Well! Here it is. After repairing the dialog issues, the naming issues, the merging issues, the space-time continuum issues, most of the grammar and spelling issues…it’s done. I may find more things to tweak whenever I finish this creation, whatever it turns out to be.
I also made some basic changes to Burtt’s world. I don’t see any need for the characters to use language worse than a PG-13 level, so I got rid of the worst of the cussing in this chapter and I’ll go back to do the same to the old ones.
Oh BTW. After the merge was done, there were 17,300+ words this go ’round, not just 10,000. No wonder proofing takes forever
One thing I plan to work on going forward is an illustration of Burtt’s sector and the surrounding areas, just for perspective purposes. As Nick says, it’s easier to imagine a scene when you’ve got a picture reference. the problem there is that I absolutely suck at drawing. Mo latah!—-MikeH
“’f ya crew do deir part; dis caint lose. Burtt gots one sojer. Jus one. Hissef. Ya gon draw him out when ya make t’ hurt d’ girl. She wit the brats outside de crèche ever day. You snatch her up an’ you hodin’ the blade to her throat, he gets the sig. He come out to meet like you ask. My crew and ya crew den kills him. He caint kills 30 ‘f us. Den you gets ya girl back n we snatch alla lil ones we c’n, den scat wif ‘em. Dat what hap if you do ya par, Pokke.” And I take de girl when we done, ya puss, Thomass thought.
Thomass was a mean looking boss from a neighboring red-zone crèche. His area was small but there were a good 20 toughs in his crew plus their families. A good-sized crèche and he made power for his crèche somehow; his was the only lighted one in the red-zone. It was also the most populated. Thomass’ zone bordered on the Fountain creek, south west of Pokke’s. Pokke’s was only more prosperous because of his connection to Burtt. Everyone knew this and everyone was jealous. Still, Pokke didn’t have lights.
The entire near-zone was lit from caged light towers. Proles would steal everything but the pole itself and left that only because it was sunk too deep in the ground to move. All the servhuts were powered too from underground. Burtt got power from the greenies when, eventually, Harkk tapped into his greaser hut feed and ran power to all the shacks and the Taj in the near-zone.
Thomass came to Pokke with his plan months ago, but Pokke was too timid to risk the good thing he had going for him with Burtt back then. Now? Well, now Pokke had nothing and he was getting sicker every day.
WHY COULDN’T HE GET ONE SHITTIN’ PIECE OF FRUIT?
“I don’ know man. Burtt gots a eye everwheah. Ain’t none gets close t’ his crèche, ev. That demon K eating spies I hears, too.” Pokke responded weakly. “’Sides, how ya know he gots so many kids der? I ain’t nev gets close ‘nough t’ see and I works wif Burtt. An’ how ya know Katt be der den?”
Thomass snarled, “I know how many cuz I th’ one let Kkhloe smuggle dem out ‘f she trick f’ me. I know she gots at least 20 out and she prolly snuck some I don’ know ‘bout. How I know wha go on ‘n der now, none ya biz.””
“I gots t’ thin’, man. Dis big. I gots to thin’ hard, man.” whined Pokke.
“I bin waiting fo ya a’ready Pokke. My crew leavin’ soon. You in, you out. I don’ cay. We leavin’ and ya bes not be ‘n th’ way. Don’ be lef behin’ jes cuz you thin’ too much.” Thomass left with a grimace.
He scared Pokke, and that was a bold-faced threat if ever there was one. Thomass had to pass through Pokke to get to Burtt. He wasn’t quite as scary as Burtt was, but Pokke saw a lot more of Thomass and his crew than he ever saw of Burtt. Still…he thought about calling Thomass back and telling him about the meet he was supposed to set up for just 3 days from now. Burt was due to show up for his update, since Pokke didn’t send him a runner today. He hadn’t even sent a message out. He hated having Thomass and Burtt knowing the setup in his crèche. Now Burtt wanted him to invite all the zone bosses in? JISMO! Pokke thought.
Noticing Burtt’s bugged-out eyes and crimson skin tone, Jaredd cut to the chase, “…and that is coitus in a nutshell, and I can’t stress enough the importance of avoiding coitus interruptus. I suppose though, under the circumstances, I should stress abstinence if not contraception. Hmmm, another day perhaps…”
Jaredd’s current lesson in sex-ed seemed to come to a screeching halt for what Burtt hoped was enough for the day. His mouth had dropped open and his face had gotten red an hour ago, and hadn’t paled at all since. Burtt had brought his anatom book, which Jaredd snorted at, though he did seem amazed at the paper pages. Jaredd’s version of that same book, magically hidden in another tek wonder, he called it a pad, was far more inclusive, advanced, and updated, so Jaredd said, and it looked like he was right. It even had reps of the insides of people, not fake ones like in his book, illustrations Jaredd called them. He wondered who would let them do that?
He didn’t tell Jaredd, but he still couldn’t say all the words in his book’s title. When Jaredd said them, Burtt tried his hardest to remember the sounds so he could repeat them later, but Jaredd filled his head with more crazy stuff right away. He couldn’t remember hardly any of the words in it, but the subject matter as described by Jaredd was clear enough, and capable of inspiring immediate and total embarrassment. Dis stuff be th’ death of him f’r sure. Why Kkhloe don’ teach him dat?
“Do you want to discuss babies and birthing and getting pregnant still? Today, I mean. Or have you had enough to take in for a day? I have a million questions of my own. And we have plenty of time to learn.”
Burtt blurted with something akin to panic in his voice, “I gots a lot t’ thin’ ‘bout, Jaredd.” He colored again just talking about it.
Jaredd carefully did not laugh, but instead asked Burtt if there was a girl he was thinking a lot about?
“She the newbie. One o’ the newbies. Kkat. She…” He couldn’t say the words, but he was glad Jaredd asked. He simply couldn’t sleep like this. Last night was bad enough, he thought. He could only ever sleep on his stomach, but last night that was, well, in the way, uncomfortable and, dear God, was it ever stiff. Now that he knew what it was from, he was more confused about how to deal with Kkat, assuming it was her fault in the first place. Did he ask her? Tell her? What?
“Hmmm. I think I know what you mean.” Said Jaredd still trying to ease his way into Burtt’s confidence. “I met my Jjinine 3 years ago, at swim. What she looked like in that suit, well, I was stunned and had to hide my stiffy with my towel. I was humiliated for weeks in school. Surely, all my friends new. Norton, what a day that was! Oh, wait? Do you know…oh damn!”
Burtt stared back, thinking…stiffy? He remembered the stirrings he’d felt when he thought about Kkat and her scrub and then his sleeping issue; he first felt red, then he felt hot, then he laughed. He just started laughing. Soon Jaredd joined in. It was infectious. The two were in tears when the fit finally wound down. A stiffy, hell yeah. das it, a’righ.
“So, I guess that’s a yes, then.” and the two were off again in a fit of hilarity until Rikk came bounding in followed by Mmarta and then Kkat.
Burtt and Jaredd gained control slowly until they both caught the serious look on Mmarta’s face. They caught their breath and Burtt’s heart sank, fearing the worst.
“To be continued…” said Jaredd. Burtt nodded in reply. Kkhloe always said that too, when she finished reading to him and Ssyn. Damn, he missed Ssyn. He missed Kkhloe more.
“Why is that retched dog lying about with these children? Do you know what kind of pestilence these curs can bring with them? It doesn’t go in the crèche, does it?” She finished asking just as Dogg followed Chukk into the crèche, stub and butt in fast mode. “Oh, Norton, no!” She cried
Burtt snickered, feeling great relief that nothing was wrong with Kkat or Rikk as he thought must be the case.
He said, “Das Dogg. He my crew, righ now. He bars over us all. Special at night. No one gets by ole Dogg.”
“You call him Dog? I see.” She caught Jaredd in mid-snicker with a beseeching glare, “Well, he needs to be clean too or this won’t work at all. I’ll bring help next time.”
“Dogg don’ need no hep Miss Mmarta. Him n me, we good. ‘Sides he don’ like water none.” Burtt replied, and then added, “I call him Dogg ‘fore I know’d th’ word. Too late to change up.” He felt self-conscious about the mistake he’d made with Dogg’s naming. For the first time, he wondered, how Chukk know dat word?
“He needs to be clean Burtt. He can cause problems for the little ones if he brings fleas or ticks into the crèche. They carry disease. You understand? Bugs? Disease? Okay?” Burtt nodded. “Please trust me. Dog will learn to like what a bath does for him too. He’ll grow back that fur for one thing. The scratching should stop, also. A bath will definitely help with the skin issues. Once a month should do, I think. Oh, dear! Poor creature.”
“Kay, but he gon’ fight like hell. Kids ha’ fun watchin’ anaway.” He said with a smile. He wondered if elies had Ks.
Dogg and Chukk came back out and both started rolling on the ground with the kids. Rikk was anxious to get back to training while Kkat seemed overwhelmed with the attention from all the little ones. They flocked to her like a mother hen. Just when it looked like Kkat was about to blow, Burtt sent them scurrying after Chukk too, who squealed with delight. Dogg loped around the whole pile, yelping like a pup.
Mmarta noted Burtt’s kindness and looked to Jaredd who subtly shook his head…tell you later…that look said. She had to force herself to let the dog issue go.
“The crèche looks great Burtt. Very clean, as I instructed. Is it getting crowded? There are so many of you and they are growing so? Do you have enough to eat? Oh, dear. There I go again…mothering.”
“S’kay Miss Mmarta. I gots mo’ asks than I knows how t’ ask.” Getting his thoughts together, he continued, “Wif what you gets to me and what we buys, and trades for, and what we grows and traps, we doin’ kay.”
“That’s good. Well, Dougg isn’t back from CommCorp for hours yet, so let’s have a gab session. What do you say? Kkat can stay and learn too. Hmmm? It’s just about time, I think, that you knew the real history of CommCorp, the Meinklops, the Klops, the Loks and the rest of it.”
Burtt wasn’t sure about what a gab session was but he figured to find out soon enough, and he did.
The session went on for longer than anyone thought and it left Burtt and Kkat in shock. Burtt was afraid to show what he felt in front of these elies now, who seemed to think that what they just said was okay enough to let it go on. Kkat seemed to catch on and kept quiet herself.
“Jizmo! That’s somethin’ huh? All that? Man. I don’ know what t’ say righ’ now Miss Mmarta.” Burtt did his best to hide his disappointment. Dey jus more elies, Like de res.”
“Well, I imagine this is all very hard to hear, and I truly hate to be the one to tell you the truth about things like this. It’s, it’s horrible. I can’t tell you how hard this is for us to deal …”, and she caught herself, too late though.
Burtt was better at hiding his reaction. Kkat was not.
“For you? Hard for you? Two days ago, my 8-year-old brother was nearly killed by this boy standing in front of us. Instead of doing that, Burtt came and saved me from being sold into sex-toy slavery to one of your friend’s mates, maybe yours; all so the boss who owned me could get out of the red-zone. Burtt sleeps maybe an hour a night and keeps all these children safe, fed and healthy. But you got it bad? Jizmo!”
She turned and stalked away still muttering…Burtt heard words Kkhloe used and would beat Burtt for using himself. Kkat was way older than he thought she was.
“That didn’t go so well, mother. You really need to work on your delivery. We have it bad? Oh dear.” Snarled Jaredd.
“Burt, I…” she tried to soothe him.
“Don’. Not now. We talk agin t’morra. Okay? Kett, take Dogg n lead ‘em t’ de tube. Be back n a ten or I’m comin’ myself. Gots it?”
Burtt nodded to Mmarta and Jaredd without smiling and headed outdoors.
With Burtt out of earshot, Jaredd scolded, “Perspective, mother. We must work on your perspective or you must stay away. You’ll ruin all my hard work. I can already see them cringing on the CommCorp board when this expose is released. Jjinine and her daddy will eat their words. So, you will not mess this up, mother. Understand?”
“Hmmm. Perhaps we both need to work on our perspectives?” Mmarta replied with a bit of correction in her tone. Jaredd was far more in with the council though. In some things she had to yield to her son.
“Come on you two.” Ordered Kett, as if policing errant children. In that high-pitched tone, it was almost comical. The fun stopped when Kett called, “Dogg, to me!” Dogg barked, snapped, and growled at the greenies all the way to the tube. Kett seemed to enjoy the byplay watching Mmarta scoot from one side to the other of Jared, trying to keep Dogg at bay.
Burtt couldn’t come to grips with what he’d just heard. After the Loks left, he and Kkat eventually met out front of the crèche. They just sat on the stoop, watching the red sun fade into the grey, smazy horizon. This can’t be true, can it? he thought.
“Could all that be true, Burtt?” Kkat implored seemingly reading his mind. She suddenly looked a child again, needing comfort.
Burtt was lost for what to do or say so he just said, “Les sleep on ‘t. We see how tings look t’morra.” Kkhloe always said that when things looked bad, especially when they’d had no food on a given day.
Kkat nodded and headed in to her space.
Rikk came strolling by and looked bored.
“Not playin’ wit the kids, Rikk? They like you and Kkat.”
“I don’t play with kids, Burtt. I watch them when I have to.”
Burtt smiled and said, “Ah. Right.” An 8 or 9-year-ole soldier. Ha! Burtt thought.
“Well I have bar again so I’m going to get some sleep. Bye Burtt. Hey Burtt, shouldn’t we have unis? You know, for the bar?”
“Where I gets unis, Rikk?”
“’Nite.” Rikk slunk off to his space.
Kett got back with Dogg and ran off to find Kkat.
Dogg curled up with Burtt. He thought about bathing Dogg and laughed again at the thought of it. Wha’ a fight dat be. Where Rikk heah ‘bout unis?
It was quiet. Finally, he could think…what they’d learned from Mmarta and Jaredd was, well, it was heart wrenching, and it pissed him off.
The condensed version of the history of the world after the fall:
Some time ago, in the year 2383ad, there was a war, a bad one. The one everyone talked about when they said the next one would be the last. It lasted 22 days and a bit more than 80% of the earth eventually became uninhabitable. Only the marvels of science and every bit of wealth available saved what was left and that only because the super-rich in several countries saw it coming and prepared for it as best they could. 383 families and their closest most needed friends/acquaintances/specialists survived the initial 22 days, underground or in well isolated domes. The initial 100 years following the war took 284 of those families and their budding empires away, via fallout, pestilence and more war between any that tried to build too close together and had to share limited resources. The 99 families left, built the city-states that survive still today, 318 years after the fall.
These families saw the futility in the endless competitions that helped to kill off the other families and learned to compromise, mostly. Each becoming specialized in several vital industries around which they built their empires, trading with the other cities and building their own infrastructure, populations, and might. 26 of those city-states are in what was North America. They formed a loose coalition, The CANAMEX-Pact that rivaled the next largest, located in the southeast Pacific, The Pan-Islamic-Hindu-Pact. CommCorp, one such city-state, is the major partner in the CANAMEX-Pact.
The city-sates are corporate headquarters for the mega-corps who owned and ran everything left on earth. Their inner cities, walled-off and domed fortresses of lush greenery, plush homes, wondrous towers and almost plenty of everything, were reserved for the elite families, sub-families, and those select few favorites with ties to the founders and present day power brokers and of course enough hand-selected managers and clerks to keep things going. These little areas of utopia were known as green-zones.
Each city-state had numerous zones immediately surrounding the green-zone running out to a barrier between the city-state and the wild. Some of these zones were where the lesser people lived, if living it could be called. These zones were of differing sizes and often separated by areas of contamination unfit for human habitat. The worst of those areas, no-go-zones, were fenced off, but might butt right up to some inhabited outer-zone neighborhoods, though never adjacent to the green-zone. The city planners were very careful about that and had all the worst areas well mapped out before laying the first of many strips of Plasphalt over the scraped away and decontaminated remnants of a past age.
The people who lived in these outer zones were known as proles. Each of the city-states also had dragging along behind them through history, a troop of lesser families. Some had menial servjobs, like perservs, domestics, greasers, sex-toys and bodybars. They could be sponsored into the near-zones. These zones were the buffer between the green-zones and all the rest. The only access to the green-zone was through the near-zone and then through warded tubes involving a series of air-locks. There was a sturdy electrified wire barrier separating the near-zone from the outer-zones, and there were active bot patrols along the wire, so there was some protection there. These near-zone proles still lived in shacks at best (until Burtt came along). Most had huts lined up near the passtube where they practiced their servjob, others passed into the green-zone every day to perform them.
The bots also patrolled throughout the near-zones, and they made plenty of arrests. There always seemed to be a few near-zoners who bordered on the verge of dangerous. They might have been caught transporting slaves to or from the outer-zones, or using physical force to take from others. If the victim wasn’t too timid and screamed loud enough, the bots would show and the crim would be restrained and processed through the system. Depending on the severity of the crime, the crim might only be banished to the red-zone. Murder, rape, slaving or crimes like that, usually meant the crim was sent to the mines.
The bots in the near-zone are second tier Arties, and usually easy to spoof, but if five or six of them ganged up on you, well…the system was hard on those who got caught. There were always four on patrol and eight to ten in reserve.
It wasn’t always a good idea to rat out a fellow prole, though. Sometimes the bots would take both the crim and the vic. Other times the crim had family or friends itching to seek revenge. Then again, the crim could get away before the collectors came.
There was also the occasional case of some crazy outer-zoner busting the wire and going nuts in the near-zone. outer-zoners (and some near ones too, Burtt knew, until Burtt caught them, that is) also raided the near-zone for little ones. Little ones paid big creds on the black market, especially if you could get them out to an elie. Some were baron and wanted children, others, well, they weren’t nice people. The outer-zoners didn’t care. They got to eat better and maybe even get sponsored to the near-zone. It happened! Then they met Burtt and ended up back in the outer-zones, or dead and floating in the river.
The outer zones and the near-zones too, sometimes, were kept populated through attrition from the green-zone. Some were cast-off green-zone families when, for instance, one part of an elie marriage pact became tired of the lesser part, and kids were such a drag when you were trying to land a new mate, don’t you know. There were other drop outs from that lofty society as well, crims for instance, who like Burtt’s family eventually ended up in the near-zone, or worse ones who found themselves in the red-zone with no way out; or just forever hangers-on that clung to the city states on the outskirts in near fallout conditions. Indeed, the borders of some red-zones, the zones closest to the near, were still hot and might never be totally clean again. Rarely, though it did happen, a drifter would come in from the frontier, probably an escapee from the mines or another red-zone.
Except for those favored by the elies, the people out here competed for everything as if it were a life or death situation, and in most cases out of the green-zone, it was. The biggest prize for these folks was to land a servjob with the elies. Even the most menial position usually meant decent food and meds occasionally and perhaps a berth closer to the green-zone. Everyone in the outer zones, who wasn’t already in a servjob were hoping for a way back into the good graces of the elies.
Burtt had a deal with one red-zone boss bordering his near-zone section to bar anyone passing through their zone into Burtt’s, but it still happened.
Unsponsored proles, minor crims, escapees and drifters lived in the red-zones. Every red zone had one boss and the boss had a crèche for his crew. If you lived in a red-zone and you didn’t belong to a crèche, you were basically dead, and soon. If you had no crew, you were a target. That’s all. It’s easy to see why folks in the near-zones protected their status with their lives. It’s easy to see why those in the red-zone would do the things they do for their bosses, too. Bosses owned their lieutenants, soldiers, spies and their families. They also owned slaves – sex-toys usually – for him or herself, and any crew who didn’t have family, and for some who did.
Presently, per Jaredd’s rough count and using flybots to get a truly rough count in the red zone, there were approximately 278 proles living in the near and red zones of this sector. 76 lived in the near-zone. 50 of them were in Burtt’s crèche. The rest were older proles who’d been servs for the elies for longer than Burtt could remember. One female, Bbessie A domestic and nanny for the Fell family, was near 30 years old. She kept to herself, always in her lockable hut, maybe that’s why she lived so long out here. She never didn’t have a mask on. The next oldest at 22, was a male named Harkk. He lived the farthest away from Burtt’s crèche. His stone hut butted up against the rubble to Burtt’s south east. He made his way through the tube every morning, early, then returned late at night and went straight to his hut. Until recently, he had nothing to do with anyone. He was a greaser for CommCorp in the area. Greasers did just what their names implied, they got dirty fixing or replacing all the elies utilities and related equipment and whatever other dirty work there was.
The other servs were employed by the elies or CommCorp in other capacities and lived in more developed shacks than Burtt’s original, but still just shacks. They looked better than all the kids in Burtt’s crèche though, healthier. Their skin seemed to shine a little. He figured that getting decent food, water and meds for longer periods of time resulted in better health as you got older. He was only partly right. Aside from spending most of their time inside the green-zone breathing good clean filtered air, eating good food more than once a day, and taking non-bootleg meds; these adults also had good strong genes to fight off the worst effects of the pollutants they did breathe and contact every day. Plenty of their peers, living under the same conditions, had already died off. He would come to find that this was the defining point in survival. Did your parents, whoever they were, leave you with an intact connection to the green-zone and the right genetic code to combat man’s worst failing; the poisoning of its own and only environment?
The others living in this sector were split up among five Red zones with Thomass’ crèche accounting for the most at 67. At best, these crèches could field a third of their population as soldiers. The rest were campies – families, slaves, etc. Pokke’s crèche, the remnants of Zobbi’s, was the youngest and smallest at 36, with only 15 soldiers if they were all healthy at the same time. Usually he could rely on 10. Of course, they had no reliable count of babies born in the red-zone (they only knew about Kkhloe’s babes because Kkhloe had Mmarta check and care for them all, health wise). They had no way to know if outsiders had slipped in from the frontier; Burtt knew of at least two. They had only a partial count of babies in the near-zone. There were some born to domestics here. Favors from their sponsors, no doubt. Since proles were prohibited from birthing, most kept it quiet (sponsors included) and had Burtt’s crew watch the babies while they did their servjob. They traded food, meds and other goods for this favor.
Burtt was always finding strays to bring home too. He had Mmarta check them. He figured she was keeping count still. It didn’t matter. Unless the elies were going take his kids to a good new home with a greenie, they’d have to kill Burtt and Dogg, and probably Chukk too, to take or harm them.
Burtt had no need of the greenies knowing his business or his crèche’s numbers, but Jaredd and Mmarta promised the info would never be used for bad. They said it was important to their research. So Burtt allowed them their new count, hoping he wouldn’t regret it.
The original CommCorp family, the Meinklops, made their wealth on communications before the fall. They owned a significant amount of whatever net-bandwidth was available to the public. Some said they had a hand in that catastrophe when no one knew what their neighbor was doing unless the Meinklop-Net told them. At the end, there was so much hacking that no one knew who was telling what news to whom or if any of it was true. The Meinklops ran to shelter in Cheyenne Mountain which they had recently purchased from the failing Government of the United Conglomerates of North and South Canamexico.
Mankind blew up all around them. When it was over and safe for them to return to the sunlight, their commsats were still in orbit, and they still had control of them; so, their empire remained. The Meinklops began again. Built on the rubble of Colorado Springs by those holed up in Cheyenne mountain for over a year after the fall, CommCorp City, war free for 67 years now, was booming.
There are 33 habitable sectors in the near-zone ring surrounding CommCorp’s domed green-zone, each of these sectors separated from the next by mountains of debris backed right up against the green-zone wall and dome. The near-zone sectors formed the base of pie shaped areas going all the way to the barrier Wall. The farthest a Red-zone might ever be from the near was 500 paces, after that is when the air got really bad. The poison rose from the dirt as you walked through it.
There are also 87 semi-habitable red zones beyond and around the near ones. There are 287 no-go zones interspersed throughout the frontier, the red-zones and bordering some near zones, though no contaminated zones touch the green-zone anywhere. The 3-outermost red-zones in Burtt’s sector bordered on no-go zones partially.
Burtt’s near-zone and the 5 red-zones beyond it, were the smallest of all the livable, joined sectors around the city and this sector was completely isolated from all the other habitable outer-zones.
To the north and west, his near-zone sector bordered on that part of the green-zone representing the stakes of the Lok and the Fell families, and a small portion of CommCorp’s total (which formerly belonged to the Klop’s, Burtt’s family). The Spring and Fountain Creeks bordered the red-zones to the south and east. On the other side of the creeks, there were other red zones, intermittent no-go zones, mines, and the frontier, but if you were careful and found your way around the poisoned creeks, you could travel all the way to the barrier wall without entering a no-go zone. The bosses of the red-zones bordering on the creeks kept constant bars in play to ward off raids from crews on the other side. There wasn’t much chance of that since the creeks were contaminated too and didn’t even look clean, but some folks would try anything once.
The only direct red-zone contact with Burtt’s near-zone was a short stretch which belonged to Pokke on the other side of a demolished superhighway, some 200 paces away from Burtt’s crèche, on the other side of a mountain of rubble. The only easy approach from Pokke’s red-zone to Burtt’s section of the near-zone was down a narrow path excavated through the rubble of the highway overpass it used to be. Burtt and the bots kept this approach barred 24/7/365 and that was in addition to the electrified wire barrier. There were ways to spoof the wire and the bots, so Burtt kept at least one bar there all the time who could whistle or yell loud. Burtt spoofed these bots all the time but he didn’t usually use the pathway to get to the red-zone. He didn’t like being predictable or visible. He made his own trails.
The mound of rubble extended all the way to the green-zone wall on both sides of Burtt’s near-zone, effectively isolating them from the rest of the near-zone and everywhere else too, including the adjacent red-zones. The rest of the red-zones in this grouping were beyond Pokke’s and were enveloped by the creeks. These natural barriers ran interference with the rest of the city-state. The near-zone border with the green-zone had just the one tube for passage between the two. There were bots on both ends of the tube. These bots were first tier Arties. Proles don’t usually spoof these bots. Not without some tek.
So, this entire grouping of connected zones was well protected from the other zones and that info was another good thing Burtt got out of his education with the Loks, along with what Jaredd called a chart.
He was looking at it now staring at the little 2-fist-wide area Jaredd said was CommCorp city-state. More magic, dat wha. But, Jaredd had said, “If he ever had to go beyond the beyond, past the red zones, he now had a map.” Kkhloe had a map and she called it that, but hers was tiny compared to Jaredd’s. So, a chart must be de same ‘s map but bigger. Why elies so confusing?
Jaredd showed him how to identify what areas were poison and suggested he stay away from those places. He also gave him a piece of tek called a compass and showed him how to use it to find his way following the map and the compass…ha, more n more magic, but when they went outside and checked the map and compass against what they lay out inside, it all worked out the way Jaredd said it would. Everything lined up just so. Yep, magic!
Anaway, why he go der…ev’? Jaredd seemed to think that there might be a day when the only place to go for help would be to the Army. Ha! Dey zap ‘im faser dan dey do a zone rat.
The map showed the city with the green zone well defined, a very narrow blue band in an irregular circle around it depicted the near zone, with parts of it striped red where it touched on no-go zones, and then splotches of red to show the red-zones. All through the area surrounding the near-zone, even mixed in with some red-zones were white colored areas with red stripes slashed through them. These were the no-go zones. They should be fenced off, Jaredd said.
In a perfect circle around the whole lot was a dark black line. That was the frontier barrier wall. This wall separated the city-state’s frontier from the wild, the really bad-lands. The place where demons ran loose. The Army manned the wall 24/7/365 with first tier Arties, ground and air, in support. Every able bodied and able minded citizen served at least two years on the wall. Soldiers wore protective suits whenever they were outside to protect against the worst of the contamination and the air quality. Jaredd showed him vids of soldiers in their combat suits on his inIBMac pad. He couldn’t imagine how anyone could fight so encumbered.
The Wall, Jaredd said, was a large diameter tube itself that ran around the city-state and was the living quarters for the Army. It was sealed off from the outside the same way the green-zone was with air locks. It was made of the same impenetrable material as the green-zone wall was, plasteel with polymer viewing ports. There were weapon pods attached to the outside of the wall, that could be remotely controlled from within, but were usually left in autonomous hunt and kill mode. Burtt imagine 20-foot-tall demons to need such might in order to fight them and was glad for once he wasn’t a citizen.
All over the map, in and out of the city-states themselves, there were smaller solid black circles. Jaredd said these were mines. These mines provided the resources that CommCorp and all the city-states thrived on and without which they would surely die. These mines were also brutal on machinery, let alone people. The dust and contaminants got into and destroyed everything. Thus, manpower, and lots of it, was mandatory along with an industry to support the machinery needs of the mines. Transport to and from the Wall was accomplished via Tubetrams, vehicles enclosed and moving in tunnels that run to and from the green-zone along the demarcation lines between sectors. Transport between city-states happened in three ways, Tubetrams, Skytrams or Watertrams. There were elaborate air-lock systems allowing sky and water access to the domes. Trade between the various pacts around the world was limited but each state had their niche, and had at least one good everyone else needed but didn’t have.
The mining industry existed only outside the green-zones and supporting facilities were established as close to the mine locations as possible to reduce transport issues, every time a vehicle left the green-zone, a series of locks had to be opened and closed. Every one of those occurrences exposed the inside to the outside. Aside from Citizens who ran the operation from enclosed protected shells and returned to the green-zone when their day was done, crims and proles fed the manpower needs of that awful beast. The mining industry never tired of taking their lives either.
Proles were not citizens so they didn’t have to serve in the Army, except if the city-state was under attack. Then CommCorp made up new rules to fit the crisis du jour. This had happened twice since CommCorp came to be. With the promise of a new life in comfort if they served, the proles flocked to their city-state’s call to arms. The meatgrinder machinery of modern-day warfare swallowed the prole population, nearly wiping it out each time. If they didn’t fall to battle wounds, or to contamination (the elies didn’t provide protective gear for prole soldiers; they weren’t worth the expense); those who returned from war, came back to worse desolation than they knew before going. There was even less of everything for the proles in the aftermath and there was certainly no ticket into the green-zone or any sort of comfort waiting for them. Many more died in the years following. Any orphaned prole children were left alone. They died off slowly but die off they did, most of them. The other survivors could barely feed their own and wouldn’t dare take on another mouth to feed. They gritted their teeth until the pitiful cries finally stopped. The bots, sensors alerted to the odor of rotting corpses, searched for and collected the little bodies, and then disposed of them in the city-state incinerators. In that terrible reality, the cycle would start all over again.
As it ever was. the remaining children and other survivors would be augmented by crims, underperforming, disgraced or just out of favor families who were thrown out of the green-zone, re-seeding the near, and finally the red-zones, when the laws of diminishing returns took over in the near-zone and a new breed of crim would be born. First stealing, then brutality and then murder would prevail until the bots could sort it out and start exiling xtracrim-proles to the red-zones.
Of course, as always, if an elie pact, or the dominant elie in a pact didn’t want a baby with that set of genes, well, that was that. Suddenly that family was applying for another baby permit. The official report would read something like, “child deceased due to sickness”. It was illegal, but it was done, rather regularly. There was always a signature for sale to legitimize paperwork. There really wasn’t any ethics involved. It was survival of the fittest at its crudest, and it was practiced at the highest levels of society. The unwanted child would be fortunate to find a surrogate in the elie zone who was baron and willing to risk the wrath of the system should they get caught…very lucky. More likely, the baby found itself in one of the two near-zone missions or on the market. Some very connected higher ups could even be rid of a pact-mate if unhappy and dominant. These days, Burtt collected these little ones from the missions. That was a one-way street too. There was no protection there, just elie volunteers too soft to do more than stare in abject horror when their missions were raided.
In comparison, 12 to 16-year-olds, under the direction of 16 to 20-year-olds, in the near and red zones, fought to the death with other children to protect the little bit of hell they could call their own.
Burtt had learned that there seemed never to be an end to the supply of ragged, defeated proles to feed the insatiable appetites of the elies, and their wars. He was infuriated and felt lost at the same time.
What I do? Nothin, thas what. Not to elies, I caint. Except for Dougg, Jaredd and Mmarta, he had NO access to them. He’d be dead before he got 20 paces inside the tube, if he got that far. He only stayed in the near-zone legally on a technicality. No one had updated the file on Kkhloe1825/domestic/Lok, (thanks to the Loks), so that prole family was still technically sponsored into the near-zone. But that didn’t buy him access to the green-zone, nor the tube. It left him and his unsponsored charges mostly unnoticed in the near-zone, though, just the way he wanted it. There were enough sponsored proles roaming the area to cover for all the “extras”. If they stayed far enough away from the wall and the areas frequented by greenies – greaser shops, whore huts, exotic food stuffs, booze, drugs, and the like – the elies ignored them anyway. Once Burtt finished the Taj, most of the kids and eventually most everyone in his near-zone sector, moved in and spent their days and nights inside. It was safer and healthier. Except for Mmarta and Jaredd, and occasionally Dougg, elies stayed away from the crèche. They knew Burtt’s rep too, if not his name.
Burtt’s own family, The Klops, were once prominent members of the City-State’s and CommCorp’s hierarchy. As their name indicated, they had a direct family connection to the founders. Indeed, being one uncle removed from the top of the clan, Burtt’s father Clarkk Klop, was 3rd in line for the throne after 4rd generation Henrry Meinklop, and his last son Josipp who were both now sterile. Henrry was afflicted by contamination exposure over the years and Josipp from birth. There were no other direct heirs. The bloodline was as dead as the remaining heirs’ ability to procreate. The Meinklop line was dying out. (The Loks had decided earlier to hold back on the implications of Burtt’s true lineage to the scheme of things, heir-wise, unless he made the connection himself. He didn’t, not right away.)
Modern medicines could keep you healthy if you started out that way. But, if you were ever exposed to the fallout or contamination that followed the fall, then you and your children were living a crap shoot. Any one older than 75 had been exposed to some degree since it wasn’t until then that dome technology and filters were perfected, and the technology needed to completely purify the green-zones was developed. Those folks were expected to die out quickly now. It was a miracle they’d lasted so long…a miracle, a fortune in meds, and extremely strong genetics.
The life expectancy of newer citizens was expected to grow steadily now, though. By the time the year 400af came about, elies could expect to live to 90, easily. Burtt was astounded. Other than the old lady, Bbessie, Harkk, and the few mid-aged elies he knew, the next oldest people he knew were bosses in the red-zones and other servs in the near-zone, at 19 or 20. He would be 18 soon himself. Jaredd said he had heard of a prole woman in another near-zone, one adjacent his premate, Jjinine’s family stake, who might be as old as 33.
Clarkk Klop and his family fell out of favor first when advocating for the proles everyone else was doing their level best to ignore. They were moved to the perimeter of the green-zone, reduced in prominence on the boards of CommCorp and their respective industries, and purged from the family hierarchical tree. This set the socio-political landscape on fire inside the green-zone. With no known viable heir to the Meinklop throne in evidence, every higher-up and mid-level family were viciously jockeying for position. For that matter the lower tiers were playing a bit of cut-throat themselves. One such, a supposed underground transplant doctor, sold the Klops out and was the final touch to their flaming crash from grace. This eat-your-young atmosphere still exists there now.
Green-zone status was signified first by your position in the Corp. The next indicator was your domicile. The closer to the center of the dome and the higher up in a tower you lived, the greater your influence and worth. The farther away you were of course indicated the opposite and you were exposed to more lesser types, managers, clerks and servs. You lived in smaller and lower quarters too.
The Klops new locale on the edge of the green-zone was where they met the Loks, another semi-disgraced branch of another prominent family. Mmarta’s father, however, would remain unaffected by his son-in-law’s transgressions and retained his lofty perch in Finance, protecting his daughter as well as possible. He was a close friend of Henrry Meinklop.
The last straw for the Klops occurred when they were caught out with a third child, an offense considered worse than sex-slaving or murder in a resource conscious society. Murder could be ignored but three children in one family-pact? The audacity! They were exiled directly to the red-zone. They were so poisoned in the eyes of society they weren’t even allowed the usual consideration of an automatic sponsorship given to an exiled family so high up the food chain. The founding family was so disgraced that no other punishment would suffice and no other family would be crazy enough to try to intervene. As such, their best friends, the Loks, who were in on the Klop’s plans to have a third child, also turned on them, in as much as they didn’t lift a finger to help, at first. The Meinklops themselves couldn’t be seen by society as favoring anyone, not even one of their own, in so grievous a case as this; or risk a fall from grace themselves.
The adult Klops would die within two years of entering the red-zone from plague, leaving their three children alone. Even their eventual move to the near-zone wasn’t enough to save them. It seemed that any sicknesses that sprung up in the outer zones took a severe toll on adults the quickest. Kkhloe, the oldest at 12, ran the family then, the only way she could…continuing to do domestic work for the Loks who had already sponsored them into the near-zone after things cooled down. When their parents died, the creds and goods they could scrape up bartering with their professional skills, were suddenly hard to come by. Kkhloe turned to whoring…on both sides of the near-zone wire, without the Loks knowledge about her red-zone activities at first. Bots wouldn’t go out of their way to stop you from going into the red-zone but don’t try coming back over without a sponsorship disc, unless you have a spoof in play. If you did have the disc the bots could scan it and if it wasn’t reported stolen or inactive, you were good. Kkhloe had made sure Burtt had hers before she passed. She also told him that they did a bio check at the far end of the green-zone entry tube. So only the prole issued the disc could get past that point. A prole caught with a disc they weren’t issued was turned over to Judicial Hall.
Anyway, he couldn’t get across to the green-zone, himself. What he could do was throw the disc into the tube. The bots would scan it and report to the issuers, in this case, the Loks, who would know it was an emergency and come running, sort of. In the meantime, anyone could use the disc to get past the 2nd tier bots in the near and red zones. You needed a spoof to pass the wire though unless the disc was yours, then the bots would disable a section of fence to let you through.
While whoring, Kkhloe had made a deal with one of the red-zone bosses, Thomass. He let her smuggle babies and little ones out of his zone, the most populated one, and she whored for him. He had no connection to the elies, so he couldn’t sell the babes and they were a drain on his resources. They sure as hell couldn’t pedal for power. With all the toughs and power-pedals in his crew, he had to provide them with whores during the down times or he’d have trouble. He had bootleg cepts but they didn’t always work and the occasional baby was born to one of his twelve to sixteen-year-old whores. He couldn’t have babies holding up his whores, so, thanks to Kkhloe, a lot of these babies ended up in the near zone. Others from this and the other zones ended up in the creeks or the river beyond.
Kkhloe begged borrowed and stole whatever materials she could to build a series of shacks throughout the near-zone, as hidden from the elies as possible, who didn’t seem to care anyway, but beyond her own shack and the string of dumpsters that collected what elie debris the servs hauled out with them. Here she could protect them from what were at the time, Zobbi’s toughs, her and her bat. You just couldn’t always depend on those bots and anyone could spoof the wire. On a mass raid, the crazies might even crash the wire, sacrifice the first toughs through.
She got some of the older kids, 6 to 8-year-olds, to watch for raids and taught them how to whistle or yell an alarm and then grab the little ones and hide if a it happened when she was away from the zone. She eventually taught Burtt too, as those kids started to die in battles with Zobbi’s toughs. Burtt was much healthier, bigger and tougher than any of the others she’d trained, though.
Every kid in Kkhloe’s near-zone ate one meal a day at least, most days. The sickest ones got two, and more clean water than the others (once Burtt found another water source there was more than enough clean water for everyone). Their meals consisted of what foodstuffs the Loks could get to them and what Kkhloe and eventually Burtt, could beg, borrow, steal, trade, buy, trap or catch; all mixed in a stew more savory and nutritious than any meal most of these kids ever tasted in the red-zone. Babies were harder to care for. Without their mother’s breast milk, Kkhloe had to depend on the elies to keep the squawking babes well-fed. It wasn’t always the best solution. There were a lot of nights spent rocking hungry infants, who didn’t know how to stop screaming for food.
There was a clean river within walking distance of Burtt’s crèche. He found it on one of his explorations when looking for new avenues into the red-zone. He climbed over the mound of rubble directly west of his crèche which he’d done before, but this time, he hugged the green-zone dome until he could climb down to the next near-zone. He’d never done that before and he didn’t know why. He wondered if they would be hostile.
As soon as he reached what he thought must be the next habitable near-zone sector over from his, he stopped with a catch in his breath. Where the near-zone should have been, was a torrent of what looked like crystal clear water boiling out of the ground and headed south. He carefully climbed down to it and tentatively scooped some out and put it to his lips. Nothing burned or smelled like Kkhloe taught him, so he sipped. It was the sweetest water he’d ever remembered tasting. He followed it as far south as he could but it ran around the rubble into no-man’s land, so Burtt stopped. It was a good hundred paces across. He set traps there for fish and hard things too that were soft and tasted good inside. The river looked to be coming from the green zone under the wall and it had washed everything away, so, he figured the water was good and whatever they caught from that stretch was clean. He told Jaredd, and after running some magic test, he declared it safe for consumption. Jaredd got the greaser Harkk to run some line from the river, over the rubble, to a pump and then the other end of the pump shot water from the river out through another line. Harkk put a spigot on the end of the line so Burtt could start and stop the water flow. He brought it right to his crèche and Harkk ran more lines to a bunch of different places in the near-zone including his own hut. So instead of just the stale tasting trickle of water from the green-zone pipe they’d used until then, they now had a plentiful and clean second source of the life giver. Everyone could double up their water ration at least. That was a happy day and the water fights were glorious. Harkk went back to his hut after that and Burtt didn’t see him again for a while but he was forming an idea about ole Harkk. Harkk did built a catch with one hose going to it. He had Kett tell Burtt, “It was for wash-up. Best to eat with clean hands.” They eventually made it so you could sit and wash your hair too. And then Jaredd had Harkk show Burtt how to grade a slope for drainage away from the wash station and how to get the water to filter itself through a leech field. Then they ran that water to the grow. The way the grow took off after that was the real magic, Burtt thought.
Mmarta gave them vitamins too and always had meds with her when she did her monthly check ups on the kids. She said this would help make the kids stronger.
The rest of his family history Burtt knew.
He also now knew that people did have two names. People who counted for anything, that is. He was going to change that, he decided. His crew, at least, would get their names back if Jaredd could tell which family they came from. He was going to have to talk with little Hhesther MacBride, now. Ha, that would be fun. That little vixen would prance and primp over this for a 7-day sure enough. Still, he couldn’t figure how that little fire-headed imp could know about two names if he didn’t. More asks…damn!
“Did you know, Kkhloe?” Burtt recently started talking to Kkhloe like she was still there with him, even out loud sometimes. He wondered if this was bad. The kids answered with a “What” at first, but now they just looked. ‘Nutha ask for Jaredd.
Right now, the Loks were gaming the system themselves with Jaredd playing the part of a mentally imbalanced young man, unfit for employment in any of the city-state’s industries. He, his mother, some mysterious council, and now Burtt and Kkat, knew differently. His own father didn’t know the truth and indeed, thought Jaredd a simpleton. He had also mistakenly told his girl, Jjinine, who was so upset her overprotective father grilled the news out of her. Mmarta’s dad was his boss though, so he was willing to turn a blind eye, but he never tired of letting the Loks know how disappointed he was in the higher echelons of CommCorp’s social upper crust. Jaredd couldn’t wait to shove those words down the uppity, Hebertt Ston’s throat.
The supposed goal of this council was to first expose the plight of the proles, as if de elies din’ know ‘bout dem, and then to “right the wrongs of centuries” Mmarta declared with what she must have thought was the utmost in sincerity. “We must all be patient though”, Burtt and Kkat were told. “These things don’t happen overnight”. It seemed to Burtt, as he thought back on the whole story, that it certainly did happen to his family, overnight. He didn’t know about Kkat’s family, yet, but he imagined a similar path down here to his own, and he wasn’t far wrong.
Kkat’s story: When Kkat’s father tired of her mother, he turned to Kkat. During one of his worst drunken, sexed-up rages, Rikk, Kkat and their mother, Zzhen, fought him off until Kkat could get her hands on a blade and stabbed him in the hand.
An embarrassment like this could end his cushy life forever, so the father, Zandorr Mont, 2nd in command at CommCorp’s Municipal offices, simply had them flushed from the system and directly into the red-zone before anyone, including Zzhen and her ungrateful brats, knew what was happening. The night’s vidreel reported, “Prominent family members lost in a horrific Skytram accident in route to their vacation resort”. Boom! They found wreckage, Jaredd had said. So, sad.
The team that dropped them in the red-zone were company enforcers, a municipal division of the defense industry complex. After sedating the woman and children, stripping and redressing them in more prole-worthy rags, they air-transited them out beyond the creeks and then they came back to drop them just inside Farukk’s red-zone. When the fog in her head cleared and she got her wits restored, Zzhen, being an attractive middle aged woman, an anomaly here, used her wiles to seduce the first boss she found, Farukk, and bought her children’s safety until a rival boss changed their lives again.
Pokke, from a rival zone, slunk into Farukk’s crèche on a routine supplies raid when he knew the drunk would be snockered and out cold from swilling his tater-homebrew. He instead found the woman and her brats chained to a metal loop in the floor first, and then from there to Farukk’s ankle in such a way so that the trio of captives couldn’t maneuver close enough to Farukk to get the key and free themselves. He found the key on the comatose Farukk, released them from his ankle, then the loop, grabbed the sack of fruit and dragged them towards the creek. With his blade to Kkat’s throat, the family complied with his every command and with very little noise. When he thought, he was far enough away, and using the threat of harming her kids to quiet her, he raped Zzhen, repeatedly. The children, in shock and terrified, sat in a stupor watching this violence being heaped on their mother. After he was spent and before she could fight back; he slashed her throat so she couldn’t talk when Farukk came to. He didn’t need no old bitches. He did need a cover story, though, and she would do for that.
He freed the hysterical brats from their mother’s body and chained them to a piece of metal sticking out of some concrete rubble. He dragged the old lady’s body into the creek and left her there half submerged, adding more drag marks leading into the water. It looked like the raid came from the other side, not within their sector. Pokke then stole the two children. The girl fought like crazy and Pokke had to knock her out to make her stop. Then draped her over his shoulder and dragged the screaming boy behind. The bitch turned out to be the golden bean. She was a virgin, clean, and a look and she weren’t no kid. She did her best to hide them but she had a woman’s chest. She was every cred Pokke would ever need ever again and a ride to the near-zone at least. To think all he meant to do that night was steal Farukk’s fruit, well, it was just too sweet, and he got the fruit too.
He had to keep this quiet though or the normally tame Farukk would go nuts if he knew it was Pokke. He built a cage for the bitch, kept her inside his crèche, way in back, and covered her in filth, hung a sick sign on the cage, a big red “X”, so no-one would want to go near her. He then threatened to hurt the girl if the boy didn’t spy for him and find him a buyer. He promised the gullible boy he’d sell them together no matter what. The boy agreed but refused to leave the cage when he wasn’t spying. This aggravated Pokke so he decided to send the kid spying on his true nemesis, Burtt. Maybe that loon would off the kid for him. He more trouble dan he worf n he eat like a bodybar.
He had a hard time keeping his own hands off her. He’d seen her naked before he had her covered in as much slime and filth as he could gather from the detritus everywhere around them. If he closed his eyes, he could see her again. Jizmo! And he was sure getting tired of his other whores. If he touched her though, all bets were off. No elie would be paying much for that.
All that worked okay until Burtt got involved.
Jaredd and Mmarta, with the aid of this council they hinted at, had compiled a list of the people they knew had been exiled from CommCorp and their children, and now their children’s children, etc. here in this sector. Other groups were conducting the same study in other sectors. The list, going back over 100 years, was enormous, as Mmarta described it, and the results of the genetic studies done to back it up show that every person sampled in the near-zone, and the few they had access to in the red-zones, so far, could be directly tied to families who’d started out in the green-zones. CommCorp almost always referred to the proles as outsiders, as if they came from the wild somehow; if they even acknowledged them at all. Once out of favor, the Corp went so far as to remove them from the city’s census registers and cause them to lose any ties to the first families…even losing their family names.
Further, it was easier for the elies to disregard the criminal aspects of their interplay with the near and red-zones than it was to explain it. So, when a prominent family disgraced itself, agents of the city-state’s enforcement divisions accosted the offenders under cover of darkness and they were quietly banished; leaving family, friends and associates to wonder forever, “Whatever happened to the so-and-sos”? In truth, they knew. Everyone knew what had happened to folks who had disappeared. No one questioned it for fear of being disappeared themselves.
Of course, there were always the stupid ones who made themselves public spectacles. Those had to be processed by the system. Justice Hall and the system was harsh.
Grudgingly, Burtt had to admit that the Loks, in their own way, were doing a brave thing and a good service too. He imagined what ends he would go through to stay over there, and then thought, Can I blame dem? No, I caint. How fa’ I go to keep Ssyn der?
He didn’t have to like it. He headed in to check on his charges and get whatever sleep he could. He knew he’d be worried about the kids on bar and be up checking on them all night, not so they could see, but so he could, and maybe stop worrying for a minute. God, did he ever need help. “Please Kkhloe, show me how.” He muttered out loud.
DAY 3: “Rikk. I been watchin’ ya train and I thin’ it be okay to make ya scort. Ya younger than I wan but I ain’t gots a choice. Ya th’oldes boy here ‘sides me, Chukk and Bann. So, how ya feel about going to Pokke’s wit’ a blurb for me? I gots to meet Mmarta and Jaredd agin but I really need to blurb Pokke. Bann, he gets the Loks agin, so, ya run to Pokke for me if ya wan’. He won’ mess wit you. Ya take Dogg wit.”
Rikk seemed to grow in stature as Burtt was talking to him. His pride was bursting, so Burtt brought him down a little.
“I don’ wan ya gone for more than a quarter sixty, or I’m coming myself. Gots it? And ya come fin’ me when ya gets back right off. Gots it?”
“I got it, Burtt. You won’ be disappointed. You’ll see”, he turned and was headed for the wire in a flash.
“Rikk!” Burtt yelled.
When he stopped Burtt asked, “Don’ ya wan’ know wha’ th’ blurb be?”
Rikk’s expression changed from one of sheer joy to shock and humiliation in a heartbeat. Burtt’s smile was the only thing keeping him from crying.
“Easy now, Rikk. Think firs’ is th’ firs’ think, arigh’?”
“Yes Burtt. Sorry.”
“Thas okay. I likes how ya wants to help s’ much. Mean a lot t’ me and th’ kids and Kkat, ya know. Y’all but grow’d up a man now.”
“Okay, Think first, right.” He brightened.
“Okay. Here wha’ you say t’ Pokke. 1) Wheah my runna? 2) Who comin’? 3) Don’ shit on me agin’. Now, say it back to me, Rikk.”
He did until Burtt was satisfied. He hid the smile sneaking to his lips at the effort it took Rikk to go ahead and cuss.
“Dogg, to me! Walk!” Called Rikk, a new pride evident in his voice. Burtt smiled but had a sudden queasy feeling. Did he do arigh? Hmmm?
He had to get going. They went their separate ways.
Rikk headed for Pokke’s in the red-zone. There was a way to spoof the bots on bar. Even if you didn’t have the disc. If you didn’t get stupid and make noise too soon, this method worked good, too, and Burtt didn’t like letting the little ones have the disc just in case they got caught, as unlikely as that was? Burtt’s bar for that day, young Calebb, another 8-year-old training for scort duty, already knew Rikk was coming. Burtt told him earlier to be looking for him or Burtt himself, so when Rikk came around the corner from the crèche, Calebb saw him and that was the signal to spoof the bots.
Calebb started to yell and ran around like a crazy man then headed away from the approach to the red-zone. The bots took off in hot pursuit as this kind of behavior was one the bots were programmed to react to, lights and alarms blaring. After flying around the third corner in his preplanned path through the shacks, Calebb slipped into the blind they had ready for just such purposes and went silent. In a minute the bots sailed on past. If he waited for them to stop their pursuit, clear their alarm condition, then resume their post, he could go back and man his own and be ready for the return performance. The bots wouldn’t know the difference unless they got a rep. They didn’t usually do that until they got close or captured the perspective crim. 2nd tier bots scanned every prole they “saw” but if they weren’t rep’d, the bots didn’t care. Rikk and Dogg slipped into the pathway without the bots knowing. He’d get back the same way. Calebb or the next bar on duty would be watching for him and they’d deploy the same tactic to get him back into the near-zone. It worked every time, but Burtt thought he shouldn’t press a good thing, so when he needed to, he found his own way over the wire. In fact, he found several, none were easy but if they were then anyone could use them. That’s not what Burtt wanted.
Rikk got to the wire, stayed Dogg, set his prop so he wouldn’t get zapped, and was headed under the lowest strand, when he heard a commotion on the red-zone side and it sounded like it was right ahead of him. He couldn’t look up or risk hitting the wire, so, having nothing to fear, he thought, he continued to slide under when Dogg suddenly went crazy behind him and was trying to get past him under the wire but there was no room for two and Dogg got a minor zap from the fence that backed him up. Then he tried to leap the wire, with the brutal expected results. He didn’t come close to clearing it and hit it with force. Dogg yelped like he’d been stabbed and fell on the back of Rikk’s legs who was only half way under. Dogg was twitching and Rikk smelled burnt flesh and hair. He thought Dogg was dead for sure and that Burtt would kill Rikk if he dared to come back with that news.
Before he could process that, someone grabbed his hands and dragged him the rest of the way under the fence. It was Thomass, another boss. Rikk had seen him with Pokke before. Dogg got caught on and zapped again by the wire but not before Dogg reached his neck out and tried to snap Thomass’ fingers off. Thomass snatched his hand away. Rikk got zapped when his prop was knocked free. The jolt rocked him and the wire’s barbs ripped the back of his legs up. Adrenalin was still driving him as he thought, this can’t be good. He slowly panned around taking in his circumstances, and felt a cold chill run down his back. There had to be more than 20 toughs right there at the wire. What could they be doing there? Pokke had 10 toughs at most if there weren’t any sick ones. Rikk felt a sick feeling creeping through his gut. They’re gonna raid the crèche ‘and Burtt is with the Loks on the other side of the zone.
With no concern for his own safety, Rikk quickly stood and started screaming the red alert words at the top of his lungs hoping Calebb would hear and trigger the crèche evac and hide plan. “Heave to, heave to”, he screamed. He waited a breath before yelling again, but heard Calebb repeating his alarm and felt relief. The crack he felt on the side of his head caused him to worry about his own plight as he found himself back on the ground. A rough hand reached down and grabbed him viciously by the hair and ran a blade up to his throat. Rikk felt a tear come to his eye but he felt strong and rejected it. He’d done his duty. He stared Pokke in the eye and said, “Burtt’s gonna be pissed Pokke.”
Pokke raised his voice and got one word out, “Fuck…”, before Dogg took his arm and started ripping like Ks do. Rikk felt something hurt bad on his neck and reached back. His hand came away red and sticky-wet. He stared at his hand unsure of what to do. He was in shock.
Rikk had thought Dogg was dead, but boy was he not dead. He was tearing Pokke up, and when he wasn’t chawing on Pokke, he was backing the rest away with feints, growls, barks and snaps. Some of the others including Thomass, got brave and tried to surround Dogg and Rikk. That lasted until he turned on one and took a chunk out of a hand, arm or leg. Dogg was like a fury blur of terror, teeth and claws. Rikk tried to help but he knew he had to get over the wire to live and he was feeling weak for some reason. The toughs were between him and his escape, though, and he began to panic.
Soon, they were trying to zap Dogg with their stuns. Dogg had seen stuns before, notably from Burtt in younger days. He knew enough to keep his distance and still he kept them on their toes too, helping Rikk to slowly work his way back towards the wire and safety on his hands and knees. Thomass saw Rikk was just about there and lunged for him. Rikk heard the loud sound of something hard hitting something else not as hard. Thomass stopped two steps short of Rikk, then he fell to his knees, his eyes floated back in his head and he fell the rest of the way to the ground face first with a sickening splat. Rikk had to dodge out of the way but still was splattered with Thomass’ blood.
Burtt stood over him with his bat in one hand resting on his shoulder, the other hand held one of his long blades, point in the ground beside him. He’d beheaded boys with that blade when necessary and Pokke had seen him do it. Jaredd said the blade was a samur or some such. Whatever, it was sharp, Rikk knew. The toughs all seemed to deflate when Thomass went down so easy. Even Pokke was retreating as fast as his feet would take him.
“Dis ain’t done, Pokke. Nope, it ain’t. I be back. Ya be prayin’, I spec. And ya tell Thomass, I b’ seein’ him too. Ya gots two days t’ ‘range the meet, Pokke. After dat, I ‘range a new boss heah. Two shittin’ days and ya pray Rikk and Dogg ain’t hurt bad.”
Pokke, horrified and bleeding like a stuck pig, didn’t answer, he just faded back to his crèche leaving everyone behind to sort out the mess.
Burtt thought, dis might be it for ole Pokke. I caint trust him, now, can I?
Rikk blurted before Burtt could calm him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I didn’t see. They, they…” and he broke down sobbing. They’d just cleared the wire again. Burtt leaned down to whisper in Rikk’s ear, “Don’ for a tic let dem see ya cry, boy. Not for a tic. They try to shit on you ever time dey see ya. Gots it? Don’ ya show dem weak. Not once!”
Rikk snuffled but held his head up and marched ahead. Burtt told him not to worry about the bots and go ahead through.
“Let dem bots take ya. Don’ fight, dey won’ zap ya, gots it? Don’ Fight. I catch ya up and take care. Okay? Trus’ me. Don’ wor. Collectors don gets you. I swear.” Then, with Dogg in his arms, Burtt was gone, over the ruble. He seemed to fly over it.
Rikk did as he was told and as he expected the bots detained him and marched him to the detention hut in the near-zone, where crims waited for transport to Justice Hall for processing. For some, it was the only time they would ever see the inside of the green-zone, albeit just inside. 2nd tier Bots had no capacity for evaluating a crims health. It was possible to die waiting in the hut and it had happened.
He was feeling more and more sleepy as he waited. The strains on his wrists were so tight his fingers went numb. He was getting worried now. He been here for 2 10 cycles he thought, or was it 3? He didn’t know. After they stung his butt with something he lost track of time and finally lay down. Where was Burtt? Why wouldn’t the blood stop?
He needn’t have worried. There was suddenly a hell of a lot of noise outside the hut that sounded like Burtt, and the bots went into alarm mode again, the sound of their wailing fading away. The hut door cracked open a little, then more, then with a loud crack, came open the rest of the way when the catch broke. In the doorway, looking every bit the warrior, was Kkat. Close on her heels was Kett and behind them was Jjes.
“Well, don’t just sit there Rikk, this is a jail break. Let’s go.” Kkat implored.
Rikk was crying again, “I can’t. I can’t walk. Something is wrong with my legs, Kkat. I can’t get up”. He was balling now.
“It’s the sting is all, Jjes said. Bots slip in a medshot to keep ya from runnin’, ya know? It go ‘way, but we gots to get ya out o heah, now. Come on ya two. We gots to car him.” Jjes seemed to have grown in years in just a few minutes, she looked so serious and concerned for Rikk. There was good reason too. The collection crew would be by any time now. It was long enough. Was there more than that going on with this girl, though? thought Kkat.
When she tried to pick him up under his shoulders Kkat’s hands slipped away. They were covered in blood. She looked at Rikk who’s eyes were rolling back as he passed out. Kkat screamed. Jjes leaned over Rikk’s body and slapped Kkat hard on the face and yelled at her.
“WE GOTS TO GO NOW. PICK HIM UP!”
By the time Jjes got back to grabbing Rikk’s feet, Kkat had recovered and was lifting Rikk’s limp body as best she could. They raced away to the crèche where Mmarta and Jaredd met them. They had Rikk on a table and were closing his wound in seconds. The cuts on his legs were superficial but ugly and would be painful. He’d lost a lot of blood from the neck wound. Burtt had warned them when he raced in with Dogg and then raced out again to run interference with the bots so they could free Rikk and get him to Mmarta soonest.
Rikk would be alright, Mmarta said. She’d sent Jaredd back for Plasma and was feeding it into Rikk’s arm with a stic. He didn’t look good at all. He looked like the ones Burtt had killed, pale, almost empty.
What I do? This horror would stay with him for a long time. He would forever worry about his charges. What would Kkhloe think about today? Burtt was shamed.
Pokke must have sliced the boy open when Dogg attacked, probably by accident. Burtt had seen the injury at the wire but didn’t want to panic Rikk so he ignored it hoping all would pan out. It didn’t look bad then, just bloody like dem cuts do. Fortunately, Pokke sliced him on the back of the neck, not his throat. Infection was the big worry now. Burtt would be on super alert for this over the next 5-day. So too would Kkat and with some newfound drive, Jjes. In fact, Jjes became Rikk’s de facto nurse and personal assistant while he healed. Kkat worried at first until she saw the genuine concern and something more in Jjes’ eyes when she looked at Rikk. It didn’t hurt that she spent nearly all night sitting by his sleepsac either. Nope, Jjes had a flame burning…for my brother, Kkat thought with a smile. So, that’s what I saw.
When she woke the next morning, and found Jjes asleep at the foot of Rikk’s bed still, she determined to have a talk with Rikk. This boy needs to grow up a bit or he’s going to have trouble with that girl.
Kkat came out of her reverie with Jjes staring at her.
“I like him a lot. I din’ know ‘til yesday when he screamed to save the little ones and he alone with dem killers. I been look for a man ain’t scairt. I thin he the one, a’righ?”
“Rikk’s no man yet. He’s a boy still and you need to let me talk to him first. He won’t know what to think you go all sex-up on him, Jjses. He’s a boy. You see? He doesn’t know anything about girls except what he knows from me. I’m his sister, so he doesn’t know much. Okay? Let me talk to him”
“I wait.” Jjes said. “I be back afer firs eat.” She looked intently at Rikk, quickly turned and sailed out of their space.
“I meant…la…ter…on…like tomorrow, or next 30-day even. Hmmmph! Oh well.” Kkat stammered out.
It did pan out okay in the end, but Burtt had learned a valuable lesson. De kids are too young to scort alone ‘n I can nev trus a red-zoner, not ev again. Training would be stepped up and Burtt would get Bann more involved with the heavy lifting so to speak. He needed scorts and soldiers and he needed them yesterday. He had some ideas about how to get that rolling. But first things first. He had to sort out those in the red-zone once and for all. To do that he needed Bann, at least, and maybe one more. He asked Mmarta and Jaredd to sponsor a new kid from the crèche so he could free Bann up for other duties. Mmarta said she try to convince Dougg to turn a blind eye again. One day, he would say no. What then?
Dogg was hurt too and that made Burtt feel sad. He was responsible for that, too. He could never have forgiven himself if Dogg had gotten killed. He felt terrible that he was hurt. Dogg was still whimpering, but the little ones were slathering burngel on him. He was loving the attention at least. Jaredd gave Burtt some meds for Dogg, too, for infection. Burtt didn’t even know there was such a thing. Meds f’r Ks? But not f’r proles? Damn!
I don’ wan’ dis rage to stop til I stan’ on Pokke’s and Thomass’ neck.
After he got Bann to swear to stand bar and protect the little ones with his life, he headed for his last stop before Pokke’s.
“Look man, ya live heah too. Dey attack us and near kill a boy”
“They attacked your spy on their side of the wire.” So, you was watchin’ huh? What more you watch?
“He wasn’t past the wire yet n, so what? Ain’t nobody should attack a kid.”
“He ain’t no kid if he’s a scort. Look, you’re the man around here. What do you need me for?”
This wasn’t going per plan. Why adult let a kid get hurt like dat? I don’ unerstan dese peeps. He had to try another ploy.
Burtt changed tack, “You know ‘f I go over dere, n dey off me, nuth’ ‘tween ‘dem and ya.”
“Hmmm!” this seemed to have struck a chord. “Don’t go over there, then.” He turned and started walking back into his hut.
Burtt wanted to argue but couldn’t think of anything more to say.
“JIZMO, then, it on me.” He turned and furiously headed for the wire, blades in his hands and singing through their own wind in front of his face.
He used an old reliable and hidden route into the red-zone. It looked like the toughs had just gotten themselves sorted out. There were still 3 toughs at the wire. Burtt figured to face Thomass first and then Pokke. He surprised them by coming at them from the flank instead of under the wire but they were soon singing, loudly.
He was in a full blood rage now. There was no stopping it until it spent itself in a perverse ballet of death and destruction. Burtt the blade prepared himself. He stomped to the exact location where he had been standing over Thomass’ body and challenged them all to come out and get him.
They did, slowly. Thomass came first, his face and nose were a mess and it looked like he was missing some teeth too. There was a mass of blood in his hair on the back of his head. He had a stun in one hand and a wicked looking hooked blade in the other. Squinting through swollen eyes and through swollen and drooling lips he screamed,
“IMA KIW UUUU”. And then he charged, followed shortly by any toughs brave enough to try.
Burtt spread his feet and planted, waiting for the blow. The numbers of toughs arrayed against him were surely too many for even Burtt. No matter, though, he was committed.
Timing his response was life or death…his time sense and natural instincts taking over, the scene around him seemed to slow, as if to give him more time to react properly. As he began his death blow swing, a sudden surprised look blossomed on Thomass’ face before Burtt saw the shaft protruding from his chest. It had red feathers on its end. As his mind caught up, he recalled hearing a thump, just before seeing the shaft. Thomass slowly drifted to the earth, it seemed he fell at a slow pace. Then time caught up as Burtt saw two more toughs were down. Then another. Burtt finally unfroze and charged in into the suddenly retreating melee, dropping several more himself before he tired and the blood rage cooled. When he looked around there were 12 dead on the ground around him, and several more crawling away. He knew he’d only killed 5 and severely wounded 3 more. He counted and sure enough, there were 7 more dead with those shafts protruding from one vital spot or another on their bodies.
Sure his enemies were on the run, Burtt scanned the near-zone area as much as he could see with the rubble mound in the way. As he was looking he thought, they had to come from a height, so he scanned higher and just before the figure moved out of sight, Burtt saw someone climbing from the rubble against the dome down to Burtt’s near-zone sector. It looked like it might be near Harkk’s hut. The figure was soon gone and Burtt had unfinished business. He’d sort that out later. Taking people out from a distance was something Burtt wanted to be a part of in a big way.
“Pokke ya puss, ya don’ come fight wit’ ya part? Gets out here. Don’ make me come drag ya out.”
Pokke wasn’t far away and he slunk out of cover mewling, “Burtt, man, I ain’t no part wif’ dat trash. He don’ had m’ caught up Burtt. Took m’ meds n all. Had my crèche bar’d. I tryin to think a way out when ya boy Rikk come tru so fas’ I had no time, man, no time. Ya knows I don’t be mess’n ya Burtt. You knows!”
“I knows Dogg took ya’ll down, not Thomass’, that what I know. Thomass I took down. And now he and half his crew dead, 3 more bleed out maybe.”
“I tryin to save da boy, Burtt. “S’why I grab im.”
“Maybe I b’lieve you Pokke cuz you don’ come out to fight agin jus’ now. Maybe I don’.”
He gave Pokke a minute to digest, then continued, “Heah what, Pokke. Two days. das what you gots now. Two days I be back. We have dat meet and thins changin’ out here. Thins changin’ big. You gon change wit th’ new, or you gon’ die with th’ ole. Gots it, Pokke? Gots it? This shit don’. Das’ all!”
“Yo, de hut! Come on Harkk, man. I seed you. What was dat you took dem boys wit?”
“That’s none of your business and you and I are going to have to come to an agreement about you sneaking up on my hut at night, Burtt.”
Burtt nearly came out of his skin when Harkk startled him from behind. Nobody got behind Burtt. He found his new respect for this long-range killer growing by the second. He recovered as best he could and tried to answer with some level of calm in his voice.
“Dis my zone man. I go wherev. Gots it?” Harkk’s brow furrowed and was turning away. Burtt thought he should ease up a bit so added, “Hey, thas a good trick, sneakin me.”
Harkk stopped. “I saw you coming just now. And I saw you looking at me up on the rubble mound so, I expected your visit.” Harkk offered.
“Dat was somethin’. I gots to tell you. How’d you do dat and so many. How…”
“Slow down, slow down. Height makes for a great advantage especially against a numerically superior force. Practice helps too. What I used is an old-world hunting implement called a combination bow and bolt. I built it from wood I stole inside the green-zone and the bolts too.” Harkk seemed to be warming to Burtt a little, now he noticed the unabashed admiration the boy was sending his way.
“Why the feathahs?” Burt asked, completely mesmerized and amazed to hear words like that from a prole other than Kkhloe or now Kkat.
“Makes the bolt fly straight to the target. The tips of the bolts are sharped and burnt to hardness and will penetrate a rat, boar, fish or one of those there toughs equally well.” That last bit he said with a satisfied smile looking over towards the red-zone.
“Jizmo! Can I have it?” Burtt asked without thinking, then blushing, tried again, “I mean, can you show me how to make one and bolts too? I can eye the little ones from far off den and be doin’ ought else.”
“Hmmm. Can you get wood? I don’t dare steal more. Not now. Not for a bit yet. Too soon.” “How ‘bout de wood in my crèche. We gots lots of dat.”
“No, boy. That’s not the right wood. That’s small bits of wood and plas stuck together it’ll never bend for a bow. We might make a bolt, but no bow. We need a solid piece of wood for the bow.”
“Burtt didn’t remember seeing a whole piece of wood, like from a tree ‘cept in the Lassie book. They had plants in the grow, but no trees. Maybe I could grow one up. He asked Harkk and Harkk had a good laugh before he explained how long it took for a tree to grow. He turned and went into his hut. He didn’t invite Burtt in, so he left.
Burtt was confused. Did they wait to start a war ‘til enough trees grew? Then he thought about the Army troops he’d seen in the vid with their armor suits. He didn’t figure a bolt would do anything but bounce off them, and then he thought, I don’ know much ‘bout much, no sir. Huntin’ food one thing. War’s a ‘nutha.” He didn’t see what those soldiers had for weapons clearly. He just saw that they were long and hard looking, not bows and bolts. He knew from Jaredd that the enforcers used stuns, nothing lethal.
Until he figured out the wood problem, he would go without, but boy did he ever want one. That thing was a difference maker anywhere.
DAY-4: They had another gab session, Jaredd and Burtt, next day. It occurred to Burtt that Jaredd knew so much Burtt could never hope to learn it all. The crèche needed someone who could make the hard decisions that Burtt struggled with because he didn’t know better, he remembered sending Rikk on that mission to Pokke’s and shook all over. He had a thought and he decided to barge in.
“’F I gets the crèche to go ‘long, will ya be our boss? Times I caint ‘cide whatta do and I thin ya know what need knowing, s’ ya do dat for us?” Burtt implored.
“Whoa, Burtt, whoa! I, hmmm. Burtt, a boss, a leader, needs to be present at least most of the time. I can’t be that person. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, I guess. But…”
“No wait a moment, I have an idea. I can’t be your boss, and besides, I thought you didn’t want a boss in the near-zone? Regardless, I can be an advisor. I can help you make those tough decisions, but you’ll be making them. You’ll be the boss or leader.”
“Uh, I din’ thin ‘bout it I guess. Nope, we ain’t gots to have a boss. I guess das’ a’righ. But if ya a-a-’vise us den we c’n make good thinks and I don’ be putting no kids in the dirt. Dat okay wit’ ya?”
Jaredd was stunned, finally coming to grips with Burtt’s reality. “Yes, but Burtt. Someone has to take control and give the orders or, um, directions.”
Puzzled for a moment, he then seemed to get an idea, “How folks do it in dere when no one be boss?” Burtt asked pointing at the Green-zone.
“Ha, ha, ha. Bright boy, you are, Burtt, bright boy. They have what they call a committee or a council to do that.”
“Like ya council? We do that.” Burtt whispered conspiratorially.
Jaredd smiled and said, “Yes Burtt. Like my council. Do you have someone in mind for this council?”
He thought only a moment since there really wasn’t much choice, “Yeah, I do. Come on. Les tell ‘em.”
“Oh, now hold on Burtt. Normally people are given a choice. What if they don’t want to be on your council? You know, if you tell them, they will do it whether they want to or not. Is that fair?”
“Hmmm. I ask.” Burtt conceded the point.
They all agreed.
Thus, it was that Jaredd became the official advisor to the Council of the Taj. Bann, Kkat, Rikk, Jjes and Burtt were its first council members. Burtt wanted to stick with 4 until he was more comfortable with Jjes, but Jaredd explained how that might make it impossible to decide some things if the vote was spilt evenly. They settled for the five members and Jjes was included.
Before Jaredd left for the day, Burtt asked one more question, a favor.
“I wan a wood. Like me”, he said, holding his hand at the top of his head meaning that tall. “N like dis”, he wrapped the fingers of one hand around his wrist, meaning that thick. “C’n ya get it for me? It’s ‘portant.”
After taking a moment to consider Burtt’s request, Jaredd asked, “What do you want wood for? It’s very difficult to acquire, you know?”
“I know. Harkk say it. I just…well, I wan make a combin, combono…a bow. I wan a bow. I saw one worked and it the bes. Good for hunt and I thin we be safer wif’.” He looked at Jaredd with something akin to begging. The only time Jaredd had seen that look before was when Burtt thought Kkat might be sick and Mmarta was about to throw her out of the crèche.
“I think I have just the thing Burt, but it won’t be wood. Okay? Trust me? I promise you won’t be disappointed. I should be able to bring it tomorrow. Do you have a supply of arrows?” the confused look on Burtt’s face made Jaredd wonder if Burtt actually knew what a bow did? “You do know a bow needs arrows to work. Burtt, right?”
“I only know’d ‘bout the bow ‘n de bolts, Jaredd. I sorry. Whas arrers is?”
Jaredd suppressed the snicker and said, “That’s right. I’m sorry Burtt. Bolts they are. Do you have some?”
“Gon’ make some from the crèche wood. Ole Harkk say he help.”
“Aha. I see. That’s a very industrious idea, but I have a great one too. Why don’t I bring you some and save you the trouble?”
The smile on Burtt’s face reminded Jaredd of old Yule vids, from when that was a thing. Smiling, rosy cheeked children, faces lit up with anticipation…oh, am I ever losing it…sigh.
“Right. See you tomorrow then Burtt.”
“See you too”, Burtt replied with more enthusiasm than he’d felt since Kkat came to live at the Taj.
DAY-5: The next day, Jaredd was true to his word and delivered a real combination bow and arrows. The bow was made from a light weight ployplas and the arrows were carbonsteel alloy that just wouldn’t break and held true flight for 200 steps. They were so light Burtt thought they were made of air. They had feathers too but fake one and they were black. Jaredd was an expert and spent a few hours training Burtt, Rikk, Kkat, Bann and Jjes how to tension the bow and then to somewhat effectively fire the weapon. Burtt and Rikk were quick studies. Bann wasn’t bad but seemed to flinch a lot. The girls were just hopeless it seemed.
Before Jaredd left, Harkk came home early and was invited by Burtt to try the bow. Then he was jealous but was good about it saying Burtt had the weapon to beat then. The statement put a threatening tint on the conversation as they all came to realize what purpose this new weapon would serve. Soon the group broke up.
Burtt thought about his meet. At least Pokke sent a runner this time and he said everyone would be there all day. Would the bastards really show? Would there be trouble now with Thomass dead and Pokke beaten so bad. Had the fight for Thomass crèche already begun? Who was the boss now and how likely was it they would work with Burtt? He thought he might be able to work with, Ccassie the one girl boss in their red-zone, but he wasn’t sure about the rest. Farukk was a drunk and a pushover, Pokke had said. Hamill was a loner but vicious if you crossed him and had the 2nd largest crèche with 18 soldiers at least. He had the two wilders too. They were thought to be the craziest creatures known and they were on his crew. That left whoever took Thomass crew and Pokke. He’d know soon enough. He figured Hamill would be the prob. When Burtt felt he’d made them wait long enough, he got his team together. It was Time to lay down the law, Jaredd had called it.
Burtt got Harkk to back him up again from his perch on top of the rubble. Dogg was crazy upset Burtt wouldn’t take him too, and so was Rikk. He had Chukk tie Dogg up inside the crèche and left Jjes and Kkat to keep an eye on Rikk. He could hear Dogg yowling all the way to the red-zone. He took, Bann and Chukk with him using one of his secret passages over the rubble again, but left them up high looking down on the meet, Bann with the new bow and arrow in plain sight. Chukk, as big as he was, looked a threat all by himself, if he didn’t smile.
Burtt was standing in front of the lot of them, and they had all come. He was pleased.
“…So, das it peeps. No mo. No mo slavin’. Free ‘em now, t’day. Bring ‘em t’me ‘f ya can’t take care of ‘em. I don’ caah, but ya free ‘em today. I be watchin’. There ain’t be no ‘scuses man.”
“Ya don’t raid my side no mo. Ya want to raid each other, go ‘head. Ya leave my crèche out. Forev. I don’ play no mo. Ya come over my side for no good or ya hurt one o’ mine; I hurt ya back, bad. das’ it. Gots it?”
There was no response. “GOTS IT?” he yelled.
There were some mumbled responses and Hamill flat out said, “JIZMO, ya shit”, while walking towards Burtt with menace in his eyes.
Thump! Thump! And two arrows were planted at his feet. Hamill, had heard about the new threat and backpedaled like his feet were catching fire. Ya luck ole Bann din twitch, puss. Burtt was impressed that both arrows had landed short of the mark at almost the same time. Magic!
“I give you ‘til t’morra. No late. Be back mid time. We talk again. Be ready to choose. Unnerstan’ you pickin’ peace or war. Das all!”
Burtt backed to the wire and was under it and gone again before they could do much other than stare after him openmouthed.
“Shit on dat!” mumbled Hamill, but he didn’t seem that sincere.
Pokke said, “Yeah, ya do dat Ham. Lemme know how goes, huh?”
Everyone slunk away home.
“Why would she feel like that about me, Kkat? I mean, what do I do about it? She’s a girl and I don’t even know how to kiss. I don’t know about all this, Kkat.” Rikk looked about to get sick.
Kkat snickered, ‘Oh, silly. At first you just get to know each other, okay? It’s not so bad. Then again, she did stay with you the whole time you were hurt and take care of you. I didn’t have to lift a finger. She did it all. And Rikk, I think she likes you a LOT. She’s an older girl too. Older than we thought. Maybe even 14. She’s near a woman, you know, and ready for a mate I imagine.” These last few lines she snuck in there to twist Rikk’s discomfort a little more.
Rikk thought about what Kkat said. So, Jjes was caring for him. Slowly he colored, thinking that when he woke, he was naked in his sleepsac and someone had to clean and dress his leg wounds as well as the neck wound. As he further realized Kkat was sleeping when he woke and Jjes was the one nursing him, his embarrassment was complete.
He got no response. Kkat, her own hormones stirring, decided to have a chat with Burtt about the blossoming birds and bees issues here in the crèche. These things could reach crisis mode any moment now, she thought with a snide smirk. Oh yes, Mr. Burtt, you’d better be ready.
After a strange gab with Kkat, Burtt decided to entertain the kids before lights-out and try to put the burngel on and get him to eat the medtab. This had been a source of great merriment for the crèche since Dogg got zapped.
“Dogg. Dogg! Gets back here. Jizmo! I gots to check ya burns ya puss. Come on. Ya know dis don’ hurt.”
Dogg had been acting strange since Burtt got back in one piece. Burtt thought he must be happy Burtt didn’t get hurt. At least the little ones were enjoying the byplay, hysterical laughter was ringing in his ears. He loved hearing it. It was the best sound.
He got right up next to the cur and the damn thing took off again. “What the hell is wrong Dogg? Now gets over heah!”
Instead of coming he whimpered and slunk a little further into the dark corner of the rubble pile he seemed to be barring, almost.
“Wha th’ hell Dogg, come on. Wha is dis?” He reached again and this time Dogg growled. Now Burtt knew something was wrong. He sat down and tried not to be a threat. Sometimes when Dogg seemed antsy at night Burtt would hum the tune Kkhloe used to sing. He tried that now…” hmmm hmmm hmmm, ya gots a fren”. Dogg visibly relaxed but then shivered and got all crazy again growling and snapping at Burtt when Burtt leaned over. This crazy!
“Dogg, ya come out heah and tell m’ wha wron, righ now.” Then he laughed at himself for talking like that to Dogg. So, he lay back and started to whistle the tune. Soon Dogg was lying beside him. Then the strangest thing Burtt had seen all day happened. This little bitty sweet female K came out from their hidey hole and curled up beside Dogg.
“Whas’ dis, Dogg? Ya gots a girl? Well, Jizmo! Wha a look, huh. Ain’t dis a thing now? Firs, Jjes and Rikk, Den you and dis lil K girl.” He thought some about Kkat and the way she talked to him about Jjes and Rikk. There was a lot of bumping and hands-on that had confused him. She kept talking about the two doing something like and Then Katt would do it to Burtt, and say, “See. Like that. They must be attracted. You know attracted Burtt?” No, he didn’t know that. He hated when folks used words he didn’t know. He would never ask Kkat. He’d just smiled. The way she looked back at him, though, with that strange smirk, made him think that wasn’t the right thing to do, maybe.
He unconsciously reached out to pet the little K.
“Hell, ya c’n have her. I don’ wan the lil smelly thing.” Burtt snatched his hand back.
Part Five: Sex-ed two, War! Harkk is a hero, again. The Death toll is huge. Survivors remorse sets in. Pairings happen. A new day in the new “sector of the Taj”. The sector joins hands. Taj becomes a single zone, near and red. The Greenies are not happy. Jaredd takes a stand. Mmarta learns bad news. Kkat takes it on herself to learn how to care for the crèche from Mmarta. Dougg tries again.