The light of sunset filtered in through a solitary window, causing the room to glow. Cluttered and untidy, the room was not unkempt; there was an order to the madness and the signs of recent occupation. Several half-finished projects were laid out neatly separated from each other: rough white canvas cut into rectangles, black paint and brushes nearby, a gun cleaned and ready to be reassembled, sheets of stained paper with half-written notes on them.
“Be careful on the way back to Fort Shitmore, Spinner,” Brandon’s hand all but disappeared when Spinner clasped his hand over Brandon’s. “We woulda been fucked pretty fucking hard without your work here. Thanks.” Lonely Streetz had camped next to Fort Seymour’s BFG compound at Devil’s Den, and the last of the wagons were being loaded.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Watching Spinner shrug was like watching mountains give birth to hills. “I just did what I always do: sit at my workbench and fucking work. I lost count of how many Deerjays and Swamprunners I made in the last four days.” The Iron handed Brandon a cigar. “You, on the other hand? I thought you were just another mouthy Yorker when I first met you. Turns out you’re a mouthy Yorker that gets shit done,” Spinner smiled warmly.
“I mean, whatever,” Brandon waved his hand dismissively.
“YOU TOLD PEOPLE TO UPROOT AND MOVE A FUCKING HOSPITAL,” Spinner bellowed in reply, “AND THEY FUCKING DID.” Concern softened Spinner’s animated face. “I’ve never seen such a thing in all my days. It’s okay to take some credit, man.”
Someone yelled at Spinner that they were leaving. The two embraced, and Brandon went back to helping his gang pull up camp.
Low notes plunked out solemnly from a stringed instrument. A pile of papers sat on the windowsill. Just below the window a sheet of paper with two dozen names were tacked to the wall on a sheet of paper, with over half them crossed out. ‘Brandon B. Roderick’ was circled, but not crossed out. A few question marks were written around the circle, arrows drawn toward the circle.
Five people walked down a pitch black path, guided by a solitary lantern in the distance that marked the Hospital and Farmland of the Sainthood of the Ashes.
“Remember that time in Fort Wayne Junction when we were kids, Johnny?” Brandon asked in hushed tones.
The group advanced cautiously and purposely, all eyes in all directions at once. He caught Xerox DeWalt’s gaze several times in the low light as she turned to look at Brandon, bewildered.
“You two, uh,” Xerox’s gaze snapped to the front and the group snapped still for a moment. Confident the coast was clear, “know each other?”
“Obviously we go way back, Xe,” chided Brandon. “Why is it that nobody ever believes me when I say that I grew up on a Rover Caravan?”
“Sheets Mc-fuckin’-Ginty,” Johnny Chapman chuckled. “We almost died that night.”
“WHO IS,” Tizer started to yell, Merican and confused. He was silenced by the rest in a hail of shushes and Russel clamping Tizer’s lips shut with his fingers. They traveled a few hundred more feet into a clearing.
They’d completed their journey to the Sainthood hospital. But with reports of open hostilities between the Fallow Hopes and the Darwins, the rest of the company left Brandon ‘for his safety’ at the Hospital while they went to scout out the situation.
Brandon sat inside the Hospital, enjoying the quiet of the immediate area. Noise drifted in from the Hedon High Saturday party, and Brandon couldn’t decide if it was a colossal brawl or an orgy. Sounds of battle came from the east where the Darwins were camped out. A small Lascarian that Brandon recognized from the Grove had entered the hospital, and darted around the interior.
“So much fighting. Why are they fighting?” it had said to no one. “Too much. Too much fighting. Wrong enemy,” The Lascarian curled up at Brandon’s feet, clutching his leg. “Why are they fighting each other? Why not fight raiders?”
Brandon patted the troubled Blinky on its head reassuringly. “Because they’re idiots,” The Lascarian squeezed his leg tighter. “I guess,” it was another tally in the column that made Brandon keep religion at arm’s length.
More people began to filter in to the compound, eventually followed by Brandon’s original company of Johnny, Tizer, Russel, and Xerox. The Lascarian scuttled to a dimly lit corner of the building with the new influx of people.
“Shit’s going to hell in a handbasket,” Xe reported.
“It’s getting way too crowded here. We should fuck off before this place gets fucked because there’s too many people here,” Brandon proposed.
“Where would we go?” Russel Skyhunter asked.
“Safe House, over by the stage. I still need to grab my shit from storage, too.” Brandon looked around to the growing crowd. “Fuck it. I’m going. Youse guys are welcome to join me.”
Brandon and his four companions left the Sainthood hospital, bound for the other side of the encampment.
A baritone voice sketched out a hesitant melody to the ponderous counterpoint of the low notes. It faltered, causing the supporting music to crumble. Expletives only a Yorker could utter punctuated the air were followed by the sound of a pencil scratching on a sheet of paper. A weary sigh was let out, punctuated by the rhythmic sound of empty bottles being lifted then set down to check their contents.
“EMPTY? THE FUCK TO YOU MEAN THE TRUCK IS FUCKING EMPTY?” Brandon yelled at Ridley.
“DID I FUCKING STUTTER?” Ridley yelled back into Brandon’s face.
Panic kept either of the two from escalating further. Brock had quickly organized a rescue mission. The cheers of the baited crowd deafened the weary pair when Ministry returned with its tail of rescuees.
Brandon and Sitter DeWalt buckled themselves down in the triage area, Sitter organizing the medics and Brandon helping to keep everything else afloat, distributing healthy meals to the people whose Bad Brain infection was only beginning.
“This would be a lot easier if that Physician’s Bay were down here, rather than up in the northern field.” Sitter complained.
Brandon broke off from the triage area and stalked across the field as the truck left on another run. He cornered three people in front of the depot. “Here’s what I need you to do: Get as many people as you can, and carry that fucking Physician’s Bay down here. The less time and energy the medics spend diagnosing Bad Brain, the better. Got it?”
The trio nodded woodenly and scattered up the road.. Brandon sighed, and then went back to keeping the Ministry loaded and running with Ridley.
Dust motes kicked up by the moving bottles hung in the air, winking out as the sun went behind another building. Brandon lit a candle before grabbing his bag and weapon, and draped his armor over his shoulders. The building that he often holed up in when not in Hayven was reasonably safe by Old York standards, and not far from his old hideout that he used to share with Tommy and the Daves a few years and another name ago. He shut the door and began the trek down to the seventh floor where Elphajus Douge’s bar was.
Elphajus was one of the few locals who knew Brandon as Brandon. At least, for the last few months, he did. Brandon had told his story about the facebiter in Hayven half drunk in the bar early one morning after returning from Fort Seymour. The elderly Yorker had cornered him discreetly and revealed that he knew Marcus and was a Tremor himself. Things were different for Brandon after that: Elphajus gave him way more shit and actually put him to work now and again, but Brandon found that he was able to give more shit back to Elph. The two had come to an unspoken accord: Brandon could hustle unsuspecting rubes in the bar provided he was discreet and cut Elph in on the action, and Elphajus would point people who’d offended him enough to be shorted more than a few cred to Brandon’s usual handiwork, often referring to him as ‘That shisno that thinks he can play cards.’
Brandon had made it down to the bar just after sunset. A pair of Red Mist addicts hemmed him up in the seventeenth floor, but he was able to extricate himself without having to resort to violence or without being lightened any cred. Greeted by Elphajus with a slight nod, Brandon walked in to a busy room and set his bag down at his usual table before meandering behind the bar to mooch a pint and hang up his armor and weapon. Being obviously associated with the house afforded a few modest protections, and as long as Brandon was smart enough to sit with a back to a wall, he knew Elphajus had a Mother’s Milk with his name on it.
Brandon’s drink was poured and delivered with supernatural percision.
“Your ‘Friends’ were in here the other day, B.” Brandon marveled at Elph’s ability to pronounce quote marks while taking a sip of the hooch, and made a mental note to ask Mister Hoffa about how such a thing was possible. Brandon settled in at the end of the bar. A tall, lanky woman took up a stool away, filthy and haggard. Her blonde hair was close cropped and she was covered head to toe in the grime of the wastes, save for the clean spot around her eyes. She was followed by a diminutive Remnant that was covered with brown and green scales that sat between them. Elphajus served them without hesitation. “Ayyo,” the din of the tavern was growing and Elph was only audible to the trio. “This is Brandon. He helped run the Ministry in Devil’s Den and did a spot of honest good down there. B, this is Gerome and Isol. One’s a Centurion, the other is a Postal Worker.” Elphajus left them for paying patrons after the cursory introduction.
The Remnant picked up its glass, opened its mouth, and dropped a long fleshy proboscis into its drink, slurping away. Brandon quickly slugged a third of his glass down nervously.
“Do not worry. Your friend did not sell you out,” The thin woman stated plainly. “While we were not fortunate enough to receive the support required,” she frowned, “we do appreciate that some kind of effort was coordinated to do so.”
Brandon cursed Brock under his breath. One more burden shouldered without question or permission.
“That’s a fucking relief, then,” Brandon downed the rest of his hooch. “So what the actual fuck?”
Before the thin woman could reply, a trio that was loud and obnoxious even by Yorker standards entered the bar. They’d been coming in somewhat regularly for three weeks now and were a shitty mirror to Brandon; the kind of people that Tommy Two-Times would have recruited in a second. The Centurion’s gaze snapped to the group as they made their way through the bar, getting in everyone’s face with little quips and zingers.
Ooorang was the tallest of the three. His greasy red beard and loose jowls spilled out over the blue jersey he wore. He was the loudest, and often the drunkest of the three; what passed for their leader. He sat down with his back to the door and the rest of the bar and slapped down a few cred for drinks. Rolwe was the second to sit down, shifting their bulk and scarves into the aisle. They perched precariously on a chair and fluttered their scarves suggestively at several patrons. Rolwe was known by the regulars to leave the bar with several companions in tow at the end of the night. Mokh-Mokh was the least belligerently offensive member of the group, but in equal measures the most sketchy. The Lascarian kept its rail thin physique well covered in maroon rags and its bloody cleaver plainly displayed.
“Those motherfuckers,” Gerome uttered in his basso profundo voice after he brought his tongue back into his mouth. “We never had proof, but a shitload of our meals that we had earmarked for people who needed it to stave off a Bad Brain infection went missing after those three came through our camp.”
“Which is …something, because those three were trying to peddle meals to our camp at exorbitant rates,” Isol spat, and frowned.
Three more drinks found their way into Brandon, Isol, and Gerome’s hands while they sat and tried to ignore the brags and boasts of the noisy trio.
“Ayyo, Elph!” Brandon called out after rapidly downing his pint. “We ever figure out if my ‘Friends'” Brandon hoped he pronounced the quote marks right “uh, Whose colors they wore?”
Elphajus reappeared with a bottle of terlet hooch and uncorked it, leaving it in front of Gerome, Isol, and Brandon.
“In my experience, people who don’t wear their colors obviously and proudly, don’t wear colors that bear respecting,” he tapped the side of his nose twice before hustling off.
Brandon poured out the terlet hooch in equal measures, drinking it without making a stupid face while Gerome and Isol winced trying to keep up with Brandon.
“MAAAANN, FUCK LONELY STREETZ,” Ooorang hollered over the din. “What a bunch of fuckin’ loosers. If they had their shit together, why did they fuck up so hard at Devil’s Den? Brock? Such a chump! And a failure too!”
Brandon got up slightly unsteadily from his stool and walked around behind the bar to retrieve his armor. Elphajus caught his eye, and after a few moments meandered to him.
“ELPH,” Brandon began, “You’re right. I’ve got to wear my colors proudly.” He set three trade notes on the bar. Elphajus nodded and scooped them up quickly before going back to serving drinks. Brandon made a few gestures to Gerome and Isol, and left from behind the bar carrying his Deerjay.
Brandon brought down his weapon on Ooorang’s right shoulder with two hands. The blade broke his collarbone and got stuck for a moment until Brandon kicked the legs out from the chair freeing the road sign blade for a few more short jabs to puncture vital organs. Rowle and Mokh-Mokh tired to interefere with the assault, but Isol held the equally wiry Lascarian in its seat while Gerome wrapped its tongue around Rowle’s throat, with the business end smacking its lips in Rowle’s ear. A few kicks to Ooorang’s ribs displaced him from his chair, which Brandon picked up and spun around to sit in.
Ooorang choked on his own invective as Brandon gently lowered the tip of his weapon into the bleeding Yorker’s mouth.
“NOW,” Brandon Yelled. The bar had gone silent, anticipating a good show. He set an Uncle Todd’s brew on the table.”that I have your undivided attention,” Brandon put his feet up on the table and fished out a cigarette with his free hand. “You’ve offended some friends of mine, as well as delivered me a severe personal insult.” He adjusted his armor so the Lonely Streetz patch was clearly visible. “And no one here would give the sweat from a Rottie’s taint for your lives.”
“Hey, fuck you, Brandon,” called someone from the other end of the bar, chuckling.
“No offense, Frankie,” Brandon apologized.
He lit his cigarette while Mokh-Mokh and Rowle tried to protest and lay blame at Ooorang’s feet.
“Keep wasting your breath, if you want this shisno to die. It’s not what I want, for sure, but keep fucking talking. I can wait.”
The pair fell silent while Ooorang gurgled quietly.
“See, I ain’t even mad about your methods, yanno? But I don’t know what’s stupider, pullin’ shit like what you did in a warzone or bragging about it to anyone who’ll listen. So, I’m askin’ nicely: cut that shit out. Re-think your lives, people. I was on the same track, and I’d have gotten caught eventually.”
Ooorang’s breaths were getting shallower and more labored, exacerbated by the tip of Brandon’s Deerjay.
“I see any of you fucks around here again, you’re dead, period. I’ll hold each one of you face first into the fucking gravemind until you’re zed.” He removed his Deerjay and cracked open the brew, carefully pouring it into Ooorang’s mouth. “Now fuck off.”
The trio released exited the bar in a flurry of panic, to the amusement of the crowd. Brandon produced a deck of cards and began shuffling.
“So who wants to play some fucking cards?”