d r e a m 9 6
There wasn't much to say about the party, really. It was a fairly typical gathering of the masses; with cliques and looser clans gathered into thegasthaus ' center. A fireplace, massive and antediluvian in appearance, dominated the front of the hall, issuing a constant roar of crackling flame and the occasional sharp snap of sap in the freshly-split logs. There were smaller areas alongisde the main hall, giving the whole a athedral-like appearance with the fireplace serving as altar. Long tables had been set up, of rough-hewn pine and ancient oak. One down each side , behind the fieldstone pillars that held up the massive rafters, and two along the central bier. A single platform crossed the front to serve as head table; those who sat there had their backs warmed by the fireplace behind. All in all, Beowulf would have been quite at home, I believe.
Food there was, or had been, in plenty. Wursts of all sorts and sizes,schnitzel for the more delicate of stomach, and potatoes and sauerkraut and cabbage and beer. The beer issued forth from a fount just in front of the head table, visible to all; there the ladies gathered up their fistfuls of sopping liter mugs and whisked them off to waiting hands at the tables surrounding. The tap was never off, nor was it attended; there was a constant stream of steins to catch the flow. I remember sitting at the inside edge of one of the right-side table - to the right as one faced the fireplace. My stein was not empty, nor was it full; despite heavy imbibing I remained fairly sober. Arriving, I had (in the company of nameless friends) begun immediately to drink. Now, I watched the byplay at the head table while occasionally sipping from my stein, enduring the good-natured taunts of my neighbors and the beermaidens.
"Hey, Amerikaner, you still got beer there! Are you sure you're awake?" Gales of laughter.
"Ah, leave him be...that's not his kind of Budweis, you know. Poor thing isn't used to it."
I smiled absently, and swigged again. My back was slapped a few times to show lack of rancor, and conversations turned back inward into small groups, away from me. "Hi, can I talk with you for a minute?" I turned slightly left from my view towards the front. She was big, in a pleasant sort of way, with no excessive loading, just woman in the correct places. She was smiling and holding out a leaflet which I took and glanced at. It appeared to be an announcement for another party. I looked up, smiled and quirked an eyebrow. She dimpled.
"Um, there's a party next Thursday at our hall across town. I'm supposed to, like, spread the word around and all. Are you here with friends?" I waved somewhat expansively, somewhat vaguely over my neighbors. There was a brief cheer, and steins were raised to clink, then a moment of relative silence as beer occupied several throats.
"Oh, great...see, it's not a cause party or anything, just a bunch of us are throwing a bash and we're trying to get a lot of folks to show up. It'll make us less nervous." She confided the last behind her hand, looking around in a demonstrably furtive manner before smiling again and dropping her hand. "Can you make it? The address is on the flyer."
"Sure. Thanks for asking." I waved the flyer genially, and she smiled again before moving off down the table. The party began visibly to break up, soon after that. Groups moved towards the rear of the hall and the exits, laughing and shaking hands, slapping backs and generally performing the recognizable yet unconscious hitching up of the waistband that occurs, reliably, after a monumental feed. I saw several black guys in leather shake hands with a group of hippies of all colors of the rainbow, and one of the departing brothers handed over a spliff he'd been hitting on. I noticed because it was fairly immense. Mike was there, suddenly; I know he'd been there, I just hadn't actually seen him until I began to drift myself towards the exit.
He was pulling on riding togs, and he flashed me a grin as he tossed me the second helmet. I closed my leathers. Two guys in particular, standing up from the table. Both tall, short hair, fairly intense looking. They were slipping on windbreakers or some sort of light jacket, and one was shouldering an assault rifle, looked like a Galil of some sort from where I was standing. I nodded at him in ritual frozen politeness; he nodded back. No flak here. I surreptitiously checked the Glock that was riding at the back of my waistband, snugged into its holster in the back of my trousers. Just below the small of my back. It was there, metal at body temperature and the polymers of the grip and body plastic- warm.
The other two moved towards the door as I slowed to wait for Mike, who'd gotten caught in conversation with someone I didn't recognize. I didn't have to wait long; he caught up, pulling on gloves and grinning and wiggling his eyebrows. A girl, naturally. A phone number he'd probably end up asking me to remember so he didn't lose it. I raised my eyes to heaven, theatrically, and he punched me in the shoulder. A long-held tradition, the exchange. One of these days, he said; one of these days, we'll get you a number that I have to remember. Ah, but I remember them, don't I, Mike? Yup. Well, heck, then we'll have to come up with numbers at the same time, hein? Yup. You betcha.
There was a brief commotion by the door; apparently the two whom I'd seen leaving ahead of us had gotten into a brief and low-key squabble with four or five bikers whom I didn't know; they were hunched around looking as if a fight was probably just what they needed to take the edge off the evening. Mike and I pushed through the interchange, hoping to both escape and by interrupting, defuse the situation. It worked tolerably; no voices were raised, and the two with the Galil exited right behind us. They climbed into a Jap compact right in front of the entrance, the one with the rifle riding shotgun and priming the action.
"Hey guys, have a good one!" I said it loudly, my hand raised in farewell. The rifleman grinned back, waved; the engine caught with a coughing snarl and the car pulled out into the avenue to k-turn about and head back the way we were walking. Mike and I reached his bike and went through the normal thirty seconds of checking boots and trouser legs, gloves and helmets before he jumped astride the black Katana and powered up the injectors. I bow-legged hopped on behind him, grabbing him around the waist, and as usual, he torqued the throttle and we blasted off into the night, water vapor streaming from the exhaust and the cold buzzing roar of hydrogen combustion giving way to the deeper basso of gasoline as the cruise injectors took over on the V-four beneath us.
Mike had slid across a parking strip and directly onto a westboundautobahn; He was weaving the bike slightly, warming up the tires. I listened to the wind blaring past my ears - the helmet had never quite fit me correctly around the ears, there was a gap large enough for the windstream to blast up past my earlobes - and felt the night air cool my head and scalp, evaporating sweat that had greasily pooled up during the hours in the drowsy warmth.
There was a sharp honking, and I turned to look back. The cycle group that had been hassling Rifleman and his partner were coming up behind, five abreast, riding what looked to be flat-three Hondas of some sort. One was slightly in front; when he saw me looking back, he waved a long flat object. Rifle. Shit. I snapped my head back around and slapped Mike's helmet. I saw his helmet shift slightly as he looked in his rear-views, and then he nodded and hunched down slightly. I held on with my left hand, and with my right yanked the Glock from its resting place behind my belt, imagining in an arbitrary moment the kinetic energy of my body heat radiating into the slipstream in a turbulent confusion of molecular motion. Mike began to jink across the roadway, while simultaneously feeding power to the bike. The hydrogen injectors shrieked as their power was added, and the gaspower moan increased in volume. I felt myself being pulled off the bike by acceleration, and when I risked a look back, our five pursuers were steadily losing ground. I slapped Mike twice and reached around his chest to give him a thumbs-up, while unlocking the safety on the Glock with my other thumb. Better safe, after all.
At that moment, a series of popping bangs sounded behind us, and I cringed before risking a look back and realizing that we weren't the target. Rifleman and his partner's car had moved up behind our would-be assailants, and as they realized this they began shooting at the compact. I couldn't get a steady enough view to determine the result, but Rifleman and Driver put on a burst of speed, passing us on the left. I waved to them as best as I was able, but Driver was hunched over the wheel, and Rifleman appeared to be twisted around to shoot over the seatback.
They passed us, and there was a chattering blast of fire that took out Rifleman's rear window. The tracers curled from within the car to flick back at the riders behind, and Mike threw the bike violently to the right, out of the line of fire. I could see shots whipping past us, and I could hear one, two crashes behind, but couldn't risk letting go of Mike to look. I had re-safetied the Glock, and was holding it against his side. We had drifted over the the right side of the roadway, and the road began a gentle curve left. I looked back once, quickly; there was a smoke cloud back around the curve, and two riders left behind. I held the Glock behind me, aiming almost blind, and held down the trigger. The filed-down sear spring worked as planned, and the pistol bucked rapidly. Five, maybe six shots before I let up on the trigger, and I winced at the wrenching my shoulder had taken due to the extreme angle. I looked back again in time to see one of the two cyclists impact the safety railing on our side of the road, cartwheeling over his handlebars into the air and down to the polluted stream that lay twenty feet down a steep grade. One left.
The fire from the compact hadn't slackened, however, and it scythed through him, leaving his bike belching fire. I watched the bike jerk as he reflexively threw a hand up to his shoulder where, no doubt, a bullet had passed; but the movement threw his balance and he dropped the bike to the left, a shower of sparks announcing that the side of the bike - with his leg beneath- had hit roadway surface. We whipped around the curve, still accelerating. I looked forward, and slapped Mike, but he didn't respond and slow the cyle. I looked to our left, and saw that there was still fire coming from the compact, and that it was curling towards us in slowly, lazily curving globs of strontium tracer fire. I screamed, then, and tried to pull at Mike to indicate he should slow. The compact was in front of us, now, and still gaining; I pulled at his arm again, trying to make him brake. We were in the thick of the curve, now, the bike heeling far over the the left. Our wheels seemed to be practically riding the guardrail, as bullets whipped by our heads and sang sparking from the railing, the sounds of their passing left behind. I tried to shift the Glock to my left hand to return fire, but it was no use, i couldn't let go of Mike without compromising our balance. We rode the turn still tighter. Bullets slapped at the bike, transmitting the thump of impact through the carbonex frame. I still hadn't been hit, and the bike was still balanced tight in the turn, when I felt the bullet hit Mike.
His body spasmed, and it felt like his back slapped back at me (hydrostatic shock, dispassionately catalogued my brain) and my hands were suddenly freezing and warm. The bike heeled left, too far left, and the exhaust scraped pavement. Although the road had straightened, it was too late for us, and the bike slid sideways along the concrete. My left leg, under the bike, was protected by the steel band around the knees of my leathers, but Mike's limbs were flailing uncontrolledly. I was shouting, I'm sure-pleas, threats, prayers- but they were fairly incoherent even then. The bike slowed, and Mike's head flopped back over me. As it came to a stop, I distantly heard the shrieking of brakes ahead as Rifleman and Driver slowed.
I struggled. Mike was dead, no doubt; his head was thrown far enough back for his look of pure shock to be visible. The bullet must have gone through his aorta; there was blood everywhere, all over his front and my sides, thrown there by the slipstream. His back was bulged oddly, and I dazedly looked at it for a moment before realizing that his armor backplate had prevented the bullet from exiting and hitting me in the chest. I rolled slowly onto my back. There was no real emotional response; the trauma was too great, probably. I realized I still had the Glock clutched in my right fist in sheer instinctive obsession. It felt like I'd broken a rib or two in the fall, and I realized now that the adrenalin was receding into shock that in fact a bullet had gouged my left calf fairly deeply. I moaned, the best I could do, and became aware that the compact had reversed back to us when I heard its doors slam kerchunk-unk.Footsteps approached.
I hurriedly thrust my right fist and the gun beneath my hip, ignoring the pain of various joints at the action. Rifleman swam into view, talking to Driver who was still out of sight- "Aw, shit, man, it isn't even one of them, it's that guy from our table." He kicked at the front fork of the bike. I felt the frame shudder. "Hell, it don't matter much," he continued, "that was a righteous shoot. Man, they weremovin' when they went over." He laughed. Part of me cringed, and part flared white hot in an unknown space. Rifleman leaned a slight ways over me to examine my face. I saw his surprise. "Hey-"
I had already levered the Glock out from beneath me; levelled it at his face as best I was able. "Eat this, motherfucker." The roar was satisfying; the gun bucked twice. The first shell went through his upper teeth, I saw them powder and fly apart, and took the top of his skull out in a wet explosion. The second blew a chunk of his shoulder off, but it didn't matter by that time. I saw him twist as his body fell, and the Galil dropped from nerveless hands into my field of vision. Driver shouted, in fear and reaction, and I saw a flash of light reflected from the sodium lamps of the highway, and turned my wrist. His straightrazor, instead of opening my wrists cleanly as they held the gun above me, glanced off my wristbone, slashing open my right forearm and loosing a stream of blood. He clumsily checked his swing, beginning to bring the blade back down, but my bullet entered his right eye and he didn't have time before he had to sit down suddenly, quite dead. In the sudden silence I could hear the soft burbling of the compact's exhaust as it sat there in the middle of the highway. Mike, Mike, Mike. I wailed silently. No numbers today. Nothing at all. Wearily, I laid my head back down on the pavement, the Glock and its four or five remaining shells held across my chest. The roadway was warm and quiet; no traffic sounds at all. I was so damn tired. Moving with care, I laid my left arm behind my head and waited for death or the dawn
Gee, this one was interesting. My most vivid memory of the dream itself is the feeling of my blood, cooling and slightly sticky, spreading from beneath my ribcage, and the warm, rough asphalt with that slightly burnt smell radiating the heat of the day from behind my head, while the heavy weight of the gun pulls my wrist sideways against its range of motion as it lies on the ground...