• • •
“Regardless of exactly what happened, it all went down a long, long time ago. These days the old town’s deserted, not even the rats shack up there anymore.”
Marty Sloyce commands the mucus lining his throat into his mouth with a horrific guttural huac, then spits it. It splatters on the floor of the interrogation room. The floor consumes and recycles the mucus.
“I’m an old man, I don’t have much time left. I would prefer not to waste it, if it’s all the same with y’all.”
The kidnappers look at one another for a few moments as if they were communicating telepathically and being obvious about it for whatever reason. Marty bites his tongue to prevent himself from laughing at how ridiculous their Dali moustaches look. The Dali might hold reign over The Compound, but that does not mean they deserve respect. They’re a dirty cult, they claim their royalty off the cut of their moustache and even that isn’t enough for them. They want what nobody can have. They want what Marty found on Ground Zero.
“Then don’t waste it. You know we’re looking for the device, and we know you saw it before Ground Zero was abandoned. The ball’s in your court, Mister Sloyce.”
“Fine.” He spits, now in disgust. “It happened in the saloon… it was his little home away from home. You know, they say you can hear him walkin’ around in there on quiet nights. Y’know, bois, I’ve got to imagine most nights are quiet down in Ground Zero… wouldn’t you?”
The Dali to the right slams the table with his lef’ fist, leaving a visible dent. “You’d better be going somewhere with this.”
Marty smirks with the left corner of his mouth. “Yes, I’ll be going home, and you’ll be going somewhere too, bois. You’re going to Ground Zero on a quiet night, you’re going to listen for footsteps, and when you hear them? You’re going to go inside the saloon and ask Jess Handlebar himself. Because as far as I saw it, he was the last one to use it.” The metal legs of the chair screech against the floor. Nanobots scatter in showers of white sparks. Marty stands, dusts himself off, and takes his leave of the interrogation room. The two Dalis do nothing. There’s not a damn thing they can do. The Unity Device will remain lost, The Compound divided forever.
How the mighty have fallen; woe is the Dali, woe is Ground Zero, woe is The Compound ‘neath Atacama…
Marty slides his fingers between two metal flaps and pulls. The vent opens silently, giving him a clear view of the saloon’s back office. Jess’s back is to him, but Marty can see that he’s meeting with two men. Old men. Hard men. Walruses.
“What are you gettin’ into, Jess?”
Jess doesn’t answer. He doesn’t hear Marty. Neither do the Walruses, fortunately for the boy – they carry heavy metal on their calves and seven-shooters on their hips and don’t mind letting either out for air. Rumor is they have them new energic ammo rigs, they wouldn’t even have to reload… and even if they had to, it wouldn’t take seven shots to take Marty out. They’re the gunsmiths down here, they alone carry the hand cannons.
“I like to imagine you folks keep the peace down here – am I wrong in saying this?”
The Walruses look at each other. One of them lifts his hand to his hip. The other already had it there.
“You didn’t call us here to remind us what we do, did you Jess?”
“Naw, he couldn’t’ve,” chuckles the other. “He knows what such would mean. What we’d have to do.”
“Trust me, gentlemen,” Jess Handlebar assures them with a wave of his hand, “what I have to show you is quite possibly the next great innovative leap your line of work requires.”
Jess turns and picks up a black box, holds it out with one hand. His other presses a button on the top of the box. The top and sides of the black box fold into the bottom, revealing what appears to be a large white coffee mug with black hieroglyphics scrawled upon it. Rather than talking, Jess lifts the mug to his mouth and allows his chin to slip in, presses the curve against the bottom of his nostrils. He raises his hand and touches the mug – at least, that’s what it looks like. Marty can’t see much from up here in the air ducts, but it’s better than not knowing. Folks have been talking about the return of The Horseshoes for years now, and Jess Handlebar is allegedly at the middle of the conspiracy. Allegedly. Jess always denied it. He babysat Marty when he was a youngling for the love of The Twelve, they’re as close as peas in a pod and still he promised Marty the talk was just that – talk. But there was only one way to find out for sure, and Marty sure found out.
The Walruses leap three feet backwards when Jess lowers the mug from his face. One draws his shooter, the other draws a length of blunt metal.
“Impossible! Explain yourself, Handlebar, before we make a Dalidamn smear outta you.”
“This is the Unity Device, gentlemen,” Handlebar explains, mouth concealed by a bustling walrus moustache. “Powered by nanobot technology – real, legitimate nanotech – it’s designed to give the user the ability to switch between any of The Twelve Great ‘Staches at will. We can use this to unite the Compound! Enough with these silly cults, enough with the division! We–”
“Could bring back The Horseshoes,” sneers the Walrus with the heavy metal. “Is that where you’re going with this? I have to say, Handlebar, I didn’t think the talk was true. I can’t tell if I’m happy or disappointed.”
“I’m not bringing back The Horseshoes.” Jess sighs. “Maybe at one point I wanted to – a lot of bad shit happens down here, gentlemen. I’m not the only ‘man who would see justice served, and I doubt I’m the only one who’d be willing to go the distance to serve it, but…” He shakes his head. “No. There’s no point, it’d only serve to further divide the Compound. I propose we meet, all of us, the entire population of the Compound. We vote on which ‘Stache we’d like to keep, and we all joi–”
Marty’s hand claps to his face, but the sound of Jess’s body thudding covers it like Jess’s blood begins to cover the floor. The Walrus holsters his seven-shooter and turns to leave the saloon. The other one bends down and takes the Unity Device, then spits on Jess’s face. As he stands back up he stares at the vent, and Marty swears the hard man looks directly in his eyes. A couple minutes after the men leave, Marty kicks the vent out and climbs down into the room. Jess is holding something in his hand, but he doesn’t have the strength to lift his arm off the ground.
“Marty…” Jess whispers. He tries to take a breath. He gives up. Marty, face red with anguish, leaking salty rivers, leans in close. “Take this button Marty, this button will… this will destroy it. I made it because I knew… I knew it would fall into the wrong hands. It’s up to you now, Marty… it’s…”
Jess’s fingers relax, allowing the button to tumble to the floor.
“…it’s up… up to… yooouu…”
This has been the twelfth story from Highdeas: The Lost Stories from the Seven Earths, a flash fiction anthology hidden in the back of the book Over the River: The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox. Here is everything you need to know about it:
Over the River
The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox
Over the River is the third book in a trilogy called The Fall of the Seven Earths. I’ve also released that trilogy as a single book called The Fall of the Seven Earths. Here’s everything you need to know about it:
The Fall of the Seven Earths
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~