Under the Rain Shadow
Perturbed by the lack of any rainfall for months in the Central Grasslands, one conspiracy theorist stormchaser bunny starts to seek the truth for himself.
Hey, sorry for not posting in like two months! I promise not to do that again. We're getting to the good part now. The next chapter is gonna whack you in the head.
Not this chapter, though. This chapter's gonna make you want to look at pictures of the desert.
Gonzo and Calhoun hung around at the ranch through the mid-afternoon. By now, the blistering heat of the day had chilled to a tolerable warm front, the kind that'd get you good and itchy under your fur in the sun, but comfy in the shade. The blue sky had started to deepen. The sun would soon set.
Calhoun had a few working and semi-working cars lined up in nice rows in one corner of the ranch's slaughterhouse backyard. Like his music, Calhoun was specific about his cars. "There was a solid eight years where cool cars were mainstream," he explained, leading Gonzo towards the red hatchback on the end. "By the 70's, they got dumpy. I don't find a lot of the good ones, but they're the ones I hold onto. These are the ones I sell off."
Not that Gonzo could quite tell what was "cool" or "dumpy"—his van certainly wasn't the peak of style, and the hatchback was, if nothing else, contemporary. "Uh, yeah, man. So about finding the cars..."
"Sometimes people wanna get rid of junkers, and they call me. Sometimes, I just find them out in the desert. Usually they don't have people inside them."
"Usually?" Gonzo's eyes shot open.
Calhoun gave off another smoky chuckle. "You spook way too easy for this. You sure you can handle going in that base?"
"O-of course I can!" Gonzo said, putting on an air of defiance. "We get in, we take a look at their stuff, and we get out, yeah?"
"Something like that." Calhoun took another gulp of dry air, looking into the sky as if he was reading it. "Should get going soon, in fact."
But as Gonzo had turned towards his van, the coyote stopped him. "In my car. They'd hear that rickety thing down the street."
Even with the windows down, things never cooled beyond comfortable, thankfully. Gonzo was well aware of how bitter and icy the desert could get overnight, especially as the winds picked up later in the drive. He kept extra blankets in the van handy for just that, the rare, unfortunate occasions he'd be stuck in the desert during a long drive without rest areas or motels for miles. Tonight was different. Tonight was cool enough to keep a thickly-furred bunny from sweating, but warm enough to keep him comfortable in his shirt and shorts.
Aside from the occasional rocky hill and plenty of smaller boulders, there wasn't much in the way of scenery either. Gonzo was more used to leafy green trees and hills blocking the view very far, but out in the dunes and sentinels, almost nothing obstructed the clouds, light and dark, feathered over the unnaturally vivid sea blues and warm oranges of the twilight that stretched for miles all around them. The stars would be out soon.
Calhoun sighed as he stared out into the distance on the road. "We should've walked."
"What? It's an hour walk, man."
"I'm gonna have to go off-road for this. I don't think I can drive well over the dunes."
Calhoun continued after a pause. "...And we still have to walk. I'm not parking at the base. Give them my VIN and my license plate number while you're at it."
Indeed, just outside of Remington, Calhoun pulled off of the road, forging a careful path through desert debris and parking at the bottom of a dune where no one at the base would see, let alone identify, the car.
The engine stopped. Gonzo felt his heart stop with it. He debated to himself just what the dangers would be going through with it. Maybe not death—that's a little extreme, certainly—but federal trespassing charges? Interrogation? Prison? What did Calhoun see as a danger? Anything? Was he serious about the guards being on a perpetual smoke break?
Calhoun's door opened, and he stepped out.
Gonzo followed suit, shivering.
Stepping around the car to Calhoun's side, Gonzo watched closely for a single second thought to flash across his face or in his posture—but instead, straight-faced, the coyote moved to explain the second phase of his plan. "They built this base on sand, practically, which is good. The wind will get rid of our footprints."
"And—then they can't identify us?"
"Yeah. Well. Aside from the scanner. I'll wipe the access logs before we leave."
Calhoun squinted, craning his neck over the dune and looking into the distance towards the concrete structure. "We're good, this is good. No one out."
There was no way around it. Seeing that fort in the distance sent Gonzo's mind racing and his chest heaving. His joints stiffened, his body begging him not to haul off so blindly into obvious danger—and yet, he did anyway. At least Calhoun's eyesight wasn't failing them; there were no rooftop riflemen out on patrol like there were when he first rolled into town earlier that day.
They came up to a back entrance. Two heavy, sealed metal doors like any other doors with a chunky retinal scanner mounted to the wall to their right. Calhoun leaned into the scanner's eyepiece, like a pair of binoculars for looking into the wall itself, and in seconds, the doors unlocked with a mechanical thud.
"After you. Stay quiet."
And so, with one last gasp of the outside air, Gonzo stepped in, as his higher brain whimpered and pleaded pathetically in his ears, resigned to its fate.