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Why do you have to go South?
Valiance
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-- Found this in an old Word file. I think I've published it elsewhere on the site, but wanted to share it again ---

---

`Why do you have to go south?`

`We`ve been over this, Earl,` said Amy Banuelos. She pushed the magazine home in the gatling and snapped the inspection hatch closed. `We`ve got a responsibility. The pirates are swarming around Gateway. It`s a pinchpoint and they know it.`

`But why you? We`ve got a cushy life here. Roll across the dunes in the Viathan, Randy drops a few bombs on their head and I strip the rusty carcasses bare. We`re making a killing here. Why not just stay put?`

`Because there`s more to life than profit. The other gangs look up to us, follow our lead.` Amy popped the bonnet and rested it on a prop. She peered into the engine compartment. `We need to show that we can beat the pirates in Gateway, join Latte`s Raiders and Pestilence and Main Force Patrol, all those guys who are trying to make Evan a safer place.`

Earl snorted. `A safer place. Not possible, Amy. We`ve got the sun flaring up, and reports of those giant radioactive bugs...`

`So what should we do? Say that life sucks and just put up with it? Look around you, Earl. Somerset is dying, the life being squeezed out of it by these damned pirates. When was the last time you saw Jake selling anything other than a second-hand rifle looted from some deadbeat Enforcer?`

`Every time Norm or Don rolls in with a truckload of weapons from Badlands,` said Earl. `Look, Amy, I just don`t get it. Between trade runs to the truckstops and scouting for the dregs around here, we could be raking it in. We could live like kings.`

`You ever hear the phrase noblesse oblige?` The grease-spattered mechanic shook his head. `It`s an old saying, French I think. Means that those with power and money, those who people look up to, well, sometimes they have to step up, fight, do the right thing. Even if that means risking death.`

`And that`s what you`re doing?`

`I don`t like it any more than you do, Earl, but we`ve got to do something.`

`You`re serious about this?

Amy nodded.

Earl pushed her aside.

`Well, get out of the way and let a proper mechanic get this dustup into shape. You go pack your bags or something.`

* * * * *

The convoy rolled down the ruined highway at 50. It was a pleasure to drive fast, to hear the wheels grinding up the miles after the slow toil across the sand roads near Somerset. The Vedette took point. Not that it could take punishment, but it was low, quiet and could disappear into the hills like a snake in the grass.

Darrell followed in the Valois. She was surprised he`d volunteered, insisted even.

`We`re heading south to hunt wanted pirates, right?`

`Yeah.`

Darrell banged the roof of the car with one massive fist. `Well this baby`s got an HCR in it that`ll burst a head like a ripe melon at 100 metres. Couldn`t have better out there. And you need me in it.`

`What about Marcus?`

`Pretty boy?` Darrell`s tone left it clear what he thought of the thin, effete gunner. `He`s in love with that laser and unless you bring that with us, you ain`t getting him to Gateway. Besides, you need a real man down in the boonies.`

`I`m not sure…`

`Look, just leave Randy and Earl in charge here. They know what they`re doing, and they make a good team.` A dumb team, but Randy`s uncanny ability to drop a mortar round squarely on the roof of an Antagonist doing 80 sure impressed the gang. `You said it yourself: Somerset`s safe right now. The problem is the parasites killing Gateway. You need me there, Amy.`

Amy had nodded, her decision made. She felt comforted having that bear of a man backing her up.

The Vivisector – which damned fool thought naming every car they owned with a V was a good idea? – brought up the rear, two new recruits. She hated risking them but the gang was spread so thin, with more than half of them travelling on errands, that she had no choice.

`We won`t let you down,` said the new mechanic - Natalie was her name. Amy could have sworn she was about to say `ma`am` but Natalie bit off her last words.

Her reflections were cut short as she caught sight of a dust cloud ahead. All considerations vanished as she focused on the now.

* * * * *

`This place never changes.`

Six months since she`d visited. Over a year since her first trip, a callow girl about to set off to cross the badlands with the wrong kit and tyres that would barely survive the run south. She`d forgotten how dusty Gateway was, the red-brown sand that spread everywhere, coating your clothes and filling your nostrils, clogging up engines and making every morsel of food rasp in your throat.

`It`s not so bad,` said Darrell, grabbing his kit out of the Valois. `I`ll get `er into the Bunker, then hit Mezcal`s. He grinned. `I hope Polska`s there.` He danced three steps on the sand, with the surprising lightness of foot common to many huge men. `Maybe, she`ll fancy a polka with me.` He guffawed, and Amy smiled at the plain good humour on his face.

* * * * *

Kenneth Larkin was a good four inches over six foot. Thin and lean, he`d hoped to get a good name at his initiation, once he`d earned his way into the gang. Something powerful. Something intimidating. Something, frankly, cool.

`Hey, Shortarse, what you gawping at?` Esky tossed him a beer.

`Someone`s driving up to the Bunker. Could be them.`

`You in such a hurry to get back out there. In that death carriage?`

`Better than sitting in a Phoenix reeking of that horse-piss you call cologne.`

`I don`t get any complaints,` said Esky, tipping his beer bottle and draining half of it.

`That`s cos all the girls you pick smell worse than you do.` Blonde hair, cut short. Mirrored shades.

`Agnes. Polska, my dear. That wounds. Shoots me straight to the heart.`

`I didn`t know you even had one.`

Esky`s retort was lost as the doors to Mezcal`s swung open. A voice boomed out.

`You missed me?` Darrell spread his arms as Polska leaped to her feet. He gave her a huge kiss, then held her tight.

`Right, who needs another beer?`

* * * * *

Amy ran through the plans in her head. She`d lead, of course. Darrell in the Valois with a new guy. Anthony, she thought. Shortarse in the hearse with his beloved mortars. I`ll put Natalie in there. Good car for a mech, she can stay out of trouble. Esky and Polska in the Victor with the last new guy. Adrian? Adam? Polska would complain she wasn`t with Darrell but she`d seen lovebirds in a fight before, and it was dangerous for everyone.

Should she join up with another gang? Form a squad with Ricky Ranjits Raiders perhaps, or Black Rock? She shook her head. No. She knew the strengths of her crew. Knew how to manage them. They`d go it alone.

* * * * *

Seven in the morning and it was already getting hot. The red-brown dust of Gateway gave way to orange-brown in the scattered hills on the edge of the badlands. The haze, halfway between mist and sandstorm, hung in the air, joining desert and sky into an indistinguishable canvas, a painting with no lines, no perspective, no nothing.

* * * * *

She picked them out, nine of them. They were sloppy, travelling in a line abreast, no pickets posted. Just over two to one odds. She made her decision.

* * * * *

`Break, break, break.`

As one, the Vanguards swung hard right behind the shelter of a long rising hill. The pirates were undisciplined, ill-trained. Amy heard the crunch of metal from 200 metres away as the rabble collided with each other in their haste to engage their quarry.

`Maybe they`ll kill each other before they get to us,` called Esky.

`Maybe,` said Amy. `Better to be ready when they get here, just in case they don`t oblige. You got targeting?`

`Few more seconds,` he said.

The squad headed south, alongside the spit of protective land. Ahead, it rose to a high peak, a rocky mesa rising high above the plateau.

`Anthony, can you put Darrell on that mesa?` she asked.

`I`ll try.`

`Do your best. Put her there and you`ll both have clear shots as they round that bend and head towards us.`

Pho-dum. Pho-dum.

A cloud of pink paint erupted in front of a Desert Flame, which swerved. A mortar shell landed just where it had been, showering the left side with shrapnel.

`Great shot. Now get behind this hill. Darrell and I will sit on the top and shoot them, you guys go around it. When they turn the first corner, they`ll be under our guns for about five seconds before can turn the second one and get to you. I don`t reckon they`ll make it up this steep slope, so it`ll be a turkey shoot. Natalie, stay clear, let Shortarse drop his bombs. Esky, as soon as they come round that corner, hit them with everything we`ve got it.`

`You got it, boss.`

Pho-dum. The mortar kept up its fire, but the pirates had spread out, probably more by luck than judgement, Amy guessed. Shortarse could only hit one or two at a time. They`d have to settle this the old-fashioned way.

Amy lined her dustup besides Darrell`s Apache. She could see him concentrating, hunched over the enormous barrel of the supersize rifle. She targeted her own gatling on the approaching pink Flame, the only car that had rounded the escarpment so far. She checked the distance. It would be several seconds till he was in range.

Gunfire exploded from the Valois. The sharp retort of a car rifle, the dull crack of its larger cousin. The Flame shied away, fracture lines spidering across the whole left side. Another crack, and the reinforced steel just fell away. Amy could see the engine, the driver, the whole chassis exposed.

A third crack. The driver`s face disintegrated, his head a mist of blood and brains.

`Woohoo,` shouted Darrell. `One down, eight to go. They`re gonna treat us in like heroes in Gateway tonight.`

`Don`t count your chickens.`

The next three came in smarter. In a line abreast. Amy wondered how the Enforcer drew the short straw. She triggered her gatlings as Darrell and Anthony hit it with rifle fire. The engine died, but the Enforcer had done its job. The other two cars rounded the corner to chase after Esky`s Victor.

`You`ve got a Blitzer and a Siren coming atcha,` shouted Darrell.

`Roger that,` said Esky.

Amy focused her attention on the final four. A Marauder and Death Symph turned to charge the slope, while a second Flame and a Stalker hustled round the hill.

`They`ll never make it up the hill,` said Anthony.

`They don`t have to,` said Amy. `They can shoot at us from there.`

As she spoke, the first volley from the Marauder`s twin launchers impacted on the sand at the crest of the hill. The Vedette rattled to the metallic tinkle of casing fragments.

`Keep firing, but start moving back,` Amy put her words into action, edging the throttle into reverse.

`Christ!` Her windscreen turned red with flame as two rockets exploded on the front grille. The dustup rocked back on its rear wheels, and Amy fought for control. Another volley hit, and she lost the battle for control as the dustup slid down the hill on the far side from the battle.

`You`re on your own, guys,` she called. `Sorry.`

`We`re rolling,` said Darrell, still shooting at the Marauder. `This damned guy`s good. Each time we hit him, he turns a new side to us.`

`Some help would be nice,` shouted Esky.

Amy looked round. The Victor was about to be swamped by four pirates. The heavy gat at the front rattled out two bursts and clouds of steam erupted from the Stalker.

`Why do they still drive those deathtraps?` Amy wondered. Another shot rang out, a targeted round from Polska`s medium machine gun. The steam turned to choking black smoke and he Stalker rolled to a stop.

`Darrell, you stick with those two. I`ll help Esky.`

Amy swung the dustup round a small hillock to avoid going head-to-head with a Blitzer. She expected it to turn around and follow her, but it headed resolutely across the sand.

`Natalie, Shortarse, you`ve got incoming.`

`Got it.` There was a pause in the mortar fire as Shortarse shifted targets.

Amy rattled off a few rounds at the Siren in front of her. It jinked right, straight into the path of Esky`s guns.

The double impact sent the Siren flying. End over end it rolled. Amy, Polska and Esky each put a round through the thin bottom armour. The Siren landed on its roof, rear wheels still turning.

`Reloading,` shouted Darrell.

`Me too,` said Shortarse.
`And us,` said Polska.

This was the dangerous bit of the fight. When the bad guys still had bullets and you didn`t.

`Anyone hurt yet?` asked Amy, circling to avoid a Flame.

`Front hit pretty hard,` said Esky. `And Polska`s side.`

`We`re OK,` said Darrell, `but those rockets are a menace.`

`Well, stop talking and take them out.`

`We`re working on it.`

The Marauder and Symph gave up their assault on the hill and regrouped.

`Got four of `em, all at once. Again.` shouted Esky. `We`re getting out of here. Backwards, and fast.`

`Darrell, flank `em. Now!`

Darrell hit the left, Amy hit the right. The Masher died, so did the Symph.

`Christ on a bike!` Round after round hit the side of Amy`s dustup. A Desert Striker, forgotten and fast, rounded the corner. Amy turned, swerved, jinked.

Straight in front of the dead Stalker.

Blam. The heavy machine gun found its mark, and Amy winced as red-hot metal cut through her leg. She turned to put her intact right armour between her and the guns.

`We need to end this now,` she shouted.

`We got our Blitzer,` said Natalie. `Glad you put a rear gat on this thing.`

The Striker circled.

`I`ll get him,` said Amy. `You get the Marauder.`

She turned the wheel hard. Strikers were fast, but nothing is as manoeuvrable as a dustup. The pirate must be a novice. He got into a circling game with her, where the car with the tighter circle would be the first to shoot. It was inevitable. The dustup got there first, and Amy pumped rounds into his side. The pirate flinched, tried to flee, but the remorseless gatling kept firing and firing.

* * * * *

`Not bad,` said Esky.

`Not good either,` observed Darrell. `Amy`s hurt, the dustup`s a colander. You`ve got no armour to left or right. We`ve got precious little anywhere.`

`Oh lighten up,` said Esky. `They`re dead. We`re not. They`ve left us three cars with undamaged engines and we`ve got plenty of ammo. Gonna be a very profitable trip.`

* * * * *

The ambush came as a surprise. Right at the gates. The pirates were maybe fifty feet ahead.

`Scatter and get clear. This is no time to fight!` Amy shouted. The newbs were in the loot cars and floored it, heading to the safety of the truckstop maybe half a click away. The rest of the crew spread out.

One lucky shot, just one lucky shot, was all it took.

The scream was high-pitched and horrific, cut short by a bubbling, gurgling choke. A chest strike, maybe the lungs filling with the blood, or the throat flayed by flying shrapnel.

`Polska! No!` Darrell roared.

The Valois turned ninety degrees, spun on the hill. Darrell raced to put the Valois`s between the pirates and the limp form of Polska in the Victor. They were only four of them, but each had fresh guns, and the Victor couldn`t take any more punishment. Darrell charged down the hill, HCR spitting fire, and threw the Valois into the line of fire buying Esky a few precious seconds to turn the Victor away from the battle.

Brave as anything Amy had ever seen. Darrell knew his armour was weak. Amy watched as rifle and machine gun fire destroyed the meagre protection that was left, metal plates hanging loose. More rounds destroyed the weapons, clanged off the the engine block, broke Darrell`s left arm.

And he still he drove, keeping the bulk of the Valois in the line of fire. Using its engine, the cargo, even his own body as a shield for Polska.

The pirates followed another volley. The crack of a car rifle. Rat-a-tat of machine guns.
The dull crump of an anti-tank gun and then silence. Darrell `Hillbilly` Johnstone died, his torso obliterated by two pounds of high-explosive.

`No!` Amy saw the Valois roll forward in a final, lazy circle. `Esky, can you get clear?` she shouted.

`I think so.`

`Head straight for the wall, go through it if you have to. I`ll cover you.`

`We`re turning back,` called Shortarse.

`No, you`re ####ing not,` said Amy. `Get everyone to the truck stop.` Time slowed as Amy threw the dustup around one of the strange hillocks outside Gateway. Perhaps they`re molehills, she thought, the leavings of giant, irradiated, sand moles. She targeted the first pirate, an purple Enforcer, shiny and clean. It flinched as she fired, missing its shot on Esky`s Apache. She switched targets, fired again. Another flinch, and the Death Symph lost its bead. She dodged past the twin rifles of a Punisher.

She completely forget that it packed a rocket launcher on the back.

The dustup rolled under the impact. Dimly, Amy was aware that the fourth car, a Striker was strafing the Victor. As the dustup landed on its feet, she saw bullets race from back to front, leaving gaping, bloody wounds in the slumped torso of Polska, severing the fuel lines, leaving flames leaping into the air. She saw Esky jump free, beating at his burning hair with his hands, half-running, half-crouching for the safety of the walls.

She saw four pirate cars turning around, the long barrels of their guns foreshortening, the gunmetal grey cylinders turning into black circles, pitiless holes like the eyes of a hell-spawned demon. In the same instant, each hole turned red, a belch of flame spouting in the desert heat.


* * * * *

`Amy Banuelos was unique.`

Esky cleared his throat. He`d never addressed such a crowd. All the Vanguards were there, even Sylvia had battled her way all the way from Firelight.

`She was unique in so many ways. Those who have known here since she joined will remember a scared young woman who was still brave enough to get through to Badlands on rims alone…`

Esky was startled to see that Jet was there, wiping unseen moisture from dark eyes. He didn`t think he ever left Badlands.

`…a fighter, a survivor. Equally at home slogging through the boonies or behind the wheel of a deathracer. But that was not where Amy`s genius lay. Her genius lay in how much she cared for people. She cared for everyone. Her friends, her squad, her gang. But more than that, she cared for everyone in Evan. And everyone who might yet be in Evan. She fought, and she died, to make Evan a better place.`

`She didn`t die alone. Darrell and Polska died too. Fighting together. And now they will be at peace together forever. They fought because Amy fought. And Amy fought because she was strong. And it is the job of the strong to fight for the weak.`

Esky paused, struggled for the words as tears came unbidden to his eyes.

`Today, the Vanguards are vanquished. Our heart has been torn out, our souls laid bare. Perhaps we will never recover. But let us all remember that more than anyone, more even than One-Eye, Amy was our leader, and our inspiration.`

`We let her go, because we have no choice. We move on, because that is what she would have wanted us to do. But we will never forget her. And every time we do something good, or help someone else, we can look up and say `There you go, Amy Banuelos. This is your legacy. And you can be proud.``
.........................
vet combat1 wv

Posted Apr 10, 2018, 9:35 am
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