BOOK SEVEN - !JUNK¡

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY  FIVE -  “THROATSLASH!”

 

It seems the nights and days of Doobydie speed up under the summer of its three suns. Turpin pays Gargareeva his rent out of the pittance Rats allows him once the Sreef expires, working on the boneship by day, lying nude in artificial dark listening to the noise of the hotel by night… Barbara and Walter, Mallah and his unseen assailants, the froom-fueled screams and laughter from the street and Regency sirens… watching the flashing Guns/Money sign and twilight-midnight processions of hooded Old Believers down the Baawl to their crumbling old kirke with its huge stone statue of a seated, bearded Rassoul.  Lawgiver, deliver, avenger.  While Tony the junkman enjoys his froom and roor-fueled sleep, the three conspirators remove engine components from the cramped Aegelweiss and transfer them to the equally cramped boneshipTurp working until his sense of time blurs outside of Tao City where the air and light are not conditioned. Vornadays, Rateyes counts his winnings from the Quottledrome, treats Turp and Broonzy to a few ales and bottom-shelf khegma at Klub al-Gool. On one such night, Quaia comes in off the corner with Marina, an inhaler and a pair of vials of clear, metallic liquid…

“Thought couple of hard working guys like you might appreciate a little vacation from the Baawl…” the heather coaxes them.

Ba-roor? Ain't had a dose before since… last time I was in prison, I think…” Broonzy struggles to remember.

Turpin, who has seen the processes on the qube over al-Gool’s bar, hesitates, worried.  (And then, of course, there was Lyca.)  “What if it's that dangerous kind…

“Then we don't do so much. Just a dose each…” Broonze decides, “or we can split one, save the other, or Quaia'll do some with us. Ain't jammed till you've jammed on the roar.  Rats?”

Dunno. Course I used to roar, all the time…” he puffs up, more like a lizard than rodent, “but I kept forgetting whole days, then hearing these stories

Broonze drains a shot of khegma and motions for another – Rats nods, but hesitantly.  Rawth! I'm surrounded by sikken. Gimme the mask and one of them doses… any of you danks wants to join me, I'll be in the rawther.”

The others look to each other, look down, look up… Broonzy snorts, collects one of the capsules of ba-roor and the inhaler, and slams the rawthroom door behind him.

“Mask would come in handy, going into that gents to take a rawth!” Rats taunts with a sardonic glint.  “Place ain't been cleaned in a year… a Doobydoo doodoo year…  Which reminds me…

He rises from the barstool – slightly unsready for all the drinks he’s bought, stumbles towards the moodbox, swipes a solcard and chooses an old antedispersal medley, some dead dank called Sinatra who merely depresses Turpin, most of the time.

“How's the job going?” Quaia inquires.

Acey doosey…”  Rateyes wiggles a palm.  “Couple weeks ago, thirty reasons I was sure why it'd never work. Now we're down to only two, the big two. Turp here might help me out on one of 'em… getting a source of meth. He's developed a connection…” the gambler lowers his voice.

To no avail…

“Oh…” the heather nudges Turp.  “Rats thinks you're a big joe now, you have a connection. Everybody's got to have jammin' connections on the Baawl, in all of  Tao, faq?  Until it snaps back and bites them. Like that joe out in the Wash…”

“Who?” Turp inquires as Rateyes raises a warning finger.

“Big wiseguy,” Quaia nods.  Full of connections, faq?  Until somebody took an industrial grade laser and sliced him into cold cuts.”

“Heard about that,” Rateyes replies with mannered indifference as Turp’s gaze turns to the free, quartered sandwiches here and there on the bar.  It’s late and insects have crawled out from the plasteen.  “Some danks gotta show off… it's the big picnics that draw big ants,” he chuckles, bringing a clenched fist down on a congress of bugs.  “Anyway, that's problem number two… number one's scoring a couple kilos of cooling membrane to replace what's a couple of centuries old and leaks like a submarine made of chicken wire…”

“Well it is a boneship,” Marina pipes up, “couldn't you just graft over the leaks?”

“My baby, the stellar engineer…” Quaia smiles, placing a hand on her daughter’s shoulder.

“Couple hundred thousand of 'em? I wanna get off the ground this century. I got a customer waiting…”

This comes as news to Turpin.  “Really?”

Suddenly there is a commotion in the rest room and the door flies open… Broonzy tumbles out, reaching for the bar but falling on his back, shaking and foaming at the mouth.

“Jam!” Quaia recoils.

“He's dying…” Rats tells everybody in the Klub what they already know.  Sodden, silent quaffers rise from the booths and barstools, making for the door with guilty, shuffling steps…

Turpin tries to make Broonzy vomit but gets his fingers bitten for the trouble…

“No use making him yack, it's not roar,” Marina lays her suspicions over them.  “I mean… it is, but not all of it… there's something else, so I’ve heard.  Rawth!  Fills the blood with bugs, alien rawthdeenamee toxic! Wouldn't get him to a goptic house and anyway they don't take sikken from the Baawl. Want us all dead. Cut his throat!” the yoot proposes…

Makhbool! Why me?” Rats draws back.

Marina rolls her eyes.  “Because you're the sikken with the knife!  Rawth!…” she extends a hand, “just pass it over!

Rateyes begrudgingly surrenders his killdart.  Almost all the patrons of al-Gool have melted away into the corners or through the door, but the bartender… the relief Jim with haunches like an ape’s… has jumped up and is perched, curious, atop his bar, obstructing Marina's line of vision.

“I jammin' know you have a still in the back room. Break it down and give it up…” she orders, “I need the plasteen stopper and a couple of pipettes. And get out the jammin' bottle of Denebian… the blue stuff you keep under the counter  for the shurts!”

The apelike publican begins to quake and shake.  “Not you for Denebian.  Illegal for minors…”

“I'm not gonna drink it, hummuck!  Gotta clean this knife and kill all the viruses crawling over it.  Jim gets infected and dies here, the Regency will make you trouble not even comparable to serving yoots.  Rats, go upstairs… Gargareeva keeps a secret stash of Medi-seal. Make him give it up, pay if you have to or stomp his rawthin’ ass.  You, you…” she stammers, forgetting Turpin’s name, “hold on to his legs, you hairy hyde… Ma…”

She points to her mother and Turpin who straddle Broonzy… the bartender returns from his secret chamber, giving her his distilling apparatus and a bottle of blue liquor. Marina splashes some over the knife, inserts the rubber stopper into the Denebian with one pipe in, one out, and then raises the blade and slashes Broonzy's throat. Blood sprays the al-Gool until Marina seizes the torn artery and squeezes it over one of the pipettes, then attaches the other half back to the dangling tube of flesh and gristle.  “Duct tape!” she hisses and the barkeep hands her a roll.  With only some leakage, the blood flows into the bottle and out… fortified with potent liquor… back into Broonzy, who slaps the floor with a hand… once, twice… and rolls his eyes. Suddenly, the transfer slows, then stops…

“Heart's failed,” Marina curses, then slaps Turpin across a cheek.  “Hit him!”

Turpin pounds Broonzy's chest, tentatively at first, then harder, but without effect. With Marina screaming, now, Quaia unhooks her artificial leg, lifts it and slams it down like a sledgehammer… once, twice!  Blood starts pumping again. When Rateyes returns with the medi-seal, Marina rips off the duct tape, pulls Broonzy's severed veins from the bloody bottle, seals them with pungent gel, then applies it to his torn-open neck while Quaia inexpertly but diligently begins sewing the wound shut with needle and thread…

Rats, a spectator all the while, asks: “How the jam did you learn how to do that?”

“Boys I knew, couldn't keep away from the roar. Used to, anyway…”

“Boys like those preks up in 610?” Turpin sneers…

“Hey… they're my friends! At least they care about me…”

“Baby, I care…” her mother appeals as her fingers slip on the slippery blood and a gout squirts Turp in the eye…

“You don’t.  And I'm not your baby!”

She throws the killdart to the barroom floor, not six inches from Broonzy’s head, and runs out of the Klub.  Quaia finishes a last stitch, then tries to follow but has trouble reattaching the bloody prosthesis; finally she limps after her daughter using the leg as a crutch, leaving Turpin and Rateyes to alternate the job of holding Broonzy's neck together until the blood stops oozing, after which they wrap the tape around his throat – once, twice, three times.  Just like one of the rusty old pipes on the boneship!  The bartender shakes his head at the mess on his floor.

“Think he'll live?” he asks.

“I'd put my money on Denebian over any alien infestation,” Rats allows.  “But I guess we’d better wait 'til this stops leaking. Any more Denebian? No… then how about some brandy in the bottle, any bottle. Praise Rassoul!… most of the heavy lifting's done! Your shift!” he motions to Turp, who removes the killdart from the floor.

Rateyes lets the snaker grip his comrade's throat while he gulps brandy from the bottle, then he takes hold of the wound, pressing both thumbs against Quaia’s ragged stitches, allowing Turpin a few furtive swallows.

“Die na mee!” Turp fairly spits.  Terran!”

“That it is,” Rats agrees.  Together, they lift Broonzy, carry him out of al-Gool and up the steps of the Andromeda with a few passersby staring, then pretending not to.  Gargareeva has closed the window to his office, so they haul their cargo upstairs… eight flights!... and dump him on the filthy bed.

Turpin takes the night watch, occasionally dozing in a chair.  Rats goes up to his room but, in the morning, he takes off to the junkyard alone, telling the vigilante to take the day off.  Paid day off.

By the following day, Broonzy is conscious and apparently uninfected, but the voice as comes out of his throat is more phibe croaking than speech.  Turp goes back to work; he and Rats carry on alone for a week – Minturian.  After – it’s back to normal.

 

Aboard the boneship, Broonzy (with a bloody towel around his neck) and Turpin screw and solder drive components into the engineering circuitry of the boneship… and fix the mistakes that Rateyes has made during their hiatus.

“Notice how peaceful we’ve become this afternoon,” Rats encourages them.  “How quiet makes the work flow gently by. One can't talk… one can, but hardly ever does, and I get tired of listening to my own voice.  But…”

And then Broonzy growls – a guttural grunt, that is, unmistakably, some exotic curse acquired during his travels to a planet that Turpin has never been to, nor wishes to.

“Thing I still don’t understand,” Turp tries to save the mood, “is how the Denebian killed off what's in the bad roar, but didn't kill your liver.”

“Because he is, snakerman, a medicinal marvel.”  And Broonzy can’t help but smile at this.  “Of course the real miracle is young Marina's acuity with the finer points of surgery, among other qualities. An amazing young woman, for the Baawl… for anywhere…”

Turp shakes his head.  “She has bad companions…”

“What kid doesn't?” Rats shrugs.  “Parents used to warn their kids to keep away from me!”  His buggy eyes bug out even further in pretended horror.

“No,” Turpin shakes his head, “these are the truly evil boys. Prektash! They must be holding a dozen old timers prisoner in the Andromeda, and a bunch of others pay 'em off. Walter pays.  Barbarah pays.  Al pays.”

“That was all figured out a thousand years ago by a jim name of Darwin,” Rateyes enlightens his crew. “A Terran.  He concluded that the strong survive and the weak die off. The galaxy is a jungle. Preks are kinder than nature, because they let the old folks keep their rooms, a slice of bread and the best from the back room of Al-Gool. Worse rawth could happen… it's no picnic getting old.”

“Not without a pocketful of sols…”

“Like our friend Arbatax, you mean? Time for you to leap into action… what you do is leverage what he owes you to get a job inside the yards, get a handle on the situation and how we can make off with some meth. I gotta work on this cooling problem with Marina…”

“She's bad…” Turpin persists.

“She's a hot little heather-on-the-make with a mouth in her face and a brain behind that…” Rats answers, inadvertently licking his lips as if grooming himself,,,

“No, I mean bad… like she's…”

He can't bring himself to say it, but Broonzy does, though in a twisted, sawed-off voice, barely understandable… as if channeling the disappeared Captain Munson…

Demonios!”

Nightfall at the Andromeda finds Turpin trudging home, knafe-weary since Broonzy, by mutual accord, has stopped doing most of the heavy lifting,  Walter cries out for Bahrbarah to get bread and klickers.  A door slams, canned laughter exits from a moodbox. Real… if not wholly human… laughter echoes from 610, down the hall, amid crashes and moans.

On their way to work, one morning the next week, Turpin and Broonzy… his throat, his voice and his disposition much improved, find Mallah, the old man from 610, struggling with his keycard. Ancient and new bruises crisscross his face.  He can barely hold himself erect… averting Turpin's eye as the opening door reveals that the preks are away on another errand.”

“You don't have to let them do this to you…” Turp insists.

“Who's gonna stop Preks? You? The shurts? Since the wife passed, all I want's to go back to Terra to die. Guess it ain't in the cards. Ever been to Terra, boys?”

“Can't say as I have,” Turpin admits.  Broonzy, from his ravaged throat, utters a growl only barely recognizable as negative.

S'where we all come from, in the beginning,” Mallah begins sliding back in time, “only natural we should want to go back. S'beautiful… takes your breath away. A body adapts to places like Die… but we'll never belong here. Nor to those old age colonies, underground on the moons of Saturn or Jupiter where the Regents bury us alive… old, but alive… they have nothing to do with Terra. So what's the use of living? Bet if I died those Preks'd rawth their pants… serve 'em breakfast, faq?”

“Where are you!  Where’s our skilk?”  A weasel-eyed prek peeks around the corner, then… seeing the two big snakers with his sikken, vanishes.

Hummucks!  They know I won't have another sol until Mecchioday. Keeping this other dank on the eleventh floor company until his check comes from the Methane Guild… worse off than me! Don't trouble yourself over things nobody can fix,” Mallah warns, stepping backwards into 610 and reaching to close the door, tapping his head.  “Keep the good memories up here.  Soon enough you'll get old, then it's you they'll be coming after!”

 

 

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