Oh, Nic, you sweetie. I'm okay, I'm around, but there's been a lot of chaos lately.
Miss you too, Nic, and everyone!!
And I'm not coming back empty-handed either. JBERGES was kind enough to beta his way through nearly 5000 words of update, and though it's not all of what I promised (I gotta stop making promises! Real life gets in the way!) what I have, I give to you.
Warning, a large section of this has been hotly debated as to whether it should be included. Frankly, I'm still not sure about it, but hey, it gives you more to read!
Mistakes are mine, love and Canadian cuddles are JBERGES, and well wishes and hugs to everyone who's given me a nudge, plea, whimper, or letter bomb about continuing "Fry's Choice"
Without further "adieu"... (what, I'm a fanfic writer, I'm not supposed to be original!)
Oh, and you may want to skim through the earlier bits of the story, goodness knows I had to!
Alone now in the warehouse with her captor, the doctor still managed the grateful thought that Munda and the others had escaped. It gave some small purpose to her imminent death, and she took what comfort she could from it. Chastity fought like a toddler in a tantrum, inescapably locked in the grip of the Earthican President.
She fully expected her last moments to be hideous; a terrible, relentless squeezing, followed by a gruesome squelching sound as her fragile bones collapsed under the pressure. For the first time in her life, she regretted the medical expertise that had been her calling. The doctor in her knew with sickening clarity what would happen to her internally when Nixon acted, and the slow death such a crushing would give her. That knowledge really took all the clinical detachment out of the upcoming experience.
She sucked in breaths as she writhed in his fist, fear already preparing her for what was coming. Moments slipped by. It was still coming. ‘Oh save me,' she shrieked in her head, 'When will it come?!’ The waiting was almost worse than death. Death, at least, was conclusive.
Chastity suddenly lost the fight with despair and began to weep as any remaining will to cling to hope drained out of her. She dangled now, limply from his immense hand that was so cold and inhuman. She wanted only for the terror to end, life’s continuance did not seem worth this torture. Nixon wasn’t laughing, she noted absently, lost in a terror suppressing daze. It seemed… wrong somehow. Surely such a wicked creature should be laughing at the childish display she was putting on.
Tearfully, she raised her head. He was watching her. A tiny spark of weary outrage flared up in Chastity. Now resigned to her fate, she was tired of being afraid. Fear could only be conquered by facing it. It was an age-old lesson, first learned at her parents’ feet. Gathering all the fury from the cruelty and indignity her people had suffered through the years, Chastity Rumelle stared Nixon in his human eyes.
And she was stunned.
Shocked out of any trace of anger, Chastity looked into the window of Nixon’s hypothetical soul. To her wonderment, it seemed almost like a certain affection, maybe even a certain tenderness lurked in the depths. Impossible, of course, that the Earthican President would stare at her like a moony-eyed, shippy-lusting teenager, right? But there it was for her to see, as he looked back at her.
‘Ah,’ Chastity thought in amused acceptance. ‘The fear has driven me out of my skull; I’m mad.” She laughed and felt better about it. Nixon blinked at her in surprise. Madness seemed a natural progression after all the insanity that had plagued her of late.
‘He’s gone mad too then,’ she thought, smiling in contentment. ‘Nixon has to be mad… look at his adorable sweater. No leader in his right mind would be dressed like that, surely.’
“Aahrr-” said the democratically elected dictator leader of the planet. It was a strange sort of sound, like an engine weakly trying to turn over. “Arroo, without the ‘roo’, and without the coherent thought.
“Aahhrrr-” slurred the President, beady eyes fixed on her unnervingly.
Chastity decided she needed to say something, anything to break the bizarre tableau. But what should she say to the monster who had ravaged her home, destroyed innocent lives, terrified her nearly to death?
“Nice sweater,” she whispered.
Nixon blinked in his jar, gently swishing around in his life sustaining, minty fresh liquid. It was aberrant, gross and twisted. For the first time, Charity saw something in the madman, something they had in common.
Nature says we shouldn’t be.
“Do you like to party?” Nixon asked, transfixed.
“…no reaction, try…” “…checked vitals…” “..other patients… no time…”
Hands and voices fluttered over her like angels’ wings. She tried to turn away from a particularly barking voice, but her head was unbearably heavy and she couldn’t move it. None of her body parts, standard or non-standard, seemed particularly inclined to listen to her. Black despair drifted over her like an icy cloud, stealing her desire to keep struggling.
She must have made some kind of noise for the barking voice harshly commanded, “Don’t move!” She wanted to laugh. It didn’t matter, she couldn’t move anyway.
She felt a gentle, warm tug at her spirit, and instinctively knew that if she let go that she would never return. ‘So be it,’ she thought blissfully, relaxing into the pull. Around her, the voices spun faster.
“…fading fast…” “…need to get…” “…don’t know enough about…” “….ask one of them…” “good… quickly…”
A strange feeling of dissipation stroked across her consciousness. The woman felt she was growing and thinning, slipping away from herself. “We’re losing her!” came the urgent cry.
‘Ah, was the “her” they spoke of she, herself? And losing…? Oh, losing me. I must be dying.’
That was all right. She was ready. Although her foggy mind could recall nothing about how she got wherever she was, somehow she knew she did not mind not returning there. “Nothing left to return for,” she thought dreamily, not really understanding the thought. Her thoughts themselves seemed to be spreading and thinning. Soon it would be done, over.
‘Good. It’s long past time for regrets anyway.’ She smiled dreamily, though no one could see it. Her eye was closed but she had spread past the need for it. Eerily, she floated, beginning to see clearly, in a way she’d never seen before.
Dark, unfamiliar figures scurried around in a cloudy haze. They surrounded her form, frantically doing strange sorts of things to try to revive her. Their efforts meant little to her, however, and she drifted away from them, wishing for the fragile tethers binding her to life to fall away.
Time past slowly for the dying woman and she could not tell how quickly it was rolling under her. A sense of loss came and went; the tether had given way, almost regretfully. Faster and faster she faded, rising away from troubles that had seemed tremendously important not too long ago. The overwhelming sense of acceptance stole even the remnants of fear from her spirit, so it was with great surprise, and a trickle of dismay that she snapped to a halt on some other tether. The jolt confused her and her sense of peace evaporated.
The tether called to her with a deep-seated need as it trembled, threatening to break. The wordless, ineffable plea was compelling. Reluctantly, she took hold of the first tether and instantly felt that she had shrank somehow, even as a profound grief washed over her. If she could have sobbed, she would have. The tether had such a tenuous hold on her now, but still, she felt compelled to cling to it. As she began to slip, fear shot through her and she nearly pulled away before she realized it was fear of losing that precious cord that was coursing through her. She held tightly to that fright, but slowly life was sliding away from her. Resignation was forcefully replaced by terror and she struggled valiantly to hang on. A desperate, wild keen wrenched itself from her very being when she finally understood.
“Help me, mom, please! I don’t know, I don’t know where I am,” called the voice so dear to her. Munda could not let go; she was still needed by at least one person. Resolution became action, and she tried to haul herself downward with fierce determination.
Suddenly, she was falling, crashing back into herself with terrifying speed. She gasped and shuddered as though she had been tossed in icy water. Agony assailed her chest and abdomen and she tried to brush aside the hands that were hurting in their efforts to help her.
“…stabilized, we need anesthetic… waking up...” The litany of voices broke back into her consciousness like a spray of shattered glass.
Hands still fluttered over her, but the frantic edge was gone. So to was her paralysis. Still unable to open her eyes, Munda reached up to discover what she could, only to have her tentacles gently but firmly forced down.
“Easy…trying to help….”
“Leela?” Munda managed the tiniest breath.
“…don’t know. You… sleep… hemoraging… surgery… to be all right.”
Something cool pressed against her face and a medical smell filled her nostrils. Unable to resist, Munda fell into a comfortless sleep.
“Gotta get up,” came the feverish moan, “they’re coming, -gotta” The stranger’s voice seemed to writhe and twist in anguish as it once again dissolved into a stream of incomprehensible syllables.
Garin “Asphalt Eater” Pazda frowned at his unexpected guest. ‘Aid and comfort,’ she’d said. Well, yes, of course, since he himself chose not to fight, he was obligated to help folks out in other ways, but he hadn’t intended to take in anyone so ill. ‘Ash’ had sympathized when the more youthful mutants declared their intentions to defend their homes, but he would not go down that road himself.
“’Passion,’” he grumbled moodily to the senseless stranger. “That’s what the young and foolish name it, or sometimes they call it ‘spirit’. ‘Ash, where’s your passion? You need more community spirit!’” he mocked those few who had gone off to war so eagerly. Shortsightedness, he would call it, if he cared to say anything, or perhaps ridiculousness . “Wasteful, that’s what it really is.” He declared conclusively, releasing the folly of youth from his troubled mind. “Nevermind. Let someone else label it.” Ash hauled himself wearily off the rickety stool he’d perched on throughout the vigil.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, baby.” The nameless mutant sighed mournfully as Garin tucked another blanket around him.
“You’re forgiven,” he deadpanned, before brightening, “You’re talking more now than you have been the last two days,” he offered encouragingly, “and that’s gotta count for something, yes?”
There was no response. Garin didn’t really expect one. He laid a three fingered hand on the stranger’s forehead. “And you’re warmer than before,” he added, having used up the sum total of his medical know-how. “Let’s just hope that’s a good thing.” He straightened and stretched, joints cracking in a grotesque symphony. “Maddie will be pleased with you.”
Ash headed into the kitchen for a bit of coffee, rambling cheerfully at his quietly raving charge. “No, really, she will be!” he called over his shoulder, as if the mutant had countered his statement. “I don’t suppose you remember her, but she’s been worried about you. Always a fretter, that girl,” he shook his head and sighed. “She’ll be coming by soon, I expect.” As always, Ash struggled a bit with the heavy coffee pot. Rheumatism had set in to his hands some years back, just as they’d warned him it would. “You know what the problem is? Well, not the only problem,” he clarified with a crooked grin, “but one of them. It’s doctors.”
An anxious mutter floated into the kitchen. Garin took it as agreement. “Yes, you said it, George. Doctors- always warning you about the dire consequences without giving you anything to do about it.” Coffee cup unsteadily balanced on a tray, Garin returned to the stool. “Useless, really. Don’t know why mutants bother with doctors.” His voice became high pitched and gently mocking. “’Mr. Pazda, without Somesortofdrug, you’ll eventually lose the use of your hands.’ ‘And where’, I asked, ‘where do I get this drug?’
‘Well, only the surface dwellers-’” Ash settled back into his normal voice. “Completely useless. Don’t know why they ever told me.” He shifted his attention back to the present. “And now, here we are, holed up in a hole under the manholes, wondering if the world’s gonna end today. And the kids!” he exclaimed, with a shake of his slightly off-kilter head. “Kids, getting themselves killed because they’re afraid of change.” He stared into the warm drink with a deep frown, as though it offended him.
“We can move from this place.” He glanced back towards his charge. “We’ve moved before!” Leaning in conspiratorially, the elder murmured, “Sometimes I think you and I are the only sane ones left in the universe, and I’m not too sure about you!”
“Oh, goodness, not that old line,” came an amused voice. Garin turned with a grin to the front door, or rather, the ratty drapes that served as a front door. The tired looking woman smiled back at him. “Honestly, Dad, we’re trying to bring him back to the land of the living, not scare him into a coma.”
Garin waved at her dismissively and turned back to the mutant, who had slipped back into a quieter sleep. “See what I mean? Kids these days.”
Maddie ignored his teasing as she always did, turning her attention to the pallid-skinned mutant stretched out on his sofa. “How is he?”
“George?” he asked with a nod towards the stranger, adding, “It’s his name ‘til he wakes up. I’ve just now decided.” His grown daughter shook her head, but a faint smile graced her face.
“‘Bout time you smiled again,” he commented clinically, before dropping the subject altogether. “He’s better, I think, but not really better. He needs a doctor, Madison.” Garin couldn’t quite repress another frown. “He needs medicine too, maybe.”
“He needs what we don’t have for him,” she finished unhappily.
“Yes, girl,” He ran his hand through his thinning hair in a weary gesture, “but there’s no use losing sleep over what we can’t change.”
His youngest eyed him suspiciously. “Maybe you should take your own advice.” Garin looked at her with perfectly feigned innocence. “You’re exhausted,” she said firmly, undeterred. “I’m here, why not get some sleep?”
Fatherly affection brought a warm smile to his misshapen face. “Too late, Dolly,” he lifted the mug and waggled it at her, ignoring the pain. “There’s more caffeine than water in me right now. But maybe we should wake him?” he suggested, watching her reaction carefully.
“Oh, uh… I don’t know, Dad. Do you think it’s safe for him? I’m not sure that we should disturb him now. They say… they do say sleep heals.” She raised worried eyes to his. ‘Still the little girl looking to Daddy for advice,’ he thought in a flash of melancholy, ‘even after three kids of her own.’ Speaking of which…
“How are the kids? “ Maddie didn’t even blink at the non-sequitor. Dismay and hope waged a fierce battle in her eyes.
“Fine, I hope.” Then with more urgency, “They have to be.”
“Still can’t get through?” he asked heavily, unhappy with the fear he saw in her. She shook her head mutely under his sturdy gaze. “Scott’ll keep ‘em safe, baby girl.”
Now Garin let her see the twinkle in his eyes. “His name is Sam, Dad.” She said in irritation, before her expression softened. “Tease,” she scolded.
For his part, Garin gave her another look of practiced innocence. “Oh, yes. That’s right, Sam. Competent fella.” From him, it was high praise and Maddie was wise enough to know it. She smiled at him, all too briefly. “It’ll be alright,” he added seriously, wishing the shadows in her eyes did not return so quickly.
“Of course,” she agreed simply, having no other option but to believe it. An uneasy quiet settled between them, and both were relieved when the unconscious man shifted in his sleep. “Do we wake him?” Garin asked her evenly.
After a minute, she shook her head firmly. “No, no, leave him lay. At least, where he is, it’s peaceful. Let him escape worry for a while. I wish I could.”
Garin nodded his acceptance, then stretched out and pulled her into a hug. He was glad she had not seen the stranger’s restless tossing or heard his distraught calls.
Garin jerked awake to the breathy murmurs. There was something different in the way the stranger spoke. More confusion, and less abject terror. As quickly as his aching body would allow him, Garin clambered out of his beloved, and hard won, recliner and made his way to the stranger.
“Hey! You’re awake!” He greeted enthusiastically, startling the sleepily winking man. “You’re safe,” Garin said quickly, to ward off the brewing panic in his charge, “at least, you’re as safe as any of us are right now,” he temporized. “Any pain?” His guest shifted cautiously before trying to sit up. A grimace answered Garin’s question somewhat more honestly than ‘George’ did.
“Not too much, really. Just enough to let me know I’m still alive.”
Garin couldn’t fight a grin at the pragmatism. ‘Here’s a guy with a head on his shoulders,’ he thought, and said so.
“Thanks,” the cyclops replied with an answering smile, “It’s an option that’s always worked for me.”
The old mutant smiled broadly and thrust out a welcoming palm. “Garin Pazda, everyone but family calls me Ash.”
“Short for Asphalt Eater.” At the stranger’s amused, questioning look he added, “Childhood accident after I snuck up to the surface. I was young and impetuous… once.” His hand drifted up to touch his scarred face. To one of the surface-dwellers, it would have been shocking, but the mutants never batted an eye, no matter how many they had.
“But you aren’t any more, of course,” George chuckled lightly, but winced as it dissolved into a cough.
“You all right, er-?”
“Morris, Turanga Morris. Morris is my given name,” he clarified with a weariness that suggested he’d often had to explain his name. “I’m fine.” Garin eyed Morris for a moment.
“Bet you’re wondering how you got here.”
“You’d win that bet,” Morris agreed readily. “I’m also wondering how soon I can get out of here and back to my family.” Garin’s smile faded a bit at the low intensity in Morris’ last words.
“I’m no prison guard, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he said firmly, “but it might be some time before you can get out of here.”
“Why?” Morris questioned urgently.
“For one thing, you’ve been sick. My daughter was out with a few friends when they found you. Groups of them have been slipping out, trying to help any who need it. Thought you were dead at first,” he added with a shake of his head. “From what they’ve told me, and from what they won’t tell me, which is worse, we’ve lost way too many good people.”
“Yeah,” Morris agreed grimly, and Garin had the sudden feeling his mind was somewhere else. A moment later, Morris growled, “If I ever get my hands on Nixon, he’ll learn a little bit about misery.”
Garin gave his new, and very angry, friend a measuring look. “Yes, indeed,” he said, “we’ve lost too many good people, more by the minute.”
Morris returned the penetrating stare with a steady gaze of his own. “Some losses you recover from, and some you don’t.”
“Have you?” Garin asked sadly, “Have you suffered a loss that you can’t recover from?” He regretted the impulsive question as soon as he’d finished uttering it. Morris blinked hard and took a shuddering breath, the struggle to control himself painfully obvious. Just as Garin would have changed the subject, Morris choked, “I, I don’t know yet.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “Seems to me like we all have,” he murmured sadly, wringing the blanket in his hands.
Mindful of his guest’s distress, Garin left him alone for a few minutes, ostensibly to play host and prepare something to eat, but more to give Morris the space he needed. Maddie would have been more than a little surprised at the sensitive gesture, but to him, it was just good sense.
“So why can’t I get out of here?” Morris asked calmly when Garin returned some minutes later with two bowls of soup and some stale crackers. He set the tray down and dragged the coffee table between them, then settled himself across from Morris.
“Hope you don’t mind if I eat.” Morris did not. “Okay, we’re in the sub-Staten borough down here. Those criminals from upstairs did their homework, and fast; don’t ask me how. They figured out we’re packed in like owlets down here and blocked off the lines in the first few minutes of the invasion; nearly flooded us out,” he said in a steady voice that belied the chaos their actions had caused. “There’s no getting out of here, my friend. At the perplexed look on his guest’s face, he added, “That is, not through the underground.”
Morris’ eye widened as he caught on. “So your daughter and her friends traveled above ground to find me? That’s… very dangerous, especially now.”
“You’re telling me,” Garin shook his head gravely. “But I couldn’t dissuade them. Not everyone who’s gone out has come back.” Determination sparked in Morris’ eye. “And they were perfectly healthy, not to mention a fair bit younger than you and I, so don’t even think about it,” he said firmly.
“If I can’t get out, can I at least call someone? Let my wife know I’m safe?” In a voice thick with fear Morris whispered, “Find out if she and my daughter are alright?”
“Sorry, my friend.” And he truly was, “Comm. signals are being blocked, too. It’s a nasty situation all around, and I can’t even tell you if there’s an end in sight.” Morris was silent for a moment, taking this in, and then collapsed back down with a plaintive moan. “Now, don’t fret over much. Doesn’t do any good, you know. You’ll get out of here eventually, one way or another, sooner or later. There’s nothing you can do now but wait. Rest and recover,” he advised, “it’s what you need now anyway.”
my family,” Morris growled, “and every minute I’m here, I’m away from them. I can’t stay here, Ash,” the nickname came out awkwardly, “I can’t.”
The mutant started to shift anxiously and Garin decided it was time to change tracks. “What was it like out there?” he asked in the gruff, concerned way patented by all men ‘getting on in years.’
Morris frowned thoughtfully, then raised a troubled eye. “It was… as bad as anything I’ve ever seen. People dying, killing all around me. Things are different now for us, and they’ll never be the same.” He raised his eye to Garin with a terrible solemnity, “There’s no undoing this.”
The soup, still untouched, cooled peacefully as Morris’ voice grew heated, temper flaring, “And I don’t know whether to be grateful or furious that more of us didn’t help defend our homes.”
Despite his sympathy for the mutant before him, Garin raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Oh? Don’t you?”
Morris propped himself up gingerly. “No, I don’t,” he replied, defensive, but still very deliberate. “I am grateful, very grateful, that fewer people there meant fewer people hurt and dead, but I’m also furious, furious
, because those of us who did
care enough about our families to fight were flushed out to sea.” He tipped his head sideways with a startling crack, voice dropping low. “We never stood a chance. There was no help for us, none at all.”
A twinge of offense flickered in Garin, but he spoke quietly, gently. The poor fellow was overwhelmed, and who could blame him. “Don’t think you were forgotten, Morris. No one forgot you.”
Morris was not mollified, but his strength had faded. Perspiring from his efforts, Morris sunk back down to the lumpy cushions. “You weren’t there. You can’t know.” The words were strained with grief, but not accusatory.
“No, you’re right. I wasn’t.” Garin felt himself nodding. “Maybe we weren’t there, Morris, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t care.” He was guiltily grateful when the cyclops seemed too exhausted to argue further.
“Listen, a lot of the young ones here were set on finding honour and glory when those butchers came tearing through the tunnel screaming about war. Some of them,” he added darkly, “no doubt, were in the tunnels waiting when the walls went down and the water came rushing in.” He paused to give Morris time to take that in. When the mutant blanched more grey than he already was, Garin continued. “Fortunately, most of them were waiting to be called, I guess. The sounds of the attacks took the sparkles right out of their eyes, I’ll tell you.”
Morris reached out an unsteady hand and took a sip of the stagnant water.
Garin waited until he had settled again. “But don’t confuse losing the glory for losing the courage. Bands of them went out, some above ground, some picking their way through blocked, but unflooded tunnels. The first bunch that came back told us that the fighting seemed mostly over, but that there were a lot of people in bad trouble.”
“So they went out to help the injured?”
“Of course. Not as fighters, but as healers, like it should have been all along. That’s how they found you.”
“Was there anyone with me? Anyone… alive?” Morris asked heavily.
“Now that I can’t tell you. Everyone they manage to get out of there goes through the triage set up in the square, then gets put up in someone’s home. People are scattered all over, even a couple of the surface dwellers who were left behind. Maddie tells me they weren’t real concerned with keeping people together.”
“Maddie? Your daughter?”
“Yep. Headstrong. No sense at all.”
Morris smiled faintly, “Yeah, that sounds familiar. I’ve got a daughter. She’s a space captain,” he tacked on proudly. “I’d give my right arm and more besides to know that she’s okay right now. Munda must be frantic.” In a sudden movement that alarmed Garin and obviously hurt Morris, the mutant threw off the blanket and sat up, bracing his feet on the floor.
“No, no, don’t get up!” he scolded, getting to his own feet. However Morris would not be put off.
“I have to get up. I have to find my feet again. You told me there are ways out and I’m not staying here, safe and secure while God knows what is happening to my family.” With that he pushed himself up to a standing position, defiant and wordlessly daring Garin to stop him.
It wasn’t necessary; after a second, Morris sunk weakly to the rug. Garin helped the still resisting man back to the couch. “I don’t think you realize how sick you’ve been.”
“Probably because you haven’t told him.” Garin didn’t turn, too occupied with Morris to greet Maddie. She quickly stepped in, trying to soothe the agitated cyclops.
“I need to get out. Don’t you understand that?”
“We do, we do. Of course we do. But it’s too much for you right now. Besides which, it’s morning and there’s no going above ground till dusk.”
“I don’t care.” Morris had ceased struggling, and his voice took on a calm, reasoned tone that was totally unconvincing. “I’ll go in the daylight if I have to, but whatever may come of it, I’m going.”
Maddie’s eyes flashed angrily and Garin waited for the coup de grace. “Fine, you can go, but first tell me how getting yourself captured or killed is going to bring comfort to anyone but Richard Nixon.”
Morris glared at her fiercely, but said nothing. “You’re tired. You are overwrought, and you have been terribly ill for three days.” She spoke firmly, clearly, but with such emotion that Garin was hard pressed not to reach out to comfort her.
“Three days?” Morris breathed, “I’ve been here for three days?!” He slumped back, staring at the ceiling in shocked dismay. “Anything could have happened. Leela, Munda… where have I been?” The question was not directed at them, and Maddie did not respond to it.
Instead she said, “You’d been out there, lying on the ground for some time when we found you, and there were others more seriously injured.” She didn’t have to say some had been past hope, the darkness in her eyes told it too well. “Infection set in, unfortunately. We thought we might lose you for a while.”
She reached out and took his hands, squeezing them kindly, “But you’re still here, you’re recovering, and there will be some very happy people out there when they find that out.”
Morris’ lip twitched in response, resisting thoughts of a happy reunion.
Maddie inclined her head towards Garin. “Listen to the old-timer here. Rest, gather your strength. If you do, then I’ll find someone to get you back home tonight, if you’re up for it.”
“If you do.”
Morris nodded, then reached out for the cold soup. He applied himself to eating with a single-minded intensity, heedless of the worried glances exchanged above him.
Comments are most welcome and helpful!