APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 7 August, 2000


Badlands Rendezvous

Part Two

Tom McGrenery

[NOTE: Continued from Part One, which originally appeared in Volume 2, Number 3. -Ed.]

A still photograph. From some of the posters on the wall, most notably for "Conlan Josef plays the Stoneheads Hits", in addition to the style of dress and fixtures, we can date this picture to somewhere in the mid-1930s. The photograph appears to be a simple snapshot of a moment, attempting to capture the ambience of the tavern. In the foreground, an old man, who seems likely to be the landlord, is doing a jigsaw at the end of the bar. He smokes a pipe, and pulls at the shoulders of his polymer jacket.

Of more interest to us is a figure up and to the left of this man. A young woman, perhaps twenty-five cycles old. Her light hair is drawn back in a pony-tail, held in place with what appear to be the wires from a battery connector. Her expression is one wistful ennui. We can see that she has something at her fingertips on the table at which she is sitting, though we cannot see just what. Those familiar with the wife of the Prime Minister will observe that she tends to cut her hair shorter nowadays.

As Fergal disconnected the call, the beaten-up old phone jolted him with electricity as a Parthian shot. Nursing his wounded finger, he returned to the table and sat down. Lucy did not look up.

"Machines attacking you again?" she asked.

Fergal grunted a reply and reached for the cawfeepot. He was somewhat distressed to discover it contained only a few lukewarm dregs. He put the pot back on the tray. He'd spent too long on the phone, evidently.

Sepia tones began to warm the colours of the bar. Getting late. Nearly time to go. Fergal began to experience the impatient butterflies he always got when watching the clock. He picked up the paper and discovered that most of the headlines were missing. Lucy had cut them into individual words, and was making random sentences with them.

"North admits killer search now off after called 'terrible' error," he read upside-down, "That could almost be a real story."

"Probably is, somewhere," muttered Lucy, "Probably how they make news."

Fergal sat a while, resting his chin in his hands. This reminded him he needed to shave, as the non-beard he had acquired looked silly and was faintly irritating. Lucy had re-mixed the slips of paper and formed another string of words - 'For freed are safer than convicted'.

"That doesn't mean anything," Fergal said helpfully. Lucy met his eyes.

"Everything has a meaning, even if you don't consciously recognise what it is. Symbols and signs work on us whether we like it or not. It's subconscious. Hence, the "death of the author" that the literary establishment have failed to agree on since pre-TN times."

Fergal stared. The eye-glazing trick never normally worked, but it was worth a try.

"You're not following in the least, are you?" Lucy continued. Damn.

He tried to look interested. As long as she doesn't start drawing diagrams, he thought, I should be fine.

"Let's say, for the sake of argument, okay, that red signifies anger in popular awareness." Lucy began to slip in to lecture mode.

"If an artist paints a landscape using lots of red, then regardless of whether he wants to have an angry scene, that is what will be perceived, even if not consciously. The trick is to know what things mean, and to use those signs."

Fergal looked at his watch. Time to go. Marvellous.

They reached Fort Neil by dusk. Amid the columns of workers returning home, no one noticed another lorry, especially one as common a model as the Camel. Lucy's Iguana was under a tarp, though to look at the weary faces of the motor town's bottom rung, it could have been running around causing massive property damage with nary a batted eyelid.

As dust began to blow in from the dunes, the Camel slowed to a halt with a hiss of hydraulics. All around was the town's light industrial area - all wide, empty avenues and dull, blocky buildings. Fergal jumped down from the cab and check the bonds on the gear. Lucy locked up the lorry and together they entered the warehouse.

Fergal took a roll of bank notes from his jacket pocket and thumbed through them, his lips moving silently.

"There's no need to flash the wad about!" Lucy hissed, urgently.

Fergal put the money away and straightened himself up.

"Where are going now?"

"Into the warehouse," said Lucy.


"To find out about the job."

"They can't just tell us over the phone?"

Lucy pushed the warehouse door. Unlocked. Right.

The door opened with a shriek of metal.

"Man who turns into a house," said Fergal behind her.




Inside, the space was empty and brightly lit. A group of men in similar work clothes lounged on the floor. Standing apart from the group was another figure, holding a clipboard. The man looked to be about forty cycles - hair thinning on the top a little, tall and angular, wearing a scarf loosely over a long coat made of what appeared to be springerhide. The man looked up.

"Ah, just on time. Make yourselves at home."

Lucy and Fergal shuffled further in to the building.

"It's good to meet you at last, Mr. Von Breslau," the man continued, "My name, for the record, is Philippe."

Over the horizon, Huang Fei and Jovalis were hard at work. They had lifted the hull of the floater clear of the dune, but the heavy gear slung beneath it was firmly embedded - especially after they accidentally collapsed more sand on top of it. Now, they were trying to drag the Cheetah out by the feet, using the floater to support its weight.

"This is going to take hours," said Sandro, bracing himself on the sand.

"That's a fair assessment," replied Huang Fei, "Did you make sure those were slip-knots?"

Back in Fort Neil, Philippe continued to outline the plan. Fergal leaned over to Lucy and whispered in her ear.

"You know, this guy sounds suspiciously.... Saragossan. You don't suppose he's -"

"You worry too much," snapped Lucy, and turned away, shaking her hair in Fergal's face.

Philippe was now pinning photographs to the board. Photos of the crate - one of those heavy duty metal and ceramic jobs, designed to withstand heavy impact.

"We'll need some more equipment than what you have here," said Ryan Pohoryllo. Ryan had, it seemed, been hired for his technical expertise. Certainly not for his taste in shirts, anyway, though his current canary yellow number had a certain devil-may-care panache to it.

"That's being taken care of as we speak," replied Philippe, "You, Fergal and Lucy will go to collect the merchandise later tonight."

Ryan muttered something in Hispanic, but Philippe apparently didn't hear. Instead he looked at his watch.

"Now, to be more accurate," he said.

"Anyone want anything while we're out?" asked Fergal.

"Yeah," shouted Sigurd, from the far wall where he was plugging a mass of cables into each other, "My two front teeth. And a Weird But Tasty all-day breakfast."

Philippe unlocked the door for the three to go. "Take car, Lucy, Fergal. Ryan - vaya con dios."

Night had set in on the town, and the trio huddled into their coats as they went to Ryan's car.

"Voila. The Pohoryllomobile," he said, clicking the roof down as they approached.

The roads were empty, and it was just a few minutes before they arrived at the meeting place.

A few late-night customers relaxed on the café's sofas, silhouettes against the soft, peach-tinted light within.

"When do they get here?" said Lucy.

"In 31 minutes' time, by my reckoning," said Ryan, "Thought I'd better give us a good half-hour to find the emergency exits. Let's get a cawfee. Mine's a Corsé de Rocque."

The cawfee-house was a slightly yuppie affair with a relaxed atmosphere. They got themselves an armchair each, and pulled them into a rough triangle. The heat from the cups seemed intense after the damp cold of the night air. Ryan shifted in his chair, looked over his shoulder.

"What's up?" Lucy said.

"I, um, I always get a bit nervous before it gets going," he glanced at the windows again, "What about, what about you... Fergal?"

Fergal just shook his head. Ryan shifted his weight around heavily. Hot cawfee spilled over the edge of his cup, on to his fingers. Lucy pretended not to notice.

"No point worrying," said Fergal at length, "If there's nothing to be done. If there's no decision to be made, then worrying can't help at all."

"It's more the threat for me," said Ryan, looking around the café, "The danger, you know?"

"Do you want to swap seats?" asked Lucy. Ryan nodded quickly and stood up to take the chair with a view of the door.

"Worst that can happen is they kill you," said Fergal.

Twenty-three minutes later, an odd duo entered the café. The first through the door was immensely tall, easily two metres, and by the looks of it about as wide across. Her companion was much shorter - probably not a midget but dwarfed by his friend. Fergal had never seen a man more emaciated. It was a wonder he was upright. He paced over to the group.

"I hear the winters in Réunion are very cold," he said, conversationally.

"What?" said Lucy.

"I hear the winters in Réunion are very cold."

"Beg your pardon?"

"You are not Red Fox?"

"Yeah," said Lucy, "Let's just sod the elaborate passcodes and go, shall we?"

Ryan and Fergal put down their cups and followed Lucy and the two new arrivals outside. As they stood in the diffused light from inside the cawfeehouse, the large woman pointed silently to a lit window in a house down the street. A police gear skated past on a perpendicular road as a blurry form moved in the window, partially blocking it.

"You see the silhouetted figure at that window?" said her companion, "That man holds a Paxton Barnaby SR-1 sniper rifle - the most powerful long-range gun on Terra Nova. It would be best if you comply with us."

This artefact was discovered near the ruins of an oasis tower, marked on the handouts as location F. A serviette from a branch of a cawfee chain, as we can see from the stamped logo, it is of little interest in itself but helps us to date some of the other finds at the dig. In this case, after cross-referencing it with iconography of other artefacts, some time in the interpolar cold war period.

To Be Continued...

Back to APAGear II Archives

APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 7 August, 2000