Behind the Bastards

There’s a reason the History Channel has produced hundreds of documentaries about Hitler but only a few about Dwight D. Eisenhower. Bad guys (and gals) are eternally fascinating. Behind the Bastards dives in past the Cliffs Notes of the worst humans in history and exposes the bizarre realities of their lives. Listeners will learn about the young adult novels that helped Hitler form his monstrous ideology, the founder of Blackwater’s insane quest to build his own Air Force, the bizarre lives of the sons and daughters of dictators and Saddam Hussein’s side career as a trashy romance novelist.

After the Revolution: Chapters Nine, Ten, & Eleven

After the Revolution: Chapters Nine, Ten, & Eleven

Sat, 26 Jun 2021 04:02

This week's chapters from Robert's fiction podcast, "After the Revolution."

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Follow your podcasting dreams. Let's breaker handle the hosting, creation, distribution, and monetization of your podcast. Go to That's In the 1980s and 90s, a psychopath terrorized the country of Belgium. A serial killer and kidnapper was abducting children in the bright light of day. From Tenderfoot TV and iHeartRadio, this is La Monstra, a story of abomination and conspiracy. The story about the man who simply become known as. Lamaster. Listen for free on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. What's up guys? I'm Rashad Bilal and I am Troy Millings and we are the host of the earn your Leisure podcast where we breakdown business models and examine the latest trends in finance. We hold court and have exclusive interviews with some of the biggest names in business, sport and entertainment from DJ Khaled to Mark Cuban, Rick Ross and Shaquille O'Neal. I mean, our alumni list is expansive. Listen in as our guest reveal their business models, hardships and triumphs in their respective fields. The knowledge is in depth and the questions are. One was delivered from your standpoint, we want to know what you want to know. We talked to the legends of business, sports and entertainment about how they got their start and most importantly how they make their money earning. Alicia is a college business class mixed with pop culture. Want to learn about the real estate game? Unclear is how the stock market works. We got you interested in starting a trucking company or a vending machine business. Not really sure about how taxes or credit work? We got it all covered. The earning Leisure podcast is available now. Listen to earn your leisure on the Black Effect podcast network, iHeartRadio. App, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Give us your attention. We need everything you got fast waiting on reparations. We'd be the endless podcast TuneIn every Thursday. Politics and word play. We fight for the people because they got us in the worst way, from the hill to Brazil, Bombay to Kanye from the left enclave to what the neocons say every Thursday. Copped the heady conversation and break us off with some bread cause we waiting on reparations. Listen to waiting on reparations on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Outer space, A vast, unknown frontier. We don't yet know the dangers that lurk beyond the stars, but unfortunately for Captain Sydney Owens and Jenna Prescott, they're about to find out. Mag Mel from iHeartRadio and Bamford Productions. Listen to Magnell on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast. Chapter 9, Sasha. They unloaded her in Plano. The porters, who cracked open her crate. Two men in dirty jumpsuits seemed disappointed that she wasn't food. One of the men was tall and balding, the other shorter and still fairly young. They had white skin, burnt reddish by the sun, and neither of them looked like they bathed in quite some time. Their faces were gaunt. Sasha didn't see any extra fat on either of them. Ah, Dang, said the tall one. Welcome, said the short one. I hope you're ready for what this is. But we're not exactly the welcome crew she'd expected. Saul had told her a man named David would be waiting, but neither of the porters knew who David was. They seemed much more frustrated than joyous at her presence. The building wasn't what she'd expected, either. It looked like an old FedEx facility, with all the branding covered by red spray paint. There was trash everywhere, mostly food waste from crates of aid supplies that had been opened too late. The spoiled food had been shoved into large piles and left to rot in one center of the large room. Sasha guessed this had once been a loading dock, where delivery trucks would have dropped off and received packages, but the room was filled with a mix of aid crates and miscellaneous boxes stacked into piles by a ragged army of tired looking men. Like the two men who'd greeted her, they all looked malnourished and skinny. The only people not dressed in blue jumpsuits were a pair of armed guards. They stood in the back of the room, near a door that seemed to lead deeper into the facility. Both men had white paint crosses daubed across the body, armor on their chests. Both carried very large black rifles. One of them ran over once he saw her emerge from the shipping crate. Welcome to the Heavenly Kingdom, ma'am, the boy drawled. He looked young enough to have come from her own high school. There was a dusting of acne on his unlined face, and his round cheeks still held a bit of baby fat. Thank you, Sir, she said, and pointed to the cross on his chest. It's good to see that. The young martyr smiled. Yes, ma'am, we wear the cross here. He glanced at the porters and narrowed his eyes. Most of us. Anyway, he extended his hand. Sasha took it, and he helped her take her first few steps into this strange new World. Her legs felt wobbly and unstable after so much time crammed into a crate. She was grateful for the help. I'm looking for David, she said. Do you know where I might find him? No, David here, ma'am, the martyr replied. But Darrell's the team leader for this receiving yard. He'll set you to rights. They walked through the rear door and into the building proper. Sasha's escort guided her past old offices and break rooms. And to what looked like it had been a waiting area for customers. It had been transformed into an office. The only occupant was a single man, surrounded by 4 folding tables, each piled high with a mix of paper shipping manifests and folding E paper displays. He sat in the middle of it all and scrolled feverishly on a heavy government issue tablet computer. This man, Darrell, was tall and broad shouldered but stooped forward. It looked as if his spine had been bent at the mid shoulders. Sasha relished the deep lines on his face, the bags under his eyes. His receding hairline, and even the way his joints popped audibly as he stood when she entered. No man she'd met in the American Federation had aged so honestly, not even her father. Sasha realized with a start that this was the first older man she'd ever really seen. He must be 50 at least. Hello, Sir, she started. I'll nuts, he spat. Not another one of you. The man had a thick drawl. He sounded country in a way Sasha had only heard in movies, her voice caught in her throat as she tried to respond. Sir, I'm. I'm looking for David. Yep, he grunted. You and every other teenager. What's come through my depot? I'll tell you the same thing I told them others ain't no David here. Sasha's eyes widened. She squeaked, and immediately hated herself for it. No, no, David. Darrell must have seen the fear in her face. Taken pity because his tone softened. Listen, I. He glanced at the small screen wrapped around his wrist, tapped it a couple of times, and looked back to her. I got about 15 minutes left here for I got a meeting downtown. I can drop you off. Folks there can help you get set up if you decide to stay. I would appreciate that very much, Sasha said. Her face reddened again when she asked. Is there a restroom I can use around here? I'd like to clean up a bit. Yep. The man grunted and nodded towards a red door in the back of his office. That's private. No shower. The water runs. Sasha couldn't really smell herself anymore, which she knew meant she probably smelled terrible. The thing she wanted most was a long, hot shower with shampoo. Holy God, she realized. Shampoo is amazing. She was so preoccupied with the thought of clean hair that she didn't even chastise herself for the blasphemy. Sasha knew she wouldn't find shampoo in this restroom, but any kind of clean was better than her current level of filth. She thanked Darrell and stepped into his bathroom. Sasha told herself it wasn't the worst bathroom she'd ever seen, even though that was a clear lie. The floor once white tile was so crusted with black and yellow she could only tell they'd ever been tile. By the slight suggestion of squarish shapes underneath the filth, the toilet had been shattered almost completely. All that remained was a little circle of busted ceramic around a hole in the ground. It seemed to function as a squat toilet now. The sink was intact, but it also looked like it hadn't been cleaned at all in the last year. The Medal of the Faucet was green where it should have been. Miller. Sasha held her nose, turned the hot water on, and hoped for the best. It took her around minute to stop, hoping for hot water. Of course, this place didn't have a functioning water heater. This is a war zone, you stupid girl. Sasha cursed herself. She felt tears at the edge of her vision, but fought them down. Slowly, deliberately. She pulled off her top, undid her bra, and hung both from the doorknob. As she did, she thought of the Book of Romans. We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The word of God gave her some comfort, but Sasha stomach still churned as she scrubbed the grime from her body. She confronted the fact that this was all real now. She'd fled her home and her family travelled to a war zone, and now she was here. It was done. Her great sacrifice was now real, not theoretical. The excitement she felt at that realization was marred by an anxious kind of horror at the things she'd never do now. She hadn't really thought about that before she'd left, but now Sasha realized that she was never going to graduate high school. She'd never go to college. She'd never see her father's face again. She started to cry. It surprised her a little. For days now, her emotions had felt stunted, buried under the very immediate concerns of escape and survival. But as soon as she had a minute to breathe, everything she hadn't been able to let herself feel flowed out of her eyes. First she tried to fight it, but then she remembered something Pastor Mike had written in one of his columns for Revelator. Embrace your pain, for you will hurt again. Embrace your grief, for it is a gift. Lean into the wounds the world gives you. Have faith that the Lord God does not send us burdens we are too weak to bear. She'd left behind a world where people denied their age with science, saved their pain with narcotics, and fought the natural order of the world the Lord had built. Sasha had wanted authenticity. She'd wanted to live the truth of Christianity without compromise. That meant leaning into this pain and letting it lift her up into the arms of God. So Sasha leaned in. She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, shook and shuddered with a pain more profound than any she'd known before. And then she stopped. She dried herself off, pulled her one fresh pair of clothes out of her backpack. And got dressed to go and meet the Heavenly Kingdom she'd sacrificed so much to join. Darryl banged twice on the door right as she slid on her socks. Ma'am, I gotta get moving. Maybe do the makeup later. Sasha shoved her dirty clothes in her backpack, zipped it up, and opened the door. The Heavenly Kingdom included rather more **** and bullet casings than Sasha had expected. She'd known, of course, that it was a war zone. The whole Kingdom was less than two years old. Plaino had been taken just days ago. It had all been won by blood and violence. She just sort of figured the Army of God would have cleaned up after itself. Darryl's truck was the oldest vehicle and the first non autonomous one she had ever ridden inside. It was frightening to think that one person's movements were the only thing that stood between her and a grisly death, but her fear at that soon faded into anxiety at the state of the world around them. The signs identified this as Plano. She knew the center of that city had been a stronghold for the Republic of Texas and its corporate masters. They'd been content to leave many of the surrounding cities in the hands of the Heavenly Kingdom, since that had meant more work for the SDF and Austin. Despite its proximity to the front, Plano status as a stronghold for some of the Republic's wealthiest citizens and corporations had made it seem unassailable. The notoriously stingy Republic had spent heavily on the city's Garrison. Sasha still didn't know what had happened, how Will Republicans stronghold had fallen so fast, but she saw evidence of how the fall had gone down all around her. The city was devastated. They drove past a police station that was filled with bullet holes and burnt black around its windows. They passed an elementary school that looked as if it had been barricaded, turned into a fortress, and then blasted apart with rockets. The streets they rolled over had been cracked and broken by shell fire. Sasha stared out with wide, excited eyes as they passed mansions that had completely collapsed. Under the weight of heavy bombardment and all around them, the streets were filled with soldiers. There seemed to be a checkpoint every two or three minutes. The martyrs who manned those checkpoints looked impossibly young. That made Sasha feel a little less lonely. This is what it looks like when a generation comes back to God, she thought. At each stop, Daryl pulled a laminated paper ID out of his pocket. The soldiers would take it, look it over, and then ask him about her. None of them met. Her eyes just arrived today. Darrell always said she's here to help build the Kingdom. Thanks be to God, was the usual reply. Some of the men at the checkpoints were enthusiastic and shouted it with all the joy she'd expected to hear, but a few of them just looked at her with eyes that were half sullen, half hungry. Daryl? She asked 20 minutes and three checkpoints into their drive. What exactly happened here? I left home the day after Plano fell. It felt like just such a miracle. It seems impossible for things to change so much, so fast. Daryl fixed her with a look that Sasha couldn't quite read and made her nervous. The next words jumbled up as they left her mouth. It's just Umm. I mean, I know all things are possible through God, but how? How did we win here? From what I read on the news, the older man laughed. Well, there's your problem. Trust in the news ain't gonna read much true about Texas there. All those foreign papers love the SDF. He spat out the window for emphasis. And they treat the Republic like a real government, not like a collection of robber barons. Their hired guns. Truth is, their position was always rocky. People around here rather live under God's law than the rule, the rich or those prints and Austin *******. He spat again and somehow made the gesture look like an apology. Sorry for the curse, Miss Sasha. It's been a minute since I spent much time round a woman. She smiled in response, because she wasn't really sure what else to do. And then they turned a corner, passed a mostly intact line of shops and a sign that welcomed them to downtown Plano. The wide streets had been cordoned off by sandbags and what looked like an enormous fabric cubes filled with rocks. Several dozen armed men milled about, and in the center of the broad thoroughfare, Sasha saw what could only be a gallows built right in the middle of the two lane St it was her first gallows. Capital punishment was illegal in the American Federation. She stared. Horrified at the way the six corpses strung up, their swung to and fro with the breeze. Sasha squeaked just a bit. And shock, she was glad the bodies weren't very close. Darrell seemed to notice her discomfort. He looked down at her with a mix of pity and understanding. Ain't always pretty what we're doing, but it's the Lord's work. The truck rolled to a stop outside of a large red brick building that reeked of government. Sasha couldn't tell what had once been. The sign was too thoroughly burned. A new sign made of white vinyl identified this building as the House of Miriam. This be your stop, ma'am, Darrell said. Thank you. She forced a smile and then asked. Should I just go in? I'll walk in. How's about that? Sasha nodded her gratitude. She wasn't 100% sure what was supposed to happen at this point. Revelator had claimed that every man and woman who journeyed to the Heavenly Kingdom would be given meaningful work, food, and as much shelter as the martyrs can provide. She knew that she could expect to be housed with other young unmarried women, at least until she and Alexander were finally together. But this trip and the Heavenly Kingdom, was already so very different from everything she'd expected that was reinforced when she stepped out of the truck and directly onto a pile of spent. Bullet casings. There were burnt cars in the street, burnt buildings all around her, and a vague but persistent smell of sour milk in the air. The feeling of dread that had built inside her since she'd left the crate hit a new crescendo. And then Darrell took her inside the House of Miriam, and everything changed again. Sasha saw a middle-aged woman sitting behind a desk in a big white room while younger women sat and lined the walls around her. The older lady had loose, friendly jowls and a mop of Gray hair tossed into a lazy bun. She looked exhausted until the moment she fixed eyes on Sasha. At that moment, her eyes lifted along with her lips into a smile. That was the truest thing Sasha had ever seen. Praise be to God, she cried. You've made it. And then a sea of girls rose up around her. Most of them appear to have been sewing up military uniforms, but at the moments call everyone of them set their work down and rose up to meet her. Sasha was swarmed by a sea of smiling faces as girls pressed their hands to hers, were embraced her or prayed over her, and chanted in tongues. A dozen people told her their names at once. Sasha went stiff, at first shocked and a little mortified by the mass display of physical affection by so many strangers. But then the older woman made her way through the crowd and put her hands on Sasha's shoulders. She brushed a stray hair out of Sasha's face and fixed her with a smile that was more motherly than Sasha's actual mother had ever been. It's all right now, she said in a voice that was pure comfort. I'm sure you're probably feeling frightened and overwhelmed, but you've reached the Heavenly Kingdom. Lose yourself from the chains around your neck to captive daughter of Zion, your home now. Something about the woman's voice and the way her hands felt broke through the anxious wall around Sasha's heart. She found herself in the older woman's arms. She sobbed, and then she felt the Press of bodies close against her. The mingled scents of lavender, citrus and human beings filled her nose. It comforted Sasha in a way she'd never quite known. The anxiety and fear were gone now, but so was any sense of motive, inspiration. She let her sisters guide her to a pillow on the ground. The room got very busy. Girls scattered. They heated up water and prepared food, and generally bothered themselves with every aspect of Sasha's comfort. Soon she had coffee and buttered muffins and a heavy jug of Gatorade. A fan was moved into position, where it could blow more cool air onto her face. The older woman sat down next to Sasha and started to speak. My name is Helen, she said. I watch over the newcomers here and I help them adjust to life in the Heavenly Kingdom. The most important thing for you to know is that you are loved and wanted. Here you'll have food and shelter and a purpose. Do you understand that, darling? Sasha tried to smile, but realized her face was still stuck in the same absent grin she'd worn since the greeting. After a long pause, she managed to nod and speak. Yes. Sorry, Sasha, my name is Sasha. Marion. I'm from Virginia, in the American Federation. Sasha, Helen said. Just Sasha. We have no last names here and no nationalities beyond our allegiance to God and his Heavenly Kingdom. Do you understand? Sasha nodded. Yes. I mean, of course I've. I read every issue of Revelator before coming here. I know that nations and states are a world Mint mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. And now for the plot twist. Nope, there isn't one meant. Mobile just has premium wireless from 15 bucks a month. There's no trapping you into a two year contract. You're opening the bill to find all these nuts fees. There's no luring you in with free subscriptions or streaming services that you'll forget to cancel and then be charged full price for. None of that. For anyone who hates their phone Bill, Mint Mobile offers premium wireless for just 15. Dollars a month. 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A therapist can help you become a better problem solver, which can make it easier to accomplish your goals no matter how big or small. They happen to be O. If you're thinking of giving therapy a try, better help is a great option. It's convenient, accessible, affordable, and it is entirely online. You can get matched with a therapist after filling out a brief survey, and if the therapist that you get matched with doesn't wind up working out, you can switch therapists at any time. When you want to be a better problem solver, therapy can get you there. Visit behind today to get 10% off your first month. That's better, HEL. Hey, it's Rick Schwartz, one of your hosts for San Diego Zoo's Amazing Wildlife podcast. In this special episode, we sit down with Doctor Jane Goodall to hear her inspiring thoughts on how we can create a better future for humans, animals and the environment. If we don't help them find ways of making a living without destroying the environment, we can't save chimps, forests or anything else. And that becomes very clear when you look at poverty around the world. If you're living in poverty, you can't afford to ask as we can. Did this product harm the environment? Was it cruel to animals like, was it factory farmed? Is it cheap because of unfair wages paid to people and so alleviating poverty? Is tremendously important. Listen to amazing wildlife on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. The concept that only serves to separate us from God Almighty. I memorize, pastor. It's one thing to read the truth. It's another to live it. Don't worry, child. It'll take some time to unlearn your old habits. Helen had cut her off, but she'd done it so gently that Sasha didn't even take it as a rebuke. She just nodded again. And then she remembered something. I need to find a young man. His name is Alexander. He's in a mechanized infantry unit. I think he's a corporal. And I have a picture of him printed out in my bag. If it'll help. Dear. Helen's voice dropped an octave. I know this is hard to hear, but the martyrs have important work to do. They fight that we might build the Heavenly Kingdom if the Lord sees fit to deliver him safe from the fray. Sasha really didn't like the way she said. If then, we will find him and reunite you too. Re. Sasha gave a nervous laugh. Ohh no, we we've never met except for online. He he convinced me to come. I mean I I didn't come for him, but I was really on the fence until I met him. Helen's expression shifted. She looked was that anguished or angry. But Sasha didn't detect any anger in her voice when she replied. I know it's hard, love, but you're going to need to wait to hear from Alexander for right now. It should be enough that you're here, you're safe, you've done it. Do you know what this means? It means I didn't get caught. Helen laughed. She had a beautiful laugh. Sasha wanted to curl up and fall asleep inside it. No, I mean well, yes, of course, she said. But more than anything, it means that. For all time, forever and ever, you're a person who made the choice to be brave. You took a leap into the dark and trusted that God's light would rise to meet you. There were tears in her eyes, genuine tears wrapped up in genuine wrinkles and laugh lines that had never felt the touch of a surgical laser. That's the most beautiful thing in the world, Helen said. I want you to know that. Sasha started to cry too. Helen embraced her, held her close, and Sasha was certain she'd never been happier. What grows in the forest? Trees? Sure, no one else grows in the forest. Our imagination, our sense of wonder and our family bonds grow too, because when we disconnect from this. And connect with this, we reconnect with each other. The forest is closer than you think. Find a forest near you and start exploring and brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the ad Council. Hello and welcome to our show. I'm Zoe Deschanel and I'm so excited to be joined by my friends and castmates, Hannah Simone and Lamorne Morris. To recap our hit television series New Girl. Join us every Monday on the welcome to our show podcast, where we'll share behind the scenes stories of your favorite New Girl episodes, reveal the truth behind the legendary game True American, and discuss how this show got made with the writers, guest stars, and directors who made the show so special. Fans have been begging us to do a New Girl recap for years, and we finally made a. Podcast where we answer all your burning questions. Like, is there really a bear in every episode of New Girl? Plus, each week you'll hear hilarious stories like this at the end when he says you got some Schmidt on your face. I feel like I pitched that joke. I believe that I feel like I did. I'm not 1000% I want to say that, was I? I tossed that one out. Listen to the welcome to our show podcast on the iHeartRadio App, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. From cavalry audio comes the new True crime podcast, The Shadow Girls. Wanted to know what it felt like to kill somebody, and he started laughing. Prosecutors described him as a serial killer servant, picking up his girls, getting him in a position of vulnerability. When he got ahold of their neck. That was it. I'm Carolyn Ossorio, a journalist and lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest. I grew up near the banks of the Green River and in the shadow of the killer that bears its name. How many times did you bring the camera to? One time. Fantasizing about having sex with his mother. Then he fantasized about killing her. But this podcast isn't only about tracking down the killer. It's about the victims. We stayed in the woods. He always liked to go into the woods. Kind of strange. You know how he feels about prostitutes. Listen to the shadow girls on the iHeartRadio app, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Chapter 10. Many it couldn't have been much past 10 in the morning when they arrived at the City of Wheels, Topaz and skull ******. Mike had helped him and Reggie into an open topped red buggy. They'd apparently driven out to the ambush. The old vehicle beat the hell out of walking, but it had not been built with comfort in mind. Every bump and jostle on the road sent pain shooting up from Manny's ****** knee to what felt like a small forest of tears in his shoulder muscles. Mike, the driver, kept the vehicle at a conspicuously slow pace. But he hurt all the same. The 10 minute drive was agony, but then rolling **** came into view and all thought of pain faded from Manny's mind. The main structure of the city had once been a colossal bagger 288 strip mining machine. It looked like a sideways skyscraper sized spider made of scaffolding and cranes. At the center of the vehicle was a four story building on a massive set of treads. 4 spindly towers rose up out of that main structure and in a giant half circle in the air around it. A gantry way, the length of a football field connected the spindles to a mighty steel arm. At the end of the structure. It had once housed an enormous wheel bucket mining apparatus, but that had been replaced by a queer cube structure. It sat high in the air and gleamed in a shade of black that made Manny's stomach hurt. The overwhelming motif of rolling **** was aftermarket. The spindle towers had originally looked like scaffolding and mainly existed to offset the weight of that Titanic arm. But they'd been built on and added to with a series of treehouse looking contraptions. He saw people, hundreds of them, climbing from door to door via a series of ladders, ropes, and what looked like fines. Below the main body of the city, a series of vehicles surrounded the vast, rolling building that made-up the city's foundation. Manny saw long haul trucks, deuce and 1/2. Army transports and at least one old Abrams tank. Hundreds of sets of solar panels glistened under the Texas Sun. Good God, Reggie whispered, awe temporarily overwhelming his pain, but didn't realize any of the road tribes with this lodge. There were easily 2 or 3000 people visible in the sprawling camp. Mike glanced back at Reggie, a somewhat stern look on his face. This is not a tribe, it's a city. Oh, said Reggie. That's just how a lot of people back home refer to. I get it, Mike interrupted. But there are actual indigenous tribes out on these roads, Comanche bands and the Panhandle roving up from New Mexico to Colorado. We've got defensive and trade agreements with a few different groups of Apache out West, the Navajo have the only stable territory South of Mormon land, north of Albuquerque. Mike glanced back at the road, long enough to steer around a pothole and turn them in the direction of what looked to be a greeter station. Then he continued. Anyway, there are tribes out West, but we're a city. The fact that we don't hold any land or control any territory is important to most of the folks here. Think of it as a kind of rebellion from people born to a settler culture. Ah, Reggie nodded. That's absolutely fascinating. I have so much I want to ask. In good time, Buddy, Mike said. Let's get you all settled in first. Manny knew that every foreign correspondent he'd ever met would kill to have the opportunity Reggie had. Just lucked into the road. People were a popular topic in world media. He supposed. That wasn't surprising. They all led visually spectacular lives. Rolling **** was just the grandest variation on a theme. It was famous across the West for having the highest proportion of post human. Citizens. Something like a third of them were chromed enough to no longer fit into the Homo sapiens category. Manny had never heard of them traveling this close to Dallas before they were banned. In all of the Republic cities, people with military grade mods were uncontrollable. That and cultural PTSD from the war made them pariahs pretty much everywhere. The main structure of the city was encircled by a ring of 30 ish large and heavily customed RV's. A few dozen smaller vehicles, many of them bearing sundry armaments, were scattered throughout the campground. The only thing that resembled a checkpoint was a tidy little one room trailer. With a bright welcome sign above it. Mike steered them into park. In front of it, the guard who approached them was a shirtless dreadlocked person with dusky brown skin and an automatic shotgun. Topaz kissed them. Then the guard greeted Manny and Reggie. Welcome to rolling ****. Rules are don't start no ****. Won't be no ****. Cool, Manny nodded. So did the Brit. All right, they said. Enjoy. Manny was a little shocked by how loud it was. Several of the camps appeared to have been built, mainly out of speakers. There were a handful of open air bars outside the main structure of the city, heterogeneous mixes of tiki torches, brightly colored silk shade structures, and scrap metal bar tables. Despite the early hour, quite a few people were drinking and dancing. Manny noted more people were doing the former than the latter. Most people were either naked or wearing a few pieces of light ornamental clothing. Nearly everyone carried a firearm. He looked over to the journalist and noticed that Reggie was blinking rapidly and working his jaw. His arm was still dislocated, and it seemed to paint him. As much as Manny was pained by his leg, Manny Sense of professional pride lit up again and he leaned forward to speak to their hosts. I don't mean to seem ungrateful, he said. But is there some way we could see a medic? We're pretty shredded back here. Yeah, yeah, skull ******. Mike grunted tops, and I got some meta **** in our trailer. We'll get you. Just suck it up a bit longer. And oh, he popped open the glove compartment. Incited, many could see a handgun, a battered can of Miller high life, and a large bottle of pills. Skull ******. Mike passed the bottle back. Oxy printed them out myself like 2 weeks back. Probably shouldn't take more than two or three unless you've got a robust ******* narco suite in your brain. Meat. Manny took two, Reggie took four. Mike guided the little buggy through the organized chaos of the encampment and towards a large silver Airstream parked about a dozen feet away from what Manny guessed was the backside of rolling ****. He guessed that because someone had bolted a 20 foot tall license plate to that end of the city. It said honk please and glowing white letters. The Bucky slowed to a stop and skull ******. Mike hopped out. He put out a hand as Manny and Reggie started to stand. Hold up, guys, y'all are just covered in pieces of dead people. He went up to the Airstream and came out moments later with one armful of towels and a large jug of hot, soapy water. Manny and Reggie washed their hands and faces, pulled off their shirts, and scrubbed the blood from their chests. The Brit looked over at Topaz when it came time to take off his pants. He said when she made no motion to hide her face. Hmm? She asked. Would you mind turning around? Oh, she seemed surprised. Her face went a bit red, but not with embarrassment. That they're impending nudity. I didn't even think about it. You people come from the world. She turned Reggie and Manny scrubbed most of the blood off their aching, wounded bodies. Skull ******. Mike brought them a pair of fluffy white robes, bundled them up, and ushered them inside the Airstream. It was tamed by comparison to the Grand, Weird wheeled city above them. The gleaming silver vehicle had been modified with a rooftop greenhouse that was filled with pot plants and some squat Bush with red berries Manny had never seen before. The back had been extended and the stainless steel replaced by an enormous Bay window. As he entered, Manny was hit by a wave of cold air and the strong smell of marijuana. Roughly half the trailers interior was taken up by a huge papasan bed covered in velvet blankets and dozens of furs. A circular table started right. With the bed ended and the rest of the trailer was a large glass walled combination bathroom bar. There did not appear to be a kitchen manni's leg had started throbbing as soon as he stood up to exit the buggy, so he dropped into the first seat. He could find a little padded bench by the table opposite the bed. Reggie sat down on the other side of the table. Manny noticed that he looked nervous, sweaty. The journalist's hand shook just a little. His skin seemed to pale. Topaz came in after them, followed by Skull ****** Mike. She hopped over the table. The grace of a deer jumping a fence and in one smooth motion spun round and settled into a cross legged sit on the plush mattress. School ******. Mike walked up to the bar and pulled down a large white bottle with the words roofies written across it in black marker. He took 2 pint glasses, filled them 3/4 up with the white liquid and then added a splash of cranberry juice to each glass. Scully Topaz sounded reproachful. Mike stiffened then dropped his shoulders in contrition. He turned towards them. Sorry guys. The manners are burnt out. Would either of you like AG teeny? Neither of them answered for a long second. It was Reggie who finally responded. Gee, Tiny Mike laughed. Yeah, that's what Topes and I call GHB and cranberry juice really hits the spot after shooting something. I can make you guys some human sized portions. No thanks, Manny and Reggie said at the exact same time. The big man handed one glass to Topaz and belted down the other himself. The woman took two gulps to finish hers. She handed her cup to Mike and he walked back to the bar to fill both glasses. Again, Reggie looked shocked. I'm fairly certain you just ingested enough GHB to kill two normal humans. Yeah, topez shrugged. Let's say we've had so far is only 70% or so of a fatal dose for someone your size and metabolism and mods. Scully's better at drugging people, though. Skull ****** Mike finished pouring 2 more G teenies and knotted. She's about right. The Brit drinks more, though I'd say he could take a heavier dose than a what? What was your name again? Manny? Manny gasped out. And would it be too much to ask for? Like some medical care? We are both in tremendous pain. Topez and skull ******. Mike looked ashamed. Ah jeez, Topaz side. ******* hell guys, we're so sorry, added Mike. Then he grabbed a long knife from his belt and gouged it deep into his wrist. Reggie damn near jumped out of his chair. Manny kept still. The pills had started to help, but he was in too much pain to react to anything with gusto. It's all right, Topaz assured them and the kind of voice Manny remembered his mom using on their cat when it was sick. I know it looks weird, but he's helping. Helping, Reggie gasped as skull ******. Mike positioned his open wound over a shot glass, jammed the knife in slightly to the left, and LED a thick strand of his syrupy red blood filled the glass. He filled a second one in the same manner. Then he pulled the knife free, set it on the bar counter, and handed the shots to Manny and Reggie. By the time he reached them, many noticed that the big man's wounded arm had already scabbed. Paper? Don't worry, skull ****** Mike smiled. My blood's pretty sterile, and it's full of good robots. They'll take care of you. Manny took the shot right away. He knew it was working when he felt pain from the wounds in his back again. That meant Mike's blood had fixed whatever God awful thing had happened to his knee well enough that it barely throbbed Merta Santa, the curse slipped out. Manny felt better. Great in fact, but kind of queasy at the same time. He felt somehow in motion, almost as if his whole body were shifting and burbling like the contents of his gut. The fixer glanced at his journalist and nodded to the empty shot. It's a it's good. Reggie looked terrified. His knuckles were white. The journalist gripped the edges of the table like he was holding on for dear life. I am fine, he gritted out. Ah, damn it, Scully, topez said. You've scared the poor kid with your damned wizard blood **** said skull ******. Mike. Sorry. We were trying real hard not to trip your head. Topaz nodded. The gesture looked a little telegraphed, as if she were out of practice with making it stock. Sabians like yourself don't always do well around folks like me and Mike. We move too fast or we've got too many weird extra parts. I don't know, it's probably different for every one of us, but your brains definitely read monster when you see us. Oh, Reggie croaked. You're not monsters. You've both been very polite, perfect hosts. Ah, said Mike. It's got nothing to do with how nice we are or aren't. It's how your brain reacts to the way we look and move. It's because we're ******* monsters, Scully. She fixed her eyes on the journalist. I don't mean that in a bad sense, but like we've taken a big damn step out of anything near to nature. Nothing is supposed to be the way we are. It's normal for humans to feel weird when they're around us for the first time. Oh well said, Reggie. Maybe don't slice your wrists. Open in front of company in the future, or at least do it behind the screen. Mike nodded as if that had been a profound suggestion. Then he handed Topaz her second G, tiny and belted down his own. They were both visibly intoxicated now. Topaz's eyes looked unfocused, and she sprawled out backwards on the bed and cuddled absent mindedly with one of the fur blankets on her bed. Mike drifted off 2, tapping his foot to a beat Manny couldn't hear and drumming his fingers on the bar top to what looked like a completely different beat. The journalist stared at his bloodshot it looked like it had begun to clot. A thin rind had formed across the top. Reggie was an obvious pain, but he was just as obviously too squeamish to drink a stranger's blood. Many felt a lot better, though. It was weird how fast Mike's blood had worked. He found himself worrying at the scab for a gas he'd received on his forearm, only for the scab to fall away and reveal clean new skin underneath. An hour ago, it had been a bleeding wound. It really works, man, he told Reggie. Just trust me, choke it down. Richie didn't look convinced. Think about what a story this will make for everyone back home, Manny said. You escaped to kill your drone and drink the blood of an immortal. You'll dine out on that for years. Reggie still looked pale and rather disgusted, but he put his fingers around the shot, closed his eyes, and then gulped it down. Manny heard him Wretch once, and then twice tears beat it at the corners of the journalist's eyes. But then he swallowed and slumped back in his chair. Skull ******. Mike was hard at work mixing up another batch of cocktails. These ones seem to just be normal gin and tonics. Four of them. There's not anything ******* crazy about those drinks, is there? Manny asked. Mike shrugged. Two shots of gin? Splash atonic. Nothing you normies. That handle. Neither of us asked for a drink, Manny said. Yeah. Topaz yawned from her place stretched out on the bed. But you almost died today. You should always have a drink after almost dying. Listen to Topez, said Mike as he passed out the drinks. She's almost died more than almost anyone I know. Reggie came alive as his hands touched the drink. He gulped it down faster than either of the posthumans. Manny took a couple slight sips of his own. It was heinously strong before he sat the glass down and asked, polite as he could manage. So why are we here and why were you there? That kind of luck doesn't just happen. And now we're just all gonna, what, hang out in your trailer getting lit? Would that really be so bad? Asked Mike Scully. Topaz said in a warning tone. He's right, and it'd be rude of us to pretend we've got altruistic motives here. She looked Manny in his eyes. It was a little unnerving because her left eye was a notably different shade of brown than her right one. And then there were her metal fangs. Look, kid. She said we got a duty to help strangers in immediate need. It's rule #1 for all the monsters here, but we were out there because we were looking for Someone Like You. A fixer, he felt dumb as soon as he asked. To her credit, Topaz just smiled. A citizen of the Republic of Texas, one who's not afraid of dangerous work, Mike added. And judging by the day you've had, I'm a guess you've a certain familiarity with danger. What about me? Reggie asked. Mike put a hand on the journalist's shoulder. Many guessed it was meant as a calming gesture, but the Brits still flinched at the contact. Don't worry, guy, said. Mike. We'll get you back to Austin or whoever's got an airport that'll fly you home. Your friend's the only one who's helped. We need. What help do you need? Manny asked. The best person to take that question is up in the city, Topaz said. You guys up for a bit of a trick? Many stood halfway to test the strength of his knee. It felt good. As good as new, in fact. His back and shoulders, which had been peppered with shrapnel, just itched now. He didn't even feel particularly tired. On the other side of the table, Reggie looked to be doing well too. He worked his formerly dislocated shoulder in its socket and gave Manny the thumbs up. Apparently so, he said. Rolling **** had not been built by the mines or for the comfort of mortal men. That much was obvious. The second the elevator doors closed, the narrow metal box launched U with the force of a rocket. It climbed 6 stories in the space of about a second. By the time it stopped and the door slid open with a pleasant Ding, Manny and Reggie were both on the edge of vomiting. Ah, **** topes, Mike said you forgot to drop the speed back down to normal. Topaz looked genuinely distraught. **** me with a splintery **** she cursed. I'm sorry guys, this is the nearest elevator to our trailer. It doesn't normally take humans. The city's got an elevator under each spindle, Mike explained. There's also a big lift under the main roller. That's what we call the big building on treads in the middle and another behind the rear roller. Humans tend to stick to the rollers. It gets weird up in the spindles. Weird? Reggie asked. Weird skull ******. Mike leaned down and hissed the word into the journalist's ear. He winked at the Brit in a way that somehow suggested both coitus and violence. Topaz punched Mike shoulder in annoyance. She gestured for Manny and Reggie to follow her down the narrow metal hallway. We live life on a different scale than the rest of you, she said. We see more colors here, more sounds. Most of us have at least 1000 times as many nerve endings and No Fear of mortality to draw the line between pleasure and pain. The kind of environments we enjoy can be intense to unmodified humans. Right as she said, humans. The group emerged from the hallway into a wide open gantry way. There were no there was no ceiling above them now, and a huge rectangular metal frame loomed over them, connected to the other spindles of the vehicle city via thick metal tension wire. The surface of the spindles had been covered in colorful bits of metal and wood, welded and nailed into dozens of crude structures that stippled up the iron frames like Technicolor mushrooms. Everything was covered in lights and screens, and buzzed with the hum of 1000 speakers. Reggie's pace. Load the journalists jaw was slack, and he mouthed what must have been a curse and then asked their guides. Is it OK if I record? Skull ****** might grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. Of course it's OK if you ask Nice. I might even let you fill me in one of the fondle boats. What the hell is a? Reggie started to ask, but then the first fondle boat came into view. At least Manny assumed that's what it was. A very large lifeboat hung off the gantry as if it was the deck of a cruise ship. The interior of the boat was all soft cushions, pillows, blankets, and about two dozen writhing naked people. Some of them were surely having sex, but it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. Manny saw several tails curled around limbs or jerking spasmodically in the air. His eyes were drawn to one mechanical limb. Looked like a large metal chickens foot. He watched it kick repeatedly into the chest of a young woman. She cried with joy at every impact. The whole mass of coiled post humanity gleamed wet in the morning light, coated with a mixture of blood and what looked like motor oil. Christ, Reggie whispered. Manny was at a loss for words. He felt a bit nauseous. He'd never considered himself a prude, but something about what was going on in the fondle boat just seemed wrong in the physics sense, not the moral sense. Probably best not to watch, said Topaz. It can make humans sick. Yeah. Reggie coughed. Is that a common sight? Mike shrugged. It's not uncommon. We try to keep stuff like that on the outside. Spindles away from the rollers as a courtesy. They walked on past the boat and through another covered section of the gantry way, surrounded by a half dozen little buildings that looked like shops. Many saw fruits and vegetables hanging in one, an assortment of labeled decks and other electronic Douglas on tables. In another, it had the look of a Middle Eastern. Bazaar, but with no shopkeepers present. Y'all want food? Topez stopped and gestured at the shop filled with produce. Many held up his left hand, which had his cash chip and planted in it. I've got Republic of Texas currency and some Californian crypto if you guys take either. Mike and Topaz both laughed and then Mike grabbed an apple and tossed it Manny's way. Many caught the fruit, although it was a near thing. We don't use money, not within the city's skull, ****** Mike explained. We do sell a lot of what we grow for foreign monies, but that's mostly used to book bands or buy stuff we can't make. Nothing costs anything here, not to us and not to our guests, yell our guests, Topaz clarified. Many hadn't really had time to think about his stomach in the hours since their explosion. He wake up call. They'd been on the run and endanger the whole time, but now that he had a moment to think he felt a mild gnawing sensation in his gut. The journalist must have been in the same way because he immediately set to piling fruit bags of nuts and a paper sack of VAT grown jerky into his arms. Manny went for a bag of shelled pistachios himself and the two munched his skull ******. Mike and Topaz LED them across the spindles gantry and down towards the main roller. The main roller had once held the Control Center. An engine room for the gargantuan strip mining vehicle and its conversion to rolling ****. 2 new levels built from a half dozen sorely abused Airstream trailers had been added to the top. Four of the spindles met on the rollers roof, which also hosted a lively cafe. There were around a dozen patrons drinking at the Circular center bar and perhaps a dozen lounging on cushions around low slung Moroccan style tables. Most of the customers looked human to Manny's eye. They wore an assortment of colorful loose fitting garments, sarongs, long skirts and kefas. Most of it looked handmade, although Manny was hardly an expert on such things. As they walked past the bar, Mike scooped up 4 pint glasses of dark brown lager. He kept them in one hand as he opened a metal hatch on the rooftop. Many could see a ladder that led down into semi darkness. Mike nodded towards the ladder. Down you go, beer at the bottom. Manny and Reggie descended into a luxurious conference room. It was candlelit, dim enough to seem intimate, but bright enough for human navigation. A single Redwood table dominated the space. It was 12 feet in diameter and low to the ground, like all the tables he'd seen in the cafe cushions, and other colorful, lumpy, soft things surrounded it. One man and one woman were already seated, cross legged around the table. Manny was shocked to see they were both quite old. The man was heavyset, with a lot of curly black hair piled atop his head and around his craggy, lined face. Startlingly bright blue eyes stood out over the flickering candlelight. He wore an old fashioned suit with a necktie and everything. It was the kind of suit a banker might have worn 50 years ago, if the old movies man he'd watched were close to accurate. He looked to be in his 60s, while the woman next to him seemed considerably older. Her face was so line and her skin so thin she almost looked fake, like some kind of animatronic creation. No one looked that old anymore. The Austin Autonomous region wasn't wealthy, but basic juven treatments were cheap and heavily subsidized. Even the poor could afford to combat the worst side effects of aging. Things were different in the Republic of Texas proper, but none of the poor there lived long enough to look like this woman. She wore high waisted purple yoga pants and a very tight T-shirt with a faded print of A5 fingered Bart Simpson flipping the bird. Her hair was completely white and bound behind her in a tight ponytail. She smiled at Manny when he looked at her. The old woman's teeth were as white as her hair. Hello there, young men, she said in a voice that evoked the Platonic ideal of a grandma. Hello Topaz Mike. School ****** Mike, ma'am, school ******. Mike corrected her as he came down the ladder. He handed Manny and Topaz each a beer and then found a cushion large and plush enough for his bulk and dropped down. Manny took his cue and found a seat. Reggie grabbed the cushion next to him. Topaz leaned against the back wall, but stood as she introduced them. This is Manny Sanchez. He's a fixer from the Austin region and this is Reggie Sullivan. He works for the BBC. Manny Reggie, this is Nanna Yazzie. She's our eldest and the less old fart is Donnie Ferris. He's a guest and a Brit too. Wait, the Donald? Ferris? Reggie asked the guy who made visions of blood. Yes, said the old man. Did you actually watch it or have you just seen a handful of 10 second clips in your media feed over the years? Both, actually, Reggie replied. Donald grunted. Many had heard of visions of blood back in school. It was a documentary released a year before the 2nd American Civil War caught fire. It followed 2 Navajo Special Forces veterans as they organized a massive direct action campaign that started in Santa Fe. But spread throughout the southwest. His textbook had called it one of the major seeds of the old USSR collapse. Reggie was clearly starstruck by Donald. Manny was more curious about the old woman. No matter where he turned his head, he couldn't quite seem to escape her eyes. She had this strange way of staring at him without really staring. It made Manny feel somehow naked and vaguely comforted all at the same time. Nana meant grandma, which made sense, but he wasn't sure what the rest of her title meant exactly. Are you in charge then? He asked her in response. Everyone but Reggie chuckled. No one is in charge here, said Nana Yazzi. That will become increasingly clear the longer you stay. I'm the eldest, which means exactly what it sounds like. I'm old as dirt and I'm older than any of the other dirt around here, too. She eyed Donald Ferris and continued. When I give advice or have an opinion, some people listen. This is not a state and I am not a head of state, but sometimes I play one for the folks outside foreign policy, diplomatic relations, that sort of thing. Mainly because no one else can be *****. By the way, she added. Welcome to the City of Wheels, or. She frowned a little. Rolling ****. I argued rather strenuously against that name, but I was outvoted. I like the name, said Skull ******. Mike. It's fun. City shouldn't take themselves too seriously. That's when the problems start. O why are we here? Manny asked. I mean, I'm grateful in all we are grateful. He nodded to Reggie. But I know y'all aren't just being nice. Mike said you had dangerous work. Skull ****** Mike. Skull ****** Mike insisted again. Nanny Yazzie ignored him and replied to Manny. We do have a job for you, Miho. You are not required to take it though if you say no, we'll still return you when you're journalist friend to Austin. And if you do help us, you'll be compensated. So what is it you need? The old woman snapped her fingers. A projection screen hummed to life on the wall of the room that faced Manny and Reggie. It displayed three faces, two women and one man. They all looked young, although that meant very little. One woman was white and kept her hair in a bright purple Mohawk. The other was as bald as skull ****** Mike, with round cheeks, green scowling eyes, and skin a little darker than Manny's. The young man was very pale. He appeared to be of Chinese descent and has exposed skin, was covered and scarified symbols from a language many didn't recognize. From left to right, merrigold Fulton, Tuli Black Elk, and Rick Hartford. They're all citizens, and they act as our negotiators when the city is in the Southwest. Two days ago, they arrived in Plano to negotiate a trade deal with the Republic of Texas. We have quite a lot of processed coffee and we were hoping to trade it for. She trailed off a bit and her cheeks reddened. Manny thought she looked embarrassed. For snacks. Snacks? Reggie asked. Yes, she nodded. The Frito Lay Corporation is, or at least was, still headquartered in Plano. The junk food they produce is harder to find out West. We mostly wanted Cheetos. Topez licked her lips. For whatever reason, the invitations we print out here just don't cut it. We barter everywhere we go. Nanaya. He continued. And since Posthumans aren't welcome in most populated areas, our negotiators are all pretty close to baseline. They travelled unarmed into Plano. The city fell six hours after they arrived. Reggie grunted. Two days ago people were telling me the Kingdom was on its last legs. Yes, Nana Yazzie said it would appear they are not quite the paper tiger everyone expected. We're still scrambling for good data, but it's safe to say they've pilfered the majority of the Republic's heavy equipment and converted as much as half their standing army. At the same time Plano fell. Dozens of Christian militias across Texas launched fresh offensives. Galveston is still holding, but that could change at any moment. Houston blew their levees and flooded half the city in order to save the other half, but that also means the Kingdom can move on to Austin without worrying about their flank. They've pushed the SDF entirely out of Ciudad de Muerta, so there's nothing left between them and your home. Donald Ferris spoke up grave and gravely. We know that the offensive started with dozens of autonomous car bombings at checkpoints and fortifications. We don't know how they managed it. What's important now, Nana Yassi continued, is that three of our people have been captured. Many fought down a spike of anger. With all due respect, Nana, he said in a deliberately neutral tone. They just conquered the city I was born in. I probably lost a dozen friends, and he's God. Fascists are only, what, 2 hours away from Austin? 90 minutes, Donald said. They seem to be holding position now, digesting their meal, but they'll be on the March soon. I expect the vaunted Austin Defense forces will be able to hold them off for, oh, a good four or five. Days, maybe a week. Unless he glanced over to Nana Yazzi. She nodded in agreement unless asked Manny. Unless Nana agreed. Unless our militia comes to their aid, we're not in the habit of fighting other people's battles, but we're also not in the habit of letting Regressives win. I asked for a vote once we learned our people had been captured. Our fighters, most of them agreed to stop the Heavenly Kingdom's advance and give your people time to coordinate a proper defense. But there's a catch. Ah. Manny was starting to get it. If you step in, they'll kill your people. Nanny Yazzie nodded. Yes, and none of our fighters are willing to risk that. Well, I'm not sure what you want from me, Manny said. I'm a talker, not a fighter. A talker is exactly Mint mobile offers premium wireless starting at just 15 bucks a month. And now for the plot twist. Nope, there isn't one. Mint Mobile just has premium wireless from 15 bucks a month. There's no trapping you into a two year contract. You're opening the bill to find all these nuts fees. 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In this special episode, we sit down with Doctor Jane Goodall to hear her inspiring thoughts on how we can create a better future for humans, animals and the environment. If we don't help them find ways of making a living without destroying the environment, we can't save chimps, forests or anything else. And that becomes very clear when you look at poverty around the world. If you're living in poverty, you can't afford to ask as we can. Did this product harm the environment? Was it cruel to animals, like, was it factory farmed? Is it cheap because of unfair wages paid to people? And so alleviating poverty is tremendously important. Listen to amazing wildlife on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Exactly what we need, Immanuel, Nana Yazzi assured him, many winced and irritation at the use of his full name. Manny? He insisted. And the same tone skull ****** Mike had used a little earlier. As you say, Mio. What kind of talking do you want me to do? He asked. I'm sure you've all got better negotiators than me. Perhaps, but you've got something none of our people possess. You're a citizen of the Republic, and the Heavenly Kingdom has just issued a general amnesty for all citizens willing to repent and declare allegiance. You know how the people in this region talk. You won't arouse suspicion if you enter. So you want me to find your people, and then what? Break? Now I can barely shoot straight. I don't think I'm the man to execute a prison break. They've got plenty of fighters, son Donald Ferris growled. But if topez and skull ****** Mike haven't keyed you in on this, the Chrome don't exactly good at blending. He's right. Nana smiled sadly. We'll pair you with someone who could do the violence, but we'll need you to get them close enough to find our people, in effect, and escape. You'll need to help our person maintain their cover. Many felt a powerful anger boil up inside his belly. So basically, you and your militia are holding my homeland hostage, and if I don't risk my culo to save your negotiators, Austin dies. Mijo, it's nothing as sinister as that. Our people want to fight, but but Donald picked up. We're all family here, and family comes before corrupt, fractious foreign militias and equally corrupt, fractious foreign cities. Old hold. I'd say it's a good deal for you. What was your plan before this meeting? Nanny Yazzie asked. Many opened his mouth to respond, but realized he didn't have a clear answer. He hadn't exactly had much time to puzzle that out, and any time he'd tried, he thought about Oscar, his missing Stringer, and that made him want to panic. He's dead, or worse, and there's nothing you can do about it. What you can do is buy a ******* plane ticket and beg the Germans to take you in as a refugee. That seemed like a good plan, or at least the best of a bunch of ****** options, but a scornful voice rose up from the dark recesses of his semi withered conscience. What about his wife? Are you just going to leave her broken? Widowed? You have to at least give her something. I'm flying to Germany, he said. Or maybe France, wherever I can get the cheapest ticket, either in Austin or El Paso. How much money do you have saved up, son Donald Farris asked. They won't issue a long term visa unless you've got at least 60 Grand Californian. Manny hit a little more than half that, less once he paid off. Oscar's wife, widow. **** man, you sent him out there. The uncertainty and despair must have been obvious on his face. Both Donald Farris and Nana Yazzi gave him the sort of looks normally reserved for wounded kittens. I may be able to help, the old Brit said. I do have some connections in Germany, people who might sponsor your visa if you help. The thought of a visa, the mental image of seeing 1 stamped in his otherwise worthless passport was intoxicating. Manny never traveled outside of Texas, but he had kept it all times and active passport. It had been the physical anchor for his wildest dreams, and now Donald Ferris was telling him he could make something as magical as a visa. Real Manny almost swooned. Do I have to decide now? He asked, careful to keep his tone as calm as he could manage. Of course not, Nana Yazzie said. That would be terribly. Unfair. You should get some sleep and then a proper breakfast. There's certainly enough time for that and you look exhausted. He was now that the excitement of the morning had faded, he felt gripped by a bone. Deep weariness that was not at all helped by the dim lighting and comfortable cushions around him. Reggie should have been even more tired, but with the jet lag. But the journalists looked alert, jittery despite the bags under his eyes. If it's possible, Reggie said, and you have one, I could really use a high speed data connection. My deck's been spotty since the shooting started. I've got a lot to upload to the company's. Reverse and I should probably check in with my editors, let them know I'm not dead, etc, etc. That won't be a problem. She stood and her knees popped audibly with the movement. She grunted and then continued. Topaz and Mike. Skull ******. Mike will show you to a nice, relatively soundproof room. They'll help you get on to our data tower too. Reggie, thank you. She looked at many again and fixed him with her sad grandmother's smile. We'll give you as much time to decide as we can. We expect the Kingdom to hold for a few days, but we didn't expect them to launch an attack. Like this, so take that with a grain of salt. I'm Texan, Nana Manny said. I take everything with salt. I call the Union hall, I said. It's a matter of life and death. I think these people are planning to kill Doctor King. On April 4th, 1968, Doctor Martin Luther King was shot and killed in Memphis. A petty criminal named James Earl Ray was arrested. He pled guilty to the crime and spent the rest of his life in prison. Case closed, right? James Earl Ray was a pawn for the official story. The authorities would parade all we found. They're gone that James Earl Ray bought in Birmingham that killed Doctor King. Except it wasn't the gun that killed Doctor King. One of the problems that came out when I got the Ray case was that some of the evidence, as far as I was concerned, did not match the circumstances. This is the MLK tapes. The first episodes are available now. Listen on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Hey, lethal listeners. Tig here. Last season on Lethal lit, you might remember I came to Hollow falls on a mission, clearing my Aunt Beth's name and making sure justice was finally served. But I hadn't counted on a rash of new murders tearing apart the town. My mission put myself and my friends in danger, though it wasn't all bad. I'm going to be real with you, tig. I like you. But now all signs point to a new serial killer. In Hollow Falls, if this game is just starting, you better believe I'm going to win. I'm Tig Torres and this is lethal lit. Catch up on season one of the hit Murder Mystery podcast, Lethal Lit A tag, Torres mystery out now and then TuneIn for all new thrills in Season 2, dropping weekly starting February 9. Subscribe now to never miss an episode. Listen to lethal lit on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Look to your children's eyes to see the true magic of a forest. It's a storybook world for them. You look and see a tree. They see the wrinkled face of a wizard with arms outstretched to the sky. They see treasure and pebbles. They see a windy path that could lead to adventure. And they see you. They're fearless guide to this fascinating world. Find a forest near you and start exploring at, brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the Ad Council. Chapter 11 Roland Roland loved fighting men in powered armor. The increased firepower and durability gave them an outside chance, which made it fun, and the sheer expense of modern suits made it feel a little like whaling on rich kids with fancy toys. But Roland did not like fighting normal humans. He'd hoped the infantry coming up behind the armored troopers would run like hell once he popped their vanguard, but instead they'd insisted on a fight and started shooting at him with very large guns. One explosive munition had hit 9 yards ahead of his position and the other had impacted close enough to pepper Roland's torso and face with shrapnel, so regretfully he charged the enemy. The martyr shot back. They hit him a few times, but Roland paid their bullets as much mind to see what a mild rain he drew, close enough for visual contact. These martyrs were a motley site, several of them fought shirtless with white crosses daubed across their chests. Most of them wore body armor, very little of it. Modern. Roland saw a lot of old pre war. Plate carriers and surplus police vests. That crap wouldn't stop military grade rifle rounds, although since the only weapon in Roland's hand was a big *** wrench, how these men were armored hardly mattered. They were mostly armed with old MP fours and a smattering of newer assault rifles, probably pilfered from the Republic of Texas. 50 men, 6 technicals, 2 drone carriers. Roland hit their skirmishing line before the teams on the recoilless rifles. His first target could reload. Roland's wrench broke jaws and orbital bones. It cracked pelvises and shattered thighs. He dispatched the rifle teams and then danced through the on rushing mob of militia like some sort of compound fracture dispensing ballerina. And as he fought, Roland felt the familiar sunlight warmth of serotonin flood his synapses. He remembered a little of how the army had explained the battle drugs now flowing through his brain, a guarantee of sustained aggression. The longer he fought, the harder it would be for him to stop fighting and to avoid killing. Roland felt his self-control begin to fade as he knocked out his dozent martyr. He started swinging harder, his blows increasingly connected with clavicles instead of Coxes and Jaws instead of elbows. His hind brain warned him as the kill likelihoods jumped from 4 to 6% up to 20, thirty 40%. He felt his conscience fade beneath the euphoric red haze of narcotic splendor. Before he knew it, the whole platoon of martyrs was either on the ground or fleeing for the relative safety of their technicals. Roland laughed. A madman's laughed, tickled that they thought a bunch of old Toyota trucks with machine guns in the beds might slow him down. He put a fist through the engine block of 1 and ate a burst of 50 caliber fire from the other. As he pivoted and launched his wrench through the driver's side window, the improvised missile connected with the face of the driver, who spun his wheel hard to the left. The truck flipped forward onto its cabin. Something about the wet crunch it made. Sounded so familiar. Oh, God. Oh dear. Sweet Jesus. Please, Sir. The National Guardsman was 19 years old. Randall Wallace was his name. Roland knew that because his hindbrain had sucked in every piece of publicly available data on the boy once it had scanned his face. It had done that with all the occupants of the Humvee and the four seconds before Roland had blown it on its side. Wallace was just the only member of the crew unlucky enough to survive. Please, Sir. Roland stepped towards the broken, bloody boy. He came back to himself, a bit disoriented, but none the worse. Or where his hind brain and a lifetime of combat memories had kept his body fighting in his mind's absence now wrench. Unless Roland used his bare hands to tear open doors and break faces. The Gunners on the remaining technicals tried to fire back, but their maneuverability was limited by the rubble choked streets and their own fleeing infantry. One minute after first contact, the Martyr contingent had been reduced to a dozen shell shocked soldiers piled hastily onto the tops of their retreating drone carriers. Rowland hopped onto the last of the technicals. He disabled it. By pulling the driver out through the front windshield and using the man's body to beat the gunner into unconsciousness, Roland tore the vehicles 20 millimeter cannon free from its swivel mount and cited in on the fleeing troops. His synapses promised him more chemical rewards, if only he'd pull the trigger, but something in Roland's forebrain stopped him. Under the joyous miasma of the battle drugs, his conscience reasserted itself. He lowered his weapon and watched as his enemies beat Hell for leather in the opposite direction. His hands shook, and he felt the first symptoms of withdrawal as his heart rate. Dropped in, the adrenaline drip stopped its flow. Rollin closed his eyes. He breathed in and out and centered himself. The crash came. Now that the fighting was done, Roland had time to process the sense data he'd pulled from his enemies. He knew what the driver he'd ripped out of the windshield had eaten for breakfast. He knew which of the militia he'd crippled were fathers. He knew which had wives, or at least girlfriends. He could smell traces of football leather on some of their hands. One man he'd wrenched had smelled of Rosen, a violinist. Roland couldn't fight a man without learning much more about him than any killer should know about their victims. That knowledge crashed down on him. In a hailstorm of guilt, Roland dropped the cannon. Into the truck's bed, he hopped down, pulled Sardars wrench free from the wreck of the second technical, and headed back towards Bigsby and his squad with a heavy heart. Nadine and Azimah both looked pretty seriously wounded. Bigsby was helping to carry them both back to the APC while will handled Overwatch with his grenade launcher. Roland caught up with them and fell into step. Bigsby looked over at him and grunted. You're going to try to take my ****** now? Roland shrugged. He wasn't in the mood. His brain was in the dark, ugly place. It always went after a bloody fight, when the raw data about all the men he'd killed or battered lingered in his brain like a fart in the back of a Humvee. They reached the APC. Sardar gasped. When he saw them, Pedro vomited. Roland was confused until he realized Bigsby and Will had also started to stare. Roland looked down at himself and saw that he looked like a literal dead man walking. He'd been shot 47 times by his hind brain's best count and peppered with shrapnel. On top of that, he had ribs showing through holes blasted in his biceps and his belly, and the bone on his left thigh was completely exposed. It looks worse than it is, Roland said. It looks like you should be dead about five times over, Sardar replied. Roland looked Sardar up and down his hind brain. Did the math 11 times. If I were you, Jesus. He handed Sarda the wrench now dented in bloodstained a large clump of hair and scalp was still stuck to the heel jaw. The mechanic took his tool with one hesitant hand. He stared at the gore on it until Bigsby started to yell again. Oye, ****** in case you've forgotten, there's an army breathing up our *****. Saar, you good to drive, man? Sardar nodded his head. Then let's get the wounded in the cab and power the **** out of here. We'll stay on watch. Will grunted and jerked his head at Roland. This fukuroda cover us. He just took out half a company on his lonesome. You trust him to watch your six? Bigsby asked. Roland only half heard them. He stared off into the distance, worked his jaw, and clenched his left fist so hard his fingernails drew blood. He was lost in his head, scanning scent memories and analyzing the men he just beaten. He was drawn again and again to the memory of one man in particular. He'd worn a tattered U.S. Army issue vest and an M16 that posed as much of a threat to Roland as a drunken Hornet. He'd had the scent of a woman on him. He wasn't alone in that, but the rich wave of oxytocin that had poured off him was intense and real in his memory. The man's face. Kept twisting and morphing into the face of Randall Wallace. Roland started to cry. Bigsby and Sardar loaded Ryan, Nadine and Azimah into the transport. We'll just stare at him, his gaze locked on Roland's tears as if each one were the Loch Ness Monster. Roland didn't care. His hind brain kept up its glitchy feet of data, a mix of information on the min he just killed and the min he'd killed years ago. Once the wounded were loaded up, everyone filed into the Mattis, a PC will, pop the top hatch and sat gunner with his grenade launcher inside the A PC. Bigsby and Pedro did their best version of First aid on their wounded companions. There wasn't much for them to do though. Everyone in the squad had fairly advanced healing sweets. Roland trudged into the APC and took his seat. No one made eye contact with him. Sardar kicked it into gear and off they went. Waco had always been one of the worst cities in Texas. In the late 1800s, it had been a refuge for former Confederate loyalists. In the 1900s, it had developed a reputation as a haven for kooks and religious extremists caught between the economic powerhouse of Dallas and the relative cultural Mecca of Austin. Waco was a second rate college town at best, and at worst a meth filled rest stop between Texas good cities. The revolution had changed that. After the Lakewood blast, Dallas had bled 60% of its population. Most of those people had fled to Austin since constant flooding had rendered much of Houston uninhabitable, but half a million of them, Ish had swelled Waco into something resembling a worthwhile place to exist. The city had thrived in the post revolutionary years. It was nominally controlled by the Austin Regional Government, and so it had been spared the worst of the Republic of Texas's corruption. But now it looked like Waco would be the next city. Eaten by the expanding Heavenly Kingdom, Roland could smell the stink of fear in the air when they were still a half dozen miles out from the city limits. Once they hit the city proper, their convoy halted at a military checkpoint. Power Armored Austin Republican Guardsmen opened the side hatch of the Mattis APC and inspected the squad. Bigsby spoke for them, beamed over some credentials from the SDF, and they were waived in. They stopped at a fueling depot with the rest of the SDF column, and Roland hopped out of the APC to stretch his legs and roll another blunt. He picked a cherry apple wrap. He dipped in a VAT of extra strength hydrocodone syrup earlier that morning. As he rolled it tight and sealed the seam with his saliva. He watched the SDF unload hundreds of wounded warriors from half tracks and a PC's in the beds of flatbed trucks. Many of The Walking men and women looked wounded too. Most of the vehicles were damaged. Rowland lit the blunt and stared off. Towards Dallas, it was still early in the morning and the sky was streaked with red and orange. On the horizon, black smoke rose to meet the sunrise. Rowland was struck with a powerful sense of deja vu. This wasn't the first time he'd watched a great city burn in the light of the rising sun. According to his hind brain, it was around the 30th time he recalled a few of those cities. Denver, Baltimore, DC, Richmond. But the particulars of each calamity were lost to his memory. He wondered, not for the first time, if his broken brain. Might be a blessing. Boy, it was Sardar. He approached from the rear and stepped up to Roland's right side. Roland offered the mechanic his blunt, now half smoked, and Sardar accepted it. He drew in a deep lungful of medicated smoke, held it in his lungs for three long seconds, and then exhaled with only a small fit of coughing. This tastes like ******* cough syrup, man. Yep, Roland agreed. There's enough opiates on that to kill a small cat. That's a weird thing to say. Yep, Roland agreed. Sardar took a second hit and then passed the blunt back to Roland. They stood in companionable silence for a minute and watched the distant smoke mingle with the morning light. Sardar spoke first. Jim's on his way out here. He's flying in with three more squads. Austin's approved emergency funding to stabilize the front. Apparently a chunk of that's coming our way. Grants, said Roland. Then he asked. What's the money mean to you? Sodo shrugged. Cascadia. Probably been saving for a couple of years now. 50 grand by residency? Another 100 grand or so to set me up for the first year while I find work. Roland finished another deep pole on the blunt and offered it to Sardar. The other man declined with a polite wave of his hand. No thanks, Roland puffed again and asked. So what's the Pacific Northwest got that you want? A future, Sardar said. I mean, that's what it always meant in my head. I grew up in El Paso, got trained up by that army blooded in their first little civil war, the Albuquerque Secession, right? Soto nodded. Didn't see much action then, but I got Jim's attention. He made me an offer when my term of service expired. The idea was I'd be with him for five years and retire with enough money to make a new start out West. I always dreamed of a life in Portland. It seems nice. There it is, Roland agreed. Or at least I got nice memories. I met a girl out there when I was younger. I remember watching the fog roll in with her. He ran a hand over the stubble on his head. It was weird to him that he'd been given so much control over his bodily functions, and yet he still found himself making nervous gestures. For some reason, talking about her made him want to cover his face. The impulse was wired into him deeper than the carbon fibre that laced his bones. That sounds tough, Sardar said. He managed to look concerned without showing pity. I can't imagine having all these memories floating around with no through line to connect them together. It must hurt. Roland shrugged. What hurts most is knowing that it should hurt more. I don't remember enough to give the pain its proper due. They were quiet for a bit. Roland finished the blunt and put it out on his right index finger. Sardar pulled a bronze flask out from his jacket pocket, took a belt, and then offered it to Roland. It was Lefroy whiskey. Even if he hadn't been chromed to the gills, Roland would have recognized that smell from 3 feet away. He took a goat from the flask and passed it back. Sardar broke the silence again. Look, maybe I'm reading things wrong, but we've got some tents set up near the APC. You up for a ****? Roland looked the man up and down again. Sardar was a good looking guy. Short, broad and muscular, with a neat trimmed beard and curly black hair. Yeah, all right. It was pretty good sex, nothing to blow Roland's mind, but the release provided a quantum of chill to calm the pangs of memory. Afterwards, Sardar fell asleep, nuzzled into his shoulder. Roland didn't particularly feel like cuddling, but he sensed the other man needed the human contact. So he laid there with him for a couple of hours, rolled and smoked two more blunts, and tried not to think about the lives he'd ended. That morning, a little after noon, Bigsby came by and knocked on the tent flap. Zar, Roland El Hefe's here. Clean up your **** stink, and meet us. By the APC. They did. 5 minutes later the whole squad had assembled around the Mattis. Ryan looked more or less recovered from his injuries. Enzyme also seemed good as new. Nadine was still pretty bandaged and her eyes were littered and unfocused from blood loss and opiates. Will had brewed up a large French Press of coffee. He busied himself pouring measures of it out into hemp foam cups. Roland took one and drained it in a single mighty gulp. It was proper post human strength coffee. The caffeine rush mingled with the opiates and THC already flooding. Synapses and brought him to a lovely half lucid state of quasi awareness. Did you guys ****? Pedro finally asked after about a minute of staring at Roland and Sardar and asking the same question with his eyes. Yes, Bigsby and Nadine both replied. Sardar laughed at that. So did Roland, for one beautiful moment. He felt nice. A kind of nice he was pretty sure he hadn't felt in a long time. And then came a familiar pattern of footsteps tickling Roland's ears. Jim Roland turned just as Jim walked into view. His legs were covered by a pair of armored red leather chaps. His groin was wrapped up in a thick Kevlar thong, but his penis and *** were otherwise unguarded. He wore a double shoulder holster with a pair of bone handled wheel guns under his arms. The snake tattoos on Jim's chest and shoulders danced to a melody Roland eventually recognized as La Cucaracha. Your ink looks good today, Boss, said Bigsby. Asked lecker. Said Sardar. Takes 1 to know one. I don't lick *** Sardar replied haughtily. I eat it like a starving hyena. More laughter and another fleeting moment of community that was broken when Jim addressed the squad. All right, so several bunks have been humped here. This heavenly kingdoms got at least 10,000 effectives in theatre with OMA artillery drones. The works annual employer, Houston, has about 3000 fighters here in Waco. Plus now the 15 EU lot. I flew in with Ajax and Florin. They're prepping their squads now. Bigsby spat Ajax fights about as well as a drunk dog in a burlap sack, will replied. You're just saying that because you choked you out in the blood Dome last year. Bigsby responded with a middle finger, a hem. Jima hemmed. Plenty of time for **** measuring later. Time enough for the rest of you. At least this city doesn't have a ruler long enough for ** ****. He paused for a laugh. No one obliged. Jim rolled his eyes. ********. So look, we're in a bad position with **** all for reinforcements coming in. Austin might be able to scrape up a couple of Italians if they're suddenly clear out the Houston Front, but that don't look likely. Enemy has another 10,000 men there. **** Sardar was the only one to actually say it, but everyone else in the group mouthed the word or some equivalent curse. How is that even possible? Azuma's voice was still a little slurred from the painkillers, but her eyes were focused. Now. Jim shrugged. Had to say. Exactly. Mass defections from the Republic of Texas. Intel suspects the UCS probably sent in some spec OPS guys, I don't know, some sort of school Douglas ******** went down the hall. That ain't really our problem today, but now we've got to deal with the reality. The snakes on Jim's torso stopped writhing. He locked eyes with Roland, and Roland felt compelled to meet his old friend's gaze. Can we count on your help? Jim asked. **** no, Roland said. I've killed enough naive young men today. I don't aim to kill anymore. To his surprise, Jim nodded in acceptance. Understandable. This kind of fighting was a violation of our contract. I regret that, Roland. If I'd known this was going to be a meat grinder, I wouldn't have interrupted your retirement. Roland wasn't sure he believed that, but he kept his mouth shut. As Jim continued. I'd like to propose a renegotiation of our contract in light of the changing situation on the ground. I'm not blowing anything else up for you. That's fine. Jim put his hands out in the sort of placating. Last year one would use on an angry dog. I don't need you killing us, I need your sneakiness. You can still take faces, right? Roland's memories of his time in the army were his, patchy as his memories of everything else. He didn't remember much about how they used him, but he knew that some of the wetware they'd installed in him allowed him to modify his skin and bone structure to fool facial recognition scanners, thumbprint readers, and, of course, human beings. Yes, he said. But Jim, cut him off. You don't need to kill anyone. The face you'll need is already dead. And what do you want me to do with this man's face that isn't more murder? Jim's lips curled up into a grin. The expression sent shivers arcing down roll in spine. He felt like he'd seen that grin before, never preceding good things. Rolling **** is nearby and in the City of Wheels. A600 or so. Real scary ********. I have it on good authority that they'd be happy to throw down on our side, but it turns out some of their negotiators were captured back at the start of all this ****. No one in the city will risk fighting until they're pulled out safely. Roland raised an eyebrow. So a rescue mission, then? That's right. Jim grinned in a way Roland didn't quite trust. You'll be saving lives. Roland's gut. Twisted into knots, the shades of 1000 memories spoke up and warned him not to trust Jim at his word. But those shades also drove him to take Jim up on the offer. He wanted his memories back. Jim smiled that hackle, raising smile again. You don't have to agree yet. Come to roll and **** with me. We'll talk things over with the elders. You can do some of their fancy space drugs, and then you can make your decision. All right, roll inside. But only because you said fancy space drugs. They flew to rolling **** in Jim's Helix craft. It had been military issue originally, but the interior had been redone to Jim's tastes. That mostly meant a lot of valure and a full wet bar. There were four beers on tap just to the right of a double barreled 35 millimeter grenade launcher mounted beside the door. Roland drank for the duration of the 10 minute flight. You know, Jim said. Topez lives there now. Been with the city a while. Topez? Roland asked. Something shuddered in his gut. He felt his hippocampus flicker with the dim light of recognition. He saw that face again, the woman from so many of his dreams and a few of his shattered memories. So that was her name, it felt right now that he knew it again. Do you remember her at all, Roland? Jim asked, his voice uncharacteristically tender. Roland nodded and swirled the beer in his hands to buy some time. I remember snatches of her, he said. I remember loving her. I remember enough that it hurts sometimes. Mostly it hurts that I don't remember enough to be as sad as I ought to be. There was a spark of real sorrow in Jim's eyes. The other man's hand twitched in a way that made Roland think he might have been about to reach out to him, but Jim kept his hand to himself. I'm not sure how much I should say, he said. I'm sorry. There was something in Jim's face when he said that it resembled regret or guilt, but it passed quickly and nothing else was said. During the flight, they landed on one of the top Spires of rolling **** on a landing pad that doubled as a nude bar. He and Jim grabbed another round of drinks before they proceeded down through the infinite party that was the City of Wheels and on to the top of the main roller. They grabbed another round of drinks there and sat at the bar table while Jim waited for the word to go down. It was late afternoon by this point and the evening had started to close in. The normal boiling Texas heat was cut by a cool breeze. White clouds rolled in around them. Rollande hindbrain told him there was at best a 12% chance of rain, but the clouds were still welcome. He and Jim drank in silence for a few minutes until the other man tapped his shoulder and said they are ready for us. They stood a bit unsteadily and headed towards the ladder down into the main roller. They reached the ladder just as two other people came up at a man and a woman. The man's face triggered a flurry of memory fragments fighting back-to-back in the choking streets of Baltimore, drinking heavily on the edge of a Canyon in the Arizona desert, charging a riot lion with pipes and hammers in their hands. A name bubbled up from inside the memories. Mike, he shouted before he really thought about it. Hey, brother, Skull ****** Mike froze. Roland was already halfway to a hug when he realized Mike wasn't feeling it. And then he caught his first good look at the woman coming up the ladder behind him. She had short, cropped teal hair. Damascene fangs and eyes so loud he could almost hear her thoughts. Topez. Wrote. She started to say his name, and then her voice caught. He heard the ghost of tears beneath it. And then she finished. Roland. Yes, he said, not sure of what else to say. Do you Remember Me? No, he admitted. Part of him wanted to lie, but he couldn't. The broken scraps that remained of his love for her made it impossible. So we gave the honest answer, and he watched her die a little inside. Topaz nodded. She closed her eyes for a second, bit down on her bottom lip, and then she put a quick hand on Mike shoulder before she walked away, up one of the gantries and into the Chaos Knight of rolling ****. Roland looked to Mike. I'm sorry, skull ****** Mike smiled sadly back. I know buddy. And then he left, too. Roland felt confusion and a distant heart. He had a feeling that he should have been crying, but for some reason he couldn't. And so he didn't. Instead, he took a fistful of Oxycontin and stumbled down the ladder, following Jim. Ruling Fox Conference room was sumptuous, elegant, and surprisingly professional. 2 old people sat at the far end of the conference table. Roland had a vague memory tingle of having met the man before long ago, but neither of their faces brought a name to his mind. Jim introduced them, but their names fled his head a few seconds later. In fact, the first minute or so of conversation flowed around him in an indistinct haze that may have had something to do with the softball sized mass of Oxycontin he'd eaten as he'd climbed down the ladder with Jim. Roland had assumed the drugs would help him focus through the boredom. Apparently, he'd miscalculated. OK, so, the old lady said with a hint of finality. That's the situation we're in. Are you willing to help us? In response, Roland blacked out. Just for a few seconds. He was re awoken by the thought of his head hitting the conference room table. **** that's good. Oxy. He wished he could remember where he'd gotten it. Oh dear, said the lady. He's fine. Jim sighed. But we are probably going to need to start over. The lady brought him some coffee and reintroduced herself as. Nana Yassi, thanks to the coffee and Roland's clearing head, her name stuck this time. It was hard not to marvel at her age, and harder still to stop his hind brain from calculating how much longer till her human heart gave out. Roland smelled cancer on the old man's. Not serious cancer, nothing basic medicine couldn't handle. But all the same, the odor that wafted off him brought Roland to sort of primal discomfort. Or maybe it was the old man's eyes that made his guts warble. It was hard to say. There was something disconcerting in the way he looked at Roland. Roland? Jim shouted. Roland shook himself out of the haze and refocused on Nana Yazzi. Sorry, he grunted. It's fine, she said and set into her spiel again. She showed him pictures of her. Captured friends explained the dire situation in North Texas and the Doom that marched towards Waco and Austin. It was a sad story, but not one that compelled Roland to action. Other than Topaz and skull ****** Mike, the citizens of rolling **** were total strangers to him, Austin was just another little ailing Republic in a continent full of them. I'm sorry for your people, he told her. And I'm sorry for Austin, but I really don't see how any of this is my damn business. Jim took those words as his cue. Tulian topez are close, said Jim. His voice was low, his tone smooth as silk, like sisters. From what I hear, Merigold vouched for Topaz and sculfor Mike when they joined the city. She's all ****** ** over this. From what I hear, he added. O let her do something about it then, Roland muttered. She's got enough Chrome to choke her river ****. The city's got enough monster people to burn the eastern seaboard. What, do you need me because the mattas aren't stupid, Jim said. They are scanning for Chrome, for biomods, for everything but the **** you've got because no one left alive as packing the **** you've got. Roland grunted again. His nostrils flared. There was something strange about the words Jim had chosen. No one left alive. Had there been others? He knew his mods had come, courtesy of the old US Defense Department, but he didn't remember which unit he'd been a part of for what he'd done. There was a bit of memory, hazy and fragmented, that popped into his dreams from time to time. He was stuck inside a long, cool metal pod. The cold black of space unfolded around him. Roland felt warm bodies to his left and right, smelled the comforting sense of min he trusted. Red lights blinked above his field of vision. Something tugged at his belly. There was a powerful feeling of inertia. Roland closed his eyes, leaned forward. Pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned just a little bit. When he came back up, Nana Yazzi stared at him in confusion. Jim looked, perhaps worried. It was hard to tell. What that guy what's going to happen if I don't do it? He asked Nana Yazzie to you. Nothing. Roland shook his head. Not to me. What are you guys going to do if I don't help? Oh. She frowned. I suppose we'll have to mount an assault, send in a small team, four to six commandos and try to pull them out. It'll be bloody, Jim said. The old man frowned at that. He opened his mouth like he wanted to say something, but the lady put her hand on his and gave him a significant look. That's true, she said. It will be bloody. Roland felt a twinge of anger, but he couldn't blame Nana Yazzi for trying to manipulate him. The lives of her friends were on the line. Roland knew himself, though, and he knew that missions like this always went wrong. If he took this job, Roland knew he'd take more lives. You'll save lives by being there, Jim insisted, smiling that ******* smile. Roland was sure that Smile had tricked him into dumb, violent things in the past. You know, the only one who can handle this with a minimum of death. Roland didn't believe that, and at the same time he had to admit it was technically true. He just didn't trust himself or reality or Jim. And yet. I'll do it, he said. I'm sure I'll regret agreeing to do it, but whatever, I'll do it. Jim looked satisfied with himself. Nana Yazzi looked relieved. The old man looked somehow angry. Most of Roland's reason for agreeing to help came down to Topaz. He hated to admit that, even to himself, but it was true. The thought of her in pain twisted something in the center of his heart. He wasn't used to pain there, and his tolerance was pretty low. This is so dumb, he told himself. You couldn't even remember her name. This morning, he and Jim and the old woman shook hands on the deal. Then they let him loosen their city to imbibe and fornicate and test the limits of his wetware. We have things to plan, she said. Hey, I've written a novel. It's called after the revolution. You can find it as a podcast under after the Revolution, and you can find it at as a free epub if you like it. I am crowdfunding the sequel so that I can keep making my books free. That will be it after the revolution. The sequel on Go Fund Me. That's after the revolution. The sequel on Go Fund Me. Raffi is the voice of some of the happiest songs of our generation. So who is the man behind baby beluga? Every human being wants to feel respected. When we start with young children, all good things can grow from there. I'm Chris Garcia, comedian, new dad, and host of finding Raffi, a new podcast from iHeartRadio and fatherly. Listen every Tuesday on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Look for your children's eyes and you will discover the true magic of a forest. For you and start exploring at, brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the Ad Council. Look for your children's eyes and you will discover the true magic of a forest. For you and start exploring at, brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the Ad Council. 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