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by Michael E. Johnson

Uncertainty is the only principle.

Together, brothers and sisters, we gather here in the eyes of the greatest maker to recycle our fallen brother Bill. Bill's hands helped build our home, his words helped build our community, and his love helped us all hold on to the maker's will. Let us remember the words of the maker as Bob now joins the multitudes of angels, building the great temple in heaven...


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Chapter 13. [UNEDITED]

"I said..."

Her voice lowered, distorted.

Crack! Chrys continues to hold the man's wrist, snaps her fist back from his broken elbow into his neck. He yelps and his eyes roll back into his head as he passes out from the blow. She releases him as he starts to slump, and braces her foot against his stomach.

"... I'm not ..."

She kicks him back into two of the other three settlers in the alley, and unslings her shotgun from her back, drawing a bead on one left standing. He's a little taller than the rest, and much older.

"interested"

She cocks the gun, and takes a step back toward D.T. on the ground, cradling the left side of her ribs next to a large handmade sledgehammer. Chrys kicks the sledge so that it slides back and behind from her. The lead man puts his hands up and takes a step of his own back away from her. The other two gather their fallen comrade, keeping their eye on the scattered static dancing over the figure before them. Occasionally an arm or a hand, even a face play across the pattern, a shift of the shoulder, a turn of the head. This close, and staring, it's all obviously just a distraction – her gaze, hidden by the mask, and her aim are obviously rock steady.

"in your land." Each word she uses comes out in a slightly different tone and speed. The words are clear, but the cadence is slightly modified. ( @DeIDENT Vocal Distortion #WrecksANiceBeach™ )

/us-es: P-P-Please don't shoot./ The lead man raises his hands a little higher. The other two are inching back. /us-es: We thought you were part of a local gang./

"What'd that idiot say?"

"Spanish, Deet. Set to spanish."

"Pfft. Fine, whatever. Spanish, I'll turn it on. What'd he say?"

"Said they thought we were in a gang."

"Do we look like we're in a gang, dumbass?!", D.T. picks up a piece of shattered brick and throws it poorly, missing the lead man. The effort obviously hurt, she clutches her side tighter. Entangled she says, "Mangos."

Chrys resumes her entangled link as well: "Really? Mangos?"

"Yes, Spanish, Mangos – shut up, let's just get the hell out of here."

"Deet, your suit got operational splints on that side?"

"Yeah, yeah – I'll be fine."

"Ribs?"

"Heard one good snap, stings like a bitch."

"Ok, I'm lead. You're baggage, roll with it"

Chrys disengages Entanglement.

/us-es: I'm sorry, we didn't know. They've hit us four times in the last couple weeks, we're barely surviving out here. We thought they were toying with us when we saw the antique armor./

"And you didn't wonder why we were skirting your territory?" D.T manages to open a small console on her side and activates several small switches. "We're just passing through." Small tubes inflate along the rib cage, and stiffen the side. She takes a few slow breaths and starts trying to stand.

/us-es: We thought you were scouting, looking for another way in. We don't want any trouble, we'll go now./ The lead man takes another step back again.

Chrys, motions to the other two men. "You two take care of your friend, get him home – his arm is definitely broken. This one," motioning with her gun at the oldest man in the group "is going to be our insurance."

The youngest looking man stands up. /us-es: No, take me instead. The family needs Brother Tomas more than me./

"Then that settles it. Brother Tomas is going for a little walk. Up the hill, then we're on our way – and you can get back to whatever it is you do all day."

/us-es: Little brother, it will be ok./ Tomas, hands still raised, nods to the younger man. /us-es: Get him back to the infirmary, and let the others know I will return shortly./ The younger reaches down to help his other brother begin carrying the wounded man back down the alley. Tomas turns back to Chrys /us-es: May I put my hands down?/

"Yes.", She doesn't flinch. Tomas relaxes, and stands waiting.

He looks at D.T. /us-es: Do you need assistance?/

"No, I'm good." D.T. stands awkwardly, slightly hunched to her left. The ribbing of the suit on that side is prominently inflated, hundreds of stuff tubes pushing to immobilize and support that side.

Tomas looks back to Chrys. /us-es: You will no longer be bothered by my family. Where may I lead you?/

Unmoving, "Do you know the arcology up the hill?"

/us-es: There are several, but I assume that you mean the residential arcology directly west. Was that your wrecker that flew by this morning?/

"Friends of ours, we'd like to find them." motioning with the gun for him to begin walking.

Tomas rasies an eyebrow, and points the way up the hill past the janitors with an open hand, /us-es: May I?./

Chrys backs up to allow him to pass, D.T. takes a few tentative steps to the side to allow him to pass. He stops and looks at her.

/us-es: Are you sure you couldn't use someone to lean on? Maybe you could use the hammer as a cane?/

"I'm fine."

/us-es: I understand./ He looks at Chrys, takes a deep breath and sighs /us-es: Such a mess. It's a shame we couldn't have met under better conditions. Looks like you two share a bit of our belief. Reuse, Repurpose, Rebuild./ Pointing to Chrys' suit. /us-es: That suit is older than me. It's in beautiful shape. I hope my brother didn't damage it./ He passes her in the alley, walks to the end and awaits them in the street, just standing looking up hill. As the janitors walk to join him, he closes his eyes and says a prayer.

The street isn't much larger than the alley, built more to accommodate foot traffic after the fall of the oil economy, and before the resurgance of open avenues like the one by the river brought on from the rise of the Thorium industry, and the nearly microscopic Pulsed Laser/Boron charged Thorium Farnsworth-style fusors that fit into everything from toasters to taxicabs. Shortly after the collapse of fossil oil, in an effort unseen since the first American space program, the burgeoning maker movement had set out to create the tiny fission/fusion reactors within a decade – without appreciable help from any of the then-still-existant governments. Heralded as a miracle of innovation, an open community of millions, and astounding effort of intentional industrial collaboration for the time, it was quickly co-opted by the oil companies that had merged with many of the coal companies. Unrestrained by conscience, they just shifted from digging out fossil carbon sources, to strip mining for Thorium and other heavy metals. Regions like Mongolia, Central Africa, and South America exploded with another century of violent dictatorial Thorium republics.

The once bright future of the makers burned out in the avalanche of corporate legal paperwork, and returned to the underground it sprang from. Over time, it merged with open religious movements, freeholders, and preppers forming small colonies that sought out the edges where they could build their own lives away from the arco's.

Tomas opened his eyes to look at Chrys. /us-es: Until we reach the more recyclable newer construction above, we will be fairly covered from observation./ Tomas waited, hands folded.

Chrys looked up the hill, back at Tomas and D.T., and relaxed her pose. She entangles with D.T., "You're going to lean on Tomas until we get there."

"No thanks." Shaking her head.

"Don't care, I need you as fresh as you can be when we get there, and He's gonna burn the calories helping you ."

"I don't see the point"

"Look" Pointing up the hill, which transforms from footpath-street to a series of steps zigzagging up the somewhat steep morraine. "You'd be worthless once we got topside."

"Chrys, I'm fine. I can manage."

"Deet - You've got more than a few ribs broken. I'll leave you. "

"I doubt it."

"Well, then we're jogging." Chrys shoves D.T. forward. D.T. stumbles, "Son-of-a-bitch!" grabs her side and leans against the wall. "What the hell?"

"I don't want to worry about you pucturing a lung out here, we don't have that kind of tech with us."

Standing, slightly, and then going back to her lean, she holds her free hand up. "Fine. Fine."

Chrys turns back to Tomas, "Please help the janitor up the street."

us-es: Yes. Tomas steps forward and leans forward to take D.T.'s left hand and draw it over his shoulder, sliding his right arm aruond her waist. us-es: Is this acceptable?

"Yeah, fine." Wincing unseen, D.T leans in to Tomas, and all three begin walking up the street.

When they reach the stairs, the awkward carry slows their progress, and the steps change in size from a few millimeters to a few dozen centimeters. Tomas, guiding D.T. along, takes on a bit more of her weight, and is obviously getting a little winded. /us-es: How is it two young people like yourself came to own such equipment? I've seen a few janitors in my day, but that armor is almost a museum piece./

"We're not really at liberty to say." D.T. mutters back after a particularly large step.

/us-es: Well, I commend you on the care with which you restored it. If you care to swap knowledge at some point, perhaps we might have something you need to know how to do to trade. After the maker and people, the only thing of value is skill. You seem to be very wealthy in that regard./

"We'll think it over." The girls exchange a quick glance. Entangled, "Not a bad idea once this is over. Maybe a pow-wow with the beards back home and these folks might be good all around."

Steps, endless steps, zigzagging through the narrow crumbling buildings crowding them in. Here there is more moss with the closeness, and lack of sunlight. When oil went away, people focused on forming tighter communities, from simpler materials that could be made locally. Digging back into mostly-lost technology, around here – that ment soft red brick, fired locally. Slowly, the staircase opened out into the dismantled mass of recyclable buildings. Plastics and metal beams and walls, many with grinder and saw marks, spread back out again – wider lanes and avenues betraying to shift to personal transportation and endless consumer optimism. Single story structures now cannibalized for every available useful material, this on the hill for only a few hundred meters, and then finally the top.

Here, one last long delapidated avenue running along the ridgeline separates the three from a few obviously man-made ridges of artifically sculpted earth, covered with a sickly green grass-like substance, UltraTurf™ brand spray concrete. The flocked "grass" appearing like fresh spring growth, didn't budge at all when stepped on, from a distance looked like a grorgeous lawn. Nearby, a kind of strikingly green concrete sponge. From the lip of the ridge, the gentle slope down to the first border ridge cresting maybe a foot below eye level, followed by a few hundred meters of more grass, and one last ridge.. this one bordered by a sidewalk and streetlamps. Beyond that, rooftops poked about the occasionaly dip in the ridge. The CRUFT sitting in plain site.

Entangled, DT turns to Chrys, "Should we let them know we're here?"

"I don't think so. I'm going in, you're going to cover me, and Tomas is going home."

"I'm good with that." D.T. stands up unassisted, waving off Tomas. Tomas takes a step back and faces Chrys.

Distorted, Chrys turns to Tomas. "You may go. Please go quickly and quietly back the way we came."

us-es: I understand. I wish you safely on your way. May the maker return you to us, when we can speak without conflict. He folds his hands in a gesture of prayer, tips his hat to both janitors, then turns and walks back down the hill. From here, they can see across the river cut back to the road that brought them into town, where the sprawl begins it's rotting hulk on the far side. A few arcos visible near the horizon, in pale against the sky.

Once Tomas disappears into the maze of brick buildings down the bank, DT turns to Chrys while pulling out a small metal cylinder marked Detex™ The blackened steel cannister is scratched and dented. "Fireflies?"

"Absolutely. I think Grampie will be ok with that."

DT unscrews the cap and pours a small pile of the fine silver powder into her right hand, and replaces the lid. After putting away the small cannister, she pulls aside a portion of her cowl with her free hand, takes a deep breath, and opens her left hand flat before her mouth. She blows a long slow breath, the dust begins glowing blue, and a million embers fly out. She turns and blows again, blowing out an arc, ending pointing up. Replacing her mouth covering, she brushes the last bits off her hands. The shimmering cloud, with millions of tiny lights slowly pulsing, spreads slowly in the air a meter or two above the ground. The tiny points dim, but continue to spread as the cloud settles. Slowly, small patches of ground begin to glow blue, and shift to red and then disappear.

"IR, switch to record, and Locate™ - in case we need to come back this way"

Both janitors switch to remove IR filtering, and resume Locate™ as well as accelerometer map recording. Now, laid out in bright splotches of white, halfway until the second ridge, the two janitors pick their way forward extremely careful to not step near the glowing patches of ground. D.T. repeats the process one more time, concentrating straight ahead and up. As they approach, they crouch more, move more slowly, until Chrys is laying on the next hill. D.T. crouches somewhat lower.

The bowl of the next lawn sweeps down past a ring sidewalk only about three meters away, occasional steetlamps every dozen meters or so along the walkway. Fifty or so meters of grass the sweep back up again to a much higher hill, where the rooftops, and the CRUFT are visible peeking over. Residents who just happen to stand on their roof might just see a nice a nice view of a few rolling green hills, and maybe an occasional street lamp. An unlikely event in an arco, but an eventuality covered regardless. D.T. stands briefly to send out the fireflies. They spread out in an arc, even past the sidewalk, but only glow blue for a while an fade.

"No mines."

Chrys looks up and down the sidewalk. "Empty. Just the street lamps."

"My ass, just the streetlamps."

The scanlines of a policeman coalesce on the sidewalk.

"Hi there." He stands with one hand half in a poket, his crisp blue uniform and shiney badge in perfect place. He waves with the other, no weapon, nothing. "How are you ladies?"

Entangled, "Well, They've got access to a logic net." Chrys slowly rises, in her distorted gruff voice, "Please move along citizen, we're on a mission."

DT slowly stands and pushes through the pain to belie her injury. "Or they think they're being funny."

"Say, I think you might be in the wrong spot. I'd welcome you in, but I can see you're not exactly here for the tour. If you don't mind, we'd just love it if you'd turn around and walk back out again please." His infectious smile looks painful. His prefectly manicured features are stunning in the afternoon light. A tiny Twinklex™ sparkle almost imperceptably glints in his eye.

Entangled, Chrys signals D.T. "Deet, you got a little hit of morphine in your suit?"

"Probably, whatcha thinking?"

"Well. I think you need a few drops of happy juice, and we both get a hit of adrenaline, and we just make a break for it."

"Why is that?" DT asks.

"Take a look past our friend."

DT turns her head slightly to look down the sidewalk, where four police and dogs are walking camly toward them easily a few mundred meters. The dogs look bright eyed and docile. The policemen friendly and inviting. A slight shift the other direction reveals at least three more coming around the bend. "Three more on six."

"Time to juice up, sister." Chrys signals her emergency.

"Done and done." DT's posture relaxes a little.

"3.. 2..."

The policemen accompanying the dogs vanish, the dogs start running toward them.

DT giggles. "Screw that, BAIL!" Both janitors run for the arco directly through the friendly police officer, who – still smiling – dissolves. While they run across the simulated grass, DT draw her knife and side arm, leading by a few meters. Chrys unslings her shotgon, a full magazine indicater swings into the corner of her field of view. Just topping the rise, Chrys spins around as the first dog leaps for her head.

THUD. The first dog's head explodes in a shower of wires and actuators.

D.T. sees the rear fire indicator and stops, turning and runs back to Chrys. "Chrys, rear advance, 5 more meters down hill, and we're in the houses. Jag north and you can get to the ship."

THUD, another dog falls and slides running, one more close and the other four just seconds away.

It leaps at D.T. who rotates her torso, the dog's head passing by, starting to turn to bite her as her left arm comes straight up into it's throat. The artificial fur rips, and the knife is torn from her hand, embedded in the metal spine through inside of the throat. "SHIT!" D.T. jumps on the animal as it lands, it's head stuck down. She straddles it, but fires four shots into it's midsection.. still moving, she gives it one more in the head "Chrys, throats no good.. it's all center mass and headshots"

The first, headless dog, struggles to stand... a holographic head reappears, and it limps off to the side to watch the fight.

Chrys takes a potshot at a further dog, and then runs back to DT. "We're good, run!"

D.T. gives one more try to retrieve her knife, gives up, kicks the dog and runs.

The ship looms just on the other side of the first row of houses in the middle of a cul-de-sac. Chrys reaches to her throat mic "Grampie, we're coming in hot... let the boys know to open the door."

Static in her headset, either bad radio or possibly just jamming. A gentle old voice responds through the cloud, "Wilco."

Chrys continues running, without looking. D.T. the faster of the two turns in fires a couple of bullets, runs ahead, and empties her gun of the last two. A few land on their targets, as dozens of dogs pour over the ridge. Images of police officers start materializing, along with holographic dogs.

The janitors keep pushing right up the cabin, when the hatch opens. As they climb the ladder, a tubby little dirty man pulls out a large handgun and shoots down past them into the gathering snapping, snarling crowd.

Inside, he closes the door behind them. "So you're the cavalry?"

Over the cabin radio, Grampie is yelling "Open the door, grab the janitors and dust off!"

D.T. removes the small key from her breast pocket and hands it to the tall thinner man just now standing up from the navigation seat. "Fly!"



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c. 2012 Michael E. Johnson
Email me: father @ bigattichouse d0t c0m
Creative Commons License
CRUFT by Michael E. Johnson is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at cruft-private-janitorial.com.