Kkat stared at the strange man who’d come to Pokke’s crèche, armed to the teeth. When he called Pokke a “slime streaked, puss” while pulling those wicked looking blades from no where she could see, the trembling started. She was properly cowed in front of Pokke, but had no respect for him. This man made her knees weak. That he appeared to not be afraid of Pokke, or any of the ten toughs surrounding him, only added to the mystique. Who wasn’t afraid of Pokke?
With the backing of that near-zone demon, Burtt, no one would even try to stand against Pokke. That he’d sent her brother to spy on the legend had her and Rikk worried sick. Neither had slept that night before Rikk left and now he was late returning. Then this crazy loon shows up. “God, please bring my brother back safe”, she quietly pled from her cage across from Pokke’s stand; “and, if it is your will, Lord, please let this idiot get out of here alive, too.” She turned towards Pokke so she wouldn’t witness the carnage about to happen before him.
Pokke jumped to his feet, his expression changing from one of superior loftiness, to wonder, to questioning, to abject terror in less time than it took him to finish standing. Kkat couldn’t imagine what could have caused such a dramatic change overtaking her antagonist and froze, watching. Surely this stranger, a nobody, and younger than Pokke by at least a year, couldn’t possibly cause Pokke to tremble so. Could he? But those ten boys were all cowering now and acted as though they were backing away from death.
She realized the truth as Pokke blurted, “Burtt, my man, what brings you to my crèche? You come to hang with us real proles? Getting bored over with the elies, are you? What’s with the blades, fren? We got a grieve to…”
“Shut up, puss. You know why I’m here. What the fuck were you thinking? What is it with you stupid fucks out here? You murder, run slaves and terrorize your way to being a boss, then throw it all away trying to get more? From me? How many of your drones do I have to kill before you assholes out here get the fucking message?”
This was a calculated risk Burtt was taking. He could see her starting to react. He didn’t really want to hurt the girl like this; if that was Kkat in the cage, and now he thought she probably was. Rikk was okay, but Burtt’s rep was at stake and he wanted Pokke off balance. He’d make it up to the girl later if he needed to. If she was just another sex-toy-slave, he’d free her before he left as part punishment to Pokke. If she was Katt; she would be reunited with her brother soon enough, provided this worked, and there’d be no chains or cages involved either. Let her scream for now.
“You fucking pigs. I’ll kill you both. Let me out of here Pokke, you pile of rat shit, so I can rip your eyes out. Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhgggggggg!” She sank to her knees wailing, further covering herself in the filth they’d thrown at her for food. Kkat’s identity no longer an issue, Burtt reconsidered his plans. Rikk hadn’t said how old Kkat was, but now that Burtt could see her, she was older than Rikk by a year or two, at least, and she was a look too; underneath all that dirt, that is. No wonder Pokke had her caged. He could make a fortune off this one, especially if he kept her clean…away from the proles. The elies would pay double creds; provided he could get Burtt to go along, which wasn’t likely he knew, or he could take over the near-zone himself and then do whatever the fuck he wanted.
No, Burtt thought. No way was he letting Pokke damage this soul like so many others. No way Kkat ends up like Kkhloe…not while Burtt breathes.
Continuing that line of thought, because he didn’t really know what he was going to do to Pokke when he started down this way, Burtt figured Pokke must know he needed to be rid of Burtt. To do that, he needed spies. Rikk was one. As it turned out, Rikk was one of many.
As he pondered his next words, the sound of her despair tore through Burtt like watching Kkhloe pass from this life. He pushed it aside concentrating on Pokke. Pokke was a puss. He lived and ruled his crèche like a dictator but his strength came from his coalition with Burtt. Just the same, even a sickly red-zone rat was trouble when cornered. Pokke would be no different, except that he was bigger than a rat and armed.
“Whoa! Whoa, Burtt my man!” Pokke pleaded while back peddling away from those terrible blades. “I-on’t know what the hell you talkin’ ’bout, man. I ain’t sent nobody nowhere, man. ‘Special not your way. What I look, stupit?”
“Yes you did, you basta. Yes you did. My brother, my brother!” the girl sobbed. “You’d better keep me in here forever because the second I get out, I’m killing you.” Burtt was reminded of Kkhloe standing in the door of their shack, warding off whatever slime made it through the wire to try to “git some” that night.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP, BITCH! SHUT UP!” Pokke was losing it.
That was exactly what Burtt was hoping for. Pokke, in a nervous snit, was easy to manipulate and Burtt didn’t want to change hands here right now. He needed Pokke and his crew in place as a buffer. This was a scare the shit out of Pokke meeting, not a finish him off one. He didn’t have time to flesh out a new boss for the red-zone area bordering his own near-zone crèche. Not right now, he didn’t.
He’d just recently been able to establish an honest-to-God crèche of his own in the near-zone. The “step up” to a crèche over a shack was symbolic as far as Burtt was concerned. His rivals over the red-zone wire, if that’s what you would call all those pusses, all ran their crews out of one central location. An old Fac or Shop served the purpose well. As long as it had walls, a roof, and could fit your whole crew, that was nirvana in the red-zone. Everyone else lived in shacks, boxes, sewers, or out in the open…and one or two nights at most away from dead. Burtt couldn’t afford to be seen in less lordly digs.
With the combined efforts of all the proles in his part of the near-zone, backed financially by Mmarta and Dougg, they bought, bartered, scavenged and built what was thought of in both zones as the Taj. He tried finding a reference to that word but failed. He had no idea what it meant, but that’s what Mmarta had called it on one of her 30-cycle med-visits, and the name stuck once all the little ones heard her call it that. He was too shamed to ask, but it sounded rich. There were 46 souls in his crew now, all kids, except for Chukk. He hope to add two more by days end. Two adults by their standards and greatly needed. He also needed to end this before Pokke grew his balls back.
Burtt raised his voice to ear shattering volume, “BOTH OF YOU SHUT UP, Everyone else get out of here, now.” He turned his gaze and his blades on Pokke. All resistance and backbone sloughed off Pokke in a rush. He seemed to melt in front of Burtt and fell back into his rest.
Pokke made a half hearted gesture to his crew, telling them to comply, but one of Pokke lieutenants decided to be a hero and tried to get to Burtt from behind. He was an older youngster, maybe 14 or 15. Burtt’s sixth sense, Pokke’s widening eyes, and Dogg’s roar, who came flying out of a darkened comer where Burtt had stayed him, all contributed to warn him of the danger. He sidestepped the attack to the right. He turned the blade in his left hand, the weaker one, and clocked the boy on the side of the head with the butt-end of the knife handle. The boy went down in a heap and didn’t stir. This was probably a good thing since Dogg would go for the throat always if he got there first. The fight with that threat was over for good if that happened.
“You like to sacrifice your boys, don’t you, Pokke. That’s the sign of a true lost cause. Are you a lost cause, Pokke? Do I need to dig up a new boss for this crèche already?”
Pokke signaled for some in his hastily retreating crew to return and drag the dazed boy away before this demon decided to do more damage. They did so reluctantly with Dogg watching their every more, teeth bared the whole time.
“What? What? No, man! Fuck no! I got this shit covered, Burtt. Ain’t I always kept you safe on the other side there? Ain’t I?” Pokke was panicked. This was perfect.
“Oh. I see. You keepin’ me safe. Is that it? Well, what was I thinking?”
“Oh, Come one, man. You know what I mean. Anybody gots to go through me first, right? That how it always be, right. I gots your back Burtt. I always gots your back. You knows that, man.”
“Hmmm. Then who was that pile I just offed? He had your crew’s mark on him.”
“OH, HIM! Oh, man, you mean ‘lil Rikk. Oh that boy, he so dumb sometimes. I don’t know, man. All I tole him to do was scout the area. Make sure no one done bust the wire. You know? Thas all. Now, what he go and do? I swear Burtt, man. I make it up. Whatev. I do it.”
The girl was screaming again and shaking her cage enough to feel the rumble in the floor. Burtt gave her a sideways glance, afraid she would do herself damage. He had to speed this up. The worst was yet to come, as far as she was likely to see tings.
“You don’t really expect me to believe that shit do you Pokke? Before you start choking on your own bullshit, you owe me. Big. How we gonna settle this score? You better come up with something good, puss. Think of me like I was your God, Pokke. I know you don’t b’lieve in nothing like, but ‘tend, just this time, that I am your God, and you want to make me real happy. What you gots for me Pokke?”
“Look, Burtt, you know me. I’m good for whatev you want. You just name it. Whatev.”
He had him. “I’ll take the girl.” Said Burt, slowly turning a lusty look on her as if to show his own seedy intentions.
While she sang a new chorus of invective this time in the direction of Burtt, he walked to the cage and shook it. Then he winked at her so only she could see. She was duly stunned, and shut up.
Pokke was stunned, too, but for an entirely different reason. This had turned into his worst nightmare. For the first time in his shitty life, he’d found a sure-fire way out. A clean, unblemished, untouched beauty like Kkat came around in the red-zone exactly NEVER TIMES. With the right neon, and a good sponsor, he could move to the near-zone. Now he was going to lose that. All because of one stupid, shit-for-brains runner who couldn’t spy without getting caught. FUCK!
“Come on, man. You can’t do this to me. She my cred, man. Come on, please!” he pleaded.
“Should have thought of that before you tried to off me, puss. Besides, you know how I feel about slavin’, special sex-slavin.” Burtt countered with a leap to Pokke’s rest, his knives crossed in front of his throat. “Too fucking late for begging, now. Cut her fucking lose or I’ll need a new boss here in about 5 tics. Four…three…two…”
“OKAY! OKAY! Let me up , man. I’ll cut her loose. Let me up.”
He did that, and the second the cage opened, she sprung first at Pokke, ripping him a dandy new scar from ear to chin, but missing the eye she’d promised; then tried for Burtt. Burtt caught both her hands in his, after somehow miraculously sheathing his blades in less time than it takes for an eye to blink. He then gently, but firmly pushed her back in the cage and closed the door, latching it shut. He looked her directly in the eye, winked again, then put his finger to his mouth, shushing her, like Kkhloe would, and mouthed BINGO. For the second tome and this time with a shocked looked, she complied.
Burtt made Pokke get him a hauler and with the help of several of Pokke’s toughs, he got the cage on the hauler and headed home.
“One more time, Pokke, you puss. Fuck with me one more time. If you don’t kill me then, run. You got no other choice. Got it, puss?”
“Hey man, it was a mis. You know? No harm, no foul you always say, right Burtt, man? We good, right?”
“Do you think Rikk feels the same about the no harm, no foul part, Pokke? Do ya? Shut the fuck up asshole before I change my mind. Now that I think, you get word out, Pokke, to all the bosses. I want a meet, here, in a five-day. No ‘cuses, no bee-es, everyone better be there. Got it? This shit ends after that. For you it ends now. Got it?”
Pokke stared after him open mouthed. When it looked like Burtt was about to come back to get an acknowledgement, he blurted out, “Right, boss, Right. I gots it. Everbod be there, in a five. What time you think, boss?”
“Really? I give you the time, you have twenty toughs waitin’ fo’ me? No fucking way, puss. You tell them to be here. I show when I show. They ain’t here, I know who my fren are, don’t I?” He didn’t give Pokke time to argue.
Kkat didn’t say anything at first, but slowly she started to cry as they neared the wire and then it turned to rage again. Just as they were clearing the wire and entering the near-zone she screamed so loud, Burtt’s crèche emptied into the street in a heartbeat. The last to get to see who was making such a racket was Rikk and his handler, Chukk. The two siblings made eye contact and Burtt opened the cage moving quickly to the side, just in case those claws came out again.
“Let him go Chukk. It’s okay big guy, and take Dogg for food. Okay?” Burtt said. Chukk didn’t answer. He almost never did. He just did what he was told. They walked off together, Dogg’s stub a goin’. He knew what time it was.
The two siblings met in a crash, then ended up huddled on the ground alternatively howling and laughing and crying.
When calm returned and most had gone about their business except for the littlest of the little ones who stared at the two strangers, especially Kkat as if they must be from the back-shadows, Rikk and Kkat turned to their savior. Rikk appeared speechless. Kkat, however, came to Burtt and submitted to him in the way slaves do in the zones, prostrate on the dirt in front of him. Rikk hastened to follow her example. Burtt caught him before he could finish the gesture and at the same time reached down to lift Katt from the ground. He looked at them both with as much sincerity as he could muster, and said, “NO! Not here! We never do that. We are family here and that’s how we treat each other. No bowing. No scraping. We all do our part, here, whatever that is. We all eat good and are healthy. I lead us now, but I am NOT a boss. Someday, some one else will lead. That’s what our crèche gots if you want in. You don’t have to stay, though, I’ll try to find you a sponsor, or I’ll get you back over the wire where Pokke won’t find you, but your on your own after that. Deal?”
The siblings were so stunned they couldn’t react at first. Then Katt started sobbing followed soon by Rikk, the two were so overwhelmed by their good fortune.
Rikk regained his composure first and sobbed , “Of course we’re in, Burtt. What do we have to do?”
“If your sister agrees, you just did it.” She nodded, still dumfounded by the turn of events. An hour ago she was in a cage. Now she was free? Her brother was too? She cried and cried…
“Good. Do you want a scrub or food first?”
“A scrub?” Kkat screamed and started crying again all over again. Scrubs were a community event in the red-zone and kids got the left overs if any. the bosses and their toys got first dibs,
Oh Jesus save us, what have I done? Burtt thought as he stared at this incredibly enticing creature. He wanted, at that moment, nothing more than to comfort her…to hold her. What?
“I-I’ll take that as a yes. It’ll take the-the kids a while to heat it up, but they’ll come get you when it’s ready.” He blushed and turned away thinking about her in the scrub, no, getting in the scrub. What? He was remembering pictures in the other book he owned. Besides, “Lassie come home”, he had a book with mostly pictures in it. Pictures of the body, girls and boys and just then he was feeling a bit strange, thinking about Kkat like that. Kkhloe could read it whenev the kids got hurt bad or sick. She even learned from that book to scew Burtt up closed when he got cut bad fighting. She said the name was “The Hum anatom and its functons”, or something like. He tried to remember what Kkhloe said about mates, but it was so long ago and most of what she said was like crazy stuff he’d never remember. That book was near useless to him except for the pictures. The words were huge. Mmarta, please come help me, he pleaded silently.
“Oh yeah, um, you get 5 mins a 7-day, so make the most of it, okay? Sorry, no exceptions.”, Burt told them. “Coke costs us more creds and trade than food does.” Coke, that black dusty sooty devil that causes as many problems breathing as it solves with warmth to live in and heat for cooking, was worth more than food, indeed for some, it was worth more than life, in the winter.
“Well, at least I can get some of this crud out of my hair.” Kkat, said as she tried to drag her fingers through the snarls mounded on her head.
“Oh, we have lots of cold water to do your hair with. From a pipe that comes from the elies side. It’s clean and there’s plenty of it, and it goes right into a catch, so’s you can just hang your head over it. We run that water through a filt. A Leechy Field or something, Dougg calls it, and then we use that water for the grow. See that little pond down the row and the gard nexto? The water bubbles up, down there, after it runs through the leech. Anyway, the scrub is a sit down one, but it takes a while to heat the water up, see? We use that time to really clean the rest of, well, the rest of…us…our parts, bodies. You know.” He blushed again, this time Katt saw it before he could turn away. She smiled to herself, and then realized she was blushing too. Hmmmm?
She couldn’t keep the moan of delight from her voice thinking about such a luxury…and hot too?
“Hey, um, Burtt? Um, I don’t have to take one do I? In water?” asked Rikk imploringly.
“Sorry, bud. Every one stays clean here. So says the doc and the doc rules, when it come to our health. Don’t worry. I take one too. It don’t hurt…too much”. He smirked but hadn’t turned to face them yet. He felt the burn in his face still. God, he needed to talk to Mmarta. Then he thought, Jesus! Can I ask her about that?
“Oh, okay!” answered Rikk, the terror readily apparent in his voice.
“Stop worrying you baby. I used to bath you not so long ago when we could get enough water, don’t forget little brother.” Was Kkat’s response to her brother’s trepidation. So, she was more than a year or so older than Rikk, or maybe Rikk was a lot younger than he looked. Burtt was like that too.
“KKAT!” Screamed Rikk, humiliation now apparent in his voice.
Burtt snickered. “One of the kids will find you a space and some sleepsacs. They’ll come get you for the scrub when it’s ready. Sup will be before the turn. We don’t like having food around after…the preds come out then and we like to be safe behind the bar, with the food safe in the coldlok before they can get at it. Another rule we have is no one goes out after dark without me. As more of us become trained adults, we’ll add to the list of scorts, but for now its just me, okay? Questions?”
When no one had one, he continued, “One of you will probably be bar for part of the night tonight. We all do it, so don’t complain. There’s two rules when you have bar; No one gets past the bar unless you’ve first, blown the alarm (an old horn that’s always kept by the bar), and second, you died trying to stop them. Whoev you relieve will show you how to blow the horn. Got it?”
They both nodded.
“Burtt? Who are Dougg and the “doc”? Kkat asked.
“You’ll meet them later. This little one is Kett, He’ll take you to your space.” He said pointing to a tiny boy peeking around Burtt’s leg. He seemed enthralled by Kkat, as Burtt knew all the little ones would be. Kkat would be the oldest girl by a lot of years in their crèche. By the looks of it, she might be their new fav, he thought, as he started to move off. Burtt smiled at that. He felt weird when the little ones came to him for comfort. Could this maybe be some relief for that? Kkat reached out to the boy and he nearly ran to her in his enthusiasm.
Burtt, Kkat and Rikk all laughed. Kett smiled and blushed so bright, Kkat called him a name that rang a bell with Burtt, but he couldn’t put a finger on it. “Whoa, Bashful!”, she said.
He thought about asking but wasn’t ready to admit he didn’t know so, he let it go and instead said, “I’ll be back in a sixty.”
The siblings numbly nodded their assent and then Burtt shouted, ” Dogg, to me!”, and then he was gone.
With Burtt out of sight Katt said, “Pinch me, Rikk. I don’t believe this. OUCH! Jizmo, you roac!”
Rikk thought he’d never figure girls out.
Kett stared at Rikk with something like a threat in his eye. Kkat saw it, smiled and calmed him, telling him Rikk was her brother.
They headed into the crèche, Kkat almost shaking from anticipation and asked to be taken to the catch so she could wash her hair first before her scrub. She wouldn’t be able to sit still anyway.
Rikk stayed in their space and was fast asleep in minutes.
Kett took Kkat to the catch and watched with fascination, along with twenty or so other little ones as she slowly cleaned the bugs, dirt and other detritus from her raven black locks. When she was finished, her hair shone like a rav.
She looked up and was startled to see them all. There had to be twenty little ones watching her now.
“Burtt feeds all of you?” she asked.
“And a lot more too. Maybe two more now?” Stated a small girl with impossibly curly hair so red it looked to be on fire. Kkat had never seen such a color before and asked the girls name.
“Hhesther” she stated with pride. Hhesther MacBride, I am.”
“Well hello Hhesthermacbride. I’m Katt. How be you?”
“Hhesther MacBride! Two words. Not one.”
“Oh, okay. Hhesther MacBride it is.” Kkat thought, if that was as bad as it got, this was an okay kind of crazy. Two names? Ha!
He was late. Esteban would wait, though. He had to. He was a perserv, so he obeyed. That’s all. Thank God, too, because Burtt had an urgent blurb for Mmarta…”com talk sun. B”.
They met. Burtt took his supplies and urgently directed the boy to go.
He hoped she would come soon. He’d have to check back everyday at the normal time to see if Estebann was back with a response. The more he thought about Kkat, the more questions he had. He’d never experienced these feelings before. He was confused by them. God, please send her here quick, he thought.
Estebann was standing there, still. He looked like he thought he was going to be stunned for a defy.
“What you waiting for, boy?”, Burtt slurped around bites of a maddeningly juicy red apple.
“I’m s’pose to give you this and wait for you to finish.” He said, holding out a thin silver piece of tek without looking at Burtt. Burtt had never seen anything like and wouldn’t take it.
“Please, boss. I can’t go back without you call her first.” Estebann said, still averting his eyes.
“Estebann. You don’t have to do that with me.” Burtt replied with aggravation evident in his tone. He thought this behavior among proles was some kind of silliness…AND he was in a hurry.
“Do what, boss?”
“That. Don’t call me boss, I ain’t one. And don’t look away. I ain’t no “sir” you got to worry about fendin’. We both proles, Estebann. You look me in the eye and you call me Burtt. Got it?”
“Um, o-okay, um, B-Burtt. Thanks. Nobody treats me like a eek. I’m in the middle you know? I a perserv but I got no sponsor to the near-zone. I just lucky to pay for a safe spot near the wire in Pokke’s crèche.” Then he looked like he stuck his finger in a rab-Ks maw. and looked away again.
“You sayin you work for Dougg but he don’t put you up in the near-zone? AND you’re in Pokke’s crèche?” Burtt suddenly smelled a rat. The apple hit the ground after his knives were in his hands. It happened so fast, Estebann was on his knees shaking without knowing he’d done so.
“What goin on here, Estebann? What the trick-up? What they put you to? You spy? For both?” Burtt’s knives were crossed in front of Estebann’s neck. Burtt slid behind him and kept jostling the boy and nicking his neck repeatedly, without doing serious damage. The sight of his own blood on those terrible blades had the desired effect and Estebann let it out in a rush.
“I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you. Hell, I hatin this ever since Mr. Dougg start me.” Burtt let up on the blades, let the boy turn around, then sat him on the ground, sat opposite him with blades crossed in his lap and said, “Talk.”
Estebann started, and didn’t stop for a ten-sixty-cycle.
Dougg had started Estebann watching Burtt back before Dougg brought in the toughs to take Burtt out. Estebann didn’t care. He was glad to have what he had. He was paying Zobbi back then. After Burtt crashed that party, Dougg orderedd Estebann to keep and eye out and let him know if it looked like Burtt was planning to ambush Dougg.
Then Zobbi got outed and he had free run of his spot until Pokke made his deal with Burtt. Then Pokke made a deal with Estebann once he found him squatting on his crèche, but not until Estebann explained he could get elie goods. They came to an agreement then, but as time went on Pokke found out that Estebann supplied Burtt too. That’s when he changed the deal. Estebann had to report on Burtt’s daily schedule.
“Well? Did you?”
“Well, I-I did as far as Pokke knew. I knew you had guards watching all the time and a good alarm system. I never told him or Zobbi that. Ain’t that why Zobbi’s boys didn’t get you? I could have told him that but I didn’t. I-I was…”
“You was what, Estebann?”
“I was there. I watched that night when they came. I almost yelled out when there was such a noise. It sounded like knockers on the side of a crowd lorry. I looked around and finally I saw them. Those kids across the alley throwing stones at your shack. Then I saw you come out of nowhere and take down half the crew before they knew they were being carved up, and I just faded back into the dark.”
“Anyway, I didn’t tell Pokke about you. He just another pig”
“Alright, Estebann. I b’lieve ya. You get back to Mmarta and deliver my message and I’ll think about how to deal with this scut. We’ll talk later.” He turned to walk away when Estebann pleaded again, “Please Bos—Burtt. Please, she won’t have me back if you don’t talk to her.”
“Who you talk ’bout boy? Her who? Where is she if I gonna talk to her?”
“Oh, no Burtt. You use this”. He again held out the tek.
Burtt backed away again demanding, “Now you keep that tek off me, Estebann. I ain’t know what to do with that?”
Estebann was confused but then realized Burtt probably never saw a perscomm before now. He smiled and said, “S’okay Burtt. I show you. See?” He pushed a hidden button and said into the air, “he here now”. Then held the tek out for Burtt again.
Burtt tentatively reached out for the strange device, so much like magic it scared him to even think about holding it. As Estebann put it in Burtt’s hand the thing spoke to him. “Burtt? Burtt? Is that you? Burtt? Are you there?”
Burtt threw it away from him and ran for his crèche, blades flailing over his head, warding off whatever evil this was assailing him. The voice didn’t stop and in a strange kind of hollow way, it sounded like…no, it couldn’t be.
“You’ll die for this boy!” He screamed at Estebann, who was frozen in place staring open mouthed at Burtt.
“HA! Hahahahahahaha!” Estebann couldn’t help himself and then realized his mistake. He quieted and then slowly bent to pick up the comm unit again. He didn’t want to startle this mad man any more. Burtt had stopped and turned, facing Estebann with blades at the ready and his stare one of murderous intent.
When the voice stopped, he said to Burtt, “See Burtt, no magic, just tek…a perscomm. For talking when you ain’t together”. Heading slowly towards Burtt again, he pressed the button and said into it, “He is here. Please wait, Miss Ssyndi.”
Estebann was watching Burtt closely in case the mad man decided to hurt him after all. Burtt was now staring at the device in apparent awe of hearing his sister’s voice, confirmed when Estebann said her name. He was still afraid it meant something terrible…as if the elies had found a way to stuff her in that little box.
“My sister? Ssyn? But how…?”
“I don’ t know Mr., um Burtt. Miss Ssyndi give to me. Show me how to work it and told me to bring it to you so you can talk. I gots to take it back with me. It would be bad if you got caught with it…or me. The Loks would be punished too.”
“What are Loks?” Burtt asked.
“That’s their name. Um, elies, they name their crèches too, kind of.”
Estebann continued, “You want to try it?”
Estebann helped Burt find the push-to-talk button, then told him to say something.
The screech that came back over the device started to terrify him and he almost dropped it but the voice was so familiar.
“Ssyn? Is that really you?”
Sobbing was all he could hear for a few seconds and then, “Yes, yes, oh yes, Burtt. It’s me. It’s your Ssyn. I’m here. How are you big brother?
Still not believing what he was hearing he began to sob too. His finger was on the PTT button for most of that time. Estebann turned and walked a short distance away, praying this wouldn’t take too much longer.
He finally let up on the PTT and he immediately heard his sister crooning to him like Kkhloe used to do. “you got a fren’…”
They talked until Burtt finally noticed it getting dark and Estebann pacing. Burtt told Ssyn about Estebann’s circumstances. Ssyn was just as upset as Burtt had been at Dougg’s callous attitude toward his servs and promised to “do something about it tonight.”
“Great. If you can get him sponsored here, I’ll bring him into our crèche, if he wants, until he clears the scans. If he decides to stay, he can start watching Dougg for me.”
“That’s a good idea Burtt. Dougg is a basta. I don’t trust him and, well, I hate the way he looks at me sometimes. I feel dirty after. Jizmo!”
Burtt felt his face color. This was terrible. He couldn’t do anything about this.
He turned to Estebann and said, “You tell Mmarta I need to talk now, okay? Don’t tell Dougg. When you leave there to go home, you stop here again, okay?”
He pressed again and said, “Estebann is coming back now, Ssyn. Can you tell Mmarta he has a message from me without Dougg knowing?”
“Yes, of course. Dougg’s a pig. Mmarta is my friend. I’ll tell her.”
“Okay, good. Estebann has to go so, this is it, I guess.”
“What? Oh! No, its not it. We can do this every time you get your supplies, okay? And when I’m better, I’ll come myself.”
Burtt’s face lit up like a torch. “Yeah? That’s great. Um, see ya, er, well, talk soon, huh? Luv you. I miss you too, sis.”
“Oh, so do I Burtt, so do I. See you.”
“Um, Burtt”, Estebann started, “I can’t stop on the way back. Pokke has rules about how late he lets folks pass the bar, you know?” I got to go straight from the Loks.”
“No, you don’t. Not no more. If Dougg does what I want him to do, and he will if he know what good for him, you’ll be sponsored before you come back. Then you can stay here if you want or whatev. I’ll take care of Pokke. You don’t gots that wor. No sir, that one’s mine. And I’ll take care of that right now.”
Estebann, not sure at first what to do, slowly started to shake and then he slipped to his knees sobbing with obvious joy. He was embarrassing Burtt.
“Okay, now you changin’ my mind, man.” He said half smiling hoping the boy would recover soon. This was uncomfortable. First Rikk and Kkat got all stran, now Estebann.
“Just grateful Burtt, sir, just grateful.”
Burt treated and dressed the minor cuts on Estebann’s neck from the aidkit in his pak. Infection was a cold bitch out here.
Estebann, bubbling over with gratitude, looked as if he would hug Burtt; so Burtt prevented the embarrassing show with, “Oh. Alright, now, get going then. See you in a while and tomorrow I’ll see Mmarta.”
“Bye”, Estebann said with a smile and more enthusiasm than Burtt had ever heard in his voice.
“Hey, Estebann. What do your frens call you?”
“I don’t have no frens, Burtt.”
“Yes, you do. Now you do. See ya.”
“Dogg, to me!”
“Did everything go okay? While I was gone, I mean. You know, the scrub and, um, all that?” Jesus, what the fuck was wrong with him? He suddenly couldn’t talk to another adult, and oh boy was she ever an adult. The covers they found to replace her tattered ones were small. Tight, he thought was a better word.
Kkat was smiling. She seemed to be enjoying this. What?
“Everything was wonderful. Thank you. Especially the scrub.” She managed to say that last with so much feeling he started, and with a look that took his breath away. What the hell kind of hoodoo was this?
His discomfort overwhelmed him.
“Okay. Um, Jjes,” he called to one of the older girls, still younger than Kkat or Rikk, but nearby, which was the important thing just then. “I want you to start teaching Rikk and Kkat, here, selfdef right now, okay. Never too soon to learn how to stay alive, right? Great. Great. That’s Gre…good. I’m…I’ll…ah…it’s time for my rouns.” He stammered as he quickly headed out of the crèche claiming a need to check the traps and lines. He hadn’t done that in almost a year. That was a safe job for the little ones now that he controlled the near-zone so fully. Kkat knew this already, too, as she had walked those very traps and lines with all 20 of the littlest earlier that afternoon while Burtt was with Estebann.
“Okay, Burtt. Why me…” she started but Burtt was gone. She was no selfdef exp. These two reds prolly tough her out.
“I think I like you too Mr. Burtt. Yes, I think I do.” Kkat whispered watching him slip away like a rippling liquid dream.
“What?” asked Kett. He was still glued to Kkat.
“Oh, nothing. What say we learn how to fight, eh, Kett? Let’s go then, Jjes, is it? I’m Kkat. I’m ready if you are. Come on Rikk, you too.”
Training was tough but Rikk seemed to be gifted in that respect. At least it looked that way to Kkat and Jjes, who seemed quite taken with Rikk. Rikk was oblivious to both girls as he was enjoying the physical aspect of this training.
They didn’t see Burtt again that night. Rikk got second bar but it went by fast and there were no incidents.
Kkat slept like a baby for the first time in years.
When they woke, Burtt was gone again. They ate and were met by another of the older crèche mates who taught them tackin’; tying knots, packing goods for travel and something Mmarta called phyed. The entire crèche population did these exerts every morning before they did anything else. It was supposed to keep them strong. It made Kkat hurt is what it did. When they were done with that, it was back to selfdef.
“…so, do I tell her that? And how do I get pregnant with her? When do I do that and how? I mean, right away or wait until she says to…and what, um…oh, Jizmo. Do mates always sleep naked? I don’t want to do anything wrong…what if she won’t have me? Do I throw her out then?”
“Oh! OOOOH! Oh, my! Burtt, I…Oh, dear. Burtt, I think you need to talk about these things with another man. I, well, it’s not usually a woman who tells a man about these things. I think I have just the person for the job. If you’ll let me?” Her own face coloring, she hadn’t thought what affect her words might have on Burtt but his bright red face and turned down smile let her know, she tried to smooth things over.
“Burtt, I didn’t mean any harm by that. I know some things are new to you. I know you think you ought to know these things, but Burtt, who would you learn them from? Remember what I said? You are still a young man in my world. It’s very difficult for me to know what’s right and what’s wrong with you but I’m certain that this time, I’m right. Let me arrange for Jaredd to come and have what folks refer to as a man to man talk with you. And may I please suggest you not throw anyone out just yet? Not for that reason anyway.”
Burtt only knew of Jaredd in passing. He thought he was about the same age though and said so with some indignation.
“Hmmm. That’s because we don’t want folks to know just how old Jaredd is. He is working on something far more important than anything CommCorp might have him doing. We keep this all quiet, Burtt. Dougg doesn’t even know about it. Everyone thinks Jaredd is a little slow, even Dougg. We like it like that. Okay? Someday, we’ll talk about it. I must ask you to let it rest for now, though, and please don’t ask Jaredd to explain. Trust me, please. Jaredd is old enough to know these things and it’ll be much easier for him to answer all those questions.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
“Good. Can you come tomorrow? Same time? I’ll have Estebann bring us, and oh, by the way; Dougg has doubled Estebann’s paycreds and his sponsorship should be finished tomorrow. Thank you for having Ssyn let me know. Honestly, that man is such a cretin.” She stated with vehemence. “So, tomorrow then?”
“Yeah, I’ll be here. Um, Estebann said he has no frens. How come? Don’t Dougg have other perservs?”
“Yes, he does, but he keeps them apart. I think he’s afraid they’ll mount a rebellion.” She said, and laughed.
Burtt laughed too but didn’t know why. He hated being so stupid. At least he could be a little surer about Estebann. He’d doubted that no frens thing, ’til now. Since Estebann didn’t have any contact with Dougg’s other proles, he was probably clean or at least didn’t coordinate his spying with the others. He’d keep an eye open, but it looked like he was going to have another new crèche member. Estebann was near an adult too, and connected.
“Oh, and Burtt, dear. Bring your new friends too. I should examine them also, you know, just to be sure. It wouldn’t do to have them bring a disease to the crèche, would it?”
“Shit! I didn’t think of that.” He blurted, as a new wave of worry cast its shadow on his hopes. What if Kkat was sick, or Rikk?
“It’s okay Burtt. We’ll sort it out tomorrow.” She turned and left him watching her. She was like air moving he thought. He wondered if Kkat could move like that too? What?
Cretin and rebellion, he thought about these new words. God, he wished he could go somewhere to look new words up. Maybe there was a book. He’d ask Jaredd that too.
“Dogg, watch!” Every pulse in the crèche quickened. It was palpable and Burtt was in his element. He paced for a few tics, then turned on Pokke so abruptly, the man backed and slipped to his ass in a gloriously humiliating display of cowardliness. Burtt didn’t let him rise but straddled him, the tips of his still sheathed blades prodding him threateningly in each shoulder.
Pokke looked sickly if not a little deathlike.
“What’s the matter with you Pokke. You dyin’ on me? You’re s’posed to blurb me fore that.” Burtt tried for a joke but Pokke was terribly upset about something, or he was sick. Now Burtt got worried and quickly pulled on one of the masks Mmarta made him carry for the worst air days as he backed away. He then demanded to know, “What’s wrong with you Pokke?”
Pokke coughed once weakly and then slurred, “…ate something bad boss man. Bad. I be better. You see. Soon I be better. Don’t need no new boss here Burtt, man. No sir. I’m good… I got this.”
Burtt felt bad but money was money…and all that. He pocketed his mask.
“Did you get word out about the meet, Pokke?”
“Yeah, boss. I ain’t got no plys yet but I know by morrow. You want a runner?”
‘Yes, I do. F’I don hear by turn, I be back.” he left it to sound like a threat, then added. “Oh, Estebann be in my crèche now. And, uh, if I fin’ even one of those other perservs in you pay, we gon have words, Pokke. Bad ones. Got it? Want to tell me something, Pokke?”
“What? No, boss. He was jus s’pose to watch the wire for you boss, I swears it, Rikk was. And he the only spy. I ain’t gots cred for that. You can take Estebann too if you need him boss. Hell, all my mates are yours boss, if you wants.”
“Stop the bee-es before I lose it, Pokke. You pissin’ me off again. Just shut the fuck up. Forget about Kkat, Rikk and Estebann for starts. I’ll let you know who you can keep when I get around to it, puss. Got it? Make the meet happen, on time. You got a 4 day now.”
” Yes sir, boss.” Pokke said to Burtt’s receding back. “Rotten fuck” he mumbled. Dogg turned and growled showing all the terrible contents of his maw.
“Don’t push it Pokke. Dogg fuckin’ hungry.”
Pokke paled visibly, sure now that both K and man were bad juju.
“You want to know, WHAAAT? Oh mother, what have you gotten me into?” Jaredd snidely asked under his breath.
“You don’t HAVE to do anything here. You can leave anytime. You need a scort? I’ll send one of the kids to lead you out.” Burtt replied smugly to what he thought was a slight from this elie shit.
“What? Oh, no, no, I’m sorry. Damn! I didn’t mean that the way it must have sounded to you, Burtt.”, Jaredd apologized. “I just didn’t expect to be answering these particular kinds of man to man questions, as mother vaguely explained. I guess I was thinking it was more like a father-to-son first time sex talk, you know? Nothing quite so…serious…”
When Burtt didn’t respond, but instead looked even more confused, the reality of this situation finally hit Jaredd with a hammer’s blow to his understanding. Burtt, as much of a man’s role as he was playing to (did she say?) 48 children, didn’t know a damn thing about normal life. Nothing in Burtt’s life was normal by Jaredd’s standards. Perhaps this is what Ssyn was always trying to get across to them…the zones outside the greens were their own reality and nothing green could ever possibly be compared. No one green could ever possibly understand either, without going down there. Jaredd decided just then that he would do just that. After all, it is what the council had hired him for…to expose the truth about CommCorp, about all the mega-corps and the city-states…ABOUT THE ZONES. THE SLAVES. THE BOSSES. ABOUT THE CHLDREN! Why not start today, he thought?
“Burtt, did you say your crèche was nearby? Can we go there and talk? It might be more comfortable than standing out here in the sun and this horrid air, and I can get a feel for the environment.”
Burtt didn’t want to talk about Kkat in front of her, but one thing Kkhloe had taught him was that you never refuse company. He only knew that meant if folks came by, you bring ’em in and feed ’em. That’s all. What the fuck was an enviro…whatev?
“Sure. This way. Dogg, Home.” Stub flying back and forth, Dogg was gone before Burt finished sayin it. Dogg knew he would eat when he got there. The trip was a short one. Rikk and Kkat could find their way too if they had to, but Kett was still glued to Kkat’s leg anyway.
“Great. I’ll meet mother on the way back. She should be finished with your newbies by then, don’t you think?”
Burtt nodded and led on.
Newbies, that was a good one too, He could guess that one okay. Newbies!
Next: Jaredd sex-eds Burt ’til his eyes bug out. Kkat is adopted…by everyone in the crèche, and Burtt has numerous challengers for her attentions. Rikk becomes only the second scort. He is tested immediately with near fatal results. This leads Burtt to advance their training schedule and soon Estebann (Bann) and Kkat are made scorts also. Jaredd, due to his insane knows, becomes the crèche elder, with Burtt, Kkat, Rikk and Bann as full parts, leading the crèche with equal sway. Dogg find love too. Rikk gets schooled by Katt about the birds and the bees, and that Jjes, who is thinking about pollination herself, is a bit older than anyone seems to think she is. The bossmeet happens with Burtt and his new parts dictating the new rules for both zones. These rules, which primarily ban the running of slaves of any sort, are met with fierce resistance. The first zone war begins with a cost too great for Burtt to bear…his vengeance will be terrible.