Nothing about zonerunning had ever really prepared Gerard for the aftermath of a BLI standoff. Mostly because no one he knew expected to be standing afterwards. Yet here they were, the infamous Killjoys. Still on their feet, against all odds. Mostly. Korse had stood over them, his smoky shades hiding his eyes, and told them - told Gerard - to keep running.
Running was a little beyond their power right now. Frank and Ray were bleeding, Mikey wheezing, Gerard himself...dazed. His fingers ached from how hard he was clutching the wheel of the the Trans Am. The engine purred beneath him, willing and waiting, but Gerard hesitated with one hand hovering over the gear shift, taking a deep breath before pulling back out onto the road. Something - no, everything - felt wrong. Not with the car - with them. Grace’s presence clung like a cobweb, and not a single one of them was leaving this encounter whole. They were two klicks across the desert before Ray asked the first question, voice rough and wobbly and sounding desperate for distractions.
“Why didn’t they take the car?”
As questions went, the answer was clear enough. “Didn’t you hear him? Korse prefers a moving target.” Gerard answered.
“I’ll kill him.” That was Frank’s contribution, hissed between his teeth without taking pressure off the blood-stained rag he held to his face. His tone was remarkably even, and Gerard shuddered. Frank was always skating close to the edge, and he had no idea what he’d do if Frank decided to jump.
Gerard had a bad feeling that decision had already been made.
Mikey hadn’t said anything yet, and Gerard chanced a look over at the passenger seat to see his brother running a finger along the barrel of the ray gun resting across his knees. Gerard had always counted on Mikey to say what Gerard needed to hear - even if he didn’t want to - so this silence was unnerving. As unnerving as Frank’s even tone. As unnerving as the desperation in Ray’s voice.
“Mikes?” Gerard asked softly.
“She trusted us,” Mikey said finally. “We were her big brothers, all of us.”
“She can still trust us,” Gerard told him.
“You’re playing right into his hands,” Dr. D told them. It wasn’t the first remark he’d addressed to them or even the second.
The first had been mostly expletives. The second had been directed at Gerard, and it hadn’t been much friendlier. “I’d dust you myself right here if I didn’t know some drac would be doing it soon enough.”
“I’d let you,” Gerard had said. “If I didn’t have something I needed to do first.”
“We,” Frank had added, expression daring Gerard to challenge him. It would have hurt more if he hadn’t been expecting it since he blinked back to consciousness still breathing with Motorbaby gone.
“You think we don’t know that, Doc?” Gerard addressed Dr. D directly again. “He’s making an example of us. We might as well be as bad of a fucking example as we can be.”
Dr. D didn’t answer for a moment, pulling off his shades and huffing on the lenses to clean them, looking back at Gerard only once they were in place again. “We’ll help,” he said eventually. “Go get yourselves fucking patched up. We’ll call some chickadees in to roost and come up with some fucking asinine plan or another.” He spat into the trash can at his side. “Now hand me a vinyl from that box over there. Gotta cue something up for my broadcast in five.”
“You need stitches, or that will scar, mijo,” Casanova told Frank, putting a hand on his shoulder when Frank tried to stand up.
“Fuck you, Cas, I don’t like you enough to let you stick anything in me,” Frank told him and stood up anyway.
“Ghoul -” Gerard snapped, and Frank’s shoulders went up, but he walked away instead of stopping.
“It’s all right,” Casanova said. “That’s just Fun Ghoul for you.”
“That’s just bad fucking manners,” Gerard answered him. “You were trying to help.”
“You ain’t gonna change Ghoul, Party querido. Though believe me when I say I admire you for trying.” His glance went long and heavy-lidded. “Maybe you should go try some more while I go help with Jet Star’s face.”
“Keep us posted,” Gerard muttered queasily. Ray’s eye was apparently worse than it had looked; Show Pony already had him laid out in one of the back rooms to clean it up. Mikey was with him. Gerard was staying away.
It took a while to find Frank. He’d been moving fast when he left, and Gerard had originally intended to let him walk off some of his temper - until he realized there was no way Frankie was going to walk off a temper that size. Gerard was going slowly because he knew his temper was a little too close to the surface, too.
He didn’t mind; the sulfurous burn was a good reminder that he was a dead man walking. He’d forgotten for a while. No longer.
Frank was in the stifling garage with its doors closed tight against the falling dark, stripped down to his jeans and boots, digging in the crevices of the Trans Am’s body with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. He stopped when he saw Gerard, chest rising and falling under a thin sheen of grease and sweat.
“What are you doing, Frankie?” Gerard asked quietly.
“Checking for trackers,” he answered just as quietly. “Shoulda done it sooner. Fucking Cas, I told him I was okay.” The bandage Casanova had managed to apply to Frank’s chin was bright white against his dirty, tanned skin. Gerard let his eyes rove between it and Frank’s pink lips, up to Frank’s greasy spill of hair and back down to his belt buckle.
“Did you find any?” he asked, and Frank shook his head.
“Nah. Was a dumb idea anyway, but I had to -”
“I get it,” Gerard interrupted. “But you can stop now, Frank.”
“Frank.” It was a terrible fucking day. Gerard had Frank on his knees for him not twelve hours ago. Everything looked different now, but he wanted that back. He stepped forward, close enough to run a hand up Frank’s arm and curl it around the back of his neck.
Frank shivered and pushed back into the grip, but when Gerard stepped closer, he turned away. Gerard didn’t stop, just stepped farther into his personal space until he had Frank boxed in against the side of the car. He took the tools out of Frank’s suddenly-lax grip and dropped them on the floor. “What -” Frank protested in a whisper.
“Shh.” Gerard pushed a few damp tendrils of black hair out of the way and kissed the back of Frank’s neck.
“You’re gonna shush me, Party? We’re really doing this now?” Heat was rolling off of his bare skin in waves; his shoulders pressed into Gerard’s chest as he tried to shift. Gerard leaned in harder chest-to-back and kept him pinned.
“Is there gonna be a better time?” Gerard choked back a moan when Frank let him tug his hips back against Gerard’s crotch. Frank didn’t hold back his moans at all, and Gerard smirked against his shoulder. “I love the way you sound,” Gerard whispered.
“I thought we were goners,” Frank whispered back. He was grinding his hips back into Gerard now. “And you never got me off,” he added wryly. Gerard bit his shoulder in response, and Frank sucked in a breath.
“Only you would think of that,” Gerard chuckled. He reached around and unbuckled Frank’s belt, unzipping his jeans and shoving them down his legs, then pushed his own down around his hips.
“I’m getting sort of fond of it,” Frank answered, choking back another moan as Gerard wrapped a hand around him. “How’s this gonna -”
“Trust me,” Gerard told him. He pulled his hand back to spit into his palm, then started stroking Frank fast and sure. Frank groaned and gripped tighter onto the Trans Am’s door frame.
“Fuck, that feels.... What about you, you can’t -”
“I said trust me.” Gerard had been rolling his hips, dick riding against Frank’s ass, leaving slick patches of precome on his skin. He wanted to fuck like nothing else, but they were both exhausted, and there was no telling how long they’d have this moment alone. At any rate he was too fucking close already, so he just nudged Frank’s thighs a bit farther apart with his free hand and guided his cock between them. “Gonna get you off first, just let me, I’ll do it all - just keep talking,” he gasped.
Frank kept talking, floods of words like he’d been saving them, spitting them out in between moans as Gerard jacked him. Words about how Gerard’s hand felt - “so fucking good, I’ll die if you let go” - about the things they could do if they only - “had a bed, Gee, clean sheets, showers, and all night long. Days. ‘Til we couldn’t move.” Gerard thrust his hips, cock sliding between Frank’s thighs, just slick enough with spit and sweat, biting at Frank’s shoulders and meeting the backwards press of Frank’s ass with cut-off curses.
Frank came first, pushing into Gerard’s hand and locking his arms to hold himself up. Gerard spread a messy hand over his abdomen to hold him close, wrapped the other arm tight around his chest, and kept thrusting until he finished too, their come smearing into the skin of Frank’s stomach and thighs while Gerard panted against his neck. When they’d cleaned each other up, and Frank had tugged his shirt back on, he reeled Gerard in with a hand on his belt and kissed him quick and deep. “I love you,” he whispered against Gerard’s cheek.
“To the end,” Gerard whispered back, twisting his fingers in Frank’s hair and holding him there for a moment. “We gotta go find the others,” he added, but neither of them moved. Gerard didn’t want to move; he wanted to hide. He’d taken the option of hiding away from himself a long time ago though; when he’d left, when he’d stolen Korse’s car and his trust. When he’d dyed his hair blood red and made himself a moving target. He finally let go of Frank’s hair and kissed his temple. They left the Trans Am in the garage and walked through the building to find Mikey and Ray.
They found Show Pony first, propped up against a wall outside the bunk room, drinking out of a dented canteen. “Water,” he told them, holding it out. Gerard shook his head, but Frank took it and took a swig before handing it back. “I don’t know if I saved the eye,” Pony continued. “I might have. If he gets an infection, it’s done.”
“Think we had a box of medicals in the latest swag,” Gerard said. “If not, Kobra knows where Tommy runs. We’ve got the credits.”
Pony chuckled. “Tommy’s your guy, then. Everyone else is going to run to the sixes when they see that painted poison spider coming, you dig, pretty? Gossip spreads faster than sand fleas.”
“We’re headed the other way anyway,” Gerard said and pushed open the door to the room. “Ray?” he added in a questioning tone. Mikey cut him off with a hand motion.
“Sleeping,” Mikey said softly. He was sitting next to the pallet, fingers curled protectively over Ray’s shoulder. Ray had a bandage wound around his head, and his face was slack with sleep.
Gerard hesitated for a moment, then stepped across a few pallets to settle down near his brother. “You okay?” Mikey was stripped down to his shirtsleeves, and he had a reddish-brown smudge of dried blood near his ear.
“Shiny,” he said vaguely.
“Why don’t you lie down for a while?” While they were safe. Mikey nodded and stretched out next to Ray, curling around his back, careful not to jostle him. Gerard leaned his head back against the wall, and Frank folded down next to him and leaned into his side. By their breathing, they were all asleep within minutes.
Gerard sat up to keep watch.
Gerard woke to Frank curled up beside him, using his thigh as a pillow, and to Ray watching him with his one uncovered eye. “Fuck. You okay?” Gerard murmured, pushing a lock of hair off of Frank’s cheek and ready to wake him if necessary. “I meant to stay -”
“Shiny,” Ray said, echoing Mikey’s last words and sounding about as convincing. “And you need rest, too. Can you hand me that -” He reached for a canteen, going quiet when he nudged it with his fingers. “Depth perception’s fucking gone.”
“It’ll - maybe it’ll start getting better, Pony said -”
“Gee.” Ray was looking at him steadily. “Let’s just deal with it like it’s not gonna.” His hands twitched against the blanket. “I need some target practice, I’m sure.”
“You need to rest more before we start making plans,” Gerard told him.
“Who’s still willing to work with us?” Ray asked, ignoring him.
“Probably KK,” Frank said groggily, stirring and rubbing his face against Gerard’s thigh for a moment before pushing himself up. “She’s fucking looneytunes enough to do it.”
“More or less than us?” Gerard asked quietly, and Frank laughed.
“Ain’t nobody crazier than us, baby.” Frank looked at Ray. “We can trade for some tech, but we’re gonna need someone to push some buttons on the inside, too. Radio Ga Ga here can’t do it all.”
There was a snort from the pile of blankets beside Ray. Mikey was awake, too. Gerard tugged hard on the piece of hair he’d been running through his fingers, and Frank pinched his thigh. Mikey sat up and immediately fumbled for a pill bottle, prodding at Ray until he took a dose. When the commotion settled down, Ray looked back at Frank and said, “I was thinking JD. Unless you’ve got someone else you -”
“No one I trust like I trust JD. He’s got a girl working for him now, too - a real one, not an android girl,” he added when Mikey snorted, “who has some sort of in with BLI.”
“Do we trust anyone who has an in with BLI?” Gerard asked.
“You all used to have an in with BLI,” Frank reminded him calmly. “As in, you were in the Towers every day.”
It wasn’t like Gerard had forgotten. It just... didn’t seem quite real anymore.
“Don’t forget, Party,” Ray told him. “JD used to work with me. And he knows how to work the permit committees. This girl’s in that division, I’m pretty sure. Molly, he calls her - Molly Hatchet.”
Gerard snorted. “I like her already.”
“How’s that gonna help us?” Frank asked. “We’re not trying to get a fucking permit for this.”
Mikey coughed, then ran a hand through his hair and asked, “Can we back up and talk about what ‘this’ is gonna be?”
“Hack into BLI. Find the motorbaby. Get in, get her, get out.” Gerard ticked the steps off on his fingers. No one bothered to contradict him, not even on the last step. They knew he was full of shit.
It was good that they knew they were probably going to bite it. “Backup,” Frank added.
“Pony and KK,” Ray repeated.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to assume,” Frank answered. “They’re the best at getting in and out of the Battery. Can’t say they’ve never been tailed, but it’s still a better track record than most people who try.”
“You never explained how that works,” Gerard told him.
Frank made a face at him and waved a hand. “It’s the first thing they teach you poor little drones, that the grid is actually a boundary.”
“Tunnels,” Gerard reminded him.
“Permits,” Frank answered. “Payoffs.” Ray was nodding along. “The Battery’s straining at the seams. What did you think the Zone Purification Project was about, Party?”
“Quality of life?”
“For the people in the penthouses,” Frank retorted. “Clean sand means more factories. Don’t ever fucking forget, Gee, what this is all about.”
“And that is -”
“Influence.” Gerard shivered. For a moment, Frank was an eerie echo of Korse.
“Why do they even need more factories? Who’s buying all this shit? The people in the City?”
“You’ve never been in the warehouse district, have you?”
“I’ve done surveillance for the entire city, Ghoul,” Gerard sniffed.
Ray tugged at a lock of his hair uncomfortably. Mikey nudged Gerard’s knee with his toes. Frank just looked at him. “What do you think’s in the warehouses, Gee? This is not stockpiling for the next Helium War. This is not for fucking public welfare; it’s something different.”
“What is it for, then?”
“Fuck. Don’t you think I’d be blowing shit up if I knew?”
“Does it matter?” Mikey asked. He looked shifty, Gerard thought. Ray, too. What the fuck were they hiding? He’d been in the center of everything, back when he’d worked for SCARECROW, and he still had no idea where all the pieces of BLI’s web connected. He hadn’t had to, really.
Gerard shook himself. The big picture hardly mattered right now.
Motorbaby mattered. Showing SCARECROW they weren’t going to fucking put up with this mattered.
They drove to Zone One together, Frank and Mikey splitting off when they reached the club to take up surveillance positions, Ray and Gerard entering together. It was a different club from the one where they'd rendezvoused with Tommy Chow Mein. This one was even seedier, if that was possible. A bigger risk, in a way - their "finder's fee", as Frank liked to call it, was more credits than most runners could scrounge or swap in a month - but this was as close to the grid dome as you could conceivably get without swimming in Rennies and returning drac patrols.
Gerard was shocked at the size of the makeshift squatter's village that had sprung up in this area - so close to the City, you could actually see the mouth of the Tunnels at the terminus of Route Perdu. He tightened the knot on the back of the bandanna he'd tied over his hair and adjusted his goggles. Ray had pulled his own mass of hair back in a stubby ponytail. Other than that, they'd made no real attempt to disguise themselves - Frank had muttered something about hiding in plain sight when he'd handed Gerard the bandanna. Gerard knew he was worried, but there was nothing else they could do.
He and Ray exchanged glances as they handed over a wad of credits to the bouncer and walked into the main room of the club. Rooms, actually, a warren of lean-tos that looked like it would blow away in the next dust storm. "How will we know her?" Gerard mumbled. "How will she know us?"
The word, relayed through channels after several days of waiting, was that JD's BLI mole Molly Hatchet would be the one meeting them. "First booth, stage left," Ray repeated what the message had said. He scanned the room until he located the correct booth. There was already an occupant - a petite redheaded girl, which scanned correct. Ray and Gerard stopped at the bar to order drinks and meandered in that direction. Ray leaned a hip against the side of the booth and watched the band for a moment, then said casually, "He plays a decent axe, doesn't he?"
"Why don't you join me and listen?" The girl replied. Gerard slid in first, fingers automatically unfastening his holster guard. Ray sat next to him and shifted a few times, and Gerard knew he was doing the same thing. The girl - Molly, clearly - smirked. "It's okay, I checked the patrol schedule before I came out here tonight. The nearest patrol is still all the way out at Wolfsblood Beach. You'll be fine as long as you talk fast."
"Dracs might be at the top of our list, Molly," Gerard said. "But we're the walking equivalent of a month's supply of gasoline in ransom right now, too." He paused. "How the hell did you get access to the SCARECROW patrol records? Don't you work in the other -"
Molly shushed him. "Yes. What's the problem, Party? You think you were the only hacker around?"
"Me and Party've been zone-side for a long time, Molly," Ray said. "It's hard to keep up with current events when you're running five days out of seven, and the only cell he's ever met was me and Kobra."
"JD didn't tell me you'd need a catch-me-up," Molly grumbled. "Look, let's just get right down to business. You're gonna need this." She pushed a strip of paper across the table - a bar code. "Display that in your vehicle's dash, and you'll scan as approved Tunnel traffic as long as they don't flag the file in the system before then. I hid it as best I could in a shell of transport data, but I can't guarantee anything. Korse has been showing an... increased interest in his analysis division lately. Can't imagine why."
Gerard went cold. "You know who I am."
"I told you you weren't the only hacker around, Party. And I started at an advantage - I know what JD knows, and JD knows what Jet Star here knows, or at least what he hinted at when he was working the big breakout a while back. You know they have three analysts doing what you used to? Well," she stopped and amended herself, "part of what you used to." She flicked him a glance, and he clenched his jaw but nodded anyway.
That was what really told Gerard she was the real deal. If she was deep enough into BLI's workings to know about the... affair, she was deep enough to get them anything they needed. "Jet vouches for JD. JD vouches for you," he mused.
"Back atcha," Molly said. "It's too bad you weren't in the loop before the breakout, Party. We could have used someone like you."
"There are at least four active cells in the Battery, Party," Ray murmured from next to him. "If you hadn't - that is -" he hesitated.
"If I hadn't had my head up my ass for so long," Gerard said. "Just say it."
"If you'd been with us from the beginning," Ray amended because he was too nice for his own good, "You'd have met some of them."
"It's more like six now," Molly told them. "People get plucked all the time, but numbers are the highest right now that they've ever been. It seems that these runners called the Killjoys are sort of inspiring."
"But what do they do?" Gerard asked. "There hasn't been another mass breakout since yours - ours," he amended. "We'd know about it."
"Someone we both know," Molly said meaningfully, "has been smuggling kids out of the BLI orphanages and trade schools for ages. Runners go the same way, a few at a time. BLI knows the attrition rate for their out-zone work crews is high. They've started sending drac watchers instead of just Rennies, but they can't completely stop it. I'm not sure they really want to. They intend to colonize the zones eventually anyway, and they'll do it by force if they have to. But most of the cells still just keep their eyes and ears open, pass info, a bit of sabotage when they can get away with it, that kind of thing. It's mostly recruiting. Those of us who are left cityside need to know the time is right."
"Right for what?" Gerard asked.
"For the Big One, Party. For the younger kids it's practically a religion."
Gerard shook his head without really meaning to. Frank talked like that sometimes, about the Big One, without sounding like he had any real expectation of living to see it. Gerard had never been able to convince himself it was even possible. He'd been living day to day since well before he left the city. Maybe for years. He took a breath and changed the subject. "What about the girl?"
"Most of the motorbabies who get nabbed - the young ones, anyway - go straight back into the system," Molly said. "JD's been working with a friend of his to try to track yours. It wasn't easy. Turns out it's because SCARECROW still has her."
"Has her where?" Gerard knew he wasn't going to like the answer.
"In the Towers. I guess I don't have to tell you what kind of facilities they have in their office suite for... guests." It was better than worst case, but worse than he'd hoped. A lot worse. SCARECROW's holding rooms were merely small white windowless offices. It was the location that was the real problem. He heard Ray groan softly beside him. Molly was watching them with a sympathetic frown on her face. "I didn't say it was good news," she commented sadly.
"It doesn't matter," Gerard said. Molly was glancing with increasing frequency at the door. Gerard knew they'd been talking for too long, and he could feel Ray fidgeting beside him. "Did we wear out our welcome?" he asked Molly softly.
"Not yet, but I don't like the way the bouncers have been in and out of that door," she murmured.
"Are you going to be okay getting back?" Ray asked.
Molly grinned. "Me? I'm a ghost in the machine. Magic on the keys," she said, wiggling her fingers.
Gerard chuckled. "I believe you. And your feet?"
"Riding in style. Back of a supply van. Not as nice a ride as you, though."
"Maybe we'll take you for a drive someday," Gerard told her.
"I hope you can," she told him, suddenly serious. "You better disappear now, Killjoys." The band had wrapped up their set, the room filled with a sudden cottony hush, unevenly filled with too-loud laughter and drunken disputes. Ray and Gerard slid out of their side of the booth. "Run fast," Molly told them.
"Hide well," Ray answered. She slid out of the booth with a nod and disappeared in the direction of the other door.
The diner was compromised, and Gerard knew they needed to stay as close to the Battery as possible to keep lines of communications with JD at the Droid Club open. “Hiding in plain sight,” Ray muttered, echoing Frank’s words as they watched Frank jimmy the deadbolted door of a run-down cinder block building.
"Hiding in Power Station #138,” Gerard said, squinting at the faded sign screwed to the metal door above where Frank crouched at the lock.
“Not in it ... yet,” Frank mumbled around the lockpick clenched between his teeth.
A bike motor roared behind him, moving closer through the hills, and Gerard turned to look. Mikey, returning from yet another clandestine meeting.
“He’s late,” Gerard saw Ray’s lips form the words as Mikey pulled up with a spatter of stones.
“He’s back,” Gerard replied. That was all that mattered. He didn’t like Mikey going off alone either, but it was how Mikey did business before Gerard had started insisting they work in pairs. Sometimes - like today - Mikey just set his jaw and refused to listen.
Mikey flipped his visor up. “Party, get on,” he said, jerking his head toward the jumpseat of the bike.
“Fuck, Kobra. Can’t we take the -”
“Seriously, time’s ticking. I got you on a console.”
“Oh. That’s - yeah, okay,” Gerard mumbled, swinging his leg over the seat and catching the helmet Ray tossed him from his own bike. He’d barely gotten it on when Mikey hit the throttle and sped back in the direction he’d come from. Gerard clutched his waist and pressed his cheek against Mikey’s back. “This is why you don’t drive my fucking car,” he told Mikey, even though he couldn’t hear it.
Mikey swerved off the road after a few klicks and ran the bike at low speed down a dry creek bed. They crested a rise, and a small parade of buildings came in sight - an abandoned motel, exactly the kind the dracs were so fond of for out-zone bases. Mikey parked in the scrub behind the buildings.
“We’ve got about twenty minutes until the closest patrol’s back within sight of this base,” Mikey told him, tapping the bike’s chrono.
“Just how well do you know whoever tipped you off about this place?” Gerard grumbled.
“Well enough. Doesn’t mean I trust them. Can you make it fifteen?”
Gerard snorted. Of course he could. “Ten, and you trade circuit boards for that set of performance tires Casanova’s got in his shop.”
Mikey was still wearing his helmet, but Gerard was sure he’d just rolled his eyes. “Diva. Let’s go.” He started walking toward the closest bungalow, and Gerard unsnapped his holster and hurried after him.
Once they got closer to the buildings and rounded a corner, Gerard could see the bundle of wires, thick as his arm, snaking up out of the ground and into the main office. He squinted off into the distance; the atmospheric dome was just visible in the sky over a nearby ridge. They were close to the City but not too close. “Why’d they bother to hardwire all the way out here?”
“This whole corridor’s been hardwired,” Mikey told him. “That’s what my source says. Map has an abandoned mine marked near here. Maybe BLI is un-abandoning it.”
The door was locked; Gerard fooled with it for a minute, wishing they’d brought Frank, before making a disgusted noise and smashing the front window with a rock.
“That’s not inconspicuous at all,” Mikey complained, tugging off his helmet and taking up a sentry stance at the door once Gerard had climbed through and opened it.
“You still have C-4 in your saddlebag?” Gerard asked mildly. Mikey raised an eyebrow. Gerard shrugged. “Go big or go home.” Frank’s attitude toward explosions tended to be contagious. Sort of funny, considering how they’d met.
The office was deserted, a small console set up on a desk in the corner, spiderwebbed with colored wires. “I’m surprised SCARECROW didn’t leave a sentry behind,” Gerard said, sitting gingerly in a rickety chair. ‘Unless your source took care of that, too.”
Mikey leaned against the door jamb, hand on his ray gun, watching the road. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to,” he said.
Gerard just nodded. It was a good rule.
It took him a few minutes of precious time to hack into the system at the level of access he needed and a few more to trick the computer into spitting out the information he was looking for as a printout. Access codes, shift changes. One very precious picture from a subject file that was otherwise distressingly void of information.
“What are they doing with you?” he mumbled to himself, but he knew the answer already. Motorbaby was bait. “Got what we needed,” he told Mikey as he punched in a string of commands to cover his tracks. This machine would probably be toast after they got done with the building, but if he could keep the analysts back at SCARECROW from finding his search history, it would buy them some time and maybe a fighting chance to get in as planned.
The horizon was still empty when they slipped back out of the building, Mikey tapping at a remote detonator for the C-4. “We gotta get out of range, Party,” he said.
Gerard scanned their surroundings. “There,” he said, nodding. “I want to check out this mine you mentioned.”
Mikey squinted. “We’ll have to trigger the C-4 before we get there. Could draw a crowd.” They frowned at each other for a moment. Neither of them suggested splitting up. “Fine, we’ll go to the mine site.”
“What about the motel?”
“I have a plan. You’re not going to like it.” The expression on Mikey’s face was enough to convince Gerard not to ask.
They got on the bike, and Mikey took them down to the mine site, laying the bike down on its side in a drainage ditch while Gerard dropped to his stomach at the top of the embankment and scanned the fenced enclosure for guards. “Guard shack by the main gate,” he murmured as Mikey joined him.
“You still wanna go in, Party?”
“Look at that factory building over there. They’re not just mining; they’re making something. That storage shed is close. We can climb the fence.”
“You can climb the fence. Someone needs to cover your ass.”
Gerard rolled his eyes. “Fine.” He was wearing gloves already, but he wrapped both his bandanna and Mikey’s around his hands for an extra layer of protection and climbed over as quickly as he could, sidling along the side of the building until he reached a door. If this was locked, he was fucked. No convenient windows like at the motel.
It wasn’t locked. It wasn’t even closed the whole way. Clearly BLI wasn’t worried about security here, or else they figured no one would be stupid enough to try to break in.
“Surprise,” he muttered, digging a lighter out of his pocket to try to read some of the labels on the crates around him. There weren’t many, and they were all empty - Mikey had said the facility was newly reopened, after all - but all bore a simple stencil. “Mono-Si,” Gerard repeated to himself. “What the fuck.”
Then he heard shouting. Mikey shouting, to be specific. He drew his gun and darted for the door, swearing as laser blasts spattered just above his head. The guards were onto him. He could see Mikey crouched on the other side of the fence, laying down cover fire the best he could. Then he reared back and tossed something over the fence. Gerard flinched automatically, but as it landed a few feet away he could see what it was - yet another bundle of C-4. Gerard’s mouth turned up in a twisted grin.
There was no time to be pretty. The guards were close. He jammed the brick against the base of the building and set the detonator, then went balls-to-the-wall for the fence, grimacing when several laser bursts came way too close. A strangled scream behind him signaled one of Mikey’s return shots had found its mark. Then he was over the fence and stumbling down the embankment with Mikey behind him, yanking the bike back up onto its wheels and hopping on behind Mikey.
Mikey gunned the bike’s engine and twisted to jam something into Gerard’s hand. It was two detonators. “Do not push those before I tell you,” Mikey shouted. Gerard barely had time to get a good grip on them before Mikey was rocketing the bike along the bottom of the ditch, and he had to hang on or fall off and fucking break his neck.
After a few hundred feet, the bike took a teeth-rattling ascent back up to the road, and Mikey hit the throttle again. He was steering them back down the road toward the motel, and Gerard swore when he saw what Mikey was planning. There were Rennies with laser rifles behind them, and a squad of dracs gathered in the dirt lot of the motel, still clambering off their bikes. “Shit, shit, flaming fucking piles of shit,” he chanted under his breath.
They reached the midpoint, and Mikey twisted in the saddle again and flipped his visor up, “Punch it, Gee,” Gerard watched his lips form.
Gerard let go of his death grip on Mikey’s leather jacket just long enough to hit both detonator buttons with his palm. Over Mikey’s shoulder, he could see the ruddy bloom of the motel explosion. He didn’t bother to look back at the mine, but a second later the sound wave from both explosions hit. Gerard’s ears were still ringing when Mikey whipped the bike to the side, and Gerard clutched him around the waist, pressed his cheek to Mikey’s leather-covered shoulder and prayed to whoever might be listening.
They didn’t crash or get shot. Mikey had turned them down an access road Gerard hadn’t even seen, pitted and unmaintained but a way out of the trap they’d sprung. The double explosions had confused their pursuers, maybe even taken them out. Gerard wasn’t going back to check.
“Drinks,” Ray said, handing around an assortment of corked bottles and, in some cases, glass jars. He had a customer in Zone Three who paid for circuit boards with hooch. The whiskey was vile, but the homebrew was pretty decent. The water Gerard had tasted like water, just with the chemical aftertaste of the purification tabs they used. It wasn’t really about the drinks, though Gerard wouldn’t have blamed anyone out in the zones for drinking themselves into a good night’s sleep now and then.
The Killjoys all knew that a good night’s sleep could get you killed, though, and Gerard had other ways to forget for a while. Frank caught his eye, and his own lids drooped a bit, just for a moment, assessing. This meeting wouldn’t be long, and they’d sneak off later. There wasn’t much to do back at Station 138 and even less privacy. Unfortunately Dr. D didn’t really want them hanging around, and Gerard didn’t blame him.
Mikey was perched on a rickety workbench with Show Pony, flipping through a box of records between them. They looked like they wouldn’t tune in except for the end of the world, but Gerard could tell they were just biding their time with a distraction. Ray was finishing handing out the drinks. KK sat cross-legged in a corner putting an edge on a belt knife with a small sharpening kit. Frank and Gerard sat on packing crates, Dr. D in his chair. No one was really talking, but they all went silent and still every so often as Dr. D interrupted his broadcast with patter.
Finally Dr. D put on The Number of the Beast and leaned back in his chair. “Long set, both sides,” he said. “Talk while you got time.”
“We’re going in tomorrow,” Gerard started. No one reacted. His guys all knew, and the rest knew it was coming.
“You’d better,” Pony told him. “Grapevine is dripping with fake Killjoy sightings after your fun with C-4 down in Silicon Valley yesterday. Sooner or later one will be real.”
Frank snickered. “Can’t believe they’re calling it that.”
“Mono-Si,” Ray added, shaking his head with a frown. “Not a joke, they’re processing silicon. What the hell do they need that many computer chips for?”
Dr. D didn’t seem to care about the silicon mine nearly as much as Ray - or at least he didn’t show it. “Can we get back to the part where you’re walking wanted posters, and you want to head straight into the glue pot?” he asked.
“We have passcodes for the Tunnels and for the Towers, we know where they’re keeping Motorbaby, and we have a hell of a lot of laser beams we owe some white suits,” Gerard said.
“Sounds like you have a head injury, too,” KK spoke up from her seat on the floor. “If you think that at least one of those things wasn’t just given to you so you would do something stupid.”
Frank, unexpectedly, grinned and reached over to flick her thigh. “Does it matter? We’ve been doing stupid things for a lot of years. This is just one more.”
“I didn’t say you shouldn’t,” KK replied evenly. “Just making sure we’re all on the same page.”
“You’re here,” Gerard pointed out. “Does that mean we’re all on the same page?”
“Obviously,” KK said. “What’s the plan?”
“We’ve only got one Tunnel code,” Ray told them. “We’re giving it to you and Show Pony. Doc, they’re gonna need a van, something that will blend.”
Frank continued. “Van goes in first, finds a rabbit hole, and waits. Killjoys follow in the Trans Am.”
“And charm the Tunnel guards with your pretty face?” Pony asked.
“Something like that,” Gerard murmured. “We’re good at first impressions.”
“No, you’re not,” Dr. D laughed.
Frank shrugged airily. “Well, we’ve got other skills.”
KK resheathed her knife and said, “So you make a big rainbow splash and roll right up to the Towers, is that it?”
“It’s the one thing he won’t expect,” Gerard answered quietly. “He told me to run.” He paused for a moment, took a breath. “I don’t know why he thinks I’ll do as I’m told.”
A hush falls over the group for a moment. “Ain’t no way to have a good time,” Dr. D says finally. “Guess I’d better hitch a ride, or I’ll miss the party, Party.”
“You’re coming, Doc?” Pony asked.
“Can’t let the box of crayons have all the fun,” he replied, patting the ray gun holstered on his chair.
“Oh, there’s plenty of fun to go around,” Frank smirked and waggled his eyebrows.
Doc just raised his. “Oh, yeah, I can see that. So we watch you storm the castle. Then what?”
“Cover our six,” Frank said. “Either we come back out with the motorbaby, or we... don’t.”
KK nodded. “We can watch your furry little tails, bunnies. Try to come back out, okay?”
They all nodded back, like they didn’t know the odds. It was silent again as Dr. D turned back to his console. He flipped the record, then flipped a switch, so the music filled the room.
“Woe to you, Oh Earth and Sea, for the Devil sends the beast with wrath because he knows the time is short...”
Ray and Mikey left at the same time KK did, roaring off towards the power station while KK went the other way. The look Mikey had flicked at Gerard as he hopped off the workbench had very clearly asked for a head start. Gerard had nodded once.
After the others had left, Show Pony took Frank’s hand and led him off somewhere. Gerard stayed where he was to let them have their own time to talk. No one said a word about what might happen tomorrow night, but they were all saying their goodbyes.
Dr. D fixed Gerard with a look once they were alone. “Did Frankie ever tell you how we met?” Gerard startled a bit at the nickname, and Dr. D chuckled. “Oh yeah, I knew him when he was still Private Iero. Never did figure out how he managed to con an enlistment board into believing he was eighteen.”
“Tell me,” Gerard said.
“It was after my first knee got blown to hell,” Dr. D told him. “Army got me fixed up enough to run the camp kitchens. Little shit mouthed off to an officer and pulled KP for a month, so I got to know him real well. He was on one of the demolition squads, and he was as crazy as the rest of those bastards, so I guess it was a good fit. Still hated taking orders - I’m sure you can’t imagine.” Gerard snorted. Dr. D continued, “He was lucky he mouthed off to his own CO; he woulda been sent in front of a firing squad if he’d have been in Korse’s battalion.”
Gerard’s eyes flew to Dr. D’s. “You - he - you and Frankie served with Korse? Tell me.”
Dr. D studied him silently for a moment, then chuckled humorlessly. “Guess there’s no reason you would know, but I guess if anybody’s got the right to, it’s you. Told ya, neither of us was in his battalion, lucky us. There was already gossip back then - that Korse wasn’t his real name, that he’d been a captain with his own field unit, watched them get set off like firecrackers right in front of him when our own bombs went off target. He went screwy in the head after that, I think, so of course they promoted him. Sent him right up the ladder, but sent in twice the number of Spooks to his unit, probably to keep an eye on him.”
“Spooks?” Gerard asked.
“Yeah, they’ve got a different name now, too - you know it well enough. But that’s what we called them back then because of the white suits. They wore their own faces back then, too. BLI mercs, but they were good at what they did.”
Dracs. “And what was that?”
“Following orders,” Dr. D replied. “We trusted them back then. Didn’t have a reason not to, and we needed the bodies in the ranks. And when the war was over... a lot of the boys didn’t have a reason not to put on the white themselves, yanno? It was what they knew. Me and Frankie, we both got out. Way out. But not until Frankie pulled Show Pony out of that rat’s nest of an orphanage. Rest is history.”
“And after the war, what did Korse -” Gerard stuttered to a stop, licked his dry lips. Did he want to know? And didn’t he already have his own suspicions?
“He got carved up by shrapnel in one of the last big engagements, I heard. The suits whisked him off to the Battery. I guess if anyone gave him any thought at all, they thought he died.”
“That’s not what you think?”
“I think he was the first ghost,” Dr. D said quietly. “I sure as shit don’t know what they did to him, but you know what he is now.”
Gerard knew better than anybody. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I don’t want you going in there expecting mercy, Red.”
Gerard pictured the blank terror in Korse’s eyes the night of the party when he’d thought Gerard had been injured by Frank’s bomb, then remembered the feel of Korse’s hands choking the life from him that night. It made sense now, but all it told him was that Korse was even more broken than Gerard had ever been. “No,” he answered quietly. “I don’t expect that.”
Dr. D didn’t say any more, so they sat in silence for a while until Frank and Show Pony came back into the room. Show Pony still had hold of Frank’s hand, and Frank leaned in to kiss him on the cheek before letting go. Gerard crossed the room to them and leaned in to kiss the other cheek before following Frank out the door. He didn’t miss the salute Frank tipped Dr. D before he left and sent a nod of his own in the same direction.
They got back in the Trans Am together, and neither of them spoke until they were nearly back to the power station. “You have a good talk with Pony?” Gerard asked softly.
“You have a good talk with Doc?” Frank replied.
Gerard sighed. It was as good a sign as any that Frank didn’t want to talk about it. It’s not like Gerard didn’t know what it was about. He was saying his piece to his family before.... Yeah, Gerard didn’t want to talk about it either.
Frank must have had Gerard’s family on his mind too, but in his own smartass way he just said, “You know what Jet and your brother are doing right now, don’t you?”
Gerard rolled his eyes. “Can we talk about something else?”
“Anything in mind?”
Gerard looked over at Frank’s profile. “How about what I want to be doing with you?”
“Rather just do it. Talk is cheap,” Frank laughed.
Mouthed off to an officer... woulda been sent in front of a firing squad if he’d have been in Korse’s battalion, was still ringing in Gerard’s ears. Talk might be cheap, but it could still get you killed. In the Battery, all they had were words. Zonerunners did their talking with laser beams.
And they were all going back to the Battery tomorrow.
Gerard pulled the car around to the back of the power station, and Frank hopped out to help him camouflage it. Gerard smelled the smoke before he saw the dim red cherry of a cigarette and the two figures sitting on the roof. Mikey and Ray, sharing one of their precious hoarded smokes. They hadn’t dared hit up a swap meet lately.
“There better be some of those left,” Frank called up.
“Fuck you,” Mikey called back down.
Frank laughed. “No, I’m gonna fuck your brother.”
“I hate you,” Mikey told him.
“Keep telling yourself that.” Frank laughed again and went inside. Gerard hesitated a moment longer.
“Nice night. Ray’s been showing me constellations,” Mikey said. “Then I’m taking first watch.” I’ll be up here for a while, he meant.
“Okay,” Gerard said. Later, he meant. He went inside.
Frank was in the corner where they’d piled their bedrolls, shirt still dangling from one hand as he adjusted the flame of a lantern sitting on a crate. Gerard stepped up behind him and ran a hand up his back to curl around his neck, and Frank tipped his head back, pushing into it. Gerard moved closer.
“There’s never enough time,” Gerard said.
Frank tossed the shirt to the floor and started in on Gerard’s jacket. “Your problem is you always want to talk.” He leaned in and nipped at Gerard’s chin.
“Because I always have things I want to say,” Gerard answered.
Frank said what he always said, “You can tell me later.”
Truth was, they’d always had more time for talking than for anything else; stakeouts in the car, sheltering from acid rain in some rundown shack, smoking on the diner roof, sharing cans of Power Pup with Doc and Show Pony. Gerard was almost at a loss with a bedroll in a quiet room, at least an hour or two of privacy unless they happened to have the bad luck to draw a patrol of really curious dracs.
He wasn’t going to think about it. Especially not with Frank dropping to his knees in front of Gerard, fingers tugging at the buckles of his thigh holster. “This drives me crazy, you know,” Frank told him, working the leather free of its buckles and setting the whole mess aside, then moving to Gerard’s boots.
“My ray gun?” Gerard smirked.
Frank snorted and smacked Gerard’s calf, so he’d pick up his foot. “Undressing you. It takes a long fucking time. And you’re no help.”
“Maybe I like the attention.”
Frank snorted again. “I know you like the attention.” Gerard’s boots off, he shifted his focus to his own, fumbling out of the rest of his clothes with something a little like hesitation. You never knew when you were going to have to run, after all.
Gerard did the same, kneeling on the bedroll when he was done and watching Frank crawl across the few feet separating them.
“Any last requests?” Frank breathed up against his lips.
“That’s not fucking funny,” Gerard told him, though he did laugh anyway, muffled chuckles stopped up by kisses.
“Yeah, what was I thinking? Laughing in the face of death, totally not my style.” Frank’s face changed, all of a sudden, went heavy-lidded and intense. “I want to be inside you now.”
There was nothing else to say but yes.
Frank kissed him again, settling in astride Gerard’s thighs and holding him close with a hand in his hair. Gerard’s own hands were busy on Frank’s chest, tracing the curves of the bomb over and over. The tiny movements of Frank’s hips brushed their cocks together, and Gerard dropped one hand to Frank’s waist. He wasn’t sure if it was to encourage him or to urge him to be still.
They had so little time, but Gerard was wound tight, stuck in slow motion, moving frame by frame. He reached off the bedroll, groping for his pack and the jar of petroleum jelly there. He finally located it by feel. Frank made a pleased little noise against his lips and plucked it from his fingers. “Don’t change that channel, we’ll be right back,” he said against Gerard’s cheek before sliding down his body, kissing random parts of him as he went. Chin, collarbone, nipple, stomach, the last ending so close to his cock, but avoiding it entirely.
Gerard whined, but Frank didn’t laugh for once. He was intent, slicking up his fingers and pressing into Gerard without hesitation, but slowly. Delicate, like Gerard was one of his precious incendiaries. It wasn’t that far off.
"Relax, baby," Frank murmured when he slid his hand across Gerard's stomach and felt the tension there. "Just for a little while. I've got you." He dropped his mouth and his free hand back down to tease at Gerard's cock, and Gerard just... let go. "Good," Frank breathed.
"Don't stop," Gerard gasped out when Frank added a finger. He wasn't - he was still moving maddeningly slowly, though, and Gerard wanted more. "You're such a fucking tease."
"You're one to talk," Frank said, flicking his tongue in a fucking evil manner. "Half the runners we know want to hit that." He thrust harder with his fingers, and Gerard bucked and gasped.
"And the other half want to turn me in for blood money," Gerard panted.
"Don't think those two groups are separate," Frank murmured. "Too bad for them."
"And good for you. Come the fuck on, Frank," Gerard growled.
"When you ask so nicely," Frank said, pulling his fingers out and pushing Gerard's thighs up towards his chest. He slid in fast and easy, just this side of careless, just like Gerard fucking liked it. His head dropped down, hair curtaining his face as he started to move. His hands bit into Gerard's thighs, too tight, sparking waves of sensation from groin to toe.
"Harder," Gerard ordered. He would walk into the the Towers tomorrow with a gun in his hand and bruises on his thighs. He reached up and shoved a hand through Frank's sweaty hair, touching Frank's face until Frank took Gerard's fingers in his mouth and sucked. Gerard tugged him down to give Frank his tongue instead, and they kissed until Frank pulled back, bracing his forehead against Gerard's and snapping his hips harder.
"Not gonna last," Frank gritted. "Ride me, want you to come with me. Mess me up."
Gerard grabbed his shoulder and a handful of hair and rolled them, pushing off of Frank's chest and sinking back down on Frank's cock, rolling his hips and wrapping a hand around his own cock. Wasn't going to take much. He swirled his palm around the head, spreading precome and tightening his grip. He hissed when Frank's fingers joined his, rocking back down hard, at just the right angle to pull broken noises from Frank's mouth.
"Mess you up, you said?" Gerard repeated. "You came to the right place, pretty." Frank's eyes were locked on his, wide and dark, lips shiny and open in a gasp. Gerard let his head tip back, closing his eyes and feeling his hair brush against his neck as he rode Frank hard, Frank's fingers tight over his as they jacked him together. "Almost," Gerard gasped, eyes flying back to Frank's.
"Say it," Frank begged.
"Now, Frank," Gerard told him, watching Frank's eyes screw shut as he thrust up hard and came, giving himself a few last careless pulls and coming hard over Frank's sweaty stomach and their linked hands. He sat still for a moment, head down and hair tossed over his eyes. His legs and spine were jelly, but somehow he managed to slide off and drape himself over Frank's chest, sticky with sweat and come and too many days unwashed. He tucked his lips up next to Frank's ear and whispered what Frank had really wanted to hear. "I love you."
"Gee," Frank said thickly, twisting a hand in Gerard's hair and holding on.
"Gonna laugh about being all sappy when we blast out of the Battery tomorrow," Gerard whispered after a few minutes of breathing in silence.
"Gee," Frank said again, softer.
Gerard didn't really feel like lying to himself anymore either, but he wasn't sure what else to do. The odds didn't look any better if he ignored them. He pressed a kiss against the center of the bomb on Frank's chest then rolled off of him. "Think we left them up on the roof long enough?" he asked Frank.
Frank shifted to sit up and grabbed a mostly-clean bandanna from his pack. They spared a precious splash of water from a canteen to clean up and started dressing in silence.
"We should have taken the roof," Gerard said after a minute, pulling his shirt back over his head. "Like our first time."
"Now who's being sappy?"
Gerard leaned in and kissed him again, then stood up to wriggle back into his jeans and boots. "I'm going up. Get some sleep, pretty."
Frank laughed but rolled himself up in a blanket anyway. He'd wrap around Gerard tight when Gerard came back down, they both knew. Gerard cast one more longing look at the bedroll, then headed for the ladder to the roof.
"Coming up," he called softly after he creaked the door open. He settled crosslegged on the warm concrete beside Mikey, and Mikey passed him a cigarette.
Ray handed the lighter over. "Gee, you've got the next watch?"
"Yeah," Gerard told him, inhaling and then blowing smoke out of the side of his mouth as he handed the lighter back. "Go get some sleep."
Ray's hand settled on Gerard's shoulder for a moment as he stood, then landed gently on Mikey's head, combing back a strand of blond hair. Gerard looked out over the desert until Ray's footsteps crunched away. He felt a gentle weight press against his shoulder - Mikey, leaning against him the way he always did. Gerard leaned back.
"Remember that book we had Before?" Gerard asked after a few minutes of watching the stars. Even this close to the bluish glow of the City's atmospheric grid, they were always brighter than Gerard expected.
"Which one?" Mikey asked.
"The Wilderness Survival Guide," Gerard reminded him.
"You thought that one was boring. You liked the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide better."
"Well that doesn't mean I forgot about it," Gerard shot back, although he had forgotten about it for a while, along with a lot of other things, thanks to the BLI Drugs regimen. "I always felt like we were living in it out here. Sort of wish I would have paid more attention."
"It was just a book, Gee," Mikey said slowly. "I think we're doing fine without it." He paused, inhaled like he was going to say more, but subsided into silence again, leaning a little harder against Gerard's shoulder. He didn't have to say I trust you, because Gerard already knew.
Gerard wanted to argue, but there was no point. "I still wish we had it," he said, thinking of the apartment full of forgotten things, the boxes that had been lost from move to move even before that. "I liked the pictures."
"Me too," Mikey answered. "You can draw me some new ones some time."
"Yeah, I can do that." Gerard took the final drag of his cigarette and ground it out on the cement. "You should go down too, or Frank's going to steal all the extra blankets."
Mikey pushed himself to his feet but turned awkwardly back around, hands shoved in his pockets. "You all right by yourself?"
"I'm not tired," Gerard said. It wasn't the same thing as all right, but it was close enough. Close, he thought, listening to Mikey crunch down the ladder. Good enough for horseshoes. "And hand grenades," he murmured out loud, chuckling quietly at his own dumb joke.
They cycled through watch duty the rest of the night, and Gerard found himself sharing a late-night cigarette with Frank, then passing out in his bedroll until Ray shook him awake some hours later. The sun was already high in the sky and on its way back down. There was nothing else for them to do but clean their guns and wait.
Gerard emptied the Trans Am of anything incriminating - as if the fact that it was a muscle car with a giant spider on the hood wasn’t incriminating enough - and Frank packed all their stores of bedding and supplies away in a drainage culvert near the power station, tagging it carefully with his little ghoul-face pictogram to warn off poachers - or alert searchers. They didn’t need the extra weight tonight.
The sun wandered past the time KK, Doc, and Show Pony were scheduled to enter the Tunnels with their falsified code. Gerard scratched at the stubble under his fringe of red hair and snapped and unsnapped his holster guard.
They left the power station, parking behind a rock outcropping for a meal and a smoke. The sun was sinking behind the hills when Ray said, “Let’s go.” Mikey folded up the map in his hands and popped open the passenger door. Ray and Frank climbed in the back seat. Gerard slammed the driver’s side door just as Mikey did the same on his side, but the twin slams were soon eaten up by the growl of the engine as Gerard revved the Trans Am and swung them back out onto the main road.
Figures popped out from the scrub like prairie dogs every once in a while as the Trans Am sped towards the City, but Gerard kept his foot on the gas. They got sparser the closer they drew to the grid boundary. No one but dracs and criminals went in and out of the Battery after dark, and they weren’t dracs.
The lights in the Tunnels were dim, bluish and flickering like a buried afterthought of the clean white city. Gerard kept the car at high speed, the BLI billboards flashing by in a blur of platitudes. The guard shack with its flimsy white turnstiles came up fast. A Rennie scrambled out of the shack, fumbling a weapon to his shoulder, but Gerard never slowed, and Mikey’s soft inhalation as the white suit jumped out of the way blended into the crash of metal meeting wood.
Gerard didn’t see Doc’s van as they wound through the quiet streets, but he knew they would be there somewhere, waiting. Listening, maybe, on their own portable console; Gerard had been able to crack every single encryption Korse’s techs had thrown at the drac channels since he’d left. “Gonna make some noise for you,” Gerard murmured.
“What’s that?” Mikey said from the front seat.
“Nothing. Almost there.”
All four of them were silent after that; they’d already said everything they needed to say. Had said it a long time ago, really, words buried in one of a hundred dust storms or blacked out by grease and gasoline. They knew the words. Tonight was for actions.
Gerard pulled the car up to the curb. If he knew BLI, they’d be far too arrogant to expect this kind of direct approach. Gerard led the way to the doors of Angel Tower, gun drawn. White jumpsuits condensed into opposition in the lobby - Renfields, desk jockeys with automatic weapons. Easy pickings. Almost too easy, but Gerard knew they had to keep moving.
The elevator was the next obstacle, but Mikey had that under control, slipping a palm-sized device out of his jacket pocket and tricking the car into taking them straight to the SCARECROW headquarters. Gerard gritted his teeth and tried not to picture himself in button-down and tie, tapping a scuffed boot and holding a sheaf of printouts. Just before the doors slid open, Frank reached out and tapped two fingers to the palm of Gerard’s hand, then slipped through the opening while he was still savoring the fleeting touch.
Gerard had drawn them a diagram; they all knew which of the rooms were most likely to be pressed into use as a holding cell, but the main control room was the most immediate threat. Gerard was still clearing offices when he heard Frank’s low shout of “She’s here.”
She was in the control room, the sprawled bodies of dracs still lying where they had fallen. Frank’s jaw was tight; he was watchful, gun still smoking, and Ray and Mikey were covering the entrances, so Gerard spared a single precious moment to wrap Grace in his arms and squeeze. Every second they spent in this building was a second they could be gunned down.
Gerard was really just waiting for Korse, half-convinced his presence itself was enough to draw Korse from wherever he was spending his night, like a hellhound in a frock coat. “We gotta move, baby,” he whispered, and Grace nodded.
The elevator to the lobby reflected them all into infinity, and Gerard stared at the shadows under his own eyes and tried not to mind. Halfway down he heard the machinery for the next elevator start to hum and slammed a fist into the console, triggering the button for a higher floor. “Hate these things,” he muttered at Frank’s surprised look. “We’ll take the stairs the rest of the way.”
The lobby crouched at the end of a long hall, promising chaos. As they passed the elevators, a set of doors slid open with a cheerful chime, and Gerard caught a glimpse of Korse at the head of a squad of dracs. His heart thumped, out of rhythm and harsh.
There were more dracs waiting in the lobby. The Renfields’ bodies had already been taken away, probably to the morgue under Robotics, the Treatment Center whose door Gerard’s mail room passcard had never been cleared to open. A laser beam splatted against the door jamb next to his head, and Gerard spun, sighted, shot, resighted in a deadly rhythm, feeling like he’d gone onto autopilot. The Killjoys fanned out across the lobby, Ray hissing for Grace to get down and cover her head, Mikey’s thin shoulders thudding against Gerard’s as they spat fire in a tightly drawn circle. The swing of a gray coat teased at the corners of Gerard’s eyes, and he dodged, fired. Caught a drac by the hair and blazed him between the shoulder blades... and the world slowed down.
The mask came off, and the face under it was a face he knew. A face that had shared a campfire with him under a different name. A lot of the boys didn’t have a reason not to put on the white themselves, Dr. D had told him in a small room full of records and sand, and he finally understood what Doc had been trying to say.
He panted in a breath. Did they give up? Did they have a choice? Did they even remember the answers to those questions?
He’d hesitated a moment too long. Grace was screaming, a high thin sound under the crackle and whine of laser fire, and Gerard hefted his gun half-heartedly, scanning for friends and white suits alike. He found neither. He found Korse.
Korse’s hand, spreading across his chest and pushing him up against a wall. Korse’s gun barrel, nestling up under his chin like a kiss. Korse had told him to run, and Gerard hadn’t listened. Somewhere behind him, Mikey screamed his name, but Gerard never looked away from Korse’s dark eyes and his smile full of bombs and broken glass.
In Battery City, even death was white and black.
“Welcome back, Mr. Way.” That was the first thing Gerard heard when he blinked himself into groggy awareness. Next he became conscious of his hands, cuffed in front of him, and he jerked fruitlessly at the restraints. Korse laughed, and Gerard turned his head - slowly, so slowly, it felt like it was made of blown glass - and focused on him. “They’re just in case you get any bright ideas,” Korse continued.
“Fuck you,” Gerard spat.
“You already have, Gerard.”
“Do you think I don’t remember?” His stomach suddenly twisted into knots, and he leaned over the side of his thin mattress - a bed, he was in a real fucking bed in a bare white box of a room - and coughed a stream of bile onto the floor. Korse stepped forward when he was done, ignoring the mess on the tile but smoothing damp strands of hair away from Gerard’s face with a gentle, proprietary touch.
“I’m sure you do. You haven’t gotten any treatments, just medical care. You were out for a long time, though. You must be feeling quite weak.”
“After you shot me, you mean? Why bother with all this, Korse? I saw the posters, and I don’t feel very exterminated.” Gerard said it with a sneer, but the truth was it felt worse than being exterminated. He felt obliterated, broken, and put back together wrong.
“My beautiful boy. You of all people should know they’ll have better uses for you than that.”
“I’m done being used, Korse.” Gerard tugged at the cuffs again, struggling to his feet. He swayed and nearly fell, black spots dancing in front of his vision, but he managed to stumble the few steps it took to reach Korse. “Go ahead,” he taunted, looking Korse straight in the eyes. “You might as well dust me for good.”
“After you finally came to? Not an option. But you know that.” Korse pulled his ray gun from its holster and pressed it against Gerard’s chest, barrel pointed up toward Gerard’s chin. “This feels familiar, doesn’t it, Gerard? You know, it doesn’t really matter to me how many times I do this. The Chairwoman might be rather upset with me, but they’ll just bring you back again.” He holstered the gun but didn’t step away from Gerard, studying him with dark, expressionless eyes. “I think you’re going to cooperate with me. How else are you going to earn the right to see your friends again?”
His friends. His brother. His - “They’re, they’re not - “ He’d still held the groggy dregs of hope that they had, at least some of them, escaped with Grace. Motorbaby. Gerard’s heart pounded frantically; words failed him. He couldn’t even bear to ask about Grace.
“This is Better Living Industries, Gerard,” Korse replied. “Dying is really not the point.” A tiny smile played around the corners of his mouth.
“You have them all? I don’t believe you,” Gerard hissed. “Why should I?”
“A show of good faith, then?” Korse asked him, pressing a button on the wall by the door. “Guards, bring me -” He cut himself off and turned back to Gerard. “Who should it be, Gerard? Pick one. Your hotheaded baby brother? The well-meaning fellow with the eye patch?” He stepped closer and whispered, “How about Frank? Yes, we know who he is now, too. You want to see Frank again, don’t you, Gerard?”
No. No, not like this. Gerard was shaking his head without even realizing it, the motion jarring the fragile shards swimming in his head. Korse chuckled.
“None of them? You’re disappointing me. Maybe I’ll just choose for you.” He turned back to the intercom, murmured something. “Please, sit down. You look like death warmed over.” His voice was deeply amused.
Gerard didn’t sit. He stayed on his feet, gritting his teeth against the pains stabbing through various parts of his body and concentrating on staying balanced. A few minutes later, a draculoid was ushering a small, dark figure through the door.
“Frank!” Gerard cried, rushing forward then stopping in confusion and growing dread. Frank, but oh, so changed. Dark hair cut close if choppily against his forehead. Black and white clothing from head to toe - uniform slacks, undershirt, soft cardigan sweater. “Frank,” he repeated, reaching out and swiping a thumb along the scar stretching from the corner of Frank’s mouth. It was faint, faded. How much time had passed?
Frank’s eyes, when they lifted to his, looked vaguely nervous but entirely too serene, and that’s when the bottom dropped out of Gerard’s stomach. He’d hoped against hope, but this.... “Hey, pal, no offense, but that’s what simulations are for. Or a companion droid if you can’t swing the credits.” He stepped back far enough that Gerard’s hand dropped from his face, looking curiously at Korse, then back at Gerard. “Sir?” he asked Korse.
“Mr. Iero, don’t you recognize Mr. Way?” Korse asked him mildly.
“Way? Oh, are you related to Mikey? I haven’t seen that kid all week. Someone else is cleaning the Robotics wing. He know you’re - ah - here?”
“No,” Gerard said, fighting to keep his voice steady. “I don’t think he does.”
“Well. I - nice to meet you, I guess. I’ll tell him I saw you, unless you’d rather I didn’t.” Frank stepped closer, said under his breath, “And I’d rethink the red hair, pal, unless you want a pretty hefty fine. Just saying.” He still looked vaguely confused, and no wonder. Gerard was, unfortunately, starting to see the big picture.
“I - you can if you want. Thanks.” He bit his lip - hard - so he wouldn’t add anything more and closed his eyes, so he couldn’t watch Frank walk away. A buzzer sounded, and Frank was let through the door, then silence stretched between them again. Eventually it was too much for Gerard. He opened his eyes and looked over at Korse. “What did you do to them, you bastard? They’d never have taken your drugs.”
“You’re a little behind the times. BLI Drugs were just a building block. I don’t think you really need to know the specifics, Gerard. But the R&D department was quite pleased with the new test subject pool your... Killjoys provided for them,” Korse said with a bit of a smirk.
"I think they'd rather be dead."
"You think so, do you? As I said, that’s rather not the point. But you’re assuming they have a choice in the matter."
“You’re right; I certainly didn’t,” Gerard hissed. “But since when are you such a model company man? Parroting the corporate mission statement like you haven’t made a career out of using them?” Korse frowned, almost an involuntary twitch, and Gerard raised an eyebrow and looked exaggeratedly around the cell. “Is it Mr. Baum behind that curtain, Korse? The Chairwoman? Are you just another of the chess pieces after all? It’s like I never knew you.”
The frown dropped off of Korse’s face. “Did you?” He let the question hang in the air for a moment, echoing from another room, from a desert gas station. “Perhaps this shall be the test, Gerard, of which one of us holds the truer understanding.”
Gerard’s feet carried him blindly across the floor of the cell before he could think better of it, until a familiar grip tightened around his upraised hands. He looked up; Korse hadn’t moved a muscle except to grab Gerard’s wrists, and his expression was like stone. “Just tell me,” Gerard whispered helplessly. “Tell me what you’re getting from them to make this all worth it.”
“I’ve already told you, Gerard.” His eyes bored into Gerard’s, blank and bottomless at the same time. His hand squeezed the tiny bones in Gerard’s wrist against each other. “This is Better Living Industries. It’s in the name.”
Gerard stayed silent through the scrutiny and the pain; some tiny treacherous part of him, focused unwaveringly on the thin sculpted line of Korse’s lips, made him want to scream. To beg. He turned his head away, gritting his teeth and imagining himself spitting in Korse’s face.
Korse let go of his wrists without warning, and Gerard staggered, lurching back to the narrow bed and lowering himself to sit on the mattress. He kept his eyes on the floor.
“Nothing else to say, Gerard?” Korse asked quietly. “I was afraid of that. Well, I suppose you can listen instead.” Gerard heard his footsteps cross the tile floor and the hiss of the door lock releasing, and then he heard nothing at all.
“Listen to what?” he mumbled to himself.
Then the siren started.
“Really?” Gerard yelled at the door, which stayed firmly closed. He slid off the bed and stormed over to the door, slapping at the intercom button with his still-cuffed hands and growling directly into it, “No, really. Fuck you.”
There was no answer; it probably wasn’t even on. He kicked at the door in frustration, which hurt, since his feet were bare. He stared at his toes for a moment. They were scrubbed clean, his hands too. He hadn’t been this clean in months. They’d dressed him in a simple white tunic and cotton pants, and he tugged at the sleeves with his teeth to study his arms, blindly touching the skin of his throat with searching fingertips. His scabs and scars were faded, his skin the pasty-pale of a convalescent. His hair - he reached up and yanked a few strands free to squint at them - was still red but faded, showing long brown roots.
As he stared at the hairs in his hand, the siren crept back into his hearing. He sat very still, turning his head back and forth. It wasn’t coming from the intercom. Where was it coming from? He got up and scanned the walls of the room, turning in a slow circle, running his hands over the white walls, wheeling the bed away from the wall and studying the baseboard, squinting at the ceiling tiles. No speakers. Not that he could see.
The bending and spinning made him dizzy, and he stumbled back to the bed and curled up in a panting lump on the mattress.
The siren kept sounding.
Hours passed - maybe. The light in the room never changed. Gerard twisted his fingers in the hair at his temples until his eyes teared up, pressing his cheek into the mattress. He could still hear the ringing.
He hammered the intercom button with his fist and called Korse the worst names he could think of.
He curled facedown on the bed with his hands behind his head and his arms clamped tight over his ears. Muffled, only the high frequencies came through, and he found himself humming in key.
He lost his voice.
Lying flat on his back, counting the tiles on the ceiling, the throbbing blood in his ears turned the wailing klaxon into code. Swearing, he sat straight up, eyes darting around the room for something to write with. Nothing, he had nothing. Listen, Korse had said. Listen.
Gerard slid off the mattress, knees hitting the tile floor with a painful thump. His cuffed hands clanked against the metal frame of the bed.
“Frame. Wheels,” he whispered to himself. Frank’s face - Fun Ghoul’s face - swam in front of his eyes, long hair and a wicked grin and axle grease smeared down his cheek. Gerard set his hands to the bottom of the bed frame and heaved it onto its side.
Some time later, his fingers torn and bleeding from wrestling the bolts free, he stood with arms spread wide in front of the white wall, daubing code keys on the wall in a mixture of blood and grease.
The siren stopped, and Gerard didn’t notice.
“Gerard.” Korse’s voice this time was cool. Businesslike. “You’ve made quite the mess. I’ll have to send someone in here to clean it up.” He stepped closer to the wall, swiping one finger delicately over a line of grease. “I told you to listen. Do we need to try this again?”
Gerard just stared, huddled up against the wall where he’d eventually fallen asleep, arms pressed tight up against his chest, surrounded by his own scrawled gibberish. Korse stepped around the bedframe, and Gerard twitched involuntarily away from him, but Korse ignored him, reaching down to touch his fingers to the raw, chafed skin under the cuffs. “This isn’t what I want for you, Gerard,” Korse told him quietly. “When the company brought you back, you will perhaps be unsurprised to hear that Mr. Baum and several other board members campaigned very hard for you to receive the same treatments as your friends. You kept your memories because I convinced the Chairwoman it would be to her benefit.”
“Treatments?” Gerard’s voice came out wrecked and raspy with barely a thread of sound to support it.
“I’m not sure why you think you’ve earned the right to information,” Korse said.
Gerard stared dully. He heard a soft clink and felt Korse’s cool hands brush his wrists again, then they were suddenly released from the pressure of the metal bracelets. “Why?” he said. He still hadn’t figured out how he’d earned the right - or the punishment - of being alive. Why was Korse removing the restraints? Why was he getting a chance?
Korse crossed to the intercom and spoke into it for a moment, then paused at the door before the locks hissed open. “Because I want you to earn it.”
He walked out without a backward glance. Gerard opened and closed his mouth a few times, then ran his freed hands through his hair, cradled his hands against his chest and ran a gentle finger over the angry welts on his wrists. With the cuffs off, his mind felt surprisingly clear, but it still took him a while to formulate a complete sentence. “And you think I’ll listen because?” He called it out in the direction of the door even though Korse was long gone.
Korse knew what to hold over his head better than anyone. Mikey, Ray, and Frank. Whatever had been done to them, Frank had looked healthy and whole - in body if not in mind. If they’d all lost their memories.... Korse had called them test subjects. What did he mean by “treatments”? Were they reversible? If his cooperation was the coin that would pay for their minds.... It wasn’t too high a price to pay. But Gerard knew he would never be able to trust BLI, and he knew that meant he couldn’t trust Korse.
But he wanted to. Gerard’s weakness, as always, was hope.
Once Gerard’s brain turned back on, he couldn’t stop running through all the possibilities, the scraps of information, the transmissions he’d intercepted as an analyst, the files he’d hacked when he’d started searching for the truth - the first time he’d started, when he’d worn a suit instead of these hospital scrubs. He set the bed back on its wheels and replaced the mattress, intending to lie back down but forgetting and shuffling back and forth across his cell instead. He’d reached a muttered count of dozens of paced diagonals when the door hissed unexpectedly open, spitting a coverall-clad Renfield into the room. A small figure, carrying a bucket of cleaning supplies and completely unarmed.
A familiar small figure. Gerard froze until the door shut solidly behind him and said wonderingly, “Frank?”
The janitor shushed him but pulled up the Rennie mask at the same time, so Gerard could see that it was, in fact, Frank under the coverall. “I don’t know if there are cameras in this room, and if it’s bugged, I guess I’m screwed already,” he said out of the corner of his mouth, pulling on a pair of rubber gloves and taking a scrub brush out of the bucket, “But if I were you, I’d sit down on that bed and pretend you’re talking to yourself because I’m sure as hell not supposed to be here.”
Gerard obeyed, retreating to a far corner and huddling on the mattress like he was scared to death and hadn’t realized Frank was unarmed or like he was as out of it as he’d been when Korse had reappeared. “Frank,” Gerard repeated, heart thudding painfully. “Do you remember me now?”
“No,” Frank said slowly, scrubbing at the wall, so the mixed grease and blood ran down in rivulets. “But I asked around after Korse brought me in here a couple days ago.”
“Mikey?” Gerard blurted.
“Mikey Way says his brother was a drunk and a Zoner addict who disappeared a long time ago, who probably died in some filthy squat in the Fringe. And then called janitorial and asked for someone else to be assigned to that rotation.”
Gerard couldn’t stop the low noise that escaped him, that felt as painful as it sounded. “I’m not, I’m fucking not. I got clean. Their own fucking drugs got me clean. Why can’t he remember? Did they take all of that away from us?” He panted out a few breaths, trying to calm down. A muscle jumped in Frank’s jaw, but he kept scrubbing. Gerard took another deep breath. “So if I’m an addict, or dead, or just really on BLI’s fucking bad side, then why are you here, Frank?”
“I was curious.” Frank shrugged, darting a quick look at him out of the corner of his eye.
He was curious. Of course. When normal people were curious about things, they thought about them for a while, maybe talked them over with a friend. If their BLI-provided drug array allowed them to feel curious at all. When Frank was curious about something, he dressed up in a Rennie uniform and snuck into the cell of a dangerous prisoner to have a chat. Gerard just barely caught his laughter before it bubbled out of his throat like rainbow-colored lava. Take their memories, BLI, but you can’t change who they are. “How’d you get in here?”
“SCARECROW draws from the same janitorial pool as the rest of the Towers,” Frank shrugs. “Fucked with the duty roster while my boss’s back was turned. Doubt they’ll notice.” He tapped the mask he still wore pushed up over his forehead.
“Aren’t you worried I’ll kill you?”
“With what? Your bare hands? Sorry, sweetheart, but you look like sitting up straight is all the exercise you can handle. Besides -” He cut himself off.
“Besides?” Gerard asked sharply.
“That’s not how you touched me before,” Frank mumbled after a long pause.
This time Gerard didn’t catch the laughter. “Frankie,” he chuckled, sitting on his hands, so he wouldn’t actually get up and grab him. “You’re a fucking lunatic.”
Frank turned just far enough to flash a glare at him. “That’s the point,” he snapped. “I’m pretty sure I’m not. So if I’m not crazy, the only other two explanations for you are that you’re crazy, or I’ve somehow forgotten a whole helluva lot of things that don’t seem like they’d be easy to forget.”
“Me being crazy is a whole lot easier to believe. You were just staring at a wall filled with fucking gibberish, you know. Hell, Frank, you being crazy is a lot easier to believe.”
“I didn’t say I trusted you yet.”
The wall was clean. Gerard knew his time was up, and he hadn’t even scratched the surface of things he wanted to say to Frank. Never mind the things he wanted to do. Quickly, desperately, he said, “It doesn’t matter if you do or not. I trust you. Go to Battery City Droid Club, and ask around for a guy named JD or a girl named Molly. Ask them about me. Ask them about you. Maybe - maybe they can help.”
“Help you, or help me?” Frank dropped the scrub brush back into the bucket and picked up both it and his roll of toweling. “And what name would I give them, Gerard Way? Yours? Mine?”
“Party Poison or Fun Ghoul oughta do it.”
Frank grimaced for a moment, rubbed at a temple like a sudden pain had stabbed him there. “You’d better not be more trouble than you’re worth, Red.”
“Oh, no,” Gerard assured him dryly. “I definitely am.”
Frank punched the intercom and muttered something, tugging his mask back down over his face. Gerard stayed where he was and watched him slip through the door and told himself hoping for the best was a bad fucking plan.
Gerard didn’t see anyone else for days save for the faceless Rennies who came twice a day with a tray of food. Really faceless Rennies - he was sure none of them were Frank. Korse didn’t return either, and Gerard tried not to wonder too much what that meant.
After three or four days, two dracs entered his cell, one holding a rifle across his chest, the other holding a pair of cheap slippers and gesturing impatiently for Gerard to stand up and turn around. Gerard obeyed silently, gritting his teeth when the drac wrenched his arms behind his back and cuffed his hands. Then he was tugged by the elbow until he stuck his feet in the slippers and stumbled out of the cell, the drac with the rifle falling in directly behind them.
He half expected a blindfold, but they didn’t seem to care if he saw where he was. When it sunk in where he was, he knew why. He knew these hallways. This wasn’t SCARECROW headquarters, this was the corridor to the subterranean Treatment Center that shared underground quarters with Robotics.
The morgue was down here, too.
And Mikey - he was on the same floor as Mikey. He jerked a bit, and the drac with the gun prodded him between the shoulder blades. Taking a deep breath, Gerard kept walking. The walls and ceiling of this corridor were covered with cameras and what he was fairly sure were nerve gas nozzles. Even if he had a prayer of getting away from his guards - armed guards - he’d never get out of the Treatment Center in one piece, not with the surveillance system up and running.
The fact that he still didn’t know what kinds of treatments they were doing crossed his mind once or twice, too.
Gerard’s guards led him down the hall to an elevator - not the main bank, Gerard had never seen this one before. Inside, the buttons were all labeled with letters instead of numbers; the drac holding his arm punched the one labeled “B”. The elevator hummed. Gerard clenched his jaw and stared straight ahead at the crack of the door.
The elevator jerked to a stop with a muted ding, and Gerard’s view of his own slightly distorted face flanked by dracs was replaced by yet another white hallway and a set of large, brushed-steel doors. A sign to the right of the door read “Boardroom” in Latin and kanji characters.
“Fuck,” Gerard muttered under his breath. The drac with the rifle prodded him again, and he stepped out of the elevator.
He was whisked through the boardroom doors, and just as quickly his guards disappeared, leaving him tottering in the middle of a sea of silver carpet, plush under his slippered toes. He looked up. The Chairwoman was sitting at the end of a long ebony table, snapping in Japanese into a phone handset. When the doors closed behind Gerard, she looked up, and her eyes traveled from his head to his toes, then said “Sayonara,” into the phone and set it on the table with a click. “Mr. Way,” she greeted him coolly. “Do you know why you are here?”
Gerard forced himself not to step back. A movement caught his eye. Korse, dressed in his customary long coat, half blended into the curtains pulled over the bank of windows. Beside him, Dr. Slade in her typical dark suit and tight bun.
His throat was dry, his voice rougher than he intended. “Do I know why I’m here... Among the living? In Battery City? In this room?”
She laughed, sharp enough to make him shiver. “Pick one.”
“I know why I’m in Battery City,” Gerard mused, stalling for time. “I came for Grace.” The Chairwoman was good; she never moved a muscle. But he caught the nervous twitch of Dr. Slade’s fingers. They didn’t have her. He’d have bet his life on it. Had already bet his life on it. His eyes drifted to Korse, whose face betrayed as little as the Chairwoman’s, but Gerard knew that face far better. “And I know why I’m still alive,” He remembered what Korse had said when Gerard had woken. “Because you have some use for me.” Gerard smiled, bright and sudden and full of teeth. Party Poison’s smile. “So that leaves why I’m in this room. But I’m going to guess.”
“Do go on,” the Chairwoman said. She leaned back in her chair, and he saw the glint of metal, the gloss of lacquer, noticing for the first time the sheathed katana resting on the ebony tabletop.
“Well, isn’t it obvious? Whatever you want from me... you need my cooperation.”
“Need is a strong word, Mr. Way. Too strong, I think.”
“Mina!” Dr. Slade hissed from across the room.
“Enough, Lucy,” the Chairwoman replied, voice like an icy stiletto. “Your opinion has already been noted.”
Gerard spared a glance for Dr. Slade and yet another for Korse. The picture was coming into focus. Dr. Slade, whose conscience demanded his cooperation for whatever the fuck she wanted to do to him. This time, his brain whispered nastily. Are you sure?
Korse. Who wanted -
“No,” Gerard muttered under his breath.
The Chairwoman looked up like she’d scented blood. “No? No, need is not too strong of a word? Or no, you will not cooperate?”
“No, you don’t need me,” he whispered. He was a pawn. He knew that. But pawns could be promoted if they advanced far enough. His eyes returned involuntarily to Korse.
“Korse assured me you could be made to understand,” the Chairwoman mused, a finger tapping against the katana hilt.
“I don’t,” Gerard replied.
“These... friends of yours, these squatters out in the Zones, have achieved a certain notoriety in the City, Mr. Way. These DJs and their broadcasts - radio piracy is and has always been a crime, and one BLI has no choice but to find reprehensible.”
Dr. Slade took over from the Chairwoman. “The corporation’s cleansing and expansion activities are for the benefit of the population, and these runners are hindering the operation. I had such high hopes for you, Gerard. We only wanted to make you a better you and for you to take up their dirty, ragtag, borderline suicidal manner of existence.... We can fix you and them, Gerard. We can handle everything. It’s not too late.”
“Not too late for what?” Gerard asked.
“They can turn themselves in for voluntary relocation,” the Chairwoman said. “At any SCARECROW checkpoint in any of the accessible zones. Industry in the City is at an all-time high. Well-paying jobs, affordable housing, a growing range of products.”
“We’ve made great strides in the Drugs program, Gerard. Entertainment, relaxation - peace of mind. We’ve got more subscribers than ever.”
“If they wish to stay outside the City, there’s new construction in Zone One, the area you civilians call the Fringe, and beyond. Business is booming, Mr. Way, and there are new, exciting products every day.”
The two women talked over each other, voices lapping like waves over his skin. He looked from one to the other, head spinning a little. The only thing that really stuck in his head was “new construction in Zone One” - the mining project, maybe more. Business was booming. But what kind of business?
He could hear Frank’s voice in his head. “What do you think’s in the warehouses, Gee? This is not stockpiling for the next Helium War. This is not for fucking public welfare; it’s something different.”
He had to figure out what was going on. “What is it that you want from me?” Gerard asked.
“We’re going to make you famous, Mr. Way.”
Gerard didn’t remember anything else that was said after that or even how he got out of the room - frogmarched by dracs, no doubt - but he did realize when the elevator doors closed in front of him again that Korse was the one escorting him. That Korse hadn’t said a single word throughout the entire conversation. “How much of this was your idea?” Gerard asked in a low voice.
Korse didn’t answer right away. When he did, his voice was resigned. “Soon I’m going to start being offended at how actively you seem to want to wreck all efforts at keeping you alive.”
“I don’t care about staying alive,” Gerard said. “You can’t honestly think I’ll go along with this.”
“Of course I can,” Korse replied. “Your little brother already thinks you died in a Zoner squat in a puddle of your own vomit but don’t think I can’t call the mappers and have them make him forget he ever had a brother.”
“That’s impossible,” Gerard snapped.
Korse sniffed. “I assure you it’s not. You just don’t know how it works. And you still haven’t earned the right to information,” he added, seeing Gerard open his mouth again.
“And if I agree to this shitshow?”
“You’ll receive a few privileges, I suppose. And...” Korse trailed off. “I fail to understand why it always falls to me to make sure you look presentable.” Still sounding irritable, he reached out and touched a piece of Gerard’s hair. Gerard nearly flinched away but gritted his teeth and held still. Korse’s knuckles moved to his cheek, stroked gently across the skin.
“You hate this,” Korse murmured as their eyes met. “You want to knock my hand away. Why don’t you?”
“You know why,” Gerard hissed.
“It’s very tedious to be tolerated, Gerard,” Korse sighed, sounding disappointed. “Even more tedious, knowing why you’re tolerating me. Blackmailing you is hardly even a challenge.”
“Sorry to be such a disappointment,” Gerard snapped, finally jerking out of range. Korse just stepped behind him, ushered him out of the elevator and down the same deadly white corridor.
“You can relax,” he murmured at Gerard’s stiff shoulders. “We’re only keeping you in the Treatment Center because it’s secure and has a few additional... comforts available.”
“A cell is a cell,” Gerard answered.
“Well, yes.” They stopped at a door - not the door to his previous cell, Gerard was counting - and Korse unlocked it and took him inside. It was a much nicer cell - sink and toilet behind a partition, even a screen in the wall that Gerard assumed was a television. “I know you’re playing a game with us, Gerard. Now turn around.”
Gerard turned. Korse slipped the cuffs off his wrists. When he was done, he crossed back to the door and added, “I just want you to think very hard about whether you can win.” Then he was gone.
Gerard was right. The screen was a television with a single push-button - on or off, one channel, BLTV or nothing. Fact News and Brand Land infomercials were apparently all the ‘privileges’ he’d earned by agreeing to sell his face to BLI.
He wasn’t sure he had a soul left to sell, anyway.
They left him alone for the rest of the day, only delivering meals. But early the next morning another faceless Rennie entered his cell, pushing a small rolling cart. It was a familiar faceless Rennie; Gerard bit his tongue until the door was closed, but Frank tugged his mask off before Gerard could say anything to him. “Is that a good idea?” Gerard said quietly.
“Nice to see you, Frank,” Frank said. “Hey, Frank, how’d you manage to get back in here?” He was rummaging on the cart as he talked, and Gerard could see that it had a box of...was that peroxide? And scissors? He’d been distracted by Frank’s terrible attempt at imitating Gerard’s voice.
“How did you get back in here? I’m guessing hair dye duty isn’t in your job description.”
“I went to see Mikey again,” Frank said nonchalantly, and Gerard shot to his feet. “Sit,” Frank ordered. “I’ll tell you while I work.” He had Gerard wet his hair in the sink, then draped a towel around Gerard’s shoulders. “I guess he had a change of heart from the first time I went to see him. Believed me this time that maybe his brother was actually alive.”
Gerard closed his eyes. “Does he know I’m not -”
“An addict? I think he figured it out when I explained you were a notorious wanted criminal.”
Gerard sighed. “And this has to do with you getting in here....”
“This,” Frank said, pulling a small device out of his pocket. “It broadcasts randomized access codes for workers cleared for this area. I could be anyone right now. But I’m definitely not the Rennie who was supposed to come in here and pretty you up. He’s been reassigned to the other tower.”
“Mikey made that for you?”
Frank nods. “It disrupts closed circuit signals, too, in a way that just sounds like static. Your brother’s sort of a genius.”
“I know,” Gerard said sadly, then winced at a clipping noise that came particularly close to the shell of his ear. “You do know what you’re doing, right?” As soon as he asked he felt like an idiot. Frank had dyed his hair a half-dozen times before, back when the dye was red.
Frank ignored him. “Mikey wanted to come see you, but we couldn’t figure out how to get him over here without attracting attention. So he...made something. Guess I’m the guinea pig.” He tapped the pocket where he’d stored the device. “But first - there.” He set the scissors down. Gerard made a motion to touch his hair and then stopped as Frank grabbed his hand. “Not until I’m done.”
Gerard bit back half a dozen more questions and closed his eyes as Frank mixed up the peroxide and started daubing it on Gerard’s hair.
“So why are you getting prettied up, Red? I’m not going to be able to call you that much longer.”
“I don’t know,” Gerard admitted. “But I don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. So - Frank, you have to - have you gone to the BC Droid Club yet?”
“No,” Frank said. “Trying to keep my suspicious activity below a certain level, you know? Should I have?”
“You and Mikey and Ray don’t remember anything, and they’re the only people I... Frank,” he said suddenly, urgently. “Do you trust me?”
Frank daubed at a few more strands of Gerard’s hair while Gerard gritted his teeth and waited. “I guess I do, yeah. What you’ve been telling me is.... Well, it makes some things make sense. My doctor - she said I had an accident here at work, a head injury that affected my memory, that my workers comp was treating me to try to reverse it. That’s a lie, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Frank, it’s a lie. I don’t know why you can’t remember, but you’ve been out in the Zones a hell of a lot longer than I have, even. Do you - do you remember Ricky?”
The bleach brush hit the floor with a plastic clatter. “Shit,” Frank mumbled, kneeling to clean up the droplets of bleach. “Ricky’s dead,” Frank said. “He’s got to be.”
“He’s not,” Gerard told him. “He’s out in the Zones.” Maybe. Out of all the things Gerard would have given an arm for, knowing what had happened to Doc, Pony, KK, and Motorbaby was near the top of the list. “You got him out. It was one of the first things you did after you got discharged.”
Frank grimaced, rubbing the heel of his hand hard against his temple. “Fuck, my head hurts so fucking bad. Why does this always fucking happen when I try to -” He pushed himself back to his feet. “I have to finish your hair,” he mumbled.
“When you try to what, Frank?”
“Remember,” Frank answered, wrapping a piece of clear plastic around Gerard’s hair. “Now we wait.”
“Okay,” Gerard said quietly. “Can you tell me what the treatments are like, Frank?”
“I - they’re just in a sleep pod, so you know, I’m not exactly.... Doc puts electrodes on my temples and runs some sort of computer program. I asked her once what it does. She said it’s something to do with neuron pathways and that the rest was over my head. I said it sounded like it was in my head, not over it, but she didn’t laugh.” He made a face.
“Dr. Slade is in charge?” Gerard asked sharply, and Frank nodded, frowning. “Fuck,” Gerard muttered. “How often do you go?”
“Once a week. I - can we talk about something else?” Frank looked a little pale in the face.
“Sure,” Gerard said.
“You can tell me.... What are the Zones like?”
“They’re... everyone who runs to the Zones is desperate and stays that way. I won’t tell you fairytales, but if you find someone to trust with your back, it’s not so bad - because you’re free.”
Frank didn’t say anything for a minute. Then he asked, “What’s beyond Zone Six?”
“I don’t know. No one ever crosses the border; BLI says it’s too toxic, and runners have found that out themselves the hard way. They’re not fucking lying about the acid clouds and blood rain and -”
“Fine, okay. But how do you know there’s nothing out there? How do you know that they know?”
Gerard bit his lip. “I -” He stopped himself before he could say, Why would they lie about that? “Frank, I need you to go to the Droid Club. I need to try to get in touch with my friends. Can you do that for me?”
“Of course I can,” Frank said. “It’s time to rinse.” He guided Gerard over to the sink to sluice his hair with water. Gerard, bent over with blood rushing to his head, marveled at how different this was than the Frank he’d met in the Zones. I’m the knowledgeable one now, he mused. Fuck.
Frank tugged him away from the sink and draped a towel over his head, and Gerard scrubbed obediently at his dripping hair. He ran a hand through the strands - Frank had made it short, but not nearly as short as his own - and said quietly, “How do I look?”
“Like someone who’s trying to fit in and sucks at it,” Frank said.
Gerard shrugged. “That sort of sums it up.”
“Yeah,” Frank nodded. “Me too.” Something on the device in his pocket started beeping. “Fuck, they’re running checks on the duty rosters. Mikey said I’d have about thirty seconds to clear out if that signal started.” He grabbed the mask out of his pocket and scooped the hair supplies back onto the cart with his other hand.
“Fuck, Frank,” Gerard said and grabbed him around the wrist. “Thank you. Be safe. Come back.” Before he could think better of it, he tugged Frank in and kissed him hard.
When Frank pulled back, he was gasping. “I - you -”
“Go,” Gerard said in a low voice, tugging the mask over Frank’s face himself..
Once Gerard was alone again, there was nothing to do but listen to the endlessly repeating stories on Fact News and try to puzzle out what the fuck BLI was doing. He lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling, occasionally lifting a hand to tug at the short strands. He wished he’d thought to ask if Frank had a mirror. There were none in his cell, of course. He wished there had been more time. He wished he could have kissed Frank again or that Frank hadn’t looked so surprised about it.
The news stories mostly revolved around the supposed balmy weather out at Wolfsblood Beach, and Gerard chuckled to himself. Sure, it was a nice spot, up until the blood rains caught you. No nice black BLI umbrella was going to shield you from that. He tuned the broadcast out for a while, thinking about Frank’s question. The acid clouds and blood rain, the more normal desert problems like predators and flash floods, they were pretty good inducements to take BLI’s zone map as gospel.
But why should any of them do that? Didn’t they know better?
A bass beat drew his attention back to the television. It was a sound from the zones, a backbeat that sounded like it had been lifted straight from a Mad Gear song and run through some sort of distortion. A BLI remix. The refrain was accompanied by a single phrase, flashed onto the screen for a few seconds in stark black and white.
I got the answer. It was signed with a simple “XO,” and Gerard swore, then sat up to stare at the screen.
The ad didn’t reappear, and Gerard’s thoughts meandered off again, thinking of the silicon mine and the way Ray’s face had frozen when Gerard and Mikey had described what they’d found there. Silicon means one thing, he’d said.
Computer chips? Gerard had offered.
Sort of, Ray had answered, tugging at his hair.
Androids, Mikey had added flatly. Or mainframes for programming. It’s what we were always short of before.
Looks like they’re taking matters into their own hands, Frank had commented.
Looked like. Gerard couldn’t help thinking of what Frank had said. Doc puts electrodes on my temples and runs some sort of computer program. Gerard tugged at his hair again and kept staring at the television. Hours passed, and several more commercial spots cycled through the programming, all signed with the enigmatic - but familiar - “XO” signature.
Fame is now injectable. XO
Process the progress. XO
Something was going on, and it reeked of BLI’s Marketing department. The worst part of that was that Marketing was really fucking good at what they did.
Days later, and the Brand Land programming had switched to incessant ads for virtual vacations. The XO ads were still cycling - the first three slogans had been joined in rotation by Truth is now acceptable and What will save us? Gerard was listening to a “caller” read a statement about how a virtual vacation had cured her insomnia when a pair of dracs entered his cell. One was holding a bundle of clothing; he tossed it at the foot of Gerard’s bed and gestured for him to dress.
Gerard was still staring at the other drac, the one with the rifle. It was hard to tell - Gerard had gone years without giving a single thought to the face beneath a drac mask. Cherri had changed all that - but something about the posture, the way of moving, said - “Mikey?” Gerard mouthed.
He received an almost imperceptible nod in reply.
Gerard bit his lip and started changing into the provided clothing - dark slacks, a black button down shirt - while shooting considering glances at the other drac. He inclined his head toward the drac, twitched an eyebrow in Mikey’s direction, then sat down on the bed to tie the laces of the black boots they’d brought him.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Mikey stick a casual hand into his jacket pocket, and a moment later Gerard heard an audible screech. The way Mikey and the other drac both pressed a hand to their ear suggested it had been a lot louder for them. The other drac looked at Mikey, and Mikey pointed at the door, then at himself, then back at Gerard, still tapping at his ear under the mask. The message was clear: You go. I’ll stay with him.
The other drac pulled a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket and dangled them. Mikey nodded and trained a ray gun on Gerard while the other drac approached and cuffed Gerard’s hands in front of him. Gerard sighed, like it was oh so unnecessary - it was - and the other drac left.
“Take the mask off,” Gerard whispered as soon as the door slid shut. Mikey tugged the rubber face with one hand, holstering the gun with the other, and when Gerard could actually see the familiar face, he let out a big breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding. “Fuck, are you okay? Do you feel okay? Did you use that jammer you built to get in here? What the fuck else have you been doing? Is Frank okay? Have you seen Ray? Don’t you know what a fuckin’ creek you’ll be up if they catch you?” He stopped himself, hauled in another breath, and added weakly, “Do... do you hate me?”
“Gee,” Mikey said calmly. He knelt by the side of the bed and started fastening Gerard’s still-untied boots. “We don’t have a lot of time. That was a lot of questions.”
“Start with - fuck,” Gerard said. “Start anywhere you want.”
“I’m not okay,” Mikey began. “I mean, sure, I’m alive and all. My doctor says I’m lucky after all the migraines I’ve been having.”
“That they’ve been treating with neuron pathway manipulation,” Gerard finished flatly, and Mikey nodded automatically.
“Frank. Fuck, Mikey, I - Ray, what about Ray?”
“Ray and I were in a motorcycle accident a month or so ago,” Mikey said carefully. “We both had head trauma, but I was lucky. He had an eye injury and a lot of internal injuries, too.”
“And memory loss.”
Mikey nodded. “I’ve tried to visit him a few times, but it’s - weird. My head fucking hurts when I try to think about things.” He raised a hand to his temple and pressed lightly. “My head hurts all the fucking time now because ever since your little janitor friend came to see me, and I found out you were -”
“Alive? Clean? Mikey, fuck, I got clean, I got sober, and they fucking lied and -”
Mikey’s jaw firmed into a stubborn line Gerard knew all too well. “No one lies to me about my brother,” he gritted. “That was their first mistake.” He pulled Gerard to his feet. “We’ve got to get moving,” he said. “I can only stall for so long. You are expected at the Fact News studio.”
“Fact News?” Gerard gaped. Mikey just shrugged and tugged his mask back over his face. “I’ll keep talking fast, Mikes. Do you trust me?”
“Would I be giving a total stranger illegal tech to break into your cell if I didn’t trust you?” Mikey asked, taking hold of Gerard’s cuffs and marching him out of the cell, back in the direction of the kill chute hallway and the secret bank of elevators.
“Look,” Gerard muttered, trying to move his lips as little as possible, “I don’t know what’s going to happen in this studio, but you need to believe it’s not really me. There are people in the Zones who - they’re, we lived out there, we were on the run, and you wanted to, it was you I followed out there - BLI is -”
“Is wrong,” Mikey whispered back. “I don’t know about the rest of it, Gee. I don’t remember anything like that. But I gotta say, I’m having trouble buying you as a revolutionary.”
His tone said he didn’t really have any trouble with it at all, and Gerard was both thrilled and fucking petrified to have even two people - those two people - have so much faith in him. “Dr. Death Defying is the voice of the fucking revolution, Mikey, not me. I’m just a face in a mask. We both were. And now BLI wants me to be their face. Guess I really was being groomed to be Korse’s protege.”
“You don’t belong to anybody,” Mikey muttered.
“I belong to the Killjoys,” Gerard answered under his breath. “Even if none of you remember.” Mikey just hummed in response, but he tapped a finger against Gerard’s wrist where he was holding the cuffs. Gerard subsided. Now wasn’t the time.
The BLTV studio was near the top of Angel Tower, Gerard knew from his mail room days. The brief glimpses of the City he got through the few uncovered windows they passed made him dizzy - everything was glaringly bright, the atmospheric grid sparkling faintly over clean concrete towers. The rooms got dark as they progressed into the soundstage area, but natural light was replaced by the equally blinding glare of tv lights off of green screens. Gerard was still squinting when Mikey marched him into a small TV set packed with too many people.
Dave Campbell was there, of course. The weaselly Fact News anchor looked way too happy about whatever was about to happen, and Gerard thought cynically that it was probably a big step up for him from news reading and fake call-in infomercials. He also looked nervous about the two full teams of dracs in the room. Gerard was right there with him on that one, even if one of them was actually Mikey.
Korse was there as well, looking focused and coldly dismissive all at once. That made Gerard more nervous than any number of dracs. He hadn’t actually seen Korse since the tense walk back to his new cell a week before. He was fairly sure Korse’s visits to him were being controlled, and Gerard was certain that wasn’t sitting well with Korse.
The only unrecognizable - unmasked, that was - face in the room was a young man in a slick three-piece suit. Gerard frowned; the buzzed hair and muscular shoulders looked familiar, but Gerard couldn’t place him. A glance at his badge identified him as being from the Public Relations division. Gerard thought idly of Molly putting through permits and hacking BLI systems on the side. He wondered if they knew each other. He wondered if Molly knew why he was here, if Frank had managed to get in touch with her or JD, if any of them knew where Dr. D was.
Gerard felt a sting of pain in his wrist. Mikey had pinched him while removing his cuffs. Pay attention, the little sting said. Gerard took a deep breath and tried to focus.
“Mr. Way,” Campbell said, moving across the room and adjusting his glasses while attempting a simulacrum of a smile, “It’s such a thrill to have you on my program. Tonight’s speech, it’s so - moving! Groundbreaking! Exciting! Truly a pleasure.”
“Tonight’s speech,” Gerard repeated dully.
“Not to worry, Gerard,” the PR flunky said, taking a few steps forward as well. “There will be a teleprompter provided for you with the entire text transcribed. You won’t have to deviate from a single word.” His eyes sparkled determinedly. You won’t deviate from a single word was clear as day.
“Message received,” Gerard murmured.
Campbell was still watching Gerard with his creepy faux smile, clearly not receiving the message that Gerard wasn’t fucking delighted to be here. “You need makeup!” he burbled, waving a hand. One of the dark-clothed figures with clipboards came forward from where they were clumped around the cameras and shooed Gerard over to a small makeup area and onto a stool. Campbell and the flunky didn’t follow which was a relief.
Then Korse joined them. The makeup tech kept his eyes firmly on the floor or the countertop with his supplies or on Gerard’s face - not his eyes, his face. Gerard looked up at Korse as best as he could without moving.
“When I ordered your hair dyed back to a color found in nature, this was not what I envisioned,” Korse said, reaching out to touch. Gerard looked away, catching his reflection in the mirror - the first time he’d seen the color himself - and watching the mirror-Korse’s fingers twist the blond strand then fall away.
“It’s the new and improved Gerard Way,” Gerard taunted quietly. He wasn’t sure if it was true. Mostly Gerard thought he looked young, vulnerable without the veil of red falling around his face and neck, pale as a ghost against the black shirt they’d given him. Not as pale as Korse, he’d clearly been out in the field, and he looked as exhausted as Gerard had ever seen him.
“We’ll see,” Korse answered. “You and I have no need for the rote threats and assurances about your performance tonight, I assume?”
“None,” Gerard agreed.
More of the studio assistants scurried over when the makeup guy was done, hooking Gerard into a mic pack, shooing him into a chair behind the desk next to Campbell, and telling him what camera would be filming him. None of them would look him in the eye. “The broadcast is pre-recorded,” Campbell told him. “In case you make any mistakes, we’ll just splice takes together. No worries!” He grinned again, a clacking marionette of a man.
No, that was Gerard. The producer began counting down and Campbell went into his scripted Fact News spiel. The top news stories all blended together in Campbell’s broad flat announcer’s voice. Gerard couldn’t stop looking into the darkness behind the cameras, picking out the swish of Korse’s coattails as he paced irritably, trying hard not to look at the drac he knew to be Mikey, stationed by the door.
Gerard sat up a little straighter when he heard his name, staring at the camera they’d told him would be filming him. “And now, a break from yours truly for a special message from our very special guest, Gerard Way!” Campbell announced.
Gerard took a deep breath, looked into the unblinking red eye, and started reading the words the teleprompter fed him.
He barely heard them as they rolled off his tongue, ringing and hollow. “Growth” and “exploration plan,” “profitability” and “special projects.” He looked straight into the blinding lights, barely blinking. “The Zones are the City. The City is the Zones. Reclamation is our future,” he intoned. “Better Living is our future.” He felt nothing but the sweat rolling down the back of his neck.
The segment faded out with a blast of the same techno backbeat they’d been using for the “XO” commercials, and even as part of Gerard’s brain applauded them for the teaser, another part curled up in misery at the reminder that this was just the beginning of something bigger.
As soon as the red light blinked off on the camera, two of the dark-clad set assistants came and shooed Gerard off the news set, unclipping his mic and its battery pack. A drac - Mikey, Gerard could tell once his eyes adjusted from the glare of the TV lights - stepped in to take his arm, but before anyone could handcuff Gerard again, there was another blast of the news program’s intro music, and Campbell’s smarmy tone came back over the airwaves.
“A special report for you citizens from our very own Battery Towers, coming live from the scene of an early morning break-in, where an unnamed assailant was apprehended exiting an office suite on one of the medical floors.”
There was a slight hiss of static as an off-site correspondent broke in. “Thanks, Dave. No information yet from the SCARECROW unit on what the suspect’s purpose was or what may have been taken, though the suite’s occupant, Dr. Lucy Slade, was not on the premises due to the early hour. Dr. Slade declined comment for our report.”
Campbell finished, “Speculation from sources inside the unit suggest the incident may have been related to drug trafficking. As you can see from these video stills, extermination was carried out at the scene.”
Gerard - and therefore also Mikey, at his elbow - had jerked to attention at the name Dr. Slade, and now Gerard couldn’t tear his eyes away from the television screen. A black-clad figure in a knit cap knelt in the middle of a hallway Gerard recognized from his own visits to Dr. Slade’s office, a pristine white ray gun muzzle pressed against his forehead. The gun had been caught mid-blast. The hand holding it belonged to Korse.
The face under the knit cap was JD’s.
Gerard found himself moving before he was really aware of the intention, darting across the floor with the single minded intensity of a raptor. “Turn that off,” he hissed at the producer. “Take that off the fucking air!” His voice rose to a shout, and he didn’t wait for a response, just tried to reach the necessary controls himself while the unsuspecting producer struggled against Gerard’s sudden lunge and reaching hands. “Turn it off! It’s disgusting! You’re all disgusting, polluting our living rooms with death and rot and killing us one fucking brain cell at a time! You deserve exactly what he got, bright lights with a fucking flatline on the other side. I’ll do it myself, watch me!” He was fighting by that point, stabbing buttons and yanking cords, throwing off the grasping hands of the dracs that closed in, swinging a chair at one when he got too close. The studio techs had long since scurried away, and Gerard pivoted to find half a dozen ray guns leveled at his face.
Just five, actually. Mikey was backed off in the corner with his hand on the doorknob. But the rest of them weren’t shooting. Korse had stepped between Gerard and the rest of the room, turning his back on Gerard and shielding him with his own torso and outstretched arms. “No one touches him,” Korse gritted. “He is mine.”
“You,” Gerard snapped, shoving at Korse’s shoulder. “Get the fuck away from me. You shot him, you fucking bastard. Stood there and fried his brain like he was so much trash! You’d do it to any of us, wouldn’t you? You did it to me, after all. You’ve done it to so fucking many of them, and we’re not afraid to die, but we deserve better than being discarded. Most of them don’t get the fucking luxury of being brought back!”
He was pounding at Korse’s shoulders and chest by that point, shoving him, spitting words in his face before Korse got hold of Gerard’s wrists, raised a hand and slapped his face so hard that his teeth clacked together and his ears rang. Before the stars faded out of Gerard’s vision Korse had his hands tucked up behind his back, prisoned in a painful grip. Gerard threw a terrified look at Mikey, who could do nothing but mutely open the door for Korse as he marched Gerard out of the studio.
Not a single drac followed them, and Gerard wasn’t sure why. His head was still ringing, adrenaline coursing through his body and making his muscles seize. Korse was seething, fingers digging into Gerard’s arm as he snapped at Gerard in a low voice about endangering himself.
“We had an agreement. How am I supposed to protect you if you can’t control yourself?” He stalked at Gerard’s side, both furious and as transparently frantic as he was that long-ago night - the night of the bombing and the broken glass, the night of a stranger’s kiss. His first kiss from Frank, in truth.
“You shot me! Excuse me if I don’t want that kind of protection,” Gerard said dumbly. Why didn’t Korse understand this?
“We had an agreement. What about your friends?"
"I'm not playing your games anymore. My friends mean nothing to you, so why should I let you hold them over my head?"
Korse made a noise not unlike a growl and tightened his grip even more, steering Gerard into a waiting elevator. The mirrored insides reflected their two figures, but Gerard kept his eyes on the floor. “You would be dead already if not for me. Or as good as dead. I'm the one who kept your memories for you," Korse reminded him.
Gerard might be as good as dead, but he could still call that bluff. “You’re the one who killed me in the first place. And brought me back. You want me to remember. It doesn't mean anything to you if I don't. There's the flaw in your plan.” He laughed coldly. “You lose either way. Checkmate."
“Gerard,” Korse started, nearly pleading. Gerard honestly had no idea what he was pleading for. He turned as much as the grip on his wrists would let him and looked Korse full in the face, searching his dark eyes for the least little spark of humanity.
He never got a chance to finish. The elevator reached its destination, and as soon as the doors hissed open, the car was flooded with dracs. Half seized Gerard and dragged him down the hall.
The other half of the squad seized Korse and dragged him in the opposite direction. It took four of them to subdue him, and even then Gerard had to suppress the incomprehensible urge to fight off his own guards and follow.
The dracs didn’t return him to either of his previous cells. This time, he ended up in a windowless cell in a windowless hallway. He was still underground, he was pretty sure. His sense of direction and his feet told him that he was probably still somewhere near the morgue. Were there holding cells down there? Gerard didn’t know.
If SCARECROW had a bank of cells near the morgue, it was likely for one purpose alone. The walls and floor were cement, painted institutional gray. There was no furniture, not even a mattress on the floor, just a crude commode squatting in the corner. A single fluorescent strip flickered in the ceiling.
They fed him once a day, a metal tray pushed through a sliding panel in the wall. The food was a sort of gruel made of protein paste, too bland and tasteless to be anything but offensive, and a single cup of water. BLI wasn’t trying to starve him, clearly. They just no longer cared about his most basic requirements for comfort. The cell wasn’t even cold. But the floor was hard, and the gray paint was smooth and featureless, lacking even chips or stains to give it interest.
If this was BLI’s idea of solitary confinement, it was deserving of the name.
Gerard had nothing to do but think and wait.
He thought about JD. That brief news broadcast had told him more than BLI probably knew. If JD had broken into Dr. Slade’s office, if he’d even known who Dr. Slade was, it meant Frank had finally made contact with him or with Molly. If he’d gone so far as to search Dr. Slade’s office, then they were at least trying to understand what had been done to Frank and the others.
He thought about Mikey. Gerard had faith that his outburst had at least let Mikey get out of the Fact News studio with his cover intact. He and Frank would be monitoring Gerard’s location if they could. Did he still have his access code device, or had he given it to JD? He would have made sure it wasn’t traceable back to him - Mikey wasn’t stupid.
He thought about Frank. JD would have passed Frank’s message along to Dr. D if he’d been able. Had Frank found Doc and Show Pony? Did they have Grace? Were they still in the City?
He thought about Ray. Had Mikey approached him? Was there any way to make any of them remember, or were those memories gone for good? Korse had implied the process was reversible. Was it a lie?
He thought about Korse most of all. Know your enemy, the old saying went. How could you know a corporation where things were done by committee? He’d known Korse. Korse had known him as well, had staked his own reputation on it. ”Perhaps this shall be the test, Gerard, of which one of us holds the truer understanding.”
If this was a test, Gerard was afraid he’d already failed it.
It was easy to do two things in an empty gray room: think and sleep. Gerard did a lot of both until they blended together. He didn’t notice the cold hard floor underneath him or the taste of the already-tasteless food or the non-existent smell of the crude but efficient steel commode in the corner. He didn’t really notice whether he was awake or asleep. It didn’t matter, except when he woke from dreams of cracked leather and gasoline and sand and was momentarily confused about why his cheek was pressed against chilly cement.
Gerard wondered, every once in awhile as he gulped down his gray dinner or forced himself to pace the perimeter of his cell to work the worst of the kinks out of his muscles, if he’d gone insane. Maybe he’d worked the sanity out of his system that first time, bled it all out over white walls in lines of axle grease and useless code. Maybe it had been a lot longer than that. Maybe he’d bleached it out before that first splash of poison-red dye. Maybe he’d swallowed insanity with his first cocktail of Vice and Zoner tabs, washed it down with cheap whiskey.
Or maybe he was perfectly fucking sane, trapped in a net of things he didn’t understand, and still stupid enough, hopeful enough, to be looking for a way out.
He was sleeping when the dracs came. The sound of the door opening didn’t register at first. He’d been in solitary for days. He’d lost count. The only thing to count was the number of trays of food they’d given him, and even that was too blandly nutritious for him to use hunger as a gauge.
The dracs didn’t bring Gerard fresh clothing this time, just prodded him awake with a boot and motioned him out of bed. He obeyed wordlessly. Neither of them was Mikey or Frank, as far as he could tell. The two who had entered his cell were joined in the hallway by their third who’d waited outside. A full squad, totally unnecessary when Gerard saw where they were taking him.
The Treatment Center, again: it was a walk of two minutes or less. This time he was ushered past the row of cell doors - recovery rooms, he renamed them in his head. His current home was truly a cell - and through a set of swinging doors into a room full of gleaming glass and steel. There was a wall full of cabinets, a desktop bearing medical implements, and a sleep pod in the corner. Another desk was covered in computer equipment, a console not unlike what he’d used in the SCARECROW offices, tangled wires. A reclining treatment chair, standing suspiciously, invitingly empty.
Doctor Slade stood in the middle of the room wearing a lab coat and studying him appraisingly.
“You look relatively healthy. I’m pleased you haven’t been refusing your meals; you’re not in the Zones anymore, after all. Starvation is unnecessary. Are you feeling cooperative today, Gerard?”
“Do I have a choice?” he asked mildly.
“Of course. Would you prefer the chair or the sleep pod? I’m afraid the treatment itself is not optional.”
“I didn’t expect it would be,” Gerard replied. Inside, he was clamping down tightly on a burst of fear. Fear would do him no good, not with Dr. Slade. Not with any of them. BLI used fear, but they weren’t moved by it. “The chair, then.”
Dr. Slade nodded at the dracs, who marched Gerard over to the chair and went about fastening the leather straps around his wrists and ankles. With another nod, Dr. Slade dismissed them, then moved to the desk and started sorting through the tangle of wires there.
“Do you have any questions for me, Gerard?” Dr. Slade asked, pausing with a few small discs in her hand. She stepped closer and peeled off an adhesive backing to attach them to his forehead and the back of his neck - they were some sort of electrode, and a length of wire was attached to the connector of each, trailing back across to the desk and disappearing in the thicket of computer wires.
“Are you making me forget?” The most important thing. The only important thing. Dr. Slade looked surprised for a moment, then shook her head, mouth tight.
“Korse. I might have known he’d hold that over your head. Really, envy is no excuse.” She stopped herself, then, and cocked her head at him. “Why would we make you forget, Gerard?”
Gerard sucked in a breath. He was already thrown by this room, by Korse’s name being mentioned so casually, and now.... He had to get hold of himself. “Where is Korse?” No, that wasn’t the question he’d meant to ask at all.
Dr. Slade hummed. “He’s been sent for rejuvenation and retraining,” she said shortly. “He is no longer in charge of your casefiles. I am sure that comes as a relief to you.”
“I -” Any answer he could give was only partially true. “Tell me more about the treatment,” he asked finally.
“BLI has been working on neurosequencing for quite some time,” she answered. “I’ve only recently been put in charge of the project. Our programmers have developed an innovative method of mind mapping, though it’s been only recently that they’ve been able to digitize the output.” She paused, clearly waiting for him to catch up, but Gerard was already there. Did she forget he’d been a BLI transmissions analyst?
“And once it’s digitized, you can manipulate it.”
“Precisely. Our test subjects have shown a generally positive response to synapse paralysis and stimulation for years -” She gestured vaguely toward the sleep pod, and Gerard was barely able to stifle a response. Test subjects. Sleep treatments. Korse. Fuck, it was starting to make sense. “- but only digitalization has allowed for manipulation on a larger scale.” She wasn’t looking at him anymore, just bending over the desk and typing something on one of the keyboards. With a few final keystrokes, Dr. Slade looked back up and met his eyes. “Memory manipulation is still in beta testing, but the emotional inhibitors are fully on line.”
“No more drugs,” Gerard murmured, staring back at her.
“Drugs are more cost-effective, but digitalization has more - development opportunities -” She was distracted and tapping again, finally cutting herself off with a pleased, “There. You’ve shown me everything you need to, Gerard. Now just relax.”
The hell he could. Gerard fought the panic back down, clenched his teeth, and struggled to clear his mind, but a sandstorm of static started at his temples and radiated out and down. It swept everything away.
Gerard woke to find himself back in the empty gray cell curled up on the cement floor without anything but the vague stiffness of compressed muscles to tell him how long he’d been there. It was worse than before because he knew he was wrong this time, knew it when the memories came flooding back, and nothing came to greet them.
Emotional inhibitors. Gerard remembered that part of Dr. Slade’s absentminded lecture well enough. He’d been staring at the sleep pod as she said it, remembering Korse’s sessions, the way he’d disappear gray and drawn and come back calm, purposeful - blank.
I think he was the first ghost, Dr. D had said about Korse the night before they came to the City. The first one they’d brought back.... But his body was still weak, held hostage by his emotions. They’d had these treatments, then, for a long time. Been perfecting this for years. It was the part about digitalizing and memory manipulation that scared Gerard - that would scare Gerard, if Dr. Slade hadn’t zapped his brain into numbness.
We can fix you. Building a better you.
A silicon mine, crates waiting to be whisked back to the City.
Androids or mainframes. Or both.
He wished with all his heart that he could be scared.
Gerard was in solitary for days after the treatment, silently counting the food trays his invisible jailers delivered to the bare gray cell and mapping the ebb and flow of his headaches. When a pair of Renfields appeared in the doorway of his cell, he felt the vague stirrings of surprise and knew that whatever Dr. Slade had done to him wasn’t permanent after all.
The Rennies marched him to a small, utilitarian bathroom and stripped him wordlessly, scrubbed him to within an inch of his life, and dressed him in a clean button-down and trousers. Gerard let them do it, not fighting but not helping either. He didn’t have to; they handled him as ruthlessly and efficiently as a doll.
A squad of dracs took over from the Renfields outside his cell; the one who stepped in to fasten the cuffs around Gerard’s wrists tapped a finger against the back of Gerard’s hand in an invisible tattoo. It was Gerard and Mikey’s “all’s well, let me in” signal from as far back as Gerard could remember. Gerard flashed a quick look at the mask with its bland grimace, but he kept the whispered “Mikey!” behind his teeth.
If Mikey was here again, something was happening. Not that Gerard hadn’t known that already. He was a Killjoy - he was the infamous Party Poison - and he’d known all along that a bare gray cell wasn’t going to be his ultimate fate.
Mikey’s fingers around the meat of his upper arm were tight enough to hurt. Mikey was tense. Something was definitely going to happen, and Gerard could only hope there was some sort of plan. Not that the Killjoys - as they had been - weren’t used to making shit up on the fly.
There was no elevator ride today, no trip to the television station. Not even the doors of the boardroom. Just the lobby of the tower and the blinding white expanse of the courtyard beyond. And people gathered everywhere, clumps of black and gray and tan, staring up at stage bearing a towering screen and a podium and - him. Not just him - Gerard could see the Chairwoman in a sleek gray suit, Mr. Baum and several other board members, even Dr. Slade, and he quickly looked away before he could meet her gaze. The rest of the stage was taken up by machinery, crouched on tables and gleaming in the sun, wires puddling off the side of the stage to another piece of equipment where -
Ray stood, one hand resting lightly on the edge of a control console, staring directly at Gerard with his good eye. Gerard bit his lip. Ray gave him half a nod.
If Ray was here, Robotics was involved - bad. If Ray was acknowledging him, Mikey’d brought him in - good. There was one person whose absence was particularly glaring. Not Frank - if the other two were both in position, Frank was somewhere as well. But not seeing Korse made Gerard more nervous than anything else. Dr. Slade’s glib “rejuvenation and retraining” meant nothing applied to Korse - he would always be a wild card, and Gerard wasn’t sure if BLI had ever really figured that out.
Gerard was seated forcibly at the side of the raised platform. He let his eyes sweep over the crowd, looking for a familiar face. Any familiar faces. He didn’t see any, but it was hard to miss how no one would meet his eyes. He’d be this invisible, he thought, whether he was a hero or a criminal.
A video started playing on the screens lining the courtyard, the Chairwoman’s blandly polite voice reciting a prerecorded message over the heads of the crowd. Gerard didn’t bother listening, and words like “health” and “work” and “life” drifted past his ears like tumbleweeds. Words started scrolling across the screen, the same slogans as always, “Building a better you” looking twice as menacing crawling across a building in four-foot-tall letters.
Gerard blinked, and the crawl changed to a simple repetition: “xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo” until he thought he’d be dizzy with it. Words hissed out of electronic feedback. “Ain’t no DJ gonna save my soul!” It was music. Gerard thought it was music. It was a crawling cancer and an electric shock at the same time. It made them listen, the faces in the square who’d glazed over at the same old lines. And when it cut off the Chairwoman stepped to the podium and scanned the crowd.
“We brought you the Inner-Internet,” she said with no preamble. “We brought you Virtual Vacations. All to make you smile. And now we’re bringing you something better. Our engineers have been working tirelessly - for you. Forever.” She let the word ring through the courtyard for a moment, and even Gerard held his breath.
“Eternal Life Technology. You’ve heard about it, maybe, read the papers, seen it on TV? Of course you have. And the question I’m sure you have is: how?”
“We’re making it - making it perfect - for you. Can’t remember? Want to forget? It’s all in your hands with Digital Memory Mapping. But the best minds deserve the best bodies, and we’ve got those too, my friends. Android Replacement Services is opening its doors this fall, and the sky is truly the limit.”
The Chairwoman gestured to the sky, and Gerard thought, wrong. That wasn’t the sky. These people hadn’t seen the sky in years. He pushed himself to his feet and heard behind him the click-whine of a laser powering up.
But he’d been seen from the stage, too. “But enough from me,” she said through a razorblade smile. “We have a special guest with us tonight who’s going to tell us why he’s representing Eternal Life Technology, and then you’ll get to see it in use!” She beckoned to Gerard.
He stepped onto the stage. The setting sun bouncing off the buildings was blinding. Gerard squinted and automatically shaded his eyes with his arm. He could feel the Chairwoman hovering a few feet away, but he ignored her and focused on the microphone. “Battery City, I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself in front of you today,” he started. “I’m supposed to tell you what’s gonna save you, I guess, same as before, but I’m sick of that tune. So here’s my surprise for you - I refuse. It’s nothing you can find with that machine.”
He turned away from the sea of faces, walking back toward the edge of the stage. His drac guards were drawing their guns, but there were too many people here to shoot. The Chairwoman looked furious - she’d actually expected him to cooperate. Gerard scanned the crowd for Mikey. He couldn’t see him or Ray anymore, and when a small explosion turned the pile of machinery in front of the stage into a flaming heap of slag, Gerard didn’t even flinch, just started running.
Startled screams gave way to an overwhelming sound of static, then the screech of a test broadcast. The relative silence when the test signal cut off was almost as deafening as the explosion. Gerard hesitated, turned, and a hand closed around his arm and yanked hard. “Keep moving, dumbass.”
He’d know that voice anywhere. “Do you always have to blow everything up?”
“Yes,” Frank answered patiently. “Apparently I do. According to...there we go, right on schedule.”
They burst through a side door into Angel Tower’s service corridor, and Gerard heard it now, a voice broadcasting loud and clear through every speaker in the building, maybe in the fucking city. It was Doctor Death Defying.
“Battery City, I’m not asking for your attention. I’m taking it. Maybe you’re tuned in by accident. Maybe you tuned in to watch an exposition. You were gonna get more than that, though. You were gonna get an execution, and hey - maybe that has more entertainment value, children. Nothing like watching the car crash.
“You listening to me yet? You’d best be listening. This signal’s strong, but I ain’t gonna get the chance to repeat myself. If you’re listening, look around you. What do you see? What are you doing? What are you feeling?
“I’ve got the answer: nothing. And I know why. Because someone told you it was easier, because someone told you it’d make you happy. You’re a little cog in a big machine. How’s that working out for you?
“The man you were supposed to be seeing on your screens, hearing on your radios... he decided it wasn’t working. That something in this perfect city was rotten. You can’t see it. You ain’t never gonna find that rot. That rot’s taking you over from the inside with every pill you swallow, every cathode ray that fucks you in the brainpan.
“He could have left and never looked back. But he came back for something. For someone. The rot hadn’t reached her yet. He wanted to give her a fighting chance, and this was the reward he got - to lose everything. To become a ghost in a machine.
“They tell you every day that you are what you own. When are you gonna own what you are? The flip side of ugly is beautiful. Every motorbaby knows that, until you drive it out of them.
“You. All of you. The writing’s on the wall. The voice in the wire is me. The ghost in the machine - is it gonna be you?”
The television sets mounted high on the walls turned back to static, and Gerard’s senses returned: Frank’s vise grip on Gerard’s arm, shouts and spitting ray guns from the square. The oily taste of his own breath. “What -” he panted, pulling Frank to a halt. “They’re shooting!”
Frank tugged ruthlessly. “You’re surprised? Come on, Gerard, don’t -”
“Just wanna - Ask where the hell - we’re going. We were - out!”
“Were. Now we’re here.” Frank slapped a card device against the reader and led them into a stairwell and -
“Down? The Treatment Center?”
“Dr. Slade’s lab,” Frank said, drawing a ray gun and holding it loosely in front of him, sidling down the hall like a ghost of Fun Ghoul. Gerard stared. “BLI took enough from me. They’re not getting my memories, too. We had this all planned, Gerard, but we ran out of time. You telling me you can’t run that console?”
“The neurosequencer? I can try,” Gerard replied.
“Try fast; we’re on a schedule,” Frank told him, shouldering open the door and letting Gerard precede him.
A flash of gray flickered in the corner of Gerard’s eye, and Korse stepped out from behind the door. Gerard couldn’t even call out a warning before Frank was grunting and stumbling under the sudden attack. Frank was quick, but Korse had the advantage from the start: taller and heavier, Korse sent Frank’s gun spinning away on the floor and wrestled his arms behind his back.
Gerard dove for the gun.
“Don’t,” Korse growled, and Gerard froze, eyes flicking past Frank’s grimace to the white gun barrel pressed against his jaw. Frank jerked fruitlessly against Korse’s grip, but Gerard straightened carefully, holding open hands in front of him. Korse aimed at Frank’s ray gun, took out the power pack with a precision shot. “I knew this would happen,” he murmured against Frank’s temple. He looked ill, paler than ever, eyes rimmed in red and tight at the corners as if he hadn’t slept in days.
“How?” Frank spat, and Korse chuckled humorlessly.
“You’re predictable, Mr. Iero. As is Gerard, in his way.”
“You were waiting here for us?” Gerard blurted. The television set in the corner of this room was still hissing with static; Korse would have seen everything that happened in the square, heard Dr. D’s message. Gerard could hardly believe he’d have stayed away. “Why here?” Gerard asked suspiciously. “Why weren’t you -”
“In the square posturing with the others about your capture and conversion? I was reassigned,” Korse said acidly.
“And you just let that happen?”
“What’s the last thing you said to me, Gerard?” Korse asked softly. “It was ‘checkmate,’ was it not?”
Gerard searched Frank’s face for a moment, white with fury under his black hood. He’d stopped struggling, settling into the kind of stillness that promised violence to come. “You’re lying. You weren’t waiting for us. Why were you here, Korse?” Gerard repeated. He scanned the room, eyes pausing on the lit panel of the sleep pod in the corner, the flicker of a computer screen at the control console.
Frank was no more than half a beat behind him. “You broke in for the machine?” Frank exclaimed.
“Bold of you to ask questions while I have a gun to your head,” Korse told him, pressing the muzzle a bit more firmly into the tender skin.
“If you’d just meant to shoot me, I’d be dead by now,” Frank hissed. “Whatever you want, get on with it.”
“Smarter than you look,” Korse sneered. He studied Gerard silently for a moment, eyes dark and unreadable as ever. “Gerard, there’s a data card in that console. Go get it. Slowly. One hand.”
Gerard obeyed, easing the card out of the port and holding it between thumb and forefinger, raising his hands back to shoulder level. “What is it?”
“The reversal codes for the neurosequencing program. The only copy now. I corrupted the program on the main server.”
Frank twitched in Korse’s grip again, and the barrel bit in harder until he stilled. “Yes, I thought so,” Korse murmured. “Are you that attached to your memories, Mr. Iero?”
It was a mistake, of course; Frank had no way to know. “You were going to run the memory manipulation program on yourself while they were all upstairs making an example of me,” Gerard whispered. “And...oh god, you can’t, can you? You need an operator.” The laugh bubbled up from somewhere deep, then turned sour just as quickly. “I remember every single face you killed, Korse. You don’t deserve to forget.”
“At least one of us will remember. I told you from the start that I was training a replacement.” He let Frank go suddenly, and he staggered, rubbing his wrists. Korse ignored him and took a few steps closer to Gerard, reaching with his free hand to cup Gerard’s cheek. “I didn’t expect to see you again, but you’re exactly what I need. You can walk out of here with your bomb-happy little janitor and that memory card. Do what I trained you to do, Gerard. Make a decision.”
“We need to get out of here, Gerard,” Frank said tensely. “Forget him.”
“I can still shoot you before you reach that door, Iero.”
Gerard looked between the sleep pod, Korse, and Frank, mind scrabbling frantically for a reaction. He felt sick. “I loved you,” he said.
“Does that matter?”
“No,” Gerard answered after a moment. “I hated you just as much.”
“Past tense,” Korse noted.
“I’m not doing it because of that. I’m doing it because of this.” Gerard held up the memory card. “Because of Frank. Because of the rest of them. Get in.”
“Gerard,” Frank pleaded.
Korse didn’t look away from Gerard for a second as he stepped in the pod. Gerard crossed the room to close the door. “There’s always a scarecrow, Gerard, another hollow man,” he whispered.
Gerard leaned in, reaching for Korse. His fingers grazed Korse’s waistcoat, and Korse’s eyes locked with his. Gerard froze for a moment, then reached down and efficiently disarmed him. “It’s not going to be me,” he replied.
Korse’s eyes flared, but he didn’t move. The click of the door closing was quiet, final. Gerard looked away and reached for the console, scanning the string of code Korse had already entered and queuing the memory modification program. The cylinder seal hissed with pressurized air, and Gerard keyed in “cmd>delete.”
“Let’s go,” he said to Frank.
Neither of them looked back.
Frank kept checking his wristwatch.
It took them at least three times as long to leave the BLI complex as it would have to just walk back out the front door. Frank’s card device - which was really Mikey’s card device of course - let them into a warren of access hallways. Frank laughed at his expression - “Always make friends with techs and janitors,” he said - and kept moving.
Finally Gerard just asked. “Why do you keep checking the time?”
“So we don’t miss the grand finale,” Frank said. They cleared the complex without Gerard having to use the ray gun he’d taken off of Korse, and Gerard was still confused and scared as hell. Then they rounded a dumpster.
“Mikey,” Gerard breathed. “Ray. My - shit, the car!” They were standing by the Trans Am.
He remembered to hug Mikey and Ray first, but it was a near thing.
“We gotta go,” Frank said. “Gerard, I’m driving.”
“Since I have no clue what’s going on....” Gerard trailed off, rounding the car to the passenger side, running his fingers over the quarter panel. She’d been painted, plain metallic gray, but it was unquestionably still the same car.
“We’ll fill you in,” Mikey said, sliding into the back seat. “Ray?”
Ray climbed into the back seat from the driver’s side, and Frank flipped the seat back, jumping in and revving the car. Gerard turned around to look into the back seat. “It’s good to see you, Gerard,” Ray said.
“You remember me?”
“I -” Ray frowned. “Yes, Gerard. We know who you are.”
“You’ve talked to Dr. D.”
“And the others. All the Battery City cells are in on this one. They’ve been planning how to get you out since you were on Fact News. Frank found Mikey, and Mikey talked to me, and when they sent the neurosequencing programs down to our lab and told us to work on syncing the ‘test’ memory maps with our AI, Mikey and I put it all together.”
Frank took a corner a little too fast and the tires protested. “Sorry,” he muttered. “Mikey and Ray managed to reverse the program and tested it on themselves because they’re proper mad scientist types.” Mikey whacked the back of Frank’s head. “I was working on - well, you’ll see. There wasn’t enough time to try it on me.”
Gerard’s hand flew to his pocket. The memory card inside suddenly felt as heavy and as precious as gold. “What were you working on?” he asked Frank.
Frank reached into his pocket and tossed a remote control onto Gerard’s lap. “In another block we’ll be within range of the generator plant. You can do the honors.”
“What are we blowing up this time?”
Frank smiled. “Everything.”
Gerard stared at the remote on his lap. “What does ‘everything’ mean, Frank? Haven’t enough people been hurt because of us?”
“No one will get hurt, Gerard. I promise. Now push the button; it’s time.”
Gerard met Frank’s eyes for a moment before Frank looked back at the road. I trust you, he thought and pushed the button.
As Frank swung the car around, Gerard twisted to watch the explosion bloom in the rear window. Mikey and Ray were watching, too. “Grid down in three, two -”
The telltale sparkle of the atmospheric grid disappeared. Gerard could feel the wind pick up, then the car shook as an aftershock hit them. Alarms that had been going off in nearby buildings shut off all at once, and the city started going dark, building by building. The Trans Am’s headlights cut through the sudden gloom and swirling dust. Frank was headed for the Tunnels.
“What’s happening?” Gerard breathed.
“All hands on deck until we know we’re clear,” Frank interrupted. They entered the tunnel unchallenged. The guard shack was empty, dark, gates raised. Gerard didn’t look to see if there were bodies slumped in the shadows. He didn’t want to know.
Vehicles joined them as they sped through the tangled alleys of the Fringe, rustled muscle that had seen better days decades ago, repurposed army jeeps, primer-spotted vans. “That’s Doc’s van,” Gerard said suddenly. “You really - he was still in the City?”
“Sometimes,” Ray said. “They’ve all been moving around a lot since we put the plan in motion.”
“The kid, Pony, KK -”
“Are all okay,” Frank answered. “Guess it’s storytime now.”
Their little convoy sped down Route Perdu. Several of the other vehicles had overtaken the Trans Am and fallen into on-point positions. Gerard fingered the barrel of the ray gun that lay across his lap nervously. When Frank caught him at it, he said mildly, “Might as well put that away.”
“Why would I do that?”
“It’s basically a paperweight now. The blast that took out the generator building was an EMP - an electromagnetic pulse bomb. Everything in the blast radius fancy enough to run off a circuit board got fried.” Frank sounded smug.
“Computers, vehicles, electronics. Battery City’s back to bullets and radio tubes now,” Ray said.
“All your tech in your lab - the droids - the computer banks -” SCARECROW. The surveillance network. The weapons array. Gerard couldn’t get a full sentence out.
“Gone,” Mikey answered. “Until they can rebuild it. Which they will. But we bought some time.”
“You built this, Frank?” Gerard asked. “I thought you couldn’t remember?”
Frank chuckled mirthlessly. “BLI thought taking away my memories of the Zones was enough. But it was the army that taught me how to build bombs.” He paused for a moment, then added quietly, “He knew that.”
Korse knew that.
Ray leaned forward. “Frank, the neurosequencer?”
“Didn’t get to it in time,” Frank said tightly, flicking a glance over at Gerard. “But we saved the code.”
Gerard dug in his pocket and handed over the memory card. “Can you reconstruct the tech?” he asked.
Ray nodded. “The hardware’s simple if you don’t use the sleep pod. But, Frank - without the pod, it’s going to hurt.”
A muscle flexed along Frank’s jaw. “Doesn’t matter. We bought ourselves some time, anyway.”
Gerard laughed. “That’s one way to put it. Where are we going?”
“Dr. D has been working out of a truck stop in One,” Mikey answered. “We’re almost there. And unless Frank really sucks at math, it’s outside the EMP’s blast radius, so we’ll be able to get a program up and running.”
“Fuck you, Mikeyway,” Frank said. “I know what I’m doing. Parts of the Battery were outside the blast radius, too. I could only go so big without needing a tractor-trailer.”
“Don’t bite the hand that desequences you,” Mikey answered. Gerard had to laugh.
Frank turned off the main road and, after a few twists and turns down dirt access roads, pulled the Trans Am into a gravel lot with the handful of other classic cars and junkers that had formed their entourage out of the city. This truck stop showed signs of recent use and refurbishment. Gerard was studying the snaking cables and the BLI generator set up behind a hastily-constructed plywood barrier when a figure walked out of the boarded-up convenience store. “Dracs were using it as a base. We liberated it but kept their tech,” a voice explained.
Gerard looked up. It was Molly, wearing dusty black jeans and a plaid shirt with the sleeves cut off and looking less like a BLI desk jockey than he or his friends did at the moment. “Molly,” he said helplessly. “I’m so sorry about JD.”
She smiled a little, the expression showing the tired lines around her mouth and eyes. “It was a good cause,” she replied. “We all knew what could happen. But we got you out, Party. And we got the word out. It’s what we wanted.” Molly looked from Gerard to the others. “They’re waiting for you inside.”
The four of them hit the front doors together. Casanova and a runner Gerard didn’t recognize were sitting at a makeshift table made from sawhorses. KK was mending something in the corner while Grace unspooled soldering wire for her. Doc and Show Pony were squinting at a monitor in the other corner. They all looked up at the sound of the door, and Grace was the first to move, squealing a greeting and launching herself across the room to hug Gerard, then the rest of them, then Gerard again. When he looked down at her, he could see she was crying, and he stopped and squatted down to her height and squeezed her again. “Don’t cry, Motorbaby; we’re all right,” he whispered.
“I thought you died,” she whispered back reproachfully. “We all did. You shouldn’t have gone to the city; it was a trap.”
“We knew, sweetheart,” he told her. “It was a good cause.” He realized after the words came out of his mouth that he’d echoed Molly’s earlier words. Gerard looked up, and the next person who made eye contact was Dr. Death Defying. “Doc,” Gerard started.
“Party. Looking pretty good for a zombie,” Dr. D said. “Never would have thought I’d miss that dumb-ass red hair, but -”
“Yeah, they tried to clean me up,” Gerard answered with a smirk. “Turns out I’m not really the corporate type.”
Dr. D chuckled. “No shit.” He then broadened his gaze to include the rest of them. “What’s your plan, Killjoys?”
“Kobra and I need a computer and some med supplies,” Ray said. “Ghoul here needs a jump start.”
“Figures he’d be the one who needs his spark plugs replaced,” Show Pony spoke up, not quite hiding his concern under the joking tone. “KK and I will set you up in the other room. Motorbaby, why don’t you go help Cas unload the vans?”
Grace frowned but let go of Gerard after one last squeeze and followed Casanova outside. Frank was looking at Gerard; Gerard fixed him with what he hoped was a reassuring smile and watched him follow Show Pony, Mikey, and Ray out of the room. Gerard looked between Doc and the unfamiliar runner.
“Meet the competition,” Dr. D said, tipping his head toward the other man. “DJ Hot Chimp.”
“You’re supposed to say collaborator,” DJ Hot Chimp replied. “Conspirator. Compadre.”
“Chimp, just say hi to Party Poison. After all, you helped get him out. He probably wants to thank you.”
“I do want to thank you,” Gerard said. “Both of you. I didn’t know if my message would ever reach you. And it’s not like I deserved to be rescued. I -”
“Knew the risks,” Doc finished. “Yeah, we all got that. You heard my speech, Party. You deserved better.”
“Better than Better Living,” Chimp said, grinning toothily. “Though that isn’t hard. It’s easy-peasy.”
“Chimp and Molly have been running the cells in the city for a while now. Chimp’s people figured out how to piggyback the BL Broadcasting signal for me.”
Chimp nodded along, “Miss Molly Hatchet hacked a print shop and arranged a nice little selection of reading material from classified files. It should keep everyone in the Battery busy while they figure out how to bring themselves back from the Dark Ages, thanks to your boyfriend’s EMP bomb.”
Gerard looked back at Dr. D. “What’s your next move?”
“Keep spinning platters, keep running off at the mouth. Keep running until maybe I don’t need to. Things are gonna change in the Battery, Party Poison. Don’t you feel it?”
“Things might change with the truth out there. With Korse gone. The Board isn’t so scary without their bloodhound.”
Dr. D and Chimp both looked hard at Gerard. “What do you mean, gone?” Chimp asked.
“I wasn’t the first person to have their memory map wiped after all. He was. I should know. I set up the console.”
“You deleted him?” Dr. D breathed.
“Depends if the program finished running before the bomb wiped the tech.” Gerard looked back and forth between the two of them, both looking incredulously back at him. “Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. If it didn’t, I have no fucking clue what happened. I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Shit, son,” Chimp said.
“You could lead the fucking troops now, Red,” Dr. D told him. “Taking down the Big Bad Wolf is worth something.”
“That’s not me anymore,” Gerard said. “I never wanted to be a fucking role model. I was just trying to stay alive.”
“You succeeded,” Dr. D said.
“And now I’m leaving.” He didn’t know until he said it that it was what he wanted to do, but now he knew it was the only thing he could do. The others.... They would come with him, or not. He was sure they would, but - “The aftermath is secondary,” he quoted back at Dr. D. “I gotta keep running, too.”
“You can top off your tanks and cherry-pick our supplies,” Dr. D said after a moment. “We owe you that much.”
“I owe you a lot more.”
“You’re paid up,” Dr. D answered. “We’re still on the air, and we’ve got the Motorbaby back.”
“The City’s ripe for some good old-fashioned anarchy,” Chimp sniggered.
Chess pieces, all of them, Korse said in Gerard’s head. There was always someone to advance the pawns.
“Go talk to Show Pony,” Dr. D said, studying Gerard’s face. “He was worried about you. He’ll be sorry you’re not staying.”
“Ten-four, Doc.” Gerard sketched him a salute and went to find the rest of his guys.
When Gerard walked into the back room where the guys were set up, Mikey spotted him first - of course - and waved a hand at him, very clearly telling him to stay put and stay quiet, then leaned back over Ray’s shoulder. Ray was preoccupied with the display of a console set up on a desk. Wires were draped everywhere, at least half of them running up to connect with various parts of Frank’s head. His hair had been buzzed short again to accommodate them. His eyes were closed, his face tense and covered with a sheen of sweat. Gerard wasn’t sure if he was conscious. Occasionally, he made a low noise of pain.
Show Pony was sitting where Gerard ought to be: by Frank’s feet with a hand on his knee. He was watching Frank’s face with the intent gaze of someone who’s determined not to blink more than necessary. Mikey’s hand motions must have caught his eye. He looked over at Gerard, then rose more-or-less smoothly to his feet and crossed the room.
“Let’s go outside,” he whispered. Out in the hall, he reached out and hugged Gerard fiercely. Gerard raised his arms and hugged back. “You fucker,” Pony continued in the same low voice. “When I thought you’d all died....”
“You were expecting us not to?”
Pony pulled back and gave him a crooked grin. “Call me an optimist, I guess. I was right, wasn’t I? You made it.”
“Better late than never,” Gerard replied. “I’m taking him away from you,” he said quietly. “If he’ll come with me. If he remembers.”
“I think he’ll go even if he doesn’t, Party,” Pony said. “I saw how he was looking at you.”
“I can’t ask him to do that.”
“You can ask,” Show Pony answered. “If you love him, you have the right to ask.” He propped himself against the wall and crossed his legs at the ankle. “Where do you think you’re gonna go?”
“Away from here. I don’t know. I just need to drive.” Gerard stuck his hands in his pockets, rocked up onto the balls of his feet and back down. “I wish I knew how long they were going to take in there. I wish I knew if it would work.” That was a lie - he knew it would work. Korse had been certain it would work, and Gerard was certain Mikey and Ray could make it work.
Pony looked him over for a minute and then squeezed his shoulder .“Go take a break, Party. You need it. He’ll be here when you get back.”
Gerard hoped Frank would be there when he got back.
Gerard went outside because he’d spent far too long cooped up in windowless rooms. He’d gotten used to it, to things being small, colorless, closed-in. The sweep of the desert with the sun setting over it was almost too much. He felt too light, like something that might blow away in the next gust of wind. Not free, just ephemeral. He’d been okay with it, before: knowing that he was a candle flame, a bullet, a grenade. There one minute and gone the next.
He was still okay with it; he just didn’t want to do it alone.
Gerard bypassed the scrubby windbreak where the Trans Am was parked, walking out into the desert behind the truck stop. He walked in a mostly straight line, dodging rocks and bushes until he was just barely within yelling distance. He ended up leaning against the trunk of a Joshua tree, studying the horizon in the direction of Battery City.
The dome of the atmospheric grid should have been visible from here, but of course, the atmospheric grid wasn’t there anymore. What would happen to the city without it? How long would it take to rebuild? Where would he be when it happened? Gerard was going to have to get used to not having any answers.
He couldn’t stop thinking of Frank, hooked up to electrodes in that stuffy back room, face lined with pain, but also he couldn’t stop thinking of Korse. Had the deletion program worked? What kind of a man would he be without the memories that had shaped and distorted him?
Did it matter, if Gerard still remembered?
He could hear Show Pony’s voice: If you love him, you have the right to ask. Gerard knew who Frank was, even if Frank didn’t. Frank was the person who, when given a chance to ask Gerard - no, to ask Party Poison, the infamous zonerunner - anything, asked what was beyond Zone Six.
Gerard knew what he wanted to do.
He sat under the Joshua tree until the sun was an ember, and the sky turned purple and navy blue, just watching the drift of clouds. It was a clear night, no rain storms tonight to drive him back under a roof. Just the buzz and rustle of the nocturnal dwellers. Just the footsteps coming up behind him, a slow and deliberate tattoo to announce the arrival of - Show Pony, Gerard assumed, come to fetch him back. Which would mean Frank’s procedure was done, for better or worse.
“My ray gun came from the City, so I couldn’t shoot you even if I wanted to. I’d have to throw it at you,” Gerard said without turning around.
“I’m not worried, then. You can’t throw for shit,” Frank answered.
“How would you know?” Gerard asked, more breathless than he wanted to admit. He still didn’t turn around. Couldn’t.
“I know a lot of things about you,” Frank murmured in his ear. Arms closed around his shoulders, Frank’s cheek pressing against his. “I know I taught you to shoot. I know no one could teach you to throw. I know you like Iggy Pop and crappy light cigarettes, and that you wish you didn’t still like the taste of whiskey. And I know you love to watch the sun go down.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“So it worked,” Gerard said, turning in Frank’s arms. Frank settled astride his lap as easily as ever, looping his arms around Gerard’s neck. “God, Frankie. I... I couldn’t stay in there. It looked like it hurt.”
“It did,” Frank replied quietly. “Ray wasn’t wrong.”
“When is he ever? Frankie, do you remember everything? Do you remember the day we were -”
“I remember Korse sticking a gun up under your chin,” Frank said flatly. “I remember you falling, and Mikey charging and going down, too. I remember getting Ray and the kid out and turning back because if Mikey couldn’t take that bastard out, I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to take my fucking turn. It gets fuzzy after that, but the runners told me Ray bit it next, but Pony and Doc got the motorbaby out.”
Gerard shuddered and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Frankie. So fucking sorry you had to see all that. It should have been me. I shouldn’t be the one who was spared that.”
“I still don’t get why they did it,” Frank told him. “Why bother bringing us back at all?”
“I asked him that,” Gerard answered. “First thing. He told me that it was Better Living Industries, that dying wasn’t the point. Not if they could still use us.”
“Hope they got their fucking money’s worth,” Frank muttered. He raised his hands to frame Gerard’s face, lifted so Gerard was looking him in the eyes again. “Why’d you do it? You disarmed him. You could have just left him in the pod. You could have shot him then and there.”
Of course it came back to that. “Are you angry, Frank?”
“At you? Fuck, Gerard, how could I be? I lost you for months. I lost me for months. Now I have us both back. He doesn’t matter.”
“He mattered,” Gerard corrected wearily. “He made me what I am, and he convinced them to bring me back. He wanted the Eternal Life Technology for himself, and they wouldn’t give it to him. But it was his second choice.”
Gerard was his first choice. He didn’t really want to say that to Frank, but he knew Frank knew.
“He didn’t deserve to forget; you were right about that.”
“If it even worked,” Gerard reminded Frank.
“Are you going to be able to live with not knowing?” Frank asked him, forthright as ever.
“I have you,” Gerard echoed. “It doesn’t matter.” Frank would either believe it, or he wouldn’t, but Gerard would do his best to convince them both. He held eye contact as he said it, then leaned in. They were long overdue for a kiss.
Frank sighed into his mouth. Their tongues explored for a moment, and Frank’s thighs shook against Gerard’s, tense with suppressed energy. Frank’s hands, though, were gentler than Gerard would have expected.
“I won’t fucking break,” Gerard whispered. “Frankie....”
“Neither will I.” Frank leaned down, his mouth wandering from Gerard’s lips to his neck to the patch of skin left exposed by his loosened shirt collar.
“I want you,” Gerard said against his temple, hands straying under the hem of Frank’s t-shirt. “I just need to know if you’re okay. If you’re not... we don’t need to....”
“For you I am, Gee,” Frank insisted. “Trust me. I could always feel the gaps where you belonged. It gave me such headaches. And now I feel -”
“You feel,” Gerard interrupted.
“Yeah.” Frank’s fingers scrabbled at the buttons of Gerard’s shirt, slipping them free and shoving the shirt off Gerard’s shoulders. Gerard hissed as his mouth fastened onto Gerard’s collarbone. “Gonna make you feel, too.”
“Right here? Now?” Gerard wasn’t really trying to stop him. His own hands had pretty much taken on a life of their own, pushing up under Frank’s shirt to thumb at his nipples, pushing the fabric over Frank’s head until he emerged, blinking and licking his lips and leaning right back in to mouth at the side of Gerard’s neck.
“Doesn’t have to be fancy,” Frank whispered against Gerard’s damp skin, kissing his pulse in between words. “Just has to be you.”
If there were ever a time that Gerard’s dick didn’t jump at those kinds of words coming out of Frank’s mouth, Gerard would hope someone would just shoot him and put him out of his misery. He reached between them, tugging at the fastenings of Frank’s jeans and his own trousers. Frank shifted to help him, reaching between them to palm eagerly at Gerard’s dick as soon as Gerard pushed the fabric out of the way.
“Fuck, I missed this,” Gerard mumbled, tracing Frank’s chest piece with his fingertips before leaning down to taste his skin.
“Even when I didn’t know what I was missing,” Frank replied, arching slightly into Gerard’s mouth.
Gerard rested one hand at the small of Frank’s back to hold him steady and reached between their bodies with the other to wrap it around both of their cocks at once. Frank let go, one hand clamping around Gerard’s shoulder to steady himself, the other sinking into Gerard’s hair. He pressed his lips against Gerard’s temple and started to move his hips, thrusting gently against Gerard, through the circle of Gerard’s fingers.
Gerard swore against Frank’s collarbone, holding his hips as still as he could, working them both with his hand, short, tight strokes, a palm swirling over the heads. “Kept me going,” Gerard panted. “So stupid to let myself...hope....”
“I loved you,” Frank whispered back. “The whole time.” He cried out, nipping at Gerard’s ear as Gerard twisted his hand, stroked faster.
“I love you,” Gerard answered, sucking a mark into Frank’s skin, leaning his forehead against Frank’s neck and jacking them hard, listening to Frank gasp and holding him steady, fucking up into his own grip along with Frank. He came first, sinking his teeth into Frank’s shoulder to muffle his shout, picking up his former rhythm on Frank’s dick as soon as his breathing evened out. Frank’s hand joined Gerard’s for a final few strokes. He moaned Gerard’s name as he shuddered and came. Nothing had ever sounded more like music.
Sex in the desert was messy, but it felt like home to Gerard. Frank felt like home to Gerard, shaking out their clothes and mopping up, dressing and refastening without letting go of each other for any longer than necessary. When they were put back together, at least enough to count, Frank turned back around and settled between Gerard’s spread thighs, his shoulders nestling against Gerard’s chest. The sun was already almost down, but they watched until the red glow faded completely before going back inside where the others were waiting.
The Killjoys said their goodbyes to Casanova and Molly and Grace and the others that evening because Gerard was determined to leave at first light. They bunked down in a single bare room. It was probably once a storage closet, and it was barely big enough for the four of them, except none of them complained about being squeezed together. They were out. They had their memories back, and they were together. It was enough.
As the sun struggled up over the edge of the desert hills, Gerard worked on loading the Trans Am with as much food, water, and other supplies as it could handle while Mikey and Frank talked quietly with Doc and Show Pony, who’d gotten up to see them off. Gerard was pretty sure they were talking about him, so he stayed away. Ray carried a box of rebreather mouthpieces over to hand to Gerard, and as Gerard moved things around to fit it in. Ray asked quietly, “Do you think maybe this is overkill, Gerard?”
“Maybe. Maybe we’ll be back by dark. I just want to go.”
“Yeah, you said.” They worked for a while longer, Ray popping the hood and checking for loose connections even though Frank had already gone over the car with a fine-toothed comb. “Is this a one-way trip, Gee?” Ray asked. He didn’t sound overly concerned, and Gerard would feel bad for how the three of them just seemed to go along with his insane plans, except they’d trained him out of it a long time ago.
“We’re all on a one-way trip,” Gerard answered. He slammed the trunk lid - the car was packed as full as he could get it. Even the back seat had boxes of ammo - real bullets for real old-fashioned guns, the stuff that was at a premium on the black market; Gerard hadn’t asked what bolthole Doc had pulled it out of, and he wasn’t going to. “Let’s go say goodbye.”
“Take care of him,” Show Pony whispered in his ear when he hugged Gerard. “And let him take care of you.”
“Ditto, Ricky,” Gerard whispered back. He turned to Dr. D last and accepted a handshake. “Be seeing you when we see you,” Doc said.
“We’ll keep our ears open,” Gerard answered.
“We will, too.” Pony laid a hand on Dr. D’s shoulder, and the two of them watched as the Killjoys climbed into the car. Frank took shotgun, Mikey and Ray distributing themselves on either side of the ammo cans in the back.
Ray banged the side of the car with his hand; Gerard revved the engine and called a final goodbye out the window.
“Get outta here,” Doctor Death Defying called back.
Gerard went. The guys let him get several klicks into the desert before Mikey asked, “Where are we going?”
“Frank asked me once, back in the City, what was beyond Zone Six,” Gerard said, looking over at Frank. “I couldn’t answer him at the time because I didn’t know. But I don’t exactly trust BLI’s word anymore.”
“So,” Ray answered slowly, “We’re going....”
“Off the grid. Way fucking off.”
The interior of the car was silent for a moment except for the wind and the sound of the engine. Then Frank said, “Well, that calls for some music.” He twisted the radio knob until the hiss of static gave way to guitars. “Fuck yeah, Mad Gear.”
Gerard smiled. “Works for me.”
He kept driving, catching glimpses of Ray’s head bobbing along to the music in the rear view mirror, snatches of conversation as Mikey leaned over the center console to talk to Frank. When something glinted in the windshield, he ignored it at first, until Ray said, “What is that?”
They all went silent, squinting into the sun-baked sky. It was Frank who made the identification. “Chinooks. Military helicopters - old ones. I didn’t know they still existed.”
“They’re moving fast,” Gerard said.
“They’re headed for Battery City,” Mikey added.
“Which doesn’t have a protective dome anymore,” Ray added. “Or most of its tech. Bad luck for them.”
They were definitely headed straight for the city - five or six of them, in formation, screaming through the sky. “That can’t be good,” Gerard murmured. Ray was watching out the back window now, clearly thinking through some sort of specs. Gerard was more interested in the signs for the Zone Six boundary that were looming up ahead.
“I don’t believe in luck,” Mikey said.
Frank laughed and propped his feet up on the dashboard. “And I don’t care. We’re going the other way.”
“Yes, we fucking are,” Gerard replied. “You all ready?”
Three yeses. That’s all he needed to hear, and that’s what he got. He turned the Trans Am into the sun and hit the gas.