[Here’s the much awaited final part of chapter 3. This format worked out pretty well, so I’ll keep it up for next week. Worked well for me, at least. Feel free to send leave any feedback. Enjoy!]
October leaves Scrib while he’s stepping into his shorts. She almost runs into the new girl, Exit, as she leaves. Exit’s face turns red and she hustles up the stairs to the café. She must have been listening to them. October smiles. If anyone had seen it, they wouldn’t mistake it for a nice smile.
October went to the counter of the café. Em was there. One of the girls.
Peppering came up behind her. October looks her over. She’s made a harness made out of knotted straps that might have come from a dress. October leans over and notices that the harness holds Peppering’s metal bat on her back. “Can I help you?”
“I doubt it,” Peppering says. “Scrib said I need to watch over you today. Heard you got a wittle scared today.”
October glares at her. She’s ready to convince her to leave her alone, but then October thinks that having a bodyguard under her control might not be a bad idea.
She shrugs and faces Em behind the counter, who hasn’t even tried to hide the fact that she was eavesdropping on their conversation. “Can I have some otter eggs?”
Em shakes her head. “None left. Tum Tum was supposed to bring some by yesterday but he’s not back yet. We have some bread. Might be a good time to grab some of that since I doubt Ba will be bringing us more anytime soon.”
October frowns. Then she looks at Peppering. “Ok, let’s go find him.”
Peppering isn’t too excited, but they go to the market. Tum Tum isn’t at his usual spot, but his teenage son, Horseface, is tending his cart. There are a few otter skins, and some meat, but no eggs.
“C-can I help you or anything?” he says.
“Where’s you dad? He’s supposed to give us some eggs today.”
“Uh, he was supposed to be here, but I guess he’s still at Lake Claire.”
“It’s past noon. Has he ever been this late?” Peppering says.
Horseface shakes his head. October can see he’s scared. Even though she uses him pretty regularly, October likes Tum Tum. At least as much as October can like someone.
She looks at Peppering and glances at her bat. “Ok, let’s go find him. I was looking forward to my eggs this morning.”
Lake Claire is a couple hours north. Since it’s relatively close to the Towers, they were going to need to talk to a Fixie to get permission to walk past the Garage Dee. Roark is the one on duty when they get there.
It doesn’t take much for October to convince him not only to let them go, but to escort them to the lake.
(Seduce or manipulate: 8+3=great hit)
He shrugs and swings a broken table leg over his shoulder. “Sure.”
“That was easy,” Peppering says.
“Yeah well Partridge, was supposed to take over for me by now anyway,” he says, “Way I figure it, if anyone crosses the border, it’s on him.”
That’s good enough, October thought. She looked around at the strange group she had somehow assembled and led them off into the overgrown woods.
Horseface said his father’s diving spot was a couple hours’ walk from the city. Apparently the otters clustered around the northern shore. This was not a fun trek for October. If there was one thing she hated more than small talk it was nature. It was a strange blessing when they heard Tum Tum groaning ahead of them.
Horseface and Roark sprints ahead. October’s stomach tightens. In a flash of belated insight, she realizes how terrible this plan was. If Tum Tum was attacked by someone—someone from the Towers, a Lockheed soldier, or worst of all, a Wilder—she would very likely die. Or more likely get raped and then die.
Horseface drops to his knees ahead of them. October can’t see what he’s looking at. Unconsciously she grabs Peppering’s hand. Peppering takes her bat out and leads October toward the scene.
Roark’s already got his club out and has his back to Horseface. October looks down and sees Tum Tum lying on the grass, unconscious. It takes her mind a second to grasp what’s wrong, and then it hits her—Tum Tum’s left arm has been ripped off.
Everything goes silent for October. She stares at Tum Tum. Sandy dirt stuck to his face in a pattern that reminded her of how his sweat dripped from his brow when they had sex.
The other three hear something closer to the lake, but October can’t hear anything over the blood pulsing behind her ears. Peppering lets go over her hand. The three of them run off toward the sound, even Horseface. October walks to Tum Tum at looks at the russet pool of mud that has collected by what was left of Tum Tum’s arm.
She kneels down and feels a power around her and Tum Tum. She concentrates and brings it toward her. October cradles it like a baby and accepts it into her. Then she leans down and kisses Tum Tum. She feels the power rise in her chest, then rise into her throat and back down into Tum Tum.
(Healing touch: 5+1=miss!)
October falls down into darkness.
He opens his eyes. He is Tum Tum. He looks into the murky water of Lake Claire. Why did he open his eyes? He knows better than that. Now he’ll probably have pink eye for the next month. Hopefully that won’t keep October from seeing him again.
He feels around in the sand of the lake and feels a slick patch of slime that can only be a clutch of otter eggs. He scoops them into his satchel and swims for the surface. He does some quick math, he should have enough eggs and meat to give to October and her friends. It might be rough this month for him and Horseface, but they can make it. They’ve lived through worse. Maybe if he keeps up her supply long enough, October will be his new mom.
Tum Tum breaks the surface of the water, but keeps his eyes shut until he reaches the shore. Hopefully the pink eye will go away faster if he keeps them closed as long as possible. When he finally opens them he’s looking at a pair of boots. This is confusing. He’s much more confused when rough hands grab him by the armpits and rip him out of the water. He frantically looks for the thing’s face, but his head flies back into a scream when whatever it is bites into his bicep.
Tum Tum remembers one day in his childhood. It was his tenth birthday. His father brought him home a present. It was a tiny bag, not much bigger than his own hand, folded into thirds. His father tore off a thin layer of clear plastic; Tum Tum hadn’t even noticed it before.
He smiled at Tum Tum. “Go get the frying pan and start up the fire. We need to heat this.”
In a few minutes over the fire something jumped inside the bag. Then it jumped again. Then dozens, hundreds of tiny pops exploded inside the bag until it grew fat. His father opened it up and dark smoke poured out of it. It smelled like sweet lard and fire.
Tum Tum’s father cursed. Apparently he’d burned whatever was inside. He spend what seemed like forever cutting the black away from sparse chunks of pure white.
He handed the chunks to Tum Tum. “Popcorn,” he said.
He heard the quick popping again from, was it under his shirt? He put his chin to his chest just in time to watch his arm ripped out of the socket. Broken sinew and blood vessels hung from his body’s new opening.
Whatever had picked him up threw him to the ground and ran off into the woods. Tum Tum found that if he angled his stump he could just see the hint of what could be white. As he passed out he hoped it would be popcorn.
She’s back. Peppering is shaking October awake.
“Fucking hell, October.”
“I was Tum Tum. I was in his head. I mean I saw his memory,” October says.
Peppering tilts her head.
“What happened?” Horseface says from behind Peppering.
October is about to answer, but Tum Tum coughs. Everyone explodes into action and helps him to his feet. October sees that one of them has ripped up Roark’s shirt and tied it around Tum Tum’s stump.
Tum Tum looks into October’s eyes. He has to be in pain, but his eyes show more than she would have guessed.
“I was in your head,” he says. It’s more a croak than words.
“Shh, save your strength. We can talk when we get you back to Uni City,” Horseface says.
He ignores him. “You had sex with Scrib.”
October almost feels guilty for perhaps the first time she can remember. But then her sense of self-preservation kicks in and she glances at Peppering. October turns just in time to see Peppering’s bat smash into her face.
Dice is doing push ups in Mr. Sunset’s office, her “cell.” And why not? What else can she do? She stops and stares at the door. Voices on the other side.
Dice gets to her feet as Roark and one of Sunset’s girls barges into the office. The girl is trying to hold him back, but there’s no chance of her stopping Roark.
“Where’s your shirt, Roark?” Dice asks.
“You can’t be in here,” the girl says. That was one of the twins. What was her name again?
“Tum Tum, that fisherman, was attacked by someone up by Lake Claire,” Roark says.
Dice squints her eyes. “Is he dead?”
“No, but his arm was ripped off. It looks like it was bitten.”
The girl gasps. “Where is he now?” she says.
“We left him in Garage Dee. October got hurt too.”
Dice tries not to smile hearing about October.
“Oh gods. Go get my sister.”
“I don’t know if a medic can help him anymore,” Roark says.
Oh, she’s the non-medic twin.
Dice feels October for a second. She has no idea how, but Dice feels October pushing her to talk.
“Em, right? We’re going to need to end my stay here. Or at least put it on hold for a while. This sounds like an act of war. I doubt Mr. Millions, and especially not Mr. Sunset, would want me to stay in here while our citizens are being maimed.”
(Dice tries to seduce, October aids and calls in a hold:
October aid: 11+2=great hit
Dice seduce: 6+0+1+1=hit)
“Ugh, I don’t know,” Em says.
“Ok, Roark will stay in my place.”
“What?” Roark says.
“Shut up, Roark,” Dice says.
Em considers. “Uh, ok. I guess so.”
“Roark, help her bring the fisherman to Em’s sister, then come back here and stay till I tell you otherwise.”
Roark knows better than to argue at this point.
Em starts to leave, but Dice stops her and holds out her hand. “Give me that shotgun.”
Em hesitates for an appropriate amount of time before handing it over.
Dice leaves them and rushes out to the front of the library. She wonders how soon she can get the Fixies together.
When she opens the doors she stops abruptly.
The whole gang, minus Roark and Juck were facing her. Each was on their bike save Partridge. He walks Dice’s bike up to her. When she grabs it he returns to his own bike and flips on to it. “Ready, boss?”
Dice puts the shotgun over her handlebars and rides off with a huge smile.