The mayor of Nimrod, TX, population three thousand human slaves, sauntered down Main Street utterly unaware of his imminent demise. He wore a brass and silver clockwork gauntlet on one arm, as well as the round, dark spectacles so recently made popular by that band from Liverpool. The Spiders? The Cockroaches? Some unsavory bug, anyway. He likely sported them to hide eyes bloodshot from the alcohol he abused as much as the slaves he supervised.
The weasel who guarded the mayor exhibited a chest plate with gears that whorled and shifted in a senseless display. If I were any judge of such things, the armour also housed deadly weapons that could fire a dozen slugs in a moment.
And I was a judge of such things. My own brother had invented nearly every clockwork available, only to have his designs stolen by Aristocratic Businessmen. Familiarity with his work allowed me knowledge of a certain “glitch” I intended to exploit in my plan to kill the misbegotten leaders of Nimrod.
Such clockworks had been tokens of the aristocracy. Then, as the nation struggled to rebuild from the War Between the States, an alien race had descended on the planet and enslaved us all. The most savage and brutish humans in any given city seized control with the blessing of the Kla’arkians, the aliens who had conquered the Earth.
The new overlords inevitably stripped the clockwork from the corpses of the former aristocracy and wore them proudly. Under the new world order, might made right.
I hoped to change that, even if only in small ways. My name? Zen Bastard.
As the mayor and his bodyguard passed, the monkey on my shoulder chittered and shifted his weight. No doubt, Jinky felt the invisible radio emanations from the clockwork enhancements. Jinky himself was a mechanical creation, one of the most ingenious contraptions contrived by my brother, Scopes, along with the goggles that adorned the bejeweled top hat I had affected as part of my disguise as a debonair aristocrat seeking naughty fun.
I stepped forward. “Excuse me, good sirs?” I jingled a velvet bag of coin. “I hear you hold the most. . . entertaining games in town.” I smiled as lasciviously as possible. “I’m new to town and hoping for. . . some small entertainment.”
The men exchanged a glance, and the weasel grabbed my bag. He examined it, raised his eyebrows in obvious surprise, and nodded to his boss. Well, the damn thing was full of gold. Of course, it passed muster.
I had ways of establishing ties in slave camps that had earned me coin I could use to. . . rearrange the power structures.
“We’d love to entertain such a distinguished gentleman,” the mayor said with an exaggerated Southern accent.
For such vermin, “distinguished” meant rich. Fine by me. It likely also meant egotistical and entitled. The best way to get the better of someone was to convince him you were overly confident. I could do that.
While I followed them into the local tavern/whorehouse, I glanced from corner to corner to convince them the local merchandise, indeed, enthralled me. The women were lovely to be sure, but duty called, and my interests had always been far more hirsute.
In a smoky back room, the requisite props stood in place: a table, cards, several “important” men, and a number of intelligent women of negotiable virtue. All those eyes, many with goggles copied from my brother’s designs, turned to me.
The mayor patted my shoulder. “We have a new player!”
The men applauded.
I grinned. “What’s the buy-in?”
The mayor held aloft my velvet bag. “This will do.”
He handed it to the nearest woman, Marie, who weighed it. She offered me a raised eyebrow, likely surprised that the bag remained as full as when she’d given it to me yesterday. She was the local leader of a dissident group designed to repel the planet’s extraterrestrial invaders.
“We’re just starting.” Marie sashayed around the table, drawing me to a conspicuously vacant chair. “Are you familiar with Texas Hold’em?”
I made myself comfortable. “That’s a poker game, right? Texas version?”
“It is a poker game. Are you familiar with poker?” She patted my shoulder and gave the other gentlemen a feral smile I caught by virtue of my amazing peripheral vision.
“Lady, any time someone asks me about ‘poke-her’ I know what game I’m playing.” I winked at the men around the table, who laughed and jabbed each other in the ribs. Ugh. How long would I need to portray this character before I killed someone? “But where are the chips?”
Several men chuckled. The women settled onto the laps of apparent favorites
“At this table,” Marie said, “we don’t use chips.”
I raised a skeptical brow and glanced around, noting every clockwork contrivance at the table. Fortunately, enough of them copied Scopes designs that my plan to eliminate these men should succeed.
“Whatever do you use?” I gave Jinky a pat.
“Clothes,” blurted a big-muscled bruiser. “And the ladies always lose!” He elbowed the woman beside him. “And the losers do whatever we ask!”
That brought a rough round of cheering from the men around the table.
Wow. Maybe the world-weary playboy persona had been too easy. These yokels bought my story lock, stock, and two smoking barrels.
Well, all the easier to kill them.
I, of course, played it smug. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing I wore the three-piece suit today!”
They all laughed, but it was at me and not with me.
Lovely. They were as stupid and secure in their positions as I had been led to believe.
“Jinky?” I patted the toy, and he rubbed his head against my hand affectionately. “Bought him off a Jap in Virginia.”
“He do any tricks?” the mayor’s bodyguard asked.
“Look, Jinky!” I called. “It’s Tarzan!”
As designed, Jinky rose up and pounded his little metal chest, emitting a call identical to latest series of Tarzan cinemas.
Laughter and applause drifted around the table.
Jinky’s trick always endeared him to folks.
Make a weapon seem a toy, and idiots will beg to play.
The games began, two operating at the same time, although the men at the table only saw the one. While the cards passed hands, and shoes and socks and hats crossed the table, so did liquor. The ladies, aware of both games, saw to it that no glass emptied.
“Another round!” I called every few minutes, pretending to much more intoxication than was true. I hauled out another borrowed bag of gold to keep the liquor flowing.
From Marie it had emerged and again to her it fled.
Jinky was quite the star, travelling from gentleman to gentleman, fawning over their clockwork appliances, gauntlets and legs and goggles, chirping his admiration. The men all patted his head. As long as they admired my pet, they likely assumed, I’d keep the liquor flowing.
They had no idea. Jinky’s affection for their contraptions was born by his desire to subtly alter them.
After a time, I sat in my shorts, most of the women had lost down to dainty underthings, and the men were drunk enough to surrender weapon holsters and guns hidden in boots. Down to their skivvies, the only weapons they could possibly maintain were the clockwork variety.
And through it all, Marie poured the drinks, smiled, and flirted.
Until she didn’t.
From her expression, the men had, indeed, been divested of their weapons.
I slid my chair from the table and raised a glass.
Jinky hopped up and down in excitement. Could a creature of metal and wire experience anticipation? Well, if not, Scopes had created a simulation authentic enough that even I wondered.
“My dear gentlemen!” I exclaimed, maintaining the charade of an intoxicated aristocrat, half of which I feigned. “This has been most entertaining!” I tossed a couple of gold coins on the table to keep their attention.
Marie rolled her eyes.
Well, I was about to liberate an entire city. I could be allowed my moment.
And perhaps I’d imbibed a bit more than I should have.
Not surprisingly, the men sobered and shut up.
The women held their collective breath. After all, they’d bet their lives on my plan.
Jinky jumped up and down, scattering cards and socks, his eyes glowed bright, deadly red.
He screeched and screeched and screeched.
All around the table, gears buzzed and switches flipped thanks to the wonderful Tesla wireless technology that linked Jinky to every device in the room.
For a taut moment, no one breathed.
Then the screaming began.
The mayor’s clockwork gauntlet, designed with pins to keep it in place, yanked his arm off at the shoulder.
The breastplate on his bodyguard fired two slugs directly into his heart.
A clockwork leg on another man had implants to allow the owner to operate the metal limb with a mere thought. It sent an electric shock to his brain that fried it.
The rest of them met similar fates.
“And just so you know,” I announced, probably too late for the dying to hear, “the man who invented all those damn contraptions wasn’t Japanese. He was from Korea. And he was my brother.”
And he was dead. Because of the extraterrestrials these men served.
While blood from the mayor and his underlings poured on the floor, Marie strode around the table to the mayor, pulled the star badge from his discarded pants, and pinned it to her bodice.
Good. While it seemed like nothing more than a tin badge, as any sheriff might wear, the Kla’arkians handed such trifles to whomever they deemed worthy of leading a slave camp. If someone managed to wrest the badge from an existing mayor, by definition, that person was worthier.
“Congratulations, Mayor Marie.” I met her gaze evenly. “But bear in mind I will keep an eye on this city.”
She nodded. “I will do what I can to keep this godforsaken hellhole a livable bastion of humanity.”
That was all I could ask.
She shook it.
“You can’t do worse than these dead bastards.” I smiled. “And that says a lot coming from me.”
“And what should we call you?” She crossed her arms. “You told us your name was Avery Scopes, but I know that’s the man who made the monkey.”
Jinky chittered and played with someone’s eyeball.
I opened my mouth to tell her a lie.
She raised a hand. “Don’t lie to me. Men do that all the time.” One of her perfectly sculpted eyebrows arched. “Please be better than most men.”
Clever. Well, what harm could it do? In its own way, it was also a lie.
“Zen Bastard,” I told her. “My name is Zen Bastard, but you can call me the Hammer.”
“I thought so.” She grabbed my hand. “We’ve heard of you.”
Really? Well, I’d liberated a few slave camps on my journey across the country. Apparently, my fame had preceded me.
“And what have you heard?” I asked. Derring-do? Roguishly handsome?
“That you’re our savior.” Her face glowed as if I were some kind of Messiah.
My heart froze.
I jerked my hand away.
“No. No, I’m not.” I backed away. “I do what I can, but you’re the one who will save this city. You are their savior.”
She pursued. “But you could do so much more!”
“I could do so much more,” I said. “I could get all of you killed.”
That was my destiny. To kill people. That’s why I’d fled from camp to camp liberating humanity, why I’d left Virginia and ended up in this hellhole in Texas.
Maybe I could somehow make up for everyone I’d killed.
Maybe I could pay my debt to karma.
Marie wanted to follow me? She’d likely die.
“People like my brother Scopes followed me into the fires of hell.” I stared her down. “He died. So did my children. I didn’t even get to bury them.”
Time to move on. I was done there. On the porch, I sorted my clothes.
Voices inside the tavern drew my attention. “I’ve seen someone like that poster,” a man said, “but he were more of a socialite.”
“The man I seek wears many disguises,” a familiar voice said.
Oh, hell. Him. His tone low and patient, as always.
Everyone called him the Persian. I was one of a very few who knew his real name. He was the right-hand man to the President of the Confederate States of America, the Lady Hope Kennedy. I’d last seen him on a beach in Virginia. He’d asked me to stay to fight the invaders.
Why had I left? Because I had killed too many.
Thousands. My fault.
I couldn’t bear to add his name to the list.
“Where is he now?” the Persian asked. “What does he look like?”
I couldn’t move. Hearing his voice broke my heart. Again.
“Fancy suit,” the unknowing bartender said. “Wire-rim spectacles. Sparkly top hat. Very proper.”
The Persian chuckled. “I’d guess he might surprise you.”
My heart shrank. I dropped the spectacles on the porch and stumbled into the street where I dropped the hat. He couldn’t find me. Not here.
I would get him killed.
My stupidity likely would get me killed one day. Fine.
But no one I loved would ever die because of me. Not again.
I dropped the shirt in the street.
Then the trousers.
Most people dried their clothes on lines.
I stole a pair of jeans. And boots.
I kept Jinky and the goggles.
Everything else I left behind.
I’d find a hat somewhere, to protect me from the sun.
The rest of it I didn’t need.
How did Zen Bastard end up in that hellhole?
Where did he go from there?
Does the Persian ever find him?
About the Author
John Robert Mack lives and breathes in San Antonio, Texas. At least, this year. He sort of pays the bills by teaching dance but continues to build a business writing stuff, taking pictures of stuff, and designing stuff. Although unmarried and with no children of his own, he has nephews he loves and hopes one day to spoil.
Chris Tijerina is a professional model based in San Antonio Texas. Here is his Instagram page to learn more about him, and for booking, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited by Lauran Strait, who would kill me if I posted a photo. Here is her Hampton Roads Writer’s page.
Studio photos taken at SA Photographers Studio in San Antonio Texas.