Channel Z

Yep, another excerpt of a new story for y’all to enjoy…


When the demure Northern sky finally darkens and aurora borealis whiplashes her with its kinetic greens; when the redhead on TV gyrates in her red vinyl dress to a pulsing electronic noise while a countdown of the most shocking news stories of the day flashes in the background, and her neatly bunned hair quivers and threatens to come undone; when the flecks of space debris start raining again like Roman candles beckoning the night revelers to wander into the streets already buzzed on 40-proof cola; when street lights and porch lights of the aging SoCal suburb of El Empresa wink on and his own blink out; when the doors are locked and the kids are tucked in and the cranky engine of his converted 1978 AMC Pacer hatchback, peacock blue with side-mounted M61 Vulcans—each capable of firing seventy-two hundred 20 mm rounds a minute—wheezes to life, Wade Muckleshoot knows he’s ready to set out for his evening of mayhem.

Wade kisses each Mary and Stevie on their eyelids. The future is theirs. He knows this. He tells them this. Their bedtime stories, always modified by Wade with careful precision, always tell happy stories of puffy clouds and clear blue seas and tall, waving trees that sway in the slightest breeze as Ewoks dance beneath while eating candy. They always eat candy in the stories because it is their future, and Mary and Stevie love candy, the sour apple ribbons and the gummy worms and the white chocolate bark and the fizzy rocks and the millions of different jellybeans. No smokestacks in these stories, no forlorn polar bears, no diminishing sea turtles, no oil slicks and no foul brown blanket of toxic fog creeping across their sky. Their future with candy and trees will continue to be theirs because of the work Wade is doing.

His helmet is equipped with radios, longwave shortwave infrared and cellular. And his body suit was sold to him by a guy he knew out in Yucaipa, former weapons developer out at China Lake, flattop and aviator glasses, pot belly, the whole bit. It’s a telemetry suit he tells Wade, and it’s to make you go faster. Plugs right into your car. You tell the suit what to do, the suit tells the car. Wireless, see?

“This the next generation of automobiles they’re going to sell us?” Wade asks.

“The next generation of automobile, my ass. This is at least three generations away from anything you’re gonna see on the road. If you ever see it. DARPA might keep it on ice for while. But sure. One of these days.”

Wade thanks the man, and lifts his shirt. Pays him in ecash from the sash he keeps hidden. Flat-top is impressed.

Wade starts to try on the suit but Flat-top notices the scarring. “The, uh, suit doesn’t chafe you bad?”

“Nah,” Wade tells him, zipping up. “Vaseline. Soothes and conducts.”

Wade gets in the car. He hears a bark. It’s Fitzroy. The Corgi was in the garage. Now he’s pawing the door and wants in. Wade sighs and leans over, opens the passenger door, always a trick with the Pace. Corgi leaps up into the seat after a couple false starts. He’s wagging. He knows he’s in for a treat.

“Buckle up,” Wade tells Fitzroy as he flips the toggle for air. A breathy, cool hiss fills the bubble-shaped cabin with pure, refreshing air. Fitzroy just sits in his haunches and looks out the panoramic bubble. He’s excited. He lets out a single bark. “Me too, Fitz.” Wade steps on the gas pedal to kick the rumble of the warming engine down into a lower register. Satisfied, he opens the garage door and backs out like a whisper into the beige and eucalyptus house-lined street.

“You ready?” Fitzroy says nothing, but he’s staring straight ahead, his mind no doubt filled with visions of their mission ahead. Wade toggles the air to a lower setting, then moves his thumb to the auto-nav switch. He hesitates. “Let’s go manual tonight, why don’t we?” Fitzroy pants happily.

Wade nods and grips the wheel, pulling the two handles outward from the ring until they disengage, and turning them ninety degrees into two horizontal handgrips, like those on a motorcycle. He squeezes the throttle. He feels the Pacer’s low whine slip into a sly growl. Then, even though he’s done this a hundred times before and knows it’s hard on the car, even though it’s hard on his stomach and hard on his sinuses and poor Fitzroy doesn’t know what’s coming, Wade pulls the throttle and slams the extra gas pedal, and inertia be damned straight to the hottest trenches of hell, they rocket forward into the lamplit and soot-toothed city.

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