|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
The Hobo And The Prisoner
“GGRRRRAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH,” no exclamation point, is all The Prisoner can manage to scream as a bundle of firecrackers explodes in his ear. A small plume of smoke follows the shower of sparks that continuously pop out of his sizzling ear canal, the heated metal earpiece embedded into his skull cooking the purple flesh of his eardrum until a pop replaces one half of his auditory perception with a blaring ringing emptiness.
What comes next is unbridled chaos – what was once a perfectly calculated spiral around the Cape Enterprises tower is now the erratic work of an abstract modern artist, the scribbles of a child the closest comparable parallel to the contrail left in the sky above the crossing of two of New Manhattan’s many identical streets, Rylitath Avenue and Golskap Boulevard. Until, that is, the TerrorWing, its batteries drained from trying to reestablish its connection with the fried interFacer matrix for god knows how long, begins its descent, with The Prisoner still strapped in, mind you, dazed and confused, his perception riddled with visual snow.
As the TerrorWing tears towards the ground, the sky art takes the form of a very elaborate depiction of a seeding dandelion.
Luckily for The Prisoner, he’s pretty high up when AdultJack smashes both the malfunctioning earpiece and thechip that MediBot finally, after god knows how long, managed to surgically dig out of Torpol’s seizing head. This brings The Prisoner’s consciousness back into his own control, giving him plenty–
‘That was Hymarc, he’s falling. Took a blow to… wait, is that a…” counting “forty-second floor, got it.’
–of time to think up a method of not dying as soon as his glider crashes into the pavement. Should be pretty easy – just don’t crash with it.
Ignoring the steady stream of blood dripping out of his ear and onto his shoulder, The Prisoner patiently awaits his chance. Twenty stories… ten stories… nine stories… seven… five… now!’
He leaps, giving the TerrorWing that extra bit of push the many explosives housed inside the bomb cavity needed to result in a lack of explosion when the glider crumples to the ground. The leap puts The Prisoner a few feet higher into the air than he would have liked, but he lands in a somersault regardless, sustaining no bodily harm outside of a scraped knee and a bruise on his elbow.
‘That’s odd,’ he thinks to himself, or perhaps he says it out loud. “I should be dead. Falling from that height, and with a ruptured ear canal… I should be dead twice over.”
The Prisoner runs the calculations in his head once more and there’s no doubt about it – by all rights, he should be none more than a bluish-purple smear, like a spat piece of chewing gum abandoned on the sidewalk. Well, technically the road, because the sidewalk is full of gawking hairless apes all clutching at their glass rectangles. Now that The Prisoner stops paying attention to the noise in his head and starts taking in his surroundings, he notices that there’s a whole lot more hairless apes around him than there should be. They’re all shrieking like zoo animals, flashing him with bright lights as they attempt to take a picture or capture a video of the strange bald purple man who fell from the sky.
“Did an alien spaceship crash?”
“No, you idiot! That was obviously a secret government project, they were transporting his corpse!”
“What?! The thing is alive, it’s standing up, and you don’t know that it’s a he!”
“Yeah cishole, check your damn privilege! And the government collapsed four years ago, you moreoff!”
“I thought it was fourteen years ago?! FUCK YOU!”
A small squabble quickly breaks out between two humans, and all the humans around them back off and form a ring, a dojo of sorts. The blitzkrieg of camera flashes immediately stops harassing The Prisoner in favor of the sidewalk brawl that’s quickly turning into a mosh pit. Fakebook is going to be absolutely popping later today when the real-life avatars of the many profiles upload their videos of the two dumbasses smacking the shit out of each other on the street. The comments will likely have many inquiries as to why the humans started fighting, along with existential quandaries about why humans even fight in general; these questions will lead to a nasty flame war the likes of which the comments section of these particular videos will have never before hosted, mostly because the videos will have just been posted tonight. The sighting of the purple tallboi, who is actually an extraterrestrial being of the
Zeroc variety, will be totally forgotten in a mere few hours’ time, if anybody even remembers that it happened now, mere minutes after the fact.
All because somebody correctly referred to said
Zeroc as he.
The streets of New Manhattan are like the humans that stock the skyscrapers of New Manhattan; they’re unremarkable, all exactly the same, and they all have arbitrary names that carry zero inherent meaning no matter how much you look into them. That’s because they’re just not intelligent, and neither were their parents; with the hundreds of individual blocks this city offers, you’d think the most Dollaristic creatures in all of America, both North and South, would use all the resources their city offers to take them somewhere in life. But no, they always turn in the same direction when they’re driving, never going anywhere and always wondering why. It’s literally taught in the academies of social correctness – if you write with your right hand, you turn right; if you write with your left hand, you turn left; and most importantly, before you cross the road, you check three things: your right, your left, and your privilege. Not everybody in the world gets to learn how to write things down and cross roads, you know!
If you don’t want to write after learning the proper way to grip a pencil, then you’d better learn how to use a keyboard, even if you don’t want to create – all the streets and buildings in this city are already built, and said buildings need workers. Even if the buildings need repairs, robots work a lot faster than NewMann humans; they also think and react a lot faster than NewMann humans, and unlike the NewMann humans, they’re able to focus on one thing for more than fifteen seconds before they get distracted by something else. That’s why, for the first time in The Prisoner’s many terrible years of internment on this absolute shithole of a planet, he’s thankful to be surrounded by humans.
When the crowd of vultures that once flocked around him finally move on to their next piece of roadkill, The Prisoner dashes into the nearest alley and ducks behind a dumpster. The smell of hot garbage then proves to be nauseating enough to send him across the next street and into an alley without any dumpsters.
Discounting the NewMannian humans, there are very few wild animals roaming around New Manhattan. The ground, being made of not-dirt, has an incredibly tough time supporting any plant life. The most commonly grown produce in this city is Cannabis, and Psilocybin Mushrooms, and to a lesser extent Salvia Divinorum, but I feel like you get the point I’m trying to make; there are very few bona fide food farms in New Manhattan, and the farms that are here exist in the form of a single floor (maybe two floors, if a specialty fruit like the durian or pitaya is grown) in one of the hundreds of skyscrapers that sprout like weeds don’t from the plasti’spa’junk substrate.
Due to this artificial lack of naturally occurring vegetation (and that phrase includes human-planted produce because, contrary to popular belief, humans are part of nature too), there’s a stark lack of garbage-feeding organisms which run rampant in the streets of the planet’s other cities. Our city still has insects (how else would the dead bodies disappear from the alleys?), most notably a species of cave cricket that’s evolved to savor the flavor of rotting human flesh (I warned you), but aside from the creepy-crawlies, you really don’t see much. An occasional cat or dog that escaped the clutches of its pageant-pouncing owner here, a genetically engineered abomination of science there, and then there’s one dude that owns a Komodo dragon because somebody bet him that he wouldn’t do it; most of the wildlife in this city is really just escaped pets that haven’t been abducted by another human yet. Finder’s keepers, as they say, they being the entitled morons who bought their way into this island of luxury.
I’m sorry, I’m being bitter, I just can’t stand to see how far human life has devolved in this city. If the whole planned dumbing down of the population of the United States of America thing is a thing in your universe, if the USA is a thing in your universe in general like it is in mine (not the Universe of this story, but the one I live in), I have to imagine that this shit right here is the worst case scenario. I mean, the city is called New Manhattan, shortened to NewMann, right? It’s a place for a new type of (hu)man to live, an even dumber, less aware, and more easily controlled human, or in more Dollaristic terms, a consumer. The Homo consumis, literally. Anyway, if you don’t believe me when I say the average NewMann is dumber than the average stuffed model of a bear they rarely look at in their one remaining museum, then you can ask the homeless guy whose legs The Prisoner just tripped over. He watches the flocks of consumers go from no place special to nowhere at all every single day, he’s probably got some interesting stuff to say.
“Ay, watch where ya goin’, ya fuckin’ body pain’er. Ain’t there ‘nuffs a’yous in the dance academy?” the tired old man shouts from inside his cardboard box fort.
Of course, The Prisoner doesn’t realize that it’s a box fort. All he sees is a greasy old box that’s about one and a half rainstorms away from collapsing and degrading into the muck where it lays. The pair of legs that’s sticking out of it would probably have to move for that to happen, find a new box to squat in, but those are logistics. The Prisoner doesn’t have time to consider such things.
As The Prisoner begins to walk away, he hears the voice again. “AY! I’m talkin’ a’you, ya thespian. Shame more a’yer kind ain’t lesbians, now that would be a show worth seein’!”
The Prisoner stops dead in his tracks and slowly turns around, drawing his weapon. “Show yourself, coward, before I turn this alleyway into a fucking light show.”
“Woahhhh, easy there partnah,” says the voice as the legs grow a torso and crawl out of the box. “I didn’t know you were one a’dem eccentric types, I din’t mean no offense.”
The Prisoner holsters his pistol and folds his arms, looking the box-crawler up and down. He’s an older human, probably in the back quarter of his life. Bald head, gunk running from one of his eyes. Missing a few teeth, not missing a few pounds. Definitely missing a few brain cells, judging by the gaping holes in the gray matter around his pineal gland. He’s draped in very baggy, very unsightly clothing that doesn’t fit him at all – a hooded sweatshirt covered in stains, a pair of jeans meant for someone with tree trunks for legs… this specimen may prove useful after all.
“Your clothing,” The Prisoner barks at the alley dog, placing one hand back on his pistol. “Off. Now.”
If the vagrant had any eyebrows left, he would surely be raising them now. Rising to his feet, the man pulls back his sleeves to reveal his arms aren’t quite as scrawny as The Prisoner originally assumed they were. They’re covered in tattoos too, some that were done professionally, some that were done to cover up scars, some that were done with a hot needle and a ballpoint pen.
“Did you jus’ assume my sexuality, you indigo brat? I’m ‘boutta beat you so hard ye’ll never dance aga-” muffled choking sounds.
The homeless man falls backwards and collapses his box, pushed by the barrel of the gun that’s suddenly being forced down his throat. Clenched between his teeth, the pistol then begins to transform, the barrel reshaping itself into that of a rifle, stretching and straining the homeless man’s jawbone that even under the immense pressure of a gun becoming more gunnish, refuses to snap.
“If you don’t submit and do as I say, I’ll dance on the very shallow grave that you’ll shortly be buried in. Do I make myself clear?”
A nod confirms that The Prisoner has made himself clear.
“Excellent. Now, I’m going to remove the barrel of my weapon from your oral orifice. At that point, you will remove your outer layer of clothing, the sweatshirt and the pants, and surrender them to me. Then, you will do whatever you please, but if I may make a suggestion: reshape your box and wait for some unsuspecting victim to stroll by. Ambush them, beat them senseless like you assumed you were going to do to me, and take their clothing. After that, I assume the cycle will be repeated until this city is none more than a pile of bodies and dirty clothes. Do you understand your instructions as I have laid them out?”
A muffled noise, followed by a nod.
Encouraged by the human’s sudden subservience, The Prisoner slowly draws the barrel of his rife from the homeless man’s mouth. He slings the weapon over his shoulder, the strap automatically tightening to fit snugly against his body, then takes a step back to see what happens.
Once he’s free, the hobo clutches his throat and begins coughing and spitting, spewing gun oil flavored splotches of saliva and mucus all over the grimy compressed bricks of plasti’spa’junk that makes up the wall-looking floor of the alleyway.
Then, whilst rubbing his throat, “You ain’t from ‘round here, are ya?”
The Prisoner furrows his brow. “One could say that. One could say I’ve lived in this city for years, as well. Why don’t you just get to the point?”
The hobo hacks out a loogie on the ground between them, this time more intentional and less trying to get the taste of gun out of his mouth. “In this city that you’ve lived in f’years, us common folk try t’put each other on some gain whenevah we can; we look out fer eachothah. Now son, I’m broke poor in a city made a’dollahs – what exactly d’ya’think I have to lose by not surrenderin’ m’dignity?”
The Prisoner loses all feeling in his hand. He looks down and watches as his hand splits apart and more hand comes from within the cracks, the appendage doubling in size by the time it puts itself back together. Suddenly The Prisoner’s gigantic hand is wrapped around the hobo’s throat, and even more suddenly, The Prisoner’s arm extends and lifts the hobo fifteen feet off the ground, slamming him into the wall of the building upon which he just leaned.
The Prisoner then finds himself at eye level with the hobo, and upon looking down, he sees his ankles have extended in a similar fashion as his wrist, which is now detracting back into his arm.
Unsure of how his body is melding and stretching but going with the flow regardless, “I thought we had an understanding, ape.”
“Yer… missin’… mah… point…” the hobo struggles to say through The Prisoner’s grip, seeming to be entirely unphased by The Prisoner’s transformation.
Once the vice grip is loosened, The Hobo continues.
“We’s a dyin’ breed ‘round these parts, us street folk. Used to be plenny, then some dipshit inna suit came ‘round and randomly distributed his money, messed th’balance raight up. I used t’have neighbors, this sideway was packed. Not anymore… they all livin’ the ‘Murican dream, packed like sardines up in them shiny towers. Not me though… see, I wonna lot’ry after th’wife left me, got a few million. Tried to tell my kids, they all changed their phone numbers. So, I sold m’car wash and came here wit’ one goal: get as high as I could off of whatever I could, then go quietly inta hell. That’s mai ‘Murican dream, to take m’money and spend it howeva I want. But th’drugs here, they ain’t like the ones back on th’main land. They’re modified, genetically altered; they’re safe. Hasn’t been an overdose inside these walls in, sheit, probly ever. One night I was layin’ here, dazed in a hole with a nose full of the most potent heroin y’never used to be able t’snort, and I realized somethin’: I found mai way inta hell. Didn’t even need t’die, just needed t’buy a ticket.”
“And what, exactly, does that have to do with you handing over your garments?”
The hobo smiles the smile of a fisherman when a fish finally takes the bait. “See, you could just kill me, take m’clothes. But then they’d be all bloody on account of m’hemophilia. Even if ya snap m’neck, blood’s gon’ pour out my mouth like a fuckin’ chocolate fon-doo. I’m guessin’ you ain’t got no cash since yer in this situation in the first place… why don’ we help one anothah?”
“You… but you just said I can’t kill you?”
“Y’may not. You can get me some drugs though. I wanna float on a powdery white cloud wit’ Lady aycHe by mah side. One day I’ll keel over from the alley livin’, but until then, I don’t wanna feel the time passin’. Get me some drugs, and you can have m’threads.”
The Prisoner slowly lowers the hobo back to the ground and unclenches his throat. When his hand is back to normal size, he says, “How am I supposed to buy the drugs? I have no money.”
The hobo nods to the strap that’s taught across The Prisoner’s chest. “I don’ have shit t‘lose… but the hoity-toity merchan’ folk? Them elitist snobhogs in their little slopshops? They do.”
The Prisoner studies the hobo’s face… it doesn’t seem like he’s building a ruse. But still… humanity…
“Fine. Where can I buy you the heroin?”
Hobo points down the alley. “Go th’way you were goin’ before I happened ‘pon ya. Take a leff, go a block. Take a raite, go a block anna half. Duck inna th’arcade, there shu–”
“Arcade? Are you fucking playing games with me? I want the clothing as a precaution, I don’t need it. Just like I don’t need to leave you alive, fool.”
The hobo smiles again, his catch is hooked. Just gotta bring it to the boat. “Then shoot me where I stand. M’only request is that ya do the Irish river dance on m’grave, wifey always did that fer me. The feet on the woman… mmph!”
Without another word, The Prisoner storms down the alleyway, mentally cursing the obnoxious human propensity to smile in the face of certain death.
The Prisoner follows the hobo’s instructions to the T, taking the left and dashing down the city block, shoving past pedestrians as if they were weightless. One human gets tossed into oncoming traffic and doesn’t get run over because there’s a red light at the intersection and traffic is stopped dead anyway. The Prisoner hits the end of the block and bangs a right without slowing down; his speed is unmatched and his movements precise. He was trained by the best, after all. The whistles and camera flashes from the rabid consumers don’t even phase the
Zeroc – there’s a mission to complete.
A block and a half later, he stops on a dime at the entrance to the arcade, almost missing it completely. It’s nothing more than the bottom half of a door hinged to a concrete wall that blocks off the alleyway between two skyscrapers, how is anybody supposed to find this place? Checking his sides to see that everybody around him is recording his movements, The Prisoner sighs and opens the door, ducking inside.
“Welcome to The Haberdashery, my fellow thespian!” says the twitchy merchant behind the counter. The Prisoner eyes the human up and down – wrinkled skin, thin lips, young eyes, thinning blonde hair that would probably look very unsettling if it were wet. The body of a bowling ball (yes, they have bowling on planet Fuego). Nobody else seems to be in the store… well that’s convenient.
Slowly approaching the counter, The Prisoner says, “Why does everybody I meet keep calling me that?”
“Well you’ve adorned a very convincing paint job there, son. What better way to dance interpretively than slathering the skin that you’ll jiggle for the crowd?”
The Prisoner debates this in his head before shaking the thought from his brain. Then, “I need drugs. For a… for an associate. I was told I could find them here.”
The face of the shopkeeper lights up like a crack pipe. “Build it and they will come – that’s what they told me, and I haven’t made a single sale yet. But here we are; seek and you shall find, my vibrant violet friend! Now which kinda drugs are you seeking? Narcotics? Or are you of the Psychedelic persuasion?”
“You have about five seconds to explain to me exactly what you think you mean by the word Psychedelic before I shoot holes into the blasphemous iteration of a human brain that thought it was a good idea to speak to a
Zeroc about the Moksha Medicine.”
Shopkeep’s hands fly into the air in a show of innocence. “Woah woah woah, easy there, son! You might not be a dancer, but you’re dramatic as hell! I don’t have to explain anything, no need; just peep the menu. And what’s Zee-rock, is that the name of your dancing troupe or something?”
The Prisoner looks at the menu and sonuvabitch, the shopkeep wasn’t lying. It’s all right there, plain as day: Cannabis, Mescaline, DMT. This idiot’s even selling Psilocybin, as if he didn’t know the dangers of letting the Stropharians take hold of one’s consciousness. True inanity; not insanity but pure, undiluted inanity. The Prisoner’s opinion of humanity has never ridden such a rollercoaster, how mundanely unaware these creatures are!
Hung beside the Psychedelics menu is the much more abundant narcotics menu, but The Prisoner doesn’t even pay that a glance.
“I’ll take… give me as much heroin as you can fit in the biggest bag you stock, and also a gram of Cannabis.” After a moment of expectant eye contact, “Please.”
“Very good! Would you like the weed prerolled or in nug form?”
“I’ll take the Cannabis,” he emphasizes, “prerolled. Thank you, Mister…?”
The shopkeep drops a scoop’s worth of heroin all over the floor. The Prisoner widens his pupils, ready.
“Mister? My name is Sue, motherfucker, how do you do?! I know you did not just assume my gender, you rat-faced cis-male neurotypical scoundrel! I’ll have you know that I got the tinkler-tuck surgery four years ago and I’ve been alllll woman ever since!”
“But… you said this was a haberdashery? You know what that word means, don’t you?”
Hands on hi– whoops! I mean her hips, “Honey, my words mean whatever I want them to mean. How do you know I don’t have a clothing hustle out the back of this joint? What’s my gender got to do with it anywho, like, what? Do I need to be a man to sell men’s clothing? Is THAT what you’re asserting?!”
The Prisoner closes his eyes and lowers his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. Then, somewhat under his breath, “Just… just give me the drugs, please. I have things to do today.”
The shopkeep grins, another battle against The Patriarchy fought and won. It’s a shame the dancers must fall to the dark side, but such is life. It always hurts to see an angel fall. Sue bags the heroin and rolls the tightest joint this purple cis-bastard has ever seen before packing the whole order into a black plasti’spa’junk bag.
The Prisoner takes his loot and tries to walk away clean, he really does. But then, out of the tall grass, humanity appears!
“Hold on there, sir! Or missus, I don’t want to offend! You uh, you still owe me one-twenty over here. Eighty for the jay and forty for the ache.”
The Prisoner stops on his right heel. Eighty bucks for a gram of Cannabis, what the fuck? “he says.”
“He says what? Give me my money, there’s no way my first sale is going to be a robbery,” in a defiant tone. Then, in a much more lenient tone, “Well, I suppose you’ve got to spend money to make money. Thank you very much sir, have a nice day!”
As The Prisoner lowers the sight of his rifle from the direction of the shopkeep’s head, he calmly says, “I will, Miss Sue. Thank you.”
Back out in the sunlight, The Prisoner takes in a deep breath of car exhaust and air pollution. What passes for ozone in this city isn’t quite as poignant as the artificial enriched oxygen The Prisoner remembers so fondly from his days on Fuego, but it will have to do for now. This will all be over soon, one way or another; he’s not certain of how it will come about, but he knows the end of his days of servitude is neigh.
It has to be.
Crossing the street and shattering no less than four uPhones with his bare hands, The Prisoner backtracks to the alley where the homeless man was sleeping. The cardboard box is here, but there’s no vagrant in sight… had he wandered off? Was that entire story a lie, a ruse to get The Prisoner to move on? Perhaps these humans are a clever bunch… the further down the social ladder The Prisoner interacts, the more intelligence he seems to find. Such a backwards way to live, all the consciousness birthed into the masses while the ones who hold power hold little else. What a convenient shame.
The Prisoner sits down and leans back against a dumpster. He removes the bulbous bag of heroin and grabs the joint, carefully unbending it as to not tear the thin hemp paper. He drags it across his philtrumless upper lip – the odor is intoxicating; it brings him back to the days before he allowed himself to carry a title other than The Prisoner. What wonderful days they were, such a simpler time when he and Al–
‘Wait,’ he cuts me off with a thought, ‘there was no dumpster in the alley with the street dweller… am I in the wrong place?’
The Prisoner bites the joint by the crutch and drops the heroin back into his anonymous shopping bag, springing to his feet. This alley certainly looks familiar… all the skyscrapers on the streets in front of and behind him look the same, too. As a matter of fact, every single skyscraper The Prisoner has seen thus far has looked more or less identical, save for the purplish tint of the Cape building and the large red letters around the spire capping the Apex tower. This city really is so disorienting, especially now that The Prisoner’s sense of hearing has fully returned to him; the mindless yammering of the consumers, the impatient honking of the car horns, the bright lights reflected from the windows, the heat of the sun magnified from the almost visible smog that is the air… The Prisoner could be anywhere in the city right now. He’s more lost than a wanderer, and without any way to communicate back to his masters at Apex.
At least, he assumes they’re still his masters – surely they’re aware of the malfunction in The Doctor’s interFacer by now.
‘Or…’ as the rest of this thought creeps its way into his neural network, ‘or maybe this was all part of their plan.’
They obviously didn’t need him for this mission; Torpol and Hymarc have committed plenty of hostile takeovers without The Prisoner providing “security” by flying circles around whatever building they were claiming as their own. Perhaps this was to be his final mission; when the earpiece exploded it was supposed to kill him, snuff him out quickly, and if that didn’t work, the TerrorWing would attempt to assassinate him with breakneck movements and, eventually, the crash. It would cause one hell of a distraction; the CEO of Cape Enterprises would be forced to go outside and check out the smoldering craft and accompanying maimed extraterrestrial body lying on his strip of sidewalk. Then, with him in an open and predictable location, all of the MERCS would swoop in at once and add another body to the wreckage.
And it would have been perfectly orchestrated, too, if it wasn’t for The Prisoner’s meddling will to live, the very undying will he’s questioning when he hears a familiar voice call out over the traffic.
“Aye plumfuck, what you doin’ over ‘dere? You got mai uh… package?”
The Prisoner looks across the street and sees the homeless man leaning against a corner of a building, arms and legs crossed, just waiting there. How long has he been watching?
“You gonna just stand there or ya bringin’ me m’stuff? I been waitin’ fer ten minutes here!”
The Prisoner looks both ways and then runs towards the street, leaping off the edge of the sidewalk and clearing the entire road, cars and all. He lands with a roll and stands before the human, towering a whole foot taller than him. The joint remains untarnished.
“An’ you say ya don’ dance, hah!” the hobo quips before his hand plunges deep into his pocket. He then produces a lighter, flicks it, and holds the flame at the tip of The Prisoner’s joint.
“Oh,” inhale “thank you. Here’s your heroin,” as The Prisoner passes the black bag to the hobo.
“Thank ya kine– aye, where th’fuck you goin’, son?” said to The Prisoner’s back.
When The Prisoner doesn’t answer, the hobo slings his heroin into his un-collapsed box fort and easily catches up with the purple-painted not-dancer.
“Hol’ up, where y’goin’ withat? I din’t light it to not smoke it witcha.”
The Prisoner considers this and, unable to come up with a reason to not share his jammer with the hobo, decides to humor the humey. They walk back to the hobo’s alley, the vagrant providing something of a shield around The Prisoner that protects him from the gawking eyes of all the various NewMenn and NewwoMenn, and all the other consumers whose pronouns don’t easily/conveniently fit into the base nomenclature of NewMann.
The hobo climbs into his box fort and gestures for The Prisoner to follow him. Suddenly having time for logistics, The Prisoner determines within his head that he wouldn’t fit inside the box fort because of his astounding height. The Hobo tells him to get over himself and just crawl in; the Cannabis must have our alien feeling some sort of way because, without so much as a word of resistance, The Prisoner crawls in.
The inside of the box fort is what you might expect – a plain, undecorated cardboard box. On the back wall though, outlined in what appears to be magic marker, is a door. There’s even a circle for where the knob would be… oh, that’s an actual doorknob. Huh. The hobo opens the door and crawls into the building with The Prisoner in tow, the latter amazed that the hobo was hanging around outside in the first place when he had access to this the entire time.
The room isn’t grandiose, not very luxurious. The walls are lined with the essentials – a bed, a refrigerator/freezer, sink, oven/stove, a computer, there’s a toilet off in one of the corners with a little sheet hanging from the ceiling to offer some privacy. It’s as if somebody took an entire house and shrunk it down into a single room. So like a house in that little desert town that got swept away by mudslides before its residents were all reincarnated into fairies in a different patch of Existence than the one Universe W-2020 lies in, a patch where magic actually exists.
“What… what is this place?” The Prisoner asks with his joint, extinguished, hanging off his bottom lip.
The hobo snatches the joint and relights it, takes a few puffs, and passes it back. “I told yas, when I came here I won th’lottery. Sold m’business, too. Used the lot’ry money for drugs and m’ticket, used the ‘wash money fer this. What, did y’think I really had nowhere to be but th’street? In this city? C’mon, I thought y’lived here f’years.”
“I have. My home is the inside of a dark closet, my bed a set of chains that burn my hide on contact, and my pillow a migraine that would split a human cranium in half.” He takes a hit and tries to pass it, but the hobo doesn’t let him.
“Fuck, purpm’n. You need that thing more th’n I do. That don’t soun’like no home at all.”
“How do you mean?” between lungfuls of Cannabis smoke. “It’s the place where I rest my head at night. It’s no hou–”
“I mean,” the hobo says, cutting The Prisoner off like the cars aren’t able to do to each other in this city due to a combination of dead-stopped traffic and self-driving software, “home ain’t jussa place where ya sleep. Ya see, in here, with all these fancy amenities, this ain’t m’home. I hardly even sleep in ‘ere, tell yas the truth. I was raised in Kentucky, in a lil’ town that’s now called ButtFuck. Out there, I would always sleep outside under th’glow of the stars, jus’ gazin’ up and wond’rin’ what wuz out thar. I hadda house, sure, but them wooden caves ain’t home. Home is where th’heart is, where you go to feel at peace wit’ yaself.”
The hobo stomps his foot and spits on the floor of his house. “We’s humans, but err’body seems ta ferget that these days. Always buyin’, always spendin’ their time tryna’ get themselves somewhere otha th’n where they stand. Neva happy, neva at peace… neva home. Me? Th’closest thing t’home in this rat’s nest is out in the street with summin’ or other flowin’ through m’veins, just like we’s flowin through the veins of th’Universe. D’ya get what I’m sayin’, mista… well I neva caught ya name, sir.”
The Prisoner, with his joint burned into roachitude, extinguishes the ember against his skin without flinching.
“I do understand you, human, more than you know. If what you say is true, about a home verses a house, then I haven’t been home in a long, long time. You said you were wondering what was out there among the stars… there’s a lot. More than you can fathom. My home is on a distant planet called Fuego that revolves around two suns, and our society is… well, it’s the closest thing to a utopia that I’ve ever seen. It’s far from perfect, sure, but… the humans I’ve interacted with here, the very fact that they exist in the form they do shows me how far the
Zeroc have climbed. We–”
“Wait, Zee-rock? Fuego? Are you tellin’ me th’t you’ve benna al– ’m sorry, an eckstrah-terrestrial this entire time?!”
Zeroc. But yes… did you not just assume that? How many humans have you seen that can do what I do? That look the way I look?”
“Y’mean the purple extendo-limb sheit? Quait a few, actuallies.
The Prisoner almost forgot about all that body-morphing shit, he still has no idea how any of that happened. “I… see. Yes, I am not of this world. I’ve been alive longer than the oldest living member of your species, though. It’s funny, I normally don’t allow myself to reminisce on my old life, on what I truly am,” he says as he rolls the roach back and forth, letting it crawl between his fingers. “This Cannabis is just bringing me back.”
The hobo snorts, watching his otherworldly acquaintance stare longingly at some pot. “What, y’all abuncha stoners out there?”
The Prisoner smiles. “Something like that… life on my home is different than life on this planet, cast aglow in a very different light.”
“Well th’two suns probly help w’that,” the hobo points out, his words loaded with more insight than he even realizes.
“Yeah… they probably do. How I wish to return…”
A slightly awkward silence ensues, making the hobo wish he didn’t leave his heroin outside. Then, “So why don’ya go back? Ya came here, din’t ya?”
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple.”
“Well then, why don’ya jus’ live out in th’streets wi’me? You c’n have this lil’ apartument here, I don’eva sleep in it. I’ll pop in t’pee’n’poop erry now’n’then, but fer th’ most part, it’d be all yers.”
“That’s very kind, old man, but it’s not that simple. My captors, the Apex Corporation… after they’ve taken over Cape Enterprises, they’ll come looking for me. They have a six-man army that could take over the world in a matter of hours, it would be no use. They already tried to kill me once today, it’s on–”
“Well I dou’that. I ain’t neva heard’a no Apex er no Cape, but I do undastan’ th’dollarists. They don’t leave no stone unpicked, ain’t nothin’ left up’ta chance. If they wann’ed ya dead, we wouldn’t be talkin’ raight now.”
“I don’t think you understand, they–”
“Oh I undastan’ jus’ fine, mista Zeuroc, or howeva yer ass pronounced it. They brought ya inna this world, lit’rally. You don’ think they could take y’out if they wan’ed? You don’t live because they want you dead, sonnybuns.”
The Prisoner mulls this over. “That’s… you’re a very wise old thing, you–” he says, almost calling the man a vagrant. “What’s your name, human?”
The hobo smiles, the fish is finally landed. “Well I reckon I asked you first, Eee-Tee.”
“I used to go by Beta, but so long as I’m trapped on this planet, I must go by the name my captors have given me: The Prisoner.”
“The Prisoner, eh?” the hobo asks. “Wel’if that’s th’case, you c’n jus’ call me The Hobo. I’ll tell ya wut though, if’n’when you do find y’spaceship and y’do make yer way back into th’stars, why don’t y’take me along witcha? I’ll tell Beta m’real name, but not The Pris’ner.”
The Hobo holds out a hand and The Prisoner shakes it, sealing the deal. The Prisoner leaves the alley, allowing his new friend to finally enjoy the heroin that started this whole exchange in the first place.
The Verse Ends
Draped in a greasy sweatshirt and a pair of stained sweatpants, The Prisoner weaves through the streets of New Manhattan entirely unseen, not so much as a camera flash follows him. With some Moksha Medicine in his bloodstream, he’s able to focus his mind and see the path towards the Cape Enterprises building – he’s only been a few blocks away this entire time.
The Prisoner pushes through the heavy metal doors and looks around the lobby of the Cape Enterprises, Uncorporated building. It’s more of a waiting room than anything else; some couches, some carpet. A spot on the wall that looks like it could be a secret closet. It almost smells like Cannabis in here, maybe he should– no. There’s a mission to complete, a promise to fulfill. Rest and play when the work is done.
The Prisoner, having tossed his dirty incognito clothing onto one of the clean couches in the waiting room, steps into the elevator, rifle clutched tightly against his chest, and presses the button with a big C where the number forty-two should be. As the box begins to ascend, a strange form of Earth music fills the air, something utterly unlike anything a
Zeroc has ever composed. It’s just a man, speaking in rhythm over the track… The Prisoner definitely doesn’t mind this music.
Then, the verse ends and a woman starts singing.