Roving Stars September 15, 2098
The Trouble With Tortuna
Part II: End Run Through Hell
or, Traveling with Rangers is a Bad Idea
So, I was busted, besotted, and bedraggled, not to mention hungover and soaking wet. If it hadn’t been for the dome overhead, I might have fooled myself into thinking I was back in LA. As it was, it was nighttime, and I could pretend the twinkling lights above were stars, instead of security lamps. I stopped to breathe in the night air (it smelled like somebody had set fire to the cat) and take in the nightlife (a couple of people in wild colors were tossing a hobo back and forth like some oversized ball).
“Get down!” Something very large grabbed me and made me kiss the pavement (which tasted like the aforementioned burning cat). Visions of police brutality danced in my head, until I heard the shots.
This is Tortuna City… Underside LA, but with cleaner air. We hadn’t walked more than ten feet from the bar I got arrested at, and already we were made. I pride myself on my badness, but I know when I’m outclassed. I got so close to the pavement we should have got married, and kept my head down. The Faux Zanquils (Four Galaxy Rangers in disguise) returned fire. The air filled with the smell of ozone, and for a minute all I could hear was cursing and that special crackle the air makes when a blaster is fired. I chose that moment to convert from atheism to pan-universalism, and made bargains with Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Haile Selassie, Kolkker, and the Grand Goobenoff (don’t ask).
Apparently it worked, because the next thing I knew one of the Rangers was tapping me on the shoulder, and telling me it was safe to get up.
“Did we win?” I asked. (Okay, it wasn’t the smartest thing to say. Give me a break, it’d been a long day.)
“Well, those guys won’t be bothering us anymore.” The guy who seemed to like Jivetalk pointed at the bodies scattered across the street.
“Uh, I thought Rangers only carried stun blasters.”
“Oh for…I’d like to know just where that stupid myth came from,” the blond giant snarled.
“They’re the real thing, and it’s lucky for you that they are,” Foxx added. “Stun doesn’t do much more than annoy Crown Troopers.”
“Company coming!” The galaxy’s most beautiful woman (whose name I later learned was Niko) came running up. The very ominous sound of tromping feet echoed up the street. We booked.
I think I’ve already mentioned how big Tortuna City is. What I probably neglected to mention is how damned confusing the place is. Tokyo has nothing on this place. We ran past a brothel, a bar, an antique shop, another bar, a tent selling guns, somebody’s bathroom (with the facilities in full view of the street), yet another bar, a restaurant that served liquor, a building that looked like some kid’s Lego creation, yet another bar, and a place that just advertised “stuff”. And those were just the buildings I could identify. All this, on one block. And this is typical. I get the impression that the people who built the place were drunk, kept forgetting that they’d already built the bar, and decided that construction zoning meant getting really wasted while laying bricks.
The upshot of all this is that I didn’t have the faintest idea where we were, much less where we were going. Asking for directions was completely out of the question. It was all I could do to keep up with my annoyingly athletic saviors, and trust them to lead me out. Then we hit the fence.
“Ooops. Wrong street,” said Jivetalk.
“Anybody know where we are?” Blondie asked.
“I thought you…”
“Great. Just great,” Foxx grumped. “Back the other way.”
So much for trust. “This your first time here?” I asked, wishing I’d had the foresight to buy a map earlier. Foxx ignored me. Rude man. But he showed some intelligence. He asked Niko for directions. Niko responded by leaning against the wall, and closing her eyes.
“Three streets over, then turn left. That should take us to the tunnels,” she finally responded. I’d love to know how she managed that trick. I could have used it when driving in San Fran.
So we started moving again. The streets were thankfully deserted. Except for those damned floating eyeballs. I swear at least 30 of them swarmed after us, wondering what the heck was going on. One of them floated a little too close, and met my face. Forcefully. The next thing I knew, I was kissing the pavement again (it tasted no better the second time around) and someone was yelling something in Tortunian Pidgeon about humans eating his desk. Or something like that. Shots ricocheted near my head for the second time in ten minutes.
Turned out we’d run smack into rush hour or something. A couple hundred smugglers, bandits, and assorted thugs were convinced they’d hit the jackpot by stumbling onto a pack of stupid humans. At least, until the Rangers returned fire. Then they started screaming for their mothers. Enough was enough, I decided. While everybody was occupied with trying to kill one another, I beat a hasty retreat through a side alley.
This was followed by me beating a hasty retreat back. There was a trio of Crown Agents beating the crap out of some poor jerk on the other side. They took one look at my naked face, and I swear you could see those yellow eyes scream “promotion!”
Those familiar with Murphy’s Law (if you don’t, look it up. I’m busy) will predict what happened then. I ran into the Rangers running the other way. Literally. I ended up landing on top of Niko, so it wasn’t a total loss on my end. She, however, uttered a very unladylike expletive as we hit the pavement. Sadly, I didn’t have time to enjoy the position, because Blondie grabbed me by my collar, and dragged me towards the oncoming Crown Agents. I have fleeting memories of calling for my lawyer, and no memories at all of what happened to those local authorities. Something requiring a trash compactor, no doubt.
The next thing I knew, I was being stuffed into the back seat of a car.
“Hang on, man. Goose is driving,” Jivetalk warned me.
“What?” That was the last cohesive thing I said for the next half-hour or so. Goose (aka Blondie) floored it. I think my stomach was left behind in the rush. But for once, I wasn’t alone in my terror. Jivetalk screamed on a few occasions…usually as we did barrel rolls to avoid oncoming traffic, and played chicken with competing motorists. I joined him on the high notes. Foxx and Niko kind of hunkered down in their seats, and tried to look casual while Goose proceeded to do everything the driver’s manuals tell you to never, under any circumstances, to do.
“Doc, that’s kind of distracting,” Goose chided as we careened around a truck.
“So let me drive, then!” Jivetalk screamed back.
“You don’t drive defensively enough.”
“We get any more ‘defensive’, and we’ll be road jam, my Gooseman! Aaaaaaa! Look out for that building!”
I decided to adopt a better position. I put my head between my knees, and commenced weeping. This was my position when we stopped, so I didn’t see the reason for it. I did notice that the front end of the car was crimped inwards and that everybody but Gooseman was pale and shaking.
“Was that really necessary?” I moaned, as I staggered into a lamppost.
“We got away from them, didn’t we?” Goose said. Doc said something unintelligible in reply. I chose that moment to shoot off my smart mouth. I won’t bore you with everything I said. (Mainly because I don’t recall all of it myself. Trauma tends to do that to a person.) But I nearly got decked for a comment about “psychopathic running dogs of the elite establishment”. I then stated that I’d be safer on my own, and attempted to walk off. At that point, I think they would have been more than happy to let me go. But we’ll never know for sure, as I came face to face with another dammed spydroid.
Enough was enough. I punched it in the eyeball. Bruised my fingers, but the sucker sparked and went down. I kicked it for good measure, and it exploded against the side of a building.
“I’ve always wanted to do that,” Goose laughed. “But now we have to get out of here.”
Shots answered my question. The Crown had found us again. “Oh, that’s why.”
“Here we go again,” Doc muttered.
“This way,” Niko said, and led us into a building that looked like somebody’s deranged idea of a slot machine, complete with lever. By some wondrous stroke of luck, it was abandoned. After shoving a desk in front of the door, and waiting for our pursuit to pass by, we were able to sit down and take a breather. I sprawled in a beanbag chair in the corner, and sighed in relief. My feet were killing me, and so was my head. (For those of you who are thinking of spiking your drinks with Glitter, my advice to you is don’t. You’ll get the mother and father of all hangovers afterwards.)
“Hey, isn’t this one of Geezi’s old hideouts?” Doc asked.
“Nah, it’s just got the same décor,” Goose responded. He picked up someone’s discarded beer stein, and immediately dropped it as what appeared to be a large purple rat jumped out. Three more rats tumbled out, and ran towards me. I was too tired to do more than make an “erk” sound. That turned into a rather loud yelp, when my beanbag chair ate them. Tired or not, I vacated. The chair grumbled, and made a rather obscene gesture with its pseudopod.
Niko, sweetie that she is, didn’t bat an eye. She walked right up to the chair, and apologized. It regarded her with three eyes, gurgled something in response, then oozed through the floorboards.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“There’s a way into the tunnels in the basement,” Fox translated.
“He’s helping us?” I wasn’t expecting to find an altruist on this planet. Certainly, not one I’ve used for a chair. Nobody else found this unusual.
“He’s wanted by the Crown,” Niko explained. “’All fugitives are allies’, as the saying goes.”
“He was also grateful for the meal,” Goose said. Doc went “Ewwww” in response. I settled for gagging.
After a quick search for the proper door, (we found the rest of the rats in a broom closet. My heart will never be the same) we trooped down to the basement, and into the tunnels.
These tunnels were also featured in Eve’s video. They looked cool and atmospheric in Tortuna Rock. In real life, they stink to high heaven. I would have traded my Jaguar TXV, my condo in Cypress Creek, and my ex-wife for a gas mask. I had to settle for wrapping my muffler around my face a few times. Better suffocation than that smell. It was utterly indescribable.
“It smells like your boots did after you took that BlueFire discharge,” Doc commented to Goose.
“Smells more like Floko in a rainstorm to me,” Goose retorted.
Okay, it was describable, if you’ve had the right experiences. Something tells me being a Galaxy Ranger isn’t the glamour job it looks. Luckily, there was nothing else in that tunnel. We made pretty good time. (If for no other reason than our rush to get out of the stink.) Within a half-hour, we hit a ladder, and started climbing up.
We came out just outside the dome, in a fuel depot’s offices. And once again, we ran into trouble. This time it was a group of Solarians on their lunch break. Instead of shooting at us, they dropped the dirty comic they were passing around, and ran out. Thirty seconds later, the alarms all went off.
“We’re going to have to run again, aren’t we?” I grumbled.
“Unless you want to visit the Psychocrypt…,” Foxx said.
“I’m running, I’m running!”
I picked up the dirty comic (it’s come in handy for barter in this tank) and started jogging again. Maybe I should publish a weight-loss program. “Get Fit or Get Dead: Running for Your Life on Tortuna”. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t. They’d probably want to shoot the promo on location.
Anyway, we ran into yet another squad of purple armored goons intent on shooting us. I was getting a little ticked off at this point. I mean, come on! Does everyone have to shoot at me when I come to visit? While my escort returned fire, I tried out the gesture the beanbag chair alien used. The troopers concentrated their fire on me in response.
“Rourke, you are NOT helping!” Foxx hollered.
“Well sorry. Maybe if you gave me a gun or a grenade or something, I could help!”
“Not a chance, you’d probably blow us up instead!”
Lucky guess. They did have grenades, though. Niko tossed out a few. Chunks of the tarmac, mixed in with bits of purple armor, rained down on us.
“Those are great. Let me try.” I snatched one out of her hand. Before she could grab it back, I tossed it.
It hit a slope and rolled back. I found myself saying, “Did I err?”
Foxx spat out a string of curses that could have peeled a layer of steel of the tarmac. Doc’s eyes bugged out.
“Hit the deck!” Niko shouted. Goose smashed me into the pavement once more. Niko gestured, and a glowing shield appeared between us and the grenade – just in time. She was blown off her feet, but walked away with only a few bruises. We took off while the smoke was still clearing. Since the Crown didn’t follow us, I assume they thought we’d accidentally blown ourselves up.
“Can I please drop him over the edge, Captain?” Goose begged.
“If you do, you’re filling out the paperwork.”
“I sent the recall signal to the horses, Zach,” Niko interrupted. “They’ll meet us at the gate.”
“Finally, something goes right,” he muttered. I tried to look innocent. (I practice in front of a mirror daily.)
The horses did hook up with us (CyberSteeds, of course. You didn’t think your standard horse was that smart, did you?) and we finally left Tortuna City. It felt so good to get out of that pit, I just had to sing. Foxx threatened to leave me out in the desert. He’s not a big fan of Eve tunes.
So, that was Tortuna. Not your typical vacation spot. It certainly costs more…in my case, a 30,000-credit fine, and a few years in the slammer. Though I should get out in a few months. The wonders of expensive lawyers. I’m already planning my next trip. I’m told Tarkon is lovely this time of year…
Davy Rourke is a reporter for the Roving Stars, the author of a number of banned books, and is currently serving time at Aunt Vivian’s Prison for Ne’er Do Wells for this boneheaded trip. We look forward to putting him back to work when he gets out. Our stash of banned substances is running low.