Max hogged the address to himself, probably to keep me from having everything scoped out, torn apart, and nuked from orbit. It’s the only way Max could be sure. This time, we ended up in Ecuador, hiking up a mountain.
“Why are we doing this?” I said, scooting up the side of a volcano. Max was hiking, but I took the lazy way in one of my proxy bodies. I wasn’t taking my real body hiking up a damn mountain. “You don’t need exercise.”
“I want the experience!” Max declared. He took something out of his pocket and stuffed it between his lip and gum.
“No need to dip chew if you had a scooter,” I said.
He waved off my commentary. “The human body isn’t comfortable transitioning from lower to higher altitudes. We’ve done that a lot lately. It’s giving me farts.”
I know the feeling. Sam’s also really uncomfortable with it.
“Hey, can you distract me?” he asked.
“So, I kind of feel like while I find Sam attractive, I don’t personally have strong feelings in favor of dating her,” I started.
“This again. Sam this, Sam that. Do you ever get off Sam?” he asked.
“You’ve heard the moans,” was the last I said on that point. “That computer really pointed here or did you mess up a riddle?”
“You probably don’t need to be here if you don’t want to be,” he said. “There’s no reason this should be dangerous.”
“Turret gun,” I said, referring to the one hidden in the cargo container that led him to the side of this volcano.
“I had it covered. Relax.”
I took a moment to zip back to my main body in a little hotel we were in. I was in a chair off in the corner. Turning, I saw Holly, Sam, and Dr. Erishka sitting around eating, with a lot more clothes scattered around the room. Nice clothes. “Something going on?”
“Oh, you’re awake,” Sam said. “We were going to take your friend here out partying. She’s been cooped up too long.” She paused, then started to open her mouth before I noticed Erishka adjust how she sit and “accidentally” hit Sam’s shin with her foot.
“Good, I was just checking in,” I said. “Y’all have fun.”
“I still want to talk to you sometime,” Erishka said. “In fact,” she set down the burger she was munching on and wiped her face. “Come on, out the door real quick.”
I didn’t want to bother. Just let her enjoy her night. She’s been tending to my needs for months now. I never told her she needed to be there at all times… but it occurred to me I expected and acted like she would be. Ugh, I am still a terrible leader and a bad boss. So I followed, figuring the least I could do was take the chastising.
I closed the door behind us while she checked the hallway before turning to me. “You offered anything I wanted. I’ve been talking to Holly and Sam and they assure me you mean that. They told me about what you did in Brazil. You were serious that you owed me?”
I nodded. “Absolutely. I like to give people a chance to tell me what they want rather than me impose my idea of what they want on them.”
“Yeah, because you don’t know anything about me or so many others. I’m not going to cash it in. You don’t have healthy interpersonal skills and you do this where you treat interaction as transaction.”
I shook my head and laughed. “You are too nice for me. You go out and have a good time. And, not as a trade, you give me a call if y’all run into trouble. But thank you.” I didn’t want to make a whole speech out of it. We headed back into the room where I popped a really big question, “Anybody got a spare burger?”
Holly held up a foil-wrapped package for me.
Back to Max then. I’d lagged behind on autopilot and found myself having run into a boulder and tipped me over onto my side. I stood back up, brushed myself off, and raised a fist to the sky. “Curse you, Pichincha!” I picked the scooter up and tossed it aside. “Let’s do this shit.”
If there’s anything I miss from my time being imbued with godlike power by an extradimensional entity using me as his conduit, it was flying. I can’t fly, but between my power armor and enhancements, I’ve been known to leap buildings in a single bound. I spotted Max in midair; I ended up jumping past him and having to come back for him. “Where we aiming for, friendo?”
He pointed it out and hopped on my back. In midair, legs wrapped around my lower chest, he decided to hold his arms up and yell like a roller coaster. I didn’t tell him that he nearly shifted his weight enough to end up yelling from a broken leg. It took minutes to get us part of the way up the multi-peaked volcano. It was a little off the trail. It actually would have been hidden from the trail by bushes and rocks. It was no Everest Rainbow Valley, so named for all the corpses in bright climbing gear. They just leave those up there. Someone dies up here, I’m pretty sure there are animals to eat them. Instead of bodies, all they had here was a trapped case.
We could tell it was trapped by all the signs. Even if you stumbled on this thing, little devices attached to this case helpfully warned you about all the different type of explosive compounds rigged to blow you up. Max knelt down and lifted a small cover to reveal a keypad with twelve spaces. The nine Arabic numerals were there with three keys below them adding a back arrow, an OK, and a blank key.
“You sure you don’t want to take care of the bombs?” I suggested.
He waved me away. “The computer gave me the code.” He pushed three, one, nine, and then the blank key. The top clicked of the box clicked open and he didn’t blow up.
I leaned in over his shoulder. “Is this the part where we steal the Declaration of Independence?”
“No. This is saying we need to go into Quito, to a bar called Cacho Caramba.” He looked down the way we came and all the way into the city. “I wish we’d brought the Flyer after all.”
I made a holographic puppet version of Max appear on my hand and gave it a ridiculous voice, “No, this is something I want to do myself.”
“I never said that… so what’s the ETA on the Flyer?”
It took a few minutes, time Max spent smoking a joint. I didn’t even land the Flyer to drop us off when we found Cacho Caramba. Max led me in, the illusion making me look like I was wearing a dress so short and tight, a sneeze would leave me nude. It’s easy to get away with clothes that look painted on when they’re illusionary. I got some wolf whistles, to which Max bowed. “Thank you, I try hard,” he said. That earned boos. They wanted to see me some more.
Max held up his slip of paper, trying to pronounce it in Spanish. I snatched it away from him to ask everyone, “What do you call a negative fish?”
“A pessimist!” said a man in the back, waving us over. The rest of the crowd pretended to laugh along because I’m a pretty woman in a tiny dress, even though it was a silly pun. It also doesn’t make any sense translated into English, but it’s exactly my kind of pun in Latin American Spanish. Yes, there is a difference.
“Sit,” the man urged. “I will lead you down to the entrance in a moment. Please wait, I am watching my show.” He nodded to a small TV set high up in the corner. On the screen, a skinny pale guy sat at a gambling table with a bunch of Asian guys, playing some game with dominoes, a wheel, and a jellybean. I couldn’t tell what genre the show was, especially once a crowd of men rushed in wearing soccer uniforms. I’d say eight, maybe nine guys. It was hard to tell because I think there was a short guy in the back.
“Hey!” the leader said, pointing at our companion. “Fuck you!”
The man we met turned to them, glaring. He slammed his beer down and picked up his cigarette, raising it to his lips in a way that left him pointing right back at the guy. After a long drag, he blew out some smoke and said, “Fuck you.”
It went back and forth like that for a few seconds before I interrupted to ask, “What’s going on?”
The guy we pointed at the team. “I bet against the local team. I tried to tell them they could have a share of the money if they helped, but they didn’t. Instead, so many things went wrong, they accuse me of rigging.”
“I know you did,” the lead soccer player said. He smacked his fists together. “Today, we’re kicking your ass.”
“Fuck you,” our companion said, pulling out a long, thin knife.
One of the soccer players reached into his shorts and came out with a pair of nunchucks with little soccer balls on the ends. Max sighed and reached into his coat for a dart gun, checking to make sure it was loaded. Another soccer player raised his shirt to reveal a black and white patterned revolver that he whipped out and pointed toward us. I stood up. One of the players pushed his companions aside and held up a rose. I growled, so then he wrapped it around his fist so the thorns pointed outward.
The lead soccer player, I guess the team captain, elbowed another player. “Do it. Pull it out.”
That player winced. “Do I have to? They don’t have anything else to escalate with?”
“Why did you bring it if you weren’t going to use it?” the captain asked.
Finally, the player whined and reached into the back of his shorts. He shifted a bit. “It’s stuck. Mother of God, it’s stuck. No, wait…” And then he pulled out a fucking spiked ball and chain flail. His team cheered and clapped him on the shoulders, then ran at us.
I’m trying not to kill so many people now. It was made a little easier when Max nailed one in the throat with a dart gun. The man fell to the ground, flailing. The team ignored him and ran past. I put myself between our side and theirs. The leader tried to run past me, but I grabbed him and diverted his head into a nearby wall. He broke through the thin wall and got stuck there, or just was dazed enough.
The player with the gun and the fellow who squeezed out a flail came next. I grabbed the arms with the weapons when both tried to slip past me. I kicked one away, then the second, both times preferring to act nonlethally. I kept their arms with me, though. Yep, one hand holding an arm with a gun in it, the other holding an arm still squeezing a medieval fucking weapon. By that point, the team had stopped to watch in horror. They were frozen. I decided to give them a little more of a push. I flipped the arms around so I held them by the bloody torn-off pieces, pointing a gun at the gang while swinging the flail arm just enough to make the head on its chain spin up some momentum.
“We’re done here, yes?” I asked.
The guys all held up their arms, except for a couple of them who held up just one, and backed out of the room. A dwarf in an outsized soccer uniform stumbled after them. The captain regained his senses enough to tug his head out of the wall and spit out a urinal cake, then begin wiping his face with his shirt and stumbling out of there. This was soon followed by a flushing sound from the other side of the hole in the wall.
I turned to the guy who’d caused all this trouble for us. He was already back in his seat, watching his show. “Hey, you want to get up off your ass?”
“No,” he said, making me wish Max and I hadn’t stepped in. “It’s a marathon! You want to kill me, you don’t get to the Eighth City.”
I pointed the purloined gun still grasped in its purloined limb at the TV. Our unimpressed contact took a drink, then a smoke, then said, “Do it. See if I help you.”
Max turned to me and sighed. He gestured with his hands to put the arms down, both meanings of the word. I lowered them while he slipped the dart gun back into his coat. He came back out with a syringe and turned to our contact with that predator’s grin again.
“Truth serum?” I asked.
Max nodded. “I never worked out how to stop the excruciating pain. Oh well. The truth hurts.”
I don’t even know why the contact bothered throwing that beer.