Can you picture what will be

Eventually we figured out that the scabby little mole people actually were speaking English, or at least some patois with a lot of English in it.  They were just speaking so fast and with such poor diction it was hard to understand them.  It seemed like they were shouting “hooah!” like in that crappy movie where Al Pacino pretends to be blind but they were saying “who are you” or something along those lines.  Once we figured that out, we were kind of able to communicate with them.  Mostly.

They were traders.  Or scavengers maybe.  Actually I guess they were both, first they scavenge then they trade.  They were wary of our guns but they didn’t seem to be afraid of them.  I think maybe most of their trades take place at gunpoint.  Or clubpoint or whatever since they didn’t seem to have any firearms.  At one point I could tell they were making fun of the way we talked.  I would have been offended if they weren’t such gross monsters that it was impossible to care about their opinion. 

When I went up to look at their junk wagon, they kept trying to sidle beside me like one of those pervs that rubs up against you on the bus.  I repeatedly had to tell them to stay in front of me, I thought I was going to have to shoot one of them to back them off.  Or you know, not do it myself, but order Martialla to shoot one of them.  Even though they were more varmint than man, I’m not sure I could have pulled the trigger unless they were actually attacking me. 

It was definitely a waste of time.  When I say that they had a junk wagon, I mean that literally.  I don’t mean junk as in stuff, I mean junk as in literal garbage.  There was some scrap metal which I guess has value but honestly it looked like a mobile landfill.  I’m surprised there wasn’t a flock of seagulls circling it and screaming.  The wagon was huge, it was bigger than a haywagon like back on the farm and it was being pulled by a comically tiny motorcycle.  It looked like a minibike, honest to God. 

The only thing they had that looked worth anything was food.  Real food.  Tomatoes, grapes, almonds, walnuts, all kinds of stuff.  It looked half the size and twice as ugly as what I buy at the grocery store but it seemed healthsome enough.  My mouth started watering in that gross way where it makes you feel like you might yak – that’s when you know it’s been too long since you’ve eaten.  The problem was what to give them.  There are probably all sorts of things with good trade value in the cryo-facility but it’s also best to keep that stuff undercover right?  Plus we don’t know the relative worth of anything.  If the world is really crunked and no one can manufacture anything anymore, that makes paper rare for sure, but is it valuable? 

I asked Martialla what else was valuable in Waterworld besides dirt and she gave me that look she gives when I treat movies like they have real information.  What the hell does she want from me?  I’ve never haggled with post-apocalyptic badger people before.  Where else am I supposed to draw information from other than movies?  There’s no way to have any practical experience here lady.

She told me seventeen times not to trade away my gun.  Which is insulting.  I’m not a moron.  Although strangely they didn’t seem interested in them.  Maybe in this world no one would ever give up a weapon so they didn’t even consider it?  They also didn’t seem interested in us, you know, as women.  Not that I would have offered or agreed anyway, but that also seemed odd.  They’re ugly as sin so maybe that’s what they like? 

In the end, we traded them a couple of Applied Cryogenics West jumpsuits for assorted produce and some stacks of crud they called a word that sounded like a racial slur and Martialla called “lock-up loaf” because it’s what they give to prisoners for meals as a form of punishment when they assault a guard – at least when the Supreme Court lets them.  Not anymore though, since I get the feeling there is no penal system nor Supreme Court anymore.  The three stooges were pretty happy with the jumpsuits so we probably got ripped off. 

The foodwad was gross but it was the only thing I could eat.  All those nice juicy fruits and veggies tasted like the floor of a public restroom to me.  Martialla was able to choke it down but I couldn’t force myself to swallow that nasty crap. 

We tried to ask them what happened to the world but they didn’t understand the question no matter how we tried to ask it.  Or we didn’t understand the answer.  Maybe both.  I asked them if someone dropped the bomb and I eventually realized their jabbering was them telling me where to go to get a bomb.  I swear to god it sounded like they said to get on the 101 at one point.  We asked them where people live and they talked a mile a minute and gestured all over the place, none of which made any sense to us.  But I suppose that means there are other people around.

Martialla asked them what they used as fuel.  After much “who’s on first” bullshit we realized their answer was “fuel”.  She asked if she could look at their bike and they got real squirrely about that.  Up until that point I got the feeling they would have hung around and chattered at us all day, but once Martialla showed interest in the bike, they got agitated and not long after that they cleared out.  They wouldn’t even start up their machine until we were down the ramp below their sightline – as if starting up a dirtbike was magic that you could only replicate by watching it happen. 

Even though the cryo-place seems like a fortress, the front doors are just glass.  We dragged some chairs out into the hallway from the breakroom so we could watch to see if they came back while we enjoyed our feast of rotten fruit and prison sludge. 

I sighed as I put my feet up on a chair “So one of us needs to be on watch here all the time probably?”

Martialla popped a tomato in her gaping maw and nodded “We should have been doing that before, that was stupid, they could have walked right in on us.”

I shook my head “I don’t see how you can eat that.  What’s wrong with it?”

She shrugged “Bad soil?  Maybe it’s irradiated and I’ll wake up with a bunch of tumors.  Maybe this is just what food tastes like when you don’t have pesticides and herbicides and fertilizer and genetically modified bean sprouts.  Who knows?”

“How do you know it’s safe?”

She gave me a cool look “I don’t, but if this is what food is like now, it doesn’t much matter does it?  We only have so many high fructose corn syrup bars and once they’re out, this is all there is.  If we can’t eat this food safely we’re dead either way.”

My face fell “Jesus Martialla.”

She held up a nut appraisingly “Freaking tell me about it.”

October 22, 1973 – Eat, Prey, Blood

We were presented with no bill at Le Petit Point d’Arret Parlant.  I don’t know if that’s because we’re ostensibly friends of Elvis or they thought we were robbing the place or what.  If it’s the first thing, they definitely took a loss on that transaction because I ate and drank the equivalent of roughly seventy to a hundred hours of dishwashing.   

I’ll give Elvis this, for a man under a death sentence from a violent mystical crime syndicate, he knows how to have a good time.  After he got off work we headed to a bar on the beach – not a shitty beach near the docks but not a crowded beach in touristville either.  It was nice and secluded, probably because it was one of those clothing optional deals.  I say this, Madripoor may be one of the ugliest places on earth but there are some beautiful people here.  I’m starting to get too pale.  I should be sure to find some time to lay out in-between being attacked by psychotic assassins and robbing casinos – keep a good base tan going.  You never know when you’ll be called upon to disrobe, best to stay in fighting shape.

That wasn’t Elvis’s surprise though.  We drank something that tasted like rum punch (but it’s probably something weird made out of tree sap and octopus ink) for maybe an hour at the beach and then we headed back into town.  Elvis took us to a place right outside of touristville tucked away in a Vietnamese neighborhood where they had this contraption that was something like an 8-track playback deck that people were singing along with.  I had a vocal coach once who had something like that, but this was more intricate.  You put a coin in the machine and selected one of the songs and then music would play for you to sing over.

There was also a band there that would play songs live as accompaniment instead if you preferred.  All it cost was one of the bills with a crab on it – or maybe a sailboat, abstract art you know.  As a professional singer, usually it grates on me when people try to sing that can’t, but everyone was hammered which made it much more tolerable.  Without the shame of sober inhibitions, at least people go for it you know, even if they can’t sing a lick – which most of them can’t.   

Show Me the Way to Go Home isn’t the kind of song I would normally sing, but they had a limited selection of western songs.  Curiously the band knew the entire soundtrack to Superfly, which rocked.  For the first time in a long time, since I got here probably, all my cares melted away.  I love singing.  And I’m very good at it.  For a few minutes at a time, I felt totally free.  Sure, my voice sounded like crap because I’ve been smoking too much and not taking care of myself like I did back home, but it was still great.  There were maybe forty people in there but I felt like I was performing at a stadium show in front of thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world.  It was wonderful. 

Martialla, Blue, and LBK are all actually decent singers.  Maybe that can be our gimmick as a super team. 

But that wasn’t the surprise either!  After singing our little hearts out (and more drinking), we walked a long way uphill (enough that I started to get crabby about it, I don’t get tired but my calves still get sore) to one of the second story house/apartment things they have around here, where I was greeted by the scent of something wonderful.  We walked up to an open kitchen (it was some kind of diner/food stand) where a woman who looked more like a Russian tsarina than a chef was cooking up a storm.  I saw she had just taken something out to cool – a pizza! 

I mean sure, if you want to be a jerk it was more of a flatbread than a real pizza – the sauce was on top of the cheese for instance – but I didn’t care, it was fucking pizza!  The sauce wasn’t quite right, it was more of an olive oil and diced tomato slurry, but again, I didn’t care.  It was fantastic.  I was drooling like a dog while I was eating it.  I managed to keep it together, but honestly the moment it hit my mouth, I was flooded with memories of home.  Artista Pizza Kitchen in New Orleans, hanging at The Piccadilly at Manhattan after a show, getting shitty carry-out pizza that tastes like cardboard on the road, it all came roaring into my mind.  Home.  I didn’t cry though.   

Afanasiya Andzhighatova, the cook, said that she wasn’t Russian but she and Martialla were chatting in what sure sounded like Russian to me.  Her take on pizza may have been deliciously off the mark, but she was spot-on with her bibollita, polenta, and ossobuco alla milanese.  When I asked her about it, she said that “one of” her husbands had been half Italian and he taught her a few things.  She had never heard of pizza before though.  Is that not really from Italy?  Have I been misled again? 

The wine she was serving was garbage but you can’t have everything.  I tried not to make a pig of myself, not sure I succeeded, but it was clear based on the seemingly endless food coming out that Elvis had given her the heads up about my “condition”.  Or he told her that she was catering an event for forty people.  That Elvis is a crafty jackrabbit, he wasn’t even expecting to see me that day so how did he get this set-up so quickly?  Truly Elvis works in mysterious ways. 

“Ela, didn’t you just eat approximately eight pounds of spicy noodles six hours before?” 

Shut up.  I have the paperwork (well I did but I lost it) from those science nerds saying that I need two hundred thousand calories a day to function properly.  So go take a leap.  For the first time in months I felt FULL.  It was like I could feel my body coming back to life – energy pouring into my limbs.  I felt like I could tear the peak off a mountain.  I felt like I could take on the whole world all by myself.   

I thanked Elvis profusely, it was easily the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.  I mean ever.  In my whole life.  He did his best to deflect everything I was throwing his way – the attention made him slightly embarrassed.  I think he’s just a good cat, you know?  In Madripoor!  Who knew?  Martialla made an “under the breath but really I want you to hear” comment about how “princess” gets homesick and everyone drops everything to wait on me hand and foot, but even that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.  I’ll get her a bucket of fish-heads to chew on later if she’s still feeling sore about it. 

I was feeling so good, I was starting to think that the whole thing about Elvis being killed had been a scam, which is of course when they came for him.   

September 6th, 1973 – Which way to the embassy?

I asked my new best friend Elvis to point me towards the consulate for the Coalition States.  He didn’t know what I was talking about.  Doesn’t every country have a place in every other country where you go after you get kidnapped?  I tried to explain to him what an embassy was but I was hamstrung by the fact that I don’t really know what an embassy is.  It’s where the ambassador lives right?  That went nowhere but since I was still starving he took me to an open air noodle place.  It was like a shelter in a park, only it was a restaurant.  Elvis watched with mild disgust as I shoved noodles in my mouth.

“Why are you so scrawny if you eat like that?”

“Scrawny?!  I’m perfectly proportioned!”

He shrugged slightly “I guess.  Where does all the food go, that’s what I want to know.”

I looked around at the surrounding buildings “What I want to know is where the real food is around here.  I would die for a cheeseburger right now.  And some fries.  And a Coke.  And some cookies.  And a hot dog.  And some pizza.  And some ice cream.  I think those guys gave me a tapeworm or something.”

“What makes you think they did anything to you?”

“Well aside from the fact that I’m starving to death and I have a headache that would kill a gorilla, there’s this.” I twisted a fork around into a blob as easily as if it was a pipe cleaner.

He made a face “There’s no reason to ruin a good fork.  Are you saying you couldn’t do that before?” I shook my head “Huh.  I thought you were one of those American superwomen.  If the Shadow Lords have figured out how to give people superpowers that’s not going to be good for anyone.”

“What are you talking about?  What superwomen?”

He cocked his head slightly “I see in the news all the time about Americans flying around and blowing up bases and thwarting missile attacks.  Stuff like that.”

I chewed for a moment “You mean those two guys in the military that are always overthrowing regimes in South America?  And that Angel woman who just died?  What does that have to do with me?”

“Nothing apparently.  Supermen and women come from America and you have superpowers and are from America so I thought that’s what was happening.”

“You keep saying America like that’s a country.  I’m from the Coalition, I was born in the States and moved to the Pecos Republic but . . .”

Elvis held his hands up “Don’t get bent out of shape at me, I’m pretty sure you don’t have a strong grasp on the geography of southeast Asia either.”

“Fair enough.  Any thoughts on how I can get home?”

“Hmm, can’t you just fly?”

“How would I know if I could?”

He considered for a moment “Jump off a roof and see what happens?”

“Pass.”

“You’re going to need a plane ticket then sounds like.  Which means you’re going to need money.  I heard the Shadow Lords are looking for people like you.  I don’t know how well they pay though.  I think it’s more of an unpaid internship.”

“Hilarious.  You want to loan me some of your funny purple money to get home?  I’ll wire you the money back.  Eventually.  It may take a while, I’m kind of between jobs at the moment.”

He plucked at his dirty shirt “Do I look like I have any money to you?”

“No you don’t.  So what is your deal?  You just wander around picking fights with sex traffickers?”

He tilted his head “More or less yeah.  I know I guy you can talk to.  He’s in the CIA so he should be able to get you home somehow.”

“If he’s in the CIA how do you know about him?”

“I didn’t say he was good at his job.”