When I started the final chapter of Connect I ended up getting a bit playful and inserted an Easter egg sort of tribute. I dare say it was somewhat unintentional and was the kind of thing that came out organically in the writing. It is something that usually doesn’t survive a second or third draft, and I have toyed with removing it all together if I get to a more complete re write.
Now with the passing of Bill Paxton I feel like this is something to leave in place. At the very least I will leave it here:
“I don’t wanna be bold
I don’t wanna be cold
I don’t wanna grow old
I don’t wanna go home”
— Recorded Wisdom of Before, vol. 2, ch. 5
“Well Frack. At least we don’t have to worry about getting killed in an ambush.” Hud said as he stood next to the large armored carrier.
“Why’s that?” Vas asked from her gun turret atop the vehicle.
“Because we’re gonna die here of old age before we get near that pass. Right Appo?” Hud said looking up at his unit leader who was standing on the side board of the armored carrier. When there was no response from the dark skinned man, Hud repeated his question, “Am I right?”
Appo looked down at Hud and his face did not return Hud’s smile at all.
Hud ignored the look and asked, “I mean it’s better than being up front and having to take point on whatever assault is coming, right Appo?”
“Bah, we so badass that we should be up front. I’d clear a path with these babies.” Vas said patting the large guns of her turret.
“Well, why dontcha walk on up to the front then? Right Appo? I’d bet they’d put her in charge!” Hud laughed.
Appo looked back down at Hud and held the man in a hard stare. “Shut. Up.” He said in a low voice that was laced with violent promises.
“Hah ha! Appo ain’t having none of your shit today Hud.” Vas laughed from her turret.
“Well you can have my shit anytime you want Vas.” Hud called up to the woman, clutching his crotch for emphasis.
“Please. Not if you was the last dick in After.”
“Bah, that’s probably because you already have a dick!”
“If I did, it’d be bigger than that pimple you keep rubbing all night long.”
“Hud! Vas! Stow that shit.” Appo yelled. “Any more from you two and I’m gonna be in need of two new shooters!”
“Yes Sir.” Hud replied with mock sincerity and a lopsided smirk that had Appo fingering his rifle.
“Appo, come in.” A voice asked over the wireless that Appo had on his weapons harness.
“Appo here. Somebody wake you up Hicks?” He replied into the small device.
“Yeah, we’re all nodding off up here. How you all doing back there on the ass end?” Hicks replied.
“We good. Bored, but good. Just cleared that rock slide and can finally see this damned pass up ahead. You?”
“Hah! Yeah, we are getting ready to go through. Dathan is only letting one group through at a time. Right now we got about half the assault groups through and setting up on the other side.”
“Solid. This is taking too long for my liking. I’m feeling very exposed out here.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. I’m looking up at the walls of this pass and not liking it. Mern cleared it though, and so far so good.”
“Get through there fast then. I don’t want to be sitting here at night fall.”
Just then there was a loud grating rumble from behind them. Appo turned and looked back down the path behind them. He did not see any movement.
“What was that?” Hud asked.
“Don’t know.” Appo replied.
“Something up back there?” Hicks’ voice came over the wireless.
Just as Appo was about to reply there came another, louder version of the same sound.
“The slide!” Vas called as she spun her turret around to the back of the carrier. She cocked the large guns, loading the ammo belts for rapid firing.
Appo looked from Vas back to the rock slide behind them. At first it looked like just loose rocks that were tumbling down the side of the mountain and spilling into the road. As he watched, some of the larger ones started to go. Then the whole of the rock slide seemed to come undone and start falling down the mountain like a flood of stone. The sound of the rock fall became a roar. A cloud of dust poured out of the mountain side as the rocks tumbled down, obscuring the road behind them. It billowed out washed over them before the winds started to swirl it about. As the obscurity of the cloud began to fade and the roar of the avalanche turned to a low rumble, Appo felt himself relax.
“Well, I guess we ain’t goin’ back now, eh Appo?” Hud asked looking back at the rock slide that now appeared to be completely blocking the road.
Appo looked closer as the dust cloud continued to thin out. From inside the cloud he thought he saw movement. Secondary slides following the first downhill? He knew he was wrong when he saw two red embers glaring back at him from within the cloud. The low rumble grew as the massive armored nightmare rolled forward up the road; its red sensor eyes glowing with a blood promise of death and a blue-white light dancing along its weaponized arms.
Diana watched long enough to see Tank, Jr. light up on the small screen of the controller on her wrist. Tank had named this one, and it brought a smile to her lips now to see it on the screen. When she heard the rumble of the landslide she knew that it had freed itself from its hiding place. She had gotten the idea when she had seen some of the natural slides in the mountains along this road. She had not been sure if the mech would be okay under there, but everything she had seen of the massive machines said that even these large rocks would not hurt it. The trick had been finding a niche in the cliffs along the road that Tank Jr. could fit into and where she could pull down a slide on top of him. Once Ferrin had been able to blast down some of the rocks and cover its brother, all Diana needed was for these Raiders to see just another rockslide and move past it. The real Ferrin had taught her that most times people would miss what is right in front of them when they are looking too far ahead. He taught her to focus on what was around her at all times, and especially when stalking prey. That way she would not miss any signs of the trail or anything that would help her to bring her prey down. For her snare to work she needed the Raiders, especially that Dathan dork, to be looking at the obvious trap of the pass. If they did that, they would ride right past Tank Jr. After half of the day of watching them crawl through the pass one by one, the last bits of their army moved past the fake slide and they were all in her snare.
Diana shifted along the ridge high above the pass. She braced Thumper on the rocks in a position where she had a sight line down on both ends of the Raider’s column. When she put her hand on the grip of the rifle the goggles scrolled through a set of symbols just in the periphery of her vision. This time it settled on a small picture of a stinging flyer. These bullets were different than the long shooting ones that could see. Tank had told her that these ones could do very bad things when they were friends with things like the mechs. She lined up her shot and the goggles did their thing and the target appeared over the fifth truck from the back in the line of raiders. It was a large barrel of a truck and one she knew that it would be filled with the fuel that the trucks used. She let the world slow down and her vision zoomed into a very tight view of the truck, then adjusted her aim and squeezed the trigger.
“Let’s Rock!” Vas called and opened up with both guns in her turret. The barrels erupted as a storm of bullets fired out. The mechanical clattering of Vas’ guns and the tinkling rain of the spent shells drowned out the rumbling sound of the mech. Hud and Appo, along with several other Brothers, all followed Vas and opened up with their guns. The barrage ripped into the dust cloud that obscured the mech and peppered its armored hide.
Appo emptied the ammo clip in his rifle at the mech. As he started to reload he saw the blue glow getting brighter from the lower left weapons pod. He was not sure what that was, but knew it could not be good.
“Cover!” he screamed as the blue beams lanced out of the clearing dust cloud. The beams needled through the armored transports at the rear of the column and burned through their armor like it was not even there. Appo watched in horror as his Brothers melted inside the armored vehicles that had protected them through so many other fights. He dove away from the armored carrier he had been near. He leapt too far and had to catch himself before he tumbled over the edge and down several hundred meters to certain death. As he started to pull himself up, he heard the sounds of his Brothers’ guns go silent. All he heard now was the pulsing stitch of the mech’s energy weapon as it lazed back and forth slagging metal, stone, and flesh in its wake.
“Cover!” Appo yelled and Hud turned and ran.
After emptying his own rifle into the mech, Hud realized how useless that was. He had heard of these things before. He’d heard that if you saw one, you ran. You ran or you died. So he ran. He headed up the road away from the death machine that was rolling up hill, laying molten waste in its path. As he passed other trucks, and more Brothers, they called out to him. He ignored them and ran. Let them try and take that thing down; he wanted no part of it. One Brother with black markings all over his face grabbed him, screaming something about fighting. Hud shot him in the gut and ran on.
The hill was pretty steep here and after passing the fuel trucks Hud stopped to breath. His lungs and his legs felt like they were on fire and he thought for a minute he might black out. Dropping his rifle he put his hands on his knees and tried to catch his breath. He needed to chase back the black spots that were crowding his vision. The sounds of gunfire and the heavier cannons of the rear guard pounded away behind him. He could hear the Brothers around him yelling to one another. They wanted to go forward, but were blocked in by the other vehicles waiting to get through the pass. The road was just wide enough for two vehicles to be side by side and so they were, leaving no room for vehicles to get around one another. Even if the Brothers at the pass started going through as fast as they could, it would take too long for that movement to reach back down the line this far. That would be much longer than it would take that mech to wipe them out. It did not look good for the trucks, but Hud was on foot now. Once he caught his breath he would just keep headed up the hill away from rolling death back there.
“Brother!” A man next to the fuel truck called. “What the Frack’s going down back there?”
“Bad shit.” Hud called back and picked up his rifle. “We lost the wireless so I’m running up to the front to get everyone moving out.” He lied. “Be ready to move, we gotta get outta here!” He finished between deep breaths. That’s right; no one would give him shit if he had a reason to be getting away from that mech other than trying to stay alive.
He turned to start up the hill again when something slapped into the upper side of the fuel truck with an odd ‘Vip-Splat!’ kind of sound. Hud looked and saw a small greenish jelly blob on the metal of the large tank of fuel. As he looked closer there was a loud set of ‘Phumpt!’s that came from down the hill. Looking back and tracking that sound he saw several rockets fire up from out of the smoke that was part rock slide and part burning vehicles. The rockets cork-screwed straight up leaving intertwining smoke trails behind them. They seemed to have no direction but up; they were not arcing in a way that would drop them on the road or any targets that made sense to Hud.
“What the hells?” the Brother on the tanker called out.
As if in answer to him, Hud saw a small red light start to blink from within the green splat on the side of the tanker. It was muffled, but he thought he could also hear a pleasant chiming sound.
“Look! Look! Look!” the Brother called again and Hud looked up. The corkscrewing rockets all suddenly whipped around and turned over in midair. As the two men watched the rockets turned downward and fired off as one with new found purpose.
“Well frack me…” Hud sighed as the rockets all zipped down directly at him, the green splat, and several thousand loads of highly explosive fuel.
So there it is. A set of Colonial Marines who had no business in Dathan’s horde and for the time being reside in the world of After as an echo from an altogether different place.
R.I.P . Bill Paxton and all the memorable characters that you breathed life into over the years!