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Sales Pitch, S284432
Fifth
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Sales Pitch

    “And here’s to the Bullet!” Chasity Orth raised her tankard high in an unsteady hand. “Best frakking interceptor and dogfighter in Evan!”

      “You’re kidding, right?” Came the querelous question from the next table. “Bullets are good for one thing - turning left on the track. Their armor’s too thin for the wasteland. and they can’t handle recoil.”

      Chasity turned and studied the group of men, though the beer and the gloom in Dexter’s Tavern made seeing the Bullet-slanderer difficult. She thought she recognized the badges of the Vindicators, a prominent and feared Mutant gang. “Well, I’ll tell you that the Fifth Legion uses Bullets regga - regularly.” She aimed a finger at the center of their table to include all of them.

      Her drinking partner, Richard “Tats” Brownlee, was on his fourth cactus whiskey and none too steady in his chair. “And the Puh-Pirates around here have learned to fear our Bullets. We’ve killed lots of them!” He staggered to an upright position and shook his fist at the other table. “You wanna take it outside?”

      With a chill, Chasity realized she was the senior Fifth Legion member present - and the Legion’s commander “Steady” Hernandez had very clear rules about brawling in town. Along with very clear - and very bloody - penalties for breaking his rules. She stood and grabbed Brownlee’s shoulder, pulling him down to his chair. “Hey, look,” she said in what she desperately hoped was a placating tone to the Vindicators, who were beginning to rise to their feet, “Do you want to see a Bullet in action?”

      The hunched, hooded and masked figure at the back of the other group straightened and hissed, and his subordinates stopped in their tracks. “Are you challenging us?” the figure asked in a grunting voice with an odd resonance.

      Chasity shook her head and clamped her hand on Brownlee’s shoulder before he could say something stupid. “No, I was wondering if you’d like to scout with us. Together. Tomorrow.” She realized she was babbling, and took a long pull off her tankard to plug her mouth.

    The Vindicator tilted his head to the side, reminding Chasity uncomfortably of a large iguana she’d once encountered outside Elmsfield. “Around noon?”

      Chasity nodded, glad the Vindicator wasn’t pulling a weapon on her. Or declaring war. “Yeah. I’ll bring a Bullet, you bring whatever you want.” The alcohol kept talking through her mouth, too quick for her to stop the words: “Well, whatever can keep up.”

      The figure twitched, and a white sharp-toothed grin flashed under the hood. “That we shall do. You two should get some sleep, and we’ll meet you at the Gates.”

      Chasity nodded again, grabbed the mumbling Brownlee by the collar and pulled him toward the bar’s exit.

###

      The next morning, Chasity was sitting in the Legion barracks drinking water and wondering if Firelight rockworms had infested her brain, when a deeply tanned hand settled on the corner of her bunk. “I heard there was some trouble last night?” A deep voice asked with deceptive calm, and Chasity cringed, then looked up.

      ‘Steady’ Derrick Hernandez loomed over her, his long snakehide coat, and Chasity decided the best tactic was honesty. “Yessir. Some Vindicators started dissing our Bullets, and I... well, I invited them to scout with us and see what a Bullet can do.” She shrugged.

      “I see. That’s roughly what I heard from them too. I would suggest, however, cutting Brownlee off at three drinks.”

      Chasity cringed mentally, waiting for the axe to fall. He’s far too calm. The less you say, the less you can say wrong. “Yes, sir. I’ll apologize to the Vindicators, if you-”

      “Here you go.” Hernandez interrupted her by pulling a set of keys out of his pocket and dropping them on the bunk next to Chasity. She picked them up and read the etched metal tag. FLC Panther.

      “Have fun, and show the Vins what a Bullet can do.” Hernandez took in Chasity’s shock and relief with a slight smile. “You know we have two brand-new Bullets coming in from Texan?” When Chasity nodded, he continued, “Well, we picked up two more dirt-cheap in the Badlands, and that’s a few too many for us to store, so I was thinking of selling them. But as you know, Bullets don’t have the best reputation in the wilderness. The Vindicators are rich and influential, and this could be very good for us.”

      “Yes, sir.” Chasity stood and saluted the Legion’s commander. Glancing at the clock, she saw she had two hours to noon.

      “Well, I’ll let you get on with it,” Hernandez said, stepping back away from Chasity’s bunk. “If he’s sober, take Brownlee as your driver.”

###

      The noon sun beat down hard on the cars mustered at the Somerset Gates, and Chasity studied the golden sky through her goggles. Thankfully, the aurora was weak, merely a few greenish threads to the north, meaning radios would be clear and the creatures would be less aggressive.

      “They’re late.” Brownlee said sourly from behind her. She turned and ducked her head into Panther’s open door. Brownlee sat in the driver’s seat on the right side, his goggles obscuring the dark spidery tattoos that had given him his nickname.

      “Tats, it’s still five minutes.” Chasity held up a spring-driven timepiece, its hands not quite meeting.

      An engine sounded from the depths of the town behind them, its tone the rich growl of a large and expensive motor. Richard craned his head to look out Panther’s rear windscreen. “Five-liter V8,” He pronounced with a look of envy, and Chasity nodded grimly. The only five-liter the Legion could afford was stuck in a courier on the Gateway-Badlands route, and that was a mere V6. Panther only had a four-liter.

        “A cargo Boxvan, probably,” Chasity said.

        The source of the engine turned out to be a Pike, long and low and leopard-spotted. The sigil of the Vindicators was emblazoned on its door. Twin Gatling guns peeked from under its headlights. “Oh, you have to be kidding me,” Richard said with disgust. “They say Bullets can’t take recoil?”

        Chasity agreed with her driver, but... “Quiet,” she whispered. “There’s a lot of money in being nice to the Vins.”

      Richard nodded. He shared the anti-Mutant prejudice of many northern Civs, but he understood money very well. And despite being an irritating little son-of-a-snake, Brownlee could handle a Bullet better than any living driver in the Legion, which more than made up for his annoyances in Chasity’s book.

        The Pike pulled to a stop next to Panther in the shoulder of the Gate Road, and the doors opened. Out of the driver’s side stepped a tall young normal in a dark hat and coat. The passenger door disgorged a cloaked and hooded figure that was all too familiar. Gloved hands reached up and pulled back the hood, revealing a wide pink-snouted face that looked more pig or bear than human, except for the bright, intelligent blue eyes in deep, wide-set sockets. A ragged thatch of straw-colored hair sat between the mutant’s wide-set ears, shining in the harsh sunlight.

        Chasity stood up from the Bullet and faced toward the Vindicators. The mutant was clearly in charge, it showed in every bit of his body language as he walked up to her. “Victor Gonzales,” he said, his eyes meeting hers briefly, then flicking down to examine Panther. The broad snout curled in what Chasity realized was a smile. “Beautiful car. I’m used to seeing them plastered with those advertisements.”

        Chasity stepped forward next to the mutant and turned to examine Panther herself. The Bullet’s long low chassis was glossy black with bright blue flames stretching across the hood and both sides, with LEGION in bright blue letters just behind the flames. The snout of a medium machine gun peeked from a slit in the armored windscreen. “Chasity Orth. Thanks. We got one of the Sisters of Cestus Dei to design the paint for us.”

      Victor nodded and stepped around Panther’s front, examining the pod of five 1-inch rockets under the driver’s side. “I was thinking of a ten-mile sweep out to the desert.” He stood and gestured to the south with an arm. “Is that acceptable?”

        Chasity nodded. “Sure. What radio frequency are you using?”

        The mutant glanced over at his driver, who responded. “Eighty-four megacycles. Scramble four-eight.”

        Chasity nodded again. “Good hunting,” she said, and turned to climb into Panther’s open door.

        “To us both,” Gonzales flipped her a salute and turned for the Pike. Mirage, Chasity read off its side.

        Hope it doesn’t disappear like one, she thought as she closed her door.

        Beside her, Richard said, “We’ve got a full tank of gas, a full magazine and a reload, and we’ve got goggles on.”

        Chasity replied, “Hit it.”

        Panther’s engine growled into life, and the two cars rolled out the gates of Somerset.

###

        They quickly passed out of Somerset’s close farms into the windswept dunes of the Northern Desert, rolling side by side at an even, ground-eating thirty miles an hour. They came close to intercepting several small convoys which they passed up, and diverted around an Anarchist army too large to attack, before Gonzales radioed, his deep voice made tinny by the radio scrambling. “There is a small Slaver scouting party less than a mile ahead. Interested?”

        Chasity grinned. Panther had faced Slavers before, and left them bleeding and burning in the desert. She reached forward and swing her gun back and forth on its pintle mount before picking up the radio handset from the dash and saying, “Sounds like fun, Mirage. Any numbers on them?”

        “Three. But I think we can match them.”

      Chasity nodded to herself. “I agree. Let’s kick some ass, Mirage.

        Mirage made a slight turn to the left, following a ridge of sand, and Richard twitched Panther to follow. Within twenty seconds she caught the first glimpse the Slavers. A low, rounded Voyager and a boxy Chevalier were closing along the road, and a stolid Windsor II raced over the low dunes before disappearing behind a slope. They were a hundred meters from Panther, and Chasity started to speak, but Richard was already swinging the Bullet around and gunning the engine, clawing for distance. Even over Panther’s growl, she could hear off to the left the roar of Mirage’s engine. The Pike accelerated in a flash, streaking forward across the dunes as the five-liter V8 opened up fully.

      Chasity looked out the rear windscreen, and saw that all three Slavers were following Mirage up the dune into the next bowl over. “Turn!”

        She didn’t say anything more, Brownlee was already yanking the wheel over. Panther groaned and complained, but turned, throwing a high roostertail of sand and dust. By the time Panther turned fully the way they had come, Mirage and the Slavers had disappeared over the dunes. Chasity picked up the radio. “Mirage, what’s your situation?”

        Gonzales’ grunting voice came through, thick with interference and his engine’s roar. “I’ve been in better. Regroup down the road from our original position?”

        Chasity tapped the handset’s call button twice in a nonverbal assent. Richard drove Panther along the road to another valley. Mirage was already speeding up the road toward them.

        “They’ll be coming over the ridge soon,” Gonzales radioed.

    Chasity looked up the steep ridge to the left. That sandy surface would make a traction nightmare, especially if their opponents didn’t have offroad tyres. Most slavers didn’t. “Ambush? Can do.”

    “If we don’t collide.”

    “We won’t.” Chasity smiled as Richard pulled Panther slightly to the right, missing the bouncing Mirage by mere feet.

    Chasity looked up the slope. Thin columns of dust were spewing up from the other side, and slowly getting closer as the Slavers climbed the other side of the ridge. “Pull us up the slope, we’re after that one,” she said, pointing at the furthest plume.

    Brownlee nodded and pulled the wheel left, bringing Panther across the road and up the slope. The Bullet’s nose crunched as armor was scraped off, then plunged up the ridge. Chasity gripped her gun’s handles and stroked the triggers, feeling the battle fury rising in her chest, bringing her into that mental place where she could shoot and hurt and maim and kill.

    Off to the left she could see Mirage heaving over the top of the ridge and a blare of gunfire. Then Richard hissed, and she looked forward to see a gray shark-mouthed Chevalier cresting the hill and wobbling down. A pair of rockets from the Chevalier landed between the two cars, throwing up clouds of sand and dust. The Chevalier fishtailed down the slope, turning its right side to Panther. Chasity’s fingers tightened on the trigger, and her gun snarled its wrath. A spray of lead tore at the Chevalier’s right side.

    The Slaver slipped further, spinning down the slope, and Chasity snarled. Brownlee’s thump pressed a stud on his steering wheel, and a 1-inch rocket drew a glowing streak across the space between them, blooming a small flower of fire against the Slaver’s right side.

    The Chevalier spun entirely around, showing first its left side and then its front pointing directly at Chasity. She swore, but Richard was already accelerating Panther out of the danger zone and whipping around at the bottom of the slope.

    The Chevalier was climbing the ridge, trying frantically to get away. Chasity smiled and put a few careful bursts into its damaged right side. Her Bullets tore at the rent armor and caromed around the interior, and the Chevalier stopped and vomited a gout of oily black smoke.

    Chasity kept up the fire until her gun clicked flatly on an empty magazine. She stripped the drum with one hand and reached for the radio with the other. “Panther to Mirage, one down. How you doing?”

    “Not badly, thank you,” came the immediate reply. “Beware the Voyager, it is going over the ridge toward you.”

    Chasity automatically looked past Richard up the slope as the Voyager heaved itself over and started firing. Bullets tore the sand around them, but Brownlee was already reacting, accelerating Panther and slaloming down the slope. The Voyager’s guns tore at Panther’s armor, and Chasity swore, her hands shaking as she tried to reload her gun.

    Richard swerved Panther back and forth down the sand to spread the Voyager’s fire across the back and sides, denying the Slaver any chance to concentrate on one spot.

    Chasity got her magazine seated, pulled back the bolt, and put a burst of fire into the golden dunes in front of her. She grinned, and knew without looking that a similiar grin lurked on Brownlee’s face. Panther had just turned from goat to wolf, and the poor Slaver was about to learn the difference.

    Richard pulled Panther hard to the left as they went over a low dune, landing with a teeth-rattling impact, facing back the way they’d come. Richard gunned the engine, sliding Panther sideways as Chasity waited for a target.

    She didn’t have to wait long. The Voyager, smelling blood and overeager for a kill, went over the dune to Panther’s left, right into Chasity’s kill zone. It started to turn to face Panther, but it was too late. Chasity raked it with bullets, and Richard joined her with his rockets, emptying his rocket pod into the Voyager’s side.

    The Slaver shuddered under the assault and rolled to a stop, leaking thin lines of black smoke from its shallow hood. Chasity put one more burst of fire into it, then picked up the radio handset again. “Two kills, Mirage. Have you scraped the third yet?”

    Gonzales’ voice came back after a too-long pause. “We are working on that one.” In the background she could hear the snarl of Gatling guns, too distant to be Gonzales’, and the ping of bullets on armor.

        Chasity could see that a pedestrian had climbed out of the distant Chevalier and was running south. “Want some help, Mirage?” She asked.

    “That... would be appreciated, yes. I am rather low on ammunition.”

    Chasity grimaced, then realized what kind of opportunity was staring her in the face. Save their asses, and what will they think of Bullets then? “Get us over the ridge!” She told Richard, and he gunned Panther’s engine toward the ridge.

    Every second it took Panther to climb the ridge gnawed at Chasity. She knew all too well the kinds of disasters that could happen when cars and their guns went at each other, and she did not want to explain to the Vindicators how she got someone who was surely high in their ranks killed.

    Panther roared over the top of the ridge, and Chasity began to wonder if they were too late. The Slaver Windsor II was nosing at the motionless Pike’s side at the bottom of the bowl. The Pike was a mess, Chasity could see that even from her distance, both sides ripped to shreds. She could see through the Pike in two places, and she wondered if anyone could possibly be alive in there. The Windsor II was hardly intact either, its front grill a mess of shredded armor and ragged wounds down its right side, Chasity saw as she took aim at the Windsor II’s wounded right side.

        Then the Pike whipped into motion, pulling a hairpin turn until it was facing the Windsor’s far side. A single Gatling gun snarled its hatred, and Chasity joined with her own gun as the Windsor pulled away from its prey to engage Panther. Chasity ceased fire with an effort as Brownlee ducked Panther behind a dune. The Windsor II crested the dune, its Gatling guns spitting fury across Panther’s windscreen and hood, but Chasity snarled her hate and opened her gun, pouring fury into the Windsor’s breached grill.

        The Slaver car sprayed debris, jerked to one side and rolled to a stop. Chasity stopped firing, but held her gun on the Slaver for a long moment, watching for any sign of life.

        “I thank you, Panther,” came Gonzales’ voice, thick with effort, from the radio. “I think... we have won.”

        Chasity prised one hand off her gun and picked up the handset. “Roger that, Mirage. Are you alright there?”

        “My driver has been injured, but not seriously. Shall we take our spoils and go home?”

        “Sounds good, Mirage,” Chasity replied, waving Brownlee over the hill, and Panther started to creep back up the ridge. She could see the Pike’s door opening and Gonzales’ hooded form stepping out, a crossbow in his hands and a portable radio on his back. “We’ll take the Voyager, I don’t think the Chevalier is worth taking home.”

        “Very well.” Gonzales paused and seemed to be inspecting the Bullet. “I will report today’s events to my people. Thank you, miss Orth.”

        “You’re welcome, mister Gonzales. Let’s go home.”
.........................
vet wv

Posted Dec 12, 2010, 8:13 pm
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