Story by Joshua Sky; art by Ian Tolmay
Previously: Swift Chrome Part 1
The Hive is an old football stadium converted into a gladiatorial arena for the cannibal tribe, the Sootar. They’re the worst. Not only do they eat you, but they wear your flesh and make all sorts of grotesque accessories. Boy do I miss the days of Forever 21.
This particular venue is nick-named the Carnival of Carnage, where they host a litany of sick games, from family torture to mass gang rapes and wholesale slaughter. The leavings are sold off as fresh meat or dried jerky. One of their favorite sports is the Auto Atrocity, where they plunk various vehicles in and stadium, as well as a shart-ton of dangerous obstacles and bet on the outcomes.
Speaking of sharting, they also have the utterly disgusting Shaitor presiding. The elites of the Sootar, representing the crowd. Obese beyond human recognition, they get the prime pickings of the leftover flesh and oversee the bloodsport on a metal grid above the battlefield, where they entertain themselves by force vomiting onto the fighters below, hawking loogies or slinging their putrid excrement.
The thought of a single one of their atoms touching Vicky made my skin crawl.
We sat in the dark. I could hear the roar of a legion of spectators and the distant, thunderous purr of vehicles. My hand gripped the wheel, knuckles ghost white. “Are you sure you want to go manual?” I asked, shyly. “I am the one who got us into this.”
“We got us into this. And I trust you.”
I nodded, forcing myself to ignore the guilt in my belly. There was loud banging and suddenly the tarp was thrown off. Before us lay the battlefield: An arena made of thin black mud with random ditches full of dead bodies and fire. Randomly in the mix were a string of people merely thrown into the combat zone just to die. Several men and women who looked as terrified as I was for their well-being, but with no way to defend themselves.
Out beyond lay the evil opposition. A whole regiment of twisted metal versus yours truly. Four cars versus one, each bedecked with weapons, barbed wire and grotesque accoutrements. But there was a glimmer of hope. The Leader – the gnarly gorilla who captured us was actually going to fight. That meant I could at least have the satisfaction of killing him before going bye-bye.
The Leader stood through the roof of an old Dodge pickup truck. All along its exterior were the nailed down limbs of his prior victims and a patchwork of sharp black objects. For the first time I got a good glimpse of his face. I hate to admit it, but for such an evil guy he was handsome. Long black hair, skin made of granite and dark hazel eyes.
Flanked at each of his sides were his goons, who drove beaters: a Toyota Corolla, a ’78 Pinto and a Nissan Sentra. The Leader lifted a speaker, but I didn’t bother giving him the time of day. We floored it and so did they.
Vicky’s speedometer ticked its way up and I could feel cold sweat percolating from my brow. “What’s the plan?” Vicky asked.
“Kill that fucker and try to get out of here.”
“Good plan. Heads up!”
Already the Dodge Ram was looming before us like a mythological beast. Vicky can take a lot, but not a head-on collision from the likes of that colossus. Just before first contact, I yanked the steering wheel left, narrowly dodging the truck’s death-grill, which sped past us and plowed directly into a bystander who was instantly pasted.
The crowd went wild.
Pock! Pock! Pock! The Shaitor were heaving their waste. I grinded my teeth and felt something slam into us as we spun-out. The Nissan with it’s exterior made of blades was drilling against Vicky’s door, pushing us towards a mote of fiery tar.
“Grasp onto him,” I spat. Outside, I could see the punctured nano-exterior latch onto the Nissan’s grill.
My foot hit metal and wheels spun. Vicky maneuvered, dragging the Nissan into a death spiral. Tire treads screamed in agony; mud flung everywhere as we gained speed. Vicky released, which sent the Nissan flying into the pit. Turns out, the tar was alive and sentient, being on fire didn’t exactly help its mood. The driver drowned as he was eaten alive.
I smirked as something plopped one-hundred-fifty-feet before us by our felled opponent. An RPG!
“Bonus weapon!” Vicky yelled. We knew exactly what to do. She sped and broke hard, her door iris-ing open. I rolled out, hoisting the weapon onto my shoulder, dodging the literal shitstorm raining from the Shaitor above when felt someone grab me.
The desperation in his eyes was unmistakable.
“Please, help me. Please!” I shook the bystander off and moved, just as the poor beggar was struck by the Corolla. Mein enemy broke hard and began to back-up, it’s occupants snickering with bloodthirsty grins. I raised the rocket launcher, locked-on and fired. The vehicle exploded and they were no more.
“Nice shot! Now get in!” Vicky screamed. I dove into her and she moved, but too late – the sky fell atop of us, along with the Dodge Ram. Vicky’s ceiling buckled inward as big black tires sped, digging in their iron heels. The truck slowly went into a crunching crawl. Rolling back and forth, back and forth as the world around me grew smaller and Vicky began to die. Every second under the crushing weight felt like an eternity in hell. The car was shattering all around me and I wanted to take the blows instead of my best friend. Until finally, the Ram drove off ahead of us.
At first I did nothing. I was frozen. Vicky was hurting bad, and I was afraid of learning to what extent. There was no self-healing. No self-repair. The Ram had gone in too deep and there was no coming back. The exterior tried to fix itself, but it buckled under its own weight.
My foot hit the pedal and she limped forward. Vicky still had some speed, but not enough. “This is the end of the road, kid.” She said with an optimism that made me start to cry.
“Shut-up, we’ve been through worse.”
“No, we haven’t. But that’s okay. I’m a goner, but we can still get you out of here.”
“I need you, Vicky. I can’t live without you.”
“Yes, you can. And I don’t plan on dying in vain either. Here, take this.” A panel opened and in it lied a small piece of metal the size of my pinky.
“What is it?”
“Me. Well, a backup of me. When you find another Smart Vehicle, you can over-ride the personality and I’ll be back.” She said the last part in an Austrian accent, I have no idea why.
“I – I –“
“Hurry up, girl.” The shattered windows displayed the oncoming vehicles, slaughtering the innocents left over and gunning our way.
“We don’t have time, so I need you to listen. My fuel cells regenerate, but they can also overload. I’m putting them into overdrive as we speak and I’m about to go nova. I need you to do one thing, jump when I say so, okay?”
“Please don’t die …”
“Stop being a wuss and do as I say. Remember, life is beautiful, which is why I need you to live. Can you do that? For me? For you?”
“Yes.” I said, wiping away tears. “Sure.”
“Good girl, now let’s go.”
Vicky sped forth in a fast limp. I turned back to see the two remaining monstrosities, nipping at her bumper. The driver of the Ram, seemed to be touching himself. I turned forward and saw a large gray wall that spanned into eternity in both directions.
“Remember, this world is worth saving. And I’m doing this for us. So, pass it on.”
“I love you Vicky!”
“Shut-up and JUMP!”
I leapt out, eating mud as I went into a roll and felt the skin strip off my elbows. A superheat warmed my back and metal shrapnel rained everywhere. My body ached, but as always, I had to move.
There were screams of horror, some of delight. When I glanced out to the disaster area, I was blinded by crimson hell-light. Vicky, the Ram and the Sentra had been obliterated. All that lay far before me was a portal that had been blown open to the outside world.
Bruised, battered and in deep pain, I limped my way out. No one stopped me. Even the Shaitor were cheering.
Compared to driving, walking blows.
Especially when it’s hot and you don’t have any water. I’d managed to find a dead raccoon on the road, which I cooked and ate, but didn’t find anything to drink. The lack of agua, coupled with the unforgiving sun made me feint along the road.
When I woke up, I found that I had been gagged and bound with an ugly woman leering over me, missing all of her teeth and a man who had his pants down and a small crossbow held to my chin. Kinky, but why me?
“Get her, get her.” The woman kept muttering. I’m assuming they were partners. Hell, husband and wife. And I was just the morsel they’d been waiting for to spice things up. Little did they know, I’ve got kick.
They took out the gag as I secretly wriggled my hands loose from the ropes that bound them. “Before you do what you’re going to do,” I said slowly. “Do you have anything to drink?” The fella gave a shrug, nodded and brought out a small canteen which he handed to his partner. She opened it and fed me a few sips. Running her hands delicately through my hair, she licked one of the droplets from the side of my face. My nostrils flared as they were exposed to her rank breath. If there’s one thing this world could use, it’s more Tic Tacs.
“Thanks.” I gave her a backwards head-butt, breaking her nose, and kicked out both legs, hitting her man in the throat. He screamed, rose his weapon and fired. I dodged as the bolt penetrated his woman’s throat.
“Sheila!” He screamed – ignoring me and immediately running to her side. She shook in his arms as they held hands and she died. I put him out of his misery. Then turned my attention towards their vehicle, an old Jeep Cherokee. No dice on being a smart vehicle, but it would do for now. Popped open the back to find their water supply and drank too much. Then I found something else …
Wrapped in a blanket, sound asleep was a baby boy.
I held him in my arms, staring into his bright blue eyes and thin tufts of blond hair. He was utterly angelic. And an endless abyss of responsibility.
I had killed his parents and felt no guilt, they would’ve done the same to me. But what was I going to do with him? The world would only teach him pain and suffering. He could end up being a monster, just like his parents. There was so much hell he could avoid if I just did him right, then and there. That was the humane thing to do. That would be moral, if there was such a thing.
“Sorry, kid. But I can’t take you with me, you understand, right?”
The boy just stared up at me, a hand outstretched.
I left him on the side of the road and didn’t look back. Well, not until I hit the ten-mile marker, that’s when Vicky’s stupid voice kicked-in.
Top ten hits like, Life isn’t worth living, if you’re only out for yourself. And, Family is all that matters. Hah, that was rich. How would a car know anything about that? A reply came from the bowels of my mind, weren’t we one?
Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!
That bitch taught me things I never wanted to know. Lessons that would sooner or later get me killed. Why the hell did she bother backing herself up, when she was already in my head? My foot hit the brakes and the Jeep went into a skid. Before I knew it, the baby was in the passenger seat holding my hand, which was annoying yet soothing. If you asked me yesterday if I would ever want kids, I’d tell you I’d sooner burn in hell. The kid was going to get me into a lot of trouble. But screw it, life is short anyhow. And he is cute. In my palm I grasped the memory card holding Vicky, my grip tightened.
I had enough gas to last a while, not enough to get to Detroit, but enough to figure out a way to get there. I stared out at the road far ahead and felt the cool wind against my face. Vicky once told me there was secondary plant that Erickson Auto, the company that made her, ran back East. Maybe there’d be another replica of Vicky’s model there. I hope so. I have to get back to her and make things right.
After all, I have family to think of.
Heavy Metal would like to thank Ian Tolmay for contributing the artwork to this story. Tolmay is a 2D/3D game artist, and you can see more of his work on his blog, his Twitter @lil_elvis1, and his portfolio at ArtStation.