Seven Days: Part Four of Seven
Posted By: SeverianofUrth<email@example.com>
Date: 20 May 2005, 1:48 PM
Seven Days: Part Four of Seven
Again silence reigned. The air inside the room suddenly seemed to be thick, soupy, and as chill as a winter crypt. The vid played on, and displayed the aftermath of the carnage: the corpses lying here and there, the waters gently lapping the sands, and the moon shining brightly over them all. It was a lovely scene, if you could ignore the gore.
It became hard to breathe. I choked and spluttered, and clutched my now-cold cup of coffee with a claw-like grasp and sucked it down. It tasted awful, bitter and acidic; but it managed to clear my throat. And in my mind went over and over, in an endless loop, Oh God Oh God Oh God...
I was confronted with something that (as Jimmy put so eloquently later) was so bamboozling it reduced my mind to just a fraction of its former self. There is, in every human being, a innate fear of the supernatural, of things that should not have happened but did. Ghosts, demons, possessions; when things go bump at night, no matter the progress in hyperspace travel or interspatial colonization, one finds himself huddling, shivering as he jerks his eyes from here to there. And he sees what is real and corporeal; the walls, the furniture, the paintings. And in the utterly normal he finds proof that there is something not normal, something that does not fit into his daily life. The vase which once held the flowers may be overturned. In the distance he may hear the sound of a door being opened, then closing. Music may suddenly play. Toilets may flush. He might hear footsteps padding on the roof: the thump, thump, thump of heavy boots clip-clopping on the tiles, each step sounding like a marching drum. And, as if hearing a echo, he may find himself listening to a small, insistent voice, calling and calling like the Sirens on a rocky beach...
The death of the people on the beach was a particularly brutal one... the moment I laid my eyes on those baking corpses I knew that to be true. But it had been, before this vid, a normal incident. It was disturbing and in essence evil, of course, but it had still existed in the realm of the definitely possible. It was now something more. The fear of the supernatural overwhelmed me.
I have always been afraid of ghosts. The image of the Virgin Mary forming on the seas of Amaril as the native planktons died away from human contamination is a memory that always haunts my sleep; for me the lady represents not a figure of peace and radiance but a form of unknowable chill, a suspicious, slow forming terror that creeps along your bones and freezes your marrows. Spectacles of gore do not frighten me. The subtle and the unseen do.
Those hidden knives... I wondered how they felt.
"That's a horrorshow, alright," Jimmy muttered.
I did not reply. It occurred to me that I should turn the vid off.
"Want to go eat?" Jimmy asked me.
I said yes.
Jojola's wasn't exactly booming, at this time of the day. By the time we arrived the restaurant was in the small flux of time between lunch hours and supper; this is a period in which the employees go smoke, the cooks eat any special 'leftovers' from lunch, and the manager gets drunk on unpaid wine. Good times.
We found Jojola himself reading a print copy of Leaves of Grass. He sat on the steps that lead from the back door, legs crossed and eyes busily crawling over the text. He mumbled the words out as he read.
"Poetry?" Jimmy asked him, curiously. "Since when did you read poems?"
Jojoly looked offended. "There's great beauty in art, m'friend. Just 'cause I got this speakin' like this don't mean I don't appreciate poems."
"Who are you trying to impress?" I asked.
Jojola's eyes bulged out; he sucked his cheeks in; and bit his lips as if to stop himself from screaming. He looked like a blowfish. "What you talkin' about?" He said. "Why can't people just see that I read poems?"
"Fine, fine. But which one is it, anyhow? I've always liked that one about the steamship," Jimmy said.
"Well, see this one h're." And Jojola recited:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
"Ain't that great?" Jojola said, grinning.
"Too sentimental," Jimmy replied disdainfully. "Sappy shit."
Jojola must have been pissed: without bothering to reply, he plowed straight on to a different verse.
I understand the large hearts of heroes,
The courage of present times and all times,
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the steamship,
and Death chasing it up and down the storm,
How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch,
and was faithful of days and faithful of nights.
"Better," I said. "Damn good stuff." I shook my head at Jimmy as Jojola smiled and went back to his poetry.
Jojola's restaurant wasn't too spacious; it always managed to feel cramped even when it had only one or two customers. The walls were red and the lamps were white; the tables were of sleek, oaken plastic and the chairs were of synthesized foxmink fur. The room smelled right now of leftover food and cigarillo smoke. Three doors stood on the back; one lead to the kitchen, the other lead to the back alley, and the last lead to the basement wine cellar.
Jojola's restaurant served galactic cuisine; that is, it transcended cultural barriers. It had no particular origin; it wasn't odd to see broiled herring marinated in tomato sauce, sprinkled with oregano smothered in green chili and cheddar cheese. I preferred more regular fare.
I ordered chicken and rice, with a side of roasted chili and beans. Jimmy called for beer; a giant pitcher, dripping with condensation, was served. We didn't bother with mugs. I took the first giant sip; the sour, yellow liquid fizzed down my throat. I could feel it going all the way down to my stomach, and churn there nastily as my body decided on whether to throw up or not.
Jimmy took the next gulp. He must have gotten used to the drink, for he smiled widely, and without bothering to ask took another stomach-wrenching swallow. I sat across from him queasily, wondering if he would start throwing up-- I tensed my muscles to spring, in case Jimmy started hurling vomit over the table.
Nothing of the nature happened. Good God, I thought; he likes it. Desperate times call for desperate measures; yet I do not know how he could have gotten used to Le'Guinesse. The beer was sour, acidic, and didn't contain enough alcohol to get you drunk with four bottles. The last would have been reason enough to turn me off, and with the first two combined... horrific.
"Damn, that's some awful stuff," Jimmy said. He wiped his mouth off with the back of his hand. "Want some more?"
I shook my head, and called for some tomato juice.
"Pussy." Jimmy commented. "I think I'll get some of those veggie burgers."
"I just have discerning tastes, that's all. Unlike you."
"Desperate times, Dave, call for-"
"Desperate measures, I know." The chicken and rice was almost gone. I wondered if I should order some more, and decided against it. "Still, it seems like you're becoming a masochist."
"Nah. Never went for the kinky stuff."
We finished the lunch. After bidding farewell to an absorbed Jojola, we decided to go back to the beach. God knows why; we had seen enough horrors upon those sands to last even the fabled de Sade a lifetime. We took one of the few buses that were running in Honolulu to get to the car-wash.
As the bus smoothly rolled over newly paved streets, I saw again the city. It was quite memorable. It was a city like any other, I suppose; the tall buildings, the smooth white streets, the slick roads, the gleaming signs. Yet there was this knowledge that this was something I had helped to build, that I had paid a hefty price in order for it to be possible. I had helped create something beautiful. And for that, as the bus rolled past empty buildings and shining black-glass windows, I smiled. And I wasn't even drunk.
The car wash was located sea-side, where they rinsed off the vehicles with the green ocean water. The facility was called Pequod's. Its nearest competitor was called QueeQueg's, and that was located in the nearby city of Oahu. The green waters were perfectly safe for car-washing, and they made sure to filter through the excess water to comb out the detergent and such before it was dumped back into the sea. The theory was that since New Hawaii had been a entirely different eco-system, totally isolated from Earth until we came, we might, if we dumped our waste into the vast green oceans, cause undesirable chemistry-- perhaps in the next ten million years some green-eyed monsters might rise up and kill us all. Most people did not take this seriously as ten million years were a heck of a long way from now, but still the theory had been popular enough amongst the elite to have been made a law: Thou Shalt Not Dump Shit Into the Ocean. Not the exact wording, of course.
The owner gave me a searching look as he handed the keycards to the 'hog back over to me. I noticed a distinct lack of a left hand. A veteran? Most likely, I thought. And so he must have smelled the scent of corpses. That is a smell that never leaves you, a strong, horrifying scent of pork and fat and blood. It is heavy, this stink.
I showed him my Securidad badge. It quelled his fears enough for him to tell me that he had notified the very same Securidad of the 'hog.
"You told them the registry code, right?" I asked. It would be all right if they did; the AI in charge of communications, Armads, back at Securidad would be smart enough to figure out the small details provided that they had the number.
"Well... yes. I did." He nodded emphatically. "Of course. Sir."
I wondered why he trembled so much when he saw the badge. Though I wasn't a particularly important cog in the machine that was the Securidad, I was still enough of a part to know that this machine did not kill, kidnap, or torture in the name of security. Those were the trademarks of ONI.
We drove off to the beach, then. Jimmy insisted on taking the wheel, to my fear.
Then we made a small detour; and that proved, in the end, to have quite a significance.
We were driving to the beach. Jimmy had taken the wheel, and he wasn't quite drunk enough to be a serious danger. I was looting around the various compartments in the 'hog, taking note of what was missing and thus was surely stolen by one of the shifty bastards back at the car-wash. The guns were still there, along with spare ammunition; but the little minted coins, pitiful as they were, had disappeared. Either they had all simultaneously evolved little silver legs and had marched off, or one of the employees had pilfered them. I also couldn't find the hypnol in the medkits.
Jimmy was driving relatively straight. The 'hog occasionally swayed from left to right, but I wasn't too alarmed. Not much traffic passed on the New Hawaiian highways, what with a whole world and only two hundred thousand people living in it. Some had clustered around in cities, like New Honolulu, but most had opted for small-town life. Perhaps it was the warren-like existence that most had experienced back at Apotrops that swayed them to such a life. A few even chose the life of a hermit-- there were many places where one could go and settle down by himself, hunting the many animals that had been seeded before the first settlers landed. Moose, elk, deer; all were to be had in abundance. Bears and tigers, also. There were even rumors that some idiot had introduced dinosaurs into the biosphere.
"Hey-- check that out," Jimmy said, pointing with one hand towards a newly-erected sign. "Never seen that before."
Welcome to Wapei, it read.
"I never knew there was a town here," I said. "Wanna go check?"
"Why not? S'not like the beach is any good to swim in." The waters were clear, of course, but the blood would never wash off. "Wonder if they have good beer?"
"We should give it a try, at least," I said. "Not only for the beer, if they have it. Might as well--"
The car bumped up a little; there was the sound of cracking bones, muffled almost to mute under the roar of the engine. I looked back to see a trail of rather crusty looking blood running from the wheels. I told Jimmy to stop, and back the car up.
It was a corpse. Or what remained of one. The effects of a warthog's wheels on the human body was proven quite effectively here. It must have been a man, perhaps thirty, judging by the small lines that still remained on his face and the beard that must still be growing. His skin had taken on the plastic-like cast of a bloated body in heat, and it shone-- or gleamed, rather, beneath the sun. The wheels had ruined most of his chest and legs, and those were now nothing but bloody wrecks of mushy muscles and cracked bone.
"Not again..." Jimmy groaned.
By the time that the Securidad mop-up crew arrived and took the body away (we did not carry the necessary equipment for the job) while bitching about the mess we made, night was starting to descend and the moon was beginning to shine.
"Erinyes," one of the crew said.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
He said, quite smugly, "they finally decided on the name for the moon, man. Erinyes-- sounds like some fucking elf, neh?"
"I suppose it does," I replied. Erinyes. The goddamn idiots. They were short two moons, there.
Wapei held maybe two hundred people within its confines-- it was quite a large town, Ben, by Hawaiian standards. Lovely place. Small white houses with flat roofs and square windows surround the middle 'hub,' in which stood the church, the town hall, and some stores that sold the usual necessities of life-- food, clothing, vids, and more-- with also a small storehouse of weaponry. The Militia, it had been labeled.
The streets were empty, deserted, and the warthog's wheels kicked up a constant cloud of dust as we rolled through the town. The doors were all shut, the windows all covered; the whole place had a feeling of mourning.
"Weird," Jimmy commented. "You'd think that these people would be happy, being so close to the beach."
"It's like they're having a funeral," I said. "Has that feeling of a hearse passing through."
He shrugged; the 'hog swayed dangerously close to one of the small houses. "Doesn't look like it's a good time to visit," he said. "I wonder who's dead?"
We drove through the roads, which seemed to have been laid without any particular plan in mind. It was like a maze; one moment we'd be sure we were heading towards the center of the town, the next we'd be at a dead end, cursing and bitching at the idiocy of whoever built this place. After thirty minutes of being hopelessly lost, we finally gave in and stopped before one of the houses.
This house was identical to the ones next to it; white, flat-roofed, looking rather squat and small. Jimmy kept the engine running as I clambered off and walked towards the door. No alarms or bells in this place; there was a heavy brass knocker in their place, in the shape of a grinning, cartoon shark. I lifted it up, and let it go; it slammed against the wooden door.
At first there was but silence, and after a while I decided to knock once again. The brass shark was in my hand and ready to be smashed against the wooden door again when the door opened. I took a step back, and with one hand held out my Securidad badge while holding out the other to be shaken. "How are you doing?" I asked, politely.
The man had bulbous eyes, like that of a blowfish. He had baggy cheeks and a squashed pig's-nose, with a shock of unruly brown hair that looked thatched and charred. His eyes were also bloodshot and rather yellow. "What is it?" He demanded.
"Just wanted to ask you, sir, about how to get to the stores."
"What? Couldn't find it, could'ya?" He peered at me with his fishy eyes. "What'cha want, anyways?" He didn't shake my hand.
Well, sir, I just found a dead body on the road just outside Wapei, and wanted to investigate... remaining silent won't do you good, because Miranda has no reach here. The Office of Security now holds direct authority over all your actions, and refusal to follow may result in some time spent moping in a cell, sir, I wanted to say. So get your fishy little head out of there and show me how to get to wherever the mayor or whatnot lives, you sonofabitch. I said instead, "Private matters, sir."
"Well," he replied, "guess I gotta help you out, right? Hospitality and all that shit. I'll be right out." Then, yawning, he shut the door.
I walked back to the 'hog, and told Jimmy that our guide would be with us shortly.
The man introduces himself as Ruben; he shakes both their hands with a limp, sweaty grip and nervous, fidgeting eyes. Dave feels a slick wave of discomfort when he touches the man. He dismisses the feeling as nothing but a sudden onslaught of latent superstition, but cannot shake off a growing sense of unease as the man climbs onto the warthog and perches himself like a peering raven in the back.
They all exchange mindless platitudes and observations about the weather. There is a storm cloud approaching from the ocean, and they all comment that it looks like a giant, grasping hand. They bitch about the beer and Ruben recommends to them the Tafleuthil wine, which has begun to be brewed on the eastern vineyards.
The wino-- for Dave is sure that this Ruben is a drunkard and a sop-- starts barking out the directions. The roads are a tangle of turns and crooks and hidden pathways. Dave is already lost. But Jimmy seems to be doing fine, eyes intent on the road, his mind obviously committing the layout of the town to memory.
After five minutes of driving through the tangle of streets, they arrive in the central square of Wapei.
The central square was paved with concrete; on the west side loomed the church, in the middle stood the Hall, and between and around them were the little stores.
The church was ugly and imposing, and it stood like a fort, with thick metal doors guarding the entrance and a wall rimmed with suitable holes for machinegun turrets surrounding the entire structure. It occurred to me that these people had expected some kind of trouble from the start, judging by the look of things.
Ruben pointed out to me the city hall. It was a structure of classical pretensions, all gray marble pillars and high, rigid lines. It tried to appear powerful, but appeared rather small and diminished next to the church.
The stores: I doubt I need to recount to you their variety, Ben.
What caught me and Jimmy's interest was the bar that stood next to a clothing store called "Harakiri." There were no signs bearing its name; instead, there was simply a sign that said "home-brewed beer for the whole family." Below it in a tiny script was Over Sixteen Only.
"I wonder if they have one of those things brewed with orange peels?" Jimmy mused happily. "They taste pretty damn tangy-- what about almonds and coconut brews? Damn, Dave. This brings back memories... remember the Ol' Baron down at Central, back on Utica?"
"My favorite was the number seven, dark," I replied. Delightful, if rather hazy, memories of time spent drinking and listening to some shitty band butchering another classic song came to mind. "What did they call it? Bittersweet brews for the discerning gentlemen?"
"Yeah." He looked like he was about to cry. "Oh, yeah."
Ruben then cut in. "So, uh, fellas-- since I showed you here, y'know, think you can afford me a--"
"Why not?" Jimmy replied, smiling. "What do you want?"
"The bloodiest fucking Mary you've ever seen," Ruben gulped out. "Just tell them that."
"Why don't you go in yourself?" I asked him, puzzled. "Order whatever you want. We'll pay, as long as its not something extravagant."
"Well, y'see..." He looked nervous. "I mean, the boss in there... he don't like me, y'know?"
"You mean you got raving drunk one day, and wrecked some chairs, huh?" Jimmy said, wryly. "And I'm guessing that the people inside beat the shit out of you. And you called them some names, they chased after you, and you've been sopping yourself on awful wine ever since."
"Well..." Ruben looked very embarrassed. "Yeah. You're right."
I said, "You'll have to go in with us if you want a drink."
He sighed, and agreed.
The sun had begun to set by then, and the storm clouds approaching from the seas did indeed seem to have come closer. It looked like a giant seven-fingered hand, and was rimmed with blue thunder and green lightning. It was dark, and even the orange-violet light of the setting sun did not stain its black depths.
We walked in; the bartender, a young man of maybe twenty, turned towards with a bright, interested smile. He had on a pair of thick black glasses, and wore rather jauntily on his head a dusty beret. But when he saw Ruben, his smile morphed into a ugly scowl.
"I'll be glad to serve you two--" he gestured towards me and Jimmy-- "but he's gonna have to leave."
"Ah, come on," Jimmy said, grinning. "Let the poor man drink. Whatever he might have done--"
"Whatever he might have done?" The bartender looked furious. The other patrons-- there were several, perhaps ten or twelve of them-- were starting to rise, murmuring, all wearing ugly scowls of hatred and fear. "Whatever he might have done? Do you have any fucking idea about what he might have done?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"That bastard--" he pointed a finger at Ruben, who cringed-- "is a murderer."
"I didn't kill no one!" Ruben yelped out. "I swear! I'm tellin' the truth! I found them, but I didn't kill no one. I swear!"
"A murderer?" I asked the young man. "How do you know?"
"Found him all covered with blood over the bodies," he said. "A gory-ass chainsaw in his hands with the most disgusting look on his fucking face. I saw him with a couple of buddies of mine-- we were all ready to kill his little ass, but decided to hand him over instead."
A chill ran up my spine. "Wait... how did the bodies look?"
"All chopped up like pork. Arms there and legs there." He suddenly got teary. "They were the kids, man. We had a school outing-- they had a field trip to the beach. We never did find the teacher."
"I have a feeling it wasn't ol' Ruben here, fellas," Jimmy said gently.
"What do you know?" The young man replied bitterly. "The law says he's innocent. The law says we gotta leave him alone, can't run him out of town. But it was the law that broke my parents on Calibani, man. It was the fucking law that sent me to Apotrops."
Without saying a word, I flipped out my Securidad badge. It was becoming more and more indispensable quite rapidly.
The young man's eyes were transfixed on the floating hologram; I said quietly, knowing that I was lying through my teeth, "We came to investigate, you know." Inside, I felt tired. I wanted to get drunk but somehow this little outing of ours had become another wary, soul-drenching day of work. "Consul sent us down-- we need your help."
Jimmy sighed. "And I'm Dave Rubashov's sidekick, James Hetfield. Named after some drunkard my dad used to like." He too flipped out the badge. "Forensics, that's us. Death is the name of our game, fellas. Get me a bottle of beer and I'll tell you the secrets of the dead." Jimmy grinned, then. "But the beer comes first. And get this poor guy here the bloodiest fucking Mary you've ever seen."