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Next of Kin, Chapter Twenty-Four: 44%


  12:56:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2238 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Twenty-Four: 44%

  1. Twenty-Four, 44%


Apparently I got a sympathy bump, for having got shot. There was a lag to it; people who watched it happen kind of turned on me. I got blamed for getting my ass kicked and shot with my own gun. But those that came in after were more forgiving. I hated that it was the first thing I noticed after the anesthesia wore off. Well, that and realizing I wasn't dead.

The next thing I realized was that I was back in Jenel's tent, lying in her cot. It was comfier than it looked- though it looked like a medieval trampoline. Jenel wasn't there. There was barely any light. I wondered how long I'd been out, and made the mistake of moving my chest.

The world turned fluorescent for an instant. ?New mods are settling in,? I heard in my ear. ?That was a new diagnostic, tries to make sensations less subjective and more obvious, so if you're having any kind of implant rejection it's easier for the techs to figure it out. You'll also taste purple, provided it's bright enough.?

?You're not here.?

?I don't spend all day in my tent. I'm picking up some food at the market.?

?Am I safe??

?Your spores are active. You're the safest person in the dead zone. And I've got a couple of my goons nearby.?

One of the shotgunners from earlier poked his head inside the tent. He seemed less pleasant than last time- and on that occasion he pointed a gun at me. ?You didn't tell them I called them goons, did you?? I asked.

?They heard,? she said. ?Fresh fruit question. Orange or tangello? A warning, answering this wrong could very well end our burgeoning friendship.?

?We're friends?? I asked.

?Quit stalling for time.?

?I've never been able to bring myself to buy a tangelo. I just... couldn't get past the name, or that one time I did, I thought, can I really afford to buy a fruit I'll be afraid to try, only to throw it out? Come to think of it, that may also come from not understanding where it comes from. Is that a mix between tangerine and yellow??

She laughed. ?Okay, I didn't expect you to take it down the Island of Dr. Moreau crazy hole, but yeah. Oranges, all the way. I know tangelos aren't gene-mod, but I always kind of had trouble feeling like it was something that belonged in nature.?

?They aren't genemod?? I asked.

?it's a cross-breed, like a shorkie-?

?Or a bull-shit??

?Exactly, smart ass. I don't have anything inherently against genemod; I mean, we wouldn't be able to feed everyone without it- a problem largely of our own making, given how poorly we've made birth control and legitimate sex ed available. But I give the genemod corporations the same side-eye I give the tobacco industry- clearly they've been manipulative about how they want their products shown to the public- though I don't think they're hiding a huge link to cancer or anything, just playing PR games.

?But the tangelo is a particularly strange creature. A tangerine is a dark mandarin orange- not actually a botanical classification. And a pomelo is a green grapefruit. The fusion of the two feels... unholy.?

?You've never eaten a tangelo either, have you??

?Nope.? She sighed. ?And now I feel bad, like I've been profiling my fruit. So we're both going to try a tangelo.?

?All right, but if the tangelo becomes sentient and later bursts out of my torso, I'm blaming you.?

?I think I can live with that. You know, unless both halves of the tangelo have a torso-bursting monster in them.?


?Okay. Well, I'm at the checkout, so...?

?I can wait,? I said. In the background I heard her talking to the fruit vendor, before giving him access to her account. I shifted, ever so slightly in her bed, and I felt pain from my shoulder to my side.

?You still there?? Jenel asked.

?Yeah,? I said. ?What did the doctors say, about, uh, getting back to work.?

?I don't know how to tell you this,? she said, and her voice trembled, ?but you'll never tutor again.?

?I meant the investigation.?

?I know,? she said. ?And that's a tougher question. Because essentially the doctors want you on light duty. If you can manage to get Jim on the other side of a table peaceably, then that's fine. If there's going to be fighting... it could kill you.?

?And if I was going to rest.?

?Weeks,? she said.

?By which time Jim will be gone, and the case will be unsolvable. I'm not even sure why he stuck around this long.?

?Well, he thought he'd get away with it, for one. You two never got along, right, you and John? Knowing that, even I'm surprised you've seen it this far. Two, though, everyone he knows is in this city. If he's going to up stakes, he needs to gather contacts, and try and find some other place he can start over plying his trade. Otherwise he'd be starting completely from scratch.?

?How long do you think that's going to take?? I asked.

?Less time than it'll take for you to heal,? she said quietly.

?I guess that's good,? I said, and realized I was going to have to explain that better. ?If it was in some gray area, I think that would be more difficult. But it's black and white. I have to go after Jim.? I sat up, and the blankets fell away from my shirt. ?What happened to my shirt?? I asked, and hoped I didn't sound too accusatory.

?They had to cut you out of it,? she said. ?Which is probably irrelevant, since it was pretty fucked up with blood, and had a large gunshot hole in it.?

?Yeah,? I said. I liked the shirt, but I don't think that was a recoverable state.

?And my underpants?? I asked.

?No, I took you out of those. They just looked too constricting.? She paused for a moment, to let me picture that, and feel awkward at the idea. ?For the surgery, they needed you out of any unclean clothes.?

?I don't suppose you have a comically oversized bathrobe I could borrow for the ride home, do you??

?Well, it was supposed to be a surprise,? I heard the words and then a partial delay before they came again. Jenel lifted the tent flap and walked inside. She threw a parcel into my lap. I opened it. It was a pair of clothes. ?I used some archived footage of you to get your measurements, so they should fit well enough.?

?Thanks,? I said, and started to put the shirt on. ?Ah, ah, ah,? I said, when I tried to raise my arms. ?Okay, that was a stupid, stupid idea.?

?Here,? she said, ?I'll go set the fruit down while you wriggle into the pants. Then I'll help you with the shirt. Okay??

?Yeah. Just, uh, do me a favor, and think of baseball, or, really anything other than me changing.?

?I'll just hum my favorite opera,? she said. I leaned back into the bed to put my legs through the pants. It hurt, considerably, but nowhere near as badly as raising my arm had. Then I noticed she was pulling fruits and vegetables out of a bag, in a very specific order. Already on the counter was a squash and a plantain. Next she removed a cucumber, a parsnip, and finally, a single baby corn.

?Did you plan that?? I asked.

?Kind of,? she said. ?You decent?? she asked.

?I'm pantsed,? I said.

?Just to be clear, does that mean you've got them all the way on, or they're around your ankles? I'll help you get them up, if you need that, I just, want to mentally prepare.?

?They're waist-high.?

?Good,? she said. She set the remaining fruit on the counter, and walked to me. She picked up the shirt. ?Raise your arms as high as you can without pain.? I lifted my hands about an inch off my lap. ?Okay, hurt yourself a little, then.? I raised them about chest-high. It hurt, but it was a manageable strain, rather than the eye-stabbing agony of raising them over my head. She threaded my arms through the holes, then my head, and rolled the shirt down my chest. ?There,? she said.

They were a nice fit. I glanced from the clothes, to the food she bought. Then I realized that all of this paled in comparison to the cost of fixing a gunshot, let alone putting new tech in my skull. ?How'd you pay for this?? I asked, touching my good hand to just below the gunshot.

?You did. Or you will, anyway. I mean, technically they wouldn't do it until I agreed to cover it, if you flake. But you're not the flaking kind. And even if you were, I know your social security number, mother's maiden name, all of your passwords and your inseam. You couldn't flake if you wanted to.?

?But why am I here? Not that I don't like being here, just, I don't want to inconvenience you, and I kind of would have thought that even a dead zone hospital would have a few beds.?

?They wanted to dump you on the street, when they were done; they weren't happy being sort of forced into your surgeries. I had to talk them into bringing you here, instead.?

?You didn't have to do that.?

?Have you ever slept on the street?? she asked, and I knew what her answer would have been from the way she asked it. She knew it, too, and deflected. ?It's no place to recuperate from a gunshot.?

She went to the side of the tent with her stove and started to cut the fruits and vegetables up.

?Is there anything I can do to help.?

?Rest,? she said. ?I don't usually cook for anyone. So rest, and appreciate that it pretty much takes a lot of guilt and a gunshot wound to get me into this position.?

?Guilt?? I asked.

She spread the fruits out on a plate, and brought them to me.

?It's probably stupid, but I can't shake the idea that if I'd been more cooperative earlier...?

?I didn't get shot because of you,? I said. ?I got shot because Jim's an asshole. And because I got close enough to the truth of things that he freaked out.?

I hated not being able to see her face. ?Did I see you??

?You can right now, right? We didn't hit the part of your brain that interprets vision, did we??

?I see just fine. Except that you're pixelated. And you weren't, when they were taking me away on the stretcher. Did you do something??

She hesitated, and I hated the pixelation all the more. ?Maybe your interface lost power. It draws most of its energy during operation from heat and circulation. So it's possible your vitals got weak enough it powered down.?

?Oh,? I said. ?Yeah. That's probably it.?

?But this,? she pointed to one of the slices of fruit, ?is a tangelo.?

?It's got a nipple on it, like a lemon. This seems more like a bastard fruit the more we learn about it.?

She took up a slice herself. ?Okay, we're doing this together. On two. One,? she lifted hers up to her face, and it disappeared in the pixelation.

?Wait,? I said. ?I can't see for the pixelation. How will I know you've eaten yours??


?Trust but verify,? I said.

?I know you think you saw my face, but... I need to protect myself.?

?And I would never ask you not to. I think I've got a solution.? I pushed my slice towards her. ?I'll feed you, and you can feed me.?

She thought it over a moment. ?You so much as hum one bar of the Lady and the Tramp and I'm out.?

?On two??

?One, twooo,? the second word elongated as she moved her face close at the same moment as I pushed the slice of tangelo into her mouth. My fingers touched her lips and lingered, only an instant, and she pushed a slice into my mouth. I bit into it. It was sweet, and juicy, with more tang.

?It's good,? I said.

?And it doesn't feel like a monster's going to erupt out of my stomach.?

?Also good.? I set the plate down in my lap. ?Whatever happens, thank you. For everything. I don't know how all of this gels with your whole ethos, and I know some of it pushed well outside of your comfort zone. And I really am thankful for everything you've done for me.?

?People have to help each other. That's what society is. My ethos is really just that it's dangerous for your society- your world- to get big enough that people become abstractions, that you can take them for granted, or worse, use them because they aren't an individual to you anymore. And fucked up as the circumstances, I'm glad you're a part of my world, now. And you will be, from now on. Those new mods. You can only get serviced here. Like it or not, you're part of the revolution, now.?

I smiled. I wouldn't have thought it even a few days earlier, but I thought I was going to like that.

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