Author | Lisa Dumond
Rules of Citizenship-3
11. Equal rights will be accorded under the law, regardless of race, creed, sex, disability, transformation, living or non-living status.
12. Violence, mental or physical against other citizens of the Station, regardless of the degree of severity or the damage incurred, which is motivated or instigated by the race, creed, sex, disability, transformation, living or non-living status of the victim will be classified as a “Hate Crime” and dealt with by the maximum penalty allowable for that classification of crime, or exile, whichever is greater.
“I always dreamed of going into space.” She gave a mocking laugh and smiled crookedly. “But, like most people, I just never had the money. By the time that thirtieth birthday rolled around, the dream was more like a panic. Time was running out and I was going to be stuck on Earth forever.”
Gina twirled the straw around the bottom of her glass. I couldn’t take my eyes off the spectacle. I mean, I know I’d been in a dry spell, but that little bit of straw play was going straight to my nether regions, which right now, seemed to be most of my body. I forced my eyes back to her face.
“That’s when Stone stepped into my life. Stone Henge. I know, I know. But, he was the answer at the time. It looked like my only chance to get off Earth. He had big plans, big money, and big hands. None of them held out once we got here. He dumped me, then dumped Hades and headed for Mickey or Eden or some other ‘fun’ station.”
“Now, you’re stuck here?”
“Youbetcha! And you know what? Stuck is stuck.” She blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. I almost blew an aneurism. “But, I can say I’ve been here. I can only say it to people who are here, though, and they’re not impressed nearly enough.” She narrowed her eyes and stared at the tables around us. “They’re a tough room to work. Bunch of stiffs.”
“So, your Druid friend abandoned you on a Creep— Darker planet.” Better watch my language in this place. I’d hate to be tomorrow’s blue plate special. Philly cheese steak. It does have a ring to it, though.
Gina raised her eyebrows. “Oh, mister…” she called in a soft sing-song voice to the hirsute fellow at the closest table. “He called you the ‘C’ word. Come eat him.” The werewolf snarled into his food, blissfully unaware of her. Gina laughed and brushed her fingers in a shame-on-you gesture. “You’re seriously outnumbered here, you know.”
Outnumbered in the restaurant and in the station. But, still, a force to reckon with in my own right.
“All right. I’m sick of talking about me. How about you? How’d you get stuck out here, ya little bigot?” She smiled sweetly and blew a kiss to my rival across the room. His snout was too deep in a beer mug to see anything but the foam at the bottom. Yeah, I was safe. Big man, you want a piece of me? Just keep eating.
“Not here.” I plugged my credit chip into the slot beside the table. A green light blinked on. Cleared for take-off. “Let’s take it to the streets.”
Step out the front door. Scan the street. Hand off dick. Hand on paralyzer. Listen for alarms. All clear for a romantic stroll in the artificial moonlight.
Now I just had to get through the next few minutes.
If I was waiting for Gina to explode with curiosity, I was going to need to prime her with plastique. She walked along in happy silence, head swivelling toward every window, sign, and crack in the wall. Never before had one woman been so fascinated by one station filled with not one thing of interest. I almost hated to interrupt. Almost.
“I never — I said, I never really thought much about going into space. Not really a travellin’ man, I guess.” Ooh. An entire alley for her to look into. “Anyway, what I wanted to do I could do on Earth easier than out here. I wanted to be a cop.”
We paused at the corner to let a low-slung electric car skate through the intersection. No one stops for pedestrians around here; too often it was your last act of samaritanism.
“You wanted to be a cop…”
“Right. So, I went to school, got my degree, and got hired by a force in a little Florida town, moved up to the big city, and—”
Uh oh. Gina had stopped in front of a window display and I still heard more than one set of footfalls. Not good.
I grabbed her by the hand and pulled her toward the edge of the walkway. She made a startled sound of protest. Something clattered to the ground and rolled into a darkened doorway.
“Sorry, but I think we’ve got company,” I spoke out of the side of my mouth. Very inconspicuous.
Gina was trying to look back over her shoulder to the doorway, but I dragged her with me. “If you mean were being followed, I know. I was trying to get my alarm out of my pocket.”
“And that would be it back there?” Damn! Any other time a sneeze can set those things off! “Never mind. We’re fine.”
We strolled on a few more steps before I heard the scrape of a shoe behind us. At the same time, I noticed a shadow poking out from the corner of a building just ahead. Not good. Get a better grip on the paralyzer. Head for the other side of the street.
The peevish protest sang out from the character in front of us. One slender shadow separated from the others, hands raised. I caught a flash of light reflected from black lacquered nails. Behind us, the footfalls scooted closer. Sounded like they were coming from the street now.
Time to make a stand. I turned to face our new buddies and pushed Gina behind me. The hand full of paralyzer stayed out of sight in my pocket, but ready to go. Adrenaline pumped through my body. My weight shifted to the balls of my feet. My muscles tensed.
And, I laughed.
I couldn’t help it. These two were like the ‘before’ pictures from a Charles Atlas ad. If punk was invented so ugly kids could be popular, too, then the Darker Society was invented so wimps would have somewhere to go.
Vampirism makes judging ages a bit difficult, but these guys couldn’t have been more than twenty at the outside. They couldn’t have broken one-fifty with a mouth full of bbs and bowling balls in their pockets. Give them credit, though, their clothes were pure Lugosi. Impeccable.
They were also quite perturbed by my reaction. Stark terror was called for. I could barely work up annoyance.
“Evening, fellas.” Without taking my eyes off them I steered Gina toward the far walkway.
I heard the shout and felt the rush of movement at the same time. The aft wimp was on my back before I could react. I stumbled. Gina went sprawling. Finger tangled in my hair. It hurt like shit. The fore wimp came flying at me with an arm cocked back. I steeled myself for the blow.
No, not even a slap, really. More like a nudge. What the hell? This guy was just kind of pushing at me. With the inside of his wrist, even, while the hands just sort of flopped around like rabbit ears. Shit. Stick a cotton tail on this one and he could be someone’s cuddly bunny.
He was still pushing at me with those limp wrists, grunting with each blow. Limp boy behind me was still hanging on, but just barely. He was panting just from trying to keep a grip. Give them a couple minutes and they would wear themselves out. My hair didn’t feel like it wanted to wait that long.
Grab limp boy number one by the face and shove him backwards. A little squeal squeezed out of him on the way down to the pavement. One hand on the hair to make sure it stayed put and flip limp number two over my head. He shrieked until his body made contact with his friend’s head. They both went down in a pathetic little heap.
Oh yeah. They were just as cute as bunnies. Bunnies from the dark side.
Probably they would never be able to overpower anyone, but why wait to find out. Pulling the paralyzer out of my pocket, I leaned over to zap the two of them. The bottom one flapped an arm out just as I pushed the button. I tried to hop back, but his hand brushed my foot. The energy surged into my leg. I locked the other knee to support my weight.
Maybe I could just stand here without moving until security came. She need never know.
I heard an ear-splitting wail from behind me. Gina tossed the personal alarm on to the top body in the tangle. She looked me up and down.
“Are you all right?”
“No hair loss?”
“Nothing that won’t grow back.”
“Think you killed them?”
“Nah. No great loss if I did, but they’ll be okay.”
“So you’re fine?”
“Uh huh. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“You have no idea.”
Gina tapped the alarm with the toe of her shoe. The banshee wail wound down to a mosquito buzz, but security was homing in on the electronic signal, anyway; no need to deafen good law-abiding citizens while you wait for the help. The street was almost embarrassingly quiet without the ear torture.
“Your leg’s,” she yelled, winced, lowered her voice, “paralyzed, isn’t it?”
“Got it. Want to sit down and neck until security gets here?”
“Sure. Why not.” I leaned on her all the way to the curb. Those guys may have been out for neck, but I was the one who was going to get it.
* * *
I almost did it. I almost got the door open and my raggedy ass inside without waking the sleeping Percy. Almost but not quite. Almost only counts with black holes.
He flowed through the entry with me like a piece of smart baggage, but luggage usually gives you a little more breathing space. One of my daintier aunts would have said he was on me like cheap on a hooker. Actually, the cheapest pro I ever arrested would have had more sense than to hang on me the way Percy did. After the third potential tangle, I ordered him to the couch and took my first unhindered steps in the comb.
“All right. What’s your problem…tonight?” I started for the bedroom. “Sit! I can hear you fine. I’m just changing clothes.”
Unfortunately, I was pretty sure I already knew what his problem was. He had a crime spotter bug up his butt that wasn’t going to let him rest any time soon. I wanted to distract him before he could really get rolling. God forgive me, but I offered up the only thing I knew might do it.
“I want to get out of these good clothes.” Why did I feel like I was running to my own execution? “I was out on a date.” Come on, come on. Bite.
“Yeah, I thought you must be.”
“I was afraid you’d be out all night. I’ve got to talk to you.”
Abject failure. If handing my love life over to him on a silver platter didn’t work, nothing was going to shake him from it. For a man with no apparent interest in a sex life of his own, he certainly had a one-track mind. Just my luck that one track would be something different tonight. Sigh.
I pulled a sweatshirt over my head and went out to face the music. It sounded like “Taps” from where I stood.
“Move over. All right, what’s up?”
A shy smile crossed his moonlike face. “I did what you told me.”
Oh shit. “What I told you?” Definitely “Taps”.
Percy gave me one of those looks you reserve for the feeble of mind or the merely senile. “You told me to dig deeper. To get into the secure files. Remember?”
Did I remember telling him to break into databases? Actually, thinking back on it, I guess I did that very thing. What a dumb ass. That’s what I get for encouraging this paranoid delusion. You mention something you think will scare someone off…
Better just to move forward and get it over with. “Yeah, yeah. So what did you find?” As if I believed there would be anything.
In answer, Percy thrust his palm unit at me again. Man. I was starting to have more intimate knowledge of that thing than my own anatomy. Of course, this machine was probably more useful, and certainly more expensive.At least, my own slightly less expensive eye work was functioning up to spec today. No need to push the unit away to arm’s distance.
But it wasn’t police files I was staring at. No missing persons reports or bodies discovered.
“Oh, so our wayward friends showed up on the passenger lists. Departing, I assume? Uh huh.”
Now with any normal person, that would have been the end of it. So why did Percy look like he’d just caught the Chancellor with her hand in his fly?
I cut him off in mid-insinuation. “People leave Hades every day. That’s normal. It’s anyone staying here that we should watch out for.” I gave him a searching look to leave no doubt that he was included in this suspect bunch. “Nobody disappeared. They just left. For awhile or for good.”
He was incredulous. “All of them? All four just decided to leave and didn’t have the consideration to cancel any of their appointments?” Clearly, this was unforgivable.
“Percy, remember when you thought ‘They’ were instituting a total media blackout to hide an atmosphere leak in the station that was sending temperatures plummeting?” A hint of that unhealthy pink was returning to his face. “It turned out you hadn’t paid any of your utility bills. Including cable.”
“Come on, I had just woken up. I was a little confused. It was hot and dark and…” His voice trailed off into mumbles.
“Perce, sometimes a sitar is just a sitar.”
“Philly, should I know what that means?”
Not really. I didn’t. “Never mind.” I forced out a yawn that I hoped was convincing. “In any event, I’m going to bed now. Wait! I haven’t changed my mind. I’m still going to look into it.” A real yawn this time. “Day after tomorrow.”
Now he couldn’t decide whether to be disappointed or pleased. He settled for looking sort of bovine.
“Go home. Go to bed.” And dream of something besides conspiracies.
I was already snoring by the time he snatched a juice bulb and lumbered back into his own apartment. I was asleep for real a few minutes later.