Highwaymen (working title)
Book One: Roswell
Copyright 2017 Skye Knizley (Do Not Share)
In 1973, the gas crisis began. The United States started to crumble under the weight of failing industry and starving power plants. A drought of epic proportions followed and sent the country spiraling into a dustbowl of starvation, death and disease. President Nixon, already under fire for scandal after scandal, was unable to pull the country back together. Brick by brick, the United States crumbled.
In January of 1974, global war broke out, with the Western United States prime real-estate for North Korea, still aching for a fight after the Korean Conflict twenty years earlier. The United States was ill-equipped to withstand the onslaught, especially under the strange tech fielded by the New Axis Alliance.
Its 1976, and still we fight, using whatever we can find as weapons. Automobiles are our tanks, guts are our weapons, courage is what drives us.
My name is Kaija. I was fourteen when war broke out, barely fifteen the night my parents hid me from the Blackshirts hunting for fresh meat for their war machine. I survived… my parents didn’t. I was left with nothing but my dad’s Henry Stallion and a belly full of anger.
This is my story.
Chapter One: Octane Blood
The highway stretched ahead like a black ribbon, unbroken by anything but the faded yellow lines and the spray of dust blown by the desert storm to the north. Kaija lowered her field glasses and sat on the hood of her car. The Stallion had changed over the years; the classic black lines of the muscle car were the same, the steel plating over the windows, the two-stage blower jutting from the hood and the twin fifty-caliber machine guns were new. That wasn’t all she was armed with, but a few surprises were always a boon when fighting Blackshirts. What they lacked in brains they made up for with toughness and high-tech weapons.
Kaija sipped from her canteen and tried not to wince at the acidic taste. The water was clean, but pure-tabs didn’t do much to improve the flavor. Bad water was still bad water, no matter how you purified it.
She took another sip and cocked her head. The sound of engines, one an American V8 with a turbo whine, the others Blackshirt electrics, rose on the wind. She sealed her canteen and pressed her eyes back to the field glasses. The desert still looked quiet, sound carried for miles on the plains, but her ears told her that V8 wasn’t far. Nothing, at first, and she licked wind-cracked lips, waiting.
The vehicles appeared out of the dunes in a flash of light and spray of lasers that made her wince. A single pickup truck was fleeing a convoy of Blackshirt tanks, under fire and sure to be caught at any moment. What the hell were they doing way out here in the bowl?
In an instant, Kaija was behind the wheel. The Stallion’s V8 rumbled to life and she stomped the gas, still flicking systems to life inside the cramped confines of her old friend. Guns, magnetic shields and radar all flickered to life around her as the powerful car roared down the hill towards the approaching Blackshirts. The heads up display scrolled across the windshield and painted crosshairs on the Blackshirt vehicles while the truck was labeled friendly, for now. It was a crapshoot coming to anyone’s rescue, but often worth it. The Highwaymen Resistance could always use more hands.
As soon as she was in range, Kaija opened fire, using her vehicle’s superior agility to get an angle on the black Viper tanks and Rattler interceptors. The tanks were fast, but not maneuverable, especially on sand where their treads gummed up and their high turrets made them top-heavy. The Rattlers, though, were named for a reason. They struck fast and hard, enough to disable unprotected vehicles in a single shot.
The Stallion’s big-fifties thundered, spitting hot lead that chewed through the lightweight Rattler’s like butter. Two slewed to a halt while a third swerved away, trying to avoid the deadly armor-piercing rounds. Kaija let them go, the priority was the civy, not the tanks. She had enough notches in her belt.
Ahead, the pickup crested a dune and its tires left the sand for a moment before it crashed back down onto the blacktop and swerved, heading east on the highway. That was a mistake, the tanks would be faster on the pavement, fast enough to grind the truck into dust and hamburger given the opportunity. Kaija gunned the Stallion’s V8 and followed, keeping her armor and shields between the tanks and the truck. Explosions rocked the smaller car, but the wide tires and low stance kept it from swerving out of control. Kaija glared at the tanks in her rearview and flicked a series of toggles on her dashboard. Chutes in the rear quarter opened and mines the size of half-dollars spilled all over the road, their led indicators changing from green to an angry red.
The Vipers were too close. The first tank hit the mines at full speed and exploded, showering the dunes with flaming steel and luminescent fuel. The second Viper punched through the remains of the first and suffered a similar fate, leaving nothing but burning scrap that littered the highway. Kaija smiled in triumph and disengaged the shields. They used too much power to use without need. If the Rattler returned, the radar would engage shields automatically.
A half mile ahead, the truck slowed to a stop. Kaija guided her car in front and stopped with the nose facing down the highway. You couldn’t be too careful. She climbed out of the Stallion and loosened the Magnum pistol in its holster on her left thigh before removing her helmet. Her long black hair fell down her back and streamed in the wind; it felt good to be free.
“Hey, you folks okay?” She called to the truck.
She was only mildly surprised when two armored Blackshirts stepped out of the cab, their eyes glowing green inside bullet-shaped helmets.
“Kaija Schuman, age seventeen, you are under arrest.”
Kaija raised her hands over her head. “You tin cans are getting smarter, that was a neat trick. But you aren’t the only tricky bitch in the sand.”
She pressed the stud on the side of her watch and smiled. There was a mechanical whine from the Stallion and the rear-mounted thirty-caliber cannon opened fire. As soon as the first shell hit the truck, Kaija dove aside, letting the gunfire and debris pass over her head. When she looked up again, the truck was a smoking pile of junk, the Blackshirts green slime that bubbled on the pavement.
“So much for the superior beings,” she muttered.
She stood and started back to the Stallion. She was almost there when she realized she had some of the slime on her pants. “Gross! Can’t you guys just die? Do you have to spray snot everywhere in the process?”
She scraped it off with her knife and wiped it on the Stallion’s tire, then climbed back inside. Her CB was going nuts with voices calling for Kai. She picked up the mic and held it to her lips.
“Relax, I’m still here.”
“What were all those explosions?” That was Axel, leader of the resistance cell she belonged to.
“Would you believe technical difficulties?” Kaija asked.
“No,” was the terse reply.
Kaija sighed. Axel was going to be pissed. Again.
“Two Vipers, two Rattlers and a pickup-truck full of Blackshirts pretending to be refugees.”
“Dammit, Kai, I’ve told you about patrolling alone!” Axel roared.
Kai waited for him to stop yelling. It was a long lecture about working in groups, not taking risks and not getting caught out in the open. Kaija barely listened, she’d heard it all before. She passed the time watching the truck burn and chewing on a piece of jerky that tasted like salty shoe leather.
“Well?” Axel asked, and Kaija realized he’d been silent for quite some time.
“Roger, boss, whatever you say,” Kaija said.
“You weren’t listening at all, were you?” Axel asked.
Kaija smiled. “Nope. I’m coming in. No lectures, I’ve got some new mags for the boys, toilet paper and three boxes of diapers I scavenged from White City. If you want the last issue of Playboy, be nice.”
She tossed the radio aside, slammed the door and accelerated into the desert sun.