I'm writing a novel. (The first step to getting over addiction is admitting you have one.)
To err is human -- and to blame it on technology is doubly so.
The sunset over the wasteland was the color of flames rising from the ashes of civilization. The sun, like the angry eye of a long-forgotten god, shone maliciously at the edge of the empty sky, mercilessly beating down on anything so unlucky to be caught in its gaze.
Terran Kaine was one such unlucky man. With an arm hung over his eyes he warded off the attacking light rays, allowing his high-tech ocular implants to automatically compensate for the brightness of the outside world. He reflexively uttered a few choice expletives as his eyes dialed in to the right settings before he allowed his arm to drop back to his side. A quick glance to his sensory heads-up display allowed Kaine to know that it was past the twenty-first hour of the day. They were late.
Kaine was impatiently waiting for a pair of his old biker buddies to appear over the desert horizon. He leaned into a dented Texaco gas pump, scuffing a puff of dust into the wind, and stretched his back in a shallow arch. The faded crimson pump shuddered under the shifting weight, having not been touched by humanity since gasoline had gone the way of coal. The little shade offered by the canopy of the abandoned centuries-old service station was only a major change from the sun's direct barrage. However, it was enough to provide temporary relief as Kaine contemplated the merits of being late in a society in which the time was only a thought away, thanks to modern cybernetic brain enhancements. He flicked his eyes to the left: 21:01.
Kaine's keen eyes caught the movement of a hulking CyGen airship slowly hovering over the peaks to the east. The lumbering beast swept soundlessly across the rusty mountain ridge, its belly undoubtedly full of passengers luxuriously traveling from one side of the sprawling urban Southland to the other. The flight most likely originated in Las Vegas, at the northeastern edge of the city. The passengers were nothing more than the elite, wealthy playboys and their trophy wives, Kaine thought. He scoffed at the concept, and again checked his vision's chronometer. Dex and Frank hadn't shown up yet, and it seemed that they most likely wouldn't.
"To hell with 'em."
Kaine snapped his body away from the pump, his eyes still staring down the highway into the distant haze, and trod back to his own motorcycle perched at the edge of the gas station's concrete pad. The bike's efficient batteries were wired into and feeding off of the ancient land line power grid. The motorcycle was an older model, an electric engined behemoth with styling reminiscent of the combustion-fueled choppers of the 21st century. The lines of the gunmetal gray body hinted at the raw muscle hidden beneath her hide. Kaine felt blessed to own such a beautiful bike; she was his pride and joy, the one worldly possession that he cared for as if she was his child. He reverently placed a gloved palm on the bike's side. The skin of the composite fairing was warm to the touch as Kaine traced his hand toward the bike's belly. His hand followed a thick, insulated wire nestled into the motorcycle's underside and grasped an alligator clip attached to the manual battery recharge lead. Careful to avoid shocking himself with the archaic equipment, Kaine removed both the positive and negative clips before dropping them carelessly on the concrete. As the metal clattered to the ground, a brilliant blue arc of electricity lit the air between the exposed tips. A strong burnt-ion smell filled the air as Kaine stood up from his crouched position and firmly grasped the handlebars of the bike with both hands.
Kaine flipped onto his familiar seat, and at his command the bike quietly purred to life. His thin leather jacket whipped lazily around his body as it caught the dry breeze. He had made up his mind. If his former biker brothers were legitimately interested in meeting him tonight for their monthly reunion, they'd have to find him at Alkaline Tom's.
- - -
The route to Alkaline Tom's hadn't been re-paved in what Kaine estimated to have been fifty years. The dry, dusty road had enough rough cracks to feel like he was riding over a string of railroad ties, even with the motorcycle's softail active shock reduction technology. He kept the speedometer's needle hovering below 100 kilometers per hour as he sped over the desert. The wind jostled his short cropped hair as he rode helmet-less, relying on the mental input from his cyberbrain to ensure his safety in any possible instance of a crash at high-speed. At least his vehicle allowed him control, Kaine thought, as opposed to the automated electric cars found within the Southland.
The highway took Kaine through deserted towns and past derelict shopping plazas. The rusted-out frame of a half-ton pickup sat in the middle of the road, left where it had run out of fuel during the exodus. Most such abandoned vehicles had been scavenged and scrapped for metal. Makeshift waste dumps were crowded with polyurethane bumpers, filled with floor mats, and overpopulated by rows and rows of bucket seats and car interior cloth.
Kaine neared Alkaline Tom's Saloon just as the sun snubbed itself out over the horizon, its dying light sending out a faint green flash as a last will and testament. A blinding digital billboard advertised the attractions within the seedy establishment, featuring two naked women pouring beer on themselves and a scrolling bar of bold text. Kaine looked up to see the text change from "What Would Alkaline Tom Do?" to "You Know You Want Some." The light from the billboard danced and flashed across the barren flat, casting long ghostly shadows on the empty land.
Twilight closed in around him as he turned the bike into the parking lot, the deceleration causing his motorcycle's variable raked front fork to shorten, stabilizing the ride. The lot was filled with vehicles of all kind, from modified street-racers to tractor trailers, most of which were umbilically attached to a power charging rig. Dozens of drunken, high, or just outright insane individuals were milling about in front of the bar. None of them took any notice of Kaine as he parked his motorcycle by the entrance and strode through the old-fashioned bat wing doors.
It was dark inside, with electric blue argon bulbs highlighting rows of booths around the outside wall. An aggressive, abrasive electronically-enhanced offspring of rock 'n' roll blared from hidden speakers and mixed with harsh voices to produce a banshee wail of noise. One end of the room was dedicated to a well-lit white stage, on which two dancing women were displaying their assets. One was already nude, and the other was about to be, resulting in a cheer of approval from the mostly male audience.
A flashing lighted sign on the wall shouted, "ALKALINE TOM'S SALOON: NO UN-HOLSTERED WEAPONS, NO FREE DRINKS, NO LAST CALL." As Kaine waded between tables of down-on-their-luck wastelanders and nomadic scavengers, a pop-up message blocked his vision to announce the same message. He confirmed his consent to the house rules and took the last empty stool at the busy bar counter.
"My lucky day," he said to himself.
The bar patron to Kaine's right was an absolute mess. He sported what looked to be an outdated industrial grappling claw for a left arm. The thick orange skeletal rods of steel were crisscrossed with exposed wire and multi-colored tubing. From the elbow joint of the arm dripped a foul-colored liquid. The horrific creation was evidently the result of a crude homegrown implant, stripped of all aesthetics and smelling of lubricant and motor oil. The patron himself smelled of cheap cologne and bad breath, which only intensified as he opened his lips in a twisted sneer when he followed Kaine's glance at the growing puddle at their feet. Kaine forced his expression to remain impassive and shrugged to signify his apathy for the condition of the floors. Turning to the left, Kaine had nodded his head to attract the attention of the bartender when he sensed quick movement in the corner of his vision. He whipped his body back to the right just in time to see the grappling claw arm turn into an orange blur as it swung in his direction.
The unforgiving metal claw clamped itself securely around Kaine's neck as it bodily lifted him up and backwards away from the barstool. He quickly found himself staring down at the head of an ogre. Kaine searched his cybernetically-enhanced memory for an uglier, more unappealing face that he had encountered, and came up empty.
Now that's a feat, he thought.
The open-lipped sneer was still plastered on the violent patron's mouth, displaying a handful of blackened tar-stained teeth. The man's nose looked to have been broken ten times and only set straight twice, while his eyes were red-rimmed and swollen with rage. It took all of Kaine's bodily control not to spit onto his ugly mug. The sneer slowly opened into a jagged maw, and the mouth-breathing thug sloppily grunted his question, "What're you lookin' at?"
"Your disgusting face, mutant," Kaine responded without thinking. He immediately regretted his impetuousness as he found himself swinging in the air again, his predicament the center of attention for all the eyes in the saloon. In a brief moment of clarity, dangling from this monster's vice grip of a hand, Kaine watched as the bartender shouted to a pair of bouncers that were weaving their way across the room. Kaine's legs were backpedaling above tables, causing the tables' occupants to have to duck to avoid getting pulled into the confrontation. A scantily-clad blonde girl screamed as his boot whipped toward her face full of makeup and plastic surgery. Kaine would have kicked her, too if her slick boytoy hadn't pulled her out of the way.
Kaine's hands worked over his attacker's artificial arm in a desperate search to find some sort of loose wire or imperfection that might disable the gripping mechanism. The claw began crushing his throat as Kaine struggled to get free, choking him. Suddenly, with a furious thud, Kaine felt his back and head slam into the saloon's wood-paneled wall. From the splinters that sliced the back of his neck, it was apparent that the metal claw had pierced the wood behind him. The face appeared again, even closer. Spittle formed on his lips as he roared in Kaine's face.
"What was that, you little bastard?"
Kaine could tell that nothing he could say would calm the giant down, and that he was in for a severe punishment either way. He might as well speak his mind, "Are you as deaf as you are ugly? I said that I was staring at your putrid, rotten face. Now get your hands off me, Tin Man."
As expected, Kaine watched the giant's other hand curl into a thick ball and pull back. This fist was just as big as the grappling claw hand and looked to be just as soft. He was choking for air as the punch began rocketing forward toward his temple. Kaine squeezed his eyes shut and flinched away, but the claw had him firmly adhered to the wall. He had time for only one more thought: This is going to hurt.
The punch never came. After a few seconds, Kaine timidly opened his eyes in confusion. Tin Man was frozen, his alcohol-glazed eyes clearly opened wide in surprise. It was apparent that someone or something had spooked the giant thug. Kaine just then noticed that the music had been muted, as a voice called out from behind his attacker.
"Let go of him, champ," said the disembodied voice.
The claw around Kaine's neck loosened, causing him to fall to the floor, gasping for breath. His fingers absently caressed his neck. From his new vantage point, he could see that someone had the sawed-off barrel of a shotgun screwed into the base of Tin Man's skull. Just the same, the lead bouncer had a pistol aimed at Kaine's rescuer. Kaine tried to wrap his oxygen-deprived mind around the situation.
Someone put his life on the line to literally save my neck, he thought.
The voice spoke again.
"All right, guy, put your actuators on ice and drop your arm, huh? And no sudden moves, we wouldn't want my shotgun to make the back of your head as ugly as the front, right?"
Kaine couldn't help but chuckle, much to the chagrin of his attacker. Tin Man lowered his artificial arm back down to his side and growled. Once he did, the rescuer stuffed the sawed-off shotgun into a makeshift holster and pulled Kaine to his feet. Kaine's eyes widened as he recognized his rescuer.
"None of this would have happened if you had been on time, Dex," said Kaine.
Dex merely smirked, his sunglasses covering his bright eyes, and pushed Kaine toward the door. The lead bouncer also put his weapon away, but herded the pair toward the exit. The majority of the patrons had turned back to their conversations or ogling the dancers, who were awkwardly huddling at the edge of the stage, unsure if they should continue their show.
"I didn't even get a drink yet," said Kaine, prompting one final shove from Dex to force him to leave the saloon. Once outside, Kaine's biker brother opened up, "Look, you almost got yourself killed in there, so its already time to leave."
"Hey man, I didn't even start it. And they didn't make that-" Dex cut him off with the wave of a hand.
"That man was the owner's son. I'm lucky I pulled on him and didn't get shot," Dex said. Kaine cursed as Dex continued, "But cheer up, brother. I've got a stash back at my place."
This is merely an excerpt of a work in progress. Feel free to review or rate this introduction, but consider it to be only a teaser.