Getting a Handle on Things

This story took place during the downtime after “Fireball Comin’ Online.”

-Getting a Handle on Things-

Haze: The whole first week was a marvel. Relearning how his body worked. He sank deeper into sofa cushions, and his legs ached from hauling around more weight, and everything just felt a little off. The doc’s finished his fine tuning, and stopped with the daily injections of whatever stranger mixtures he specialized in, and pronounced his work complete. A couple of day’s later Haze was back on the job, with a newfound vigor. He was tougher, and shrugged off hits he couldn’t have before, and now when he hit someone they stayed down. All in all, the gang’s investment in him was paying off.

Unfortunately, feeling unbreakable doesn’t mean you are. After a week of handily winning fights, Haze found himself facing a deadbeat with a gun. Instead of doing the smart thing and running, he walked up to take the gun away.

He woke up a few days later while Erin was changing a bandage.

“Way to frag it up. Get yourself some fancy new bones, and then you go and try to punch a gun with them. Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to bring a fist to a gun fight?”

Once word got around that Haze was back up a steady stream of his friends started passing through. Eventually he healed up enough to get back on his feet, but he didn’t have that invincible feeling anymore. All that had poured out of him along with a couple of pints of blood. In fact, over the next few jobs he hung back, not jumping in to be the first to grab a recalcitrant junkie, or bash a competitor selling on the wrong street.

In the evening not long after that an older member of the gang stopped by, clutching a bottle of whisky in his cyberhand. He sat down on the bed next to Haze and silently handed him the bottle.

Haze pushed the door in, shoving random bits of construction detritus to the side and worked his way through the maze of crates scattered throughout the cavernous building. With the rats dead or driven off, and the walls rebuilt as well as modern nanotech could accomplish the building no longer creaked in the wind, and smelled more of long polymers and cured concrete instead of rotting matter and dust. The ladder still rattled as he climbed up to the living quarters, but you couldn’t fix everything in a day. He clambered over the railing and sat down on one of the cheap Shack brand folding chairs next to Kit. Reaching into the plastic bag he’d carried with him he pulled out a bottle and handed it to Kit.

Kit: Kit sat toying with a circle of cords and a pair of trodes attached to the sim module stuck in the commlink sitting in her lap. She watched a thin, four-foot-high tornado move slowly and methodically around the floor below, gathering up dust and debris as it went.

She glanced over as Haze ascended the ladder. She wore cheap glasses. The frames may have been in style in the 50’s. Her eyelids were pink and puffy, but her eyes, a surprisingly normal dark brown with round pupils, were clear. The temples of the glasses disappeared underneath a black watch cap. Barely visible lines of pink and white covered her skin.

Haze dropped into the chair beside her and pulled a bottle out of a plastic bag. “Whatcha got there?” she asked as he handed it over.

Haze: Back in my old crew it was a tradition to kill a bottle when someone gets shot down. If you stay dead your chummers take care of it for you, but if you pull through you get to take care of it yourself. I know you’d rather be dosing on cram. Me, I’d rather be slotting a flash new BTL, but sometimes the old ways are best. Like I said, it’s a tradition. You ain’t gotta talk about nothin’ if you don’t want, but it took a lot of huntin’ to find a bottle of whiskey that ain’t never been near a soybean, so I’d appreciate it if you don’t just slam it down in one go.

Kit: Kit smiles as she looks over the bottle. “That’s a nice tradition. Y’know, cram’s not really my thing, but this?” She nods appreciatively. “This is a tradition I can swing. Thanks. And don’t worry: I’m not gonna be downing this all in one go. And I’m not gonna down it by myself.” She peers over the railing at the work continuing below. “Is everyone here? We’re gonna need a bunch of shot glasses.” She heads into the office on the hunt.

Haze: Sorry, I just assumed, ‘cuz most people in our biz down it like candy.

Kit: Aw, null persp man. I tried it and all, I just don’t need help getting wired is all. Stuff that calms me down, smooths everything out – that’s what I go for.

Y’know, I had a friend once who said I should meditate. *laughs* That drek’s great for rituals and all.. when you’ve got, like, 8 hours, but seriously? Daily meditation? As if. He wasn’t a complete idiot though. He’s the one who taught me about balance and drek. That’s why I go for the chems I go for. Life balance.

Haze: I never got into chems myself. When I was little I was too broke for ’em, and when I finally got money simstim was way cheaper and easier to get. Why sit around waiting for the zen to kick in when you can just pop a chip and skip to the good parts, ya now? And nowadays I’ve got so much cyber that chems just don’t seem like a good idea. Tweaking don’t do much when you’re stuffed full of superconductors and adrenalin boosters. Plus I don’t wanna get even more jittery than I already am. When you can punch a hole in ballistic glass without even trying you don’t want to be easily startled. Ah, here are the shot glasses!

Haze pulls a pair of plastic water bottles out of the trash, whips out his knife and deftly slices off the top half of each, creating a pair of makeshift drinking glasses. He sets them on the piece of scrap plastiboard being used as a table and gestures to Kit for her to pour.

Kit: “Shit, man. *I* don’t want you taking chems either. Frag! Remind me to keep on your good side.”

Kit tips the bottle and pours the amber liquid into the makeshift glasses. She sets the bottle down on the plastiboard and hoists the cup toward Haze. “Hang on,” she says, frowning. “How did that go? Oh yeah: Salud, amor, y nuyen. Y tiempo para gastarlas.”

Haze: Haze nods, and downs the shot. With those fire elementals doing whatever you say I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about from me. Those things are just scary. I’ve seen what a pissed off mage can do, and it makes busting up a little window look like kid’s play. Hey, didn’t you used to have cat’s eyes? I thought you had those bioware eyes.

Kit: Kit tosses back her shot. She tries and fails to avoid wincing as she exhales. “Nah, those are just contacts. I’m supposed to hold up wearing them til the swelling goes down. Shouldn’t take long.” She twirls her finger in the air, pointing vaguely toward her eyes. “Bioware and magic don’t mix – ‘least not in me they don’t. Speaking of ‘ware, how’s your, uh.. skin?”

Haze: “It’s stopped itching, as long as I don’t think about it.” Haze takes a moment to scratch feverishly at his bicep. “Thanks for that” he grunts from between clenched teeth. “No, it’s going well. Smitty said if it hadn’t fallen off by today then the bonding worked. I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but it looks OK. Kinda weird not having any of my old scars though. When I look in a mirror it’s like they never happened. I kinda like that.” He downs another shot, grimaces, and continues, “If only a new life were really that cheap.”

Kit: “Heh, uh… sorry about that,” Kit says. She grimaces at the “if it hadn’t fallen off by today” bit, then grows pensive as Haze picks the bottle up again.

“I knew a guy who loved his scars. Some drek about knowing where he came from.” She absently pulls her sleeves down over her hands and crosses her arms over her chest. “I don’t see any point in that. Isn’t that what journals are for or something?” Kit takes the bottle after Haze puts it down and pours herself half as much as before. She holds it up and looks at the light playing through the curves of the plastic. She shakes her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Haze: “I never was one for journals. Writing good ain’t so easy, and even if I did keep one, well sometimes you’ve just got to go with nothing but the skin on your back. My scars were really the only thing I had to remind me of my past.” Haze hand grazes briefly over his skin as he remembers. “The time my buddy screwed up bypassing the alarm, and I had to crawl through broken glass under a car to hide from a pissed off halfer with a shotgun. I can barely believe I was ever that small. Probably couldn’t fit now. The time I took a knife in the ribs because I forgot my first real girlfriend’s birthday. Heh, Erin sure was a hellcat. All the little little bits of life you end up wearing on your skin. It’s all gone now though. The reminders at least. But now I’ve got a fresh new canvas for scars. My past is still back there, and I can’t do anything about it, but I guess I’ve got a new future to look forward to. A future with you, and everyone else in this old pile of bricks.” He pours a splash more liquor into his glass and raises it up, “To making new scars.”

Kit: Kit’s face screws up in incredulity. “Fragging hell, she knifed you?” she mutters. She raises her glass, “to making new scars,” and downed it.

“Oh hey,” she says after the grimace wears off. “Umm.. I’ve got a brother, he calls himself Wisp, and he kind of hangs at my place a lot. I know Maverick said we’re supposed to get everyone’s OK before anyone else can know where this place is. He really doesn’t have a lot for himself – I mean, he wouldn’t, like, live here full time or anything, but he really needs a place to be once in a while.. you know, food to eat and stuff.” She frowns, looking into her empty make-shift glass. “So I just thought I’d start asking around, see if anyone’s got a problem with him knowing where this place is.” After what may be a full second of deliberation, she picks up the bottle again, uncaps it, and pours another.

Haze: “Eh, more like a slice. It’s not like she was trying to kill me or nuthin’, just make sure I was paying attention.” Haze smiles at the fond memory, the alcohol working its magic on his abused synapses. “It worked, too.”

“I don’t care too much about the whole secrecy thing, that’s Maverick’s deal. I figure anyone wants to geek us all, they’d just get a fixer to hire us and shoot us when we show up, neh? I don’t think anybody’s really looking for me no more either, so that ain’t a thing. Plus, you’ve got that whole magic thing sewn up tight. Probably nuke ’em right back. Anyway, if you got family, the kind you trust not to walk off with our shit, I’m cool with it. Just make sure you talk to the Kid about it. Don’t want the turrets he’s setting up blowing the crap out of him by accident. What’s he do? Probably not running the shadows if you’re working with us and not him, right?”

Kit: “‘More like a slice’,” Kit says with a laugh. “That’s messed up, y’know.” She considered the cup in her hand for a moment, listening. Nodding in response, she said, “Yeah, okay, I’ll talk to him. Thanks. Oh, he, uh, fights. I mean, for money and stuff. Well, he tries anyway. There’s some mixed martial arts thing or another he does. Gets the drek beat out of him more often than not, though. I think it’s ’cause he’s so fragging hot headed. But he’s a good guy underneath it all.”

Haze: “Sounds like fun. It’s fun watching those dudes kick the dreck out of each other. We never got into it in my group, ‘cuz the boss didn’t want us busted up when he might need us for work. That and it’s real hard makin’ some slacking dealer think yer gonna put the hurt on him if he saw you getting your bell rung 5 rounds in a row the night before. I wouldn’t mind talkin’ shop with him though. Might be able to learn something from him. Those martial arts dudes are wiz. I chipped as one once who could break a concrete block in half. And I mean without cyber or magic or nothin’. Just sheer badassnesses. Dreck. I gotta slow down here.” Haze tips a splash more whiskey in his cup, but sips it this time instead of downing it as a shot.

Kit: “H-holy frag,” Kit says, exhaling a hitch at the start. She squeezes shut her eyes and mouth in one long wince and swallows the last of her shot. “Yeah, I’m not sure really what it is that he does. Some kicking, punching drek or something. I saw a guy who’d pissed him off once though. I think he almost fragging killed him. Lucky for him he didn’t – well, lucky for both of them,” she laughs.

“Frag!” she held the bottle up to eye-level and examined the liquid inside. The bottle was only a third gone. “I know there’s other people here working; I can hear them.” She stands up and leans over the railing. “HEY! WHO WANTS WHISKEY?” she shouts. She sits down with a self-satisfied grin. “That oughta get their attention.”

Tiny: Somewhere down below the rythmic grinding and thumping of industry lessens. Resonating off the older and more rickety building parts Biscuit’s slow, deep voice answers “Whiskey?” with almost touch of inquisitive curiosity.

Kit: Kit’s face pops over the railing with a grin. “Hey, I knew there was life down there somewhere.” She turns to Haze. “Let’s take the party downstairs. I don’t think our friend’s gonna make it up this ladder.” She grabs the bottle and puts the edge of her cup between her teeth. Swinging her leg out a little too far, her foot misses the ladder. “Hoo!” she says in a high-pitched tone and laughs. “Careful there, self.” With exaggerated concentration, she places her foot on the rung and makes her way safely to the ground.

Maverick: Maverick was laying in his hammock on the second floor napping when all this transpired. He does not always try to eavesdrop truthfully, but if his senses were not sharp before, Eagle certainly made them sharper. At the word “Whiskey” it was taking all of his willpower not to interrupt the heartwarming scene that was playing out near him. When he heard the words “HEY! WHO WANTS WHISKEY?” then all bets were off.

Feigning being groggy after just waking up. Maverick does an exaggerated stretch. “Did someone say Whiskey?”. He gets out of the hammock and walks over to the edge of the railing to supervise the scene down below.

Kit: “Hells yeah,” Kit calls up to him. “Get yer ass down here and join us. Haze was nice enough to find some real bona fide whiskey!”

Maverick: “Haze, I knew you were a stand up guy!” Maverick grabs the sides of the ladder and slides down to the first floor. “Do we have any glasses?” looking at the two dirty bottles being held by Kit and Haze Maverick says “Hold just a minute. I have just the thing.”. He gracefully bounds up the ladder and returns in no time with a small box under his arm. Opening it he pulls out shot glasses and starts handing them to everyone. He then takes the Whiskey bottle and starts to fill everyone’s glass. “To the new hideout!” he says as he raises his glass.

Kit: “Hell – that’s why I couldn’t find shot glasses in there. They were put away nice and fragging neat!” she laughs. “Well, that and packed up with your stuff.”

She holds her glass out, frowns, and makes an “oooh” face as it’s filled. She regards it with a look of apprehension on her face. Her face relaxes as Maverick toasts. “To the new hideout!” she repeats.

Roland: The shouts and noises off on the other side of the building were finally proving too much for the rather haggard looking nat’merican. Struggling in the one threadbare sheet he had inadvertently wrapped himself up in in his fight for peaceful sleep, he sat up. Reaching out in the darkness for a pair of battered looking shades and a pill bottle, he pulled on one while downing the other, grimacing for a moment before he slid open the door to the bulldog, still wincing at the light as he turned to look for a pair of pants in the newly illuminated exterior while yelling out. ” HEY SLITCHES! I’M TRYIN’ TA SLEEP HERE!”

Tiny: Tiny looks perplexed as such a small beverage vessels is offered to him. “umm…” he says, trying to be polite, “maybe I should get the handle I just picked up.” Those with high perceptions may have noticed Tiny buys booze by the gallon.

Kit: “No, no!” Kit says suddenly. “Take whatever works as a shot for you! Seriously! We’re trying to get through thiss, and-” she peers at the bottle, swaying slightly. “We got a long way to go.”

Roland: ” Look!” He says as he pulls up his jeans. ” You finally over yourself? Or you gonna make me an extra crispy critter like you promised?” He grins as he tightens the belt. ” Or you gonna finish that bottle first?”

Kit: “Ohhh,” Kit says, pointing at him with her shotglass clutched in her hand. “You’re a lucky sonofabitch that I’m in a good fragging mood now.”

Roland: “Ahyup, I know it. Didn’t mean anything by the by Original Recipe, just wanted to let you know you still appreciated in the most racist and graphic way possible.”

Kit: Kit doubles over laughing at this. When she straightens, she holds her head. “Oh,” she says. “Frag, where’s my chair?”

Roland: Quietly walks over, shoeless, shirtless, his normally long black hair loose and over the shoulder and takes a seat on the floor next to everyone else, kinda forming a circle. ” The frag we drinkin’ for guys?” The normally up-beat and sassy elf seemed rather…diminished. Quiet and pale, with dark circles under his eyes.

Kit: “‘S far as I understand it,” Kit looks over at Haze, “we’re drinking ’cause I ain’t dead yet.” She lifts up the bottle like a trophy and lets out a loud, shrill, “Whoo!”

Roland: “Looks good on ya too. Grats on going Nova and surviving by the by.” Pulls out a pack of cigarettes, and pulls one out. ” Anyone got a light?”

Kit: “Thanks,” Kit says. She scratches absently at her arm through her hoodie. As she pulls her sleeve up to scratch more effectively, lines of pink and white mottling the skin on her arm are visible. “I try.”

She looks around at the assorted company, seeing who has a light.

Maverick: Maverick finishes slamming another shot before absent mindedly pulling out a worn zippo. He tosses it to Roland and says with a smile “I would light it for you but you would probably like that a bit too much.”. Diverting his attention to Kit “Well girl, now you know how all those poor slitches felt in their last moments when you ordered your fire spirit to get all cuddly with em.”. With a somber expression “Horrible way to go…but those bastards had it coming eh omae?” he grabs the bottle and pours himself another drink.

Haze: Haze climbs down the ladder carrying a stack of folding chairs with the exaggerated caution of a self-aware drunk. Once down he passes out chairs and slumps heavily into his own. “Now don’t hassle the girl, its her party, and her whiskey.” With exaggerated enunciation he formally proclaims: “It’s a tradition of my People.” Then he giggles a bit, spoiling any sense of gravitas, and continues, “‘course they’re all dead, so they don’t get no whiskey. Lazy slots.” A look of sadness washes over his face, but it clears as he looks up at Kit. “But you ain’t, so here’s to Kit, the girl that lived!” He fumbles with the bottle and his new shot glass, his preternatural reaction vying with his alcohol soaked brain. After a brief battle modern science wins and Haze is able to knock back another shot.

Roland: Roland struggles to keep a straight face as he lights his cig and tosses Maverick back his zippo. ” You buncha slotfaces.” He grumbles a bit, taking a long drag. ” To Kit. She lived.” With that, he stands up and turns around in one semi-fluid motion and heads back to his van.

Kit: Kit’s smile fades as the men talk. She gets the distant look drunks sometimes get, punctuated by faint expression changes one might see on someone reacting to an unrelated conversation. A shudder passes through her and Kit comes back to herself at Haze’s giggling. Her addled brain plays obvious catch-up: she glances from one person to another, raises her glass with them and mutters, “Yeah, yeah.. I lived.” The glass remains untouched.

Tiny: In such a social setting Tiny clearly looks out of place, maybe even intimidated. As he watches this whole exchange between Kit, Maverick, Roland and haze unfold he takes up on the offer pouring himself a ‘Biscuit-sized’ shot – aka a pint which he pulls a greasy metal cup from a back pocket. It truly looks like the one and only beverage vessel he probably has. Cleanliness of eating utensils mustn’t be a priority of his at this time.

To replace what clearly was a large portion of the bottle he just helped himself to, Tiny disappears for a moment and returns with a gallon jug of Löbrau branded bourbon. “I’ll get some better stuff down the road if this turns into a regular thing” he rumbles to anyone listening, and then gulps down his pint of booze. Sure, Biscuit is big, but that just looked too easy for him.

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