The lead guitarist thrashed out his first power chord when dusk completed its drunken collapse across the Nevada desert. This burst was so loud that stunned carrion birds rained from the sky, and it blew out the eardrums of any audience members idiotic enough to be within the Harm Zone of the speaker piles. Three hundred thousand groupies, junkies, bangers, zippies, gummos, metal-heads, bogans and other freaks cheered as the wall of sound rattled their bones and brains and popped the occasional rotten tooth.
So, with a noise like the Universe was collapsing in on itself, the illegal Scumbags concert began.
The story begins at this point with two “people,” for want of a better term, slamming into each other in a mosh pit the size of Fiji. As this meat-grinder was a Scumbags concert, a band famously described as “unspeakably sick and depraved” by The Children of Death cult, such an encounter could only end in one of three ways: horrific violence, an enthusiastic session of hallucinogen use, or a graphic sex scene.
Surprisingly, none of these outcomes occurred…yet.
Jim Tuesday (unemployed, of no fixed address) was so wasted on the street drug known as Shatter that it took a while for him to register that he'd been knocked on his ass in the sand. As Jim’s body had more in common with a barbecue chicken than a Mr Universe contestant, doing a doormat impersonation beneath the stomping feet of insane metal-heads gave him about twenty seconds left to live. Before he could be moshed to death, however, an enormous hand gripped Jim by his skull and dragged him to his feet.
Now mostly upright, Jim squinted up at his saviour to say thanks, but he couldn’t see anything more than a fuzzy outline. This short-sightedness was due to the impressive dose of Shatter in Jim’s bloodstream, as one of the drug’s most common side-effects was temporarily crippling the part of your brain that deals with vision. Other cerebral functions that didn’t fare all that well when somebody got Shattered included things like reasoning, language, short-term memory, long-term memory, hand-eye co-ordination, bladder and bowel control, and the ability to blink. This was because Shatter worked by rerouting all of your cerebral power into a kamikaze dive-bomb right into the pleasure centre of the brain, and this ecstasy came at a price. In Shatter’s defence, though, the sort of people who were stupid enough to use such a drug had a life expectancy measured in weeks, and so Shatter was helping to create a better tomorrow by removing organisms like Jim from the gene pool.
Leaning in towards his saviour, Jim’s sight finally kicked in and he was instantly transfixed by the most beautiful brown eyes you could ever be lucky enough to drown in. Sure, they may have belonged to a woman that could only be classed as human in some of the more liberal states of Amerika, but this was one of those fireworks moments that gave Jim’s sad life a point. Did it matter that this woman had a face like a baseball glove that had made love to a cheese grater, or that she was covered in fur? Yes, she was obviously the result of some secret military experiment to combine human and gorilla DNA, but primates needed love too, right?
“Hey?” Jim Tuesday managed, using the best pick-up line his Shattered brain could conjure.
Jim’s attempts at romance usually frightened women into escaping down the nearest laundry chute, but in this case the near-human stopped in surprise and looked at Jim's teeth, or lack thereof. Leaning forwards on baseball-sized knuckles, she arched an eyebrow and proved that she possessed the powers of speech.
“You are…uninjured, small Amerikan person?” she rumbled with a European accent that was thicker than overcooked concrete-flavoured porridge.
Her words were lost over the eardrum-bursting noise, but Jim's brain-stem had registered the possibility of an erotic event, and his grey matter decided to spend all of its power in an attempt to come up with a complement that may, hopefully, lead to sex. This moment was the closest that Jim had been to intimacy in a year, and prehistoric parts of his biology began to tick over in desperation to reproduce.
Jim's eyes spent a moment on a face that resembled a kebab-with-the-lot that somebody had dropped on the floor, darted across to arms like burlap sacks full of oranges, and finally flicked down to a pair of comical monkey legs. It was a hopeless mission and destined for failure.
“So...nice…um…fur,” Jim eventually yelled, his voice mugged beneath the crushing force of a dozen out of tune electric guitars played out of sync.
“Thank you. I remove all lice by hand,” the hairy woman responded, fluttering her eyelashes. “My name is Ruska. I am obsolete Russian genetic experiment. I…how you say it…escape from lab over hill? Had to kill many, many guard. Big, big mess. And now…I here.”
Ruska made some kind of simian war cry. It may have been a laugh.
“Nice,” Jim Tuesday shrugged, not registering a word. “Enjoying the show?”
“I am...not understand,” Ruska said with hesitation, trying to read Jim’s lips. She covered her ears and cringed as the volume doubled. “Perhaps would be much nicer without horrible noise?”
As the so-called “music” perpetrated by the Scumbags fell into a genre of audio atrocity classed as torture metal, it was understandable that Ruska's virgin ears wanted to commit suicide. After all, torture metal had been created by the sickest of Guantanamo Bay's interrogators as a way of breaking the most unbreakable of inmates. If you got the distortion just right, the hardest men on the planet would be sobbing for their mummies by the third verse.
There was some sort of disruption to the concert, and Jim looked up at one of the paper-thin screens floating above the crowd. All of the Scumbags performers had apparently decided to play different songs for this part of the concert, ranging from the soft melody of Testicular Rupture to the maelstrom of Chainsaw Vasectomy. Their drummer, who appeared to be off his face on some sort of stimulant that made cocaine look like lemon sherbet, kept up with the beat for four separate songs at the same time before having a schizoid embolism and falling over in a heap. The crowd screeched in happiness at being able to witness such a highlight, but when the music stopped for a couple of minutes as a result of this serious medical emergency, the punks began to throw things: bottles, rocks, bricks, hubcaps, syringes, shoes, rats and, in one particularly notable choice of missile, a human hand.
Rather than joining in on the riot, Jim lunged for Ruska in a passionate crash-tackle. As kind hands led the screaming Scumbags drummer away to another stint at rehab, Jim Tuesday managed to hit a Home Run. The exact details of what happened next were disturbing even for a 24th Century concert and are best left unspoken and forgotten by all concerned. All that can be said is that all good things must come to an end, and so does mediocre sex between two exceptionally ugly people.
Jim got woozily to his feet a minute later and made it about fifteen metres before getting hit in the temple by a bourbon bottle. He passed out in a slump.
The riot was intensifying as Ruska opened her eyes, sprawled against a speaker stack and breathing heavily. She had racked up around fifty thousand Amerikan pounds of damage to the audio hardware during her encounter with Jim, but good luck to any roadie that tried to make her pay for it. However, Ruska’s glow was stolen away the moment she realised that Jim was nowhere to be seen.
She bared her baboon-like teeth. He had used her! He was dead. Dead!
Ruska pointed her nostrils towards the sky and took a sniff. As her nose had been transplanted from a genetically-enhanced bloodhound, she detected her target almost straight away. Unfortunately, the background smells were so awful that it was like getting hit in the face by a gush of effluent. Ruska's nose went into shock and stopped working, but that was fine for now, because she now knew exactly where he was...
Pushing aside anyone who got in her way with the gentleness of an out-of-control double-decker bus, Ruska found her lover in moments. Her anger died the moment she saw him, though, and her heart fell to the level of her toes: poor Jim was bloodied and bruised, and he had already been stomped with hundreds of muddy shoe-prints.
Carefully picking up Jim’s limp body, trying not to inflict any more damage, Ruska threw him over her shoulder like he was a towel and knuckled towards the exit. Anything that got in her way, whether it was made of wood, plastic, metal or flesh, was smashed aside. Twenty seconds later Ruska burst through a chain-link perimeter fence like it was cobwebs and skidded to a stop beside the night-time Nevada highway. Ruska looked back and forth in confusion along the moonlit stretch of blackened tar. The road extended from barren horizon to barren horizon, far beyond the range of her exceptional eyesight, and it was apparent that Jim was a long way from professional help.
A battered yellow taxi parked nearby picked this moment to beep at Ruska. Surprising a super-soldier experiment wasn't wise at the best of times, but Ruska was especially on edge right now. Raising her fists and baring thirty-two pointy teeth in a way that would wither the genitals of a full-grown Silverback, Ruska prepared to rush at the new threat and beat whatever it was into salsa.
An almost-human head poked out of the taxi’s window. It was wearing a comical expression. In accordance with the Uncanny Valley Laws, any moron could tell with a glance that the driver was synthetic. It winked and tipped its hat.
“Need a ride?” the taxi driver drawled.
Ruska deflated, realising there was no threat, and narrowed her eyes in concentration. She was distracted for a second by a crude bit of vandalism that had been inflicted on the taxi: some punk had burned the word “TRANCE” onto the driver's door in block letters. She didn't know why, but seeing that word triggered a deep part of her brain, as though she was meant to be remembering something...but she had no idea what.
However, Ruska currently had other concerns. Shaking her head, she focussed on the synthetic taxi driver.
“What is meaning?” she demanded.
The taxi driver shrugged in a human way. Such familiarity was probably designed to have a calming effect, but Ruska was ready for violence.
“Army are on their way with heavy artillery. Best not to hang about, yeah? Triple the normal price, of course.” The construct smiled with plastic teeth that would never be used for anything except pulling facial expressions. “Serves you right for going to a Scumbags concert, hmm?”
Ruska squinted at the word “price”. Unless a subject was useful when it came to sniffing out a target and removing its limbs, it had not been a part of Ruska’s educational upbringing in the breeding pens. The driver might as well be speaking ancient Swahili with a Greek accent.
“Price? What is…price?”
Misunderstanding Ruska’s words, the driver tapped a touchpad and clicked its lips together.
“Two passengers to Old Vegas will set you back…” the driver squinted and paused for a couple of seconds for the sake of realism, even though it had instantly calculated the fare. “Two hundred and fifty Amerikan pounds. Plus tip.”
“Old Vegas?” Ruska repeated, encountering yet another term she didn't know.
The driver smiled.
“Old Vegas it is. Get in.”
Ruska cradled Jim’s bruised face during the trip, stroking his cheek with the blunt side of a retractable talon and softly crooning a folk song about using guillotines on the monarchy.
Her brown eyes flicked to the horizon every now and again, as Ruska was expecting the Russian army to come pouring over those sand dunes to drag her home to the lab. However, it would be fair to say that wiping out the research compound with her bare hands seemed to have nipped this problem in the proverbial bud. Killing every person who knew she existed should have done the trick, so burning down the complex and urinating on its warm ashes may have been unnecessary. It had been fun, though.
Ruska turned to the driver, not registering its words the first time around.
“I’m guessing this is where you wanted to go?” the driver repeated.
Ruska looked out her window. The driver had bought its taxi from the speed of sound to a complete stop just off the main drag of Old Vegas in a dirty cul-de-sac of neon-drenched novelty churches. Half the street was in shadows.
“What is...place?” Ruska purred.
“I logically assumed that you guys are from out of town, totally off your faces, and want to make a permanent mistake before sobering up,” the driver rattled off. “My scanners say that you two recently engaged in unprotected sex, and that this will result in an absolute chance of pregnancy. In addition to that, my readings also predict that the child is likely to be a boy with bad teeth and salt-and-pepper hair.” The driver shrugged again. “My advice? You better get a ring on it before he comes to, or the world is going to have another single Mother in it.”
Ruska stopped breathing. Her lungs felt like they'd never take in air again.
A mother? Her? Ruska had been told by her handlers that she didn’t possess the internal plumbing that was required to produce offspring, and that her genetic legacy would only involve machines and glass tubes.
“That’s impossible!” Ruska snarled.
“Search your feelings. You know it to be true,” the driver said, smirking. “Look, lady, if a guy engages in unprotected sex in Amerika and his neglect results in a pregnancy, under the laws of the Matriarch Regime you have the power to enforce a mandatory marriage.” All of a sudden, the driver's expression turned manic, and a catchy theme-song started piping out of its speakers. This conversation topic had triggered an automatic commercial. “My advice, which is brought to you by the Jeweller's Guild of Old Vegas, is to get a Trust-brand wedding ring grafted to his finger to ensure he'll be the dream husband YOU deserve! Not only will a Trust ring encourage your sweetheart to be the perfect spouse by punishing any unacceptable behaviour with electric shocks and stabs of nausea, but it will also keep track of his movements at all times. Best of all, if he goes beyond a certain distance without your consent, POW! And all for the cost of a chocolate sludge-shake at a MacDeath restaurant!” Both of the driver’s eyebrows wriggled in a comical way as it completed the ad. The theme music stopped abruptly. “Listen, lady, I may only understand beauty as a mathematical concept, but my advice is to get this deal done in a quickie-wedding place before he wakes up and finds a…well, a smoother woman.” The driver blinked in a bored way. “Congratulations for the bun in the oven, by the way.”
Excited at the possibility of a new life that wouldn't involve any more decapitations, Ruska went to get out of the taxi. Unfortunately for the driver, it reached out a hand to stop her from dragging Jim from the cab.
“No offence, lady, but this is the part where you pay me.” The driver smiled. “Two hundred and fifty Amerikan pounds. Plus tip.” It shrugged in apology and held out its wrist to reveal numerous slots and a touchpad. “Cash is fine, but so is a palm-print registered with any BioBank account. You do have an account, don’t you? With money in it? To pay me?” The driver blinked at Ruska's expression. “You are familiar with these concepts, yes?”
Ruska went to jerk Jim away from the taxi driver’s grip, and the driver stupidly clamped its other hand around Jim’s throat to stop her. Ruska’s face turned to its “psychopathic monkey” setting and she was all over the robot in a rage. Beige plastic and semi-organic circuit boards exploded in all directions as Ruska ripped and tore at the machine, pulling out lengths of its steel skeleton before wrenching its whole body in half. Just to be thorough, Ruska snapped off the driver's leg and impaled the poor robot on its own limb. The driver twitched a few times and collapsed, unmoving.
Ruska gathered Jim (who had somehow slept through this astonishing violence) and knuckled for the nearest church. This decrepit tower was illuminated by a humming neon sign declaring it was The Freaks & Legends Chapel and guarded by a looming mascot in the shape of Slender Man. The freaky urban legend crackled “Marry him here before I come and get you!” from an ancient MP3 file. Ruska, not knowing any better, decided to take the tall person’s advice.
It required some convincing and a few raised voices, but a celebrant wearing a Dracula outfit decorated with soy sauce and wasabi stains reluctantly agreed to perform the ceremony. After all, they were in Vegas, and this was far from the weirdest thing that had happened during his shift. Before the happy event could take place, though, Ruska had to be given a crash-course in the basics of how money worked. Patting down Jim from shoulders to ankles, Ruska eventually discovered some crunched-up green notes – Jim's entire life savings – stashed in the groom-to-be's sock. The fold of Amerikan pounds covered the wedding expenses without the need for any further suffering.
Still snoring away, Jim was stripped down to his crunchy underpants and slipped into a Queen Cleopatra costume. Ruska, unsurprisingly, chose to be Bigfoot, mostly due to the fact renting an outfit wasn't required. Thirty seconds later, an unconscious junkie and a hybrid gorilla were joined in Holy Matrimony™ and booted to the curb with a slice of wedding cake, a photograph of the two of them kissing, and matching plastic wedding rings. Unlike the one Ruska was wearing, though, Jim’s ring was filled with explosive gel dots and had been grafted to his finger with bone-deep electrodes.
Mister and Missus Tuesday went off into the sunrise, one carrying the other across the glowing sand dunes, towards a new life.
Jim woke up in the considerable arms of his Russian bride on a stained patch of linoleum. Stifling a scream of surprise so that it came out as little more than a rat-like squeak, Jim carefully peeled Ruska’s sausage fingers away from his ribs and attempted to sneak out in a ninja-like way perfected by parasitic bastards the world over. Looking down at his cheap knock-off Egyptian robes and the plastic asp latched to his wrist, Jim sighed.
Dressed as Cleopatra again. Honestly, he was so sick of waking up like this...
Jim emerged from the shadows and stepped into what felt like the surface of Mercury. Blinking away the assault of Apocalypse-level sunlight on his sizzling retinas, Jim squinted to discover that he’d been sleeping in the ruins of an abandoned service station in a wasteland. The creaking wreck had been tarnished to the same colour as the local dunes after decades of neglect, and it looked like it was one stiff breeze away from collapsing into little more than tetanus.
Shielding his eyes and steeling himself, Jim made it a total of ten steps across the steaming sand before he realised that the deep desert seemed to stretch forever. As Jim Tuesday was an unfit wreck who did horrendously dangerous drugs every day, wandering over glassed sand for a week without a drop of water wasn't an option. Perhaps if he found something to...
“Morning,” Ruska purred in Jim’s ear.
Jumping in surprise and almost messing his white robe at the sound of the thickest, deepest Russian accent he'd ever heard, Jim did a half-revolution before his feet touched the sand again. Jim slowly looked up...and up...and up...
My, she was big.
“What's doing?” Jim tried to say casually, while his brain screamed AAAAARGH at full volume. Jim hoped that this giant tree sloth, or whatever it was, didn’t intend on following him around. Dumpsters were crowded enough for his lanky frame as it was, and he was a lone wolf to the core.
“I love you,” Ruska said with devotion.
Jim screamed hysterically. After about eight seconds he realised that this was upsetting the creature for some reason. Jim clamped his mouth shut, blinked, and attempted to change the topic.
“How about that…concert?” Jim managed, trying to access his non-existent memories.
“Yeah. How about that concert?” Ruska said suggestively.
Jim tried to calm down and think through this. His most popular methods of getting rid of unwanted lovers included begging, bargaining, threatening, farting and even just simply running and hiding. As a big fan of the classics, Jim chose to use the latter technique. Diving between Ruska's legs, Jim did a commando roll across the rotten lino and bolted through the service station. Scurrying under a decayed counter and squeezing into a corner, Jim silently prayed.
Please not the hairy woman, please not the hairy woman, please...
Of course, Ruska sniffed out Jim within seconds and leaned down to give him a watery, hurt expression before picking him up by the ears. Jim screeched just as much as you’d expect.
“Don't you love me?” Ruska rumbled with a quiver.
Jim thought about this.
“What would be the exact consequences of choosing ‘no’ as the answer to your question?”
The expression on Ruska's face had the word DEAD growling behind it. Long, sharp teeth started to appear between her hamburger lips.
“Are you aware that even smaller primates, such as chimpanzees, have more than enough upper body strength to rip human arms right out of their sockets?” Ruska asked in a conversational way.
“Of course I love you!” Jim said far too loudly.
Ruska beamed, and painfully embraced Jim. His ribcage creaked.
“Do you?” Ruska snuffled wetly.
Noticing a nasty itch, Jim looked at his left hand, then at Ruska's furry paw, to see that they had purchased identical plastic wedding rings at some point. However, the one Jim was “wearing” had been anchored to the metacarpal bone of his ring finger with hair-thin electrodes and studded with tiny pinheads of explosive gel. Turning his hand over, praying to whatever deity cared, Jim saw that most dreaded of logos: TRUST.
Dear God! A Trust ring. Of all the horrible things he could have woken up to, this was one of the worst. He'd have to find some way to remove it, but such a task would be unwise at this moment...
Jim smiled with forced enthusiasm as he realised that Ruska's question remained unanswered. It took all of his powers of deception to manage such a huge falsehood.
“Baby! Would I lie to you? Would I?”
Outside, he was all smiles. Inside, Jim was crying hysterically. Like all vermin, though, most of Jim’s brain was wired up for self-preservation, so the cockroach instincts that governed Jim’s mind would wait for the right moment to scurry to freedom.
“Wedding was nice, yes?” Ruska purred.
She flipped Jim up in the air, gripped him by his left foot, and held him to the ceiling in a playful manner. Blood rushed to Jim's throbbing head. Somehow, he remained conscious.
“I thought they were a little…what is word?... reluctant. Priest-person was under impression I might be classed as exotic pet. But I am nobody’s pet!” Ruska spat at the desert and glared at Jim with a dangerous glint in her eye. “I be with you forever, Jim. And when our baby boy born, he grow up to be just like you.”