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A note from WriterObscura

Tribal Warfare Volume III is part of the Femitokon Series.
To start at the beginning, please visit:

North Shore Landing
Round Rock Harbor – North America
1430 Hours - 2 Yulitat 2228

Before the impact event, the moon’s altered orbit caused the Mississippi River to flood its banks, devastating cities throughout the south. Refugees descended upon the landlocked capital of Texas, and her neighbor city, San Antonio.

Civil unrest and flooding along the east coast had forced the nation’s congress and president to operate in the Appalachian Mountains. This safer relocation kept them from monitoring the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Austin-San Antonio corridor.

Desperate for aid, Texas closed its southern borders when word came that millions of Central American climate refugees had entered the Mexican Yucatan.

With troop deployments designed to protect those wishing to pass through Texan borders for higher ground in the Rockies, a congressional rebuke followed.

Four days after the Eros Impact Event, those deployed joined those already stationed in Texas; they seized the power grid, closed the airports, and took control of the state government in Austin.

The well-organized junta declared the entire state a standalone territory, ignoring succession law. Kill squads purged those unwanted while mobile scouts commandeered the highways, limiting entry in and out of major cities.

Heeding geologists’ warnings of an impending eruption of the Yellowstone volcano, those controlling the newly established Texan Territory sought to preserve humanity by removing essential individuals from their families and forcing them into underground shelters. These captives became the region’s sole survivors after the Valentine’s Day Eruption.

During the Dark Years, their grandchildren emerged to find the central plains covered by a Mississippi Bay and a shallow sea over what was once the Southwest.

The descendants abandoned the underground shelters, and after recovering beached warships in the drowned city of Galveston, they built a port around the vessels.

Port Austin soon formed into a wealthy hub after they and other recently resurrected cities joined the North American Union. However, discovering a Ramaxian base in the undersea Puerto Rican Trench would soon change Port Austin’s demographic.

The North American Union moved their soldiers in slowly, facing opposition from the city’s wealthy elite. Yet, after their near decimation by Ramaxian World Oceans during the Australian Genocide, the Nauist military became a permanent fixture at the mouth of the Mississippi Bay.

Patrols screened all maritime traffic bound for bay ports in the Midlands, forbidding foreign traffic from making landfall. In time, such defenses proved ineffective due to the lack of personnel; the floating guards couldn’t extend the same level of protection beyond a ten-mile radius.

If one wished to make landfall in eastern Texas, one did so via the treacherous lagoons of North Shore. Bug-infested reeds and unscalable mud flats made the shoreline inhospitable, but the massive lagoon remained a salvager’s paradise.

Beneath her murky garbage-laden waters sat thousands of drowned residences loaded with pre-impact luxuries. Such pickings drew opportunists and created parasitic commerce.

Poverty-stricken and working to survive, these helovx welcomed a visiting femmar with open arms.

A young girl jumped from the tower of gutted tires.

Farky!” Clad in a dirty shirt and ripped up dungaree shorts, she ran into Sofita’s path, her shortly cropped hair dull with oil. “Cómo te llamas?”

“Me’llamo Sofita,” she replied.

More children hid in the high grass, watching their exchange.

“We need your help!” the girl said in Ramaxi and playfully tapped Sofita’s thigh before running ahead. Others leaped from the grass and followed them.

A tower of wrecked vehicles stood tall enough to block the mid-afternoon sun. At the bottom of this decaying tower shone the distinct bubbled top of an ‘airstream’ trailer.

“We can’t get these damn cars off it!” the girl declared.

Sofita lifted her palm, and the children scattered as a ball of energy sailed over the dirt, striking the metal bones, and sending those on top clear of the lot. The second shot caught that collapsing top and forced the wrecks skyward.

The girl smiled upon seeing the exposed silver roof.

Gracias, Sofita,” she said as her friends greedily descended upon the hatch. “Puedo darte un beso?” Sofita got down on one knee for the girl, who put her hands on Sofita’s shoulders and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.

Walking the settlement’s worn-down main street, the Shell whispered in her mind; after decades of hurricanes, quakes, and tornadoes, its many modular homes had survived with their frames intact.

The stink of fried food drifted on the wind from Consuela’s Trattoria. Tell-tale signs of a marixi being inside lingered; prostitutes clustered out front, older men loitered nearby, and some younger ones dared each other to enter.

Stepping through the beaded curtain entrance led her to Dokomad Dox. The bruiser sat alone at a round table cluttered with dirty clay plates and empty glass pitchers. The three teen boys glaring at her from the bar exited when Sofita entered.

“How did you convince the owner to serve you?”

“Her name is Consuela, Komad.” Dox inserted an entire chicken leg into her mouth and then pulled it out, bone bare. “And she’s happy to serve me.”

“You had to put your gold on the table, didn’t you?”

“Of course, this scar is scary,” Dox said, tapping the clean bones to her nose bridge.

The scent of heavy gardenia mixed with tart cornmeal came with the aging proprietor. A plumped beauty with thick arms and large breasts, the corset wound tight around her torso was superior in quality to the ratty blouse and skirt beneath it. She wore her dark hair in a fashion reminiscent of her species’ Victorian age, and her thick lips displayed a glossy sheen that complimented her smooth skin.

Lieutenant Fox,” she said, her English broken. “Is this Commander?

“I corrected her on my name,” Dox said to Sofita before smiling at the old woman. “Oui Consuela, c’est le Commandant Kul.”

Ella es feo, eh? Consuela smiled to a woman behind the bar. Con el pelo demasiado,”

The Shell’s laughter rang out in Sofita’s head; not born with attractive features, Sofita wasn’t even considered handsome by hizak standards.

Cuál es el plato del día?” said Sofita.

Hablas español? Consuela asked, eyes aglow.

Soy capaz de hablar español-, Sofita shifted her eyes to Dox and, in Ramaxi, said, “Why are you speaking French?”

Dox gulped her beer and belched. “I never learned Spanish,”

“Defensive Language Center mandates five helovx languages,” Sofita countered.

“I’m not a linguist,” said Dox. “Did you see those chicken pens outside?”

“The empty ones?” Sofita asked.

Dox opened her arms over the plates.

“I’ve tried chicken alfredo and chicken fajitas,” she said. “This was roasted chicken, but I prefer the fried chicken. The crunchy coating is amazing,”

Consuela set a fresh pitcher of beer on the table.

Lieutenant Fox, veux-tu quelque chose à boire?

Bonjour, Madame,” she said.

“Oh! Such a handsome Fox!” Consuela said in English, rubbing the Dokomad’s bald head.

Una cerveza, por favor,” said Sofita.

“Sí- sí!” Consuela padded over to the bar, grabbed a brown beer bottle, and returned with a smile. Popping the cap and poured Sofita a new glass before returning to the kitchen with some of Dox’s emptied plates.

The radio above the front door began broadcasting election news out of Banff.

Quebecois conservative Janette Dubois had challenged the incumbent, Jason Gideon, son of former President Colin Gideon.

Dox asked, “What’ll happen if Dubois becomes president?”

“She’s not an immediate problem,” said Sofita. “Still, Committee believes she’ll attempt unification,”

Dox gulped more beer from the pitcher as another woman appeared, a smaller and reserved version of the proprietress, and set down a metal bucket filled with fried chicken parts.

“Her platform is separation,” said Dox. “She’s an isolationist,”

Sofita plucked a leg from the bucket. “Dubois advocates separating humanity from its dependence on Ramaxia,”

“Dependance?” Dox scoffed. “Nauists get nothing from us,”

“Jungwa, Aotearoa, and Brasilia do depend on us.” Sofita bit into the crunchy coating and relished the juicy meat inside. “Dubois already convinced the northern cities of the Trisect to reduce freshwater imports from Greenland,”

“Where does she propose they get their water?” Dox laughed.

“Dubois brokered a deal with the copti’s for a Nauist company to build reservoirs throughout Skeleton Gate.” Sofita wiped her fingers on a napkin and cast a disapproving eye as Dox used her uniform pants. “Dubois maintains clout among the copti’s because of her Moroccan mother.”

“Why stop at the water?” Dox wondered. “Why not wean them off the energy they import from Greenland Hydro?”

“The northern pole is freezing again. Access to the oil at Holy Cross will become near impossible when the permafrost returns in a couple of generations.” Sofita noticed that some of the patrons in the eatery understood their language enough to eavesdrop.

“If I’m right,” she continued in Hamgyong. “Dubois will seek to unify all helovx nations and then make a move against us.”

Dox stared at her, puzzled.

“We’ve ears, Dokomad,” said Sofita.

Dox glanced around the room.

“Jungwa will never come under Nauist rule,”

“Brasilia and Jungwa will be the holdouts,” she agreed. “The Trisect is already hers since those sympathetic to Dubois control the parliament in Karnak.”

“Her Moroccan mako was that important?” Dox asked.

Sofita sat back. “Her ancestors led the northern cities to victory against the Nigerians back when the Euro and Turkish refugees wrestled for control of the Trisect,”

“United Tribes would’ve been holdouts too, but not anymore,” Dox explained in the face of Sofita’s stare. “The Māori never would’ve followed what they consider former white colonials. Since we took out their bridge, though,”

“She’s gotten smarter, ‘Fita,” the Shell said in her mind.

“Who says we took out that bridge, Dokomad?”

“No one aboard the Orcinus answered me when I woke up and asked where you were,” Dox replied. “Connie said you were on an assignment. That’s the only thing that went down while I was recouping in Promad Kilvx’s med bay.”

“The Queen’s counsel will hear Dubois out because she’s a woman of color.” Sofita finished her chicken. “That’s where it gets complicated. To get Aotearoa’s support, Dubois must remove the white clerics and priests holding power in the Trisect.”

“Helovx tribalism might word in our favor,” Dox mused. “Not that Primary Kul gives a shit if they unite or not. It’ll just give her a larger target to aim her palm at,”

The Shell spoke anew. “She’s changed since the brain surgery.”

“What’s wrong, Komad?” Dox asked, then tensed her jaw. “You promised not to stare at me like that anymore. You know it freaks me out,”

Sofita shifted her gaze to another occupied table. “Jungwa will follow if the Māori decide to align themselves with Dubois. That leaves Brasilia vulnerable,”

“She’s bullied Brasiliaras in the past,” Dox said, and followed Sofita’s lead by switching to Hamgyong. “They hate her more than they love us,”

“None of her maneuverings will matter, Sofita said. “Your previous assessment stands true. Our Primary will lose her temper and end up wiping them all out,”

“Term Sabo hides its true function by claiming it aids the helovx in fucking each other over,” said Dox, wiping her mouth on her uniform sleeve. “How is it they haven’t doubled up on empowering terrorists to bomb fracking sites and blow-up dams?”

“Definitely smarter than she used to be,” the Shell cracked.

“If Aotearoa fails to join her cause, Dubois will issue a nuclear strike against Jungwa,” Sofita said. “The problem is, her limited arsenal of twenty-first-century missiles can’t launch without the proper tech,”

“Jungwa has that tech,” Dox said. “Even if Dubois manages a partnership with them and hurl one of her missiles at us, we’d send out a Striker and lead it right back to them,”

“The nuclear fallout would kill them all,” Sofita added.

Dox smirked. “Radiation makes us stronger,”

“When did you develop such rancor for the Nauists?” she asked.

“They keep trying to kill us,” said Dox. “We barely impact their daily lives,”

“We’re more involved than you know,” Sofita said.

“When the Robust Gen tried to help them,” Dox said, finger up. “They acted like entitled little bitches because it wasn’t the exact kind of help they wanted.”

“Damn, ‘Fita, did she develop ilitux?”

“Who is they?” Sofita asked. “Anyone specific?”

Dox countered. “Must there be?”

“You cannot judge an entire species based on the behavior of a fraction.” Sofita sucked a piece of meat from her teeth and spat it out. “There’s arsenic in this chicken,”

Dox looked at her plate. “That’s a poison, right?”

“A chemical in sulfur and few other metals,” Sofita answered. “It’s toxic to helovx, and why Consuela’s daughter thinks it might be lethal to us.”

Dox tilted her head back for a better view behind the bar.

“It leaves an aftertaste,” Sofita explained. “My suspicions were confirmed when I saw her giving everyone else’s scraps to the children, but not ours,”

Dubois is a moral conservative,” Dox pushed her plate away and returned to speaking Hamgyong. “I’ll be surprised if she gets elected, given her history of legislating by her religious beliefs.”

“You’ve studied Nauist politics,” Sofita mused. “But not their language?”

“I brushed up at Port Yukon,” said Dox. “You respect her, don’t you?”

“She concerns me,” Sofita said. “Dubois is the sort that Fusa loves to make an example of, and if she’s voted in as President,”

“That’s like shaking a bottle of soda water,” said Dox.

This language strange to my ears.” Consuela returned with a smile and more broken English. “You want another bucket of chicken, Foxy?

No, Miss Consuela,” Dox looked past the old woman and at her daughter, who promptly disappeared into the kitchen.

Consuela asked, “Why you have no hair, Foxy?

I wasn’t born with any,” Dox said with pride. “I’m a soldier,”

Consuela glanced at Sofita. “Why you have hair, Commander?

I was born, a different kind of soldier,” she replied.

You are this, I can tell,” Consuela said. “Puedes pagarme ahora, por favor?

Sofita pulled out two gold squares but held them tight.

I’ll give you both of these if you eat some of this chicken.”

“Komad!” Dox snapped.

Laughing, Consuela thought nothing of the request. Drumstick in hand, she brought it to her lips as her daughter approached with a knife in her hand. Before her mother could take a bite, she slapped it from her fingers.

Consuela’s eyes shifted from her daughter to the chicken, then to Sofita. Bowing her head in shame, Consuela stepped to the bar. Sofita followed and set the gold down beside her trembling fist.

“I will not take this,” Consuela said in Ramaxi.

Gracias, Consuela,” Sofita gently took the old woman’s fist and, opening it, placed the gold in her palm. “I do not judge you on the actions of your family.

Outside in the dry, dusty wind, Dox silently came alongside her.

A radio nearby interrupted its election coverage for a story about an overnight attack on a police station twenty miles west of North Shore. Authorities sought the gang they believed responsible for several attacks in the Badlands.

“That hybrid’s getting bold,” Dox said. “What could’ve triggered him?”

Sofita frowned. “He’s been violent all his life,”

“He’s ramped it up recently,” Dox added. “You think he senses us?”

Sofita shook her head. “He’s not a full-blooded male,”

“There are no Eleventh-Gen males, right?” she asked.

Sofita walked onward. “He likely senses his daddy,”

“You spoke to Cristi, that’s all, right?” she accused.

Sofita turned to her. “Why ask me what you already know?”

“You facilitated his escape,” she said, finger pointed.

Sofita folded her arms. “It’s time for Cristi to come home,”

“We don’t terminate males, remember?” she said.

“We’re Femitokon,” said Sofita. “He is an escaped male,”

“Is that how the Shell sold to you?” Dox said over her shoulder, walking away without waiting for an answer.


 

Route 80 Gate-Point
Texan Territory – North American Union
December 2, 2228 – 4:30 PM

There was too much of Holy Cross still left inside Angie Thomas when she declared herself too fat for ninety-degree weather. She turned from the gusty wind and slammed the long microphone in her hand against the cinder block wall. The noise prompted her to pull the bulky headphones from her ears and curse the large metal sign looming over her.

No Entry to Anyone Beyond this Point. Entering Beyond this Point Absolves the North American Union of any Responsibility for Your Life.

Angie growled with disgust and dropped the microphone. Peeling off a dirty glove, she slapped the grit and sand from the back of her production assistant’s bomber jacket, getting his attention. A lifetime resident of Port Austin, the gangly Mickey Dorsett held no tolerance for the Badlands.

After removing his jacket, he jogged to their van, a bulky breadbox with wheels. Its flat silver panels covered the tires, and because it lacked any side windows, she and Mickey often felt imprisoned whenever inside.

She aimed the long microphone skyward. “I’m getting nothing but static on this feed,” she said and grabbed his sleeve upon his return. “Have you ever seen those two?”

The gangly man shifted his narrow eyes toward the slender white man and his dark-skinned companion. “Nope, but I ain’t never been outside of Texas.”

“There’s something off about them,” she whispered. “I went to career school in the Mids, but I never heard tell of this guy or his news show,”

The handsome white reporter from Port Austin had introduced himself as Kyle Southern. His dark-skinned producer claimed herself a Holy-Cross local named Brigit Simmons.

“The Mids gets new people on the radio every day,” Mickey shrugged.

Angie asked, “What did Olson say when she told you to pick them up?”

Mickey widened his almond-shaped eyes while enacting a realistic impression of their boss, Nadine. “They’re covering something important in the Badlands, just pick them up, drop them off, and don’t ask questions,”

“We’re a passenger service, now?” Angie stood with arms akimbo.

“I’ll be anything for a paycheck every week,” Mickey cracked.

Laughing, Angie dug a battered fingernail into her braids.

“I’m never going to get this dust out of my hair,”

“Miss Brigit, with one T, cut all her hair off,” Mickey said. “Why don’t you?”

Angie curled her lip. “Mister Kyle has round eyes. Why don’t you?”

“His ancestors weren’t Korean?” Mickey furrowed his brow. “If Holy Cross hair ain’t something I can comment on, just say so,”

“We’ve known each other too long for that shit,” Angie said, grabbing his arm, apologetic. “I’m salty right now, okay?”

“Yeah, the heat and the sun are a total bummer,” he said.

Angie eyed the strangers. “That’s not why I’m salty.” Being from Holy Cross, she knew never to judge a woman by her hair or her shade of brown, but bullshit was fair game. That man Kyle might’ve been a reporter, but his so-called producer knew nothing about running assignments in the field.

Brigit appeared behind them. “How’s it going, Thomas?”

“My name’s Angela,” she said. “You can call me Angie,”

“She’s right, Brigit.” Kyle flashed a toothy white-boy grin. “We don’t call people by their last names. We’re not in the military,”

“Sorry,” Brigit said to Angie. “My mom was military,” Tall, dark, and boney, she wore a dank green maxi dress with buttoned patch pockets and kept a walnut-handled pepperbox pistol tucked into her waist belt.

Angie returned to the van and sensed the woman following her. She pulled open the back panel door and pulled a brown glass bottle from a cooler in the back. All the ice they’d loaded inside when in Port Austin was now chilled water.

“Was your momma stationed in Oiltown?” she asked, staring down at the heavy rubber soles of Brigit’s boots.

“All my life,” said Brigit. “What about you?”

“My mom worked Hole Fifty.” Angie refrained from mentioning that her mother owned that coal mine. “My pop raised my sisters and me in the Cross.”

“I know we didn’t have time to touch base with you this morning,” said Brigit. “And I know Nadine told you not to ask us any questions-”

“—Don’t worry, we’re guild.” Angie offered her a sip of water from the bottle. “We will record your pretty boy as he reports the news.”

Kyle came between them and took a sip of the water from the bottle Angie offered Brigit. “We should tell them,” he said, and after Brigit nodded, he said, “Listen, there shouldn’t be any bullshit between us. We’re all out here risking our lives.”

“That’s an understatement,” Mickey mumbled.

Brigit nodded. “You know about the murders out here?”

“Our home station sent a reporter out here two weeks ago,” said Angie. “The crew never came back.”

“These aren’t random attacks,” Kyle stood close as he spoke, and Angie watched in silent amusement as Mickey reveled in the man’s cologne. “Rumor says that an entire town got slaughtered,”

“We heard—” Mickey quieted when Angie shushed him.

“What’ve you heard?” Kyle asked.

Mickey frowned at her before disappearing to the other side of the van. Angie wasn’t keen on elaborating, and shame on Mick for mentioning anything.

“Please,” Kyle said, moving in close enough that his gum-scented breath touched her face. “We need to tell this story before our government makes it vanish.”

“The people have a right to know,” Brigit added.

“We got no solid source,” Angie said, guarded. “What we do have says the town was underground and that some blood cult got inside and killed everybody.”

“Farcs!” Mick stumbled back, out of breath. “They saw me. Now they’re coming.”

Angie quickly made her way around the van and spotted a tall figure on the hazy horizon. “What the hell’s an Antarctican doing in the Badlands?”

Kyle and Brigit pulled their pistols and took positions in front of the van.

“What are you two doing?” Angie demanded. “She doesn’t have her palm up,”

“We have to protect ourselves.” Mick stood beside her now with a shotgun in his spindly arms.

Angie grabbed the barrel. “It’s got no bullets,”

“I can’t get fisted,” he whispered, frantic. “I know I’m homosexual, but I’ve never had anal sex.”

The lean farcs dolphin-like skin shone under the sun, her muscular figure covered from neck to knee-high boots in a tight gray uniform.

“Put it away, Mickey,” Kyle warned without facing him.

Brigit added, “There’s no need for things to escalate.”

“Then you two need to holster your guns,” Angie countered, finding no sign of a blaster glove on the farcs hands. “Hey Mick, I thought you said there were two of them,”

“I saw two,” he nodded, adjusting his spectacles. “I know I did.

Brigit stepped in front of him with her pistol still up.

“You plan on shooting someone?” Angie demanded, stepping beside her.

Kyle lowered his gun and nodded for Brigit to do the same.

“I swear I saw two of them,” Mickey reiterated.

“The heat rising off the ground messed with your view,” said Angie.

“Can they be here as hot as it is?” Mickey wondered.

Angie walked out ahead of them. “I’ll ask her.”

“Stay put,” Kyle barked.

“One, don’t snap at me,” Angie called over her shoulder. “Two, they don’t attack at the first sign of a weapon.” She then glared at Brigit. “You grew up in the Cross. You should know this.”

“She’s right, Kyle,” Brigit said, getting into the silver van’s passenger seat and slamming the door. “If we relax, they relax,”

“Hello!” Mickey came up beside Kyle. “We’re menfolk. Farcs do things to us that are rather painful,”

“They’re right, Mick.” Kyle shoved his pistol into the back of his waistband and took the rifle from him. “We need to relax.”

The muscular Antarctican halted a few feet from Angie with her palms out at her sides. “Hello. My name is Lieutenant Dox,” she spoke as Angie focused on the jagged scar on her brow. “I’m here on behalf of your government superiors in Banff.”

“Hello back, Lieutenant Fox.” Angie mocked the Antarctican’s slow and deliberate speech. “You can stop talking like we don’t know our language.”

“Apologies,” she said, and relief washed over Angie when she smiled.

Brigit called out from the van. “We got our own soldiers in Banff, they can keep us out.”

“Your soldiers took position along the wasteland’s eastern perimeter.” The Antarctican pointed east as everyone started talking over her. “Protecting the population at Austin is a top priority,”

“How do we know you haven’t invaded?” Mickey called.

Angie rolled her eyes. “With an army of one, Mick?”

Femitokon: Tribal Warfare

“You say Banff set you?” Kyle asked, smiling.

“Office of Helovx Advocacy sent me,” said the Antarctican. “We were invited to assist in this situation because of our immunity to the toxins involved,”

“You need a more plausible story, Lieutenant Fox.” Angie saw her reflection in the Antarctican’s dark eyes. “Banff doesn’t give two shits about polluting civilians outside of Banff,”

Kyle grinned. “She’s right about that,”

The tall marix softened her expression. “A zeppelin went down near here, and I must re-con the area with a clean-up assessment.”

“You know a lot more words than most bullheads,” said Angie.

“Begging your pardon,” the Lieutenant said, smiling., “Why are we called bullheads? We don’t have horns growing out of our heads,”

Angie smiled, “We’d call you devils, then,”

“That’s a religious reference,” the Lieutenant smiled brightly. “Christian, correct?”

“Most Christians are never correct,” Angie said.

Brigit got out of the van. “Clean-up assessment?”

“In return for what?” Kyle asked.

“My superiors didn’t disclose those details,” the Antarctican said.

“Lieutenant Fox,” she said. “My name is Angela Thomas, and no matter what’s going down in Banff, there’s no ban on anyone entering the Badlands,”

“No matter how dangerous,” Mickey added, tightening his jacket.

“You can relax, sir,” the Antarctican raised her hands. “I’m not a rapist.”

“Calm the hell down, Mick,” Angie scolded.

“I’ve never sexually assaulted a helovx,” the Lieutenant added, “and never will.”

“Angie’s right,” Kyle said, moving in behind Brigit, whose gun appeared anew at her waist. “The NAU lets its citizens do as they please,”

“I don’t think farcs understand personal freedoms,” Brigit said.

The Antarctican’s grin faded while snatching the pistol from Brigit’s waist cinch.

“I don’t like the word farc,” she said, pulling the metal from the wood and dropping both parts of the gun at Brigit’s feet. “Any more than you, or Miss Thomas, would like the word, tar-face.” Kyle kept his hand on the barrel of his pistol but didn’t draw it; Mickey moved quickly behind him, anxious. “Let’s not use that word anymore, please,”

“You can call me Angie,” she said, stepping between them. “I promise you, no one will use their guns here, Lieutenant Fox, or call you that nasty name.”

“We’re just chasing down our story,” Mickey said.

“Story?” the Antarctican asked.

“Some people got killed,” Angie said. “We just want to know how and why,”

“You got reporters in Antarctica, right?” Mickey relaxed enough to tap the soldier on the arm yet recoiled as if burned when the Lieutenant turned to him.

“Yes, we do,” she said, smiling.

“If there’s been some sort of poisonous spill, and you’re here to assess its clean-up, then your tech is being used by our government,” Kyle spoke with his back against the van. “Our public has the right to know about that, too,”

The Lieutenant crossed her arms over her chest.

“My orders are to clear civilians from this area.”

“There is no spill, Lieutenant,” Angie said.

Mickey nodded. “Your superiors are lying to you,”

“There’s a gang of violent drifters roaming these parts,” Kyle said. “We’re here to document their crimes,”

The Antarctican’s dark eyes mulled the horizon before motioning them to come closer. Angie came forward, despite being intimidated.

“I’m sorry, it’s me who’s lying,” she confessed. “You’re right. There’s no chemical spill. A dozen men escaped the penal plantation at Foxe Island,”

Kyle looked at Brigit, excited. “No one gets out of Calgary,”

“One of these convicts has family following a gang led by Eustis Sylvania,” the Antarctican revealed. “That convict is likely here already,”

“Holy shit,” Mickey said.

“Holy what?” the Antarctican asked, and when Angie explained it was just an expression, she bullhead smiled. “Derived from what?”

“South of here, in the fourteenth century, these people called Aztecs,” Angie explained. “They kept jars full of shit for their feces god, and it was holy.”

The Antarctican laughed, revealing her strange and beautiful teeth.

“Are you sure about this escape?” Kyle interjected.

“We’ve apprehended most of the escapees,” she said with a nod. “I’m here to collect any stragglers before more people get killed.”

“Why is Orta collecting our criminals?” Brigit wondered.

Kyle closed his eyes and sighed.

“What’s an Orta?” Mickey asked.

“It’s where World Oceans raises all their bullheads,” Angie said, provoking another smile from the handsome Lieutenant.

“There’s a story here,” Kyle followed the Lieutenant as she walked around their van. “What’s Ramaxia’s connection to the fugitives?”

“Your government will issue a statement,” she replied. “When they feel you need all the facts,”

“Lieutenant Fox,” said Angie. “Governments don’t deal in facts,”

“I trust my government,” she professed.

“If you trust that bitch, Rye Bread Yoom,” Angie said. “Then you’re not as smart as I thought you were, Fox.”

The Antarctican laughed. “Good point.”

“Which one is she?” Kyle asked.

“First Officer,” said Mickey, nodding. “The administrative Primary of Ramaxia,”

“She’s the one that beat up on that hair-tail wife of hers,” Angie said.

Kyle nodded. “Beat her up so bad, she jumped off a building to get away from her,”

“You’re all remarkably well-informed,” the Antarctican said.

“You bullheads love to talk about home when you get drunk,” Angie said. “Port Yukon is full of stories about your fucked-up Committee,”

“I thought Gideon was weird for marrying his cousin,” Kyle affirmed. “Compared to Fusa Kul, he’s downright ordinary,”

“Hey, that’s my Primary you’re all talking about,” the Antarctican scolded, then addressed Angie. “May I ask how old you are?”

“Twenty-four,” Angie said. “What about you?”

“Nineteen this January,” she replied.

“Damn!” Angie gasped. “You’re big for a baby,”

“A nineteen-year-old Dokomad,” Brigit said. “What’d you do to earn that?”

Kyle glared at Brigit as the Antarctican glanced at her own uniform arm insignia. Before she could reply, a howl in the distance brought new troubles.

Motorbikes sped toward them, kicking up dust as their baying riders spun their machetes overhead like helicopter blades. The Antarctican dropped to one knee without hesitation or stress and slid a stringy blaster over her hand.

“Get inside the van, please,” she said, raising her palm.

Angie got behind her instead, and from between the Antarctican’s long fingers, she watched the leading rider advance. A naked mud-covered man with goggle-covered eyes veered closer, machete twirling until a white burst of energy shot from the Antarctican’s hand, blasting the bike out from under him. Five more orbs of light hovered across the sands, each striking the remaining attackers in the chest.

The downed leader jumped up and charged at them with his raised machete, but when a pop sounded off behind Angie, she found Kyle taking another shot, bringing the howling fiend down.

The Antarctican stood and studied Kyle.

Angie whispered, “He says he’s a reporter,”

“You train your news people better than we do,” she mumbled.

Angie pursed her lips and shook her head. “No, we don’t.”

The Antarctican cast a knowing glance.

“I never got your name, sir,” she said to Kyle. “But I’m going to ask that you put that gun away, please.”

Kyle shoved the pistol into his waistband and followed the Antarctican to the man’s fallen cycle.

“This one’s full,” she said, tapping the gas tank. “Nearest gas hub is days from here,”

“Nope,” said Angie. “There’s a local joint about twenty minutes from here.”

Joint?” she brought her index finger and thumb together and motioned toward her mouth. “As in a wrapped cigarette?”

“No,” Mickey laughed. “As in a specific place,”

“Like an eating joint,” Angie said. “Or a gas joint,”

Nodding, the Antarctican beamed. “Every day is a lesson,”

“We mapped out all the local gas joints when we got here.” Mickey opened his leather-bound travel diary and shoved it toward her. “The locals here are rough, but I can’t imagine them giving these freaks gas.”

“Maybe they didn’t have a choice,” she said, studying the landscape. “Your troops moved people out of here last night. Perhaps there are a few holdouts.”

“We can take you to the gas station, Lieutenant,” Angie said.

The Antarctican smiled. “I don’t think that’s necessary,”

“I’ve only got two bullets left,” Kyle said. “I’d feel safer if you tagged along,”

Watching Brigit collect the pieces of her gun, the Antarctican pointed at the scar on her forehead. “I don’t like guns,”

“We’ll stow the guns,” Kyle said, “Right, Brigit?”

Brigit said nothing.

“Just come with us,” Mickey said, slapping the Antarctican’s arm.

“Maybe I will,” she said, grinning at Angie. “It’s a long walk.”

Kyle followed the soldier toward the van. “Can’t you fly?”

“What?” she asked, huffing a laugh.

“Like a power suit,” said Kyle. “Or glider boots?”

“These boots can’t emit an isurus beam,” she said.

“I’d heard that some of you could fly,” Kyle pressed.

The Lieutenant shook her head. “I don’t know of any soldier that can fly.”

“I’m not comfortable having a farc in the van,” Brigit snapped.

Angie stepped into the taller woman.

“She said she doesn’t like that word, tarface,”

Mickey put himself between them, knowing Angie might slap her. “No offense, but the van belongs to us,” he said politely. “Technically, you’re not part of news-team-eight.”

“We’ve got no time for bullshit,” Kyle said, glaring at Brigit. “If there’s injured residents at the gas station, we need to tend to them and get their story.”

“I’ll tell you what,” the Antarctican approached Brigit with her hands up. “I’ll sit in the back with Angie and Mickey. You ride in front with mister Kyle-”

“—or she can walk your narrow ass back to Austin,” Angie declared.

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A note from WriterObscura

Kul and Dox are in the Badlands!

I personally feel like Dox has gotten so much better at interacting with humans.

Shout out to Dan Hurtado for the comic-style illustration.


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WriterObscura

Bio: I'm here to remain obscure.

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