Another dead boy
I'm woken by the smell of pastry. The real sort, made with butter from a cow's tit. Genuine god-damn layers. Now, I might be poor as shit, but I know my baked goods. When we were at Vince's place, Slippy would sneak me cinnamon danishes to eat by the pool. He'd talk at me about his dead dad's fists, the gritty context of them, and all his oiled-up words would slide out and out and out. I'd roll my eyes and eat; it was all I could do to stop seething.
The smells behind the butter remind me of Slippy too. There's shit and sweat and decay, honest human things. They wake my brain up with a delightful swish of what happened last night and I puke a mouthful down the side of the bed. With the movement, my stab wound reminds me it exists with a burning, itching pain. I yell out and dry-wretch until my eyes are streaming, soaking Frank's fancy sheets. And a beautiful morning was had by all.
It's still pitch dark in here. I hit the light and nearly frazzle to death from the intensity of it.
"Whuh - what time is it?"
"4AM," George says cheerfully.
"Oh, fuck you!"
The butler bot jabs a tray into my head. On the tray are three croissants, a couple of elegant champagne glasses, napkins. Napkins, oh God. I sob out loud. Hangovers. Fucking hangovers. I take a champagne (hair of the dog or whatever), swish it like a gentleman and drink it all in one go. The sick, this time, is instant and fizzy. I look up at George, knowing what I really need are water and electrolytes.
"You - you got any Virtual?"
George twists his head in a confused manner and makes a soft, tick-tock sound to say he'll shoot me if I ask that question again. Of course. Virtual's been banned in this house since Vari stapled an entire packet of ham to her wall in some drug-induced protest against...I don't know what.
"Antibiotics, then. Fruptvil."
"Have you seen the size of a bacterium, Mr Leclerc?"
Col snores noisily, tattooed hand slung across his face.
"They're unexpectedly large," I tell him.
"To be beaten by something so small is quite pathetic, is it not?"
Of course, Vari's robot, and typical Vari bullshit. Like she's never used antibiotics before - dear God, last year she caught chlamydia three times from the same arsehole greasehead, but apparently infections are different when she finds them inconvenient.
"Do you at least have painkillers?"
"Pain is useful, Mr Leclerc."
"Don't mean I gotta like it."
As if pitying me, he presents me with a cigarette. I sigh and take it, allowing George to light it with his tongue, even though I hate the fucking things. I poke Col, inspire him to be conscious, and he takes a great deal of time to raise an arm, take the cigarette with his eyes still closed, and smoke it mechanically. Eventually, his brown eyes flutter open, turning on me with complete indifference. He doesn't start crying, not like last night; he just lies there, looking at me in the way a person might watch the sea; he's calm, with a small, sweet smile, eyes on a horizon.
"Col," I say, as firmly as I can, fingers clawing at my itchy, soggy shoulder. "Call your T1B. I need antibiotics."
His horizons are long and straight, a pale hot sea against a sand-white sky. He lives in the desert, sweat on his shining forehead, body golden and lithe. I reckon I would be the same person, no matter where I was raised, but Col would bloom into whatever environment would have him. Just his shitty luck to be born in a disease-ridden cesspit.
"You have remote access, right?"
He nods slowly, presses a patch of skin on his wrist and mutters something foreign under his breath. Then, he plucks a croissant from George's tray and continues to stare at me as he eats it. His eyes move to my paler, more naked parts, covered in bloody streaks and dirt. It's not my blood; the mess traces right back to Col himself, to smears of blood and cum on his thighs. I grab the corner of the duvet and wipe it away before he has a chance to wake up properly and dwell on it, but the action jigs my shoulder, makes the world shiver. I slump down and take a few trembling breaths, dripping with sweat. Fuck's sake. Bacterial infection. Hangover. It's all so bloody pedestrian.
Somewhere downstairs, a door slams. Frank must be home and we should probably clear up or something, but I can't quite get up yet. I close my eyes instead and listen to Col's slow, heavy breaths. My dick swells, bringing with it a sudden flash of fury. I should have fucked him out of my system. It's how it normally works. How it nearly always normally works. But it turns out Col is a Vari-type person. The type to plant disgusting little roots in your brain and cut out a place to live there. Last night wasn't worth shit. He just rubs his eyes. Rubs the sleep out, and some of the horror in. This is not what I wanted.
"My first girlfriend…" he says. "Helia."
"You should eat some more."
He nods and takes the plate from George, balances it on the pillow. "I...I killed her too." He's even paler than normal, and who can blame him. Was all prime to enjoy his merry last few days or weeks or whatever jollying around Soma, perving on robots, but I've just gone and ruined everything because something is seriously wrong with me.
"You liked it right?" I ask. "I reminded you of Sire? It made you feel better?"
He shakes his head, aghast, but the boy can't lie.
"You don't need to fuck me when you fuck me, Col," I say, pissed off with him, for some reason, for not knowing that.
"But I…" he stumbles on his words. "But I wanted to…"
"Don't be stupid."
"And I don't want to watch you die," he says.
"Ha. You won't."
He frowns, then breathes in, understands. "Right. Because I'll be dead first."
"No. Because there's a cure, remember?"
"That's not what you meant."
I'm surprised he said it. Sort of happy, sort of sad. I breathe, shiver, black out a couple of seconds, blink my way back into existence again and watch George roll out of the room. Frank's yelling for the paper in the world beneath the bed. "I don't feel sick," I say. "Well, I do feel sick, but that's a different thing. Fucking stitches. Would you kill me if I called your little girlfriend a raging psycho bitch?"
"No point," he says, blase. "I already did kill you."
I stare at him. Was that a...joke? I roll out of bed, away from the strange creature with his weird dark humour, and towards...a whole load of black sparkles that make me fall flat on my arse.
"Fucking...Sire. Shit." I look up at him, at his solemn, guilty face. He's convinced I'm sick. Plague sick. I don't think I am; all of these feelings are extremely familiar. "There's a cure," I say again. "Remember? Plus the transmission rate on this thing really is...not what they'd have you believe. Like one in fifty, one in sixty?" Probably more when your jizz is as bloody as his is. "Some say it only works so well in Quarry because your bodies are pretty much falling apart to begin with. Me, I'm a healthy Somite!"
He smiles, looking genuinely relieved, accepting what I say for some reason. It's somehow sad that he trusts me, even though I'm mostly telling the truth. I claw the wall behind me to balance myself upright to...I don't know. Look at him better? Feel even more pissing guilty and selfish and messed up? Solid plan, yep. We stay like that for a few minutes, but Col is better at silence than me, and he just looks expectant. Like a puppy told to wait. Slowly, slowly, I start to think I should give some sort of explanation-cum-apology, but I don't have explanations, only excuses. I pull on my underwear instead with my one working hand.
"How long till the T1B gets here?" I mumble..
"Three minutes sixteen."
"Fabulous, I'll go get you tea."
He's halfway through a gasp when I stumble out the room, out of the sex-air, and into the freshness of citrus. I curl my wonky toes into the thick white carpet to stop falling over and slap a hand against the wall. My shoulder follows. And then I sort of just roll myself forward, leaving sweaty streaks to mark my way. The hall was so sweet and clean before, all traces of poor person erased from yesterday. Well, I think, glancing back, looks like the maidbots are going to have one hell of a shitty day. Soon enough I'm wobbling down the stairs, trying my best not to break my neck by falling down them, propping my head against the frames of the paintings that line the stairway. They're nearly all of Vari, commissioned by - guess who - Vari, and there is something deliberately wrong with every one of them. In one, she's missing a tooth, in another, one of her eyes is pure white, in a third, the puppy she's playing with is dead. But the last picture, the one at the bottom where the stairs meet the foyer, is a tacky little photograph in a frame. Vari and Walker as children, looking miserable and victorian between their mum and their dad. The pre-Robin freezing days, how sweet. Now this is definitely not a family photograph-type household, and it's such a strange little curiosity to see that it makes me sad. They're a fucking weird family, but they are a family. Walker is loved and he is missed. What must it be like to have that sort of support? Closest I ever had were the other kids at Plantagenet House. They hated me because I was - am - a cocky little shit, but would kick the teeth out of any outsider kids who dared to say that. Doesn't mean I ever liked them. So I guess, yeah, they were my family.
I wipe my face and clear my throat as I trip into the kitchen, where Frank's sitting reading the paper. He's in a crumpled suit, his hair's a mess and his knuckles are white as he reads. He's got a very nice cup of pale blue tea there next to him though, garnished with a single slice of lemon.
"I thought she got a new one," he says from behind the paper.
I boil the kettle and pull out a pack of Earl Grey. Col will like it; it sounds fancy.
"How is she?" he asks.
He chuckles once. Sour. Walker's gone and he knows and I know, but there's nothing I can tell him about it. I want to say Walker's okay. I want to say we'll get him back. I want to say Sire won't kill him, but I just go all goldfish at the poor old shit.
"Can I get you anything?" I ask lamely.
His pointy eyes appear above the paper, bright white scleras rich with wake-up drops. His pupils flick to my pus shoulder and stay there a while, and then the newspaper rises again. The kettle boils and I make the tea, stirring slowly, watching the colour develop. It is relaxing, in a way. Eases the mind, just a bit. Maybe Col is onto something. I take the cup in my shaking hand and slosh hot tea all about my wrist as I go over and plonk it on the breakfast bar. The sloppy Early Grey looks so ugly next to his cool blue one.
Frank folds the paper, folds his arms, and just looks at me. I decide to leave pretty quickly with the other cup of tea.
Col's at the top of the stairs, wearing an oversized black RRC jumper that actually manages to make him look small. I could crawl right in there with him, comfy in the warm musky smell of it. Only I can't, because T1bbles is by his side, blinking steady hatred at me, and I don't like to be too close to T1bbles. He is looking particularly crazed today; a couple of glass shards stick out from his casing, and he's covered in white dust. Col fusses, of course - he is all careful fingers and soft words - but at least while he's worrying about T1bbles he's not worrying about me. I go up the stairs, which takes about a million years and three instances of trying to puke my empty guts out. .
"We need to contact Sire with what we found," he says in a small voice, eyes flicking back and forth between me and the bottom of the stairs, where Vari's Dad is surely primed to pounce on us.
"What we need is to help Walker."
Though, in this case, his plan and my plan probably come down to the same thing. I pass him the tea.
"What happened to the robot?" I ask, pretending to care. I lean up against him as I talk, all subtle, mostly because my heart is darting around like a cockroach, most irregular. The best thing would be to sit down, but if I sit down, I don't think I'll be able to get up again.
"He broke into a hospital. Got Antifex and morphine."
"Antifex, that's good shit."
"Is it? In Quarry we mostly just use spit…" He drifts off, stares at the tea as it swirls in its cup. His lip trembles. "I don't think spit would have helped with ebola."
"Huh? Coli, are you having a moment?"
"Tea isn't - it isn't for me." He tries to return it, but I pull a face and push it back at him. I can't really have food and drink smells around me right now.
"That one is."
He makes an odd gurgling sound in the back of his throat. "Okay…"
Fingers trembling, he brings the cup to his mouth. The blue china rests against his lip, but he hasn't swallowed. It's sort of fascinating to watch; this boy who eats spiders being so cautious about leaves and water. Then his adam's apple rises and falls, and he looks at me, confused.
"I thought it would be more...metallic."
He takes another sip, just to check his theory, and shakes his head, looking disgusted.
"Earl Grey," I shrug lop-sidedly. "It's got bergamot or some shit in it. Where's my painkillers?"
I present my wrists to T1bbles - morphine, please - but he bleeps bad-naturedly.
"It's a suppository," Col translates, swishing the tea around his mouth.
"Course it is. Perv."
Col spits the tea back into the cup, but I like to think of it as more of a wine-tasting type spit rather than a disgusted-type spit. "Is there no heroin in this at all?" he asks. "And it's very watery, isn't it?"
He thinks I've done it wrong. Like I microwaved it or something sacrilegious. "Col, it's tea."
"Exactly." He blinks at me, so innocent. So not innocent. "I'm sorry," he adds, blushing for no reason.
T1bbles ejects a bright red tab the size of a thumb into my palm. All I'd wanted was an ibuprofen. "Come on," I say, grabbing Col's hand and rolling the tab into it. "Here's your opiate, Dead Boy. Now let's go get a proper drink and talk to Sire before Frank starts investigating the noise."
We go to Coccinelle because I'm too braindead to make a better decision. It doesn't close until six, so there's still a good hour and a half of drinking left; maybe enough to drag me out of this little hole I've got myself into. There's no queue, of course, but Col has himself a little wait outside the door anyway. His feet shuffle around; the suppository is apparently causing him all sorts of discomfort, the little princess.
I grab his arm. "C'mon, I'm cold."
"What if the globs come again?"
"Ugh," I grunt at him helpfully, although there is a shiny new robot bouncer by the entrance. His eyes are dull, though; he's not even working. That's Coccinelle for you; it's all about the bare minimum. "You're not going to get carted off just yet."
It's a fight night. You know because of the sweat-smell and the manic whooping and the sticky blood on the floor. When we get in, one very large brown guy is punching a larger, pinker man, sinking his fists into the meat of him to the sound of applause. The larger man takes it. His face suggests that he's taken many fists in many different places before. It's gotten to the state where you have no idea how old he is, or what he used to look like. Could even be a woman for all I know. The guy punching him is young, maybe younger than me, but he's big. Looks like a giant baby.
I roll my eyes and slip into a booth towards the back of the room, dragging Col with me. There's a half-finished beer on the table with a cigarette butt floating in it. I quickly tip it over onto the floor so I won't be tempted. Col sits opposite me, his eyes on the fighting. His hands press into T1bbles' sides, fingers over the bit where the flashy lights live. He wobbles from side to side so I have to make a very concerted effort not to tease him about his butthole. I clap over a waitress instead, and look who is bloody well is.
Shackles, the job-stealer, comes with a shitty little smile on her shitty little face. She is tall with deep violet eyes and sienna synth-skin. Undeniably hot. I order the three most complicated drinks on the menu, just to make her day. She takes all of two minutes to fetch them, because fuck my life.
Col goes all goo-goo eyes, predictably.
"Well you look like shit," I tell her blandly, checking out her tight black dress, her 'Hi, I'm Shackles' badge with a little android logo on it for the idiots who can't tell, and the many, many ten pound notes stuffed down her cleavage. Another one is added shyly to them, and I follow the hand and arm up to a politely blushing Col, because of course he is doing that. I knock his 'Lava Extravaguava' over to spite him. The fake volcano it comes with ejaculates glitter all over the floor. Shackles just bends over to clean in a thoroughly alluring way that Col does not seem to mind at all. He even uncovers T1bbles' 'eyes' for this bit, because he's such a kind and benevolent little beast.
"Where the fuck did you even get that money?" I snap at him.
Cue Col turning scarlet.
I angrily take the 'Oilgasm' I bought for his robot fiend and bop it up against T1bbles' sharpest, most pointy region. T1bbles whips out a needle or three and starts draining it like a expert. His "eyes" pulse a slow amber.
There's a sharp scream from the ring. It comes from Baby, who's sizable head is being crushed between the hands of the fuck-faced fighter. Screaming does nothing, and Fuck-Face smashes Baby's head into his knee. Baby falls, so Fuck-Face kicks him in the head, just to be sure. He kicks him again and again, until the audience squeals glory and money starts fluttering. Corey himself comes onstage then, takes Fuck-Face's hand in his, and lifts it into the air. He says the guy's name and I instantly forget it. Oh well.
It's at this point that a lithe woman in a leather bodysuit sidles up to our booth, rattling a bucket in our faces. "Taking bets for the next round, gentlemen. "Mad Badger versus Little Derek. What d'you reckon?" Her eyes meet mine and she takes a step back. "Oh. Molly. I thought you weren't working here no more."
"I'm drinking here," I say, taking a long sip of my MDMAzing. It's a terrible drink that I came up with, and the fucking thieves should take it off the fucking menu.
The woman is Nivette, and she's a tall, wiry thing with a neon buzzcut and silver iris mods that make her always look kinda spacey. She's a pimp for some of the fighters, collects the money they earn and takes a wild cut out of it for the 'favour' of booking venues for them to get the shit beat out of them. She looks pissed off with me for some reason, though that's so un-unusual I don't even try to remember why.
"This is Col," I say, gesturing at him. "He's a robot pervert. Col, this is Nivette. She's a bitch."
Nivette sticks out a hand. Col, spineless, shakes it.
"What do you think of Nivette's fighters, Col?" I ask him. "Did you enjoy the fourteen year-old orphan child getting his brains creamed?"
"Sixteen," Nivette corrects.
"He was a better fighter," Col says honestly, gazing into Nivette's rapidly widening and narrowing pupils. I don't know what the mods even do, other than look stupid. Mincemeat always said they were mathematical, that Nivette could calculate the likely outcome of any fight instantly. You just needed to be able to read her right and you'd make your fortune.
Note that Mincemeat still works in this shithole.
"The other one was just big," Col adds.
Nivette takes a step back and whistles shrilly. She takes a long look at T1bbles, but says nothing. I wonder what she's waiting for, but then two thick goons materialise from the darkness behind her. They look vaguely familiar, and one has a cute little eyepatch on I raise my glass to him with an adorable smile. Nivette's silver irises constrict to max. "You owe me money, Molly," she says.
Ah. So that's why. I don't know when exactly I took her money, but, let's face it, I probably did. Nivette has various ventures and side-projects I've been interested in: drug dealing, people-dealing, the occasional Blood Market dalliance with Daniel Plaster's gang.
I look from Col to the goons, focus on the eyepatch one. I don't think they're the same two. They'd be angrier if they were the same two, right? And there's no bike-shaped scars on either of them. I also remember one of them being quite good looking, and while Eyepatch is kawaii as fuck, you don't want to jump kawaii.
But just in case, double shit.
"So I'll gamble it back," I say. "Has Slippy been on yet?"
She scowls. "No."
"So I'll bet on Slip." I dig around in my pocket. Find a fiver. Possibly my last fiver, but Slippy always wins. "So...Is that enough?"
"Encule toi Salaud. Then how much is -"
"Slippy turned up high to work two days ago. He's not fighting no more."
"High!? My God!" I splutter out my drink for effect.
"Stupid fuck," she says. "Tried to make out with Fossil onstage. Got crushed for his trouble. Fossil's not into that shit."
"Oh. He's injured?" I feel sort of bad.
"Dead," she says, sniffing. "Fossil smashed his chest in."
I finish my drink and rub my fingers over the side of the table. I feel suddenly...sudden. "You let him fight on Virtual?"
"The boy wanted to eat," she shrugs. "Didn't know you liked him. Sorry," she says. She's not sorry.
"I didn't like him."
"Shit happens. He was just some orphan Three. You were fucking him?" She looks vaguely disgusted.
"He was my brother and you sent him to fight. You killed him."
I killed him. My hand is shaking. So cold. What did I do? Slippy was horrible and handsy and perverted, but so am I; I'm just like him. Just a project of the care system; some poor, abused, stupid kid with only other poor abused kids to love. At Vince's, when everyone else was beating me to within an inch of my life, he wasn't there; he was calling the police. Slippy always hated to fight.
I look up at her madly. "Do you even know what you did? He was eighteen. He never went to school; I had to teach him how to read. He used to piss the bed."
I killed him.
But this should be just like Lucas and his overdose, Jaybird and her murder, or the disappearance of Rizzo, Hunter, my family. The disappearance of Walker. People go, people go, and you've just got to be cold to it, otherwise you'll never survive Soma. You'll never survive my Soma.
You'll never, never, never survive.
I realise I'm hyperventilating when T1bbles rams a paper bag over my face. I might be hyperventilating, but I swear at her, I claw at her. Goon fingers grab my working arm and there's a hard, cold slap across my face. Nivette, looking icy, a chunk of skin missing on her forehead. She spits at me as we both drip blood.
"You will pay me back, Molly. Luckily for you, we're down a fighter, and I reckon people will pay good money to see you kicked to shit."
I ignore her, shove T1bbles out of my face, stare at Col. "You need to call Sire. We need to get Walker back. We need to do something good and get him back. We need to."
I need to. Because I'm too small and I'm too shit and all I've ever done is fuck people over. And my head hurts and my arm hurts and my face hurts and my brain hurts. I start punching the table until T1bbles injects me with something calming and I piss down my leg. Nivette's goons are pulling me somewhere, pulling me out of the booth, but Col needs to know, he needs to understand something. I grab him by the neck, bring his face close to mine with all my three grams of muscle.
"I know how you feel," I whisper. "And I'm so sorry, Col. Benjamin."
But what am I sorry for? Harassing him? Liking him? Making him kill me? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter. Apologies are meant to make you feel better, but this one doesn't. The drink hasn't made me feel better either. T1bbles has made me feel...slightly better, yes.
Col just shakes his head. "I don't feel anything. Not right now."
"Well good for you, killer," I hiss at Col as the goons drag me away, politely avoiding my fucked shoulder. "You'll get so far."
Aww. The morphine. Look at him confusing outside hurt with inside hurt. May be the first time in his life he's been without pain. Good old T1bbles, breaking into fancy Soma hospitals. I grab the robot and kiss him on the top of his shell. T1bbles, drunk, doesn't even seem to mind.
Col's brown eyes lower as T1bbles wobbles back to him, making a series of confused beeps and whines. I hook my feet around the table legs, but they just flop about lamely, and the goons kick them away. Col doesn't get up to help in particular, he just looks up at Nivette and says, "I'll do it."
The goons stop. Nivette gives a little sneer. "I won't make anything off you, Skinny," she says coolly, starting to walk away.
Col tosses a wadge of notes into her bucket. "I bet on myself," he says, in a thoroughly un-Col-like fashion. T1bbles beeps in horror and flashes the word 'SIRE' repeatedly, but then Col leans forward and whispers at him urgently in that weird language he uses sometimes. T1bbles rocks back and forth, begrudgingly playing what I can only assume is the Quark National Anthem, and spews out a bit of oil onto the table. Absolutely wasted.
"Uh, or you could just give her all that sweet money and not fight?" I suggest. "Please don't fight."
Col looks at me, pleading. "It's Sire's money. I'm not spending it; I'm investing it."
"Sire's money that you can't resist putting down the cleavage of robots."
He blushes. "Well that bit was actually Vari's money."
"But you'll get yourself killed for the sake of your psycho bitch?"
He looks at me like I'm the idiot.
"Slippy just died, Col," I say. I don't think he ever actually met Slippy, but this is probably a good thing.
"And you'll die if you have to fight too. You're not allowed to die." He looks at Nivette. "Who will it be?"
Nivette's little sneer shrinks away at the sight of the money, such a simple Somite is she. She links arms with Col, stands him up, and prepares to pimp him out to the crowd. "Well...how about Smasher?" she asks, pointing an elbow at Fuckface, who's sweating merrily into a pint of beer. "He's our current champion."
"The fat man?" Col actually smiles at this.
True, Fuckface is slow and Col is slow. Col is also strong and made of rock and a Quark and a bacterial gangster. Quarks probably fight to the death over groceries. And yes, I realise, Nivette pairing tall, skinny, dreamy-looking Col against the biggest fighter she knows might have seemed a good idea at the time, but her eye mods obviously don't account for granite-flavoured thigh muscles. She should have gone with speed. Should have gone with someone like my weird fake brother. I sob out loud and get a fist to my head for my troubles.
"Col," I beg as I flop forward, a splattering of blood plopping down between my feet. If I really wanted him not to do it, I could ask him in that special way. I could ask him firm and he'd go all blank-eyed and obedient and puppy-like. But I gotta stop being that person, and the Col he is right now is better, healthier, even if he does make terrible choices. "Benjamin, please think about this."
"How alive do you want the fat man to be at the end of it?" Col asks Nivette, a genuine question.
Stupid fucking Quark.
A/N Extreeeeemely rough, but WHAT IS THIS.