Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Droughts to Floodplains

 

Summary:

Two women struggling to survive in the desert find each other in the Scourge Plains.

Author’s note: Furiosa drove a rig through the desert, Rey drove a speeder and scavenged in the desert… these two ladies both being introduced in 2015 made me want to write something in their honor. And since JJ Abrams and George Miller aren’t returning my calls, I made my own ladies. ::g::

 

The Architects began striking camp at dusk. They had been in this spot for eighteen days and it was well past time for them to be moving on. Jirakee and Karalea Culpepper loaded up their gear into the back of their truck as everyone else in the tribe did the same. They were the mechanics and engineers, the ones who transformed husks of dinosaur-fueled vehicles into electric and solar-powered transports. When they were ready they climbed into the cab and waited for the signal that the convoy was ready to move out.

Jira drove. She was the eldest and, by virtue of those extra six minutes, declared herself to be her sister’s superior. Kara didn’t mind. She drew up plans or fiddled with small engine pieces while Jira drove. Her scattered brain would be bored to death trying to focus on something as boring and unchanging as an empty road. Jira found the unbroken ribbon soothing. It was the one thing in their world that seemed to have always existed. No matter how far back books, movies, or pictures went, there always seemed to be roads through the wilderness just like the one ahead of her.

The caravans came to life and eased out onto the road, followed by the smaller vehicles. When it was her turn, Jira burned the running lights along the side of their rig and pulled onto the asphalt. She could feel the hum of the engine through the floorboards, the hum of its various adaptors and batteries replacing the deafening rumble that had once risen from underneath the hood. Kara turned on the small light over her seat so she could continue tinkering.

“You should get some rest,” Jira said.

“If I rest I’ll just keep working on this in my head. This way at least I’m accomplishing something.”

Jira accepted that and focused on her driving. She and Kara looked alike, save for the length of their hair – Jira’s cut short to the scalp while Kara’s was a long and while tanglebrush bush – but their minds couldn’t have been more different. Jira’s mind would wander but her hands knew what to do. Her ten clever fingers could tear apart an engine and rebuild it before her mind even realized what she was working on. The muscles of her arms knew when to push and pull the wheel. It was second nature to her now, just as Kara’s second nature was seeing inside the machines and understanding how they ticked. Together they kept the tribe’s fleet up to date and on the road.

Tonight they would move a few dozen klicks to the west, following the seasonal rains and avoiding the vultures who roamed the boonies. The tribe could defend themselves if it came to a fight, but it was preferable to preserve their ammunition for a real fight, should one present itself. They would stop near Three Rivers, close enough for supply runs to Popes and Powelltown. She could see if there were any crates of <i>keo dua</i>. She’d been rationing the one she got a year ago, but even so it was nearly emptied. She tried not to think about it and focused on the road, her mind calmed by the sound of Kara fiddling in the seat beside her.

It was easier to ride during the night, when the temperature would drop instead of rise. They could open the windows, let out the heat that had been trapped inside all day, and also allow the cool desert breezes to wash over them. Jira wore a sleeveless tunic and the wind pricked up the hairs of her arm when she rested it on the window.

She counted hills they passed. She tried to read the faded billboards, road signs, and gas station marquees and failed. “T O 4 O I CHA E W $ P RC.” It was indecipherable. Tirrana once said the signs had a shorthand lingo of its own, well-known to drivers of the past but impossible for a modern reader to decrypt with its missing letters and uneven spaces. Jira found the entire concept difficult to believe. People would drive to a specialized pumps, hook up to an underground reservoir, and fill their tanks whenever it ran empty? Not only that, they would pay by the gallon? It seemed like a ludicrous waste of money. Then again, everything she’d heard about the world before, it seemed like they were always in a hurry to get rid of the cash they spent their entire lives accumulating.

The sun’s return was heralded by banners of orange and yellow and deep, rich blue. Kara had fallen asleep at some point during the night, her feet up on the seat with her arms across the knees to serve as pillow. The CB radio hanging under the dashboard buzzed to life. Kara woke at the sound, bringing her arms up around her face and kicking out with her right foot. Jira ignored the aggressiveness and unhooked the mic.

“Change in route?”

The voice on the other end belonged to Tempany Fernsby. “Scouts picked up something to the south. Town, it looks like. We’re going to swing through and pick apart what we can. Eight klicks off course, so make preps.”

“Understood, Pany.” She hooked the mic again and looked at Kara. Her sister was stretching out the kinks from her crooked position. “Nightmares?”

“None worse than usual,” Kara said.

“Can we do eight extra klicks on what we’ve got?”

Kara thought for a moment before shaking her head. “Nope. We’ll need to hook up the solars.” She unfastened the harness of her seat, opened the door, and crawled out onto the side of the truck before Jira could say a word. She didn’t bother to slow down; Kara would only be angry about it. She would claim Jira was coddling her, babying her, by dropping to a safer speed. Kara would crab-walk down the side of the truck on the runner she’d installed for that very purpose, and she’d squirm under the cargo bed to hook up the solar panels to the batteries. She’d done it enough times it should be as easy as if the truck was stopped. No need for Jira to be concerned.

The convoy turned to the south and Jira glanced in the side mirrors to make sure her sister hadn’t fallen off. The truck behind her would have honked or alerted her somehow to the fallen debris, so she was confident Kara had held on. In another minute she spotted the ruins of the town coming up. It was spread across either side of the road, squat concrete buildings with the windows blasted out and wooden structures that were one good breeze away from collapsing. The lead car set the pace by slowing to a crawl as they entered the town limits. Gun barrels bristled from the car windows and swept every alley and broken window they passed.

The gauge in front of her suddenly surged, proving Kara had completed her task. A few minutes later she reappeared and took her seat just as they were arriving in the town center. She was back inside in time for Jira to ease the truck to a stop, and she smiled at her timing.

“Might as well have just kept hanging out down there. Breeze was nice.”

Jira smirked and rolled her eyes. Bilaranora was brief and to the point: scavenge what they could, be quick and quiet, and they would be heading back out the way they had come in three hours unless anyone had reason to stick around longer. She then sent them off and climbed back into her own truck to begin exploring. Kara threw open her door again and climbed out.

“I’m going to see if I can find some brackets. We need to refresh our supplies.”

Jira had noticed most of their surplus was rusted or too small for their needs. She nodded and waited until Kara was clear before she started up the engine and turned down a side street. The town wasn’t particularly large, but it had a fair number of winding side streets that could potentially hide any number of treasures. Three hours wasn’t long enough for an exhaustive search, but scratching the surface would be enough to tell her if there was a reason to stick around.

If Kara had stayed in the truck, she would have a monoc to spot any sentries. As it was, Jira had to go slow and pull double duty. The electric and solar engine of her truck made it run almost silently; with the window down she could hear the wind whistling through the devastated buildings. The asphalt cracked under the weight of her tires as she turned onto a dead-end industrial street. Warehouses and manufacturing plants were good sources of gear.

As she turned onto the street, she spotted a commotion at the far end. At first she thought it was people from her tribe who had somehow gotten ahead of her, but then she saw the fallen motorcycle. They didn’t have motorcycles. And the majority of people in the group were wearing green and gray, colors so associated with vultures that few others wore them. There were five vultures surrounding the bike. In their center was a woman in black road gear; a heavy jacket, jeans, and leggings. She wore a scarf wrapped around her hair and gathered at her throat. Her helmet had either been thrown or kicked away from the fracas. She was swinging a baton with one hand. The blue electrical arc near her left hand indicated she also had taze-knuckles. A good defense, but not much against her enemies.

The vultures had their back to the truck, but the biker was looking directly at her. Jira weighed her options and then sank the accelerator to the floor. The truck surged forward, its engine emitting an ever-increasing hum as she barreled down the road. The biker saw her coming and tensed. The vultures tried to close around her. Jira put her hand on the horn and shoved down so the truck could sound its battle cry. The vultures spun toward the inhuman sound, the woman jumped to one side, and Jira managed to sweep two of the vultures off their feet. She felt them go under the tires. The biker grabbed on to a rail near the front of Jira’s cab, swinging herself up onto the runner.

Jira said, “Need a ride?”

“Appreciate it! But we have to go back!”

Jira stared at the obviously crazy woman. They were nearing the end of the road. “I didn’t get all of them.”

“I know! The ones you missed will scavenge my bike.”

Part of Jira wanted to tell her it was a lost cause. But she knew how important a vehicle was. If she’d lost the truck… She sighed and stepped on the brakes, causing the tires to squeal and push up white clouds of burnt rubber. She put the truck in reverse and raced backward, watching in her mirrors to see the surviving vultures fleeing. One of them had moved near the bike and was trying to stand it up, so Jira grabbed her sawed-off shotgun and passed it through the window.

“Discourage him.”

The biker grinned and brought the gun up in a swift, practiced move. She closed one eye, sighted down the barrel, and pulled the trigger. The kickback nearly knocked her off the runner, but Jira shot a hand out and grabbed the front of her jacket to keep her upright. When they had reached the bike again, Jira stopped the truck and took her gun back. The biker went to her fallen transport and Jira threw open the door, standing up to aim the gun along the roof of the cab. Every vulture who could stand was fleeing.

Once they were a safe distance away, she looked back at the biker. “Is it salvageable?”

“It’s fine. They didn’t touch it.” She retrieved her helmet and thumped her hand against the dome. The motorcycle was actually a trike, with two fat wheels supporting a cargo section under the driver’s seat. She looked up at Jira and said, “Thank you for the assist.”

“Happy to help. Jirakee Culpepper.”

“Conquering Maza.” Jira smirked and Conquering nodded with a knowing smile. “Yeah, yeah. Sixth kid. First one was named Blessing and lasted a month. Then there was Miracle for six months, then Hope for three. They didn’t name four or five, and when I lived past a year they decided to give me an appropriate title.”

Jira said, “It fits.” She came down off the runner and approached the bike. “We’re a small tribe, just passing through and seeing what we can find. We won’t get in your way if you don’t get in ours. And even if you do, we’re pretty reasonable about sharing.”

Conquering took the canteen off her bike and took a conservative sip as she examined the truck with narrow eyes. “Electric?” she asked.

“Yeah. We’re all electric and solar. I do the conversions.”

“If I helped your tribe out, showed you where all the good scavenge is, could I come with you? At least until you have a chance to convert this.” She gestured at the bike. “I love this thing, but it roars and brings all sorts of clappers. If I could move quiet, it would keep me from needing a savior next time.”

“Why would you show us where the good stuff is? Why not take it for yourself?”

“I only take what I need and what I can carry. I have to leave a lot of stuff, and I’d rather you have it than some vulture.”

Jira said, “I don’t have the final say in who gets to come or go. But if you help us out, I think Bilaranora will agree to the supplies I’ll need.”

“Do you need help washing the blood off the front of the truck?”

“We’ll leave it for now,” Jira said as she walked back to the cab. “Warning to the next group.”

Conquering grinned and pulled her helmet back on. “I like your style, Jirakee.”

“Call me Jira.”

Conquering touched two fingers to the brow of her helmet in a salute, then flipped down her visor and climbed onto her bike. She waited for Jira to painstakingly turn the truck around using one of the nearby loading bays, then headed out to lead her to the closest stash they could raid.

#

The tribe reconvened on the outskirts of the town to go over what they had found, what needed to be scavenged, and what could be left behind. Jira discovered she wasn’t the only one to encounter the vultures; two other groups reported run-ins with the thieves. Recapping what had happened offered the perfect opportunity to introduce Conquering.

Bilaranora agreed to let Conquering join their tribe on a contingency basis, but she refused to let her ride the bike until it was converted to silent power. They loaded it onto one of their cargo trucks and, after brief introductions across the tribe, found a car with an empty seat for her. Kara kept her mouth shut during the introductions. She only offered a quick smile when Conquering looked between the sisters and realized they were indeed twins.

Kara’s silence continued until they were quit with the town and back on the road. It was dusk, so they should have been setting up camp, but Bilaranora wanted to put some miles between them and the vultures before letting her guard down. Jira spotted the car Conquering was in and tracked it with her eyes, turning her head until she realized Kara was watching her.

“Mm?” Jira said.

“Mm-mm,” Kara said, facing forward.

“Huh.”

Kara snorted. Jira looked at her.

Jira shook her head. “Uh-uh.”

Kara scoffed and began gathering her hair to put it up. “Sure.”

Jira checked the gauges and joined the convoy when it was her turn. “I’m not attracted to her.”

“Tell it to your joot.”

“Filth-mouth,” Jira said, reaching across to smack her sister’s arm.

Kara forked her fingers around her mouth and flicked her tongue between them, laughing as she tried to escape Jira’s assault.

“Just drive, you toey bitch.”

Jira grinned and put her hand back on the steering wheel. She drove in silence for a bit before she finally said, “I mean, if she asked me to fuck her, I’d oblige.”

Kara laughed. “Be rude otherwise, yeah?”

“Sure.”

The sisters smiled at each other and focused on the road. Jira could imagine what Conquering was being subjected to in the other vehicle. The story of their tribe, how they’d been brought together by accident and circumstance over five years. They were mainly women, but a few men had been accepted as members if they could prove themselves. Everyone had a purpose or a skill that helped everyone. Chef or Scavenger, Architects or Drivers, Engineers or Navigators. Everyone helped everyone else in one way or another. Anyone not contributing was dead weight.

They were called the Tuahine, the Sisters. Though they had met as strangers, the name fit. The women in the other trucks were her family as much as Kara was. Jira would lay down her life for any of them, as they would for her. Conquering would either learn that or be dismissed once her bike had been converted. Jira hoped that didn’t happen, though. Conquering was obviously a survivor. She’d kept herself alive for this long without any help. It would be nice to have someone like her on their side.

She looked at Kara, who started laughing as soon as they made eye contact. Jira fumed and faced forward again, reddening under the grime that covered her cheeks.

“Shut up.”

Kara only laughed harder.

#

When the storms rolled in, the Architects had to work at triple speed to get shelter up before they were overtaken. They began with a basic framework, hammering stakes into the ground and building between them like spiders constructing a web. Their vehicles were surrounded by these walls, and everyone helped get the dome roof in place. Thirty-five minutes after the last wall was erected, it was buffeted by heavy winds and blowing sand. The air crackled with electricity and skyquakes, as if the atmosphere had become solid and was being assaulted by tremors.

Their complex was huge when it was finished; large enough for semi-private rooms along either side with the vehicles parked under protective tarps down the center. The north and south walls were set aside as public areas, where people could have meals or set up entertainments. The garage was near the kitchen and cafeteria. Jira took advantage of the delay to examine Conquering’s motorcycle in the cargo truck. She crouched by the engine and began formulating a plan of attack for its conversion. She left the door to the truck open, and she thought nothing of it when she heard someone join her. She assumed it was just someone checking on their own vehicle.

“I don’t like other people touching my bike without permission.”

Jira looked up at Conquering. “Sorry. I was just trying to figure out how long it would take to convert.” She started to stand. “I can leave.”

“No. It’s fine.” Conquering crouched beside her. “Have you figured it out yet? I appreciate the ride and everything, but I’d really like to be on my own. That one woman talks like her words will spoil if she doesn’t use them.”

Jira grinned wide. “Kiturra?”

“Brown and yellow headscarf, feather earrings?”

“That’s Kit all right. She does seem to enjoy the sound of her own voice.”

Conquering said, “So you converted all of these cars and trucks?”

“Me and Karalea. We’ve done some others, but we lost those. We had to pick up new ones whenever we could.”

“Probably don’t have to look very hard for shells. When a dinosaur-chugger stop working, people just leave them by the side of the road. Gas ran out, gas went bad, people just went back to bicycles. You looked ahead. That’s smart.”

Jira shrugged, dismissive of the compliment. “Anyone with the skills could’ve done it. Kara and I got lucky that the other ladies agreed with us.”

“And now you can’t be a member if you aren’t running silent.”

“Yep.” She reached up and scratched the back of her neck. “I can get started on this tomorrow if we’re still waiting out the storm. Depending on the supplies we have on-hand, I could get it done all in one go. We might be missing some adaptors. If we are, we’ll have to wait until we find some before the job is finished. You might have to hitch a ride a bit longer.”

“Maybe I can ride with you and your sister. You don’t seem to talk as much as Kiturra.”

“Kara and I talk. We just have our own language. Might drive you up the wall.” She stood up and wiped nonexistent dust from her hands. “Have you eaten?”

“Kiturra and her driver… um…?”

“Bakana.”

“Right. They offered me some bread. It was delicious. And very filling.”

Jira said, “I’m well acquainted with their bread. So if you don’t want dinner, we have entertainments if you’re interested. Musicians and storytellers. I can show you, if you’d like.”

Conquering stood up. “I haven’t heard music in years. I would enjoy that very much.”

Jira gestured for Conquering to follow her out. “It’s just this way.”

“How do you already know where it is? This place was just set up this afternoon.”

“The Architects use the same layout every time. This is our home. Only its location changes.”

Conquering said, “That’s quite a concept. ‘Home.’ I understand what that means, and I’m honored you let me into yours. I haven’t had anything close to that since I left my parents.”

There was no bitterness in her voice, so Jira risked a question. “Hard decision?”

She shrugged. “They raised me. Kept me alive. But I knew it would have been easier for them if I had died like my brothers and sisters. So as soon as I could ride, I left. I never told them I was going. They never asked me to stay. We all knew it would only have been ceremony and sentimentality. So I snuck out and I found four days’ worth of packed lunches in the bike’s storage compartment.”

Jira said, “Have you ever thought about going back to check on them?”

“If they were there, it would be too hard to leave. If they weren’t…” She shook her head. “No, no, I’ve never thought about going back.”

“I understand.”

The performance took place in a curtained area with a half-circle of seats facing a carpet that had been spread across the ground. A girl was sitting cross-legged in the center of the carpet with an acoustic guitar on her lap. As she tuned it, two older women joined her and began preparing their own instruments. As they took their seats, Jira whispered to Conquering that the girl was Kylie, while the elders were Tirrana Birdwhistle and Belinda and Kate.

Kylie began to play. Belinda and Kate picked up the rhythm, and soon they were playing a song. Kylie sang with a hesitant but melodious voice, humming over the bits she didn’t quite remember. Jira had heard the song before. It wasn’t a favorite, but it was very good. The three women did an excellent job of keeping the melody, and soon her fingers were tapping against her thigh. She glanced to her right and saw Conquering had tears in her eyes, her bottom lip held stiff to keep it from shaking.

Jira faced forward again, ashamed of witnessing the private moment. As the song continued, Conquering shifted in her seat. She started to stand, but Jira reached out and took her hand. She squeezed Conquering’s fingers without looking at her, just offering the support. Conquering remained in a half-standing position for a moment, then slowly lowered herself back into the seat. She twisted her wrist and closed her hand around Jira’s. She gave a grateful squeeze and didn’t let go, letting Jira’s hand rest against her thigh as they listened to the rest of the song.

#

The storm continued raging into the next day. They were good on supplies, so Jira woke early and got to work on Conquering’s trike. Once the conversion was underway, she could see every step of the process as if it was drawn out on the sand for her. The Architects kept an eye on the dunes that gathered against the walls of their structure to make sure they wouldn’t be buried. Jira was sitting beside the trike, hands and face smeared with grease, while Kara acted as her shop assistant by providing tools and whatever gear Jira might need.

Conquering brought them food at the midpoint of the day. As Jira wiped her hands, Kara thanked their newest tribe member for the offer but excused herself. “There’s somewhere I need to be,” she said. “I made a promise to someone to do something.”

“What exactly is it you have to do?” Jira asked.

“Sorry, didn’t hear that,” Kara said as she walked from the trailer. “Have a good meal. See you in thirty minutes or so.”

Conquering said, “I hope I didn’t offend her.”

Jira glared after Kara. “No, no. She’s just…” She sighed and shook her head. She finished wiping the grease off her hands and took the roll from Conquering. “Thank you for this.”

“My pleasure.” Conquering looked at the progress on her machine. “Looks pretty odd to see it all gutted like this. But I trust you. As soon as I saw that truck of yours just whispering up behind those vultures, I knew you were something special. Who knew you had a whole fleet of them?” She put her hand on the trike’s side and patted the metal. “It’s been a pretty good bike, but it was getting harder and harder to find fuel. I probably should have been willing to hand it over to those assholes in exchange for my life, but it was the principle of the thing.”

Jira said, “Of course. She’s yours.”

“No. She’s not a thing to be owned or traded away.”

“I understand,” Jira said softly. “Thank you for trusting me with her.”

They sat in front of the cloth wall to eat. “Do you know how long the full conversion will take?”

“Not long. I’ve done it enough that I could probably do it in my sleep. It took me a bit to figure out how the trike is put together, but once I got that down… it’ll be a snap. You’ll probably be able to ride it out of here once the storm passes.”

“Really? That’s amazing. I feel like I should repay you somehow.”

Jira shook her head. “That’s not how this works. My job in the tribe is to convert vehicles. You’re a member of the tribe now, so you don’t owe me anything but your scavenging services.” She held up her half-finished roll. “And this, of course.”

“That was my pleasure. Are you sure your sister doesn’t have a problem with me?”

“Mm-hmm,” Jira said. “She thinks I’m attracted to you.”

“Are you?”

“Mm-hmm.”

Conquering said, “Okay.” She took a bite of her roll. “They set me up with a bunk. It’s not very private, but we could probably make it work.”

Jira said, “Kara would also probably clear out if I told her ahead of time. She can always find a place to sleep for a night.”

“Cool.”

Jira knew there had been a time when people courted each other, when there was such a thing as romance and wooing. That was just another construct of a bygone era. No one had time for that anymore. No one bothered with flirtation or innuendo. Sex was a biological urge and following through on mutual sexual attraction was just something that had to be acted on before the chance was lost.

“If the storm lasts until tonight, Bilaranora won’t want to start moving until first light when we can see the condition of the roads. So we should know by dinner if we have another night here.”

“I’ll find you then.”

They finished eating in silence. Jira thought back to the last partner she’d had. Charon, the mortician. She was the one who taught them how to shroud their dead and preserve the bodies for burial or pyre. Charon had been a fierce lover, a fact she apologized for afterward. “You spend enough time among the dead,” she’d explained, “you grab on to life with both hands.” Jira had refused the apology as unnecessary and proved it with another session. By the time Charon left, both she and Jira were covered with bruises that served as mementos long after fading away.

When the food was gone, they made arrangements to meet up again for dinner and perhaps watch another show. Jira watched Conquering leave and smiled privately as she turned back to the trike.

#

The performance that night was a medieval tale of quests and chivalry. A handmaiden sought to win the heart and attentions of a brave knight, despite the difference in class. Jira and Conquering joined the group during a scene where the knight, barefoot in baggy underclothes, encountered the handmaiden in a candlelight corridor. They sat together at the back of the room as the handmaiden suggestively ran her fingers over the hilt of the knight’s sword, easing closer as the knight remained straight-backed and stoic.

Jira bit her bottom lip at the sight and glanced over to see Conquering was equally transfixed. Though they had only just sat down, Jira stood and took Conquering’s hand to lead her back out of the room. Most of the tribeswomen were milling about in the cafeteria, but she could see lights on in the personal rooms. They wouldn’t get much privacy there. She took Conquering’s hand as they moved along the sides of the trucks, stopping when they reached Jira and Kara’s. A light was on in the cab. Jira stepped up on the riser and opened the door, leaning in to look past the seat at the private area. Kara was on her bedroll with a book open in front of her.

“Did you eat yet?”

“Yeah.”

“Then find somewhere else to be.”

Kara looked up and craned her neck to see Conquering behind her sister. She smiled, marked her place in the book, and got up.

“You owe me one, girl.”

“I know, I know. Move your ass.”

Kara climbed out through the passenger door. “Have fun, Conquering!”

Jira climbed into the cab and turned around to help Conquering get in behind her. Conquering closed the door as Jira kicked Kara’s things aside to clear a space. She pulled Conquering to her and they kissed as Jira stretched out across both bedrolls. Conquering straddled Jira and they both began tugging at the clothing between them. Conquering’s scarf was tossed aside, and Jira moved her lips to attack the newly-exposed length of her neck. When she opened her eyes, she saw that there was a tattoo of a dragonfly that started just behind her ear and stretched down under her collar.

“That’s beautiful.”

Conquering said, “My mother called herself Dragonfly. My father…” She lifted her arm and pushed back her sleeve to reveal a second tattoo: a manta ray with both wings extended wide. “He was the manta. I wear him on my arm so I can remember him. I wear mama on my neck so I can show her to everyone else.”

“I like it.” Jira kissed the delicate lines on Conquering’s skin.

“What about you?” Conquering asked, lifting up Jira’s shirt. “Am I going to find any ink on you?”

“No. Just scars.”

“Those can be just as telling as ink,” Conquering said “Lie back, Jirakee.”

Jira did as she was told and allowed herself to be undressed. Conquering moved carefully in the cramped space, shifting back and forth to avoid bumping into the walls or the back of the driver’s seat. Occasionally her body blocked the overhead lights so she was lined by an unearthly golden glow. When she had all of Jira’s clothes off, she sat up and began undoing the buckles and catches of her own outfit. Jira reached up to help her, but Conquering gently pushed her hands away.

“I want to look at you. And I want you to see me.”

Jira put both hands behind her head. Conquering took off her tunic and tossed it aside, revealing a scar that ran along the full curve of her hip and ended on her belly. Jira wanted to touch it but kept her hands obediently behind her head.

“What happened there?”

“Appendectomy. Brutal. Bad. Not important.” She held her hands out. “Give me your hands.”

Jira held them out and Conquering guided them to her breasts. Jira sighed as she squeezed. She sat up and kissed each breast, then paused with her face between them. It had been far too long since she’d smelled a person like this; sweat and dirt was a common stink, but to be close enough to smell more was special and rare. She dragged her tongue up to the hollow of her throat as Conquering ran her fingernails through Jira’s short hair.

Jira kept her mouth on Conquering’s neck and moved her hands down. Conquering was still wearing pants, but she twisted her lower body to squirm free of them. As soon as she was naked she sat own on Jira again, closed her legs tight around Jira’s hips, and began rocking her hips. Jira put her hands on Conquering’s ass and guided her movement, slowing her down if she became too eager. Conquering leaned back far enough to see Jira’s face, locking eyes with her as she reached behind herself and dragged her fingers along the inside of Jira’s thigh. She continued rubbing herself against Jira’s lower stomach as her hand found and stroked the folds of her sex.

“Conquer me,” Jira whispered, then immediately pressed her lips against Conquering’s breast as if she could push the words back in.

“Say that again.”

Jira said, “It’s silly.”

“People have said it before,” Conquering said, breathing heavily through the words. “But you’re the first one who made me shiver when I heard it. Say it again, Jira. Please.”

Jira slid her lips along Conquering’s skin, tasting her all the way up to her earlobe. She said, “Conquer me, Maza.”

“But I’m already conquered.” She pulled Jira’s head back and kissed her hard, her moan echoing Jira’s. They thrust against one another. Conquering’s knees dug into the tangled bedrolls underneath them while Jira pressed the balls of her feet against the cold metal of the wall. She was aware only of Conquering’s weight on her and the two fingers inside of her. The teasing forefinger and the extended middle finger, the meaty heel of her palm pressing so enticingly against her mound. Jira fell back and pulled Conquering with her. Conquering sat up straight atop her, rolling her hips as her hand continued to work against Jira’s center.

Jira came first, her mouth opened in a silent cry until Conquering claimed her lips in a kiss. Jira went limp but moved her hands to Conquering’s hips to move her faster.

“Almost, sweet, almost,” Conquering said, the last word dwindling to a helpless cry. She lowered herself onto Jira and shifted until their faces were aligned. Jira regained some strength as they kissed, bringing her hands up into Conquering’s hair and gripping it tight.

Someone knocked on the passenger side door, startling them both. Kara said, “I found a place to spend the night. Just in case you two don’t feel like moving.”

Jira smiled against Conquering’s cheek. “Thank you, Karalea.”

“Mm-hmm.”

They could both hear the laughter in Kara’s response. Conquering sat up and framed Jira’s face with her hands.

“So I suppose we were just given the entire night. That’s a lot of hours to fill.”

“And I’m sure by morning it will feel like no time at all. So we should get started immediately.”

Conquering nodded sagely, ran her tongue over her bottom lip, and slid down Jira’s body to settle between her thighs. Jira put her hands back behind her head, closed her eyes, and braced herself.

#

The storm ended during the night. The entire tribe joined in the effort to clear away the sand while the Architects struck their camp. Bilaranora accepted the alternate route found by the Navigators in the event Scouts reported their original route had been obliterated by the storm. Kara offered to give up her seat in the rig to Conquering, but she was politely rebuffed. The trike was ready for its inaugural run and she was eager to get back in the saddle. The Culpepper sisters sat together in their rig and watched as the rest of the tribe prepared to get back underway.

“So?”

Jira shrugged, brushing her thumb over her lower lip. “Yeah.”

“Yeah?”

“Hm.”

“Heh.” Kara laughed and rocked in her seat, then leaned out the window. The trike was at the end of the line, but she had been given permission to thread up and down the line as long as she didn’t get in anybody’s way. “Her?”

“Her,” Jira said.

“After everyone else? I mean, I’d’ve thought you and Indrit were something special.”

“Indrit? How long have you known me?”

Kara said, “Your whole life.”

“Minus six minutes.”

Kara scoffed.

“Did a lot of living in those six minutes.”

“That’s why you’re so old and grizzled.”

Jira snorted.

“They call me the young one. Fresh one. Pretty one.”

“Humble one.”

Their turn came and Jira tapped the pedal, twisted the wheel, and got them back onto the road. Their next stop was the Popes, to replenish their supplies. Jira needed to load up on engine stock to make up for what she’d used on Conquering’s engine. It would be another ninety klicks, maybe a day of travel if they were lucky. She settled in for the long ride.

Close to ten klicks into their journey, she looked out the window and saw Conquering pull up beside her. She had the scarf pulled tight around the lower half of her face, eyes protected by reflective goggles. Her hair was loose and streaming out behind her like a banner. Jira unhooked the mic of the CB and tapped the glass with it. Conquering saw it and took up her own mic.

“How does she handle?”

“Purring like a kitten,” Conquering said. “Humming between my legs, giving me a familiar feeling. You do that on purpose just to give me a thrill?”

Jira grinned. “Nope, pure unintended bliss. But you know Kara can hear you.”

“Don’t really care. Hi, Kara.”

“Hi, slut!” Kara called jovially.

Conquering laughed over the mic. “I am what your sister made me, darlin’. Listen, there’s a little village not far from here. High ground, so I doubt the storm would’ve done much damage to it, but at the end of a real winding road. Can’t see it if you don’t know it’s there. Might have some stuff worth looking at. And it’ll give me a chance to really test this babe out.”

“Clear it with ‘Nora,” Jira said. “Let her know how long you think it’ll take so we’ll know when and if we should start getting worried.”

“You got it. See you tonight, sweets.”

She sped up down the line, slowing down to ride alongside Bilaranora’s sedan. She obviously got the permission to break off because, at the next intersection, she turned north and surged off into the desert. Jira watched the back tires of her trike kicking up a rooster tail as she went and then faced the road.

“Stop looking at me,” she said.

“I’m not looking at you.”

“Maybe not with your eyes.”

Kara laughed. “What does that even mean?”

“You know full well.”

Kara’s laugh trailed off and she started fixing her hair. “I’m sorry I said you were thinking with your joot.”

“Oh, come off it. You were right.”

“Maybe at first. It’s more though. Usually after one night, you’re thinking more clearly. But this time it looks like you’ve got it worse.”

Jira flexed her fingers on the steering wheel. “She’s hot.”

“Mm.”

“She’s got a bike.”

Kara grinned. “Yea-ap.”

“Shut up and stop looking at me.”

“Still not looking at you.”

Jira flipped her off. She was only pissy because Kara had a point. One night of sex was usually enough to shift her mind onto another subject. But her attraction to Conquering didn’t seem to be going away. If anything it was worse, and seeing her disappear down the side road like that actually made her feel sad. She knew Conquering would be back. But what if she wasn’t? What if it was a scam? She got her bike fixed up and now she had no reason to come back. If that was the case, then good riddance. The Tuahine had no place for liars and thieves and con artists in their midst.

“Hey, if she doesn’t come back, at least you got some off her, eh?”

Jira smiled, but didn’t feel like bantering back.

Eventually Kara decided to take a nap, since she didn’t get much sleep the night before, and crawled between the seats with a warning that her bedroll better not be disgusting. Jira was grateful for the silence and the opportunity to be alone with her thoughts. Conquering Maza was a fun way to ride out the sandstorm, and she might have been a great companion, but if she was gone then she was just like countless others who hadn’t ended up staying with the tribe. Gone somewhere in the Scourge Plains. Soon enough forgotten.

They were nearing Popes when the CB radio came to life. She listened in on a conversation between Bilaranora and Tirrana.

“Reports of a rooster tail coming up fast from the north. Can you confirm?”

Tirrana said, “I see’s it. One vehicle, small. Looks like that Maza gal on her way back.”

Jira tried to keep her expression neutral, but she tightened her grip on the wheel and bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling.

A few minutes later, the trike pulled up alongside her again. Jira grabbed her mic and held down the button. “You back already? Barely had a chance to miss ya.”

“Bunch’a vultures picked the place clean. Decided it wasn’t worth getting spotted by them just to look around.”

“Smart call, I guess. But we said you had to pull your weight if you wanted to join up. If you start being lazy…”

“I’ll do better in the future, Jirakee.”

“You’d better.” Even behind the scarf, Jira could see that Conquering’s smile. “Stick by my side for a bit? So I can keep an eye on you?”

Conquering said, “Nowhere I’d rather be. See you at the Popes.”

“Can’t wait.”

She hooked her mic back up and rested her hands on the wheel. “Stop looking at me, Karalea.”

Kara laughed.

The convoy continued on, a line of silent cars and trucks cutting down the broken road through the desert.

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