Episode 1 Scene 6
The inner gate screeches open, and a forty-something-year-old face peers out. I remove my helmet. Some people think this makes Keepers look more human and less threatening. In my case, that rarely works: an intricate pattern of thick purple scarring sees to that. The man doesn’t look shocked. Perhaps I’ve dealt with him before. Fuel depots are not immune to time shifts, and they are as likely as any other grouping to be cascaded into the past or future.
“You’ll get your fuel, Keeper,” states the man. “And then you’ll be on your way.”
“Fuel and information,” I counter.
The man shrugs and pulls the interior gate further open. It’s a show. He knows it, and I know it. In this era, a Keeper can take down anything short of a main battle camp, but egos need to be maintained. This, at least, is one trait consistent in humans throughout time.
I turn sideways and squeeze through the opening; it’s not a narrow opening, but my exo-armor makes it necessary. My shoulder-mounted threat tubes, my primary-weapons source, make it tight as well. I’m not sure what ammo I currently have in the tubes, but I know it’s guaranteed to make a big hole in pretty much anything. My exo-armor, like my ride, adapts to the era I’m in.
“Mikey,” says the forty-year-old to the rig-rat climbing down from the gun turret. “Fuel the Keeper’s vehicle and don’t touch anything.”
The rig-rat scowls and tosses her hair.
“Who died and made you chief asshole, Dwayne?”
Dwayne says nothing. He’s heard this routine before. Besides, it’s not for his benefit. It’s for mine. The human ego at work again. But the name twigs a memory. Dwayne, we’ve met before, or rather we’ve met in the future.
“What happened to your old man?” I ask.
Dwayne was younger in the future, and his dad was in charge.
I grunt in acknowledgment. Scythers are an occupational hazard, and a rough one at that, though they usually leave the depots alone. But they’re the reason I’m here. I’ve been tracking one across time and space, and it’s been elusive.
“Too bad. You in charge now?”
“Pretty much, though Mikey likes to think different.”
We look back through the door. Mikey’s walking around my ride. Her mouth’s slightly open as she examines the features that make up this version of the bike. She’s being careful not to touch anything.
“She yours?” I ask of Mikey’s parentage.
“That’s what her mother told me,” answers Dwayne. “And she’s good on the gun-rig.”
This is about the highest compliment a parent can pay a child in a fuel depot. It’s good to see family values being maintained.
Enough of the small talk. “What do you have to drink?”
Dwayne laughs. He looks through the door at Mikey. She’s stopped her walk-around and is now pouring a clear, foul-smelling liquid into the tank of my vehicle.
“You and your machine will be drinking together,” he responds. “If that works for you.”
It’s my turn to laugh. It’s not the first time I’ve drunk the same stuff that’s fueling my bike.
“Yeah. That works fine.”
We head to one of the compound’s back rooms. My n-comm—neural communications package—tells me my bike’s full and at rest. The damn thing takes on anything as fuel, though its preferences run to alcohol/ethanol-based concoctions. I guess that’s why we make such a great team.
We grab a seat in what passes for a common room. Mikey comes in and takes on the bartending duties. Her ’tude has notched down by roughly one percent. I think she likes me, but it’s probably the bike. The vehicle has that effect on rig-rats. Dwayne and I now have chipped glasses of syrupy fluid in front of us. It stinks.
“Bottoms up,” he encourages and takes a swift shot.
He manages to stay on his seat and conscious, so I guess it’s all right. I take a drink. Whoa! At least it’s ethanol based; the bike will be happy. Some of the future booze I’ve tried contains chemical elements that don’t currently exist on our periodic table. And that stuff hurts the morning after.
“You an original?” I ask.
“Close enough, though it’s hard to tell exactly.”
Originals are those folks based roughly in the time and place they were born and raised. They may have cascaded here and there, but the system has a habit of dropping people back where they belong. It’s far from consistent and no guarantee of permanency, but while Dwayne’s here, he considers himself at home.
“I saw you before, you and your pa, what, in 2040?”
“Yep, around then, before the Scyther got him.”
“It attacked the depot?” I ask, surprised.
Depots are a necessity for anything that’s transport based. War Clans don’t care about preserving depots and are more than happy to have a crack at a fuel compound. The tech benefits from taking one down make it worthwhile for them. Anything that relies on high-level tech, and this includes the Scythers, tends to leave them alone. You got no fuel for your ride, you’re in deep shit. I don’t care where you come from.
“Yep, two of them attacked. Mikey here got one, the other got my dad,” he explains. “Then we got cascaded away. Lucky timing, I guess.”
I look across at the kid. She’s pretending not to listen. I’m impressed. Taking down a Scyther’s a chore, a real goddamned chore. Scythers keep on coming until they, well, until they don’t. The Terminator’s a shirking 14-year-old virgin compared to a Scyther. The kid may be worth keeping an eye on. The Deacons, my bosses, are always looking for the next generation of Keepers. She may be a candidate. I take another drink. It rips me a new trachea. Smooth, really smooth. The kid also may help explain something.
“You only do fuel?” I ask.
“Yep, up and down the line, nothing too far away.”
Interesting. Dwayne’s referring to his sources. Fuel scarcity’s a common problem for all the tech-based operators. Pulling in fuel from the past and the future is one way to overcome this. I don’t know the details, but those in charge of depots have contacts and connections “up and down the line,” as Dwayne put it.
“You two the only ones here?” I ask.
“A couple of others. They work the shops. Keep the machines rolling.”
Mechanics and techies, critical, but not worth the time for a pair of Scythers.
“So just you and Mikey.”
He nods. Bingo. Dwayne’s too old for the Scythers to be interested. It’s got to be the kid. Mikey’s the target.
“How long’s she been working the rig?”
Her taking out a Scyther with the gun turret’s impressive. She must’ve been at it for a while.
“Since her brother left.”
You don’t really leave fuel depots; it’s too dangerous. You get born, you live and you die—all in the same place, though not necessarily in the same time.
“Yeah, left. Fuck you, man. You Keepers took him. He’s one of you now. They tell you nothing.”
My face is impassive. Christ, Deacons. They tell you jack shit and expect you to get the job done. I’ve been tracking a rogue Scyther for weeks, trying to work out its pattern. It’s been harassing fuel depots, and all the time it’s probably been after this kid. Shit, this is my real mission. Mikey’s slated to be one of us. Mikey’s going to be a Keeper. Assuming I can keep her alive.