APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 8 August, 1999


Bad Trip

Part 1

John Guilfoyle

[Heads up: there's a little bit of strong language ahead. Not much. Just so you know. -JG]

[Coward. *^_^* -Ed.]

A warm, foul-smelling wind washing over his weathered face, Seth Nohkia surveyed the dismal scene in front of him. He stood at one of the main exits of Khayr ad-Din's massive maglev station, and the garbage city sprawled from the hub of the TransRail compound like a festering cancer. The magnetic train he'd arrived on had already taken on passengers and struck off northwest, headed for Fort James.

Khayr ad-Din was a deadly place for the unwise, especially at night, but Seth was no tenderfoot. Rather, he was a seasoned Badlander -- one who was no stranger to street life. One look at him told the light-fingered urchins and thick-skulled muggers prowling the cramped alleys that he'd not be easy prey. Nohkia moved through the Core -- he was virtually sure the person he was looking for wouldn't be there, in the city's most affluent sector, if it could be called that. The Core was where the criminal overlord of the city -- "the Spider" he was called -- made his home. His thugs ensured that the Core district was relatively safe and clean, compared to the rest of the wretched city. Khayr ad-Din had earned its nickname -- "The City of Trash" -- honestly. After the original settlement of Monroe had been wiped out by a terrible desert tempest, Northern and Southern cities began using the place as a dumping ground for all the garbage they didn't want to accumulate around their own precious urban centers.

Seth headed for the "Pit" first. Its residents were those who were not so destitute or desperate as those who dwelled in the trash heaps, but who also had not found enough favor with the Spider to have moved into the Core proper. It was also an area renowned for two hard-edged trades: mercenaries and drugs. It was the latter that had attracted Seth. If what Kandle had told him was true, chances were he'd find who he was looking for somewhere in the crater northeast of the Core. That's where she'd last been seen, at least.

Making his way down a make-shift set of stairs, Nohkia sharpened his senses. This part of town was more dangerous than the Core, and the glint in his eye and pistol on his hip were no sure means of easy passage. In short order he unfolded a tattered picture of the woman he sought and began asking the locals who were at least moderately helpful-looking if they'd seen her. None had, until he asked a skinny, dirty girl of about ten.

"I seen her," the girl offered quickly, almost defiantly.

"Can you tell me where?" Seth asked, his voice low.

"I seen her," she repeated, raising her eyebrows at the stranger.

Seth smiled slightly. "I heard you. I asked if you could tell me where."

"I heard you," the youngster countered. "I asked what you'd give me."

After glancing around to make sure his conversation with the girl wasn't being noticed, Seth knelt down beside her. "Are you one of Mother Superior's orphans?"

"No. I just know not to give something away for free when someone is willing to pay for it."

Seth stifled a laugh; he couldn't help but like the girl's spirit. He produced a canteen from under his cloak, along with two strips of jerked springer meat. "I'll give you a drink, and you can have this dried meat as well. If you can tell me where she is. Deal?"

The barefoot girl eyed the canteen. It was very likely fresh water, she reasoned, maybe even from the big filtration tanks inside the maglev station -- that's where the man had come from, after all. She couldn't remember her last drink of truly clean water; the little rain that fell on Khayr ad-Din was polluted by the noxious clouds that often hung over the city. What waterroot and ground water there was in the area was often undrinkable; even at its best it had an awful metallic tang. Licking her lips unconsciously, the girl nodded as she reached for the canteen and meat.

Seth let her drink deeply, and then watched as she voraciously tore into the springer meat. After finishing, she licked each of her fingers expertly, then wiped them on her grubby clothes. "All done?" he asked lightly.

"Yes," she replied simply. She then pointed across the street. "She's in there."

Nohkia turned to look at the establishment, which was a low, flat-roofed structure; one story, covered in graffiti and pock-marked with bullet holes and other urban scars. The lights were low inside, and a sign, too badly faded to read in the dark, hung over the door. Seth thanked the young girl and headed for the bar. He hadn't expected to find Eee this easily, but lucky breaks were few and far between for the man; he seized them whenever he could.

Pulling open the heavy door, Seth stepped into the gloomy bar. Low, droning music played in the background, too muddy and bass-laden to make out. Ten different kinds of smoke, all of them mind- altering, mingled in the air, stinging his nostrils. Walking to the center of the room, the heavily garbed man scanned the crowd, ignoring the dozen or more hard stares he received. When he saw a woman slumped at a table in the corner, he recognized her without even seeing her face. Several heavy steps brought him to her side, and as he knelt beside her he saw that she was unconscious -- drunk or stoned, most likely.

"Eee, what have you done to yourself?" He asked her quietly, moving her gently away from the table so he could see her face. A face that, normally lean and tanned, was sickeningly pale and puffy. Drool ran from her chin, and as he lifted her head back her eyes fluttered for a moment but did not open.

"Sweet Prophet," Seth cursed, lifting the woman as he got to his feet. Throwing her motionless form over his shoulder, he headed for the exit of the bar.

"That woman owes me two hundred dinars!" the bartender suddenly erupted, seeing Seth about to leave the premises.

Seth turned to look at the man, his face expressionless. "What for?" he asked.

The barkeep, a short, thick-necked man who reeked of sweat and spoiled meat, curled his lips as he pointed to a recently boarded-up window. "She put someone through that window this afternoon. Didn't apologize for it, neither." His already sour look worsened. "She's been nothin' but trouble, that one. But I aim to get my two hundred dinars."

At the bar's entrance, a huge man with a thick man of hair and a handle-bar moustache moved into place. Glancing over his shoulder, Nohkia saw that the bouncer was rather happily wielding a heavy pipe. Sighing slightly, he moved towards the bar, Eee still slung over his shoulder. "I don't want trouble," he began upon reaching the bartender. "You'll get your money, but I have to back to the rail station to get it. You don't just waltz into the Pit with that much cash in your pocket, after all."

"Then she stays until you come back," the oily man responded, stabbing a fat finger at the woman's elevated posterior.

"No, she's in no condition to be in here. I'm taking her right now. I'll be back."

"Hey, buddy -- you deaf?" the muscular bouncer called out, moving towards the stranger with purpose. "The girl stays till you pay up. Or else."

Shifting his shoulder slightly, Seth allowed Eee to slide gently to the floor. He then turned to face the thug. He was silent for a moment, prompting a sudden quiet to fall over the rest of the bar as the two men locked eyes. The heavy rasp of the bouncer's breath and the slight creak of Seth's desert garb filled the air for long seconds, until the bartender could take it no longer.

"Oh, shit. Just brain this fuckin' guy, Looie!"

"Yeah!" the brawny man yelled in response, leaping forward to the attack. When he swung his make- shift club at Seth's head, however, the more agile man caught and tore the weapon away from the surprised combatant. In another half-second, the surprised look was knocked straight off the man's face as the metal pipe slammed into his nose, crushing it to a bloody pulp against his skull. The big man fell heavily, blood gushing down his face. As he whimpered on the ground, Seth dropped the pipe and turned back to the barkeep.

"I would have paid you your two hundred dinars. Now you get nothing." Stooping to pick Eee up again, Nohkia eyed the still-silent crowd and made for the exit.

Eeena Merquise, or OEEee' as she was known by her close friends, was waking up. Waking up to a strange floating sensation and almost alien sound she'd not heard for cycles. Water? Was it the gentle lap of water? Opening her eyes, she saw that indeed it was. "W-what the hell?" she asked herself quietly, sitting up in the steep-sided bathtub she found herself in. Despite the fact that she still had on the frayed underwear and stained, sun-bleached camisole she usually wore under her desert suit, Eee felt naked. And cold, and not a little afraid. She had no recollection of where she was or how she'd gotten there, and while blackouts during drug hazes like the one she was awakening from weren't completely uncommon, she always remembered where --and with whom-- she'd ended up for the night.

Except last night, apparently.

Merquise attempted to stand, but her legs turned rubbery beneath her and she fell back down into the tub with a blang and a slosh. The drugs -- Konk and Mirage were what she was on most of the time lately -- had taken their toll on her once strong body. Before she was able to try again, the door to the bathroom opened and a face she hadn't seen in long cycles appeared.

"You're awake," Seth commented plainly, his eyes falling to his old friend's ashen face.

"Sssseth." the woman stated numbly, her tongue not entirely cooperating.

"Yes, Eee, it's me. You're a mess."

"I know," she shivered slightly. "What's with the water? This must have cost you a fortune."

"Yes, a small one. The exact amount depends on how much the hotel can reclaim when you're through soaking in it. I tend to think the lot of it will be toxic, and they'll just have to dump it in the heaps."

Though the situation still didn't make much sense to her, Eee was calming slightly. "Very funny," she returned with a glare. "I'm fine, Seth. I just had a rough day yesterday."

Nohkia moved over to the side of the tub and sat down on its edge. Though her soaked garments afforded her next to no modesty, Eee made no attempt to cover her body. They had been the most intimate of lovers in cycles past, and even after all this time there was still a powerful connection between them. "The story I heard from Kandle, bless his heart, is that you've had a rough season, not a rough day. That you're an addict again, and you're going to end up dead before you end up clean."

Eee pushed the water around with her hands, mildly fascinated by the tiny eddies and currents she was able to create. "I'm fine, Seth," she repeated, though she knew her empty eyes betrayed her.

Seth's expression saddened slightly. Eee had been a beautiful woman -- and still would be, if not for the ravages of the drugs. The sexy wrinkles at the edges of her eyes were still there, but they were overpowered by the hollowness of her cheeks. Her olive skin still looked as though it were like silk to touch, but she was unhealthily underweight -- Seth could see the woman's ribs through her clinging tank top. Her frame, once lean and strong, now looked only frail and broken.

"What happened?" he asked, finally.

Leaning back in the water to wet her hair, Eee shrugged. "Fell off the wagon, I guess."

"You hadn't touched a drug in ten cycles, Eee. Why now?"

"What the hell do you care for? You think I'm going to believe that you came all the way to Khayr ad-Din just to check up on me, to make sure I wasn't shooting Scorp or some other shit into my veins? There must be some other reason why you're here."

"There is," Seth nodded. "We need a pilot."

Eee's eyes flashed for a half second. "Well, too bad for you," she said evenly. "See, I don't fly anymore. Sold the fucking Grasshopper, too. Had to have cash to buy drugs, you know."

Seth's reply was cut short by a loud sound from the room adjoining the bathroom. Eee was about to ask what the commotion was when he silenced her with a hand signal and stepped over to the door. He was about to crack it open when it suddenly splintered apart as though it'd been struck by a round from a snub cannon. The cause of the door's destruction -- a Mordred class GREL -- was in the room and steaming towards Seth in the blink of an eye. Nohkia, however, was truly a phenomenal hand-to-hand combatant; as the genetic monstrosity came forward he struck the brute hard in the mouth with his fist, then followed up with a number of rapid, powerful strikes that would have sent most men straight to the emergency ward. But not a GREL. Spitting blood and teeth, the bruised legionnaire roared and pressed the attack. With no room to maneuver in the bathroom, Seth found himself caught in the iron grip of his opponent.

It was over quickly. The GREL smashed the man hard against the wall, shattering the mirror and medicine cabinet. He then dashed him several times against the sink, until the fixture broke from the wall. Finally, he slammed his prey down brutally on the edge of the bathtub, then dropped him into the water. Face down in the water on top of Eee, Seth was completely unconscious if not dead. A crimson bloom expanded into the water from the back of his skull, and in only a few seconds the water was as red as wine.

The warrior clone grinned with considerable glee. "Rub-a-dub-dub," he said through broken teeth, wiping his own blood from his chin. "They told me he'd be tough, but he wasn't. He wasn't very tough."

Struggling for a moment under Seth's dead weight, Eee turned him onto his side to get his face clear of the water. He didn't look good. Setting her teeth, she turned her eyes towards the GREL. "Guess what, vatface?" she asked.

"What?" the Mordred asked, scowling at the insult.

"You're fucking dead."

The pistol -- Seth's pistol, that she'd just taken from its holster -- thundered once, its report nearly deafening in the confines of the bathroom. As an empty 11mm shell casing jingled down onto the tile floor, the GREL collapsed in the heap while his brains slowly slid down the wall behind him. Eee had fought GRELs before, and she got out of the tub to fire three more shots into the man's head before turning her back on him to lift her friend free of the bloody bathwater.

After checking to see if anyone else was in the hotel room, Eee struggled to bring her wounded friend to the bed where she could work on treating his injuries. Calling security was out of the question. Eee didn't know if the Mordred was one of Trike's enforcers, or one of Yammie's -- it didn't matter. She was in deep to both of them for drugs, and someone must have tipped one of them off that she was going to skip town without paying up. In any case, both had plenty of connections and allies within the Oasis Hotel.

As she worked to stem the flow of blood from the back of Seth's head, Eee's mind tried to make sense of the situation. She'd known for a long time that she was treading dangerous ground with the drug lords; the truth was that she was so fucked-up over her brother that she was to the point of not caring if she lived or died. But now, Seth comes waltzing back into her life. Probably the one person who ever truly understood her, if anyone did. He was the only man to satisfy her on both an emotional and physical level, certainly. Sitting back for a moment after finishing work on Seth's injuries, Eee closed her eyes. She was tired, and she was already starting to get twitchy for junk. Gritting her teeth, she told herself that she would not be responsible for Seth's death as well. She was going to get him out of this. Khodaverdi help her, she didn't know how, but she was.

To Be Continued...

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APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 8 August, 1999