Burt finds his niche

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Chukk was a very big lad, even if he was older than most in the near-zone.  18 was ancient for all but the bosses in the red-zone.  Wasn’t much better here.  There was something not right about him, though.   Khloe had said, “mom would have called him slow“.  That was a nice way to put it, Burtt thought to himself while watching from the entry to his shack.  Chukk’s sister took care of his needs as well as a 13-year-old could.  She was a domestic, so she got some decent food for her and her brother to eat.  Good thing, as big as that boy was.  Chukk was having fun chasing the little ones who were calling him names and staying just out of his reach.  He didn’t know any better, so, no harm, no foul.  “No harm, no foul”, he liked that phrasing a lot, it, made sense to him easy enough.  At that moment, he decided to accept that tidbit of truth as a “rule“, something to live by.

Chukk looked about to drop.  Burtt half expected Chukk’s sister, Ssandra, to intervene eventually, but it was one of the other younger kids from the neighborhood.  Like Burtt, she saw Chukk’s face getting redder and redder until he looked like he was going to keel over, when she called for a timeout, acting so much like a stern Khloe with her hands on her hips, the kids stopped on a dime.  Burtt almost giggled, but didn’t want to undermine the girl’s authority so he turned away. “Stopped on a dime”.  He knew that one.  Kkhloe explained it when she was reading to them one night.

Burtt laughed to himself about that other word, “timeout”.   It was one word he figured out on his own watching that same little girl being marched out back of her hovel to be placed on “timeout” by her big brother. Burtt stayed nearby and watched to see what it was but she did nothing, just sat there, wasting time.   Boom, it hit him like a stunner; “timeout” means you can’t do anything until your punishment is done.  Excellent.  He’d written it down in his notebook, scratching it out in his pidgin.   Kkhloe had tried to teach Burtt to read and write before she got sick.   He knew enough to get by in a little kid’s book, but not much better.  He could print his name but it was a crude effort.  He’d settled for a neater “B” with crossed blades over it that looked kind of like the “t’s” at the end of his name, his mark.   Mmarta promised to help him do better but that might not ever happen.  He kept his notebook just the same, and hoped Mmarta would come through someday.

He didn’t expect anything more from Mmarta or Dougg.  They already gave him better materials to reinforce his shack.  They gave him enough plastin to roof his shack with, so he didn’t ever get leaked on again in the rain.  Plus, they sent him a full box of foodstuffs and other supplies Mmarta thought would be useful, every week.   He was grateful that Ssyndi was safe, cared for and got her meds, the real deal, though, not Zobbi’s bootleg poison.  He was especially grateful that he didn’t have to run that rat race anymore.  That was enough since they didn’t honestly owe him anything.   So, if Mmarta never came to see Burtt ever again, well, that was okay.  He sure did miss Ssyn though.  He always wondered about her.  Silly, it had only been three months since they’d gone off, Mmarta and his Ssyn.  It felt like years.  They couldn’t visit, not yet.  Not even when he got his food delivery.   That came from another prole delivery boy in Dougg’s service, Estebann.

It wasn’t all grins and giggles though.  Zobbi had a fucking fit when Burtt told him he wouldn’t need his meds anymore.  1200 creds a four-week down the crapper.  He was fit to be tied, ole Zobbi was.  He threatened to come after Burtt forever if he just walked away.  Burtt stared him down and asked who h

e thought he was going to send after him?  Zobbi glared at all his boys.  They all looked away.

“I didn’t think so”, said Burtt as he left a raging, foaming at the mouth, zone boss, screaming obscenities at any one close.

Zobbi’s rage generated enough worry among his troops that they did make a run at Burtt.  It was a huge mistake.  Always expecting treachery, Burtt was always alert and so, he was waiting for them.  Even though they came in the wee hours of the morning, he decimated Zobbi’s army to the point his rivals had the upper hand.  They chased Zobbi out of the area.

That kind of trouble didn’t just go away in the zone, though.  It increased after a while when the new bosses thought they could recruit the one real badass left lurking in this part of the zones.  They tried bribing him, coercing him, then physical assault.  Nothing worked.  Nothing even phased Burtt.  The only result of their efforts was to enhance his reputation.  He became the de-facto big boss in both the red-zone and near-zone, without ever applying for or accepting the position, merely by defeating all comers, and handily so.

At 17, almost 18 now, Burtt was the guy everyone came to with their grievances.  The only ones older were some of the bosses but they were all afraid of Burtt.   He thought Zobbi was in his twenties and marveled at his longevity.  He wondered if that longevity had taken a hit with Burtt’s exit.  He saw the benefit in the arbitrator’s role and took fees or pledges to help settle those grievances, even from the elies trying to protect their investments in the near-zone.  No one ever argued his findings and he was always just, at times even punishing the ones who brought the grievance to his attention.  He was just…and the other bosses hated him for it.  Burtt soon had a following in the red zone that rivaled all the gangs hired hands put together, and that “getting together” never happened.   They hated each other too.  Burtt had no comp at all in the near-zone.

Burtt didn’t get complacent though.  He knew better.  Those other lesser bosses were plotting all the time, and there was no telling when a pissed-off Zobbi might show up again.  Burtt couldn’t relax for a minute.  The neighborhood kids in their safer near-zone kept watch over him the little bit of time he slept.  Never so that those kids were endangered.  They watched from a distance and threw rocks at his plastin roof for an alarm.   It worked!

Thinking about these problems while watching Chukk’s wild goose chase, he began to think about building his own crew.  He was so preoccupied with this line of thought he somehow missed the red-zone toughs who’d crashed the wire somewhere and were right then trying to snatch as many little ones as they could before high-tailing it back into the red zone and a big pay day for the contraband.  Sex slavers paid big $ for kids.  The younger the better, if they weren’t still shitting and pissing themselves.  This happened a lot to families in the red zone but rarely out here.  Families of kids could hardly protect themselves from a group of toughs working for a zone boss.  That shit never on Burtt’s turf.  These ones must be new idiots.

It took him a heartbeat but he was moving in seconds at lightning speed, blades finding their way into his waiting hands.  He heard a blood curdling scream that should have stopped a beast but the blood rage was already boiling over in Burtt.  When he got to the first of his intended victims, this tough was already bleeding out and hitting the ground, his throat a tattered mess.  The other two followed in a heap very soon thereafter.  It was over before Burtt blooded his knives.

He was almost pissed off, but before him, sitting on the ground with all the nearly taken kids huddled on our around him and enwrapped in his huge arms, was Chukk.  Pacing fiercely around this group, snarls, growls and spittle escaping his suddenly, terrifying maw, was the neighborhood cur.  It was perhaps the ugliest specimen of K, Burtt had ever seen; bobbed tail, scars and bald patches, torn lips and ears, and one broken fang.   Burtt had chased this very same K away, maybe a hundred times.  He finally gave up.   The kids played with it and someone must have been feeding it; it wasn’t dead.  Seeing that the tough the K got was white as a sheet and staring emptily at the wind, he made sure the other two toughs were done for, then hauled their carcasses to the dumpster.  He’d bring them to the river later.  The only justice in these parts was Burtt’s.  In cases like this, it was final and deadly.

As Burtt had time to recall what had happened, he saw in his mind’s eye that the K had launched itself at the toughs when Chukk screamed.  The K got the first one.  The other two froze;  so Chukk grabbed and rang their heads together.  It was sweet!  Burtt whooped!  Then so did Chukk.  The cur growled at Burtt, but changed its mind and pulled closer to Chukk.  Burtt could have that effect on any living creature when he turned those cold, coal black eyes on it.

“You done good, Chukk. Good” Burtt told Chukk, while patting him on the shoulder.  He was never sure what Chukk understood, if anything.  Mostly he murmured gibberish (if that was the right word), but mumbo-jumbo anyway.

“Does the K do what you tell him?”  Burtt asked looking from Chukk to the K.

Through a near toothless, ear-to-ear grin Chukk slurred, “D-D-Doggggood! Doggggood!”

Burtt thought for a second.  “Dog?  Did you say “Dog”?  is that the K’s name?  Dog?”  Who named a K, he wondered with amazement?

“DOOGGGOOODD!  DOOOOGOOOD!  DOOOOOGGGOOD!” Chukk shrieked.

Burtt guessed that was a yes.  “Dog, huh?  Well, alright then.  Dog it is.  I guess I won’t be shooing you off no more after that bit of hero work, huh?  No, sir.  Come here you homely looking ole thing.  Dog, you have a name, so that’s what I’ll call you from now on.  Come here, Dog!”  Something gnawed at Burtt’s memory.  Something didn’t jive.  What was it?

Burtt took a closer look between Dog’s legs and found that Dog was a Dogg.  “Baptism done”. Burtt declared.  Why they didn’t call it “Naming” he couldn’t tell.  No matter!

Dogg started in with the growling and snapping again when Burtt stooped down to eye level and stared at the K’s golden eyes.  He’d never noticed before.  They were beautiful and a tear came to his own eye thinking about how cruel he’d been in the past.  Burtt was like that.  Injustice simply infuriated him.  When he was the source, well, he didn’t handle that too well.

“Hmmm.  So, you don’t like that do ya?  Okay.  I don’t like no one starin’ me down neither.” Slowly standing back up, he backed away.

He thought a moment, then ran to his shack.  He came back with something Shasparr called jerky.  Shasparr was one of Pokke’s runners.  Pokke was the red-zone boss from just outside the near-zone where Burtt lived.  Burtt and Pokke got along as well as, if not better than anyone else did with anyone else.  This made for an uneasy truce between them that benefited both.  Burtt traded some elie goods for Pokke acting like a buffer-zone between them and the rest of the red-zone.  No one had meat though.  Burtt himself only got one piece of what (he figured) Dougg was about to throw out anyway, and he gobbled that down as soon as he got it. The lack of protein in these kids diet was a major reason they were so sickly.  Shasparr claimed this jerky stuff was dried meat.

Burtt took it in trade for some canned fruit.  Shasparr looked like he needed about a case of fruit just then.  Burtt never ate the jerky.  He wasn’t sure what kind of meat it was.  Right now, though he figured ole Dogg would just love it no matter what the fuck it was.  And maybe that would pay off in dividends.  Burt had the beginnings of a plan for his crew going on in his head.

Oh boy, was he ever right about that jerky.  In 5 minutes Dogg was crawling up to Burtt begging for more. They were best friends, seemed like maybe forever, if you asked Dogg.

Better yet, Chukk didn’t seem to care at all.  He walked off with the kids and began another round of chasing his tail.

Burtt worked with Dogg for weeks.  Teaching the K, and he found, as time went on, teaching himself about the K (maybe he was learning from the K too?)

At first, they worked on just simple things like “to me”, short for “come to me, Dogg”.  He found when he said whole sentences, Dogg just turned his head sideways.  It seemed like that might be his way of saying, “What?”

So, Burtt learned to keep it simple for the K, and Dogg responded like he was made for the job.  Before long, Dogg had a 20-word vocabulary, or at least Burtt could say the words and, most of the time, Dogg did what Burtt had taught him to do when he said that word.  Certain ones were easy, like sit and stay, walk and lay.  Others took more time and patience.  Guard, find (associated with a smell-like, here, sniff this hat, go find the kid that belongs to it), get (pick stuff up Burtt pointed at and bring it to Burtt), bite, off, leave and like that, got to be a lot harder and took time and repeats forever.  He had time and besides when Burtt put his mind to something it got done.

The more Burtt worked with Dogg the more something was bothering him, though.  But he still couldn’t put a finger on what it was.  One day when Dogg seemed to not be in the mood for working, and Burtt was getting frustrated, he yelled “DOGG”!  That’s when he remembered what he’d been trying to remember these past several weeks.

Kkhloe read to them when she could. One of the two books they had, still had, was about a K and its name was Dogg too.  No, no, that wasn’t right, he thought.  That K had a different name.  So, they did used to name Ks, he thought as he and Dogg raced to the shack and dug into his treasure-box looking for the books.

Unwrapping them from the cloth Kkhloe made him promise to keep them in always, there it was, on top.  Lassie!  Lassie was that K’s name.  But what was it about “Dogg” that bugged him so?

He opened the book and carefully turned the pages looking at the words, saying the ones he knew, sounding what he thought the others might sound like until he came to the word he was looking for.  Dog!  He found it ten more times in 5 pages.  Then he read a sentence he could get all the way through.

“Lassie”, the boy said, “my dog’s name is Lassie.”

Burtt stared open mouthed at the book for several heartbeats before he started laughing like a fool.  He couldn’t stop for a full minute.

When his merriment wound down, he looked seriously at Dogg, and said, “Well, it ain’t right really, but I don’t figure anyone is gonna know.  I been callin’ ya Dogg for too long to change now anyway.  I’m sorry, Dogg.  It’s wrong, but it’ll have to do. Okay?”

Dogg wagged his stub and licked Burtt’s hand.  Burtt took that as a yes.  He didn’t much like the liking thing, but there was no stopping Dogg once that stub started going.  It was like they were connected.  If the stub was going, so was the tongue, and switch ways too.  Well, to be honest, the stub was going when Dogg ate too.

Dogg went everywhere with Burtt and folks on both sides of the wire got to know and fear that K as much as they did Burtt.  You couldn’t even approach Burtt without that K’s fangs showing and he was getting bigger by the day it seemed with a steady diet of Jerky and the scraps Burtt gave him from his daily catch.  Burtt gave him fruit and veggies too, but Dogg wanted the meat more than anything.  He would do almost anything for the jerky too and the kids made great sport of having Dogg do “tricks” for it.  I thought it was just good training for Dogg.  The whole time they patrolled the zones together, Dogg never once went after a kid.  That almost got Burtt killed one time, but that’s another story.

He wondered how old Dogg was.  Was he a baby K, a kid or an adult.  The way he was growing, it seemed he must be young still and Burtt thought that was good.  The one thing Burtt hated about Dogg was that he pooped everywhere.  He went to a dumpster to whiz against, but if  he had to shit; once he was outside the shack he’d squat in your lap if you didn’t get out of his way.  Burtt traded some fruit with the local kids to clean up, after about a week of doing the smelly work himself.  Yuck!  Dogg, well, he didn’t give a “shit” who cleaned up, and that was a pun, Burtt thought.  He snickered because he knew what a pun was, then thought, “thanks Kkhloe.”

“Come on, Dogg. Let’s check the traps and go fishin’ for a bit.”

They set off for the river, meandering through an area he knew small critters and birds frequented, checking the traps he always had set.  Then, with that catch cleaned and wrapped in some plassheet Mmarta sent him, then stowed in his pack; they made their way to the river, Burtt whistling a strange but melodic tune, like fishing and the day went together, and Dogg, stub going a mile a minute.  A man and his K, gone fishin’.  Seemed perfect.

 

—–

 

“I’m 13. I’m healthy, and I want to see him.”  Ssyn challenged for the umpteenth time.

“You are not out of the woods yet young lady and in this world, 13 is a school age child.  So, like every other school aged child during a normal five-day cycle, you will go to school.  Now, finish getting ready. This conversation is over.”

Ever determined to get in the last word, Ssyn tried another tack, ” Very well then.  If I can’t see him then at least let Estebann bring this to him with this week’s supplies so we can comm each other.”  She held out one of two unique PersPortComm modules for which she had the only other linked unit.  This was taking a huge chance and Ssyn knew it.  For her, for Mmarta and the rest of her immediate family and for the Loks in general.  Ssyn had met Natt Lok, the patriarch and MainChair at the CommCorp table.  He once came to lunch at their Condex to discuss her going to school with the real elites, and acted as though Ssyn didn’t exist until Ssyn asked, “Pardon sir, but what should I call you?”

Natt Lot stood, focused an angry look on his daughter before turning to Ssyn, answering with, “You will call me Mr. Lok, Mr. MainChair, or not at all, young lady.  I do not favor this arrangement.  Should you bring harm down on this house, you will find in me a formidable opponent.  Good day!”  At that he rose and stormed out before finishing lunch.  Yes, Ssyn had met Natt Lok and was praying that this time, Mmarta wouldn’t take the matter to him even though he did, in the end, cave into the machinations of his daughter and sponsored Ssyndi to the best school in the green-zone.

“Get on with it now, Ssyn. We are late.”  Mmarta prodded without answering the query about the com unit…how could she allow it?  How far was she prepared to go to repay her perceived debt to her best friend. Jjosie?  This would have to wait for now.

When it didn’t look like Ssyn would move again without an answer, she said, “We’ll talk about it later Ssyn.  Get ready, now!”

Ssyn stamped her foot, then turned with a mumbled, ” Fine”.  She finished dressing.

Mmarta tutted as she turned away, stifling a smile as she caught glimpses of her dearest friend, Jjosie, in her headstrong and crazy, proud daughter.  The way they carried themselves made the Klops the fierce competitors they were.  They’d think of something and do it on a dare.  They went so far as to rekindle an old tradition known as marriage.  Theirs wasn’t just a pact anyway.  They really loved each other and professed it officially, in front of a priest for Norton’s sake.  They had to bring her in from the nearest red-zone mission.  Ha, had the Founder ever known that, they’d have all been cast out way back then, so many years ago, it seemed.  For Norton’s sake, indeed.  She made the cleansing prompt over herself as if to remove the stain of thinking such things.

“Forgive me if you’re watching, Oh Most Holy Norton”, she intoned under her breath.

Well, if the proles could get on their knees, she could too.  She didn’t know if there was an afterlife.  She generally didn’t bother thinking about such things.  There was too much else to do.  But, if there was an afterlife and Jasparr Norton still watched over his flock, well, it wouldn’t hurt then to show a little respect, would it?

“Is she ready yet?”  Dougg’s hurtled question caught Mmarta unawares and she startled.

“Did you have to yell?  I’m only just right here in front of you.” She replied with a bit more sharpness than she intended.

Dougg, face reddening, said, “Well, I’ve only been waiting a whole news cycle and I’m late.  She’s late!  So, is she ready?  I don’t have unending leeway to make my own daily prodterms you know.  What happens if I am replaced?  What then?”

“I guess I’ll have to go back to father and have him reopen my position on the corps’ chair.  Ssyn is much better and in a good routine for her.  Jaredd can take care of her other needs if I’m engaged late at CommCorp.  I don’t see and issue.  You’ll become a house hermit; you know, like you were before father put you in mangeneering.  You enjoyed that, didn’t you?  Of course, back then you did have other pretty things to play with, hmmm?”  Mmarta never let an opportunity to remind Dougg of his improprieties slip past unused.

He fumed under his breath, but couldn’t do anything more than that.  Mmarta did hold all the cards in their family pact.  It was her family that had all the ties to CommCorp’s chair, and therefore the only reason they had the lofty positions they held in society.  He lived large due to their largesse.  At one time, he may have gotten away with turning her in and still maintain his perch.  He could have claimed he knew nothing about the plot with the Klop’s third child and was just as duped by Mmarta as the rest were.  DNA tests would prove that Ssyn was not his or Mmarta’s child but belonged to the renegade Klop’s.  He could then have claimed that since he had no knowledge, he was innocent and thereby maintain his status and employment.  Now, well, after nearly a six-month with the brat living in his house and him not reporting her true identify, he’d be equally culpable at Justice Hall.  Besides, the little bitch was so remarkably like Kkhloe he got an erection if he watched her ass for too long.  In a weird way, he didn’t want her to go.  He wanted her to be more friendly.  Holy Norton, if he got caught, even looking, what would Mmarta do?  Hell, what would that insane Burtt do?  JIZMO, he thought!

“Speaking of Jaredd, when is he going to become a productive part of society?  He’s been in school for, what, 10 years now?  I’m only asking because the finding is next month.  If he’s going to try to enter a field this coming anno-cycle, he needs to get going soon with his preps and vids”.

Mmarta knew what Dougg was really saying.  This was just another of the many and continuing digs he spent on Jaredd’s behalf.  Mmarta knew she had to tread softly here.  Dougg had a valid point, regardless his insensitive propensity to get a dig in any time he could with Mmarta, Jaredd and now of course with Ssyn too.  No wonder Mmarta was so willing to return the favor.  The man was never happy.

The truth was, Jaredd should have been out in society as a junior neer in some specialty by now.  He should have been done with his finding no less than a year ago.  There was almost no excuse for someone going this long without a position, unless the ed-process had done some cerebral damage.  Everything was set up in the person’s favor.  After the initial two year, general education process, completed at home by most, a 12-year-old was then introduced to electronic, direct-stimuli learning disciplines.  A child could be so fully immersed in a subject matter as to become doctors in their chosen field in a single anno-cycle.  Young agile minds responded to this method with astounding results, mostly.  No more countless years of waiting for them to become productive.  Typically, they continued this process until the child had mastered four of the most needed disciplines of that time.  By the age of 16 they were usually fully productive ‘neers ensconced somewhere in the City-state’s seven main core plants, Hydro, Agro, Matco, Power, Finance, Municipal or Defense.

An additional bonus came with this system.  The kids got to enjoy their youth, all 10 years, without the burden of daily commuting to some drafty institution where learning involved some archaic system like wrote learning or endless writing on a wall or in a notepad…manually.

Of course, there was the problem no one wanted to talk about, too.  This, system, killed 11% of the children subjected to it.  Another 8% had permanent brain damage at differing levels, but, CommCorp and its sister mega corporations couldn’t wait for its cogs, human or otherwise.  A few lost kids were nothing to stop the process over.  Onwards and upwards, money was money, debt was debt, yada, yada, yada.

“You needn’t bother yourself with Jaredd, Dougg. He is my concern and my father’s.  When it’s time we’ll place Jaredd where he best fits”.  Mmarta hoped that was the end of this for today.  She too feared that Jaredd’s “problem” was more than just shyness.  Did the damn machines fuck him up too?

“Ah, so then, no.  Jaredd won’t become a functional part of society yet, even at 20 years old?  Well, honey, that’s just great.  Another day of listening to Carll drone on about his oh-so-wonderful brat-bitch Hheidi.  Norton, what I wouldn’t give to stun his drunk ass one night.  Fucker goes to more company parties than I’ve even been invited to and I know the owners.”

“Hmmm, Dougg dear, perhaps you should try to be less of a stiff prick, then?  You stuck it just about everywhere you could already and no one appears to be looking for more, so why not ease up a bit.” That ended the conversation.  Dougg, sighed and turned back to the news vid but didn’t have to wait long.  Moments later, Ssyn was ready to go finally and standing by the door with an imploring look on her face.

“What?”, said Dougg.

Ssyn looked at him without really looking, then scanned right on past until she made eye contact with Mmarta, then repeated the “look”.

“I said LATER, Ssyndi.  I meant later!”

“Later what?”  asked Doug.

Glares from both women told Dougg another case of butt-out had just occurred.

Oh boy, Dougg thought, another silent-treatment ride to school.  Thank Norton I can tune the little bitch out and watch some vids…well, I can tune her out if she ain’t wearing that fucking cock-tease scent of hers.  Jizmo!

—–

“Dogg hold!”  Once he told Dogg to do something, Dogg did it until Burtt told him to do something else, so he held.  The tough was whimpering now instead of outright screaming.  After Burtt told him to grow a pair (God, that one was a good one, grow a pair, HA!), Dogg wasn’t even biting hard, the tough seemed to try to do just that.  He was losing the effort mostly.  Burtt was getting tired of idiots.  What the fuck was wrong with these people?

“Do you know where you are, puss?”

“Near-zone”, the sniveler sobbed.

“WRONG!”  Burtt yelled, slapping the boy upside the head and shoulders again.

“You’re in MY zone, shit-for-brains.  Mine!  What the fuck rock did you crawl out from under that you didn’t know death followed any who entered here uninvited?  And, oh by the way, I’m death.  Maybe you’ve heard of me?  I’m sometimes known as Burtt the Hurt, Burtt Blades, or Bloody Burtt, Satan’s Bastard Spawn.  Mom just called me Burtt though.”

Burtt was pissing himself laughing, now. Sometimes he just killed himself.  The boy wasn’t finding it quite so amusing and had reverted to outright crying.

He called Dogg “off”.  “Oh, stop it boy.  I ain’t gonna hurt you.  Who sent you?  I do have a message for them.”

“If I tell, he’ll kill me”, said the boy falling back into a crying jag.

“No, he won’t.  How old are you?  Do you know?”

“I’m eight, or nine, not sure.  Sniff, sniff.”

This pitiful display was getting to Burtt.  He dropped his badass act, sheathed and covered his blades and the stunner, and try to calm the boy.

“Nobody’s going to kill you unless you kill yourself with stupid.  Now, are you done with stupid?  For today at least?”

“Yes” he sniffed once more and seemed to gather his wits.  “What will you do with me now?” Tears started to form again, but he sniffed them back and tried to stand taller.

Burtt, assessed the youngster, looking him over as he would livestock.

After bringing Dogg into his crew, he hadn’t really tried too hard to find more recruits.  The reputation he and Dogg had established was enough for now.  Eventually though, he was going to need more bodies, even if just to run messages, get supplies, or run his trap lines for him.  He used some of the neighborhood’s kids for those functions now, but he was getting worried that too many red-zoners were taking notice of the little ones running for Burtt.  He needed some kids with substance and age.  He wondered…

“How about this?  You tell me who sent you here, and I’ll keep you here working for me in the near-zone, safe from whoever that was.  And believe me kid, that person will never try to retaliate.  Not if they want to make it to their next birthday.  But, they do need to be taught a lesson and I do that in person.  So, tell me who it was, and I’ll teach you what I know about survival in the zones and maybe make you one of my lieutenants, if you pass muster, that is.  What do you say, kid?  Money is money. Debt is debt and I got to get going.  What’s it going to be, kid?”

The boy was struggling, Burtt could tell.  His brow was knotted into a lump in the middle of his face and Burtt thought the poor kid was going to burst his brain.  He was about to ask again with a little less pressure when the kid blurted, “Pokke.  Pokke sent me!”

Burt was stunned.  Pokke?  Why?

“Are you sure about this?  You’re not trying to cover for someone else, are you?” he prodded.

“No. It was Pokke. He has my sister.  He said he would put her on the block If I didn’t bring him info on your connection to the elies.  He wants fruit.  I think he’s sick and we can’t get fruit anywhere now.  He don’t want to deal through you no more.  He wants a direct line to the elies.  I think, he’s, he’s d-d-dying.” he finally blurted.

Now it was Burtt’s turn to be stunned.

“Say kid, tell me, how’s Shasparr doing.  I traded fruit with him for a while but I haven’t seen him in weeks.  Did you know him?  Didn’t he share?  I gave him enough.”

“Shasparr died of scurv.  Pokke was taking the fruit.  Nobody gets any of that but him and now he can’t get it cuz Shasparr’s dead and Pokke is looking like Shasparr did just before he died.”

Burtt liked Shasparr.  He was a descent sort.  He and Burtt made good fair trades.  Burtt had wondered why Shasparr didn’t never look any better.  Fruit cured him and Ssyn when they were young.  Why not Shasparr?  Now he knew.  The blood lust rose unchecked.

What’s your name, kid?”

“Rikk”

“And your sister?  What do you call her?  Something she’ll know comes from you.”

“When she can’t sleep at night, I sing a song I remember from when I was younger.  It’s called Bingo, I think.  That’s what I call her when we’re funnin’.  Bingo!  Her real name Is Kkat.  It was longer but neither one of us remembers what else.”

“You stay here until I get back, Rikk.  I’ll have your sister with me.  We’ll start both of you to training, if you’re up to it.  No, no questions now.  I’ll be back.  We’ll talk more then.”

“Dogg.  To me.  Walk.”

The manner of his mien terrified the boy, Rikk.  He found himself crying again and praying a thank you to God that it wasn’t him Burtt was going to visit.  He wondered if Pokke would walk the zone ever again.   Would Burtt really bring his sister out of there and both would live out here?  He found he didn’t care about Pokke and cried openly out of sheer joy.

 

The end

 

Next: Pokke finds God. Rikk and Kkat start school, Burtt style. Jaredd meets Burtt. Burtt talks to Ssyn. A boss’s conference is called where Burtt makes law.  Burtt feels a sudden urging new to him stirring deep in his loins, when near Katt.  It makes him uncomfortable until he reads what he can from the other book he owns, “The Human anatomy and its functions”.   He asks Dougg’s errand boy to request a meet with Mmarta.  He didn’t know who else to ask.  How young is too young to take a mate?  And what were the laws about it concerning proles?  How do you get pregnant and what do you do then?  Boy, if she came she better have a whole day.  He had questions…

 

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