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Signals and Static (Transmissions from the Neon)

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"Listen up, rock 'n' rollers, word is there's some live action going on in Zone 5, down and dirty. Rumors of white suits on the roam in Zone 6, so keep your peepers peeled and stay outta trouble. Killjoys never die, but it sucks getting ghosted, because someone always steals your fucking boots.

"The poindexters say that the weather's gonna be clear, no acid rain or limeaid clouds, but that don't mean you should leave your rebreathers at home, killjoys. Be a scout and stay prepared is my motto.

"Swap meet at the old whiskey purification plant this weekend; bring your trade goods and make a deal. There'll be plenty of tech-heads and chip-brains hanging around, nevermind all the motorbabies. It's all good, all good. Make a fast buck, eat some lizard-ka-bobs, check out the action. Love those ka-bobs, myself. Mmmmm."

"This just in, sweethearts. The Man has taken down Resurrection Road, use alt routes. Repeat: use alt routes. Guano is still in the clear; WKIL and the Doctor will upload as the intel flashes. And while you're waiting, how about a classic to keep the signal burning?"

Ghoul is pissed, and when he sees Dewees again, he's going to kick his ass. "'Just a quick run' he says. 'In and out like a wavehead on shards' he says." Ghoul tugs hard at the ropes binding him to the chair. "Motherfucking Dewees. 'C'mon, Ghoul, it's easy c's,'" he mutters, mimicking Dewees' nasal accent.

What Dewees had neglected to mention was that this particular crew of 'runners are motherfucking batshit crazy. Which is how Ghoul ended up tied to a wooden chair in an abandoned house in Zone 5, minus his boots, his jacket and his zapper. He doesn’t care about his zapper, but they'd taken his best favorite jacket. And his boots— Ghoul growls. His fucking boots. They are irreplaceable.

Ghoul rocks in the chair, trying to see if there is any give to the wood frame, and just barely manages to keep from tipping over for a hard landing on the floor. He can't help but wonder how long it's going to take Dewees to realize that something is wrong and come looking for him. "Too fucking long," he says to himself. If the rad doesn't kill him, dehydration will.

He looks around the room, searching for a way out of his predicament, but freezes when he hears the sound of a distant engine growing closer, low and thrumming. He wonders if the assholes are coming back for more. Ghoul flexes his bare toes; he's got two feet and knows how to kick. He can't do much while he's trussed up like a turkey, but he won't go quietly.

When the vehicle skids to a stop outside the house, Ghoul is ready as he can be. He has a plan, which doesn't include getting ghosted. He lifts his chin and waits.

When the door creaks open, Ghoul's jaw drops in surprise. "Fuck me," he says.

"Anytime you want, baby," Party Poison replies with a grin. "But later, yeah?" Slung over his shoulder is a familiar pair of boots, tied together by the laces. Ghoul can see the corrupted BLI smiley he painted on the toes. Poison drops them on the floor in front of Ghoul. "Brought you a present."

"You can't give me something that's already mine," Ghoul says, annoyed.

"Just did."

"Whatever." Ghoul wriggles, making the chair rock. "Cut me loose."

Poison steps nearer and rubs his thumb gently across the arch of Ghoul's cheek, tracing what will probably become a spectacular bruise. "There are easier ways to get my attention than tangling with Johnny J and his crew of tweakers."

Ghoul has to work hard to avoid leaning into Poison's touch; and then the words sink in. "What the fuck? I didn't—I never—fuck you, just fuck you, asshole. Get me out of here." Ghoul pulls on the ropes.

"Sure, baby. Don't drain your zapper, I got you." Poison keeps a hand on Ghoul's shoulder as he circles around. He bends to work on the rope, and his mouth hovers near Ghoul's ear. "No need to play hard to get," he murmurs, and Ghoul shivers as the words stroke along his nerves.

"Fuck you," he says weakly.

"Such a filthy mouth," Poison purrs.

The tension in the ropes slip and Ghoul stumbles to his feet, trying to shake out the numbness in his hands. "Asshole," he mumbles, glaring. The look is totally lost on Poison; he's poking around the room, pocketing things that catch his fancy.

"You ready to motor, baby?" Poison asks, examining some broken rebreather tech.

Ghoul tosses his boots over his shoulder. "Yeah."

"Let's jet, then."

"Goooood morning, speedfreaks. The Geiger's clicking loud and fast today, so dig in deep and stay safe. Sky's looking clear, highs in the triple digits, with only the slightest chance of acid rain mañana.

"Intel is trickling in and it looks something's stirred up the Dracs; they're buzzing around like mad mad angry hornets. Word is that they shut down the Black Hole Sun last night and are looking to rumble, so be on the lookout, zonerunners. Keep your zappers locked and loaded."

"Got the green all clear on Resurrection and Guano, but avoid Tranquility; Dracs are out in force. Use alts. Heard that Mega Moon and her waveheads are on the move again. Stay clear; they're sucking down the diesel in a bad way.

"Me and Show Pony are packing up and hopping zones, so don't be surprised if the sound goes dark for a while. But we'll be back, never fear, my dear. Let's pop some tunes off the satellites. Here's a golden oldie to show you how it's done."

Sometimes, Ghoul fucks up.

Ghoul's got his own special recipe for explosives locked away in his brainpan, but he likes to tinker. A little more ammonia, a little less nitro, a dash or two of perchlorate and he's good to go.

Except this time, maybe it should have been a little less hydrochloric acid, a little more nitrocellulose, and none of the flash power that he'd bartered with Ghost Robot for.

He'd helped D and Show Pony load up the van, and two seconds after he'd pounded go on the back window, they were gone, dust trailing behind them. In an instant he's back inside the old taco stand and sets up his explosives. An improv transmitter, designed as a Drac decoy, beeps in the other room. It's soothing, in a weird way.

Ghoul strings the tripwire across the door and double checks everything, then picks up his backpack. He hoofs it over into the arroyo, and heads downstream, putting some distance between himself and the taco stand. He waits, hidden behind some scrub, watching through his monocs until the Drac patrol shows up, zappers drawn. They bust down the door and—

Ghoul might have miscalculated, a little.

He watches the shockwave roll toward him, feels it lift him off his feet. He has time to think uh oh before he's thrown to the ground, head connecting painfully with something hard and unforgiving. There's a jolt of pain, and he struggles to hold on, to stay conscious, but the black drags him under.

When Ghoul wakes, his entire body is one giant ache. His head is throbbing, his ears are ringing, and when he attempts to sit up, it hurts too much, so he just lies there, panting in the heat. He grimaces and tries again, whimpering a little between clenched teeth.

He's a fucking mess. His pants are shredded, his shirt is missing a sleeve and he's bleeding everywhere. He's not sure he can get up on his feet, let alone backtrack to the rendezvous point. Ghoul wipes at his face and hisses; he's sunburnt, as well. Not shiny.

The way his luck has been running, there'll be a acid storm and he'll end up washed away in a flash flood—

"There you are."

Ghoul nearly jumps out of his skin. Standing on the lip of the wash, hands on his hips, is Party Poison. He clambers down the slope, boots kicking up dust and small pebbles while his arms flail for balance.

"You're like one of those princesses in the old fairy tales, always needing to be rescued."

Ghoul glares at him. "You're an asshole," he croaks, and then coughs at the dryness in his throat. "And if you think you're a prince or something—"

Poison chuckles and shakes his head. "Seriously, if you wanna hook up, baby, just give me a call. No need to show off your demo skills. I'm already plenty impressed." Poison grins.

"Fuck you," he says, scowling.

"Not now, baby," Poison murmurs, kneeling next to Ghoul and pulling a water bottle out of the bag slung across his body. "Drink."

The water tastes wonderful. Ghoul sips slowly, eyes closed, while Poison's hands examine him. Poison's gentle, more so than Ghoul expected, but he can't hold back a sound when Poison runs across areas that hurt.

"How did you find me?"

Poison shrugs. "You missed your pickup; D got nervous." He stands up and pulls Ghoul to his feet, wrapping his arm around Ghoul's shoulders. "C'mon, let's get you outta here."

Ghoul slings an arm around Poison's waist and lets himself lean heavily as they climb out of the arroyo. He bites his lip hard, trying to distract himself from the agony that zings through his body. When they top the small rise, Ghoul chokes in surprise.

"Yeah, maybe a little less boom next time," Poison says with a wink.

"Maybe," Ghoul agrees. Where the taco stand was, there's a slightly depressed area, a sooty crater, burned clean. There's a bit of debris, the occasional wood plank, a twisted tangle of metal outside of the circle, but little else. The blast radius is much bigger than Ghoul had planned. "A lot less H-Cee-El."

"Yeah." Poison nods toward his Trans Am, parked in the distance. "You good to go, baby?"

Ghoul steels himself. "Yeah."

Poison laughs. "Milkshake. Gonna take you home and clean you up and put you to bed." He squeezes Ghoul's shoulder. "Maybe join you there."

"Fuck off," Ghoul says, and Poison just laughs some more.

"Hey there, dust angels. It's Dr. D with all that's happening in the zones. Third straight day of green rain; I hope everyone is safe and sound and underground, because no one likes getting trapped out in a storm like this. Remember that H-Two-Oh is your friend.

"The Dracs have been laying low, which is red red danger. Anyone got intel? Flash it to us here at WKIL and we'll spread the news. All routes are clean and go, but have an eye in the sky. Never know when you'll run into a Drac attack.

"Someone recently raided a BL supply truck, so if you're in need of PP or water or chicken soup pills, send me a signal. Dr. D can hook you up.

"And if you see Party Poison, please send that lost little lamb back home. His family misses him. In the meantime, keep running and stay cool. Here's a rare bit of vinyl, to remind you what it's all about."

Ghoul lucks out.

He's scoping out an abandoned warehouse in Zone 2, squinting through the cracked lens of his monoc when a Dracmobile pulls up. The two Dracs manhandle some poor hooded 'runner out of the back of the car, and Ghoul winces as the guy falls to his knees, balance blown by the way his hands are tied behind his back.

There's something familiar about the 'runner, and Ghoul's backbrain chews on that—"Motherfucker," he hisses. It's Poison, who quietly dropped off the radar two days ago. Ghoul was sure he'd gotten ghosted, because Poison doesn't do anything quietly.

Ghoul scans the horizon, checks out Resurrection Road, and there's not a dust trail to be seen. He slings his pack over his shoulder and jogs in, using other buildings as cover, keeping his eyes peeled for more Dracs. The area's deserted, and the wind whistles between the buildings.

Before he thinks about it, his zapper is in his hand and he's pressed up against the wall by the door, ears straining to hear what's going on inside, but he can't hear anything but the low murmur of conversation. Fuck. Poison better not have gotten himself dusted; Ghoul will kill him if he did.

He checks the charge on his gun, green for go, takes a deep breath and kicks open the door. Ghoul doesn't let himself think, just zaps the Drac on the right, latest issue of Murder clutched in his hand, and then the one of the left. The aftermath is silent.

"Who's the motherfucking princess now, asshole?" he crows.

Poison, looking bruised and bloodied, just laughs, a wide grin spreading across his face. "Hey, baby," he says, and the words are seriously slurred.

Ghoul looks closer, unsurprised to see Poison's blown pupils. "You flying?"

Poison giggles, and nods exaggeratedly. "Oh yeah, baby. High as a kite, high as a jet-plane." He starts humming under his breath, swaying a little in the chair he's tied to. "On my arm. Some reds, a couple of purples, but I ain't feeling a thing."

He pushes up Poison's torn sleeve and peels off the medipatches, flicking them away. "Well, fuck." If he can just get Poison on his feet, they can take the Dracmobile and get the hell out of here.

"Anytime, baby, I keep telling you that," Poison says.

"You don't know when to give up, do you?" Ghoul cuts through the ropes and has to scramble to catch Poison before he slides out of the chair. Poison's totally relaxed, boneless, thanks to the drugs; Ghoul isn't entirely convinced he's going to be able to pull this off.

"Giving up's for losers," Poison mutters, trying to get to his feet. His knees won't stay locked, and he tilts his head sideways. "Where's my zapper?"

Ghoul pushes him back into the chair and looks around, spotting Poison's bright yellow zapper under one of the dusted Dracs. He shoves it down the back of his pants, because there's no way he's giving a loaded weapon to Poison when he's this fucking wasted. Ghoul can be stupid, but he doesn't have a death wish. "Got it. Let's motor."

"'kay." Poison gets to his feet, and for a moment Ghoul thinks that he's gonna make it, and then he has to lunge forward and brace Poison upright. Poison giggles, and staggers toward the door, and Ghoul keeps him going with a combination of coaxing and cursing.

It's a little more work to get Poison into the Dracmobile without them both hitting the dirt, but Ghoul manages it. He slides into the driver's seat and wipes his sweaty forehead against his sleeve, tossing his hair out of his face. "Fuck. You are the worst princess in the history of princesses. Seriously, dude. Worst. Princess. Ever."

Poison makes himself comfortable in the seat and smiles, eyes closing. "Maybe. But you're everything I've ever dreamed of in a prince," he says softly.

"Asshole," Ghoul breathes, ignoring the way his heart flutters in his chest. He starts up the engine and takes his princess home.

"Look alive, children, the little lost lamb has been found and returned to his family. Mucho thanks to the Ghoulster for the catch on that.

"News is that MGMK will be playing their next gig at Wolfblood Beach on the 3rd, and they're asking for donations of cans of PP. Mad Gear stopped by to give me a preview and some of the new tunes are ray-dee-oh-active, so don't miss this show.

"The sun has gone down, darkness has fallen and here we are, motorbabies. Still alive-o, alive-o, fighting the good fight until we get ghosted. Take a moment, look around, and remember what it's like to love, because we're all right on the edge of forever.

"This is Dr. Death Defying signing off with this simple reminder: the future is bulletproof, so killjoys, make some noise!"