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This is chapter 3 of Cliffton book 1. The first section is a reworked version of chapter 2, section 1 in the previous rewrite. The second is totally new. This didn't turn out the way I expected. I need money for every time I say that. As always, concrit is much appreciated. Rip me to shreds. I don't mind. Warning for language because, um, Devin.

If you're reading Cliffton for the first time, here are the previous chapters so you can catch up:
Prologue | 1 | 2

Untroubled Minds
(Devin -- two days before the bomb)

Wes starts babbling about the fucking Reaping Festival before I've even had my SynthBrew. Not that I'm listening. I just grunt at the appropriate places and again when he hands me a steaming mug. Doesn't stop him from talking, though. Nothing ever does. It's not until after I'm showered and semi-awake that his words start to register.

"And there's a carnival with rocket racing and rides! We can get FunCakes, too. I love FunCakes!" Wes chatters away like a warrior bat on StimTabs. Four years living on this side of the fence, and he's never once mentioned the Festival.

Why now?

"Carnivals are fucking crowded," I grumble. "Don't like crowds." Don't know why I'm bothering to argue -- just gonna end up giving in. Once Wes gets an idea in his head, it's all but impossible to talk him out of it.

Wes just stands there. Staring at me, face all shining black eyes and perfect teeth. Everything about him screams excitement. Bleached-blonde hair, sticking straight up like he's touched a live wire. Like he's the fucking live wire. Skinny body always in motion, vibrating like a current's running through it. Can see it, fucking feel it --

"Devin." His grin's so huge I wish I felt like smiling back. "They have blue MegaSlushes."

Well, that settles it. Blue MegaSlushes are my fucking favorite.

"Fine. We'll go." Try to sound enthusiastic, but there's too much on my mind. "It'll be fucking epic."

"Devin, dude." Wes leans in close, wraps his arms around me. Warm and firm. "Whatever you're worried about -- "

"Not fucking worried," I mutter. Think about pulling away. Don't even like hugs -- don't like being touched at all. Cheers me up a little anyway. Wes's my best friend. Always knows what I need, even when I don't want to admit it.

"Y'know what you need?" He lets go, looks me straight in the eyes. "Pancakes. They make everything better!"

He's already scurrying off toward the kitchen. Can't help smiling as he goes, just a tiny bit.

Feel even better when he comes back, joyful as ever and carrying enough food for three of me. "I made your favorite kind -- speckleberry!" He hands me the plate. "Dude! I can't wait for tomorrow. It's gonna be so much fun!"

Festival's tomorrow? I set my fork down with a clatter. Not fucking hungry now. "Uh, Wes? Kalen's coming over tomorrow. Wanted me to help him with some circuitry. Said it was important." Not gonna think about what else he said.

"Oh, yeah." Wes bites his lip, looks so deflated I can't fucking stand it. "I forgot."

"Maybe we'll finish up early?" I offer. "We could go after."

"Maybe." He looks away -- fucking knows it won't happen. Knows Kalen and I never finish up early.

"Know what?" I say. "I'll call Kalen. See if he can come over today instead." Was gonna get some shit done today -- bills don't pay themselves. Guess that doesn't matter now. Just want to take that sad look off his face.

Fucking works, too. Wes squeals with delight and flings himself at me, almost knocking my plate out of my hands. Squeezes me so hard I feel my internal organs shifting. "You're gonna love it! We'll have so much fun! We can ride all the rides and get our pictures taken and you can win me prizes on the midway and we'll fly the bumper planes and -- "

He's talking a mile a minute. Don't know how he hasn't passed out from lack of air. Think I might soon.

Whatever. Breathing's fucking overrated.

* * * * *

Kalen's late -- said he'd be here 20 minutes ago, but no sign of him yet.

Said a bunch of other shit, too. Asked a lot of questions I don't want to think about. Pace the floor instead. Back and forth like an animal in a cage, like the people back "home". Wish I'd never told Kalen, never drawn that smooth fucking curve on his map. He's obsessed with it now -- who put the fence there, why'd they do it, blah blah blah.

Been there, done that, didn't buy the T-shirt. Couldn't have afforded it anyway.

All those nights, back before Wes and I moved here. Before Multiversity. All those nights I walked that fence. Tried to get my head straight, put my life back together. Did my best to forget --

Don't fucking remember anymore. Don't think I want to.

Saved by the fucking bell. Or the beep. Perimeter alert's going off -- guess Kalen finally decided to show up. I check the camera, disarm the alarms. Unbolt the door to let him in. Dude's a mess -- clothes all dusty, eyes too bright. Looks like he hasn't slept in days, even though his hair's all rumpled like he just got out of bed.

Wonder if my hair's okay. Better check it. Seems fine -- still tied back tight, no bumps or weird ridges. No stray pieces to fall in my face. Fucking hate the way it tickles when that --

"Devin?" Kalen's still standing there on the steps. "Can I come in now? It's hot out here."

I back away, watch as he carries Wes's RoboCart inside. Snatch it out of his hands before he can put it down. It's messed up even worse than Kalen, caked in sand and grime. Don't want that shit all over my floor. "The fuck happened to it?"

"Uh, I think I broke it." Kalen looks at the floor. "I'm sorry -- I don't think it was designed for a trek across the desert. I meant to try and fix it when I got home, but you wanted me to come over early and -- "

"Whatever. We talking or working?" I turn away before he can answer. "Be right back. Need some tools."

I drag the cart up to my lab, shove it in a dark corner. Grab all the stuff I need, all but fly down the stairs. Just want to get this shit over with. Pretty sure I fucking know what Kalen wants. Knew after we talked yesterday. Even sent Wes off to make some kind of silly Festival hats for tomorrow. Don't want him involved in this -- not if I can help it.

Probably fucking can't.

Kalen's sitting at the table when I get back, reading some kind of book. "You'd be interested in this."

He looks up, slides the book across the table. I set my bag of parts and wires on one of the chairs. Put my tools down, arrange them in the order I'm gonna need them. Take my sweet time. Can't stall anymore, so I sit down. Cross my arms over my chest and glare at the pages. Fucking books. Haven't seen one since I moved here.

Didn't miss them, either -- kinda remind me of Final School. Wasn't a fucking fan.

"None of the books say who built the fence." Kalen runs his hands through his hair, tugs at it. "None of them."

Doesn't matter who did -- his side or mine. Fuckers probably did it just to start trouble.

Don't think telling Kalen that's gonna help, though. Kinda feel bad for him, even though I want no part of this. Don't have a choice, do I? Kalen's smart, supposed to be a genius like me. But he's just a kid, still thinks he can change things -- gonna get himself killed without my help. Doesn't know shit unless the military taught it to him. Unless I did.

I know all kinds of things -- doesn't mean I ever planned to use them. Fucking have to now.

"That why you want to build a bomb?" My voice is soft, kinda gentle.

His eyes get all big. "You knew?"

"Doesn't take a fucking genius." Probably shouldn't be laughing as hard at that as I am. Kalen isn't -- dude's wound way too tight to appreciate my highly developed sense of humor. I clear my throat, get it together. Remind myself this is serious fucking business. "This because you're gonna be deployed soon?"

Can't say I blame him if it is. Know Kalen doesn't want to fight. Doesn't want to kill.

Dude's got recruiters crawling all over him like death slugs, though. He might as well be designed for fighting. Looks just like the troops from the scare spots -- clips they play in the vidhouses before the real feature starts. Used to have fucking nightmares about those marching fiends and their glowing blue eyes. Think I still do sometimes.

"It's not just about that anymore." His eyes still have that sick fucking shine. "We've been lied to."

We have? Fucking shocking. Over a thousand years of fighting, and no one can tell us why. Back in Multiversity, the Instructors said everything on this side of the fence was anarchy. Lived here four years, haven't seen any anarchy yet. Haven't seen any fighting either, except on neurovision. For all I know it doesn't even exist.

"Did you learn about Majeria in school?" Kalen asks.

"The fuck is Majeria?" Never heard of it -- must've skipped that class.

"It's us, Devin." Kalen's voice is high, insistent. "All of us. Or it was. We used to be one country, and the reasons we're not anymore? They're not even good ones -- just stuff about agriculture and who could get married."

"Why'd anyone fight about marriage?" Don't even get why anyone'd want to get married at all. It's just ownership, obligation. Don't want to "own" anyone. Sure as fuck don't need another person to protect. Already got Wes.

"I didn't really understand it. Something about marriages between my people and yours," Kalen reaches for the book, turns its pages. Can't stand the creepy fucking sound it makes -- like something with too many legs, skittering away in the dark. I shake my head, repress a shudder. Try to focus on what Kalen's saying. " -- called it 'pollution of the genetic stream.'"

Good to know people were assholes back then, too. A thousand years and nothing's changed. Remember the names the other kids used to call me, just because I didn't have a pa. Because I'm kinda pale. Doesn't make me any less --

The fuck? When'd I sort all my tools by color?

Not gonna be very efficient that way, is it? Put them back in the right order. When I'm done, Kalen's not talking anymore. I study his face, can't tell if he noticed I wasn't listening. Dude looks pretty fucking out of it.

"So, this bomb," I say. "Don't suppose you're gonna tell me what you plan to do with it."

"You don't want to know." He stares at the table, runs his finger along the top.

I kinda don't. "Gonna have to know some things -- how big you want the blast to be, how much flash and how much noise. The range you want to cover, who gets hurt and who doesn't." I'm already pulling things out of the bag, piecing them together. Active hands and all that shit. Almost start laughing again. Mind's definitely untroubled right now.

"I don't really want anyone to get hurt," Kalen whispers, watches my fingers as they twist the wires.

Neither do I, but someone always fucking does anyway.

(Next chapter is here)
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