The motorcycle handled the dirt road differently than the concrete. While it was quick on some of the straight stretches, it was much slower on curves. There were several times when Sergeant Fletcher, who knew the path very well, would bark at Tytanis to slow down and he’d bark back to hang on. When her verbal commands proved ineffective, she resorted to nudging him with her leg. He gave no response to this despite how much it infuriated him. There was one particularly hairy incident where the road descended into a curve with a short drop off – a situation very similar to the paved offramp that had foiled Sergeant Fletcher into flipping the recon vehicle.
“Too fast! Drop off!” yelled Sergeant Fletcher as she nudged him.
“Stop screaming at me!” Tytanis rebuffed. And to retaliate, he did not slow down right away and Sergeant Fletcher gripped him as if she was trying to slow a horse. The motorcycle – with the weight it was bearing and the low friction it was experiencing – was indeed a poor fit for this circumstance. When Tytanis did eventually slow and lean to maneuver, the vehicle was sluggish in response. He had to apply excessive force, lurching back. The rear wheel started to slide, kicking up dirt and rocks, and veered toward the cliff. Sergeant Fletcher held on tight, closing her eyes, but Tytanis gunned it. The motorcycle had maneuvered into the correct angle and accelerating forward avoided the cliffside, though the loosened earth continued its trajectory into the air and down the steep hill.
Tytanis laughed as they continued down the road.
“You’re reckless!” screamed Sergeant Fletcher to which Tytanis laughed louder.
During a less treacherous portion of the road, they took in a wild scene. They were riding on a wide ridge that overlooked a vast valley – the Southern Basin – beyond it the mountain range that had hidden Mavisford’s South Base. Normally just a serene landscape of conifers, there was something massive flying in the sky above. It looked like a sailing vessel – a merchant ship made of wood and canvas. The ship was under attack by an equally large flying snake-like creature. The ship launched cannonballs but was no match to the behemoth, which breathed lightning and destroyed the masts. By the time the majestic ship started to go down, Tytanis had stopped the motorcycle and turned off the engine.
“Your world has dragons?” he asked as he stared at the commotion.
“No,” replied Sergeant Fletcher. “And that flying ship isn’t from here, either.”
Suddenly, an attack helicopter soared from the southern mountain range.
“That’s from here!” touted Sergeant Fletcher. “T-Raven 7-7. Military chopper from South Base!”
The dragon roared and flew in for the attack. It let loose another round of lightning but its target outmaneuvered the display. The helicopter had countered with two missiles which effectively took down the scaly beast. Tytanis started the motorcycle up again.
“You sure have a lot of firepower in your world,” he said. Sergeant Fletcher smiled at this as they rode off again.
It had been an hour since they crossed through the portal and they were getting close to the destination. The road was relatively straight and smooth but Tytanis started to slow to a stop. Sergeant Fletcher moved her head around his shoulder to see the cause for this.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Looks like a shootout,” he replied. “Your squad?”
Without hesitation, Sergeant Fletcher dismounted the motorcycle and stood, peering down the road. At first there was nothing. But then there was gunfire, up head about half a mile, hailing from the right side of the road straight across to the left. The right side of the road was the same side the clearing was on, the side the squad would most likely be standing had they found their way back. But another round of gunfire revealed that it wasn’t standard military weaponry. The projectiles were bright – very bright – perhaps as bright as a welder’s spark. Plasma?
“I don’t know who they are but they aren’t using military weapons,” she replied.
“Who are they firing at?” Tytanis asked and as he did, a loud, low bellow brayed throughout the air. A beam of golden light fired back at the plasma wielders.
“I have no idea,” Sergeant Fletcher replied. “We’ll have to go around them or take them out.”
“Or we could go through them,” he replied. More sounds of gunfire in the distance.
“What do you mean?” she snapped.
“It’s a straight road,” Tytanis started. “on a level surface. If we gun it, we can fly right by these chumps!”
“Are you serious?” she exclaimed. “We’ll be caught in the crossfire!”
“Come on,” he said. “Trust me. Have I let you down yet?”
She crossed her arms while the loud low bellow filled the air again. Was he seriously debating her on this? Was this some sort of macho nonsense? Showing off gets you killed here. It was better to approach on foot and take them out.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “We can use their fire exchange as a distraction.”
“Exactly!” he interjected. “They’ll be so busy firing at each other that we can just zip right through.”
“No!” Sergeant Fletcher stamped her foot. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Well, I’m going to ride through. I’ll see you on the other side,” Tytanis said.
“No!” she barked. “I need you to come with me!”
Tytanis did not hear her though as he revved the engine to drown her out. He smiled at her.
“Come on!” he pleaded. “I got this! I promise.”
She was stuck. If she went it alone, his motorcycle riding would blow her cover and he might get killed in the process or keep on driving all the way to the blasted west coast. Who knows? He’s a reckless fool. She narrowed her eyes and looked through Tytanis with rage. Without saying anything, she mounted the motorcycle.
“Hold tight!” he said. As her own sign of rebellion, she held on only as much as she needed to as they darted toward the gunfight. The motorcycle quickly approached the battle – and they were driving at speeds faster than they had gone before. Sergeant Fletcher ignored her seething rage long enough to think about the squad. Perhaps when they were together again, she would have them turn on Tytanis after all. She found this thought to be comforting and her mind continued to focus on the squad.
She scanned the trees just in case the combatants were them, a childish type of hope her adult brain knew, but she did it just the same. As they approached, she could see them through the trees and there was no mistaking it: they were not her own. Four large minotaur wearing cowboy hats and bandanas brandished oversized pistols and large shields. They looked so foreign, so menacing, so silly – that she was embarrassed at her wishful thinking. Opposite them, on the other side of the road (just inside the tree line), stood a giant humanoid made of gold. The loud, low bellow it produced was more intense at this distance. A golden beam of light launched from its single, huge eye. The beam hit one of the minotaur who fell over into the road, stiff as a board.
“Hang on!” Tytanis shouted. The beam of the golden cyclops was right in the path of the motorcycle, but Tytanis leaned forward then pulled up as the motorcycle was about to hit the shield of the large prone figure.
Sergeant Fletcher felt as though she was going to fall off the motorcycle as it went airborne. As they soared, a volley of plasma shots was launched by the minotaur – every single one of them missed – except one.
The rear tire hit the ground first, and the chassis came down with a thud. With both wheels on the ground, the vehicle skittered but Tytanis forced it under control.
“Yeah! Ha ha ha!” laughed Tytanis. He didn’t realize that something had gone wrong until he felt the weight on the motorcycle shift. He looked back to verify and then without thinking hopped off from the back of the vehicle as it went careening down the road by itself. He fell forward due to the force but was able to tumble and scurry to his feet. He rushed to Sergeant Fletcher, who was rolling on the ground, attempting to put out the flames on her back. The plasma shot had bored into her backpack, ignited, and quickly spread.
Tytanis pulled off his leather coat and threw it on Sergeant Fletcher. He wrapped it around her to smother the flame.
“Get off of me!” she yelled. The loud, low bellow of the golden cyclops filled the air again.
“We gotta go!” Tytanis yelled, ignoring her. He lifted her to her feet, trying to escort her down the road – toward the abandoned motorcycle.
“Don’t touch me!” she rebuffed. She threw him off and the coat fell to the ground. Another golden beam shot across the road and a second minotaur fell like the one they had just used as a ramp.
“I’m – I’m sorry!” Tytanis yelled. “We need to – oh no!”
The loud, low bellow had started again. Tytanis looked up at the golden giant and froze as its large single eye was looking straight at him.
Sergeant Fletcher moved quick, arming herself with her sidearm as she spun. With determination, she fired several shots into the giant’s single, vulnerable eye. The creature’s deep bellow became a violent screech – as if metal beams twisted against each other. As it thrashed about the trees, Sergeant Fletcher trained her focus on the third and final minotaur who stepped into the road to attack. She was ready for it and engage it to elimination. She then turned around again to Tytanis who was still stupefied. She marched up to him, firearm aimed at his gut.
“You listen to me, pinhead,” she snapped. “I get that you like riding but when I say we need to find a different way to solve something you better listen.”
“Yeah,” said Tytanis, who put his hands up. “Okay. I get it.”
“No! You don’t,” she retorted. She aimed her gun to the ground and motioned for Tytanis to look from the gun to her face. “You wouldn’t listen – you were just going to ride into them without me.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry!” Tytanis exclaimed. “I guess I didn’t think it through all the way.”
“No, no, no!” yelled Sergeant Fletcher. “That’s not what you should be sorry for!”
“What? Then what, Huh?” Tytanis yelled. “I’m sorry you got hit and almost burned to death?”
“Wrong but yes, that too!” she yelled back. “Try again!”
“I don’t know!” he conceded.
“You ignored my suggestions, my reasons, my ideas!” Sergeant Fletcher said. “You wouldn’t even consider them!”
“Yes, I did!” he replied. “I considered them. I think.”
“No, you didn’t. You just sat on the bike and refused to discuss it, deciding to just ‘meet me on the other side’.”
“Well I,” he started but was cut off.
“We’re supposed to have each other’s backs!” she exclaimed.
“I do have your back!” he stammered.
“Really?” Sergeant Fletcher rebutted. “Because you were ready to leave me back there! Leave me!”
Tytanis stuttered at this but was immediately cut off.
“I had to – had to – do what you wanted and look – just look how you had my back! Look!”
Sergeant Fletcher holstered her sidearm and turned to show him her back, the cloth was charred, exposing skin in parts. Tytanis shut his mouth, looking away, face awash with shame. Sergeant Fletcher walked up close to him, forcing her face into his, forcing his eyes to look into hers. Her voice had quieted to a fierce grunt.
“Ultimately, you forced me into that position. You robbed me of any choice. And it almost got me killed.”
She broke contact and walked past him, down the middle of the road. Tytanis stood there, facing the leather jacket on the ground, but not really seeing it. Sergeant Fletcher bent down to pick up the rifle she had tossed during the commotion. At this point, it was obvious that Tytanis’s resourcefulness had run its course.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Fletcher!” Tytanis stammered, still standing in the same position. He turned toward her. “You’re right! I see it now. I did dismiss you, ignored your suggestions. I don’t know why I did it.”
“I don’t know either,” she replied, not looking back at him. She continued down the road, toward the destination. Something about what he said, the way he said it made her reconsider his usefulness, perhaps he was trainable: a diamond in the rough. He’d at least be another target during a firefight, at any rate. “But you better cut that crap out, starting now!”
Tytanis felt a pang of relief. He grabbed his jacket from the ground and then ran up behind Sergeant Fletcher, sheepishly.
“I will!” he said. “I promise. And I get it. I think. I think I get it.”
“Don’t say that unless you actually do,” she retorted.
“No, I see now. I wasn’t treating you like a partner,” he said. “And that’s not fair – especially since I made a big deal about us being equals and all.”
Sergeant Fletcher stopped to face him. Maybe he did get it.
“I’m sorry,” he said. They locked eyes and she nodded at him. Maybe he really was trainable. She broke the gaze and continued down the road. Together, they walked to the motorcycle without saying anything.
It was a long five-minute walk, magnified by tension. The motorcycle was on the road, off to the side, still sputtering. Sergeant Fletcher stood by as Tytanis retrieved it. The steering column had not survived the incident and Tytanis’s face was flush with embarrassment. She started to feel bad for him. He didn’t intend for this to happen and as pathetic as he was being, his sorrow was genuine. The power dynamic had become awkward.
“It’s okay,” Sergeant Fletcher said, flatly. She attempted a gentler tone. “We’ll walk. It’s not that far. Just beyond that pass. 30 minutes, maybe.”
Tytanis moved the vehicle off the side of the road.
“Guess we’re um, even, now,” he said, apprehensively.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Wrecked rides,” he replied. “We have one each.”
She looked at him, mouth agape. She recognized the attempt at levity. It was a way to fix the power dynamic. It was a release in the tension, the pressure. And she gave in with laughter and he snickered. She decided to offer her own flavor of levity.
“I guess setting me on fire also evens out that stab wound to your gut?” she said.
“Hey!” Tytanis whined, half relieved. “I did not set you on fire!”
“You only forced me into the crosshair!” she laughed. “It’s okay. I really did mean to stab you, so I guess we’re sort of even.”
“Works for me, uh-” he said, pausing to find a name. “Partner?”
“That’s better than Ms. Fletcher,” she replied, though she still didn’t like it that much. The tension had been broken, but they quickly became quiet just the same as they hiked the empty road.