The MUTANT HUNTER book series is currently in limbo. Originally self-published on Amazon, Legends of the Fallout, The Slicks, and Splinterland have been unpublished. The last three books in the series, The Skin Bags, Grey City, and Mutant Winter, have been written and edited. These are substantial novels. Grey City alone clocks in at 185,000 words. As with Badlands of the Soul, the Mutant Hunter series is available for representation.
LEGENDS OF THE FALLOUTTwenty-sixth century civilization teeters on the brink with Earth a radioactive ruin. The fragile world government has outlawed mutants — humans whose genes have gone wrong — and placed bounties on their heads.
Leon Miller, one of a handful of bounty hunters who makes a living tracking down mutants, hunts the last of the Ten Most Wanted, a mutant known simply as “Number Six.” Despite a record high bounty, Miller’s real motivation is to find the woman, a human who has taken up with Number Six.
From the decaying ruins of New York City, across the ambush-laden freak-filled outlands, and into the flesh-flaying storms of the Pacific Ditch, the dangerous pursuit unfolds.
Complicating matters, the government has hired Ben Trills — a cold-blooded mercenary — to kill Number Six and all of his entourage. His strategy is simple. Shadow Miller, let him do the dirty work of flushing Number Six, then take the clean shot. And if Miller gets in the way…
“As I was saying,” the Hydrate leader said, “first you have to, for lack of a better term, meet the challenge of Number Six. And I’ve heard your competition isn’t exactly a rookie.”â€¨
“Who, Miller?” Trills was mildly surprised by the mutant’s comment.
“Yeah, Miller,” No Blood said. “I understand he got the female, Number Ten.”
“I understand he got lucky,” Trills said.
“Do I detect a little professional rivalry?” the mutant asked, raising the skin above eyes, skin that held no brows. “Jealousy maybe?”
Trills grunted in a manner as though he wasn’t concerned about the other bounty hunter and it bothered him that he did so. He had used Miller, trailed him through a loose network of informants and data brokers, to get within striking distance of Number Six. Miller’s work was well known and respected in their violent and dangerous world and Trills knew first-hand what kind of nerve it took to take on a two-legged mutant, any mutant for that matter, who had survived to adulthood. Miller’s record and reputation was second only to his and this cheap psychological dig that No Blood had delivered should have been dismissed without any real thought. But something was there, burrowing into his head, disturbing his focus.
“What makes you tick, bounty hunter?” The mutant asked almost casually. “I’ve heard you never bring your prey in alive. What is it, the kill? Is that what you need?”
“Sure,” Trills answered. No Blood may as well of been asking him whether he preferred his meat well done or rare. “There is no hunt without a kill.” He looked No Blood in the eyes. “Surely you can appreciate that.”
“Your associate Miller doesn’t seem to be so inclined,” the mutant responded.
An itching crawled between Trills’ shoulder blades. “What the hell is it with Miller?” he asked, unintentionally letting irritation leak into his voice. “You keep bringing the son of a bitch up, you afraid of him?”
“Not afraid,” No Blood answered evenly, shaking his head slowly. “But he is the only human I’ve ever heard of who wears the mark.”
“The mark?” Trills asked, genuinely puzzled.
“The tattoo on his arm,” the mutant answered and with a skeletal finger the Hydrate traced an infinity symbol in the dust atop a container next to the one on which Trills sat.
Trills stared at it a couple of seconds before responding, “So what?”
“So,” No Blood said slowly, “you got one on your arm?”
“You see those things on every arm of every dipshit in every deadfall that exists,” Trills said, shrugging. “For sixty credits you can get a solar system tattooed on the head of your dick.”
The mutant laughed. “You putting Miller in that category?”
“No,” Trills said. “Apparently the mark means something to you.”
“It does,” No Blood answered.
(89,000 words, 15 chapters)
THE SLICKSEnter a wormhole in Hell, come out in the Slicks.
It’s hard to imagine a worse place on Earth than the polluted swamp of sludge, crude oil, and radioactive waste that now covers a fifth of the planet. Fumes trigger psychotropic reactions in those who venture into this uncharted no-man’s land. Worse, bizarre creatures crawl out of that toxic slime — dangerous Outliers with ink black skin who walk on two legs, but are as fluid as the oil they eat.
Leon Miller pursues a mutant deep into this nightmare wasteland. Not just any mutant. Number Six is the last of the government’s Ten Most Wanted, the Holy Grail that every mutant hunter and glory-hunting wannabe aims to take down. Killing the mutant would make any soldier of fortune a legend. The record bounty isn’t bad either. But few have the intelligence, resources, and nerve to go after Number Six. Fewer still will risk tracking his spoor into the Slicks.
Going in is hard — getting out is damn near impossible.
Enter Ben Trills, the personal mercenary of the High Counsel of the New States. Trills wants Number Six dead. While he admires Miller’s mutant hunting skills, he also views the bounty hunter as a threat — one who could steal his glory or worse, bring Number Six back alive.
THE SLICKS picks up where LEGENDS OF THE FALLOUT left off. The woman, an integral part of Miller’s past, is still in play. The world is still a freak show. And now, the mutants have a nuclear weapon.
When the two finally arrived in Dallas-Fort Worth, they found the city in the final throes of a radiation-fueled riot. The original Dallas downtown area had taken a direct hit from a low yield, long-range nuclear-tipped cruise missile. The mass of concrete and steel, the beautiful skyline, all of it had been turned into a smoking hole. However, it didn’t take Horn and Spears long to find what they were looking for on the outskirts of Fort Worth. Amazingly the manufacturing facilities of Northrup-Grumman-Qinetiq — NGQ — were pretty much intact. It was the birthplace of the VX-4 Screamer.
They landed in the center of the complex and managed to conceal the aircraft in one of the big hangars. Horn’s plan was simple. He knew the prototypes of the VX-4 had been fitted with old, conventional jet propulsion engines, high-thrust General Electric dinosaurs that burned petroleum-based fuel. He also knew that the Fort Worth NGQ facility had the only remaining stock of the out-dated engines, and a limited, but adequate capability to maintain them.
The Achilles’ heel of the VX-4 were its power plants. The big hydrogen-fueled thrusters were heavy, the fuel was hard to come by, and parts were scarce. While the basis of its fuel was water, the process to turn it into a propellant for the complex engines was unreliable and the facilities for doing so were few and far between. Horn’s plan was to ditch the nitrogen engines and replace them with the old reliable GE gas burners. Besides, he had always loved the diesel-like smell of jet fuel, especially when it was coming out of an exhaust.
Using the hangar’s back-up generators, Horn and Spears spent the next six months working on their machine. By then the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area had been pretty much abandoned. There were still pockets of humanity, trying and failing to hang on to a life and a world that was no more. There were also roving bands of thugs, thieves, bandits and lowlifes looking for treasure to grab and innocents to violate. Thrown into this dangerous and tragic mix were the terminals, radiation sick lepers and dying individuals, hideously disfigured men, women, children, animals, all moaning and bleating, all staggering the trash-strewn streets waiting to die.
During this time Horn and Spears had to engage and kill a handful of individuals who had become a little too curious about their enclave. The scroungers, the scavengers, the rag pickers, the ones who had ignored the rumors of government refugee centers in other locales and stayed in the city, would show up, try to ram or pry open the doors, and the two men would be forced to deal with them. They had developed a policy of shooting first and then shooting again when it came to anyone checking out the building. It was a simple matter of survival.
Finally, they completed the installation of the old GE engines. After running all of the ground tests they could, they were ready to flight test the aircraft. If their retrofit didn’t work, they were pretty much up the proverbial creek. But the VX-4 flew as if it had just come off the assembly line. And what the conventional engines gave up in power was more than offset by their reduction in weight. Other than a few fuel leaks and easily repairable hydraulic issues, the machine was ready to go. And where to go was a matter the two men considered carefully.
During the six long months Horn and Spears spent in the hangar eating, working on the airplane, sleeping, working on the airplane, and working on the airplane some more, they still managed to get bits and pieces of news through one of the few working data links they’d found in the abandoned offices. And the news was not good. One day they would hear that a new government was in the process of being formed, but the next day the sketchy transmissions would be filled with reports of still-warring factions, designations of additional radiation hot zones, and updates to the astronomical death counts. The gist of it all, which was crystal clear to Horn and Spears, was: You’re on your own.
Horn had figured it that way six months before. After considerable discussion between the two men, a discussion that had been taking place off and on during their retrofit of the Screamer, they decided to head down to the southern tip of Florida. Horn knew of a highly-classified Special Operations installation in the overgrown swamp called the Everglades. He’d heard the place had been shut down several years earlier, but had been maintained in a state of readiness in case some General somewhere decided it needed to be reactivated. In the spook-filled Special Operations community, the place was known as the Ranch. It was a small base, self-contained, with a huge aircraft hangar. The isolated, secure, relatively modern facility was seemingly the perfect place the two men figured they needed to start their business, a business that involved their training, skills, and the key asset that Horn knew had already become an extremely rare thing: a functioning flying machine.
But the Ranch, both men knew, was really the secondary reason for locating their base of operations in the Everglades. Whereas Horn was the fighter pilot, Spears was the logistician. He was a master logistician. While their conversion of the VX-4 to the jet-fueled engines would make the cargo and troop-hauling machine more reliable and weigh less, there was still the problem, and it was a big problem, and that was fuel.
Before the wars, fossil fuel was still used for many ground vehicles and a limited number of aircraft, but refineries were logical and easy targets during the wars. Production of the world’s petroleum-based fuels had been reduced to a trickle. Spears, however, had a solution for that particular challenge and that solution was the prime driver in moving their venture into the giant swamp at the southern end of Florida.
From his training in flight school, Spears knew that GE had once developed a Portable Field Refinery Unit — PFRU. It was a device the size and shape of an office desk, designed to be strapped to the cargo deck in the back of the V4 as well as other jet-fuel burning aircraft, and serve as the machine’s onboard fuel source. It was powered by a plutonium chip and was highly reliable owing to its virtual lack of moving parts. In the field, almost any petroleum or bio-based material in a semi-liquid state could be input. Crude oil, used oil, cooking oil, waste petroleum sludge, low viscosity grease, you name it, almost all of it could be refined by the PFRU and pumped straight into the fuel tanks of the VX-4. The trade off was the less refined the material going in, the longer it took the unit to pump burnable fuel into the tanks. And the less pure the material going in, the lower the quality of fuel produced. While the big GE engines were designed to fire on the complete alphabet of jet fuels, A through Z, a steep performance curve took effect right around Jet E. Meaning, the power of the engines and performance of the aircraft were drastically and proportionally reduced when the machine was fed a diet of F through Z grade fuel.
It took some searching in the cavernous warehouses surrounding the NGQ hangar in which Horn and Spears performed their retrofit of the Screamer, but they found one lone, dust-covered PFRU, crated and complete with manuals, hoses, and fittings, all designed for easy installation on a wide range of military transports. Installing the piece of equipment on the VX-4 was easy compared to the engine change and doing so completed a big piece of their logistics puzzle. The second part was taking their venture to Florida where an unlimited supply of petroleum crude awaited them in the form of the Slicks.
And it was at the Ranch, just ninety klicks from the Slicks’ border, that Horn and Spears set up shop. Their first order of business was to square away the hangar and facilities. The fifteen hundred meter runway was cracked, broken, overgrown and unusable. But that didn’t matter, the VX-4 didn’t need it. Everything else in the old Special Operations base was in excellent condition. All of it had been maintained surprisingly well, including the two plutonium-chipped electrical generators, pump and water filtration system, and waste disposal unit. The two men spent more than a week cleaning out the hangar, sorting and storing all of the gear, tools, parts and supplies they had picked up in Norfolk and at the NGQ facility in Fort Worth. For security purposes they decided to live in the hangar. They set up their sleeping quarters on the upper side decks of the cavernous building where a handful of offices, a small conference room and even a spacious kitchen and break room were located.
The outbuildings surrounding the hangar consisted of a couple of old Quonset-style huts, a thick-walled ordnance bunker, a concrete block structure that had served as the installation’s headquarters, and a one bay vehicle maintenance garage in which Spears discovered a U-Hauler, a small six-wheel truck that started and ran as if it were new. The vehicle would fit easily into the cargo hold of the Screamer, a feature both men knew would be of value in the future.
Soon they began their forays, which included exploring along the border of the Slicks. One of the first things they did was land at the actual edge of the Slicks to test the PFRU. It was like setting down on an ocean beach, only this particular ocean was a black, stinking mass of contaminated, debris-filled oil. Their first test proved the device worked as advertised. And as time went on they learned to spot the best places to set the VX-4 down and pump, as Spears called it. The two pilots even came up with their own names for the crude: Light and Sweet was the best and would refine quickly, producing a fuel that was as clean and as combustible as Jet A; —Black Beauty,â€ was the next best input for the PRFU, outputting a Jet D or E. Then came —Brown Charlie,â€ a high viscosity sludge that was useable but not preferred; and, finally, there was —Devil Shit,â€ more of a semi-solid mass of gunk filled with trash, junk and impurities. And it wasn’t unusual for the two men to see bodies, human and otherwise, in the black mess of the Slicks. More frequently though, they would spot the corpses in the —Dog Sugar,â€ as Spears sometimes called the Devil Shit, floating face up, skin stained black, eyes wide, dead and staring into space.
When the two men were confident they had established a workable and secure procedure for pumping, they headed northeast, away from the Slicks. They began venturing into areas that were more populated, or at least had been, foraging for supplies. Since they had the shelter, transportation, weapons, ammunition and fuel requirements covered, they concentrated on food, medical supplies and, to a lesser degree, clothing. They hit warehouses, grocery stores, restaurants, liquor stores — any place that looked from the air like it had been spared the post-war onslaught of pillaging. Besides the staples, the two loaded up on what Spears called —the good stuff.â€ In a once wealthy suburb of Miami, they discovered a wine and specialty foods store that was untouched by looters. Spears considered himself to be a gourmand and fine wine expert and spent more than three hours hauling out cases of wine, boxes of canned cheeses and meats, tins upon tins of smoked oysters, jars of fancy olives and pickles. All the while, Horn sat in the sun atop the Screamer, a carbine cradled in his arms, watching and laughing from his overwatch position when Spears would hold up a particular item and explain to the pilot why it was such a good find. It was one of the best times Horn could remember having since they had flown out of Norfolk.
Around that same time, pockets of organized human activity had begun form. Communities were being established where people gathered and lived, conducting barter and other forms of rudimentary commerce. They socialized and tried to regain some semblance of normality in their broken lives. Horn and Spears generally avoided these areas, banking the Screamer away while individuals pointed up toward them in obvious amazement that something other than vultures and sea gulls was in the air.
During the three or so years it took the two men to build their little redoubt in the swamp, they explored the lesser populated territory to the west, even doing some hunting and fishing, occasionally communicating with the handful of humans they ran across — outdoor-living folks who had obviously fled the cities and were surviving off the land. But both men eventually grew bored of that lifestyle and they started venturing down along the string of islands once known as the Keys. News and data was still intermittent and unreliable, especially when they managed to pick it off of the patched-together communication links that had once been the Internet, but they could tell a commerce of sorts was taking shape in what was left of the world. A so-called new world government had been formed and was headquartered in Atlanta. A monetary exchange medium had been established: credits, supposedly tied somehow to gold, but who really knew? People were repopulating the old cities or building new ones, making a comeback, or at least trying.
The two men developed a routine: they would land the Screamer out and away from the town or place or building they wanted to check out, and one of them would wait with the aircraft while the other took the U-Hauler and reconnoitered. Usually Spears stayed and guarded the machine while Horn did the intelligence gathering, but occasionally the copilot would give in to his male urges and head to town, frequenting the whores who hung around the deadfalls, of which there were many. The men learned that mutants had been evolving, human mutants, and bounties had been placed on many of their heads. And they learned the Slicks was a place where one could disappear, drop totally out of the net, vanish as if the object of a magician’s disappearing act. The problem was the majority of people who went into the Slicks never came out. They were never heard from again. They were simply swallowed.
But there was business to be had if one were willing to take the risk and venture into the polluted regions. They were making a modest living scrounging food and other supplies in the outlands and selling the goods to a network of vendors in the borderland communities with whom they’d established working relationships. But the real compensation was being made down in the Slicks. Guides who claimed to be able to navigate the maze of bad roads, paths, hardpack trails and oil canals commanded a premium. And so did the bounty hunters and mutant hunters who were smart enough, or fool enough to head into the Slicks, the badlands, Indian Country. It was there one went when there was no place left to go. And it was there that mercenaries earned fortunes if they made it out alive. Horn figured he and Spears should check the place out.
(110,000 words, 19 chapters)
SPLINTERLANDLeon Miller had Number Six dead in his sights. He had the team and the weapons to finally kill the mutant in the Slicks. But he missed his target. The Super Bee, a box of death mounted on the deck of the mutants’ speeder, tore through the aircraft nearly destroying the Screamer.
Broken, Miller and crew limped back to the Green States, unsure whether Six or the woman survived.
Now, the bomb is missing. Fear is that even a low yield nuke could ignite the Slicks, and if that radioactive swamp of sludge and oil burns, goodbye atmosphere. Goodbye to all life on the planet.
Clensay the Plodder — an ancient bounty hunter with nothing to lose — grabs the bomb from the mutants and launches across the Atlantic Speedway, a narrow ridge that spans the ocean to the Blue States. His destination, and a buyer for the weapon, lies in the heart of the Nuclear Dead Zone.
Splinterland, a wind-scoured nightmare of flattened timber, covers thousands of square kilometers. You would have to be a fool, mad or desperate, lost or insane to venture into that maze of uncharted trails and snow-covered deadfalls. You’d have to be a mutant hunter.
Miller’s life is spiraling out of control. The chase is taking its toll. In Splinterland, it will only get worse. But what the hell did he expect?
“What’s the plan?” O’Brien asked.
“I’m going to come up behind them again, right on the deck.” Horn eased back on the stick. Miller could see he was setting up another straight in attack from the rear. “I want you to put the thirties right on the skirt. Put some holes in it, give them a flat.”
“There ain’t much of a shot there,” O’Brien said. “The armor hangs pretty low.”
“Get out of that fucking seat and let me shoot the son of a bitch,” Treadlow said.
The copilot turned his head and looked at the tracker. Sweat ran down the side of O’Brien’s face. His eyes were bloodshot and it was clear to the bounty hunter that he was in no mood to put up with the tracker’s bullshit.
Miller slapped the tracker across the chest with the back of his hand and gestured with his head for him to back off.
Horn had pulled out of the dive and they were below a hundred meters doing more than three hundred knots. The Spillway blurred beneath them and Miller could see the Speeder out ahead. They were three or four klicks behind and Horn nudged the stick forward, taking them down to fifty meters, then twenty. The bounty hunter looked out the side window and could see the spectacular wake their jets made as they hurtled above the water’s surface. And then they were over land. They were closing the distance between the Speeder fast. The Screamer rocked and vibrated as they flew through the ground effect.
“I think they’ve slowed,” O’Brien said. He gripped the cannons’ joystick with both hands, his right thumb hovering over the red firing button. “We’re almost on them.”
“I’ll tell you when to fire,” Horn said calmly. “Just relax.”
“I’m in range,” the copilot said, range rising in pitch and stringing out in his strained voice.
“Don’t get ahead of the game,” Horn said.
Shooting out the skirt was what they should have been concentrating on all along. Disable their mobility then it would be a piece of cake to pick off their weapons. Miller was thinking ahead, picturing in his mind how he was going to board the machine. The Jaff was the key. The close quarters inside the Speeder would make his job easier. One shot on HEAVY STUN could put down a half dozen mutants. He would bet the woman was below decks in the cargo hold. Maybe in the galley. He would send Treadlow up to the flight deck and let him take out the Hydrate leader — No Blood — the crazy, ugly son of a bitch. The bounty hunter’s brain ran the scenarios, but he knew it would be the same as it always was when it came to close-quarters combat. When it started, the plan got shit-canned and you just winged it. The chips would fall where they were going to fall, along with the bodies.
“I’m in range,” O’Brien repeated, his vocal cords screwed tight in his throat.
“Stand by,” Horn said. “Be cool.”
They were less than two hundred meters behind the Speeder. Miller wondered why the mutants weren’t firing their guns. They must be damaged, he figured. That’s why they tried the little trick with the rockets. No guns. Horn’s plan might work. Miller figured his might, too. He could see their ship clearly — the battered armor, holes through some of the cowling, a mangled section of railing. Then, something moved, something on the aft end of the machine. The tube, the garbage chute, whatever it was — a canister or a small drum perhaps a meter in length sort of puked out of it, chugged up and flew lazily through the air, tumbling end over end and landed a hundred meters ahead, directly in their path. It bounced once in front of the airplane then detonated, instantly blooming into a blinding blue-white sphere. Electricity snaked outward from the explosion in a tangle of thread-like lines that were pure energy. The Screamer flew right into it.
(144,000 words, 24 chapters)
THE SKIN BAGSSmart mutants. Armed mutants. Now they own a nuclear weapon. Not a good thing for the humans, whose last line of defense is Leon Miller and his mismatched retinue of losers.
Spoke moved away from So-lecks. He faked a loud, hacking cough, stepped into the restroom and spit into the sink. At the same time he flipped the Stoly’s safety off and shoved its select lever to full auto. When he came out, he stepped away from the table so he could cover the three humans. None of them seemed to take interest in what he’d done.
So-lecks stood in front of the table and addressed the man who had spoken.
“Shunt, when are you going to clean up this pesthole?” the Skin Bag asked. “It stinks in here.”
“That’s something coming from you,” Shunt said. He picked up a half-full glass of wine and poured it down his throat. A small trickle ran from the corner of his mouth, but he didn’t bother to wipe it away.
“Here’s your gold,” So-lecks said, tossing the bag onto the middle of the table.
Spoke watched the older Skin Bag move his left hand up and under the flap of his coat. He appeared to be scratching his side.
“Fleas?” Shunt asked, bursting into a cackling laugh. The other humans followed suit, laughing.
Spoke took the opportunity to cradle the assault rifle in his left arm. Its muzzle aimed directly at Gage’s chest. The Skin Bag wondered if So-lecks was going to try his trick move. He hoped not. Spoke had seen him do it before. The mutant would flip the AutoMag around in its holster and fire the weapon with his little finger while it was still hanging beneath his arm. At least he’d seen So-lecks try the trick before. But he’d tried it in a mutant bar for drinks, not the mortal stakes playing out in the dirty human enclave where they now stood. Shunt had a massive revolver hanging in a holster from the back of his chair, and it wouldn’t take much effort for him to reach it.
“Check it out, Hunter,” Shunt said, nodding toward the gold bag.
The other man at the table was still smiling as he picked it up. As soon as Spoke heard the zipper begin to open, he pulled the trigger on the Stoly. The 5.56 rounds slammed into Gage’s chest and knocked him backward off the crate. Blood and pieces of flesh sprayed out behind the human’s body.
(102,000 words, 18 chapters)
They had caught the humans off guard, on the ground and unexpecting. Everything had gone according to plan in their dawn attack. They had come down the old river bed at over one hundred sixty knots while the humans were in the process of loading the airplane. It might have been better if they had been shut down and sleeping, but it should have been good enough â€“ they were on the ground. They attacked with both the Speeder’s cannons. The human’s war machine should have been a smoking hole in the cracked and pitted asphalt and everyone on it dead. It should have been easy. But no plan ever works the way it’s supposed to in combat. No plan. Unless of course it’s a suicide mission. And those only work half the time.
Spoke was on the flight deck of the Speeder with the human, Inscoe, and Rolf’s star mutant, Rollo. Inscoe was in the left seat, the aircraft commander’s seat, and Rollo was manning the right, the copilot’s station. And surprisingly, at least in Spoke’s mind, Rollo was the problem. While the mutant was smart, mechanically-inclined and could fly any of the helicopters the Skin Bags commanded, he was having trouble with the Speeder. Spoke figured it was the size of the machine coupled with the fact he had been told the human was in charge while they were in the cockpit â€“ the reason didn’t matter. It should have been over in a matter of seconds. They had the humans dead nuts, in their sights, and Rollo had glitched up with the guns, fired over their heads and given them time to mount a counter attack. And he had fired over their heads more than once. Now they were in a firefight with the airplane and what should have been an easy, pre-planned kill had turned into an ugly, unchoreographed brawl.
Spoke could tell that the airplane’s pilot was trying gain the protection of a couple of the old hangars at the abandoned airfield, hovering the machine into a space between two of the falling down buildings. The good thing about Rollo’s errant firing, streaming most of his shots a good ten meters over their ship, was it was keeping them from taking off. But something else was wrong with the airplane, Spoke could sense it. It seemed slow and sluggish and the mutant figured it had some sort of mechanical issue. Inscoe also noted the airplane’s degraded performance.
“They should be in the air kicking our asses,” the pilot said. “I don’t know what their problem is, but we better take advantage of it while we have the chance.” He turned his head and looked at Rollo who had both fur-covered hands gripping the joy stick that controlled the thirty millimeter cannons. The mutant was staring intently through the windscreen, his yellow eyes squinting, his tongue hanging a couple of centimeters out the left side of his mouth. “Put your aim under the machine and let the recoil walk the rounds up and through it,” Inscoe said. “You got it?”
“I got it,” Rollo snapped.
Spoke knew the mutant was stressed close to the breaking point and thought about relieving him and taking the seat himself. Instead he stepped behind the copilot’s seat and slapped the Skin Bag hard on the back of the head. “Get your shit together, mutant,” Spoke said, leaning down and pulling the headset away from Rollo’s left ear.
“Yeah, I got it,” Rollo snarled angrily, turning his head momentarily toward the Skin Bag Field Commander. He slapped Spoke’s hand away then reached up and pulled the headset back over his ear.
“Why you insubordinate fucker,” Spoke barked and slapped the mutant again. He’d had enough, changing his mind and deciding he could do better, at least when it came to manning the guns. “Get out of the goddamned seat.”
Rollo hit the quick release on his harness and rose up in his seat, turning toward Spoke. His head hit the top of the cockpit.
“Get out,” Spoke screamed. He grabbed the front of Rollo’s shirt and tried to pull him from between the seats, but the mutant swung at him, raking his nails across Spoke’s face. The Skin Bag commander grabbed Rollo by the throat and the two fell forward onto the center console.
“Look out,” Inscoe yelled.
Spoke heard the Speeder’s turbines spike up and knew they had fallen onto the throttles. He felt the hydrofoil float upward several meters while Inscoe cursed and tried to push Rollo off the console. “Get him off,” the pilot screamed the order.
Placing his right boot on the back of the copilot’s armrest, Spoke jerked Rollo off the console and rammed him face-first into the bulkhead behind them. The mutant’s body went limp and slumped to the floor.
“Get on the guns,” Inscoe yelled. “Goddammit, we’re over-revving.” He reached over to the throttles and pulled them back. “Now get on the guns. I don’t know why they aren’t firing, but now’s our chance.”
Spoke felt the Speeder tilting forward radically and immediately they started moving, accelerating fast. He crawled into the right seat, banging his shoulder painfully on the headrest and got his hands on the weapons’ controls. The mutant was glad he’d taken the time to get oriented with the machine’s systems and now he was going to see if it would pay off. He grabbed Rolf’s headset and pulled it sloppily over his long ears as they leveled out. The Skin Bag could feel his body being pressed back in the seat.
The little exchange with Rollo had taken less than a minute, but in Spoke’s mind time was at a standstill. “I’m ready,” he said, hearing his own voice sound slow and strange in the speakers covering his ears.
“Good,” Inscoe said. “Fire.”
Spoke pressed the firing button on top of the stick and watched twin streams of tracers launch out in front of the Speeder, tearing up the asphalt in front of them, churning their way toward the airplane, which suddenly jinked sloppily to the right and disappeared between the two hangars. The thirty millimeter rounds continued tearing down the old runway before lifting into the air, taking off across the desert.
“Goddammit,” Spoke yelled in excited frustration, surprised by how much effort it took for him to pull his thumb off the red firing button. He saw Inscoe’s hand fly up to the control panel and activate the speed brakes then move to the throttles and pull them back. At the same time the pilot pulled back on the stick and the Speeder decelerated so fast, Spoke was slammed forward against the control panel.
GREY CITYA corpse building in a corpse town, Grey City rises from the rubble of Asunción, a dead city in the middle of Earth’s massive deadpool – the Slicks. It’s the last place on the planet that Miller wants to go. But go he does, dragging a sack full of ghosts behind him like a dead body.
“You want a hit of this, Crow?” Ovvar asked, ignoring the woman.
The guide was already dropping to his knees and reaching for the mask. Spoke watched as Ovvar twisted the knob and pressed a red button on the valve. Crow sucked loud and long. Spoke remembered what the guide had said back in Montevideo about the residents of Grey City breathing oxygen to get high.
“Good, huh?” Ovvar said as he pulled the mask away from Crow. The human was still on his knees. He stared blankly at the wall, his mouth open, spit covering his lower lip.
“You want a shot of this, mutant?” Ovvar asked, looking at Spoke.
“Maybe it will clear my head,” Spoke said. He stepped toward Ovvar and took the offered mask.
Ovvar laughed. “It will clear the living shit out of your head,” he said as Spoke held the mask to his face.
Spoke could smell Crow’s sour breath in the plastic.
Ovvar pressed the button on the valve. “What kind of mutant are you, anyway?” Ovvar asked as Spoke sucked in the Os.
Spoke started to answer, but had the sensation that his head was starting to float from his body. He even reached up and grabbed it between his hands. The fur on his temples felt strange and alive as it pressed against his palms. The mask fell from his face. Ovvar caught it and laughed crazily.
“He’s a stoned mutant,” the woman said, grabbing the mask from Ovvar’s filthy hands.
(186,000 words, 36 chapters)
MUTANT WINTERNo Blood bares his bleeding soul. The woman spins like a bag worm above a hotel bed. Treadlow escapes, fading with the winter sun into the west. And somewhere in the densest part of the nuclear scatter chart, Miller is MIA.
The wind was blowing trash and tumbleweeds across the forlorn strip of asphalt as Treadlow and Miller hoofed the mine toward the enemy ship. The Speeder took up the width of the highway and the ditches on either side. Kilometers ahead of the ship, Treadlow could see the road disappear to a point on the horizon, beyond which was Atlanta. Low clouds raced over their heads. Snow spit and swirled across the cracked and weed-grown surface of the road.
The Hydrate ship was chugging black smoke from the vents on its deck. Treadlow could hear its massive turbines spinning. A low rumbling came from deep within the hydrofoil, punctuated by squealing hydraulics. The sound rose and fell as if the machine were breathing in pain.
They were at the Speeder’s skirt. It was taller than Treadlow. The tracker looked up past the fantail to the deck fifteen meters above them. He had the sensation that he was at the foot of a monolith, the great pyramids, the Dead Zone Wall. He was at the foot of last Speeder on the planet, and they were trying to destroy it.
Treadlow glanced back at the VX-4. It looked like a spaceship that had just made a hard reentry. Smoke and heatwaves blew sideways out of the big jets. The number-two engine smoked more than the others, its black plume a streamer across the ancient highway that dissolved into the thick maze of leafless trees.
Horn and Inscoe were in the cockpit. Treadlow could see them clearly. The nose of the Screamer looked as if it had been shot through a wall of graphite. A fading cone of burn smoke extended to the windscreen and beyond. Horn was making a rolling motion with his hand. Treadlow looked down at his partner. . .
(147,000 words, 34 chapters)