anas, and long shadows hugged the 'Streak. I brought up the headlights, maneuvering the lamps low to the ground, so as not to attract attention. I didn't want hooters calling my number here. It was easy not to buy the standard flame red Firestreak. I knew it looked just like a virgin's cherry waiting to be popped by anyone with a bad attitude. So I got this one, a black with crimson trim. The paint saved me from paying 5 G's on a stealth system. Sometimes common sense is better than fancy tech.
The HUD beeped red in the corner, finishing the download of the map. Only needed to put in where I was idling, and where I wanted to go. A swinging sign read "Sepulveda Avenue" in traditional post-Apocalypse, weathered style. I checked the business card again. In black, dripping letters, it read "The Tar Pit, just off the 10 in Hollywood". Hollywood. A CT run by whichever movie company paid off the most people to win the most Academies for the year.
I punched in the location, and found the blue arrow floating two inches above the dashboard, pointing left. I followed the little guide, picking up some speed in the hope that the fat salesman with gold teeth and a chromed head wasn't nuking me when he sold this puppy.
I turned down another street, the arrow pointing straight ahead, right into a war. I slammed on the brakes; we stopped instantly. Just checking the anti-lock brakes. I didn't want to pull an end-o without a camera around.
The scuffle looked like it was all peds. Pretty fierce stuff. Bodies in battle armor waved autopistols, and three skinheads shook things up with a tripod recoilless rifle. Red light imprinted on my retinas; laser fire. These guys had some dough supporting their aggressive tendencies, and they weren't saving to buy a Poofters holo-crystal. The blue arrow blinked forward. I probably could've gone around them... but I've never seen the effect of a ram plate on a person before.
I jammed the accelerator to the floor, clicked the headlights onto bright, straight ahead, hoping they wouldn't be able to get a target dot on me. A high screech peeled out of us both, and I became one with my baby, felt the tires caressing the asphalt, caressing me. A couple pops of bullets impacted off the front, then the windshield washed red. The wipers dutifully slid out of their holes, cleaning off the scraps. I saw a tendon caught under the wiper, twisting back and forth over the window for a few seconds before it fell off under the water spray. By that time I was out of the area. It still took me 4 seconds before I came down and let up on the speed. I almost creamed myself in the meantime.
The Tar Pit was known to any autoduellist who's been on TV. That means only the good ones. With the AADA World Tournament being held in Anaheim this year, the owners decided to have a little party for all the participants. After I let the AADA know I clinched the regional championships for the Pacific Northwest, I was sent an invitation.
It was in a screaming section of town, with violent lights and an even more violent attitude. This was a Zero-level Weapons Code area; I could walk down the street with a laser satellite if I wanted to. The streets were wet with a light drizzle that was smothering the city. Last time I was down here, I lost the paint job of my old '37 Scorpio in 3 months under the falling acid. I scanned for a sheltered parking structure, screw the cost. The chips I got from the dead grab-ass this afternoon would treat. We coasted up to the concrete bunker before a ramp leading up to a garage. We parked on the ninth level and I hoofed the distance. Looked like a busy evening. There was enough vehicular weaponry in this garage to take on a marine division. I climbed out of the car after setting the anti-theft system. I liked this one because it had antipersonnel flechette grenades. I also grabbed my .45 and titanium bowie knife, to be on the safe side.
The street always represents the town. Some got clean, well patrolled areas, some got zombies walking along with a headful of Ice, but only in LA can you find guys with rocket powered roller skates smoke by ramming on a Les Paul guitar and portable amp. Los Angeles is still the town where you could get anything, if the cockroaches didn't get it first. I'd move here today if I didn't like breathing clean air and fishing so much.
I strolled down the sidewalk, crinking out my joints. I was pretty stiff after sitting in body armor for 5 hours. It was beginning to chafe a little, too. New suits always do. Too bad they don't stay new for very long.
"You dose man, you dose?" A long blonde haired man with pure silver eyes and a "Gore Corps" concert T-shirt walked up to me, holding out some endorphins.
|"And if you do not move along, I will be forced to engage in some unpleasantries that will result in your bodily injury."|
"No," I lied. I do my share of combat drugs, though not as much as other autoduellists. I learned to stay away from the street stuff, most of which is only 10% pure and 90% overpriced anyway, besides the fact of some nasty experimentals floating around. Last woman I screwed developed a skin problem after taking some variant of speedball she scraped off a gutterboy. Turns out her skin reproduced a little too quickly for her to shed it off. She smothered in her own flesh.
The Tar Pit didn't smell at all like it's name. Even though it was right across from the La Brea burial grounds, it had the odor of sweat and metal.
The sound of power chords leaked out of the door. A man whose biceps reached to his elbows stood in front. I wondered how much of him was natural. Wouldn't surprise me if they got a cyborg bouncing for them.
"I guess they started without me," I said to him. He only looked at me from behind mirror shades. Gargoyles.
He responded in the soft baritone of a blues man. "Sorry, sir, there is a private function tonight, and the public is not admitted,"
"Ah. Not even for a style-right guy like me?"
"Fashion does not have the power to get one inside. I am. And if you do not move along, I will be forced to engage in some unpleasantries that will result in your bodily injury." I decided having my left ear meeting my colon was not a good idea.
"Ok, ok, I have an invitation," I handed him the paper with a look of impatience that I had to fake. I should've dropped some more 'zine before I came in.
"Chester Hayfield. You may enter." He stepped aside, like a Mack truck rolling off a manhole cover. I strolled in, wondering why some people always had to prove something.
|This was a Zero-level Weapons Code area;
I could walk down the street with a laser satellite if I wanted to.|
Inside was a heat pit. Bodies slamming up at the stage, duellists trying to scope out the opposition, producers, bodyguards, and working girls. At the back was a crowded bar with multicolored florescent stools. A giant Tyrannosaurus Rex loomed over the crowd, stretching down into the mass below, dragging up holographic images of helpless victims into it's gaping neon green maw. The stage was raised, but not separated, as the rest of the place was, from the dance floor. A reinforced cyclone fence surrounded the dance riot. It swayed and budged slightly, trying to collapse. Inside the heshers moshed their guts out. Some literally. Every now and then you'd see a face squish against the fence, a mixture of blood, hair, puke, algae beer, and perspiration. It would have its eyes closed, then move off again in the whirlwind of the dance. Add to the whole pot an air of notoriety, celebrity, and money. This was where the movie gods would drop by, scratch a deal, make someone famous for a week or two. You had to be someone to get in here. Either that or know how to give a cyborg a blow job.
I scanned the bar. A familiar embossed jacket of a demon hand holding up a human heart summoned me. I walked behind it and bellowed, "Turn around gravy guts and fight a real man". The jacket straightened; a face looked over a shoulder, then turned to the dingleberry next to him. After a few words and some credit chips, the hang-on left, and I sat down next to Mike Montgomery, former AADA world champion. He'd gotten a little pudgy since I last saw him, and had some scruff on his face.
"Success been treating you too good, eh?" I shook hands with Mike, going from full fist to palm to fingers.
"Nah, it's the missus." He answered in his gravelly voice. Too many days outside without his respirator.
"Bull shit, you chained now?" I couldn't believe it. For awhile, until I started competing, Mike "Mad Dog" Montgomery had been one of the images I prized. I liked the man even more.
"Yeah. Decided to park it all and put the emergency brake on, you know? I won't be going anywhere for some time. Just get occasional guest appearances on the Love Bus now." He looked into his glass, as if it would tell him why. "But how 'bout you? Been ripping it up in Washington I heard?" He turned towards me, brushing away the black hair that was now down to his shoulders. Some duellists like long hair. I always found that it was too much of a pain to shove it under your helmet to make it worth my while.
"Yeah. I got a good mechanic. Don't tell anyone, but everyone up there is a wimp. Mostly hicks with modified Lawn Maulers." We both laughed. Mike was the only one I didn't need to impress with talk about my victories, he knew them well enough. I liked the fact I didn't have to be someone else to him.
"So now you want the gold trophy, huh? This is it?" He asked, finishing off his drink and ordering another.
"What else is there?"
"You know, Hes, it ain't all fun and glory. If you win, you got movie deals, holo-albums to make, open shopping malls, and interviews every fucking day. I heard you turned down an offer to do that Miller commercial on TV. That's only the beginning. Everyone wants a piece of you when you win. And you don't know if they want you, your lifetime membership to the AADA, or your death just so they can prove something. And then you got cities asking you to be their vigilante, come around and clean up this town or that, run these rioters out, and all the time you got to be practicing for next year." He sounded like my dad.
"Mike, c'mon man! What about the babes and the free 'zine? And to know you won! Know you're the best? You're the baddest ass sonuvabitch that ever ran a current through a drive train. Don't tell me you don't like that?"
"Yeah, I liked that. I liked that a lot. But then you get teds like you who want what I got. Ah, what the fuck am I saying? You ain't gonna listen, and maybe I am just an old model." He downed his drink in one swallow.
"Sounds like you need to get back in the 'rena, Mike. Besides, we can't let this bitch Hosaka keep the title, can we?" Karmina Hosaka was the current champion. The press loved her. She had a face that was easy for her fans to copy-sculpture. And she knew the right big wigs in both America and Japan. I'll bet she's never even seen what's under the hood of her car. Bitch.
"Let's get it back for America, man. Let's have one for the red, white, and blue." I grabbed the bartender as she walked by.
"Beer for me and my friend. Real, not fungus." I turned to Mike. "We only get the best, coz we are the best." I clapped him on the shoulder, but he only shook his head.
|Some people go Zen or other weird shit before a duel. Me, I have a beer.|
Mike let me crash in his hotel. Seems like he was doing the coloring for the tournament. I was glad, because I knew he could put that personal touch on the duel. It was also ice that I had him around. I wanted to get some skank, but he said they all had Parkinson's disease. And he got me up the next morning, in time to bop the 'Streak over to Muscle Downs to get repaired and reloaded, and register at the Arena. Talk was that I wasn't a favorite son or even the Dark Horse for this one. Had 12 to one odds on me, should be out in 2 minutes, tops. Bets were between Hosaka and her Dragon, and the Texan qualifier, known only as The Seraph, rumored to have a gas powered car. Yeah, right. Last gas engine I saw was in chemistry class. I put a quarter million down on ourselves. The 'Streak and I would win or die. That was the way of the Arena. Mike still made me go to Gold Cross before I entered. Said he wouldn't loan me any money for bets unless I did.
"Even if you win, it's still a good idea to have insurance," he argued. I did it to satisfy him. I wouldn't lose.
Some people go Zen or other weird shit before a duel. Me, I have a beer. One of the most worst things to happen is to get hyped, then burn out before you even cross through the stall. I need to stay steely until the time was right. Don't need to worry about training, because if you make an image for yourself, everyone and their pet rats want to take it apart, or share it's glow. Makes for a lot of fights.
The 'Streak rolled out of the Downs at 3. Mike accompanied me over to pick her up, just in case one of the duellists hired a gang to take out the competition a little early. But no fun.
Six o' clock beeped, and we headed out for the convoy to the arena. I looked at Mike.
"You gonna wish me luck?"
"Why, do you need it?" he replied.
The duellists had a special route to enter the Arena. Nothing could happen to the players of the biggest televised event in the nation, maybe even the world. I popped the tab on my last tube of 'zine. The piss colored syrup went down bad, like it always does. They're gonna have to flavor this stuff some day.
The arena was a square, quarter mile each side. Didn't leave much room for mistakes. The side walls were 5 feet thick reinforced concrete. The 100,000 screaming fans 20 feet above had bullet proof glass between them and the battle below. Didn't always manage to stop stray cannon shots. Which is why there's a "No one can sue us if you die" clause in the ticket.
We entered a large compound, with lots of cameras, groupies, bodyguards, hospital facilities, and 5 duellists. I couldn't see The Seraph anywhere. The CB beeped at me.
"Hayfield here." I started rifling through my audio files to find the music I wanted. Knew what it would be years before I ever got here. I even had my victory speech planned out. Most duellists, if they listen to music, usually pound along to something with 250 plus beats per minute. But I popped in Ozzy Osbourne Tribute. It was a compact disc, one of the vintage ones without any visuals or emotion controllers. It even had white noise with it. Made back when people cared about the music they made. I was going off the rails, and "Crazy Train" was the only choice.
"Hayfield, stall 4. Good luck." The president of the AADA mumbled. Man of few words. I could understand. I wouldn't say much when I got there.
They gave everyone a crystal of the rules, but I already knew them by heart. There were 10 different colored areas on the arena floor: all hues of the spectrum, black, and the "ultraviolet" color. The location of UV isn't known until the other nine have been crossed. Be the first to cross all 10 areas either in a vehicle or on foot. And no time limit.
I waited alone in a concrete green room next to the arena. At the bell, the portal would open, and I would drive through to be the youngest autoduellist to snag the crown. It was exactly as I dreamed, back when I was scorching the streets in Seattle with my high school buddies. They're all dead now. And here I am.
"Hey, Hayfield." I turned to see the sexy silhouette of Hosaka. She kept in shape, of course. Perfect hair, perfectly curved body under a skin tight suit of body armor. The skin tights didn't provide as much protection as the plated ones I had, but it made you look good. Real good.
"Came to wish me luck? I don't want it." I tightened my boot straps. "No, I don't want to wish you luck. Just wanted to see who this hot shit was."
"Yeah, well, what do you think?" She paused, looking at me for awhile. "A little obsessed. I might be able to like you if you settled down for awhile. Drive offensively Hes, but don't live offensively." She turned and left, her boots clicking ominously down the hall.
The recorder placed in everyone's vehicle to get first hand experience of the duel whirred silently above my shoulder. ESPN cut a deal with me to get a brain linkup, record my emotions on tape, to make a braindance program for the public. It was sell-out shit, but I needed the money. If you wanted to experience the duel, you do it from behind the wheel, not comfy safe in your living room.
The cry of the crowd filled the car. I couldn't tell if it was from the Ozzy live album, or the ticket holders. The systems check result burned in front of me.
"All systems go." The Firestreak wanted it as bad as I did. It was fresh and wanted to show it. I liked her spirit. I would keep her no matter what happened.
The bell was drowned out by the scream of the Oz-master.
"Crazy train! We're going to have a wild time!" The door opened. Floor it. Faster. Area one to my left. Swing the car around oh shit there's Speed Webber. I opened up hard with the Vulcans. Chunks leaving his car as smoke trails of a rocket launcher screeched above me. You suck, buddy.
"Crazy! But that's how it goes!"
|I see it now, glowing bright there it is it's mine it's mine..|
Yeah come on come on come on yes! I flew across the red area. The color bar marking the areas I had left got shorter, the strip of red gone. Explosions behind me. Fuck someone in my 6. FUCK! We fishtailed right as our rear took an autocannon hit, leaving a large chunk of the 'Streak on the ground behind it. I slid down to the missile launcher, killing off 2 shots but no hit. Orange straight ahead. WHAM! The next cannon shell brought out a fart of smoke from the 'Streak. Shit can't take another hit there faster faster come on come on.
Beep beep beep. Sensor telling me orange gone. Yes, baby, fuck that pavement. Down on the ground, spoiler and airdam whistling as they conformed the air flow around the car. LCD read 60 mph. Yeah, turn it up faster. Cement wall breaks on my left, goddamn asshole still behind me well follow this cocksucker. I rammed the wheel right, screeching away from the wall I was paralleling, the crowd way above me behind the protective shield. There for me. Scream for me.
"Millions of people, living as foes!"
Head straight into the heart of the Hell shots all around shit they're all shooting at me pick one target concentrate one target. That Hammer coming to my left yes he's dead eat this mother fucker. Vulcans roared into his left side. Yes you can't get away from me asshole closer yes closer faster I see that tire it's gone buddy. The rounds chunked into the ground 15 feet away, and I left seeing the Hammer's rear right wheel drive motor, as he began skidding crazily in every direction, his rockets impacting across the arena wildly. Wasting shells buddy bad idea. Yellow yes yes yes I'm winning thought I was playing fucking amateur duel didn't you all you fucks I showed you.
"Mental wounds not healing! Driving me insane!"
|... skidding to the left come on he's getting away come on shit quit spinning fuck spinout come on shit here comes the Hammer again can't get a lock on fuck come on ...|
Yes sing it to me Ozzy you're my god. No one around green will be mine almost halfway there and barely touched. Here it comes here it comes YA-HOO!
Blue right over here. No problem, let them fight among themselves, assholes. How many down? Shit 1 kill already. Hey! I hit Speed Webber, half of that was my kill. There's Hosaka that bitch I can hit her from here. Suck on this you whore. Fuck I missed. Come on shit where'd she go blue yes! I'm going to win I'm going to win I'm going to win.
"I'm going off the rails on a Crazy Train!"
Holy fuck, what the fuck is that!
A mountain was thundering towards me flame of Hell pouring from the engine oh my god it's a gas burner The Seraph he has metal armor oh fuck fire fuck nothing fire fuck nothing shit! He's the autocannon fuck ouch shit there goes half my front armor can I survive a ram? He's playing chicken coming right for me fuck I'm going too fast shit I can't get through his armor shit shit shit shit DAMN!
I turned hard away, front armor too damaged to take any hits, he cruised behind me didn't move you fucking asshole I'm taking you out you got no rear weapons. Slam on the brakes skid fuck whirl around bootlegger reverse did it all the time in school shit skidding to the left come on he's getting away come on shit quit spinning fuck spinout come on shit here comes the Hammer again can't get a lock on fuck come on STOP!
"I'm going off the rails on a Crazy Train!"
Yes yes come on baby yes now you die asshole eat lead yes front armor almost gone yes just a little more I have you now breach! Yes! Eat this interior hits hope you got the Cross buddy yes I see blood the crowd cries I love it cry for me his car stopping not firing anymore couldn't take it weak Hammer 3 kills now holy shit! Only me and Hosaka still around and who else? The Seraph. Fuck.
I breathed. Indigo was nearby. Run across it where are the others hope they're tearing into each other there it is easy no problem ohfuckmines!
The Firestreak made a hurting sound from it's tires some fuck left mines over the floor can I skirt by it not hit any yes go slow how fast only 35 yes didn't set any off ha ha you fuck.
"I've listened to preachers! I've listened to fools!"
The crowd wants more can't disappoint the crowd fast to violet faster get up to 60 again what's our status 4 shots left on Vulcans ok better watch it go for the win don't fall into bloodlust think Hayfield but oh the 'zine hurts there's the Seraph behind me no you don't let's see if you got metal over those tires buddy missiles fly miss shit this thing is so slow fire again miss shit here he comes fuck he's fast coming up fast SHIT! There goes the cannon WHAM! hit again one more it's a breach shit come on baby go faster violet just a little ways away what's Hosaka doing that bitch why isn't she taking this guy faster there's violet yes I got it I WHOOM!
|I'm going to win I'm going to win I'm going to win.|
I careened over the tile, red buzzers screaming at me that the rear has been breached no more armor there fuck keep the back away from him no baby don't fight me come on don't fight me no no no no not now oh shit I'm crying I want it so bad stop yes there's Hosaka take him take him yes she's right behind him yes heavy rockets yes he's gone now yes ram it down his throat. I stopped feet past the indigo. Only a black bar lurked in the HUD.
"I've watched all the dropouts! Who make their own rules!"
He's turning into her peeling out yeah lose those tire treads eat that bitch up shit he's not moving very fast that rocket got in ouch! The babe ate that one in the front. Here I go. Maybe they won't see me. I only need 2 more. I can do it, yes, keep fighting. Good-bye.
I raced for black, buzzers drilling into my brain. I know we have no rear armor. Nobody around, I'm ok. There's black, a pit in the arena here I go come to papa yes come on come on come on come on come on YES! One more! Only one more! Where is it where is it? Back over there with them. Shit I can take it. They are probably both dead. We got it baby you and I. I stroked the dashboard.
I see it now, glowing bright there it is it's mine it's mine no oh no it can't be it's Hosaka the bitch the bitch that whore cunt slut you think you're so bad I'm gonna fuck you. Ramming speed! Faster faster come on you're gonna eat my plate faster yeah I'll give it to you hard faster me and my baby are gonna fuck you faster right in front of me I see her she's firing I don't care fire on me I can take it yeah I can take it you're gone bitch yes come to me yes Yes Yes yesohohooooooooooh!!!
That's when I died.
I woke up in the hospital. Mike was standing by my bed looking at me with a nurse in a gold uniform pestering him for an autograph.
"Hey Hes. You'll never guess what happened."
"What? I can't believe you talked me into this. I'm going to win." He just smiled, and scribbled his name on her crystal. He showed me the screamsheet headline:
"HOSAKA HOLDS THE TITLE!"
"There's nothing wrong with a clone bank, Hes," he said, handing me the recorder that was in my car, only it was full, and contained the whole event up to the point of my death. "I'm sorry it had to happen this way."
I closed my eyes.
For the first time in my life, the screaming of the audience was silent. I never heard it again.
||Volume 7, Issue 3|