*When God Isn’t Watching (Part 1)

Written by Alex Gyftogiannis and J. D. Wiley --- Art by J. D. Wiley

The motorcycle’s engine roared as Gibraltar cranked the throttle, urging the metal beast faster and farther along the shattered road. Marco and Henoch followed close behind on hogs of their own. The cloud of dust trailing the junker ahead grew larger by the minute and it wouldn’t be long until they caught up with their quarry. 

Judging by the thunderheads on the horizon, wouldn’t be long until the storm caught up either. The calm before, so to speak. Literally and otherwise. For the moment, Gibraltar was content to just enjoy the cool wind on his face. Before the killing started.

Taking lives wasn’t pleasant, but it was often necessary. Some problems could only really be solved with a 12-gauge double-ought buck. Or two, if they were still kicking. Today’s problem being a fringe sect known as the Unblind. 

Bunch of scumbags from the Ashlands. They used to be a raping, pillaging Viker gang up until the day they discovered religion. Then they became a raping, pillaging cult of fanatics. The lowlifes Gibraltar was chasing were members, and he reckoned they’d know where to find the rest of them.

Those sons of bitches had been hitting all the outer settlements of New Rhodes. Last town they ran through, they burned down a church. With everybody still inside it. Kids included. Just the idea made Gibraltar’s blood boil. Made him wonder how those people felt, knowing they were going to die and nobody was coming to save them. Did they question everything they’d ever known and believed? What good their faith was? Why that was allowed to happen? Why no higher power intervened? Maybe God just stepped away for a smoke break, right?

The more he thought about it the tighter his hands gripped the handlebars, until his knuckles raged white.

Gibraltar wiped the notion from his mind and spurred his bike onward, tearing up the scarred blacktop as he closed the distance. Every second brought him closer to the red, scrap-covered truck and its sub-human occupants. The thing was armored up like no tomorrow. Sheets of corrugated metal were riveted to the top and sides, even hung down over the tires. 

Standard firearms wouldn’t be of much use. Gibraltar slid a pair of goggles over his eyes and glanced in his side mirror. Marco and Henoch were right on his tail. Good. He raised a hand and gave the signal. Marco pulled up on his left, a mean desperado buckled head to toe in black leather. Henoch on his right, cybernetic arms dull and plastic-looking from all the dust. Gibraltar nodded up the road.

The two mercs sped up and blew past the junker, trying to put enough distance between them and it in order for the plan to work. Disabling an armored truck could be tricky if you weren’t prepared. But there was a science to it, an art even, at least the way Henoch explained it. Gibraltar had seen the gadgets that man could devise and wasn’t inclined to disagree with him.

Once Marco and Henoch were far enough ahead, they spun around and produced three-foot cylindrical rods from their bikes. Henoch’s invention. “Thor’s Clothesline,” he called it. Gibraltar drove squarely behind the truck while his companions were now racing headlong toward it. The armored junker showed no sign of slowing. Just as they’d hoped. If anything, the Unblind were flooring it, making that heap of rusted metal plow on as fast as it could. 

Even better. Still, timing was key.

Gibraltar’s colleagues armed the rods and the ends emitted blue sparks. Marco and Henoch continued on a collision course with the truck as a beam of wild energy fired between the two cylinders. It was the mobile, high-tech equivalent of tying a chain between two trees and watching as some unsuspecting passerby drove into it. Except the chain was a stream of magnetically-tethered plasma that could cut through vehicle armor like a quality whore cut through a fat wallet.

Gibraltar peeled off the road and onto the raw dirt to avoid what happened next. Marco and Henoch veered off to either side of the truck seconds before impact, keeping the tether situated at just the right height to tear through the junker’s wheels and undercarriage. The focused plasma wire carved neatly through the junker from front to back. The top slid off like bread from a ham sandwich and cartwheeled down the thoroughfare. Metal plates sparked and tore free with every crunch as the vehicle vomited glass and debris across the ragged blacktop. 

Gibraltar watched as the gnarled wreck slid a good hundred feet before grinding to a halt.

He pulled up to the ruined junker and stepped off his motorcycle. He swung a sawed-off shotgun from his coat and approached the driver’s side, finger on the trigger. Marco and Henoch stopped short behind him, rubber screeching against the broken road. They hopped off in tandem and went around the other side to cover him.

The dented door swung open and the driver, a pale-skinned Ashlander, fell out onto his face. His flesh was a myriad of painted eyes that almost seemed to stare at Gibraltar. All different shapes, sizes, and colors. A pistol slid out of the driver’s shaking hands and clattered down the road into the dirt. The Unblind lifted himself up slowly, blood trickling down his tattooed forehead, and locked eyes with Gibraltar. Or, more accurately, with the pair of eager black barrels leveled on him.

“Stay down, and I might let you get up,” Gibraltar warned, shotgun aimed square at the Unblind’s face. “Get up, and I’ll make sure you stay down.”

The Unblind narrowed his eyes but remained on the ground.

 “So your people do have some sense after all.” Gibraltar sucked at his teeth. “Pity.”

Marco came around the front of the truck, black leather creaking as he dragged the Unblind passenger by his scrawny neck. Henoch followed close behind, pistols in both of his cybernetic hands trained on their prisoner. Marco shoved the Ashlander down beside his friend. 

Gibraltar sized the pair of them up. “Now listen,” he began, lifting his goggles, “I’m a straightforward guy, as you might’ve guessed by my tastes in clothing, transportation, and firearms. So I’m going to come right out and tell you that, given all your cult has done –“

“We’re no cult.” The driver glared at him.

“Excuse me?”

“We’re true believers in the Inexorable. The only ones who see this world for what it is and understand it. The only ones who aren’t blind to reality.”

Gibraltar laughed. “Oh yeah? So all the murder and torture your people inflict is what? Your way of enlightening the masses?”

“No. It’s our way of enlightening ourselves. Casualties are necessary on the path to true ascension.” The Unblind smiled, a mess of filed yellow teeth against his pale face. “There are no greater revelations than those you find in the faces of the dying.”

Gibraltar’s boot almost leapt off his foot as it found its way into the Ashlander’s mouth. The Unblind twisted away and clutched his face, gurgling a froth of crimson saliva as he growled.

“As I was saying,” Gibraltar continued, “Given all your cult has done, chances are good you aren’t going to walk away from this situation at all. That’s the truth. Especially if you run your mouth like that again. Problem is, I need you to talk or else this whole little pow-wow was for nothing. Kind of a tricky situation for you, huh?”

The Unblind driver spat a bloody tooth onto the road. “You’re clearly a mercenary. That means all you care about is money anyway. You’ll even kill for it. What does it matter why we do what we do?”

“Because I’ve got no patience for crazy assholes using magical beings in the sky as an excuse to hurt people. You wanna be a piece of shit? Go ahead. But be straight about it. Don’t make a god your scapegoat. And yeah I care about money, but there are worse sins than doing the right thing for the wrong reason.”

“The right thing?” The driver stood. “And what would that be? Justice? Or retribution?”

Gibraltar’s eyes dropped to his sawed-off as he turned it over in his hands. When his gaze returned to the driver, both barrels followed. “Looks to me they’re one and the same.”

He squeezed the trigger.

The buckshot obliterated the Ashlander’s face, dark pulp and perfect fragments of white bone blew out the back of his skull. The thunder of the shotgun made Gibraltar’s ears ring. Marco and Henoch looked on in horror as dripping brain matter tap… tap… tapped from the yawning donut that had seconds ago been a head. The eyes tattooed across the driver’s body seemed to stare up at Gibraltar now more than ever.

“What the hell, Gib?” Henoch pulled a reticulated hand across his weary face.

Gibraltar shrugged. “I warned him before. Plus he had it coming.”

“Maybe he did, but he was unarmed. At our mercy.”

“For the moment.” Gibraltar pointed toward the pistol by the side of the road. “Can’t trust his kind.”

“By ‘his kind’ do you mean Ashlanders? Or religious zealots?”

Gibraltar shrugged again. “Both?”

“Boss, what do we do with this one?” Marco prodded the passenger, sitting quietly next to his buddy’s grisly corpse. “I’m starving and those sausages in my pack aren’t gonna cook themselves.”

“Fair point.” Gibraltar nodded. Everyone knew Marco grilled a mean sausage.

Henoch turned to Marco, jaw agape. “He just blew a guy’s head off and you’re worried about lunch?”

Marco grinned. “Elevensies. Lunch ain’t for another hour or two.”

“Jesus.” Henoch shook his head.

“Nah, stupid. Marco. Jesus is my cousin.”

Henoch sighed.

“Enough bullshit. Let’s get this over with.” Gibraltar squatted in front of the remaining Ashlander and stared him down. “I seriously hope you’re more personable than your friend was.”

The Unblind avoided eye contact but nodded.

“Glad to hear it. Now would you kindly tell us where the rest of the Unblind are shacked up?”

“They’re at an old textile mill to the west. On the outskirts. Far from your settlements. I can show you if you spare me.”

“Sounds like a win-win. You get to live. Your pals get to die. Except I’m not sure I believe you. After all, your cult killed innocent people. Young and old. Burned them alive.”

“They were Redwall’s orders. I didn’t want that.”

“Maybe not. But you still stood by and watched.”

“I just serve the faith. Doesn’t mean I agree with Redwall. Not everyone does. He leads our people astray. But we have to obey. The alternative is death.”

“Let me tell you something. When your life is about nothing but violence, death isn’t the alternative, it’s the only outcome. The inevitable one.”

“I’ll be sure to remember that.” The Ashlander nodded solemnly. “But what does that say about you? A man who makes a living off of violence.”

“That I’m gonna do this job until I can’t anymore. Thing is, I don’t kill for fun. And I don’t kill because a supernatural being told me to. I kill people that deserve it. So I don’t feel a lick of guilt over getting paid to do so, and I ain’t gonna start now.”

“If it makes a difference…” He paused, eyes welling up. “I don’t want to die.”

Gibraltar sighed. “That don’t mean you ain’t earned it.”

“Gib, wait–” Henoch raised a metallic hand to intervene. But it was too late.

Gibraltar emptied the second shell into the Ashlander’s chest. The pale man’s body crumpled as he flew back. A frail scarecrow torn away by a tow cable. He lay there wheezing a moment with that shining cavern in his chest. Then he was still. 

Once upon a time, Gibraltar would’ve regretted his actions. He would’ve feared God’s judgment on him. He might’ve even sought penance. But that was long ago. Now, he felt nothing. Now… he knew God couldn’t be bothered.

God didn’t care. God wasn’t listening. God wasn’t watching.

. . . to be continued . . .

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