1. Dead Boy (Molly)
My name is Molly. I am a boy. Have fun with that.
You catch me in Coccinelle – the little stink of a bar I work at – doing manly things like trying not to get castrated.
My problem is this old shit eating crickets in Booth 3. He picks his teeth, because intimidating cleanliness is the game now, and he's enough of a badarse to keep his white whites white. The two charming minions he has with him will be the ones painting their sleeves red - with my red.
This bar is full of his sort – the most pretentious twats in Soma; an assortment of arseholes who think they're the shit and are only made worse by the drinks, drugs and half-arsed jokes I supply.
The more I work here, the more I envy android waiters.
"...and that's why I'm going to chop your balls off," says the old shit.
At some point in this conversation, I might've lost focus.
Grunt A provides enlightenment. "Balls," he scissors his fingers, "off."
You'd think that such a dramatic demonstration would have me squealing, but I'm just thinking, damn, if they're gonna take my balls, they better leave me a goddamn tip.
"I'm actually pretty busy serving reasonably priced beverages. Come back later."
"Serving reasonably priced piss does not get you out of this one, Molly."
I tut. "How am I meant to pay you if you don't let me work? And what's the whole obsession with my private parts anyway? If you wanna see them, how about doing things traditional-like and buying me a drink?"
He is unimpressed enough to take a sip of slashy brandy from the glass he cradles. "I want my money, Molly. And my friends want you to accompany them outside. How about you go ahead and make all our dreams come true?"
His two friends get up to play, and these guys are the lucky grunts that biology favoured over my short arse. Tall, wide, mountainous things, they are. Grunt B's even good-looking, and has a nice, droll sort of smile on. Grunt B? Mais oui…!
Yes, I too have a bit of pretension in my bones. It's a Soma thing; you can't escape it. Me, I occasionally speak French. Well Frenglish. Well…ten words in French mostly related to ways to get fucked…
Grunt B has his big warm hand on my shoulder, and I think how fun it would be to jump him.
"I'm not one of those people with a money problem," I insist. "I'm just…a collector. I like to invest!"
"With money that's not yours?" asks Grunt B.
"Money's just a concept. You can't own a… I mean… Ugh…"
"Shut the fuck up," says Grunt A, clearly the blunt of this force trauma.
I roll my eyes back and sigh, but I start to want it. I'm skinny and petit and I've lost almost every fight I've been in, but this shift has been seven hours and dragging.
And this…this minor episode into minor dismemberment… I mean…there has got to be some quiet sort of pleasure in watching scars whiten, wounds swell and bruises change colour, right? I could have Vari over to make me cake. We could listen to happy music – she'd like that.
But no balls makes sex difficult, and when you think not so very hard about it, sex probably is better than pathophysiology.
I wriggle out of B's loving embrace and run my little arse off.
So, I'm not an idiot; these guys know where I work and can easily find out where I live, so running's just gonna make everything worse. But that's fine. Important thing is, fuck it, I can run for a bit. So there you go.
I dodge other waiters, crash into drunk people, duck through clouds of thick and itchy smoke. Safe to say, I'm probably going to lose my little job after this.
Stumbling out onto the neon street outside, I sprint past chattering drunks and prostitutes, nice and predictably making my way straight home.
The journey is nicer when I dice it up. Make it to the end of the street. Make it to the wall. Make it to my bike. And then I'll just be so damn speedy that the grunts'll have no chance of catching me. Unless they have transports. Which they probably do.
I pass a gaggle of people sucking smoke balloons, a machine chanting that 'McRoaches makes you faster, stronger, wiser, better', a sex booth that has been broken for the past year (I call her Annabel).
And the end of the street comes up quickly. I am a speedy little bastard, and they are already half a mile behind me. Yes.
"You stupid fuck!"
Maybe more like half a metre away. A hand grabs at my shoulder. Fingers scrape my waistcoat, rip at it meanly.
Just make it to the wall. To the wall. The bike is at the wall. And once I'm on the bike…I am invincible. Give or take.
The street is getting stupidly busy with night time people, and I have to dart around bloody slow-walking drunk fucks who deserve to be beaten up so much more than I do.
I grab a cap off one of them as I dart past, pull it down low over my eyes. I lose the waistcoat, toss it behind me, twist and turn through the meandering crowd, slow down suddenly and breathe all steady. The crowd was…not exactly intentional. But actually… I chance a glance over my shoulder and do not see grunts. And that is great.
The plan hasn't changed, though. Get to the wall. Get on my bike. Get the fuck out of here.
But the further I go, the easier it is to realise that something isn't right. Beside the crowd – stupidly thick for, what is it, two AM? The streets ahead look distorted, stretched, fucking odd. Since when has the city felt so open?
Where the hell is…the wall?
The great sheet of glass between us and them, the white boundary between health and quarantine, Soma and Quarry. The wall is gone.
And I stop and gape like an idiot.
Rational thing is that I'm plain fucking stupid. The wall hasn't gone; the current that makes it opaque has just malfunctioned. It happens rarely, but I've even seen it myself, once or twice. And yeah, there are the lights of the street, bouncing off the temporarily transparent boundary. There are greasy graffiti marks hanging in midair. The quarantine is still in effect, and we are all safe from the plague.
How fucking boring.
But I should definitely have a closer look.
I push and squeeze my way through the crowd, swearing colourfully at anyone who'll listen. Like these people have any damn business being here. Arseholes just want to gawk. I mean, I want to gawk too, but for educational reasons, which is completely acceptable. To live this close to Quarry and never see the sick people living there is physically painful. You can only learn so much from poking their corpses.
I extend a hand, press it up against the glass.
Smile like they have decent street lighting, like I can see anything further than two metres away, like there's a whole crowd of people in there. There's only darkness.
The smile I'm wearing might as well be painted on. I'm miserable, disappointed, bored, and sort of angry. If I was in Quarry, I'd be punching at the glass and screaming to be freed.
I turn away. There's a click and a beep behind me, and I know that the wall is white again, and Quarry is its own little world once more.
So I'll just get on my bike, ride it home, sleep, come back to work tomorrow, probably get fired, probably get my shit beaten out of me, and probably live monotonously ever after.
A big thick arm stops me. It's attached to a big thick policeman, standing in the road, illuminated by the neon lights of various strip bars. Who've I pissed off now?
"Got ID?" he asks, stiffer this time.
I rifle through my pocket and get it. I notice now that there are lots of these policemen checking IDs, each one surrounded by a few jiggling losers who've evidently forgotten theirs. The nearest loser – some tall, gawky tramp thing – looks like he's actually expecting to get shot for it. Probably has nothing in the world to identify him - the sort of guy who could die quietly, without leaving stains.
"You think someone got over the wall?" I ask the cop, passing my card over and smiling to match my picture. "I mean…you realise it's half a mile high?"
"Three hundred metres," he corrects.
"Oh. Well okay then. That's totally climbable."
I toe the ground impatiently, but I don't exactly have anything better to do. And at least I'm not going to get beaten up with him here. Probably.
The weird tall tramp guy's staring at me, shifting his weight like some four-year-old kid about to piss himself.
I slide my eyes up to glare at him better. "Do I …"
But then I see his hand, and the shape inked into it – a circle inside a square – and everything in the world just stops.
I snatch my ID back from the policeman, then look at the tall guy again. That shape on his hand… I've seen it before. On dead people. Dead Quarry people. Fact is, I have that symbol at home, have cut it from skin and stretched it out into frames. And I think I sort of half-know what it means.
Someone might've gotten over the wall from Quarry. Should dismiss that crap as bullshit, but what if it's true? What if this guy – this squirmy, tall, trampy guy – actually did it? What if I've lucked out for the first time in my life, and this sucker's infected.
"You!" I exclaim all long-lost found person-like. "I've been looking everywhere for you!" I sprint over dramatically. It's been a very physical day.
The tall thing flinches, eyes darting away from mine for the smallest of moments, then latching back on again, hooks in. He fumbles with his mouth.
"You know him?" his policeman asks me – all dully, because he clearly doesn't care. No one crosses the wall. It's a fact. Was a fact, at least. And this cop's just ticking boxes, doing his job.
"Of course I know him," I mutter, glaring at the tall thing. "He's my boyfriend, isn't he?"
The tall thing edges a little closer to the cop, mouth wobbling. That tattooed hand rises up to his lips again, as if he wants to bite his nails but just can't bring himself to actually do it.
"We had a fight and this bastard ran off."
I throw an arm around him, and try to walk away, giving the cop a charming smile. But the thing squeaks and wiggles his feet. I stand on my tiptoes and press my mouth against his, because no one in their right mind would kiss a plague victim, right? I mean, from all accounts, the white plague isn't a very nice way to go.
The policeman moves on, clearly not giving two shits about my poor acting skills, and this awkward son of a bitch. Calamaties. I step away, acting like nothing just happened.
The tall thing speaks. "You – you –"
And then I'm on him again, kissing the sounds from his mouth and –
He whimpers, but I will kiss him whenever I want to and he will like it.
"No!" he says. "You shouldn't have done that! Why did you…"
He rubs my mouth with his big old hand, wiping away any trace of the kiss, and I grin against his fingertips. "You're sick, aren't you?"
The tall thing manages to blush so hard he glows in the dark. "I have… I have a cold." He sniffs dramatically. Can't quite manage fake sneezes, poor dear.
Oh well. I walk my fingers over the surface of his left hand and peer at the tattoo. "I know where you come from…"
"You – you –"
"Oh, I know quite a bit about a quite a bit," I say. "And there's no need to worry about infecting me. See, I'm actually really, really insanely rich, and I've been vaccinated. So. Happiness."
Yep. Total bullshit. There's no vaccine, and if there was, I wouldn't be able to afford its shit. If vaccines shat.
"Oh." The tall thing sighs, his shoulders sink, he adjusts the straps of his backpack and toddles along beside me without being asked. Maybe the soon-to-be-dead boy's family and friends are all gone, and he's like some attention-starved dogbot.
"Dead Boy?" I ask him. "Are you stalking me?"
He stares, but he's been staring since I met him, so what's new? His neck wobbles.
"I'm not a dead boy. I'm not dead yet," he says finally.
"Life's too short to be so sensitive," I mutter. "Yours definitely is. How long have you got left? You're super old, Dead Boy. Must be at least twenty, you white plague oddity."
I don't think he's offended, exactly; he seems more…surprised. He shrugs.
"Anyway," I go on. "You're stalking me."
He nods his head slowly, keeps on toddling. Didn't know they made them so fucking clueless in Quarry. Ha.
But apparently they also make them clueless in Soma, because the dark streets are quieting out now, and I can see my bike up ahead, and I can see two men standing either side of it. Pretty sure they can see us too, given that they are shouting at me.
"You're fucking dead, Molly!"
And now they're running towards us, which is just jazzy-fantastic.
"Um." Dead Boy plays with his backpack straps nervously. His eyes are filled with a need for explanation.
"They want my money," I mutter. They are ten seconds away, nine, eight… "Or, you know, my testes."
"Oh." He takes off his backpack, puts it down on the floor with a metallic clang, and peers over at the two big guys. "They want to rob you? Because you're really rich?"
This guy…he writes my lies for me. It's sort of wonderful, but I also feel a little like a diabetic eating chocolate. "Exactly."
"So are you going to kill them?"
"Oh!" he holds his hands up. "I didn't mean – I mean… Um. I don't kill people either! It's just, well, Sire says… Sire – Uh…" He shakes his head. "But…you should fight them? Before they get you?"
I peer up at him. Very much up at him, because he really is a tall thing. I look back at the old shit's thugs. It's possible that they're only obscenely big to me because I'm a touch fun-sized.
"Rich people don't fight, Dead Boy; it's bad for our fingernails."
Dead Boy shrugs, passes me his backpack, and sprints past the two guys, running away with his feet flat and his arse waggling. He is both slow and clumsy and – oh yeah – a fucking coward, leaving poor old me, his newest and best Soma friend, to get beaten on the street.
"I would've helped you, you shit!" I lie, almost immediately before receiving a fist to my stomach.
Not gonna lie, a little bit of puke comes up. As my hands and knees hit the concrete, my body fights between breathing and retching, loving both with the intensity of a teenage stalker who'll break your ankles until you love her. I call mine Vari.
A fist plunges into my cheek. And when you have a body like mine (namely, miniature), you have to treat the face as nicely as possible.
The man with the intestine-jiggling fist looks down at me, no emotion on his shadows-and-neon face. His partner checks his watch like it's past his fucking bedtime.
I try to mumble something sarcastic, but pained little whimpers are all that fall out. Might as well resign to letting them get on with it. At some vague point in the future, there will be some sort of revenge involving some sort of pointy item.
There is a nasty metallic crunch above me. And then another one. And then one of the grunts says something very very rude, and things don't exactly make sense anymore.
Um. I open my eyes.
Dead Boy is here. Lovely, wonderful Dead Boy is here. And he is holding my bike like a hero, swinging it into the ribs of the nearest grunt and kicking out at the furthest one. It's…quite amazing. Dead Boy has no co-ordination, and misses more often than he hits, but both grunts look to be in a great deal of pain and – and I'm okay.
I stand up warily, rubbing my cheek as Dead Boy tumbles on top of Grunt B – it's a complete accident, by the look of it, but the handlebars collide with the big guy's handsome face, twisting his nose in a way that can't be too pleasant. And then, inspired, Dead Boy lifts the bike and slams it down into facial tissue. Up and down, up and down. Grunt B is not such a looker anymore, and his dull groans bring back the sick in my mouth.
I raise my eyebrows, look at Grunt A. Dead Boy looks up at him too, wielding my bike like it weighs nothing at all. He has this silly Dead Boy face on, all like 'oops, and what the heck did I just stumble into?'
"Probably best to spring me later," I tell Grunt A weakly, holding my belly. "You know, when Dead Boy's not around."
"Oh sure," says the guy, nursing a recent kick to the balls. "And next time, we'll bring weapons."
I smile sort of gratefully as the guy drags his friend from underneath Dead Boy and the bike. They limp away miserably.
"Weapons…" I sigh, standing in the street with this violent sweetheart.
"Oh! Sire gave me this!" Dead Boy passes me something that looks and feels very much like a switchblade.
I shove it back, and Dead Boy shrugs because he clearly has no real need for the thing, given that he fights by falling on top of people and throwing bikes around. To be fair, he seems to have mastered the technique.
He rubs at a new hole in his trousers, picking grit out of the grazed knee beneath it. Bitterly, I tongue a loose tooth and look at my bike. The body of it's all bloody, and the front wheel's twisted.
"Dead Boy," I say, putting on my happiest voice, despite trepidations. "Congratulations!"
I grin. "You're walking me home!"