Party Poison wanted to throw up. The air in the room felt heavy and hot, pressing against him like dry water. He ripped off his shirt, sweat running down his already damp skin. The sun scorched the land beneath it, heating up everything in it's fierce gaze. The metal roof of the Diner was so exception to this; slowly warming the air inside until it's inhabitants were verging on dehydration. The summertime was hard on those living in the desert.
Although the sultriness of the desert was partially to blame, Gerard knew that it was mainly the guilt eating him up inside. The knowledge that he'd waved a friend goodbye that morning, perhaps for the last time. He chocked back a sob and flung his saturated shirt at the wall.
The other Killjoys were mourning in their own way. Bob may not have been confirmed dead, but they all knew that his life was hanging by a few thin threads. Gerard wanted to blame Rabid for this mess, but somehow the idea of condemning someone currently suffering at the hands of Korse didn't bring any satisfaction.
He had radioed around, letting everyone know of the grave situation they were all in. He knew that later that night he'd have to go to Sanctum and sort the shit out. Harley was in no shape to spread the news, and he felt obliged to help. After all, they had both just lost people close to their hearts. Somehow he got the impression that Harley might give up the Cardz crew after all of this. God knows what was going to happen to Dice. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of cut-throat, loose cannon rebels who answered to the name of Russian Roulette, now all without a leader.
The reaction from the other gangs had been mainly shock, anger and worry. Only Maverick seemed concerned about the actual fate of Rabid. Apparently the inexorable demise of his ex took priority over the failed mission, which surprised Party.
Gerard contemplated Bob's whereabouts. He could be anywhere in Battery by now. And the moment Roulette snapped, the show would be over. Although Party was mainly concerned about his bandmate and friend, he knew that it wasn't only information about the mission that Korse could get out of Roulette. With an underground network of zonerunners constantly at her fingertips for the past eight years there was no telling what dirt she had on everyone. If she gave away everything Korse might be able to launch the biggest offense on the zones yet. This could wipe them all out.
"Gee?" Ray was standing at the door. "How you holding up?"
Gerard looked away from his friend, ashamed of showing weakness. "Yeah" he sniffed, "I'm ok."
Ray walked over and placed a hand gently on his leaders sweaty shoulder. "I wish this heat would break too." he murmured.
"I'd do anything for a Jersey winter right now." Gerard stated, running a hand through his limp hair.
"I know what you mean."
Gerard took a moment to gather his thoughts. "Do you think there's any chance Bob's gonna come home?"
Jet star looked down at the fiery head of his leader. "I don't think so Gee. Korse has played his trump card, and we're just gonna have to cut our losses and run."
When someone as positive as Ray was admitting defeat Gerard knew that there was little hope left. His shoulders began to shake with silent cries. Jet Star didn't want to witness the breakdown of his leader and left the room quietly.
Anton left a very happy Abbey at the door of her house sometime close to 8am before driving back to the zones. In the Traverse tunnel he was surprised to pass seven very different vehicles heading in the opposite direction. One of them he had recognized as being from his own crew.
'A lot of traffic in the tunnel today.' he mused to himself.
By the time he got back to Maverick's base camp it was nearing mid afternoon. He cut the engine and strolled casually over to the abandoned airplane bunker that housed his crew. He rapped on the hot metal door in a distinctive rhythm and was let in.
"Thanks Racoon." He smiled at the young boy who opened the door for him and ruffled his hair affectionately.
"Boss told me to send you straight to him as soon as you pulled in. You'd better go."
Renegade nodded and found his way to the gang leaders office. He knocked on the door out of courtesy.
Maverick opened the door and Hugh found himself pulled into a tight, brotherly hug.
"Thank god you're back." He held the younger man at arms length. "You didn't get any trouble from dracs on your way home?"
Renegade frowned "No... Should I have?"
"Well we don't know yet. The shit's hit the fan so to speak. I need you to pack a bag and disappear for a month or two." Maverick paced his office, drawing heavily on a cigarette. The thirty year old was feeling his age after these last few months, and today's bad news had hit him where it hurt.
Hugh gaped. "Why? What's happened?"
"I'm guessing you passed seven zonerunners today that were heading towards Battery."
Renegade didn't see where this was going. "Yeah..."
"Roulette gave the order early last night for each spy to head on into the City and start the mission."
"Oh." Hugh saw the logic in that. 7 crews = 7 spies = 7 cars.
Maverick took another drag on the cigarette and exhaled a lung full of smoke. "And this would have been all fine-and-fucking-dandy if Korse hadn't picked her up around dawn this morning."
Renegade joined the dots quickly. "Shit." was the only response he could make.
"The missions screwed, I know that. Our crew's spy wont last the nine days, that's for sure. But what's more uncertain is how much Rabid will give away about the rest of us. I wouldn't put it past her to happily hand over everything she knows about us to Korse. We could be smoked out in a week."
Hugh pondered this. "You and Roulette may be on unstable ground, but you're both against BL/ind. She wont give away information lightly." In the months that she had been dating Maverick, Renegade had gotten to know the stony-faced woman a bit. She may have been shady, but he knew that she had liked Maverick, a lot. Or at least up until he broke up with her. And although she was making his life hell for it, Hugh was sure that she would remain loyal to their cause and try to hold back as much information as she could.
"I hope you're right." Maverick squashed his spent cigarette in an ashtray. "Regardless I don't want you around here incase the worst does happen. Rabid knows you through me, and if someone caught you so that they could get leverage on me... Well it wouldn't be a very positive step towards freedom."
"But I don't want to run and hide, I want to stay here and help you fight off any attacks. You wont be half as prepared without me here to help you organize the crew."
Maverick shook his head and ruffled the younger man's hair. "I know that. But I cant risk loosing you." He gave a lopsided grin, "You've grown on me too much, I can't loose you now."
Renegade returned the smile and hugged his only "family" member tightly, feeling like a teenager again. "You know Mav, I've fallen in love."
The arms around Hugh squeezed him affectionately. "With what, a tumbleweed?"
"No," he laughed, "a girl. I think you'd like her. One day I might even bust her out of the city so that you can meet her."
Maverick smiled at the thought. "Well not for a bit kid. I'll radio you if anything changes, but until then you need to move your body. The last Scarecrow will be out soon, and you don't want to be caught in the desert these days when the sunlight dies."
Hugh packed a bag with a bunch of clothes, some tinned food and an assortment of weapons and communication devices. He didn't want to pack too much, but Maverick had been insistent that he prepare for a long wait. The few cans that he did pack wouldn't last him a week in the zones, but Renegade wasn't planning on hiding out anywhere in the desert, something he didn't share with his leader.
As he collected essentials, Renegade noticed the stress plastered across everyone's face. News travelled fast in this world, and every zonerunner in California would be steeling themselves for the worst. A well prepared invasion could mean the end of the resistance.
"Hey Splash Dash," Renegade passed his crew-mate a jerry can "fill me up with some fuel will you?"
Dash raised an eyebrow, petrol was becoming increasingly scare. However he didn't object and siphoned some fuel into the container. "Where you headed kid?"
"Urr, Maverick's got me scouting the zones. Looking for information." He smiled over the lie, feeling bad that Maverick was letting him run while others had to stay, and fight if it came down to that. He took the full tank from Dash and headed back out to his car. He could feel the eyes of his crew-mates watching him go, wondering if they would see him again.
Renegade pulled up at the Diner just on dark. He cut the engine and hopped out over the side, bag slung over his shoulder. He cautiously walked towards the building, knowing that the Killjoys were wary of vehicles and unplanned visits. He didn't want to get blasted for being mistaken for a drac.
There was a soft thud and the door to the hideout was opened. Frank poked his head out of the darkness and gave a half-grin. "What are you doing here? I thought Maverick would have you under lock and key with the latest revelations."
Hugh noticed the tears trails that lined Fun Ghouls cheeks. "Nah, he's sending me away for a bit, until this all blows over."
Frank nodded. "If it ever does. Come on in."
They walked inside to Fun Ghouls room and plonked on his old bed.
"Where are the others?"
Frank offered his friend a drink before replying "Gerard's in zone 6 for the night, trying to get around to each crew in Sanctum. Ray's gone with him to pick up some food supplies before everyone freaks out and stocks up. Mikey's asleep, D's broadcasting and Bob-" Frank caught his breath for a moment.
Hugh placed an arm over the shorter man. "Hey, don't cry." He wiped a tear from Fun Ghoul's cheek. "You're going to have to be strong for the others for a little while."
Frank nodded, misery etched on his face.
"I wish I could stay here and help you guys out, but I need to head off in the morning. I know that Bob is gone, but you Killjoys are the strongest crew in the zones. You need to help Party Poison lead them all when the shit hits the fan, which it will." Fun Ghoul leant on Renegade's shoulder. "And although I'm not a Killjoy, I do know a bit more about you guys than most, and you're not as invincible as everyone makes you out to be. You gotta build up that spirit in you Frank and share it with your crew. 'Specially Mikey, that kid will probably need it the most."
Fun Ghoul sniffed, appreciative of his ex's words. Hugh may have been quite a bit younger than him, but in the zones it didn't matter. When you found a friend you stuck with them, regardless of age, gender or crew. "Yeah, Mikey's real torn up. Worse than Gee. I'd do anything to stop him hurting." He paused and thought about Kobra, who was always there for him. He didn't know what he'd do without Mikey.
Renegade noticed the look in his friends eye. He raised an eyebrow and grinned. "Frank Iero!"
"Huh?" Fun Ghoul pulled an innocent face.
Hugh laughed. "You're not.... You and Mikey aren't... Oh that's hilarious!" He got Frank in a headlock and ruffled his hair.
"What? No, Renegade you've got the wrong idea!" He laughed and pushed Hugh off.
"Pft yeah right." He rolled his eyes. "I knew it, the past few weeks every time I mention Mikey's name you go all quiet. So have you kissed him yet?"
Frank just pulled a face and mockingly zipped his lips.
"Ugh that's so not fair! I need to know man." Hugh bounced on the bed like a teenage girl begging information from a BFF.
"Nu-uh, you don't need to know anything. And besides, there is nothing to know. It's one way, I'm pretty positive about that." He sighed and Renegade rolled his eyes again. "So you going to stay the night?"
"Yeah, I might. Maverick's not to keen on me driving around at night. Dracs have been more active after dark since this heat hit."
"Awesome!" Frank grinned. "We can stay up late and tell ghost stories."
"Haha you're such a girl Fun Ghoul!" Hugh laughed.
The two spent the rest of the day and most of the night talking. When Renegade shared his last visit to Battery City and the progressing relationship that he had with Abbey, Frank couldn't help but feel a little jealous knowing that his ex was happy for the first time in years.
Gerard and Ray got back from zone 6 early the nest morning. Party was bone-weary and downhearted; his meetings with the various crew leaders had sapped his energy and talking about the kidnapped Roulette only added to the dislike he felt for the woman. However his heart really did reach out for Harley, who he found almost inanimate at her home. The only person with her was, surprisingly, Maverick. The man had come to help her sort through Dice records, seeing if there was any way to salvage Roulette's crew. When he had found Diamond deeply depressed and on the verge of complete despair, he had stayed to help her. Gerard was touched by the sentiment; it was a dog-eat-dog world in the zones, and crew leaders were always happy to up their standing through dirty means.
Jet Star had joined up with Party after collecting a stash of food and basic supplies and the two were happy to be heading home again. They listened to the radio, appreciative of quiet company on the trip back.
As they neared the Diner, Renegade's car appeared. The zonerunner waved at them, which they both returned before passing him. Party noticed that he was taking Route Guano away from Maverick's base and pondered that for a moment.
When they pulled up back at the Diner they were surprised to see Frank and Mikey having a heated argument outside the building. Gee cut the engine and was irritated by the immediate heat that swapped the car as he opened the door. Air con was one of the few luxuries that the Trans Am retained. Ray opted to stay out of any argument and busied himself by taking their provisions inside.
Gerard walked over quickly to his arguing friend and brother, trying to contain his frustration. He knew that he had a short temper when tired, and he didn't feel like blowing up at his two crew-mates. As he neared them he caught snippets of the argument.
"How can you say that? Renegade isn't one of us!" Mikey shouted at Frank.
"What's that supposed to mean? Am I not allowed to have friends outside the Killjoys?"
"Come off it Ghoul, he's a bit more of a friend from what I can tell! The guy slept with you last night, and we have the right to know who you're dating!"
Frank threw his hands up in the air. "But that's all we did; sleep! He's my ex for fuck's sake, I don't like him like that anymore!"
Kobra pointed a finger threateningly at Fun Ghoul. "If you think that you can just bring some stranger to our hideout and sleep with him behind our backs, you're sorely mistaken. I can't believe that you'd risk our safety by telling that loose cannon kid about who we are!"
"Renegade and I have been friends for eight years Mikey! He was one of the first people I met out in the zones. I know that you and the others might not be close friends with him, but I am! I'd trust him with my life!"
At this point Gerard had reached the two men and held them apart. They may not have come to physical blows, but Gee knew that it wasn't beyond either of them. "Stop fighting!" He shouted at them both.
They went quiet.
"I don't get what your problem is with Renegade Kobra, but stay out of Frank's business. It doesn't matter if he's dating the guy or their just friends; you do not have the right to determine who he does and does not have a relationship with."
Kobra Kid pouted at his older brother and shot another glare at Frank.
"And Fun Ghoul," Party turned his serious gaze onto his friend. "next time you invite a friend or a boyfriend or whoever over, you tell me about it. I don't care if you have to radio me through the Trans Am, carrier bird or telepathy; you let me know."
Frank smiled weakly at his joke, but nodded when Gerard stared deeply at him. "I understand Gee, I promise to do so next time."
"Good. Now you two stay away from each other for a bit and cool off. I don't want to hear a raised voice for another week. Got it?"
"Yes mum." Mikey rolled his eyes.
"Got it Mikey!?" Party snarled.
Kobra Kid nodded sulkily and stalked off back inside. Gee watched his little brother go, guilt twinging at his heart. He didn't like being strict with his crew, but sometimes he had to step into the leader shoes to keep the peace between them all.
Frank patted Gerard's shoulder. "I'm sorry Gee, I don't want to make you angry."
"So'k, I know that Mikey can be a little... sensitive sometimes." Gerard wiped the sweat from his brow. It was only just 8am and the heat was already stripping the water from him.
Frank nodded. "I think that we're all a little touchy. It's this heat, the stress about Roulette, and loosing... well anyway, you get what I mean." Frank sidestepped the topic of Bob. None of the Killjoys wanted to mention it, the whole concept was too painful. Each man was dealing with it in their own way, some more aggressively than others.
"I saw Renegade heading out towards zone 9." Party changed the topic.
Ghoul nodded. "Yeah, headed towards the Traverse. He's holing up in Battery City for a while. Not a bad idea, considering that the zones are about to become the most dangerous place in California."
"Well let's just hope that by some miracle Roulette doesn't crack under the pressure."
Roulette stirred into consciousness, racked with pain. She couldn't muster the energy to do anything but groan at her bodies agony. She clutched at her side, feeling welts that the dracs had administered ooze blood. That wasn't the worst of her injuries; not by far. She chocked back a sob, more from the mental trauma inflicted than the physical. To the end of her days Rabid would never forget the sound of their laughing as they used and abused her body.
"Awake again?" Korse's distinctive voice made Roulette cringe back into the corner where she lay. She couldn't bear to look at him, keeping her swollen eyelids calmly shut. "Good, because I wanted to continue our last conversation." He pulled the rebels head back by her fringe and commanded her to look at him. Rabid begrudgingly opened her eyes. "Where are your spies?"
"I don't know." she rasped, struggling to maintain her poker face.
Korse slapped her already bruised face. "Where are they!?"
Roulette couldn't help the tears that rolled down her cheeks. She shook her head and spoke in a dead flat voice. "I can't tell you... We didn't plan an exact route. They don't have set locations..."
"You're lying!" he spat in her face.
Roulette could feel her mask slowly cracking. She couldn't deal with the pain that she knew was going to keep coming, but she honestly didn't know where the scouts were. "I'm not lying, I can't offer you any information on their exact position." Korse slapped her again, trying to break her determination.
He grabbed her and roughly hauled her into a chair. Her head sagged onto her chest. The two dracs that had tortured her placed a hand each on her shoulder to stop her falling off the chair. She flinched at their touch, fear and loathing settling inside her.
Korse placed the knife from his last visit in front of her on her table. She stared at her wretched reflection on the blade's surface, despair lumping in her throat. She took a moment to think about Harley, wondering if she knew what happened to her friend at Misfits. With any luck Glock would have seen her embarrassing capture and passed on the information. 'They'll all be waiting,' she thought, 'for some sign that I've snapped. So much for my ruthless, cold-hearted reputation. I'll be the death of them all...' The dracs laid her hands flat on the table.
"Now, you're going to tell me ten pieces of useful information. For each you get to keep a finger." Korse stroked her fingers, taunting the rebel. "Every morning we will do this, until you with run out of information... or until you run out of fingers." He grinned widely "Whichever comes first."
Rabid stared at him, trying to comprehend how one person could be so rotten to the core.
"And as well as this," he broke the small red dice off the bracelet around her wrist, "we will play a little game; a kind of pay-back if you will for all my dracs you have killed." He rolled the dice and grinned up at the dracs holding onto Rabid. She watched them lurching across the table with a sick feeling in her stomach. The cubes clinked together, rolling until they settled next to the butchers knife. Three white dots face up on one, four on the other. "Seven hours of today you will spend in the company of your guards. Far more entertaining than spending it alone, don't you think?" The dracs sniggered.
The only change in Roulette's posture was a subtle increase in the rise of her chest as her breathing sped up. Panic was shaking her limbs, threatening to break her. Korse noted the fright he had inspired in his prisoner and happily picked up the knife. "So Russian Roulette, ten pieces of valuable information concerning the rebel movement." He mockingly checked his wrist for the watch that wasn't there. "Your time starts now."
Renegade sang along the words to "Under Pressure" as he sped towards the derelict train station. 109 in the sky was turned up to full volume in his car as he slipped down the ramp into the musky darkness of the Traverse. The lights of the car bounced crazily off the tiled walls of the old subway. The train that was crushed when rebels destroyed the tunnel still lay in pieces along the track, grinning skeletons half falling out of the windows. After BL/ind had abandoned the railway network connecting cities the zonerunners had broken into it and used it for themselves.
It was always a source of amusement for the rebels of California that BL/ind still hadn't figured out how the zonerunners were getting in and out of the cities undetected. The answer was so simple that it may as well have been staring them in the face, and yet they still didn't join the dots.
Hugh lit a cigarette and accelerated towards his destination, his mind on the girl that waited for him on the other end. He grinned at the thought of the surprise that she'd get when he rocked up only a day after leaving her. A few more hours and all her worries would be over.
He smiled, heart bursting with joy. "Abbey, I'm coming. And this time, I'm never going to leave you again."