Episode III: Safe Death and Perfect Revenge
The skip jolted. Keyinde didn’t complain. Three days’ travelling from Nigeria Quarter. Keyinde didn’t complain. The skip stopped, the Emeralds stripping the carriages for batas, dùndúns, and other ways of conspiratorial communication. Didn’t complain, even as he starved for three days. Just chewing his niccos and staring, sleeping. Or, blinking, he’d gaze in Cyrus’ direction.
Day three. Cyrus huffed, looking to Keyinde, who stared at the empty chair in front, still, fiddling his thumbs.
—Keyinde, you’re kkkilling yourself … —
Drawing out the ‘k,’ spittle clung to his tongue and barred teeth. Keyinde still refused the water. The food. The very air.
— … You must live. For better Ọṣun and Payu and … and everybody. Life … Reality must win—
Then Cyrus rubbed the metal point that jutted outward where a chin should be, watching Keyinde’s gaze. A light flickered overhead, catching the colour in Keyinde’s eyes. He breathed in, then muttered.
—At the next stop, we’ll go back. Forget the revenge. Forget my contract. It was wrong of me to pull you away. We’ll bury them. Make offers to Ọya. We will … will go back—
Keyinde shook his head, slowly back and forth, his sight on the empty seat in front.
A long drawn out ‘n.’ Keyinde’s head shook more, whipping, his eyes shivering, quaking, his sight boring into Leech and flesh alike; that head was rigid, fixed upon Cyrus.
—Because dis be no safe. Dis bbee nnoo safe! My family be dead, and dat be true. Dis be no false environment—
—And we’ll go back—
Keyinde grappled Cyrus’ shoulders, throwing him back and forth, squeezing his fingers, knuckles cracking, arms shaking.
—No. No far. Too much. No Nigeria for Keyinde o. Abeg. You better get your revenge, or you killed Ọṣun for nothing. I will get you your revenge, or dis was all for nothing, and I go land you big slap, strong head, o—
Cyrus blinked, aback, face flushed, his throat tight, but his eyes empty of tears. The carriage jolted, then the skip’s screens in the walls shone: they’d passed through the Madin Mountains. Nearly a third of the way down The Line.
A screen shone beside them.
—Velcome to New Munich: zhe beacon of zhe future, and zhe people of progress!—
—Watin na here Germany Quarter?—
—You remember my dead friend, Anselm? The one who makes … machines. like De Machine?—
—Makes? Still? But he be dead, no?—
Cyrus smiled. But Ethané’s gun never felt so heavy in his pocket, a single bullet in the chamber.
New Munich slept. Cyrus’ footsteps echoed. Keyinde’s trampled behind. At one end of New Munich, glancing down to the very other end—the border with Little Liechtenstein—the pair saw the pedestrian level’s entire kilometre length. A careful step resounded here and there, a couple strolling past, the knick of their stick cutting the quiet before their gentle steps receded to another elevator shaft.
Then nothing but eerie quiet. Again.
—Where be dis dead friend ot you?—
—I don’t like this quiet, Keyinde—
An elevator banged down to the pedestrian level, a man sauntering out, eyeing the pair and murmuring.
Then the metal coffin raced upward, after its doors snapped shut. Another screen illuminated behind the pair, asking for a cube ID. Cyrus crowed the number. Keyinde blinked in the silence.
The metal door creaked aside, far slower than most cubes’. Cyrus tapped his elbow. Keyinde breathed hard, nostrils flared. The door jerked, stopping. Half-closed.
—Guten Morgen! Kann ich Sie helfen … —
Anselm’s blond mop bounced into The Line’s light. Morning. The sky screen geodesics rolled backward for the day, moaning. Raising a hand, Anselm shielded his eyes; his face coloured a ghoulish pale. Then Anselm stumbled forward, through the doorway, touching a hand to his left leg.
—Oh. Hallo, Corpse—
—You’re the second person to call me that in a week—
Cyrus stepped through the doorway, smiling. He thrust his hand out to greet Anselm. False hand forward. He yanked his right back. But Anselm gripped the false hand, laughing a haughty German laugh, slapping his shoulder before stalking off. Cyrus grimaced.
Keyinde nodded his head. Anselm limped into his cube.
—For all I know, Anselm, that hand of yours … —
Cyrus grabbed Anselm’s right hand, inspecting, the Leech’s zooming lens clinking, rotating.
— … that hand could be a false hand. A metal hand, covered with skin—
Anselm’s head whipped at Cyrus’ remark, his pupils pointed like the metallic pierce of a tattoo needle. His face fell. A silent gasp. His mouth worked, wordless. Anselm staggered backward, whilst Cyrus focused on the living room to his right, indifferent to Anselm’s reaction.
He caught Cyrus up, already in the living room, Anselm wearing a wild smile.
—I zuppose it could be false?—
Anselm retired to the chimney breast, a real kindling flame burning inside.
—Who is … ?—
Anselm nodded to the doorway.
—He looks like he has zeen a ghost—
Cyrus shook his head, cringing into his chair. Anselm tilted his head askew. Then he gasped.
Keyinde stepped over the threshold, inspecting the oblong room.
—I ran out of beer, sorry Cyrus, but York Brewster’s left zome freebies. Peppermint tea, or, erm, Earl Grey?—
Anselm dangled the teabags, both identical in appearance. Keyinde scratched his beard. Cyrus cleared his throat.
—Why’s it so empty, Anselm? New Munich’s never … —
Anselm sighed, dropping the tea bags, and bulling out of the room.
—I vill grab zhe coffee, zhen—
His giggle receded into the cube; his step, awkward. Cyrus looked at the leg. Blinked.
Then he looked to Keyinde, who watched the fireplace.
—Penny for your thoughts?—
—Everywhere be small, here. Before-before we dey no have dat in Nigeria Quarter. Na Nigeria Quarter … big numbers. Big buildings. Big ideas. Here, you dey count your breaths. O, watin a world it be here! Watin a limited world—
A crash in the other room.
Keyinde leapt, his gaze boring through the wall to the kitchenette, his face draining, eyes narrow, hands shaking, knees knocking. Cyrus looked at Keyinde, face blank. His eyes blinked, dully.
Cyrus touched Keyinde’s shoulder. He jerked around, open-mouthed, about to shout. Cyrus wrapped a hand around Keyinde’s mouth, shushing from the open vent on his face. More crashes. Anselm shouted, hitting his worktop.
—Anselm disappeared, a while ago. He’s been like this since he returned—
Cyrus exhaled, glancing at his false hand: a metal endoskeleton in skin. Then he glanced towards the cries. Then to Keyinde.
Anselm crept in, brow furrowed, cheeks blown out: red and puffy. His eyes, puffy. Sweat glinted on the veins at his temples.
—No coffee … zhe machine … —
A splitting motion, with bloody-knuckled hands.
— … Kaputt!—
—It’s okay. We’re not thirsty—
Cyrus’ throat was dry. He gazed to Keyinde, who’d not drank since yesterday.
—Oh, okay then!—
Anselm sprang onto his armchair, legs over one arm, shoulders propped by the other. A big armchair, with balls of fabric knotting all over its grey surface. Ring marks were pronounced in the arms’ fabric. Three, on both arms. And against the footrest. But no titanium rings wound around the chair anymore, like De Machine’s used to.
Fingers steepled, Anselm continued, watching the ceiling. Keyinde still watched the fire.
—Got it! No coffee, no tea, no beer … You boyz drink vater?—
Cyrus sank into the chair.
Anselm jumped, racing through the room. He patted both their heads as he left, making bongo noises. Laughing.
—Really, Anselm, we’re fine. Forget the drinks and come back—
—Vorget ze drinks? Vat, do you zhink I am crazy? Never! I have a duty to do—
Keyinde looked from the fire to Cyrus, one eyebrow raised.
—Almost like your contract, Cyrus. Your duty—
Cyrus shrugged, breaking their gaze. Keyinde sniffed, sitting backward in his chair, arms crossed.
—Anselm! Get your arse here—
—Vow, even mine Vater never speak to me like zhat—
Keyinde stood up, taking the nicco from his mouth, and shoving it in his pocket.
—Gods, free me o. I need something stronger for dis. I have three cigarettes—
—I dey com back; you owe me your life, Cyrus—
Anselm bounded around the corner, just before Keyinde left. He sniffed Keyinde, his nose poking Keyinde’s chest. Keyinde stepped backward. Anselm smiled, clapping Keyinde’s shoulders, again like bata drums, whilst balancing the sloshing drinks on a tray in the other.
—Have a good one, Genoss. Zhose are very rare, even here in my quarter—
Keyinde sighed, thumbing the doorpad.
Anselm dropped the wild smile, retiring to a normal position on the armchair. He left the drinks on a footstool, between where Cyrus sat, and the edge of the living room where Anselm perched.
—Cyrus. Genoss. Vhy are you here?—
Cyrus sat upright, elbows on his legs. Leaning forward, he narrowed his eyes, mouthing the word. He coughed, once, clearing his throat, then tried again.
Cyrus clenched his jaw, the ‘r’ reverberating. His teeth rattled with the noise. Anselm shrugged.
—That … that’s it—
Anselm guffawed. Cyrus looked on, his head tilted a little, his brow furrowing.
—Zat’s it? Zat’s all (Another guffaw). Erm, revenge against who? Vhat are you getting revenge for?—
Cyrus crossed his arms tighter, shaking his head.
—There’s a little more to it than that. I need to murder a man—
—Need is a strong vord, Cyrus. Do you need it as much as you need to breathe?—
—Zhen clearly you don’t need it, you vant it. Now, first, your ‘vant.’ Vhat is his name?—
Cyrus sat, silent. He blinked, then shrugged, smiling.
—Is zhis funny? You actually find zhis funny—
—He’s called Cardinal—
—Zhen praise zhe king. Progress! Next, you might even tell me vhere zhey are?—
Cyrus sank further into his chair, his foot knocking the stool the two glasses rested on. They spilt over their edges.
—I don’t know—
—You don’t know zheir true name, you don’t know vhere zhey are, who zhey are. Tell me, Genoss, why do you vant revenge on zhis stranger who might be called ‘Cardinal’—
Cyrus stopped smiling. He still hadn’t gotten new clothes since the raid on Nigeria Quarter. Since meeting Keyinde. Since Ethané gave him a gun with a single bullet. In those shorts were two pockets: one with the plastic sei flower, broken and crumbling, the other with the organic, real flower, fresh and nice smelling.
—But the Leech … I needed … and I have this flower … the rip—
—Zhe rip? Tell me about zhis zhing, right now. Vhat rip?—
Cyrus blinked, then touched his right hand to the Leech.
—Cyrus. Vhat do you zhink … zhink happened to me … vhen I ‘died’—
—You don’t know how hard your disappearing had me by the balls, Anselm. I’m hollow. I lost five stone. That beer … I don’t drink, anymore—
—But zhat is you. Zhat is zhe problem! Vhat about Keyinde? He vill die for you. Vhy? Because you owe him for killing his family. Vhat about Ethané? She still loves you enough to get you a bullet. Even I can’t get you zhat. Ultimate contraband. And vhat about zhis family of Keyinde’s—
—It wasn’t me—
—Look at me when you are crowing, boy—
Anselm spat, staring at the Leech. Addressing the Leech. Cyrus twisted his head, so his real eye was on Anselm. The Leech hissed, taking the faraday thumb as a mask.
—It was not me—
—I vas not you. But you are still guilty for every single one of their deaths … —
—How did I kill those people?—
— … It vas not me who nearly killed myself, but I am still guilty! Just because you do not see it does not mean it does not happen—
—How? How can something happen without anyone, anything, knows it to be happening?—
Anselm huffed, ripping his entire left leg off, metal entrails and red wires zapping and sparking with his rip, freeing his knee from a metallic socket, gleaming in the growing firelight.
—What is that? Heaven to Betsy, and further! Gimme a warning before you mutilate yourself—
—Don’t you see? It Vas Not Me. I vas ripped, too. Yeah, now you go quiet. I. Vas. Ripped. You are not special, Cyrus—
Anselm cringed into his seat. Cyrus gasped, now.
—Ripped? You were?—
Cyrus looked back to the depressions on the fabric of the armchair, where titanium rings had been. There was the port in the ceiling, above the chair. Sealed.
—Now you see. Zhis vas my machine. Ah, blind idiot—
—Blind! I see better than you. I can zoom in onto your head. I have the faculties of a computer! I can process the most complex of human puzzles in milliseconds. I see the future—
Cyrus stood now.
—Yet you can’t see your own past. I said, tell me about zhe rip, boy. Sit down. Do it. Now—
Cyrus retired to the seat, slowly falling backward. Silence, for a time longer.
—Emeralds. They … they flooded my cube. I was gonna meet a gancho for a small chat, pass over some safes I’d worked on. They were almost perfect! So close to perfect. So … close—
—It was so real. They fired bullets, destroyed a vase … I never included water physics—
Cyrus glimpsed his pocket.
—Give me zhe flower, Cyrus—
Cyrus hissed, clenching the arms of his own chair, nails biting into the fabric.
—Calm down, then. Calm. I need to know: vhy are the flowers important?—
A long silence. Cyrus rubbed the pockets, feeling the plastic crumbs, and the perfect organic flower, pressing back against his touch.
—I’m dying, Anselm. The drinking. And with the safes … I’ve spent my time. I didn’t eat as much. But I was so close to perfection. The sei flower is so hard to sculpt, but I was so convinced. I had a vase of sei flowers in my kitchen. And in the same place in the safe. This one was perfect. Then the rip … I couldn’t tell … —
Cyrus cried. Anselm watched, the opposite side of the living room. He sipped his drink. Cyrus writhed, kicking, gulping deep breaths of air, squirming in his chair. Anselm watched; his mouth, drawn to a line. A tear rolled down his own face. He swatted it away.
—You terrify me, Cyrus. Terrify. But not as much as vhen I was ripped, too. Your skull was ripped in half? Do you remember that? Your eye burst, your muscles torn and minced, some hair still stuck to your own machine. No. You blacked out. I didn’t. I remember every sensation of my leg being raped from my body. Every tendon snapped. Veins hissed, oozing blood—
Cyrus looked upward. Wracking breaths. Chest pumping. His Leech hissed.
—You owe me, too, boy. Not like you owe Keyinde. But you owe me a story. You must tell me zhat you can tell zhe difference between your death in zhat safe, and zhen your shock of real life after waking up from zhat safe death. If you can’t tell zhe difference, you are lost. But you tell me a story? Zhen I’ll tell you vhat happened to me. My leg. Zhis chair … —
Anselm patted the chair’s arm.
— … And until zhen … Yes, I see, you’re not ready to tell me vhat happened, yet. How can I help your revenge, until zhen?—
—But I can’t. It all … blurred. Real and not. The bullets, the water of the broken vase. It was in the cube, but it was so real. Perfect. That’s all I want. A perfect safe. I will kill Cardinal in a safe, by ripping him from a machine so violently that his body explodes. A safe death. And perfect revenge—
—You terrify me, Cyrus. It is those flowers that I see in your eyes though that keep me … —
Cyrus cringed, covering the Leech with his hand.
—I can’t tell you about those, Anselm. They’re too true to talk about—
The fire spluttered an electric yawn. The video glitched, looping back to its start. There was a low glow from the kindling flame, again.
One bullet, two flowers.