The sphere in black fled across the desert, and the gunslingers followed.
What remained of Clankenstein hung from Bill the Bum’s hook, and the Drivers had no intention of allowing those responsible for his sorry condition to escape unpunished. Volley after volley of murderous fire bounced harmlessly off the mirrored spheroid as it rolled swiftly north, then west, with the frustrated Drivers in hot pursuit.
-“Reverend Clank. Come on, speak to us. Tell us what happened in there.”
-"…no longer… same. Things… no longer…"
-“This is pathetic. Clank’s out of it, kid’s gone, we’re all beat to shit, and the bad guys still have Marion.”
-“You sure they’re in that… that shiny ball up there?”
-“Clank seems to think so. They’re sure as shit not still in the cave, and there’s no evidence they headed back down the tunnel to the Citadel.”
-“Well, what are we supposed to do? We can’t make a scratch on that ball.”
-“It’s headed north. We’re headed north. Let’s see what happens.”
Back at Vasquez Rocks, Honey Mallone scanned the perimeters of Fleetwood’s HQ from the safety of a handy outcropping.
Other than the gate itself, no obvious weaknesses were evident, and between the flamethrowers and the manpower, the gate wouldn’t be an easy target.
Just outside the gate, Mel’s black Futura came to a dusty halt.
Honey lowered her binoculars. “Damn. What the hell does he have in mind?”
I didn’t know either. I was only a kid, even though I’d spent my whole short life growing up surrounded by the insanity of the Wasteland, Mad Mel was still mad enough to be called “Mad Mel.” I had no idea what he intended for me.
But I knew what I intended for him. I’d seen firsthand what he’d done to Blazer, the only father I’d ever known.
I was gonna kill that crazy sonofabitch.
But we didn’t enter the main compound. Mel parked his Lincoln right next to the rocks, grabbed me by the hair, hauled me out of the car and over behind the trunk, wrapped a few lengths of battery cable around my wrists and ankles, and handed me off to… well, it was some kind of lizard-man. I don’t think I ever heard his name right, his voice was so weirdly foreign and guttural and sibilant. Sounded kinda like… “Kissss’N’Ger.”
He scared the shit outta me, but Mel treated him with indifferent contempt. “Keep an eye on the kid, keep him out of sight of the compound till I get back. And if anyone comes down the road between the rocks you don’t recognize, you know what to do.”
And then he left me with the lizard man. I briefly considered trying to make a run for it, since the lizard guy didn’t seem to move particularly fast, but I’d heard of these guys before. They were strong and creative fighters, ruthless and cunning. This is an intelligent, highly advanced individual. Undoubtedly a dangerously clever opponent. I stayed put.
Mel strolled over to the gate and yelled something unintelligible at the guards. One of them hollered back a question, Mel shook his head and repeated what he’d already yelled. The guards shrugged and abandoned their posts. All the people milling around the entrance made themselves scarce. In less than a minute, no people were visible around the Headquarters, and Mel had disappeared around the top of the rocks.
I was pretty sure that he was setting a trap, and I was the bait.
From the other side of the rocks, Honey considered her options. She seriously doubted Mel would leave the kid outside so casually if he thought there was even a small chance that one of his would-be pursuers could make an easy rescue. Mad Mel’s strongest tactic had always been his sheer unpredictability, however, and she felt like she could feel the best opportunity for saving the kid slipping away with every second she hesitated. Some backup would surely be welcome, but with Bubba off haring after Wash and Blazer still smoldering at the bottom of a gully, she couldn’t expect help anytime soon… unless maybe Bubba changed his mind. Maybe it’d be worth sending him a TCB call, just to see how far off he was. Or maybe she should just zip down there, bounce that lizard dude off her front grille, grab the kid and scoot. With a decent head start, she doubted that old Futura could catch up very soon.
But something just didn’t feel right.
She’d nearly made up her mind, when she suddenly heard engines approaching behind her. From the direction of L.A. Some of the engines sounded familiar.
She took a quick peek down the road to the bottom of the winding dirt road that led from the old freeway up to the rocks. She couldn’t quite parse what she saw slowly rolling up the hill.
Most of the cars and trucks from the Mule Train followed the sphere, circling it at a short distance, harrying it with guns, flames, and small explosions, to no obvious effect. The sphere rolled steadily up the hill toward Honey’s hiding spot. The cars following all looked beat to hell. More so than usual, at any rate. The remains of Clankenstein’s Dodge van hung from Bill’s tow hook and Clank himself rode listlessly in Bill’s cab, the little mutant Pibble resting her head sadly in his lap.
Then Clank stiffened. His eyes opened wide, rolled back in their sockets. He uttered one word at the top of his cracked, exhausted lungs:
The smoky chrome spheroid faded, then vanished, revealing two vehicles within. Toecutter blinked owlishly into the suddenly blinding daylight behind the wheel of the armored truck he’d loaded that troublesome plastic outhouse into back in the cave.
And next to that, Fleetwood’s daunting Cadillac rumbled menace out of its exhaust pipes.
The Drivers wheeled to bring all their weapons to bear on the two miscreants until Toecutter calmly tapped the barrel of a handheld flamethrower loudly against the side of the blue plastic toilet riding behind his cab.
There was a brief silence, eventually broken by Fleetwood.
-“Looks like we got ourselves a standoff.”