Mad Max 2.5 – The Soldier Max
Mad Max Fiction by HUMVEE Driver
Alongside a four-lane superhighway, Max stops the Lone Wolf at an abandoned gas station. He looks over the building and drives behind it, parking his vehicle there. Max gets out and enters the gutted station. Out of habit, he checks the fuel pumps; empty, of course. Inside the old, dusty maintenance bay there are several workbenches and tool cabinets. They all appear to have been looted. Still, Max looks through them, finding nothing of use. While checking the last one, Max notices the cement underneath it is cracked. Max pushes the cabinet aside, revealing a good-sized hollowed out depression. Inside are several plastic containers, just what Max needs. There are two quarts of motor oil and a large container of Dextron II power steering fluid. Smiling, Max removes the containers. Underneath them is a two-gallon fuel can. Max lifts it, it is full. He unscrews the cap and smells the liquid. It is kerosene. Max decides to use it anyway. He gathers up the supplies and walks back to the Lone Wolf. Max sets down the containers and crouches next to the vehicle. He looks underneath it, apathetic to what he sees. A small puddle of red fluid is gathering beneath the vehicle's transmission. There is nothing Max can do about it except add more fluid, which he does with the Dextron II.
Max takes a moment to wonder about the Lone Wolf. Whoever created it must have been crazy. But, the amazing thing is that it works. The vehicle's transmission is from a four-wheel drive vehicle. Except, the transmission is reversed. Each of the Lone Wolf's engines has a drive shaft coming to the transfer case in the middle of the vehicle. From the transfer case a single drive shaft leads to the rear axle. So, both engines provide power that is equally distributed to the real wheels. That is, if both engines are going at the same RPMs. The Lone Wolf has two gas pedals, side by side. The one on the left controls the front engine and the one on the right controls the rear. On the left pedal there is a siding metal bar, that when slid over connects the two pedals, giving equal gas to each engine. To save gas, Max drives the vehicle with only the front engine running and the four-wheel drive disengaged. When he needs more power and speed, he starts the rear engine, connects the two pedals, and engages the four-wheel drive. As unusual as the Lone Wolf is, it worked. Except for its transmission leaking badly it was a good vehicle.
Max remembers how he got the Lone Wolf. After the tanker crash, Max, the Gyro captain, and that kid retraced their route on the captain's disabled gyrocopter. They came to the Lone Wolf, still running but stuck in a shallow ditch. Papagallo's body lay slumped in the driver’s seat. They buried Papagallo there, as best they could. The man was a good leader, deserving a better burial than what they could provide. Papagallo sacrificed his life to save the others. That thought weighed heavily on Max's mind. Max felt guilty about taking Papagallo's wristbow, as the survivors might have needed it. The trio made their way to the meeting place, where the others were waiting. Max told them he wouldn't be staying. Still, the people thanked Max and gave him supplies and all the fuel the Lone Wolf could take. Max stayed and watched them ride away, knowing he wasn't ready to rejoin a group of people. Now he wasn't so sure.
After pouring the kerosene into the Lone Wolf's fuel tanks, Max got ready to leave. Then, he heard the rumble of an approaching car. Hiding next to the building, Max watched it get closer. It was a black Camaro type car with T-tops. The Camaro was heavily armored; its front was a huge armored steel bumper. On its sides were steel plates bolted over the doors; the driver needed the T-tops to get in and out of his vehicle. The Camaro had a huge engine and blower. The hood was removed, possibly to make room for the engine, but Max detected some showing off on the part of the driver. The Camaro raced by. Soon, more vehicles came along. There were two armored semi trucks, one hauling a freight car and the other with a tanker. There was a tow truck and a pickup. Max observed some kind of flamethrower mounted in the bed of the pickup.
Lastly, a very familiar car. Yellow, red, and blue... it was an MFP Interceptor. Max watched in awe as it sped by. None of the vehicles seemed in any hurry. Max quickly got in the Lone Wolf and followed from a distance. He saw a red flare shoot into the sky, coming from the Camaro. The vehicles quickly took a formation, seemingly with practiced ease. The Interceptor drove out front while the two semis came side by side. The tow truck and the pickup took flanking positions to the rear of the semis. Ahead, Max saw why the convoy assumed its defensive posture. A few vehicles and motorcycles waited at the side of the road. As the convoy approached, the vehicles began moving to intercept. The Interceptor neatly sideswiped an enemy car, sending it into the ditch. The pickup used its flamethrower on the enemy, setting some ablaze and forcing a retreat. The attack seemed lifeless to Max. It was like a harassing move, just to annoy the convoy. The surviving enemy vehicles drove off into the desert. Max followed the convoy.
After calling off their attack, the gang headed back into the desert, leaving one vehicle behind to watch the road. It was a rusted, full sized vehicle, stripped of its body panels and no longer looking like any normal car. Twin sirens sat atop its roll bar, no doubt to alert the rest of the gang if any potential victims came along. Max couldn't wait. If he were to keep following the convoy, he would have to get by the enemy vehicle.
With its two 351ci engines and its reinforced chassis, the Lone Wolf was a heavy vehicle. Max could ram other cars at will as long as he avoided damaging his vulnerable front axle and wheels. Max started the second engine and engaged the four-wheel drive. The leaky transfer case rattled as it usually did, then the power equalized and the Lone Wolf surged forward. Max drove straight at the unsuspecting gang vehicle.
The vehicle's driver heard the onrushing car. His first reaction was to start his vehicle and get onto the road. Just as he got moving, the front end of the Lone Wolf crashed into his left front tire. The impact sent the gang car into a spin, and Max corrected the Lone Wolf’s direction and sped away. As the vehicle lurched to a stop, its driver shook his head clear and flipped a rusty switch on the broken dashboard. A piercing siren blared across the wasteland.
Max heard the siren’s wail and looked back. The stripped down vehicle was chasing him. The vehicle’s steering alignment was horrendously damaged, and the car veered badly to the side. It wobbled left and right, unable to drive straight. Max could easily outrun that one, but coming out of the desert in a cloud of dust were three more enemy cars.
Max hit the gas and felt the Lone Wolf respond. Still, the vehicles kept up with him. He could keep going, but he would eventually catch the convoy where he would probably be attacked as an enemy. His only choice was to stop his pursuers.
Max braked hard and spun the Lone Wolf 180 degrees. He accelerated again, straight at the oncoming horde. Surprised, two of the vehicles swerved onto the sand, but the third car, a truck of some sort, slammed on its brakes and stopped in the middle of the road. Max drove around the vehicle, looking for a shot with his wristbow. The truck’s driver and passenger both fired crossbow bolts at Max. One missed him completely, the other thudded into the Lone Wolf's rear armor. Max drove by and continued down the road, passing the first vehicle with the damaged alignment. The car's driver watched Max pass him, then he tried to turn and follow Max. As the car was slowly turning across the road, the other gang vehicles caught up. One tried to go around the roadblock but hit the other speeding gang car. Both drivers overcorrected and crashed into the car turning around. The first car was totaled and its driver emerged from the wreckage, yelling and cursing at the others. Down the road, Max turned around again and sped by the wrecks. The drivers were fighting, but paused to watch dumbfounded as Max passed them. The last gang vehicle, the patchwork truck, saw Max coming and stopped once more. Both passenger and driver readied their weapons; preparing to shoot at the Lone Wolf again. Max drove at the truck, swerving to the left just before hitting the vehicle. The truck's driver expected Max to veer the other way, and he was caught in the middle of the road. The man dove to the side, but not before his leg was crushed by the Lone Wolf. The man limped to his vehicle, only to have his partner drive off after Max.
Max slowed, allowing the truck to catch him. As the driver pulled up, crossbow ready to fire, Max tapped his brakes and swerved at the truck. The truck's driver turned out of the way, but the movement was unnecessary. Max's attempted ram was only a feint; to throw the driver off guard. Max had bought himself a half-second of time, all he needed to aim his wristbow at the exposed driver. Max fired, hitting his target square in the head. The truck lost speed and coasted to a stop. Max turned away and pushed the Lone Wolf harder, trying to catch up to the convoy.
Max stayed well behind the convoy; he didn't want to be mistaken for an enemy and then attacked. Max had seen plenty of roaming gangs, but they were dieing off for lack of fuel. Before today, he had only come across individual wanderers. The wasteland had changed from marauders killing for fuel to nomads scavenging for it. Max was surprised by the apparent organization of both the convoy and the gang. The convoy was obviously transporting fuel, but what could be in the freight hauler?
The Lone Wolf's transmission rattled loudly, bringing Max back to reality. He looked ahead to the vehicles he was following. The superhighway curved past several burnt down buildings. As Max passed the last one, his eyes returned to the convoy. Something was wrong...
The convoy was two vehicles short. Just as Max looked back to the gutted buildings, they were upon him. From out of nowhere the MPF Interceptor slammed into the Lone Wolf's side. Max looked to the driver; a large balding man wearing an MFP issue leather jacket. Simultaneously, the man saw Max. Surprise showed on the man's face and the two men stared at each other for a split second. The pickup had pulled up on the other side of Max; the flamethrower gunner ready to incinerate the Lone Wolf. The Interceptor driver held up his hand, loudly yelling "Wait!" Shocked, the pickup truck crew paused in their attack. The Interceptor driver, still watching the pickup, swung his arm forward and pointed to the rest of the convoy. The pickup truck driver nodded, shrugged, and drove off. The Interceptor driver turned back to Max and sized him up again. The man smiled wryly and called loudly over the passing wind, "Follow me."
The convoy led Max through the wasteland without incident. Occasionally, one of the vehicles would pull away form the group to get a closer look at Max and his car.
The tow truck was a dark red mangled monster. A faded advertisement on its side read 'Kendall's Truck and Tow'. It's heavily armored custom bumper showed the scars of countless road battles.
The black pickup was also worn and battered. Its large flamethrower sat on a swivel mount in the truck's bed. The flamethrower gunner seemed to be enjoying the ride.
The lead car, the black Camaro, was the last one to get a look at the convoy's unusual tail. But instead of just observing the newcomer and resuming formation, the Camaro dropped back next to Max. As the driver arrogantly looked Max over, Max summed him
up as well. He was a young man, possibly still a teenager. His long black hair was blown about by the wind. Max knew he had correctly assumed this guy to be a show off. The kid revved his engine up and down, obviously wanting to race. By the look of his vehicle, the kid could probably back up his bravado. The Camaro had a huge engine that hummed like new. From underneath the car came the unmistakable roar of wide diameter straight pipes. The car's passenger seat was removed, and in its place sat a large fuel tank. Max ignored the kid's challenges. Frustrated, the kid downshifted and loudly sped back to the front of the convoy.
After a time the superhighway crossed over another major road. The bridge was destroyed, and they had to pick their way through the wreckage. More roads were passed by the convoy, along with bombed out buildings and stripped vehicles. This area used to be a small town. Bomb craters dotted the landscape and the road alike. The remnants of several four and five story buildings were in the distance when the convoy turned off the superhighway, onto some sort of industrial road. The road led to a large oil refinery. It was probably the reason for the town being there. The refinery was surrounded by ditches, barricades, and rows of barbed wire. A makeshift wall ringed the refinery, made of sand bags, rusted car hulks, and random wreckage. Inside, several oil pumps were at work, pumping crude oil to the refining machinery. It was apparent that the refinery had sustained heavy damage and was later repaired.
As the vehicles neared, a green flare shot up from the front of the convoy. Inside the sandbagged wall, a semi truck with an armored flat bed trailer sputtered to life. It rumbled aside, exposing the entrance to the refinery. The convoy slowly drove in.
There were few people inside the wall; only about a dozen. They took in Max and the Lone Wolf, but quickly lost interest as they turned to follow the convoy vehicles. Each vehicle moved to its own apparent area. The tanker moved to a cluster of pipes, and the freight hauler to a warehouse. The other vehicles drove into a large maintenance bay. Unsure if he should follow, Max shut off the Lone Wolf and stood up; calmly waiting to see what happened next.
Max watched the men working by the tanker. They were apparently refueling it, not emptying it. So the tanker was brought here empty.
Still being ignored, Max took inventory of his weapons and equipment. The wristbow was loaded and strapped to his arm. He had his weathered shotgun; no shells of course. His knife still rested in his boot. From underneath the seat Max pulled out a crushed wooden box; its hinges broken. Opening it, Max takes out a huge black revolver. A broken sight mount is fixed on top of it, otherwise it is very clean. Max snaps open the empty cylinder and spins it. The cylinder spins freely before Max neatly flips it shut and returns the gun to its mangled case. Max is searching through a tattered backpack when he hears footsteps approaching. It is the driver who invited Max along.
"Well," the man states as he extends his hand, "it's good to meet you." Strapped across the man's chest is a handgun in a leather holster. His chest and forearms are thick with muscle. He is garbed entirely in black MFP leathers. Max indifferently shakes his hand. "What kind of operation is this?" Max asks. "Why, protecting the last of the road trains, of course." the man answers with a proud smile. "C'mon into my office."
Max follows him through a broken door and into a crumbling building. The man sits behind a steel workbench serving as a desk. A few papers and charts are stacked there. The man points to a chair for Max, and Max sits down; bemused by this semblance of order amongst the chaos. The man speaks as he flips through some papers. "I'm Chief Tucker, MFP breaker squad three-six west. You, I suppose, are one of our MIA officers."
Max stares at Tucker. Apparently the man was serious. "I reckon you could say that." answers Max. "Mmm", Tucker grunts. He finds the paper he was looking for and he pulls out a carpenter's pencil from a rusty drawer. "Name, badge number, and unit." Tucker asks. "Max" he states. Tucker scribbles it down and looks up as he realizes that is all Max will say. "Look, that was a million miles ago", Max says. "What are you running here?" Tucker looks hard at Max before firmly setting the pencil down. "Like I said, we guard the road trains."
Tucker sighs. He raises his arms, indicating everything around them. "When all of this happened, I tried to keep it together. But, it was hopeless, as I'm sure you know. My own men turned on me and I had to kill them. Others ran off to join the scags. But you, I don't think you're one of them."
"No", Max says.
"Yeah, well what it boils down to is that we have a mission. There are people on the coast. It's clean and green there. They've got a desalinization factory working, along with a power plant. With those, they can grow crops and livestock. But, the coasties need juice to power their generators. That's where we come in. We supply tankers of guzzoline in return for food, water, and equipment. Just like the Transcon, except we're the ones doing the running." Tucker's voice dropped soberly. "A couple of runs ago, we lost a tanker. The vermin are getting organized. It's like they're an army." "Uh-huh" was all Max said.
"At any rate," Tucker continued, "I want you to join us. The trash out there, they know who we are and what we do. My men are good, but they don't have the training you and I do. I need you, Max. You'll get three squares a day, as much juice as you can burn, and all the scags you can pop."
"I used to think we were peace officers, maintaining order. That's gone now. This is a war, and we are the Soldiers." Tucker sat back, waiting for Max's reply.
The man really believes his speech, Max thought. Tucker is a lot like Fife was, always trying to be the good guy. At least the people here were united. The obvious camaraderie appealed to Max. They really seemed to have it together. He had been alone for a long time, and time supposedly heals all wounds. Besides, maybe these 'Soldiers' could fix the Lone Wolf. At the least, he would get a full tank of gas. Max decided to stay for the time.
"Show me around." he said.
Tucker led Max back into the dusty yard.
"Is your vehicle road worthy?" Tucker asked.
"The trans is failing." answered Max.
"Well, we'll get that fixed. We've got a team of first-rate mechanics and equipment."
"Right" was all Max said. Tucker continued, "Then we'll see about getting you weapons and ammo. We still have some pistol and shotgun rounds, but when push comes to shove we chuck dynamite at 'em."
As they walked back to the Lone Wolf, Max began to be noticed by the others. "But first, let me introduce you to my men." Tucker loudly clapped his hands together and then raised one hand in the air. He twirled his finger around in a circle; evidently a signal meaning 'assemble.' In a moment all of the convoy's drivers were grouped together by Max and Tucker. They looked tired and worn, yet their camaraderie still showed. There was an air of good nature about them, and most seemed glad that Max was there. Quite a rare feeling.
"This here is Max", Tucker announced, "another Bronze like myself. From now on he'll be riding with us." Max could hear murmurs of approval from the group. Tucker led Max to the two semi drivers.
Mark was the driver of the tanker. He was a well built, average looking blonde man. Mark wore a heavy leather welder's jacket for armor.
Tom was the freight hauler's driver. He was a very tall and bulky man covered in thick work clothing.
The tow truck's driver was a surly, ugly man named Simmons. The other tow truck rider was Ramey. Ramey had a cold, deadly look. "That Ramey, he can throw a stick of dynamite through the eye of a needle", Tucker explained.
The pickup driver was Nauman. He was outfitted with all manner of sports equipment; shoulder pads, shin guards, ect. The flamethrower gunner was Mike. He wore a leather jacket with heavy metal plates attached. His armor was extremely heavy, but being exposed as he was, he needed the protection.
Lastly, there was the Camaro driver. "This here is Billy the Kid", said Tucker. Tall and bony, Billy's long black hair fell carelessly about his leather armor. "Great, another Bronze," he sneered. Max stared at him blankly. Rage boiled through the young man. He seemed to be like one of the TNT sticks he carried, ready to blow up with the slightest spark. "You AWOL, or just a pussy?" he spat at Max.
Before Max could answer, Tucker exploded into Billy's face.
"You little shit, you talk to an MFP officer you talk with respect! He was fighting on the Transcon before you knew how to change your oil, boy! You may not respect the force, but you had damn well better respect the man, IS THAT CLEAR?!?!" "Yeah, yeah," replied Billy, then he thought again and said "Yes, sir."
Still seething, Tucker turned to Tom.
"Come have a look at Max's wheels. The rest of you, back to post ops!"
The three of them walked towards the Lone Wolf.
"Damn kid is almost more trouble than he's worth," muttered Tucker. "Always pissed off about something. If he wasn't so good behind the wheel I would have booted him out long ago."
The men reached the Lone Wolf.
"Trans is slipping, right?" Tucker asked Max.
"Its been shaken apart from too much wear," answered Max. "The bands and linkage are still serviceable, but the rest needs to be rebuilt."
Tom looked at Tucker with raised eyebrows; impressed with Max's apparent knowledge. Tom gestured to the driver's seat and asked, "May I?"
"Sure" said Max flatly.
Tom sat down and pressed the ignition button labeled "front." The 351ci engine roared to life. Tom put his foot on the brake and slowly shifted through the Lone Wolf’s gears. He listened to the sounds and felt the vibrations as he worked the transmission lever. Satisfied, he said, "Yep, she's loose as a goose. Let's bring her to Jeffro."
Tom slowly drove the vehicle into the dilapidated maintenance bay, followed by Max and Tucker.
"Jeffro is our head mechanic," Tucker said. "The man's got magic."
Jeffro was hunched over a large engine; in the process of rebuilding it. He was about thirty years old and had a shaved head. His eyes grew wide at the sight of the Lone Wolf. Without looking up, he asked, "Where did you find this...thing? Is it another junk heap?" "No, and I'd like you to keep it that way." said Tucker. "That's why I brought it to you. Trans needs work." Jeffro appraised the vehicle with a professional eye. He sat in the Lone Wolf and did the same checks that Tom did. Then he shut off the engine and crawled underneath with a trouble light. Jeffro grabbed the transfer case with both hands and shook it, surmising how loose it was. He studied the vehicle's undercarriage before sliding out and standing. For the first time, he looked at the men. Seeing the newcomer, Max, he asked "Is this your work?"
"I found her," was Max's reply.
Jeffro nodded his head. "I can't believe it works. Well, it doesn't, really. The transfer case can't take the added stress. Soon it'll fall apart or rip itself off the frame. But, when I rebuild and reinforce it, she'll be fine." Pausing to think for a moment, he turned to Tucker and said, "Tomorrow morning, Chief."
"Very well," answered Tucker.
As they left the bay, Tucker asked Tom to bring the others to the war room in fifteen minutes. "We'll go over our basic strategy there, then you can hit the rack, Max"
Tucker led Max to a small building that once served as a carpenter's shop. It now served as an armory. There were crossbows hung on the walls, and many file cabinets and boxes stored there. Opening a large wooden chest, Tucker said, "Take as many arrows you want for your wristbow."
The chest contained hundreds of arrows and crossbow bolts. Max gathered a handful of the size he needed.
Tucker set several boxes down, each marked with a different ammo size. "We've got plenty of .38s, but not much else. Take whatever you like," Tucker said.
Max glanced at him before examining the ammo. Tucker seemed to be doing a whole lot for Max, and it was an unsettling feeling.
Max opened the box marked '.44'. Five rounds rolled inside. The all were brand new, and Max scooped them up. Then he opened the 12 gauge box. There were three shotgun shells there, two red and one green. Max inspected the green shell. "Solid slug, all right," said Tucker, looking over Max's shoulder. Max tucked the green shell and the .45 rounds into his jacket. Then he loaded his shotgun with the remaining two shells.
"C'mon, our war room is right this way," said Tucker with a gleam in his eye.
Tucker led Max to the War Room. It was a conference room, or at least it had been. It was stripped of all decoration and the heat had peeled the remaining paint. The huge office table was still there, now horribly scratched and chipped. On the table were dozens of toy cars, including two semi trucks. They had to represent convoy and enemy vehicles. Around the table were wooden benches and steel chairs.
As Tucker walked in, the men stood respectfully. "All right, gents, I'll make this short and sweet. Max needs to know this in case we have an emergency and we have to leave. Tom, you want to get started?" After Tucker sat in his battered leather chair, the men sat down and Tom explained their tactics to Max.
Billy drove point in his fast, maneuverable Camaro. If he saw trouble, he would fire a red flare up and in the general direction of the enemy. The rest of the convoy would take its defensive formation. The semis drove side by side. They took up so much room it was impossible for the enemy to get on the road close to the big rigs. The tow truck and the pickup, with their fearsome firepower, would guard the semi's vulnerable rear flanks. In the Interceptor, Tucker drove in front of the semis. His job was to act as sweeper and ram the enemy cars into the onrushing semis. Their speed was kept between 60 and 70 MPH. Any faster and the tow truck and the pickup could not keep up, as they frequently drove on the sandy shoulder of the road. The only problem was if they were outnumbered. The gangs brought down the first tanker through sheer numbers. Max was to help Tucker in the sweeping, and he was assigned the left front position.
As Tom's lecture wound down, Tucker stood and asked "Anything else?" No one had any other points, and Tucker dismissed the men. They went to the mess hall for soup and bread.
Tucker ate with Max. He told Max about no lights at night and that they still had guards posted at all hours. "We have traders and hunters who come to trade information for fuel. Some of them have heard of other 'Soldiers' defending refineries out in the wasteland, as well as so-called ‘safe havens’ where you can barter for stuff.”
"Why don't they squeal to the gangs about your location?" asked Max.
"It's in their best interests not to. If the scags took over, do you think they would share a drop with anyone? Not bloody likely. Besides, the traders have an order of their own. I wouldn't call them honorable, but they are usually trustworthy."
Tucker showed Max a small room where he could sleep. Max sat on the old cot, thinking about the day’s events. Just as Max leaned back to go to sleep, he saw Tucker talking with a man dressed in dusty road leathers. They walked away before Max could hear anything. These soldiers really had it together, Max thought. It was hard to believe that there was civilization in the wasteland. Max was unsure as to whether or not he would enjoy working beside these men. He didn't know them well enough to trust them, and he might have to trust them with his life soon. Tucker, especially, was perplexing. The man was really into his job, almost a fanatic. Max imagined backstabbing plots as he fell asleep.
In the morning, Max heard someone enter his room. Razor sharp reflexes took over, and Max found himself aiming his shotgun at Jeffro. "Whoa! Easy, killer." Jeffro said. Max put the gun down and sat up. "Tuc wants everyone up. Some 'new development', he says."
Tucker met the others in the yard. Max thought he looked anxious, but only for a fleeting moment. "Big news, gents. To the War Room."
Tucker's soldiers were standing around the large wooden table. Tucker strode to his leather chair. "Have a seat, men." he said. The soldiers sat down, Max on a bench next to Ramey.
Tucker picked up a pool cue to use as a pointer. He slowly walked around the table as he spoke. "The scags out there were almost finished, and they knew it. Almost out of gas, they launched an all-out suicidal attack on an outbound convoy." Tucker hit a toy fuel tanker, knocking it over. "That's when they got our tanker, along with three vehicles and seven men. Since then, they've been playing it safe. The wasteland traders say they're gathering their strength. But, even if they could find our refinery, they could never take it." Tucker tapped the wall. "Too strong. Even if they could, they know we would blow it up before we let them get it. So, my world renowned intuition tells me they want the other tanker. And from there, they just might want to replace us. Except they would want slaves and women in addition to food and water." Tucker paused for a moment, letting his words sink in. "The Bloodhound came in last night."
Ramey whispered to Max, "Bloodhound's a trader. Moves like a ghost."
Tucker continued, "He says they are drafting all the other scags they can find. Giving 'em gas. Arming 'em. Our enemy is rapidly becoming an army. Bloodhound's been in their base. He's given me a map of their camp. And... we're going to take out that tanker. Blow that fucker up."
The soldiers quietly spoke in amazement over Tucker's plan. "Cool", exclaimed Billy. "So," Tucker continued, "Phase one: distraction. Close to where they got the tanker, Billy and Ramey in the Camaro will start raising hell. Just blow shit up, kick up dust, don't stop moving. Now Billy," Tucker leaned in close to the young man, "this has to be a sustained assault. You've got to keep them occupied."
"I got it, Chief."
"After a minute or so, Phase two: double the distraction. The pick-em-up and the wrecker join in. Mark, you're with Simmons." Mark nodded confidently. Tucker used the cue to push all the cars together, except the tanker. "While all this havoc is being wrought, Phase three: demolition. Max and I sneak in and blow the tanker. Boom. Then we beat a hasty retreat north, link up, and head home."
Everyone was startled by a raspy voice coming from a dark corner. There was a man there, unnoticed until now. "For that tip, I want new tires for my bike, Tucker." The man was tall and sinewy with muscle, dressed in dusty brown leathers. His skin was tanned and rough, as if he was made of leather.
"Max," Tucker motioned to the man, "The Bloodhound." Max took in the very serious looking trader.
"Well, how bout it?" the man said.
"If this pans out, you got it." answered Tucker.
"You cheap prick. I'm staying here until you get back."
"Fine." said Tucker. "That's all I got, gents. Any questions?"
No one spoke.
“Alright. Today's R and R. Tomorrow, full vehicle and weapons inspection. That night, we go. Dismissed."
After a surprisingly good breakfast of eggs and bacon, Max went to Jeffro's garage to check on the Lone Wolf.
Jeffro was wiping his hands with a semi-clean rag. "All set" he said as he saw Max enter the bay. "I reinforced the housing and the case, checked the seals, and flushed out that crap you had in there. She's fine now. I wanted to get a look at the engines, too."
Max was impressed by the man's know-how. It was apparent the Jeffro had worked throughout the night. Like the rest of the soldiers, seemed totally dedicated to Tucker. To voluntarily live in these conditions and to do the job they did, their commander had to show some damn good leadership skills. Max idly remembered hearing that the fanatics were the ones who inspired the most loyalty.
"Hold off on that", he said to Jeffro. "Which garage can I keep her in?"
Jeffro seemed a little disappointed at not being allowed to examine the rest of the Lone Wolf. "Number four's open" he said and turned back to the engine he was working on before. 'Christ, doesn't this guy sleep?' Max thought to himself. He sat in the Lone Wolf and started the front engine. Then he shifted into drive, feeling the vibrations of the vehicle. It was smooth, much better than before. Outside the bay, Max started the rear engine and engaged the four wheel drive. Again, it shifted very smoothly. Jeffro did good work.
Max drove to the garage where the faded, chipped paint read "4". He stopped in the middle of the oil-stained cement and shut down the Lone Wolf. Next to the door were a set of rusted light switches. Max flipped them on, and the room lit up quite brightly. Max began to look over the Lone Wolf.
He smelled Tucker coming long before he saw him. Tucker stood in the doorway smoking some kind of cigar.
"Jeffro hook you up, Max?" he asked with the cigar clenched between his teeth.
"Yeah, he did."
"Good. We're playin' Spades in the mess hall. You in?"
"Max, the inspection ain't till tomorrow. Live a little."
"I'll pass. I...wanna check some things here."
"Very well. If you change your mind, you know where we are." Tucker walked away.
Max turned back to the Lone Wolf. A raspy voice he heard once before startled him; a rare thing for Max.
"He's mad, you know.", said The Bloodhound.
Max looked up at the grizzled trader. "This whole world's mad." he answered.
Max stared into The Bloodhound's hardened eyes. The Bloodhound spoke again.
"Why are you here?"
"What's it to you?" Max said flatly.
"It's my business to know who will stand and who will fall. Watch yourself, Dark One."
The Bloodhound walked away as silently as he came.
'Dark One', he had said. How long had it been since Max had heard that name? How did The Bloodhound know Max's old call sign? Max had a dim recollection of a relentless private investigator who looked like The Bloodhound. Could it be the same man? Max's thinking stopped abruptly as he considered the irrelevance of the topic. What did it matter who the guy was or what he knew of Max? If he was going to be one of these soldiers he had to prepare his vehicle and his weapons. Max set to work checking every component of the Lone Wolf.
Max spent the day fine tuning his vehicle and cleaning his weapons. He made full use of the tools in the refinery. As the hours went by he rebuilt both of the Lone Wolf's carburetors. Max worked quickly and efficiently; detached from his surroundings and concentrating only on what he was doing. The time seemed to fly by, and before long it was nightfall.
Max relished his dinner of fruit, bread, and fresh meat. It seemed to be forever since he had prepared meat, and not some hunted down kangaroo or dingo.
As Max walked back to his room he passed the huge garage where the other vehicles awaited their drivers. The yellow Interceptor gleamed in the faint remaining light. Max walked around the high-powered car, examining it from all angles. He mentally winced at the car’s many scrapes and dents. The two-way radio and the police lights were still there, even though they were useless now. Tucker must feel the need to hold on to as much of the past as possible. The past was one thing that Max would like to forget. He headed for his room, where he dreamed haunted dreams of black clad men and white clothed women surrounded by the roar of angry engines.
At noon the next day all of the convoy's vehicles except the semis were lined up in front of the maintenance bay. Each driver and passenger stood in front of their vehicle. Max waited by the Lone Wolf.
He looked around, searching for the mysterious Bloodhound. The wasteland trader was nowhere to be seen.
Tucker came out of his makeshift office carrying a battered clipboard. He strode across the dusty earth to the first car, Billy's Camaro. Billy and Ramey waited there. Tucker first looked Billy over and asked him a few questions. Then Tucker examined Billy's crossbow, dynamite, and other personal weapons. He did the same for Ramey. Each of Ramey's sticks of dynamite had nails and other small pieces of metal taped all around it. The shrapnel effect of the blast would be devastating. Satisfied with their equipment, Tucker began inspecting all parts of the Camaro. Marking them off on his clipboard, he checked all of the car's fluids, the battery terminals for corrosion, and even the tire pressure on each wheel. Then Tucker had Billy start the vehicle and let it idle to see if the carburetor needed adjustment. Tucker certainly ran a tight ship.
The same was done for every vehicle. Tucker left nothing to chance when it came to their equipment. After all, any one of their lives might depend on the performance of the vehicles.
When Max's turn came around, Tucker was extremely diligent in his inspection. Apparently Max's preferential treatment only went so far. But, no matter how close he looked, Tucker could find nothing wrong with the Lone Wolf.
"Your vehicle's squared away, Max" he complimented. "How about your weapons?"
Max drew his shotgun and broke it open. He unloaded it before handing it to Tucker.
Tucker ran his finger in each of the barrels.
His finger came out clean. "Quite a kick with this weapon" he commented.
"Yes, sir" Max answered, somewhat amused. He hadn't considered anyone to be his superior for a long time.
Next Max took out the .44 caliber revolver.
Again he unloaded his weapon and opened the cylinder for Tucker to inspect.
The revolver, along with Max's wristbow and boot knife, were all clean and ready for use. Tucker gave Max back his weapons and motioned everyone close. As Tucker spoke to them, Max reloaded his weapons. "Well done everyone. We're going to go over the plan again. We set out one hour before sunset."
The group reviewed their mission, with the Soldiers asking relevant questions and working out the details. They discussed what to do if someone got separated or lost and exactly where the rendezvous point was. They were working in two man teams, and Tucker stressed looking out for each other's partner.
As night grew closer, all the vehicles were topped off with high-octane gasoline. Max and Tucker were both going in the Interceptor. They smeared mud all over the yellow car for better night camouflage. Tucker even disconnected the car's interior lights and brake lights. All the remaining reflective glass was taped over.
Once he got right up close to the car, Max could read the names on its side. The scraped, faded paint read 'S. Tucker - The Bear'.
As Max was finishing up the Interceptor's camouflage, Tucker came over with four large bundles of dynamite. Handing two to Max, he said "We'll place 'em at either end and run like hell. There's gonna be guards; take 'em out quiet. No gunfire unless we have to." Max nodded in agreement. As Tucker walked away, Max saw an evil-looking short word strapped to his back.
The excitement level in the camp was almost palpable. The soldiers were primed and ready to go.
As the sun sank lower in the sky, final preparations were made. Armor was checked and crossbows readied.
Tucker hunched down behind the Interceptor and rubbed his fingers around the inside of the exhaust pipes. He used the soot to carefully blacken his face. Max actually broke in to laughter at the comical scene.
"Good idea, Tuc", he said and did the same.
In spite of his uncertainty about the whole idea of working here, Max was enjoying himself. After two days of being cooped up in the refinery, he was looking forward to some action. Max firmly tucked the .44 into his belt and checked his wristbow again. The comfortable feeling of anticipation coursed through Max's body. 'Just like the old days, waiting for a felon to come my way' he thought.
Tucker strode out in front of the soldiers milling about. He pumped his fist twice, like a semi driver blowing his air horn.
It was the signal to mount up. All the men got in their vehicles and started their engines. The air was filled with the awesome sound of rumbling V-8s.
Billy and Ramey in the Camaro were the first ones to go.
As the semi truck with the flatbed lumbered aside, Billy drove to the exit. Ramey was perched on the passenger side fuel drum, with his legs securely entwined in the seatbelt. He waved and drew his goggles over his eyes.
"Get some, Ramey!"
"You're hell on wheels, Billy!"
"Show 'em how it's done!"
The car slowly drove by Tucker. Tucker stood up straight and in one quick motion he popped off a perfect MFP salute. Upper arm parallel to the ground, forearm and fingers straight, index finger just touching his eyebrow.
Billy and Ramey solemnly returned the salute. Then the Camaro roared out into the wasteland.
As they drove by, one by one, Tucker saluted his soldiers. He was their commander, and they should be saluting him, but these men weren't ordered to risk their lives. They volunteered and did their job willingly. Such loyalty didn't come by force, it came through respect. Tucker showed his gratitude by silently saluting them, saying in one simple motion what could never be put into words.
As the wrecker and pickup drove away, Tucker turned to Max.
Max nodded. "Let's go."
They got into the Interceptor, Max in the passenger side. Nostalgia swept over him. His days as a normal MFP officer were faded memories. Being in the familiar car brought those memories back. Max had many adventures in a vehicle like this one.
Tucker turned the key to start the car. The engine growled, seemingly awaiting action like its passengers were. The blackened Interceptor sped out into the desert. The flatbed semi closed the gate behind them, but Max didn't look back to see it.
The blackened Interceptor drove across the darkening desert. While the other vehicles took a direct route to the gang's camp, Max and Tucker followed a wide arc, so they would end up a short distance away from the tanker. Tucker used his odometer to gauge the distance they traveled, and Max gave directions with a night luminous compass. Their thoughts were on the upcoming attack, and the two rarely spoke. They drove in almost total darkness, with only luck keeping them from crashing headlong into rocks or pits.
After two or so hours of bouncing across the uneven sand, they reached their starting point. By using the compass, they oriented the direction of the camp in relation to the stars. Right behind the car was a bright constellation they could use to find their way back.
Tucker and Max crouched down in the sand beside the Interceptor. Far off, they could hear the faint sounds of the camp. Their eyes, already accustomed to the darkness, could easily see the dim light of the gang's torches.
"Game time, Max" Tucker whispered after checking his watch. The two men crept across the desert like silent wraiths. They snuck in as close as they dared.
Max could see the gleam of the white tanker. He could also see the marauders guarding it. There were five guards, two with torches. Before Max and Tucker could come up with any specific plan to dispose of the guards, the quiet was broken by the roar of an approaching car. It was Billy's onrushing Camaro, with its four Halogen headlamps stabbing beams of light into the darkness.
The car sighted the encampment and headed right for it. Max silently wished them well. The gang haphazardly scrambled to their cars. Before even one engine was started, Ramey had tossed sticks of burning TNT into two gang vehicles. Ramey had cut the fuses very short, so there were only seconds before they blew.
A desert marauder reached into his pelt-covered dune buggy to remove the smoking dynamite. He never made it. Before his grasping fingers could touch it, the TNT exploded. The dune buggy blew apart, sending jagged pieces of shrapnel flying across the wasteland. Another marauder was decapitated by the dune buggy's steering wheel.
Moments later, the second vehicle exploded with a deafening blast. The TNT was right next to the car's gas tank, and the fuel ignited, showering the desert with flames.
The Camaro drove in maddening circles, twisting from side to side as Billy dodged and rammed into the gang's vehicles. Hanging onto the roof, Ramey was tossing his dynamite as quickly as he could light it. A burning road flare was strapped to his left glove, making it easier for him to ignite the TNT. The Camaro ran down any marauder unlucky enough to be caught in the open. Arrows thudded into its armor as it rampaged through the camp. Ramey managed to destroy two more vehicles before any organized resistance was raised. Most marauders were unable to get to their vehicles, but those that were began hounding the lone Camaro. A large armored delivery van with a partially open bed sideswiped the Camaro, sending it headlong into a huge boulder. Billy swerved back at the van and the sound of metal crashing on metal rang out as the two vehicles slammed together. The van's passenger leaned over the driver and fired his crossbow. Just in time, Ramey threw up his left arm to shield his face. The arrow impaled itself halfway through his arm. Ramey grimaced from the stabbing pain. Billy jerked the wheel, and with surprising power the Camaro rammed the van off to the left. As it swerved, a leather-masked marauder armed with a hatchet leaped from the van onto the rear of the Camaro. Gripping the roof with his left hand, he raised the hatchet in his right to strike Ramey. Ramey leaned back and caught the marauder's blow with his uninjured hand. Lightning quick, Ramey then spun the marauder off-balance and stabbed him in the neck with the arrow still imbedded in his forearm.
Blood spurted from the marauder's neck as he tried to scream through his shredded throat. Billy braked hard and the marauder tumbled over the front of the car and to the ground. With a sickening thump-thump, the Camaro ran him over.
Billy floored the gas and the Camaro roared alongside the van again. The van's passenger was hurriedly reloading his crossbow.
Ramey was pissed. Focusing through the pain, he lit another stick of dynamite and casually flipped it into the rear of the van. The marauder dropped his crossbow and scrambled for the dynamite. When the crossbow hit the floorboards, it fired; right into the driver's leg. The driver howled in pain. The passenger was hampered by his armor and the equipment cluttering the van. Before he even got close, the TNT detonated, blasting the van apart.
The searing hot shock wave washed over the Camaro. Ramey turned to Billy and smiled with satisfaction. Billy laughed at him and turned back towards the camp.
Aligned abreast of one another were five hulking marauder vehicles, driving straight at the Camaro. The vehicle's bright headlights blinded Billy and Ramey. Billy turned the Camaro perpendicular to the onrushing vehicles and tried to get around them. The vehicles spread out to block the Camaro. Billy swerved and dodged, but he was slowly being boxed in. ‘Well’, he thought, ‘at least we're drawing them away from the camp.’
When an enemy would come close enough, Ramey would throw dynamite at it. One stick fell off the hood of a black muscle car and blew up, shredding the car's tires.
While trying to outrun another muscle car and escape, the Camaro was broad sided by a 4x4 truck. The Camaro spun across the sand, sending up sheets of dust and dirt. Ramey hung on grimly until the Camaro lurched to a stop. The 4x4 was upon them again, and Billy tried to get the Camaro moving. The car's rear tires were unable to grip and they spun in the loose sand. The 4x4 loomed closer. Finally the Camaro's tires caught and it shot out of the way. The 4x4 truck turned to ram the Camaro, and hit its rear end. With a shriek of metal, the Camaro's rear bumper was ripped off by the 4x4. "Let's get back into it!" Ramey shouted. He was in pain and wanting payback. "OK!" answered Billy. He drove at the remaining vehicles in the camp.
One vehicle, a dark blue pickup, sat directly in front of them. Billy saw it as an easy target and headed right for the pickup. An instant before it was too late, Billy saw the danger. In the glare of his headlights he saw mounted on the pickup an enormous spear gun. Billy slammed on the brakes just before the gun fired. With the squeal of its compressed high-tension springs releasing, the huge metal spear flew at the Camaro. Billy's abrupt braking saved his vehicle. When the Camaro nose-dived, the car dipped forward just enough so the spear flew over the engine. The spear smashed through both front and back windshields and grazed Ramey's legs. Totally shocked at what just happened, Billy yelled "HOLY SHIT!" His face was cut from the bits of windshield glass that hit him. He floored the gas to get away.
The Camaro was now vastly outnumbered and rapidly being cornered. Ramey threw another stick of dynamite and saw something in the distance. The convoy's tow truck and pickup were heading into the fray. "There they are!" he yelled. "Here comes the cavalry!"
The wrecker smashed vehicles to pieces and the pickup's flamethrower cut into the marauders. Billy pumped his fist at the two trucks and Ramey gave them a happy thumbs up. The three vehicles linked up and attacked the gang as a team.
Max and Tucker were crouched low in the sand. When they saw the light of the flamethrower, Tucker nudged Max and got up. Max followed him to the distracted guards.
Tucker motioned Max to the two guards on the left. Max decided to use surprise to kill one guard up close with his knife and the other from a distance with his wristbow. Max quietly crept closer. The sounds of the nearby battle were loud enough to mask most noise, but Max was taking no chances. Tucker had three guards to kill, so Max waited for him to make his move.
Tucker had his crossbow in one hand and his short sword in the other. Tucker snuck behind one guard at aimed the crossbow at the next. Tucker fired, the arrow striking home in the marauder's back. The first guard turned, exclaiming "Wha...?" Tucker rammed the sword into him to the hilt. The blade protruded from the man wet with blood before he crumpled dead to the sand. Tucker had stabbed him through the lung so he couldn't call out.
When Max saw Tucker shoot, he grabbed his guard from behind. Max then covered the guard's mouth and slit his throat. The guard's torch sputtered to the ground. Somehow, the other guard saw the movement. He shouted "Hey!" and raised an old bolt action rifle. Max held the dead guard in front of him like a shield. The marauder fired, and the crack of his shot seemed incredibly loud. The bullet thumped into Max's victim. The force of the impact staggered Max back a step. As he dropped the dead man, Max saw the guard working the bolt on his rifle. Max raised his wristbow as the guard aimed again. Max was quicker. The guard dropped his rifle as he fell to the ground. The last guard heard the gunshot and saw what was happening. He dropped his torch and ran.
"Now we did it, Max", Tucker said. He drew his pistol, aimed, and expertly shot the fleeing guard in the head. "Let's blow that thing and go home!"
Tucker sprinted across the desert to the tanker, with Max close behind. As he ran Max took the two bundles of TNT out of his pack. The rest of the gang must have heard the gunshots and were surely on the way.
Max reached the tanker and wedged the TNT between its tires and steel belly. When they were set Max took out a dusty road flare to light the fuses. He looked to Tucker at the other end of the tanker. Tucker had finished setting his dynamite and gave Max a thumbs-up. Simultaneously, Max and Tucker lit their flares and held them to the fuses. The wicks sparked and began burning.
"Let's go!", Tucker ordered. Max turned to leave but hesitated as he sensed, more than saw, some movement. He twisted his head out of the way and an arrow whizzed by, bouncing off the tanker. Max looked up to see dozens of marauders coming at them. With one last glance Max saw the fuses rapidly burning. He dropped the flare and ran. Max and Tucker outran the marauders, who seemed not to be pursuing them. Realizing this, they stopped and looked back to the tanker.
Four marauders ran away from the others, holding the still-burning TNT. They flung it away, just in time. The explosions harmlessly rocked the desert air.
"Bastards!", Tucker roared. "Fucking scag bastards!" Tucker's entire body was tensed, his eyes screaming with rage. His attention was totally focused on the gang by the tanker. With an unmistakable purpose, Tucker strode back to the tanker. As he walked, he methodically unsheathed his sword with his right hand and and drew his pistol with his left.
"Tuc!", Max called. "Tuc, c'mon!"
Tucker was beyond reason. He mindlessly continued towards the gang.
The marauders swarmed over Tucker. With a fencing lunge, Tucker stabbed the first in the stomach. Tucker wrenched the sword free and kept advancing. Two leather clad marauders tried next. Tucker's overhand swipe drove one back, then Tucker redirected the blow, slashing the other marauder's neck. The first marauder darted in and grabbed Tucker's sword arm. Tucker kneed him in the crotch and smashed the pistol over his face. The marauder fell back; another sword thrust and he was dead.
The rest of the gang rushed in. Tucker cut one more down and pushed another into an axe chop meant for him. Tucker's blood drenched sword struck again, disemboweling a fur-covered warrior.
Tucker fought with clenched teeth and raw fury. His single-minded goal of reaching the tanker stunned Max in awe. Then Max threw off his shock and ran to help.
Tucker was surrounded and outnumbered. Just as he was being overwhelmed, Tucker fired his pistol point blank into the gang. He shot four times, and four more marauders fell dead.
The remaining marauders were dragging Tucker down by sheer numbers. As Tucker grappled with one marauder he was shot from behind by a crossbow arrow. The arrow hit high on Tucker's right shoulder, and the sword fell from his hand.
Through the stinging sweat Tucker spotted Max's burning road flare next to the tanker. With a phenomenal show of strength Tucker shoved off his attackers. He aimed his revolver and fired his last round. The bullet pierced the tanker and it began leaking pure gasoline. The gas splashed onto the flare and ignited. The flames ran up the side of the tanker and to the bullet hole.
The 10,000-gallon tanker blew apart.
The incredible blast knocked Max from his feet. He looked up to see Tucker being repeatedly clubbed while he lay sprawled on the ground.
Tucker was unconscious or dead, surrounded by dozens of marauders. Max drew both guns and started for Tucker. Then the gang saw him. Motorcycles roared towards Max and arrows rained down around him. Hopeless. There was no way to rescue Tucker. With the taste of ashes in his mouth, Max turned and ran.
The motorcycles quickly caught up to him. One with two riders headed right at him. Max stopped and turned, aiming the .44 caliber revolver. He pulled the trigger and the recoil sent shocks up his arm. The huge bullet went through both riders and they fell to the dark sand. The motorcycle kept going on its momentum and it almost ran into Max. He stepped away from the bike and it crashed to the ground. Max tucked his weapons away and dragged the motorcycle upright. He jumped on it and drove back to the Interceptor.
Two bikers followed Max. One aimed a crossbow at him; the bumpy terrain making his arm unsteady. The marauder fired, and the arrow impaled itself into the bike's gas tank.
As he quickly neared the Interceptor Max jumped backwards off the motorcycle, sending it crashing into the sand again. Max never lost his balance from his leap and he ran to the car.
He threw the door open and turned the ignition key before he was even sitting down. Max got the Interceptor going, spraying sand from the tires. One of the bikers pulled alongside, trying to hit Max with his spiked club. Max turned the wheel hard to the right and rammed the biker, sending him sprawling and slamming the door shut. He floored the gas and sped away.
If Max and Tucker were pursued they were to signal the others with a red emergency flare. Then they all would make their separate ways back to the refinery. The three other vehicles must have seen the explosion of the tanker. They should have broken off their attack and headed for the rendezvous point, where they would wait for Max and Tucker. In his mirrors, Max saw many headlights coming for him. He grabbed the flare gun from the glove box and fired it into the night sky. Then Max turned his attention to losing his pursuers and making it back alive.
Max raced across the desert in Tucker’s Interceptor. He operated the car with the practiced ease of a veteran driver. In spite of once again being behind the wheel of an Interceptor, a dark feeling of dread settled on Max. He has lost Tucker, who was the closest thing to a friend he had. He would soon have to tell the others about Tucker’s defeat. The soldiers would probably fall apart without their leader. It was unknown to Max how this would affect his status as a soldier. He might even be kicked out of the refinery.
Max’s long held feelings about not dealing with people resurfaced, making him angry at the whole situation. He briefly considered just driving off in the Interceptor. It was a fast, powerful vehicle in excellent condition. An instant later, Max’s basic sense of good spoke up. He would not just leave. He wasn’t that far gone yet.
Max checked his mirrors again. There was no sign of any pursuit.
The first rays of the sun beamed over the distant horizon. The added light gave Max a better look at the car. Taped to the steering wheel was a picture of a blond woman and two young boys. Tucker’s family. Were they killed and that led to Tucker’s fanatical devotion to duty? The irony of the photograph on the wheel did not escape Max. For as much as he and Tucker were different, they were also the same.
At the refinery, the soldiers celebrated and The Bloodhound watched, smiling. Billy was excitedly re-telling his part in the battle. Uncharacteristically, the usually stoic Ramey joined in; still with the arrow imbedded in his arm. Ramey told his story with wide, rapid arm movements. As his wounded arm gestured about, splatters of blood flew off and onto his comrades. They laughed harder, and Ramey; encouraged by their laughter but unknowing of his red blood splashing about, gestured even wilder. Before long the soldiers were laughing so hard they could barely stand. Then the Interceptor drove into the compound.
A cheer of victory rose up as they saw the dirty, yellow Interceptor. The soldiers ran to the car.
Only Max got out. After a moment of abrupt silence, Billy asked, “Where’s the Chief?”
Guiltily, Max answered, “They got him, he didn’t make it.”
The soldiers were thunderstruck. After several more moments of tense quiet, Billy angrily accused “And you just left him?!?”
“I had to” Max said quietly. “There…there was nothing I could do.”
“You sure as hell could grab his wheels and make it back here!” shouted Billy. The rest of the soldiers only watched in stunned silence.
Billy advanced on Max, screaming “Did ya leave him? Pussy from the start, I said!”
Billy threw a haymaker punch at Max. Max easily dodged it and shoved Billy against the Interceptor. Billy slammed into the car and fell to the ground. He lashed out again, throwing a bony fist at Max’s right knee. This time he connected. Max’s leg went numb, and Billy tackled him to the ground. The two rolled in the dust, Billy trying to hit Max, and Max trying to restrain Billy.
Finally the two were pulled apart and held by the others. “Fucker!” Billy yelled and wrenched his way free. Max tried to dodge, but Billy landed a punch across Max’s nose. Then Billy was tackled and held by three of the soldiers.
Max felt the blood flow from his nose as Billy ranted. “The fucker! We don’t leave our people behind! First chance he gets he goes and ditches the Chief! That fucker, I’ll kill that fucker!” The soldiers struggled to hold Billy.
“Dammit, you little pissant!” shouted The Bloodhound. “If he deserted Tucker why would he come back? The fact that he’s here at all shows his loyalty. Right, Max?”
Max glared at The Bloodhound. He didn’t need anyone to defend him.
The soldiers broke into arguments over how to continue, or even if to continue at all. Without Tucker to lead them they had no direction. Max watched them fight amongst themselves. Some of the soldiers wanted to keep going as they had been. Most of their support people wanted to leave the refinery. They thought the marauders had beaten the location of the refinery out of Tucker and were on their way to attack. The unhappy image of Tucker being tortured flashed through Max’s mind.
Max limped to the Lone Wolf and leaned against it. With both of his legs impaired and he nose bleeding, Max felt humiliated. He watched as panic spread through the refinery.
Billy began shoving an old mechanic who wanted to leave. Max angrily shook his head and silently mouthed ‘Fuck it.’ Ignoring the pain in his legs, he strode to a warehouse and went inside. He came out carrying a crate of dynamite and several road flares. Max tore off the crate’s lid and wedged it behind the seat of the Lone Wolf.
“Rescue, Max?” The Bloodhound casually asked from behind him.
“Stay out of my way.”
“Stow it, Dark One. I’m coming with you.”
Max shouldered his way past and threw himself into the seat of the Lone Wolf. Curiosity got the best of him. “Why?” he asked curtly.
“You could say I respect Tucker and what he does, or you could say that I want what he owes me. Choose the answer you like best.”
“Have fun. Get your own ride” Max said and pushed The Bloodhound back. The Lone Wolf roared out of the refinery.
The Bloodhound smiled at the rapidly fading Lone Wolf. “Alright, I will.”
Pain. All Tucker could feel was pain. He saw nothing but darkness, but he wasn’t sure if that was because he was blind or because his eyes were swollen shut. He tried to open his eyes; a struggle as much mental as it was physical. He had never hurt this much before. ‘Well’, he thought to himself gamely, ‘pain is weakness leaving the body.’
Through the haze of pain, Tucker’s eyes slowly opened. ‘Damn, just as I remembered.’
Tucker’s chest and arms were chained to the shattered remains of the tanker. He looked down to his feet, where the desert sand was stained red with his blood. For the moment, he was ignored by the marauders.
The marauders. Tucker remembered what the marauders had done to him. After he was beaten to the ground he had blacked out. Harsh, painful reality came back when one of the gang had ripped the arrow out of his back. It felt like a part of the arrow was still in there. ‘A souvenir of my good time here’, Tucker thought grimly.
He remembered being thrown against the wreckage and his leather jacket being torn off. More punches and blows. ‘What a mess. At least Max isn’t here to see this.’ Or was he? Tucker slowly turned his head to the left and to the right. No Max. ‘It looks like he made it’, Tucker thought happily. ‘I wonder what’s going on at the refinery?’ That thought-out question triggered another memory for Tucker. Someone else had been asking him about the refinery. Sudden realization shot through Tucker like lightning. Had he talked? ‘No’, Tucker thought smugly. ‘If I did, they all wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be alive.’
Tucker watched the enemy gang try to salvage blown up vehicles and tend to their wounded. From what he could see, dozens of vehicles had been destroyed, with at least as many dead. His pride in his men soared. ‘Yep, Tucker’s boys don’t screw around.’
After enjoying that small triumph for a moment, Tucker knew what he had to do. It was only a matter of time before they returned to interrogate him. Tucker would be damned before he gave them the satisfaction of waking him up. “Hey, scags! Get on with it, I’m getting bored over here!”
A few of the marauders looked at him in surprise. They soon returned to whatever they were doing.
The harsh late morning sun pounded on Tucker and assaulted his wounded eyes. He found it funny that the bright sunlight bothered him more than the pain of his injuries.
“Don’t tell me that this is the best you can do! Tell ya what, I once knew a scag like yourselves, but he smelled better. He would cut off people’s toes and wear ‘em like a necklace. They would start to stink after a few days, of course, but I don’t think that would bother you guys, huh? What do ya say?”
The marauders ignored him.
Tucker heard the rumble of a large diesel engine approaching. He squinted to see where the sound was coming from. An enormous vehicle grew closer. In a past life this juggernaut has been a semi tractor. Now it was armored under layer after layer of jagged steel. Its chrome exhaust pipes slanted back like a grasshopper’s legs. Its menacing front was shaped into a giant wedge. In its cab sat a man as enormous as his vehicle. Pasty white rolls of fat bulged from underneath the metal. A massive steel helm crowned this monster of the desert. His armor seemed to meld into the vehicle. Tucker couldn’t tell where the vehicle ended and the man began.
The hulking vehicle lurched to a stop mere inches from Tucker. Its engine shut off, and the marauders quietly, almost reverently, crept forward. A half-circle of desert warriors faced Tucker. Sizing up the man-machine, Tucker commented, “Your fat ass looks like about four hundred pounds of chewed bubble gum.”
A low, deep, fat sounding voice rumbled from within the metal mask.
“I am the Motor Master. I own the roads you trespass on. The fuel you transport belongs to me. The desert is mine.”
Tucker stared at him in amusement.
“Well I’ll be a scag’s skivvies! I’m sorry, I had no idea you owned all of God’s creation. Why don’t you roll your fat ass down here so we can talk about it?”
“I am one with my machine”, came the reply.
“Oh, yeah? Then they feed you through an oil funnel?”
“Dog, you will tell me of the refinery.”
“The funnel must go up your ass, then.”
The marauders nervously looked at each other. Their fear of the Motor Master was obvious.
The Motor Master sat still for a moment. Slowly, he began unlocking the armor confining him to his vehicle. As the metal clanked away, Tucker taunted, “C’mon, tubby, I’m bored enough as it is.”
When the last manacle fell away, the Motor Master stood. Pus-filled sores showed where his skin was continuously held by the steel. He slowly lumbered to the ground and stood before Tucker.
“You’re even prettier up close, Sally”, said Tucker.
The disembodied voice spoke again. “Sparks, Thatch.”
Two marauders came forward, one holding a large meat cleaver and the other with a propane torch. The Motor Master took the torch and ignited it. He held it close to Tucker’s face.
“The refinery, dog.”
Tucker replied amicably, “I don’t see you getting it out of me, so why don’t you go FUCK yourself.” Tucker roared the curse word, but the rest were conversational.
The Motor Master said, “Hand.”
Tucker found his right arm being unchained. While the chains were unlocked, the Motor Master took the cleaver and began to heat it with the propane torch.
A marauder produced a long, leather belt and wrapped it around Tucker’s right hand. The marauder then extended Tucker’s arm over a flat piece of wreckage and held it there with his body weight.
Tucker continued in a friendly voice, “Y’know what? Fuck you, and I mean that in the best possible way.”
“You like holding the wheel in your hand; all the power it gives you.” The Motor Master loomed closer.
The Motor Master swung the cleaver downward, with all of his fat, dead weight behind it. The searing, hot cleaver sunk through Tucker’s skin and bone with a sickeningly loud “thock”. Tucker’s lifeless, severed hand fell to the dry, desert ground.
Agony lanced up Tucker’s arm. But, he was prepared for it. He kept his teeth clenched and his left hand in a tight fist. Not a whimper of pain escaped him. Sweat beaded on Tucker’s forehead and streaked down through the blood and soot. His unblinking eyes never stopped glaring at the fat man before him.
The marauder cinched the belt tightly around Tucker’s wrist. But, still some blood oozed out.
Tucker crazily smiled at the Motor Master. “If that is the best you can do, you should kill me now. I can’t stand amateurs.”
The Motor Master hesitated, seemingly expecting Tucker to cave in. Then he pressed the still hot, flat edge of the cleaver onto the stump that was Tucker’s hand. The blood and flesh sizzled as the wound was cauterized.
“Look, scag”, Tucker said, as if talking to a child. “I can keep this up as long as you.”
Tucker let his words sink in for a moment. “Do your worst”, he challenged.
Tucker couldn’t read the Motor Master through the steel helm, but he thought maybe, just maybe, he had gotten the better of the Motor Master.
“So the tales of the brave MFP are true”, the Motor Master acknowledged. “But it makes no difference. You will tell me of the refinery all the same.”
To the marauders he commanded, “Let him cook in the sun.”
Tucker smiled at his victory.
“Pussy”, he said.
Max had no plan, no idea of how he could rescue Tucker, or even if Tucker was alive. All he had was four rounds in his revolver, three shotgun shells, a crate of dynamite, and his drive for redemption. The certain bad odds stacked against him didn’t faze Max in the least. All that mattered were the enemies he had to kill.
Max felt the familiar, cold madness envelope him. All else washed away before him and his hell-bent need for revenge. He was once again one man against innumerable foes.
As soon as Max exited the refinery he started the Lone Wolf’s second engine and engaged the four-wheel drive. He wanted all of his vehicle’s available power at his disposal. Max pushed the Lone Wolf, heedless of the boulders and depressions scattered about the wasteland. Both of the Lone Wolf’s engines strained to push the vehicle faster.
In a distant corner of his mind, Max evaluated the performance of the Lone Wolf. He could tell by the vehicle’s vibrations that the engines were working flawlessly. The transmission churned steadily beneath him. Just like Max, the Lone Wolf was ready for war.
As the enemy camp grew nearer, Max took a road flare and wedged it tightly into the armor next to the steering wheel. When the first of the marauders came into sight, he popped the cap and sparked the flare to life. Max reached back behind him for a stick of TNT and held it ready to light.
He didn’t have to wait long. As the Lone Wolf screamed by the first group of marauders, Max touched the fuse to the flame. The marauders saw the intruder and scrambled to their vehicles. With an air-hook throw, Max tossed the burning dynamite among them. The nearest marauders abandoned their vehicles and ran. The dynamite exploded a moment later, blasting apart a motorcycle and blowing the door off a purple muscle car.
Max approached the marauders that formed a loose circle around the shattered tanker. He turned at a hard right angle and drove parallel to the vehicles. Some of the gang was already pursuing him. Max threw TNT at the marauders; mechanically reaching back for stick after stick. He completed a full circle around the tanker, all the while chucking dynamite and searching frantically for any sign of Tucker.
Makeshift vehicles were blasted apart and the dry desert dust flew. Still Max circled and wrought chaos amongst the marauders.
Before long the pursuing vehicles caught up to the Lone Wolf. Most of them were easily sideswiped away by Max. But they were replaced by others. Max stopped circling and swerved to avoid being sandwiched between two trucks.
By now the encampment was in an uproar. It seemed that every marauder there was after Max. He had to turn back to the open desert before he was trapped.
Max gathered six sticks of dynamite and held them to the flare. He dropped them to the ground and floored the Lone Wolf. Max sped away, putting distance between him and the marauders.
Max mentally estimated the time until the TNT exploded. When his instincts told him, he wrenched the wheel to the left and slammed on the brakes. The Lone Wolf spun 180 degrees and stopped facing the marauders. Max floored the gas again and raced on a collision course with the onrushing gang.
The Lone Wolf accelerated quickly; smoothly shifting gear after gear. The powerful vehicle reached its highest gear and rocketed forward. Max glanced at the twin, high-accuracy tachometers now reaching 6000 rpms. Still, he accelerated.
Max’s blood went cold with adrenalin. He glared at his enemies; seemingly looking right through them with his intense, unblinking gaze.
The first of the marauder vehicles, the purple muscle car, sped to the burning dynamite. The fuse on one of the sticks blew apart, instantly detonating the rest just as the purple car roared by.
The tremendous blast flipped the purple muscle car over and into the path of the 4x4 pickup. On the other side of the blast, a black muscle car driver was rocked and lost control of his vehicle. He crashed into and flattened a nearby motorcycle.
The 4x4 pickup couldn’t swerve around the upended purple car and slammed into it. Both the driver and passenger crashed through the windshield and flew through the air. They thumped to the ground in mangled heaps.
The rest of the gang swerved around the smoking crater where the blast was. Max shot through the gap of smoke and dust, headed right back to the enemy camp.
The charred, spiky wreckage of the tanker sat alone in the desert. Tucker leaned on his chains, squinting to see what he could. His bare, sun burnt chest stood out from his blackened surroundings. He saw the shiny Lone Wolf coming to him like a silver mirage.
Max stopped the Lone Wolf in a swirl of dust next to Tucker. Max strode through the blowing dust with both guns drawn. Tucker smiled broadly when he saw Max. “Hey, Bronze! Ya came back for me, eh?”
“I’m getting you out of here, Tuc”, Max said as he examined Tucker’s chains.
The rumblings of the returning marauder’s engines caused them both to look up.
“Easier said than done, Max.”
There was no time for Max to pick the lock imprisoning Tucker. He raised the .44 and shot the lock off. Tucker collapsed in a heap onto Max. Max tucked the .44 into his belt and half-carried, half-led Tucker to the loudly idling Lone Wolf.
As they reached the vehicle, the marauders were upon them. First came the motorcycles, faster than the cars. Max lowered Tucker onto the Lone Wolf’s left side gas tank and jumped into the driver’s seat.
Tucker flipped himself over and reached up with his remaining hand, yanking the .44 from Max’s belt. The two closest bikers leapt from their motorcycles and ran towards Max and Tucker. One fired his crossbow just as Max put the Lone Wolf in gear. The arrow hit Tucker low on his right side. Tucker fell back to the gas tank. Max leaned over and grabbed him before he fell off the rapidly accelerating Lone Wolf. Tucker’s body went slack and he dropped the .44. Still holding Tucker with one hand, Max quickly reached over with his other hand and snatched the gun before it bounced away.
Max dropped the .44 into his lap and grabbed the steering wheel again. Just in time, he saw the huge hulk of a vehicle that pulled in front of him and blocked his way. It was the Motor Master’s giant semi. Max stared at the massive vehicle and its enormous driver. Through his armored helmet, the Motor Master glared back. Max braked hard, still holding onto Tucker. He then shifted into reverse and stepped on the gas. He ran into the two bikers chasing him on foot. They tried to run, but one went under the Lone Wolf’s dual rear wheels. The other jumped onto the Lone Wolf. He scrambled over the rear engine and locked his arms around Max, trying to heave him off. Max struggled to free himself and keep control of the vehicle.
Tucker opened him eyes and saw what was happening. With a bear-like roar, he got up and clamped his left hand around the biker’s neck. Tucker’s muscles bulged as he squeezed his hand tighter, cutting off the biker’s air. The biker pulled one arm off Max to try and free himself from the madman choking him. Tucker’s vise-like grip only tightened. The biker tried freeing himself from Tucker with both arms. Tucker was in a blind rage, and he crushed the biker’s windpipe with an audible CRUNCH. Tucker then set his feet and put his stump of a hand under the biker. He lifted the body high above his head and flung him to the ground.
Tucker crouched next to Max, breathing heavily. “Fuckin’ scags”, he cursed.
“Hang on!” yelled Max, still driving in reverse. Tucker braced himself.
Max simultaneously let off the gas and spun the wheel all the way to the left. The Lone Wolf spun about, almost throwing Tucker off. Before the vehicle stopped moving, Max straightened out the wheel, dropped the Lone Wolf into gear, and floored the gas; a perfect J-turn.
"Well done, Max", Tucker panted. He was clutching the arrow in his side and visibly weakening.
Max looked at Tucker in alarm. Tucker was pale and sweating; about to faint. He collapsed face-first back to the fuel tank.
Max grabbed Tucker by his belt and felt wetness there. Glancing at his hand, Max saw blood oozing from Tucker's side. When Tucker fell he forced the arrow all the way through his side.
"Crap", said Max.
The marauders were gaining on him and he couldn't fight them off while holding onto Tucker with one arm. In desperation, Max turned back and forth, kicking up vast clouds of dust. With his wall of flying sand in place, he gained a half-mile before the marauders sighted him. Again, Max churned the desert sand into protective cover and put more distance between him and the marauders.
The gang had no intention of letting them escape. Tucker and Max were their only hope of locating the refinery. They abandoned all caution and sped headlong through the dust.
Max kicked up another cloud of dust, knowing he was just buying time. Next to him, Tucker was sprawled out unconscious on the gas tank. It was all Max could do to hold the big man on the bouncing vehicle. One of Tucker's legs fell off and dragged mere inches from the Lone Wolf's rear wheels. Max got a better grip on Tucker's belt and heaved him back on.
Max anxiously scanned the desert for any means of escape. Then, he saw a figure emerge like a mirage through the blowing dust. The gaunt, familiar shape waved both arms at Max. It was The Bloodhound. Max veered towards him.
Somehow he had followed Max and found a dry riverbed to hide in. Max quickly maneuvered the Lone Wolf through the dust and down the riverbank.
The Bloodhound was next to Max before the Lone Wolf even came to a complete stop. He immediately began to gather up Tucker.
"How is he?" The Bloodhound hurriedly asked.
"Bad," answered Max. He saw the carefully hidden yellow Interceptor and helped move Tucker towards it.
Tucker was being roughly carried by the two men and he awoke in a daze.
"Officer down...call for back up, officer down...roadside Transcon One, mile two fifty-two..." Tucker deliriously moaned.
The Bloodhound opened the Interceptor's passenger door. "Get him in," he said.
Tucker suddenly awoke, his eyes wide and crazy.
"Just try and take me, scags!" he yelled.
He backhanded The Bloodhound and jerked his legs out of Max's arms. Tucker fell to the ground and hit his head on the floorboard of the Interceptor; knocking him out again.
They manhandled Tucker's limp body into the passenger seat.
"What a nut," said The Bloodhound. "They lop off his hand, stick two arrows into him, and beat the crap out of him and he still wants to dance."
Max ignored The Bloodhound's comments. He heard the enemy vehicles ominously getting closer. He sprinted to the Lone Wolf and drove up next to the Interceptor.
The Bloodhound looked at him expectantly.
"Get moving or you'll never make it. Get him out of here." Max commanded.
"Done, but where are you going?"
Max's reply was cut off by the vehicles rushing down the riverbed.
Max cocked his head at the marauders.
"To stop them."
Max steered the Lone Wolf on a collision course with the oncoming enemy vehicles. Some were still driving down the riverbank, and Max aimed for a muscle car that just leveled out.
The heavy Lone Wolf broadsided the car, knocking it back sideways several feet. The muscle car’s driver was slammed into his door first, then he was thrown to the passenger side as his car lurched to a stop. Dazed, he tried fixing his helmet when his car was hit again by a marauder pickup unable to stop. The muscle car’s driver was knocked back into his steering wheel.
Max held a stick of TNT to his dieing road flare and threw it close to both vehicles before he backed out. The truck tied backing away, but its high front bumper was caught on the muscle car’s rear bumper. The truck dragged the muscle car directly over the dynamite.
The TNT detonated, destroying the muscle car and taking off most of the truck’s front end. Somehow, the truck was still running. Jagged metal showed where the truck’s front body panels and headlights had been blown away. Jets of steam spurted from where its radiator was pierced. The truck plowed through the muscle car’s remains and headed for Max.
Max sped the Lone Wolf along in reverse, and the truck bore down at him. Through the truck’s shattered windshield, the driver smiled crazily, showing his sharp, uneven teeth. When the mangled front of the truck was about to connect, Max spun the wheel hard. The Lone Wolf sharply turned out of the way and the truck roared by.
Max shifted into drive and raced in pursuit. There was barely enough room in the riverbed for two vehicles to fit side by side, and the truck swerved back and forth, trying to ram the Lone Wolf.
Max easily braked to avoid the truck. Then he saw an opening and accelerated. The Lone Wolf caught underneath the pickup truck’s right rear frame. The truck was slow and top heavy while the Lone Wolf was much faster and low to the ground. Max pushed the truck on an angle into the steep riverbank.
The truck hit the dirt far too quickly and slammed onto its side.
The Lone Wolf roughly grinded against the truck’s underside as Max forced his way through. Then Max accelerated down the dry riverbed. Ahead, a large car braked to a stop sideways, completely blocking Max’s path. A quick look behind him confirmed more marauders in pursuit. Here, the riverbank was too steep to drive up and over. Max was trapped.
Max brought the Lone Wolf to a stop about twenty five yards from the car. Max revved the engines, then dropped the Lone Wolf into its LOW gear.
The Lone Wolf roared, gaining speed and momentum. Max aimed for the cars rear wheels.
The car’s driver watched stupidly as the two-engined racer sped closer.
The front ramming bar of the Lone Wolf smashed into the car, right at the rear wheels. The rear end of the car spun, pivoting on its heavier front wheels where its engine was. The Lone Wolf never slowed as the car was rammed sideways. Once Max was clear of the roadblock he shifted back into Drive.
Max drove on until the riverbank was lower. He steered up and over the riverbank, almost going airborne. Max quickly scanned the area. Happily, he saw a distant trail of dust that could only be The Bloodhound escaping with Tucker. A moment later, Max saw he was about to be surrounded by marauders. They were everywhere. Some had followed him through the dry riverbed and others were rapidly closing on him from the desert.
Max reached for more dynamite and saw his road flare had died out. He lit another and replaced the dead one.
Max spotted a gap in the marauder’s lines and raced for it. Then, from out of the swirling dust, the Motor Master’s semi truck drove into the gap, and Max was encircled by the enemy. He brought the Lone Wolf to a stop.
Max licked his lips, searching for a way, any way, to escape. The gang were readying their weapons but not attacking. They seemed to be waiting for something. Max looked back to the Motor Master.
The blob of a man reached next to him and brought up a gigantic crossbow. He lazily braced it and wound back the string with a small handle. The Motor Master loaded the crossbow with a four-foot long arrow, almost a spear. He aimed at Max.
Max slowly, very slowly, drew both of his guns.
The Motor Master sighted on Max and fired. The arrow pierced the Lone Wolf’s armor dead center on Max. But, the armor slowed it just enough so the arrow squealed to a stop inches from Max’s chest.
Max slumped forward in the seat.
A dozen or so of the marauder vehicles, centered by the Motor Master, slowly closed in on Max.
They stopped a few yards short of the Lone Wolf. The marauders held their weapons; eager to mutilate Max. They still waited, looking to the Motor Master for his permission.
The Motor Master casually readied his crossbow again.
Over the noise of the vehicle’s engines, Max listened. He strained his ears, searching for one sound.
Then, he heard it. The faint but distinctive click of the Motor Master’s crossbow string locking into place.
Max sprung up; the arrow at his chest snapping in two. He held the shotgun and the revolver straight out in front of him. Max quickly blasted one shell at the Motor Master and fired the revolver at the marauders to his left. Max’s last three .44 rounds ripped through two vehicle’s radiators and dropped a marauder dead. He saw the Motor Master fall back in a spray of red. Max spun to his right and fired the other shell at two marauders rushing him on foot.
Max fell back into his seat and took off as arrows were fired at him. He dropped the empty .44 revolver to the floor and broke open the shotgun. Steering with one hand, Max held the shotgun under one arm and tossed out the spent shells. Glancing backwards, he saw a few marauders pursuing him, including the Motor Master’s semi.
Silently cursing, Max turned the Lone Wolf and brought it to a stop. He took out his last shotgun round and loaded it. Max snapped the shotgun together and aimed with both hands at the Motor Master’s huge vehicle. Max knew that a solid slug fired from a sawed-off shotgun was wildly inaccurate, and he waited for a clean shot. It would be close, but if he could get their leader it was worth the risk.
The high-pitched whine of the Motor Master’s diesel engine screamed closer.
Max focused his rage and fired.
The blast jerked Max’s arms back over his head. He strained to see his shot.
The slug banged off the semi’s thick armor in a shower of sparks. Then, the marauders were upon him.
Max tried driving forward, with the slim hope of outrunning the gang. But, a gray heavy-duty wrecker skidded to a stop directly in his path. Max shifted to Reverse just as a high-powered road racer snuck in behind him. Max accelerated backwards and slammed into the road racer, bending the Lone Wolf’s exhaust pipes. Before he could go forward again, the wrecker closed the gap and blocked Max in. Max tried pushing the big wrecker out of the way, but the Lone Wolf’s tires couldn’t get any traction and spun uselessly in the desert sand. The two vehicles had Max pinned.
A second later, Max saw why. The Motor Master’s armored semi closed in on the Lone Wolf, poised to smash it to scrap.
Max reached for more dynamite. He held three sticks to his burning road flare and tossed one into the back of the wrecker. Max threw another onto the hood of the road racer. The wrecker’s passenger got out in a panic and snatched the TNT stick. He threw it back at Max; wanting to only get rid of it. The throw was way too strong, and the TNT flew over Max to join the first one on the hood of the road racer. The road racer backed away, and the two sticks of dynamite bounced off and fell to the ground. Max reversed just far enough to clear the wrecker and wrenched the shifter into DRIVE. The wrecker moved to stop Max and crashed into the side of the Lone Wolf.
Instead of turning away, Max swerved into the wrecker and the two vehicles grinded together. Max held the last stick of dynamite until the fuse was almost gone. Then he threw it into the wrecker’s cab.
Both marauders reached for the dynamite and they both failed to grab it. The Lone Wolf was pulling away when the dynamite detonated. The Lone Wolf was rocked by the explosion, then showered with hot, jagged chunks of metal. One of the Lone Wolf’s rear tires blew out and more shrapnel pinged off its rear armor. Max winced at the tiny shards of glass that tore into the back of his head. He felt blood seeping down his neck as he drove on.
The Motor Master angrily crashed through the destroyed wrecker. How many times had his wrath been denied by this loathsome Bronze? He wouldn’t escape this time. Even now, the Motor Master’s wasteland army was fanned out; closing in on the Bronze’s silver two-engined vehicle. As the RPMs soared, the Motor Master shifted, urging more speed out of his vehicle. The bronze was fast, but if he thought he could outrun the Motor Master’s war machine, he had a surprise coming.
Max gunned the Lone Wolf for all it was worth. By chance, he was headed back to the refinery. Could he outrun the marauders without leading them to the soldiers? Or should just drive off and try to lose them in the wasteland? The Motor Master made the decision for him.
The Motor Master’s semi truck had a customized turbo diesel engine. In addition to that, it was supercharged with propane. Like any semi, it was slow to accelerate. But, once it got going it was incredibly fast. At one time, his vehicle’s speed helped him smuggle weapons and fuel. Now, it allowed him to rule his army and kill his enemies.
The Lone Wolf bounced across the broken ground. It was much easier for the heavy semi to stay on course and catch up to Max.
The armored semi forcefully rear-ended the Lone Wolf. Max was bounced roughly in his seat. He reached for another stick of dynamite as the semi rammed him again, almost flipping the Lone Wolf.
Max regained control and held the TNT to the road flare, just as the flames sputtered and died. It was Max’s last flare, and his only way of lighting the dynamite.
Max angrily tossed the dynamite back into the crate and was rammed again. This time, the semi’s low front wedge actually got under the Lone Wolf’s rear wheels. The tires squealed on the metal and the Lone Wolf shot off. The Lone Wolf was tough, but it couldn’t take much more of this pounding. Max floored the accelerator.
The Lone Wolf’s powerful engines responded but bought Max only seconds. The monster semi stayed right with him.
Max swerved madly left and right to avoid being rammed again. Now, the semi was going faster than the Lone Wolf and it pulled up next to Max. The two vehicles roared across the wasteland, slamming into each other at better than 100 MPH.
Without warning, they came to the superhighway cutting through the desert. Max braked and swerved onto it, momentarily putting the Lone Wolf on two wheels. Then the vehicle crashed down and sped on.
The giant semi couldn’t take the turn and it overshot the highway before turning back. Once on the hard asphalt, the Lone Wolf performed like the speed machine that it was. Both its engines roared flat out.
Max looked back to the Motor Master’s semi truck. It had fallen back, but was it gaining again? Max glanced to the road then looked back once more. Impossibly, the huge black armored monster was slowly catching up to him. Max drove on in disbelief.
When Max turned onto the superhighway, it put him on a path not far from the marauder army. He could see the cloud of dust they raised, and he knew the silver Lone Wolf was easily visible to them. The marauders were heading for the road; on course to intercept Max.
The flap-flap-flap of the Lone Wolf’s blown tire pounded into Max’s thoughts. He was rapidly running out of options.
The Motor Master steadily caught up to Max and rammed the Lone Wolf. One side of the rear bumper broke loose and bounced on the black asphalt. The huge semi would soon crush the Lone Wolf’s rear radiator and take away half of Max’s available power. If that happened, Max could shut down the rear engine and repair the radiator later, assuming he lived that long.
The Motor Master fell back and then accelerated, building up momentum. The high-pitched whine of the diesel engine filled the air. The massive semi rammed the Lone Wolf again, crumbling the Lone Wolf’s rear armor. This time the Motor Master stayed with Max, pushing the Lone Wolf along.
Max had nowhere to go. The marauders were swarming closer from the right, and the Motor Master would push him until the Lone Wolf flipped. Max thought of leaping onto the semi and killing the Motor Master with his boot knife. Risky as hell, but better than dieing here sitting on his ass. Max set his feet and prepared to go.
He was halfway out of the seat when he spotted two vehicles ahead on the road coming right for him. The vehicles were the Soldier’s two armored semi trucks; the sleek Freightliner and the boxy Aerodyne. Side by side, the two trucks drove straight down the middle of the highway. The Motor Master must have been distracted by the truck’s appearance, because Max was able to pull away from him.
Max turned left off onto the desert sand. He looked back to see what would happen when the three vehicles collided. The Motor Master didn’t alter his course one inch. He barreled straight down the highway he believed he owned.
Mark and Tom, driving the Freightliner and the Aerodyne respectively, were used to other vehicles getting out of their way. After all, what wastelander had the balls or the wheels to mess with two speeding, armored semis? Apparently, the Motor Master thought he had both.
Too late, Mark and Tom saw that the Motor Master wouldn’t swerve. The two semis crashed into the Motor Master’s war machine. The wedge-shaped design of the Motor Master’s semi forced the two trucks up and over it. The undercarriages of the two semis ground over the war machine, tearing off an exhaust stack and parts of steel. In the Aerodyne, Tom had hit slightly more centered than Mark. Part of the Motor Master’s armor caught on the Aerodyne’s rear axle. The axle broke loose with its drive shaft spinning wildly. The Aerodyne was on too great an angle as it came down, and it crashed onto its side. It skid along, showering the highway with sparks and gouging deep grooves in the road.
The Freightliner almost flipped too, but Mark heaved the wheel to the right and his semi slammed back to the ground, rocking heavily on its shocks.
The Motor Master slowed and turned around to finish Mark off. Halfway through the turn, he saw the vehicles following the semis.
They were the Soldier’s four other vehicles; Billy’s Camaro, the pickup, the tow truck, and leading the charge was Tucker’s Interceptor with The Bloodhound at the wheel. Tucker sat on the passenger windowsill; his broad chest bandaged and a happy smile on his face.
Tucker drew a cavalry saber from the Interceptor and pointed it at the Motor Master. “Come on, you sons of bitches, you want to live forever?!?” he roared into the wind.
The Motor Master had slowed down to turn and he was vulnerable, trying to build up his vehicle’s speed.
Tucker studied the closing marauders and the Motor Master’s slow moving semi. He pointed the saber at Nauman and Mike in the pickup and Billy in the Camaro. He directed them at the marauders, clearly stating their mission by sliding the sword across his throat. The two vehicles head off to engage the enemy.
Tucker the looked back to Simmons and Ramey in the tow truck. He swung the sword in a ‘forward’ motion, and the Interceptor and the tow truck sped to attack the Motor Master.
The Camaro and the pickup rushed the marauders, driving through their ranks. Staying at high speed, Billy rammed enemy vehicles and threw dynamite when he had the chance. Nauman steered the pickup among the marauders, and Mike used the flamethrower to incinerate any that got too close. The marauders tried fighting back, but they weren’t fast enough or powerful enough. Their arrows were ineffective against the Soldier’s armor.
The Bloodhound brought the Interceptor into the path of the Motor Master’s semi. Even at slow speeds the war machine was powerful, at in easily bumped the Interceptor aside.
The tow truck drove by, with Ramey hanging out the window. He expertly threw a stick of TNT into the Motor Master’s cab. Although held in place by his armor, the Motor Master somehow reached down and was able to grab the burning dynamite. He flipped it out, just in time. The TNT blew up behind the semi and flattened the two right rear tires. The giant semi slumped slightly to the right and kept going.
Simmons turned the tow truck around and caught up to the Motor Master. Ramey held a stick of dynamite to his mouth and bit off most of its wick. He lit the fuse and calculated his throw. He threw the stick, landing it directly on the semi’s rear end. A second after landing, the TNT exploded, blasting away chunks of armor and the hauling assembly. Still, the menacing black vehicle drove on.
Now the Motor Master went on the offensive and rammed the tow truck, trying to deny Ramey another shot. The Bloodhound began bumping the Motor Master to try and draw his attention away from the tow truck. It was a futile attempt. The Motor Master outweighed the Interceptor by several tons and ignored The Bloodhound’s attack.
Max gunned the Lone Wolf to pursue them, and Mark had turned the Freightliner around and was heading back. Together, maybe the four of them could stop the war machine.
The Motor Master swerved abruptly, catching Simmons off-guard and ramming the tow truck hard. The tow truck sped out of control into the desert; it’s towing arm clanking back and forth.
The marauders saw their leader being attacked by the four vehicles. Their numbers had been cut in half by the flamethrower and they were badly outgunned. Some were ready to give up and flee. Without their leader they were just a disorganized mob.
When the tow truck came bouncing across the sand it was isolated from the other Soldiers. Simmons wasn’t even looking at the marauders when he was attacked. Ramey shouted a warning, but too late.
The marauder pickup with the oversized spear gun came to a stop with the tow truck directly in its sights. The crew aimed and fired the huge spear. It flew at the tow truck; propelled by its extreme high-tension spring.
The spear went right through the sheet metal on the side of the tow truck’s engine compartment. It pierced the valve cover and impaled itself between the intake manifold and the engine block. Hot oil sprayed over the engine as its rods and lifters fell apart. The engine lost power and sputtered as it tried to keep operating. Simmons shifted into Neutral and tried revving the gas. It was hopeless. The tow truck’s once powerful engine lurched to a stop. Simmons let the tow truck coast and it gradually came to a standstill.
Simmons and Ramey were quickly surrounded by marauders. They circled the stranded vehicle like Indians around a wagon train. Simmons and Ramey got out and crouched by their ruined vehicle. Ramey still threw his dynamite, but the marauders easily dodged it. Simmons scrambled to help, and they both lit and tossed the TNT.
The arrows began to fall on them, and almost immediately Simmons took one in the chest. He slumped to the ground, clutching the arrow and coughing blood. Ramey pushed him underneath the tow truck, giving him some meager protection. Still the arrows flew, and the marauders were closing in.
Max in the Lone Wolf and The Bloodhound and Tucker in the Interceptor were fighting the Motor Master; trying to blow out the war machine’s tires.
Mark had redlined the Freightliner to catch up to them. He pulled up on the left and slammed into the massive black machine. The Motor Master eagerly attacked Mark. The Freightliner was a target he could reach, not quick like the Lone Wolf and Interceptor.
The Motor Master crashed into Mark, and even the heavy Freightliner was no match for him. The Freightliner was forced off the road.
In the Interceptor, Tucker motioned The Bloodhound closer to the Motor Master’s semi. Tucker clenched the cavalry saber in his teeth and grabbed on to the enemy vehicle. One-handed, he hauled himself up and made his way to the cab. Tucker crouched out of sight with his bloody bandages flapping in the wind. He took the saber in his good left hand, sprang up next to the Motor Master, and brought the blade down in an overhand slash.
The Motor Master raised his armored right arm and blocked the blow. Tucker’s saber broke in half over the hard steel vambrace. Then the Motor Master slammed on the brakes. The war machine slowed much quicker than a vehicle its size had any right to.
With only a stump of a hand to hold himself, Tucker was flipped onto the front wedge. Still holding the broken saber, Tucker awkwardly climbed back.
The Motor Master grabbed his loaded crossbow and aimed point blank at Tucker.
Then, Mark in the Freightliner crashed into the war machine. The massive vehicle rocked and swerved, and the arrow missed Tucker.
Tucker looked at himself, realizing he was still alive, and jumped at the Motor Master. The two commanders grappled; Tucker trying to stab with his saber and the Motor Master trying to throw him off.
In the pickup, Nauman saw the disabled tow truck and the marauders closing in on Simmons and Ramey. He immediately turned to help them, leaving Billy to fend for himself.
The pickup crashed through the marauder ring and sped to the stranded Soldiers. The marauders attacked in full force, trying to ram the pickup. Mike mercilessly turned the flamethrower on them.
Nauman was almost to Simmons and Ramey. He slowed to a stop next to the destroyed wrecker. Ramey dragged Simmons’s body limp body to the pickup, heaving him up and dropping him into the rear. The marauders rushed from all sides, and Mike frantically swiveled the flamethrower back and forth; spewing fire and death.
The one direction Mike couldn’t cover was the front of the pickup. Just as Ramey was scrambling aboard, a brown full sized car crashed into the front of the pickup. The pickup was protected by its thick steel armor but it was still pushed back into the wrecker. Ramey dropped flat to the ground to avoid being crushed between the vehicles.
Mike tried spinning the flamethrower forward, but it couldn’t aim down enough. The brown car reversed, then rammed the pickup again, pinning it against the wrecker. The marauders rushed forward again, and they were repulsed once more by the flamethrower.
As the Motor Master struggled with Tucker the war machine veered off the road and onto the sand. The Motor Master got one arm free and slammed his steel covered forearm against Tucker’s head. Tucker slumped forward and dropped his broken saber. He fell to the side and off the semi. Tucker reached wildly and snagged the steering wheel. He braced himself, them put his weight into it and turned the wheel. The accelerating semi swerved in the sand. It was heading right at the Soldier’s pickup and wrecker.
The Motor Master slammed his metal arms against Tucker’s hand, trying to force him to let go. But Tucker had a death grip on the wheel. He felt the bones in his hand break, but his grip never faltered.
Mike saw the huge onrushing monster and froze. Nauman could never get the pickup out of the way in time, nor could Mike unbuckle his safety straps. Mike screamed and let the flamethrower wash over the war machine.
Tucker heaved on the wheel one more time, then he flung himself to the ground.
The Motor Master made no effort to turn or slow down. Maybe he hoped to crash right through the vehicles, and maybe in his deluded mind he actually thought he could. But, the war machine didn’t have enough speed or enough momentum. As the flames reached him and began burning, he rammed the pickup, folding it almost in half. Mike screamed again as he was crushed in the wreckage. The pickup was slammed into the wrecker and together the two vehicles weighed enough to stop the war machine. The pickup’s flamethrower fuel tank ruptured, and jellied gasoline poured over the twisted metal.
Even as his vehicle burned, the Motor Master tried to back away. The wreckage shifted, and the mangled flamethrower ignited. The flames spread immediately to all the leaking fuel and a huge fireball blossomed in the desert.
The war machine’s fuel lines melted and burned. Its powerful engine died and its propane tanks blew apart. The diesel fuel tanks burst into jets of fire as the flames reached them.
The Motor Master struggled to free himself from his heavy armor. The metal that once protected him was now his prison. He thrashed wildly as the flames consumed him. His body fat sizzled and boiled on the hot steel. His inhuman, pitiful wail carried over the wasteland.
Around the inferno, the remaining marauders fled. There was only a dozen or so left, and Billy relentlessly hounded them.
Tucker wearily stood and watched the flames consume the machines. Max drove over to him and stopped, while Mark and The Bloodhound continued on to help Billy with the mop-up.
Max shut down the Lone Wolf and walked to Tucker. Tucker dusted himself off and watched the Motor Master’s corpse swell and burst. “Yep, Max”, he said, “they plump when ya cook ‘em.”
Max looked at him in mild annoyance; amazed at Tucker’s indomitable spirit. Four of his men were dead and three of his vehicles were destroyed, but he still stood as proud as ever.
Mark stopped pursuing the marauders; his ungainly Freightliner was unable to catch them anyway. He drove back to where Tucker stood by Max.
“Now what, Chief?”
“Go back to the Aero and check on Tom,” answered Tucker. “See if anything’s salvageable.”
“Yessir.” Mark drove off.
Max and Tucker looked up at the roar of Billy’s Camaro. He was still madly tearing about, running down anything that moved.
“Crazy fuck,” Tucker muttered.
They watched Billy run over a wounded marauder.
“So where do you go from here?” Max asked.
Tucker raised an eyebrow. “Leavin’ us so soon, Max?”
Max, unsure if he wanted to stay or not, looked around at the vast wreckage.
Tucker continued, “Just as well, but I’ve---“
Tucker noticed movement in the flames and broke off his words. A burning figure was staggering out of the flames. The figure fell to the ground and slowly tried to roll.
Max and Tucker sprinted to the figure and began throwing sand on him. When the flames were extinguished Tucker studied the burnt face. “I think its Ramey. Ramey! Hey, Ramey!”
The charred man moaned; a rasping rush of air. He tried to move.
Tucker gently held him down. “Easy, Hoss. Just lay here and we’ll take care of you.”
Tucker stood and turned, searching for the others. “Crap. We gotta get him water.” Tucker ran for the Lone Wolf and sped off in the direction Mark went.
Max adjusted the .44 in his belt as he knelt by Ramey, unable to do anything to help him. Max looked helplessly about the desert.
Momentarily, the Interceptor pulled up and The Bloodhound got out. “Where’d Tuc go? Who’s that?”
“Ramey”, Max blurted. “Needs water.”
Without a word, The Bloodhound reached into the Interceptor’s back seat and pulled out a vintage military H-harness, complete with a machete, ammo pouches, and two canteens. Max carefully raised Ramey’s head. The Bloodhound held a canteen to his blistered lips. “C’mon, drink. Drink, Ramey.” Ramey sputtered and coughed on the water. “Goddamn it, Ramey, I said drink,” The Bloodhound hissed. Ramey began gulping the warm water down.
The Freightliner arrived, followed by the Lone Wolf. Tom was slumped in the passenger seat, alive or dead, Max couldn’t tell.
Tucker ran to them, saying “Good! Make him drink another.”
Mark hurried over, carrying a large plastic container from an office water cooler.
“Keep forcing it on him till we run out,” Tucker ordered. “And get him off the deck and on a blanket.” The Soldiers got to work.
Billy eventually made his way back to them. He jumped out of his Camaro, happy for once. “Not a scag in sight, Chief.”
“Good,” answered Tucker. Before you break your arm from patting yourself on the back, grab a blanket for Ramey.” Tucker pointed at the fallen Soldier. Billy paled, then ran to help.
The Bloodhound rose and walked to where Tucker stood. “Will he live?” he asked.
“Well,” Tucker said, “the more he drinks, the better his chances. But I don’t know what kind of life he has to look forward to.”
The Bloodhound nodded solemnly, then walked back to the Interceptor.
With the blanket laid out next to Ramey, Max helped lift him onto it. Max grimaced at the countless grains of sand pressed into Ramey’s sagging flesh. Where his skin wasn’t swollen and blistered it was charred black. Ramey’s burnt clothing was imbedded in his body, and they couldn’t remove it until he healed. If he healed at all. Max had seen injuries like this once before, and he knew about Ramey’s chances for survival.
The Bloodhound was coming back to where Tucker oversaw their efforts. The Bloodhound carried a torn, very dusty, bloodstained black leather jacket. He held the ravaged garment to Tucker, saying, “You’ll need this, Tucker.”
Tucker’s eyes lit up as he recognized his jacket. “Hey! You found it!” He smoothly put the jacket on.
Tucker always exuded confidence and strength, but now he once again looked the part of a veteran commander.
The Bloodhound spoke to him. “I’m charging you for all of this killin’ and runnin’ around.”
Tucker shrugged. “Fine, fine, you deserve it. But, with my forces the way they are, I’ll need you more than ever to run courier.”
The Bloodhound smiled. “That’s OK, I’ll just charge more.”
Tucker scowled. He glanced back at Tom and Billy working on Ramey. “Alright! Load him in the Interceptor and get ready to roll!” The Soldiers began to move Ramey.
Tucker walked across the dry sand to where Max stood. “You’re not coming with us, Max,” he stated.
“Even with you along, it’s not enough to run a convoy. Three cars won’t cut it. We got another rig, but its shot. Jeffro will be working overtime to get her serviceable.”
“What does all that have to do with me?”
“Max, one of the last orders handed down from Central was for individual commands to keep order through any means necessary. I took that to mean preserving society, namely the coasties.”
Tucker sighed and continued. “We’re not the only Soldiers, Max. There’s at least three other units out there, ferrying gas out to the coasts, or at least that’s what the traders tell me.” Tucker grew very serious. “I need their help. Men and vehicles. They’re out there, Max. Find ‘em! Tell ‘em Chief Steve Tucker needs reinforcements.”
Max stared into Tucker’s eyes. The man had earned his respect many times over, and with the Lone Wolf repaired, Max was in his debt. “Will do, Chief.”
Tucker nodded. “Good luck, and Godspeed.”
Max stepped back and began raising his arm in a salute motion. But Tucker thrust his left hand out and grabbed Max’s hand; grasping it firmly.
“I don’t know what you’re looking for out there, Max, but I hope you find it.”
Max was silent. No words needed to be spoken between the two men.
Tucker turned and strode back to the three surviving vehicles; the Freightliner, Billy’s Camaro, and the MFP Interceptor. Tucker twirled his finger in the air, and all three vehicles started up, their exhaust kicking up dust and sand.
Tucker got in the passenger seat of the Interceptor and waved his left arm forward. The vehicles slowly headed back to the superhighway, each Soldier getting a last look at Max. The Bloodhound smiled wryly at him.
The roar of their engines faded as the Soldiers drove off into the wasteland.
Max watched them for a long, long time. He might not ever find what he was looking for, or even realize what he was looking for. But the resolve and determination of the Soldiers had undeniably pointed him in the right direction.