The Deliverers

John Possidente

Illustration by Alex Maniezo

Yeah. So I was singing the blues inside my helmet, right, like I always do.

‘Got to keep movin’. Got to keep movin’.’

Me: the Deliverer. On my bike weaving like a snake, dodging craters and boulders and rubbles and all that. Tippety-tap on my faceplate. The regolith was coming down out of the white sky like a fine sleet. Beautiful day.

‘Moon’s fallin’ down like hail. Moon’s fallin’ down like hail.’

Crossing the wasteland belt. Delivering the vital medical supplies. Saving the downtrodden and orphans like me and all that. Earning the dolar to get free.

Nothing in my radar HUD but rocks on the ground. Brown dirt and snowy drifts of crunchy moondust. Clear sailing. Which was good, because I was running significantly late. As in behind schedule. As in the cargo had arrived at my station half an hour after I sat and watched a pack of rainbow runners depart.

Runners. Seriously. Who in their right mind would try to run through the Fall? Not the guards who released them. Soon as the deadbeat prisoners in their all colors t-shirts ran out of sight around the first big rock, the uniform boys put up the guns, packed up in the bus, and high-tailed back to the debtors’ prison.

Then I was alone. Me: the Deliverer, staring out over the equatorial wasteland with my thumb up my ass and nothing to deliver.

Eventually, an armored turtle car pulled up and this old catira woman climbed out. First she had to put down her latte. Then she brushed down her skirt. Finally, she handed me two cylinders. She instructs me how it’s vital medical and I’d better not be lazy and slow. I could see the big green plus and ‘perecederos’ stickers so I knew already. Perishable. Need for speed.

Also maybe the big pay. Medical means bonus dolar for early. Which means freedom comes sooner. Which was now damn near impossible thanks to turtle woman.

Then she says it goes to the hospital at Bramadora Nueva. She says don’t be sleepy, diego. Es muy importante, diego. If it was important to her, she’d have got there on time, right?

So I click-locked the cylinders into my saddlebag holders and I was off. Electric motors deliver instant torque. Bam. Gravel all in her face. I had double deadline because the Fall was nice and light right then, but in three hours and seventeen minutes it was going to start to drop nasty heavy. The hard rain. As in big chunks. The lunar cycle waits for no man.

I had exactly that long to make the other side. Three and seventeen, that’s if I was lucky. The Fall is chaos in both rock size and trajectory. Never know what’s about to come tumbling screaming down from old Luna Cynthia Selene. The price of survival is constant vigilance.

Which is exactly what saved my skinny ass.

I’d found a sweet little set of parallel ridges across my path. Probably the sides of some big scrape. As in impactor landing site. As in low-angled trajectory. Could also maybe been crust ripples left over from a really big hit. Did not care; do not care. Ridges and smooth weather meant flight time supremo.

But remember I said life-saving vigilance. Mid-air in my first jump, I scanned the surroundings and checked the radar. That’s when the impactor alarm went bugshit: whonk whonk whonk incoming.

First I had to ace the landing. Bam. Then I checked the numbers and decided I was eff you double kay done for, tag me and bag me. This monster stone was peeling down like Dio’s own spitball, going to impact less than a kilometer to the southeast, off to my left. Before I could think, my hands skidded me over and hit the juice – sacred voltage, deliver me from evil – and I was trailing dust westward at maximum achievable velocity. Unsafe speed. This was a die-or-die situation, but the Deliverer does not go down without a fight.

Rocks and rubble and all that went whipping past, right. I was fishing between boulders like the mad bat, wheels locked into sync mode. (Old-style bike with the fixed back wheel would have been tee oh double ess toast.) Then I spotted a too-wide rift in the ground ahead, and I knew I had to cross over the ridge to my left or else fall in, so I did – and there she was.

Turtle rig. Fall Crawler. If you’ve never seen one, imagine a Sherman tank with a giant bowler hat over it, some guns poking out. Brown and grey camo paint. I got a good look, because suddenly this one was lit up like Ana Maria Fernandez herself, center stage about to start her aria. Impact flash. The meteor behind me had just become a meteor-ite.

Then the first shake hit. Yeah, that quick. Tells you how close to the ground zero we were. The terra firma went trampoline and I went tumbling tits over teacups. Held onto the bike, though. Couldn’t make a living without it, did not want to be stuck in the alojamientos dormitories forever – and I still owed payments on it.

Here’s where things happened fast, but I have to tell them slow.

I can’t even spell geophysical tensile rarefaction, but I knew what had to come next. Maybe another shake, maybe two if there was a rebound. That was the small time stuff. The big league trouble would happen in a minute or so, when the ejecta started raining back down – like an avalanche from above. I was going to be buried and crushed and gasp out my last tortured breath from lungs pierced by my own splintered ribs.

Like the Aussie cooks at the orphanage used to say: Yeah, nah.

So my brain was spinning and I whipped my head around looking for any kind of shelter and I saw that that Fall Crawler was leaning: one track up on a new ridge the shake had just pushed up and one track on the ground. Not enough angle that it would tip over, but enough that I could see clear space under it.

No no no, said my human brain.

Yes yes yes, said my scared monkey guts.

Monkey guts won. They usually do. I picked up and jumped on my bike and rode right at the turtle, best speed I could manage. Right then she shot out spike cables on both sides. That was bad news. She was anchoring down. Smart for her, but trouble for me. If the ridge crumbled – it was fresh, so of course it would – she’d be able to pull her other track down. As in squash me underneath. Or maybe her crew would notice me and be in a generous mood and stop the draw-down winches, which would leave her dangerously tilted with her underside exposed.

Yeah, I was dead every way, right.

So I did it. Zipped right in there, dropped my bike, and slid underneath. Stopped dead. Dead center.

She didn’t stop pulling down.

I still heard the anchor winches winding. Sounded like when somebody squeezes a cat, right. I felt many tons of metal slowly settling down on me. So now, marmota me, I tried to dig a hole. All rocks and no dirt. Tore hell out of my gloves and got nowhere.

Then I was on my back, one leg still under the bike, the crawler was coming down on me like a police boot in slo-mo, and it started to get hard to breathe. Byron Darwin Guapisaca was about to be squashed into jelly, flavor of: dead Deliverer.

I closed my eyes when the crawler belly touched my helmet.

Unexpected deep whirring. Felt my jacket being tugged over to my right. Light on my eyelids, which I then opened. Blessed Lady of Divine Acceleration, praised be your grace – somebody had opened the belly hatch. I didn’t know the Fall Crawlers had a belly hatch. I wiggled me and the bike in, and the hatch started to close before it was even fully open. The anchor winches had stopped doing their thing.

‘Pelotudo! You would have bent and jammed my doors.’

Yeah. Right. So, um, I want to say she was a vision of beauty, but: Yeah, nah. She was looming over me with a pistol. Cargo hold floodlight was right behind her head, so not much visible detail. Black boots. Lumpy brown driver’s outfit. Just dark shadow where her head and face should have been. Nimbus all around it – and the barrel of the pistol.

The hatch finished closing. She mumbled something – I guess into a voice activated control, because the winch started up again. Fancy rig.

‘Thank you,’ I said. What else? The Deliverer does not argue with pistols.

That’s when the rebound wave hit, and it was a big one. The whole world went up, us with it, and I heard this crack-crack that made the monkey guts go sick. That was the anchor cables on the low side being yanked free from the ground. Then bong like old clock, the cable spikes smacked up against the hull. Meanwhile, the world dropped back down from the rebound wave, except what had been the low side of the Fall Crawler didn’t go down with it.

I was on what had been the high side, so I just slid backward. She’d gone up, then gravity did what it does and she fell. The pistol came at me like a tunnel. Then it spun off to the side as she flailed for balance. No time to think. I just did what came natural: opened my arms to catch her. Whomp. That was the end of me breathing for a while.

Life went in slo-mo for a bit. The was-low-now-high side of the crawler eventually came down and it was like being hit with a hammer from below. The floor didn’t level. Stuff rolled. She rolled – off me. I curled up and wheezed.

By the time I could sit up, pitter-pat had started on the roof.

‘Aka!’ she said. I didn’t know if she meant me or the situation. Probably both.

Real quick, pit pat turned into boom boom, then thud thud, then muffled rumble. We were buried deep. I got the bad chill. Muscles tight. This was how they’d died. My family.

The floor was still tilted. She crawled to a hatch that I guess led to her pilot seat. Sat up on the edge and looked at me. She must have seen I was seized up, no threat. Next she reached through the hatch, pulled in a paper wrapped package.

She unfolded it some and yanked out a red and white checkered cloth. I must have been looking at her with my dead eyes and mouth hanging open, because she said, ‘Ey fish face boy, you never had a picnic?’

Tension broke and then I laughed, because what else should I do?

We had a picnic. Almuerzo right there under many tons of fresh impactor droppings. That Quechua-speaking woman had llapingachos and patacones and one chicken empanada that we split, and the Deliverer, he was in heaven.

All I had to share was water and talk, so I gave it.

I told her about my family, people who I barely remembered, how they died in the First Fall, crushed under their own house when I was at school. I cried like a man does when I told it, because even though I didn’t know them, they are my family and deserve that respect.

Her cheeks got wet and she told me about her Tia Alma who got sick with the Nantu disease, the moon fever, which was why she was riding the Fall again. She showed me her hand with the second corpse ID tattoo, and I saw how she had a removal scar right there below it, where she’d had the old one off.

Yeah, I didn’t have one to show her. Nobody was going to go out looking for my body, right. The electric bike wasn’t worth that much.

I asked and she told me some stories about her first career. Early days of the Fall. Golden age of danger and high stakes. When she made enough money to quit and even get an apartment in Bramadora Nueva with Tia Alma and her mama who was gone now.

She wrapped up what was left in the checkered cloth and the paper. Then she said, ‘Seen my gun anywhere?’

I said nope. So we crawled around looking until we found it, and we bumped into each other so I kissed her on the cheek. She blushed a little, but didn’t return the kiss, so I said something like, ‘Thanks for the picnic.’

In a minute she was up and the pistol holstered and strapped and all business.

‘How did you know where the hatch was?’ she asked me, meaning the secret belly hatch for valuable cargo that nobody but the Fall Crawler pilots is supposed to know about.

I looked at my feet, then back up at her and I admitted, ‘I didn’t.’

She laughed. Madre de Dios, what a laugh. Pure and open and sweet like – like nothing else I ever knew.

‘Wañuchikuy,’ she said. Called me suicidal. But she was still smiling, teasing me, the Deliverer.

Then she looked through the hatch and talked to her helmet some more, and that turtle rig started to move. The power! Under all those tons of rubble, it moved. Forward, centimeter by centimeter, it crawled and I heard shifting and rolling, around and above us.

After a minute it stopped.

‘Okay, Diego,’ she said. ‘Time for you to go.’

Diego. That’s what the sisters had called every orphan boy. Every boy except me. I’d known my name: Byron Darwin Guapisaca. I’d told them my name. After that, did they call me Byron? No. They’d called me Diego Majo. I knew the crawler pilot woman didn’t mean it like that, but I couldn’t help it.

‘I’m no Diego,’ I said. It came out bitter, like always.

She looked at me like maybe she was seeing me right for the first time. Then she walked over to me and stuck her hand out.

‘Maricela Morais.’

‘Byron Darwin Guapisaca.’ I shook the hand.

She pulled me in a little and kissed me on the cheek.

‘Okay, Byron,’ she smiled and said and pushed me away. ‘Get out.’

I picked up my bike, and I think that was the first time she really looked at it. Two cylinders with the big green plus. Everything she was out here risking her ass for. All what Tia Alma needed. I saw the thought pass through her eyes, and I figured this was when I pay for the save. Brutal wasteland. Every man for himself, like in the alojamientos dorms.

But the Deliverer, he was wrong.

‘Ayni,’ she whispered. Other people needed it, too.

The belly hatch rumbled open. I peeked out, saw light and air. The crawler was still leaning. It took me a little while to drag my body and my ride out from under. The hatch didn’t close until I stood up in front of the big main gun. Checked my time. The Deliverer could still make that bonus, if he flew. One step closer to free.

Then the shouting. Rough men’s voices. One gunshot. I spun.

Pirates. As in slave traffickers. Just over the ridge, on the other side of that rift, the one I’d had to swerve to avoid. Four men with rifles and pistols had a group of rainbow runners backed up against the edge. From up there I could see it wasn’t so deep. Couple of bodies at the bottom. The runners must have hidden in it from the ejecta.

Now runners, I thought they were dumb, right. Get in money troubles, go to prison. Then good behavior and they got what? Work release into the Fall at gunpoint. Carry trivial cargo. Bright colors so they were easy to spot. Almost certain death.

But traffickers? Yeah, nah. This was wrong. Big bad. I got mad again. The poor bastard runners didn’t deserve that. Better to be crushed by an impactor.

What could I, the Deliverer, do about it? No weapons on my bike. You can’t fight moon chunk meteorite with a sword or a gun.

The woman had guns. She had to have a way to look outside, too. So I climbed up on her front tread to where I thought the external camera would be. I pointed and I mouthed, ‘Help them.’

The machine gun on the side went left-right-left-right. No.

I knew why. Against the rules. Protect your cargo. Deliver.

So I flipped her the bird. Forgot about deadline and bonus dolar. Got on my bike and headed down behind the ridge, toward the capitalista pirates. Electric motors run silent as ninja. I am stealth.

Once again things happened fast, but I have to tell them slow.

Behind the pirates, I crossed over the ridge, ran down dodging little boulders. I knew I had one shot. As I flashed by the last of them, I swerved in close and elbowed him in the back of the head. High speed attack. He went down.

Yeah, the others noticed me then, and my leathers weren’t going to stop a bullet. Weaving behind little hills and big rocks and the slavers’ truck was all the defense I had. Sacred voltage, deliver me from evil. I made it out about a hundred meters, turned around and started back to try again. Wañuchikuy? Maybe so, right.

Then dodging in between two boulders I noticed one of the pirates hefting a rocket launcher. Muy malo. I dropped the bike and crack, the top of the next boulder explodes. As in spray of rock chips over my head. As in mineral flechettes. I thought about staying down, but that would just make it easy for him.

So I got up and got going, snake again. Weave, swerve, dodge.

No more rockets, but I heard a pistol. Pak-pak. I took a chance and set out into the open to cross back toward the ridge. What did I see? One of the runners – a man in blue like the sky in books – must have grabbed the gun from the pirate I knocked over, because rocket man was bleeding out into a drift of lunar regolith dust. It was a firefight now, three pirates and one runner. That wouldn’t last long.

I went streaming in, silent as swooping owl, and tried to knock down another pirate. The Deliverer is not perfect. I missed. I fell. Skidded halfway up the ridge, and I lay exposed like a lizard on the highway.

The runner with the pistol fell, bleeding. The pirates all turned toward me. Then the ground started to shake. Not as in impactor bounce. As in Maricela backing the track on her low side, turning her Fall Crawler to point at us. As in guns.

The rest of the runners saw their opportunity and colors fled into the rocks where I’d been a minute ago. Her machine gun burped, bup-bup-bup, a warning shot over our heads.

Standing down by the rift looking up, I understood why she had refused to help. I could see it; sitting with one side uplifted exposed the vulnerable underside of her crawler. Bonus points for pirates. Valuable cargo. Big prizes. One of the pirates saw it, too. He dove to the ground and came up with the rocket launcher.

Like I said, I had no weapons but me: Byron Darwin Guapisaca. Electric motors delivered instant torque. Dust flew and the Deliverer rose up upon the ridge. Stood himself in the way of any rocket. Wañuchikuy for a picnic. Hell yeah, right?

Pirate reloaded that launcher and swung the business end up. Then he hesitated, just for seconds. He didn’t care if he blew me away, but I spoiled his aim. He wanted the crawler and he only had one rocket. Seconds. Life is made of seconds.

Bup-bup-bup. Bup-bup-bup-bup. Fifty caliber impactors. Horizontal rain. Skin pierced, eyes explode, everybody dead.

And that was that.

Maricela popped her anchors and rolled around dumping the ejecta off her crawler. Meanwhile, I gathered up the capitalistas’ guns. The Deliverer’s bonus was blown. Time to try out some ayni.

‘Ey! Runners!’ I called. They came out slow and dazed, but they came. I started handing out guns.

Skinny guy with puffy red eyes said to me, ‘What’s this for?’

‘Is for shooting, my man,’ I said. Obvious, right. I waved my arm. ‘All this wasteland, how do you think those capitalista pirate traffickers find you?’ Not so obvious, but I had thought it over. ‘Guards told them. It’s a setup.’

Nods in the crowd, right. Seeing the sense I was making.

‘You been sold, my man. As in slavery. That is no bueno. Fiercely unethical.’ I patted the rifle in his hands. I pointed at the slavers’ dented truck. ‘Now you do something about it.’

I didn’t say anything else, because they all started talking at once. Mix of three or four languages. I got most of it. They were planning to hunt down more pirates, get more guns, find more runners, storm the debtors’ prison. Okay by me, but I had medicine to deliver. No bonus. Regular pay. But Tia Alma was awaiting.

Sacred voltage, quiet and grace, lifted me up the ridge past the Fall Crawler. Impact and picnic and firefight, I now had less than two hours to cross the rest of the wasteland belt. As in cutting it very close. As in gotta fly. Unsafe at every speed.

Yeah, nah. The Deliverer would make it with time to spare.

One look back. I see Maricela’s rear vent panels going up and down. A little debris falls out. Maybe I’m fooling myself. I don’t know. But I say she was waving.

I reach back to pat my cylinders, and I smile and start singing the blues inside my helmet, right, like I always do.

‘I can tell the wind is risin’, leaves tremblin’ on the tree.’

Me: one of the Deliverers. On my bike swerving like a swallow, dodging craters and boulders and rubbles and all that. Beautiful day.

‘Uh-huh, leaves tremblin’ on the tree.’ ∎

As a young adult, John Possidente spent more time than he should have on motorcycles. Throughout the 1990s, he wrote for PC games. For the most part, he eschews social media. (He says he likes the word ‘eschew’.) He says that if all goes well, he’ll come out with a novel one of these days. And yes, he’s still raising butterflies.

Alex Maniezo is a Brazilian illustrator and journalist who lives deep in the woods with cats, dogs, guans, and old people. He started drawing cars on his grandma’s wall and then proceeded to the Quanta Academia de Artes where he learned the ropes of his craft. He is also the author of the book A Estrela Preta e Lugar Nenhum, which doesn’t yet have an English version. He dreams of becoming either a wrestler or Frank Quitely, but so far has done neither.

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