Tales From the Wasteland

A Wasteland Chronicle by David and Bernard Assaf

Copyright © 1990 by David and Bernard Assaf. All Rights Reserved.

The following stories represent hours upon hours of stream-of-consciousness writing and treks into the imagination of two very weird individuals, the Maestros Assaf. The excerpts which you are about to read (Yes, excerpts. Excerpts from the lives of the Wasteland Rangers.) have been invented for the sheer pleasure of their creation and sharing with you, the reader. I (Ranger, Maestro, typist, overall genius = Assaf the Younger) wish your imagination the best of technicolor, special effects, and stereo sound as you delve into the minds of the brothers Assaf.


It all began with a flashback. (Computer) user David Assaf IV had remembered a name he had not been called in a very long time, that of "Ranger," by a schizophrenic voice which accompanies all who enjoy talking to themselves. . . .

Tale Number One
Ranger David

. . . (Star Wars music in background. Wistful look off to stage left. FLASHBACK. "Wonderful dream world!" - Bullwinkle Moose)

"Get down Shinto, you're not helping us by attracting their fire!"

(Shinto runs for cover behind the walls of a hi-tech base in the middle of nowhere = Darwin Station. Rapid-fire.)

"Outta ammo! Dude, man, Wander (Taran Scyll Romulus "The Wanderer"), dude! Spot me a clip, will ya?" (Rapid-fire.)

"That leaves three in the pack, 'Lestro, go "burst" and stop spraying those bastards like they were bloodsausages, OK?"

"Gotcha Wanderman. Thanks." chick-chack (Rapid-fire. Allestro Murin rips a clip into the wall near the cops.)

"Ai Carimba! I'm hit!! Aarrghh!!" (Jax, their leader, rolls across the opening of the base, where are hidden the cyber-police thugs and Chopper commandoes. He startles them for just a split second, but places three fatal bullets straight in the living carburetor of one of the maniacal Choppers. He checks the Mayor.)

"Mayor, you OK? Frak. Mayor's down! Christina, Dan, anybody, watch the lab! I see two cops there! And Shinto! Take out that punk commando that nailed Peydros!"

(Dan Citrine follows the lightning-quick, and beautiful death-in-motion-Christina and tops off the two policemen taking potshots at the 7 Ranger, Mayor & citizens party. While Jax rips into his medic kit to patch the hole in the Mayor's thigh, Shinto yells an ancient Mandarin tribal yell and stands up defiantly above the swiss-cheese battlement (one hyper-steel plate) and rips the remaining Chopper commandos, exacting the highest revenge on the ruthless kevlar-sheathed cyborgs.)

"Two down and dying!" (from a high-pitched, euphoric Christina beyond the sealed base doors.)

"Two dead and melting." (from the immobile and expressionless Shinto Fujikiwa, whose AK-97 assault rifle smoked, its rounds spent in one furied burst out the white-hot barrel.)

"Dude, man, I ain't never shot that bad in my life, eh, Shinto, man?" (Shinto waits, then peers slowly out of the left eye at the winded Allestro. He laughs and jokes at his young buddy.)

"You suck, white man." (Allestro laughs a nervous laugh, but one that expresses his relief at surviving yet another battle. Shinto had been his best friend since Ranger school, and he felt safe with Shinto hefting a fully loaded AK-97.)

(Taran, looking over Jax's shoulder as the latter attempts to stop Mayor Peydros' profuse bleeding, now takes over as Jax sighs defeat. He never could get the tourniquet right. Taran fixes the Mayor and nods approvingly at Jax.) "Right over left, left over right, pull it tight! Easy as pie, good buddy!"

"Frak, T., I knew I should've studied with you instead of 'Lestro in Ranger school!"

(Christina and Dan Citrine return from the lab fifty yards distant. Dan totes a kevlar vest.) "Hey, Jax, got this off o' that punk copper back there. Thought you might need it, for if you pull off another one of those suicidal jump and roll and take potshot maneuvers, you sure as hell will need the extra AC rating."

"Thanks, Dan, and great shot back there. Didn't even here the rusty cop yell! Course, I couldn't hear much of anything with ol' 'Lestro pouring 30 rounds of high impact uranium a minute into that confounded door."

(All laugh, and Peydros looks up at a hazy circle of newly found rescuers and friends.) "Man, hombres, I tell you, dis place is givin' me ze creeps. . . . Hey, what was that hum?"

(Everyone stiffens. A low metallic and high frequency tone emanates from beyond East Towne Road, near the police barracks. Shinto sniffs the air.)

"Ambush. TAKE TO YOUR FEET!" (All flee but Christina, Taran, the Mayor, and Jax. Shinto knows an unbeatable fight when he sees one. At least 10 Night Screamers and Biker scum head their way. Taran and Christina haul the lame Mayor out of the city limits South. Jax pops a new clip into his trusty M1989A1 NATO assault rifle and hopes to buy some time for his friends. He lets the gun fly. Blue uranium bullets streak from his gun's nozzle. Some find their mark and embed themselves in living metal and mutated carapace. All make a lot of noise. So loud that Jax doesn't see the lab tecchie creep up behind him from the now open base doors with a needle.)

(Sudden pain and darkness overcome Jax. The next thing he knows, he's surrounded by 5 dead night screamers and 6 dead biker scum. He's unharmed except for a nasty "bite" on his left triceps.)

"Lousy nuke stirges." (Jax trudges off, following Christina's distinctive Reebox tracks in the hot desert that is worthy of the term, "Wasteland.")


"FRAK, FRAK, FRAK!! How can I be so dense? My whole party--dead!!! I didn't even notice 'em dropping behind. Rotten suit--can't even hear when I'm breathin' so heavy. Leapin' Leptons! Never even cared to look at mah frakkin' Geiger Counter. Crapola! Rangers! They teach us everything about wilderness survival, but all for naught. What a waste!" (Pause. . .) Oh no. . . . Jax!!"

(Christina, the only one in the party equipped with a radiation suite, can't afford tears. Not when one member of the crew is alive besides her. Within ten minutes of fleeing, five brave souls had met their maker and there was nothing she could have done to save them. It was a quick death for them--all sensation goes first in the neutron wastes outside Darwin Village--and certainly less painful than dying from swiss-cheese syndrome initiated by Biker Scum ammo. But what a waste. They were a victim of poor Map Skills/Geography 101 trainer in Ranger School. Now she had to stop Jax from following her footsteps to his death too. . . . But she was too late.)

"Oh no, Jax!" Curses! You deuterium chewin' loyal son-of-a-neutrino. Why didn't you stay behind!" (Now the tears flowed. Christina was hopeless to save the nearly-dead Jax, lying suping on the faint, almost undetectable glowing desert sand. She ebraced Jax and would have kissed him but for the mask separating her from radioactive death.)

(Jax could not speak for his vocal cords had frozen, but he traced one final word in the transparent sand before his left hand and arm drooped and he slipped into death's icy grip. The word read "CLONE" and Christina was puzzled until she noticed the red swelling on the noble Ranger's posterior left arm. Tell tale signs of a dirty needle, and a back-stab. Christina was no fool. She pieced it together.)

"Bouncin' bosons! Darwin base is a cloning factory!" (She got up and buried Jax with all his armor and weapons. She could not desecrate such a faithful friend, but as she was rolling him into the grave she'd dug, Jax's right hand dropped a vial of chemicals.)

"The cloning fluid equals Allestro's chemicals!" (With a new ray of hope, and with the knowledge of the ingenious Allestro still fresh in her mind from the day he discovered how to make chemicals from a laboratory manual in a secluded lab in Darwin Station and had told the unbelieving others that the chemicals could only be cloning fluids, and the night hags and screamers, only genetic cloning rejects, and the cyber-bikes and cloned mutations. . . etc.

Christina raced toward Darwin again where she would end up saving the cloned Jax from a certain cyber-bike future and accompanying the unstoppable Ranger on the greatest campaign in all of New Nevada history--the extermination of the android Finster and his sinister plan to populate the desert with cyborg killing machines.)

(End of wisftul look. Fade out on music.)

Tale Number Two
Ranger Bernard

(Fade in music. Glance stage left.)

Taran Scyll Romulus was dead, but his genetic pattern not forgotten. Jax was not the only one to be a victim of the cloning masters. The cloned Taran, named Cyberpunk 6993, was sent forth, its exclusive mission to wreck havoc. The clone was yet another mistake in the ever continuing learning process of geneitc reproduction. . .

The user named David Assaf IV booted up his system yet again for another exciting episode of Wasteland. He was devastated that all of his characters had been fried except Christina. He created new ones named Jax and Taran Luthen, and their strengths would prevail in the battle against cyberpunk and evil mutants. Little did he know that their ancestors by name only were not gone forever.

Cyberpunk 6993 scanned the Wasteland through his visor. Picking up heat sources, he was activated to attack mode and stalked the sources. As he stepped forward, he was accosted by a blood rat.

"Scram!! Stoopid mutie!!" the synthesized voice crackled.

But before he could act, the bloodbeast attacked the cyberpunk. The battle was short, but the outcome was not beneficial to the punk. The little rodent had peeled off one last bite before it was exploded like a blook sausage. The poison spread through the integrated circuits of the punk, and interfered with his/its cranial systems. A sudden image of something unknown raced through the altered brain of the cyberpunk. Names began to appear in the all-but-forgotten human memory of the cyberpunk whose parent genes were initialed TSR.

"Allestro Mur[in], Shinto Fujikiwa, Christina, Dan Citrine, Mayor Peydros, and. . . ...%#&%^.."

"And Jax Yllandian!!" (The voice of Taran Scyll Romulus.) "I exist!! I ex--*@#$@%>#.@#6993@#..>"

(The cyberpunk regained control of the partially human form known as 6993 and continued its pursuit of the heat sources.


Christina felt odd travelling with the new recruits, but after their skills improved, she felt just as comfortable with them at her back in the heat of battle as with her old pals. Jax had progressed very quickly, and Taran Luthen and the others had fallen into ranks, and all had formed into a closely knit bank of Cyberpunk kick-butters. From the moment of the slaying of her friends, Christina had carried the geiger counter in her hand in plain view during travel.

Travel would not be the bulk of this day, for the bankd of cyberpunks under leadership of the now famous unit 6993 had cornered the little band of humans in the city of Las [sic.] Vegas.

"Move in, punks!!"

The party of humans had split up, with Jax, Taran, and Christina going one way and the others moving toward an equally important destination.

Taran Luthen sniffed the air. Something wasn't right.

"Don't look back fellas, but we are being stealthily pursued." (Taran's enhanced perception extended further than mere concentration. Now, casually, Taran Luthen could sense greater things in the environment.)

The others trusted Taran's judgement. Simultaneously, each sprinted for a different spot of cover.

Chick-chack (Also simultaneously. Jax fumbles for a grenade out from underneath his kevlar suit.)

"Attack you fools!!" came the slightly mechanical voice of unit and leader 6993. (The Cyberpunks, fifteen in number, were not expecting a smart party of humans.)

The bullets razed the cover behind which Jax was squatting. Before the shelter was totally destroyed, he leaped out and rolled into the center of the alleyway, letting loose his ion beamer and cremating several cyberpunks. Unit 6993 felt the radiation from the beamer and it scarred his arm, broiling the poison which lingered in his system.

Once again his brain was overridden by the celluloid instead of the circuit. He turned to his lieutenant, and crushed his neck with his bare hands. Dodging for cover, the agility of the TSR cloned genes shone through. Soon, unit 6993 was the only remaining functioning cyberpunk, but it was the human brain that ruled.

Jax: "Where's their leader?" (sniffing through the remnants and looking for loot)

"Right ##@>@#.. her-xd3@#$-e." The cyberpunk surrendered himself, throwing down his useless AK-97, now empty. (emptied into his own ranks) He had fought on Christina's side. He remembered her kindness towrard him?? NO -- it was not him, but another entitiy--

User David was faced with a dilemma. Should he Allow it to join? Or should he Attack? The fate of the Cyberpunk was in his hands. It seemed strange that a Cyberpunk should want to join his party. If he accepted him, whom should he drop from the party?? The Mayor's wife was a burden, he could drop her. . . .

"Accept me, but heal me. . . ." (fade music out and glance back down stage)

Tale Number Three
Ranger David

"This is great [Ben]! I'm developing my own following of fractal true-believers!! Kind of like my own band of desert rangers. . . .

(Close Encounters. . er, uhm < < wrong film, stoopid!> >, oh yeah. . . Beethoven's Fifth? < < ahem.> > No? OK, uh, "When the Saints. ." < < NO!> > OK, well whatever kinda muswic you like!!! Sheesh! < < Really? OK, Ray Stevens - Harry the Hairy Ape!> > Oh Brother. . . .)

Suddenly the stalwart band of desert Rangers faced the unbelievably impossible foe: a cyberpunk Ape with kevlar armor engraved with a big ``H'' on the chest!! Christina, the only original member of the cast David originally had in the first playing sequence of Wasteland, sighed. This was too much. She yelled out of the CRT at David, who was laughing in disbelief: "Cut it out with the Ray Stevens stuff will ya!! You could get us killed!"

Christina was never more correct, for at that instant, the Cyberpunk ape swatted The Mayor's wife into confetti, thus solving last episode's dilemma of whether to add Cyberpunk #6993 (alias Taran S. Romulus cloned) to the brave party of kick-buttin' Rangers. Everybody immediately crowded around 6993 to congratulate him for joining the party. And then there was feasting, and drinking, and general partying in general. < < you said that word twice, narrator!!> > (Oops, sorry dude, I generally don't due that. . . .) < < @$%&*!!> > (Heh. Ahem.) That is, all except for Jax #2, the namesake of the first great Jax Yllandian who died defending his comrades. But this Jax didn't possess all the brains his namesake had. Whilte he should have been partying like Mad Dog Fargo, Ace, Covenant, Christina, Ellisande Llendwynn and Taran, Jax tried his drop, roll & shoot maneuver (in the style of Jax #1) which he'd been practicing for weeks. Anyway, it dumbfounded the monstrous hairy primate mutant clone just long enough for Jax2 to get a shot off. However, this Jax was not as protected as our old friend of the same name. He rolled right into a minor boulder and racked himself. The dying ape, in its death throws, threw himself closer and closer to the writhing Jax2, while the stunned Christina, who'd had enough partying at this time (and besides, this Cyberpunk guy wasn't cute at all!) could only watch in horror. It seemed an eternity before the ape finally crashed to earth, having run out of saving throws and emitted its last death throw. Right on top of Jax2.

Christina's shriek stopped the revelling for just a minute.

"What the heck was that?" cried Ace.

"Duh, I don't know big guy, sounded like Christina shrieked," remarked Taran Luthen, not very bright but a terrific scout.

"Oh, who cares. Christina's all nerves anyway since that guy Jax Yllandian died on her way back before she found most of us or that guy David staring at us through that translucent screen in the sky there, yeah that one, made the rest of y'all. Women. Can't live with 'em. Can't waste your ammo on 'em," chimed Mad Dog, the most recent arrival.

"Uhm, fellas, ahem, cut the crap. You know you would be dead if it weren't for us women! Now Taran, Ace come here and help me bury that confounded Mayor's wife we've been dragging along for eons. Mad Dog & 6993, go peel that stinky primate off poor Jax2 and help Christina bury him. I got dibs on his ion beamer though!" joked Ellisande, trying to lighten the extremely somber situation.

"When's the next party, dude?" Ace asked innocently.

"Shut up grease-face and start digging," muttered the red-faced and overweight Mad Dog. He resented Ace for being such a skinny-butt.

"Christina, you OK?" asked 6993 tentatively. The cyberpunk Taran clone was not totally sure the one he addressed was the one whom he was remembering.

"I'm fine. I didn't really like him anyway. He couldn't be my Jax, and I don't know why that dumb David up there created him to take his place. Some sick joke." Christina heaved the half-ton ape off the micro-thin wafter that used to be a 3-D Jax2. Yep, she was a pretty strong babe.

"I seem to remember you from somewhere before," 6993 spoke yet again.

"Oh great, a robot who thinks he's Shirley McClaine," cracked Christina, smirking at Mad Dog, who was eyeing the cyberpunk with an air of smugness.

"Just who do you think you are anyway. . . PUNK??" Fargo emphatically spat out.

"I'm, I'm. . . xcpt < < EXTERMINATE> > (he-he). . . T. . . T. . ."

"Totally stoopid, say it To-tal-ly Stoo-pit," mocked Mad Dog.

Christina kicked Mad Dog in his fat gut (yeah she knew karate, jin-jitsu, shushi-rock, to-ki-yo and a few other Japanese expressions) and looked 6993 in the eyes.

"Yes, who ARE you?" She queried, her looks betraying her doubts.

"T. . . Ta. . . Ta. . .," 6993 stuttered and convulsed. His human brain was slowly regaining control over the artificial cybernetic implants which limited his memory.

Suddenly, beyond the translucent screen in the sky came a yelp of horror: "Duck you jerks!!"

It was the voice of. . . Dave!!!!!!!!

At that moment, fifteen sets of leg-dangling airborne spider-like Chopters filled the air in an ambush. In an instant, uranium shells filled the air along with Mad Dog's Meson Canon bursts and soon afterwards, beams of deadly ions -- Christina had picked up Jax2's weapon. Legs of razor-sharp talons and adamantium steel rained like Persians and Schnauzers. The immobile cyberpunk recruit #6993 was about to be feasted on by a hungry chopter in the heat of battle when Taran Luthen suddenly winced with a pain he did not see nor recognize and looked across the barren rock-strewn desert battlefield to see 6993 being ripped apart by a half-dead-half-crazed Chopter.

"Noooooooooo!" Shouted Taran, and in the most daring and bravest act in his entire, short-lived life, he plunged through the heat of the battle, taking a shot meant for Ellisande on the way (and blocking one of Mad Dog's shots that would have ultimately landed Covenant one less leg), and leaped on the Chopter just as it was ripping through 6993's metal encased CPU brain inhibitor. The Chopter strained under the added weight and was forced to the ground, but did not last long, for Taran Luthen ignited a torc grenade and ripped it to shreds, shielding the blast from his gutted namesake-alias with his own already dying body. What was left of Taran2 wasn't worth digging a grave.

When the smoke cleared, all the others had miraculously pulled through. Mad Dog was out of clips (called energy packs) again, and Ace had a nasty slice of meat hanging from his left thigh where a Chopter had grazed him, but aside from that, the party survived for the most part. They were saddened by Taran's death, but he died most nobly, and saved 2 members of his band too. He would be sorely missed. But, as Christina thought, and the others started catching on, maybe it was meant to be. The imitations and their counterparts (as real as clones get) could not exist in the same world.

"But this means that Jax is still alive!" shouted a slowly realizing Christina.

"It would just make sense by the twisted rules of this environment, wouldn't it?" The cyberpunk had spoken. Everyone stared in disbelief. He had been repairing himself all the while. Could this be a property of cybertech?

"Partytime!" Ace stated with a grin. "Well?" He piped down and moped when nobody replied.

After a long moment, Christina walked over to 6993. She spoke resolutely. "Good to have you back Taran." The cyberpunk looked into her eyes and felt an audible snap. The last artificial neural link inhibitor had sprung the synapse. His genetically improved eyes, with two eyelids for ultraviolet protection and infrared vision sparkled with the fervor of a new life. Taran grasped her forearm and chuckled in the sense of humor which Christina had not heard ever sense she'd visited Darwin station: "Help me find my pancreas, will ya?"

Christina laughed, handed him a plastic encased artificial gland, which Taran snapped into place. Christina squatted down and poot her hands on Taran's shoulders.

"We gotta find Jax, Taran," she spoke with new hope and reassurance.

"We will, Chris', we will." < < Fade back> >

Tale Number Four
Ranger Bernard

< < Who cares what music you play!! Just Fade Out!> >

The little band of determined desert rangers packed their diggin' shovels and travelled on. Their dead were buried, their party bashed up a bit ["a bit, a bit, ni!"] but they had a goal in mind. Jax may have been radiation-wasted, but the former Cyberpunk clone of Taran gave them a clue to Jax's existence as a clone.

"If they cloned Taran and he managed to survive, then why couldn't the same be for Jax??" Christina had resolved. She led the mutiod- and evil-dude-kickin' radicals toward Darwin Station. With here were: the clone of Taran Scyll Romulus, a perfect copy of the original butt-kicker with a few artificial limbs and organs here and there; Ace, a chunky but eager ranger who loved to party and get wasted (on booze); Mad Dog Fargo, another merry and ammo-wastin' desert dude who loved the phrase "exploding it like a blood sausage"; Ellisane, a dudette who loves to flirt (especially with Taran) and who enjoys primping herself to be beautiful in the middle of a desert (for reasons nor mortal radioactive ranger can decipher); and Metal Maniac, a mean dude whose muscles compare to Arnold Ssschwwartzzzenahhgerr himself. The other members of the party of desert rangers (whose names have been forgotten, so what better way to get around that mistake but to send them off on a different mission!) are on a supplies and ammo mission.

Meanwhile, at Darwin Station, the cloning factory, dirty work was afoot. . . .

"Catalog him as the next clone, Egor, but don't send him out into the Wasteland. This one looks interesting."

"Yeeehhhs, Maaaaster!!!"

Consciousness. Breath. Thought. "What the--" Soon-to-be Cyberpunk #7000-I was knocked out before any further of his first thoughts could escape his mind and form audible noises. Egor dumped him into the wheelbarrow and pushed him down the hallway into the lab. "Hee-heee," was the sound that echoed through the long passageway to the operaing room. "Maaaasssster said you were going to be a goooood one, Maaaasssster said. Hee heeeee heee. . . ."
"What in the world are we doing in this ol' cave anyway, Christina???" Mad Dog grumbled. He didn't like dark places, and this one was too dark for the likes of him. He thought he heard heavy breathing coming from behind him. He turned, and "BBBBBBBLLLAMMMM-KABLAMATAMOOOOOO!!!!!!" The wall behind him was shredded into non-existence.

"What the hell was that????!!!" Ace spake as he rose. "You's lucky I was tyin' my boots when you let loose or I'd be one diced dude! You better go last, punk!"

Mad Dog was on edge, and he just let everyone know. He'd have to be tough.

Christina spoke. "In answer to your question, Fargo, this cave is an excellent source for experience points, and I mean to get enough to raise my level so I will be better prepared to save Jax's life!! Now I don't know about you, Dave," she said, looking up at the CRT in the sky, "but there isn't anything in that instruction manual about gettin' experience points for blastin' rock!!!"

Dave blushed, when she lookedup at him; he could see straight down--< < NONE OF THAT!!> > (Sorry, Mr Editor sir!) Anyway, Dave shook his head, and spoke. "No dudes, rocks aren't worth the ammo. I'm gonna disband you if you keep wastin' ammo, Mad Dog!!!"

Mad Dog blushed inside him helmet. "Nooooooooosir-eeeeeeee!!! I won't do it again!!"

Just then, Dave let out a cry of anguish. "AAAAaarrrrggggghhhh. Frak. Well guys, your scouting party consisting of I don't know the names just got diced into small cubes by a band of punks. You are going to have to fend for yourselves." Dave grumbled, but the Birmingham-editor-writer-genious-summer scholar smiled. He figured out what to do with all the guys he forgot the names of!!! (Hee Hee).

Metalmaniac (or Metal Maniacm whichever you prefer, but it better be "Metal Maniac, SIR!!" whenever you speak to him) grumbled meaner than Dave had and started walking and talking in a very Grimlock-like-voice. Me Metalmaniac no like waste time talking to afro-guy in the sky! Me Metalmaniac want to kick some Cyberbutt!! Me Meta--"

"Shutup M.M.; let's get going dudes," Christina spakeded.

After hours of dicing bloodbeasts into small cubes and an occasional destruction of a cave wall, the party of rangers seemed ready. Dave clicked "Radio" with the mouse and waited, crossing his fingers. He hoped that his friends had raised a level so they could help out their friend, Jax (even if he is a clone). . . .

Tale The Last
Ranger Rick (er Dave)

< < Fade out to Jarre's "Oxygene" in 345 ear-bustin' decibel stereo. . . .> >

"Alright guys! Waytogo Christina!!" Dave rejoiced as his team of merry rangers discovered a library deep in the ruins of an ancient bomb shleter connected to a cave. Dave knew it would be a longshot to gain experience punching holes through bite-sized pieces of radioactive vermin. Bite sized for a cloud giant maybe. . . but still. The library was quite a stroke of luck (and genius on the Memphis-fractalizin'-racquetball-bustin-spoon-balancin'-Fassa Divadian'-editor's part.) With newly raised levels of proficiency in Energy Weapons, Anti-Tank Rocketry, Cloning Skills, and Underwater Bloodsausage Explosion, the seven-strong Ranger party was ready to do some major butt-kickin'. The quiet Covenant even sniffed out a cache of ancient RPG's from the 1990's and handed them around. Even though 90 years old, they were still THE BEST rocket anti-personnel/tank weapons portable and accurate to the mark. Besides, they had used 'em in Red Dawn so, heck, there's your universality!

"OK, Rangers, listen up. Here's the plan." Christina broke the buzzing elation of the group and commanded attention. "Stop fixing your face Ellisande, and get your skinny behind over here!" Ellisande slinked over and nudged Taran just a little bit intentionally on her way over to the gap in the Ranger pow-wow afforded her by Covenant and Metal Maniac (Sir!), although she would have much preferred Taran's close proximity than the smelly Metalman's but then again, M.M. was soooo muscular!

"Ahem, finished, editor??" < < Oh, uh, yes, quite sorry> > "OK Rangers, our goal is to find Jax as soon as possible. I'm confident his clone, which for all intensive purposes is Jax himself, is alive and kicking (butt) somewhere. Taran here knows the way back to Sleeper Base, which is where the cloning utilities are situated. We may meet heavy opposition on the way. And Ace, try to stay alive: you've got the only Cloning skills among us. We may need you to rejuvenate Jax."

"Oh really. Wow. The bodacious babe needs me. Glad to know I'm good for something around here. Radical!" Ace blurbed half-sarcastically. He'd given up on hitting on Christina. She was just too stuck on this Jax guy whom he'd never laid eyes upon.

"But whaddif this hombre's laying da trap seniorita?" Mad Dog lapsed into his native Mexican tongue as he usually did when the mood became serious.

"Then we die, Fargo, but we sure as hell will give those blasted cyborgs a helluva time for messin' with Ranger meat!!" Christina emphatically but softly spoke. Ace shivered. Ellisande ran her AK97 barrel through her long silky blond hair while looking casually over at Taran to see if he noticed.

Taran, always aware of being watched, snapped his eagle-sharp eyes to match Ellisande's gaze, but then soon as her eyes noticed their alignment with his, Taran blinked his eyes toward Covenant, "Cov, man, you sure these RPG's are in working order? We're definitely going to need 'em!"

"They shoot," the usually reticent American Indian barked with a heavy Cherokee accent. His AT weapon skill was phenominally high. It was rumored in Ranger school that he could hit a wampum while threading the needle at Beggar's Canyon back home from a half mile's distance.

"Then let's get a move-on," smiled Taran. He shot a wink at Ellisande and she snapped out of her trance. To hell with Metal Maniac's muscles, she thought, "Taran's kind of cute," she thought yet again, and hoisted her AK over her shoulder, following Taran out of the cave and into the cold dark desert.

"Mad Dog, you got a minute, Paco?" Metal Maniac called his best friend over. They'd both emigrated from Mexico during the first wave of nuclear winter after the war. The trek had fused them as best of friends. "I don't trust this bionic Taran clone either. We'd both better keep our eyes glued to him, okay?"

"Gotcha bud, now let's fly man, the others are waitin'," replied the macho Mad Dog, as he hefted his huge Meson Cannon and clacked another energy pack into the three-pack clip.

< < Time passes. Dave listens to more Jarre. He gets a phone call. He eats, sleeps, and does things that fractalmen do. It is 24 hours later that he tunes back in to the autonomous Rangers in Wasteland. > >

"OK Dave, we found -- stop slobbering at me you fool!"

"I uh, was just staring at the awfully big pair of spiders crawling up your...."

"Frak." < < PLOUGCKSHFT > > < < KAPLOOEEGHSHFTSS> > "Man radioactive arachnids make weird death noises. Anyway, Dave, we've located Sleeper Base and I'm on guard duty whilst everybody else sleeps--what else?!?! Christina said casually whilst cleaning up her splattered chest.

"Well, where's Taran?"

"Huh?!?! Great, slipped right out from underneath me."

Mad Dog and Metal Maniac popped up from their half-sleep shouting curses and "I knew it"'s. This ruckus naturally awoke all the others.

"Just great, leave it up to a woman to screw it up!" mumbled Ace. This half-intelligible comment was met with a firmly planted heel in his gluteus maximus.

"Smile when you say that, jerk!" Shouted Ellisande.

"Looks like lover-clone's gone traitor, hotcake!" mocked Mad Dog. Metal shut his friend up before he too got rocked in the coccyx by the infuriated Ellisande. She would not believe them.

"Quiet!!" Shouted Christina in a pitch that nearly cracked Ace's glasses. "Covenant, track him. All you clowns, follow Covenant! C'mon!"

No living thing can mask heat very efficiently, so that was the method Covenant the Bear-Finder used to locate Taran's faint heat-prints. Suddenly, after tracking for forty minutes down endless corridors and stairs of deserted Sleeper Base, the Indian noticed the whole floor was infra-red hot.

"This section is wired. Must cut power," Covenant said to anyone in particular. Ace smiled.

"No prob dude, I noticed a pretty heinously hidden fuse panel few meters back.... Ah, here it is... < < Chick-pow> > < <Beeeeoooouuuu > > The shield is down!

Red group, gold group follow me... Heh-heh. Oh, c'mon guys, y'all never seen Star Wars?"

"Revenge of the Jedi, Ace, but thanks anyway for the power cut. So what was it, Covenant?" Christina said clapping him on the shoulder. Covenant slowly turned and stared at the feminine hand on his right deltoid until Christina withdrew her friendly touch. "Sheesh, dude, lighten up will ya?"

"Shocker. Bad for your life."

The Rangers continued following Covenant's lead, which he'd resumed soon after the electric flooring section incident. Eventually Taran's heat prints led to a wide equipment room with a floor-level tank of glowing liquid about the size of a decent-sized swimming pool, various instruments with flashing LED's, and many knobs and switches. Cylinders dotted the walls of the room, lying longways in stacks.

"Split," whispered Christina, but without the "s" sound, for it carries over a great distance and she wanted to surprise whomever had just been operating the equipment.

But she was too late. A mechanical, maniacal laughter ricocheted around the room. Out of the far corner of the room emerged three figures -- an android, a humanoid, and a stereotypical humpback named (what else?) Egor. "Huhn, huhn, Maaassster, should I geet the dooorrrsss?"

"Yes, yes fetch the lock, Egor. Be quick, we don't want our SIX GUESTS to leave before the party's over. Ahah, haha, HAHAHAHAHAahahahhaaaa." The android, as Christina and the rest of her group recognized, was named Finster. He was one bad trucker. He had created Egor from the genetic material of a humpback German cockroach. Ol' Finster was a genetic magician. The humanoid was classified as a number. His friends called him Taran. "Well #6993, it appears that you have accomplished your mission efficiently. At last, the feared Desert Rangers, in my hands.... Ahah, haha, HAHAHAHAHAahaha- hhaaaa!!!!!!!!"

"Que Pasa man! I knew it!! < < Spanish expletives > >

"Shut up Paco!" Metal Maniac bit his lip and elbowed Mad Dog for possibly revealing their hiding place behind a rack of chemicals with his curses.

"Oh dude, this is it isn't it, Covy, baby?" Covenant didn't answer Ace. He was already aiming his RPG at Finster. But at the instant his target heard the rush of oncoming death, Finster rolled out of the way. Taran followed suit. Suddenly the doors slammed shut all throughout the base as Egor pulled the emergency locker and then ominous noises rattled in the ceiling and lasers popped out of the walls. Octobots streamed out of three portals, porting dual laser cannons in each of eight deadly arms.

Ellisande was the first to fire, but her bullets, even though fortified with a full day's supply of fatal uranium death, were useless against the Octobots. Mad Dog's Meson Cannon shattered one Octobot and wounded another, however, to make up for Ellisande's gun's uselessness.

"No Ellie!" Shouted Christina when she saw Ellisande duck for cover behind a terminal closer to where Taran had taken cover. She knew Ellisande would go after Taran. "Dumb girl," Christina groaned as she filled another Octobot full of high-energy quarks from her Ion Beamer.

Covenant fired shell after shell of RPG's at the oncoming rush of Octobots but to no avail. There were just too many of them. Ace had gotten into the action by letting the laser rifle melt a few dime-sized holes in the death machines, and Metal and Mad Dog's charged-particle artillery fusillade helped a bit too, but the Octobots, although cheaply constructed, were deadly and too numerous.

"Ai Carimba!!" Mad Dog took a hit in his right arm. The laser wound immediately cauterized, but it had severed his brachioradialis and his trigger finger was useless.

Finster's metallic laughter peaked above the din of battle. Then he spoke, "ENOUGH!! Octobots retreat!!" < < Run away, run away!!! > > The Rangers quickly reloaded and waited tensely, conserving ammo. Metal attended to his friend Mad Dog's arm. Ellisande stopped her slinking. She had managed to sneak to within ten feet of Taran. She was well hidden beneath a mainframe computer. Finster and Taran stood up. "Which one dies first, #6993?"

"Her!" Taran pointed to Ellisande's mainframe hiding place.

"Well don't just stand there?! Go get her you big hulk, and, Haha, throw her into the, the, the < < spritzzit > >, THE BUSH!! Hahaahahaahha! Taran mechanically made for Ellisande's position swifter than Covenant could target him. He knew the extent of the Ranger's abilities. He was cautious to disarm Ellisande before hefting her up and carrying her struggling body over to Finster, who had walked over to "The Bush" -- the glowing liquid tank at the lab's center.

"No! NOOO! Mfh. Ughnn. < < Shriek > > It's heavy water!! TARAN, DON'T YOU DARE!! It's ME! Ellisande Llendwynn!!! WAIT!!!!

But her cries for mercy were useless. Taran seemed content on plunging his former teammate into the radioactive water beneath him....

But it happened so quickly, Finster was caught off guard.

Taran pulled a laser rifle he'd concealed under Ellisande's cover and plugged Finster full of four holes. Finster shouted "Octobots! Roll out!!" before plunging into the blue pool of tritium-laced HOH. Immediately, the Octobot onslaught resumed, but not until Taran had kissed Ellisande squarely on her ruby lips and effectively knock her out.

Ace let out a whoop. "Yahoooo! Yes < < YES, YES, YES!!!> > !! Take THAT you freakin' autobot, or whatever you is!" He downed another robot assassin.

This time around, the Octobots seemed more manageable a fight, with Taran's firepower to boot, and the kick-butt feeling of a true friend and ally proving to be faithful after all in everybody's mind.

After all Covenant's RPG's (and everyone else's for that matter) had been expended and many power packs drained, there were Octobot guts from hell to clean up. Covenant yelled an ancient and time-honored Cherokee death shout that reminded Christina of Shinto strange enough.

Metal pulled up his friend Mad Dog and carried him over to where Taran and Ace had gathered around Ellisande. Ace had broken out the smelling salts. Christina dusted herself off, reloaded and followed Covenant to the gathering around Ellisande.

"Taran, you tricky son-of-a-biscuit, you scared me outta my panties!!"

"No he didn't; they're still intact!" Ace joked as he pointed out the revealing gash Ellisande had taken to her breeches during the battle. Everyone laughed. Even Covenant afforded a grunt and smiled a toothy Cherokee grin. Taran helped Ellisande up. Metal approached him after Ellisande was back on her feet and the group tended to their minor wounds.

"Eh, man, sorry if I doubted ya -- huh?" Metal's eye caught the glint of cold steel behind Taran's back. Cold, glistening, heavy water resistant steel. Taran whizzed around and ducked, nearly missing Finster's razor sharp talon- equipped brachial appendage. Even before he'd drawn his gun, Metal Maniac had beat him to the point and leaped into the pool grabbing Finster beneath the surface to everyone's startled surprise.

"Grimlock?!! You must be loco, man!!" Mad Dog desperately threw himself at the pool's edge to peer down into the tank. But his buddy had already plunged Finster's half-alive metal skeleton deep into the shadowy depths of the deadly pool.

"Don't get too close Mad Dog! The splash could kill you!" Christina warned frantically.

"METAL!!!" Fargo clawed at the floor as Covenant dragged him away from the pool. Ace, showing a surprising, and effective show of maturity and gravity approached Mad Dog.

"He's already dead Mad Dog. You can't save him." And Ace walked away. Within seconds came a tremendous underwater explosion which rocked the base and cracked the aged walls and ceiling. There was a silence.

"Blast it, Grimlock! I knew you'd find a use for that darn Underwater Bloodsausage Explosion skill you had," broke in Mad Dog, severing the respectful silence as the pool stopped bubbling. Christina comforted him with a hug. All were quiet until...

"You mean level 2 Underwater Bloodsausage Explosion skill! I ended that Finster's main program once and for all, Paco! Exploded him like --"

"A BLOODSAUSAGE!!!!! Metal Maniac, you lucky locobird! Get outta that pool before your skin falls off!!" Mad Dog jumped to his feet nearly knocking Christina off into an Octobot hull and pulled Metal with his good arm out of the pool. Ace approached Metal in disbelief.

"Pardon me for askin', but why ain't you dead, dude?"

"Oh hell, hombre, Paco'n me've been through a whole five months of nuclear winter between Aculpulco and Las Vegas during the first wave! I think I can handle a little hot water!"

"By George, you're right, Grimlock! We've probably built up a darn tough skin that Hydrochloric Acid couldn't probably eat!" Mad Dog agreed, throwing Metal his dirty but dry towel. "But you'll be glowing for a week, hombre!"

Covenant moved in and took Metal's hand in his own and squeezed it firmly. "You must have Cherokee blood, brother. I've never seen such bravery. You have my respect." Ellisande looked at Taran with an eyebrow that said "I didn't know the guy had a capacity for sentences that long!" Taran laughed knowingly but silently. Metal Maniac was dumbfounded.

Ace leaned on his gun and stated dryly, "Be excellent to each other dudes." He wished Covenant would respect him like that. "Well, party on! Where's the rations and beer? I'm famished!"

"You're always craving something or the other," Ellisande spat sarcastic words and grabbed Taran's available arm and drew him in. "You're a good kisser, honey." Then she hopped right away to the food which Ace had broken out. Strange words echoed in Taran's mind relating to an ancient maxim of survival in the desert: "The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach." He was still thinking of these words' relevance when he noticed Christina, who had been absent for sometime now, fiddling in a crack of the near wall. She suddenly sped up here motions clawing at something in the crack. Taran walked over to Christina and queried her.

"Taran, it's Jax. I know it. See the dragon?" Surely enough, through a transparent plastic cover, a softly illumined light shone and highlighted the dragon-shaped birthmark of Jax's right shoulder.

"Hey Metal, can you spare a minute, man?" Taran called. Metal came to their aid chewing on some jerky, and everyone else followed. Metal Maniac's nickname wasn't Grimlock for nothing. He ripped open the adamantite-plate walls like tin-foil and uncovered a transparent cylinder encasing a mist-enshrouded humanoid inside. Ace broke through the tight ring around the casket, which appeared to have been singled out and hidden behind the hollow wall panel.

"Level 3 Clone-skills at your service. OOOooowwweeee! This dude's in frigid condition: Class 5B carbon-freezing. He's gonna feel like Rodan turds when he revives." Ace's fingers blurred across the instruments on the top of the cylinder. The mists faded and the cylinder creaked open.

The humanoid form inside started breathing visibly. More deeply. A twitch flickered across his body and from his toes to his fingertips to his eyebrows.

"Reflex arousal. Gotta test the motor neurons. Sometimes they freeze up and you're no better off than a cabbage," spake Ace with jovial authority. He was finally getting to prove himself to "the guys."

The humanoid's eyes twittered, then flapped open. Deep brown irises grew more visible as the dilated pupils constricted rapidly. "Owww!" creaked the slowly flushing humanoid as blood once again coursed through veins rapidly, pumped by an ever-stronger beating heart thumping away in his chest.

"We're lucky. He still feels pain, so the cybernetic implants haven't been attached yet!" Ace was liking being the commentator here.

Finally the humanoid spoke consciously. It came without warning, the voice was so clear and enunciated. "Christina, it's about time you rescued me! Get me out of this tube thingy. I feel like Rodan turds." Christina knelt down beside the tube and hugged the half-alive humanoid.

"Jax, nice to have you back, baby." Christina held back the tears for a few seconds. She was tough, but not that much. She didn't stop crying for joy for another two minutes. Taran grabbed Jax's cold hand and clapped his other hand on top. Jax smiled. He was back with friends. Good friends. The other Rangers crowded out Ace and took a gander at Jax. Ace was feeling so good though, he didn't care.

"Told y'all he'd feel like Rodan turds!" he said to no one in particular.