“How’s the spleen on that one, Sim?”
They call me Lud.
“Shot to shit.”
The eloquence comes from my partner Sim. We’re scrappers.
“That bad, huh?”
This is a trap.
“Literally shot, Lud. I’ve got my finger in the hole,” he said. Squelchy sounds came from the corpse as he probed the guts, looking for salvage. “Kinda gooey,” he said. “Whoever hit this sack wasn’t concerned about the parts.”
“Obviously,” I said while checking the surrounding scree for whoever, or whatever, so generously left us this sack of meat to salvage. “Snappy as it goes, I don’t like waiting for an ambush.”
So kind of them, to hang this skinbag on the rebar jutting out of cement rubble. Bait.
“What is it with you and spleens anyway?” Sim asked, ignoring my perturbed remark. “They’re kind of useless.”
“I happen to like a strong natural immune system is all, Sim. Spleens are important for that. Rich source of antibodies and white blood cells.” I tap the metal hatch covering the right side of my rib cage. “Running kinda low on those right now, new spleen would do wonders.”
Sim grunted at this and ripped out the spleen. “Want a bite then?”
“Gut popped?” I asked, glancing at the opening. “No thanks, I don’t like eating shit.”
Sim tossed the spleen with a splat and sliced further along the abdomen, peeling back the flesh with his other hand. “Liver’s still good,” he said, then shoved aside a stinky mess of intestine. “Feels like one of the kidneys is viable, too,” he said as he massaged the back of the corpse with another hand.
“Well get to slicing and dicing monkey man. Bag ’em and tag ’em.”
“Got that right. Those are important. Real useful-like bits of meat, unlike you and your spleens,” he sneered.
I smacked Sim on the back of the head. “Hilarious. Snag his filter, too.”
Sim made a face at that, not wanting to rummage around the churned up mess that was all that was left of this sack’s guts. The appendix filter would have survived though.
“They used to say the appendix was useless, too, but we found a use for it.”
The appendix filter became a necessary survival implant in the after-glow. Attached to the vestigial nib of some out-bred organ, the filter sifted radioactive particulate from the digested food passing through the intestines – essentially scrubbing the nutrients before entering the bloodstream – storing and converting the material into energy for biorganic implants in the body.
The world above is full of such bounty. Toxic abundance, free for the taking of any smart enough to make use. Sure there are trade-offs, but we need an edge to survive.
Squelch. Squelch. Squelchskeeshsuck.
Sim’s hand squished through the mix of blood, acid, offal, and lumps of flesh, all normally separated and contained within their own parts of a functional digestive track, now blended by bullets into an interesting smelling mud of organics.
Fragrant bait on a hook. Fresh meat for scrappers to cut up for parts.
Squish and squelch and stifled gasps as Sim’s long fingered hand fished deeper and deeper, feeling for the small canister-like implant.
“Got it,” he said, finally pulling a shiny silver cap still attached to the vestigial nub of flesh.
Skitter-scrabble. Noise from the hole in the debris.
He tugged gently, pulling a silvery white tangle free of the muck. He ran his long fingers down the threads, tearing the dead flesh away, then twisted the cap, causing the silvery tendrils to retract safely inside.
The Prill really think they have us. Stake some live bait next to a hole in the dark and wait.
“But I don’t get what’s the big deal with the spleen?” Sim grabbed the cap with his tail while he gathered up the other bagged salvage parts, carefully tucking them inside a cold pack strapped to his chest. “Most people just cut it out to make room for more useful things,” he said, flicking the cap to me with his tail, “like a synaptic limb control interface.”
Well, mostly alive. Not worth fixing at any rate. Better parts than bait.
I caught the cap and tucked it away without ever taking my eyes off the hole in the side of the hill of rubble. “Oh, spleens are grand. I burn through two or three a year.”
Click. Party is about to begin.
“Doc has a way of super-charging them. Helps me heal faster, take on new parts easier, and keeps the sniffles away.”
I don’t wait for the tell tale snicker snack of the sneak attack. Instead I step up to the hole and pop the tabs on a couple of delightfully colorful immolation canisters.
“Oh look how they burn.”
Sim howls with laughter as the night suddenly gets brighter than the sun.
Then very, very dark.
Damn, that didn’t go as planned.
I gasp, intakes whirring to life, turbo-charging respiratory systems, restoring critical function.
My eyes snap open, rapidly whirling about the room.
Sharp pain. Skull cracked, likely.
I gulp down more air, feeling the burn down my throat, more, more, kssssh, ksssssh, more as my chest glows hot from the sudden intake. A panic reaction, ready to fight.
Fight what? I can’t move. Where’s Sim?
Why is my arm over there?
I can’t sit up. More panic. Pain.
Calm down. Focus.
Seriously…why is my arm over there? It shouldn’t wander off like that.
I look down at my elbow and see the connector is at least intact, meaning it’s not damaged.
That’s a start.
Straps. Straps. And more straps. Great.
Deep breath, expand the chest, charge the intake.
Ksssh. More. More. Heat radiates from my chest, back arching. Bursting.
BURN THE CORE.
Super hot radioactive exhaust explodes from the vents under my shoulder blade and crisps one of the straps holding me down. Also the table beneath it.
I cry out this time. Like every nerve in my body is aflame with a bonus sensation of spikes being driven into my temples.
Sim better not be missing out on this fun.
It subsides and I crash back to the table.
“Okay, let’s get going here.”
Back to the arm. Across the room. Doesn’t do me much good there.
However, I’m glad I gloamed Addams Family as a kid. While we still could.
I raise my arm and imagine snapping my fingers.
Goooood, the receiver works.
The hand of my arm snaps along to the music in my head. Then gets up and walks toward me, as handy hands do. Ah, the power of imagination.
“Come on, make it snappy.”
I hum the theme patiently while my hand walks back to me. The music helps maintain the mental image of an autonomous hand. The thing climbs up the table.
Purple lightning sears across my vision.
My arm goes limp, collapsing at the foot of the table.
Snap-snap. Gotta focus. Snap-snap.
Mysterious and spooky.
Reconnect goddammit. SNAP-SNAP
The hand responds and we’re back in business.
Quickly, it rips the straps as if they were nothing. Legs free, body, non-robot hand.
Snap-snap. One last time my hand jumps up and forms a fist. I bump it a job well done than grab it out of the air and twist it back in place.
PAI—I jump from the table as I feel the shock start and rip the probes free from the table, leaving the wires dangling from me. I haven’t looked yet, but I can feel them brushing against my naked skin.
Alarms. Always alarms. Of course there would be alarms. I wasn’t annoyed enough yet.
“Oh, the bloody ‘slander bastard isn’t taking his shock therapy like a good grum…ALARM ALARM” I yell at no one in particular.
There’s no one there. There wouldn’t be. Not in a Prill-box.
“Why the rutting klaxons then, Prill? HUH you cheap plastic rolly-poly homicidal goof-bots?” I screamed as I marched down the hall looking for pants.
But mostly pants.
Why the rutting klaxons, indeed? The Prill didn’t need an audible alarm. They communicated as machines do. All wireless and spiffy. Kinda like my arm, but I felt certain the Prill didn’t gloam to the Addams Family as little Prillings, or whatever Prill start off as.
They aren’t pure machine, programmable drones, no, they’re individually intelligent but still work as a collective.
Pants stealing, probe inserting, dis-arming, nosy, trap-setting, sadistic (can machines be sadists?), klaxon-sounding, rutting PRILL
Enough with the alarm already! I know I’ve escaped. Bad me.
“Lud!” Sim shouts.
“Sim! You found my pants! Perfect timing, let’s blow this Prill-box.”
“Yes, now put them on, there’s a lady present.”
I turn to find a young woman openly staring at me in my nakedness.
“You’re not a Prill.” I state the obvious. I’m good at that.
“No.” The lady is not impressed.
“It’s not a Prill-box, Lud,” Sim said. “It’s an Applebaum Lab. They mimicked a Prill trap.”
“That explains the klaxons” I said.
I rounded the corner, tugging my re-quipped pants up so as KUNK
That’s the sound my lips make as I accidentally kiss the ring…er logo on the glass door of the Applebaum Lab Hallway 03 exit.
A lovely etching of a tree. Limbs reaching for the sky with roots seeking below. Inscribed within a circle. Bound. A trunk bisecting the letters AB. Now adorned with my lip prints by the A.
“No, YOU kiss MY A, damn Applebaums.”
“Good one, Lud,” Sim says. “That’ll teach them what for.” He claps my shoulder and swipes a keycard past the pad with his tail, passing me through the whooshing egress.
“Excuse me,” says the as yet introduced lady as she steps past. Keeping her distance. Do I smell?
“Yes, yes who are you anyway?” I ask rounding on her, rubbing my nose with one hand while ratching my belt with the other.
Stellar first impression I make.
“This is Yalo,” Sim provides, ripping access panels from doors. “I rescued her.”
“Sure is,” Sim beams.
“And the rest of our stuff? The haul? Did you rescue that, too, while they did unspeakable things to me?”
“Be glad I got your pants.”
“Unspeakable. Things. Sim. Unspeakable.”
“So stop speaking about them, ingrate.” He leaps ahead, breaking the other door panels.
“Look, Yalo, I put some damn pants on, so would you please quit with the stink eye stare you’ve been giving me since you saw all of my glory?”
Kwoosh. I twist my arm and let it drop.
“It’s making me all primply.”
Poor grum. Never saw the dick punch coming. Don’t sneak up on me.
“And you!” I turn and stare down the prone guard as my hand starts choking him.
“Turn.” Kick. “Off.” Kick. “That.” Kick. “Bloody.” Kick. “Alarm.” Kick. “It’s really starting to damage my calm.”
“Miss one?” Sim asks. I just stare at him. No words need to be said.
She’s staring at my hand.
My pretty blue biosynthene hand.
It’s really pretty. Translucent blue so you can see all the mechanical bits working inside, melding with synthetic flesh
It utterly disgusts her, my pride and joy.
So that’s how it is.
“You wanna touch it?” I ask with a sly grin. “It feels real nice.”
“No, modder, I don’t want to touch that unnatural abomination,” Yalo snips.
I take a new look at the woman, Yalo. No visible modifications. No jacks, ports, grafts.
“Wasn’t particularly happy to be rescued by you, aye Sim?” I ask quietly.
“Didn’t take an immediate shine to the notion, no.” Sim is more cut on than I am. Not just the tail either. Legs too. Lost the originals as a kid. No human spares.
She, on the other hand, was clean.
“City type?” I ask, squinting at the thought of Applebaums holding one of the populous. Notion didn’t sit right.
“Sim,” I draw out the name. “You’re sure you ‘rescued’ her, not ‘kidnapped’ her, right? There is a very subtle, very important difference between the two.”
“Says she’s a Tender, Lud. Tender Yalo.”
Well, that’s different.
“Hooooooooboy. You saddled us with a shining nutbar Sim. Let’s just drop her.” Now that Sim said it, I could see the bumps around her neck. Seeds. I look closer to see if I can spot any taking root under her skin.
She stares back at me. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not right in front of you.”
“Why not,” I snap, “you are doing everything in your power to pretend we don’t exist right now. Well pardon us if we offend your psychopathic sensibilities by continuing to live, Tender Yalo.” Mock deference dripping from each syllable – a few of which I added in there for more drippage.
“You aren’t living,” she replies cooly. Detached. “You desecrated your body and ceased being alive when you grafted poison to your vessel.” Haughty barely began to describe her.
“YOU ARE GROWING PLANTS INSIDE YOUR BODY. YOU ARE A WALKING TREE.”
“I am not yet a Tree-Mother, should I ever be blessed to be so.” The tone of a teacher correcting an ignorant child. Ever patient. “I am Tending the future of Mother Earth. “
Deep breath. Hssssrksh.
Don’t argue with religious nutbar tree people.
So she’s growing plants inside her body.
My arm can walk about independently from my body and Sim has the legs of an ape and the tail of a cartoon monkey.
Everyone picks their defect in the after-glow.
“Why wasn’t it Prill?”
“Can we go now?” Sim appears holding our take. “This meat is about to spoil.”
“Think that grum spleen is ripe?”
“Evil. First you dick punch him, now you want his spleen?”
“You and spleens. Sheesh.”
Michael row your boat ashore.
Michael row your boat ashore.
“They say the sky was blue.” They call him Mik.
“Horseshit.” They call her Fos.
“What’s a horse?” He calls himself Ned, but we call him Spec.
“Dead animal. People used to ride them. Or beat them. Or beat them off, but that was mostly illegal and, where not, highly frowned upon.” Wisdom of Scholar Erk.
We all look up from food.
“Was blue, now not.” Simple. “Now it’s the color of wine, or waste, or piss in a jar, or green like milk and honey on the other side seven three six nine four” TWITCH Repeat
They glance at me a second, trying not to. Did it again. They call me Dove. I’m the Navigator for this crew.
“All sparky now, too, aye Dove?” Mik breaks the awkward. “Full of light shows day and night.” We call him leader.
“Is the sky blue?” Erk intones. “What was once a rhetorical question common in parlance is now an absurdist proposition! Who in their right mind would ask such a thing?” He likes his books, that one.
I take a deep swig of some sky colored brew, don’t ask which sky, and head for the deadline.
No one follows.