Unjust Deserts, part 21

Part 21, Donut Disturb(ed)

 

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“All I’m sayin’ is, is maybe we don’t need to be doin’ this,” slurred Beck from his high backed chair, holding a half empty mug of one or another variety of the local lager.

 

“And what ‘this’ are you referring to?” drawled Riker, slouching in his own high backed chair and nursing his own mug.

 

“That,” pointed Beck clumsily at the left wall.

 

It was late at night, and both were seated in a stately drawing room in the former capital of Berliner. It was high class and homey, with a lot of paintings (now of bald, pale people), tapestries, rugs, leather and teak furniture, a roaring fireplace… and a wide diagonal gash along the side of the wall giving them both a lovely view of the stars outside and a chilly draft to contend with.

 

“Oh,” answered back Riker, a bit lamely. “Yeah, my aim with th’ C-beams was kinda sloppy.”

 

“S’not what I meant,” shot back Beck. Then he giggled. ‘Snot.’

 

Of all the units-- friends-- he knew in Madsense, Riker was the only one he could drink with. Kerri just turned into a hyper bundle of energy that was impossible to handle after just the one shot glass of light ale. Roe somehow tanked anything Beck poured in his glass, not getting drunk and only commenting drily on the taste. None of the assorted infantry or knights had enough of a personality (or facial features) for Beck to pick them out of a lineup. He didn’t even want to think of how the Overlord or Aimee would talk and sound drunk.

 

Which left Riker. Who was surprisingly relaxed and loose as he waved his mug in the air, as if to hear the beer sloshing inside. “So what do you mean?”

 

Beck waved his arms out, sending some beer slopping out of his mug, “These wars, you know? Madsense is in a good place right now. Biggest side in the C-Dub. How about, the whole side, just… chills for a little bit? Saves upsssome Shmuckers, maybe levels cities.”

 

Nodding in agreement, Riker hmmed. “Could do some becks--- experiments in peace.”

 

Slip going under the radar, Beck went on enthused, “See, that’s what I mean! I could do some ‘sploring. You could do some s’periments. Kerri could dance-train the new c’manders. Roe could try ‘an level up his Diplomacy. Everyone’s happy!”

 

Riker turned his mug upside down, frowning as a couple of drops fell out. “Pity though, it’s not what they want. Kerri, Roe, th’ Overlord…” He got up unsteadily to refill it, leaning heavily on the chair.

 

Beck sighed at that. The plan. Peace, prosperity, and efficiency through uniting the Capital Wasteland under the sensible, logical, dispassionate and strong leadership of Madsense. “It just… sucks. Y’know? I hadn’t even thought’f the people we croaked t’day ‘til that Mudslinger weirdo showed up on the Val Hallen.”

 

Riker pumped out some more beer from a cask, using a little device he’d magicked up with the last dregs of his juice. “What’d I tell you in cooking class? ‘Bout omelets?”

 

Tipping his mug up to take a swig of beer, Beck fought to remember before answering, “... use a fork to stir instead ‘f a whisk, so's got no bubbles and cooks more evenly?”

 

Riker started to nod, only to change it into a rapid shake of the head. “Yes, I mean, no! You gotta crack some eggs to make one.”

 

Getting up, Beck waved his now empty mug around carelessly. “Well, I’m juss sayin’ it’s gonna be a huge pile of egg shells and a huuuuger omelette by the time we’re done. Whose gonna eat it, even?”

 

Riker sort of shrugged. “I just want Kerri t’be safe, y’know? And that's easier if the side’s expanding than ‘shrinking, losing, croaking like with Canberry.”

 

“Cranberry?”

 

“No, Canberry.” Riker must have been tipsy, because Beck thought’ he’d pronounced it more like can-bear-a. Riker waved away the flubbed pronunciation and went on, “It was the old side where our capital is right now, Overlord Bott rescued us when it fell and went neutral. Founded Madsense over it.”

 

‘Hm, that makes sense’ thought Beck. It explained why Kerri and Riker looked and acted so different to typical Madsense units. Like, they had hair, for starters.

 

Beck laid the mug on the top of the barrel and put his hand on the pump, but was having some trouble holding the hose steady over the top, when Riker’s own hand covered his and held it steady.

 

He looked up to find Riker’s face inches from his. “Riker, what are…?”

 

The look on his face was pure, unguarded honesty. “I’m not real, Beck. I’m a ditto. ‘Live fast and depop young’, remember? So I might as well go out with a bang.”

 

Being drunk was a special kind of incapacitation. It made a lot of things easier to understand and a lot of others harder. He’d had inklings of attraction for Riker-- teased and sometimes flirted playfully as part of their friendly back and forth. He’d suspected there might be something to it coming from the other direction, too. And Kerri, for that matter; the triangulation there being messy enough for him to try and steer clear of romance between the bothers. Being drunk now, the exact reasons why that’d be bad were a bit hazier to recall, though...

 

But one question burned at the front Beck’s mind, so he asked, “Why?”

 

“Not everything’s gotta have a reason. But if you need one… you’ve been-- kind-- to me. More than I have any right to.”

 

Drunkenness was a special kind of incapacitation, and through the boozy haze the situation suddenly seemed crystal clear and razor sharp. This was a Ditto of Riker, there wouldn’t be any fallout. So in the moment, face to face with someone who actually wanted to be with him despite his face… it was like pushing on a door that always opened inwards, only to find it now opened out.

 

So yeah. He could swing both ways.

 

He leaned over, and their lips met in a kiss.

 

It was passionate, messy, curious, and even a little desperate. In the heat of the moment, it wasn’t surprising neither noticed Kerri’s ditto peeking through the door, face twisted in a very uncommon emotion for him.

 

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“All I’m sayin’ is, is maybe we don’t need to be doin’ this,” slurred delegate Gray Goose of Pariserie from his high backed chair, holding a half empty mug of one or another variety of the local Puddings lager.

 

“To what ‘this’ do you refer, pray tell?” asked her majesty Queen Vienna Fingers of Puddings, lowering her cup of tea daintily into its saucer. It was late at night, and both were seated in a stately drawing room in the capital of Puddings. It was high class and homey, with a lot of paintings (of stuffy royal looking types), tapestries, rugs, leather and teak furniture, a roaring fireplace and amber Powerballs.

 

Mindful of his diplomatic duties, the warlord managed to put a hand in front of his mouth before belching and answered, Take on the big bad nasty Admen from Madsense.”

 

She could have sighed out loud at the shameful display, confident he was too tipsy and uncouth to tell a sigh from a sneeze, but that wouldn’t do. Queen Vienna kept a straight face. Not out of disgust, mind, but to hide her mirth at her young friend’s antics. ‘Have to keep up that reputation as unflappable and taciturn and all that.’

 

Speaking of sneezes, Goose had just sneezed a big gooey glob of snot and wiped his nose on his sleeve. The queen pulled out a frilly lace kerchief from one of her sleeves and handed it over.

 

Gray took the kerchief gratefully and rubbed it over his nose, soaking it in snot. The queen did however draw the line when he offered to return it. “Oh, do please keep it. As my mother used to say, ‘a prepared Commander counts for two’, and if there’s anything we should all aspire to, it is to be counted upon.”

 

Nodding in agreement, Gray tucked it into a pocket with an odd amount of care. “Smart lady. You were lucky t’ave her as a mom, tellin’ it like it is. Real lucky.” The way he said it, she didn’t need to be a Date-a-mancer to tell there was significant tension between Gray and his own mother, another reason he reminded her of her son--

 

Before the sad reminiscing took hold, Gray kept on, “I gotta be honest with you now too; this conference’s gonna make waves, make you a target for ‘em. Our ears to the ground say they did a real number on Berliner, really kicked out the table from under ‘em! And I’d hate t’ see anythin’ happen to you.”

 

Queen Vienna gave a half nod in acknowledgement. Pariserie might be a crude Overladyship, but they at least had those refreshingly ignoble virtues of speaking their mind and keeping their promises… and friends.

 

She took a small bite from one of the gift Madeline’s Gray’d brought, enjoying not just the delicate sweet flavor but also the spongy consistency of the seashell shaped pastry. Pariserie traded them high value baked goods, Pudding’s supplied them a variety of beers and liquors.

 

Opening trade relations with Pariserie three hundred turns ago had come as a shock to everyone involved, considering Gray was their ‘Chief Negotiator’; a commander so diplomatically inept she suspected Overlady Winter Palace had sent him their way just to be rid of him, possibly even hoping he would cause offense and start a war.

 

Well fye to that! It was her Royal prerogative to be contrary.

 

And so what had begun merely as a diplomatic game between rulers had resulted in her unlikely friendship with Gray, and a warming of relations between both sides.

 

Queen Vienna put the saucer down on the serving table between their chairs. “My dear lord Goose, with the fall of Berliner both our sides are within striking distance of Madsense regardless of any conferencing. If you’ll pardon the expression, just waiting for the inevitable will be a sure recipe to have all our gooses cooked.”

 

Gray laughed raucously at her bon mot, banging a fist against his chair’s armrest.

 

Smiling slightly at the big boisterous blond, Vienna felt the Aligned Torus Field around them grow slightly stronger, shift a little in her favor. As a Date-a-mancer, she could sense the A.T. Fields around every living unit. Normally they were donut shaped fields made of looping Heartstrings, but they could change texture and strength from impenetrably stony between enemies, to the soft merging of love.

 

In all (completely inadvisable) honesty, Queen Vienna had to admit she was an odd duck among Date-a-mancers. Not just for being stuffy, Royal and a ruler, but for uniquely holding her side together.

 

She saw her Date-a-mancy as enabling rather than limiting her ability to enjoy her relationships with other people. Other rulers might not be able to stomach reducing relationships, or people, to bare Numbers (and, honestly, she had some sympathy for the sentiment), but what was a song but a set of numbers, notes? And what was a song reduced to single solitary note? It must all be taken in proper context to be enjoyed.

 

Guffaw over, Gray wiped a tear from his eye and lifted his mug to gesture for a servant to refill it. “Y’majesty-- I din’nt mean we just be sittin’ ducks. Rather, we should fly away like ducks. Knock over a side outta the C-Dub. Come back when this all blows over and Madsense implodes when their warlords break it up into itty bitty city states again.”

 

Queen Vienna pursed her lips. “Were it only so simple. Puddings has history here, Lord Goose. This has been our home for some thirty five thousand turns. We shan’t leave it, if it can be helped. And I think it can. More’s the pity, I have reason to believe they won’t. Implode, that is,” she quickly clarified after noticing his quizzical stare.

 

Sniffling loudly, Gray addressed her altogether scandalously informally, “An’ whyzzat?”

 

Queen Vienna’s left hand brushed against the pages of the dossier tucked into the side of her chair. Her daughter Rosa had compiled it after speaking with the Admen Chief Warlord, Roe Bott, along with their collated spy reports. She considered using them. Perhaps not. Gray was far too drunk to read them seriously, anyway. So she decided to skip straight to the ‘demonstration’. “They lack drive. Ambition.”

 

Gray snorted. “All due r’spect, fer a side that’s eaten up just shy-f a third-a the C-dub, I don’t think that’s the case.”

 

She met his gaze coolly. “Nevertheless, that is true. From their most basic infantry to their highest leveled warlord, none of them want anything to do with power, running their own sides, or even personal glory.”

 

His stare managed a surprising amount of skepticism given his drunken state. “How can ye possibly know that? Is this a Date-a-mancer thing?”

 

Brushing aside his (frankly justified) skepticism, she shifted her tone to a more conversational one. “My daughter interviewed their chief warlord. I know, it’s terribly easy for someone to lie, however, we did manage the feat of capturing some of their scouts and infantry. Oh, don’t give me that worried look, Gray, I used a trio of disposable latex clad barbarian fetishists of some sort; clean hands and all that.”

 

Speaking of which, she clapped her hands twice, and in marched a pair of high level knights leading a single infantryman in shackles between them.

 

Something about him seemed very off. He was calm, even bored looking. The drawing room’s generous amber powerballs and fireplace usually made everyone seem merrier, healthier than their usual Signamancy showed. But the young stabber seemed sickly grey with thrombotic green veins.

 

“Knight, please remove his helmet.”

 

“Yes ma’am.”

 

Helmet off, his bald head clinched it, this was a former Madsense unit. Though… there were odd tufts of hair still clinging to his scalp, rather than the uniformly clean bald pate.

 

The queen addressed the stabber, “Prisoner, would you please turn to Puddings?”

 

The prisoner’s listless black eyes stared straight ahead. “No.”

 

Queen Vienna turned to Gray. “Please keep count with me, this will be important.”

 

She nodded to the one of the knights, and the knight started punching the stabber in the stomach. “One. Two. Three…” the queen counted, allowing herself only a small frown in sympathy for the stabber. When she reached seven, Gray started counting aloud with her. And when the knight’s sixteenth punch landed...

 

The prisoner turned. The knight stopped, and the queen Ordered her newest unit, “Please, stand at attention and tell us your name and former side.”

 

The stabber stood straight, expression no less neutral despite the beating. Everyone present could tell he’d turned thanks to the change in livery, but the sickly complexion remained. “Unit’s name-a is TH3X 8311, former side-a was Madsense-a.”

 

The queen pursed her lips. “And was that always your name and side?”

 

Gray was enthralled at the rapidfire turning, but gave her a sideye at that question. It was not in itself terribly far fetched. A ruler could order a units name changed… but why a random infantryman?

 

The answer from 8311 came promptly and emotionlessly, “No. Was Beirutcake. This unit’s name-a was… was… data missing.” And with that she sensed his bizarre, mono-poled A.T. Field wobble.

 

Queen Vienna made a small breach in decorum by taking her warm teacup in both hands, having suddenly felt them grow cold. “And how… how did they turn you from Beirutcake?”

 

8311 didn't so much gasp as twitch his entire face. “Changemancer-- used flood. Flood. F.L.O.O.D. Flood machine took green liquid from Madsense commander, injected in this unit-- am now TH3X 8311.”

 

Fear sobering him, Gray yelled, “That stabber’s daft, just like the rest of his side! Whatever weird magic they used t’ Turn ‘m just messed with his head!” It was impressive, she’d though the mug of ale was glued to his hand, but in his outburst Gray had actually dropped his mug to the carpeted floor.

 

Gazing into her teacup, Queen Vienna herself broke decorum by not looking at Gray as she spoke, “I thought so myself, but look at his bruises.”

 

Gray stood up and took 8311’s chin in his hand and turned his face this way and that to inspect it. The bruises were, in fact, greenish-blue instead of red and purple. He was now whatever strange race of men these Admen belonged to.

 

She finally looked up from the teacup at 8311 and moved on to the truly terrifying part of the demonstration. “Now tell me, what would it take for you to Turn to another side if captured?”

 

8311 moved his cold, emotionless eyes to Gray, who let go of his chin as if he might shoot Eyebeams. “Sixteen punches, or sixteen turns in a jail.”

 

She felt his mono-poled A.T. field; it had no negativity, no dislikes, he was perfectly ‘content’ as a unit of Puddings, as if he had been one his entire life. Instead of looping, all the Heartstrings reached out infinitely, but towards what she could not guess. She locked eyes with 8311. “And if, pray tell, this warlord were to take you prisoner, how many punches would it take for you to turn?”

 

Looking her way, 8311 monotoned. “Sixteen.”

 

Gray turned to her. “Yer bluffin. You’ve probably got a Turnamancer from the MK tucked out back, already softened him up to Turn and say that.” She felt his normal two-poled A.T. field twist away from hers, dropping in values of perceived Trust and Honesty.

 

To 8311, she gave an order. “Unit, I order you not to resist capture from this warlord, or fight back, but to mentally resist any attempts to turn to the best of your ability.”

 

He blinked neutrally. “Ye-as ma’am.”

 

With some small resignation, she nodded to Gray. “Please, have a go.”

 

Gray seemed unsure, but he did ‘have a go.’

 

In the amber powerball’s glow, 8311 allowed himself to be taken prisoner and suffered, again, through sixteen punches. Gray was sober enough to count them out, but not quite so sober as to keep them confined to the torso. Several went wide to the arms, even face. And as a level 7 warlord, even with pulling some of the force from the punches, 8311 came very near to croaking and actually fell to the ground by the sixteenth punch.

 

And when 8311 landed on the carpet, he was in Pariserie red and blue.

 

“Sweet sixteen,” whispered Gray.

 

Face against the floor, 8311 managed with some effort to turn his head, and to look up to his newest commander. Despite missing a few teeth and having a swollen lip, he answered in a factual tone with only a slight lisp, “No, unit is TH3X 8311.” And to the best of Queen Vienna’s sensing ability, 8311’s new A.T. field for Pariserie was just as ‘strong’ as it had been for Puddings. As it had been for Madsense.

 

The exertion must have helped Gray recover more of his wits, because he now focused on 8311’s stats and immediately took a step back. “What is that Special?!”

 

Taking it as an order, 8311 attempted to explain.

 

"S̖̮͖͉̫̙̰̠̖̽́̃̉̍͜i̲͔̮̬̖̦͙͓̇̔͑̓̉͡m̢̹̺̥͆̏̉́̇̚̕̕͜ͅî̡͇̻̥̩̖̠̻̹͍͑̌͐̈̋̔̿͡͡l̙̬̟̬͕̣͐̀͒̅́̍̚͢͠a̴̢̺̯̠̣̞̺͋̊̔͑͐̚͟͞t͉̖̖̖̘̼͚̎ḙ̞̹̖̳̔͛͐ͬ͜ modifies unit. Makes us similar. Harder to turn with many Similaters.”

 

Her own interrogators reported the special was on every one of the stack of captured infantry, both natural popped and turned to Madsense.

 

Gray shook his head. “Yeah… that ain't right. I mean, it’s good for us if we can split em up, I guess, but it means…”

 

Where 8311’s neutral expression at his mistreatment came from a lack of caring, the Queen’s existed purely through force of will as she spoke, “You understand. It means they can turn any of us into these… living golems. Into units who are perfectly adhering to their Number and blindly follow orders as the Titans decree… but nothing more. They have excised the capacity to sin, and thus removed all possible value in virtue.”

 

Gray moved back to his seat, shaken, but convinced of the danger they faced. His Trust and Friendship values went up a whopping five.

 

As the leaders discussed, 8311 lay, wheezing, on the floor of the drawing room. Ahead of him, he saw Gray’s forgotten mug on the floor, with a shallow pool of ale still inside.

 

Physically, 8311 experienced the need to hydrate from surviving the beating, but did not feel thirsty. And yet, somewhere deep inside, he wondered what it might taste like. Being drunk was a special kind of incapacitation. And being punch-drunk, 8311, once known by the name Thex Bell, accessed hazy, walled off parts of his memory. Of a Beirutcake wheat beer. Mead halls full of music. He wondered if the ale in the mug tasted the same.

 

With uncommon effort, he tried to move his left arm to pick it up. His arm, having been battered into a useless lump amid all the abuse, only managed to twitch. The twitching stopped. The memory faded. The impulse croaked. And 8311 once again waited, patiently, vacantly, for the next set of orders.

 

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Despite waking up to an empty bed, Beck’s mood the next morning was much improved.

 

Then again, it was a truly luxurious bed. He’d hunkered down in one of the royal suites. Berliner must have truly been as ancient as that Puddings warlady said, because even after carving out the Overlord’s hiding place, there were still two dozen royal suites littered around the tower.

 

He stopped for a moment to look at his reflection in the wall length mirror. There was a new scar across his chest now, probably from the fight on top of the Lead Zeppelin when Guy got in that lucky hit. He sighed, used to it by now. The other side effect of Riker’s healing was that now, every time he was wounded there was a chance he’d get a new scar. What confused him though was that they seemed to appear randomly on his body. He shrugged, and went about dressing and armoring up.

 

He was determined not to let that dampen his spirits, and looked forward to breakfast with the S’mores. As the one who’d put them forward as replacements for the Rock Band, and highest level barbarian in Madsense’s employ, Kerri had jokingly called him “Chief of Barbarians” only for Roe to run with the title and place them nominally under his command.

 

He found them messing around in one of the tower kitchens, Hershey and Graham arguing over what (or whether) to make sandwiches out of.

 

Still in a chipper mood, he decided to settle the argument. “Morning, everyone. Come on, this is a kitchen, we may as well cook something fancy.”

 

Beck started assembling the ingredients for chocolate chip pancakes, omelets, fried bacon, sausages, and hash browns, then put each of them to work helping with specific tasks. They were abuzz with conversation. Preparing the meal was as much fun as hearing the S’more’s experiences fighting alongside Roe as they marched up to take the city riding on Kevin and Upsunders.

 

All business, Hershey asked while shredding the potatoes, “So what’s next? This was a one-city side, right?”

 

“Well,” started Beck, trailing off a bit as he rubbed down the skillet with butter, “I heard their heir was afield, so probably chasing him or her down. But word from the scouts is there’s been a lot of air traffic spotted around Puddings. They’re probably plotting something, so we’ll probably be marching on them soon.”

 

“Really? And you’re fine with this?” asked Hershey, eyeing Beck closely.

 

He raised his bisected right eyebrow. “Yes, why? Is there something I should know?”

 

“Oh!” oh’d Marsha, “Hershey, remember Tyr’s story, he probably doesn’t know.” Whatever it was, Hershey was actually blushing, and it only got worse when Graham joined in with: “Yeah! I bet he kept it secret and only told us!”

 

Beck would have been exasperated at all the ‘oh didn’t you know’s?’, but the mention of Tyr’s name made him curious. “Know what?”

 

Graham piped up, “When we met Tyr he told us a few campfire stories, and the first was about how you nearly drowned in the oasis, but he made a big deal about saying you were secretly rescued by Lady Rosa Fingers, of the United Queendom of Puddings.”

 

Beck grinned, expecting Graham was pulling his leg, but as he looked from one to the other they seemed perfectly frank. “But… how could he possibly know? And why did he tell you and not me?”

 

“Well,” started Marsha, putting a finger to her cheek in deep thought, “he did say a Predictamancer friend of his foresaw it, and he saw part of it happen thanks to a spyglass. He did also mention the princess was on a secret mission of some type. Maybe he didn’t tell you to protect her privacy?”

 

Beck shook his head. “No offense, but not enough to keep it from three complete strangers, apparently.”

 

Hershey looked at her bandmates and then gave Beck an appraising look. “I know you think of him as a friend, so don’t take this personally, but he seemed really shady to me. Appearing so coincidentally and avoiding when I asked follow up questions. So I’m not sure I believe it.”

 

“I think I trust him,” confided Marsha.

 

Hershey rolled her eyes. “You’re biased, after all you two did canoodle.”

 

Marsha giggled and raised her eyebrows. “Well, I didn’t accuse you of being biased against him because you missed out, did I?”

 

That set off a fresh batch of bickering, and the topic eventually got forgotten when the first batch of chocolate chip pancake batter hit the griddle. Quietly though, Beck was thinking.

 

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“Roe!” Beck ran up the dark cobblestone steps in Berliner’s inner garrison, past a long line of Admen guarding a slightly shorter line of prisoners that wrapped around the courtyard.

 

“We can hear you just fine, Beck,” grumped Riker, stepping out from behind Roe.

 

Beck came to a quick stop. “Ah, morning Riker.” Right, the ditto Riker wouldn’t depop until Madsense’s start of turn in another couple of hours.

 

If the ditto Riker had any leftover feelings after their night together, he had buried them under six feet of not being a morning person as he grumbled a bleary ‘What’s good about it?’ morning.

 

Composing himself, he turned to Roe. “I wanted to ask about the push on Puddings--”

 

“Can it wait?” asked Roe, pulling the Flood injector out of a piker, only for the unit to fall to the ground, twitching. “Riker’s tests have shown that prisoners are likelier to Turn from Similating to the Flood injector before start of our turn.”

 

Slowly, clinically, Roe continued moving down the row of shackled prisoners. Riker walked behind him, taking notes.

 

Beck did his best to ignore the units that had just been injected, facing Roe as he walked along the line. Still, he couldn’t help but note how many were present. “It’s a lot of prisoners, are you sure you have enough...” What was that word? “... enough blood to inject all of them?”

 

Riker didn't bother looking away from his notes as he answered, “I’ve improved the extractor, the Flood injector now uses only a drop per dose.”

 

“Indeed. I shall stop if I feel too feeble to continue, but it is better that I do it. The statistics show a lower failure rate than when regular drones use it.”

 

A sudden gurgling choke from behind Beck almost made him turn. He knew the sound all too well. It meant the unit had rejected the injection and was moments from croaking.

 

“It’s just… I have reason to believe--”

 

“Yes?”

 

“... that the warlady who saved me at the oasis, before we even met, belongs to Puddings.”

 

That got Roe to stop. He turned, all seriousness-- or rather, his emotionless gaze was intensely focused and interested. “Are you positive?”

 

“No, not entirely.”

 

Roe seemed to think it over. “We can not call off the attack, Puddings is too large a threat. Already we have received reports that they are organizing the neighboring sides, doubtless to form an alliance against us. This cannot be allowed to continue.”

 

“But if this is true--”

 

“Yeah, -- ‘If’ --” cut in Riker. “It’s awfully convenient you hear about this just now, isn’t it? Just in time to put one of our best assets off the table.”

 

Roe nodded. “The timing is indeed suspect, and I suggest you verify the story. Regardless. I understand your sense of gratitude to that unit; we owe you as much. But she no longer means well for you, or us. She is a part of the system of sides that razed the Capital Wasteland at their leisure in their shortsightedness and arrogance. Though you are welcome to attempt to capture or turn her, I doubt she would view it as a mercy.”

 

At his mention of ‘turning’ her, an odd desperation clawed at Beck’s ankles and seemed to rise up. “But what if I don’t find her in time, or what if she refuses to surrender? Can’t we switch targets? Make an example of another side?”

 

Roe looked Beck straight on, completely calm. “If there were any unit who could ask such a thing of us, it would be you. But Madsense can not stop. Sacrifices must be made to achieve our goals, Beck. Our goals,” he emphasized, reminding Beck he’d wholeheartedly agreed to them not so long ago.

 

As the sun crested over the collapsed wall of the city, Roe’s voice took on an odd, reassuring quality. “I recognize your feelings in this matter. If it is too personal for you, you need not participate in the upcoming battle. I will order our units to endeavor to capture all warladies we fight.”

 

“No, I want to help, I...”

 

Roe put a hand on Beck’s shoulder. “If you come, you must come ready to fight. There must be no hesitation. There can only be mercy for one Pudding.”

 

It was difficult. But he looked back at Roe and steadied his breathing. This was for the world they were building, to pay back what was owed. “You know I’m with you.”

 

Roe nodded. “Good.”

 

And just like that, he turned back to his task, and started once again, slowly, methodically, walking down the line of soldiers and injecting each.

 

Beck stopped following, finally wrestling his conscience into submission.

 

Behind both, Riker had stopped taking notes during the exchange. He felt the oddest sense of deja vu.

 

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There were no less than eight stables for various varieties of mounts in Berliner. The most impressive of which was the berth for the Lead Zeppelins; a cavernous, sprawling hangar built into the Berliner Wall for creatures that famously refused to ever touch ground.

 

Beck walked between the arches of the vaulted ceiling, stepping around random rubble from where their C-beams had poked holes in the walls or roof, or caused by the collapse of a good quarter of the mesa dislodging ancient masonry.

 

He walked a brisk, even pace to where Kevin was resting. It seemed oddly funny that a flightless bird should roost in this soon to be birdless cage. Kerri and the overlord were running the numbers, but it was looking like it’d be better in the short run to raze it rather than use most of the treasury to repair and upgrade it back to five, even if it meant losing the ability to pop the Lead Zeppelins ever again.

 

He found her where he’d left her, near the very back of the hangar where a large chunk of the wall had caved out, showing the cliffside of the mesa and a sheer drop beneath. Kevin didn’t seem to mind, she had slept on a nearby pile of hay, and was awake and lounging underneath one of the support beams with tethering chains for the Lead Zeppelins.

 

“How you doin’, you beautiful blue bird?” he asked, rubbing under her beak and ruffling the seed crest over her head.

 

She beep beep beeped a pleased little song, enjoying the attention.

 

“Sorry I didn’t let you sleep in my room at the palace. Lets just say I… needed some alone time.”

 

She cocked her head at that, seeming a bit confused.

 

Above them, some chains clinked and jangled as they swung in the breeze.

 

Beck put a hand on Kevin’s back and patted. “So, tell me… how’s our ‘guest’? I hope he didn’t give you too much trouble last night.”

 

Both looked up. It was difficult to spot him, being in the semi-transparent, glassy form of a veiled friendly unit. Though this was hardly a friendly unit.

 

Finally catching his eyes, Guy Mudd glared down at Beck, bound and gagged and hanging from chains thirty feet above the gap in the hangar over the side of the mesa.

 

Beck couldn’t blame him. Poor Guy had been left in a cliffhanger overnight.

 

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Part 20 << O >> Part 22

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Wasteland survival guide

Rule #1: don’t panic! Panic makes you do stupid crack.

Rule #2: It’s dangerous to go alone; tame a friend.

Rule #3: Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.

Rule #4: The desert is weird; roll with it.

Rule #5: That’s the way the Kooky crumbles.

Rule #6: Foolamancy isn’t just a special, but a state of mind.

Rule #7: Every once in awhile, remember to have some fun and enjoy what you’re doing.

Comments

  • Free Radical (Tipped by 2 people!)

    I wonder if Kerri's Ditto's memories pass back to the original when it depops. That seems like something an accomplished Dittomancer would do... and a complication for Beck.

    That madsense turning is pretty creepy. Tyr's plan to pass on the story of Rosa saving Beck is pretty clever. Every time he watches that happen, he's going to be thinking about doing it to someone who helped him without looking for anything in return...

     

    You made a repeated grammar mistake in this chapter that I don't recall noticing you doing before. Possibly that means it's just a joke I missed, but just in case it's useful, in general the format for "X said whatever" is "Blah blah blah," he said. rather than "Blah blah blah." He said.

    That is, you put a comma at the end of the quoted part rather than a full stop (if it's a question mark at the end that's fine as it is), and a small letter rather than capital letter on the next word.

    “All I’m sayin’ is, is maybe we don’t need to be doin’ this.” Slurred Beck

    changes to

    “All I’m sayin’ is, is maybe we don’t need to be doin’ this,” slurred Beck

    and

    “And what ‘this’ are you referring to?” Drawled Riker

    changes to

    “And what ‘this’ are you referring to?” drawled Riker

     

     

  • Heffenfeffer

    Free Radical - I doubt that ditto memories transfer, as otherwise Beck would have had a rather heated conversation with the Mads about being drowned before Movie Sign.

     

    Also, I think Pudding's briefing could be given in song form:

    Load him up with sixteen slugs, what do you get?

    Another dang soldier to be your new pet

    Lord Ad Bott don't'cha call me 'cause I won't go

    I sold my soul to your assaulting foe

     

  • Chef Lurker

    Heh. Always love it when someone works cooking into a story.

  • falcore51

    Oh man poor guy is still alive.  I feel like things are coming to head and can't wait.

  • Spicymancer

    @Free Radical: Ouch, yeah, I've been writing in academic quotations when I should have been using narrative ones like you mention. That's... I'm going to have to break out a style guide, it's going to take a while to learn to fix. And longer to copy edit the existing ones correctly. Ugh, but thanks.

    @Heffenfeffer: Oh, they will need some powerful song and dance. These sides have been at war since the dawn of time (from their POV).

    @Chef Lurker: *Looks at username* I can't imagine why. ;D

    @Falcore: Yuppers. I haven't written the ending yet, but there's maybe 6 or 7 updates left (with epilogue). Then again, I'm a horrible victim of the planning fallacy.