the stopover

“Holy shit, these fellas are commanders!”

A crowd of long, tangled beards and black leather jackets fill the boarded-up old diner. Everyone gawks at the strangers and their pristine white bodysuits.

“You fellas are off-base. Waaaay off-base.”

“Our bike broke down.” Alex leers at them through his sharp blue visor. “And our sat link is busted. We need you to call a special number for us to get some repair drones out here.”

“That some kinda command, boy?” One of the hard black jackets scowls at Alex and Carson. “Nah, what we need is to get back to our own damn business.”

“Look fellas,” Carson sighs. He steps out into the middle of all the diner’s ragged old leather booths. He slowly turns his white helmet to scan all the nervous skinheads around him. “Now I know you lot don’t take kindly to our type out here. We ain’t here for a fight, y’hear? We need ya’ll to call a special help line for us. Just dial the number, and that’s it—we’ll be on our way.”

“The hell happens when we dial that number?” One of the skinheads grunts from the back of the leery crowd. “Some of yer fuckin’ Satanic agenda globalist drones come flyin’ down here from orbit? Repair yer bike—and then what? How we know there ain’t no weapons on all them drones?”

“Global Command stay the FUCK off our land!” Another skinhead chants.

A fluorescent light flickers overhead. Their tight white combat suits barely shine under the dim glow of the dirty diner lights. Rusty forks and knives and bullet casings are scattered across the beaten-up tables and grimy linoleum floors. The hot night air rolls through a tarped up window. The black leather jackets whisper amongst themselves. Some nod their heads. Some stare at their uninvited guests. Some clutch at hidden guns and blades beneath their jackets.

Alex and Carson slip their words into each others’ minds:


You think we’ll have to use it on them?


These dudes ain’t shit

What about the guys at the back with the EMP cannons in their jackets?

They’re just some punk-ass nazis. Look at their stance

You’re right. They’re poorly trained.

Yep. No skill

Don’t sweat it


“You Carson Cole?” A big, black bulletproof jacket paces over to them. Cryptic Norse runes and American flags are patched all across his arms and chest. “You in 86 Militia’s territory, boy. Our territory. Ya’ll should know better than to leave the little compound your dead daddy built for you.”

“Look fellas, I promise we ain’t lookin’ for a fight, we just—”

“You know how many folks die every damn day out here, Cole?” Another one of the skinheads butts in. “You know how many good people—your goddamn fellow Americans—are starvin’ out here in this fuckin’ desert, Cole? Gettin’ murdered by cartel fuckers and all those goddamn Mexican thugs and—”

“Stop.” Alex steps in between them. “You’d all be dead right now if it weren’t for us.” Alex glares at the scornful mob through his bright blue visor. Their black and red bootlaces are caked with dried mud and blood and black oil.

“You this little faggot’s bitch, Cole?” The biggest leather jacket steps closer to them. “You just gonna let this little man speak fer ya like that?”

“Call our repair number now,” Carson bellows down at the militia men as lights and commands flash inside his visor. “Call the number and back away from us now.”

Some of the skinheads nod at each other again. Others bite their tongues and lean back from the strange white-suited commanders. A shivering wind from the midnight desert creeps into the ruined diner.

A bell rings at the front door of the restaurant as another patron enters.

“WHO THE FUCK IS THERE?!” One of the skinheads calls back. All the men turn, some with guns and knives drawn and ready.

A long, grey cloak slowly paces in from the dim-lit door. Dusty streams of grey cotton wrap and fold around their long grey tunic and their torn grey cargo pants. Shadows cover their cloaked face. One eye pokes out from their dark grey hood, twinkling with strange power.

The cold lights of the diner go pitch black.

“Get out,” the grey cloak commands them from the dark.

“Oh SHIT, it’s the Ghost!” One of the skinheads shrieks. “Get the fuck out, go go go!”

The militia men clamor and curse and jostle and rush all around them. Carson and Alex stare at the long grey cloak through the piercing blue night vision of their combat visors. The one eye of the grey-cloaked visitor shimmers with blinding purple light. The last black jackets clear out from the room.

“The Ghost?” Carson nods toward the quiet grey cloak. “That what they called you?”

The grey cloak stares at them with their odd purple eye. Carson and Alex stare back, their blue visors heating up and glowing brighter as they scan the ghostly grey cloak for any sign of an identity. Hot sand and cold air whistles in from the broken windows as an alert pops into their visors:





The dark, dead diner goes quiet. The Ghost gazes deep into them, the purple twinkle in their eye becoming brighter and hotter.

“I fixed your bike for you,” the Ghost whispers into their brains. “It’s safe for you to continue your journey now.”

“How did you get into our neuro-channel?!” Carson yells out. “Who are you?!”

“Enjoy the desert,” the Ghost smiles. “I’m sure you’ll both have a magical time out there.” The Ghost’s eye sparks and bursts bright white as the diner lights flicker and flash back on.

The cold fluorescent hum buzzes out into the warm air. The grey-cloaked ghost is gone.

“The fuck?!” Carson’s eyes dart around the room, scanning the tight rows of chewed-up leather booths, the plywood boards and plastic tarps covering the smashed windows, the dirty walls and dusty floors and busted-up ceiling fans and doors for any sign of a threat, any sign of another person.

Nothing. Him and Alex are alone.

Broken bottles and empty kegs line the distant bar. A faded chalkboard menu hangs above the kitchen door. Glistening clean machetes and rifles and ammo belts and grenades hang proudly in shelves against the far wall. The desert wind creaks and groans through all the dining room’s rust and rot.

What . . . just happened?” Alex mutters. “Who—what the hell was that?”

Carson peers at the grungy floor tiles where the grey-cloaked Ghost was just standing. His visor cycles through infrared vision, ultrasound vision, x-ray vision, through broad and narrow spectrums of light and sound and vibration. No trace of the Ghost remains.

“Dunno,” Carson growls through clenched teeth. He shifts his eyes around the empty room. “But they could still be around. Could still hit us any time. I’ve heard stories about rogue objects out in these parts that hijack the brains of entire mobs of people and—”

“Don’t analyze it,” Alex reminds him. “Just keep moving. Let’s get out of here, they said they fixed our auto-bike so we oughta check to see if—”

“No,” Carson butts in. “This is all too fishy. Could be walkin’ right into a trap if we go back out there.”

This diner is a trap,” Alex snaps back. “An angry mob of militia men tried to trap us in here and attacked us just now. We need to keep moving.”

“You just gonna walk right out to your bike?” Carson raises a brow. “Walk right into any sorta bombs or cameras or forcefields that might be hidden out there?”

Alex pauses. He glances over his shoulder to the front door. No sign of any militia men left in the diner or out in the parking lot, but Carson’s right—there’s no telling what kinds of traps might be set out there for them.

“What’s our plan, Alli?”