Non-fantastic voyage

In the end, we did do some trading at the bad bar outpost.  There wasn’t anything we wanted there but it seemed like a bad idea to leave without doing some business.  Martialla did shoot a guy four times in the head, common courtesy demands the least we could do was “buy” something.  All we accomplished was swapping different kinds of not very good food, but items changed hands which seemed like the minimum level of interaction required to not run into real trouble.  You know, more trouble than needing to shoot a guy in the head.

At least that’s what I thought at the time.  Martialla had sorted through the bullet sack and taken all the ammo for our single firearm and some others she thought might work for weapons we had seen that might be available, but that still left us with a couple fistfuls of assorted bullets.  We traded those fistfuls for a thing that looked like an ear piecing gun mixed with a bedazzler, not because we wanted it, just to be amiable.   Martialla was trying to cook a big leathery bird that had landed on my bike earlier and started trying to eat the tire, which we had bludgeoned to death.  “Ela, isn’t a leathery bird a pterodactyl?” No, I’m not an idiot, I know what a pterodactyl looks like.  I spent six weeks in the rain in Colombia with a malfunctioning animatronic pterodactyl for movie that ended up never being finished.   While she was doing that, I was fiddling with the thing trying to figure out where the rhinestones came out.

Eventually I gave up and tossed it in a satchel with the other seemingly useless trade item we got recently – the silver canister.  There was a “whoosh” noise and the satchel shifted a little bit.  Even though I expected a giant bug to leap at me, I looked inside anyway.  I saw that some previously invisible symbols were glowing on the side of the canister and a seam had appeared towards the top, making it look a little like a big ass bullet.  Or a small artillery shell.  Same thing?  Before Martialla could carp at me to be careful, I pulled it out.  When the canister moved away from the bedazzler, the seam and the lights disappeared.  When I put them next to each other again, they came back.   

Martialla looked over at me “Hey, be care . . .” 

That’s as far as she got when I touched one of the symbols and the top of the canister opened up like a flower, you know, like a weird flower that looks like a metal thermos.  Each “petal” had a clear hard plastic (or something like it) test tube type reservoir about the size of my finger.  They were all empty and in the main body of the thing there was a sealed package of some kind that looked to be filled with a silvery liquid.  Martialla gave up on her bird and walked over as I was examining it.

I looked up at her “Huh, what do you suppose this thing is?” 

Martialla squinted down “Well what you have in your hand is probably a nanoinjector and this thing is where the nanorobots are stored in a solution.” 

I shook my head, closed my eyes, punched my nose, and sighed heavily before opening them again “Martialla, you’re my oldest and most loyal friend but you’ve managed to earn my contempt once again.  You . . .” 

She shut me up by pointing at a tiny little label on the inside of the thermos-flower which read “MedíCarro Industrial Grade Nanopaste”.  I cleared my throat uncomfortably.   

“Well . . . that could mean any number of things really . . . nano just means small right?  So maybe it just means small paste right?  Like it’s glue or something.  That makes . . .” 

She shut me up again by pointing at my arm, which had very thin but very noticeable lines running under the skin that were glowing with a blue light that matched up with that on the side of the canister.  While I was thinking of a cutting retort, Martialla bent low and put her arm next to the canister and similar lines appeared on her as well.  After smirking at me for a moment, she went back to burning the hideous bird creature she expects me to eat. 

“God damn it.  I hate when you’re right.  So we have robots inside us?  How is that possible?  Isn’t that a quantum leap forward in . . . you know, whatever, medicine or robotics or . . . if robots are repairing us from the inside doesn’t that . . . mean something?” 

She shrugged “Maybe the Cryogenics West people were going to go public later that day with their revolutionary new technology.  Who knows?  Maybe they weren’t approved for humans yet and they were doing it on the downlow.  Maybe they were making it for the government off the books.  Maybe a million other things.  That’s the inconvenient truth about the world blowing up, history gets a little fuzzy.” 

I stared at my glowing arm for a moment “I don’t like the idea of a robot inside me.” 

Martialla winked outrageously “Not according to the footage I saw.” 

“Allowances will be made for smooth talking androids played by Jimmy Smits.  You know, Eve of Destruction Three could have been a pretty good movie if we had another five million dollars in the budget for effects and some reshoots.” 

Martialla was waving ineffectually at a plume of green smoke coming off the bird she was trying to cook “Or you could have taken that five million and put, what, maybe two hundred kids through college?” 

I gestured at the land around us “Those kids are all dead now so I feel like we made the right choice.  So what?  We can use this thing to inject more nanorobots into us?  What would that do?  Would it make me not feel like shit all the time?  That would be nice for me.” 

“I have no idea Ela, why would I?  Maybe the nanobots would fight each other and destroy all your organs in the process.  Maybe they would be completely useless.  Maybe they’d build you another pair of functional arms.  It all depends on how they’re programmed.” 

I examined the tube/bullet/thermos “You’d think they’d put instructions on these things.  Do you think I should inject some into myself and see what happens? 

Martialla feigned thinking about it for a moment “Inject yourself with something we know nothing about?  That sounds like the worst idea I have ever heard.  Possibly the worst idea anyone has ever had.  Ever, in the history of the world.” 

“What about Speed Two Cruise Control?” 

She looked at me with fake gravitas “Yes, Ela, even worse than Speed Two Cruise Control.”    

“Whoa.” 

I’ve retraced every scar

Because it wasn’t bad enough that I’m dying of food poisoning and have a snake bite on my ass and the wound is probably infected, now thanks to Martialla, I also probably have Dengue fever or Hippo pox or whatever you get from roughly a million gallons of dirty tar-water-oil being flooded into all the holes in your head.  When Martialla fired at the beast, it charged at us because of course it did!  Why would it not charge at us?  You mess with the bull you get the horns.  Or rather, as my grandmother used to say, you can’t go looking around with hot water and then act shocked when you get burned a little bit.  

When it came at us it seemed like it pushed half the entire lake in front of it – I’ve seen surfers on smaller waves out at the Wedge.  It was like a dam had broken.  It was like a fucking tsunami.  I suppose that worked out in our favor though because it was such a deluge of water flying at us that we were washed away a good thirty yards or so instead of being seized in the creature’s jaws or tentacles or claws or acid-pouch or whatever other weird mutant grabbers it had. 

We were yanked off our feet and sent spinning around like a mouse in a washing machine.  My mask was knocked off and pretty much every crease and crinkle in my body was aggressively infiltrated with filthy water.  Filthy isn’t even a strong enough word.  Sludge is what it was.  Or some kind of slurry.  It was like that slime they dump on people at the kid’s choice awards only with slightly more typhus.  I thought I had a bad cough before, for a good half an hour after Martialla’s stupid maneuver got me drenched and full body enema-ed, I coughed so much my ribs felt like they were cracking in half.  Lengthwise I mean.  

When I finally managed to stop hacking and snorting the mud out of my face and staggered to my feet, there was no sign of the beast.  Which is good because it easily could have killed us all while we were half-drowned and all filth-spattered.  Our guide was not pleased by this turn of events.  Not because he was drenched with garbage juice which would have been reasonable, because I think he was actually cleaner afterwards, or because our attempt at beast slaying was an utter failure, but because we had fired a gun.  He was very upset about that.  He said that guns were not allowed around here.  What the hell did he think we were going to do?  Jump in the water and wrestle the sharktopusgatorphant with our bare hands?  

A bunch more dudes from the village with sticks showed up to tell us we were banished forever, not just from that village but from all the villages around the lake of disgusting filmy grime water.  What would have been funny is if we shot them all while they yelled at us and shook their sticks in our faces about how guns were not okay.  Irony?  But we didn’t shoot them while they yelled at us and shook their sticks in our faces.  What would have been the point?  There’s nothing quite like being banned from a place you don’t want to go to anyway.  Like that time I was told never to return to Chuck-E-Cheese.  

We managed to pull our masks out of the muck but since all the filters for them got covered with mud and crud and scrud, there was no reason to put them back on our faces.  I wore mine on my head like a hat, a little dash of post-apocalyptic flare.  We headed north into (out of?) exile from grosstown because it seemed like the easiest path.  For several hours, any time either of us tried to speak we were arrested by a coughing fit but eventually as we trudged along to nowhere, we managed to croak words at each other.

“Are we going to get used to this air quality or die of cardiopulmonary disease?”

Martialla though a moment before answering “Yes?”

“Remember in that movie Speed when Keanu accidentally stabs the gas tank of the bus with a screwdriver and then the girl from the Net asks him if he felt like being on a bus with a bomb wasn’t a big enough challenge for him?  I’m trying to think of a line like that for you trying to drown us with a septic pit wave.”

“Well keep working on it, I’m sure it will come to you.  Weren’t you supposed to be in Speed Three?”

I couldn’t help but spit, and not because my esophagus was coated with crude oil “Yes but that mother fucker Jason Patric said that I was too old to be his love interest.  I’m ten years younger than him!”

“In Hollywood that does make you too old to be the love interest doesn’t it?  If he’s in his mid-thirties, wouldn’t they have needed to cast a middle schooler as the female lead?”

“Yeah well he’s dead now, and good riddance I say.  You ever see that movie Narc?  What a piece of crap.”

“Speed Two wasn’t bad enough for you as a reference?”

I looked around at the blighted and benighted landscape “I can’t say that I ever gave much thought to what I would be doing after the end of the world, but criticizing the career works of Jason Patric with you is not what I would have expected at all.”

“Funny, I expected nothing else.”