TRIP THROUGH YOUR WIRES
Chapter 14: Pets
"Mark my words now. This is trouble."
Blackavar 126 sailed easily over the railing of the catwalk and landed with a steely thump. In his arms, Jake McTreggor groaned as he was jostled about.
"Crybaby." The mechadrake ducked his sinuous neck and entered a small, plain room hewn out of the rock wall of the Great Tree. A crude bed was pushed up against the left wall, and an unfinished wooden table stood in the middle of the small living space.
Blackavar set Jake on the bed. "Don't go wandering," he said cheerfully and ducked out the door again.
Pain rolled stormily over Jake. He screwed his eyes shut and breathed sharply through clenched teeth. He wished the numbness would come back.
"It's a good sign that you're feeling some pain," contradicted a voice from the doorway. It was the dark girl again and Blackavar was a sillhouette behind her. "But try to keep quiet. My name is Ange, and this is my room. I don't think I'm supposed to be keeping stowaways, but I couldn't just leave you. At the very least, I want to give you a soft place to die in if that's the route you're planning to sail."
"Celeste ... where is ... she?"
Hot irons stabbed Jake's belly and took him away. "Your mama's gone little one, she left us here ... but you just concentrate on feeling better ... Gah." He flopped on his side and wet dribbled from his mouth onto Ange's sheet.
"Gah," Blackavar echoed. "There's probably rules against keeping pet crazies. You should tell Asmodeus about this and get it done with."
"Can't we do something for him? He's in a lot of pain."
"You're looking a little uncomfortable yourself," Blackavar said.
The mechadrake rubbed his gold throat. "Well, Eamon 57 is in charge of pharmacutical for the next couple of days. He should still be on duty, and he owes me a favour. I'll see what I can scrounge."
Ange took her friend's paw and smiled. "Thanks, Blackavar."
The mechadrake bowed elegantly. "I hate seeing you unhappy." He left the room and the swoop of wings carried in the soft silence of Eden.
"Cold," Jake warbled from his feverish sleep.
"Poor fellow," Ange said, walking over to her patient. "I wish you could understand me."
The world stopped clocking in slow motion for a brief moment and a recollection of some events broke the surface of Jake's brain. He returned the stare of his caregiver.
" ... Who are you?"
"My name's Ange Spar," She repeated patiently. "Can you talk to me now?"
"Is Celeste here?"
"No, I don't know who she is."
"She's my daughter."
"That's lovely," said Ange. "What's your name, and what happened to you?"
"I'm Jake. I came here with Celeste, and..." Jake closed his mouth akwardly.
"I understand," Ange said. "You don't have any reason to trust me just yet. Knowing when to keep your mouth shut is an admirable trait, but don't let it run away with you. I have a feeling fate is going to make friends out of us."
"Impossible. I'm scheduled to die."
Ange laughed shortly and trailed off when she looked at Jake's expression. "...Oh. You're serious."
"You're lucid right now, and your wound isn't bleeding. What's the problem?"
Jake grimaced in recollection. "Poison."
"Bit. By a baby mechadrake."
Ange looked confused. "Bit by a baby ... what? Only children are allowed near the Tubes when they Call. That's how I found Blackavar. And anyway, no baby drake is poisonous."
Fog stole over Jake again and he arched his soaked neck. "Bronze."
"Bronze," Ange repeated slowly. "Bron -- wait a second. You got bit by Atticus 15?"
Jake panted and the world spun its head again with him on top.
Ange's eyes grew wide as she added up her sums. "Atticus 15. The sole bronze mechadrake in Eden. Being cared for by ... you've got Torrent Leviathan on your bad side?"
Her guest hacked out in the affirmative.
"Blackavar was right. I'm in over my head." Ange glanced at the open door of her warren twice while speaking.
Jake's black bangs were plastered to his flushed forehead. But his eyes were mild. "When I'm done here, just drop my bloated corpse where Torrent can find it. That'll keep you safe enough."
"Damn it, are you being sarcastic? I can't even tell."
Jake didn't respond.
"Blackavar," Ange said to her mechadrake as he swooped back onto the catwalk, "This guy is poisoned."
"You couldn't tell?"
"Did you get anything to help him?"
The drake held a small felt bag in one paw. "All I could get was some medicine to make him a little more comfortable. I told Eamon that you pulled a muscle badly while doing your training, but I didn't know how to explain wanting antitoxins."
"You couldn't think of any kind of story?" Ange said in distress before remembering that black mechadrakes weren't especially logical or imaginative.
"No and yes," Blackavar replied. "I didn't try too hard, if I'm to be very honest, because this man doesn't belong here. If he's discovered, you're in a lot of trouble. You'll fall out of Asmodeus 12's favour. He values you as a fighter, but he's very keen on discipline and making examples."
"Torrent Leviathan is after him."
"Wonderful! You proved my point. It's not too late to turn him in."
Ange turned her head slowly from Blackavar and looked at Jake, unconscious. She flicked her eyes up at her fighting medals, lined up on the wall beside her bed like a row of stoic soldiers. Finally she sighed, a long, lonely sound and heavy. She started for her door, moving nothing like a Warrior of Eden and more like an old woman.
"Where are you going?" Blackavar said sharply.
"To see Eamon."
"What will you tell him? He'll want to know why you need antitoxins."
"I'll think of something." Ange slipped on her vest.
The black mechadrake's lip curled just enough to reveal the tip of his upper left fang. "Why are you doing this?" He asked his girl.
She motioned to Jake. "I don't think he was being sarcastic."
"Zero, Zero, Zero," Monroe greeted the Hunter from the safety of his desk. The silver mechadrake Hawkmoon stood beside the son of Cain.
Zero looked up, down, all around the posh office except at Monroe himself. "Hi."
"My friend Hawkmoon tells me that two days ago, you left MHHQ to bring back Division 12 of the Night Vipers Unit -- the Hunters I sent out scouting."
"Yes. The Division's leader, Josh Garret, has a newborn son. I figured Josh would like to see him at least once before you send him on one too many useless scouting missions and he shrivels into a ball and dies."
Monroe raised one finger. "Ah, but apparently the last scouting mission wasn't useless."
Zero was silent. Monroe had him there.
"Zero, why don't you tell me what happened?"
The Hunter glowered. "Didn't you already talk to Josh?"
"Yes, but I'd like to hear the event as told by your well-excercised mouth."
"There's not much to say. We were all acting like perfect gentlemen when all of a sudden a band of humans attacked at dawn. From the north. Josh saw more than I, honestly. We fought, and there was only one survivour. He's in the Medical Unit --"
"So you admit it," Monroe cut him off.
Zero stopped abruptly, accidently biting his tongue. His irritation grew. "Admit what?"
"That you killed those humans."
The Hunter immediately spot the roller coaster to Hell that Monroe was beckoning for him to board. And he'd be next in the qeue if he wasn't extremely careful. "Sir, we attacked out of self defence."
"Against some humans with a fistful of toothpicks?"
Zero placed his knuckles on Monroe's desk and leaned forward slowly. "If you mean those daggers, no. Those are not toothpicks. They're something much worse. The human who stuck me ripped through my armour like it was paper."
" 'And' your grandmother! Those daggers are also viral! Surely you heard what happened to Cass."
"I have, and I've been wondering why you're showing no signs of sickness."
"I, ah ... " Zero stumbled and fought a crazy urge to tell Monroe he owed his health to vitamins.
Monroe linked his fingers together and rested his chin on the bridge. "Has anyone ever run a full diagnostic on you, Zero? I'm sure we'd find something interesting."
"Sir, we have more urgent issues on hand--"
"We certainly do," Monroe agreed. "Like determining what to do with a reploid who kills humans."
Zero gaped, and Hawkmoon shook her thin, sightless head.
"The Night Vipers had a reason to attack. Daggers and humans don't mix well. Cass' judgement was likely clouded almost immediately upon being infected. Lifesaver tells me he'll make a full recovery, which puts to rest any fears of him being Maverick." Monroe looked directly at Zero. "But you? Killing a bunch of practically unarmed humans?"
"The daggers. They had the virus--"
"--which didn't infect you," Monroe finished. "In fact, you look very bright eyed and bushy haired today."
Zero was on the roller coaster, and it was inching away from the platform. "But sir, I think it's vital we know more about the humans who attacked us, and why. I was questioning the survivour -- Blake -- but Jody interrupted to tell me to see you."
"Yes, the reason for the attack will recieve our immediate attention," Monroe said in a bored voice. "But there's no reason for you to be a part of the investigation. In light of your recent actions, I'm temporarily relieving you of your--"
"Don't," Hawkmoon said in a low voice.
Monroe looked at her sharply. "What?"
Hawkmoon could evidently feel the pinch of her friend's eyes. "Don't. Suspend him, I mean."
"You go to far, Monroe. We need him. He says their lives were in danger, and I believe him."
The head of MHHQ's mouth was a thin, white line. "Very well," he said shortly. "But Zero, I'm still running a complete diagnosis on you. There's something ... not quite right about your look, your moves ... "
"Your scent," Hawkmoon mumbled almost unintelligably, drooping her head. "The blood of children ... "
"Now's not the time for your verbal diarrhea, Hawkmoon," Monroe snapped. "Zero, I'm watching you. This is your last chance. You can easily be replaced, you know."
Rage bloomed in Zero with a furious blossom Monroe's last words, and the look in his eyes must surely have been death because Monroe flinched ... almost cringed. But the son of Cain gathered himself up and called over Zero's shoulder. "Lifesaver? You can come in now."
The medic entered, stood beside Zero and squared himself.
"Lifesaver. I want a diagnostic done on Zero. Thorough. Leave no chip unturned."
Zero saw Lifesaver smile a bit, likely at his boss' dumb cliche. "Yes sir."
"Seems the snow-white fighter for great justice is immune to the virus that attacked Cass. I want to know why. Were those daggers indeed infected?"
"Yes sir. They were implanted with what I'm currently calling the Flu. Highly infectious when transferred through the circulatory fluids. Chance of infection is 97%."
Monroe bunched his hands together and tapped his index fingers. "Flu. Um, okay. When can you begin the examination, Lifesaver? Tomorrow?"
"No," the sturdy reploid said, giving Zero a sidelong glance. "I have a backed up schedule, and the degree of testing you want me to do will take a few days for setup alone."
Monroe frowned. "Oh, will it now."
"Yes. MHHQ could use some more up to date lab equipment." Lifesaver didn't hide his thin smile.
"Well, how much time do you need?"
"Two w--!" Monroe sputtered.
"Best I can do."
"Urgh. Fine. All of you are dismissed. Remember what I said, Zero."
Outside in the hallway, panic gnawed Zero's brain. He had a death sentence hanging over him. The words "complete diagnostic" were far more fearful than any others in Zero's life, including "boiling lava" and "rabid Mavericks with accordians." He'd never had a complete diagnostic before and he knew that one now would indeed reveal some interesting things about his makeup, most of which started with the letter "W".
And what would that bring?
Under Cain Senior, Zero had been subjected to typical virus scans but no one ever forced him to get a complete diagnostic because you couldn't force a 400 lb gorilla onto a lab table. But now, with his leadership on the line ...
"A rock and a hard place, eh?" Lifesaver said with his back turned to the Hunter. He started to walk away. "I bought you a little time. Use your leisure days creatively."
Zero's head felt like it was filling with oatmeal.
Many miles away, something crawled to the surface of a dark Scottish loch...
"Blake's dead!" Genesis spit out in a near-scream.
The entire Medical Unit halted at the distress of its leader.
"Blake's dead! Who the hell was watching him when I was gone? I'm going to break faces once I have names."
The fox's lead assistant, Pip, approached his boss, who stood in the door of Blake's cell. A very obvious death smell wafted from the room and the little reploid stopped just short of Genesis' reach. "Mr Genesis ... I saw Jody enter the room some time ago, but as far as I know Blake was alive after that."
"Who the F is Jody?" Genesis snarled, then changed sails. "Oh, who cares. The boy commited suicide. I doubt anyone could've stopped him."
Pip's eyes grew wide.
"That's right. Ripped his stitches out, bled to death."
"Damn straight," Genesis puffed. "I hope Zero got everything he needed out of the lad."
"I don't know about that," Pip said. "Jody came in here with orders from Monroe to question Blake. Zero left in a huff."
Genesis threw his arms up. "Oh, I don't friggin' care. He wasn't my pet human."
"Zero insists that Blake is a part of something large. Very large."
"Was," Genesis corrected Pip before a metallic crash made him swerve his head towards the ward's main entrance. Jackal, the human in charge of the HQ's garage and its vehicles, ran into the room in distress. He gave Genesis one stricken glance before turning to a nearby bed and smoothing ou the sheets.
"Here, Bottle. Put her here."
Bottle, a little greasemonkey reploid, rushed in behind his friend carrying something very big and shaggy in his arms. He dropped the bundle on the bed Jackal indicated and fur and blood flew all over the white sheets.
Genesis smacked the sides of his head with his balled-up fists. "Oh Gawd!"
"Can you help her, Genesis?"
"Am I your personal vet now, here to cure the ills of your housepets?"
"It's not a dog," Jackal said. "It's a wolf. I found her about half a mile from the garage when I was taking out some Chevals for a test run. Her front paw is hurt badly."
"From dreams to suicides to injured wolves," Genesis grumbled. "I wonder what the next hour will bring." The medic took a length of thick cord from a drawer and tied the unconscious wolf's tapered muzzle. "Well. Let's see what we're dealing with."
Jackal smiled. "Thanks Genesis."
"Why couldn't have Zero stumbled on this wretched creature?" Genesis said. "He would've just killed it or ignored it, and save me the trouble of bandaging up some mongrel's paw. Better yet if Hawkmoon found him. Maybe she would've eaten him." But the fox's hand moved softly over the wolf's paw, searching. "What an odd wound."
Jackal strained to see. "What?"
"The paw is broken, I think. No, more like dislocated. Like it got caught between something narrow and she pulled to get free."
"A branch, maybe?"
"I don't think so. More like ... " Genesis paused. "A sewer grate."
"The wolf is from the city?" Bottle said at the Medic's elbow.
"Nah, it's a silly thought," Genesis said as he wrapped up the break. "I'm just making a comparison. Who knows what got her. But she should be all right with some time. And she's not staying in here. Cain wouldn't let you keep her anyway."
Jackal frowned. "I can't just put her back on the Plains with a break."
"Sure you can. Animals adapt. They're not like humans who cry over a pain in their toe."
The mechanic became quiet as he pet the wolf's matted brown mane and tattered ears. Her powerful leg muscles twitched as she slept blackly.
"I'm going to keep her in the garage."
Genesis had his back turned and was washing some insturments. "Sure you are."
"I'm going to keep the garage door open. If she wants to leave, she'll leave. If she stays, she'll stay."
"Yes. A giant carnivore in MHHQ. Cain will throw a party over that one."
"Monroe never comes into the garage anyway. He's afraid of the soot."
"Well then," Genesis said. "You're welcome to do as you wish, Jackal. But don't be surprised if she turns feral. Or rabid. God help you then. I don't know how healthy a wolf from the Skeleton Grasslands is in the first place. Then again, Nature has to get off her matronly butt sooner or later and bring some restoration to this ugly ball of dust. Maybe you'll luck out."
At a nod from Jackal, Bottle gathered up the wolf once more and hoised her with little effort. Genesis knew an animal lover when he saw one. Jackal had a new friend.