Blood Perfect : Part Five
''I'm sorry,'' says Flick. ''I can't remember your name.''
''Lizzy,'' says Lizzy. ''You can call me Lizzy.''
''I seem to have...'' forgotten everything. Except... Flick takes a breath. ''Sit up, Lizzy. I have something to say.''
Lizzy looks out at her with her open eye but doesn't make a move.
Flick gets off the bed and goes over to the wall, which reflects her image back at her. She can hear the whir of the Davy, zooming in. She looks okay. Not as frazzled as she feels. She could do to tie her hair up. She has a profound urge to say something but continues to fight it. She cocks her head and looks herself in the eye.
''I wasn't always this dysfunctional'' she says.
''You what, darling?''
''I haven't always been'' says Flick, as if correcting
''I'm not with you lovey,'' says Lizzy, then: ''Fucking Hell!'' She jumps off the bed and gapes at the walls, her knickers half way down her tattooed arse.
The Davy-bird flutters clunkily about.
''She's going to be free within a week'' thinks Flick. Coming at them from their distances within the walls, what at first appear to be dragons, turn into a fleet of old-style mechanicals.
''Where have you come from?'' Lizzy is astonished.
''It's not real,'' says Flick, bemused.
''Of course it is,'' says Lizzy. ''I watch this show. I'm a fan.''
''These things are over four spans old!''
''I thought you might have come from...''
''I dunno. Everybody knows you were sent into exile.''
Flick is surprised that she is so recognisable. That could help to reduce her time inside. However, if her exit strategy's going to work, it has to be realistic or else, politically speaking, she's done before she has even started.
''It's clearly a metaphor,'' says Flick, a little condescendingly.
''Is that what's in your head right now?''
''No, of course not'' Flick lies.
''But they take stuff out of your head. That's how it works.''
''Maybe what's actually inside my head is censored,'' says Flick, winking at Lizzy.
''From the war you mean?'' Lizzy's eyes brighten. Although being presented as some kind of war hero isn't going to do her any harm, Flick judiciously holds her tongue. For now. She is still reliant on Arbitration going along with this and they won't do that if they feel undermined in any way.
The impression given by the led-gel construct is that they are in a cage on the back of some soaring beast, sweeping through a valley in a mountainous region. A lake hangs in the west like an eye, mechanical dragons weeping from it. To the east, between a wall of rock and a curl of ice, the land opens out onto a high plateau. They swing through this crevasse, picking up speed now as they pass lower to the ground. Instinctively, Flick looks behind her to see if the dragons are following but sees only out into the penitentiary yard and the boundary field; the odd, ghostly spectator and the neon graffiti scrawled across the scarred rock-face of the mines in the cavern beyond. She turns her back on that. She feels as though she has to shout over the imaginary rush of air, made almost real by a much smaller sound coming out of the led-gel walls.
''I was always taught to respect my demons'' says Flick.
Lizzy takes this as a cue. She seems to have a good intuition for the rules of this game: ''Nice girl like you,'' she says. ''What demons could you have?''
''You'd be surprised.'' They appear to be circling now, in a landing pattern. The way they came is festooned with dragons.
''My ancestors worked the mines.'' Flick doesn't know how far she'll get before Arbitration steps in.
''Whose didn't?'' says Lizzy, seemingly unimpressed.
''Mine found something, down there in the darkness. While that runt deKhnastre flaunted herself on the mechanicals, my people were slaving in the tunnels, clawing at the walls with picks and axes.''
''My heart bleeds'' says Lizzy. They appear to have landed. The cage they're in is facing back towards the crevasse. The mechanicals are circling above them, their jet engines thrillingly loud. Murgatroyd's external slopes are recognisable, leaning away from the crevasse at its far end.
''What did they find? Diamonds? You come from a family of thieves?''
''No'' says Flick, calming herself. ''What they found was... alive. A consciousness trapped there in the kimberlite.''
''Oh please,'' says Lizzy. ''You're not one of those new age Crystal Skull hippies are you? That's worse than being a thief.''
''I realise it's something of a taboo subject'' says Flick, ''but hear me out...''
A lizard-person pounces into view on the other side of the bars. An absurdity to reflect the assumed absurdity of Flick's narrative. Of course Arbitration weren't going to play along.
''No one's falling for that new age bollocks'' says Lizzy. ''You're supposed to be taking ownership of your crime.'' She waggles her fingers to apostrophise the tired jargon. "You're not going to get very far if you start babbling on about pagan beliefs.''
The chemist must be a pretty big deal for Arbitration to even allow Flick in here. She wasn't sent into exile for nothing. This represents a huge risk to them - unless they're actually ready for outing themselves. They'd always said, privately, that when the day came, Flick would be the one to do it. Maybe the chemist is nobody at all. Most likely there's more than one interest at play here. It'll not be entirely in the control of Arbitration.
The lizard looks a bit like a human-sized gecko, dressed in mammal skins. It's difficult to tell whether the creature is male or female. It has a trident which, when it taps the cage, makes the bars sing with a pulse of electricity. It looks at Flick with what appears to be a warning in its eyes.
Lizzy is intrigued at the reaction of The Mainframe, which seems to have thrown verisimilitude completely out the window. ''Go on anyway'' she says, instinctively standing back, wondering if Flick might have broken the thing. The lizard sends another jolt through the bars. Lizzy looks at Flick and gestures for her to continue. The lizard becomes quite animated and is joined by others which crowd menacingly around the bars. Even though it's happening within the led-gel construct, it is quite intimidating and Flick can't help thinking there might be some real-world consequence. What has happened, of course, is that the introduction of the lizard-men has completely drowned out Flick's attempted reference to the historical record, before she has even had the chance to get them inside the mountain. The outcome: Not Real!
But even a negative response is a response and Flick has gained knowledge from this exchange. Arbitration are not ready for outing themselves just yet. She decides to play her hand anyway. Maybe this is more about preparing the ground than providing full disclosure.
''They called it Lume'' says Flick, ''which was close enough to the unpronounceable name it had given itself.''
The gecko-people are gesticulating wildly to each other.
''Lume'' says Lizzy, trying out the name. ''How did it communicate.''
''Directly'' says Flick, and leaves it at that.
''So how is this Lume character related to your crime?''
''The reason you're in here?''
''I'm in here for political reasons, everybody knows that.''
The gecko-people start remonstrating.
''Looks like someone doesn't agree,'' says Lizzy. ''Was it a war crime?''
Flick remains quiet. The lizard-people calm down, listening intently. ''No,'' says Flick eventually, ''it wasn't a war-crime.''
''What was it then?'' Lizzy is doing her best to help Flick through this but it's hard work. ''You're going to have to come up with something.''
''I suppose you could call it genocide,'' says Flick.
''You suppose?'' says Lizzy, incredulous. ''What the fuck did you do?''
''I think I broke him'' says Flick, at which point the screens go blank and the Davy-bird falls off its perch. ''What just happened?''
''They closed us down'' says Lizzy. ''It happens from time to time. They call it Sanctuary.''
Flick smiles. ''I guess they didn't want anyone to hear what I have to say.'' But she is surprised they even let her get so far. Something is happening, right enough, if Arbitration are involved in this. Something big. Something nasty.
''So what happens now?'' Lizzy shrugs.
''Dunno. It was nice meeting you though.''
Flick takes a moment to savour the cut of her jeans. It's the most comfortable she's been since entering the city. The denim is faded but sturdy, the hem's a little frayed. They are not too tight or revealing or fussy. They are plain, working clothes and that's fine by her. One pocket has worn through and she can touch skin. Skin which no one else can see. It feels like she's got her body back. The first thing she's going to do when she gets to her new cell is have a bath.
She pulls on the t-shirt which is also a perfect fit. It has an image of some abstract design based on a famous painting. It's old though, not just made to look that way, worn in, but clean, comfortable. There are new socks and a pair of ankle boots and the best thing of all is the battered black leather jacket; the kind worn by field-skimmer racers with scratches all down one arm from some intimate moment shared with the basalt. There's a full-length mirror on the wall by the stone bath. She wanders through and has a look at herself. She likes what she sees, although her hair could do with a wash. She used to have it in threads and that would suit this look. She nods to herself. She goes back to the dressing room, faces the portal. She is ready.
The field clarifies, then opens. A man in a blue shirt and grey canvass trousers leans in, holding out an arm:
Flick grabs the arm although it is unnecessary. She steps out onto a gantry and the field obscures itself behind her. The prison officer keeps hold of her until he is satisfied she has her balance.
''This is the Substrate'' he says. ''It runs the length of the Tower, from the lid right down to the holding pens.''
Flick holds the rail and looks out into the inner workings of the prison. It's an octagonal vent in the basalt which every cell backs onto - two to each face. Each cell has a gantry like this one. Field-skimmers of various sizes zip about. The freighters are boxy and have orange flashing lights. Maintenance vehicles look more like floating wiring racks, their self-operating mandibles and articulated grapples give them an insect-like quality. Skiffs for transporting officers and prisoners are sleeker-looking flatbeds, driven by tall droids with laser-pistols attached to their shoulders. These have lights which flash blue.
There is an updraught, refreshing after the cloying atmosphere of the cell. It's closer to the mountain's natural airflow which circulates through vents linking potholes on the surface. She leans over and lets the air wash around her face. Although they're only one floor up from the holding pens, the vent runs much deeper into the mountain. It is floored by a metal grid, two levels below the holding pens, where she can see entrances to warehouses and the source of all the field-skimming activity. Grapple-lifters crawl along the grid, obsessed with getting things out and putting things away.
Looking up, Flick can see where, like her, other prisoners are being moved between gantries by prison officers dressed in the same uniform as the officer with her. There is one thing different about their gantry.
''Where's your skiff?'' she asks.
''On its way.''
The space around them flashes blue and from beneath a skiff rises to a point where its flatbed meets the gantry floor. Standing on the bed, along with a twitchy and grizzled-looking droid, Shem, dressed in a rather fetching military-issue Garam Fallah, opens a gate in the gantry and invites her aboard.
''You look good,'' he says. ''Fancy a spot of supper? I know a place nearby.''
''I bet you do.''