met Bubba in a
Things were hard for people like me who had got caught there when the violence broke out. I wasn’t a member of any of the gangs or part of the military, so me and my girlfriend didn’t have any place to turn.
We just held out in one of the public shelters until the fighting stopped, then crawled back out onto the street like everybody else. I was luckier than most. I managed to get a job at one of the slop joints, washing dishes.
Although we had a place to sleep, we could only go there at night, so most days my girlfriend hung around the front, helping the waitress out although I was the only one that actually got paid.
Because the place offered cheap food, it became the unofficial hangout for one of the local gangs – a rough lot of war veterans whose surgical implants had given the federal troops a tough time. They had survived the war and were proud about it, prowling around the city as if they had won. They often celebrated in our place, stoned out, sometimes violent enough for my boss to call the police.
On this particular day, they flooded the front, celebrating some successful raid they’d made on the Hollywood Hills neighborhood. Whether they had stormed the wall or blown a hole in it, they never made clear, but they apparently had made their way inside and come away with a cache of credits and items easily hocked downtown. They had already consumed much of their profits: drugs that excited their hormones and made they want to fuck anyone they saw.
They just happened to see my girlfriend and the waitress.
Me and the cook went out to rescue them. But we were no match for the gang – their grossly distorted faces grinning at us as if they would whet their sexual mood by beating us up first. In a panic, the cook made the mistake of activating his cellular phone chip, his jaw shattered by a sonic blast before he could utter the code for the police.
He fell to the floor at my feet, his mouth a bloody mass of flesh out of which pieces of his jaw bone protruded.
It was a warning to me. But I had a bad habit of telling people off.
My girlfriend constantly yelled at me for it, and wondered how I’d survived so long in the Outlands.
“Why don’t the lot of you get the hell out of here!” I yelled.
Had the owner been around, he would have handled things better, knowing that telling this crowd off would have only caused them to wreck the place – hangout or not.
The gang stopped laughing and stared at me. Maybe nobody like me every shouted at them like that before, and perhaps they might even have laughed had no one else been in the place at the time. But with a peppering of other people in the place, they easily saw me as insulting their pride. They bristled like angered wolves, and with their implanted fangs and hormone-generated hair, they looked very much like wolves indeed – if wolves had purple, green or orange fur, and had various high tech weaponry protruding from their limbs instead of claws.
At some point growing up, all of them had come from different backgrounds, Mexican, Native American Indian, blacks, whites; but looking at them, I couldn’t’ tell which was which, only that they were angry enough to want to tear me limb from limb without use of their technological weapons.
Chairs clattered to the floor as they rose from the tables. My girlfriend clutched my shoulder, as if I could actually protect her, her sharp nails digging into flesh.
One of the larger members of this gang of extraordinarily large people staggered towards me, his green hair strewn around his face so I could make out little except his nose and his fangs. These last were apparently not the alloy and plastic version typically implanted, but actual animal teeth biologically graphed to his own. A brown cavity spread along the right tooth, made more visible by his snarl.
“You’re a fuckin’ fool, little man,” he said, words slurred by drugs and the teeth. “This is our place. You want us to leave, you’ll have to make us.”
His confident grin dripped with the wish that I should try.
I could have called him a savage, but he would have taken that as a complement. I called him a pussy instead, drawing yet another snarl.
“I’m going to make this slow,” he told me as he staggered closer to where I stood at the gap in the counter.
I planted my feet and waited.
I had fought in the street before. You didn’t grow up in the Outlands and not fight at some time, especially with a mouth like mine. Yet I could turn a sweet tongue on a situation, too, and had talked my way out of more situations than I fought.
“Look, man, I’m not looking for trouble,” I told him. “But you’re messing my woman.”
My girlfriend’s nails dug deeper into my shoulder as if to say she didn’t think this would help.
The big man’s grin wavered for a moment as he cast a glance at her, and then at me. His silver-colored eyes – tattooed to resemble metal – showed the slight red around the edges from the hormone treatments. His pants bulged, he helpless to the hormone’s hunger as a wild wolf might be to the sight of raw meat. This was no longer a matter of morality or choice. He needed to indulge, and would indulge brushing me aside in the process.
The Outlands had its share of women. Gang gals, prostitutes, laborers. Gang gals looked little different from their male counterparts. Prostitutes -–even those who started out pretty – soon found traffic wore them out. Laborers usually didn’t maintain beauty much better. My girl was plain, but in a world so ugly as this, looked pretty by comparison, and the tall green haired man lusted after her, as did his dozen or so companions who would get their taste after he had finished. Most likely, she would not survive the first round.
“I want her,” he said.
“I’m sure you do, but you’re not going to get her,” I said, my boast sounding hollow even to me.
“You get out of the way, I won’t hurt you,” the man promised, as if somewhere deep in his animal-like brain he understood my need to resist – as if the treatments could not entirely erase the early vestiges of civilization.
“I’m not getting out of your way,” I said.
Something glinted in his silver eyes and as his hand rose, blades flashing out of the finger tips to strike at me like claws.
I didn’t move. Maybe I was so scared I couldn’t. But his blow seemed to knock me back, and the blades sliced at my cheek without tearing out my eyes. Warm liquid spouted from the wound as I fell into the kitchen.
My green-haired enemy must have thought the blow worse than it was, because he turned towards my girlfriend and didn’t see me rise again. He certainly took no notice until I hit his head with the frying pan, his silver eyes rolling up into his head as he died, sparks showing at his temples where communication implants shorted out.
The rest of the gang howled in outrage! Then, they leaped at me, slashing and biting at me, and I would have died right then and there if a larger, darker shape didn’t suddenly appear tossing them off the way a Grizzly Bear might have wolves. The bodies of the gang flew threw the air, falling among tables or against walls. Those that managed to move after that, scrambled towards the door and the street, not towards me.
The black shaped paused along enough for me to make out the details. He was huge, but unadorned, except for a black leather jacket, jeans and boots. If he possessed implants, I saw no sign of them, and he looked more like the old fashioned motor cycle gangster I recalled seeing on the V-tube’s historic segments. His broad black face had a stubble suggesting he still shaved. He had a glint in his eyes, not mean, but humored, as if he found the whole fight amusing.
“You got balls, little man,” he told me when he paused to survey his slaughter. The pitiful gang moaned around us, blood dripping from mouths and ears and eyes. “But you really shouldn’t take on more than you can handle.”
“I didn’t mean to, but they were after my girl.”
The big black man grinned. “Well, you don’t have to worry about that no more,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about nothing as long as your Bubba’s friend.”
The word "Bubba" rolled around among the survivors as they hobbled to their feet, their faces dark with fear.
“This ain’t your fight, Bubba,” one of them said.
“Well, I’m making it my fight,” Bubba said. “Now you go and do what my little friend said: get out.”
And they did, hobbling or crawling, most of them leaving a trail of blood behind him as well as pieces of their implants they had paid so much to get installed. They would come back later, but they never gave me a hard time again. No one messed with Bubba’s friend.
That’s when I got a better look at my new friend. He had the most remarkable face I ever saw, blue-black eyes pressed into a blue-black face with only a thin rim of white to separate them. He seemed humored by me, as if my brief struggle against overwhelming odds had amused him, and because of this entertainment, he felt he owed it to me to save me.
My girlfriend didn’t need to hang around the store after that. Bubba took us in, giving her a place to stay while I worked my shift.
Then a few weeks later, the waitress pulled me aside.
“I saw your black friend, yesterday," she said. "You know the one that hangs out with your girlfriend?"
"You mean Bubba?"
"That's him, the biker guy."
"What about him?"
"I saw him over at the clinic."
"He was getting shots against the disease."
Two days later, I was at the clinic, too, the doctor telling me I had disease, too.
"That's impossible," I said.
"It's always impossible," the doctor said, as he plunged the needle into my arm.
didn’t see Bubba for a long time after that. Although you could get the
disease other ways than sexually, my girlfriend admitted she had gotten from
him, and she had given it to me. I lost touch with both as I moved east to seek
out free treatment in
I was lying in a bed getting IV – the doctors claimed I didn’t have much time – when I heard someone moaning in the hall, and then saw the huge black shape looming in the doorway.
"Bubba?" I said, and the black man paused,
something odd showing in his blue-black eyes, distortion, from a later stage of
the disease as it worked up into his brain to do its damage. He frowned at me
as if struggling to recall where he knew me from. I was thinner than I was back
But he knew me and grinned, a faint light of sanity from a brain rapidly deteriorating. He kept mumbling about needing to hit the road, and how the bars on the windows were keeping him from getting away. He continued to mumble as he vanished again.
Lucky for me the cure stuck. But it took months for me to get back out onto the street, and then, I had to take up petty crime to get by. Jobs were scarce for people with certificates, but recovered or not, I wasn’t getting a clean bill of health enough for anyone to trust. I dealt dope. I talked old ladies out of their savings. I broke into places, hocked off the goods. And then, I got caught.
had me in handcuffs when they brought me into the county jail, behind me,
garage doors closed, thumping with a sound of utter finality. How I wound up in
Oddly enough, I didn’t mind as much as I would have when I was younger. Although it was dangerous in jail, it wasn’t much worse than the Outlands, and I didn’t have to scramble for my three squares a day or for a mattress to snuggle.
I still had the details to work out like a preliminary hearing so sat in the bullpen section of the jail waiting for the court to call me up. This was a large box with about fifty others just like me, most of whom had the face scars testifying to their recovery from the disease. None of the hard color-haired inmates came near us.
When they brought the black man in, he was wrapped in chains. I didn't immediately recognize him because of his bruised face, the blood dripping from his mouth and eyes. They dumped him in with us, laughing as Bubba staggered around, arms pinned under the chains at his side, he, cursing them, they laughing harder on account of his cursing.
The cure had taken with him, but not in time to save his mind.
He promised to kill them all if he ever got loose, and managed to get one hand free, a Houdini trick that eventually brought both arms free, he, swinging the chain over his head and through the bars, guard and prisoner ducking to avoid his fury. When he could not reach the guards outside the cell, he grabbed a hold of the toilet in the way and yanked it free as well.
Shouting! Holding it up. Then, frowning over his shoulder as he caught sight of me, a moment before the guards -- now with sonic guns -- fired, his blood mingling with the gush of water as he died at my feet.