Following the invention of more efficient methods of waste transport, the Citadel sewers—once a pristine and well-oiled branch of society’s infrastructure—were left abandoned, and despite the council's containment efforts the toxic waste had been hard at work slowly corroding the network from the inside out.
It was a glaring metaphor for Citadel politics, Rico thought to himself as he quietly worked his way toward his next business meeting. He tread carefully—dragging his Italian leather shoes through the ankle-deep sludge as he reviewed the Intel.
The Rick King was the name others on the Citadel had chosen, and like a rat king, the Rick had inescapably twisted himself into the heart of the Citadel sewer system.
For the most part, the interconnecting tunnels had been sectioned off, de-oxygenated and left to decay and rot, but despite the years of neglect, the structures were still usable, and following a societal behavioral sink in the 80's (a collective transition brought on by the mostly shared life event of Ricks becoming a father), criminal enterprises began to flourish on the Citadel.
The Rick King had recognized the need for a reliable distribution network that could operate within the Citadel's shadows, and he dedicated months in pursuit of filling it. In time, he hacked into the abandoned structural mainframe and gained access to the public systems terminal—an accomplishment which allowed him to open the neglected sewer system for criminal business.
Rico never liked holding his business dealings in such a location. An acute, claustrophobic awareness that he was moving through the body of a network, which could for all intents and purposes be called an extension of the Ricks reposing self, settled over him.
Shortly after opening his underground operation, the Rick King encountered an irresponsibly disposed of radioactive by-product which, left to decay, rapidly mutated his organic matter to match the surrounding environment.
In short, like a rat king, he was toxic, unwilling and unable to sustain his life outside of the environment which had created him. With nothing left to do, the Rick King continued to run his business. He became the archetypal troll: living under a bridge. Demanding a toll from anyone who wanted safe passage. In this version of the story, the only use the Rick King had for such a toll was the power to demand it.
Most Ricks operating in the criminal underworld weren’t into the idea of dealing with a literal manifestation of their own toxic shit, and soon after, broke contracts, leaving their mutated counterpart to consider his half-life in solitude. For Rico, however, access to the near-perfect transport system for his bootleg portal fluid operation was well worth personally interacting with the putrid personality.
The only leverage Rico ever had in their tenuous relationship, was being able to offer something the Rick King had truly wanted. Bootleg Portal Fluid. For the toxic Rick, there was a certain poetic retribution enacted by providing access to Rico's product: it was destabilized isotope 491 which had mutated his flesh into its current sludgy state, and working with Rico was an opportunity to even the odds against the Rick King's own shitty draw in life. His desire for poetic justice was something Rico could easily exploit.
Rico’s portal fluid was safer than most, but even then, there were no absolutes.
He caught sight of the toxic Rick, who had leaned his naked torso against the wall of the tunnel. His expression was a permanent scowl, but the nuance seemed to suggest annoyance toward Rico for being made to wait. Rico was right on time.
Rick approached the Rick and extended his hand, offering the laminated Citadel Council reports of monthly bootleg-deaths. The Rick impatiently snatched them from his grasp, chuckling darkly as he looked over them.
“I did all of this.” A smug grin smeared across his face.
Rico hummed in agreement toward the unsurprising personality, and the Rick immediately silenced him as he verbally lashed out.
“—That wasn’t a question, I didn’t need you to fucking agree with—with what I already knew.”
The indirect agreement had always been a calculated lie. Most of the bootleg portal-fluid death-counts were independent efforts. Desperate citizens in a last ditch effort to get out but rusty on their math (Stuck on the Citadel, their genius slowly corroded over time). The rest were from less-reliable sources. A few were even conspiratorial. Taken as a whole, however, the number's created an effective narrative, and that was exactly what Rico wanted them to do.
In actuality, Rico’s product was responsible for 1.3% of the overall death count, a number that he had taken exceptional pride in, but in this matter the truth was entirely irrelevant. It was a near impossibility for the Rick King to escape the trappings of his own toxic shit, and so the lonely Rick also content to bask in the escapism of his own imagined actions.
“I wanna move the next shipment in a week.” The toxic Rick announced his suddenly inspired decision, and Rico’s lips grew thin at the words. He held the cordial business smile like a hardened mask.
It was during the increasingly unstable negotiations with the toxic Rick, where most cut their losses. Known for being unreliable and unpredictable, the Rick King followed his own timeframes and set often unrealistic demands. Those valuing his network failed to recognize the traits that made them easy prey, and desperately tried to satiate the Rick. Their stupidity only reinforced his disillusioned confidence in being able to make the Citadel rotate at his every whim.
This Rick would not hesitate to take everything if given the opportunity, and unfortunately for others who attempted negotiations, he had. He was the living definition of a sunk cost fallacy. The trick was for Rico to only ever want access to the pipeline, but never need it. Rick King needed him more than Rico needed something to be easy, predictable, and reliable.
“Three days. Was our original agreement.” Rico casually corrected, silently daring the Rick to verbally and honestly break their earlier agreement. A tense moment fell, before the naked Rick turned to trudge through the rivers of sludge in the tunnel. While Rico held the ability to accommodate the extended timeframe, they had earlier agreed on preparations to move product in exactly three days. He had men already making preparations to ensure a smooth run.
“Oh yeah. I forgot. We work on your schedule to accommodate for the stunted growth in your brain.” He projected the loaded statement, failing to get a rise out of the Rick who quietly trekked behind him. They approached the mouth of a tunnel that spilled into a large enclosure. The room hosted a mountain of highly valuable sludge-strewn items which formed the base of a large throne-like seat.
Rico settled himself onto a metal crate at the mountain’s base, feeling the unavoidable wet material saturate his high-end garments as it clung to his skin. While he hadn’t dressed his best for the occasion, the effort of maintaining an appearance to impress the Rick at hand held its own subtle sway. He glanced around the space, noting the differences from his previous visit as the Rick King clambered up the hoarded items into his seat of self-administered power.
Bio-luminescent fungi had encroached the walls, and in the upper end of the enclosure, items had been hung like stars. They aimlessly orbited around the mountain of garbage. They were close to Rickport, the access point for the bottom-feeder Ricks into the sub-levels of the citadel. Rico guessed that the gravity was affected due to proximity. The Rick King, of course, leveraged it to further his own illusions of grandeur as he surrounded himself by inferior pieces of shit. Guess that made him the king of it.
“I’ll slide the next shipment from Sector Y to the drop point at Silver Palm, but in addition to the usual payment, I want a keg of 322 for having to deal with your stupidity.”
“It's a strict organizational policy that I don’t re-negotiate contracts, at any point.” Rico simply stated, with growing irritation, though he held it behind his eyes. “I apologize, but your request isn’t part of our original deal.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a genius and organized crime sounds like an fucking oxymoron if you ask me. I don’t have time for schedules and shit.” The toxic Rick grew irritated as he was made to explain himself, “and I don’t have time to explain the complicated logistical reasons to why your timeframe is a terrible fucking idea.”
“You’re a very busy Rick, and I’d like to be mindful of your schedule.” Rico rose to his feet, trying to push the thought of wet mucousy fabric sticking to the back of his thighs out of his mind.
‘If you’ll excuse me,” Rico frowned as he risked a gamble, “I need to make accommodations with a reliable source.”
Randomized action led to intermittent reinforcement, and the last thing Rico needed was for the toxic Rick to become fixated and obsessed with him. He’d seen what the Rick King had done to the Ricks and Mortys who had abandoned him in the sewers.
“Are you saying I’m not reliable?” Anger boiled through the Rick King’s accusing expression. He leaned forward in his throne and stared down at Rico.
“Not at all.” Rico de-escalated, “I’m saying this job requires perfection. No surprises. As always, you’re my first choice. But if your schedule is too full to accommodate, then I need to find someone else who can meet my timeframe, even if they are higher-risk.”
“Jeeezus, don’t need to suck the toxic cum out of my dick too hard. I know, baby, you need me. Because I'm the only Rick who can do this run in the sewer with my eyes closed. Y-You think the other Ricks on your team could do that? No, they can’t because I’m one of a kind.”
“You don’t need me to tell you.” Grinning wide, Rico earnestly doled the praise onto the Rick, who immediately clapped back.
“Of course I don’t. Ugh, you really are growth inhibited.”
Rico ignored the capricious statement and continued their business. He passively watched a toxic alien lifeform swim through a waste pool at his side. He made a mental note to start building a health-hazard case that he could blackmail the Council with. With the Rick King’s overbearing personality, it would only be a matter of time before the CSI started to look at the Citadel Sewers.
It was a good pipeline, however, and Rico was willing to do the groundwork to keep it running.
He reached into the lining of his suit, and revealed an un-laminated stack of papers in a folder. He carefully set them on the top of the milk crate which he had wiped mostly clean. The toxic Rick would need to memorize the information on the paper before the material disintegrated in his hands.
“The Citadel coordinates and the drop points with their corresponding times. Payment will transfer with a full accounting of inventory. I’ll be notified.”
Rico turned away from the Rick king with a nod, thankful to be on his way.
“Wait!” The Rick suddenly slid down the pile of garbage to follow after him. He uncharacteristically stammered as he tossed a thumb over his shoulder, pointing to one of the tunnels.
“S-some rocket fuel washed down here a few weeks back, I bet your bitch-ass couldn’t handle it, but I’m game to find out.”
Rico lifted his gaze to the lonely Rick who offered the possibility of an undoubtedly toxic relationship. Pity was the pretense used to lure others in. Alone, in the sewers, it was how he survived.
“I appreciate the invitation, but I don’t allow myself to drink on the clock.”
The toxic Rick frowned hard at the polite rejection and maliciously lashed out in the face of rejection, “—You call yourself a Rick? Yeesh. You make me ashamed to be myself!”
Rico smiled at the unintentional compliment from the Rick King, and offered a compromise, “Following the successful job, I’ll visit for negotiations of the next shipment. I’ll bring some pizza.”
He internally grimaced at the idea of eating in such a location, but everyone, even those who no longer needed food to sustain them, deserved to have a slice of his pizza. It was the closest thing to a friendship Rico was willing to offer.
“Yeah, whatever.” the Rick king brushed him off taking back his emotional control over their interaction, “I don’t need your pity. It’s pathetic.”
Rico shrugged and said nothing. Instead he turned to leave at an acceptable pace.
The toxic Rick’s eyes followed Rico until he turned out of sight.