Nevernever, outside New Las Vegas
PRE-BURST, Cavender’s had been a warehouse. In the years since, most of its exterior metal walls had been stripped away. Some of the sheet metal had gone into making awnings, some into adding a second level of open-air market atop the building, but most of it had simply vanished into the Outside the way things did in the Nevernever. The trickle of goods from the Outside into the City was slow, but at times the reverse flow, from the City outward, became a deluge.
Cavender’s had weathered it all, and Cavender’s Diner, tucked into the shadiest corner of the mass confusion of stalls, counters, curtained nooks, and “private” hideaways, was the oldest eatery in the Nevernever. Patrick Harvey arrived a few minutes before Charlie and found them a table. His crisp solid white uniform, the outward symbol of his new status as a Class One Empath, gained him a wide berth among the other customers, and even the tired-looking server who swung by the table was careful to keep her distance. He ordered bottled water, despite the expense, and closed his eyes to wait for Charlie.
“Oh, you utter slag,” Charlie’s voice growled into his ear, making him jump. “Could you be more conspicuous?”
“Bastard,” Patrick smirked, slapping the upraised hand. “I came straight from work.”
“Of course you did. It’s all you do.” Charlie slid into the chair opposite, setting a large and bedraggled pack on the floor beside them. “So what’s this about?”
“You’re my best friend. I wanted you to know—”
“Know what? You’ve gone Christo? No, wait…. You’re gay!”
The server dropped the water on the table and looked at Charlie, who looked at Patrick. “Another for him,” Patrick said. She wandered away.
“Okay, now you’re just trying to buy me off,” Charlie said with a gap-toothed grin.
“Is it working?”
“I’ll tell you after I taste the water.”
Patrick nudged his bottle across the table to Charlie and watched as his old friend reverently broke the seal and took a first sip of the clean, cool liquid. “Heaven,” Charlie breathed, and flashed a radiant grin. “Okay, you’re more or less forgiven. So how’s the high life?”
“About what you’d think.” Patrick trailed a finger in the slight condensation smear left by the bottle. “I got my first solo case assignment,” he added idly, cutting a glance toward Charlie, “and a promotion to first class.”
Charlie sat back with a small smile and considered him. Charlie really hadn’t changed a lot. His braids were longer, the rat’s nest tousle of shorter hair above them still desperately blond. He had a small mustache now and a new scar on his left cheekbone just under his eye. But his brown eyes still danced and his fingers still kept time to his own inner music. “First solo! And aren’t you just the big-time now?” Charlie chuckled, sipping the water. “So what comes with the big promotion? New bed partner every week? All the fresh fruit and real meat you can eat? Vids and games any time you want? Concerts? Live acts? Trips to the World?”
Patrick snorted and dug a twenty out of a pocket to pay for the water when the server brought his. She pocketed it and vanished. A second twenty slid casually across to Charlie, who palmed it deftly into his pocket.
“Good food, yes. Vids and games, yes. I’ve seen a couple of concerts. No travel. And I don’t remember the last time I got laid.” Patrick popped the water seal with a fingernail and twisted it open. “There’s goods and bads to everything, Charlie.”
“Coulda told you that.” Charlie took another measured sip, let himself savor it.
“Keep the change,” Patrick dropped his voice to say as the server plopped a third water bottle and a pile of mismatched coins on the table. “For Evie.”
Charlie sighed and looked off across the moderately busy bazaar. “No arguments, chummer. Evie needs help. I think I’ve found somebody here who can do her some good. The funds’ll come in handy.”
Patrick slid his still-unopened bottle of water across the table. “Comm me if you need help, Charlie. You know I’ll do anything I can.” He stood. Charlie, finding hiding places for both water bottles in his vests, walked around the table and put his arms around Patrick.
“We miss you, Paddy. Still. You know that, right?”
“I miss you too.” Patrick wrapped his arms around Charlie’s waist and relished the feel of another body. He rarely let himself think about how much he missed simple human contact. “Sometimes I think I should’ve stayed.”
“Nope. You did right.” Charlie’s head rested on Patrick’s shoulder. He smelled like sweat and dirt and faintly of cinnamon. “Evie and I are watching out for each other. You watch out for you. And we know where to find you if we need you.”
“Love you,” Patrick whispered roughly.
“You too, you great pussy,” Charlie murmured back, then stepped away and slapped Patrick on the ass. “Better get back to wonderland, princess.”
Patrick laughed and Charlie vanished into the crowd.
New Las Vegas
THE man writes.
Outside the bars, outside the mesh, outside the thick unbreakable glass, is grass. Thick, lush green grass. Perfectly green grass, no weeds, no flowers, no bugs. Surely full of poison. Seeping through the grass—sliding, sleeking, sliming onto into the ground and down—weaseling through cracks, fissures, tiny imperfections, into trickles and streams and underground water.
Why do they use poison for perfect grass that nobody walks on? Nobody walks on the grass here. I’m not allowed. The grass is outside, and I don’t go outside. But I can see the square of grass. Too green. And a square of sky. Blue. Sometimes clouds are white and sometimes gray. Sometimes almost black. I like those. They mean a storm, and storms are interesting. Storms make interesting things happen here. I always hope the storm will happen while I’m awake so I can watch. Listen. Smell. Learn.
Being here is hard. So many things are not allowed. I write now on this paper so easy to tear I wouldn’t use it to clean my rear in the world, but now it’s all I have and whatever color they give me. Today is green. Like the grass. Hard to write. It doesn’t look right, and I only have a little while, just a little while. Then the drugs will take my mind away and when I wake everything will be gone.
Why does it have to be this way? I don’t understand what I did to deserve this. Why oh why maybe today will bring a storm. Maybe lightning will come maybe wind and storm and blow these walls down and let me free please please me help me I’m falling with you who who who blue blue blu… r… l… b… l… u
Harvey, Patrick, Emp. C1
Case #723, John Doe 439
TODAY I begin my first real solo case. After nearly two years of observing and assisting, I’m excited, yes, but also somewhat terrified. My Advisor suggested that I tranquilize myself lightly before I approach my initial session, since the Adjudicators have deemed the case particularly difficult. I’m honored that they think I can handle it, but maybe Sam’s right about the tranqs. I don’t want to toss on the poor guy, after all.
His med record says he has a brief period of clarity in the midafternoon and another at early evening. Apparently his meds have to be cranked up as soon as he starts showing signs of sanity. Poor bastard must be living in hell.
Okay, for my official record, here’s the background:
John Doe 439 was found six weeks ago alongside the Las Vegas Escapeway. He was alone, unconscious, badly sunburned, and dressed in only a tattered shirt. The salvage unit which picked him up found him to be suffering from dehydration, sixteen cuts and puncture wounds of varying sizes, massive bruising, a broken left arm, a mild concussion, and severe anal tearing. He also had what appeared to be cigarette burns over much of his body.
When he began to regain consciousness in the salvage med, he immediately became combative and started screaming incessantly. After ten days with no luck in calming him down, the salvage med called the Empath Center and reported him. He has been here ever since.
He has tried to kill himself six times in four and a half weeks and still hasn’t spoken an understandable word to anyone.
This is my first case. John Doe 439. Is there enough of him left to save?
THE man writes.
fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple fucking purple….
Harvey, Patrick, Emp. C1
Case #723, John Doe 439
EVEN sedated, he huddles protectively, naked on the padded floor. He’s clearly afraid. My first observation. And now for my first touch.
I think it best if I stay on the other side of the room for this first session. I’m not sure either of us is ready for physical contact. That first touch, even sedated, was almost overwhelming. His mind is… demolished. Chaotic. A huge crowded hall of shattered mirrors. Nothing at all makes sense. I’ll spend my time settling, meditating, until he begins to rouse.
He’s begun to stir, looking around carefully with that blurry lack of direction that always accompanies deep sedation. He heard my murmur into the speaker and has gone still but for his eyes, dark blue under a rough mane of sandy brown hair. His left arm is still in a light cast and the last of the bruises are yellow. The burns are gone except for small scars of the worst ones. He isn’t allowed clothing now, since he ripped apart his last pajamas and tried to strangle himself with them. He’s lean to the point of emaciation. Only threats keep him eating the barest amount.
He locates my dark hair against the white of the walls and the white of my clothing. We consider each other across the room. I make no move. He crouches and waits.
With exceeding care I open myself to him, only a limited amount, carefully controlled. I’m waiting to see if he notices my presence, but so far I seem to have slipped under his defenses. I search, lighter than a breath, for something solid in the chaos, not to grasp it but only to know that it’s there. We need a place to begin if we are to have any progress.
I hear him move and shift my attention back to the visual. He has straightened slightly, back to the wall, and begun to move ever so slowly toward the narrow padded shelf on one wall. Ahhh… an oversight on my part. I’ve forgotten the one thing his watchers say he seems to value. On the shelf is a sheet of flimsy paper and a yellow crayon.
Never taking that wild blue gaze from my face, he grabs the paper and crayon and sidles back to his corner. He’s looked away from me, at the crayon. At that moment, I shifted all my perception back inside, and that’s why the wordless scream of rage nearly knocks me to the floor. The rage is so vast, so colored with frustration and pain and desperately choking despair that I’m literally knocked backward against the wall.
In that moment, his mouth open in a silent scream, he’s over the bed and clutching my throat, wiry hands banging my head….
FOUR watchers and a hefty dose of our strongest tranquilizer dropped him between one breath and the next. Against my recommendations, he was strapped to his mattress and covered with a couple of thin paper sheets.
I spent a while questioning the Watchers who work his afternoon shift most often, and did a little sleuthing while my adrenaline ran high. At the end of it, I knew at least one thing about John Doe 439, and I knew I could do one thing to help him.
It was with a great deal of pleasure that I added to his orders: “Do not give John Doe 439 any yellow or other very light colored crayons. Also do not give him a purple crayon unless his Empath is scheduled to be present.”
What John Doe told me—very clearly through his clotted fury—was that he can’t see what he writes with yellow. In his mind, it’s just another inexplicable form of torture.
That torture, at least, I have taken away. It’s not much, but maybe it’s a start.