Chapter 1: Aftertaste
Dirk’s ears pricked at the tell-tale rasping of a syringe being topped up, and the three tinks of fingernail on glass to settle the liquid. He sighed inwardly, then outwardly as he watched Friedkin’s attempts to stealth-ambush him within the confines of a cramped and moving van.
“I would rather not, thanks,” he snapped when the sergeant’s nose was in danger of brushing his ear. Dirk glanced up as Friedkin started slightly at his harsh tone, lowering the needle in confusion, and felt a shade of satisfaction lighten his chest as he remembered the bulldozer impression from their last encounter.
Friedkin stood up straight, squinting down at Dirk through the murky dusk-light of the tinted windows.
“But – but the marshal said. I had to stick you with this so you went to sleep. And I really have to toe the line now that she made me a major general or whatever, because, like, if I don’t? I’ll fail my probation, and be murdered probably. Um. So-”
“Major general, you say? Very impressive!” Dirk hurriedly attempted to stall the “sticking”, as Friedkin had so delicately put it, and hoped that the trembling of his voice wasn’t skewing his attempt at a conversational tone. “What about Riggins, then? Did he get promoted as well? Where is he?”
Dirk receives a blank look.
“…Riggins? You know – Scott? Moustachioed, gruff voice, exudes a disapproving-father sort of persona?”
After a beat, Friedkin’s face lit up. “Oh, the colonel? Gosh, it’s crazy how you forget stuff about a person. Yeah, it’s been a while since I saw him, since we killed him and burned all his photographs and all.
“You know, I thought I’d get his title after that? But they gave me all this-”, he gestures towards his tie, “-instead. I guess I don’t mind, but general sounds kinda low-down, doesn’t it? Like I’m not just a general guy. I’m an important guy, now.”
He must have heard the strangled noise that Dirk tried to disguise with a cough, as his gloved hand clapped down heavily on Dirk’s shoulder, making him flinch.
“Oh right, duh, I was doing this. Hold still-“
Dirk frantically wriggled his way out of his jacket, liberating himself, and scrabbled his way to the end of the bench, pressing himself up quite ungracefully against the back doors of the van. He barely registered it, let alone understood why, but he was crying a bit. Like it or not, Riggins was one of the biggest, if only, figures of his childhood, and in spite of all the lies he fed, the promises he broke… It stung a little. He sniffled, and tried his best to remember that he was a thirty year old man, and thirty year old men did not let their lips quiver as they spoke.
“Right – um – you will not be doing that to me, I’m afraid. I don’t particularly like needles, much less so when they’re stabbing through my skin, and even less so when they put liquids in me. And I would much rather prefer to be conscious at all times in that facility, thank you very much, I’ve made that mistake many a time before and my intestines still haven’t quite recovered. So – so I shall be meeting this marshal of yours quite awake, if it’s all the same to you, and perhaps then we can negotiate my immediate release.”
Dirk had discovered quite recently that whenever the “everything is connected” part of his brain argued with the “try to avoid serious injury” part of his brain, it was hard to pick a side without upsetting some moral code of his. So when Friedkin groaned and pulled out a taser from his blazer pocket, he was seriously torn between sitting still and letting the universe guide him or telling the universe to stuff it and running for his life. The confines of the van didn’t give much leeway for running, as it happened, so Dirk opted instead to desperately jimmy the push bars, knowing full well they were locked, and steeled himself as he felt the electrodes catch in the fabric of Todd’s shirt.
Todd really needed to buy some new furniture.
He lay curled up on his bed facing the wall, using his balled-up jacket as a pillow, since – well. Farah had perched herself on a windowsill, glancing over at Todd and then the street below in even 10-second intervals, hand resting on her holster. It paid off sometimes to be acquainted with a paranoid, badass bodyguard.
Not back at the diner, however. When Farah finally returned from the street and found him in the throes of an attack, Todd thought she’d join him screaming on the floor for all the calm she kept. He should really be grateful to her; God knows he never had friends who would have panicked to see him in pain like she did, let alone practically carry him back to his apartment. It was touching, in a way. Then again, the acrid tang of smoke still lingered at the back of his throat, and every time he twitched his fingers he could hear the burnt skin cracking, flaking off onto the bedsheets. Amanda would have calmed him down quicker.
But taking current events into consideration, she more likely would have laughed at the irony and then left him there to cook.
Amanda had arrived back at the apartment not too long after they did, a Rowdy boy in tow – Vogle, was it? What did Vogle even mean? – and they had both situated themselves on the couch. Vogle traced his hand along the tears in the fabric of the seat cushion and nodded to himself, smiling, appreciating his work.
“We gotta get our people back,” he had said, the first to speak after Amanda, who explained the incident with the Rowdy Three no further than “shit went down”.
“We rest,” Farah shot back evenly, “and we lay low. Whoever you are to them, you’re a primary target. Your biggest risk is going out there in the open without a tactical advantage.”
“But those are my boys,” Vogle wailed, “they been re-caged, gonna get deep-fried again.” With the other members gone, Vogle was orphaned, young and vulnerable without his big brothers to protect him. Amanda put an arm around him and pulled him into her side, locking eyes with Farah, decidedly ignorant of Todd. Todd, in turn, was paying more attention to the wall than to the current conversation.
“He’s right. Dirk’s in there too, isn’t he? Shouldn’t we be doing the whole badass kicking-down-doors thing, getting him away from those guys?”
“Those ‘guys’ are the CIA. This Black Wing division should not be underestimated and it should certainly not be broken into. This isn’t like before – we’re up against a sophisticated military syndicate, not a group of glorified hippies. If we do this, we cannot bring any attention to ourselves, or we get killed.”
“But that sounds boring,” Vogle whined.
“Then by all means, go and put yourself on three different hit lists if you think it’s going to get your gang back,” Farah turned her back from the room and gazed once more out the window, spot-checking for the umpteenth time. “We’ll do this with or without you.”
“…Stone cold, man.”
Amanda exhaled; sometimes she forgot that Farah was a trained military agent, not an endearingly neurotic babysitter. She tried her best not to find either attractive.
They sat in silence for another ten minutes before Farah abruptly stood and made a beeline towards the door, pressing her face against the peephole. Another five minutes passed before she flung the door open, nearly catching a small middle-aged woman in the face with it.
“I, uh… here to drop off a prescription?”
Farah tugged a small paper bag from her grasp and shelled out three bills that were then pushed into her now-empty hands. The woman hesitated, then nodded uncertainly and made her way back down the corridor, flinching violently when the door slammed loudly behind her.
Farah turned back into the room, bag in hand. “Todd.”
Todd shifted onto his back and glanced over, and as soon as Amanda got a look of his face, the way he curled his hands defensively into his chest, she understood.
Why was it always the hands?
“Thanks, Farah.” He swung his legs over the side of the bed and pulled out the pill bottle, stifling a groan. Before he could unscrew it, Amanda was in front of him with a glass of water. He stared up at her miserably, fiddling with the lid.
“You know this is karma, yeah?”
“Like a whole boy-who-cried-wolf type scenario.”
Amanda sighed. “Just take the stupid water. Drink it all, or you’ll be dehydrated when you wake up. The first time I took those I was out for fourteen hours.”
“Yeah, I remember. I thought you were dead.”
Amanda laughed at that, startlingly loud. Todd jumped at the noise, but managed to crack a small smile before the pill bottle popped open in his hands.
Amanda watched Todd as he slept, feeling like a moron for giving him even the slightest nudge of support. Like he deserved anything. Then again, Amanda wouldn’t wish her disease on her worst enemy, much less her idiot brother, whose guilt for what he did was so strong she could probably feel it through walls. Plus, Vogle refused to feed from him. He had wandered over earlier and thumped a hand on Todd’s shoulder, closing his eyes, before screwing up his nose and brusquely walking away. When Amanda asked, all he said was “Aftertaste.”
So it was hard not to feel a little sympathy for him.
“Shouldn’t he be rolled over on his side?” Farah asked from the couch, glancing over worriedly.
“The meds make your skin really sensitive, and I don’t wanna wake him up. If he chokes on his vomit I’m sure he’ll let us know,” she grinned at the horrified look that bubbled up on Farah’s face. “Kidding! Mostly.”
Amanda sauntered over and planted herself next to Farah on the couch, placing them a little closer than social norm would allow, but Amanda wasn’t about to remedy that. Farah, for her part, didn’t seem to mind much either. They sat, and listened to Vogle attempt to make himself a sandwich in the kitchenette behind them.
A beat. “But if he were to choke on his own-“
“Would you relax? We’re here, he’ll be fine. I just need a minute to breathe. God, I could really use a blunt. A big one.”
Farah smirked. “I thought you said you wanted to breathe.”
Amanda scoffed, and shoved her in the side. “Do not shame me! It’s my medication. Although, it never usually mixed well with my actual medication.”
Farah looked at her, concern turning the corners of her mouth down.
“No, I mean – I –” she sighed, and when she spoke again her voice was just a fraction lower. “When you can’t go outside, you go a bit crazy sometimes. I did some stupid shit just to feel a little sense of… I don’t know, adventure? Plus,” she added hastily as Farah’s frown deepened, “I’ve got the Three now, right? So I don’t need my meds anymore. I’m fine. Promise.”
Farah stared hard at her for a few more seconds before letting her shoulders slump. “Alright. I just… I want everyone to be safe. I mean, that’s my job. Was my job. Will never stop being my job.”
“Man. As soon as we get everyone back, I need to take you out for a drink. There’s a lot of unresolved tension going on around…” She gestured. “…here.”
“You just gestured to all of me.”
“Wait, you wanna take me out for a drink?”
“Uh…” Amanda’s eyes widened an inch, and she silently thanked God that she was never one to blush, unlike Todd, who lit up like a tomato if someone he liked so much as smiled at him. “I mean yeah, girl’s night, huh?” At a loss of anything else to do, she proffered her fist towards Farah, who snorted and bumped it.
Chapter 2: The Clubhouse
Farah boards a plane. Dirk awakes in an all-too-familiar place. Bart reminisces.
When Farah said that they needed to gather intelligence, she meant they in the royal sense. There was no conceivable way she was bringing Todd to the CIA’s operating base in his current state, and Amanda faced the same threat without Vogel, who was simply out of the question. For the moment (if only to free herself of a mild inconvenience) she had sent him to the FBI for holding, claiming that his safety had been compromised from the recent events regarding the Men of the Machine.
Which wasn’t completely false, but did neglect to mention her plans to commit espionage, which counted as subterfuge, which if detected had the slight risk of being misconstrued as attempting to invoke psychological warfare between the intelligence agencies, which could then—
Farah hated lying. But she also hated the corruption of what was supposed to be a libertarian government under the pretence of protecting state secrets. Omelettes and eggs, she rationalised to herself as she weaved through three different metal detectors, fidgeting as she watched three different security guards turn over her G19M. She had a three hour flight to make peace with it.
“I need to take you out for a drink.”
…Or to play that moment over and over in her head, again.
It was her protective instincts, she reasoned. The years she had spent as Lydia Spring’s bodyguard had turned her into something of a mother hen, she knew, and it was only sensible to accompany Amanda out, so she could be there in case something bad happened. Because something bad never failed to happen when concerning Amanda Brotzman, or anyone else that Farah happened to care about.
That was just completely, totally it.
Dirk awoke abruptly to the comfort of a cold metal bed and a face-full of fluorescent light.
He made to jolt himself upright but he instead fell onto his elbow with a dull crack and, as he tried to clap his hand over his mouth to muffle the scream, found that his wrists and ankles were encased by magnetic cuffs, splaying his body in an undignified sort of starfish position as they bound fast to the sides of the bed frame.
Right. Yes. This was happening, again.
Unable to nurse himself, he panted heavily against the surprisingly sharp pain in his left arm, feeling the muscles in his shoulders spasm and twitch from the sudden movement after hours of laying prone. Dirk really never did well with pain, of any kind, though it often had its amusing little ways of finding him; but he seemed to always come over all squeamish, and his stomach would turn in panic as if it were accommodating a nest of hornets. It was the only thing in the world that forced him to pay attention to what was going on around him, in a fleshy, self-preservation sort of sense. He despised it. It was like grinding to a halt mid-sprint halfway through a marathon, for no good reason.
To inspect the rest of his body, he lifted his head experimentally forwards, and it was only then did he fully register the fact that he was bare-chested. Someone must have wrested Todd’s shirt off him when he was still out of action.
Under different circumstances, he may have tutted at himself with the exasperation of a Kentish housewife. Unbelievable. How utterly ridiculous. After all this time, he was only now thinking of Todd, his best friend in the whole universe? Was he alright? Was he still with Farah? Oh God, was Farah safe? And Amanda! Where on Earth was she?
In the back of his head, hidden behind the debris, there was a little flicker of smugness that Dirk tried not to pay too much attention to. The one that was still secretly ecstatic that he had friends to worry after now, not just himself. After those years of Black Wing telling him he would never be any good at people. And here he was, in their base, remembering his good lovely friends and fervently hoping that they weren’t hurt or dead, like a good normal friend would.
“I am glad to see you awake, Project Icarus.”
Startled, Dirk unthinkingly tried to throw up his hands in defence, sending a wave of nauseating white noise all the way up to his shoulder, making him gasp. He felt a childish sob bubble up in his throat, but choked it back down. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, not yet.
Somewhere above him, the PA system popped and fizzed as it cranked back into life after however many years of disuse.
“Do try not to move. Did you know, you dislocated your elbow and fractured the bone in two different places, just by trying to sit up? All within a minute of gaining consciousness.”
“One of the many talents I possess,” Dirk muttered with a dry cough, more to himself than the garbled, pitch-shifted voice booming through the speakers.
Dirk managed to slide his right forearm marginally upwards and was able to prop himself up to actually get a look of his surroundings, but it was nothing he wasn’t expecting. He was in one of the many, many, many interrogation rooms that the Black Wing division housed – or perhaps they only had the one and changed the furniture around every so often just to screw with him. In any case, they all had the same beige walls, two-way mirror, drain in the floor. Years of contextual memory flooded back to him at once from the part of his mind he had hoped up until now was watertight.
“Many talents indeed, Mr. Cjelli.”
“Oh please, let’s not do this. I thought I told you my name was—“
“Ah, yes. Gently, wasn’t it? I like it! It sounds like a polite request. ‘Please dirk gently.’ It suits you.”
The speaker behind the mirror was far too chipper for Dirk’s current liking, and infuriatingly familiar. Gender was impossible to determine, but an inflection of some accent or another was there. The effort of remembering gave Dirk a headache.
"Scanning me again then, are you?"
"Nothing too intrusive, Mr. Gently. Just a few nano-electronic biosensors injected into the bloodstream that allow us to fully monitor your physical conditions. We thought it to be in your best interests, yes?"
"That sounds very intrusive!"
“Ah, stop fussing. Now, you will be pleased to hear that your initial debriefing will be a short one. The division of Black Wing simply wishes to remind you that the information you possess, be it of the whereabouts of persons of interest, eye witness accounts of relevance, or any knowledge pertaining to the use or abuse of abilities residing outside the generic human spectrum, is property of the CIA. Failure of admission can and will result in grave consequences for both you and your loved ones.”
“Oh, is that all?”
There was a tinny rumbling that Dirk interpreted as a chuckle. “Sarcasm never was your strong suit.
“In fifteen seconds, your restraints will be loosened,” the voice plodded cheerily on. “You will then wait for further instruction. Behave yourself.”
When he was finally able to sit himself upright, Dirk almost wished that they had kept him strapped down. His muscles were pulled, torn, screamed their indignation, and the effort of swinging his legs over to the floor and taking one unsteady step forward left him winded as if he had just been dealt a blow to the abdomen. He felt a sickeningly tender tugging sensation from the small of his back, and turning it towards the mirror he discovered a large swath of shiny, veiny pink skin, stretched tight enough to split. Bizarrely, it looked fully healed, as if it had been intensely treated for weeks, but regardless-
“Good god,” Dirk said weakly. “He set me on fire with his taser.”
He was pulled from his distressed reverie by some scuffling from behind the walls. Dirk wobbled uncertainly in place, unsure on whether to approach or hide from whatever it was that they were doing next. Before he could attempt either, a metal slat beside the door shuddered slowly open, and a small bottle was dumped unceremoniously onto the tiles below.
“What you see before you,” the intercom crackled, “is imperative to our current operations. Until you swallow both pills, you may not leave the room.”
Struggling to his knees, he inspected the container. The tablets were a lurid pink, the chalky kind that made Dirk cough.
“Could I perchance have a glass of water?”
The PA system fell pointedly silent.
“…No. Of course not.” He released the lid with adept fingers, tipped the pills into his palm, and stared down at them miserably. He tried to remind himself that his friends would be here for him soon, were no doubt on the top of their game, all cylinders firing in a perfect medley of skill sets and character dynamics. Just a little longer.
No sooner had he choked them down did Dirk fall on all fours and begin to retch violently, feeling waves on waves of vertigo crashing his brain into the front of his skull, the insides of his head swirling madly in its juices. His eyes began to pulse out of their sockets, and his vision was blackening in the corners, and amidst the roar of blood in his ears he fancied he could hear a voice, someone very familiar, just very faintly, before his head lolled forwards and he was gone.
Her old room. The clubhouse.
This was a part of her that was real. The metal walls, the thin mattress, the book she hid in the shade of an unused lamp. Still there. Still solid. It only made her a little wistful for hotel rooms, but they weren’t solid at all, just passing trains. Ephemeral.
The pills were pink and tasted like how old bills smelled, but after she took them she woke up in here. So they must have been good ones.
She remembered the bad ones. Or at least, she remembered how hard she cried when she was little and the man was thrusting a gloved hand into her mouth, but she couldn’t remember why.
It was all so… Disjointed, her memory. She was never one to dwell on the past, but barrelled through days like locked doors, one after another after the other. Kick, boom. Kick, boom. But she did have feelings, pale little scraps of a person she used to be. Smaller, weaker, scared-er. The longer she sat there, the more came back to her. Friendly scientists and bad-tasting drinks and driving in cars with no windows and biting hands and being gagged. Basics.
When she first came back to herself on her old bed, she almost made to put her foot to the door and make her escape, before stopping herself with a frown. If she wasn’t meant to have been here, she wouldn’t have been here. She and Ken would leave whenever they needed to, when the universe let her know. The thought placated her; it hadn’t been since before Dirk Gently that she had felt such undying faith in her practices, felt everything to be exactly as it should in the world. As for the moment, no one badly needed killing. She could just sit.
She wanted to see Ken, though. That was the only thing. She had gotten used to having a person to talk to, having a person that talked back. He spoiled her, she realised, with luxuries like radio song words and jokes and Chinese food, just because he liked her. Did she ever tell him how much she liked all of those things he did?
He was alive in the complex somewhere, she knew, out of her reach in a room somewhere. And she knew that because she knew that, the little buzzings in her brain that told her things if she listened. She had always listened. But she had never worried if they were wrong before.
So wow, hi guys, thank you for reading this far! I was a little nervous posting on here since I haven't written fic in upward of five years, so suffice to say it made me ridiculously happy to see people like and respond to my stuff.
I do want to point out that my writing is currently not being beta'd, so updates may be a little sporadic to give me time to redraft and nitpick. Also, any concrit you may have would much appreciated, so if you feel like tearing holes, go nuts.
And that's about it! See you next time.
Chapter 3: Time and Space and Nut Cracking
Amanda gets the groceries. Todd has an unpleasant encounter with a man and a gun. Dirk befriends a strange voice in his head.
At four in the afternoon, Todd woke to find a scrap of lined paper balanced precariously on the bridge of his nose. It read:
WENT TO GO GET EGGS
He flicked it to the floor with a deliberate forefinger, moving his body only as much as necessary. He figured that if he stimulated his senses as little as possible the disease would have nothing to distort, but it had barely been a full day and his hands were already twitching for a guitar. He hadn’t so much as touched one this past week, given all of the craziness, except for when he…
God damn it. He had forgot about that.
He padded into the room, so well adjusted to the state of his apartment that he could slalom through the wreckage of glass and broken porcelain without even having to look down, and found it propped up against the entrance to the kitchen. It was intact, even worked, which almost surprised him, but the body was badly dented, the paint job looking like someone had taken to it with a sheet of sandpaper. As far as Todd was concerned, it was ruined. He trailed back to bed with numbness sitting half-baked in the pit of his stomach.
He never imagined that this is what it would be like. He knew it wouldn't be a picnic, his sister was living proof of that, but did time move as slowly for Amanda as it did for him? Did she spend all of her time waiting, like he seemed to have done? Because that was all you could do, when the thought of changing clothes or looking in the mirror scared you shitless, was wait for something, anything, to happen.
So when a bullet sailed through his open window and embedded itself in the ceiling in a shower of crumbling plaster, Todd regarded it with something almost like relief in his eyes before hurriedly throwing himself onto the floor.
But when he saw no further holes appear in his drywall, he crawled to the windowsill with as much dignity as a man wearing a stained vest and boxers could muster. Peering out in degrees, he managed to find his deadeye on the streets below, wearing a suit jacket and a military-grade rifle, shooting at buildings on the block at random with a casual sort of gait one would perhaps adopt when walking a dog. From where he crouched, Todd could hear echoes of humans in panic from neighbouring apartments, but it all seemed so far away, too far away for him to take their distress seriously.
But then the gunman turned back towards Todd, who could clearly be seen head-and-shoulders above the windowsill, and his distress was suddenly very real indeed. He stood, stupidly, his mouth opening and closing like a fish in fresh air as his brain stumbled over itself in alarm, and unhesitatingly the man discharged his rifle one, two, three, straight into his right forearm.
For a moment, it had almost felt like nothing had happened. But then he looked down at his arm, hanging from his elbow the way a loose tooth hangs from the gum, and suddenly he was sprawled on the floor with his forehead pressed against the radiator and his chest caving into his lungs. The room started to swim and he forced himself to scream the little breath he had left, because if he didn’t then no one would come and he would die on the floor of his garbage apartment in his underwear. So he stared wide-eyed at the bullet-riddled remains of his forearm, his muscles red and slick and throbbing, blood spilling black and clotting like cherries as his useless body blindly worked to heal the damage. He stared at his hand, which seemed far too far away from his body to feel natural, numb and upturned with its fingers all rigid and curled into its palm like a dead spider, and he stared at the cartridge jutting out the underside of his wrist, the way it ate into the skin, how his bones had shattered like glass, and he screamed.
Amanda had walked to the store, bought eggs and milk and sugar, and then walked home. She was such a badass.
Suppressing the urge to skip, she twirled the handles of the grocery bag between her fingers as she drifted through Springsborough in a state of near-disbelief. For the past year and a half, she was a friendless shut-in with a disease that crippled her every move, but in the space of one week she had climbed into a party van full of vampires, wrecked some asshole’s car with a baseball bat, and now she was grocery shopping? It was like the universe had decided to finally give her life back.
When she turned the corner, elated, to be met with the sight of a smartly dressed young man ghosting through the doors of the Ridgely with packed heat, she realised how terrible her sense of danger was.
Mounting the stairs three or four at a time, she hurtled into the wall of the top floor just in time to witness the gunman slam the stock of his rifle into the lock of an apartment door, find it to be already broken, shrug, and meander in. She would have wondered how he had known which room Todd was in if not for the loud and broken sobbing, like a mourning animal. The wonder of how his neighbours could stand the noise pollution from this floor the past week only briefly eclipsed her abject terror.
The next minute was a blur. She watched from the entrance as the creep smoothed back his shock of black hair, rolling a toothpick around on his tongue, eyes trained on the writhing body before him. Before he had the chance to raise his rifle, and before her brain had a chance to reign back her muscles, Amanda had grabbed Todd’s electric guitar from off the floor and swung it into side of his head, feeling vaguely like a bad-tempered rock star. The rifle fell from his hand and skittered across the floor as the now-gunless gunman slumped into the wall and stayed there, letting Amanda disarm him with trembling hands before she turned to—
“Todd! Todd, what’s the matter?”
By this point he couldn’t speak, teeth gritted and language beyond him, thrashing and fixated on his right arm with wild, charged eyes.
“It’s gonna be ok,” she swallowed hard, resting her hands on his shoulders. It was surprisingly difficult to be on the other end of this, what her brother was to her all this time. “Todd – come on, look at me.” She smiled shakily, ignoring the pricking of her eyes as she gently turned his face upwards, trying not to look horrified as he whimpered and vehemently shook his head no no no.
There was nothing else to be done. She kneeled there with him and whispered what she hoped were soothing things until he passed out from the strain.
Dirk had been sitting in his old room for nearly seven hours now. He was starting to think that this was the actual torture.
It still stank of disinfectant the way it used to, even though there was hardly anything to disinfect, save the lamp and the Ducktales poster he was begrudgingly allowed to keep when he was fourteen. Being there again made something cold and tight clamp around his stomach, but he welcomed the sensation as a brief reprieve from his utter boredom. He had already paced, attempted to teach himself to whistle with disgracefully little success, and broke the zip of his CIA-issue jumpsuit from twiddling with it too much. He was officially out of ideas.
And it wasn’t as if he could just… Sit. Sitting still made him feel like time and space were impatiently tapping their feet, waiting for him to get a move-on so normality could resume. He always was where he needed to be, but Dirk had never stayed in one place for too long. And if he had to stick around somewhere, he made a point to choose anywhere other than a shady off-grid CIA facility where his most useful asset was his propensity to respond to torture in an entertaining manner.
And undoubtedly, Dirk was going to be an easy nut to crack. A very soft, gentle, well-meaning nut that was quite undeservedly being fed to an evil life-ruining nutcracker. He wasn’t ashamed to acknowledge it, and neither was Black Wing. But he knew that if he wanted to leave, he would have to push himself to the very limit to give his friends time to find him, even if it meant making peace with his current situation, like a… Like a….
Like a lamb to the slaughter?
Yes, like a lamb to the — wait, what?
Dirk sat up a little straighter, frowning. He didn’t recall telling his brain to think that… startlingly morbid thought. But hang on, wasn’t he his brain? Could a brain tell itself whether it could or could not think about something? But wouldn’t that mean that the brain was already thinking of it before it had the chance to tell itself not to think of it? And what was thought, really? Was it tangible, or perhaps a man-made construction projected onto the mystery of the human condition in order to resolve-
OH MY GOD, SHUT UP. OH MY GOD.
Dirk’s eyes widened in indignation. It was one thing for a voice in his head to intrude on his musings, but now it was shushing him?
I’m not a voice in your head! You’re a voice in mine!
“Why is this happening? Why are you talking to me?” Dirk begged the room in a frantic whisper.
What are you talking about? You’re the one babbling nonsense about time and space and… And nut cracking!
“Oh my God, I’ve already gone crazy. It hasn’t even been a day and I’m hearing things. Very rude things!” He smacked the side of his head with the heel of his palm as if to shove the stowaway out of it.
Am I experiencing some kind of super-madness, where my split personalities have their own split personalities? What kind of meta-level insanity is this, that a voice in my head thinks HE’S insane too?
“Wait. Wait, wait a minute! What if you’re not a figment of my imagination created by my subconscious as a defence mechanism to protect my delicate flower of a psyche?”
WHAT IS GOING ON?
“I don’t think I imagined you. I think that you’re a real person who’s somehow managed to break into my thoughts!”
Alright, I'll bite. Does that make YOU a real person as well? Are you trapped in this place too?
“What, Black Wing? Yes, yes! Listen to me, my name is Dirk Gently, and—”
No way. No goddamn way. You again?
We’ve met before. At the Perriman Grand. I fixed your machine.
“Wait, you? You, the one who's friends with the crazy woman obsessed with killing me?”
Yeah, it’s Ken, actually. And her name is Bart. Do you know where she is?
“No. Did they make you swallow some tablets that tasted like battery acid?”
Were they pink?
“…I think I know what’s happening. Those pills must have been given to us to test our… penchant for strange happenstances.”
“Ok, ok! Our… psychic abilities. Whether they intended this or not is debatable, but I believe that the simultaneous chemical reactions in our bodies connected our minds with a sort of telepathic link that allows us to communicate in this hellhole - with the caveat of grossly infringing upon each other’s personal space.”
A telepathic-? No, no, I’m not psychic. Not like Bart is – or whatever the hell Bart is.
“Stranger things have happened, Ken.”
No they haven’t, Dirk, not to me! Well, that might be up for debate. I guess by this point stupid weird things are just going to keep happening to me until I die.
“Not the most optimistic of people, are you, Ken?”
Well, what would you suggest? We’re human experiments now! We’re being held in a defunct military base run by a bunch of nutsos who feed us nothing but orange bread and crazy psychic pills!
“Yes, I had some qualms about the bread as well. But look on the bright side – we’ve got this now! Whatever this is. We can use it to make our daring escape!”
Mmkay. And how do you plan on going about that?
“Well – I – that part isn’t a hundred percent roughed out yet, I admit. But we’re on the right track, at least. We just need to let the universe guide us.”
Christ. Do you and Bart subscribe to the same magazines or something?
“I did feel strangely like I had an echo when we first met, now that you mention it. Black Wing’s doing, no doubt. All sorts of shenanigans go on here, so I’ve heard.”
“Yes, shenanigans. The sort of shenanigans that made me so me-ish and made her so her-ish. And most definitely the sort of shenanigans that will make you very us-ish if we don’t get out of here.”
Ok, if we’re going to be sharing minds or whatever, I’m going to have to ban you from ever using that word again. A guy’s got his limits.
“That seems fair enough, quite honestly. Now, seeing as we’re in this predicament, we might as well get to know each other. Up for a game of twenty questions?”
Fun fact - Ken was originally going to be introduced into this fic by blasting Boney M's Rasputin in his head to try and drown out the sound of Dirk's incessant thinking.
This section took me a while. I'm not altogether great at writing scenes almost completely void of dialogue, or scenes made up of dialogue almost ENTIRELY, and this chapter featured one of each. But it could have turned out worse, I think. Positive thinking is key.
Again, thank you for your comments and kudos - they never fail to make me smile.
And that's all. See ya next time.
Chapter 4: Lunatic Assistants
Farah attends a class reunion. Ken comes to terms with a harsh reality.
A comment that never failed to arise in Farah’s many entrance evaluations was that she talked to herself, constantly. Sometimes deflecting the imagined critiques of some unseen person, or perhaps assuming that role and berating herself, even at times displaying self-directed aggression. That was the FBI’s polite way of calling her a nut, in any case. But she had since then acknowledged and amended her flaws: they were right, she did have a habit of banging her head against walls that informed every enemy in the field of her team’s location, and the paranoia made it hard for her own wards to trust her. She had it all under control now, though. She had people counting on her, people who thought she was competent and intelligent and liked talking to her without her having to be contractually required to accompany them. She couldn’t afford to mess up, not this time. She would show the FBI who was ‘unsuitable’.
“Them,” Farah muttered to herself as she strode from the hotel lobby into the brisk, bright morning of New Mexico, fumbling in her pocket for the rental car keys. “They’re the unsuitable ones. Not… Not me. Them.”
Now all she had to do was infiltrate a secure forward operating base to find a woman she had met five years prior.
The base was situated in the Chihuahuan Desert somewhere outside of Albuquerque, where she had taken a few preparatory courses in military combat during her examination period. It was just a small training grounds, close to defunct actually, but home to an old tutor of Farah’s who had often voiced her dislike of the CIA’s more unethical counterintelligence programs. If anyone would know where Dirk was, it would be Johnson.
An advantage to being rejected from so many intelligence agencies, Farah considered to herself as she approached a considerable sprawl of barbed wire and grey brick edifices some four hours later, was she had gone through the wringer so many times that posing as a competent agent was an easy feat. When she worked for Patrick Spring she had done it every day, mimicking the unhurried movements of her instructors down to the muscle. When she passed the facility guard her ID through the car window her hand did not shake, her gaze wandered but she did not avoid eye contact. She got through without a word.
Farah drove her rental into the base, as far out of the sentry's line of sight as she could manage, and found a parking lot overlooking an obstacle course she had cleared countless times during her training. The crawling tunnels and apex ladders still stood solemnly in the grass the way they had before, under a glaze of morning dew. No one had used it in quite some time, it seemed. Farah gathered herself and attempted to step out, slamming her back against the inside of the open car door when her knees nearly gave out onto the gravel beneath her. She breathed hard, short breaths through gritted teeth, her eyes tight shut.
“You can do this. This is fine. You’re an agent in her probation who wants to see an old mentor for guidance. A real agent, who passed all her real exams, and everyone thinks she’s a capable human person and not a dangerous liability who got demoted to bodyguard work for her ineptitude.”
With some difficulty, she pulled herself back into a standing position and locked the car, before picking a direction at random and walking in it with as much nonchalance as she could summon. Just play the part.
Not too long after, Farah managed to find a courtyard of tall, arched buildings that she vaguely remembered as the assembly point for her class. Unsure, she edged further into the base, scanning the dried-out water fixtures and the lightless windows as if they knew something she didn’t. The instruction rooms had to be close.
“But what then?” she murmured. How could she be sure that Johnson would even be in one of them? And even if she was, would she recognise Farah? Would Farah even recognise her? And come to think of it, it wasn’t as if she’d seen anyone else save the guards. The place was a ghost town – no floodlights, no demonstrations, nothing.
“What? What?” Something was up. She had made a mistake. She wasn’t supposed to be-
Farah felt her hand fly to her holster, interrupting her thoughts, and suddenly she was spinning on her heels, pistol cocked and appraising a man dressed all in black some fifty yards away from her. He approached slowly, gloved hands spread in armistice, and her aim did not waver. He had thin, fair hair scraped back against his scalp like a preening bird, jawline dusted with stubble and too-pink lips. When he got within arm’s reach of Farah he smiled, and his teeth were too big for his face.
“This place got decommissioned years ago,” he said, still smiling. “It wasn’t like a permanent station or anything. So when one of my guys told me he saw you coming here I was like, wait, really? But here you are, just like he said.”
“Where is Dirk Gently?”
“Is that what you’re here for? That figures. By the way, I know you,” he continued, shuffling his hands as if he didn’t know what to do with them. “You’re Farah, right? Do you remember me?”
“Answer the question or I’ll shoot.” Farah was trying not to waver. You could only smile into the barrel of a gun like this guy was doing if you were an absolute moron or if you had some kind of trump card, and she had the feeling that both boxes were checked in this instance.
“Oh. No you won’t, I have snipers and stuff,” he loosely waved towards the rooftops above them. The moment Farah glanced up to follow his gesture, the pistol was wrenched from her hands and lazily tossed over Friedkin’s shoulder. He gave her a bashful look.
“Sorry, that was a dick move. Worked though. Plus, there really are snipers up there. Uh. Do you wanna sit down?” he asked uncertainly, regarding Farah’s buckling legs. She held her ground, staring him down with an expression caught between defiance and desperation. After a second, his face shifted slightly as if something had just re-occurred to him, his previous train of thought swiftly abandoned in its favour.
“I’m Hugo,” he said, like that was explaining everything, only continuing when Farah raised an eyebrow in bewilderment. “We applied for the CIA together? Tied top of the class for physical combat. We hit it off pretty good, uh, I thought.”
“Clearly,” mumbled Farah, casting her eyes down. A vague recollection of a headstrong pest of a corporal sprang to mind.
“I really liked you back then. You were so strong, and smart. I always wondered what happened to you,” he continued, his features wearing an absent look. His hand drifted up and began to close the space between them, and Farah regarded it with catlike eyes, daring him to come closer. He caressed her face, his fingers cold and leather-clad, and was rewarded with a slug to the gut that sent him sprawling into the pavement. Farah hurdled over his splayed body towards her gun, but hit the ground hard when Friedkin seized her ankles and dragged her backwards towards him. She felt a hand come down hard on the base of her skull and grind her face into the gravel, felt him rearrange himself over her prone body. Friedkin’s lips came down to brush her ear, making her shudder with revulsion.
“Something tells me you’re not used to taking compliments,” he hissed with venom, before dragging her head upwards by a fistful of her hair and smashing it against the grey stone of a nearby fountain. Farah felt more than heard a muffled crunch as her nose fractured, but could do nothing but cough and sputter as blood pooled inside her cheeks. She attempted to summon her thoughts but they scattered like ants, decayed and derailed by the cortisol pumping frantically through her system, yet all pointing towards a fundamental truth.
She had failed.
Farah only half felt the cuffs cut into her wrists before she allowed Hugo to heft her into some parody of standing and drag her away.
“Yeah, I guess I know what you mean, but it’s more complicated than that. What about you? Dirk. Dirk, are you there?”
But there was only silence. Maybe he finally had some time to himself.
It had been about one day since Dirk Gently’s voice had made itself known in Ken’s head, and he understood perfectly why Bart was so obsessed with killing him: ‘Motor mouth’ would be an understatement. Access to Dirk’s brain was like being hooked up to a nuclear-power generator that really liked talking about a guy named Todd.
Ken had vaguely remembered a Todd from the moment they had shared at the Perriman Grand; the mutual suffering of the lunatic assistants. He was short, had a broad jawline and a permanently frazzled air about him. Ken didn’t think he was anything special, but Dirk made sure to remedy that with a long-winded and often completely nonsensical recount of his and Todd’s meeting. There was something about a gorilla and a giraffe, a death-maze and a treasure hunt, but Ken was more interested in the descriptions of Patrick Spring’s creations.
“Soon as I get out of here,” he breathed to himself, almost reverent, “I’m rebuilding that damn time machine.”
Well, maybe not immediately – Bart would see to it that they would find some new disaster to embroil themselves in, but he would get around to it. It was the will of the universe.
This holistic stuff was a bit of a hard sell for Ken, but when you had seen the things he had seen, it became a little hard to deny after a while. He mostly didn’t bother trying to piece the infuriating conundrums of Dirk and Bart together, but he did wonder idly whether their… idiosyncrasies, let’s say – were causes or symptoms of Black Wing’s meddling. But needless to say, whatever those CIA wackadoodles were trying to get those two to become, they failed. Ken doubted that the government had much use for a detective that solves crimes that don’t need solving, or an assassin that chooses her marks based on the general consensus of human morality. Botched weapons, Ken realised with a surprising pang of sympathy in his chest, that’s all they were.
Even more reason to leave.
When Ken and Dirk were playing their game the night before, Ken’s questions had been very much in the vein of escape; did Dirk know the guards’ shift changes, did he remember the layout of the corridors at all. Dirk’s questions, on the other hand, had veered more towards Ken’s favourite flavour of ice cream, whether he knew how to ballroom dance, what sort of dreams he had been having recently. It was almost endearing, his naivety, but endlessly frustrating.
Speaking of endlessly frustrating, Ken had not been able to rid himself of Dirk’s inane presence up until this point, when he had abruptly vanished. Maybe he had fallen asleep? Somehow, Ken doubted it; even while unconscious, Dirk’s brain buzzed and flickered like a faulty bug zapper. Black Wing must have done something. Taken him somewhere, perhaps, too far away for Ken to reach. But they didn't - surely he wasn't...
Ken's train of thought was swiftly derailed as a searing white-hot agony swept through his left arm as if submerged in boiling oil. Ken screamed, albeit mostly in confusion, as veins throbbed and thumped painfully all the way up to his temples and something alien rang in his ears. And yet, as quickly as it had come about, the sensation dissipated, leaving Ken breathing hard and fast, slumped haphazardly against the metal wall beside his bed. He grabbed his arm and stared at it incredulously, turning it over for any evidence of what just happened, finding none. Exhaling, he massaged his temples, his head still thundering from the strange affair, and it occurred to him that he had heard something.
It was Dirk’s voice, high and panicky, and meeker than Ken would have expected him to sound. Words were hard to make out, but Ken felt that he was yelling, or trying to yell. It was like the echo of an echo in the back of Ken’s mind, but the more he tried to repress it, the clearer it became. Screwing his eyes shut, he inhaled deep and slow, trying to empty his mind, but quite without meaning to he was instead plunged into blackness and saw-
A throat, raw and dry from overuse. Glimpses of putrefying beige walls, a shrunken figure reflected in a two way mirror, stripped to his underwear with his left arm hung in a sling. A strange machine sparking with deep red light.
Ken’s eyes flew open as he tore himself from his vision, gasping for air and doubled over in pain as the blood pounded back into his brain and made the room tilt-a-whirl.
So Dirk had been taken back to that room again. And apparently whatever they had done to him just now, Ken had felt it. He exhaled loudly, and hugged his knees to his chest in some semblance of self-comfort.
He really was being turned psychic by the government. He couldn’t ignore the implications of that for much longer. Was he going to be attached to Dirk forever, his mind permanently bombarded with thoughts and feelings that weren’t his, pain that wasn’t his? What kind of existence was that? Within the time he had spent with Bart, Ken hadn’t much considered his life in terms of the long-scale plan. Hell, even before Bart he had no idea what he would be doing in the space of a year, let alone when he was sixty years old. But he wasn’t sure if he could take much more of this without – well – cracking. Perhaps that was what happened to Bart and Dirk, after all. They just buckled under the weight of it. Maybe they used to be normal, like him.
The thought brought a humourless smile to Ken’s face. Normal, like him. The way he was going, he wouldn’t be any kind of normal for much longer.
If you feel like I'm not tagging my work accordingly please let me know. I'm aware that the first half of this chapter can be seen as reminiscent of more unsavoury themes, and if you feel like these kind of elements should be warned ahead I won't hesitate to do so.
Also, it's still under construction but I am now semi-active on freakasee.tumblr.com. I absolutely love reading your comments but hesitate to reply just because I don't want to clog the comment section up with my ramblings, so if you have a burning question or just want to say hi, shoot me a message!
Thanks again for reading and responding; I'm really having fun with this fic. See ya soon.
Chapter 5: Ghostfingers: The Reghostening
Dirk converses with a mad scientist. Todd and Amanda meet an old friend.
When he awoke – and it really seemed like all he was doing nowadays was waking up to some fresh new hell in his apartment – Todd only needed one look at his sister to know she had been crying. He did however double-take at an unconscious olive-skinned man in Kevlar shackled to his radiator with a bicycle chain.
“Amanda?” he called cautiously from his bed to where she lay on the sofa, her body rigidly still. She made no response, opting instead to continue staring blankly up at the ceiling.
“What – what happened? Are you – ah!” A sharp cry escaped his throat as he jostled his right arm, which retaliated with a bolt of pain that numbed his fingers. He examined his forearm in bewilderment; it was a struggle to move, as if it were deadweight, rubbery and prickling uncomfortably all over.
“You had an attack,” Amanda said bluntly, eyes still fixed upwards. “You passed out. I took care of that guy. Everything’s fine.”
“No, Amanda, everything is not fine. Who even is that guy, and how did he find us? And what do you mean, ‘took care of’ – wait, is he dead? Amanda, is that guy dead?”
“He’s not dead, just concussed.” Amanda stood up on shaky legs and made to move before glancing sheepishly down at something near her feet. Todd followed her gaze to find his guitar, strings fanned haphazardly across the floor and the neck snapped clean in half.
“Sorry about that. But just saying, it was already broken in the first place. You could always just own it, tape it up and make it look all distressed like a punk rocker.” Todd almost would have smiled at that, but Amanda’s forcibly playful tone was falling a little too flat to be convincing. He gingerly placed his hands on his knees and opened his mouth to speak, but a manilla envelope was Frisbee’d into his lap instead.
“I found this tucked into the back of his pants,” Amanda explained, shifting her weight between her feet as if anxious to sit back down. Todd looked her up and down doubtfully, but after a moment turned his attention to folder, which despite all the padding only contained a single sheet of paper.
SUMMER QUARTILE MISSION OBJECTIVE FILE #102216
BURN AFTER USE
so the marshal told me that i hav to write these now. this laptop didnt come with word on it so im on that notepad thing which doesnt have the chart makers or whatever, but this should be enough bcause no one actually reads these anyways.
your task is to bring in some secondaries for evaluation since we just got a grant from the cia to power up all the holding cells. the only one i can think of is one of dirk gentlys buddys who lives in a complex in springsborough somewhere. i think his name is todd. i cant really remember his address though so youll have to just look around until you find him. text me if there are any CCs and ill clear it up but try to keep it to a minimum because you killed like five guys on your last recon. ok good luck
Todd read the file, squinted, and then read it again.
“…Is this guy really CIA? How did he manage to actually find me?”
“I looked up his rifle, it’s not a standard service weapon. I’m guessing he’s a spook hired as one of Black Wing’s errand boys.”
“What kind of top-secret organisation names itself on a paper file? Or refers to one of his orderlies as ‘Colin’?”
Amanda made no move to reply, attempting to force her face into a neutral mask. Todd took a deep breath, and let it out.
“Amanda, what are we gonna do with him?”
Still no response. Todd made care to soften his voice; he knew how scared Amanda used to be of upsetting people.
“Amanda, are you alright?”
“I don’t know, OK? I tried to move him out into the hall but I couldn’t get him down the stairs, and you were unconscious, and Farah’s not returning my calls, so I just tied him up and stared at him for hours because I don’t know what else to do.”
Amanda’s voice broke and she swiped furiously at her eyes, but Todd had flinched at her outburst as if it were gunfire. Neither knew how to console the other, and so they both just looked at one another, Amanda trying for all the world to pretend that nothing was amiss and there weren’t tears rolling down her cheeks. He being better used to taking on the role of sibling-stroke-therapist, it was Todd who spoke first.
“It’s – it’s gonna be alright. Let’s just hit him on the head again or something, then maybe we can drop him at the side of the road somewhere-“
“Where, Todd? How far away can we drag him that he won’t just walk straight back here when he wakes up? Unless you wanna carry him onto the bus – what? Todd, what?”
Todd’s eyebrows were furrowed in consternation, gaze cast down. He closed his eyes with a reluctant sigh and when he spoke there was something like shame darkening his brow.
“Dorian… had a car. It’s still outside. If I broke into his apartment and found the keys, we could jack it.”
Amanda sniffed. “You say you’re gonna break into your dead landlord’s apartment like it’s not a big thing.”
Todd shrugged halfheartedly. “I don’t happen to have any better ideas.”
For the first time since he arrived, Dirk was visited in the interrogation room by a real, live human. He was almost excited.
“Oh, for God’s sake, what is that?”
“Please try to be more considerate. What you are witnessing is a miracle of modern medicine.”
“There’s no such thing as miracles,” said Dirk petulantly, glaring up at the tall bespectacled woman, “wasn’t it you who said that? Weren’t you the one who taught me that magic is dangerous and not to be trusted?”
The scientist gave a slow, patient sigh, then began again with a smile that almost looked warm.
“I also recall teaching you that those unwilling to accept the unorthodox are not people worth knowing. People so reliant on their simple little schemas of reality that they cannot bear to consider the possibility that in this world there are things their silly, socially conditioned brains couldn’t hope to fit together. You are not one of those people, Dirk. I would advise you to stop behaving as such.”
The scientist placed her hands on Dirk’s shoulders and squeezed them like an encouraging mother might. “You are a possibility. A wonderful possibility that it is my sworn duty to make a reality.”
Dirk shrugged himself away from her touch and regarded the woman with a reproach so strong it contorted his features, his usually rather sweet countenance almost unrecognisable as he felt what no doubt was the closest towards hatred he had ever been.
“The last I checked, people are not possibilities. They’re people. Even if they’re stupid, or little, or scared of things they’ve never seen before.” Dirk started to work himself up, his voice becoming a little louder and a little less timid.
“Scared is a perfectly normal thing to be when you live in a universe like this one – I’ve only seen the tiniest few bits of it myself and I think it’s absolutely terrifying. So you don’t have the right to ridicule them, like you’re such a paragon of humanity. All you’ve ever done is hurt and manipulate those you think to be below you, just because you thought you could.”
Dirk’s surge of emotion was met with laughter, the kind that sounds like broken glass, high and tinkling and mercilessly sharp.
“Ah, mon petit philosophe!” she cried, her ‘r’s beginning to curl as her accent emerged with her amusement. Dirk used to find her little French-isms endearing, even lovable. Now they turned his stomach over.
“I’m thirty years old, not an infant child for you to patronise.”
“Oh, but you used to be. We used to be the best of friends, did we not?”
“No, Amelie, we didn’t! You were a sadistic biochemist and I was the ten year old boy you tested your experiments on! I have a great deal many friends, and not one of them meet that description!”
Amelie only chuckled in response, her laughter lines deepening like volcanic fissures, and began strapping sensors to Dirk’s left arm from where it hung in its sling, its wires belonging to a strange-looking machine full of heat sinks and chippy-looking things that was constantly pulsing with a sickly deep-red light.
Dirk swallowed, endeavouring not to fidget under her touch. “What are you going to do to me, then? Let a ghost possess control of my fingers? Replace my muscle fibres with tiny Cheestrings? What?”
“None of the above, but the first one sounds like the plot of a good film. What would they call it, do you think?”
"I don't know."
"Come now, you always came up with the best titles."
In spite of himself, Dirk felt the corners of his mouth turn up a fraction. “’Ghostfingers: the Reghostening’?”
“Ha!” Amelie slapped her knee and laughed, genuinely this time. “If there is one thing this division has been in sore need of, it’s your sense of humour. So serious, these new researchers. Do you remember this game, Dirk? We used to make up movies together – you would act them out for me.”
“Yes, only because we weren’t allowed to watch any real ones,” Dirk replied bitterly, his bad mood descending again almost instantly. “I wouldn't have even known what they were if you hadn't told me.”
Amelie hummed happily to herself as she smoothed out the electrodes onto Dirk's skin, lost in some forgotten sentiment. “I did once try to get permission to take you to the cinema, but Scott never allowed it, of course.” She exhaled, something indeterminable clouding her eyes.
“Scott was a complicated man. But he loved you, Dirk. Like a father. And for a time, no matter how brief, you loved him back.”
Dirk, in a most unforgivable betrayal of character, was silent.
It wasn’t until they had shoved Colin in the back of Dorian’s trunk and driven out a mile or so into the city that Todd attempted to make conversation.
“Dirk’s apartment isn’t too far from here. Maybe I could crash there for a while, until everything blows over.”
Amanda gave him a sidelong glance from the driver’s seat. “Dirk’s gonna be back soon. You know that, right?”
Todd’s eyebrows raised in something of confusion, then settled in understanding. “Oh. Yeah, of course.”
Amanda supposed that she couldn’t judge Todd for certain things slipping his mind. He was going through a lot, and probably didn’t need reminding of his second biggest problem when he was still trying to deal with the first.
“Hey,” Amanda said, eyeing the way he awkwardly cradled his arm in his lap. “When you were having your attack… What did you see?”
Todd’s hesitation lasted only a moment, but Amanda felt her heart beat needlessly fast at the thought of making him panic again. But she had asked anyway, like a terrible sister who only cares about herself.
“I was shot in the arm. I probably should’ve guessed it wasn’t real, but that didn’t occur to me at the time. It was like… like a dream, but in someone else’s mind. Like a serial killer had gone to sleep thinking about me.”
“It doesn’t still hurt, does it?”
“It’s more numb. And if I move my fingers too fast it sends a shock up my arm. But I think it’s getting better.”
Amanda frowned, her grip on the wheel tightening just slightly. “That’s not right.”
“Uh – what isn’t?”
“An injury doesn’t ‘heal’ when it never existed in the first place. If it’s still hurting you now, that’s…” her brow deepened. “Weird.”
Todd opened his mouth to respond, but something in the corner of his eye made the words die in his throat. He stretched his neck out of the window, focused on something in the car’s wake.
“Oh my God, Amanda, pull over.”
“What, what is it?”
“It’s the kitten! Amanda, pull over, it’s the kitten!”
Barely waiting for the car to stop, Todd flung open the door and barrelled his way back down the street, the clumsy slap-slap-slaps of sandals on concrete echoing through the noiseless neighbourhood. Todd suddenly dipped down to the ground and scooped something up, and then walked gingerly back towards Amanda, a tiny black bundle in his hands. As he got closer, something clicked in Amanda’s brain.
“That’s that kitten, isn't it? The electric-ghost-kitten-thingy?”
“Yeah – how’d it get all the way out here? I thought it was lost in the desert someplace.”
Amanda’s response of “who cares, let’s go find an animal shelter” was all but drowned out by Todd’s subsequent “I’m gonna keep it”.
An eyebrow was raised. “You want to… keep this thing?”
Suddenly becoming aware of himself, Todd cleared his throat and lowered his shoulders, attempting to put on some semblance of normality.
“Um – yeah – I mean – it can’t just roam the streets, you know, being a deadly predator and all.” The kitten mewled lazily in his arms. “I should just take it home, for safekeeping.”
“That’s not really your responsibility, Todd. Plus with the way you are now, I don't think-“
“The apartment’s pretty empty,” Todd blurted, hating himself for having to say the words out loud. “I just thought… some company would be nice. Plus, you’re just upsetting yourself being around me all the time like this. You should go home.”
“What, and be replaced by a misunderstood shark?”
Amanda pinched the bridge of her nose and exhaled sharply. “Let’s just go to the store and get some food for the stupid thing.”
About half an hour later, Dirk flexed his arm dubiously as Amelie wrapped the electrode wires around the handle of the strange glowing device. His sling lay forgotten on the floor.
“How did it do that?”
“I admit, my friend, I do not know. This was sent from the lab for test trials.”
“Ah.” Dirk’s chest fell, just a little. “This was just another experiment. Like all the other experiments.”
“Think of it as a happy coincidence. Now you have a good left arm, yes? Perfect physical health.”
“Yes, although you may want to do some poking around in the psychological department.”
Amelie only offered a sad smile as response. Dirk huffed, frustrated.
“Amelie – what am I doing here? Surely by now you have all the lab rats in the world to test your quirky little death machines on. Why did you go to all the trouble of bringing me back?”
“Because, Dirk Gently,” said Amelie, “interest in Black Wing’s potential has once again arisen in the board, now that we are under new management. We are going to put the pieces of you back together and see if we can make something new.”
“You mean something you can weaponize?”
Amelie’s smile faded. After a moment’s hesitation, she sat beside Dirk on the metal bed, looking almost as if she were going to rest a hand on his knee before thinking better of it.
“You must understand. You – you and your kind, that is – are the type of opportunity that this state cannot afford to miss. It may be painful and gruelling what will happen to you, but the world will be a better place when we are finished.”
Dirk looked into her eyes, dull blue but bright with a sort of maternal hope, and felt his own narrow in confusion and cold, cold anger.
He said softly, “For who?”
Gee I hope Colin's doing ok in the trunk of that car. Also: this chapter's title is my absolute favourite so far.
My thanks for your patience on this chapter; it would have been out sooner but it was a very busy week, the type of busy week that guarantees at least two or three more. Therefore I'm tentatively going to say that updates will be around weekly from now on, to give me time to get on with the horrendous amount of work I have to finish.
But anyway, thank you for sticking with me so far! We're over 10k words now, and your continued comments and kudos have been a silver lining in what has been quite a stressful start to the year.
And that's about all. See ya in a week.
Chapter 6: Bric-a-Brac
Farah comes home. Todd dabbles in B+E. Dirk doesn't take a trip so much as he's forcibly shoved down Memory Lane.
Todd had sent Amanda home, obstinate that she got herself a hot meal and some sleep. He wanted some time to himself, he had told her, to come to terms with everything so far.
He wasn’t completely lying, he reassured himself as he came to a halt outside Dirk’s apartment, making sure the kitten was comfortably nestled in the crook of his arm. He just needed to do this first.
The door was unlocked; figures. Todd took special care not to roll his eyes - he knew how petty the universe could be - and stepped inside.
It was only after he had flicked on all the lights, tore up some sliced ham into a saucer for the kitten (“the canned food was too expensive,” he explained to it apologetically), and had begun to saunter idly around the place did Todd let himself wonder why he had wanted to come here so badly. He didn’t feel any kind of special attachment to the neat little one-bedroom deal, nice as it was. Dirk wasn’t here. And even if his apartment did feel kind of like the walls were snidely judging him, he could always have crashed at Amanda’s – even his parents’. But he didn’t. Why?
Dirk wasn’t here.
Todd scoffed at himself, massaged his eyelids with cool fingertips as he stood in the threshold of the corridor. He had known Dirk, what, a week? Maybe a week and a half if you counted all the time he’d been gone. But he was so sick of feeling guilty all the time. Dirk was a friend, and Todd didn’t want him to get hurt, but these past few days he just couldn’t let himself think about what had happened. That meant a self-inspection he didn’t particularly want to be put through – the risk of realising something about himself that he didn’t want to know, couldn’t afford to know.
“It’s not my fault,” Todd said aloud to the empty apartment, just to drive the point home. He heard the words, thought they sounded right and that was good enough for him. If he went any further he would just agitate himself, even bring on another… episode.
OK, fine. But that still didn’t explain why he had felt himself so drawn to Dirk’s apartment. The furniture seemed stoic, a little void of personality, but Todd could feel Dirk in it like the imprint of a head on a pillow. A teal leather jacket strewn haphazardly over a chair, one that Todd had knocked out the wardrobe when rushing to meet Dirk at the hospital and hurriedly thrown there himself. The TV stationed to some strange South Korean radio channel. The small but obfuscating little bric-a-brac that Todd kept finding in odd places, like a stone cats-paw tucked behind a shampoo bottle or a single lock of wheatish hair taped to a windowpane. The little quirks that would naturally appear in a given place the longer a personage such as Dirk Gently was permitted to stay there. They comforted him. He didn’t know why they comforted him.
Maybe while you were busy wallowing in self-pity, a small, somewhat familiar voice in the back of his head piped up, you forgot to think that you just miss him.
Todd realised that he was still standing in the doorway. He realised that it was the entrance to Dirk’s bedroom. Frowning, he spun on his heel and went back to the lounge, gingerly stepping over the food and water bowls he had placed on the linoleum of the hall.
It was approaching sunset, and the room floated in vague, ephemeral gold light. Todd sighed, dropped himself onto the sleek sofa, and allowed himself to float with it.
He was beginning to lose track of time.
Dirk was sat in his metal bunk, bolt upright, dabbing absently at a small cut in the palm of his hand. He didn’t know how it got there. He had been kept unconscious for so long that they could have done practically anything with him; for all he knew, at that moment he was being tested on the effects of an asbestos-based blood transfusion. Or how long it would take for him to notice that he was missing his corpus callosum. Maybe they gave him a tapeworm, just for fun. He did often wonder where this division drew the line between serious medical research and the half-baked, hold-my-beer type science they seemed to have specifically devoted to him.
Stop whining, he chastised himself. Really, he was being childish. It wasn’t that bad. Relatively speaking, they had barely even done anything with him yet. But Black Wing was a storm that had many eyes, and there was currently nothing Dirk could do to dodge their merciless scrutiny.
Ken was nowhere to be found. Not that Dirk could look, but most days – or at least most of the four-hour stretches where he was actually awake – he could hear him in the back of his mind, humming corny, synth-y pop songs to himself. But there was only one voice to be heard knocking about in his head, and it wasn’t one that he was particularly fond of just then.
“They must be moving us around,” Dirk muttered to himself. Perhaps they knew all about it, what Dirk and Ken endeavoured to keep so carefully secret. Oh for Christ’s sake, they’re monitoring our every move, he thought with bitter realisation, inside and out. Of course they know. They’re probably right now compiling all of my thoughts for a… an encyclopaedia of idiocy, or something. So much for a foolproof escape plan. Stupid Dirk. Always getting his hopes up and being manipulated by the government.
Quite uninvited, a thought came to him then. It took the form of an odd and lanky woman, hair dark and fine and cobwebby like a widow’s veil. She had a peculiar face; not unbeautiful but shrewd, half-laughing, rather a bit cold. The kind of face you would expect to swindle you out of the pot of a high-stakes poker game, toss you a couple of chips as consolation, then leave with a smirk.
Ask anyone who’s ever been held prisoner, and they’ll tell you it’s the boredom that gets to you in the worst ways. It’s a surreptitious little bugger that dredges up the most unwanted of memories when you least expect it and there’s nothing but four walls and an observation window to distract you from the fallout, forcing you to sit and relive your worst moments like some kind of horrible black box that explains, in painful clarity, how it all went tits-up.
Dirk hadn’t thought about his mum in a very long time.
By the time Farah got to Todd’s apartment floor, she was reduced to dragging herself across the cheap, scratchy carpet of the Ridgeley. Her mental process long since deteriorated, she desperately followed a mantra of drink water dress wounds sleep repeat as wet crimson dried into her hair, dripped from nose and chin, her exposed forearms stinging pink with carpet burn.
Door unlocked; that was to be expected, given Todd’s track record. The apartment was empty. Somehow, she had expected that too.
Her injuries were mainly superficial, but Friedkin made up for his lack of common sense with his considerable expertise in making someone hurt without showing his work. She needed rest, food, and bandages before she could be valuable to anyone. She forced her aching body another few feet to the kitchenette, drank her fill from the faucet and then began the slow agony of undressing, her leather jacket tacky with dried blood and sweat. When the effort of that left her vision spotty, she decided that sleep came first, and would have nearly curled up right there on the kitchen floor if she hadn’t heard the leisurely echo of footsteps from the end of the hall.
She tensed as another wave of adrenaline kicked in, stretching her frayed nerves once more into hair-trigger alert, her eyes burning with fatigue but watching with an intensity that could burn a hole through lead. Watching the door. The door she didn’t lock. The door that she had no gun, no weapons, no nothing to protect herself from when there was someone behind it.
Unseen, a loosely made fist knocked rat-a-tat-tat.
Farah was a cocktail of impulse, stress hormones soaking into her like a sponge in water. Her skin shone under the dim, dirty light of late sunset struggling through the kitchen window.
“You can relax. If we were gonna hurt you any more you we wouldn’t have let you out the damn van in the first place.”
She didn’t recognise the voice. It didn’t matter.
“We just wanted to give you your present. We were gonna give it to you before, but Hugo said that he didn’t think you were in the mood. Well, I hope you’re in the mood now.”
Something was slotted through the gap in the door and hit the floor with a lazy fwump. Leaning out as far as she dared, Farah glimpsed the corner of a white manila envelope and knew immediately what Friedkin was doing, what he had been trying to do from the beginning. Her shoulders lowered by a fraction of a fraction, and she exhaled a pained breath through gritted teeth that sounded like it would rather be a scream.
“You wanted to be an agent, right? Well, here’s your first assignment. Don’t let us down, soldier.”
Todd found himself still laying on the sofa well after an hour had passed. The sky was caught up in deciding on whether it was late afternoon or evening, pushing about the last dregs of sunlight like a stubborn child playing with his food. He just lay still and enjoyed the rare calm, for once not feeling like he had battery acid shot through his veins.
He almost jumped at a small noise from the foot of the sofa, an odd little prrrow that Todd imagined was intended to sound very fierce and predatory. Leaning awkwardly over the cushion, he found a shock of black fluff staring intently up at him like something from a Miyazaki film. He bent over and scooped the kitten up with one calloused hand.
“Are you sure you're a shark?” Todd asked, brows twitching as he realised he was holding a deadly predator. The kitten responded by wriggling out of Todd’s loose gasp and kneading happily into his jeans, breaking into a purr that seemed unnaturally loud for its minute body.
Todd chuckled to himself. It was the first time in a while that he had let himself laugh without his chest hurting.
“Maybe I should give you a name, then.”
The kitten looked fairly invested in the reflection of Todd’s pant buttons. He took that as a yes.
After a quick assessment that determined the kitten to be a he, Todd decided on Bruce.
“Hullo,” he rumbled down at him in the worst Australian accent he could muster, breaking into a warm grin despite himself when Bruce rewarded his effort with a small sneeze.
He wondered idly whether breaking into an absent friend’s apartment and playing with a kitten was really the best use of his time when the rest of the gang were working so hard. Well, Farah was working hard, presumably. But he had messed up Amanda so she didn’t count. And Dirk was being tortured so - yeah. Everyone was accounted for, except him.
He really tried to envision what Dirk could possibly be going through, to kick himself into a frenzy of worry that would reassure him that he was capable of empathy, but instead felt strangely removed; not exactly numb, just tired.
He was so, so tired.
Todd would help, if he could manage to consider himself helpful. He would do whatever Farah or Amanda told him to do without question, and when (if, the small voice reminded him quietly) Dirk came back he would be his quiet and unobtrusive Watson, and he wouldn’t complain whatsoever because he would know damn well that he doesn’t have the right to. But he needed this, this one moment of being normal, or else he might just have been cowardly enough to do something -different. When you’re living in purgatory, heaven and hell are equally welcome exchanges.
He would understand. He’d tell Dirk everything when he came back.
That was not a week. Disregard anything I say about chapter schedules, they're doomed to fail.
As well as the usual other thank yous, thank you for 200+ kudos! I'll see you soon!