I joined the fourth company, a regiment assigned to rail construction security. This sounded benign. It wasn't. President Adams bold rail project met massive resistance in the south west from a group calling themselves the Texas Recusants. A loosely affiliated, yet shockingly effective, sect of maniacs, these savage terrorists vowed to resist the Nation's last chance at survival.
The Recusants started as an obscure cult with a stone-aged mindset that grew horrifyingly fast with their involvement in the drug and flesh trade. The old world imagery and mythology served as a convenient screen to obscure what was in reality just a criminal enterprise with rather twisted forms of group cohesion. But, the formula worked. By the time President Adams took office, the Recusants had concluded a successful campaign for secession, claiming the entirety of Texas and southern portions of New Mexico and Arizona. Calls for civil war went out, but President Adams did not heed them. Unwilling to spare the life for what was in reality, the three worst states in the union, she decided on a policy of containment coupled with an intense focus on grand scale public works projects to revitalize the Nation. The key stone was rail system.
I remember the commentators at the time describing it as an "adrenaline shot". That did it justice in many respects; seeing those tracks cut through encroaching chaos made people feel more alive then they had in many years. President Adams gave the people hope and she earned their love.
At boot camp this sense of enthusiasm infected nearly every cadet. Only one stood out: Mike. He was naturally immune to the promise of the future. Nothing mattered to him, and everything sucked. Only the potential for personal glory could rouse him. And until the moment to earn it arrived, only the cheap thrills of base living intrigued Mike. He made a game sex and dabbled in cruelties against enemies and the unaffiliated badlanders that bordered on obscene - even in the rule-less frontiers. He repeated with sickening self-satisfaction his personal motto: "I fuck and I kill. I am the circle of life." This attitude of his, this dismissiveness and condescension, made me hate him. If I could have discretely killed him, somehow stabbed him, unnoticed in the heat of battle, I would have.
Mike enraged almost everyone around him. It only took a week of his underhanded comments before I broke down and tried with all of my might to smash his nose. I had hoped for a swift and decisive retribution, but instead I had only given him license to humiliate me further. He beat me savagely. His skills seemed insurmountable. But the more damage he expertly inflicted, the harder I fought.
Mike and I were complete opposites: he was the picture of privilege in every way. He had every natural gift and inherited treasure imaginable, like some kind of mythic hero, and he seemed to hate life for all its generosity. I, on the other hand, had nothing. I was nothing but incarnated stubbornness. I push through everything without the slightest ability or skill because I refuse to give up. And for a brief moment, in the grip of our one sided contest, we caught a glimpse of these opposing pulls in each other. It was a portent. I resisted it then, of course, but I sensed that fate would turn our struggle into fraternity once it revealed to us what we had to offer each other. Mike would come to see in me the one thing he lacked: a fight. He was all ability, all skill, and everything came easily to him. The smoothness of this kind of existence sapped his grit. But, me? Fight is all I had; a brute, stupid fight like a fist slamming against a steel door.
For our brawl, we both got three weeks of sand bag duty. We had to work side by side in the blistering heat. The work was grueling. The first few days were spent in silence. But then, we started talking.
"You can really take a punch", he offered.
"Yeah," I came back, "you're lucky they confiscated my knives at base."
He laughed. We shared memories about the days before everything went to shit. "Back then," Mike said, "you could enjoy making love to girls, but now it's just a way to waste time." He went on, "this world's so fucked up, the only thing I got to look forward to anymore is to check out epically".
"Fuck that," I said. "They're gonna obliterate every piece of me, before I stop. There won't be anything glorious about it."
By the end of our punishment or mutual respect was full blown. By the end of basic, we were brothers. We served together for a year on night patrol. We held off a Recusant attack on a supply line headed to the Pacific Northwest together. That earned us a place in the forward assault. When we set out to bring the fight to Recusant territory we felt like a burning ember about to drop on a pile of paper. It never occurred to us that they would decimate us. For as much as I liked play out scenarios in my head, to anticipate everything, I never thought they would cut Mike down with almost cruel indifference, and leave him to linger lifeless and inglorious in my dreams.
A loud crack wrenched me from my sleep. Flashes of purple light silhouetted LT's face. The ancient helmsman seemed to clutched even closer to his wheel. The bus accelerated, heaving and bucking more ferociously as it hurled over the fissured road. We bounced helplessly in our seats. Even through this commotion, LT kept his eyes fixed on his book. The rest of us exchanged looks of acceptance. We were under attack, in moments we could call be dead.
Then, the back of the bus lit up as fire from the turret strobed in through the visored windows. A metallic hail of expended shells rained down the roof with a ferocious chime.
The familiar cacophony of war quickly chased my unpleasant memories back to their keep.
My eyes fixed on the back window, and through the blinking of the night sky, I could make out a massive vehicle on our tail. I recognized it immediately as a vessel of the damned. We were being set upon by monsters.
After the the success of President Adams rail system, most of the roadways, especially those outside of the urban cores, fell into disrepair. The oil crisis had prompted the rail system, and the oil industry never recovered from it. Petroleum became an oddity and a symbol of a decadent past. The petroleum lifestyle, however, did not die out entirely. Through the efforts of a few intransigent oil devotees, this diabolical commodity clung to existence with the tenacity of the undead.
Brilliant scientists attempted to resolve the problem from the other side, by designing state of the art vehicles to run on alternative fuel sources, like our gas powered PMC bus, but this had no effect on the petroleum fiends. So devoted to this condemned and arcane mode of living were they that it is rumored they entered into a pact with the devil to preserve it.
In some of the more remote villages of the frontiers, you can hear all manner of tales concerning the nefarious machinations of the oil fiends. Stories of necromancy and blood lust abound. The whispered lore has it that some of the worlds last oil reserves lay under the lands of the reclusive Ice Tribes, who because of increasingly brutal winters succumbed to cannibalism. Cannibalism, according to the legend, became a kind of folkway, an institution - a fierce protection against the elements and outsiders. But all this eating of people resulted in brain disease. The Ice Tribes grew ill, afflicted with rogue proteins - prions - that yielded debilitating madness. The illness wrought death and destruction on the community. Unwilling to change tradition or abandon their bounty under the frozen earth, the tribal medicine men devised some kind of homeopathic treatment for the prions that involved fresh blood from the unafflicted peoples of the world. Hence a perfect trade presented itself to the Ice Tribes and the oil fiends. To get their coveted petroleum, the oil fiends became blood marauders, hunting down the innocent and draining them of their life. The arrangement was quite beneficial to the Ice Tribes and oil fiends, and quite hellish for everyone else.
Different groups of oil fiends had different names, but collectively we knew them as Vampirates.
These were the monsters chasing our bus. This is why they hadn't simply obliterated us: they needed to subdue us, to keep a few intact to hook to their blood pumps. They needed every drop they could drain to barter for the Ice Tribes' oil.