The Crane, pt.8- sleeping in the earth
It was now dark out, but Seppy leaned into the doorframe of the Council Chambers, and pointed out to the sundial. “Looks like it’s time for us to go underground…” He said. Marie staggered up wearing Seppys hat, which came down to her nose, and agreed: “I can see that…clearly.” She turned and stumbled, and Delmar caught her. She kept talking, as if a floodgate had broken: “Oh, Del…old Del… yer my fuggin brother…I love you… I’m gonna leave yer head on your neck… soz I kin find it later… ” She pulled the bill of the hat up clumsily to look at Golden and continued sloppily; “If you will not hear the mysteries of putrefaction, you are unfit to call yourselfs doctors”. Doctor Golden seemed far less effected by the beetliquor, and even seemed to walk straighter than he did sober. He led them to an office beside the bar. He and Seppy moved a desk over to reveal a safe door, while Del held Marie up and wondered if she was asleep under the oversized hat. Seppy moved the knob around on the huge steel door for what felt like forever. When the bolt opened, the sound echoed ominously below them. After creeping clumsily through a dark cave, they were greeted by a ridiculous security bot. It had 4 spidery legs, smaller than a killbot’s, and each one had a persons shoe on it. It’s laser had a rubbery suction cup stuck on the end of it, and its’ claw had been replaced with a molded plastic human hand, which was stuck permenently in the international “fuckyou” hand gesture. Del wondered if wild hallucinations were more common than he thought, with liquor. He was already laughing when the bot adressed Seppy in an irritating nasal voice: “I don’t change soiled undergarments, grandpa. Go annoy someone else.” Its sensor array had a smiley face painted on it, it turned to Del and raised the middle finger at him. Del was chuckling too hard to be offended and almost dropped the semi-limp Marie as the bot told Del: “I’m not sure why others don’t like you, but I don’t like you because you smell like rat smegma.” The way Seppy had been hugging people as a greeting, had made Del uncomfortable, but seeing him hug the insulting bot almost broke his mind. Seppy patted the hilariously annoying bot and said “I think I missed you most of all, scarecrow.”. Golden was less amused and told Del that this bot monstrosity was Seppys creation, and wasn’t that funny when you see him all the time. A hidden door behind the bot cracked open, and it whispered angrily as they walked past it: “You drunken dumbasses better not wake anybody up, or I’ll stop paying your moms to blow me.”
Beyond the door was an expansive vault where several people slept in a pile together like kittens. Intermingled with the mostly clothed people of all ages, were a few cats, sleeping bags, and twisted up blankets, but it was impossible to tell which one belonged to which person. This cave wasn’t near as big as the one from Marie’s memories, but the crazy decoration and smell were very similar. It was mostly dark, warm, and nearly as drippy as city hall. An electric light from the cooking area and two candles illuminated part of the echoey space. Marie regained consciousness long enough to happily say “It smells like my little homies in here…oh… my sizters” Delmar let go of her and she took her place in the sleeping pile. She seemed to fit in like a missing piece. Delmar took Seppy’s slightly crinked hat and staggered over to what looked like a kitchen area. Golden and Seppy were talking in hushed, but tense tones. Without his hat on, Seppy looked a lot like Golden, but moved like a much younger man. Delmar wondered how old he realy was. Delmar handed him his hat. Golden had stopped talking as Del approached, and was looking from Del to Seppy with scraggly raised eyebrows.”Welcome to the real seat of power, young man,” Golden whispered to him, “all the real decisions effecting human history have taken place in kitchens…. I’m not sure how much he should know.”. “Oh he’s alright” Seppy said to his old friend, “wish I coulda seen some of the weirdness in this guy’s head, Marie made it sound like he’s got whole universes cooked up in there.” He smiled re-assuringly at Del as the aged doctor said “Alright, you tell’m then.”. Seppy sighed and tried to seem less drunk, Del was too inexperienced with alcohol to realize how drunk he was. “Well we got a few problems” Seppy said regretfully, “see, there’s this trade fair, and they’ll be a ton of people, brave enough to cross the desert, gathered this week… to bring prosperity to our fair town of Knowhere…(and what lies beneath)… but some robbers are clued in, and would love to have Knowhere as their base of operations. They don’t know we could kick their asses, and they probably don’t know about the cave, the granite around us is very good at confusing all kinds of sensor signals-“, “quartz and magnetite” doctor Golden added terseley,”Yes, quarts and magnetite…I take it for granite, -but they watched the watertraders and figured out how much clean water is here. That’s not good… also, they got paper rockets, and will probably start raining fire on Knowhere when more people show up… we can’t deal them serious damage without revealing capabilities we don’t want anyone to know about… we got a mounted swissgun hidden in the rock upstairs, maybe even some bigass railguns too; but those are meant for killbot emergency, and shouldn’t be wasted on desert raider assouls. We have to convince them that theres more profit and less risk in being traders, which will bring more dangerous killers inside the walls, more stolen goods into our commerce, and increase the likeleyhood of horrific disaster overall. So, theres our second issue,” Seppy held up 3 fingers, “the best negotiator in town is our honorable mister Golden, who I feel is too important to this towns welfare to risk losing. Our other possible negotiator is an incredibly wise and good looking puppeteer that the entire world may fall into ruin without… So ya see, it’s a tricky thing… now the third issue-” Seppy held up 4 fingers as Golden interrupted quietly-“He’s gotta let me fixem”. “Okay..” said Seppy kindly. And he put his arm around the old doctor and looked at the ceiling of the caves’ cooking area for a thoughtful second, before continuing his long confusing rant: “Side tangent to the third issue:” and Seppy held up three and a half fingers, “This is the only man who’s been inside of me… I’d trust him with my life.. you really aughtta let him sheild your chip…” “remove it, no one will know” the doctor added. The two old men stared each other down for 5seconds then the doctor relented, saying “okay, okay, so we sheild the guy… less work for me.” Seppy continued: “It’s reversable by any blackmarket doc who’s worth a shit, if there comes a time you can do that, we’ll probably be dead by then, and can’t help you…” Golden mumbled quietly:”You may be dead, I’ll be retired”. “He’ll be retired, everyone else will be dead, yes. ANYWAY,” Seppie sighed with a little frustration, and his normal humor, before getting back to his weirdest story to date: “THIRD ISSUE!” Someone in the puppy pile shifted as Seppy held up 3 fingers, and he carried on more quietly: “Third issue is about Hanzaki. He’s a real person, he’s alive, he’s in hiding, and hes into some seriously weird heavy shit. You know that nonthink thing you do? He’s explored that to freeky extremes, just like he does with his pictures, and is getting harder and harder to understand. We got a message that he needs help, and he would’t contact the outside world if it wasn’t dire… we don’t really know what’s up with him yet… but he’s way down in the dirt and granite-” “ferrous magnatite, with polarized quartzite” the doctor added, as if it made a huge difference. “Yes, ferrous magnetite and polar crystals-“, “polarized quartzite”, “yeah, that stuff, important part is, we want you to get a little farraday cage implanted around your chip, you’ll still have all internal function…. then we want you to take an almost certainly lethal trek across the mountains to find the cave where Hanzaki is… ” Del squinted one eye till it was almost closed, trying to stop the image of the two old men in front of him from moving erraticly. It must have looked like dissaproval to Seppy, and he added helpfully: “and you’ll get another 4googlebytes, to back up all your pent up weirdness on.”. “An internal drive will cost ya, and it’s a waste…600 terabytes, external…c’mon Joe” Golden mumbled again. “No, he’s gotta remember everything, and he can sell it when the world is healed” Seppy said, almost combatively to the little doctor. “Fine, fine, I’ll make him a superman before he dies alone in the mountains…eh” Golden agreed reluctantly. Seppy looked at Delmar with a seriousness that seemed unfamiliar to the old man and added: “I’m asking you to go on a heroic quest while we put out fires here…shamefully, with the women…behind the city walls… I know it’s a lot to ask, but the only realistic alternative is for us to wipe your head and drop you off, addled for life, in the slopes, while Marie crosses the mountains hung over as hell…whatd’ya say, hero?”. Years felt like they passed, and the painted rocks seemed to spin a bit before Del answered with a carelessness disguised as courage, and said “Cool, fix me up. I’m goin’…hey,where can I crash out?”
Del woke up to the sounds of Marie puking into a cup, and someone cooking. He noted, with some sense of horror, that he had slept soundly and sweaty with a chubby woman he didn’t know pressed against his back, and his sleep boner pressed into the back of another stranger, who was a shirtless guy with a funny beard. He looked around at the cave with a lot less humor than he had the preceding night. Colored flags hung from the expansive roof, and weird human/animal stick figures were painted in colored sections around the walls of the drippy cave. He could smell Maries puke cup, and a cat had marked some parts of the warm, moist space around him. “Where the fuck are we?” he asked Marie, rhetoricly. She looked terrible, and passed Del a water jug. “We’re home” She said “This is where we gather strength for the battle.”. A strangers voice rang out, achingly loud, from the kitchen. “Oy!” The guy said “food here!” Del and Marie tried to eat some boiled yams and chicken eggs. This was perhaps the most decadent and healthy fare Del had ever had access to, but it was hard to eat at that moment. Most the small crowd there woke up and ate ravenously, then everyone helped clean up as the chubby girl taught them how to write letters.
Del got to look around the underground a bit. Twice, the guard bot told him he could only leave at a specific time, adding comments that suggested Del had microscopic genitals. There was a hydroponic garden that added a lot of blinding light, warmth, and moisture to the underground space. Behind some potatoes growing in dirtboxes, there was a dark, cool expanse that looked impossible to access. The lower section had mushrooms on hanging shelves. He almost got lost a few times, even though the space was small, it was disorienting. He sat in on a kind of class, where people listened to a story about the economic history of China, while they tried to graphically represent different parts of the story by painting the cave walls. Many of the drawings were hard to decipher, but veiwed in sequence, one could remember the story, even without a chip. Marie was further down the line, and helped an apathetic teenager make a stunning mural of bluesuited people holding up little red books. Del didn’t feel great about the stick figures he drew (with shrinking govcred symbols around them, to represent currency devaluation), but he had fun doing it. He felt like he was getting the hang of the way chipless people relate, too. He liked some of these people, and started shaking hands whenever someone gave their name; without feeling too weird about it. Eventually, the ridiculous bot said it was the appointed time for the modestly endowed bums to go upstairs. A few from the underground dressed like they’d just come over the desert and hugged others who would stay another day. As Delmar left without saying goodbye, the bot said “Cheer up, Skippy, you’ll reach puberty someday.” and flipped him off.
The surgery was nerve wracking, but not too painful after. He kept reaching up to touch the space around his chip, and remembered that the doc said not to touch it. Golden had, in fact, given Delmar far more than he would have asked for. Besides a huge new bank of internal memory, Del also had a bunch of military and weapons data that told him his new drivespace had once been in the head of a guy who must have been hard to kill. Del was also the proud new owner of a biotic kidney that filtered and recycled fluids back into his system. Golden said that once his system got used to it, he’d need ruffly half as much water as normal, to survive. “To you, much is given, and much will be asked.” Golden sang softly, in an offhand way.