Zombie Lisa and Black Elvis were also wearing nanoshades. Lisa was a teenage boy wearing a uniform for a food server at Cancer Crème. Elvis looked like an off duty sanitation laborer. They had to remember to keep the cards on their person. Kay wasn’t here to reset them if they turned off.
They were making their way through a sparse grouping of shanties in the slum sphere toward Paisleyville. Elvis knew a few people he thought he could trust to sit on this information until the timing was right.
“I’m sad to say I kinda missed this dump,” said Lisa, “I got really high with Trip once right over there. I thought I was a character in a book. Stupid.”
“Yeah. Trip’s always got good chem. Do you recognize where we are?”
“Yeah, Paisleyville’s that way. You can see that old fan shed… Oh shit.”
“That used to be under the big tent.”
The two of them walked onto a patch of tight packed dirt, bare of grass. All the people that used to congregate here for so long had made a nice floor for the big grouping area. It got muddy if they happened to get rain, but that was very rare. And besides the mud parties were always a kick.
Now the tents and booths were gone. The area was mostly empty. There was a group of three small tents about forty meters away. They turned and walked toward them. They stopped a few meters from the tents. Elvis called out.
“Heyo! Anyone around! Not sneaking up on you!”
An old man, a twentyish woman, and three small boys came out of the tents and looked at them distrustfully. The old man spoke.
“We got no drugs and these int for sale.” He gestured toward the woman and the boys. His other hand was gripping a long jagged piece of metal.
Elvis held up his hands.
“Don’t you know me Shem? Kria? I can’t remember all you boys’ names…”
Lisa cleared her throat, “Uh Elvis, you look like a janitor with missing teeth.”
“Ah, sorg! Guess I’ll take my chances.”
He thumbed the pad on the card to deactivate the projection.
Recognition dawned on the groups’ faces, but they did not look very happy to see him.
“Hey! Black Elvis is back baby! Where’s the love?”
The man relaxed and limped over to sit on a spool. The young woman shooed her boys back into the tent. The sounds of video game carnage started instantly. She walked over and hugged Black Elvis tightly before letting him go.
“It’s good to see you alive. We all thought you were dead. Who is this?”
“I’m Zombie Lisa! But I’m not turning off my projector. I’m supposed to be dead. You know. Fuckin’ officially.”
“You sound like Lisa. I saw you and Vince die on the wall.”
“This bitch don’t die, yo.”
“What happened to Paisleyville?” blurted Elvis.
The woman closed her eyes and licked her lips. She spoke slowly.
“After you guys fought those slavers and the PIGS took you, people were really freaked out. Thom was great, he tried to keep things smooth, and he did for a few days… But you started seeing Satyrday graffiti again, and no one would listen to Thom when he tried to set up watch shifts. He’s a nice kid but… So, I guess about four days after you left, they came and raided through Paisleyville. Thom and a few others fought, but the Satyrs were too organized for them. It was a horrible night, and then graffiti for the next one started popping up the very next day. Venting men…”
Lisa looked around, she didn’t see any Satyr sign anywhere around. Kria noticed her searching.
“After the second one, all the men involved just started claiming girls and pimping them out. No more Satyrdays. Look. Elvis. I hope you were really in trouble, because this place was vented the second you left. We should have… My dad is quick with that shiv, and I’m getting old anyway. Managed to stay free for now.”
Lisa walked up and hugged onto the woman’s side. Kria flinched at the sight of this man embracing her, and her dad stood up. Kria could tell by the feel that it was a small person hugging her. She relaxed and waved her dad away. Lisa’s voice was watery as she talked.
“Me and Elvis were tortured. Skum Bunny too. We got out, but Elvis took a week to heal in a healing pod. Skum Bunny was in a coma, and he’s not the same… I’m okay, but you know me.”
They walked over and sat near her Shem. Elvis was sadder than Lisa had ever seen him.
“Is Thom still alive?” he asked.
“Miriam? And her girls?”
“Oh… Elvis. They all belong to Wasex and his crew now.”
“Vent. Where do they stay? And how many men?”
“Maybe six men? Eight? I don’t know. They’re under that big chunk of working black wall near arbitrary 4 o’clock.”
Elvis gave her a card that Syrge said was untraceable with a hundred creds on it. He then gave her instructions for how and whom to evacuate in two days time. He didn’t tell her what was coming, and he trusted her not to tell any pimps or slavers. He and Lisa headed for Wasex’s camp.
They found a series of structures built of scraps and sheeting. Two boys with handmade weapons sat in front of a large entrance area. Three girls in states of near-undress stood behind them leaning and moving suggestively. Their eyes were sunken in shadow. Elvis kept his hands away from the machete on one hip and the .38 special on the other.
‘Tell Wasex he has a customer.”
One of the buys spat and started to stand up. The other one looked up sideways and started.
“Hey Pope of Paisleyville! We thought you was dead!”
“Not dead. Horny. Get your boss.”
“Yeah sure man. Glad your not dead…” He bit his lower lip and looked worried. He hesitated like he was going to say something, but then he turned and went into the shanty.
“You’re Gerry aren’t you?” asked Lisa.
“Yeah! Do I know you?”
Lisa tried to make her voice deep.
“Naw. I knew you when you were small.”
Lisa was remembering that she used to play i-ching with this boy when they were younger. He was still probably only twelve. Working as a guard at a whorehouse. Fucked up.
Wasex was about the same age as Elvis. He came out of the shanty casually, hand resting on an expensive new beamer.
“Black Elvis! Returned to your fallen kingdom! How the crack are you man?”
He strode forward and embraced Elvis, hand never leaving the laser on his hip.
“I’m all right Wasex.” Elvis stood still, but did not embrace the man back. His hands hung loose at his sides. Other men and women were filing out of the shanties. Whispers, exclamations, and multiple repetitions of, “Black Elvis,” made waves through the growing crowd.
Elvis was smiling as people came up to shake his hand and clap on his back, but he was searching the eyes of all the women. They were all drugged and bruised. He spied Marion and pushed through the crowd to her. She smiled at him briefly, but then wouldn’t meet his gaze. He reached out and pulled her into his embrace. She started sobbing quietly. The crowd around them started to grow silent. Elvis drew a deep breath and let go of Minute Maid Marion and turned to face the crowd.
“I was only gone a month.”
No one said anything. Wasex moved up to stand a few meters in front of Elvis.
“Month’s a long time friend.”
“Look at what you’ve done here. I worked for years to bring some measure of safety to these good people, and you all undid it in a venting month.”
Wasex pulled his beamer out of his belt.
“You know. I was going to say have your pick of the girls gratis, but I think maybe you should be on your way to wherever you been at this whole time.”
“Yeah,” Elvis looked around at the dozens of faces, all familiar to him, “There’s nothing for me here is there?”
“Guess not tovarich.”
Elvis moved smooth and fast, shaking his head in disgust, walking toward Wasex, looking down and away even as he drew his machete and swiped the head from Wasex’s shoulders. Screams erupted from the crowd. Lisa was shifting from foot to foot, waiting for the violence to suck her out of herself.
Elvis picked up the man’s head and turned in a slow circle showing it to everyone.
Two young men were moving toward him with weapons, but they stopped when he faced them with his bloody machete and head.
“This!” he pointed his machete at the shanty, “Is Paisleyville now! And this!” he tossed the head at the feet of the two men facing him, “is what happens! To! Slavers! In Paisleyville!”
A voice from the back of the crowd said, “Wan’t nothing but a pimp!”
Elvis snarled and spat, “Same! God! Damned! Thing!”
He turned and jumped at the two men facing him. They dropped their weapons and ran. Other men started backing away and ducking low. Many of the men just stood there, wondering if they could get their money back. No one asked.
“Marion. Get your girls inside.”
Tears were streaming down her face as she complied. Elvis followed them in. Lisa stayed at the door watching the crowd slowly disperse.
Later they were walking to where their old hideout used to be on the shelf below the black walls. Lisa was looking up at Elvis’s face from the side. He looked tired and old. She took his hand in hers.
“Hey Elvis? Did I ever thank you for taking me in? For finding me in the first place?”
“Skum found you. I found Skum.”
“Yeah. I guess. That was pretty good luck for us, finding the one teenage boy in the slum that wasn’t a rapist to take us in…”
“Lisa… There’s a lot of good people here.”
“Yeah. There were. Right up until you left.”
Black Elvis looked at the lanky male form he was holding hands with and shook his head, smiling.
“Anyway,” continued Lisa, “Thank you.”
“Getting soft Leese. Getting soft.”
She dropped his hand.
“Do you think Marion and Kria will ruin it? Will they panic and try to leave too early?”
“I don’t think so. I think they’ll gather as many of the best people as they can and get them out. Leave the trash behind. Won’t matter though. We’re going to stop this. Save all of ‘em, even the filth.”
He stopped and pointed out a large seam between two non-functioning blackwalls on the side slopes of the sphere.
“Look. I watched the videos that Syrge played on the axel screens. That right there is where the doors open into space. We’ve been staring up at our own demise for years and never knew it. Flip a switch, so long Paisleyville.”
“I hope Marion finds Trip. He’s my favorite crazy man.”
“I’m sure they’ll try.”