ARC – Chapter Four
Vegan Fiction – Reading time approximately: 12 minutes
Previously on ARC – Like Old Times
Riker the Biker
4:10 pm, 19 Oktober 2054
Freed of restraints, I stretch, flex, and bounce, pumping what blood remains back into circulation. I read the text from X on the datapad he left: Outside, three cloaked and laser-armed micro-drones track your body’s signature communicating with the biosensor inside the dpad. Stay with it. Every thirty seconds that it’s more than a meter away, your girl loses a body segment until nothing is left—your contract expires. Your life… Well, you know how this ends. If you’re over thirty seconds from reading my texts, answer beyond the fourth ring, or the dpad goes dark, the same goes. I scroll to the picture of Simplicia. She looks as lifeless and disinclined as a half-inflated sex doll. Head drooped, knees buckled, hands hoisted above her by block and tackle.
The question I don’t allow myself is, is Simplicia dead? Not since Blanca did I touch the far reaches of love. Its indomitable joy. Its debilitating sorrow. Not since Blanca did I put love in mortal danger. Strange, I haven’t thought about her lately, fitting I’m reminded now. But I owe her memory more than to forget. And yet, when I think about her, all I see is a hunkered-down shadow in a dark culvert, her face sporadically radiated by a storm of .50 caliper tracer rounds splitting raindrops overhead. We were soaked to the bone, laughing at some stupid joke I can’t even remember when her head erupted into a pink, fleshy mist. And no matter how hard I tried or how hard I cried, I couldn’t piece her back together. I don’t know how long I waited there with the meat of her brain on my hands and face. But I waited. Waited for the next round to take my head. But like the mission we were on, waiting for air support, it never came. I should have known we were set up, I had the feeling. But I trusted command, and she died for it. I dreamed that nightmare a thousand times, but I never see from where the shot came.
The dpad communicates on a secure channel with the drones that communicate with a datapad that’s safe to say is in X’s possession. It’s the link leading to Simplicia. Relayed with multilayered encryption, but still a connection. And I know just the person to hack it. Not a clue where she is. Or if she’s even alive.
I wrap the datapad in a shop rag to smother the mic and put it in my pocket, finding Alexa’s note. I would think X searched my pockets. Of course, he did; it reads JY moles for MPF undermining ARC. Who else? Don’t know. Best trust no one. I trust D but monitor his communications. Please, don’t tell him. Alexa. I hate she put her name on a note X read. I need to find her, put her in my desert safehouse.
Instinct warned me about Joran Yosef during my interview with ARC. Eyes betray the mind’s conniving, his were deep in plot, likely this one. But enchanted as I was by the prospect of serving under Simplicia, I allowed my gutter proclivity to shutter my better intuition. Now the comeuppance paid, again by someone I love.
I’m under the hood hot-wiring the Firebird when it belches out a firebolt frightening the bejesus out of me. I bang my head, cussing as the massive V8 sputters into a rough racing rumble. The gauge shows a quarter tank. I pull the wire, the engine dies. Next, I find a floor jack and raise the grounded raptor, jack handle keeps slipping out of its socket. The mounted tires I find are four different profiles, but all fit.
As I set the bird on rubber, I hear magnetic whirls enter through the overhead door. Three eHarleys, six riders. Quiet, electrical icons of the road. Their silence a sacrilege, Harleys should roar like beasts, not whine like pixies. But these riders aren’t pixies, at least four of them.
Two bikes drop kickstand by the door, riders dismount. Scary looking, but their custom choppers are showroom steel, and I take a moment to admire them as the other bike coasts to a stop, its front wheel between my legs. My shit for luck never ends, it seems. The two dismount. They have rippling physiques, and bald heads masked by angry faces but possess sizable racks and childbearing hips, so I assume they’re female. They lap one another’s tongues as they consider me from behind scornful eyes. Then both spit at my feet. (Thankful, it wasn’t my face. That would have ignited instant reprisal and loss of life, quite possibly mine.) The two men at the door peel off chrome drive chains from around their waists and make a peddling pace towards me, eyes on fire. Their weapons whoop thunder through the air like a bullroarer. Their mates unsheathe falchions, flank to my left and right, swinging bladed-steel with the dexterity of marching band baton twirlers.
I sidestep to the jack. The biggest lesbian matches my move, chewing gum with an open mouth spewing contempt. Her daring is bold and her ass-kicking attitude scares the shit out of me. A thorny vine tattoo starts at her ankle, spirals around her leg, divides along her belly-button, between cleavage, along the neck, and behind her ear to a blood-dripping rose. I pause a second to admire this artwork as well. “Nice tat,” I say.
She says, “We don’t call 9-1-1 for picayune thieves.”
“But I’m not a—well, yeah, I guess I am,” I smile and raise my hands. “I can explain.”
In a fluid dance of speed and agility, the lesbian flicks open a butterfly knife. In my distracted amazement, I feel something slide across my chest. I look down, my shirt’s laid open, a shallow, razor-thin line beneath the gap, blood slowly beads to the surface, stings with creeping intensity. Flanks are closing in.
Showing zero interest in my explanation, I devise my strategy with a smirk of confidence that threatens the knife-wielding sapphic’s animal instinct. I’m primed to put a knee in her coochy as I turn the knife into her neck, grab the jack handle, and put on a show. Attack the biggest, baddest threat first, working my way down to the dainty at my right flank. If the little flower hasn’t shit herself inside out by then.
“For fuck’s sake,” trumpets the biggest, baddest threat. He stops and slings the drive chain over his shoulder. It’s the Roman beak and the sun-damaged skin that spins my grin. It’s his change of demeanor that stops their advance.
“In the flesh, you godless whang.” He pushes past the homoerotics, grabs me into a bear hug squeezing out a dry but squeaky fart. Sets me down, bumps my forehead with his, like old times, “How the fugging fug are you, my sweet?”
He takes stock, shakes his head, looks me up and down, “You look like shit.”
“You haven’t seen me on a bad hair day.”
“Hell I ain’t.” Riker wears a big smile flaunting perfect pearly-white military issue implants. (His real ones knocked out by the butt end of an SKS-45.) He looks at his comrades, “Everyone, this here’s Moon, the crazy vegan I yap snap about. If not for this cocksuckin’ cockroach, I’d bed with worms. Saved my leather.”
“Three times,” I remind him.
Lesbian with the butterfly knife grabs my head, gives me a kiss. I don’t fight it, but I keep an open eye at the blade beside my head. Her Bubble Yum’s fresh but squishy going in as she works her tongue in behind it. She leaves my face with a pop, “For bringing my brother back home, alive.” I’m not sure if it’s the gum or the tongue she meant, or if it even matters.
I blow a bubble, and she smacks me, hard, “That’s for getting him to re-up.”
“Three times,” Riker reminds her. And I step back.
“Told you about sis. I was hoping you two might hookup one day. Turns out, little Beta doesn’t swing that way, though.”
I’m not so sure. Nor is little Beta’s tight-lipped, narrow-eyed inamorata.
Without her hair-raising war face, Beta’s an Amazonian model sporting the Riker family hook. She winks at me. I return a lingering wink back, intending to draw the ire of her mate. It works.
Riker says, “You’ll dig knowing your battlefield sermons on the karmic life-saving virtues of veganism paid dividends. We’re all vegans, bro.” Shows me our platoon’s emblematic rattlesnake entwined in the vegan anarchist symbol tattooed on a hairy forearm the girth of a power pole and just as solid.
“Vegan for the animals,” says Beta’s lover, embracing her paramour. An arm around her waist lays a wet lazy lick over her ear. Obviously, they’ve got a thing for tongues. Normally, I wouldn’t complain. “For the planet, for ourselves, for the soul of existence, and to piss off everyone else.”
“Badass, hell raisin’ vegan bikers. Fugging bonzer!”
“Fugging A!” Riker mocks me, and we’re in the air bumping chest and foreheads, a tad too enthusiastically. We shake it off.
With an arm around my shoulder, he introduces me, “Moon, meet Jo-Co-the-Loco.”
I thought I had a grip to choke a Burmese python with. But it’s my face that wears a grimace masked as a smile as the Mexican shakes my hand like he’s pumping water from a dry desert well. “Encantado de conocerte, guerrero vegano,” he says. Big fugging heartfelt beam on this monster.
“El placer es mío,” I reply.
“Comet, Jo-Co’s novia,” says Riker. Cute petite brunette with perky knolls and a button nose, the girl I thought might shit herself inside out. Innocent, almost fragile looking creature if not for the falchion she deftly spins to a salute. “Best veterinarians on earth. Real vets, everything from aardvarks to zebras, not just kitties and puppies.
“Beta’s wife, Juice.” Juice begrudges a nod. “Proprietors of the JB Law Firm. No-quarter lawyers defending animals and their activists, anarchists, eco-terrorists, and suing the cocks off factory farms.
“And my dear…”
“Doctor Stone-Riker,” I say. Heard of her success in the news feed. “It’s good to see you again.” Filthy, sweaty, and bloody as I am, I stoop and she tiptoes to kiss my cheek.
“Looks like you could use some of my medical magic yourself,” says the surgeon.
They have professions worthy of their higher intellect. Even Riker’s a CPA. Always knew he was smart, fugging apex math wiz. Snipper couldn’t want a better spotter; spotter couldn’t want a better sniper. The Paladins of Death, they dubbed us. Something I’m no longer proud of. But here I am, still sucking sour curd from Empire’s hind teat, placing people I love at risk. A situation I fear’s about to get worse. I gotta fix this.
Beta offers amends for cutting my shirt. In the spirit of festivity, she offers me her tube top, arms crossed ready to pull it over her head. I don’t think she’s joking, but it draws a laugh out of everyone but her lover. In the spirit of my troubles, I decline her selfless consideration.
The gang takes on a warm, welcoming ambient. But a penumbra shadows Riker, “So, what the hell you doing here, Moon?” It’s a look of puzzled pity, “You need money?”
He thinks I’m thieving broke, probably still a drunk, possibly a drug addict. And I’m not so sure the world wouldn’t be better off if I weren’t back rummaging the honkytonk trashcans, sucking slurp out of discarded beer bottles, and sleeping in gutters and jail cells. “No.”
Brutus Riker, even after a six-year hiatus, pegs a nine-point-nine on my Trust-O-Meter. We’ve gone through the meat grinder and left to bake in the Fornax—Fornax is the Roman goddess of the oven, we meant it as a hot, hostile territory. (Come to discover, we were sacrificial, our abandonments were all by command plan and design. But a soldier’s expendability is a tale worthy its own volume—in both depth and decibel. I won’t elaborate here.) The others, I don’t know to trust. “Can we have a moment?” I ask.
* * *
I sink into the ragged sofa in Riker’s office. It’s an anesthetic that smells like hard work and grease. I want to curl up in the fetal position and sleep. I want to wake up and see life was just a game, some blazing high-tech real-to-life virtual reality amazement. I want to wake up to see the world at peace, eternal springtime, and sunshine, where animals are friends, not food. Where assheads and dregs exist only as binary semi-autonomous AI—that would explain a lot.
Riker shuts the door, closes the blind, and opens a refrigerator, there’s Bud, Perrier, and Impossible Burgers waiting for the grill. Considers me, then grabs two Perriers.
I start to speak, and he puts a finger to his lips. Taps a datapad and streams in classic rock, Led Zeppelin. “Need to sweep,” he says and cranks it up. Kashmir surges from an array of speakers to smoother the bugs. It’s all I need in my raw, wrought state, I transcend into the guitar’s triple meter.
He takes the chair beside me, allows me a moment to crash in the rhythm. Then, yanks me out of the rabbit hole, “Talk to me, Moon.”
My eyes flutter open, reluctantly, I look around. “So, it’s not a game.”
“Or, it’s still playtime.”
“I have two concerns, both female, Simplicia and Alexa.”
“Not that kind of concern.” I bring him up to date, leaving out certain specifics.
“Had I known it was you X meant to interrogate, I’d’ve fed him his liver.”
Whether or not he means it, I’ve seen him do it. Twice before. Poor bastards. Fugging gory. I gag down the recall. “You have an alliance with X?” I’m incredulous.
“Subcontractor. Let him the garage for the night.”
That fugging bites. Figured the garage was a commandeered risk. Was our meeting arranged, then? By plan and design? Has Riker turned X asset? Or, maybe X thought I would leave before Riker showed up. Yeah, and I own a lakeside cabin in the woods on Venus. I feel stupid. Growing paranoid. I look at my friend for a hint of duplicity; I see none. But I know one’s hope hides another’s malice, no reason mine should be any different. I sigh quietly, always the convoluting variables to cogitate and fret over. I didn’t realize I was in a drought stage. I chug down the Perrier.
“CPA’s a front, Moon. Like it or not, we’re both born assassins.” As an afterthought, he adds, “Particular about my marks, though.”
Yeah, me too, but it was the way he said it. Riker grabs me another Perrier and sits behind his desk. I wonder if he could put a bullet in my brain. Trust-O-Meter dropped a point, maybe more. Although it’s kept me alive, I fugging hate DUIs, doubts, uncertainties, and illusions.
“I’ll talk to X and see what I can find on your girl, I’ll be discreet. How can I reach you?”
He opens a desk drawer prodding my prey instinct, “Here.” Tosses me a dpad. Why not, right? I already have multiple devices spying on me, what’s another?
I take the Firebird with Riker’s blessing but asked if I could bring it back in one piece. “Cross my heart.” I knew it’d turn to lie as it left my mouth.
I’m on the road, first, to find Alexa, then to pay Mr. Yosef a little friendly visit.
Note: As the story evolves, there are revisions done to previous chapters to accommodate the evolution. These are not reflected here. While I may, at some point update the content, I think it best until the story reaches its twisting finality.
ARC is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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