Seeing another human standing on the small terrace filled me with strange relief. I set the decorative old flower-power tray on the round pebbly glass-topped table rescued from a nearby dump. I loved decorating with trash-picked artifacts. They made me feel young.
I hugged my calm savage. “Here is the sea as I promised—well, more like the bay, but that’s the sea out there.”
“Can we swim in the sea?”
“Only on certain calm days. I always test before I enter. If the currents run counter to the shore, limited immersion is safe as long as you shower soon after. Never swallow the water. On most days the contaminate levels are too risky.”
“I want to experience the sea against my skin.”
“I want to see you frolic like a happy seal.”
“I am not sure I know how to frolic, but I shall try for you.”
My lips discovered a world of bliss. I submitted to Pokatawer’s simmering power. My hands teased down his back to clutch his
Michelangelo-worthy ass. He easily pushed me into my seat. “Later, my flirtatious ManH man.” He sat down and started consuming the leftovers in vigor.
I grinned. “How can you call me a ManH man, considering I live out here?”
“They accept you in their city. In reality you are one of them.” His strong teeth savaged an apple slice. “I am glad you are a ManH man, or else I would be dead.”
“When I heard what they intended to do, I wanted to strangle them. Lucky for them I’m a tech guy, not a killer. Did you hear their plans?”
“Yes. They are indeed soulless humans. At least we fight because we wish to defend our land.”
“When did they start attacking you? Their assault is a dirty little secret.”
The water glass’s upward movement halted. Pokatawer looked at me in scathing disbelief. “They lobbed a few powerful nail bombs at settlements in the Pamavirgins zone beyond the NoCrozz. Lo-tech but lethal enough to kill or maim innocent people. In the confusion troops defeated the few sentinels and broke the truce without remorse. Even after the strife BCM had created, if they asked to work with us, we might have considered it, but now, never.”
I groaned in disgust. “I tried to bring the bastards down.”
“I know you did.”
Pokatawer shook his head. “Even in Pamavirgin we heard about Sam Devine, hacker extraordinaire. We thought you had been executed.”
Well, there we go; I was a legend beyond my own mind. “Pretty weird, dude. The bastards probably spread the word that they executed me.”
“While I sat in that cage waiting to die, I heard your name mentioned. It sounded like salvation. I was not wrong. Here we sit. I am a lucky captive.”
“It’s time for something stronger than water.”
Today demanded a special treat. I stepped down into the small cool area I called my wine cellar. Dan supplied me great vintages from a massive BCM stockpile. A year ago he broke into enormous storage areas tucked beneath the MetM. He reasoned finders, keepers. There, that precious bottle of 2025 Shiraz looked promising. The tough old cork, real, not plastic, fought the manual corkscrew. At least the effort worked my arm muscles.
I poured out our libations. Pokatawer held the purple liquid to the light. “To my savior.” He thrust the glass toward me.
I raised my glass to his offering. “No, to my savior, who tells me it’s time to get the fuck out of here.”
The glasses clinked. We sipped.
My guest gasped in alarm. Wine drops splattered against the tray. One tense finger pointed eastward. “What approaches us?”
I shook my head. Nothing to spill the priceless purple over. “Don’t worry. That’s a small Sea Howler. Pretty, eh? They pop up, sprawl along, then dissipate. Predicting their curious patterns is impossible.” I cocked my head toward my guest. “Speaking of curious, I find it curious you’re from the RichM area. What hauled you into the north?”
“I volunteered for duty. I work building and repairing houses for the south settlements, but when those bastards started killing innocent people, a group of us traveled north to fight their evil.”
“Why did you agree to take the drug?”
A haunted expression filled Pokatawer’s black eyes. “When I lost Matt, I thought I lost everything. Our lives had been entwined for many years, since we were young men before the B-Rain. Our love seemed prehistoric; so much happened during our time together. We watched a nation rip itself apart over greed and social injustice. We watched the ill-advised city-states destroyed due to BCM treachery. Imagine a corporation dictating the nation’s rules. Heresy. Welcome to the vicious B-Rain solution.
“At hearing the fresh injustice, we agreed to fight together. We entered into battle four times. The fourth time Matt… died.” Pokatawer shook his head and gazed toward the horizon. “Since the BCM monsters seemed determined to hold the land they stole, we regrouped and reexamined the situation. When the battle drug was introduced, I agreed to use it. The first time I took the antidote and returned. This last time I was unlucky.” He sipped his wine. “Not completely unlucky. As I keep saying, I still breathe. Now my main question is how long will they allow me to remain with you?”
“Keep giving them nuggets, and they will ignore you.”
“Divine, you are naive to think they will shrink back and allow us to drift here by the sea. What reason do they have to leave us alone? Fine, you told them you wanted a toy. Is that reason enough? From what I understand, you are tolerated due to your skill and Dan’s protection. They bear no love for you.”
“Gee, chum, you know how to make an afternoon shimmer.” I saluted him with my wineglass and frowned. “You’re the new guy at the club, and you understand I’m merely tolerated. You make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.”
“Considering they were about to execute you, need I say more? Most of all I despise this chip they injected into my neck. You also suffer one of these devices? As do the Outer Brooks inhabitants? I confess we regard this entire area as corrupt, but from what I saw, the suffering in the Outer Brooks area is awful.”
“It’s awful since ManH lost control of it. Ever hear of Sud?”
My warrior’s nostrils flared in disgust. “That foul BCM drug. Use of that filth is not tolerated in the settlements. We despise acting like dictators, but Sud is dangerous.”
My smile felt brittle. “When the Brooks revolted due to the initial food shortages, BCM had the brilliant idea to try and use Sud as a control. Nothing like a tight-packed angry mob hallucinating together. Instead of keeping criminals in jail, now they chip them and toss them into Outer Brooks and beyond the North Harlem wall. They are the men the monsters want to bring against your brave volunteer troops. Killers, maniacs, and burned-out Sud addicts.”
A light breeze smelling of fresh air ruffled the fine tuffs on Pokatawer’s head. His silence grew uncomfortable. My new roommate excelled at making me feel squirmy. He made me feel unworthy to draw breath, which made little sense. I hated the sensation. He said nothing, but I sensed judgment flow from his pores. Worse yet, he owned every right to judge me. He owned every right to find me guilty.
I hoped my powerful warrior still desired me as his trusted battle brother.
Pokatawer’s impressive body slumped into the light stainless-steel chair. He looked smaller, vulnerable in his sadness. His right hand rose toward me. “I fear I feel less spry than I thought. The need to indulge in a lie-down conquers me. Excuse me, my gracious host. I need to use your bed.” He stood, hesitated, and slammed back into his chair. His expression of startled fury pained me.
My hands wanted to help. They found themselves blocked by stubborn arms. “No. I am not infirmed. Let me stand on my own.”
“No need for the me-so-strong-and-stern attitude here, dude.”
“I am not your dude. My name is Pokatawer.”
“Yes, absolutely, I acknowledge your name. Why don’t you drop the stubborn-ass attitude and let me help you into the bedroom?”
Impressive. Pokatawer’s pointed glare singed my auburn eyebrows into gray ashes. “I am not a stubborn ass.”
“Of course not. You’re an injured dude who refuses help to stand up. That’s not the definition of a stubborn ass, right? Stop acting mulish and let me help you.” My fingers grasped Pokatawer’s muscular forearms.
Whoa. One sharp frontal thrust tossed me back into my seat. I almost fell backward to the steel balcony. “I believe I said I need no help. I believe you are not deaf. Please heed my request. Do I have your permission to rest?”
“There’s one bed in my house, dude, and it’s mine, but since you are my guest now, it’s yours.”
“Thank you.” Pokatawer stood. He staggered until he held the doorframe and gained control over his balance. My warrior entered the house’s interior displaying more regal stiffness than an old king trying to prove his manliness.
I stared back into my house. What brought on Pokatawer’s unexpected snit fit? What the fuck? What did I do? Did discussing ManH’s vile plan turn me into the enemy?
Instead of charging in and demanding answers, I sat and finished my wine. I needed to calm my nerves down into sensible reason. Think about it—Pokatawer’s world shrank down to depending on me. No wonder he felt wretched. Hell, if my life depended on me, I’d feel extremely wretched. I was a turncoat slut, a major sellout. In the grand annals of history, I supposed I should have acted like a hero and accepted death instead of working for monsters. Too bad. Weak men littered history’s ugly path. Call me a practical man.
More like call me an asshole.
A few more elegant Sea Howlers danced across the horizon, their slim gray shapes twisting and swirling in their endless dance. Did the systems really end? Did one dissipate to be gathered into another’s creation? The curling Sea Howlers always looked the same. What separated them?
Worse yet, were they truly entities sent from the earth to destroy those who had perverted nature? BCM hated those new environmentalist rumblings. Rumors whispered the Pamavirgins encouraged those sweet fairy tales. The monsters at BCM and their decadent empire needed to pay for their crimes against the earth. The Howlers were Earth warriors, building in power until one last final crushing blow slammed into ManH. What an excellent fantasy.
Did my touchy houseguest believe the tale? Better not to ask.
Behind the Sea Howlers, the evening clouds gathered in predictable threat. Tonight a sub one Howler might hit, but those weak babies never passed beyond the shore.
My main worry circulated back into life. What did I do here? Could I trust this man?
Yes, I could.
Technology protected me.
Time to bring in the supplies before the evening storm created havoc.
Divine Devine’s Love Song