Champagne, Treachery and a little WhiteBlank
“You know,” Jeremie snarled–or no, never that. Not on my baby. My baby love was definitely smiling, just gently off, when he said, “I didn’t realize how close you and Tim still were. Only a couple of days ago, I was running for my life to an evacuation port, because the Hunter Alliance had been ousted from the Ruminati. It happened at our very own opening session. This is a new year, I could still taste the champagne on my tongue from that… oh you wouldn’t believe the Victory Brunch of the Allies. Remember, I always dreamed of it, but it was Norton said to call it that, do you remember him too? But, as all the star-streaked galaxy flew by us on that flight from Wyle, I was stuck thinking… Who set us up? Who knew exactly which arms to twist votes out of in the Hunter’s Alliance and surround the place with turned guard so fast?
“Then we got back to base here in DC, and I saw the new campaign posters all over the streets. Each one roared in bold about how we Hunters hadn’t worked hard to restore anything at all, and that this last surviving Imperial Ungulati with his new ‘repentant’ senators were going to enforce order. Feast on all dissidents… But it was Tim’s face I wanted to rip down from every Metro stop or bike stand. Not some half-deer’s. Then again, if Tim hadn’t bothered to change his face, not even now, then I would have noticed him years before, sneaking among our ranks. But why would he even go so far in the first place? I would have welcomed Tim back, I prayed for him all these years, he must have known I would. Ohhhh… I can’t think. It’s been snowing on and on, for weeks because of the posters. Posters, then snow. What ever happened to us, Golga?”
How could Commander Jeremie Dutch of the 1st Region’s Interplanetary Hunter Alliance not know?
“Or no. No, I would have definitely wanted to see Tim’s cheating face because… While I was waiting for the others to regroup and reboot, the very thought of lying, scheming little bitches returned another wonderful memory. You had to still be alive, somewhere. You, Golga.”
Jeremy got nearer, pulses of white breath parted to show the real distraught face and form of a man who always felt so soothing and right, somehow regal in nature, however life roughed him up. Jeremie wasn’t supposed to didn’t flinch or erupt. He brooded, then stood to act. This new sparkling anger didn’t fit him. “Golga. We’re frozen and at our end with Emperor Crush–Tim’s siege, and I need you to help me understand… Three days ago, you were sitting up late in your apartment mangling this thing, right?” Jeremie held up what was now a gunmetal cuff with wires torn out of it.
The pink paint-stripped, pried apart edges weren’t dripping blood, but something close. That rose red stuff-of-life all biotech was immersed in behind its metal housing became a gelatin at some temperatures, like raw salmon flesh. Now that Free Me’s innards weren’t being kept at proper conditions, it dripped against the laws of physics and clotted on the cold floor, where Liyane craned her neck to watch. Only reminiscent of blood, Biotech Blood was meant to alarm the human instinct to safeguard complex and delicate technology most people used but couldn’t understand. Light passed through what was something more like battery acid, as if it were a jewel.
In case studies Liyane remembered by wrote, a negligible percentage of people, usually those with distressed childhoods, or other terrible trauma were drawn to covet the robotic blood, play with it, as Jeremie had been doing. He now slammed abused Free Me on the steel table next to her exposed thigh and placed, regretting his temper, a stained screwdriver next to it. His hands were dripping with Bio Blood.
“So, this is a child’s toy, Golga? Hunting rifles are outlawed, but you rigged an old deer hunting game from before Invasion, to target and shoot real deer, anything with the DNA. This is clever, I admit that, just like your old work. Perfect for today’s deer police. I see that you used your thesis work after all, though none of us got our chance to graduate. How do I modify this so that when the Ungulates come back, it actually works?”
Liyane tried to speak, but only a frozen shudder passed over blistered lips. Why? Cold and discomfort whited any more focused thought than memories of textbooks.
“You must know something about its matrix, no Hunter engineer can untangle it… And it can’t be that difficult either. Golga–Liyane, whatever, and don’t you dare lie to me… You kept sharp somehow, when the WPP records say you were working as a kindergarten teacher for eight years. You must have some idea, anything?”
Where were her clothes? What was he going to do? Liyane saw that she was surrounded by metal odds and ends, silver utensils, machine parts. “Look at me, Golga. They didn’t send the deer police after you. We checked before we got snowed in. The Ruminati had nothing to do with your salvation, this time. The new Emperor San’ur Crush sent his special Unglate Ops after you. After your treacherous ass!” he sparked, for no reason at all. “When we went into the police station, get your records out of the damned imperial system, my Hunters were dealing with the freaking SOU, Golga!”
He spoke at times, as if they were still in the old skip-and-smoke hunting group together. At others, they were friends and lovers verging on a tenuous reunion after hurt. The human brain just didn’t fizzle that way, because of the cold? “I knew you were in witness protection, but the SOU was looking after you? So then, you do still talk to Tim, you and the Emperor are connected. Was it you, like I was thinking… on the ship… Was it you setting me up again on Wyle, before the Ruminati? Do you know that, right now, the man who loved you most of all, and your old friends can’t get out of this bunker for food or potable water? We’re left with… surviving on… Not even off this damned planet? We can’t go anywhere. We’re stuck here on Earth beneath a blizzard now because Emperor San’ur Crush, now knows where the other senators have fled! Because of you!”
“I love you too, Jeremie. Oh my baby… I never ever stopped.” and that cracked and hurt at the corners of Liyane’s blue lips. “Reboot? Matrices? You were gone, then… What… happened to you?”
Jeremie leaned elbows on the edge of the work table and covered his eyes. “No. This isn’t right. I came back from the dead, for this shit?!”
Better luck next rebellion, spaghetti legs.
Jeremie raged at the broken piece of Free Me, stabbed it with the screwdriver a few times, and then smashed it on the ground. “…I still can’t get it to shut up, either.”
Liyane shivered with smile, tested his lips with one patient, frost-white finger, kissed him. So warm, at last.
He returned, “I should not have let you do that…” But then Jeremie let Liyane do it again.
Why did he smell so strongly of biotech blood? All over him. Like the last time she had seen him. How long ago had that been… Jeremie’s warm torso speared through by twelve-points, blood smear as his chest was forced up, let down the glass again. His death cracked the camera lens for even more dramatic effect… On a fine, Falcene biotech television screen. Rose at the flat frame edges… One could smell the crushed snow and copper blood, as if truly there… Beyond, was a floor-length square of winter’s light coming from the window. Neighbors outside pushed up their fine apartment windows and threw turquoise streamers down into the streets of Falcinetya City.
Liyane remembered that she changed channel to a cooking show rather than react, but that filled the apartment with roasted garlic and it made her hungry. Ignore it. Tighten laces of the Nude Form, is it a little better? The buy-all-day channel smelled like the gentle parfum of a fancy downtown department store. Maybe plump here or tug down a bit more, tighten there… No. Not enough. “Turn screen off.”
My lovely, as you wish. And then, the television extinguished.
On that day, Liyane breathed and renewed a focused admiration of her own naked silhouette in the mirror. Tightened laces up to a blue ribbon sewn through platinum eyeholes in her shoulder blades. Things were going to be alright. New body, new money, on the right side of the empire now. Life was already getting better. Liyane further willed it, and the lights thanked her for igniting them. A hopeful rose red mood light made the apartment smell like the hollow romantic burn of a candle. Liyane forced her need still more, and the wool curtains drifted together, to shutter out a Falcene celebration of justice, through use of excessive broadcast violence. Now, take a bow, little woman: the last conceited act of your life.
Liyane awakened again, tossed head and hair back to find her knees bent and dragging on the silver floor. The sharp pain made her gasp, flatten tongue against the roof of her dry mouth, but she couldn’t hear her own screaming. And there would always be a terrified part of her that couldn’t stand it if the Nude Form bruised in places.
Above the quake and roar of fire-bombs, rifle blasts, and the steel sides of the Hunter Underground shaking, Liyane could hear the crack of hooves tramping in a constant gait larger than her desperate race to keep from ruining her good body. They had her arms and she was being dragged.
One gray furred face turned beneath its helmet with holes for antlers. Wet nose was licked, “Make sure Emperor San’ur Crush knows the Hunters stripped her and sold it. How many lifetimes worth, do you think?”
Liyane hanged head low again. Her legs burned with the effort, her feet pumping calf muscles that were raw, oozed, bled a harder red than anything inside of Free Me. Quick, panicked pulses of breath. Where was it? What happened to it? How could he…? It had been her only thing, the one they’d promised that made any sense, the one reason she could stand to go through any of it these long eight years!
Jeremie, ‘my baby’, and all her old Hunter rebel friends in need, had been ripping the Nude Form from Liyane’s flesh in that cold, cold room. Now that the pain was bringing her red, slick, analytical and back alive, Liyane recognized the sharp tang of WhiteBlank in her mouth. Years ago, it was a drug only the galactic mob had the power to trade in. Effects: numbness to cold and pain, enchanting hallucinations. And, in the long term: borderline personalities, severe memory loss.
“Let us hope beauty is not what the great Crush wanted her for.” said the other half-deer soldier. It flicked its white spade tail as these half-animals always did on mention of their Emperor, to signal a worse danger coming.