It's a futuristic Western.
Please don't hate me.
I've already sent the completed version to a few people, but I'll be posting it here in sections for reading convenience. Expect an update every week or so.
Post your comments in between each section. (EN LIKES COMMENTS. SHE LIKES THEM VERY MUCH. : D?)
[Links to additional sections will go here.]
Chunk chunk chunk chunk FOOM.
He had not liked any of the sounds that had been coming from his bike's engine for the last three miles, but he liked this final one even less. It would have been okay if it had just been making noises; he probably could have coasted all the way into the next town on it, and hit the mechanic up for a replacement for whatever was in such pain. However, the engine decided to cut out with that final tortured wrench, and the entire bike dropped right out of the air.
The hover thrusters on the underside of the chassis went completely dead, as did the forward thruster in the rear, under the taillights. The steady, droning hum of the motor at work suddenly receded into silence. There was one moment in which there was no air circulating through the thrusters, and yet the bike still rode on its acquired momentum. The helmeted rider mumbled a muffled "oh, no" as he realized what was about to happen. Then, with no pomp and circumstance, he bailed.
The man tumbled across the wide dirt road, spawning a large dust cloud that flew up into the air in his wake. The bike crashed to the ground, screeching along for a few seconds before finally tipping over onto one side. It felt as though the paint job was being scraped off his heart as the rocks that littered the road ripped at the varnished navy underside of the bike. The metallic screaming slowly faded, allowing the previous quiet to return.
The rider allowed himself to lie spread-eagled on the road, sighing and staring up at the midafternoon sun through the tinted visor of his streamlined helmet. Finally he rolled over and pushed himself up to his feet, dusting off his long, unbuttoned black trenchcoat. He slowly walked over to the edge of the ditch that bordered the road. The bike lay at the bottom, settled into the dry earth. Well, at least there hadn't been any rain recently. If there had been any water in that drainage ditch, he would have been even more frustrated at his general position.
He pulled his black helmet off and laid it down on the side of the road. What came out was a head covered in blazing orange hair, and a pair of hazel eyes set into an expansively sunburnt face. There was something vaguely odd about his left eye; it looked more unfocused and filmy than his right. He was of reasonable age, halfway through his twenties at the top end. He was a tall, wiry sort of person, so vertically inclined that most people would have to angle their heads upward to look him in the eye.
He took a second to look around. To the left and right extended the wasteland that he had been riding through for hours beyond counting. Rocks of all sizes, from pebbles to boulders, littered the sand dunes that rose and fell toward the distant horizon. The few clumps of vegetation consisted of dead sticks that might have been bushes once, and probably flourished with the rain. However, it seemed as though it had been a long time since a weather phenomenon of that nature, because the land was parched completely dry. Even the air felt heavy and humid, and his sweat was already starting to soak into his shirt. Above all of the earth's strife, a perfect azure sky arced overhead, from edge to edge. With his mouth twisted in sour distaste, he hopped down into the ditch and set about hauling his bike out.
A distant buzzing cut through the silence. The man stuck his head up and raised a hand to shade his eyes, scanning his immediate world for the source of the suspiciously mechanical drone. The highway, which was comprised of pavement long since cracked and worn down by time, wound from horizon to horizon. A dirt sideroad peeled off of the freeway, heading off behind several dunes, but it looked far too disused to lead to anywhere. The man's eyes widened and he let the bike slide back into the bottom of the ditch. There was a small red speck far up the highway, slowly coming closer.
He smiled thinly at his fortune, bent down and pulled the engine cover off. A blast of steam sent him stumbling backwards with a yelp. He was no expert on airbike mechanics, but he was pretty much convinced that something rather bad had happened to his primary mode of transport. The man fanned away the vapour with one hand, looking in the incoming traveler's direction. He still had a few minutes.
Now that it was closing in, he could make out a wide, low-set vehicle--probably a four-by-four--and a rider seated atop it.
The man pressed a small button just behind the padded seat; a lid popped open. He reached in and pulled out a round, brown, wide-brimmed hat, the kind that had been worn by every gunslinger hero in every Western since the beginning of television. The man plunked this down on his head and pushed the lid shut. With truly monolithic patience, he scrambled up out of the dugout, straightened up to his full six-foot-five height, and waited.
He spent a good minute and a half in such a position. He wasn't sure whether the driver saw his gesture at such a distance, but thought that he might have seen their head quirk briefly upward. He didn't move as the four-by-four approached. Driving right past him would be much more than rude; it would be a flying leap off the cliff of rude and into the pit of personal insult.
Thankfully, the four-by-four did stop. The rider braked to a halt once they had drawn level with the man on the other side of the road. The engine was not shut off, though, and the four thrusters in the corners of the vehicle's body were left idling. The rider was far enough away to be able to make an escape if the man turned out to be one of the more undesirable types.
The driver reached up, pulled the driving goggles away from their eyes and repositioned them on their forehead, above the brim of the black peaked cap that they wore. She grinned in his direction--for a girl it was, probably seventeen or eighteen--and leaned against the steering wheel of her four-by-four.
"Hiya," she greeted pleasantly. "What's up?"
The man thumbed toward the ditch. "My bike gave up. Can I bother you for a lift?"
"Let me see what I can do for the poor li'l guy first." The girl killed the engine and leapt off as it sank calmly to the surface of the road. She struck the man as an odd sort of creature; she was wearing boy's clothes, for a start. Her oversized blue denim jeans, thoroughly worn at the knees, were held up by a pair of red suspenders over a high-necked black shirt. Her messy chestnut hair was pulled up and knotted into a big clump where her head met her neck. Her green eyes were glittering brightly as she swaggered easily past him, towards the blue bike marooned in the ditch. Her black sneakers churned up piles of dirt and dust as she slid down the slope to the bottom. The man followed, his hiking boots biting into the earth better than any running shoe ever could.
She squatted down to look at the contents of the engine compartment, which was still exuding small trickles of steam. He thought that it should have taken her a few minutes of tinkering to figure out what was wrong, but she nodded and stood up again almost immediately.
"You blew the coolin' line," she informed him. "That's where all that steam is comin' from. Without water flowin' through the engine to keep it cool, the whole thin' overheated and shut down."
"Oh," he said simply.
"How long have you had this? It looks old, but it's in pretty good shape."
The man reached into his black coat with his right hand and pulled out a rawhide wallet. He flipped it open and pulled out a card, handing it to the girl. Her eyes flicked across it; it was a registration license for the airbike. His mugshot was off to one side, and his personal information was listed in the middle.
"Salinas, Gavin," the girl read. "Nice name."
"Gavin Salinas," he corrected quickly. She shrugged and gave it back.
"Same thing. Seven years old, this is?" She nodded towards the bike. "Not bad. Most rides that old don't go anymore. You've treated the little guy well."
"Yeah. I try to." The man named Gavin tucked his wallet into the inner pocket of his jacket.
"So about that lift," she went on. "I was goin' to drop off some custom parts in Madison, but I can take you back to Safford City and get up a new coolin' line."
"Are you a mechanic or something?"
"You got that right."
"Heh. Of all people, I was lucky enough to have a mechanic come pick me up."
The girl stuck out her hand, grinning. "Memphis Pittsfield, offerin' you a lift."
Gavin Salinas smiled warmly and shook it, noticing how toughened her hand was. He definitely liked this girl Memphis; she was a welcome relief from all the bad attitude that he'd been getting as he had crossed the West. Her friendly eyes, open face, and even the way she spoke told him that she was a person that he could get along with and trust.
"Very nice to meet you--uh, Ms. Pittsfield?"
"Just Memphis. Gavin?"
"Sure. Ever been to Tennessee?"
She rolled her eyes and laughed. "Everyone just thinks that they're so funny. If you gotta know, then I haven't. Plan on it someday. Now, you wanna get this thing onto Bill?"
Gavin looked around helplessly. "Who's Bill?"
"Over there." Memphis pointed across the road--the ditch wall only came up to her shoulder--at the big flame-red four-by-four. "Bill."
"Bill. Right." He bent at the knees and latched his fingers underneath one end of the airbike. Memphis did the same on the opposite side.
The pair of them lifted the hundred and ninety pounds of vehicle between them. The bike hung precariously between their hands, threatening to fall and break all of their toes if even one finger slipped. They made slow progress up the side of the dugout, their shoes scrabbling for a hold in the loose earth. Memphis's face was quickly going red from the strain, and Gavin was just about to propose a rest when they crested the ditch wall and dumped the airbike onto the side of the road.
"Whew!" Memphis leaned heavily against the bike, pushing her hair out of her eyes. "Sorry, Gavin, but you have a seriously overweight set of turbines."
"They get lighter?"
"I once worked on one that weighed about ninety."
"That's for sure. I'll get Bill."
She hared off across the road and up into the driver's seat of the four-by-four. The engine growled to life, and the entire vehicle was forced up into the air by its quartet of hover thrusters. Memphis pulled the steering wheel around and yanked the gearshift back into reverse; the white lights on the back lit up, and the entire four-by-four inched backwards until it was only a foot and a half from the bike.
"Stay here, Bill," she implored of the air vehicle as she hurried back around to her end of Gavin's airbike. Together, they hauled it up onto the cargo cage fixed to the back of the four-by-four. The rear end sagged dramatically under its weight, but then the on-board computer rerouted a large amount of the engine power to the back thrusters, and Bill levelled itself out again. Memphis swung up behind the wheel. Gavin grabbed his helmet off the roadside, tossed it into the compartment behind the airbike's saddle and found his place in the passenger-side seat. The bulky red four-by-four sluggishly swung itself around and began its noticeably slowed progress back the way that it had come.
"So how far is it to--what's this town called again?" he asked, looking toward the horizon.
"Safford City. About ten minutes with all this extra weight, maybe a little more." Memphis looked over at him out of the corner of her eyes, keeping half of her attention on the unoccupied road. "So what are you doin' all the way out here?"
"I'm road tripping out to San Fran to see my parents. Came from Albany."
"On an airbike?"
"You do realize that you're on the wrong turnoff, right?"
"Yeah. You fell off the main highway two miles ago."
"Aaargh..." He shook his head woefully. "I can't believe it."
"Don't worry, Frisco's just two hours or so from here."
He glared off into the distance, furious at making such a mistake.
"Oh, and cool hat."
"Thanks." He sighed and tipped the cowboy hat to her, hoping that the wind wouldn't drag it straight out of his hand.
"Makes you look like a real..."
Memphis trailed blandly off, almost openly gawking at his belt, nearly ignoring the road. Gavin looked down and realized that the breeze from Bill's passage was pulling his trenchcoat back. Perfectly visible for the first time was the highly polished chrome revolver that was stuffed into a holster attached to his belt.
"Lord," she gasped, "are you workin' for Fresno?"
She watched his facial expression carefully. Memphis was trying to decide whether he was lying or not, he knew it. Gavin was entirely aware of how blank the look he returned was, and had no problems with it. He had never heard of whatever Fresno she was referring to.
"You're not?" she demanded stiffly.
"No, I'm just heading to San Francisco. Okay, so I'm a wild gun, but I have no idea who you're talking about."
Memphis nodded, apparently satisfied. "Sorry. It's just that...we never get any guns comin' through Safford City."
"Who is this Fresno person?"
"Hopefully you won't run into him while you're in town. He's a complete jerk, I'm tellin' you. Trust me, you don't wanna get into a gunfight with him if you do end up meetin' him."
Gavin sat back in his seat, eyes fixed straight ahead. "That bad, huh?"
"What's he doing to the town?"
She sighed, shook her head and didn't answer.
Things were growing on the horizon now. Buildings were rising out of the ground, crowding close to either side of the road. A sign sprang up on the right edge of the highway. It was a rusty, pitted, neglected old piece of metal on two weathered wooden legs. Somehow, the projectors were still working, and the orange-yellow holographic letters that stood out in three dimensions from the sign were still legible. NOW ENTERING SAFFORD CITY TOWN LIMITS.
Gavin had passed through many oddly-named towns during his westward adventure, but Safford City immediately claimed a place up near the top of the list. What Bill followed the freeway through was anything but a city. The smallest buildings--one-story houses and the odd warehouse--were old, decrepit, and scattered across the edges of the heavier-populated centre of town. People leaned out grimy windows and sat on rotting wooden or rusted aluminium porches. They shot Bill a single glance, seeing and accepted Memphis as the driver, then realized that she had a passenger, and stared until the four-by-four has passed.
Gavin turned to look back. On the edges of town, at least, there was no great wealth. The citizens here were dingy and dirty, looking as though they were restricted to Saturday baths at the most. Water must have been a problem, he thought. It was no different than all the other small towns he had gone through. Water seemed to be an issue everywhere in the country these days.
The houses and shops were growing larger now; as they approached the middle of Safford City, two- and three-level structures became the norm. Almost all of them were made of stone and brick, with their steel skeletons showing through chinks and cracks that were often badly patched. It was an odd change from the other towns in the area, where steel had been most common.
"Hide your gun," Memphis advised quietly. Gavin hurriedly did up a couple of coat buttons to conceal the holster on his belt.
The highway suddenly opened onto a round, wide square of sorts, rimmed by buildings of every size and use. The ground here was made of cracked, broken asphalt just like the road had, but this was covered in a thick layer of heavy dust that had been building slowly since they had crossed the town's border. Bill's thrusters left two clean tracks through the dirt, crisscrossing other trails that had been half-filled in by the wind that pushed the dust around. Memphis swung in close to the old stone well that stood in the middle of the paved square and spat into it. Satisfied, the four-by-four continued towards a long, low, metal-sided warehouse that faced the clearing.
"Uh, what was that?"
Memphis glanced up. "What?"
"You spit in your well?"
"Oh." She shrugged as if it wasn't anything important. "It's lucky. Everyone does it whenever they pass." She noticed the horror painted across Gavin's face, and burst out laughing.
"Don't worry! It's been bone-dry forever."
She jabbed a button on the dashboard of the four-by-four, and the retractable door of the long, single-floored warehouse began to roll upward. Two buildings down, as if on cue, a pair of children burst out onto the street.
"Hi, Memphis!" shouted one of them, a short-haired blond girl wearing a pair of jeans and a blue vest. The other one, wearing a long, lacy green dress and letting her long blond ringlets hang loose, made a disapproving face. The two of them were maybe eight or nine years old, and looked almost exactly like one another. Memphis waved at them, and gave Gavin a gentle push in his seat.
"Those're Mr. Newport's kids. They'll wanna meet you."
He hesitated for a moment. "Are you going to be all right getting my bike off by yourself?"
"Yeah, don't worry. I've got a crane."
"Thanks a lot, Memphis. I really appreciate this."
Gavin hopped off the four-by-four as it piloted itself into the garage. The girl in the pants charged toward him, reached behind her back and whipped out a gun.
His response was automatic; his left hand undid the button that held his coat shut, and his right one closed around the rubber grip of his pistol and hauled it out. In about a third of a second he was pointing his chrome handgun unwaveringly at the girl's head, his legs slightly spread and his knees half-bent.
"Sarah!" screamed the girl in the dress. The one with the short hair stared up at the muzzle of the pistol, her mouth falling open in terror. The toy gun dropped out of her hands and clattered on the pavement. Gavin quickly dropped his arm, pointing to the ground instead of the girl's face.
The other child picked up her skirts and came racing forward, threw her arms around the one in boy's clothes, and dragged her back out of the way. "Go away!" she screeched at him. "Go back to Fresno, you murdering filth!"
"I'm not with Fresno," Gavin corrected softly, jamming his gun back into its holster. "I'm sorry for doing that. You surprised me."
The short-haired girl pulled out of the long-haired one's grasp and ran forward again. "You don' work f'him?!" she demanded, squinting all the way up at him.
He shook his head slowly. "I'm only here because my bike broke down up the road, and Memphis is fixing it for me."
A wide, radiant smile cut across the tomboy's face. "You're a wild gun? A real wild gun?!"
"Well...sort of. Yeah."
"That is so damn cool!" The short-haired girl stooped to retrieve the toy gun and stuffed it through her belt, oblivious of Gavin's eyebrow going up at her foul language. "We almost never get any wild guns comin' through here! The only ones are Fresno an' 'is dopes."
"Sarah, you really must try and rise above this silly obsession of yours," chided the other girl, telling her off over her shoulder as she made a ladylike job of storming away. The short-haired child made a face at her back.
"That's my stupid sister, Lucy," she called, loud enough for the girl in the dress to hear. Lucy's sister turned to Gavin again. "An' my name's Sarah. I'm goin' to be a wild gun when I grow up."
"I've never met a girl gunslinger."
"That's 'cause I'm goin' to be th' first one. Who're you, Mister?"
"Gavin Salinas." He held out one hand, and Sarah shook it enthusiastically with both of hers. Lucy sat down on the wooden bench next to the door that the two girls had appeared out of, watching them disdainfully.
"I can' believe that I'm meetin' a real wild gun! Wow!"
"I don't think that I'll be around for very long," he said with a shrug.
"Aw, wh' not? Where're you goin'?"
"I've always wanted t'go, but my Pa won' let me."
"Maybe you'll be able to go when you become a wild gun."
"Yeah! Hey, Mr. Salinas-"
"You can just call me Gavin. 'Mr. Salinas' makes me feel old."
Sarah's grin, if it was even possible, got even wider. "You wan' to sit down, Gavin?"
She grabbed him by the hand and dragged him over to the edge of the wooden porch, in front of where Lucy sat on the bench. The short-haired girl flopped down on the edge of the deck, which was in unusually good repair for the region, and he sat down as well.
"I really like your 'at."
He chuckled and touched the brim. "That seems to be the reaction around here. Want to wear it for a bit?"
Gavin pulled it off and plunked it down on her head by ways of answer. Sarah sprung up, laughing, and drafted herself into a shootout with the town well in the middle of the square.
He watched her with a sort of light amusement. That was what he had been when he was her age: young, ignorant, and drunk on dreams. Lucy remained on the bench, thoroughly nonplussed. Finally Sarah pulled the hat off and held it out. Gavin took it back and snugged it on over his own bright hair.
He glanced up. "Hm?"
She pointed at the left side of his face. "What's wron' wit' your eye?"
"Oh. I'm blind in that eye."
Sarah deflated visibly. "Sorry..."
"Don't worry about it. I've had it since I was born. It doesn't bother me anymore."
"...doesn' it make it harder t'aim?"
"Don't think so. My depth perception isn't as good, though."
"I means that...well, I'm not exactly sure exactly how far away you are. You need both eyes to do that."
Sarah's back suddenly stiffened. She whirled around to stare down the road, in the direction of the place where Gavin's bike had broken down. A low humming began to permeate the air. He leaned forward to peer down the road as well. A dust cloud was rising a good half-mile away.
"What's the matter?" he asked. A pair of shoes clopped along the porch's floorboards, and he turned to face Lucy, standing behind him.
"It's Fresno and his fools. They're coming for their daily visit."
"C'mon, we 'ave t'go inside!" Sarah jumped up onto the porch, ran across it and paused next to the open doorway. "Lucy! Gavin! 'Urry!"