“There are uncountable opportunities for men of our intelligence, looks, and charm in the world outside of LA. Entire industries that are chomping at the bit to hire individuals with a fraction of what we have to offer, and paying them far more than we would ask.”
Rainer leaned against the wall, the back of his head flat against the cheap drywall and cheaper paint. The former could be seen through fist-sized holes in the latter, pockets of white, textured solidity behind a room encompassing a swathe of vomit-colored pigment.
“What industries?” I asked Rainer, who was staring off into the distance.
I don’t think he expected me to be paying attention; he was just thinking aloud. “Oh, you know. All kinds of industries.”
Cain hadn’t worked, in the traditional sense of the word, for months. He hadn’t worked a day in his life, if you assume ‘work’ means ‘purpose.’ Not until he arrived in LA, at least. Not until he met the demons and seraphim danced through his thoughts, day and night. Which had him waking up mid-dream, more often than not, disturbing Rainer with his early morning sleep walks and midnight murmuring.
“Which ones?” I asked. “Specifically.”
He waved his hand at me, dismissing the question. “If you have to ask, you’re not as qualified as I thought.”
“Right. Well. We’re certainly not cut out for hero stuff. Or cyborg stuff. Or, I don’t know.” I shook my head. “Stuff in general. People stuff.”
“You don’t know that I’m not good at cyborg stuff,” Rainer said.
I sighed. “Fine, yes. You may be good at cyborg stuff. I don’t know that you’ll ever have your chance to prove that, however, since the two groups who’re playing the biggest role in developing that technology are at each other’s throats. Well, one of them is knocked out, and the other is defunded and dissipated. But they would be at each other’s throats, if they had the resources to do so. Or undamaged throats.”
The human throat consists of two main parts, the pharynx and the larynx. The epiglottis rsits at the back of the throat, separating the esophagus from the trachea, and prevents the unintentional inhalation of matter, such as food or drink.
“It’s mostly Plato, who’s got the throat thing going on,” Rainer said. “He’s at everybody’s throat.”
An epiglottal consonant is a sound featured in some languages. It’s articulated by pressing the aryepiglottic fold, which is a triangular opening at the entrance of the larynx, against the epiglottis.
“Pretty much.” I tried to get into the joke, but couldn’t quite muster the requisite joviality. I was also hung up on the word ‘aryepiglottic,’ and trying not to descend into an endless cycle of new words and definitions leading to other new words and other definitions.
And Plato was a sore subject. He was the reason we were on the run.
Of course, on the run can mean many things, and our particular situation was less dire and probably more comedic and blundering than most. We weren’t even certain that Plato was after us, but we had plenty of reason to suspect he might want to keep us quiet. Might even suspect that we had something to do with the ill-fated break-in at the police station a few weeks prior.
But there we were, camped out at a cheap hotel in Barstow, close enough that we could keep tabs on the situation in LA, but far enough away that we were out of Plato’s jurisdiction.
Barstow’s population is 22,639. Its motto is ‘Crossroads of Opportunity.’
Plato’s official jurisdiction, at least. Rainer suggested we head back to Smithton for a while, which underlined the enormity of the situation for me. That even soggy, boring little Smithton seemed like the best option spoke volumes to me about how spooked Rainer was. I had to remind him that our government friends were still lurking around up there, with a base in the area, and that someplace neutral would be a better spot to regroup.
Just in case, though, we were lying low. We used cash as much as possible, taking a large — for us, large — sum from an ATM before leaving LA, then hopping a bus from a ramshackle part of the city, changing buses mid-ride twice, despite the costs associated with such maneuvers.
There are an estimated 2.2 million automatic teller machines in the world. The first ATMs appeared in four countries — the US, Britain, Japan, and Sweden — near-simultaneously in the late-1960s.
We weren’t spies, and we were likely leaving a trail that was obvious from space, if the right person looked for it, but we were doing what we could to slow down any pursuit.
The paranoia, of course, was not merely the result of Plato’s victory over The Commons and Dr. Steinberg’s people. Those two other groups were also cornered, and might lash out at anyone they perceived to be a threat. And since Rainer and I had been working for both sides from day one, it seemed like a pretty good idea to step back, let them sort themselves out, and maybe, someday, return once the dust settled. If the dust settled.
“Maybe,” Rainer started, then paused. “Maybe we can use this to our advantage. Maybe we’ve overreacted and staying out here, eating from vending machines, this whole hiding out thing? Maybe it’s a waste of time. Maybe,” he paused again, and this time didn’t finish his sentence.
I said, “Maybe we’re being idiots.”
“It’s possible. But, I mean, isn’t it worth the risk? Stepping aside for a moment, letting things settle a bit? Just to be sure? We haven’t heard from Steinberg or The Commons or anybody since the night of the police station raid, and that’s…”
“…Unusual,” Rainer said.
“Yeah. More than unusual. Wildly unlikely. Both sides should be all over the place, trying to put themselves back together. Making moves. And we would be a part of that. Right?”
“Probably,” he said. “But, I don’t know, maybe they’re keeping it contained? Small? Underground? Maybe trying to avoid making waves, like us? I mean, Plato’s kind of got the law on his side. Resources. Super-human combat cops. It stands to reason that anyone who’s got ambitions to usurp him would keep it on the down-low until such a time that they’re ready to strike. Take off the head of the snake, as it were.”
“I guess,” I said. “So maybe we just…wait, then? Keep waiting? Living off bags of chips and stale cookies?”
Staleness is the migration of moisture in food from starch granules to interstitial spaces, resulting in degelatinized starch, and the subsequent realignment of starch amylose and amylopectin molecules. This causes crystallization and a ‘stale’ texture.
Rainer reached for his bag and pulled out a tennis ball. He bounced it across the room and I caught it. He said, “At least we’ve got each other.”
I bounced it back to him. “And a ball.”