Read em and weep.
“I got me some o them rubber-band-aids, I been using it to keep a bunch o cardpaper on my cuts,” Stullard said.
Vega sat up, his rickety bunk creaking. The Scar. A partially caved-in outpatient “infirmary”, though nobody in Jimmytown would dare call it such a weak name. The walls, formerly aqueous blue, were now dingy. Soot stains snaked up from the floor, in places meeting dark water stains from above. What furniture used to be wood had bubbled and flaked apart somehow into the consistency of paper, and the plastic held smudged afterimages of stains in a yellowish brown. The bunks themselves were rusty hollow tubes cris-crossed with wire springs. Most of them no longer held mattresses. Vega’s own had the pick of the litter, a flat, pinstriped patty that smelled like piss. Pigeons, or some mutant relative of them, roosted in the exposed beams above, cooing contentedly to themselves. The grim reaper had made his rounds recently, signaling their feeding time, and now they were sated with wet red beaks.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Vega croaked, “get that shit off, your arm’s all purple here, god do I have to do everything?”
The surprised Stullard offered his bound, discolored arm for inspection. In theory it was a good idea – apply pressure to the swiss cheese Trey made of his arm. In practice, he had cut off too much circulation. It was a good thing Vega caught him this early, he’d probably just have the worst motherfucking pins and needles ever. He started dragging the numerous rubber bands off the limb, but his head swam and his stomach lurched. Vega sat back, rubbing his temples.
“Fucking doctors and their bullshit.”
Stullard started pulling at rubber half-heartedly with his good hand, turning back to his neighbor on the bunk opposite Vega.
“I guess I’m not gonna use these rubberdingeys any more. You want to try them? They fixed me up good.”
The companion which Vega did not recognize accepted the first band and started wrapping a greasy cloth around the bleeding side of his neck. He then tried to stretch the rubber band over the top of his head. The fatigued rubber soon snapped, causing Vega to wince. Thank goodness for small blessings.
Vega sat back and counted. He wasn’t stupid – he knew the numbers of power. He took comfort in knowing the Order. 64. 32. 16. 8. 4. 2. 1. Now.
“FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKOHFUCK!!! OWWWWWWWWW WHAT FUCK NO FUCK MY ARM OH SHIT IT HURTS FUCK FUCK FUUUUUUUCK!” Right on cue.
Vega leaned left a little, avoiding a lump in his disgusting cot, and smiled. So much learned!
This Midnight was clearly a shady type. She broke out of a formidably secure – old-times secure – prison. Crazy-proof is pretty good proof, Vega thought. That makes her very dangerous, and very dangerous is very valuable. Vega figured that any hired assassin worth her salt would stop to re-evaluate their contract once jingle started flashing. At worst, an assassin could do worse than to cut and run with payment in hand for no work, and there’s a certain attractiveness to dismissing your assassins with something other than bullets and knives. At best, she might not be hired at all, and flashing a bit of jingle might just be the beginning of a valuable business relationship. Vega hadn’t a clue what sneaky shit really needed doing, he just knew he was always safer when sneaky shit was on his side. His strategy was more to keep sneaky types busy and paid, and trust their enlightened self-interest to do the rest. And if she’s not into jingle? Well, we’ll just have to rely on our charm, Vega thought ruefully.
Speaking of charm, the ladyboy had changed. Vega had to tread carefully – there was a new hardness in her, not just a confidence but something grim and martial to her now. She had gone up against a matched set of wanted men, all armed and went right for the leader, all smart and shit. Vega knew he could not afford that wrench to the head. It was weird, it was too perfect. Vega tried to impress on his mind to order closer guard on her, but his head still felt like cotton. He had no idea if it would stick. He idly wondered if the super-weapon was a bluff. He didn’t like trusting her. Building weapons is tricky business – give them what they need to build the weapon and they have what it takes to rip a hole in walls that withstood the Collapse. What the fuck could Vega do? He had to roll the dice. Rigger was potentially, for what he represented, the most valuable person in the entire holding. More than Vega. He envisioned heaps of loose scrap being carted in and neat rows of gleaming metal figures marching out. He didn’t know if it was still his brain being funny, but it looked so real!
It had taken a lot of sacrifice on everyone’s part, but finally Char’s true colors had come out. She was as ruthless, as cunning, as much of a fucking hyena as the dirtiest bastard in Jimmytown. And now she knew it. Something about Nipples hit her hard and sober. He was a disquieting shitstain at the best of times, and at the worst of times he seemed downright insubordinate. Fitting end, really. Killed by a victim. It’s neat. Orderly. Ruthless. The way Vega always plans things. He squeezed down laughter back when he saw Nipples’ gouged eye. Right in the brain – couldn’t’a planned it better. His worst enemy, cleaning things up. Vega would never live this one down, most likely. Her sense of entitlement was gonna be the death of her. Shame, that. Vega would have to find a way to patch her up and get her on better work again. One way or another, though, she would have to take care of her competition. Vega had a dim understanding that he had suffered an infection, probably spread intentionally or unintentionally from Char. That infection had passed to Wallstain and now he was ten times the raging paranoid Vega had ever been. Always was a lanky, bloodless bastard. Vega was surprised bloodborne diseases didn’t just freeze cold in there. But there it was, it came from Char, it must return to Char. Vega demanded accountability from his subjects. Blood that does not circulate spills on the ground and spoils. Binding the good Doc should be sufficient for Char’s protection. Much like Nipples, Vega didn’t have much hope for Wallstain’s survival, but there was something else about Char that Vega was coming around to: Char was not just a doc. She was in a class above all of them, some kind of healing Angel. She had her own sliver of the Plan in her, and she could just set a man’s organs right. Vega had been quite surprised with her ingenuity before, who knew – maybe Wallstein might even pull through. He certainly still had a valuable Question and Answer service Vega would find hard to replace. The whole situation was shaky, it would need careful monitoring.
Vega’s head was clearing. He stood up slowly, slowly and ambled towards the door, light and shadow flickering over him from above. Mercer was leaning on the outside of the cracked, unhinged doorframe.
“Getting Wallstain out of there’s gonna be a bitch,” Mercer mouthed around an unlit Marlboro, “it’d be worth it for the cigs though.”
“Okay slim, you’re on.”
Retrospective COMBO x2!!
Little hands snuck, crept, and squirmed. It was clumsy, but it always would be at first. The important thing is, at “10”, Lively opened his eyes to a prim, well-dressed boy standing next to a battered dress dummy with zero bells on it. His expression said, “I’m bored. Who is this dull Mister Dressington person and when will my parents come back?” After a few seconds his composure broke, and he erupted into a stupid grin, turning his pockets out and causing a clattering rain of bells.
“Very good Virgil!”
“Mealrot! I’m Mealrot, remember?”
“Nice boys have nice names. Don’t you like Virgil?” Lively looked at the boy with shattered, intense eyes. After a while, the boy relented.
“Virgil, yeah. That’s me. Do you think we can go shoot some cans tomorrow?”
“Absolutely, Virgil! Just you and me, if you’ll stay out of the way tonight so I can work.” Lively patted Virgil on the head. Nice boys have nice names. Nice boys have nice names. For a second searing flame gouged at Lively’s eye socket, but was quickly restrained. His childhood had no relation whatsoever to what was happening now.
“I don’t like Grungeballs. Why are you doing stuff for him?” Virgil asked. He had a point. Lievely hated Grungeballs.
“I’m getting close, little one. Close to the reason for… my delicate condition. Besides,” Lively smiled, “you know I’m a sucker for threats and jingle.”
“Liiiiively! You know that angel could’a fixed you. You know that!” – Livvy, formerly Schmutz. Name was her own idea, the sweetling. She was always trying to make him happy.
“Liv, my dearest, we got separated. How ever would I find her now?” Lively chirped back.
“You never lose anything!” Livvy pattered back in melodramatic mock irritation.
“There is that. Yes, er… that’s true.”
Lively ducked abruptly, determinedly fussing at his shoelaces. They were tied but he retied them. A dagger flew over his head.
“Getting closer every time Winston!” Lively called out cheerily, still tying his shoe.
“Whatever, you creepy fuck. I hate you!” the voice called out from outside the window.
Lively rose, stretching out his poorly-clad body and pulling up the waistband of his half-shredded zebra-striped boxers. He shrugged a linen robe with old bleach spots over his shoulders and ensconced himself in the back of the hut. Closing his eyes, he cast his roots out. His skin turned translucent, resembling the wings of a fly with their veins. his torso shrank away into a spindle and his legs split until he floated atop many wriggling flagellae. The many dead avenues of life came re-exemplified in his spirit body. Yesterday a dutch elm, tomorrow some kind of unusually smart mollusk, shrouded in clever mist. Further he stretched out…
and snapped onto an antenna. There was machinery scattered about. What the fuck? Rigger?
Lively came to the sudden, uncomfortable realization that Rigger was touching the Maelstrom. He felt like he was going to puke! He tried to yell, to scream – for a second he thought Rigger could hear him, but he just went to fuss with a machine to shut it off. Okay then, we’d deal with you later. At least you made an anchor for me, but honestly Lively took small comfort in this. If he could snap to this anchor, others could too. He did a little more reaching into the back of the cupboard of Jimmytown. For a second, Lively thought he felt another hand in there. He moved aside reflexively, but he couldn’t find it. Chalk it up to paranoia, he guessed. A very healthy, useful paranoia, he reminded himself.
Finally, he found her. Locked in the cage and starving? This would not do. A man walked down the stairs with an uncomfortably familiar leer on his face. Lively felt cold. He crept around the corners of this man’s brain, stared at it with both fascination and horror. It was a mess! His terrible childhood lead to a worthless shit of a boss, and this Nipples was simultaneously choking the town and being choked by it like some kind of unlucky Ouroboros. What could he do? He looked through Nipples’ eyes, because it was the better, clearer vantage point. But for a second, Char looked directly at HIM. Not at Nipples. Not at Nipples’ eyes. At HIM. And it scared her. He could see it. He wrenched himself free of Jimmytown and took a deep breath, which dissolved into sobs. No, my place is here, Lively thought. I’m happy here.
(softer) I’m happy here.
Three minutes, three days, three weeks. Three minutes, three days, three weeks. Oxygen, water, food. Three minutes, three days, three weeks…
My chances for survival have improved significantly since the arrival of Vega and at least two others. As long as someone is aware that I’m down here, the likelihood of someone – anyone – providing food and water increases.
With “Nipples” dead, the greatest threat (being forcibly polluted) has been neutralized. The second most significant threat is of course death. I have an estimated two weeks before I starve to death, and roughly 36 hours before I die of dehydration. I would therefore say that water is the limiting factor, but my wounds may prove fatal first. That damnable brute, Vega, had my van gutted. Out of the three stock I had left, he took two. Such a waste: if he had let me work on him, I could have done much more with the limited resources. However, I am no longer surprised by his arrogance, stupidity, or cruelty. He left to get another doctor to lock in my cell. For as reprehensible as it was for him to “give me” to Nipples, there was a level of sadistic pleasure in his voice as he spoke of the “Doc.” It’s as if he expects, or even looks forward to this doctor doing something terrible to me. I’m not a fighter like Trey. These hands are only proficient at the most delicate procedures and surgeries; not combat. It took everything I had to dispatch Nipples: whatever charge was left in my weapon, every ounce of concentration to appear cool and collected, and all of my strength. I am functioning under conditions of severe pain, muscle loss due to starvation, lowered blood volume due to dehydration, and have sustained life-threatening injuries. How could I possibly defend myself from this doctor, let alone heal him under these conditions? At least as long as I’ve been locked in this cage, there were bars between me and the heathens. Of course Vega wants to put a degenerate predator in here with me. Where’s the sport in having bars separating the weak, injured, starving angel and her assailant? It would be so much more difficult for Vega to get his jollies watching my brutalization and death if I could move beyond reach, into the corner of the cage. Of course lock the doctor in with me!
The last time I was able to pull my weight up was when I was talking to Vega. I haven’t stood on my feet since: my knees give out. I imagine my continued weakening is due to untreated blood loss. This basement floor feels colder that it used to. Trey… I imagine Vega had him killed. Likely Rigger to… or worse. There is always worse. Losing one’s potential – one’s genetic purity and depth of acquired knowledge – is far worse than ceasing to exist. I hope their deaths were swift, and not that they too were caged and left to starve to death. The hocus, and Lively… Wherever they are, they met with fortune by not coming to this god-forsaken holding. (Although I have to wonder why places like this are never ravaged by the equally aberrant brainers.) I imagine my van is useless. I’m nothing without my mobile lab and surgical unit. Fuck Vega. He loses. Whether his goal was to make me fear him to or kill me, he’s failed at both… Why is this floor so cold?
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