It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it – Robert E. Lee.
We have met the enemy and he is us. – Pogo.
The sky was a sickly orange, and the sun was as red as an open wound. For months, there had been so much smoke and ash in the air that blue skies were a faded memory. A cold breeze nipped at us as we crested the hill above the drowned town. The combat drone was on point. Nicknamed the Bug, the drone was eight feet long and resembled a mutant mosquito. It flew twenty feet ahead, weapon systems hot as its AI scanned for threats. We were hunting one of our bioengineered weapons that had gone feral. Our orders were to find it and retire it.
The remnants of the town lay spread out below us. A wall once held the rising sea level at bay, but one of the periodic hurricanes had battered and breached it. Afterward, the ocean had claimed everything left, and waves now lapped at the buildings. In the old downtown, sea birds swirled in the sky above the white caps as if they were scraps of paper swept up by the breeze. Nearly all inhabitants had been moved to resettlement camps, but there were a few holdouts. Several of the larger buildings had boats moored to balconies or window ledges. I gave the order for the team to halt. Sergeant Ramos followed me over to Addison, our Tech Specialist.
“Whaddya got, Addison?” I asked. He was 20, thin, and equal parts earnest and goofy. New implants dotted both temples. The skin around them was raw and still healing.
“It’s down there, Lieutenant. Getting a ping from that grocery store on the edge of town.”
“Should be like shooting fish in a barrel, Loot,” Ramos said. “We’ll leave the Bug waiting outside just in case it tries to get away.”
“Yeah, ‘cept this fish has fangs and claws. Send in one of the Eyes to scope things out, Addison.”
“On it, Lieutenant.” He put on a headset, dug around in his rucksack, and pulled out one of the mini-cam drones. He flipped the headset visor down. The drone flew off, and Addison started a commentary as the feed came in. “And away we go…area leading up to the store looks clear, Lieutenant…no sign of insurgents…got a few teenagers stripping copper wire from a house two klicks south of our position, but they look harmless…coming up on the store…I’m in…damn, the storm surge fucked this place up…trash…rusted car on aisle five…Oh, Shit!”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Sorry. Just roaches. Lots and lots of roaches. Hate the little fuckers. Make my skin crawl.” I glanced at Ramos, and he rolled his eyes. “More trash…another rusty ass car. This one ended upside down in the produce section.”
“Stay focused, Corporal!” Ramos snapped.
‘Sorry, Sarge…going into the back storage area…there’s a room on the southeast side…getting a ping from inside it…yep, matches the chip signature…that’s where our beastie is chillin’, Lieutenant.”
“Leave the Eye there. Anything moves that’s bigger than one of your roaches, I want to know about it. Let’s end this.”
Periodically, the world seemed compelled to remind us of our insignificance. The last mega-storm that churned through here was one of those reminders. The road leading down the hillside had been bulldozed clear, but evidence of the storm’s destruction was piled up on either side. Most of the houses had missing roofs, and many of them were partially collapsed. Trees were uprooted, and utility poles snapped in half. One home had a car halfway through the front window and the remains of a boat on its roof. Mother Nature had been in one of her moods.
Five lanky teenagers were scavenging copper wiring from a house on the right. They paused as we passed. Their looks were hard, and the resentment was palpable. The epithets started when we were far away and almost out of earshot. As wars go, the Second Civil War was bloody but quick. It was Reunification that was a bitch. Yesterday, we walked down a street the locals had nicknamed “Traitor’s Row.” Insurgents had hung bodies of suspected collaborators and undesirables from the streetlamps. Precisely who was undesirable varied depending on which militia group was involved.
We picked our way past flipped-over cars, fallen trees, and rotting lumber in the store’s parking lot. The Bug was left to patrol the perimeter. Glassless, the windows along the front gaped like toothless mouths. The interior was dim, but sections of the roof were missing in places, and sunlight cascaded down through the openings and made oases of light here and there. There was a coating of dried mud on everything and a heavy odor of mildew and rot in the air. Roaches crawled among the ruined foodstuff—lots of roaches. I would never confess this to Addison, but they made my skin crawl too. As we carefully stepped over the trash and storm debris that cluttered the aisles, the sound-dampening field shivered and shimmered around us.
Most of the roof in the back was gone, and it was brighter. Framed by the remaining rafters, the crimson sun hung over us like a drop of blood poised to fall. As the rest of us took up our positions, Nguyen, Burke, and Lopez approached the room where the weapon’s tracking signal came from. The walls of the room were concrete. Burke and Lopez stood on either side of the door as Nguyen tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. Nguyen slowly opened it half an inch. He kicked the door open at my signal, threw in a grenade, and dived to the left. After the grenade detonated, Burke and Lopez stepped through the doorway and opened up on full auto. The firing stopped, and things were quiet. Too quiet.
“Burke. Lopez. Report,” I called out.
“Got him, Lieutenant,” Lopez answered with a barely suppressed giggle. He came out of the room holding a dead rat by its tail. “He put up a fight but wasn’t a match for us.”
“Corporal, please explain what I’m seeing,” Ramos asked Addison, his voice tight with anger.
“Dude, your nickname’s gonna be Mickey from now on,” Lopez giggled.
“Mickey’s a mouse, dumbass,” Addison snapped.
“Corporal!” Ramos said in the tone that froze enlisted personnel in their tracks. “I asked you to explain what I’m seeing. If this is what we’ve been tracking, you’re wearing it as a necktie for the next week.”
“Sarge, swear to God I was getting a signal from the recom’s chip.”
I looked up then. Not all the roof was gone; there were still places in the ceiling drenched in darkness. Something large and fast left one of those shadowy places. It ran along the ceiling beam on all fours. I had enough time to shout a warning before it leaped down among us. The recombinant was still wearing its combat armor. It rose on its hind legs, seven feet of corded muscle and striped fur, and roared. Everyone had bunched up around Lopez and his rat, and we were like stalks of wheat waiting for the sweep of a sharpened scythe.
Nguyen was thrown into me, and I was knocked back into a partially collapsed pallet of water-sodden cases. The remaining cases fell on top of me. As I struggled to get out from under them, shots, profanity, and cries of pain were the soundtrack to the struggle around me. The recom stood before me as I got to my knees. My rifle was torn out of my hands. I lunged upwards, grabbed it around the throat, and slammed it back to the ground. Like me, its right eye was an implant, but the left was yellow with a vertical pupil. I saw surprise and fear as I knelt on its chest and reached for my sidearm. It clawed at the Syntha-Flesh on my arm and exposed the hardened steel underneath it.
“Time to die.” I unholstered my weapon
One of the big cats had been used as its base. The recom’s ears pulled back, and it snarled. Twisting and squirming, it brought its hindlegs under me and kicked me off. As I landed on my back, my gun skittered several feet away. The recom loomed above me like the sum of all that was wild and fierce, burning brightly in the light pouring down. Then, dropping to all fours, it ran towards the exit. I grabbed my gun and fired two quick shots. The recom staggered for a few steps, but the armor was protection against everything other than high-caliber rounds. The best I could do with the pistol was give it a bruise. In a few moments, a loud whine and gunfire signaled that the Bug had engaged. Ramos was lying nearby. His right arm was at an unnatural angle, but he was conscious.
“You good?” I helped him up.
“Check on the team. I’m going after it.” I found my rifle and ran to the sound of high-velocity rounds.
The Bug was crumpled and broken two blocks away. There was enough blood around it to show the recom had been wounded. After two more blocks, the blood trail ended. It would wait before finding a place to rest and nurse its wounds, but I searched the nearby buildings anyway. They were empty. When I returned, Ramos had the team gathered on the road near the store. I did a quick head count. There were no casualty bags, and everyone was accounted for.
“Well, that was a clusterfuck,” Ramos said as I walked up. His right arm was in a sling. “The Bug get it?”
“No. The Bug’s two blocks over, looking like someone took a flyswatter to it. We underestimated it, Pablo.”
“Yeah. Lopez’s rat? The recom’s tracking chip was tied to its tail. It set the trap, and we fucking walked right into it”.
“How banged up is everyone?”
“Pretty banged up. Nguyen’s the worst with a possible skull fracture, but he’ll live. We’ve got concussions and an assortment of broken bones for everyone else. Nobody’s in fighting shape.”
“Have Macy call for Evac. First, though, give me your spare magazines.”
“What are you planning, Lieutenant?” Ramos asked as he slowly complied.
“I’m using a tracker to hunt the recom down. When I find it, I’m going to fucking kill it.” I held out my hand for the mags. Ramos wasn’t happy, but he wouldn’t argue in front of the men.
I checked with each man to see how they were doing and gathered more mags. Ramos gave me his disapproving look. I returned to the downed bug and knelt over it, taking samples of the recoms blood to feed into the tracker. It would follow the recom’s pheromones and DNA, but the clock was ticking. If enough time passed, the tracker would be useless. Ramos walked up and knelt next to me. He was short and stocky, with a basilisk gaze that no enlisted personnel wanted to be on the receiving end of.
“The Dustoff ‘s inbound, Loot. ETA is 20 minutes.”
“You know I gotta try to talk you out of this, Jackson.”
“Yeah, I know. You’ll tell me that in the kingdom of bad ideas, this one wears the crown. That going after the recom alone is reckless and doing it in an area with so much insurgent activity is stupid.”
“I make a good argument, don’t I? But I’m guessing you’re doing it anyway.”
“They made a monster, Pablo, and my job was to put it down. I fucked up, and it’s out there wounded and pissed. And it’s chipless now. What’s the next team gonna do? Wait ‘til it goes on another killing spree and follow the bodies?”
“Something’s been bothering me, Loot. Why am I still breathing? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy as fuck I am, but this thing supposedly slaughtered half its platoon. Why go easy on us? It was like it went out of its way not to kill.”
“Does it matter? Sure, it’s smart as a person. Hell, it’s probably smarter than some, but it’s still an animal. A week ago, it went berserk, and eight soldiers died. Why hold back on us? I don’t know. Maybe we just didn’t trigger it in the same way.”
“Still don’t like it, Lieutenant, but happy hunting. When you get back, first round of beers is on me.”
We shook hands, and he went back to wait for the chopper. I finished getting the tracker ready. It was elongated, matte black, and the size of a small bird. The searching icon strobed in the corner of my vision as the implant attempted to connect. A satellite map of the area suddenly appeared, and the tracker’s position was marked with a flashing red dot. I sent it flying off and minimized the map. The Evac chopper passed overhead. Four Guardian drones flew in a protective formation around it. I shaded my eyes and watched as it made a sharp turn and came back around. It dipped to the right as it raced by, and I raised my arm in acknowledgment. There was one last thing to do. I removed my earpiece, dropped it on the ground, and tugged at the communication barnacle above my ear. After several tries, it came off. I dropped it on the earpiece and ground them both under my heel. Now I couldn’t be ordered to disengage.
The recom’s trail led inland and through the surrounding hills. Though the storm surge hadn’t reached this far, the houses and businesses along the roadside still looked like dollhouses a raging toddler had kicked apart. As I walked, the setting sun stretched my shadow until I was following in the footsteps of a giant. The breeze had picked up, and the branches of the trees shivered and swayed. Their rustlings were like whispers in a language I couldn’t understand.
I smelled the battlefield before I saw it. Along a quarter mile of the road were the remnants of a column that had been ambushed. There were several downed Bugs and burned-out troop carriers. A tank still smoldered, a blackened corpse dangling halfway out its turret. Nearby, a pack of skinny stray dogs worried at a corpse. I threw several rocks to drive them off. The corpse had been Special Forces, augmented and enhanced until he was more tech than flesh. Based on the augmentation, he had been a Marauder. Enhanced troops were intimidating, but the Marauder class was a special type of scary. A few years ago, they started using brain-wiped lifers and death row inmates for the Marauder chassis. Sometimes, there was enough residual personality left to make them…unpredictable.
I exceeded a Marauder in augmentation, but no one had hauled me out of a prison cell. We were in a Stryker returning from patrol when the IED went off under us. Laughing at something Wilson said, I turned around to give him crap. Then my world was engulfed in light and noise. And pain. I remember someone grabbing my chest plate and dragging me away from the wreckage. I could faintly hear screams. The screams were mine. The bits and pieces that were left were augmented and enhanced. It was all state of the art, but obsolescence loomed in the rearview mirror. The recombinants were the next generation of badassery on the battlefield, bio-engineered and designed to replace us.
The recom had turned back towards the coast, and the roads became clotted with felled trees and storm debris. Continuing its descent, the sun eventually melted into a crimson puddle as it touched the horizon’s edge. With no streetlights to hold it at bay, darkness flowed over the world like a Stygian tide. There was a small antique store at the base of the next hill. I built a campfire in the parking lot and arranged my pancho and liner on the ground next to it. The store’s roof was gone, and the front wall had collapsed. I sat partially inside and waited. It seemed the hunter might have become the hunted about two hours before. At least, that was when I noticed two insurgent-aged men following me, staying a mile or so back. They were armed, but that didn’t mean anything. Folks around here came out of the womb packing. While waiting, I ate two protein bars and washed them down with tepid water from my canteen.
The stars were hidden, and a sliver of moon hung overhead, scabrous and orange like a piece of rotten fruit. After an hour, I heard furtive sounds from the hillside behind the store. It was faint at first, the snap of a stick, a small cascade of loose dirt and stones, but it was there. I moved deeper into the store. The sounds grew louder. Finally, a lone figure came around from the right. It was a man, short and bearded, carrying a pistol. He stood over the pancho and liner arranged to look like I was snuggled under them, deep in dreamland. The campfire hissed and popped, its flames dancing with the breeze with reckless abandon.
“Don’t turn ‘round. Put the gun on the ground and step away from it…Do it slowly.” I stepped partway out of the store, rifle raised and two stingers hovering over my right shoulder. I used the targeting reticule in my implant to lock them on him.
‘Hey, I don’t want any trouble.” He put the gun down and stepped back from it.
“Got a funny way of showing that. Where’s your friend?”
“What friend? I’m alone, man.”
“Sure you are. So, what? Late night creeping a kink of yours or something?”
“Look, I’ll fess up. I was planning to boost your rucksack, but that’s it. I’m just hungry, man. Figured you’d have some MREs in there.”
“Tell you what, take off your shirt, and then we’ll talk about the MREs.”
“You know why. No militia tats, and we’ll keep having a friendly conversation.”
A board creaked behind me. I ducked to the right and partly turned around. A heavyset man with a shotgun was behind me in the store. When he raised his gun, I fired a burst into his chest. The stingers hit my campfire buddy as he stooped to pick up his weapon. He fell to the ground, convulsed a few times, and lay still.
I went to the body by the fire and slit open his shirt sleeves. His arms were covered with tattoos. Prominent were a cross and a wolf’s head. I recognized the design: the White Wolves, one of the more violent extremist groups. There was a rifle shot, and something hit my right side like a sledgehammer. I fell to the ground and crawled behind one of the concrete planters lining the parking lot as more shots rang out. My side was wet and sticky. One of the shots showered me with bits of concrete from a spot near my head, and I tried to burrow into the ground. When the shooting stopped, I checked the wound. The bullet had gone all the way through. Rolling over, I squeezed in bonding gel to stop the bleeding and put on a field dressing.
“Still alive, soldier-boy?” A voice called out from the darkness.
“I’m a little hard to kill.” I tried to gauge where the voice was coming from.
“Good, I like me a challenge.”
My rifle and rucksack were eight feet away. It was another ten feet to the store. I crawled to the end of the planter box. A flurry of shots drove me back to the ground when I rose to a crouch to start my dash for them.
“You’re not one of the bright ones, Greenie. Stick that head up again, and I’m liable to take it clean off your neck.”
“I’m at least brighter than your two dead friends.”
“Gonna keep you alive for a while, Greenie.” His voice was closer and more to the left this time. “Got me some other friends comin’ to the party. When we’re done, we’re gonna string you up outside that big base up north.”
“Anybody ever say you talk too fucking much?”
“From time to time. Don’t you worry none; if it bothers you, your ears will be the first thing I cut off.”
The roads were blocked enough that whoever was coming was pounding it out on foot, so there was some time. I had two grenades and my sidearm. The pistol was more affectation than not, but it would have to do. He taunted me a few more times. After about an hour, there was a shout of surprise and a scream of pain from the hillside. I was partial to keeping my ears attached to my head, so I waited. After twenty minutes, the only sounds were the occasional faint moan. Finally, I crouched at the end of the planter, counted to three, and made my run. I grabbed my rifle and rucksack and made it to the relative safety of the store. There were four more stingers in my rucksack, and I activated them. The stingers were six-inch darts that could either kill or tranquilize. With the stingers accompanying me, I followed the moans.
He was lying propped against a fallen tree thirty yards up the hill. A small, balding man with a goatee and a paunch. Both wrists and his right leg looked broken. His rifle was nearby, its stock shattered, and the barrel bent. As a hint, in case I was too stupid to figure it out, the tracker was beside him. It had been smashed into several pieces. I stared into the darkness, knowing it was out there staring back.
“Looks like you had a friend at the party too, Greenie.” His voice was raw with pain.
“Not quite a friend.” I looked down. If I left him, he’d be back planting IEDs and hanging “undesirables” from lampposts in three months. There was a third option.
“Fucking do it if you’re gonna do it.” He said.
I thought about the IED that took my limbs and Traitor’s Row with the half-mile of bodies hanging from lampposts. It wouldn’t be an execution; it would be pest control. No worse than stepping on one of Addison’s roaches. Trying to think about anything except he was unarmed and injured, I raised the rifle and pulled the trigger. And fired into the ground beside him.
“Knew you didn’t have the balls. I woulda done it” He tried to spit in my direction but grimaced in pain.
“The day I act like you is the day I put a gun barrel in my mouth.”
“That’s why you pussies are gonna lose. Don’t have the guts to do what’s gotta be done.”
“You talk way too fucking much.” As I walked away, I changed the setting on the stingers to non-lethal and let them shut him up. Night had painted the hillside with darkness and shadows. Its brushstrokes had been heavy. I switched to night vision and then thermal. Near the top of the hill, something dropped out of the trees. It was the recom, and it settled on its haunches and stared.
“Disappointed? Hoping for a show?” I shouted. “What kind of game are you playing?”
It turned and jogged up to the road along the hilltop. I followed. We walked this way through the night. The recom staying a distance ahead but making no effort to lose me. My wound started to bleed again. When I stopped to squeeze on more gel and change the dressing, the recom stopped and waited. Eventually, dawn broke. The horizon burned as if it were a forge of Heaven, and the rising sun glowed like metal being tempered in its fire. The drowned town was below us. We had come full circle.
There was a forlorn and battered church in the distance. The tide was out, but the waves rolled through the parking lot and almost kissed the base of the building. During high tide, it was probably an island. That was our goal. When the recom reached the church, it glanced back and entered. I followed. The interior of the church smelled of brine and rotting wood. The nave was still partially flooded from the last high tide, and I splashed through the muck that filled the aisle. Most of the roof was gone, and the rising sun’s rays poured like honey over the raised chancel and its inhabitants. On the back wall, Christ hung from his cross; the recom and a young boy were at his feet.
“Let him go. He’s got nothing to do with this.” I stopped at the steps of the chancel. It was raised enough that it would remain dry even at high tide—a pile of blankets and empty MRE containers were in the corner of it.
“He’s not a hostage. He’s a witness.” The recom’s voice was higher than I expected and had a trill.
“A witness? To what?”
“A massacre.” Its front paws had been altered until they were hand-like, with an opposable thumb and extended toes that were close to fingers in size. It pointed to the steps. There was a data transfer module sitting on the second step.
I slowly squatted down, my eyes and rifle never leaving the recom, and picked up the module. Moving back several yards, I inserted it. The module contained a video file that played back through my implant without sound. It was mission footage, and the filming started as a Special Forces platoon entered one of the resettlement camps. There were a few Norms, but the troops were mainly enhanced. The recom was there also. The video was filmed through its implant. It looked like an early morning raid. I fast-forwarded through the rousting of the inhabitants and the searching of their tents. At around the forty-minute mark, there was a verbal confrontation between several of the enhanced troops and a group of camp dwellers. A man of around seventy was up in the face of one of the Marauders. The soldier drove his rifle butt into the man’s stomach and clubbed him to the ground. He hesitated briefly and then shot the man in the face. The other enhanced troops began firing indiscriminately into the crowd. I paused the video.
“What’s this? What am I watching?” I was shaken, and my voice was unsteady.
“A raid on a resettlement camp a week ago. There was intel that insurgents were operating out of it. We’d lost six men to roadside bombs, and the mood was ugly when we entered the camp. They wanted payback. The intel was wrong. There was nothing there, but they just started killing. Women…children…everyone…”
“And the boy?”
“He was kneeling over his mother’s body when one of the Marauders came up to finish him off….”
“You stopped him?” I moved closer.
“I ripped his throat out.”
The rest of the video was dizzying and chaotic as the massacre continued and recom tore through the troops. It used the shoulder-mounted guns on its weapon harness and teeth and claws. I ended the playback when I’d watched as much as I needed or wanted to. The recom pulled the child closer and backed up against the wall as I mounted the steps of the chancel. It tensed and crouched, prepared to pounce if needed.
“Where you hurt?” I slowly laid down my rifle and put my sidearm next to it.
“Yeah, that’s where all the cool kids are getting shot these days.” I pulled out my last med pack. “Let’s see it.”
The recom hesitated briefly and then took off some of its armor. The bullet had gone completely through, but the wound looked ugly and infected. I doused it with an anti-bacterial, then used the gel and applied the field dressing. I had enough left to treat the spot on its shoulder where the chip had been cut out. The recom was furred and striped. Its face was anthropomorphized to an extent, and it was smaller and leaner than a tiger. When I finished with the wound, I knelt until I was at the child’s level. He was slight, blond, and five or six years old.
“My name’s Jackson. What’s yours?” I asked the boy. He hugged the recom tighter, his face turned away from me and buried in its fur. There was no doubt which one of us he thought was the monster.
“His name is Sean,” the recom said when the child wouldn’t answer.
“I’ll activate a retrieval beacon. Sean can return with me, but you’ll need to give me a day or so to get your kill order rescinded. You can come in after that.”
“I won’t go back.”
“Look, you know they won’t let you stay feral. They’ll just send another team after you.”
“If they do, I’ll deal with it. I won’t be a weapon for them anymore. That’s all I’ll be if I go back.”
“Christ, you’re almost as stubborn as I am. Let’s get out of here so I can activate the beacon.”
The recom followed me; Sean rode on its back as we walked to the remnants of a strip mall a block away. I set the beacon up in a part of the parking lot that was cleared enough for the chopper to land. While I did this, the recom and the boy had an intense conversation. I guessed it was trying to convince him to return with me. After the beacon was activated, I joined them.
“You’re, what, five, Sean?” I asked, again kneeling to be less threatening. He didn’t turn away this time.
“6 1/2.” It took a head nudge from the recom, but he answered.
“I have a daughter a little older than you. She used to emphasize the half too. Would you like to see her picture?”
When he nodded yes, I pulled out the picture of Amy I always carried. In it, she was six or seven and must have been at a tea party because she wore a dress, fake pearls, and a big, floppy hat. She was sitting on some steps, her hands clasped in her lap, and the photographer had caught her in mid-laugh, with her head thrown back and her eyes filled with joy.
“She’s pretty,” Sean said.
“Yeah, she is. Do you know what she likes the best?”
“Chocolate.” I dug in my rucksack and found one of the chocolate bars I always carried. “I bet that’s something you like too.”
The recom nodded, and he shyly took the candy from my hand. He leaned back into the recom as he unwrapped it. The recom lowered its head and rubbed it against his cheek several times.
“Yesterday’s walkabout was just to lead me away from him, wasn’t it?” I asked the recom.
“Look, I’m going to ask you one last time to come in. You gotta tell them what happened. That platoon needs to pay for what it did.”
“They’ll have the boy and the file. They won’t need me.”
“Run, and they’ll hunt you down. Where do you think you can go and be safe?”
“South. Maybe Central America. I saw a picture book about the Amazon once; I might try to make it as far as there.”
“Not sure how old that book was, but there’s not much of that rainforest left. There’s also hot spots between here and the border. Hell, most of Southern Texas practically glows in the dark.”
“Still going to try.”
I argued with it for a while and finally gave up. It removed the rest of the combat armor, and Sean and I said our goodbyes. The sky was filled with clouds, and the morning was dappled with their shadows. She jogged at first and then began to run, her limbs thrusting against the dew-kissed ground and reaching, reaching toward the distant horizon and whatever lay beyond.
This story first appeared in Teleport Magazine, Sept. 2023.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Writing in the third person always makes the author feel like he's writing his obituary, but here goes: a lover of alt-rock, Akira Kurosawa movies, and craft beer, the author lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids. His beautiful wife definitely could do better, but, luckily for him, she hasn't caught on to that fact yet. Rage Against the Machine, the Black Keys, and the Warlocks are in heavy rotation on Spotify for writing inspiration.