Chapter 52

Roger?

Oh, Hi JB. Girls night again?

Yeah, one can only take so much talk of shoes, butts and Yellow Rose of Texas. I also wanted to thank you for keeping an eye out for Zrng. That was really brave, and, as it turned out, a darn good idea.

Oh, uh, sure, no problem.

Roger? What's bugging you?

What? Me? I'm fine, really.

No, I'm willing to bet you're not. Fine people usually don't sit in the crook of a tree in the middle of a children's park for most of the day. Well, not unless they want to get arrested, or propositioned by squirrels.

I like it here. It reminds me of home.

You never told me about your home.

It was nice. I don't remember that much of it, unfortunately, I was about their age when I.. err.. ventured out on my own.

Was it some rite of passage sort of thing?

No, heh, I used to be really embarrassed about it, still, promise not to tell anyone?

Roger? Who am I going to tell? Besides, if nothing else, this will probably make us equal.

Ok, my uncle and I were on a hunting trip in the woods. We set up camp, and then a group of the older newcomers set up across the river from us. They weren't as bad as the newer newcomers..

Wait, wait, there were two groups of "newcomers"?

Yeah, it was kind of confusing. You're one of the new-newcomers, newer-comers, uhm you've got a lot of names but I think, Pe'ans, is what you're generally called. The older-newcomers were the ch'pwah.

..Pe'ans and ch'pwah.

Oh, yeah, that's a LOT easier to remember than newcomers. We should have used those names.

Pe'ans and ch'pwah…wait, you mean the Europeans and the Chippewa?

Well, yeah, like I said, the pe'ans and ch'pwah.

Wait, your people pre-date the Indians!?

Uhm, yeah, I guess so. Look, can I get back to my story?

Sure, uh, yeah. Go ahead.

Well anyway, sometime after moon-fall, I had to.. mark territory in the worst possible way. Like there would be no doubt whatsoever that there was a trail and I marked it. Somewhat in the same way that your brother marks trail after eating broccoli.

Roger? Too much information.

Ah, right. Naturally, I wanted to make sure I was far enough from our encampment and the the ch'pwah, and the bears, and a few badgers, and a few mice, then there was…

I think I get the idea.

Afterward, I had no idea how to get back. I wandered around the forest for a few years. At first it was hard since I had nothing but a sharp stick and a fist full of clean leaves, but I managed, like most of us do. After years of careful searching and hard work, I wound up with two sharp sticks and a rock. It was the height of luxury, but still little comfort for me when I couldn't find my family.

Uh, ok.

Then one day I heard a scream. I could have stayed hidden in the safety of the forest, but something in me said that I needed to do something. I ran into the clearing and immediately saw the problem. Apparently a group of squirrels had used their collective mind control to cause an elderly woman to faint. They denied it of course, but then, that's squirrels for you.

Uhm, yeah…

Fortunately I was only a few yards away so I managed to stop them before they took the bag of nuts the woman dropped. Things sort of went down hill from there. I was arrested and detained. The old woman must have been confused because she said that I was the one that caused her to faint, not the squirrels. I can only guess that she must have been very befuddled.

Later that day, I was introduced to what your tribe calls "clothes".

Ah..

I was assigned to someone called a social worker who's responsibility it was to "civilize" me. We got along pretty well. Then one day I stopped a frightened horse by talking to it. It turned out that a bee scared her. She ran because she was stung pretty bad as a philly. I explained that to the coach-driver who thanked me. I guess the social worker was even more surprised because she started yelling that she thought I was a mute or something. I told her that I just hadn't had anything to say. She asked me where I learned English, and I told her I never did.

So.. where did you learn English?

JB? I speak to animals. You just understand me. Hello...

Oh, uh, sorry, hadn't really thought about that...

Yeah, good thing that Zrng has that speaking token in him or else he'd never understand me.

How do you understand him?

I don't. I'm just a good guesser.

Ah. Is that what's bugging you?

Hmm? No, what's bugging me is that I miss my people. I know that they're still out there, somewhere. I just don't know where. What's even worse is seeing that film of my uncle walking along the river.

What film?

Oh, I was watching the television thing and saw some jumpy image of him walking along. I don't know where, since I can't understand what they were saying, but it was all jumpy and blurry like someone was running to catch up. Worse thing is that apparently some of you are really trying to find him. They've even made these casts of his footprints.

Jumpy film.. footprints... woods... Wait a minute!? Your uncle is BIGFOOT!?

Yeah, he does have pretty good sized feet, but that sort of runs on his side of the family.

Roger, please don't take this wrong, but I really don't believe your uncle is Bigfoot. I mean Bigfoot is.. well.. big, and really hairy and..

JB? How many razors do you go through in a week?

Uhm, maybe one.

I go through about seven. Thankfully, I don't have Dad's five o'clock shadow.

I'm willing to bet Chris is too.


Bob had no idea why they were holding the laundry cart over their heads as they ran, but that wasn't the first thing on his mind. Neither was the fact that Mr. Reid was in far better shape than he was. Bob simply let the shorter man take the lead and the bulk of the weight.

Bob also decided that he wasn't going to look back. If he was vaporized by a sudden blast of plasma, the extra few microseconds actually seeing it come would do little to comfort him. Instead he just focused on keeping his footing and let the drone of the sirens mask the dull thudding of the mechanized battle suits that were undoubtedly right behind him.

"This way!" Chris yelled between lung fulls as they dove around the corner of an administrative building. The two burst through the door and sent the laundry cart skidding across the lobby. It hit hard against the main desk. The individuals standing around watched with vague interest as the two new arrivals slammed the doors closed with their backs.

Then everything appeared to return to normal. Muzak played softly in the background.

"Excuse me." An annoyed woman glared from over her cubical wall. "Are you going to just leave that there?" she pointed toward the upturned laundry cart.

Chris took a few more calming breaths. "Well, no, I suppose we'll probably take it with us before the horde of mechanized battle robots crash through this door."

The woman simply glared back at Chris' sarcastic tone and continued to point at the cart, oblivious to the additional "mechanized robots of death" context.

Chris rolled his eyes and looked toward Bob, who simply shrugged.

A gentle chime sounded and another woman's gentle voice spoke from the audio system. "Your Attention, Your attention please. Today's lunch menu features Salisbury steak, creamy mashed potatoes and fresh greens. Also, we are currently experiencing a level 3 situation. Please limit your outdoor activities until further notice. Thank you." The muzak returned, playing a chipper version of Birdhouse of your Soul.

Chris again looked to Bob who apparently was equally confused. Bob turned and peeked out of the door for a few seconds, then closed it and continued to look befuddled. Chris simply grew more curious.

The door opened up just enough for him to look. Outside the mechanized troops stood just beyond a shimmering wall. The rain pelted and flowed off like glass. Chris and Bob had both run through the area that the troops now stood waving signs so Chris simply speculated that it had to be some sort of force shield.

Signs?

Chris peered through the shimmering to try and read the placards.

Some of the signs were in Spanish, others were in English and called for the right to organize.

"Are they still out there?" Another voice asked from behind. Chris jumped, slammed the door shut and looked nervously at the source.

"Yes, it looks like they are." Bob replied. "Who are they?"

"Janitors for Justice."

"Who for the what?" Chris finally stammered out.

"Janitors for Justice. They're a group of superhero sanitation engineers that regularly show up to picket the place. Lord knows why."

Well, if they're holding placards for a union, Chris thought, it's probably to convince the janitors to join up. "Don't you..."

"…tell them that the residents perform all janitorial tasks?" Bob completed the sentence.

Chris mentally slapped himself. Of course the inmates would be doing it.

"Yep, every time they show up." And with that the administrator and his cup of coffee left.

Chris turned to Bob. "I.. uh.. I suppose we probably should get going."

Bob simply grunted acknowledgement.


Bob was nervous. He tried his best to not show it, but he had caught himself time and time again flicking his eyes down the hallway.

Chris was typing away on some computer terminal, looking for information. They were alone in another building, one clearly marked for Information Resources. He felt like he was out in the middle of an open field with signal flares.

So far, Chris had been right. They'd mananged to push that stupid laundry cart wherever they wanted, folks even held doors open for them so they didn't have to use their fake badges. It was a good trick. Bob made a note of it for future reference.

Still, there were a number of things that continued to bother Bob. The first was, what the hell was he doing here? This is the proverbial lion's den and he was dressed up like a Christian. Also, his presumptions about Chris were continuing to fall. Although very much his adversary, he certainly wasn't acting like it. Whenever the two were alone, Chris would casually talk about weak points in the defense structures. Valid elements that could be used in any form of directed attack.

At first, Bob dismissed the observations as an obvious trap, but then realized that Chris was being quite sincere. He really was pointing out deficiencies. Question after paranoid induced question screamed through his head. Why would a hero ever disclose that information to someone like Bob? Why wouldn't Chris simply turn Bob over at any chance? It simply didn't make sense.

A pair of fingers snapping inches away from his face brought Bob out of his quandary.

"Hey! Hey!", Chris said, mildly annoyed, "I'm guessing you don't want to spend any more time here than we have to, right? I've got the information I needed to get. Figure another half hour or so and we can get out of here. I can't believe they leave the inmate database unsecured."

A very late paranoia bell went off in Bob's head. What if Chris was setting Bob up in the local system? "What information were you attempting to find, Mr. Reid?"

Chris shot Bob a withering glance. "Ix-nay on the ames-nay." His anger dropped away quickly, "I was looking up the location information for the two people I need to meet." Chris stopped. "Look, they're inside the third ring. I'd.. I'd feel better if I went in alone."

"Oh really?" Bob said with a strong dash of sarcasm.

The anger reappeared on Chris' face. "Yes, it would. Look, if there's a problem you know how to get out to the farm and where to go, right?"

Bob nodded.

"Well, as we both know, it's far easier to get there from the first two rings than it is from the third. If you go in there and get stuck, I don't know if I could get you out. There's a helluva lot more risk, more than I thought when we started. I was hoping you could help me, but I can't put you in that much jeopardy."

Bob simply stared at Chris with a look of pure, dumbfounded confusion. "Wh- why? Wouldn't it be easier for you to..."

Chris closed his eyes, clenched his teeth and visibly fought back the urge to pummel Bob. "Look, you and I haven't gotten along in the past, and more than likely won't in the future either. But if you wind up stuck in this hell-hole, it'll be due to your own stupid fault." Chris took a deep breath and relaxed the muscles in his neck. "Look, we both agree about this place, and need each other if we're going to do anything about it."

"What makes you think we'll both agree about what needs to be done?"

"Because I trust you." Chris said flatly.

"Bob?" a voice called down the aisle. Bob and Chris froze. The blood began to drain from Chris' face.

"Bob? Is that you? It's me, Tony!"

Bob looked to the source of the voice. "Professor Doom?"

A bald man with a severe goatee and handlebar mustache smiled as he jogged up to meet the two.

Bob smiled broadly "Tony, good to see you!"

"Oh, I see they finally got you."

"Yeah, I slipped up and the fathead in tights caught me and my lacky here."

Tony made appropriate condolence noises, "Oh, too bad, too bad."

"So what happened with you?"

"Well, remember that Cage Match of Destiny I put together?"

"The one where you cloned all of the major religious figures to duke it out?" Bob asked.

"Yes, that one." Tony said with a lilting hint of joy.

"What happened? Did the bust you for cloning human beings?"

"No," Tony replied, "I forgot to get the Teamsters for the stage setup and teardown. They've got a damn good union."

"Jeez..."

"No it wasn't him. I think it actually was Hubbard. He was upset that I wasn't splitting the profits and putting his name on the marquee. Heh, last I heard he was being sued by his own religion for copyright infringement. So they've got you on laundry detail? You're a bit off track."

"Yeah," Bob shrugged, "I'm still learning my way around this place, and I've been letting him lead." Bob jerked a thumb toward Chris and then mocked a voice saying "No problems Bob, I know this joint like the back of my hand, we'll be done in an hour."

The two laughed while Chris slumped down.

"So where are you living?" Bob asked casually. "I'm in Building B-12, third floor. I've got a nice view of the lake. You should drop by some time and we can..."

The light shifted red as deafening buzzers oscillated in a near deafening cacophony. Carrying through the confusion and noise were the same soothing female tones, this time with a slightly more urgent tone to them. "Attention, All residents please return to your dormitories immediately. All administrators please report to full security posts, this is not a drill, I repeat, all residents please return to your dormitories immediately. All administrators please report to full security posts, this is not a drill."

A well armed and armored administrator burst through the door at the end of the hallway. "Hey!" He shouted and ran at a full sprint toward Bob and Tony.

Bob turned to follow Chris' lead away from the location. Chris was nowhere to be seen. Bob tried to run but the administrator brought him down with a heavy arm. Bob was pinned as every nerve in his body screamed for him to run.


Is Bob Trapped in The Facility?

Where is Chris off to?

What the hell is the deal with the laundry cart?

Tune in next time for:

Roomies on the Run
or
Peril Interrupted

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