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mrcreek ([personal profile] mrcreek) wrote2010-04-17 10:19 pm
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Polymer Monopoly chapter 3

Presenting another exciting installment of Polymer Monopoly (previous chapters here and here). The globular machines go to the back burner while I introduce several new characters and focus on their conspiratorial dialogue in a seedy locale. Okay, well, there is a little rough-and-tumble action toward the end. I mean, they can't just talk the whole chapter, can they?

(2078 words)

Chapter 3

That evening, after a long nap and my required transformation, I followed Fred Bacon to the meeting place on foot. We crossed Saccharid Row through the drizzle. The Hypertonic Halibut was a cedar plankhouse built in the old style, with a vertical pole of totem zwitters displayed prominently. The original inhabitants of this land had harvested zwitters and other monomers from the shore and developed the art of combining them for ceremonial purposes, most famously in the grand poles of totems. As Fred pushed open the heavy wooden door of the saloon, I could smell oysters frying and cigar smoke. Under the din of poker and flirtation, I could hear the syncopation of ragtime being played on a globular piano. The charged zwitter hammers were striking ions of zinc, iron, or sodium, each the size and shape of a large marble, and each resonating with a unique metallic tone.

Fred Bacon (I had started to assume her real name might be Winifred) was dressed in the same male costume she had worn that morning. She had dressed me as a retired colonel, dying my hair with white powder to make me appear a decade or two older. The modified phenylalanine in its envelope was wrapped in a blanket and stuffed down the front of my pants, effectively concealing it and giving me a substantial beer gut. Every few steps she elbowed me. As first, these gestures were accompanied by a hissed "Keep limping!" but now that their meaning had been established, she offered them silently as reminders. I was limping on my left leg as much as I deemed to be natural, quite realistically I thought, and I was growing quite annoyed with her criticism. We made our way past tables of drunken debauchery to a poorly-lit booth in the back corner.

The booth was occupied by three patrons. One was a short middle-aged man of far eastern descent wearing a cowboy hat. A large dark-skinned woman with a thick mane of curly hair and twisted wire earrings shaped like tryptophans leaned against him with the familiarity of a spouse. Across from them sat an eager-looking sandy-haired youth with spectacles. Under the dim gas lamps, I couldn't tell if any of them were in disguise. They had been chatting about something, but they quieted down when we approached.

"Comrades," greeted Fred, "I present to you Col. Wilkins. He's on the inside."

The woman was visibly taken aback and tried to hide it, while the young man raised an eyebrow. The man in the cowboy hat, however, was unfazed and he extended his hand across the table to me. "Pleased to meet you, Wilkins. You can call me Gao." He then turned to Fred. "Inside of whom?" he asked with a puzzled look.

"Mr. Gao, you know what I mean," she said with exasperation. She looked around shiftily then leaned over the table and whispered, "Vispiliase."

Gao retained a neutral look, but the woman next to him could no longer contain herself. "Why would you do that? How do you know we can trust him?" she asked accusingly.

"I didn't," Fred replied. "Mr. Sardoni..."

This got Gao's attention. He turned to me. "Sardoni initiated you?"

"Not exactly," I said. "You see..."

"Are you an engineer?" asked the young man. "What's the biggest thing you've ever built?"

"I'm a triphmonger," I said with as much pride as I could muster, clearly disappointing the young man. "I do maintain my own moped, though, which..."

"A triphmonger!" exclaimed the woman. "So you work for Montgomery?" She glared at Fred and pointed a sharp finger at me. "He works for Montgomery! What were you thinking?"

"Sardoni gave him the key," said Fred. "He..."

This made the young man's eyes light up. "Astronomical!" he exclaimed. "We've got our cargo."

Gao looked ill, which was unsettling given how well he had controlled his emotions up until now. He gave me a hard look. "Sardoni would not just give someone the key. Something happened."

"That's what I've been trying to tell you," exclaimed Fred. "He has the key because...."

"He probably stole it," said the woman. "We know Montgomery was on Sardoni's trail."

"Then why would he bring it to Fred, Henry?" asked the young man. I wondered if "Henry" was also trying to pose as a man, in which case she was doing a much worse job than Fred, or if she was actually a man posing as a woman, in which case I was impressed.

"Sardoni is dead, isn't he," stated Gao flatly, indicating he already knew the answer.

"He killed him?" asked Henry. She pointed at me. "He killed Sardoni. And she brought him here and told him everything."

"Watch your pronouns!" yelled Fred.

"I can assure you, I really have no idea what is going on," I said.

"Sardoni isn't dead, you skeptical connyrag," the young man shouted at Henry.

"Mind your tongue, Wilhelm," scolded Gao. "This man is no murderer, but..."

"Yes he is!" said Fred.

"I am?" I asked.

"Not you, Sardoni is," she said.

"Sardoni's a murderer?" asked Henry and Wilhelm simultaneously.

"Sardoni is dead!" exclaimed Fred.

"No!" cried Wilhelm. "Mr. Sardoni!" He was clearly upset. Henry, too, was not pleased to hear one of her suspicions confirmed.

"Which means we don't have much time," said Gao. "If we don't act tonight, we risk being shut down for good."

This news brightened Wilhelm a bit. "Tonight? The Locust leaps tonight? Astronomical!"

"Sit down," Gao said to me. I shoved into the booth next to Wilhelm. Fred pulled up a stool. "How much do you know?"

"Me?" I asked. "I don't know anything. And you really don't need to tell me anything you don't want to. I'm happy to just give you the item and be on my way."

"You're not going anywhere," said Henry.

"What are your thoughts on Montgomery?" asked Gao.

"Me? Well he is my employer, and..." I paused, unsure of how heavily I should conceal my own opinion. "I mean, I've never even met him myself, I was just recruited by one of his agents, so I really don't have the authority to..." I looked around, decided no one was listening, and dove in. "He is a great northwestern blot upon this otherwise immaculate nation of ours. He has driven small business owners like myself into the ground. He's flooded the market with his cheap triph of dubious provenance. That's what I would have told you yesterday. And what I have seen since then suggests to me that he is a ruthless, bloodthirsty criminal who shows no moral constraint in his quest to economic tyranny." I stopped, a little embarrassed by how passionate I had become. Everyone in the booth was listening to me now. Even Henry was looking at me with a fair amount of respect.

"And how is it possible that one man has such power over other people?" asked Gao.

"As I understand it, sir, he has a secret method for manufacturing triph based at the foot of Mt. Thylacoma. No one else can make so much triph as quickly and as inexpensively as he can, so no one can compete. And now that he has a leg up, now that he has plenty of cash and loyal servants, well, who could rival him? He would squash anyone who tried."

"What would it require for someone to bring him down?" questioned Gao.

"To bring him down? I don't know. At the very least, you'd need to know his secret. How he makes the triph, I mean. Then perhaps you could do the same thing. But he's not about to let that happen."

"How can he keep such a large operation a secret?"

"I don't know. He seems to only hire mongers, not manufacturers. No one talks to him directly, it's all very secretive. The manufacturing is all automatic or something. And it's all under lock and key over at Mt. Thylacoma."

Gao took a long sip from his glass of wine. "Interesting. Say that last part again."

"That it's under lock and... You mean I brought you the key?"

"Are you sure you should be telling him all this?" asked Henry.

"I haven't told him a thing," said Gao. "I've just been asking questions. But this Wilkins has some fascinating ideas for economic reform, and I think we should listen to him."

"But a key is hardly enough," I said. "I've seen the kind of weaponry he has at his disposal. To outgun him, you'd need some sort of ultra-weapon. Something..." searching for the right superlative, I looked over at Wilhelm "... astronomical."

Wilhelm grinned at me with fiery eyes. "We have the Locust."

Just then, Gao glanced over toward the door, through which a rather distinguished-looking gentleman with a handlebar mustache was entering. "We've got trouble," he said. "That's Petrosky. Montgomery's man."

"I don't think he sees us," said Fred, but she slumped in her stool and concealed her face with her hand.

"If he even knows what we look like," said Henry, "he still probably wouldn't even recognize us sitting way back here."

"True," said Gao, "but we might not want to all file past him out the door. Fortunately, this place is full of distractions. Wilkins, have you any cash on you?"

"Me? Yes. Well, a little."

"Let me see it."

No sooner had I fished a few coins from my pocket and held them aloft, when a young lady wearing more makeup than clothing swooped over to our table.

"Oh, what a handsome officer we have dining here tonight. Is there anything I can help you with?"

"I..."

She leaned over and walked her fingers up my arm. "You know, I'm finding it awfully hard to pay my bills. There's not a whole lot I wouldn't do for a few of those dollars." She reached her other arm over and grabbed my sideburns with both hands. "I really like these," she cooed.

Afraid she was about to yank me up by my facial hair, I stood up to enhance the slack, but she did not let go and I found myself face to face with her, the phenylalanine in my pants pressing against her. "Oh, you're excited," she said. Fred elbowed me. Conditioned at this point, I relaxed my left leg into a convincing limp. Unfortunately, my sudden movement caused the young professional to lose her balance, and she toppled backward, ripping out some of my hair. She upset the table nearest to us, where four men were playing lowball. Cards and coins flew into the air, and one man fell over in his chair, revealing a pair of deuces he had hidden in his lap. Seeing his dishonesty, his opponents leaped over the sideways table and fell on him, swinging punches, some of which grazed my would-be escort. In defense of the woman, men from several other tables rushed over and ripped the assailants off of the cheat, pummeling them vigorously. Within seconds, the entire room had joined the brawl.

Then there was a horrible discordant sound. The largest man I had ever seen had seized a leg of the globular piano and ripped it off. The musical ions inside the instrument clanged and pinged as they were jostled. He stretched the leg out with his bare hands into its colorful primary chain and raised it, unfolded, over his head. It crackled and snapped from the static charges on an amethyst lysine and a golden glutamate that had just been wrenched apart and still longed for each other. He had managed to grab hold of two uncharged sections so his hands did not burn. When another man rushed toward him swinging a wooden plank, the giant whipped the board out of his hand with the zwitter chain and then looped the charged rope around his attacker's neck, where it sizzled. I looked away.

"Go!" hissed Gao. Fred grabbed my hand and, ducking, led me along the out edge of the room toward the door. The others followed, trying not to attract attention. I could not see Petrosky. All the attention in the room was focused inward, toward the heart of the riot. We reached the door and slipped out into the refreshingly cool rain. It seemed to me that we had not been noticed.

"Time will not be on our side for long," said Gao.

"Are we going to the mudflats?" gushed Wilhelm.

"To the mudflats," Gao replied. Wilhelm chortled with glee.