ARC – Chapter Two
Vegan Fiction – Reading time approximately: 15 minutes
Previously on ARC – The Color of Mink
Blood for Blood
8:55 p.m. Oktober 15, 2054
The night wind spun her hair into a tangle, lapping her face. Her fresh fragrance slowly subdued by the harsh exhaust of internal combustion. But we laugh. Giddy like two come-of-age teenagers set loose in the night tide of lights and glitz. Two-wheeling through downtown on a loud, obnoxious dirt bike through the canyons of concrete and glass.
Simplicia’s arms wrap around me. I stop for a light at Fifth and Main. She squeezes tighter, reaches to kiss my ear. Surprised, I’m at a loss for words. But I know what to do, and on the green, I shout, “Yippee!” Goose the gas, pop the clutch and pull a wheelie to the next light. It ignites a stream of chortles the likes of which I’ve never heard escape from her.
The motor bounces a jacked-up clamor across the highrise expanse, rattling windows, echoing through the ravines of modernity, waking sleepers, and annoying the nocturnals. We snicker at our deviltry. A black Suburban passes by, close enough to raise the hair on my arm. Its electric engines’ purr in silent disdain to our rattling ruckus. But then, my ears rage at the deafening silence. Hit with an Electromagnetic Field Pulsator, the 250 sputters and dies. We coast to the side of the road, my prey instinct warns of threat. The SUV backs up in front of us, three goons rush out, leaving the driver. I tell Simplicia, “Run!” But she’s off the bike before my feet hit the ground. Doesn’t run. She’s in Taekwondo mode, bounces, light on her feet. Before I can get off, one hits me with a Taser. The Yamaha falls over, and I land on my face, chest hits the curb driving the Taser probes deeper into my flesh, neuromuscular incapacitation prevails. I taste blood and spit tooth fragments in my spasmodic fit. Exhaust pipe burns into my pinned leg.
I hear Simplicia say, “What’s up, Fuckless.” Another first in my catalog of her uncharacteristic peculiarities. My nervous system jerks my head around in time to see her throw a jumping flick kick into his groin followed by a roundhouse foot to the jaw that breaks at the hinges and hangs cockeyed. Good girl, he’ll need a hospital. He backs away in retreat but another, big as a bus, stands in his stead. Got a paunch the size of a beer keg. Greets her with a grin, spreads his arms, offering himself as an unresisting target. She spins, a stunning, lightning-fast foot aimed at the solar plexus. He swats her leg away. But in a recovering spin, she leaps in the air and surprises him with a one-two jab to the mouth. His head rocks back nearly off his neck. Lips split open, and he spits out an upper incisor. Jowls jiggle as he shakes it off. But still he smiles, less the tooth. Until Simplicia runs the hard edge of her shoe down his shin and pops a backhand to the nose. Then he squeals. She’s more than he can handle. And he has enough, jabs his MPF StunStick into her ribs and laughs like a doltish inbred. Simplicia drops to the ground, stiff like a jittering Barbie doll.
The rapids of electric current cascades through my body penetrating bones to the marrow, discombobulating my mind. Nerves misfire. Hair’s on end. I convulse, mutter a jumble of curses through a stream of slobber and blood. Nose broke and bleeding. The asshead who shot me bounces on top the 250, dials up the juice. Snorts with laughter. A miracle my leg doesn’t shatter under his pounding bulk. The big man with the sore shin and backwood’s smile sets the unconscious Simplicia on his shoulder. The punk with the broken jaw bags her head, and they throw her into the SUV and all speed off as I push free of the bike.
Sitting on the curb, my hands shake like a dope-starved crackhead’s as I ratchet my nose into place. I count to three and yank barbed probes out of my chest, tearing flesh. A crown breaks loose as I grit my teeth. I spit it out and stuff it in my pocket. What the fug just happened? Somebody took Simplicia? Mind befuddled by the high-amperage Taser. EMS shows up and wants to take me in on a stretcher to the hospital. I say no. Witnesses talk to the MPF as medics smear ointment over my blistering inner thigh like they’re working a vengeance. They bandage my chest and wrap gauze around my leg. MPF comes over, ask me if I got a look at the attackers. “No, happened too fast,” I lied. Ask if I can describe the vehicle, did I get a plate number? “No, and no.” But I did. License number 783-40A, Politikal Official. I’m muddle-headed, but know how this works: MPF wants to know how much I know, and not for finding the assailants.
The 250 starts after several feeble kicks from a painful leg. Handlebars out of alignment. I ride to Crystal’s Black Heart Vegan Cuisine, back to face another grudging valet whose face contorts with apprehension. Not sure if it’s the twisted relic under my crotch or my general appearance that creeps him. He walks the Yamaha into the parking garage. Cautious, like it’s ready to rear up and gallop away. Simplicia picked this restaurant for a reason, maybe a clue inside.
Black Heart is a classy joint, a hundred percent vegan. Times are changing, like it or not assheads. But I feel like an oozing pimple on the nose of a prom queen. A worrisome spectacle among the swank in my ripped, bloody shirt, black eyes, and a pant leg scissored up to my nuts, face pissed off to hell. Smelly armpits. The only thing missing is if I pissed myself. I look down to check. I did not, and I blow a sigh of relief.
Outside, a train of vegans winds through Crystal’s botanical garden. Near the center, a fountain. The larger-than-life son of Zeus, Perseus, wears only his winged hat over his thick curly hair. Sword at his side, averting his gaze he holds high the severed head of Medusa. Pissing on the headless corpse at his feet. I’ve heard tell of this fountain, depicts veganism’s scorn and victory over animal agriculture. Inside, they’re packed as full as the only urinal trough at a redneck beer fest. I push through, sedated by ambrosia, the aroma of vegan fare, food of the gods. Warm, inviting ambiance weaves through the patrons like an invisible veil. A pastel panoramic lines the walls. A giant mushroom forest waves along the back wall, its landscape, dotted with happy cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep. Flowing hills of morels that cleverly spell out Vegan Anarchy to the observant eye. Lights hang from a ceiling painted in a cumuliform cloudscape. If it were day and at a casual glance, I might think Crystal’s an open-air structure where light nodes hover overhead.
The night’s host’s nametag reads, ‘Hi! I’m Sassafras.’ Tall, thin nonbinary with a pointy chin over a ridiculously large bowtie, in a green skirt up to hir cheeks. Deep purple lipstick. Smells nice, like jasmine. Vexed by my appearance, cuts me off, thinks ze can stop me. Doesn’t bother with the honorific, “Can I help you?” I ignore hir, look around, see there was more to our cozy evening plans than dinner. I feel betrayed. But no time for childish petulance. Darwin waves me to their table. He’s with Savior, Alexa, and Dominic, ARC’s brass cadets in training. All ethical vegans and animals rights activists, liberating young hipsters still sucking teat. I push past Sassafras and go to their table. They’ve already eaten, their plates await the busser. I’m late.
“You look like shit,” Savior says. He swirls a drink with a tiny umbrella in it. Wears a black, full-length, dragon emblazoned Kimono. His hair in a tight bun near the top of his head and pierced with two sticks. Long black sideburns grace aquiline angles. All handsomely reflects his oriental heritage. Although I hate to admit, he’s sharp-looking. But a little dull, the implications of my appearance suddenly worry him, “Where’s Simplicia?”
“You tell me.”
Something of note passes between Savior and his husband Darwin, whose beautiful face sports extravagantly long lashes. “Tell you what?” asks Savior.
“Why someone would take her.”
“Take her?” Alexa pales, “Kidnapped?”
My eyes drill into Savior’s, “And you know nothing about it. Right?”
“What would I know?” he shrugs his shoulders.
My fists clench by involuntary contraction. The tremors of my Taser shock therapy settling into an intermittent flexing and sporadic head jerks, nerves still trying to source their algorithms. The cadets look warily, but beyond me. I sense trouble.
A security guard, gleaming bald head, long beard, narrow waist, broad shoulders with a chest straining the buttons of his uniform. Perky Sassafras at his side, nearly as tall, but fragile in juxtapose. The guard grabs my shoulders from behind with a grip as potent as his cheap budget cologne, painfully nauseating. I cock my head to the side, “You’ve got two secs to get your slimy lovers off me, pricklick.” He growls and toughens his grip, ready to haul my ass out by the collar bones. I’m a second away from planting a heel in his scrotum, grabbing his head, and flinging the beast over my shoulder. Should land with an earthshaking thud and a solid woof of air evacuating lungs. Hoping I can leverage him away from the table.
“Whoa, whoa, it’s okay,” says Savior standing, waving his arms in a panic, he foresees my intent, knows my capability. “He’s with us.”
ARC has prestige. The guard dog’s put to heel. He releases my shoulders but grabs my hips, pulls me into him like I’m his lover. Nuts to butt, lips to ear, he whispers, “You’re lucky, my little pixie.” Pixie? Lucky? I chuckle. After what I just went through, I tell him, “You’re the magic, girlfriend. Lucky I don’t rip your fugging pisser off and shove it up your smelly farthole. Bet you would like that, eh?” He squeezes my waist before he pushes away and stomps off, his cologne lingers. Sassafras throws hir chin up and struts off with a swagger to make a Kardashian blush.
“Moon, do you need a hospital?” asked Alexa. “You’re bleeding on the floor.”
“No.” I look at my chest, “Should seal soon.”
“Well, sit down before you fall down. Tell us what happened.”
Dominic kicks out a chair, and I sit. A fragile, diminutive waitress alights beside me, “Would you like to see a menu, sir?” Her voice quivers, she’s frightened but polite. Who’s to blame her, I look like a dreg pulled from the sewers of hell.
I give the cadets the short version of the night’s event, leaving out the Politikal license plate part. I look at Savior, “Your turn.”
He pretends stupidity like a pro.
I spell it out for him, “Why are you here, Savior?”
“It wasn’t Simplicia’s idea,” said Alexa. She lays a hand on my knee, shakes her head, “Don’t blame her.”
One by one, I look at the faces staring back at me, “For what?”
“Simplicia mentioned you were having dinner together, we thought a good time to tell you. Thought she might temper your… reaction,” says Dominic. He’s the opposite of Savior. Unpretentious. Blonde hair neatly parted on the side, clean shaved. Jeans tucked inside his polished vegan leather cowboy boots. Big chrome belt buckle spells Vegan in gold letters, and a red/black plaid shirt buttoned to the collar. Down-to-earth country boy who inherited a cattle ranch he turned sanctuary. Got a Texas drawl. Easy to like.
“Temper, why?” It came out gruff, sounding like a fulmination. Didn’t mean to.
Savior tweaks his bun sticks, waiting for someone to speak up. Waxes impatient when no one does. It’s left for him to do, so he hardens his tone, “To inform you we are terminating your association with ARC.”
Their silence awaits my reaction. My fingertips rap out a short version of the fourth part of Rossini’s William Tell Overture, popularly known as the Lone Ranger’s theme song. I rotate my head, popping my neck, and I see their eyes portend the dark side of the Moon. Regretting his bravado, Savior’s face falls long loosing its handsome appeal. But I’m calm. I smile and nod at them, lean back, rest the back of my head in my folded hands, alternately flex my biceps out of habit, not for the effect of intimidation. But it has that. “Why?” My sulky tone and mock innocence inspire a fragile calm among them, but one they fear teeters on manic.
Alexa is first to brave the quell, “It’s your methods they object to, Moon.” The emphasis on, they. She’s not part of this. Alexa is Simplicia’s younger cousin, raises the average IQ of the group, significantly. Good stock. Same eyes, darker hair. Plumper, and every pound as sexy. Wearing a short, low-cut orange dress pleated below the waist. A silver pentacle necklace nestled between a summoning cleavage, hard to ignore even now.
“They got what they asked for.”
“Not exactly.” Savior regains confidence, intense but whispers, “One fur farmer, four MPF officers dead, seven in intensive care.” He waits for me to say something. When I don’t. “Those men didn’t deserve to die.”
I raise a brow, lean forward, smothering the gap between us, “They’re stained, Savior, to the core. Every fugging one got their deserves.”
“Christ, Moon, this isn’t a frigging war.” He scoots his chair back out of my reach.
War. At the mention, I think about my first puppy, needle teeth, a propensity for gnawing, and licking. Feisty little Heinz 57 named Lucy. And Henry Brainerd, the neighbor who grew psycho over a bit of puppy shit in his yard. “It’s only puppy poop,” I told him. I was ten, wouldn’t cuss to an adult. “Fertilizes your lawn. But I’ll keep it picked up, Mister Brainerd. Honest to goodness, sir.” That didn’t satisfy Henry the Murderer.
“Happens again, you little turd, you’ll find your mutt hanging from the tree,” he tells me. And I did, two days later, strangled and legs chopped off. Don’t know the order. Devastated me, but a crowning moment in my development. The day I vowed to protect animals from the violates of dregs and assheads. The day I woke up to humanity’s insanity and became vegan. Over the next six years, I pestered Henry in the only ways a kid knew. It was war, by damn. Guerrilla-style. I watered his tomatoes with piss and relished the thought of him eating his BLTs. Painted graffiti on his house in the local gang signs. Sprayed drain cleaner on his prized lawn. Poisoned his azaleas. Siphoned his gas a gallon at a time and gave it to Josie, the kid who cut grass in the neighborhood. Ice-picked his tires.
Until one night, bent over, poking the pick into the left-rear, a hand grabs my hair, lifts me off my feet, and slams my face into the trunk lid, a torrent of blood from my nostrils filled the dent. Spins me around and pummels my head until I bury the icepick in his gut. Quick as that he lost his rage. I shook with a violent fear for what I did. His lips sputtered and spit, he stumbled backward. Fell to his butt and stared wide-eyed as shaky fingertips dabbed unbelievingly at the blood spreading around the haft. My first broken nose and attempted murder. The judge gave me two choices, both sucked. Prison or serve Empire.
“Hell you mean isn’t war?” I said, and too loud, rattling everyone and drawing Sassafras’ attention. I back off, “You stop being a hero, their Savior?”
“Heroes can’t win turning public opinion against themselves, against animal rights.”
“Maybe you haven’t been paying attention, Savior. We’re not winning.” I wanted to grab him by the bun and shove the long spiny stream of reality down his young hipster throat. Yeah, sure, veganism’s on an uptick. But so is world population. More beans and more slaughterhouses. More dairy and cheese lunkheads. More acreage given to livestock and crops to feed them. More extreme climate. More hypoxic zones and fewer fish. Diminishing rainforests. Dwindling freshwater supplies. Shrinking wild spaces. Hell, I could go on. Yeah, we’re gaining, but we’re losing, and not by a little. Time for pussy-footing’s long over. But I have no desire to argue, I have to find Simplicia. Problem being, I don’t know where to begin. So I settle in and stay, maybe learn something. I feel, turn, and hold Alexa’s gaze. She’s rapt with admiration like she just read my mind, thinks I’m about to say something prophetic. “You going to eat that roll?” I ask her. I haven’t eaten since morning, I feel hollow, queasy, getting shakier.
She smiles, perfect white teeth, “Butter?”
Disgusted, Savior says, “You’re no better than the Leviathan we fight, Moon.” Sounds like he’s picking a fight to save face. I suck air through the coagulated blood of my broken nose, grumbles as it inflates my chest. I scowl at the affront. A frosty stillness settles around the table. I’m the only one not holding their breath. Dominic looks at his belt buckle. Darwin stares dubiously into space, flapping his amazing eyelashes. And Alexa hands me the buttered roll and excuses herself, heads to the john. Leviathan? The word stirs a mesh of emotions through which I note the poetry of Alexa’s posterior from the corner of my eyes as she ambles through the crowd. I look over to see Dominic watching me, expressionless. I wonder if they’re a thing.
A burly waiter in a suit sets a glass of water at my hand. “Enjoy,” he says. A fractious grin cuts his cheek as he stares a moment too long. I take a slow, contemplative drink. Swish it around, tastes odd, maybe bloody phlegm, gritty with the grind of tooth enamel. I want to spit but don’t, I swallow and take a breath. Kill the rest. Savior’s right, I’m no better than the Leviathan, the difference is — I slam the glass on the table, “I’m fighting for something greater than ourselves here, Savior. Called freedom. You think I enjoy this; this fugging war?” A certain air of affirmation in the question when one spent a lifetime fighting for shit reasons. “I’m Empire’s decorated assassin, you weaning dipwad. I know well the incorrigible criminality we fight, what it takes to win.”
An uncharacteristic silence diffuses through Black Heart. I turn, for whatever reason, expect to see a bank of helmeted MPF behind body-shields, StunSticks at their side. But I see all eyes turned to their nearest TVs. Sassafras cranks up the volume remotely on all of them at once. A breaking news release, “Authorities arrested a high-ranking member of ARC this evening in connection with the terrorizing and destruction of Flanagan’s Furriers. A spokesperson for the authorities said the arrestee, whose name they withheld, surrendered peacefully without incident. Because of the volatile, unpredictable nature of ARC, they are holding the prisoner at an undisclosed location…” Surrendered? Peacefully?
Undisclosed? Gives me an idea, and I stand to leave, but I’m hit by a sudden bout of vertigo, steady myself on the table.
Savior, unconcerned, asks, “Even you, Moon?”
I snarl back, “Even me Moon what!?”
“Do you deserve to die?”
Like I’ve never considered, “Most of all, Savior. But it’s not my time.”
The room’s dizzy, the floor rolls under my feet as I fight my stagger to the exit. Alexa meets me at the door, her timing inconspicuous, takes my hand in hers. They’re soft, warm, inviting. She secrets a note in my hand as she whispers in my ear, “Find Simplicia, Moon. But be careful, trust no one.” Last part’s easy, I never have. She smiles, wearing the mask of a casual farewell and returns to her comrades. I put her note in my pocket.
* * *
Their suits gleam immaculate in the artificial light, hair groomed and plucked to perfection, rings weigh their fingers, and gold Rolexes grace their wrists. They swirl glasses of import Highland scotch. Arrogant postures fix erect stances. Beside one another, gazing out the floor to ceiling windows. Beneath them, the sprawl of city lights. In the distance, leaving Crystal’s Black Heart Vegan Cuisine, a dim yellow headlight on a Yamaha 250 wobbles away unnoticed. Nearer them, the glowing dome of the Capitol. “I trust the down payment for our shameful indiscretion sufficient,” says one.
“Blood for blood as agreed. One will suffice, for now,” the other answers and takes a thoughtful sip. Admires the sparkling diamonds in his ring. Sucks his teeth then asks, “What about the one you call Moon?”
ARC is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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