STREETS OF DESTRUCTION

Warren:

The Wildcats’ garage is across the city in a rundown industrial section. We watch as its metal door motors up and the first of their Frankensteined creations roll onto the street:

SORCERER

It’s name is painted in brilliant red across a custom-built hydraulic plow installed on the front of a heavy hauling dump truck. It’s body is armored in light-weight DEVAR2 and has been lifted to accept oversize resilient tires. Skeeter designed the metal mesh tires based on the ones used on the old Apollo mission lunar rovers. Several decades and leaps in technology later, he was able to use that design to create a nearly indestructible but pliant tire.

Proper bright is our Skeeter.

In the driver’s cabin, mounted on a platform more than a dozen feet above the rest of the vehicle, Skeeter will be strapped in behind the wheel.

street map

The truck continues to pick up speed as it moves like a determined battering ram in search of an obstacle.

Heading down Bleeker Street, Skeeter encounters a group of Sabers. There’s about twenty of them heading right at him, and on the narrow streets of Old Town, there’s no place for Sorcerer or the Sabers to retreat.

Skeeter puts his foot down and at the same time drops Sorcerer’s plow blade. It cuts into the cars, pierces their batteries and causes them to catch fire or explode as they get tossed into the air like toys.

We can hear Skeeter’s maniacal laugh over the speakers.

Your friends are looking for trouble,” Mr. Chu says.

Cause they can handle it,” I say, unable to contain my laughter.

As a new wave of Sabers approach — four solid lanes of them — we notice about fifteen of them turning onto a side street.

Skeeter keeps it steady and continues towards the approaching cars.

It takes some button pushing, but I find a camera on the side street. We see the cars pouring into an abandoned parking garage. Another button reveals the Sabers speeding up the twisting central ramp inside the garage. They turn off on the third and fourth levels, moving with an eerie predetermination.

Sorcerer takes on the next wave of cars, easily deflecting them into adjacent buildings, through windows, or causing them to combust and flash out. There seems to be an endless number sacrificing themselves. They begin to pile in front of the truck, catching under the plow and getting pulled under it. The truck begins to teeter from side to side as it compresses Saber after Saber.

Three floors above, we see the first Saber crash through a brick retaining wall and fly out of the garage. It explodes as it bounces off Sorcerer, followed by a succession of cars dropping from the garage. Like bullets from a machine gun they pound into the side of the truck. One exploding after another. The force of the multiple impacts and detonations combine to compromise the already unstable truck. It begins to rock wildly.

On the road, the approaching Sabers abruptly turn into each other causing a pileup under Sorcerer’s wheels. Skeeter tries his best, but the onslaught is too much. Sorcerer topples to one side and begins to slide. Cars are crushed and brushed aside until the big rig comes to a rest just shy of the intersection on Dupont Road.

Left behind is a battlefield of destruction, littered with a hundred smashed or burning Sabers.

I find a camera that shows Skeeter as he crawls out of his cabin, pulling a heavy rucksack over his shoulder. He hastily makes his way to nearby Grant Avenue. Once there, he pulls out an ancient cell phone and stabs out a series of numbers.

I answer the call. “What do you need?”

You got eyes?” Skeeter asked.

Oh, yeah.”

I stopped short. Are there cars inbound?”

I check several monitors. “Heading your way eastbound on Dupont and coming down Grant. It looks like they know Bleeker is blocked.”

That figures – they’re smart little monsters. Thanks, darling.”

Knowing his timing needs to be perfect, he pulls two radio-controlled cars — toys from the analog age — out of his bag. Each has been extensively and dangerously modified.

Skeeter keeps an eye on both streets as he fishes around in his rucksack and produces a controller for the RC cars. He powers the unit.

The Sabers approach. He knows enough about them to understand they can see him too. Right now his face is probably being shared with all the other Sabers in the city. He smiles at the thought of suddenly becoming the outlaw he’d always wanted to be.

The Sabers on Dupont near the intersection at Bleeker. The Sabers on Grant are still further away.

Skeeter takes a deep breath and pushes a button. The RC cars speed away, one up Grant, the other on Dupont.

He flips a safety cover on the controller to reveal two red buttons and waits. The RC cars close in on the approaching Sabers. The RC car on Dupont drives under the Sabers as they enter the intersection at Bleeker; he pushes the first red button.

The tiny radio-controlled car detonates the explosive pack it’s carrying. The huge blasts rocks the ground, breaks widows and pulverizes the leading Sabers. Those following are caught in a massive fireball and the shrapnel from the street’s hidden infrastructure.

The other group of Sabers continue to rush down Grant. He runs from the intersection, further down the street, looking over his shoulder. As the cars enter the intersection his thumb drops on the second red button. A fireball erupts. The Sabers are stopped. The intersection is made impassable.

As the smoke clears, Skeeter pulls himself off the ground. He’d been too close to that explosion and is covered in soot, but otherwise okay. He decides to dance a brief jig to mark his triumph.

Mr. Chu shakes his head in disbelief. “Where did these guys come from?”

What do you mean?” Warren asked.

How were they ready for this?”

They just listened to you on the news. You said the cars were dangerous. They listened. You’re kind of their hero.”

Mr. Chu doesn’t know what to say, shocked by how his words have been put into action. His moment of reflection is short; our attention turns again to the screens again. The next Ap Wagon has gone into action.

HOOKER

It’s 50 tons of tri-axle heavy wrecker with a rotating boom. Its mods include Skeeter’s metal tires, DEVAR2 plating and, on the back end, re-purposed outriggers.

I know that Marty and Martine (a truly crazy French Canadian brother and sister combo) are in the cab. He’d be behind the wheel. She’d be sitting beside him looking out the back through the small operator’s window, past the many gauges that provide real time data on the boom’s electronic and hydraulic bits.

A pack of Sabers is closing behind them.

Martine’s attention would be locked on them, measuring their progress. Her hands need to be on the proper levers, her feet resting on pedals that will provide additional control of the boom arm.

The first line of Sabers is no more than twenty feet behind them when we see the truck’s boom come alive. It extends as the winch begins to spool out heavy steel core cable. It has six tails that sport large, lethal-looking quad-edge grappling hooks. They fall onto the road and scatter across it — puncturing tires, piercing cooling fins and penetrating the SolarZorb.

Martine lifts the cars so they are barely touching the road; then she swings the boom back and forth across the width of the street. The Sabers in pursuit are knocked off their wheels and into each other. A massive pileup begins.

They aren’t finished, though. The modifed outriggers, which if positioned differently, would be used to steady the truck, are activated. Their sharpened ends hydraulically gouge the pavement and scatter chunks of it everywhere. Marty begins to sway back and forth across the street, turning it into an impassible, rutted obstacle course from hell. Any Sabers that continue to follow lose control in the deep ruts, catch in the deep furrows of pavement, crash into each other or surrounding storefronts.

In a matter of minutes, Scanlon Street is blocked with dead Sabers.

Martine lifts the outriggers as Martin zigzags to Reid Street. As they enter the intersection, the outriggers lower again and the truck begins to serpentine, ripping the hell out of the road as it proceeds.

INFERNO

There’s never been anything like Inferno on the road, and judging from Mr. Chu and Tom’s reactions, they agree.

Inferno is a former road resurfacing vehicle that has been fitted with six caterpillar treads, like a tank, and has been heavily reinforced. It’s as wide as a lane of traffic, about forty feet long, stands a good twelve feet over the road and is surprisingly fast.

When Inferno was originally built, it was something called a Non-stationary Asphalt Surface Removal and Reuse System. It slowly traveled down roads using its under-mounted burners to melt aging pavement, scoop it onto a built-in conveyor belt, add fresh asphalt compound to the old and re-lay the mixture as a new patch of road.

The Wildcats took that technology to next level, basically weaponizing it — which is how they have their fun.

As Inferno speeds toward Coreblock, it crushes any lone Saber that crosses its path. Within minutes several dozen Sabers are in pursuit. A lookout on the back of Inferno — I think it’s Carl, but it’s hard to tell in his protective gear — radios a warning. He and the five-member crew riding the back of the beast pull on their headgear. It’s the finishing touch to the metallic heat-resistant proximity suits they’re all wearing (which are also useful if you choose to walk into a live volcano). As they begin to activate systems, huge balls of flame shoot out from underneath the vehicle and temporarily engulf the crew. Huge balls, indeed; they simply shrug off the fact that they are heading to war at 50 mph while standing in a literal hell of flame and liquefied tar.

The gunner — Stevie — sits atop the driver’s compartment, behind a large caliber mini gun. Three drones drop from above and she opens fire. The drones veer off, allowing the crew below her to continue ramping up all the burners. In seconds Inferno looks like a very low altitude meteor, leaving a trail of fire behind it.

The drones come back for more and Stevie makes easy target practice out of them. At the same time, she notices the street behind is full of Sabers. She radios her observation to the others.

The heat crew activates the conveyor. It begins to scoop up molten tar from underneath them, blast it with more flame and projectile vomit a stream behind them.

The Sabers chasing them are already sticking to the melted street surface when a wall of flaming pitch drops on them. They are immediately stopped. The cars behind them have no recourse. There is a catastrophic explosion as Sabers collide with other Sabers.

I laugh at the sight of the hapless Sabers continuing to crash and burn.

Inferno comes to a stop. The crew continues pumping to build a barbecue pit of molten tar and flaming smart cars. They then proceed to where Carpenter intersects with Knapp and create another wall of pavement. Inferno is then parked on On O’Bannon Road where Hooker and its crew are waiting. They leave it behind to block the street and pile into Hooker.

Your friends have a talent for destruction,” Mr. Chu says.

They do. But there’s more than just that going on.”

I see it.”

Tom:

I don’t understand what they’re talking about, so I continue to scan the screens until a light bulb goes off.

They’re cutting off Coreblock! Blocking the roads.”

‘cept one. “They’ve left a way out.”

O’Bannon is still all together.”

Exactly. If we get lucky the Saber’s won’t see anything strategic about the one street that isn’t totally ruined.”

Johnny smiles. “You could be onto something. They are learning quickly, but they don’t seem to be that kind of intuitive. Not yet.”

Warren:

COASTER

The smallest of the Ap Wagons is a modified twin-engine street racer that spits flames from its side-mounted headers. On top of Coaster is the mechanism that gives it its name. It’s a cool-looking hydraulic frame that supports rails and a chain-driven mechanism that looks likes the first part of a roller coaster — the lifting part — but is somehow a whole lot more threatening.

Coaster is so overpowered it vibrates with deliberate mechanical fury as it easily outpaces a bunch of Sabers along Drury. I can’t see inside, but I know that Van is behind the wheel and he’s grinning ear-to-ear like a greedy little kid at Christmas. That boy loves his speed.

Ahead, another group of Sabers are racing toward him. It looks like about sixty of them running three abreast and ready to play chicken.

But Van ain’t no chicken.

As they get closer he activates the lifter/puller mechanism on top of his car and drives head-on toward the Saber directly in front of him in the middle of the road. I half watch the screen and half watch Mr. Chu and Tom. It’s clear they think Van is on a suicide mission.

Their expressions of concern change to confusion when there is no collision. Instead, the first Saber flies over Coaster, followed by the next one, the one after that and so on. The mechanism mounted on top of the car is able to pierce a Saber’s body, pull it along the rail on top and fling it behind. It’s built to handle one car after another to infinity.

The flying cars land on top of those trailing behind and cause general mayhem and destruction. Same old story: Sabers blow up, roll over, crash into buildings. In a matter of minutes the street is a mess of burning cars.

Drury Road is closed for business.

Skeeter is walking toward SaberCorp Plaza at the same time as the crews on Hooker arrive, followed by Van in Coaster. He raises a fist into the air as The Wildcats hoot and holler. They are victorious.

We’re crossing the lobby when it happens. Mr. Chu sees them first: two jet black Sabers.

The first Saber slams into Skeeter and knocks him onto the pavement. The car is unable to slow down. It slams into Hooker and bursts into flames.

The second Saber drives over Skeeter, drags him and skids into the flaming car.

Next Chapter: TROJAN SABER GAMBIT

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