The Roadrunners are more organized than I thought. I guess they’d have to be. I have no idea how they coordinate without clocks or radios or the ability to count beyond the number of fingers they have (hint: not usually ten) but they work in shifts. At a given time, a third of them are on patrol/shakedown duty, a third are on hang around but be ready to rock duty, and a third are on do whatever you want but come back later duty.
Once the deal was struck, they shifted their shifts around (shiftlessly) and broke off a war party to send with us, ten ramshackle scrap-buggies, twice that many bikeish-things, and some number of people. It’s hard to say how many, they all jump around from vehicle to vehicle like athletes going bed to bed at the Olympic village. I’d guess more than fifty but less than a hundred Roadrunners. Meep-meep!
With our new friends in tow, we hit Paradise and linked up with our resident animal themed gangs plus the mountain riff-raff and headed towards Wyo. Why not do more recruiting first? I was convinced by my local experts that it wouldn’t be necessary. Their claim was that anyone willing and ready to fight would see the convoy and come of their own volition, lusting after the potential booty.
They were right. We picked up our first tail after only a couple miles. Initially the remora groups would stalk us from afar like people wanting your parking spot at the mall. I guess this is part of the ritual. If you see an attack pack that you don’t know the intentions of, you send some expendables to follow the raiding party and see if those sacrificial lambs are run off, invited to join, or just left to trail like jackals. Then based on that response, the important people make their move. Since we didn’t murder them, this was the ritual invitation for them to join up with us.
By the time we reached the area of Crow, we had increased our numbers over fifty percent, and by the time we passed by the citified red-light district, we had doubled that size again. All manner of freebooters and mercenaries and raiders were getting in on the feeding frenzy. The assembled collection was quite the clanking, clinking, clattering cacophony of caliginous cogs and camshafts. It was a force maybe a third as large as the Invincible group I saw attacking the convoy a while back. Maybe a little more. We thought that this horde would be supreme overkill for our target. Martialla and I had scouted Wyo from above and there wasn’t much going on there. But overkill is what we we’re going for.
Before reaching Wyo, Martialla and I (and Paul, he’s not normally with us on the road but we jammed him in J-Lo this time like a divorced father with a convertible taking his kids to the carnival) split off from the herd and headed up an old mountain road where the framework of a modern (past) firewatch lookout tower was still standing. The top bit (is there a name for the top part of a tower?) was gone and some of the metal was bent, but it was still solid and climbable and a good vantage point. Martialla and Paul hauled some debris up there and made a nest of sorts where we could watch the attack from afar. Martialla and I did anyway, Paul hung above us like a demented circus monkey.
At first peep we could tell that something was wrong. There were twice the number of people in Wyo than we expected. There were four big Invincible trucks parked in the middle of town but even if they had been packed with people instead of supplies, that wouldn’t explain where all the extra people came from. We had the good/bad luck of attacking the same day that the Invincible sent supplies, but where the hell did all those other people come from?
Martialla and I had talked in circles about if we should come by land or air. If we winged it, that probably would have eliminated any last second surprises like this but we had no good way to communicate with the convoy people other than to land and flag somebody down. Driving, we’d be less informed but at least we’d be with everyone else and the plane wouldn’t be on the ground where anyone could steal or wreck it. We probably should have tried harder to come up with a way to split the difference. I gave Martialla a worried look.
She shrugged “The old saying is that no plan survives contact with the enemy.”
I waved my hand semi-frantically “They haven’t even made contact with enemy yet!”
She was remarkably blasé “We still have the numbers by a lot, and they didn’t know we were coming. Surprise and superior numbers? That’s a winning hand. This could be a good thing. More supplies means more for us to capture. Besides . . .”
Her thought was cut off by Paul shouting and pounding on the iron frame of the tower. He speaks so seldom (to me anyway, he and Martialla must do something other than bone) that when he does talk his voice throws me for a loop. I expect him to squeak like the pimply teenager from the Simpsons but instead he sounds like Isaac Hayes. A spazz like him shouldn’t have such a deep voice. He pointed at the tree line and we saw people picking their way through the woods. They weren’t wearing uniforms but they were all dressed enough alike to give the impression – brown clothes, stupid headbands, and reddish paint on their faces. And they all had guns. Rifles to be exact.
Paul slid down the corner of the tower like it was a pole in a firehouse while Martialla and I were scrambling to climb down. Whoever they were, it wouldn’t be good to be caught up there, although who they were didn’t matter much once they started shooting. It looked like Martialla got hit and took a tumble, but she actually just lost her grip. I expected Paul to roar like Godzilla when he saw her jerk and almost fall but that’s foolish.
That’s one of the things that freaks me out about Paul is that when he fights he never makes a sound. It’s a time-honored tradition to scream and bellow and shout insults when you’re trying to hack/slash/bash someone to death. Even the karate men do it, ki-ya! Now that I’ve been in a couple death fights myself, I know why. Yelling gets the blood going, helps you convince yourself that you’re not afraid, scares the other guy maybe. Paul doesn’t utter a sound when he’s killing and potentially being killed. Not a whisper.
What he did do was probably more helpful than a battle cry anyway – light and throw a bomb he scrounged up somewhere. Martialla would call it a grenade but if you have to light it, it’s a bomb. I don’t think it killed anyone but an explosion, even a little one, tends to distract people. While the Facepaint Brigade was ducking and diving for cover, he ran up and took out one of them at the legs like chopping a weed walking beans back on the farm. He took cover behind a tree as a few shots rang out. Martialla and I climbed/slid/fell the rest of the way down the tower.
It wasn’t even ten yards from the base of the tower to the car, but as we ran for cover I was sure that we would be shot in the back. I wanted to turn and fire back, the instinct was all but overwhelming, but standing out in the open is a good way to get shot in the front. It seemed impossible to me that we made it over and behind J-Lo without getting killed. I don’t know if they were trying to conserve ammo or they wanted to take us alive or what, but their rate of fire was abysmal. I peeked around J-Lo’s nose and saw Paul up against his tree while the Facepainters were mostly doing the same, although a handful of them were moving to flank him.
“Jesus Christ, why isn’t he shooting?!”
Martialla tried to reach in through the window and dropped back down in a hurry when she saw someone step out from behind a tree and take aim at her “Paul doesn’t have a gun, he doesn’t know how to shoot.”
“Are you fucking kidding?!”