"If Babylon is a dark dream from another age, it's also very much our own.'"
"Dark, edgy and inflected with just the right degree of lyricism."
"... an examination of the human spirit, a darkened mirror that reflects the true nature of the struggle, not only for survival, but for civilization.
Nosing With The Four-Stroke Kid
by K C Ball
When she pulled her helmet off, she looked like Uma Thurman on a bad-hair day. All platinum spikes and black roots and wicked-sharp elbows.
The Kid didn't mind. He figured the hair for honest and he could take a jab to the ribs with the best of them. It wouldn't come to that, though. The woman and her wheels were a matched set, covered in matte black and bristling with chrome spikes, but the Kid had no interest in the rider. He was a self-proclaimed expert in all things dirt bike, but he couldn't name the one she straddled. That itched at him worse than a bad case of helmet rash.
"That's a Honda CFR450, right?" he said. When he was nosing, the Kid always took the straight approach because it almost always worked.
"No." She didn't look at him.
"Well, sure, it's a custom job," he said. "But it's built on a CFR chassis, right?"
"No." She still didn't look.
The Kid didn't mind being ignored; he was used to it. He knew he wasn't easy on the eyes and so he never looked at himself, either. Not too often, anyway. But he couldn't stand not knowing what she rode.
"Hey," he said, lifting his hands for her to see, palms out and fingers up. "All I'm interested in is the bike."
He ignored her; took a step closer and caught the whiff.
"Is that one of those Hayes diesel bikes?" he asked. She looked at him now. Her eyes had a curious amber cast.
"Aren't we a smart little Nubbie," she said.
"It's running bio-fuel, too, isn't it?"
"How do you know?"
"Smells like French fries," he said. He took another sniff. "Something else mixed in there, though. What is that?"
He rubbed at his nose with his gloved thumb.
"Damn me," he said. "I know that smell."
She leaned close and the hot-white glare of her smile prickled his skin.
"What do you say, Nubbie? Want to check out my engine?"
The Kid took a single quick step forward, hoping she wouldn't notice his arousal.
"Does a monkey play with himself?" he said. She pulled away.
"You can't look at it here," she said.
Something in her voice snagged his attention. He drew a breath and stepped back; studying her. She raised one eyebrow.
"What's the matter?" she asked. "Lose your nerve?"
"No," he replied. "But I don't figure to follow you somewhere and get mugged by your Neanderthal boyfriend."
"No one is waiting anywhere," she said. She traced her fingertip in an X across her leathers, over her heart. "And I promise I won't touch you."
"It doesn't matter to me, Nubbie," she said. She turned the bars of the bike, ready to roll away.
"No!" the Kid said. "How about over there?" He pointed to the tree line.
"All right," she said. "Do you have a bike?"
"Duh," he said.
He hooked one thumb over his shoulder. Her upper lip curled, exposing just a touch of incisor. It was either a smile or a sneer; it didn't matter to the Kid. She was going to let him touch her bike.
"All right, Nubbie," she said. "Follow me."
She was good. By the time the Kid managed to kick-start his Kawasaki she was across the course, rolling in among the trees. He scrambled to follow her, cursing his own clumsiness.
"Where the hell did she learn to ride like that?" he said, muttering to himself.
When he caught up, almost a mile into the woods, she was waiting, backed three strides away from her bike. He shut down his engine and sat, watching her. The spent fumes from the diesel hung in the air, sweet and heavy, messing with his nose.
"Well?" she said. She waved a hand toward her bike.
The Kid heeled his kickstand into the dirt and slid from the saddle. He eased over to the diesel, dropped to one knee and reached toward the engine. Before he could touch it, one of the spikes on the top frame arrowed toward him, dragging along a hair-fine wire, and pierced his cheek.
"What the " It was all the Kid could manage. He toppled to his side, lost inside himself. He could see and hear, his heart beat and his lungs drew air, but everything else seemed to have red-lined and seized up.
There was a soft, mechanical whir. An amber light, beamed from somewhere on the bike, inched up and back down his body. A machine voice whispered dry words, all the while.
"Body mass one hundred and forty-eight pounds; seventeen percent fat. Brain mass two point seven pounds; sixty-two percent fat. Cortical function nominal. Fuel potential two point three gallons. Transesterification beginning."
The amber light became a strobe and three more spikes shot from the bike, sinking into the Kid's body at the eye, abdomen and thigh. He screamed, as loud as his constricted throat would allow. Tissue puckered around the probes and he felt as if he was being emptied.
The woman watched, unperturbed, humming an old Stones song. The Kid looked to her with his one good eye, tried to call to her, to plead for help. All he managed was a whimper and she shrugged it away, blinking in time with the bike's slow strobe.
"Sorry, Nubbie," she said, lifting her hands for him to see, palms out and fingers up. "I'm just the rider