“Well regardless of what happened, it all went down a long, long time ago. These days the ol’ town’s deserted, not even the rats live down there.” Marty Sloyce commands the mucus lining his throat into his mouth with a horrific guttural huac and spits it off to the side. It splatters on the floor of the interrogation room before being consumed and recycled. “I’m an old man, gentlemen, and I don’t have much time left. I’d prefer not to waste it, if it’s all the same with y’all.”
The Dali kidnappers look at one another for a few moments, as if communicating telepathically. Marty bites his tongue to prevent himself from laughing aloud at how ridiculous their Dali ‘Staches look. The Dali may hold reign over The Compound, but that doesn’t mean they deserve respect. They’re a dirty cult; violent, psychotic, they think they’re royalty based on the cut of their ‘Stache, and even all that isn’t enough for them. Now they want what was on Ground Zero.
“Then do not waste it. You know we’re looking for the device, and we know you were there that night in Ground Zero. The ball’s in your court, Mister Sloyce.”
“Fine,” he spits in disgust. “It happened in the saloon… it was his little home away from home. They say you can hear him walkin’ around in there on quiet nights. I’ve got to imagine most nights are quiet down in Ground Zero, wouldn’t you, gentlemen?”
The Dali to the right slams the cheap table with a fist, leaving a visible dent. “You’d better be going somewhere with this horseshit.”
Marty smirks with the left corner of his mouth. “Yes, I’ll be going home, and you’ll be going somewhere too, gentlemen. You’ll be going to Ground Zero on a quiet night, you’re going to listen for footsteps, and when you hear them? You’re going to go inside the saloon and ask Handlebar’s ghost himself what happened to the device, because as far as I saw it, he was the last one to use it.” The metal legs of the chair screech against the floor, dislodging nanobots in showers of white sparks. Marty stands, dusts himself off, and walks himself out of the interrogation room. The Dali boys do nothing. There’s nothing they can do. The Unity Device will remain lost, The Compound divided forever.
Oh how the mighty have fallen so; woe is the Dali, woe is Ground Zero, woe is The Compound ‘neath Atacama.
Marty slides his pudgy fingers between two dusty metal flaps and pulls down. The vent opens silently, giving him a clear view of the saloon’s back office. Jess’s back is to him, but Marty can see that he’s meeting with two men. Old men. Hard men, Walruses.
“What are you gettin’ into, Jess?”
Jess doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even hear Marty’s words. Neither do the Walruses, fortunately for the boy – they carry heavy metal on their calves and seven-shooters on their hips. Rumor has it they got the new energic ammo rigs, they wouldn’t even have to reload… and even if they had to, it wouldn’t take seven shots to take Marty down. They’re the gunsmiths down here, directors of the way of the hand cannon.
“I like to imagine you folks keep the peace around here – would you agree?”
The Walruses look at each other. One of them raises his hand to his hip.
“You didn’t call us here to find out what we do, did you, Jess?”
“He couldn’t have,” chuckles the other. “He knows what such would mean. What we’d have to show him.”
“Trust me,” Jess Handlebar assures them with a low wave of his hand, “I know full well what you gentlemen are about. What I have for you is quite possibly the next great innovative leap The Compound requires to take things to the next level.”
Jess turns and picks up a black box, holds it out with one hand. The other presses a button on the top of the box. The top and sides of the black box fold into the bottom, revealing what appears to be a large white coffee mug scrawled with wild thick black hieroglyphics. Rather than speaking further, Jess Handlebar raises the big mug to his mouth and allows his chin to slip in, pressing the top of the mouth against the bottom of his nostrils. He raises his free hand and taps the mug, or at least that’s what it looks like. Marty can’t see very well from up here in the dusty air ducts, but it’s better than not seeing at all. Folk have been talking about the return of The Horseshoes for years now, and Jess Handlebar is allegedly at the middle of the big conspiracy. Jess babysat Marty when he was a youngling, they’re as close as hairs in a ‘Stache for the love of the Twelve, and still he promised Marty the talk was just that – talk. But this…
The Walruses leap two feet backwards when Jess lowers the mug from his face. One draws his shooter, the other draws a length of dull, blunt metal. Heavy metal.
“It’s not possible! Explain yourself, Handlebar, before we waste you proper.”
“This is the Unity Device, gentlemen,” Jess Handlebar explains through his newly bustling Walrus moustache. “I acquired some nanobot technology from the Chevrons – real, legitimate nanotech! The bots weave into your facial hair, anyone can wear any of the Twelve Great ‘Staches! We can use this to reunite The Compound! No more cults, no more division! We–”
“Can bring back The Horseshoes, is that where you’re going with this?” sneers the Walrus wielding the heavy metal. “I have to say, Handlebar, I didn’t think the talk was true. I can’t tell if I’m happy or disappointed.”
“The rumors are shit, I’m not bringing back The Horseshoes.” Jess sighs. “Maybe at one point I wanted to – a whole lot of wrong happens down here, gentlemen. I’m not the only man who wants to see justice served, and I doubt I’m the only one who would be willing to go the distance to serve it, but…” He shakes his head. “No. No, there’s no point, it would only serve to further divide the citizens of The Compound. I propose we all meet, we vote on which ‘Stache we’d like to keep, and we all join forces. Who knows, mayhap we could even esca–”
Thunder sings in the key of gunpowder.
Marty’s hands clap to his face, but the sound of Jess’s body landing covers it like Jess’s blood begins to cover the floor. The Walrus holsters his seven-shooter and turns to leave the office. The other one bends down and takes up the Unity Device, then spits in Jess’s face. As he stands back up he stares at the vent, and Marty swears the man looks directly in his eyes. A few minutes after the men leave, Marty kicks the vent out and climbs down into the room. Jess is holding something in his hand, but he doesn’t seem to have the strength to lift his arm off the ground.
“Marty…” Jess whispers. He tries to take a breath and struggles until he gives up.
Marty, his eyes leaking salty rivers, his face red with anguish, leans in close.
“Take this button, Marty, this button will… this will disintegrate my device. Like it was never there, Marty. I made it because I knew… I knew it would fall into the wrong hands. It’s up to you now, Marty, it’s up…”
Jess’s fingers relax, allowing the button to tumble to the floor.
“It’s up… up to… you…”