Rollers, those marvelous vehicles adapted so perfectly the the Blasted Lands, have been the subject of more than 60% of the blockbuster holovee action flicks produced in the past decade. No humans other than the Blasted Bastards themselves, however, seem to have the slightest clue what actually makes them function.___Murdock Flitch, Engineering Mysteries of the 22nd Century.
Darkness fell like the ’03 stock market as the Coy, pulling its trailer mounted solarchem car, eased into a flat spot surrounded by scattered boulders. The Pin–short for Rolling Pin, it turned out–followed, backing and filling until the two sat side by side facing opposite directions. Top hatches were left dogged. The single side door on each heavily armored unit was swung open and latched to the other vehicle’s sidewall. A steel half-sheet hinged up from one door’s top edge, latching to its neighbor, while on the other side, a similar half-sheet dropped to form a floor.
In this mini-laager, occupants could cross from Roller to Roller in steel armored safety, never once exposing themselves to possible enemy fire.
The Sandfire troops were duly impressed. True, the latchup sequence did require extremely accurate positioning, but the end result was worth it. The trailered car was outside and therefore at some risk, but the Pin’s needle gun had a wide range of fire in that direction.
They settled in for the night, Pete taking first watch. This did not mean going outside–never that–but simply staying awake and constantly using a starlight monocle to check through the firing slits for any possible enemy activity.
Kaboomer and Smackie were openly glad to see each other. The Boom Boy had ridden in the Coy, securely bound and strapped to a seat between Gene Trask on one side and Pete Boulder on the other. The big Aff did all the driving. Smackie had been in the Pin these past two hours, so his lover and chief lieutenant had no clue why Pete laughed every time he spoke to the old guy, Fed Jones.
Smackie’s obvious fear of tiny Fed Up puzzled him equally, and he felt a severe stab of jealously at the obvious deference his boss showed the tourista leader, Fed Smith. But they were both still alive, he and the Smacker Man, and that’s what counted. He held his peace–or so he thought–and listened intently as everyone found a place to nap.
He did, of course, intend to kill them all, first chance he got. That his mindset showed rather plainly on his scraggle-whiskered face (not to mention the set of his narrow shoulders) never occurred to him.
They fed him anyway, spooning trail rations into his face without loosening a single bond. He needed to take a leak, but he’d die before he’d admit as much. He chewed methodically, grimly, determined to keep up his strength until his opportunity came.
Then he would cut off their heads and piss down their throats.
Smackie had persuaded Sven aka Fed Smith not to try traveling at night, not even in hardcore Rollers like these. Sven listened and believed, but he wasn’t going to hang around Pits while authorities figured out what he’d been up to at the Blasted Bastard, either. This campsite was the compromise.
Hyvie and Ralg had been left in the motel office along with the clerk, nicely trussed and awaiting only the arrival of an unsuspecting customer to free them. Of course, that might not happen for a while yet. The Bastard’s last room rental had been that Aff couple, what, two months ago? Tourist trade wasn’t exactly flourishing in Pits.
“You really going to do it?” Smackie sounded purely curious.
“What? You mean, honor our deal? Sure. Why not?” Sven asked the question honestly; he’d really like to know the answer.
“Hm.” The Roller dealer chomped down on another spoonful of glix mix popped into his mouth by little, redheaded Fed Up. “Glrg.” He swallowed the dry stuff without chewing, though with some difficulty. “Agh. Well, honoring any deal outside of one’s own Clan is pretty much unheard of around here.”
“Clan? Heck, everybody knows–no, guess you wouldn’t at that. Let’s see. There’s your blood family, all of whom count out to third cousins and sometimes beyond unless one of ’em messes up and gets diggled.”
“Sort of like defrocked. Ostracized.”
“Told to git from heah!” Kate chirped brightly.
“Yeah. Like that. And then anybody you or a member of your blood family is banging, that counts. And anybody who works for you, but only as long as they work for you. Unless they leave your employ with, I guess you’d call it Honors, and then they’re Clan for Life.”
“Got it.” Sven looked terribly tired, Kate thought. They really needed to get back home to Tonopah where he could rest. As for herself, she would not sleep this night. Not with the BL boogie men out there somewhere in the dark, nuh-uh. No, she’d say wide awake, help whoever was on duty, make sure the prisoners didn’t escape and kill them all in their sleep.
Stuff like that.
“So.” Sven looked up sharply as Pete paused on one of his endless circuits around the two-Roller interior, then relaxed visibly when young Boulder gave him a smile and a thumbs-up signal. “Um..where were we? Oh, yeah. Honor. That’s the extent of it?”
“Pretty much. How’s that compare with the Outside?”
“Some ways better, some ways worse. Quite a few folks honor their commitments across the board, but then quite a few stick it to their own Clan or family members, too. Overall, I’d say you Bastards have a slight edge, just a bit better way of going.
“Every member of our group here, plus every other member back home, has what you would call Clan Honor. We do sometimes scam non-Clan folks, but only if failing to do so has a fair chance of getting us killed. Most of us, I think, tend to believe that acting dishonorably on a broad scale is a good way to get bad karma, maybe end up having to live out extra incarnations to balance things out.
“But now, to get to you and me specifically, I believe we have a reason to work together. Namely, I think you and I can maybe do some extremely profitable business together over the years. Maybe not, but I think we can.”
Smackie was openly surprised. “Do you mind explaining such an, ah, unusual viewpoint?”
“Not a bit. Goes like this. You tell me the BLs need additional solarchem cars, the engines anyway. With those engines, you can build all the Rollers in the world because you have plenty of steel and welders and engineers to do the job right–but no way can you replicate the old solarchem technology. You can adapt it, but you simply can’t produce it from scratch. Is that right?”
“Yeah.” Phelps nodded his head slowly. “But I’d have sworn I didn’t have time to say all that stuff before we started rolling out of Pits.”
“Um, you probably didn’t in the verbal sense, but the message came across anyway. Did I get it right?”
“Dead right. We may look like a hundred twenty thousand square miles of anarchy, but there are those among us–Boomer and me included–who are willing to band together for the sake of civilization. That means suppressing the raider gangs or at least weed wacking them enough so they keep their heads down most of the time in most of the major areas. And to do that, yeah, we need more Rollers. Whole battalions of ’em that can be sent out on punitive patrols and have a chance of coming back alive. Enough to protect the infrastructure we’re slowly rebuilding.”
The Roller dealer, so willing to cut Outlander throats without a second thought, was a nation builder? Impressive.
“All right then. Here are the key points.” The Seeder wiped his forehead. It was stuffy in these things, though the outside temperature was certainly cool enough. “By the numbers:
“1. You need solarchem engines.
“2. Our folks know where we can get hold of quite a lot of them for cheap. How many exactly, I”m not sure…but quite a boneyard full.
“3. We begin shipping ASAP, mostly whole cars so hopefully no one on the Outside but our bunch tumbles to the true importance of those engines.
“4. You set up a trade pact between us and your Clan.
“5. For now, we won’t need anything at all in the way of immediate payback. That will come later in the form of friendly, or at least non-hostile, relations between our two groups. If we need a place to hide someone for a while, or a little midnight wedding, we come to you.”
“I see.” Smackie Phelps pursed his lips thoughtfully. Boomer, rather obviously, had put these people on his hate list. But the Boom Boy wasn’t a decision maker; he’d do what he was told or lose his nuts. The BLs might be making a deal with the Devil, but at least it was a Devil he now knew–a little bit, anyway–and the Devil was willing to deal.
“Tell me something, Fed Smith.”
“If I can without violating security, sure. What?”
“You on the run from the Law out there? Feds after you, or at least State cops?”
“Nothing like that, Smackie. Something much more dangerous. And trust me, you don’t want to know.”
On that note, Sven fell silent and would say no more.