THE TWO TRAVELERS

EPISODE 1

THE KINGDOM OF ANGELS

 

            It was an incredibly hot dry day in the middle of summer and there were no clouds in the sky to keep the sun from beating down onto the decagonal shaped shrine located on a hill rising above the ancient village of Pomona. It was simple a white structure with a window on each of its ten sides except for the one that pointed directly east where there was instead a white door built beneath a large upside down club shape carved into the wood. Each the windows had one too, smaller though, and adorning their tops like a hat resting on perfect, rectangular glass that reached down almost to the floor. From the outside they appeared to have a deep tint of white that almost matched the shade of the outside walls.
            It housed only a single room and that room went upward as high as thirty feet to where it merged into a pole that itself rose up another twenty feet higher where it ended with the symbol of a circle with a lowercase “t” shape below it. Once that had been a bright shining pink color, the color of the Kingdom of Angeles, but so much time had passed that it had faded into a white that almost but did not quite match the rest of the building.
            Always there was some sort of guardian, some elder who wasn’t liable to “gawk” at the peculiar being within, even though they almost always did, and often despite regularly telling younger women that they weren’t supposed to even think of doing that very same thing.
            On that particular day, around fifteen hundred in the afternoon, the old guardian left with a bundle of things in her bony arms for seemingly no reason at all and walked down the stairs built into the hill back toward the city.
            Two girls watched her with no particular surprise. The security on the shrine was often lax since they put old Jan on the job, Jan, who preferred asculine woman over that of the being within, got bored often and if a girl watched her long enough she could often time her wanderings in and out with reasonable ease.
            Kelly grinned widely from her spot on the bush northwest from the shrine and watched the elder creeping down the stairs to visit the asculine woman she had been living with her for over fifty years. When she was out of sight down amid the buildings below Kelly casually went skipping down toward the shrine with Denise following unhappily after her.
            “We shouldn’t be doing this,” Denise stated firmly.
            “Don’t be such a baby,” Kelly said as she went hopping along. She was what was known as an “eminine” woman and should have been the soft one in the duo. She was wide hipped, large breasted, and tall but she was also slender with virtually no muscle at all which was the primary reason she was part of that group. Her hair was brownish blond, hanging long with large natural curls down her back, long hair another “eminine” trait, and her eyes were a soft, gentle brown that seemed wide with curiosity. She was wearing brown shorts, cut off above the knees, and a short sleeved white shirt. Her feet were covered in cute little green shoes that her mother, the local cobbler, had made for her.
            In all ways she appeared as eminine women should but Denise constantly found herself being psychologically pushed around by her. As Kelly was trotting along in front of her Denise watched her go with both appreciation and worry.
            Denise was what was known as an “asculine” woman and nowhere near the center of the two as some girls were. She was tall at six foot four covered in heavy muscle from head to toe both natural and self-created with dark, curly hair almost buzz cut short to her head in the militant asculine style popular for generations. Her eyes were pale brown, her skin tanned from hours of work in the fields, and she wore a black sleeveless shirt that showed off her muscles and a brown pair of shorts almost the same as Kelly’s. Her shoes were the dull, brown heavy boots of a soldier.
            Kelly slipped up to the door, looked around, then pushed it open and imitated be sucked into the building as she slipped inside. “Don’t you be a baby!” her voice called out from within.
            Denise groaned and followed after. If anyone saw the way she obeyed that girl she would never hear the end of it and although it might have ruined her chances in the Academy once upon a time it probably wouldn’t anymore. With so few girls to choose from she was practically guaranteed for the Francisco Royal Academy but all the same Denise still felt weak and humiliated for letting a silly eminine woman nag her into doing something stupid and unlawful.
            As the asculine woman she was supposed to be the sensible one and in control.
            Inside Denise saw Kelly had slipped through the space between two long white tables, stepped over the chain rail fence, and then slunk down onto the silver coffin and spread her limbs over it. She seemed to melt on it like butter on hot bread, her body pressed up against it and staring intensely through the glass front.
            “Hello Henry,” she said to the being frozen below. “I have missed you ever so dearly.”
            Denise felt the instinct to punch herself right in the nose when she felt slightly jealous of that corpse. “What do you think you are doing?” Denise asked in a voice that was trying to sound aggressive. She should have pulled the girl off right then, angrily, but she knew if she did that Kelly wouldn’t come around anymore and that she did not want. “We have to go now!”
            “Nobody is here, silly,” said Kelly as she leaned on her forearms, her lower legs curling up in the air behind her, and smiled happily. “We’re all alone with Henry 7,145,948.” She began to rub up against the coffin and groaned provocatively. “You’re just a sexy little lady, aren’t you, Henry? You would use you powerful body to rip my clothes right off. I bet you could go for actual minutes before getting too tired.”
            Denise rolled her eyes. “Only women can go that long,” she stated and then added awkwardly, “He’s not that attractive anyway.” She heard that men like that one he had been popped up from time to time from the east or the north but no one talked about them and furthermore pretended they didn’t exist if someone else brought them up. Asculine women who, like her, had more interest in other females would always have to be the ones sent out to deal with them if they ever really did appear.
            “He’s taller than most eminine women and just look at the muscles through his strange clothes. I wish he was frozen naked so I could see his meat. I bet it’s huge.”
            “Kelly, he’s a corpse, and you shouldn’t—” Denise was suddenly and instantly straightened up in military style as the door was flung open.
            “Sack!” hissed Kelly as she was moving into action. She tried to fly off the coffin at maximum speed, stand herself up into a pose of casual interest, and pretend she hadn’t just been grinding against a dead man’s coffin but she couldn’t because to get off “Henry” took away the few seconds she needed for that last part. Things were only made worse when the person who came in to see what they were doing was one of the worst who could have ever caught them.
            “Why you little bitches,” the woman said in an annoyed voice. The elder eminine woman stood in the doorway wearing the gray shawl of her station, a long sleeved blue shirt and a pair of brown pants reaching down to her small brown shoes. Her wavy brown hair was tied behind her head in the no-nonsense serious ponytail she always had it in, her eyes big and green and wide like a deer’s with hips narrow enough to make childbirth hard. When Kelly finally looked at her she saw the woman’s hands were on those narrow hips in her angriest pose and those green eyes were narrowing in anger toward her. Looped into her right arm was a basket for a casual picnic.
            Her two grandchildren slipped in from behind her, both under six, both wearing the young hopefuls’ white shawls, blue shirts and brown pants. They were both blond with blue eyes, both very clearly growing up to be eminine with their doll-like appearances and cute smiling faces.
            They all knew each other, of course, because they were all from Pomona.
            Great, Denise thought unhappily. Out of all the people to come wandering into that room for a picnic it would be a would-be-politician. Clearly, old Jan had left on that occasion to give her fellow elder sometime alone in the shrine with her family and Mr. Big Meat.
            Mergi the elder, though often complaisant, was not particularly lenient when it came to youthful impropriety. Everyone knew Mergi was a sure-in for the position of Mistress of Youth when Sandra finally retired, or maybe died, and she took her duties seriously partly because she was just that way and partly because she feared too much leniency would lead to people believing her incapable of handling the post.
            Denise took a deep breath. “Mergi—”
            “I would expect a whole lot better from a Royal Academy Hopeful,” stated Mergi. “And you, Kelly. What were you doing on Walter’s coffin?”
            Kelly lowered her eyes and tried playing cute. “I was just getting a closer look…”
            “Of that I am sure,” Mergi replied and she placed her little blue basket on one of the white tables. “Wait here, children.” She walked into the corner and Denise and Kelly followed instinctively and unhappily. “What are you thinking, Denise?” she hissed the moment they were away from the others. “You know goddess damn well Berth’s opinion on males and distraction.”
            “I wasn’t doing anything!” Denise retorted quickly.
            Kelly twirled her hair around a bit, something cute that Denise knew would not work on Mergi. “This was her idea too—”
            “Goddess hell it was!” Denise nearly screamed. She just knew she should have stopped Kelly when she had the chance.
            “I know Denise well enough to know that this wasn’t her idea.” She put her hands on her hips in her angry pose again and frowned at Kelly. “Kelly, it’s over a hundred degrees F and I really just don’t have time for this. I need you to give me your word that you will never go molesting Walter again.”
            Kelly frowned at her. “I wasn’t molesting anyone—”          
            “I repeat! ‘I need you to give me your word that you will never go molesting Walter again.’”
            There were some weird squeaking sounds from the girls and both of them were hopping up and down and pointing. “Grandmother! Grandmother!”
            “Children, I am busy!”
            “Denise, wasn’t it your idea all along?” asked Kelly.
            “That’s remarkably selfish of you, Kelly,” replied Mergi.
            “Oh come on!” Kelly replied in a whine. “She’s going to get off because she asculine! Even Berth won’t do anything to her!”
            “That’s not true,” said Mergi.
            “Of course it’s true!” Kelly cried. “I’ve never seen an asculine woman in trouble for more than a week and that one was caught stealing! I’d get a month of field labor for this! She’ll get a day, maybe!”
            Denise wouldn’t deny that if asked. She was no liar but even if she was she wasn’t about to take credit for something she hadn’t done. While Berth would say nothing and do nothing, or very little, the mark might still end up on her record and that could preclude her any high post in the military later in life.
            The squeaking was getting louder and one of the girls cried out, “Louis! Grandmother, something is happening to Louis!”
            “That is not true, Kelly,” said Mergi, “And children, Grandmother is busy! Give me a few moments!”
            “But Louis’s coffin is leaking!” cried one of them.
            All three of the adults blinked at each other, shared a look of confusion, and then slowly looked down. A small amount of icy mist appeared around their feet moving through the room like it was alive and when they raised their eyes they seemed to notice only then that it had become colder. That was an incredibly out of place feeling as the heat in the room was intense and the built in air conditioner had not worked for a generation.
            They slowly turned in unison to look at the coffin.
            Eight large holes had appeared, three on the sides and one on each end, and they were somehow open and spewing out that mist. There were grooves too, like gills on a fish that were releasing something like steam out it in the air only it was cold.
            “What is this?” asked Kelly.
            “Kelly,” said Mergi in a soft, warning tone, “I better not find out this is somehow your fault too.” Mergi started forward carefully to the coffin and looked down at it. “It’s—” her eyes widened “—the glass behind the door is gone!”
            The other two moved up beside her. “It can’t be,” said Denise.
            “It is,” Kelly said and she reached down and wiped the mist off the icy glass front with her hand. The man’s face was clearly visible through the fogged window with none of the glass that had been between it and the window. “We can touch him…”
            Mergi laughed. “You are not included in that right should it exist,” she stated sternly.
            Denise could have sworn the man was moving somehow. Was it her imagination or was she was going crazy? She did not know. She leaned forward, feeling stupefied, when suddenly a series of clack sounds sent her jumping up into the air. The others had shrieked in surprise, four eminine sounds rising for their mouths, and Denise did not know what do to exactly. She was only seventeen that year and felt vastly beyond her training and control. She needed to find Berth or—
            Suddenly, the man seemed to have blinked, actually blinked, and focused on them. “Impossible,” whispered Mergi.
            The man raised his hand weakly, his black hair stuck onto his face like he had just stepped out of a pool, and said, “Where—”
            All five females shrieked at the top of their lungs, turned, and fled through the door down the stairs. They were still screaming as they charged through Pomona’s food district ignoring all the women who stared at them like they had gone insane.
            Mergi regained her composure a few moments a later and flipped back to the cul-de-sac that was resting at the end the stairs. As she walked she turned to Denise and said, “You, fetch Gail quickly. I think she might still be trading not far up W Phillips DR.” No one knew what the W or the DR stood for so she, and everyone else, simply spelled it out.
            Denise was grateful for an excuse to be gone and she disappeared down the street to do exactly what she was told.

*          *          *

            Mergi had never been more surprised in all her life and was genuinely worried she was about to have a heart attack. Her grandmother had a heart attack from a sudden surprise and for that reason she had always worried she had a weak heart no matter what the healers said to reassure her.
            A woman approached her wearing the brown shawl of the political worker, which was a politician who was just at the point below any official post above that of a normal girl, and Mergi saw that was a nineteen year old eminine woman named Anna.
            “Wait,” Mergi told her and then she straightened her back to appear with as much dignity as she had remaining. “I’m going to explain myself to the council first before anyone else.”
            “What happened?” asked someone in the crowd that had gathered around them.
            “The man in the coffin is alive and awake!” cried one of his granddaughters.
            The girl Anna blinked at them. “Incorrect,” she told the girls and then turned to Mergi. “What actually happened?”
            “I must speak to Gail.” Mergi sensed she screwed up in the way she spoke or the way she wore her face because Anna read the truth on her somehow.
            “You believe it,” Anna murmured and she turned toward the shrine. Everyone was eavesdropping, they always did, and when they burst into speaking Mergi thought her brain was going to explode.
            “Quiet!” Mergi screamed and they did. “You all stay far away from that shrine!” Mergi didn’t need or want any new problems until Gail was there to deal with it. If anything went wrong she could shoulder the blame on her. “Do not any of you move an inch!”
            “The asculine women can leave,” stated Barbar from somewhere, one of maybe five truly asculine women in Pomona which included Denise, and the tone she used indicated a kind of casualness that a natural superior gave to their subordinates. She was over six feet tall, heavily muscled, with short blond hair, hard black eyes and a mean, hard face. She was wearing her usual sleeveless black shirt, black pants and tall, heavy brown boots. She was Berth’s favorite and since Berth thought of her as her natural successor she had a lot more power than any other girl at twenty four.
            “No they cannot!” hissed Mergi and she stepped in front of Barbar and her friends. Those were more in the middle, probably asculine but more their personality than natural build, but it wasn’t like she could actually stop them. They knew that and were brushing past her. “I said, ‘stop!’”
            “No,” said Barbar.
            That was when an asculine elder appeared in front of her, her short gray hair combed straight backward, and her narrow, dark eyes looking at them from the exact same height. “Is there going to have a problem here, Barbar?”
            “No, Elder Murr,” she said with an unhappy sigh.
            “Then back away and wait. We will wait and see how this turns out.” She leaned over, whispered something into Barbar’s ear that Mergi was almost certain Barbar would not like, and then Barbar walked away frowning instead. “Barbar is hot headed but she’ll come around.” Murr did not wear a shawl, asculine women wore jackets that reached to her ankles, and hers was gray indicating she too was an elder and political, but without a post exactly like Mergi but with more power because asculine woman always had more power even over those who still held posts. Normally when looking at her on such a hot day Mergi could only wonder how the woman could handle the heat but she was beyond caring about such a thing. “What is this about, Mergi?”
            Mergi debated asking her to wait and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. “He’s awake,” she told her softly. “He is alive.”
            Murr’s eyes narrowed. “I know eminine women are prone to weakness and wild fantasies but you are an elder, Mergi, and if you think that pretending that corpse is crawling out of his coffin—”
            “I’m not lying!” hissed Mergi and she felt offended by what the woman accused her of in front of the biggest gossips in town. “He’s alive! I saw him raise his arm!”
            “He’s been sealed in glass—”
            “Murr—”
            “Enough!” screamed Murr and Mergi jumped back in surprise. “I can assure you, Mergi, that the attractive young man in that coffin is as dead as the beef you ate in your morning sandwich.”

*          *          *

            “Good fucking God I wish was dead!” Justin Biryukov groaned when he felt the effect the sound of shrieking women put on his brain.
            Their screams seemed to have ushered in the worst headache he had ever known and already an incredible growing stiffness and nausea weren’t helping. He felt his stomach beginning to churn even as he blinked away tiredness and while he tried to wait for some Faction man to push open the door and slap another metal collar on him it soon grew unbearable. He clambered upward awkwardly, pushed up the door, which swung open quite easily, and then leaned onto the side of the pod as he looked around.
            “What the hell?” he asked in gawking wide eyed awe. He was in an odd ten sided white room with weird tinted windows, five long white tables like the kind found in mess halls each pointing at his pod with metal legged chairs with white backs and cushions. It was incredibly organized and clean with the only out of place item being a single large blue basket resting on the top of one of the tables. “Hello?” He looked around at the empty room. “Anyone here?” He felt his head spin and stomach churn at the same time and he groaned again.
            The last thing he remembered seeing was that nurse looking down at him while the clear liquid came up over his eyes and then poof he was looking at two women and one man in their place, none of them dressed as a Faction doctor, soldier or worker. Their clothes instantly struck him as out of place or odd and the only one that struck him as instantly Faction was the man who could have been a soldier albeit without his uniform or bio armor.
            Justin clambered carefully out of the pod, slipped a bit, and the increase in nausea hit him so hard and so suddenly he almost projectile vomited what felt like half of his stomach out onto the cushion of a nearby white chair and what felt like the other half to the floor. He wasn’t even up on his knees before clear liquid had left his stomach again and was pouring out from his mouth onto the white tiles below in a flood. He grabbed onto a nearby table for balance and emptied his entire stomach of whatever was in there for several minutes and then dry heaved for several minutes more.
            He almost felt like crying in relief when it was finally done and moved away from the mess and leaned up against the pod. “Well that sure was fun,” he groaned and looked around. “Where are you people? You fucking with me or what?” He looked at the door and saw that it was actually painted wood in what seemed an incredibly old fashioned designed.
            At that moment he was suddenly hit with a sudden and absolute certainty that he was somewhere the UCLD had not chosen for him. They almost never built with wood, absolutely never built with art, and looking around he could see both of those where everywhere. The room itself was shrine-like place which, considering the religious aspect, was not like to be anywhere the religion-hating Faction would choose to wake him up in. For them it was all factories, efficiency and boring logic: their Law at work.
            “It’s wrong,” Justin said and rubbed his eyes. “Everything is wrong.”
            Justin stood up and walked over to the basket, the first blue thing he could remember seeing in three months other than the sky, and, after smelling something very tasty inside, eagerly lifted the top. Within were paper covered sandwiches, plastic round juice cups that that looked suspiciously similar to grenades, and real fruit. He was absolutely certain nothing in there was synthesized: it was all real.
            Like in a dream, he picked up a green apple covered in some sort of thick sugar and bit into it. Whatever he had just vomited out had not seemed to affect his taste and the fruit going down his throat was better than any other food he could possibly remember. It made him think of the concentration camps of the Holocaust, a thought which made him feel him feel a little guilty because his misery was nowhere near that level, and about the how the food must have tasted after years of worthless soup and bread.
            More than that though he thought of the caramel apples he used to eat with his mother. She knew a vender on Venice Beach and whenever they went they would eat hotdogs and fries, not generated but actually cooked in the old fashioned way, and then would have a desert of a caramel apple.
            He could still see her smiling at him as they walked along the beach with the sun shining down through her brown, wavy hair with one dainty hand over his and the other holding the stick with her nut covered caramel apple.
            He devoured the basket’s apple, regretted he did not save it for last then took a tentative bite of the beef and bacon sandwich. He found seasonings he did not recognize but it was till good and devoured it at crazy speed. “Oh God, yes, the forbidden meat!” he cried after he remembered to swallow. It seemed barely an instant passed before he had virtually inhaled everything in the basket.
            Then he ran his hands through his hair, slicking it back, and then felt the bio blocker at the back of his neck.
            “Oh yeah,” he said. “That.”

*          *          *

            “Are you sure you haven’t been drinking desert water again?” asked Gail.
            “That was forty seven years ago, Gail!” Mergi almost screamed.
            Gail was the Mistress of Food and Lodging with a green shawl denoting that position, and she was more than simply skeptical of Mergi’s story. She wasn’t very attractive, even by eminine standards, being very short, very slender and mostly shapeless up and down with graying blond hair and amber colored eyes. Her arms were crossed in a parent to child gesture Mergi found so infuriating that she just wanted to grab that long gray braid that hung down over the right side of her front past her almost nonexistent breasts and swing her around by it.
            “Mergi,” Gail said with a sigh, “He just can’t be awake. It’s simply not possible.” There were murmurings of agreement among the women, many still watching the shrine for a glimpse of the supposedly wondrous waken man. “Even if he was why exactly would he wake up just now when Kelly was masturbating on him—”
            “Hey!” cried Kelly.
            “—and not in some other important era before or after?”
            “I don’t know why he’s awake, Gail! I just know that he is!”
            “Oh Goddess!” murmured Murr in an oddly eminine sounding voice.
            Mergi, Gail and everyone not still looking turned and stared up at the shrine. Every pair of eyes grew wide and every jaw dropped and it seemed that none of them could breathe for what felt like a lifetime. It was the most beautiful thing in the world and it seemed even Gail could not formulate a clear thought for several minute.
            “D-Denise.” Denise moved up to Gail without taking her eyes off of what was above them. “Tell the council what is happening and have it assembled in the Council House immediately. Murr and I will bring the man if we can and speak to them as soon as—as possible.”
            Denise turned and ran off without a second thought.
            “I always knew she was that sort of woman,” Gail said thoughtfully, pleased with her ability to read people as Mergi well knew, “Murr, Mergi, we need to keep these women away from him until the council has deliberated.”
            A healthy man always ends badly, thought Mergi. She had heard stories of healthy men from the east, south and north and they almost always ended up being murdered. Women go crazy over them and it was said that murder was the requirement for society’s safety. Just looking up at that creature there she easily could see why.
            Her entire body trembled just at the thought alone of touching him.
            “I agree,” said Murr softly. “We’ll take him to the Council House.” And then, as if in an afterthought she added, “If he won’t come willingly I’ll have to subdue him and make him come.” Her voice was distant, thoughtful and excited all at the same time.
            That might not be so easy. Mergi thought he looked pretty strong and that made her wonder how strong a healthy man really was. She found that thought sent another tremor through her body.
            Gail looked up thoughtfully at the man standing out in front of the shrine staring down at them and then asked, “What is he doing?”

*          *          *

            “What am I doing?” Justin asked himself and then looked around again.
            He was standing on the yellow hill the shrine was set upon and could see toward the west a small shed with some bushes here and there all around, to the north and south were more hills and desert mostly, but straight ahead to the east was a cobblestone path leading to a staircase that led downward to one of the asphalt roads that looked to Justin like a cul-de-sac only it was filled with stalls of food like in a food market in an old movie where those still existed. Beyond the market he could see many more buildings most of which were single story but there a few as high as twenty stories and a few others that were of various heights in between. They were all square or rectangular and a boring dull beige color that matched the desert world around them.
            He saw a crowd of people below all staring up at him with wide, awestruck eyes that made him a little uncomfortable but they were, in their normal, dull dresses and shirts and pants, clearly not Faction.
            Was it a trick, he wondered. Where were they? Where the Stardusts and the men and women in black and red bio armor? Where was anyone but a bunch of women, he was sure they were mostly women, all very clearly surprised to see him? Looking closer, he saw there were no men there, absolutely none at all, and while that was certainly odd he put that out of his mind as something far less important than all the other problems he most certainly had.
            One of which was the heat which was starting to make his head spin. He wavered a bit on his feet and every woman below gasped, which he also found really strange, and decided to start moving and get some answers.
            “Hello!” he called out and then they just stared at him. He held up his hand in a wave and every one of them raised their hands up in unison in a slow return wave that looked like they were displaying a gesture of peace. “Well that’s just a little creepy,” Justin said and then he started down the stairs carrying the blue basket in his left hand. “Hello,” he said as soon as he reached the bottom and they still didn’t answer. They simply stared in awe and then parted to give him a path with ghost quietness as he walked up.
            Close up he was feeling much more uncomfortable. They were staring at him with more unabashed intensity than he had ever been stared at in all his life.
            They are all dressed kind of mannish, he thought. They wore t-shirts, regular shirts, shorts, pants, a few with strange shawls over their shoulders, but not one dress or skirt or feminine blouse among them and none of them wore makeup. He turned to a random girl and asked, “Do you understand the language I’m speaking?”
            “Y-yes,” she murmured and she giggled and blushed. She was like twenty eight or something, pretty enough that he shouldn’t have made her react so girlishly like that. In Justin’s experience girls didn’t act that way very often after their high school years especially when they were pretty.
            “Oh, uh, okay.” He turned from her and noticed a short woman in a green shawl with a gray braid standing next to a very big older woman in a gray jacket that reached to her ankles and looked kind of like a regulator’s duster from a Wild West movie. He saw one of the women who had been above him when he woke up beside her, an older woman in a gray shawl and another one, the girl, in the background among the other women crowding around steadily. The man was nowhere to be seen. “Ladies,” said Justin. “Who’s in charge around here?”
            “Uh b-but no one is charging anywhere,” said the woman in the green shawl in a genuinely confused voice.
            Justin blinked at that, surprised to find she was not joking, and then said, “Who is your boss?” They stared at him uncomprehending. “Your commander? Leader? The figure of highest authority?”
            “That would be me for the moment,” said the large woman with the gray jacket.
            “Oh my Goddess!” shrieked a woman. “What is that thing on his neck?” Suddenly everyone was high pitched screaming behind him suddenly and Justin groaned and rubbed his pounding head.
            The woman in the jacket scream-commanded them in a rather manly voice to stop and after a moment they did.
            “My headache really didn’t need that,” Justin said and he lowered his hands. “So you don’t know what a ‘boss’ is or what a bionic augmentation blocker is.” Justin knew this to be of some great important note and worth thinking about but his mind was foggy and he couldn’t formulate a really good thought about anything. The only thought that seemed to click was the one about the basket and so he held it up. “Does this belong to anyway?” he asked. The woman in the gray shawl stepped forward and Justin dropped it into her arms. “I’m sorry but I ate everything in there. I’ve only been eating flavored paste and water for the last three months and I—couldn’t resist. I don’t have money after the Faction drained my account but I’ll make it up to you somehow.”
            She just stared at him wide bulging eyes.
            “God you are all really creeping me out,” he said as he looked around at all those weird bulging eyed expressions. They didn’t answer and he stared back them until his foggy mind grasped onto a new thought. “Is the UCLD around here?”
            “What is a UCLD?” asked the large woman.
            “Yes!” cried Justin. “Thank fucking God!” He laughed. “Doesn’t matter, not important, need a pair of engineer scissors.” They stared at him. “Oh you know. Cutters, scissors—”
            “I got one!” cried a voice. A girl came rushing out of the stands and immediately a bunch of women grabbed her and tried to yank the scissors from her hands. She shrieked as one woman succeeded and then quickly proceeded to pile through the other woman like a football player to stop victoriously in front of Justin like he was a goal line with the scissors held up victoriously. The girl who found them first let out a loud, long groan of misery.
            Justin stared at the girl who had the scissors and the girl who wasn’t able to give it to him crying and then felt really, really uncomfortable. “Thanks,” he said awkwardly as he took them and stepped back. They weren’t a bad pair of scissors, they were actually the right type, small wire cutters and close enough to what he needed, and when he opened and closed them a few times and checked their edge he found they were in good condition as well although he would have wanted then surgically sharp. “Good enough,” he hoped.
            “What are you going to do with those, Arthur?” asked someone.
            “Not to—” Justin blinked. Arthur? That’s fucking weird. “—not to worry.” He checked the bio blocker, warm with his blood and moving slightly at the touch, and then carefully moved the cutters to just the right spot or at least what he hoped was the right spot. “Oh God this going to fucking hurt,” he told himself. Somehow, sensing something was going to happen, the legs inside the bio blocker were already becoming slightly painful in warning.
            Suddenly a very powerful woman with short blond hair appeared directly ahead towering over him by several inches and outweighing him in pure muscle dressed in a black sleeveless shirt, black pants and big brown boots. Outside of a professional body builder he had never seen a woman even close to that size and she looked almost masculine enough to pass for a man with a sex change.
            “I’ve noticed you, Meat,” she told him and she cracked her neck and flex and muscles in a way that Justin thought of as very masculine. He realized then how stupid men must look to women when they tried that. “Like what you see?” she asked and he thought then men must have sounded pretty stupid too.
            “Uhhhhhh no.” Justin readied his scissors and felt the bio blocker moving more viciously. He thought he could feel the place where its brain was, the place of its focus somewhere in the center of the head area, and one right cut was going to kill it good. One wrong cut and he was going to be in a whole lot of pain.
            The woman in front of him gave him a very dark look. “My name is Barbar, Meat! I think we should go somewhere!” Her eyes narrowed. “We’re going to go somewhere right now!”
            Justin would have rather gotten a root canal done from a 19th century sadist than do what she was implying. “No thank you,” he told her. “Just let me deal with this thing and we’ll, uh, talk. Just talk.”
            “I really don’t recall asking you, Meat,” she told him. “Real women don’t ask anything of men.”
            “Barbar!” snarled the big woman with the long jacket.
            “Look, lady—” there was a hush from the women all around him “—I’m busy right now. I’m trying to—”
            “How dare you call me that, Meat?”
            “Just back off for five fucking seconds,” he told her and she shifted a bit, surprised by his angry tone. “What I’m doing is going to really hurt if I screw up and I’m going need all my concentration.”
            “You can do that if I give you permission, Meat!”
            “Look, I don’t hit women.” Her jaw just dropped at that statement. “I’m Russian, not Irish.” He smiled for a second but no one got the bad joke. He sighed and said, “Look, just back off, okay?”
            The woman in the green shawl stepped forward. “Barbar—”
            “I don’t recall asking you anything either, Skinny!”
            “Murr—” the woman in green began uncomfortably.
            “He has insulted her,” said the woman with the jacket. “Asculine women have a right to defend their honor. Not much I can do there.”
            Justin blinked in confusion. “Wait, we’re going to fight?”
            Barbar turned to Justin. “You want to play with me now, Rober! You want to play right now!”
            “I really don’t want anything to do with you and sex combined. I also already have a girl.” Justin took a step back when Barbar took a step forward. “Please leave me alone.”
            “I want to punish you for your indecency,” she told him and he saw something in her eyes he did not like at all. It was clear and unabashed lust. “I’ll make it quick. Men like it quick.”
            Justin handed the scissors to a girl who squeaked happily and faced Barbar. “I really don’t want to do this, Barbara.”
            “You do not get to choose what we do,” Barbar told him. “You’re a Lady Meat and a Lady Meat’s only choice in this world is determined by whatever woman owns him.”
            “Well if you want to fight, big girl, bring it on. Hit me with everything you got and if you’re goddamn lucky maybe you’ll scratch me.” Justin thought that if his mind was not so foggy from his sleep he would have known that saying that was a bad idea before he said it. “Goddamn it.”
            “He’s gone too far,” Murr stated simply.      
            Barbar smiled, threw fist, and Justin dodged it easily. She threw another, and then another, Justin easily dodging them, and then she threw herself at him. He dodged, stuck out his foot, and watched her fly to the hard black cement and the crowd gasped and then stared with a different sort of awe. That woman Murr looked absolutely mortified and Barbar looked as though she was about to go berserk.
            Justin took the scissors and stepped back with his hands up in the air.
            Barbar was up on her feet, partly bent over like a runner ready to sprint, her eyes filled with rage and shame. He had some fear of her at first because she was so very physically intimidating but she did not have nearly the training he did. Her skill level struck him as a brawler, possibly as an amateur boxer, more than anything else.
            “I don’t know what just happened,” said Justin. He had no wish to embarrass her in front of her friends and knew full well no good would ever come out of it. “I don’t want to get hurt. I think that was just really good luck and I don’t think it will last.”
            Murr understand instantly. “Clearly,” she said, “He’s surprised you. You must have been a little careless with such a lesser opponent and he had gotten lucky in your carelessness. Let him go, Barbar.” Her eyes widened and she said again in a harder, slower voice, “Let him go!”
            Barbar growled at Justin but it seemed her eyes were not exactly angry as much as they were interested. “You are going to suffer for that!”
            Justin shrugged at Murr and said simply, “I tried.”
            Barbar charged at him like an angry boar, her large hands in two giant fists, and Justin found it disturbingly easy to grab her, spin her around and send her stumbling across the street. She lost balance, hit a fruit stand, and demolished it as she went flying down into it. The scissors he had carried in his hands had not even cut her.
            “Am I going to have to pay for that because I don’t have any money?” asked Justin.
            Barbar jerked up, her body covered in the remains strawberries and raspberries, and screamed out, “I’ll kill you!”
            “You’ll do no such thing!” cried Murr in a tone that silenced everyone. “Get up and stand behind me!” Barbar frowned at her, looked like she very much wanted to do something else, but then grudgingly obeyed. Murr spoke to her in her ear and Barbar’s face was filled with incredible disgust and unhappiness.
            Justin reached back behind his head with his scissors and pressed the blades of the scissors into the beetle and missed the spot he was looking for. The instant the scissors cut into its body the legs and tributaries started to twist around in his neck muscle and he almost screamed from the pain. He grimaced as his own blood starting leaking from the beetle down the back of his clothes and neck and with shaking hands started to snip around for the right spot. He knew he hit the general right spot but not quite enough to keep the legs from starting to go berserk inside of him.
            A woman behind him screamed at the sight of it and he saw Barbar was about to move at him but Murr stopped him with both hands.
            Justin supposed he should have known all along that trying to cut out a sophisticated organic device with a pair of small wire cutters without being able to see what he was doing was going to end with him doing it the hard way. He reached up with his scissors and clipped off each of the six legs, having to cut into his neck a little as he did so, and after several moments of agony he pulled the beetle free of his neck and felt the bio blocker’s effect die.
            Unfortunately, the legs were still being controlled remotely.
            “Son of a bitch!” he cried and he threw the bio blocker down and smashed it beneath his foot. That did not stop the legs either and he cried, “God-fucking-damn it!”
            He formed the armor over his body everywhere below his neck, the sight of which made every woman jump back in absolute stunned shock. It was almost exactly the same as Faction armor which was no surprise considering they stole almost everything bottom to top from the United States Marines Corp where Justin had been assigned to after graduation at sixteen for all of a month or less before the cue hit and the army was dissolved. He did not wear the marine colors however, that might have gotten him shot on sight by any Faction soldier wandering around during his final run, and so his armor was simply black with white plates.
            Justin summoned out his artificially intelligent companion Lincoln from three discreet circles placed like an upside triangles and waited impatiently form him to finish forming. Lincoln was there in moments, a black bumblebee like organic robot covered in white plates, an exact match to his owner. His top half contained countless forms of utility arms, tools and connectors wrapped deep within his chest  like a partly folded up roly-poly while the large bottom half contained small factory. His stinger at the bottom was an engineer’s laser and Justin had even added stripes to his body to further the bee appearance.
            “Get these fucking things out of my neck!” cried Justin.
            “Hmm,” said Lincoln as he flew up behind him. His six bigger limbs were always out but within each were slimmer limbs he extended out the top right limb, connected to the tips of the legs that Justin had cut off, and adapted to the very tiny connecters at the limb’s end to the bio blocker’s legs and took over their programming. They stopped moving, which let Justin finally breathe, and the then the tributaries began to retract back into the legs.
            “Thanks, Buddy,” said Justin and then as Lincoln worked Justin held up his left arm and projected up a small holographic screen from his wrist that was almost drained of all color and slightly distorted. The scan window as it was called could be used for anything beyond its primary purpose including watching movies, playing songs, and the like but Justin used it for one of its second designated purpose which was to see if anything was wrong with his armor or body when he didn’t have his helmet on. The human shaped diagram in his color of blue over black showed that he was perfectly fine except for his neck. It also showed him the temperature. “Fuck me, its a hundred and two degrees out!” he cried. He wasn’t hot, his armor was already cooling his body down, “but damn,” he added.
            Justin turned off the scan window, turned to the women around him, and saw just dumbstruck shock in all their eyes. It was appeared to be the only emotion they had.
            As soon as the last leg came out Justin wrapped his neck in the armor and felt the healing nanoprobes slip into the wounds and work pleasantly as they healed them. “Ladies—” many suddenly frowned “—oh for—well, alright, just what the hell is wrong with that word, first off?”
            “Well, Meat, ladies happens to be a reference to men,” said Barbar.
            “I could have sworn it wasn’t,” Justin replied, “But, okay, whatever.” He clapped his hands together. “My name is Justin Biryukov and I would be most appreciative if any of you could explain to me just where the hell I am.” He gestured to his AIC floating above his head looking around. “That’s Lincoln.”
            “Hello,” said Lincoln.
            “My name is Gail,” said the woman in the green shawl and when she stepped forward Murr stepped with her. “I am the Mistress of Food and Lodging and this is the village of Pomona.”
            “Come again?”
            “Pomona, in the Kingdom of Angeles, of which is ruled by Queen Veronica. Are you okay?”
            Justin shared a shocked look with Lincoln. “Pomona, California?”
            “What’s California?” asked a girl.
            “She’s joking, right?” asked Lincoln.
            Murr looked at Lincoln in surprise and confusion for a moment before turning back to Justin. “I do not know what California is but I can assure you that this village is nobody’s joke.” Justin found himself staring in dumbstruck shock. “We need you to come with us. I’m part of a village council and it is important that we talk to you immediately and get you away from this unruly crowd.”
            They seem a bit too surprised to be unruly, Justin thought but only said, “I understand. I’ll come with you and we can just sort this whole mess out together.” He didn’t know what to do or where he was so he decided to play along for a bit. If he was lucky they would give him some more food because as it turned out that basket did not contain nearly enough food to satisfy him.
            Gail nodded soberly and frowned at his armor. “I appreciate that you’ll come willingly,” she said. “We must go now, though.”
            “Okay,” he said and looked at the longing glances of the women around and found himself with sudden a great growing unease he couldn’t shake. Something is very wrong here, he thought.

 

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Prelude | Episode 1 | Episode 2