Episode Twelve

Dear readers, again I must apologize to you. I work a difficult job that sometimes smashes into my weekend and when I planned to finalize the narration videos for 11 and 12, work called. So, I plan on finishing both tomorrow, Monday once this proposal for work is finished (out of my hands Tuesday). But I still wanted readers to have something, so I’m posting the text now.

The night after meeting the anarchist Epione, I decide to gather every Houston phone book I can find. There are dozens of them littered everywhere, some abandoned in trash cans and dumpsters, some used as door blocks, and one used to make up for a chair’s broken leg.

My collection of soggy yellow bricks ends up covering the coffee table in Paul and I’s apartment. 

Three days after beginning my collection, I find what I’m looking for in the 2097 edition.

“Aha!” I shout, startling Mateo from his meal: Ugali and fish sauce from a nearby Kenyan cafe.  The four hundred dollars from the warehouse job means at least one nice meal.

“You made me fuckin’ jump, dude,” Mateo says. “Did your stinky books finally tell you something?” 

I grin at him. It’s nice having someone else around, someone who knows who I am and accepts that. He’s just a kid, but he’s a good kid. “Look at that.” I point at the book. Right near the top of the page is an entry for MARSKIN DELIVERIES. And instead of one warehouse, there’s two. The first is the one I found Mateo in. The second one is just outside the Shells, near the Second Ward. 

“It’s a long shot, but maybe we’ll find a lead there,” I say. 

“What about the Front?” Mateo asks.

“I’ll check every nook and cranny I can before I join up with the Front,” I say. I hold my tongue on my other thoughts: While I think their goal is fine and noble, it’s a matter of scale. How’s a ragtag group of reviled freedom fighters gonna topple an empire? 

Mateo isn’t thrilled with my answer. His frustration fills the air. I expect a barbed reply, but he shrugs and shakes his head. A renewed enthusiasm hits him a second later. With a wide grin he says, “Let’s do this, then!” 

We finish our meal, but before we leave I make sure to check on Paul. 

He’s asleep in his bed. His arm, the one that was broken after he took Mateo’s injury, has healed. He must have passed the injury on. “Hopefully you gave it to someone deserving,” I mutter. I caress his healed arm and then leave him to his rest. 

Mateo rides piggyback as I keep us from the streets, traveling across rooftops and alleys. Since we’re heading north, my orbit trick won’t work, but the shadow of night is enough to travel by foot without getting noticed, especially since I travel fast. At the same time I listen for heartbeats. The occasional soft beat I hear once or twice, but they disappear quickly as we leap from one building to the next. 

We come to the Broken 45, a massive highway just north of the Shells. The aging concrete is cracked, stained red from Carnality’s warpath. The whole road is unusable now, for cars and pedestrians. 

I leap across the highway toward the Great East End. In my opinion, Broken 45 is really the only thing that distinguishes Great East End from its twin south of the highway. Like the Shells, it exists as a clump of permanently temporary buildings and recycled ruins.  

As we travel, our perspective on Downtown changes and the Smiling Tower comes into full view. Great East End stares at that bloody grin, twenty four hours a day. It sits halfway up the tower, vibrant red lips just showing twisted, wicked teeth. From what I’ve heard, it’s all made from the same material as the building. Affect impressions are the stuff of nightmares.

Mateo shivers. “At least you can’t see it from our apartment.” 

“It was left by Carnality,” I say. “Do you know who that is?” 

“She fucked up the city, I heard,” he says. 

“She killed Megajoule.” 

“Dude,” Mateo whispers. 

We drop that particular thread. I focus on conjuring up my mental map of eastern Houston. It takes me a little time, but eventually I find my way to the address of the second Marskin warehouse.

Like its sibling, the warehouse appears abandoned. No lights.There’s no lettering anywhere to mark it as belonging to anyone. 

There is no office entrance to this warehouse. Instead there are three truck doors facing north. 

Mateo hops off my back and conjures a board of light.

My thermoception tells me the interior is abandoned. Cold. Nothing. No bodies, alive or dead. Which is somewhat of a relief, I have to admit. Wouldn’t it be deliciously ironic to get caught at a second massacre? 

Mateo floats down to the warehouse doors on a board of light, so I chase after. “They’re locked,” he says as he floats a foot away from the ground. 

A metal lock holds the chain that opens the truck entrance. At first I think nothing of it, but then I notice how shiny it is. No rust. “Fresh locks,” I say. 

Mateo lands next to me. “Fresh?” he asks. “You’re sure?” 

Dread washes over me. I explore the warehouse with my thermokinetic sense, but my new suspicion finds nothing. It’s completely abandoned. But the lock is certainly fresh, or at least someone takes the time to polish it weekly. Both realities mean someone frequents this place.

“What do we do?” Mateo asks. 

“It could be a trap, but I don’t sense anything,” I say. “No motion, nothing hotter or colder than the ambient temperature.” 

“So we go in.” 

“Right,” I say, willing heat into my fingers to make a miniaturized blow torch. I melt the lock, restrain the heat back in my heart, and open the door with the chain. 

The image of the massacre pops into my brain for a split second, overlaying the darkness so that in the shadows I see hundreds of dead people. The street lamps and moonlight scatter my impression when I finish opening the door. 

The warehouse is empty, just as my senses told me.

Mateo conjures a few of his glowing spheres. He casts them into the building. The spheres illuminate the concrete floor, corrugated steel walls, and little else. He then creates two more spheres for the both of us. The orange one he tosses to me, while the cyan one he keeps for himself.

With no one attacking us right away, we get to work exploring the warehouse. The faster, the better, in case this place is bugged. Mateo follows behind me as I walk along the walls, searching the metal shelves and cabinets. I’m dismayed to find the shelves empty, not a scrap of paper or computer that could tell me anything about this place. 

“Have you melted a lot of locks?” Mateo asks. “It looked like you’d done it before.” 

“I’ve melted some things in my day,” I say. “Mostly knobs and fences.”

“The other day, with the glowing and the heat after we landed near the farm…” Mateo trails off. 

“Right, that can happen if I push too hard,” I say. 

“Are you always holding heat inside you?” he asks. 

“I keep it in my heart. I always have some in case I need it,” I say. 

“How much are you holding right now?” 

I listen to the storm in my chest. Its roar is as deafening as ever. “Around fifteen thousand degrees, I’d guess.” 

Mateo whirls around at me. “Are you kidding me?” 

“Nope.” 

“Wild,” he whispers. 

Since I moved to Houston and began working here, the storm in my chest has not quieted. I can’t recall any time where I did not have a large stockpile in me. 

We split up to cover more ground. The minutes pass by in tense quiet. The only sound is the scrape of metal as we open and close cabinet doors. 

Mateo and I meet up again at the opposite end of the warehouse. He frowns at me. “Did you find anything?” 

I turn around and inspect the warehouse at large. Mateo’s lamp-spheres show us the truth. This place is clean. The lead is fucking dead. Not only that, but the lock means that someone came here in the last week. 

And if the warehouse is empty, the business abandoned, then who is locking it, and why? 

To send a message. 

We know you’re after us. 

They did this on purpose. They knew someone would find this place eventually and they wanted me to know they’re slamming the door in my face.

“God damn it!” I shout. I hurl Mateo’s ball with all my might, throwing it clear out of the warehouse door. 

“Ey, dude! Take it easy!” Mateo grabs my arm. 

I wrench my arm free. My ears are ringing. I feel my fury fuming from me, rising above to the warehouse ceiling like smoke from a flame. “We’ve got to go.” I march toward the entrance. 

“Why are you so pissed?” Mateo asks, floating up behind me on his board. 

“I’m not,” I say, knowing my teeth are clenching. 

“You so are, dude,” he says. 

“You know what?” I grab his surfboard with my hands, stopping him in place by absorbing any movement he wills with my power. “I’m pissed now, since you won’t shut up.” 

Mateo scowls at me. “Alright, asshole! I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you can walk back by yourself!” He jumps off his board and finds his way ahead of me out of the warehouse. 

“Damn it,” I mutter, chasing after him. I keep my thermoception on him. Before I can turn the corner past the door, I feel him rise to the sky, presumably on his board.

He veers off into a nearby alley, but stops before I close the distance with my power. I start marching over to catch him before he can take off again, but I realize he’s not trying to get back into the air. He sits down and leans against something. 

I inhale and exhale. Inhale and exhale, letting myself regain control of my anger. I wait another moment to relax completely, then walk into the alley to find Mateo.

He glares at me. “You gonna yell at me some more?” 

“Nah,” I say. “Sorry. Just realized something bad and let it take over.” 

Mateo crosses his arms and stares down at the pavement. He frowns deeply, as if the alley has done something to offend him. 

 “You don’t think we can trust Epione?” he asks. “That’s it, isn’t it?” 

I scowl. He’s got me right. “Fine, kid. I don’t doubt she’d love to get rid of Pandahead. But I don’t think it’ll be purely altruistic, you know? I think she’ll want other things from us. She’ll want payment, or favors, or she’ll use us up before she gives us what she wants. She’s an anarchist first, Houstonian second.” 

“What are you?” Mateo looks at me again, no longer angry. “Do you have an opinion?” 

“I don’t get to have an opinion. I can’t protest, I can’t use the forums. Can’t even get a poster and paint it up and go ranting. Hell, kid, I can’t even get an account card.”

I sigh. “Ghosts don’t get opinions.” 

“Oh, piss off, dude.” Mateo grabs my arm. “Even I got an opinion. You wanna hear?” 

“Tell me all, little budding anarchist.” 

“They’re an evil empire,” Mateo says. “This cartel jefe my dad liked a lot used to say Foundation made a big deal of surviving the world. He would say the rest of us have to survive the world and Foundation together.” 

“No such thing as an evil empire,” I say. “People are evil.”

“They made you, didn’t they?” he asks. His voice is direct but earnest all the same. “You and your brothers.”  

His question hits a sore spot and rekindles my anger. I can’t even bear to think of my brothers. 

I try to hide my anger, but Mateo notices as I bite my lip. “Sorry.” 

“No,” I say, relaxing. “Foundation didn’t make me. Thirty seven scientists and a cape made me. And yeah, I hate them. If I ever get the chance, I’ll kill them. But I don’t have beef with what people want to call themselves or whatever government is around.” 

I turn away and fall silent. I’ve never wanted to blame Foundation. If I keep my eyes to the ground, eventually, some day, I’ll be able to make it right. But if I start to look up I ask questions that I don’t have answers to. These questions turn in my brain along with the name Home Run, like dirty laundry rattling in a busted washing machine. 

Am I just a sum of questions? If I answer them, will I disappear?

“What if Foundation ordered you made?” Mateo asks. 

“Then I’ll kill the person that made the order,” I say. “If that’s Cynic, then that’s her. But you know killing her wouldn’t get rid of Foundation, right?” 

Mateo shrugs. “Let’s just go back home,” he says. 

***

I come to terms with my fate over a cigarette. I draw the curtains over my balcony so I can sit outside without having to worry about a drone capturing my face. 

I draw the cig from my pocket and fill my finger with heat. A little flame sprouts from my fingernail. I take a drag as I mindlessly stare at the curtains, unable to see the Houston skyline beyond.

My lungs don’t feel it. They never have. At least I can taste and smell the charred sweetness. 

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Mateo says, appearing at the door.

“Rarely,” I reply. I didn’t want to smoke in front of him. I drop the cigarette to the ground and stomp it out.

Mateo watches me. “Yeah, you don’t seem like a smoker. My pa smoked like a chimney. The smell was in his clothes and his hands.”

“Yeah?” I ask, wanting to encourage him. He looks happy thinking about his pa. 

Mateo doesn’t dwell on it long. “Do you like it?” he asks.

“Doesn’t do much for me. It’s more the ritual I find comforting, like making a cup of coffee in the morning before Paul wakes up.” Not the good coffee, though, just whatever I can find on the street. I remember the lab had real coffee, and though I never got to taste it, the smell was rich to the point of making me cry. 

Mateo shakes his head. “I’ve never had coffee. I used to see it get shipped off by those big robot ships. The ones that look like drones but bigger. They’d come and pick up huge crates of it and fly off.” 

“You’ve never had coffee?” 

“Nah, dude.”

Just another thing we need to catch him up on. 

I part the curtains a little so we can see Downtown. We sit together quietly, watching Houston shine in defiance of the darkness. The colors in the sky shift and dance from violet to green to the blue at the bottom of the ocean; the stars morph into new shapes like faces and hands before returning to their original constellations. The world reminds us that there are bigger things than cigarettes and coffee. 

I fish into my pocket again, this time for the card Epione gave me.

SUPPORT ON PATREON
VOTE ON TOP WEB FICTION
JOIN THE DISCORD

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