Radial Symmetry (9 of 10)
Tentacle 9: Supercilious
". . . the supercilious tentacle is without obvious use, but it is of constant use . . . " "
After the reports of his uncle's revolver fled out across the dark waters of Lake Huron, Jarwaun finally took in the scene. The moon was full and cold, peeking out from a rough tear in the thick cloud cover. Light snow had finally begun to sift down, like arsenic from a flour sifter coating and sticking to every nook of surface area. Ivan was curled on the hard-frozen ground, holding his stomach and ribs, swearing and coughing blood. Mohammed looked like a someone had taken a belt-sander to his face and torso: his jersey was shredded and his puffy coat was gone, his face was a mask of blood, and a ragged strip of his scalp hung down over his right ear. Mohammed knelt over Donny, swearing as Donny wept and babbled, wept and babbled as his blood pooled around him. Down on the dock, out in the dark water, something splashed and sloshed, and there was the whine of power tools, and the sharp, high cries of a woman, little chirps, like a bird caught under a cat's clawed paw. Down on the dock was the Giant Squid and his girlfriend Hazel. Mesmerized, Jarwaun took two stumbling steps towards the water.
"Jarwaun!" Mohammed screamed, "Fuckin'-A, Jarwaun! They fuckin' cut off Donny's fuckin'—" and there were two urps! and a low buzz and Mohammed vomited into the frozen grass next to his fallen friend.
Jarwaun looked away from the inky water and what was happening at the dock. He looked at his uncle's nickel-plated revolver. It was warm to the touch. He carefully checked the safety to make sure it was on, and gingerly slid the heavy gun into the pocket of his baggy pants, and ran up the hill to Mohammed, Ivan, Donny and the corpses of four of the chimps.
Donny's hand was bad; the hand was hanging by a thread or maybe a tendon, spasmodically clenching and flexing and making arcane gestures, like gang-signs from some distant world. Blood gushed out from the stump of his arm in regular bursts, like a fountain in a shopping mall. Jarwaun looked, and gagged, and although he couldn't consciously understand what Mohammed was yelling at him, he understood. Jarwaun ran to the garage to the side of the cottage, following the heavy orange extension cord that snaked off of the workbench, out of the square of light of the open garage door, and down to the dock, to the Squid and his tools and Hazel. Back at the dock there was a high scream, like a coyote in a horror movie, and then silence, and sobs, and the window-rattling bass of the Squid's amplified voice as he told Hazel something, cooed something, sung something. Jarwaun thought the Squid might be singing a lullaby, and this more than anything let the cold of the night into his heart.
The floor of the garage was deeply scored from the Squid dragging his crippled suit across it, and Jarwaun tripped when the toe of his Nike slid down into the cracked foundation. He stumbled, but kept his equilibrium, fetching hard up against the workbench. He tore through everything, and came up with a ball of twine. Running back to Donny and Mohammed his feet tangled in Mohammed's torn black parka; Jarwaun came down hard on his hands and knees, rolled, snatched up the jacket and kept running. Ivan was already there with Mohammed and Donny. No one spoke, no one spoke anything that made any sense at all. Ivan swore in English and Russian and some third language that may have been Klingon or Tolkien's Elvish, and Mohammed squeaked and coughed and gagged, his hands locked around Donny's wrist, trying to staunch the flow. Jarwaun was silent. Still, the three young men worked in concert, like battlefield surgeons in a black and white film on late night TV, twisting twine as a tourniquet around the wrist, then tying the parka down tight as a pressure bandage.
Only Donny spoke words that meant anything. "This," he said, "This — oh God — this is what I got, this is what I bought with Mr. Squid. This —" Donny laughed, "Uncle Owen; this R2 unit has a bad motivator," he laughed again, the laughter coming in hard, rhythmic spurts, and then cried, then screamed into the bright, velvet night, "You're not my father; that's impossible! I'll never join you!" and then sobbed again and, blessedly, lost consciousness.
Jarwaun and Mohammed hauled Donny up; something was wrong with Ivan's shoulder, and he could carry no weight. He opened the sliding door of the mini-van, the boys sliding Donny onto the first passenger bench, Mohammed dove into the driver's seat as Jarwaun jumped out. Ivan slammed the door, Mohammed tore off in the minivan with Donny.
Ivan and Jarwaun stood in the dark alone, looking away from the Squid and the dock and the cries of the woman. They stood that way for a long time. Jarwaun stared at the moon and Ivan at the garage, and they listened to the woman moan and the Squid sing in his sonorous voice.
He had thought that shooting the chimps was just like shooting the bad guys in SWAT FORCE in the movie-theater arcade, but it wasn't really, not at all. Hitting things was the same, but the gun was different, and now that the adrenaline was seeping out of his system, he realized that he couldn't quite hear right — everything sounded empty and booming, like after you left a big concert at the Palace — and his right shoulder hurt from the kick.
Jarwaun broke the silence, "You think Mr. Squid know where the monkeys took Trael?" He didn't look away from the moon, and Ivan didn't look away from the garage.
Ivan shrugged, then winced as his shoulder sparked with pain. "If anyone does, it's that guy."
"I got one bullet left," he said, "There only that one monkey I missed."
"Could be more monkeys. Could be anyone guarding him."
"Mr. Squid, he pretty tough. He like Trael a lot. He'll help."
Ivan could see where the foundation of the garage was cracked and canted from the Squid's dragging progress, could track the deep gouges of the Squid dragging himself up the hill to get the power and tools for whatever he was doing at the dock. He looked at the twisted piece of velocitator-suit that Donny had used to save his life.
"I don't think the Squid is going anywhere. I think his suit is fucked again."
"Maybe that's what he's fixin down on the beach."
The woman cried again, and they both knew that whatever the Squid was doing, it wasn't fixing his own suit.
"There is one of them little cranes in the garage," Jarwaun said, pointing at a cherry picker off to one side, "You use to pick up a car engine? We could use that to get him in the truck, make him come with—"
Ivan finally looked at the boy, "My truck is fucked, Jarwaun," he was frustrated, "The Squid is fucked, and my truck is fucked, and Donny is fucking fucked up bad," Ivan started to cry, then held very still, and breathed deeply. He began to speak, but his voice cracked, so he stopped and breathed deeply, and then said evenly, "We're all fucked. I'm sorry. I'm sure the cops will find your—"
Jarwaun looked at Ivan, and Ivan stopped talking, because he realized trying to convince Jarwaun to forget about finding his brother tonight was like trying to talk the moon down out of the sky.
"Call that bald faggot on your cell," Jarwaun said, "Get him down here with his big tow truck."
And so Ivan called Devo. And Devo told him things that he shouldn't: That Sang had Trael in the lab at the Renaissance Center, and that he'd let Trael go if he got the Squid back. He said he'd be there soon, and Ivan had basically explained where they were when a scream cut through. Ivan dropped his cellphone and the young man and the teenaged boy raced down to the dock.
At the dock they found the Squid in the water, the dock to his left, and a floating raft moored to the dock to his right. On the dock something writhed and bucked, something not entirely flesh and not entirely machine. The thing bucked and whirred and screamed obscenities in Hazel's voice.
"You fucker! You fucking fucker." Hazel shouted, her voice pitching up into electronic tones, square waves. "What have you fucking-" And then her voice turned to static and part of the dock exploded and showered splinters across Donny, Ivan and Mohammed and across the chimp corpses.
The squid floated within the pressurized dome of the velocitator, bobbing against the wooden dock like the world's ugliest buoy cut free from its moorings. "JARWAUN! IVAN! LOOSE ME FROM MY VELOCITATOR," the Squid shouted quickly. "PLEASE. I SHALL OVERTAKE HAZEL AND EXPLAIN HER STATE MORE FULLY, AND SHE WILL UNDERSTAND AND BE THANKFUL. PLEASE. I CANNOT REACH THE PRESSURE-BOLTS — AT THE BACK OF MY SUIT, THERE ARE FOUR. THEY TWIST, LIKE AND UNTO THE WING'S NUTS. SPIN ALL FOUR WIDDERSHINS, AND THE PORT WILL OPEN. IF I SQUEEZE INTO A TIGHT BALL, THE FORCE OF THE EXITING WATERS WILL CARRY ME THROUGH THE PORT AND OUT INTO THE LAKE'S WATERS, AND—"
"No," Jarwaun said evenly.
"YES" the Squid commanded, "LOOSE THE SECURING BOLTS AT THE REAR OF MY ANTIBATHYSPHEREIC DOME! I WILL SLIDE WITH THE DELUGE FROM WITHIN MY SUIT INTO THE WATERS OF HURON AND WILL CAPTURE BACK MY HAZEL, IN BODY AND HEART!"
"No," Jarwaun repeated, and when the Squid tried to explain further, Jarwaun screeched "NO!" and pulled the gun from his pocket, "Shut the FUCK UP!" he screamed, his voice high and strained and child-like. Tears streamed down his face, "We goin' to get my brother! We tradin' you in, Mr. Squid!" he punctuated each sentence by banging the maw of the gun against the glass of the dome, "Devo comin' and we takin' you home, and then takin' Tray home!"
The Squid lashed out at the boy, and rather than pulling back — which would have taken him into the deadly grip of the Squid's razored, mechanical hunting tentacles — Jarwaun jumped into the hip deep, frigid water and squeezed flat against the dome, where the Squid could not reach. He pointed the revolver in at the Squid's huge, optically perfect eye.
"I seen this glass crack before. Only thing holdin' it together now is crazy glue and caulk and shit," Jarwaun said through his sobs, "We takin' you to the Ren Cen in a hour, and the only way you gettin' out of this suit til then is with a bullet bustin in yo' glass and yo' eye and whatever you got inside."
"Jay," Ivan began, speaking carefully, but it was useless, and they waited for Devo just like that: Ivan on the dock, Jarwaun hip-deep in the ice-cold lake, the Squid cooing low trying to ease Jarwaun's mind, and Hazel, raging somewhere out in the black of the lake. The moon shone cold and bright and snow, like arsenic, coated everything.
Rob stumbled out of the toward, his hand bloody and slick with human fat, clutching a key ring. He tripped and fell into the side of the car, jolting Molly awake from behind the wheel.
"Hey Molls, we gotta go. We gotta hurry." Rob made shooing gestures and Molly slid over to the passenger seat as Rob plopped heavily into his seat. "It's been a weird fuckin night. Again." He sighed and leaned his forehead against the wheel. "I am so sick of weird fuckin nights."
Molly was bleary-eyed. "So you were gone all night; you were waiting for the acid to hit you, and you ducked into a little copse of sumac to urinate, and you disappeared."
"I didn't disappear," Rob said, "I went down a rabbit hole." He knew this was a lie, but the phrase rabbit hole struck him as terribly salacious, and he blushed and began to giggle, and the giggles became cackles, and Molly just stared at him.
"But you were gone; I looked all throw that weird, overgrown lot — the midget even got me a big cop-style maglite, but you weren't anywhere."
"It was just one night," Rob rationalized, "Besides, it's dead-winter, and days are shorter. I was probably only gone a few hours."
"The days are shorter and so the nights are longer, you jerk; you were gone more than twelve hours."
Rob shrugged. He really wasn't interested. "C'mon," he said, "I'll drive. I'm fuckin' trippin' balls. Toledo! ¡Olé!"
On the fifth floor of Iron Mountain Storage, Molly and Rob stood outside the wide, roll-up door of locker number 227. Rob fit the key — still tacky with Tom's blood — into the integrated lock, turned it, and slid the door up. The locker was deeper than he expected, and he couldn't really see anything inside, apart from what appeared to be a solid wall of white document boxes, probably full of archived files — years and years of invoices, receipts, copies of purchase orders, pay stubs.
"You wouldn't have the Lil B's maglite still, would you?"
Molly sent a puff of exasperated air through her bangs, "Do I look like I'm carrying a two foot long flashlight Rob?"
He looked her over; she was wearing jeans, and a bulky cowl-neck sweater and a leather jacket cut like a man's blazer, "Maybe you've got it, like—"
She shook her head, and pointed at the ceiling of the storage unit, to a parallel set of rows of fluorescent bars. "There's lights. There's got to be a light switch." She reached in to their left, found nothing, crossed to the right, and flicked a switch.
The light didn't help much; the locker was full of file boxes, some new-ish looking, others ancient and discolored, stacked in a solid wall.
"Fuck," Rob sighed. He counted across the bottom, and then up one column. "Seven across," he said, "and six up. That's at least 42 boxes, just the front layer."
Molly looked at Rob, her eyebrow raised. He saw her look and felt his blood rise. "Oh, fuck off. I'm not a fuckin' retard, I just fuckin' wasted my life." He stepped into the locker, walked towards the edge, where there was a foot and a half of clearance between the wall of boxes and the corrugated steel wall of the locker, "Besides, it could be 420 fucking boxes; who fuckin' knows how far these go back. Fuck." He kicked the lower corner box, and it didn't budge.
He stuck his head into the little crevice, and whistled.
"What?" Molly asked.
"Well, it ain't 420 boxes. It ain't 100 boxes. It's probably hardly 80 boxes. And we don't have to go through them."
What Rob saw behind the double-wall of boxes — the thing the boxes were concealing — reminded him of a display he'd seen in a Natural History museum once, as a little boy. In the museum display they were illustrating the indefatigable forward march of evolution. On the far left of the display there was a tiny, delicate fish skeleton — really, little more than a minnowish, a fin-less eel with a single, tiny row of needle-teeth. On the far right there was a skeleton at least 14 feet long, with a broad rib cage and short, powerful front fins and a long, serpentine tail. Its jaws — which gaped wide, exposing every one of its back-slanged, serrated man-eater teeth — were at least a yard long, and opened wide enough to swallow a 5th grader riding a bike without popping his tires or scraping his scalp. There had been several intervening skeletons — five or six — but none impressed Rob. What impressed Rob was the way that, with just a little pressure and time, the minnow became the devil-dolphin, and something that had to worry about getting swallowed whole by a frog became something scarier than anything he could begin to imagine.
If the Squid's normal velocitator — with its chromed, razored claws and armored dome and snarling engine and nimble, leaping legs — stood in a display in some Museum of Terrifying Technology, it would have been at the far left of such a display, and the velocitator that crouched behind the wall of boxes, the velocitator he looked at now, it would be at the far right.
"Damn," he gasped.
"What do you see, Rob," Molly asked, annoyed.
The new veolocitator was matte-black — a black so pure and dark and shineless that is was hard to see, even in the harsh light of the fluorescent fixtures. It was like the Squid's velocitator, but only in that same way that the minnow in that old diorama was like the devil-fish: hunting tentacles, walking legs, a dome. But the hunters were spiked forward and back, and had a mismatched set of tubes, one on the left on the other on the right, that looked to Rob like the missile-tubes or repeating guns mounted on military helicopters in the wet dreams of generals. The walking legs were longer, slimmer, with extra hydraulics and springs. Gone was the delicate glass dome, replaced with a traveling compartment with many diamond-shaped pains, separated by black steel mullions, so that his central cabin was like a dark, multifaceted crystal. Rob hauled himself up the legs and stood on a front set of pinchers, cupped his hands around his eyes against the glass to look in. Inside, a seat and five-point harness had been hastily bolted in, and a set of manual controls — sized for human hands, with small buttons and dials and switches, like the complicated controllers on those videogames that you sat in, that cost a buck to play and rattled and roared and shook around you — were partially wired in, the access panels left hanging open, exposing their still-new rubber gaskets, which had yet to see any pressure or salt water.
It was, Rob realized, a velocitator for humans. It was a goddamn mech.
Molly slapped the row of boxes. "Rob?" she sounded worried.
"I'm fine," he hollered, hoping down. "Everything is gonna be fine. Call Devo."
A pause, "I don't have his number."
"Fuck," Rob sighed, "OK. I'll call Devo."
But his cell phone got no signal in the metal locker, in the concrete building full of metal lockers. "Fuck; I'll go out to the goddamned parking lot and call Devo."
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson