On Wings of Chrome

Talia's Hydroponics Side-Quest

or, Talia and Odin Buy Pot for Humanity

Every day I think something else about this place. At first, it was me against this town, the kind of terrible place everyone that’s worth anything wants to leave. I never would have gotten stuck somewhere like this. Rick was from a town like this one. Further south. Hardly matters now, since he’s probably been toast for a month, or he’s an irradiated zombie or something. Does that happen? Anyway, it’s not worth thinking about him much, except when wiring gets me worked up, and then that’s really just a buzzkill. I should replace him, but what kind of pickup line works at the end of the world? I am not rebuilding civilization.

Then we settled in a little and it didn’t seem so bad. We dug out a nice place. Papa’s set up some sort of hospital and is keeping busy so I don’t have to see him much anymore. That’s good. We’re more alike than I knew, especially in our recycling habits. I like seeing he treats everyone with as little regard as he treated me. The mechanic is the only decent person here. Maybe the kid on the crew with the dog isn’t so bad, but he seems a little too eager to really be sociable. Too friendly. He has a target on his back, so it seems like it’d be easier not to get too attached. Maybe the pilot’s okay. He doesn’t fit in well. But we built a fence and I repainted the horrible helicopter. No one seems to be bothering me about my habit if I do it indoors, and that’s warmed me up a little.

But then I felt stifled. The town is too small and I don’t have my bike anymore. I saw the roads from the helicopter, and they’re not so bad, nothing I can’t manage. A car wouldn’t do it, sure, but I can pull off a little, detour, whatever. I know Papa won’t approve until I’ve got reason to, but I find one- I’ve got a botany chip in my bag, probably how Rick’s friend Zeke was setting up his little growhouse in our warehouse basement. I knew he wasn’t smart enough to be doing that on his own. Well, it’s a good thing I lifted it, then. I figure no one knows hydroponics like growers.

It turns out that Jeremy, who I should remember because he seemed decent enough, was the kid the other highschoolers bought from. No one wanted to sell to me, of course, but I managed to convince them I was buying for the redshirt and somehow that worked. Then I got Jeremy to tell me that he was buying from Mr. Saltzman, who gave me some long lecture about the dangers of buying from strange people with guns, laced with his suspicion that maybe I was one of them, but was convinced to give me directions to his supplier’s commune. That sounded just perfect- a two hour ride with hippies at the end.

I was talking to the mechanic about working out a deal to rent a bike for a while when Marcus- I should probably try harder to remember his name since he’s actually been pretty decent- dropped by for some part for something and suggested I take the dog. That thing never liked me, but after spending a 20 minutes saying some words into a mic while Marcus pressed buttons, it stopped looking like it wanted to eat me, so that wasn’t so bad. We wrangled up a bike with a sidecar and I talked Odin into sitting nicely. I suited up in my gear and started driving.

It was actually kind of fun, dodging wrecks and otherwise driving without any traffic. I made it until about halfway, when there was a woman standing by a car with the trunk popped. Pretty girl. Of course, I thought maybe it was a lure, I’ve heard long talks on how that works. Viv was always doing it, since she was still natural looking. But I stop because maybe she’s got a skill. Who knows. Of course, she pulls a shotgun on me and says if I give her my stuff, she won’t shoot me on the way out.

Good thing Marcus let me borrow Odin.

The metal dog was on her in a second and somehow I thought it would be- simple? Clean? That he’d just jump up and shoot her in the throat and that’d be it? I don’t know exactly what he did to her body, I didn’t really want to look that hard, but there was a lot more blood than I’ve ever seen all in one place. Then there were guys in the trees shooting at me, and I got one of them with papa’s old pistol and Odin’s made a bloody wreck of the other. First time I saw anyone die violently- I mean, OD is one thing but all this blood is another- was at that house with the computer stuff. But this was the first time I really had anything to do with it.

So I did what I do. I picked the car clean. I took their guns, the car parts, even the stereo. They’re nothing without their stuff. I knew this would happen eventually, if I hung around with papa’s shady friends. Really, this is his fault. I focus on cleaning the dog up- I know the hippies are not going to like seeing him dripping in it, and I manage to pull off and wire up for a little while. It doesn’t fix it, but it helps. Odin stands guard- I like to think that’s as thanks for the wash, but it’s probably just his programming.

The commune is just what I expected. At the sound of the bike, one of the hippies comes out, in a tie-dye shirt and hand-knit yoga pants. His name is Jerry, which is easy enough to remember, and I manage to catch myself before I plug in to my newly-acquired car battery. He can tell I’m rattled, but he invites me in for a smoke. I have a little too much, probably because what I really want is more wire, but I manage to do what I really went up there for- to talk them into coming down to Concrete and setting up some of their hydroponic equipment. Jerry gives me a nice tour of their facilities, and I chime in with enough stuff off of Zeke’s botany chip that he likes me okay. I crash there that night, and the next day I help them load some of their stuff into their VW bus (of course) and escort them down to the town. The road is clear, and I pretend I didn’t have anything to do with the fresh dead bodies on the side of the road.

I return the bike and then bring Odin back to Marcus, which seems to make them both happier, if Odin can really do ‘happy’ anymore. I didn’t mean to, but I have to say, “You might- wanna give him a better wash. There wasn’t a lot I could do, but- we ran into some trouble. There was- a lot of blood. I’d rather not talk about it.”

As stifling as Concrete feels, I’m not sure I want to leave it again. Not alone, anyway.

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