"Wake up, you bums!" Eric's voice rang out over the sound of several other vehicles driving near the bright, massive walls of the city. Joe and Gene opened their eyes, drooping from sleep, but responsive.
"All the reckless and fun stuff is out for the night." Eric gave him a glare. "We need to focus on getting a bit situated. Joe, you're finding a garage, Jack, you're going with Gene to find a decent place to say. I have to find Stephen, so I'm going to leave my baby with you guys when we get inside. And Joe, please, don't start any fights."
Joe grinned wickedly. "I'll try my best."
"Not to," Gene finished for him. "Should we buy some 'Jack' for Jack?"
"How about two bottles," Jack said, watching the city guards intently. They were mercenaries of a different kind, stationary and typically lazy, although there was a bit more drunken action here than other cities.
"Just don't drink them both tonight," Eric laughed pulling up to the front gate where a man stood, looking over the vehicle. He smiled at the man and said, "Good evening."
"'Ello," he responded. The car looked clean, and the boys had only a weapon each on their persons, not considered to be a problem here. He passed a glance at Jack who looked like a wreck; his face was half covered in bloody bandages, something anyone would take a second look at. It was not an uncommon event in this city though, inside the walls home to most of the oddballs and scum of the modern world. He held out his hand. "That'll be seven silvers."
Eric reached into one of the pouches on his belt and pulled out seven silver coins, their markings nearly worn off; all currency was in such a state. Placing them in the guard's hand he was given a nod of approval and the gate was opened for the car to drive through. They passed through to find the streets lit up by numerous electrical lights, covered in people that ranged from snake-like merchants to grimy looking fighters and scantily clad women. The main, dirt road was clear for traffic, but the smaller off streets were another story. Shouting swallowed their ears and the air was rank with booze, but they persisted regardless of hagglers running up to them and whores calling to them. Men sat in alleys between the stone and sand-brick buildings, staring at cards with their meager earnings between them. It was a filthy city, laughter and hooting erupting from the various bars and music following them. Tattered over hangs made from crude cloth swayed above everyone's head, as the evening breeze passed over the tops of the buildings. The brothers did their best to escape and venture into the part of the city where there were less, patrons. They ended up stopping in front of a small shop that had a broken name board above it, reading, "Don't Die Pawn".
"You guys can get to your tasks now. Send me a call on the talkie when you get a room," Eric said, jumping out of the car. Joe shifted to the driver's seat in his place, darting off down the empty street in search of a place to stay.
"How was that place we stayed in last time?" Joe asked.
Gene shrugged. "Decent, clean enough. We could use it again."
They ran into a more congested part of the town again, but the hotel they stayed in was relatively empty looking. Less than half the rooms appeared full from the outside, so Gene and Jack leaped out, leaving Joe to his duties. Jack used his good eye to glance around, eventually spotting a shop across the street with dozens of glass bottles of assorted colors and labels in the window.
"Get that room, would you? I've got things to buy," Jack said, running across the street. Gene rolled his eyes, passing through the cloth door of the entry room and tavern. He caught the attention of the older man who took charge of rooms, asking above the din what they had to offer. He pulled the boy to a side room, away from the others who were being so rowdy.
"So what would you like, little mister?" he asked, his wrinkled face creased into a sort of smile. His hair had gone grey and he had a thick mustache, and something about him just screamed his hatred towards this place.
"Two rooms with two beds each," Gene responded, unbothered by his calling him little. "Possibly for a few days as well."
"We should be able to accommodate," he said, reaching to some keys dangling from the wall. The ones he chose were next to each other, and the man was considerate enough not to disregard Gene because of his young age. He did eye him with a touch of uncertainty though. "You realize we require money upfront, right?"
Gene nodded in recognition. "Of course, what are the rates?"
"30 silvers," he responded, quickly adding, "A night, per room."
Without a hassle, the boy reached into one of the pockets on his person, pulling out a handful of coins. He shifted through it for a moment, eventually picking out four gold coins. "How about these for now? If we go over, feel free to tell us, we'll be sure to pay. And keep the extra… we might make a little noise tonight."
He gave the young man the keys, taking the coins. "You'll be on the third floor in the first and second room. They're farthest towards the back."
"Thank you," he replied, bowing his head slightly. "Oh, and if a man with long brown hair and a wrecked face or a big guy with no hair and a bunch of scars come by, tell them where I'm staying."
"Of course, young mister."
Gene left the man, hoping to at least escape the rambunctious din of the hotel's main tavern. Although he could get away with doing anything here, he took little interest in it as there were more pushing matters now. By the time he found his bed, he fell into it in exhaustion. Rest was far from being found tonight though, and Gene knew that as soon as there was a pounding on the door.
"Hey! Open up!" Jack shouted.
Gene rolled out of the bed and opened the door, handing his brother a key. "You and your booze can hang out with me, but you're staying with Eric next door tonight."
"Great," he said, pushing by his smaller brother. "So you're going to make your poor, hard-working brother spend the night with me?"
"Oh, shut up. I need to send him a call." He took the radio device off his belt, then pointed at the bottle of alcohol in Jack's hand. "You ought to start drinking that." He pressed a button on the device. "Eric, you there?"
A crackly voice replied. "Yeah, you got a place?"
"Yeah, the same as last time. First and second rooms on the third floor."
"Alright, I'll be there pretty soon. Out."
Gene put the device back on his belt. Jack took a large gulp of the brown liquid in his large, glass bottle. It was a re-used bottle, but it didn't really make a difference considering most beverages came this way. Silence rested in the room for a moment as the bottle slowly became more and more empty. Gene eventually broke the tense mood.
"You should probably consider getting some new clothes. It looks a bit… horrific."
Jack looked at him. "The man at the liquor shop said the same thing. I'm feeling a bit too bitter to get anything new now though, although the pain is starting to numb from the constant throbbing." He took yet another large gulp, setting down the bottle as he pulled off his coat, the dark green covered with a dark brown stain on the front. Then he took off his shirt, also a complete wreck of dried blood, leaving even his skin reddened by the liquid that had seeped through. "I'll get a new shirt eventually…"
Gene stole the bottle of vile liquid while Jack was distracted, taking a swig himself. He cringed a little bit, not entirely prepared for the drink. "You got the best you could, didn't you?"
"As much as I enjoy pain," Jack said, snatching the bottle and taking yet another long drink. He finished, continuing, "I'd like to forget about it as fast as possible."
"Try not to be too dramatic when we're working on you," Gene replied, falling back in his bed. "Unlike you, I need beauty sleep to stay this pretty."
Jack groaned, downing another portion of booze. "Beauty," he whined, "Something I'll never have again."
"Shut the hell up," Gene said, shutting his eyes. "You're beautiful until you burn your face and body so bad that you can't even tell who it is. The only thing you'll never have again is your right eye."
"A horrid scar and a missing eye. What a way to be beautiful," he responded despairingly. The bottle was already half gone.
"Girl's love scars!" Joe's voice called from the hallway outside. Jack trudged over and opened the door, his brother walking in grinning. "I'd know."
Jack pointed at the bloody bandages on his face, lifting his hair to display the menace it held on his face. "This is how you pick up ladies?"
"We can get you some real nice patch or something to cover that up. I mean, it'll be ugly underneath, but who says you have to take it off?" Joe replied, pulling out his own bottle of alcohol. "Not to mention, women like having a 'bad-boy' and nothing screams that more than a mutilated face."
"I think I'll need one just to keep them from running in fear," Jack said, rolling his good eye. "Anyway, we still have to consider infection and death."
"You know Eric wouldn't let that happen."
"You're a drama queen, Jack."
Jack sat down on the bed, unlacing and unbuckling his boots to pull them off. "I'll tell you what, Gene, when your eye is replaced by a bloody, blind hole, I'll let you be a drama queen."
"I'm looking forward to it," Gene laughed.
Jack looked at the bottle he was holding; it was missing more than he expected.
"So how drunk do you intend on getting?" Joe asked.
"I'll be surprised if I remember anything." Jack gulped more down. "This evening isn't looking all that bright besides the bottom of the bottle; if I don't smile from the booze then I'll just cry all night instead."
"Try passing out, would you?" Joe asked, drinking himself. "Holding you down is a pain."
"Regardless of our undoubtedly superior strength," Gene chipped in. He looked at Joe laughably. "Are you sure you can take it?"
"Hell yeah Joe can take me!" Jack blurted out. The alcohol was just now hitting him in a form resembling a mental brick wall towards his spinning mind.
"You should slow down, that's going to kill you pretty soon…" Gene started.
Jack stood up with a stumble and it was obvious that he was feeling it. He held the bottle towards his good eye to check out what was left, then stared at Gene. "Fuck off, I need it."
More time passed as Jack and Joe proceeded to get more and more drunk, causing a noisy ruckus to arise from the room. It was a while before Eric showed up, and when he knocked on the door he was greeted by Gene, who appeared to be the only one willing to stand up and open it. Jack and Joe were both sitting on one of the beds laughing, Jack appearing to be unconcerned about the dried blood splattered on his face and body. When he walked inside, they both yelled his name and laughed even more, paying little attention to the small brown bag in his hand.
"You got another room, right?" Eric asked Gene.
He nodded. "Right next door. Jack has the key."
"Great," he answered. He went to Jack and pulled it out of his pants' pocket. "I need you to help me by pulling the sheets off one of the beds. They can amuse each other for now."
"Sure thing," Gene replied as they both left the room. The other room looked exactly the same, with the same worn bedding and dull sand-stone floors covered in tattered rugs. Gene stripped one of the beds down to the mattress, which was no more than flattened cloth with a metal frame and springs. Eric was in the bathroom, using its dim lights to lay out what he had purchased, opening a bottle of medical alcohol to wipe down the needles and other tools. There were several vials of liquid and a jar full of pills as well as a thread and plenty of bandages and tape.
Gene peered in the smaller room, staring at the array of medical supplies that Eric had resting on the sink. He was the only brother amongst them that knew enough about healing and cleaning wounds to do anything beyond a quick bandage job, which counted him as invaluable. He was looked up to by his brothers, who did not mind that he had a tendency to take leadership, and they always were willing to share their skills amongst themselves. Gene tapped the older man on the shoulder.
"Do we have anything to throw down over the mattress?" he asked.
Eric nodded his head towards the towel rack behind him. "Just use those. Oh, and drag his drunk ass in here, we need to get started."
Gene quickly threw the towels down and retrieved the rest of his family, dragging them back to the room as the two laughed and leaned on each other for support. It took a while, but they managed to get Jack lying down on the bed, the nearly empty booze bottle he once had now out of reach. As soon as Eric walked out with the supplies Joe and Gene instinctively reached for the arms and legs Jack had sprawled out on the mattress. Keeping him from freaking out about the upcoming needles was impossible, so force was necessary. However, he had not spotted the needles yet, so he lay in a sleepy daze with a stupid smile on his face instead.
"Well, at least something got him to smile," Eric laughed, setting down his tools.
"So… anything to pass him out?" Joe asked.
Eric frowned. "I only managed to get Novocain."
"Oh, Lord…" Gene started.
"How long until he completely freaks out?" Joe joked, looking goofy as he held down Jack's ankles. "There are few things more fun than watching a grown man squirm in fear."
"You're a freak," Gene said, his hands at Jack's wrists. "Which I suppose is perfect for our line of work."
Joe laughed maniacally, seeming quite satisfied by this comment. Jack lifted his head up, blinking after being awoken from his haphazard nap. His good blue eye passed from face to face, eventually landing on the needle in Eric's hand. Squinting at it for a moment, he soon realized what the intention was.
"To hell if you're gonna stick that in me, buddy," he said, attempting to rub his nose, but realizing that Gene held onto his hands firmly. "You bastards gotta be jokin'!"
"Hold him tighter," Eric said, reaching in to remove the messy bandages. "This is going to burn a bit."
Jack cried out in pain as Eric began his work of cleaning and fixing the open wound, eventually only needing restraints not to keep him from running, but to keep him from doubling over. It was going to be a long night.
It was well after the sun reached its peak in the cloudless day when the first of the brothers awoke. Jack rolled on to his side with a groan, finding himself wearing only his pants, his chest and hands stained with dried blood and the blind side of his face throbbing in pain. Eric was resting soundly on the bed across the room and Jack could see the bedding he should have had on his bed now on the floor. He had no desire to get up, but he still wanted to wash himself off and see how his face looked. After hassling himself about getting off the uncomfortable mattress, he stood and tried to walk, wobbling at first as he tried to cope with not only his pain eye socket, but also the anguish in his head that arose after he had decided to drink so much the night before. He stumbled into the bathroom and closed the door, turning on the sink faucet to check its cleanliness. It was a small bathroom, but it had all the basics, including the toilet and shower. The problem was that all water now used in this world had to be recycled, so it was a matter of the processing plants in the city that considered how clean anything was. He continued to run the water for a bit but decided that trusting it clashed with his better judgment, and instead he looked at the mirror, lifting the bandage on his face.
He had been dreading the encounter, but found the image before him even more repulsive than he had imagined. Where there was once a flawless face, now there was a mangled, stitched up mess. Not only that, but it hurt, and looking at his wound seemed to make it throb more. There were the remains of his socket, with no ruined eye inside it, as well as the scabs from the never ending blood; but the stitches over his face distanced from the mid-forehead to nearly his jaw-line, a truly horrific sight for him to behold. The knife had cut to the cheek-bone and even seemed to damage it, which explained some of this excessive pain, so Jack decided it was best just to put the bandage back over it and remain ambiguously injured to the masses instead. Behind him, the door creaked open.
"You might do yourself a favor and bathe," Eric's voice came from behind him. Jack grunted his acknowledgement. "We're going to have to do something about your cheek though, to keep it together even if you get hit in the face. Your bone took a hell of a beating."
"What? You mean you have to work on me again?" Jack let the water run over his hands as he used to mirror to glare at his brother. "How bad could it be?"
Eric stared back at him, his face apologetic. "We might need something external for now, but if we don't do something then I can't really say you'll be able to get hit. And now, you have a blind spot to worry about."
"Well, fuck." Jack turned off the sink and stood for a few moments in silence. Eventually he faced Eric and sighed. "I guess there isn't much I can do. Go ahead and find something. I'm taking a shower for now, I smell like bitch."
Eric left his younger brother, shutting the door. The amount of hatred that the young man could contain was incredible, and Eric felt it come off a bit too strong at times. It was times like these that he realized it was best to leave his brother alone. Rather than spend more time with Jack, he decided to dress himself and knock on his other brothers' door, instantly causing them to grumble from being awoken. It took a minute, but eventually Gene opened the thin, metal door, his eyes drooping with exhaustion as he glared at his very awake brother.
"What the hell do you want at this time of day?"
"In case you forgot to open your window," Eric said, pushing past him to throw open the heavy curtains, "It's the afternoon already."
A cry of protest arose from Joe as he pulled his pillow over his head, obviously unprepared for the day. "What the hell do we have to do now?"
"Well, we mostly fixed Jack," Eric replied, "But we need that extra bit for his face. If we do well, we can go out on the town tonight."
"You sold me," Joe replied, getting out of bed. He was still clothed from the night before.
"I hate being stuck in one location anyway," Gene added, putting on his boots.
Eric grinned. "I need one of you to come with me and the other to wait on Jack. Whoever is waiting with Jack needs to run by Eddy's and get some stuff on this list." He held up a piece of paper.
"I'll go with you," Gene shot out first. Joe shrugged.
"Fine I don't care."
"Here, have fun with him." Eric handed him the paper.
"When the Hell did you write this?" Joe asked, boggled by the number of items.
Eric winked. "While we were driving away I thought of them. Surprising the amount of information a brain can store, isn't it?"
"Freak," Joe replied. He looked over the list again. "We'll get them, no problem."
Joe watched the door as it shut, leaving him alone, and then proceeded to the bathroom after realizing he smelled like a mixture of filth and alcohol, without a doubt made possible by a few days of pursuit and attack and little rest. He shrugged to himself and took off his clothes, turning on the shower that ran with unheated water. Because of the limited resources, having warm water or clean anything was far from being the top priority, and people learned to deal with cold water and rough soap to care for all of their matters of cleanliness. Hygiene was not the most popular topic in these times as a result, which was made obvious from the poor plumbing systems and lack of fresh water. Due to the normal conditions for everyone, even these men, who spent vast time splattering blood and kicking up dirt, had very few articles of clothing to call their own, only buying new things when their old ones were completely stained or wrecked. Joe took his clothes to the shower with him because of this, rinsing off as much dirt as he could, ignoring any dried blood spots that could not be removed.
By the time he had almost finished, a knock sounded from the door, so he took the thin cloth considered a towel and dried himself partially, wrapping it around his waist. He was greeted by his brother, whose brown hair was stringy and wet, and he wore nothing but a pair of bloodied pants.
"Hey, I think my clothes are in here."
Joe looked at the floor and saw the familiar green coat and tall, leather boots. "Yep."
They both receded into the room, Jack dressing in the same filthy clothing as Joe wrung out the clothes he had just cleaned. They looked at each other, and laughed; they looked like pure mad-men. A town like this cared little about the insanity of its inhabitants though, simply profiting off their inability to go anywhere else. Joe held up his list.
"Eric was kind enough to give it to us."
Jack shook his head. "Ammunition enough to kill a whole colony of God-freaks. Nice work, Eric."
"Can't deny that we need it though, we used up a lot on the last job." Joe opened the door. "Ready or not, let's get this stuff."
Jack followed the bigger man and they escaped the building that was starting to get busy for the evening, dodging their way down the busy street. Most people paid no attention to the two men, one covered in blood, the other covered in age old scars, but now and then Jack could feel the wandering eyes of those bold enough to be curious about the appearances of these strangers. He did his best to ignore them amongst other yelling and oblivious people. Every street corner seemed to have someone preaching on it, yelling out their goods or their gods. Usually it was easy to ignore them and carry on with the business at hand, but in Jack's irritated mood and disgruntled state, he could not resist turning as a woman's voice shouted towards his back.
"And you, sir, what sins have you committed this day?" she shouted.
Joe was too late before his brother was at the face of the small, blonde girl, glaring down at her with his one good eye. She froze, the large man behind her that acted as her partner staring intently at the dangerous looking man. Joe stood behind his brother, almost laughing, resting a hand on his shoulder.
"Little brother, we should –"
"Now, I must apologize because I do not know entirely what 'sinning' is, but I'm sure I've sinned in every way a human could," Jack began, cutting off his brother, "And I'd like to know why such a small girl is running around asking men like me about our personal choices."
She blinked, then looked away for a moment, breaking eye contact. The man behind her reached to pull her away from the stranger before her, but she held up a hand to state that she did not want it. Then she greeted his eye with hers again, attempting to redeem herself.
"I am simply trying to show you that the misdeeds you may have committed can be forgiven," she stated. "And while you may be a sinner, everyone can go before God and ask to be cleansed of his sins and live life anew, as a different man."
The most disturbing and menacing laugh cracked from Jack at that moment, causing a number of people to stop and stare at the man whose face was a fresh wound and clothing was stained by an unknown, bleeding source. It was a few seconds before Jack was able to calm himself down, smiling at the woman, still standing straight in him. "And what would you know about sins? I doubt you've even gotten dirty with a man, much less murdered or stolen. Has this God forgiven you? And has he saved you from some Hell he created?"
"He saved me from the despair that the city had given me. His followers guided me to the light, and forgave me, and now I am with Him always. Have you ever even considered the joy you could gain from believing in God?" She stared at him with her light blue eyes gentle. He gave her no such comfort back though.
"Oh, dear, that's not really a concern of mine. Have you ever felt the joys of murder? The relief of unlawful flesh? Or, perhaps you know the beauty of revenge, taking what is yours after losing it?"
She paused, not sure what to say. The man behind her stepped in, resting a hand on her arm. Eventually she found the words she wanted and replied, "These are all emotions delivered by the Devil to give you a false sense of happiness; none of these things will leave you completely satisfied."
"Is that so?" Jack snapped back. He lifted his hair and revealed the bandage that was slightly bled through. It covered half of his face. "Do you know what I did to the woman who did this? I left her corpse absolutely unrecognizable. You know how I feel about that? Incredible. While there might be a gap in how I see myself, there's no gap in how I feel about my capabilities. No Devil is feeding me mindless emotion, I'm feeding myself."
"You need not bother with him, he has no options left in this world but sin," the man behind her said, glaring at the man. "The Devil has swallowed him completely."
Jack smiled at the man. "You'll find that not everyone eats that God bullshit that you throw at them. I hold a very different belief myself, an idea that has lived in this land since the meteor hit all those years ago. The saying goes something like, 'Those of the wastelands will die in the wastelands, those of the cities will tremble in fear, and those from both and yet from neither are those from whom you should steer clear.' Maybe you should check where your roots are."
At that, he turned and walked away, Joe following behind. After a few blocks, Joe elbowed his brother's side, looking at him. "So, what was that about?"
"I'm just very annoyed is all," he replied, pointing at the store in front of them. "We're here. Let's get what we came for so we can kill more assholes like them."
"Yeah, of course," Joe laughed, pulling the paper out. "I'll have to get the car after we collect the goods so we can put them away. Sound good?"
Jack nodded as they entered the store. It was on the less populated side of town, and it was large, with dozens of metal shelves carrying ammunition and the walls covered in various weaponry. It was a warehouse for the dangerous kinds of products, and a normal stop for these brothers. They went down the list, getting everything they needed and were allotted by the budget Eric had also listed. The sky was dark and spotted with barely visible stars by the time Joe had gotten the car out front to pick up the goods, and they returned to the hotel to be greeted by Eric and Gene. Jack nearly cringed in horror after he realized what Eric had been searching for all afternoon.
"Hey, Jack, remember how in old medical records they had pictures and stuff of using screws and metal to help hold certain bone structures together?"
Jack threw his coat at his brother and sat on the bed. "Please don't tell me you're going to stick a metal screw in my face."
"Actually, it'd be more like two small ones and a strip of metal attached to them both on the outside."
"Ouch, Jack, that sounds terrible," Joe replied, stifling a laugh.
"Could be worse," Gene shrugged, "The guy that sold it to us had a metal piece ranging from his brow along the side of his head down to his cheek bone. Jack's is dainty in comparison."
"You better as Hell have something to knock me out."
Eric smiled. "He had that too."
"Good, and when are you doing this?" Jack asked.
Eric looked at Gene, who had a suspicious piece of cloth in his hand. Without warning, he jumped on him while his brother grabbed his arms, then he shoved the cloth in his face, completely knocking him out. Joe looked at them both.
"Is that going to be enough?"
Eric shrugged. "You guys get to hold him again. This is going to be really painful."
Gene and Joe instantly grabbed at the brother, putting him on the bed the same way as before, this time Eric putting a band across Jack's head and chest that encircled the entire bed. For a moment they looked as Eric pulled off the bandage and disinfected the area of skin he intended to work with, but just as soon as he began to work they both turned away from the blood and the sound of metal against bone, not able to stomach watching their own brother having that done to him. For Jack though, it was nothing but a short night and an awful morning.