“I’m gonna close up honey. Haven’t seen a customer in two hours. Why don’t you get an early night?” The outline of old lady Denny moved into Rouge’s peripherals.
Not for a second did she look up to her boss. Instead she kept both eyes on her newest creation.
“I don’t mind waiting for my friends,” Rouge said from the confinement of an empty booth. There she sat in the desolate diner pulling another late, the usual girl hadn’t turned up in a few days.
“Another doodle? You’re gonna need your own gallery soon. What is it this time?” The old lady shuffled closer and eased down onto the leather opposite.
“It’s you.” Rouge spun her sketch pad tablet around. She smiled at her work whilst it projected out.
“I got a few more wrinkles than that honey, but I’ll settle for that.”
“What wrinkles?” Rouge asked innocently. Her words showing a playful sarcasm. Just another sign her mind was growing.
“You have a real talent for this stuff Anne-Marie. I’ve asked a thousand times already but are you ever gonna tell an old broad like me what you’re doing in a place like this?”
The redhead’s smile steadily faded. Not in shame, uncertainty more like.
“I’m just, I don’t know.”
“It’s okay honey, you can tell me.”
A wrinkled hand reached out to her. Rouge looked up and then took it.
“I came from a bad place. A place I never want to go back. Right here and right now, I’m happy, and I’m still finding myself, I guess.”
“Well, that’s enough for me. You take your time kiddo. Draw all you like, play fight all you like out back. To have a bright star like you around for however long is a gift enough. At least you turn up for your shift.” Old lady Denny gripped the table with both hands and began to rise.
“We need a few more good staff around here, but that’ll be tomorrow’s job. I’ll go and relieve those robot friends of yours for the night. Then it’s lights out.” She shuffled past as her star waitress swivelled and took her hand again.
“This is the only place that’s ever felt like home to me,” she said.
“Well how abouts a smile for your efforts,” the old lady added and then noticed the two eyes looking up to her beginning to widen.
“Get down!” She cried.
Rouge’s grip yanked the old lady down to the chequered floor tiles. A barrage of broken glass exploded inwards with mass of heat following and then the lights shunted off.
“It’s okay honey. I think,” Denny said feeling blood on her neck. Somewhere near came a flickering glow, and they both smelled smoke.
“Take this, it’s red anyway” Rouge took off her apron and held it to the slash along her boss’s neck.
Just as the fumes of burning began to thicken a loud whoosh rocked them both.
“We appear to be under attack,” the Freak said. He had extinguished the remainder of what looked like a flaming tyre.
“Where’s F.G?” Rouge asked.
“Fetching our Warrior,” the Freak said. For a second, he lowered to them and then rose to peer outside.
“Can’t really see much apart from bright headlights…”
A loud revving echoed into the broken diner window. More and more motors joined in.
“Sounds like bikers, great,” the old lady said.
“Bikers? Why are they here?” Rouge asked.
A gruff voice echoed over the revving which instantly simmered down,
“We’re here for the girl! The red headed one, hand her over and there won’t be any trouble!”
“I advise you stay concealed young Anne-Marie. Cliffeville bikers are the scourge of the western divide. They threw over the government in the city…”
“Cliffeville city is thirty miles away, what are they doing here?” Denny asked. She felt a warm trickling down her back.
“Money, Leecher has money and wants me.” The heartbeat in Rouge’s chest made itself apparent.
“We know you’re in there little girl,” a rough southern accent crowed.
“Why don’t you come on out and play?” Another said.
The Freak stood, he held an arm up to shield incoming bright light, even though he still wore the sunglasses over his white balaclava.
“Begging your pardon gentlemen, but there is no ‘girl’ here that fits the description you are demanding…”
“Shut the hell up robot! We saw her sitting there next to the old lady. She’s got two minutes before we torch the place and pull her out of the ashes!”
The Freak lowered again whilst more words came their way,
“Yeah that doctor guy didn’t say dead or alive. We’ll take whatever we get!”
“Shut the hell up Hector.”
Echoing out into the night was a voice Rouge recognised, her beating chest calmed.
“Leave! All of you now! None of you have any business here. I command you all to leave!”
After a deathly long silence the Warrior cried again,
“I command you to leave!”
“And I command you to shut the hell up.”
“What’s with the wet suit?” A slurring biker asked.
“Leave all of you. Or I will be forced to take action!” The Warrior stepped out of the shadows and into the brightness of headlights.
“Is that so?” The presumable lead biker said. His accent also southern and rough cut. His outline strode forward to reveal snakeskin boots and a leather waistcoat.
“Well the guy we doin’ this for. He did his researches and homeworks. You’re some Warrior aren’t ya? He reckons you can’t lay even a finger on a human soul. Some agreement made years ago. This guy who is payin’ has got brains. So I reckon you as soft as the sand you standing on.” The biker held up both arms wide, his audience roused in agreement.
“The Warrior code agreement. Indeed, a rule I live by,” the Warrior said.
Rouge could hear the defeat in his tone. She looked up to see this Biker close in and begin poking her much larger guardian.
“And so I could just walk past you, and take my payday. All because of a rule. A stupid damn rule. You should live more like us folks. We don’t have any rules, because they were made to be broken.” The biker practically spat his words as the much larger foe opposite bowed a balaclava shrouded head.
“Yeah rules are stupid!” Another Biker crooned.
Watch over her… be her guardian.
“You are right. That is a stupid rule and for the sake of humanity and its future, I must break the Warrior code agreement, laid down by the Warriors of old to protect the Maverick.”
“Huh? What you jabberin’ on about?”
Before the Biker could react, he received a short sharp jab. The Warrior’s gloved fist struck the man between the eyes. Wobbling on both feet the biker then felt his world tip upside down.
“Breaking the rules, does, feel good,” the Warrior said without any strain.
Rouge looked on to see her guardian grip the leather waistcoat of this vagrant and hoist him up high. It took barley any effort to throw him into headlights. There came crashing and commotion. Bikes fell over and people began shouting. More footsteps closed in.
F.G moved out of the shadows with a wide frying pan at the ready. He saw the barrage closing in. The first few bikers were downed by the Warrior’s outstretched arms as he charged back but then he became mobbed. They lashed out, some with chains and blunt weapons.
“Warrior!” Rouge screamed. The Freak held her back.
“I strongly suggest you sit this out Rouge.” He looked to the mob now engulf F.G.
“My decision to join this situation is a unanimous one I’m afraid.”
The Freak let go of her and clumsily clambered out of the broken window.
“Get Ms Appleby to a safer place, we can negotiate this,” he ordered and trailed toward the riot.
“Come on, we have to get out of here.” Rouge moved swiftly in getting the older lady up and out the back door.
“Leave this place ruffians!” The Freak’s struggling words echoed to her and then a sudden gust of wind blew.
Old lady Denny lowered to the ground as dust and loose dirt hit Rouge’s face and she cowered back. Then something else hit her, not a physical force but a presence in her head. It had echoing voice, like the one from her dreams. The voice with a weird accent she found comfort in.
‘No! I have to go and help my friends. I’m not gonna leave them, again.’
* * *
Steve Franco thought he was going to die. He cradled a faulty auto rifle while huddling around a rock big enough for just him. The other two soldiers either side found that out with their lives. Over the deafening gun fire and flashes that zoomed past he could hardly make out Rob Connolly let alone hear him as he crouched in a nearby crater.
“I, can’t hear, you man…” An explosion of dirt spread out between them. Before the smoke cleared there came a sudden break in gunfire.
“We gotta pull back. There aint enough of us left Franco…”
“The ridge, it’s just over this hill. If we push them back its game on,” Franco shouted. He could see half of Connolly’s face a dark red. Dried blood.
Again, the ground rumbled, and brightness filled the dark sky.
“Where’s Nicks at?” Connolly asked.
“Haven’t seen her, since we went over the top. I’m gonna make a move for it, if you see another auto rifle send it my way, these two ran out of ammo…”
“Franco wait. Solider!”
Connolly watched Franco creep out from behind the rock and trudge forward. Up the hill he went staying low and expecting an incoming robot at any second. Closer he got to the top with legs aching and eyes squinting to the various flashes and explosions. Just when the top appeared, he dove to the ground.
“Made it,” he said and shimmied forward.
“Right beside ya soldier,” Connolly shouted. He dropped down next to Franco.
“This isn’t a male exclusive gig, right?” A mud-covered Nicks appeared next to them on her front.
“Glad you could make it,” Franco said.
“I wouldn’t say that just yet. What’s the plan?” Nicks asked. Her body swivelled to look back at a war torn plain. Craters and bodies of either side were strewn everywhere.
“I knew it!” Franco said. His head peered up and over the hill. A mass of black faced him and in another explosive flash he saw only a cluster of robots populating the line. Two rock shrouded gun placements sat in the shadows and not a lot else.
“Some of them haven’t even got rifles,” Connolly said.
“There isn’t enough of us to make an advance. Enemy airborne are due anytime now.” Nicks glanced over from their vantage point.
“I guess it’s up to us,” Franco clambered to his feet.
“Hold back soldier. You don’t even have a working rifle.” Connolly couldn’t reach him in time and Franco darted over the hill.
“Guess I’m going too…”
“Damn it Nicks, this is suicide.” Connolly followed her.
Overhead came a bright burning. It struck the hill where they were still moving from. Connolly barely stumbled from the explosive force. He turned to see the hill now more a crater than anything else.
“This is..” Another explosion rocked the crater of a hill with Connolly feeling the brunt of force. He was thrown back.
Steve Franco screamed in a fear-fuelled rage and charged to the nearest advancing robots. Most of them marched unarmed and partially clothed. Either a result of war or poor command and resources.
“Shoot the ones with rifles!” He commanded.
Nicks lifted her rifle to aim, a task not made easy by her clunky medic-engineers pack.
“Got your back,” she shouted.
Franco swung his auto rifle like a club. Into the first robot head it went and after a second try the weapon crumpled to pieces.
“Damn, cheap shit…”
Robots closed in and he made a fist. After reeling back, he drove a right hand forward and straight into the mouth of a wild target. It hurt like hell, but the thing went down. Then Franco realised punching all of them out wasn’t a solution, there were too many. And they descended upon him.
* * *
Shuffling old lady Denny back to her trailer seemed to take an eternity of time, but in reality, it hadn’t been that long
“I’ll be alright honey, I got this,” Denny held a fresh towel to her neck, but Rouge had already turned back. Moments later she stood outside the diner, in her prized camouflage uniform.
Destiny had taken its time to find Anne-Marie Thorn, but when it arrived, it did so with an unrelenting force.
“My friends need me too,” she said in reply to that voice she heard in the wind.
The Warrior was buried underneath a violent biker mob yielding weapons and what not. Some of them broke away to see her close in.
“Hey there pretty thing. Come here, I’ll only bite a…”
Rouge had been here before, and she knew instinct would kick in, so she followed her mind and readied into a stance. The first biker was down before he even realised. A swift out-swung leg crashed into a face which instantly dropped to the parking lot dust. She already locked on to target two and another out-swinging kick did enough in disposing of the threat. Her whole demeanour of combat appeared effortless.
“What is this?” She asked with a breathless whisper. The world didn’t slow down, it seemed to speed up, only now she was faster.
A new target faced her. Dark, tall and yielding a chain. It swung above his bandanna shrouded head. Rouge took in a deep breath and could hear the individual links on that thick chain clink and clunk. She reached out with a sharp grab and pulled tight. The biker was hooked and with superior strength Rouge yanked him down to the dust. Another one down.
In turning to throw an elbow she caught sight of F.G swinging a frying pan upwards into a duo of incoming bikers. The Freak helped him break away from their crowding threat. Just when she got close enough to the mobbed Warrior he groaned with explosive force. Bikers flew back with him standing tall.
“I am willing to take your life to preserve hers!” He shouted and grabbed the nearest body. With machine precision he hoisted it away.
Rouge stepped up and stood alongside him. Together they fought. This moment the guardian had been succeeded. She laid into every approaching attacker with high kicks and precise punches. Not even stopping to admire her handy work.
“I command you all, to leave!” The Warrior barked. His wide spanning arms wrapped around a nearby motorbike and he launched it towards the road.
Some remaining stragglers turned to run away, and the Freak caught one with his foot.
“Yield ruffian,” he barked, and the biker turned with his hands up.
“Now leave.” The Freak began to raise a fist, he lowered instinctively when a loud crack of gunfire echoed out into the night.
Rouge faced what they presumed to be the leader. With a bloody nose and a limp he moved closer holding the gun up towards her.
“I got no choice but for this to get nasty,” he said. A greasy screwed up faced stared straight at Rouge along with the barrel of that gun.
“No, Anne-Marie!” The Warrior cried. Those still standing stopped along with F.G and the Freak.
“Now, I’m taking my pay day!”
Rouge watched the leader close in. She kept her eyes glued to his movements. Her senses could almost smell his next move. Just when the barrel of the gun began to move toward the Warrior she struck.
An exhaling scream blurted out in fear as she threw a kick out front. Her foot colliding with dirty hand. The grip of the gun gone in a flash and even quicker was Rouge with her moves. She lunged forward. Gravity took hold of the weapon, but she was faster and plucked it out of the air. Now the barrel faced him.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here with my friends. We are the R.W.H!” She shouted through angrily gritted teeth.
The fear in his eyes became apparent and he put up both hands.
“Yeah, sure whatever you say little girl…”
“I’m a woman. Get down, on both knees…”
“Maybe I should just leave…”
“Now!” Rouge commanded. Her grip on the gun tightening. She pointed it to his face, and he did what he was told.
“Anne-Marie, the man is yielding,” The Warrior shouted.
“I’ve never fired a gun before. Not sure if I would like it,” Rouge said. With one swoop she launched the gun into the darkness.
“But I do like fighting.” She pulled a half smile and swung her fist.
The biker fell back to the dust and she stepped over him to another target. Although many of them were fleeing some still approached.
For the first time in many many years Anne-Marie fully smiled. She then looked to see at her side F.G and the Freak. Her guardian just behind and all of them ready to fight, together. Her eyes met his, and he nodded.
“The Robots with Humans are back in business skumbag!” F.G barked.
“I implore you to remember that name.” The Freak swung out.
“And our Maverick will save you all. That is if you don’t perish here!” The Warrior shouted with an outstretched arm.
“Stand tall Anne-Marie, fighting is in your blood. We stand beside your destiny,” he powerfully added.
There were many firsts Anne-Marie felt that night, above all she charged into the darkness without fear while smiling and she wasn’t alone.
* * *
Jack Thorn had never run so damn fast for so damn long. The only soldier nearby was Brock Jones who straggled a few lengths behind. In both hands Jones held an auto rifle, one of which belonged to Thorn. They both looked to the nearest hill the moment it lit up with explosive force. The ground under their feet rocked.
“Jack, come on!” Brock ordered. He and Thorn stopped.
“We gotta pull back. Enemy airborne will be…”
‘No! I have to go and help my friends. I’m not gonna leave them, again,” Jack shouted. He then broke into another sprint. For some reason those words he said seemed to have an echo.
Into thick smoke and out of the other side he dashed. Then he saw it. The rocky ridge, natural cover from any airborne attack. Just ahead the enemy front line guarded it with a distinct lack of forces present. In the very near foreground were his friends and so he didn’t stop.
“Take them down Brock!” He shouted and coursed forward.
The first robot moved out from mobbing Steve Franco and Jack launched a kick straight into its chin. Then he swung a roundhouse colliding into several targets clearing the path for his best friend to get out.
“Steve, good to be back.”
Together they swung fists and took down another enemy.
“If we can take this robot front…”
“Then its game on!” Jack said completing Franco’s sentence. They looked at each other for just a second.
We find a way, always.
From behind them they saw Brock Jones emerge with two rifles. He fired toward more incoming enemies.
“On your feet soldier,” he shouted to the recovering Rob Connolly.
“Says the guy fresh from a nice vacation,” Connolly shouted back and began to stand.
Thorn turned to more robots and Franco followed him into battle. They moved closer and closer to the enemy front taking down robots and avoiding their fire. The robot’s line had become even more desolate than before. Most of the them straggling forward. In unison the pair downed their targets, Franco needing to put more effort, but impressively punching as Thorn kicked.
“Step aside soldiers!” Connolly shouted. He stumbled alongside Brock and they fired.
Thorn wrapped two arms around his comrade Franco and shuffled him out the fire line. They hit the ground, and both looked to see this final cluster of enemies fall revealing a view with two enemy gun placements facing them.
“Get down!” Nicks shouted just when she aligned with Connolly and Brock.
The two gun placements lit up and laser rounds burst towards them all. After what seemed like a certain victory it got decimated just like the muddy ground was obliterated by bigger caliber weaponry.
Jack rolled away, and again Franco followed. They stayed low and fell into a shallow crater.
“No!” Franco screamed looking to the laser rounds engulf Nicks, Connolly and Brock.
“Screw this. I want to go home!” Jack shouted and jumped out of the sheltering cover.
“So do I,” Franco added and followed.
Jack Thorn ran. Not only to the adversity of a nearly lost battle but towards his destiny. He knew this was now or never. His ability to fight had never been shrouded in doubt and no matter what, he would move forward. The answers of his past lay ahead, along with the truth of what happened to a mother he never knew and a destiny he would soon answer. Nothing would stand in that path.
He looked up to the gun placements firing out to his friends and then he smiled. Not in a sadistic way or even an arrogant way. He smiled because this is where he was meant to be. Faster he sprinted jumping over bodies and craters, his tunnel vision focused on the target. Impressively, he leaped and skipped past more obstacles. His breath not wavering once, his drive not waning. The motor of a Maverick ran fast and carried ambition of prophecy.
With a final long jump, he drove his body forward. In the air his boot kicked out with his body following and launching itself over sandbags and rocks. The enemy front line and its outburst of laser rounds stopped dead when Jack’s foot collided with robot face. He landed with a stamp onto the enemies’ body and a furious growl.
Steve Franco followed behind with a less impressive jump and fell next to the cannon. Without protest he jumped up and gripped the handle. Jack helped him in turning it towards the other placement which lit up again.
“Fire on those bastards!” Franco tugged on the wide trigger. The ground vibrated and rounds shot out to the other placement, in seconds it exploded. He held the trigger for a few seconds longer before letting off. With heavy lungs he slumped back onto a crate of ammunition and realised the music of war had turned silent. A firm hand gripped his shoulder armour and startled him for a second.
“We did it man,” Jack said.
“We find a way, always,” Franco added.
“The others?” He asked and clambered out of the gun placement. Jack followed him onto a smoky battlefield. The smell of burning cast across their senses and they headed back.
From more smoke came the outline of three soldiers.
“And you called me the suicide artist!” Brock shouted. He smiled to both Thorn and Franco.
“Good to see you Franco man,” Brock added and handed Jack his rifle.
Nicks shuffled with Connolly, both worse for wear, but alive.
“You did it Franco. You crazy son of a bitch,” Connolly muttered.
From the hill turned crater came a barrage of men and women. They cheered at the sight of an empty enemy front.
“You know the rest of the enemy are in that ridge, and beyond that?” Franco said.
“Their front door, we’ll be knocking on it soon enough,” Connolly added and tried to stand.
“We’ll let the reinforcements lead the way this time,” he said and offered his rifle to Franco.
Army of Earth soldiers charged by and rushed toward the rocky ridge.
“What do you say Brock, Steve?” Thorn asked. He nodded to the advancing soldiers.
“After you Thorn, we’ll assume the position of hiding behind you,” Franco said.
“And we’ll catch up after some medic attention,” Nicks said.
Jack turned to see the enemy front swarming with soldiers from the Army of Earth. They charged further, firing at more robots somewhere in the craggy mountainous ridge. He smiled to his comrades and rushed back into battle.
There were hundreds of planets and thousands of stars between him and a red-haired girl doing her best to be a solider also. Destiny would work its way in bringing them together and eventually they would come to meet.