Since I updated the site the map section has been blank for a while, but it’s still the most visited page on the site. The main thing I’ve learned from this blog is that people LOVE maps. I don’t really get it. I hate when my RPG group cries for maps all the time. Does everything have to be exactly nailed down 100% all the time? Does it? Oh, it does? My mistake.
After the traders scurried off, Martialla and I sat around in the hallway for a couple hours not really doing anything. We had been all primed and ready to head out to explore (sort of) and then just like that the wind was taken out of our sails. For no exact reason. It’s like when you get up early and you get dressed to go to the gym and you’re raring to go and then just as your hand touches the doorknob to leave, suddenly you think “I don’t want to do this”. I guess the reality of the situation was sinking in. The end of the world and all that.
You know in the movies when the aliens are invading or the zombies come out of the ground or the Ebola monkeys are on the loose and there’s the one character who immediately jumps out the window (or whatever) and kills themselves? And you’re like “whoa dude, can you wait five minutes to see how things are going before you commit seppuku?” I kind of get it now. When something this enormous is staring you in the face, there’s a wave of helplessness that passes over you. Jumping off that bridge I suppose is a way of making what happens (death) your choice. But once that wave passes you’re just kind of . . . there.
We half-heartedly started talking about venturing out to explore again and essentially took turns saying why we should and then providing excuses why we should wait until tomorrow. We were commenting lackadaisically that we should have had the traders draw us a map of the area when we saw some shadows through the dirty glass. It’s fun how you can snap from a variety of bored malaise to being terrified to your bones in zero seconds. One moment you’re wondering if you even want to go on and the next moment you’re very much thinking about how you want to be super alive. Deadly threats have an interesting effect huh? It’s counterintuitive but I suppose we should have propped the doors open so we could see who was coming.
I really wanted to tell Martialla to go first and I would cover her, I wanted it more than I wanted that role in The Mummy Returns. And I wanted to be in The Mummy Returns a lot. I can’t play Egyptian? I got news for you, casting director Joanna Colbert, Patricia Velásquez ain’t from Egypt either. But that would have made no sense since Martialla is the shooter and I’m the talker. I should be proud of myself for not asking her because she probably would have done it even though it’s illogical. She takes this bodyguard shtick pretty seriously. Even I feel most bodyguard contracts have an out clause in case of world-ending events.
Do you ever have that thing where being scared of something makes you reckless instead of cautious? I get that every now and then. It’s not a good trait. I should work on that. No reason to let the end of the world get in the way of self-improvement. I decided that the best thing to do was to yank the door open and shout “What the hell do you want?” On the other side, the small filthy men with bad skin, bad teeth, and an even worse odor scattered like rats. Actually more like armadillos. I was on Conan once and the zoo lady brought an armadillo. Those animal segments on talk shows are death. I blame Carson for that. Yeah, I said it. The poor little thing just ran around and around in a circle. If it could speak, I imagine it would have been saying “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear”. They were more like that than rats. Rats are more self-assured. When they run they’re hissing at you, the rat equivalent of flipping the bird. They’ll be back.
The first three traders had returned with friends. Because of the difficulty communicating with them, I’m not sure if they thought we asked them to do that or were just taking it upon themselves or what they were thinking. Once they stopped freaking out over me startling them, they were excited to show us more junk, but before I could politely decline, there was a second commotion up top where their wagons were. There was some too-fast for me to understand talking and then some shouting. The guys down the ramp seemed to be torn between running back up to protect their trash wagons and trying to dash into the building for cover. I saw them eyeballing my gun like maybe it was worth the risk to charge at me.
Before they could decide, a few more of the traders came marching down with a couple other guys herding them. The newcomers were bigger, although I doubt any of them were over five six, and they were wearing some kind of pants that looked like a camouflage pattern with the colors all wrong – hibiscus on a pastel yellow. I don’t know where you’re going to hide with that scheme unless it’s on a Rose Bowl parade float. They would have looked totally ridiculous if they hadn’t been carrying guns but they were, so they were merely mostly ridiculous looking. Two of them had what kind of looked like big long flare guns to me. Martialla later called them “cut-down lever action rifles” but how can a rifle have a barrel that’s only eight inches long? Regardless, Martialla assured me they wouldn’t fire flares, assuming they fired at all. They looked to me like something the juvie kids would make in metalshop.
But the third guy had something else altogether. I’ve seen enough action movies to know an AK-47 when I see one (Martialla’s note, it was an AK-101). I guess those things do last forever. I almost had a studio convinced to let me play a terrorist in some dumb plane hijacking movie. I thought it would be interesting to have a woman terrorist, but they decided in the end that wouldn’t be cool with foreign audiences. I guess they thought people in those countries wouldn’t mind being portrayed as terrorists much as long as it’s a male actor in the stereotype, I mean role.
AK certainly seemed to be in charge. Was he in charge because he had the best gun or did he have the best gun because he was in charge? Or was it because of his potato head? You see, this fellow’s forehead was all lump and bumpy like he had tubers growing that hadn’t broken out from under the skin yet. It was like a crappy alien makeup design from Star Trek or some other sci-fi show like that, only even lazier than usual because they weren’t symmetric or matching or anything. Other than having a forehead full of tumors, he looked less scabby and unhealthy than the traders were.
He glanced at us and then spoke to the traders in a fast-clipped way that I couldn’t follow at all. I was about to speak up when he put the tip of his rifle against one of the trader’s chests and casually blew him away. Like he was reaching for a beer out of a cooler. No big deal, just killing a guy.
For a moment I thought the pain I was feeling was just in my head, like from the shock you know, but when I saw the blood, I realized that the bullet had gone through that poor sap and hit me right on the front point of my hip bone. It didn’t have enough force left to penetrate, but it was like taking a bad spill when your bike smacks into a tree.
I don’t know about the other two, but his gun sure as hell worked.
I looked over at Martialla solemnly “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
She blew out a long breath “That it’s going to be impossible to effectively keep watch on both entrance doors with just the two of us?”
I shook my head “No, I was thinking that if that’s what men look like now, there’s not much chance of a quality lay for the rest of my life. I was worried about my looks fading, but if those pigmen are what we having running around now, I’m in for a long dry spell.” I gave her a frank look “Unless . . . you know.”
When she didn’t react, I threw my hands up “Come on, that was funny, lighten up a little, it’s only the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. What do you care about keeping an effective watch anyway? We were literally getting ready to leave when those mongrels showed up.”
It was a moment before she spoke “I’m having second thoughts.”
I raised an eyebrow “That’s my line. You said we’d die if we stayed here.”
“I know that!” She took a moment to calm herself “I know we can’t stay here, I’m just . . . those guys showing up really unbalanced me.”
I chuckled “Those rash-covered losers? Why are you afraid of them? I’ve seen more intimidating eighth graders. If anything, seeing them made me feel better. They didn’t even have guns. We probably have the only functioning firearms left in the world. That makes us queens of this world! Until we run out of bullets anyway.” I waited but Martialla didn’t say anything “It’s interesting, isn’t it? Weapons seem to last forever but everything else breaks down. Tools for killing? Immortal. Tools for living? Rotted away. It’s like a metaphor for human violence or something.” I waited another moment and then waved my arms at her “Hello, are you listening to me?”
I gestured “Well tell me about it, let’s work it out. Remember that movie where I played a therapist? I got the gist of it. I can shrink heads with the best of them.”
She frowned slightly “I don’t remember a therapist movie. I guess you didn’t need a stunt double for that one.”
“Actually I did, see I played Doctor Case Meridian and one of her patients became obsessed with her and broke into her house at night to eat her kneecaps. Also he was a serial killer, I think. Also maybe there was a vampire. That movie got really screwed up in editing. The working title was Fatal Attraction and when they found out there was already a movie with that name everything got messed up, I think one of the financing people pulled out. How could they not know about Fatal Attraction? That movie came in out eighty-seven! I don’t even recall what the final title ended up being. Something about a snake maybe. Anyway, you weren’t in it because you couldn’t work then, I was filming that after you fell off that mule at the Grand Canyon and ripped your perineum in half.”
She glared at me “That is not what happened! First of all, it was a full grown big horse not a mule, and more importantly . . .”
I laughed “Yeah, yeah, whatever, let’s get therapizing, have you been getting enough sleep?”
“You said you played a doctor in that movie? Are therapists doctors? Did you mean you were a psychiatrist?”
“There was a man wearing a George Bush mask attacking my knees with a circular saw, I don’t think the script writer was too concerned with accuracy.”
Martialla spit out some mung from the disgusting food she was eating before continuing “Seeing those men made it real for me. I was in shock before I think, probably still am, seeing them drove it home.
Our world is gone. Rick is dead. My parents, my friends, everyone I knew except you, it’s all gone. Maybe we can survive here, but what for? It’s all gone.”
“We don’t know that. In all the Mad Max movies, there’s like a biodome where people are attractive and have lots of food and go watch killer motorcade fights and laser themselves when they’re fifty as a form of population control because a giant computer tells them to. We just need to look for something like that.”
She looked at me annoyedly “This isn’t a movie, Ela.”
“Sure it is, we’re the last two women on earth, there’s a bunch of movies like that. When we finally give into the temptation of our desires in the second act, it’s really going to be hot, Mar. Some actresses get uptight about doing nude scenes, but here’s my theory. If it’s for the movie, and if it’s not just about nudity, but if it’s artistic and says something about reality, and if it’s in character and if it’s for the scene,
and if it’s not just a body that . . .”
She threw a hand up “Okay, enough.”
I grinned “The sex will be simulated of course, this isn’t a porn, but that doesn’t mean . . .”
She rolled her eyes “You are a buffoon.” After a moment she sighed “I’ve never had to be brave before. I’m not sure I have it in me.”
I was stunned into silence for a moment “How can you say that? You’re the bravest person I’ve ever known! When that mob attacked you didn’t hesitate, you took action.”
“That wasn’t bravery, that was just reaction, that was self-defense.” She smiled weakly “Plus that was over a hundred years ago, people change.” She sighed “Maybe brave isn’t the right word. When I worked at the embassy there was this one guy, everyone hated him because they thought he was a spook. His hands and arms were covered with scars, he couldn’t straighten out his fingers anymore because the nerves were cut or damaged. I asked him about it one day. He said that he climbed over several barbed wire fences to get out of a prison in Cambodia, the guards didn’t watch them because they didn’t think anyone would be fucked up enough to climb through them. I asked him how you do something like that he said ‘it’s just pain’. That’s what I’m talking about. There’s a difference between the kind of bravery where you don’t shit your pants in the moment but then afterwards you’re scared out of your mind and the kind of bravery where you know you’re going to be hurt, and I mean hurt bad, and you do it anyway. No one is making you, you just do it. I think that’s what’s going on out there.
We’re indoor cats who’ve suddenly been left at grandma’s farm because we hissed at the baby.”
“My cousin’s family did that, dropped the family cat off at our farm because it bit one of the neighbor kids. I remember how scared my cousin was for it, how she cried because she thought it was too soft and weak to make it. That cat was a freaking monster compared to our little farm cats. It was huge and it was mean and it gave zero shits. It ruled that place.”
She snorted “And what, that’s what we’re going to do?”
I shrugged “Sure, why not? In the words of Doctor Case Meridian ‘The first step to doing something is deciding to do it’.”
She shook her head “That’s a terrible line.”
“Well the guy who wrote it is probably long dead so things are looking up already.”
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.”
I did mess around with the computers for a couple hours. There wasn’t a password or a code or anything set up to protect access to the files. It was just all out there in the open. So much for confidentiality. All these dead guys would be pissed about that if they weren’t dead. I couldn’t figure out if anyone was frozen alive like Martialla and I were. After much poking of buttons, I did manage to open one of the other pods but nothing happened. I went out and looked. Just a frozen old dead dude in a tube.
After awhile I gave up on that idea and I started playing solitaire. Somehow out of all of it, that’s what made me cry. The world may be over and I was playing computer solitaire? It was too stupid not to make me really sad. When Martialla found me, I was in the bathroom starting at myself in the mirror. She looked around like she was expecting someone else to be in there with me.
“What are you doing?”
“Staring at myself in the mirror.”
She looked to the skies for help “Jesus Ela, I know you’re vain but this is too much even for you.”
I glared at her “Hey, if the world really is gone out there like you say, I’m never going to look this good again. I want to remember it. I want this image to be seared into my mind.” I held up one hand “If you’re right, I’m never going to get a manicure again, look at these cuticles! My nailbeds will never be this clean again. Have you thought about that?”
She shook her head and twisted the wedding ring on her finger “No, mostly I’ve been thinking about how I’ll never see my husband again.”
I sighed “You always have to one up me, don’t you Martialla? That’s one of your worst traits.”
She nodded somberly “I’m sorry that the thought of Rick being dead distracts from the sorrow of your beauty routine being disrupted.”
I snorted and then waved towards the door “If you’re going to be like this, let’s just go.” As we headed into the hallway, I looked over at her “Are you going to give me one of those guns?”
She thought a moment “I haven’t decided. I would like to have someone watching my back but I also don’t want you to freak out and shoot me in the spine because a cricket jumped on you.”
I scoffed “I went to the range every week when we were filming LA Gun Club.”
She gave me a side-glance “That movie wrapped over three years ago, I mean, three years before we were frozen for a hundred years . . .”
“It was not a hundred years!”
“Whatever, you know what I mean! Have you fired a gun since LA Gun Club, Ela?”
I thought about lying for a moment before answering “No.”
Before she could answer, we came in sight of the front doors. The glass is too dirty to see through clearly but we could both see a silhouette on the other side – one that was obviously the size and shape of a person. We both froze in place and she silently handed me one of the pistols. We stood there for a moment wondering if we were seeing what we were seeing. When the shadow moved on the other side of the door, I almost fell over. Martialla started creeping forward in a ballet like shuffle with her weapon up. I wanted to ask her what the plan was but I was too worried even to whisper.
She stopped when then person (?) outside started making some kind of wailing sound. It took a moment but eventually I realized that it was singing. Horrible singing, maybe not in English, but it was singing nevertheless. That shook me out of my torpor. Not that evil murdering rapists can’t sing, but it was something human and familiar. Martialla’s eyes went wide as I walked up to the door and reached for the handle.
I winked at her “Cover me.”
When I opened the door for a second, I thought it wasn’t a person at all but a very small and very upright bear. It was a man wearing a fuzzy brown animal skin. Not a fur like a rich lady would wear, more like a pelt – like I wore when I had a small role in that movie about the Oregon Trail. A Native American group sent me a nasty letter about playing that role. They should have been bitching to the casting director, not me. What actor is going to turn down a part?
When the door swung open, the man (?) jumped back like a startled rat. He didn’t look like he was even five feet tall. He brandished a sharpened piece of metal at me with cloth wrapping for a handle, more than a knife, like the size of a baton maybe.
“Hoo-ra!” he shouted at me, or something like that.
I kept my gun down but made sure he saw it “What? What’s who-raw? Are you in the marines?”
“Digger hi baker!”
I kept my eyes on him and said over my shoulder at Martialla “Is he speaking another language?”
Before she could answer, the small bearman whistled and two more guys came down onto the ramp. They were equally as small and dirty and their exposed skin was covered with hives. What really bumped me was their teeth though, they were so yellow they were almost brown and they looked like they were half the size they should have been. One of them had a fire axe, one of those mil-spec ones that looks even nastier than a normal axe – it made me think about what had happened just a few days before (to me, maybe a hundred years before) to that poor slob who tried to stand up again the mob. The other one had what looked like a pipe but was closed on both ends, a heavy piece of metal for smashing heads in any regard. I did raise my gun at that point and they backed off a few steps.
“So you know what a gun is huh? Can you understand me?”
Bearman ducked his head and said something that sounded like “seecwo”.
Out of my periphery I saw Martialla move up and take cover with her gun trained on the strange men.
“What the hell are we going to do here Mar?”
Remember at the end of Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston (I just realized for the first time what a weird name Charlton is) sees the Statue of Liberty on the beach and he freaks out because seeing that let him know that they “blew it all up”? Something like that would be helpful. When we go outside, there’s no reason not to just assume that Placerville had been abandoned. There’s nothing that says “clearly the apocalypse happened”.
You could say that the air quality should be a tip off, what with the haze and the throat stinging, but it’s California right? There’s always a wildfire somewhere it seems, plus all the pollution. Maybe the fact that our phones had no signal should be a tip off, but we always have crappy reception out of the city anyway. When the phone in the clinic didn’t work, that doesn’t even really help us know that the world has ended because if the place had been abandoned, there’s no reason it should have worked, right? Same thing with the water.
Plus there’s this to consider. Have you ever been cryogenically frozen? It makes everything all fuzzy. Even when that pod opens up, it takes a long time to get your head in the game. It was probably three hours before I felt like I could even sit up. I don’t know how long it was after that before I was clear headed enough to wake up Martialla.
There’s a storage room where we found some half faceplate masks with a bunch of filters, I assume they used those when they were handling whatever chemicals you use to freeze old dead dudes. According to the back of the box, the filters will only last eight hours in “very dusty” environments, which I am going to say the death-air outside is. Going through six a day is going to eat them up pretty fast. There’s an unopened pack of one hundred and maybe thirty in an opened box. That’s three weeks if we’re both outside all the time.
Whoever was living here while we were on ice had stockpiled a huge amount of bottled water, no loose bottles but pallets like you see in a warehouse, where did they get those and how did they get them here? But out of that, there were only about three hundred left. Martialla says we’re going to have to boil them before we drink them even though they’re sealed. And even then she doesn’t sound super confident that it’s totally safe. Can you get by on two bottles of water a day? Assume we can, that’s ten weeks of water, give or take.
Food is basically nil. There’s a pile of unopened cans but there’s nothing inside them but black flakes of scrud. I thought canned food lasted forever. I guess not. We do have a plastic crate of assorted energy bars, two dozen or so, that seem fine. Which is mildly disturbing. Martialla said that some energy bars are just a solid brick of preservatives so they last a really long time.
She also said that as long as they don’t get wet, guns and ammo basically last forever. So the four handguns we found should work. The knives and clubs certainly will if it comes to that. I’m ninety percent sure I could shoot someone if I had to, but the image of that guy taking an axe to karate guy haunts me. I’m not sure I can stab someone. As we were going through the tedious process of boiling all the water and putting it back into the bottles, I started to have second thoughts.
I looked at Martialla as she stacked up water bottles on the counter in the break room “I’m starting to have second thoughts.”
“We need to find out what’s out there, you said so yourself.”
“I know, that’s why I said SECOND thoughts. We have no idea what we’re walking into out there.”
Martialla paused her work to look me in the eye “Right, that’s why we need to find out.”
I gestured “We have electricity here that is apparently apocalypse proof.”
“What good is that? What we need is food and water, whatever kind of geothermal rig they have going on here doesn’t help us with either of those things. I mean unless you want to play minesweeper, the computers’ electricity doesn’t help us.”
“There’s like fifty frozen guys back there.”
Martialla stopped to think for a moment “Cannibalism?”
I nodded “Cannibalism.”
She shook her head and went back to packing “Even if we knew how to thaw them out, I don’t know if you’d want to eat someone who was cryogenically frozen. They’re probably full of antifreeze or something.”
“What about water? If you turn up the freezer enough you get frost, right? Can we rig up something to make ice that we can melt for water?”
She gave me an appraising look “Can you? Because I am not an electrician or an engineer, I don’t know how any of this equipment works. I have no idea how to turn electricity into water. I wish I fucking did. I know you feel safe here Ela, but we can’t stay. All we can do here is waste the supplies we do have waiting for nothing.”
“Maybe we could wake someone else up, strength in numbers.”
“They’re all dead Ela, that’s how cryogenics works. They freeze you after you die because it’s bullshit.”
I held my arms out wide “How can you say that? We’re here! It worked!”
Martialla got a stubborn look “But the cell walls . . .” I made a disgusted noise and she moved on “Look, if you want to try and figure out if someone else was frozen while they were still alive and then how to unfreeze them, go nuts, but as soon as we get all this water ready to go,we have to move.”
“We don’t have to leave leave though right? We can explore and come back if we need to?”
“Sure, we can check out Placerville and come back here maybe but that’s about it. After that, we need to head for the highways. Using up all our supplies investigating the three-mile radius around this hole in the ground isn’t going to net us anything.”
“It just seems crazy to leave this place, it’s like a fortress!”
“I thought you were the one who was thinking everything would be fine over the next hill, now you want to hunker down? Make up your mind.”
When I woke up I thought for a minute I was back in the hold of the Queen Mary or the Royal Sovereign or the Fancy Empress or whatever the name of the ship was that brought me to Madripoor and this thrilling new life of violence and horror. But it was “just” a room, like on land I mean, not in a ship. It didn’t have any bars like on the TV but it had a real prison vibe, maybe this is what solitary confinement is like. I’m no architect but the place seemed to be designed for super-person containment, I’m not sure what’s harder and stronger than concrete but I think that’s what it was made out of. The door wasn’t like a normal door, it was more like the door to a bank vault.
There was a cord or cable or whatever around my neck that led into a metal grommet (is that the right word?) through the wall. It was so tight around my neck that I couldn’t get my fingers behind it to get any leverage on it to break it, and the cord (or whatever) itself was some kind of slick material that I couldn’t get a good grip on for breaking either. It felt like it was made of liquid metal. No problem, just rip the wall down right? I have the strength of twenty strong men, even super concrete should be breakable with that kind of awesome power.
And maybe it would have been ordinarily, but I wasn’t feeling great. I smoke some grass now and then. I tried ludes a couple times. And like most people, I chewed on the adrenal gland of a coyote once. But other than that, drugs aren’t really my thing. So I don’t know what it feels like to be on heroin, but if I had to guess I think it felt like the way I feel now. For the first time in one hundred and twenty eight days, I wasn’t being chewed up from the inside by hunger. I had forgotten what it felt like to not be hungry. For the first time in one hundred and twenty eight days, I didn’t have a splitting soul-slapping headache.
That sounds good right? But I wasn’t okay. I think those things were still happening, I just couldn’t feel them. It’s like I was cut off from my mind. I could move, but it was like I was underwater. No, it was like I was underneath an ocean made up of peanut butter instead of water. The thick name brand stuff. My fingers felt like they weighed a ton each. Worst of all, I was having a hard time catching my breath. I remember seeing an uncle of mine one time sleeping in a recliner and it seemed like he would stop breathing every few minutes. He was almost dying without knowing. That’s what I felt like. Except I did know.
I grabbed at the wall-hole but I couldn’t rip it down. I was still stronger than normal, just not strong enough. After a minute, I sat down and just panted like a worn out retriever. It felt like someone was punching me in the chest every time my heart beat. I started to hate my heart for beating and hurting me like that.
I don’t know how long she was there before I noticed. Could have been hours. The vault-door was open and sitting before me was Serpentina. It took me a while to make my brain comprehend she was sitting on a chair, at first I thought she was hovering before me with her knees bent. Which would be a strange superpower to have, but you know, Bouncing Boy. She didn’t look like the last time I saw her – old and weak – she looked like the first time I saw her, young and powerful. She had the magic necklace I had taken from her, bouncing against her firm bosoms again. I wonder how a Madripoor crime asshole got a mystical South American necklace. I’ll probably never find out. Money I guess.
I felt like I needed to hold my eyelids open with my hands to meet her gaze “Hey Tina . . . where’s Archie? Where’s Big Moose?” I realized that I was speaking English and she probably couldn’t understand me. I tried, but I couldn’t access the part of my brain that knew French “Sorry T, I can’t seem to remember French right now because I’m so high.”
She crossed her legs, her stupid leather suit squeaking like mad, and leaned forward, probably because I wasn’t speaking very loudly and she had to hear me “I’m not sure I’d call having massive amounts of presynaptic neurotoxins in your body being high, but you have very little other frame of reference.”
I nodded once very, very slowly “Good, you speak English, I’d hate to do the James Bond villain banter through an interpreter. That would ruin the dramatic tension.”
“I couldn’t agree more, although there’s no tension really. I’ve won. You have a very impressive constitution my foreign friend, you already have enough venom in you to kill twenty men and you’re still talking, but it shouldn’t take much more to finish the job.”
I couldn’t help but smile “Twenty normal men or twenty strong men? I get it, right, snake venom, because of the serpent thing. That’s good . . . uh, marketing . . . or whatever you call it. Hey, you know, I want to apologize for that whole thing before where I ripped your necklace off and exposed your suddenly flabby old tits to everyone. That wasn’t my intention.”
“No, you were just going back on your word seconds after giving it and trying to beat information out of me instead of following through with the deal we had just made. Seconds before. Literally seconds.”
“Yeah . . . and I feel really bad about the whole thing. I heard your whole criminal empire fell apart after I took your necklace. Actually what I heard is that you were dead. I heard that one of your lieutenants cut your bloody throat.”
“They certainly tried. I lost almost everything because of you, but I had a couple million stashed away for a rainy day. It pays to be prepared when you’re the leader of a criminal conspiracy. It’s a shame really, I used that money to hire a team of superpowered mercs ready to take you and your friends on.”
“Whoa, that sounds like it would have been a heck of a melee. Super cool.”
“Yes, but then a little blonde girl from the States comes to me and says that she has you trussed up like a chicken in a butcher’s window and heard I was offering a bounty. I wonder if I can get some of my money refunded from the mercenaries since they didn’t end up doing anything. Or maybe I should have them kill your lizard friend and your fish friend anyway, just for good measure.”
I wagged my finger at her “Yes, you should do that, and make me watch. Killing me now? That’s too good for me after what I did to you. Keep me alive to see my friends die.”
She smiled “That would buy you some time, James Bond style.”
“Hey, how about this? Since I crushed your criminal empire, you don’t kill me, what you do is you use me as your attack dog and help you build it back up again? I got the superpowers, you know, we can do it together, just us girls. Feminism. Those Shadow Lords need to be taken down a peg or two. How about we go after them? Knock them off and install you as the numero uno crime gang around here. And then once you’re back in power, you’ll kill me. You can take my family back home as hostages to make sure I go through with it. What do you say to that?”
“Charming to the end. I think I’ll just kill you instead.”
“Final offer, how about instead of poisoning me more right now – instead, what if you torture me to death over the next several days? Or weeks even? Make it last as long as possible. Really teach me the errors of what I’ve done.”
She stood up and someone came in to fold up her chair “Tempting, but I don’t think it would be wise to give your friends time to mount a rescue attempt. They’re quite loyal. God knows why.”
I wracked my brain for a moment and then I blew out a long breath “Well balls.”