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.

“They certainly have overstayed their welcome here,” another one pipes in.

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.

“This fight ain’t gonna end the way you think it is,” Carson mutters to the mob. A few of the braver men start to pace toward the commanders. Some reach into their black jackets. “Back away, fellas.”

“How much you think all that data in their brains must be worth?” One of the black jackets asks another.

“I reckon about as much as all that neurotech they put in there.” A long neon black dagger comes out from one of the other black jackets. “Maybe we don’t even sell the neurotech. Maybe we just take it and sew it into a few of our guys’ heads instead.”


Still think they ain’t shit?

They ain’t shit, but they ain’t backin’ down either

Should we use it?

I’m readying it now


“Last chance, boys!” Carson holds his arms out at the encroaching crowd. “We ain’t here to fight.”

The black jacket with the shining black blade lunges toward Carson, but a string of commands scroll through Carson’s blue visor, invisible magnetic waves ripple out from his white helmet, notice pops up:



The black jackets drop to the floor. A few go completely stiff. A few others clutch their hands, clench their teeth, or briefly shriek as their brains switch off.

The silent magnetic waves pulse from Carson’s helmet, ebbing and flowing through every one of the men’s neurons, rearranging the electric currents inside their skulls, jamming the nerve endings in their eyes and their ears and their spines.

Carson leers at all the motionless black jackets spread out across the diner floor. Another notice pops up:




Alex and Carson scan all the unconscious men scattered all across the floor. They’ve all quickly fallen into a very deep sleep—obviously, they’ve never had to defend against a psych distortion attack before. Soon, their memories will be reset to the state they were in one hour ago, before this entire encounter happened. Any lingering traces of this event will be misremembered as figments of a weird dream or as flashes from a long-forgotten imagining. Their minds will accept all of this as fiction.

“Was the memory flush successful?” Alex turns to Carson.

“Very successful.” Carson surveys all the jackets strewn across the floor one more time. “They won’t remember a thing. No risk of any of this leaking out.”

Alex lets out a deep sigh of relief. He runs his across each of the crumpled black jackets on the ground, then sighs again. “Okay, so how are we gonna contact Global Command to get the bike fixed now? Our control node is fucked, our sat link is still down, and we’re alone in the middle of a wasteland.”

“Could just walk until we find another spot,” Carson shrugs. “Maybe find some friendlier folks somewhere further down the road.”

“Walk until we find another spot?!” Alex scoffs. “That’s your best idea? Just walk into the desert and hope someone else is alive out here? Someone who doesn’t want to kill us this time?”

“Ay Alli chill,” Carson holds a hand out. “I know I fucked up saying we should stop here to ask these dudes for help, okay? It’s my bad. I own that. But we’re in this together, we gotta find a way to—”

“This whole thing was your idea!” Alex shouts as he points down at the militia men festooning the floor of their hideout. “This whole ride out here! This whole stopover at this run down restaurant! You suggested this whole trip out into the desert! We could’ve just gone into the city, gone somewhere normal instead of some seedy party out in the middle of nowhere, or whatever it is you’re taking us to. We could’ve just—”

“Alli Alli,” Carson pleads. He sets a gentle hand over Alex’s shoulder. “We’re gonna be fine, okay? You’re panicking right now. Remember to breathe and—”

“I’ll figure out how to fix the damn bike myself!” Alex shouts. “Shouldn’t be too hard, I’ve fixed lots of things before, I’ve fixed my—”

“You’re not gonna figure out how to fix that thing yourself,” Carson laughs. “The engineering guys put all kinds of classified components and secret materials in it, most of its systems aren’t even designed by humans, there’s no way you’ll be able to understand how all of it—”

“Well we’re not walking around aimlessly in the desert, Carr!”

“Well then what’s our plan, Alli?!”