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Started by LMNO, March 23, 2005, 01:17:10 PM

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Chapter 16:  More Exposition!  Can you Handle It?!

"So, how exactly do you know all these people, and why are they scattered all over creation?"  Erin was looking out the window of an econobox hydro-cell car... well, "car" is pushing it, but I guess since it had four wheels and a motor, it barely qualified.  Just like Stain to give me some suburban overweight mother's mall-hopper, I thought Ah well, at least it'll be inconspicuous... Hardly, with the Mountain to deal with.

"Well, darling, It all goes back to the creation of the Open Bar."

"For you, it always does, doesn't it?"

"Let me finish.  That project was both the nucleus of our little organization, and the last time all of us saw each other in a single group.  We realized that we had done something unbelievable, and that we would be the focus of intense Official scrutiny.  Being rampant Individualists, we all had our own ideas about how to avoid being noticed.  But it was both the gnome and Stain who came up with the idea of using Sticking Apart as a battle strategy."

"The gnome."


"Wait... you mean like midget?"

"I have no idea.  No one ever really saw him.  It's kind of hard to explain, but he was really good about keeping hidden, and disguising his voice.  No one is ever sure where or who he is.  But he's a good friend of that pookah we me at the café, fluffy."

Erin groaned.  "Please, no more of that.  I don't think I could take it."

"Don't worry; the esoteric portion of this is over.  Pretty much.  I think.  Well, maybe I shouldn't promise that just yet.  But I will promise that if we do get into any heavy occultism, I'll couch it in a hell of a lot of quantum physics theory."

"Charming.  So, you were saying..."

"Right.  The Sticking Apart idea came from an old, old book that the so-called Discordians—"

"--Who you claim to be part of--"

"—Right.  There was a passage in there, a joke, really, that instead of the people in their religion sticking together--"

"—They should stick apart.  Ha, ha.  Very funny.  You all go in for some pretty stupid humor, you know that?"

"You should have seen us before the Big Takeover of 2011.  No one took anything seriously.  We all thought that not really caring about society and the world was cool, and we would make stupid jokes and infantile pranks, thinking we would somehow disrupt the system.  Until, of course, the System got out ahead of us."

"How do you mean?"

"To be honest, I'm not really sure.  Some say we just weren't paying enough attention to the slow progress from hedonistic and decadent to diseased and corrupt, but others claim that what eventually became Government, Inc stumbled upon some new innovation or invention that propelled their information and communication abilities far beyond what anyone ever suspected.  A lot of us are trying to figure out what happened.

"Anyway, after we lost and Doubtless Incident and the Illegitimate Son of God... I know, I know, don't look at me like that.  They had weird names.  Leave it at that.  After they got taken in by the Cops and beaten to death, we realized they weren't complete fuckups anymore, and we had to actually crack down and get shit done.  We couldn't agree on any one project or tactic or plan, which is when the gnome and Stain, independently of each other, came up with a practical application of Sticking Apart."

"Go on... I think I can see where this is going."

"Well, think of it this way:  If you have an opponent who has more manpower, and with analytical skills off the charts, the only way to get around their counter strategy is complete randomness.  The night we created the Open Bar, we decided to split up, and never openly talk about our main objective, the one thing that we could all agree on, to a greater or lesser extent... to bring down Government, Inc."

"What?  Bring it down?  Pretty tall order there, mister."

"Don't knock it 'till you've tried it.  So, we split up, each of us trying in our own way to beat the System, but with no direct communication about our short term tactics or goals. Stain opened up his Pizza parlor, Mal had her café, Mangrove became attached to the Open Bar and decided to befriend it, and so on."

"Wait... If everyone split up, how is it that you know all these people?"

"They just like me, I guess."

"I find that very hard to believe."  Erin cracked me a wry grin, and I could feel myself respond.  You know, down there.

"Very funny.  Ok, we're approaching the outskirts of The City.  You better open up that tequila.  It's an hour to the base of The Mountain, and I don't want you freaking out before we get a chance to meet Noodle."


"Noodle.  Of the Mountain.  Nice girl, but deadly."

***   *****   ***   *****

Erin cracked open the bottle, and took a swig.  She made a face.

"Yuck.  This is awful."

"Could be worse, could be Jose Cuervo."

"Ugh, never mind.  I'm starting to get jittery.  Let me just drink."

"That's some good thinking.  See if you can lean the seat back so you're just staring at the ceiling."

She was able to recline the seat to its optimal horny-teenager-getting-it-on-in-Mom's-car position, took another slug, grimaced, and closed her eyes.  I tried to find something good on the radio, but all I could find was propaganda, and the latest Brittany Spears clone.  Man, when are they going to stop that shit?  She died in a plane crash 15 years ago, and each replica is just worse than before.  Surely her DNA has run out by now.

The shitheap of a car cleared the city limits, and as usual, I was struck with a wave of vertigo as the psychotecture came to a sudden end.  It was as if the entire landscape became a barren, emotional plain.  When you live with artificial manipulations of your nervous system 24/7, the sudden absence of the distorted empathic pressures makes you feel like your head is about to spin off your neck while a nest of snakes bursts out of your head.

I reached over to Erin & grabbed the bottle of tequila from her.  "Hey, she said weakly.  I was just—"

"Keep your pants on, I just need to clear my head," I said, taking a swig & handing it back.  An amber smokiness took a joyride down my throat as I felt my belly warm to the welcome intruder, and my vision start to return to normal.  I gripped the wheel more tightly and frowned at the road which, devoid of neurological manipulation, was just a road.  The mental silence was crushing, but I could see the muted green of the treeline,  skirting The Mountain, beckoning us.

The Mountain.  Geologists have spent entire careers trying to figure out how it got there.  Imagine everything around you being flat, and then an alp-like, craggy looming monstrosity juts up from the earth like out of some Lovecraftian wanna-be pulp thriller.  No volcanic activity, not on a fault line, it's just... there, like the granite tooth of some monstrous beast.  Throughout the generations, because of its lack of scientific explanation as to its presence, loony and whacked-out religious nuts have tried to set up shop in the craggy caves of The Mountain, only to return to civilization in a few months, perhaps a year, starving, freezing, and muttering of inexplicable, random events that no one could figure out.  Sometimes, they never did come back.

I suppose that's why The Mountain appealed to Noodle.  I mean, besides the fact that she was the smartest one of all of use for getting the hell out of The City when she had the chance, let's not forget that she is utterly and completely, an inexplicable, random event.  No one's sure when she showed up in our little group, she was just there one day, looking fresh off the bus, and wielding a field hockey stick.  She left the same way, too:  Silently, quickly, and without a trace.  It was only several months later that we heard about what was happening up on The Mountain.  Noodle had apparently taken over some pseudo-monk's cave and had quickly transformed it into a full-body-contact Zen sanctuary/dojo.  In no time flat, she had the hook up to all the best society has to offer, and none of the downfalls of The City.  Sound like paradise, right?  Well, the turnover rate is pretty high, not to mention the body count...  But it makes sense that she would be the one who would carry the Somax 2350.  Hell, a girl's gotta have some fun, right?

Erin had come to the end of the bottle.  She tossed it aside, and reached for the other.  "Whoa, hold up there, darlin'.  You're not supposed to pass out on me."

"Shut up.  I can hear them screaming."  Erin's face was pale, and tight, like she was using her facial muscles to keep her brain from exploding out of her skull.  "How... how long until we get into the trees?"

"We're already there.  Relax, take a few minutes, I'll let you know when you should start looking around."  With that, the first of the horrifically twisted trees began to pass by, and soon the base forest swallowed the car into its murky half-light.


Chapter 17: We have met the Noodle, and she is, um...

Horribly angled branches, with gnarled twigs grasping at the gloom passed by the window.  Anyone else, from any other part of the world, would immediately proclaim this place as haunted.  The too-close stacked trees gave birth to illusions of skulking movement, while sinister patterns in the bark made blasphemous hieroglyphics, incomprehensible warnings to anyone stupid enough to stay the night.

But we were from The City, and to us, if felt like a homecoming.  Erin sat up, the empty tequila bottle rolling off her supple thighs and hitting the car floor with a muted "bonk".

"Oh... this is more like it."  She stretched her arms languidly, like a cat after being stuffed in a carrier for hours.  "That tequila really seemed to help... but now there's a problem."

"What's that?"

"I am fucking horny," she drawled, as her hand reached out & began sliding its way up my thigh.  "I guess I should have told you what tequila does to me, but I was way too far gone to care at the time."

"Dammit Erin," I said, "Your sense of timing absolutely sucks.  We have to get to the next treeline in under an hour."  The trees seemed to press upon us, reach out to the econobox, but somehow, it felt like an embrace.  Not as much as an embrace than Erin's palm placed firmly in my crotch, however.  Erin leaned in close, smelling of sex and tequila, and kissed me gently on my neck, then nibbled lightly.  I was definitely beginning to respond.  Maybe it wouldn't hurt to take a short break, I thought, as Erin pressed up against me, her soft skin rubbing against my shirt.

"L, c'mon, I know you—HOLY SHIT!

I felt a sickening pain in my gut as she clenched her fist in reflexive terror, and an equally sickening sense of dread, as I saw what was in the road.  It was a barricade, but a barricade made up entirely of limbs.  Not tree limbs: It seemed like it was everything but tree limbs.  Cow legs, deer legs, dog legs... but mostly human.  Severed arms, dripping stumps of leg; feet, both bare and with shoes.  It was pretty gross.  I pulled the econobox left, hard, trying to avoid a collision, but the mass of appendages spanned the whole road, and the trees seemed to bunch together, forming a wooden wall, sharp branches jabbing out like spears.  The front right fender slammed into the meat pile with a wet Thud, and my face slammed into the steering wheel.  Just like a cliché, everything went black.

I came to only a few seconds later, my cheek warm & wet, and Erin shaking my arm.  It seems the econobox had web safety, so she had the dubious privilege of her torso being held firmly to the seat by a tight mesh of plastic threads, with only her arms free to move.  It certainly showed off her figure.

I was feeling a bit woozy, but managed to thumb the web release on the dashboard, and Erin breathed a sigh of release as the threads snaked back into the seat.  "Damn," she muttered, "that was worse than a steel corset."

I managed a grin.  "I'd love to see you try that sometime."  I opened the door, and motioned to her.  "You'd better come out this way, I'm not sure you want to go out your side."  The econobox was partially buried in the limb blockade, making exit impossible, a grisly mess pressed up against the side window.

Erin climbed over the seat, and gingerly checked herself out next to the car, testing for any broken bones or bruises.  I could tell I had a pretty bad cut on my face, but apart from that, I seemed to be fine.  I walked around to the back, opened the case with the neuro-disruptor, and jammed an energy cell into the hilt.  There was a momentary high pitched whine, and then silence.  I made sure the mystery letter Stain gave me was still in my pocket, and walked back around to Erin.

"Ok... what the hell is this!"  She pointed to the mound of flesh.

"I can only figure it's one of 5 things.  One: Another utopian community has bitten the dust.  Two: Someone's got a really weird fetish.  Three: Noodle's run for Prezitator has gotten... extreme.  Four:  Someone has a fucked-up idea of a practical joke.  Five: Whoever's writing the script of our lives right now doesn't know how to write the part of Noodle, and they're stalling for time."

"Wait.  Repeat that last one again?"

"Never mind.  More esoterica.  What's important here is that we get the hell away from this pile of meat before we're spotted."

"Why? Aren't you and this Noodle character supposed to be friends?"

"You think this entire Mountain is under her control?  No way.  I mean, she's certainly trying, but there's waaay too much terrain up here to cover.  And believe me, there's a few groups 'round here you do not want to mess with."  I hoisted the disruptor.  "I'd tell you to stay behind me, but I doubt it would do much good, as most of these fuckers already know how to play in 3 dimensions."

"What the hell do you mean—"

From out of the trees, what sound led like from all sides, came a unified shout: "SUBMIT FUCKERS!  FOR I AM AWESOME!"  And then a shot, loud.  And another.  I heard the thick squelch of a bullet tearing into the pile of dead limbs, and I grabbed Erin, pulling her low to the ground.  I fired the disruptor straight ahead of me, and got lucky.  A scream, and the sound of a body falling to the ground.  I pushed Erin ahead of me.  "Run!  That way!  Now!"

We almost made it to the edge of the road.  Two large figures leapt from the upper branches of the trees, slamming into us with little grace, but much force.  I saw Erin crumple, as my head slammed into the ground.  The last thing I heard before the dark world of unconsciousness robbed me of my senses was, "I don't like spiders and burritos are cool.  I want to break little glass people right now.  Whales remind me of spleens."

Well, I guess we found her, I thought.


Chapter 18: Things get Ugly.

Darkness.  I was pretty sure my eyes weren't blindfolded.  My hands were bound, and sounds were muffled.  A low rumbling, plus a steady vibration in the floor told me I was probably in the trunk of a car.  What confirmed it was feeling a lurch, the squeal of brakes, and getting thrown roughly into another body.  The smell of her, that sweet, bitter smell of Cinnamon and sadness let me know it was Erin.  Her body was still warm, and I felt her take a breath, but she was so still...

"Erin?  Erin, c'mon, wake up."  No response.  I could hear shouting now, and then the distinctive report of gunfire.  A lot of gunfire.  Shouts became screams, and I could hear whatever vehicle we were in getting hit.  Suddenly, there was a muffled, but very loud explosion, and the vehicle lurched.  The screams stopped. 

Silence.  Darkness.  The crunching sound of footsteps, drawing near.

There was the creaking and groaning of bent steel, and then a brilliance that left me as blind as before.  Hands grabbing me, dragging me up, then throwing me down.  Heard Erin's body hit the ground beside me with the sound of a sack of dropped meat.  Struggled to make out a face, but it was only dark silhouettes.  A boot kicked me.  A fist hit my face.  A rapid succession of blows, I was unsure of means or weaponry.  A sharp crack on the back of my head.

Darkness again.

I awoke to cool, rough stone under my cheek.  Trying to move no more than possible, I cracked my eyelids.  I saw the hem of Erin's shirt.  Then I felt the toe of a boot in my back.  "I saw that," a gruff voice spat.  It sounded like oil-soaked gravel, full of hate and spite.  "Get your ass up, big boy."  Hands grabbed me, and thrust me into a chair.  I could see we were in a cave of some sort, or maybe a room shaped like a cave.  Or a cave converted into a room.  Either way, the floor and walls were made of rough hewn stone, and there was a door stuck in the wall on the left.  Opposite the door was Erin's limp body, curled upon itself like a wounded animal.  She still wasn't moving.  The voice spoke up behind me vicious and reptile.  "Looks like this one's formed an attachment.  Let's give him a lesson about Universe."  A man in drab army pants and heavy boots walked past me.  He wore no shirt, but had a tight fitting black hood covering his head and face, leaving only his eyes visible.  He grabbed Erin around the waist, and hauled her up to her feet.  Her eyes fluttered.  "L," she asked, her eyes full of pain and confusion.  "What's going on?"

The voice behind me, dripping with malice, said, "Did someone say the animal could talk?"  The man holding Erin threw her into the wall.  Her shoulders and back hit, and she started to slide into a heap again.  Before her knees could fully buckle, he swung his fist into her stomach, throwing her back into the wall again.  His left hand shot out, grabbed her throat, and proceeded to lift her upright.  Erin's breath was ragged and constricted underneath his hand.  He curled his arm into his chest, turning Erin around, facing the wall.  His right arm shot forward, connecting between her shoulder blades, as he simultaneously let go of her throat.  Erin was thrust, face first, into the wall.  Her scream as the sharp hooks of the unfinished raw rock tore into her skin was unbearable.  I could see the red stain on the wall from where her nose broke, and the smear where her cheek gave way to the rock.  Her torturer grabbed her by the hair, pulled hard, and shoved her face into the wall once again.  He laughed at Erin's low moan of pain.

"Ok, stop.  Seriously, I'll tell you what you need to know, freely.  You don't have to do this," I said.

"I don't think you get it, Little One," said the voice behind me.  "We don't care.  That's how life is, sometimes.  No matter what you do, the things you care for are destroyed." 

The man in front of me pulled a knife from the sheath in his belt.  It was long, slightly curved, edged on both sides, and looked like it was flaked with rust.  But I knew it wasn't rust.  With the other hand still in her hair, he half dragged, half threw her onto a wood and steel table directly opposite the chair I was sitting in.  The edge of the table struck her in the stomach, and she folded neatly in half, her face once again slamming down.  Her lip split, her teeth stained red, like pearls dipped in raspberry preserves. 

The hooded man placed the knife at the small of Erin's back, and slid it upwards along her spine.  She gasped, and her blouse and bra fell away from her shoulders.  A thin red line scored up her back, and then slowly began to bead and ooze small threads of blood.  "You like that move?" the voice in my ear said.  "One stroke, and the blade cuts her shirt, bra, and skin, all at the same time."

"You fucking asshole," I growled.  "Stop it!  She's got nothing for you!"

"I don't think you understand, yet.  We don't care.  You can plead, you can beg, you can offer us money, you can even threaten us.  Universe doesn't care.  Sometimes, truly awful things happen.  Like this for example."  I felt a hand on my left wrist, and one on my shoulder, and then whoever was behind me rammed their knee into the back of my elbow.  It gave way with a sickening crack, as my arm filled with pain.  The man before me was now sliding his knife down Erin's leg, peeling back her pants, but caring little for the pale, delicate skin underneath.  I could see tiny cuts and gashes in her calf & thigh where the knife dug in a little too deep.  When he grabbed the waistband of her pants, she came to her senses just enough to struggle.  With a laugh, he twisted her arm behind her back, and raised her up off the table.  For a moment, you could see her, topless, blood from her face dripping onto her perfect breasts, a look of desperate horror in her eyes, and then he slammed her against the table again.  Her face bounced off the unforgiving steel, and her shoulder dislocated with an audible pop.  As Erin howled with pain, the man just laughed, and with a savage pull, tore her pants off.

The voice whispered in my ear, as the sickening pain in my arm matched what I was watching, "you see?  There is nothing you can do.  You are helpless in an uncaring Universe, which will crush your body, and your spirit.  Watch. Watch and learn something about the Universe you live in."

The man with the knife wrenched Erin's dislocated arm above her head, and without a word slammed the knife through the back of her hand and into the wood, pinning her like a butterfly in a sadistic collector's menagerie.  Erin turned her head sideways, looking at me, and screamed, only to be silenced by a fist, breaking her cheekbone.  The hooded man stepped back, began unzipping his pants with one hand, as with the other, he jammed his fingers into

The Editors have agreed:  There is no way we are letting you read the rest of this.  Go and read something more pleasant, like American Psycho, or The 120 Days of Sodom.

In case you were wondering, we called the author's fiancée, and she's doing just fine. 

though, because at that point it was more exposed muscle tissue than skin.

Eventually, they stopped.  I couldn't tell if it was hours, or days later.  The hooded man stepped back, picked up his pants, and started wiping off parts of Erin onto them.  The unrecognizable heap on the table that used to be her would quiver every now and again, but other than that there was no sound, no movement.

As for me, I guessed I had about a dozen broken bones, including my ribs, left arm, and right leg and foot.  I had cuts and bruises all over my body, but I wasn't paying attention to what my body was screaming at me.  My eyes were on the table, and what was on it.  The door opened, and more hooded men entered.  As they grabbed Erin's body and dragged it out of the room, my tormenter, with that voice, said, "I hope this has been a valuable lesson for you.  Tomorrow, we let you go.  We hope you will do your best to incorporate this experience into your philosophical world view:  Universe simply doesn't care, about you, or anyone else, no matter how hard you may want it to, and no matter how righteous you feel in your heart."

"Go fuck yourself."

"That's the spirit."

He left the room, and everything went dark.


CHAPTER 19:  You didn't see that one coming, did you?

Somehow, through the pain in my body and mind, I fell asleep.  It wasn't pleasant.  Images of Erin being raped and tortured kept flashing through my head, and I felt even more helpless as the images came unbidden.  Her eyes, pleading for me to make it all stop, her screams becoming ever so much more desperate, eventually just screaming at the hopelessness of screaming.  I kept forcing myself to wake up, so I wouldn't have to face it all again.  At one point, I awoke with a start to the jab of a needle in my arm.  I struggled the best I could with my useless limbs, but a warmth spread up my arm and through my body, and then I was back into the depths of my personal horror show; but this time, there was no escaping.

I listened to her scream forever.

Eventually, I woke up.  I was stretched out on the floor, with rough splints on my leg and arm.  My hand was bandaged with gauze, as was my foot.  Sometime during my drug-induced nightmare, someone must have given me some sort of painkiller, because even though my body throbbed in time to my heartbeat, I could think above the pain when I tried to move.  A mixed blessing at best.  When the pain abated enough to allow me to think, all I could think about was her.  What they did to her.  I punched my leg, hard.  A horrific agony swelled out of my leg and into my brain.  The pain was easier to deal with.  I punched my leg again.  I blacked out.

When I came to again, it was still mostly dark in the room.  I noticed the door was open slightly, and an orangish glow crept through.  Someone must have given me another shot, because the pain was again at a manageable level.  I groaned, and rolled onto my stomach.  I managed to push myself up, and get my good leg underneath me.  Gingerly, I made my way to the door.  I hesitated when my foot stepped into the light.  What if this was a test?  What if they were waiting just outside, ready to inflict more punishment after I proved I was grounded enough again to try to escape?  Fuck it, I thought, either they are or they aren't, and nothing's gonna change if I stay here.  I grabbed the edge of the door and swung it open.

It was a corridor, still looking as if it were hewn out of rock, but hanging off one spur in the wall was a heavy outdoor coat, and leaning under that, a cane.  It was slim, black, with a silver handle in the shape of an antler.  It looked strong.  I limped over, shrugged the coat over my shoulders, and grabbed the cane.  What the fuck.  Parting gifts? 

I stood still for a moment, and listened.  Inside my head, Erin whimpered.  I tried to push the memory back down into my subconscious, feeling waves of guilt as I did.  Now wasn't the time.  There might never be a time.  Slowly, my mind stilled.  I closed my eyes.  The corridor starched out to my left, and right.  I stood, waiting.  Then, I heard it.  Off to the left, a subtle echo.  To the right, nothing.  Chances were, the exit is where the noise is.  Wincing, I hobbled to the left.  The left-hand path.  How fitting.

The corridor went on for a long time.  Or at least it seemed like it, what with all the limping.  With every step, the sensation of knives jabbed through my leg.  Every so often, I had to stop, to focus away from the pain that was making my vision cloud, and brought back the screaming in my head.  It was like the pain was connected with my final memories of Erin.  Half-delirious, I almost didn't want the pain to end, because that might also make me start forgetting her.  I thought back to other people I had known who had vanished, died, or left.  Their faces were half-erased illustrations on corroded paper, while Erin's was as fresh as the meat that was cut off her bones.  I couldn't lose her twice.

I was so wrapped up in my own head, I almost didn't notice the air getting colder, and the quality of light getting better.  What brought me around was the sound of a fire, and the smell of coffee and roasting meat.  My stomach growled, and my mouth filed with spit.  Swallowing, I turned a corner, and saw the mouth of the cave tunnel, looking out over the twisted trees of the Mountain.  Off to one side was a small campfire, and sleeping, with his head on his knees, was a man in olive green pants and a black hood.  I made my way as silently as I could, getting as close to him as possible.  It could have been Erin's murderer, my torturer.  It probably wasn't.  I didn't care.  I raised the cane above me head, willing all my strength to keep me standing upright.

Wow, that last bit I wrote sucked: I deleted it.

I sat at the edge of the cave, next to the pathetic little fire that was doing it's best to stay alive in spite of the thunderstorm that had just come up the side of the Mountain.  I dipped my hands in a puddle of rain water that was collecting at my feet.  The cold, acrid water smelled like the air of The City, and stung the cuts and scrapes on my knuckles.  The water tuned a rust brown color as I rinsed my hands.  I turned, and wiped them off on the pantleg of the corpse lying beside me.  A pool of blood framed what was left of his head like a congealing halo.  I know, I had been stupid; I hadn't taken the hood off before smashing his face into nothingness with the cane, and now there was no way of telling who he might have been.

I huddled near the fire, nibbling on the roasted meat the dead man had been cooking.  It tasted gamey, and it was stringy & tough.  To my mind came unbidden memories of what I had witnessed in that room and I began to retch, but my hunger overcame the nausea.  Initially, I had been worried that my escape had been discovered, but it had soon become clear that except for this one man, everyone had disappeared.  So why did this guy stay around?

"It was a sacrifice.  Musta been."  My own words, gruff and harsh, echoed in the cave.  Some fucked up sense of Fairness must guide those fuckers.  And, like a sucker, I fell for it.  I let myself be lured into playing by their rules.  I had proven their point.

I smacked the dead man's leg.  "Asshole.  The least you could have done is be awake, so I could feel that I was defending myself."  Groaning, I sat down next to the body, and listened to the rain, with the occasional bursts of thunder.  I stared at the shadows flickering on the wall of the cave, and I wondered what the hell I was going to do next.  The weather prevented me form trying to venture outside, but even if I could, where would I go?  Even if I was able to get down The Mountain, I'd still have to find a way to get back to The City... and I was a fugitive there.  No doubt they'd have found who I was by now, and they'd be pissed about me killing that cop.

I could stay on the mountain, but even if I held my ground and established a place among the battling factions, I'd always be reminded of Erin...  No.  I can't think about there right now.  But I can't not think about her.

Right.  I realized there was only one thing to do.  I had to get to the Ocean, to finish this fucking thing.  It started with a face-raping bat, it was gonna end at the Ocean.  Fuck it, I'm not even getting paid anymore.  There's just nowhere else for me to go.

I leaned over the body, and rummaged around in the packs on his belt, until I found what I was looking for: a flask of cheap whiskey, and what looked like standard-issue pain killers.  I washed one down with the other, and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible.  The next few days were going to suck.

The next few?  Fuck, maybe all the rest of my days were gonna suck.  And I didn't even know how many of them I might have left.


Chapter 20: Down We Go

So, I set off down the Mountain.  I pushed my way through strange plants of almost-bamboo, gnarled trees with sharp leaves, and odd insects that buzzed menacingly.  The ground was slick with a grayish moss, and the boots I had lifted off the corpse were worn pretty thin.  My leg kept barking its truth about the state of my bones, as I used the cane as best I could among the rocks.  I could hear running water as I struggled to avoid the thorns of some sort of carnivorous plant that had half a lizard dangling from its bloom, and I made my way towards it.  The sound soon became a roar as mist began to fill the air, and the jagged rocks became even more treacherous and slick, jabbing into the soles of my feet through the boots, and cutting my shins.  I hoped the mossy lichens weren't toxic.

The trees soon gave way to a precipice, opening up on a massive waterfall.  For a moment, the past few days gave way to a stunned tranquility.  My mind can deal with a lot of stuff associated with living in The City, with its high technology and low motivations.  But this; this was something else.  Above me, the cliff rose hundreds of feet in the air, its sides polished smooth by the water rushing over it.  Hundreds of feet below, the water plunged into the darkness of a chasm, the canopy obscuring how far down it actually went.  And the water itself!  It was a bright blue, blue like a crayon, blue like a crashed computer before the Singularity Merger.  It practically leapt from the crest like an animal, as spray flung away from the rock face, while the water itself crashed and boomed it's way past me. 

An errant jet of the blue liquid broke on an outcropping next to me.  My nose and tongue picked up the scent of blood, and I reached out to wipe my fingers against the outcropping, and then stuck them in my mouth.  A sharp taste snapped my head back, and I realized what made the water so blue.  There must be an extremely high copper content in that waterfall, which is why the rocks were so smooth.  I sat down, unsure of myself in such a place, wondering where to go next.

Something buzzed by me, almost lumbering through the air.  I looked around and saw an insect, about as big as my finger.  I didn't know what the hell it was.  It had wings, almost like a dragonfly, but nowhere near as graceful.  It seemed to be thrown off balance by its large frontal claws, and a wicked looking tail that arched over its back.  A winged scorpion, I guess, except for having only 2 legs, like a sparrow.  And big, black eyes.  It hovered for few seconds, looking at me.  I was slowly reaching for my cane when it came at me, buzzing furiously with a speed it hadn't shown before.  Its claws dug into my chest, and that tail jabbed into me, just below my left collar bone.  I managed to grab the cane with my right hand and smash it into my own chest just as a cold numbing spread through my left shoulder and down my arm.  I hear a crunch, but that damn tail seemed to be burrowing into me.  I smashed it again with the cane, and this time it stopped moving, and hung limply from my chest, my fresh blood mingling with whatever juices that thing was keeping inside it. 

That cold numbness had made its way all down my arm, and I suppose that was a small blessing, as the damage I had suffered in the cave was muted to a more manageable level.  But I could also feel it making its way through my torso, and I wondered what the hell I was going to do if I became an almost-walking study in full-body Novocain.  Using my cane, I struggled to my feet, and noticed a change in the timbre of the waterfall.  It had grown deeper, more resonant, less like water, and more like something familiar, something man made.

Over the edge of a waterfall, some sort of ship appeared.  Well, I thought it was a ship, but as it cleared the edge of the waterfall, it kept going horizontally.  It didn't fall over the edge.  I could feel the numbness creep up my neck as the craft, vehicle, whatever it was, clear the edge of the falls, and begin to gently descend.  It was circular, about 20 yards in diameter, with a clear domed top.  It also made a muted roaring sound that was a mixture of a constantly collapsing building and the afterburner of a jet.  As my entire left side went numb, I was reminded of some old movies my grandfather used to show us before unauthorized media devices were outlawed.  He called them "Flying Saucers".

My numb left leg and my broken right one could no longer support my weight.  I collapsed as gently as I could against the sharp rocks, half grateful again to whatever the fuck was in my bloodstream.

The craft settled until the clear dome was level with the ledge I was on.  The dome parted in the middle, and a man with flying goggles called out to me, "Are you LMNO?"

I weakly raised my right arm in affirmation.

"Oh, good.  I'm Reverend W.H. Name.  Looks like you might need some help."


Chapter 21: Scully, you have to see this!

A hatch opened in the side of his vehicle, and some attachments that looked like a very large spatula and some tongs, emerged and scooped me up.  I couldn't tell if it was gentle or not, as my body was totally numb at this point, but the occasional mutterings from Name didn't give me much confidence.  Eventually, I was dumped into some sort of medical-looking cot with various attachments looming all around it, fortunately on my back.  Name got up from the controls, and stood over me.

"Damn, you look like shit."

"Wh. Ah. Yuh..."

"Hold on a sec.  I can flush the poison, but we may as well take advantage of the situation."  He removed the splints on my arm, and then with little grace, planted one foot in my side, and pulled as hard as he could.  I could hear various pops and cracks as he re-broke the bones.  If I could grimace at the sound, I would have.  I couldn't feel anything, but I knew he just undid whatever sort of healing had been taking place.  I wanted to scream at him, but I was helpless.  He proceeded to do the same thing with my leg.  Turning away from me, he pressed a few buttons on the ship's wall, and a shell-like lid closed over my body, leaving only my head exposed.  I could feel my body being pulled and prodded by unknown devices, and Name went back to his controls.  I could still see him from the cot as the persistent rumbling got louder, and he began to speak.

"Yeah, so, I was hanging out at the Open Bar, when Mangrove started talking about you.  Said you were all off on some quest with some hot chick.  Didn't see her with you, I hope you had the good sense to put her in some safehouse before coming to the Mountain.  Anyway, no one had heard from you for a while, so Open Bar put some tracers out, and wouldn't you know, the fuckin' cops are looking for you.  You really got to learn how to keep your head down, y'know? 

"Anyway, on a hunch O.B. put in a call to Zeke's.  Which leads us to here, and to now."  He stood up again, and grabbed a syringe from a compartment in the wall.  "Ok, I guess the medbot's done what it can.  Time to set you free."  He jabbed the needle into my neck, and dropped the plunger.  A warmth spread through my shoulders, and crept down my chest.  I could feel my throat loosen up, and I swallowed.  I opened my mouth.  I wasn't sure what to say.

Then it got to my arm.  The warmth turned to fire, and I could feel every newly-broken bone. I screamed.  And then it hit my leg.  I squeezed my eyes shut against the pain, and I could hear Name scramble around, muttering to himself.  Another jab in my neck, and I was out of my body.  Out of my head.  The bastard gave my synthetic OBE, I thought.  What the fuck is going on here?

"I heard that," he said, tapping the side of his goggles.  "A neat little trick I picked up from the scrids.  Float for a while, we'll talk."

***  ***  ***

Name tapped at the controls, and the ship pitched forward, pointing us straight down.  I could see the waterfall plunge through the canopy, and into a dark crevasse.  A few more taps at the controls, and we began a slow descent.  The skewed perspective and the synthetic OBE made me dizzy.  I tried to put a hand up to my head, but I couldn't.  At the moment, I didn't have hands.  Or a head.  What the hell kind of ship is this, anyway?

"Oh, you like it?  It's a prototype I've been working on.  Antigravity."


"Yeah!  See, when you smash gold atoms together, and do it often enough, the gluon plasma flux will sometimes allow new particles to form.  And as we all know, new particles equal new mass, which equals new energy.  And since Conazzio's correlation to Einstein say that high volumes of mass and energy can warp the gravitation field, it seemed like a simple step to making it directional and using it for a vehicle."

So that would mean...

"Yeah, there's a particle collider in the ship's hull."

Wait.  There's no way that would work.

"Do you want to argue the fact that it's working right now?"

Good point.  Uh, what's with the OBE drug?

"Your body is going to be in severe pain for a while, as the bones heal-"


"-yeah.  Again.  Like you did such a good job the first time.  Anyway, the medbot is out of morphine.  Don't ask, but it was one hell of a party.  So, yeah, all I had left was the synth OBE.  Trust me.  You do not want to be in your body right now."

Why am I trusting you, again?

"Because I just saved your life."


"Look, if you want me to take you back to that cliff so you can deal with those wee beasties yourself, just let me know.  Otherwise, just let me drive."

Or drop, as the case may be.

We reached the treeline, and passed through it, the semi-tropical/semi-arctic trees offering little resistance as the ship's warped gravitational field passed by.  They seemed to warp, split, and explode into slivers as the ship got nearer.

"Tides.  It's bad news to be both inside and outside the warped field."

We sank lower, into the chasm, and any ambient light soon disappeared.

Where the hell are we going?

Name flipped a switch, and a pair of beacon lights came on.  We seemed to be in a column of sheared rock, with a spraying waterfall on one side, descending into blackness.

"O.B. said you wanted to go to the Ocean.  I've got an express line."



After some time was spent dropping into the earth, Name threw a few more switches, and we started moving forward.  Around the ship, the beacon lights showed jagged tunnel walls; a high, pitched ceiling; and a surprisingly smooth floor.  Rough hewn corridors branched off on either side, leading off into more darkness.

What is this place?

"This was the proposed rail line between the City, the Mountain, and the Ocean.  It was constructed about ten years ago, but was shut down right before the tunnels were completed."

Why's that?

"Oh.  Well, it soon became obvious that no one from either the City, the Mountain or the Ocean really wanted to go to the City, the Mountain or the Ocean that easily."

Makes sense.  Wait.  Did you say 'shut down before they were completed?

"Er, yeah.  But don't worry about it.  The tunnel's solid.  They only used lack of interest as a cover story.  Truth is, some of the stations had... unusual psychotecture."

More unusual than normal, then.

"Yeah.  You might have heard about it.  It's, well... It's better if I show you.  Look there."  Name swung the spotlight in an arc, and shadows jumped on the jagged walls.  They seemed huge, misshapen.  Vaguely human.  At least, they seemed to have the right number of limbs.  The heads, though... They were abnormally distended, and some of them showed strange appendages, or growths, hanging off to one side.

What the fuck?

"Here, let me see if I can— " Name fishtailed the ship, a quick pivot that made the engines whine like goat with one foot stuck in a blender.  On of the shadows darted to the side, and collapsed into itself as the figure casting it ran to the center of the tunnel.  It was covered with some matted, grimy pelt that was probably once white and pink, and seemed to have paws rather than hands.  It turned towards the ship, and I found myself looking into the glazed, fixed stare of a giant rabbit.  That is, a giant rabbit mask.

No.  Oh, no.  Please don't tell me—

It ran at the ship, and leapt at the windshield.  An impressive leap, too, until it hit the massive gravitational field around the ship.  It burst with an impressive sideways, twisting motion.  It's not often you get to see a creature (probably human) wearing a full body rabbit suit get turned inside out due to massive tides created by the gravitational fields of a personal particle collider.  It's fairly impressive.  Half of it was thrown left, half thrown right, before the windshield was painted bright red.  The only thing that made it through was part of a forearm, a bone jutting from one end, and wrapped in some sort of artificial fabric.  It slowly slipped off to one side, as Name pushed a button that began to repel the blood off the ship.

"Yup.  Furries."


So this is where they all ended up.

"Yeah, it started with the rabbits.  Probably because there were so many of them, and the tunnels were supposed  to have a 'comforting' psychotecture."

Like a warren, you're saying.

"Yeah, you've got it.  Burrowing animals, underground psychotecture.  It would almost be funny if it turned out there were so many of them.  They just started... showing up.  The construction workers would find them tucked into various niches and holes.  Yiffing."


"I know.  Government, Inc. soon scrapped the project, and the place became a haven for them.  Word spread, and next thing you know, all sorts of anthropomorphized fetish animals were coming down here.  Wolves, panda bears, fish, paramecium-"


"Yeah.  I hope you never have to see that furpile.  Or would that be ciliapile?  Anyway, once that culture established itself, the tunnels soon became home to all the freaks who couldn't deal with having real lives in The City, and made up their own versions.  Some say it was the psychotecture itself that drove them to it.  Doesn't really matter in the end, though: the tunnels have become home to any sort of cosplay fetish you can think of.  Whoops, hold on."

The shadows of the furries seemed to have congregated into one particular area.  They seemed to be coming to some sort of consensus.  Name pulled the craft to the right, gliding down a side tunnel.  "I think we're gonna have a bumpy ride for a while," he said. 

He wasn't kidding.  Without much warning, furries exploded from the shadows, and leapt at the ship... and exploded again.  The air was full of blood, flesh, and cheap, gaudy fabrics.  The swirling gravitational field acted like a blender, grinding up organ and bone into a perverted pâté.  Even in my out-of-body condition, I felt queasy.

How long are they going to keep this up?  How many of them are there?

"Oh, they'll keep going all day.  It seems that some of them used to be quite smart, in their other lives.  They found ways to... merge... with their costumes.

You mean-

"Yeah, they started to fuse their actual skin with the suits.  They adapted some of the technology from the genetic body mod crew, only they tried to go further with it, and got it wrong.  Apparently, they didn't want to change their DNA, they wanted to add to it.  So, they managed to get their DNA to accept the artificial fabrics they wore. 

That's... That's kind of stupid.

"You're telling me.  Apparently in their zeal, they didn't take into account that they just invited artificial fabrics into theie entire body.  So, some of them died when their livers suddenly became plushy, and others went insane when fuzzy pink polyester lesions began appearing on their brains.  And then, of course, genes are passed on to the next generation... It became a fine example of De-Evolution.  And what you get is the resulting horde."

What about the ones who survived? 

"Oh, they're the leaders.  They have absolute thrall over the horde.  Hold on... I think we're about to see one."  The mutant furries had abated in their grisly suicide attacks, and at the far end of the tunnel, a figure in a military outfit cut a mean profile.  As we got closer, two things were extremely striking: one, that the figure was not a mutant, but a fiercely attractive woman; and two, she was carrying an extremely large gun.

"Oh shit," said Name, "it's Kaousuu."

Mesozoic Mister Nigel

Wowwwww, this is fabulous. Beyond reckoning.
"I'm guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk," Charles Wick said. "It was very complicated."

Mourning Star

LAWL! Suu leads the furscum of the underworld!


It's amazing, isn't it?
Sovereign Episkopos-Princess Kaousuu; Esq., Battle Nun, Bene Gesserit.
Our Lady of Perpetual Confusion; 1st Church of Discordia

"Add a dab of lavender to milk, leave town with an orange, and pretend you're laughing at it."


Damn.  Now I'll have to write a new chapter as well...


She leveled the gun at Name's ship, and with one hand, made a slashing motion across her throat.  "We've got to shut it down," said Name.

Are you kidding?  What about the gravitational shield around the ship?

"I'm not sure you understand.  What she's got there is a Pulsar 6, which is a reverse-field, force-pulse rifle.  It has the unfortunate advantage of not being subject to gravity."  He turned a few knobs, and the persistent roaring sound from the ship began to ebb.  "I'm also gonna have to get you out of that medbot."

Um.. I'm using it right now.

"Look, when the ship finally powers down, do you want to be trapped like some diseased monk lost in the astral plane, or do you want to at least have a chance at getting out of whatever Suu has in mind?"

Dammit... This is gonna hurt, isn't it?

"Yup."  Name hit a button, and I felt myself being grabbed out of mid-air, and slammed back into my body.  Man, those OBE drugs sure bring--you down haaaaaaaaargh!"  My leg and arm had obviously not fully healed yet, and there was this creepy itching sensation under my skin, probably from the venom of whatever that thing was that attacked me.  The front of the Medbot opened, and I unceremoniously dropped to the floor.

"Damn.  Uh, Name?"


"That fucking thing took my clothes."

"Well, they were pretty filthy."

"Yeah, but..." I looked at the white tunic I was wearing, which felt like some sort of paper synthetic.  I sighed.  "Got a spare set of boots?"

Name rummaged through a cubbyhole as the ship finished powering down.  I could now hear Suu's voice ringing out through the tunnel.  "Come on out, Name!" she shouted.  "We just want to talk!  Don't give me the chance to use this thing, because you know how I can get carried away!"

Name tossed me a battered pair of workboots, crusted with dirt.  I managed to get my limbs working enough to squeeze my feet into them, and then stumbled behind him, as he made his way to what I assumed was the exit hatch.  "Watch yourself, now," said Name over his shoulder, "Suu's kind of unpredictable.  She may look human, but she's gone through the same shit the other tunnel-crawlers have."

"Do you have a plan?"

"No.  What good is a plan if you have no idea what's in front of you?"


The hatch opened with a hiss of hydraulics, and a ramp extended from the threshold to the muddy floor of the tunnel.  Torches were jammed into the walls, not lighting the place so much as pushing the darkness back.  Strange shadows flickered and jumped against the walls.  The flames made the furry horde, standing stock still, appear to be twitching and shuddering.  Suu stepped forward.  Speaking to Name, she motioned at me.  "Is that the dick?"

"Be fair," said Name, "the medbot took his pants, and it is kind of cold down here."

Quick as a snake, her hand shot out and slapped Name's face.  Her fingers left welts in his cheek as he rocked back on his heels.  "I know how you work, Name.  Keep your mouth shut."  She looked at me, her steely eyes piercing my hazy, drug-and-pain filled ones.  "I guess you didn't hear, vacationing up on The Mountain.  There's a bounty out on you.  Looks like Government, Inc. is finally going to get their paws on you."

Triple Zero

Ex-Soviet Bloc Sexual Attack Swede of Tomorrow™
e-prime disclaimer: let it seem fairly unclear I understand the apparent subjectivity of the above statements. maybe.



Cynicism is a blank check for failure.