Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Galatea - First Details!

Hey everybody!  Excuse the lack of updates last week; my daughter finished kindergarten two weeks ago and she's been home with me over the summer, so it's been hard for me to find time to work on the book.  Last week I simply hadn't done enough to report on for the blog so I held off until this week.  Fortunately, today I've got plenty to discuss so let's get to it!

Over the weekend I spent 8-10 hours developing and plotting the migration route for another one of my colossi.  Galatea is essentially a 1,300-foot hermit crab in a slit shell (pictured below) that stands upright.  At that size, her city is built in a huge spiral walkway around the outside of her shell.  She's attracted to a dozen or so of the North Atlantic's nicest beaches...plus Miami.  I kid, I kid!  So Galatea goes from beach to beach, spending 24 hours at each location.  She swims along the ocean's surface at 20 knots, moving counterclockwise and stopping at 12 different beaches for a total distance of 11,080 miles.  If you do the math on that, you'll find her entire circuit takes 32 days, 1 hour, 44 minutes and 21 seconds, beginning and ending at Praia de Santa Maria in Cape Verde.

Slit shell.


I'm really excited to develop Galatea's corner of my universe.  When I was working out the plot of this book, a city on an upright conical shell was one of the first things I really wanted to do.  I can't wait for you to read what happens!

Word Count:  58,583

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Free Avatars! More Updates!

This may sound a bit old-school, but I thought you guys might get a kick out of some free avatars for your social media.  I've made four so far, but will probably release more as the release approaches.  Here they are...




So, this next book (which will one day have a title) takes place on five colossi.  If you read "Timeshare," which is the first two chapters of the book, you'll know that Proteus and Triton are the first two.  I won't name the other three for spoilers' sake, but right now I'm a good deal of the way through the fourth colossus.  I can say with confidence that I'm somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters finished with this novel.  Whew!  Over the last few months, it's gone from "I have to scale that mountain?!" to "It's all downhill from here."  One of the things that's been the hardest to do comes from a melodramatic-sounding phrase of which I'm not too fond: killing your darlings.

"Killing your darlings" refers to any time an author has to get rid of one of his or her favorite (or most extravagant, or self-indulgent) passages in the interest of producing a better book.  My favorite example is the deleted scene in Natural Born Killers with Ashley Judd in the courtroom.  It's a fantastic scene, but it screws up the entire narrative of the third act of the film and ultimately Oliver Stone had to cut it.  For the first time, I'm actively killing a darling of mine.  Protagonist X is trying to escape from Villain Y.  So Protagonist X either handcuffs (or stabs with a steel rod or piece of rebar) Villain Y to something in order to buy Protagonist X some time.  Maybe it's a pipe or radiator in a building or maybe it's a big load of garbage and junk that's going to be dumped off the theriopolis in moments - something that requires immediate escape for Villain Y in order for him to achieve his goals.  Villain Y, without hesitation, grabs a nearby cleaver with his free hand and uses it to take off his other hand and continue to pursue Protagonist X.  This demonstrates Villain Y's lack of regard for the human body, his insanity for making the decision immediately and without care, and his toughness for continuing his pursuit thereafter.  It also demonstrates Protagonist X's inability to reconcile his/her usual method of restraining a bad guy - or metaphorically X's entire understanding of the way the criminal mind works - with this new reality of people willing to amputate themselves just to escape captivity.

So it sounds cool and logical, right?  Kind of?  So why not put it in?  Well, the immediate problem is how the hell to set that all up.  I could work it out that all these things lined up and happened one way or another.  Like, Villain Y could have that monologue in which Protagonist X slowly realizes things are turning from cooperation to "I'm gonna kill you right here."  Sure.  Then Protagonist X could realize it and make a swift move to restrain Villain Y with handcuffs or by staking Y's hand to the table somehow.  Grisly, but sure.  And if this scene took place indoors in the crazy setting it is, there could be a lone cleaver hanging around.  But honestly, I kept looking at it and no matter what way I did it, it seemed like too big of a stretch, too much setup, too much suspension of disbelief in order for it to remotely pay off (let alone have a big enough payoff).

There are other logistical problems too - once the heroes try to restrain Villain Y and Y takes his own hand off, what then?  It would be open season on the heroes, and any boarding or disembarking on the colossi takes a lot (and only works if the titan in question is near a skyscraper or other creature the humans can travel to).  At the end of it I'd have to either write it so that the amputation coincidentally takes place just as the leviathan is passing a transfer point, or that the heroes happen to find parachutes or wingsuits so they can run to the edge of the beast and jump off.  The latter would likely result in them landing on the surface, catching Red Lung, having to walk a couple hundred miles and gain passage onto another colossus.  Way, way, way too much work to be "worth it," and it wouldn't even make the book better.  So I had to let go of this sweet-ass-sounding scene because it just didn't all add up.

Anyway.  Sorry for the ramble!  Enjoy your avatars, friends!

Word Count: 56,263

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

This Week: Entertain Yourselves, Dammit!

This week I spent three days at Awesome Con in DC, promoted the upload of "Timeshare" on social media and in person, made two promotional prints for digital and physical use, tightened up a wonky scene and wrote another 2,000 or so words for the book.  So I'm taking this week off of blogging and getting back to it.  See you next Wednesday, guys!

Total Word Count: Approximately 52,200.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Timeshare Chapter One - Moscow in the Summer.

Hello everyone!  If I do this right, this blog should be the first chapter of my debut sci-fi novel, working title A Murder on the Theriopolis, releasing this fall on A Carrier of Fire.  The second chapter is available to read at the link at the bottom of this blog.  Both chapters of this story, "Timeshare," are available to download in full for Microsoft Word and as a PDF file.  If you like what you read, please share on your social media platform of choice with the hashtag #WanderingCityBlues or by tagging A Carrier of Fire on Facebook or Twitter.  Honest to God, every like/comment/share/retweet is important.  Thank you for support and keep an eye out for updates on the aforementioned Facebook and Twitter links!  We love you!

Timeshare
by jonny Lupsha

All content in this file © jonny Lupsha and A Carrier of Fire, 2015 and 2016.

Preamble:  100 Words about Walter Atherton

His elbows resting atop the balustrade, Walter Atherton took one final bite of the apple and casually tossed it over the edge.  When he was a boy he’d watch the apples fall, bouncing repeatedly against the steep, nearly vertical walls, but by now he’d lost interest.  He could imagine it falling as he walked away though, down the hide of the great beast atop which they’d built their city.  Eventually it would slip into the red-orange haze that covered the surfaces of the Earth and come to rest on her barren soil.  We should be somewhere near Chicago, he thought.

Chapter One:  Moscow in the Summer

Sean awoke in lurches from a deep sleep, a sleep brought on by his share of alcohol – and then some.  He was in his cot.  The daylight loomed bright outside, but the bright orange tent that he’d called home these last few weeks on Proteus was so thick that it was much darker inside.  A sliver of blinding light tore a paper cut gash down the tent flap.  The potted plant hanging from one of the tent poles swayed gently with each of Proteus’s footsteps below him.  At its stillest, the plant rested at a slight angle to the left from where Sean lay.  His head dumbly ached as though the head of a spoon were rubbing somewhere against the middle of his brain.  His mouth was dry and his tongue a bit swollen; his skin felt sensitive and thin.  Gentle pangs of nausea probed at his abdomen and he was warm to the point of discomfort and slight dizziness.

He had to regroup, to take stock of what he knew in the moment.  Sean knew this feeling well enough to know he should’ve stopped drinking before he did last night.  He also knew that if he got up and left his tent, the man who lived next to this rented space would let Sean help himself to as much water as he could carry from the man’s home supply.  What was his name again?  John something?  Something Johnson?  For the life of him he couldn’t remember the man’s name, although they’d become acquainted since Sean’s arrival, since Sean had a silver tongue – he was skilled at making friendly conversation with people and making them like him.  Finally, he knew he needed more time before dressing himself and making his way to his temporary neighbor’s house to quench his thirst. 

Last night he’d gone out for drinks with some locals, including the mayor, to celebrate picking up the tourists today.  Proteus would shamble into Moscow late in the morning, close to midday, to make his customary visit to the Moscow International Business Center.  Once there,  he’d stop for exactly one hour and admire the skyscrapers, which were some of the only man-made structures tall enough to still be visible over the fog.

Shit, the homecoming, Sean thought.  He scrambled out of his cot and leaned his head out of the unzipped tent flap, looking to his right to check the time.  The sunlight in the east blinded him for a moment and he remembered his hangover just as the throbbing came to his temples.  After a moment, his irises adjusted and he saw that the sun was low enough in the sky that he wasn’t late, but high enough that he should get moving.

His anxiety vanished.  The relief he felt rippled throughout his body, affecting his hangover in various ways.  The tremendous cessation of pressure in his body gave his skin a nice chill but caused his shoulders to ache, joining his head in their throbbing.  Sean crawled back inside and collapsed onto his cot for one more moment.  He laughed a bit despite himself.

After dressing, Sean checked his face in the shard of mirror hanging from the wall of his tent.  He was a little worse for wear but his dirty blonde hair and thin face were still admirable.  He had a few days’ worth of stubble on his cheeks and under his nose and chin, but his high cheekbones, slender nose and pale blue eyes offset the more ragged elements of his appearance.  He’d turned 30 the day he arrived on Proteus.

Sean talked his neighbor – whose name was Jeffrey Johns, as it turned out – into feeding him before he went to the reception.  Sean figured it was enough of a price to pay to act sober and decent to his unwaveringly pleasant neighbor.  Perhaps he had an easy time of it because Sean and Jeffrey were cut from the same cloth in regards to their amiability.  Jeffrey wasn’t much to look at – a plump, middle-aged man with a wide nose and round chin and skin that shined from a hint of oiliness – but even when he interrupted someone or if he spoke while eating, Sean found himself looking forward to hearing what the man had to say.  Sean, meanwhile, had always fascinated people with his anecdotes and jovial nature.  He was the type of person you just wanted to be around.

Sean’s headache had returned with a vengeance from the seemingly Herculean efforts of dressing himself and walking to Johns’s house, but now with some vegetables and clean water in his belly, he was starting to crawl out from under the rock of dehydration.  He was better able to take in his surroundings now than when he had first entered.  Johns’s house was the same quaint size and offered the practicality of all the houses he’d seen on the titans.  There was a small kitchen and eating area on the right when you entered, and past those there was a bedroom on the left and a living room on the right.  The kitchen was open to the living room and, all in all, the house was less than 1,000 square feet.   The walls were white and the carpet in the living room had seen better days.

While they ate, Sean spoke matter-of-factly about his uneventful journey to Proteus – leaving his assistant the responsibility of dropping the tourists off at OKO South Tower several weeks ago while Sean himself migrated from one walking city to the other to receive them on Proteus today.  The mention of Proteus sparked a thought in Jeffrey’s mind.

“Are your ankles killing you yet?”

“How’s that?”

“The slope!”  The gears in Sean’s brain were still getting up to speed; it took him a moment to realize what Jeffrey was talking about despite Jeffrey using his knife to gesture a diagonal line several times.  Sean watched the knife flick back and forth with bits of food stuck to it, then it clicked – he was asking Sean if he’d acclimated to the peculiar angle at which the city sat on Proteus’s back.  Proteus wasn’t quite as tall as Triton, on whom Sean’s hometown was built, but his front two legs were much longer than the back two.  He walked on all fours, so his back sloped downward from his head to his hindquarters.  When The Founders built the city on Proteus nearly 85 years prior, they constructed low stilts on which the houses would sit in order to compensate for the slant.  To anyone unaccustomed to life on Proteus, walking up and down steep hills all day was murder on the ankles.  This disorientation was furthered by some of the dwellings that were built since mankind moved onto these beasts.  Either laziness or some sense of pride had overcome the residents and they put together much of the newer living space flat across Proteus’s back without correctional foundations.  Some of the newer buildings were constructed respective to Proteus’s sloping back instead of to gravity like the older ones.  This led to a hodgepodge of a city in which some new buildings – Sean’s tent included – sat with one side higher than the other, their roofs pointing perpendicular to Proteus’s hide.  Whenever someone poured a drink in a new building like this, the liquid tilted towards one edge of the glass more than the other.  Plants hung at angles that weren’t quite 90 degrees to the floor.  Towards Proteus’s head, the problem got so severe that homeowners had gone to such measures as sawing off half the length of two table legs and installing belt buckles in their beds so as not to fall out.

“Oh!  Yes, that was an adjustment.  Truth be told, no offense to your fair city but I’ll be much more comfortable getting back home to life on a flat plane.  I don’t know that I ever got my ‘sea legs’ out here.”

Sean finished his food and set his fork down on his plate.  Johns swallowed a bite of his own breakfast and pointed his fork at Sean, wagging it up and down.  “You know that reminds me of a story Granddad used to tell.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.  About The Founders.”

Sean tried to hide his excitement.  He never missed an opportunity to hear about life in the old days, nor about the events surrounding mankind leaving the surface.

“If you need to leave, though, I don’t mean to keep you.”

Sean snuck a quick peek outside.  It still looked like mid-morning; he had probably an hour before he had to be at the docks.  “I’ve got time.”

Jeffrey continued to eat as he spoke.  “I’m sure you’ve heard about how crazy things were when people first moved up here.  Nobody knew what to do with themselves.  How would we maintain a global government if we had no idea when we’d meet?  Why bother upholding our unique cultural identities when we only stood over our native homelands for a few hours at a time, and so rarely during the year?  Sure, back on the surface immigrants from all over the world had brought their own cultures with them to new lands, but back then there were whole neighborhoods where one nationality lived.  Some American cities had several square blocks that were called ‘China Town’ and ‘Little Italy.’  Since we moved up to the theriopolises, we’ve all been kinda one on top of the other.  Anyway, soon enough, these ‘discussions’ about culture and law and order turned into quarrels.”

Sean nodded impatiently.  He’d heard all this before from his own parents and was starting to worry there wouldn’t be anything new in this tale.  But he let Jeffrey continue.

“Now, even besides the grade of the hill, do you know why it feels funny walking down our streets compared to yours?”

Sean didn’t.  He shook his head no, only realizing then that he’d been meaning to ask someone about getting his sea legs while he was here.  It was something besides the slope, as Johns had just said.  He wished he’d thought of something to say about it before admitting his ignorance.

“It’s because your body is used to the rhythm of your own leviathan, Triton, walking in his own way.  With those big wide tortoise legs of his, the motion of your city is different from ours.”  Jeffrey made a spider-like shape with his hands by putting his wrists together and crooking his fingers out like claws.  He then rocked his fingers back and forth, side to side, mimicking how Triton walked.  “Like this, yeah?  Here, Proteus’s large forelegs also make him walk more on a two-leg rhythm instead of four.”  Jeffrey abandoned his Triton imitation and instead put his first two fingertips on the table and made them walk like a human.  “See?  It’s a very different pattern than what you’re used to.  His hind legs don’t affect his back movement as squarely as Triton’s since they’re shorter and smaller than his forelegs.

“So keep in mind that back down there, the surface is completely motionless.  The ground is always flat, and immobile, like when Proteus stops to look at a skyscraper.  And they were used to that being the norm.  When we ascended, it took some of The Founders weeks before they got used to the ground under their feet moving.  So granddad tells me they had a town meeting once, at the beginning, and these two officials were arguing with each other over this or that.  Those boys kept on raising their voices and shouting, and so help me they were clinging onto tables and benches for dear life while they’re screaming at each other!”  Both men chuckled.

“And what makes it worse,” Johns continued, “eventually this fight came to blows.  These two old-timers were trying to duke it out, both suffering vertigo and seasickness, and they’re leaning on furniture to fight!”  Jeffrey laughed harder and harder as he continued.  “Finally one of them put his weight into it, cocked his fist back and leaned into this punch with everything he has.”

“So did he knock the other guy out?”

“He missed him by more than a foot!  He lost his balance and fell on the ground.  He ended up throwing up all night.  See, your inner ear has a bit of fluid in it that’s sensitive to any movement.  Since you were in your mama’s belly, your brain’s gotten used to the swaying of Triton’s step.  So when you set foot in our city, your inner ear lost its rhythm.”

“No shit.”

“No shit.”  Jeffrey batted his eyebrows up and down once to emphasize his point and took a sip of his water.  Sean kept those men in his mind, hiding their unease with loud words and bravado even as they held onto support.  It sounded like it would’ve looked very dramatic.  He finally snapped back to his conversation and realized he had to go.  He excused himself, thanked his host for breakfast, shook his hand and made his way to the docks.

Sean stopped just once while he walked to the docks.  All along Proteus’s back, there were small man-made outcroppings with balustrades on either side of the city and he made his way to one of them.  He looked out over the horizon and saw a comfortably familiar sight.  It was the same view he’d seen every day of his life:  the horizon split into halves, with the blue daylight offset by the reddish earth.  It was partly cloudy today, but the clouds were spread out enough that the sun shined brightly despite them.  Below the sky, the rust-colored red orange fog sat mostly still.  82 years prior, that poisonous fog had driven mankind from living on the surface to living on the backs of the 13 colossi that emerged along with it from the depths of the sea.  In his youth, Sean had heard hushed stories about what happened to the humans who didn’t live in a theriopolis like he did.  There were plenty of urban legends about whole tribes of people living on the dirt.  They were child warriors with a life expectancy of less than 30 years, living in villages inside skyscrapers just below the 1,000-foot fog ceiling.  His older relatives also talked about other people who lived in underground fallout shelters, and others still who had tried to develop floating sky cities.  There were as many rumors as there were relatives, it seemed.  Since there was no way to separate the truth from the fiction, these stories were often as frustrating as they were fascinating.  And although Sean always denied believing in such fairy tales, whenever he found himself enjoying the view near a city he’d always lean forward a bit and squint, keeping an eye out along the top of the haze for feral adolescents carrying babies of their own.  He’d never admit it, but the old stories stuck in his mind.  I’m just looking because I know I won’t see any people like the ones in the stories, he thought.  It’s so stupid.  Sometimes he almost believed himself.

Sean rejoined the bustling life of Proteus.  He passed the septic manager, who stopped at every house on the way to Proteus’s tail end asking people to add their waste to his wheelbarrow.  When it filled, Sean knew the man would drive the barrow to the back of the city and heave it over, then start again from where he’d left off.  You couldn’t pay me enough to be the shit bucket guy, he thought.  Walking further towards Proteus’s head, he heard the humming of the people who had already gathered at the harbor.  Some of Proteus’s clever residents had moved their shops there for the day and were already haggling with customers over trade prices.  A weathered old woman missing several teeth shouted in Thai over the din, attempting to barter away a piece of curved glass to an Australian man with a backpack in exchange for some plant seeds.

ที่จะเริ่มต้นไฟ!” she said.  ที่จะเริ่มต้นไฟ!”

“Yes, yes, I got it!  Thī̀ ca reìm t̂n fị!  Missy, I know what the bloody glass is for; these here are the only goddamn Rockingham cucumber seeds you’re bound to see in this lifetime – or any other, for that matter.  You understand?  The last seeds above the surface!  If you want them, I’ll need three from you.”  He held up three of his fingers.  “See?  Three.”

ห้า?”

“Yes.  S̄ām.  Three.”

She held up two fingers.

“No, no, not two,” the Aussie said.  “Three.  S̄ām.”

She paused, cursed in Thai and handed over the pieces of glass.  He in turn gave her the small plastic baggie of seeds and pulled out a pre-rolled cigarette from his backpack.  He stowed two of the curved glass pieces and held the third up as if inspecting it.  The Australian man then looked back at the cigarette he held in his hand and gently turned the glass until it shined on one end of the cigarette.  Immediately, the refracted glint of light from the glass began to burn the paper.  The man took a drag from the cigarette before stuffing the third glass into his pocket.  He walked away smoking and the Thai woman shook her head.

“Cheap son of a bitch.”

Other merchants with an eclectic range of goods lined the street.  One family had wooden toys and doll furniture with a sign out front that said “REAL WOOD BROUGHT FROM SURFACE, HUNG FIVE YEARS TO DRY OUT FOG.”  An entirely uninteresting-looking man had water filtration systems available.  Teens sold pouches of custom-blended herb cigarettes.  Two middle-aged women had fresh vegetables and pornographic magazines.  Those with customers bartered shrewdly.  Those without eyed passersby hungrily.  Sean moved past all of them and rounded the dusty corner where he finally arrived at the docks.

It looked like half the city was at the pier, waiting anxiously to welcome back the two dozen or so wealthy vacationers.  Sean Bellamy pushed his way through the crowd, trying not to draw attention to himself while looking for Proteus’s mayor, Bill Pulaski.  Finally they spotted each other.  Sean made his way to the far back corner of the crowd where Pulaski stood on a small makeshift stage with his wife.  The couple proudly beckoned Sean up to them.  Now, standing on a stage with the mayor, receiving more attention and applause than he’d hoped for, Sean Bellamy remembered what it took to get to where he was.

Self-sufficiency had been a central part of titan society since before Sean was born.  Most people didn’t mind thinning their own soup once in a while to help their neighbor if his crops didn’t come in, but too much dependence on others was taboo as soon as word got out – and with most people living 80 years in communities with a population as little as 1,000, word always got out.  Like every other boy and girl growing up, Sean was raised learning to farm crops from hanging indoor gardens.  He could salvage compost and soil substitute from his family’s garbage and he could run the simple water filtration system that caught rain from the rooftop and drained to the barrel on the side of their house.  Beyond that, however, most children showed talents in some trade and worked towards apprenticeship.  Sean didn’t.  His natural charm let him slide by for some time, but eventually it wore out its welcome with his neighbors back on Triton.  His father’s disappointment in him weighed on Sean more heavily as the years passed.  Sean’s mother always said “Something will come along,” but the confidence in her voice started to fade.  Sean took odd jobs to bring in food and supplies, but his father’s words were never far from his mind:  “You go out and make something of yourself.  Become the best at something – make yourself indispensable.  Not this petty bullshit you been doing.”  He decided the best way to earn a name for himself would be to solve a problem the community faced and he wanted to be known as the one who solved it.  If it were a big enough problem, god willing he could use it as the foundation for his career.

Every few years, in at least one theriopolis, people started to get bored and restless living in such a confined space.  Sean had read of something similar once: the Hawaiians called it “Island Fever.”  Up on these towns they took to calling it the Wandering City Blues.  People could walk around town and visit friends, but eventually it became so much of the same damn thing that people got fed up.  On the theriopolis, it led to unrest.  The crime rate spiked.  There were even suicides, which were shocking – the culture of the value of human life had shifted dramatically since Ascension.  When Sean was a child, his father’s father told him that there were once billions of people roaming the surface.  Of course, when Sean questioned his mother, she gently reminded him how prone to exaggeration his grandfather was.  Now with the human species down to five digits, every death weighed solemnly. 

However, despite how important each life seemed – and no matter how much of the world people saw as their titans roamed its surface – so much of the Earth was swallowed up under the cover of fog that it often looked the same, mirroring their lives.  Like Alexander of Macedonia, the human race seemed horrified that there were no more lands to conquer.  So there were sometimes self-induced fatalities.  The fog was so uniform that many people would visit their local cartographer just to ask where they were.  The cartographer’s office was a schizophrenic’s dream, full of maps and globes and colored pushpins detailing the routes of the titans – or, at least, the titans who had steady migration paths.  When people got too restless and the city officials noticed, they would try to arrange a party, event or cultural festival to spice up the quiet lives of those living on the beast-cities.  It’s why they’d started the street hockey league and the exchange student programs for the kids and the boxing tournaments for the adults.  Then one day a year ago, Sean had an epiphany.

If people want off of the leviathan so damn badly, why not let them?

He spent plenty of time in the cartographer’s office that spring, working with the old man and his maps.  Triton walked 48,057 miles on his unending circuit around the planet, stopping at 50 of the world’s surface cities that had the highest populations pre-ascension.  It took Triton over four months to circle the Earth.

“So if we keep a steady course, we’ll pass Moscow once on March 2nd of next year, then again on July…15th.  Is that right?”

The old man licked his lips.  “Sure, but why Moscow?”

“Proteus stops in Moscow.  That knuckle-walker loves skyscrapers and there’s that huge cluster of them downtown at the uh, what’s it called, Moscow Business Complex?”

“Moscow International Business Center, sonny.”

“Right!  And if you’re really as good as you say you are at keeping track of the leviathans – “

“Hey, now; don’t doubt my work for a second, smartass…”

“…Then Proteus will stop in Moscow a few weeks behind us.  In fact, Proteus will get to Moscow on…”  Numbers flew through Sean’s head as he calculated Proteus’s schedule.  Proteus gets home to Dubai on March 31st, plus 68 days around the world and another 57 to Russia makes “August 3rd of next year!”

They double-checked their math, then triple-checked it.  Dusting off his childhood sales skills, Sean drew up a three-week vacation plan and approached the city with it in the ominous town hall.  “It would be like a…” Sean checked his notes and his next two words came out awkwardly, despite echoing throughout the room.  “…’cruise ship.’  Have you ever heard of one of those?  Surface-dwellers would get bored of their own towns and book passage on a boat that would take them around the oceans just to get away from it all.  Only instead of a motionless city and a trip around the ocean, we’d have an immobile getaway from a moving city.”  He knew Triton’s mayor had a copy of his notes in front of him – in fact he’d had his nose buried in them since Sean entered city hall.  Sean had learned from school that people tend to embed information in their brains better if they’re reading and hearing at the same time, so he maintained his calm and consciously took his time presenting the idea so as not to skip ahead of the mayor’s busy eyes.

Triton’s deputy mayor piped up.  “’Just to get away from it all?’  It does have a nice ring to it.”

The mayor, Will Staps, nodded in agreement.  “We could really sell this ‘getaway’ idea.  People are always excited about new things, and if it works right we could start booking them regularly.  Travel would be a bitch but I think our citizens would pay for the chance.

“At the same time, we don’t want to lose any of our population permanently.  What with the missing colossi and those lawless lunatics on Sao, we can’t even put an accurate figure on how many human beings are left on the theriopolises.  10,000?  20,000?  I can promise you it’s not more than that and we’d hate for Triton to suffer 10 or 20 family bloodlines Mr. Bellamy.”

At the mention of his name, Sean perked up.  “That’s not a problem sir; they wouldn’t be able to carry enough resources to develop long-term settlements atop the skyscraper.”

Mayor Staps thought.  “Bellamy, have you worked out all the kinks in this?  Since it’s your name – and your cut of the profits – at stake here, I’m assuming you have.”

Sean hadn’t, but this was his only chance.  “Absolutely.  I just need to take one final quick look at OKO South Tower next time we stop in Moscow.”

Silence hung in the air.  It was deafening.  Staps finally looked up from Sean’s papers.

“Okay.  Let’s give it a try.  We have them sign liability waivers in case of any injuries and we book a vacation.”

Word escaped Triton’s city hall and buzz generated quickly.  In a few months, half of the theriopolises and all their posh socialites had heard of the idea and were throwing riches at Triton and Proteus for the chance to be the first vacationers since the ascension.  Amazingly, the faint-hearted gentlemen and dainty young ladies who won the bids for the trip underwent all the travel without a hitch.  Over the next several months, these travelers spent considerable time working their way from the other leviathans – including Proteus, Galatea and Naiad – to Triton, where Sean had hired an assistant to provide them with their packs.  Each pack held three weeks’ food, several gallons of water and a sleeping bag scavenged from the surface years before. 

And today was the big day – August 3rd.  Sean Bellamy waited shoulder-to-shoulder with Mayor Pulaski of Proteus to welcome the first post-ascension vacationers back from their trip.  Sean figured there was more glory waiting for him in the pickup than the drop-off, so he trusted his assistant, a young Triton resident by the name of Alan Vaughn, to get the vacationers onto Moscow’s skyscraper by himself while Sean left for Proteus well in advance.  Now, waiting at the docks for Proteus to lumber up to the Moscow International Business Center just 20 days after the tourists landed, Sean was brimming with excitement and pride in his work.  He’d had a brilliant idea that not only helped save the theriopolises from another bout of Island Fever but could incorporate a whole new branch of peoples’ lifestyles.

From the lookout tower behind them, they heard a young boy shout “Moscow dead ahead!”  The excitement grew to a fever pitch.  Musicians banged on drums that sounded throughout the late morning sky.  Children chased each other in games of Tag through the crowd.  The cigarette vendors announced they were offering free pouches of herbs to the travelers upon their return.  Mayor Pulaski laughed and patted Sean on the shoulder.  It was a veritable quarter-mile-high parade, a celebration of mankind once again overcoming adversity.

My God I’m going to be rich, Sean thought.

The dock workers readied a 15-foot ballista to fire to the tower.  They’d done it a hundred times before.  Two workers cranked the handle near the seat at the back of the ballista, bringing the string back until the limb itself bowed backwards and clicked into its set position at the latch.  A third man, already seated and waiting, was handed a long, arrow-shaped grappling hook trailing nearly a quarter-mile of rope behind it.  He placed it under and between his legs, into the flight groove on top of the long barrel.  The poorly-named “string” that ran from one end of the limb to the other – and would project the hook on its path to OKO South – was more of a thick belt of rope than it was a string, but the name had always stuck.  All that remained, as they knew from experience, was to await the order.  When the hook fired and caught on the tower, they simply reeled it in on the spool and let the travelers strap onto the ropeway and climb back across.

As they neared the cluster of towers, OKO South came closer and closer.  A minute before the harbormaster was ready to give the order to fire the ballista, something in the crowd changed.  The onlookers at the front, who had surrounded and cramped the dock workers eagerly, got quieter.  Their raised hands lowered and their faces fell.  Each row of people stopped jumping, stopped shouting, stopped cheering one after another.  The drummers stopped their music, stood and stared at the tower.  Sean and Mayor Pulaski were the last to realize something was wrong.  One drummer dropped his fat drumstick and it rolled noisily downhill, clanging and clattering towards the stage.  An eerie silence enveloped the crowd, but eerier still was the sight that awaited their approach atop OKO South Tower.

Birds cawed and crowed.  Why are there so many birds? Sean thought.  The mayor charged up through the crowd, pushing people aside until he reached the balcony, its low railing chipped with dozens of marks from previous grappling hook attachments.  He borrowed a pair of binoculars from a nearby gawker and glassed the rooftop.

27 bodies lay on the roof.  They were slathered in a grotesque soup of blood, vomit and bird feces.  Many of them were being eaten by the birds.  The birds had been working on some of them for a while, picking through their fancy clothes and moving their jewelry aside to get at the carrion beneath.

“They’re all dead.”  Pulaski didn’t mean to let the words escape his lips, but they did, and though he spoke quietly, everyone heard it.  He lowered the binoculars from his eyes and pushed them against someone else’s chest.  He thought it was their owner but he couldn’t be sure.  But he had no more use for them; he’d seen enough.

As he sauntered back to Sean Bellamy, his knees weak with the horror of the corpses he’d seen, the crowd’s eyes followed.  Sean could barely see the rooftop from where he stood but he knew something horrible had happened.  The roof was a macabre light grey with trickles of red dripping down its sides and an abnormally large flock of birds perched on (or circling) it.  There were no birds on any of the other skyscrapers nearby.  The pieces of the puzzle started falling into place just as Sean looked down and saw Proteus’s mayor within 10 feet of him, shambling slowly.

“What did I do?” Sean asked earnestly.  His mouth was dry and the words barely croaked out of his throat.  His thoughts slowly turned away from whatever happened to his tourists and towards the unfathomable amount of shit he’d gotten himself into.  He cleared his throat and asked the mayor again – in a monotone voice, with tears welling up in his eyes – for the news.  In a sense he was asking for the fate of the rest of his life.

“What did I do.”

*  *  *

The harbormaster called to fire the shot as soon as Proteus stopped to look at the skyscraper, just like clockwork; the dock worker in the gunner seat didn’t hesitate.  The hook reached the top of the building and splashed in a puddle of fecal matter and blood.  The other dock workers reeled the line in, leaving a bit of slack to ease their journey.  Then they fastened their climbing harnesses onto the ropeway and zip lined over to the rooftop on OKO South to retrieve the first body.  Without the distant sound of Proteus’s footsteps pounding against the earth, the hushed crowd seemed even quieter.  When they got to the nearest corpse, one of the dock workers reeled and found himself retching over the edge of the building.  This sent a wave of gasps and murmurs through the crowd.  The few family members of the deceased who were in attendance were shocked back to coherence for the first time since seeing their relatives blanketed by excrement and entrails.  They began to sob.
Pulaski’s mood had turned from horror to anger.  In his rage he knew the only proper course of action was to keep a cool head for the sake of the city, the dead and their families.  Even still, he could only partly mask his tone and when he spoke it was through gritted teeth.

“Get the doctor.”

It took the deputy mayor a minute for the words to reach his ears.  He dumbly looked at Mayor Pulaski, who returned his gaze with a fire in his eyes.  The deputy mayor blinked several times and ran to retrieve the town physician while the dock workers resumed their unsavory task.

They wiped the body off as best they could and batted two Eurasian Sparrowhawks off the corpse with the backs of their hands.  The birds cawed with displeasure but flew off to peck at another body.  The dock workers unfurled a tarp, which they usually carried for transporting supplies between colossi, and folded it into a makeshift body bag and put the body on it.  They tied up either end of the tarp so it resembled a canoe, then they each fastened one end to their own climbing harnesses, near the men’s spines, and began the long climb to transport it back to Proteus.  The men talked while they worked their way back across the rope, the foot ascenders which were strapped to their boots preventing them from sliding back to the building.

“Is she slipping?”

“No.  She’s staying up on my end so far.”

“What the Hell happened here?”

“Like I know?  Just don’t say anything unless someone asks you for info.”

“Copy that.”

“Of course you could’ve seen more if you hadn’t blown chunks over the side there…”

“Man, fuck you.  Those birds were picking her damn guts – “

“Okay, just shut up right there.  Stop it.  We’re getting close to the docks and if her family is there and they heard you goin’ on like that?”

“Alright, alright.  Jesus.  Let’s just get there.  How far we got?”

“I’d say another 200 feet.”

“How are we gonna make 25 more trips?”

“26.”

“My point is we’ve got less than an hour and we probably took close to 10 minutes getting to this one and bringing her home.”

“Like I said, keep your head down and follow orders.  Let the boss and Mayor Pulaski figure out this nightmare.”

“Fine.”

“And try to keep your breakfast down next time.”

They arrived in silence, unhooked their cargo and set it down gently.  Mayor Pulaski had returned to the front of the area with a reluctant Sean Bellamy.  Pulaski offered his handkerchief to the dock worker who’d thrown up, shooting him a dirty look.  “Clean yourself up for Christ’s sake; some of the people on that tower were your neighbors and friends.”

Just as the dock worker sought to defend himself, the deputy mayor arrived at the harbor with the doctor, who carried his medical bag.  The doctor scurried up to the body and untied the tarp.  With a full and close-up view of the deceased, the crowd backed away several steps in a hurry.  A young man howled in agony and shoved through the crowd, kneeling in front of the dead woman and gently stroking her sullied hair.  He wasn’t too proud to cry for his loss.


Her boyfriend, Bellamy thought.  For a half a moment he was proud of himself for his simple deduction but the overpowering odor emanating from the victim brought his attention back to the scene at hand.  Reality sank in again and Sean Bellamy realized that for his negligence he’d likely be thrown off Proteus, every bone in his body breaking on impact with the barren surface after a quarter-mile fall from the city, liability waivers be damned.  The only thing he had to wonder was if he’d die of a heart attack on the way down before he hit the ground.

Continued in Chapter Two, "Ghettobelly," right here.

Timeshare Chapter Two - Ghettobelly.

(Continued directly from Timeshare Chapter One - Moscow in the Summer)
(Download the entire story for Microsoft Word or as a PDF file)

Chapter Two:  Ghettobelly

Proteus became a circus.  Even before the public pointed fingers and asked questions and demanded answers, the decision was made not to retrieve any more of the bodies until medical experts could convene and agree on a cause of death.  This infuriated the victims’ families, who went so far as to attempt to bribe every harbormaster on every reachable titan to bring the bodies home for a proper burial.  They understood the logic: had the vacationers caught some fatal illness, bringing them home could spread the disease and kill an entire city.  But the thought of the birds picking at their relatives was too much to bear.  Wild accusations were made about one tourist or another losing their minds and killing everyone on the vacation.  Communication from one colossus to another limited to mail boxes.  These had been constructed on as many structures as possible that rose above the fog and were passed closely by several colossi.  It took months for any order to come at all. 

In the meantime, several doctors and two police detectives (along with the detectives’ apprentices) met on Proteus to examine the body the dock workers had retrieved.  It was first determined that no malicious intent had been involved – there was no mass murderer among them.  In fact any wounds to the exterior of the body seemed to have happened post-mortem, likely from the sparrowhawks.  After some crude blood tests and an autopsy of the vital organs, the team of doctors noted the majority of damage had been in the lungs.  There was some panic for a brief moment that Red Lung, the fatal disease that was inhaled on the surface through the fog, had crept up to the clean air atop the colossi.  However, Galatea’s general practitioner, a Dr. Iweala, finally cracked it.  From a couch in the medical office he spoke up.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” he cried out, his African accent calling even more attention to him than his long frame.  “This woman did not die of Red Lung.  None of you have considered the role our flying friends have played in this tragedy.”

Iweala scratched his well-trimmed salt-and-pepper beard, eyeing the dried clothes that the victim had been wearing, which had since been cast aside in a corner of the room.  He rose from his seat and walked slowly towards the clothes, continuing to speak as he pointed one finger at the victim’s dress.

“What has happened to the birds since we came to live on these creatures?  We see that the avian world survives despite its dependence on materials from the surface.  But who can tell me why?”

The room fell silent.

“It is because the parents sacrifice.  Yes.  They dive down, knowing the danger inherent in the mist, and retrieve what they need in order to provide for their nest.  This shortens their lifespans grievously, and why?”

A young detective spoke up.  “Does someone want to speed the wildlife lesson up and tell us what the Hell killed these folks?”  He was met with sharp glances and short words.  Dr. Iweala chuckled and addressed the apprentice, little more than a boy.

“Young sir, an ounce of patience saves a pound of grief.  Please, wait.

“The birds die young because they expose their lungs to the mist.  Miners in the old world would bring small birds – canaries – into caves with them, in cages.  If the air in the mines were toxic, the bird would die and the miners would flee before they too fell victim.  The birds atop the towers in Moscow sacrificed much of their lifespan for their babies, becoming quickly infected with the so-called ‘Red Lung’ upon their first foraging for food or supplies.”

Another doctor spoke.

“Dr. Iweala, you told us these people didn’t catch Red Lung from the birds.”

“I maintain that they did not.  The fecal matter of the birds still living throughout the world carries up to 80 diseases in it, does it not?”

There was a murmur of agreement in the room.

“Three of those diseases are potentially fatal to humans in the long-term, yes?  In fact this woman’s autopsy has shown that her symptoms align closely to one form of histoplasmosis, regularly found in the birds’ feces.  Further inspection will determine which kind, I am sure of it.”

“But doctor, even acute cases of histoplasmosis didn’t kill within three weeks on the surface.  They don’t even show symptoms that quickly.”

Another doctor spoke up.  “But the fog is known to accelerate illnesses and their effects, as we were told happened on the surface with untreatable forms of cancer.”

Dr. Iweala pointed at the new speaker. on the surface with the terminally ill."rrified that there were no more lands to conquer.“Exactly!  How rapidly did the terminally ill back on the ground meet their demise following exposure to that Hellish mist?  The epidemic of Red Lung combined with the sudden rapid fatality of other illnesses was too much to analyze in such a short time.  In the rush to escape the surface, our predecessors never absolutely determined whether it was always a compromised body that simply couldn’t bear exposure or if the other way around also occurred – that sometimes, the fog could affect the disease itself instead of the body, catalyzing fatality from whichever disease a person already suffered.

“I ask you, my colleagues,” Dr. Iweala continued, “to consider these birds as carriers of not only the histoplasmosis that killed these poor souls but also small doses of the damned red-orange killer that wiped the surface of the planet clean.  Birds are so porous; the creeping fog would have little trouble invading the rest of their bodies.  Eventually, before their deaths, these birds could void their bowels with a new killer inside their waste: a rapidly fatal mutation of histoplasmosis.”

With that, Dr. Iweala sat back in his chair.  “Disseminated histoplasmosis, specifically, would be my guess.”

The assembly of medical practitioners exploded into shouts and arguments, but in the end they arrived at his conclusion. 

The rest of the story was put together by the detectives in attendance.  Politicians focused on damage control.  They had copies of the liability waivers, but 27 people were dead and somebody had to pay for it.  The general consensus was to place the blame on whoever the party in question had heard the idea from.  Law enforcement traced their line of questioning back one interview at a time.

“My darling Beatrice only went because she heard from Mayor Pulaski it was totally safe.”

“I was assured by my colleagues that this abominable idea was foolproof.  Ask them.”

“If you want to know about all matters of inter-titan travel, talk to the harbormasters at the points of departure and arrival.”

“Hey, I just get the people from Point A to Point B.  My orders came from Mayor Staps here on Triton.  He got this lunacy off the ground; you’d have to ask him.”

Finally, a pair of detectives – including the boy who’d spoken up at Dr. Iweala while the doctors determined the cause of death – arrived at Sean Bellamy’s rented tent.  He heard them coming and gave himself up with no resistance.  He had barely eaten and his neighbor, Jeffrey Johns, had turned him a cold shoulder.  He offered his wrists for the cuffs and silently walked with them to jail.  The blank expression on his face had been there since shortly after the discovery of the bodies in Moscow; the waivers the tourists had signed seemed written on air by now.  In his naiveté he thought for a while that the city officials who had supported the vacation would stand by him and take some of the blame.  After all, he had promised Triton’s city council that he’d thought of everything, but wasn’t it their responsibility to take safety precautions against such an atrocity?

Sean was extradited back to Triton to stand trial.  Here, his city councilmen abandoned him.  Mayor Staps and Triton’s deputy mayor, Greg Davis, were conspicuously quiet; the detectives’ and doctors’ testimonies shaped Sean into an ice-hearted monster who was only too happy to throw lives away to feed himself.  The worst came at the end.  It was a cold bastard of a night in an even colder city hall.  The sky was a dark purple and rain spattered on Triton in sheets when the senior detective on the case – who doubled as the prosecution in Sean’s trial – reconstructed the events of July 15th to August 3rd on OKO South Tower.

“27 innocent souls gathered at Triton Port Costal Harbor, excitedly awaiting…what did you call it, Bellamy?  Oh yes, ‘some time away from it all.’  They rode the line from Triton onto OKO South Tower in Moscow – where so many of them still remain, I might add – carrying only the supplies which you yourself had prepared for them before handing them off to your assistant, a Mr. Vaughn.”

Sean wasn’t angry with Alan.  When word reached him that the young Vaughn had opted not to testify on his behalf, he understood it was a matter of looking out for his family’s reputation.  Life on the theriopolis was like that.  The meaning of the family name had seen resurgence like it hadn’t for centuries prior.

“These 27 people then unhooked the ropeway from the tower, tossing it back to be reeled in by the mid-day shift of the Triton Port Costal crew, according to the testimony here signed and seconded by said crew.

“Shortly after that, these folks must have tucked into their first meal.  Ryan Fields and Josie Daly and Mr. and Mrs. Akira Takahashi and all the rest of your ‘vacationers’ got hungry and sat down to eat.  And when they did, that food attracted some guests.”

Sean never thought the birds would be a problem.  He figured everyone would just shoo them away and they’d get the hint.  He was starting to dislike the detective and his grandstanding.  Everyone knew Sean was going away; there was no use kicking him while he was down.  He looked up to the bench for support, but the officials – including Mayor Staps, with whom he’d designed the vacation program – wouldn’t meet his eyes.  Sean realized they wouldn’t step in, lest they appear to the public like they were protecting him.

“These avian guests, however, didn’t want to leave.  They saw an opportunity to feed themselves and their families for weeks.  Who’d give up free fruits and veggies delivered straight to their doorstep for free?  I’m sure all 27 of your tourists fought hard to keep those birds at bay, Mr. Bellamy, and that ruckus attracted other birds who wanted a piece of the buffet.  It became a problem for your tourists, fighting to keep their every meal, but over the next week or so the real dilemma – the one that ultimately cost them their lives – was the shit.

“Birds shit everywhere.  Flying a wide radius around the city, they could’ve plopped them down anywhere they wanted and our colossi would’ve just stepped on them on their way – they’ve probably been doing it since we moved up here.  But you give those birds one small spot on which to focus, in which to live, to find plentiful amounts of food, and they are gonna crap all over that little area.  And this summer, sir, that area was OKO South Tower.  Several months ago, a convention of doctors was able to determine that birds carry 80 diseases in their feces.  One of those diseases is called…” the detective checked his notes.  “…histoplasmosis, which was likely accelerated by Red Lung residue in the droppings of these birds.  Do you know what the symptoms of histoplasmosis are, Mr. Bellamy?”

Sean stared daggers at the detective.  “You know that I don’t.”

“Well if you did, maybe you wouldn’t have shipped over two dozen people to their graves last summer.  Histoplasmosis, according to a medical text provided to me by a Dr. Iweala of Galatea, first causes fever and coughing, followed by chest pains, mouth sores and skin lesions…eventually leading to coughing up blood and a risk of death.  It’s especially dangerous to infants and the elderly, Mr. Bellamy, so we can assume that the widower and grandfather of seven, Rupert Singh, was one of the first to go.”

In his head, Sean pictured the kindly old Indian man with the soft hands who he’d met the previous spring before leaving Triton.  He then imagined him keeling over on the rooftop.  Sean looked at the floor in shame.  Nobody spoke up for him.  He was starting to believe he didn’t deserve for them to.  The detective continued showboating for anyone who would listen.

“One after another, they dropped like leaves off a tree.  Our dock workers say they found the body of Sheila Woodbine still clutching her infant son, Mr. Bellamy.  A baby boy dies in his mother’s arms and, later, she dies holding him, coughing up blood onto his cold body while the birds fight over scraps, raining pestilent filth on them both.

“And finally, their tears ran dry and their lives were snuffed out, all these men and women from nearly every city we have left.  But that wasn’t a cruel enough twist of fate, because some of the birds attracted to OKO South Tower – that is, after the initial squabble over the tourists’ crumbs – those new birds were carnivores.  Did you know that Eurasian Sparrowhawks eat dead animals, Mr. Bellamy?”

Sean was unable to lift his head.  He softly shook his head “no.”

“Did you know that Eurasian Sparrowhawks are native to Moscow, sir?”

Sean shook his head again.

“Did you know that upon seeing the aftermath of your little trip, one dock worker – a Mr. Meyers of Proteus – was so unable to reconcile the gore before him with human life that he himself vomited over the edge of the tower?”

“Yes.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Yes, I was there.”

“Oh, that’s right, Mr. Bellamy; you were there.  Standing next to Mayor Pulaski of Proteus, you were there to receive your tourists and claim your fame and fortune.  Riding high and mighty towards a skyscraper topped with bloodied corpses and bird effluence, a…a macabre ice cream sundae topped with whipped cream and cherries, you were there waiting.

“My hero…Topper.”

*  *  *

Sean awaited sentencing in a quiet cell.  The rain abated and he had just one visitor:  Triton’s mayor, Will Staps, had come to check on him.

“They hit you pretty hard in there, kid.  They even gave you a nickname.”

Sean raised his head and locked eyes with Mayor Staps.  The mayor fought back chills; the man who sat before him now was but a shell of the ambitious salesman he’d contracted 18 months ago to sell a vacation in Moscow to the tourists whose deaths now bloodied his hands.  Sean had always been thin but now he seemed positively gaunt.  The bags under his eyes said he hadn’t slept.  His cheeks were sunken in and hollow, contrasting sharply with his high, protruding cheekbones.  His eyes were the worst.  They were glazed over, reddened from crying and unfocused.  Sean was utterly lost, like a leaf blowing in the wind.  Staps knew he had to choose his words carefully.

“Listen, Sean…”

“Save it.”

“What happened in that tower – “

“I said save it!”

Mayor Staps took a breath and tried a different approach.

“What do you think you’re looking at tomorrow?  In sentencing?”

“Death.”

Staps chuckled a little despite himself.  “Nobody’s gonna kill you, kid.  I think we’ve seen enough death to last us all the rest of our lives.”

“But…I deserve it.”

“It’s not always our job to give you what you deserve.  Sometimes it’s our job to make our people feel better.  And this ain’t the dark ages, kid; you’re not swinging from a noose or being shut in the stocks in town square with people throwing cabbage at you.

“But they do want to make an example of you.  27 people paid the highest price there is.  Shit, just in terms of the remaining number of humans on Earth that’s a considerable number, waivers or not.  27 is probably 10% of the goddamn population flying around on Psamanthe right now, wherever she’s perched.”

Sean thought of Psamanthe, the 500-foot raven-like leviathan, flying and nesting and taking care of the humans who strapped themselves onto her back.  He got choked up again.

“Aw Hell; I’m sorry kid.  It was a bad choice of words.  Look, I still haven’t told you why I’m here.  None of us could throw ourselves in front of the firing squad for you in trial.  I think you know why.  If people thought the leaders of their cities were so in…“  The word “incompetent” caught in Staps’s throat and he did his best to backpedal before insulting the broken man sitting in the cell.  “…If they thought we could make this kind of mistake, there’d be chaos!  And though they’d be so unforgiving, you and I know it was just a mistake.  As do the other bigwigs in charge of keeping the human race going, and they’re not going to forget that. 

“Sean, sometimes making a mistake means you forget your anniversary.  Sometimes making a mistake means forgetting to read up on local wildlife.  Unfortunately, the first one means you sleep on the couch tonight and the second means you stand trial for negligent mass homicide.

“What the public will remember is that some guy did time for a colossal fuck-up.  Justice served, everything goes back to normal.  What the mayors of Triton, Proteus, Naiad and the others will remember is…our guy Sean fell on his sword for the greater good.  And having friends in our offices can buy you a lot – starting tomorrow.”

Sean took a moment to process what Mayor Staps was saying.  His mind was an angry sea, wrestling with guilt, fear, anger, denial and extremes of wanting or avoiding punishment.  He looked up to ask Staps a question but the mayor was already gone.  At length, he fell into a restless sleep.

*  *  *

Due to Triton’s height, his belly cleared the fog with room to spare.  Decades ago, one of Triton’s more outlandish mayors developed a housing project for the poor and a prison system for the incarcerated that people flocked to see from all over the world.  The low-income housing project was a small shantytown resting on a raft-like platform of materials salvaged from the surface over a number of years.  The platform itself was 40,000 square feet of ramshackle wood, plastic and sheet metal.  The whole thing was suspended by industrial chain lengths harnessed to Triton’s body.  Since Triton’s legs went out from his body before they went straight down – like a crab – there was room to spare under his belly without it being kicked by his enormous legs.  They lowered the poverty-stricken and the homeless onto the platform after constructing crude shacks for them and told them to fend for themselves.  There was virtually no contact between the upper city and the one that swung under Triton so precariously close to the fog, save for water deliveries.  The prisoners didn’t have it so easy.

Gibbets – solitary confinement prison cages in medieval times – inspired Triton’s prison system.  Prisoners remained alone in their cages 24 hours a day.  A guard watched over the prisoners from a 100-square-foot platform above them, carefully lowering food to them.  Gravity was their toilet.  Prison sentences were doled out in lengths of chain, not years.  The more severe a crime, the longer the prisoner’s chain dangled from Triton’s carapace.  The more severe the crime, the closer to the fog they swung.  Prisoners had two options to finish their interment: First, they could wait out the time.  For every full year of imprisonment they served, a guard raised the gibbet by 10 feet.  When the chain became short enough to meet the winch from which it hung, the prisoner went free.  The second option was to reduce one’s sentence by going fishing.

When a prisoner called for a fishing trip, the guard raised him up to the guard’s platform and escorted him from his cell back up to the city.  The mayor, the harbormaster and anyone who wanted to watch gathered at the pier where the prisoner was fitted with rappelling gear over a radiation suit as well as a duffel bag and several carabiners.  When the prisoner was ready he rappelled down the side of Triton as quickly as he could via a large spool leading his rope.  He disappeared down through the fog to the surface.  He then had mere moments to grab whatever supplies he could (or lock them onto his rope via his carabiners) before Triton walked past him and began dragging him along the streets.  When the prisoner was ready, he climbed several feet off the ground and tugged the rope thrice.  The dock workers at either Triton Port Costal or Triton Starboard Costal – depending on which side the prisoner fished from – would reel him back in.  Since both the prisoner and his supplies would have remnants of the fog clinging to them, they were then kept under quarantine until they were determined to be safe to the public, at which time the mayor would sift through the treasures and determine their worth.  The more valuable the haul, the more time was taken from the prisoner’s sentence, so prisoners would often try to estimate the time it took to set up a fishing trip and call for one that far away from an approaching city skyline.  Smash-and-grabs in major metropolitan areas offered a higher likelihood of success and higher-priced goods.

The risks were high.  For one, the radiation suit only provided limited protection from the fog and ex-convicts often died of Red Lung years before their life expectancy anyway.  Fishing trips also happened so rarely, nobody really knew what to expect from the surface.  Buildings could have become unstable or fires could have recently started.  Once, a convict who still had 200 feet left on his sentence smuggled a kitchen knife down with him on his fishing trip.  He reached the surface and cut the rope from his waist.  By the time the harbormaster and the mayor realized something was wrong and reeled the rope in, it came up so easily they feared what was waiting on the other end.  When it came up, it was just the duffel bag secured to the line with the radiation suit inside.

“At least he was nice enough to give us back the suit,” the old mayor had remarked sarcastically.  The crowd roared with laughter.  There was no turning back; the titans waited for no one.  At some point the con must’ve succumbed to the haze.  The old mayor leaned over the edge of the docks and cupped his hand next to his mouth.  “Hope you enjoy dying from Red Lung, ya fuckin’ scumbag!”

Sean Bellamy knew of all this when they called him in for sentencing.

“Sean Bellamy, you’ve been found guilty of 27 counts of criminal negligence resulting in homicide.  Before carrying out your sentence, do you have anything to say in your defense?”

He cast a glance at Mayor Staps, the boy detective and the lead detective before looking back down at his own feet.  “What happened to those men and women I carry on my shoulders every day unto my grave.  Nothing can bring them back, but perhaps they and their loved ones can find peace in my punishment.  I’m ready.”

He was ready for death.  He got just 150 feet.  15 years if he didn’t fish.  His eyes shot straight to Mayor Staps, who he swore gave him a quick wink before they took Sean away.  He didn’t know whether to feel relieved that he could one day walk the streets of his hometown again or cheated out of paying for the tourists’ lives with his own.

Inevitably, some cried foul.  A couple people even arrived at the very conclusion the mayor tried to hide – that 150 feet for “Topper” was a slap on the wrist in exchange for taking the fall of the worst tragedy in recent memory to befall the last humans on Earth.  Publicly, however, it was made known that Sean Bellamy’s record had been clean prior to the Moscow Tower incident, as it came to be known, and the waivers the vacationers signed cleared anyone involved with it from virtually all legal recourse.  They all but said Sean was a scapegoat and a patsy but the public was lucky they got what they did out of him.

And what the people of the cities hadn’t counted on, that had proved itself time and time again since the draconian prison system was enacted all those decades past, was something Mayor Staps, Mayor Pulaski and the other theriopolis officials had learned from their time in office:  Out of sight was truly out of mind.  Staps had told Sean as much the night before his sentencing.  Once Sean was led to his gibbet, everyone felt a sense of closure whose absence had plagued them for nearly a year.  They’d taken their boogeyman, locked him up and thrown away the key.  Life truly went back to normal.

Sean promised himself never to go fishing.  He deserved the years he got and he’d serve them without exception.  He had plenty of time, then, and spoke occasionally with the other prisoners in the gibbets who came and went during his 15 years under Triton.  Just after the first shortening of Sean’s chain, he met one.  This convict, a slender middle-aged woman, had returned home early from work only to find her wife in bed with another woman.  She grabbed her wife and flung her against the wall, knocking her out, and she beat the other woman to death with her bare hands.  By the time the wife came to, there was little left of her lover but a pile of meat.  At least that’s what the wife testified – the convict didn’t remember a moment of it.  “Temporary insanity,” they called it.  She’d broken her hands in five places tenderizing this other woman; she was still bandaged up when they put her in her cage.

Another man hanging from Triton, who was imprisoned near Sean for several years, was said to have had such a rift with his neighbor that he broke into the neighbor’s house while the neighbor was at work and destroyed every crop in his hydroponic garden.  The neighbor rationed what he’d already harvested to last an extra week or two, but had other townspeople not chipped in he would’ve starved to death before he could grow a new harvest.  “Attempted murder my hairy ass,” the convict said.  “If I really wanted to kill the sumbitch I’d a thrown his ass off.  Pewwwwwww KER-SPLAT.”  He spit outwards between the bars of his gibbet and watched his oblong ball of saliva fall down, lost in the fog.

“Ker-splat.”

But mostly Sean was left to his own devices.  He stared down at the red orange mist that had made barren all the Earth’s surface.  It was thick; Sean noticed whenever he passed near a skyscraper that he couldn’t see more than two or three stories below the highest point that the fog touched the building.  Sometimes he listened to the silent pauses between the distant booming noises of Triton’s stride.  He heard the wind blow and sometimes he could hear the sounds of city life going on without him hundreds of feet above.  He got more and more used to the sight of a large roof over his head.  He never got wet when it rained.  Sometimes the other prisoners would try to harass the guards.  They insulted them, cursed at them or teased them for hours on end, hoping to provoke a reaction.  Some of the woolier cons even threw their food at the guards but that never made sense to Sean.  You’re only going to go hungry, he thought.  Sean left the guards alone and they left him alone.  They reeled his chain in another 10 feet every year and he said “Thank you” when they gave him his meals.  The only personal items he had were a pair of nail clippers and a toothbrush.  Whenever he reached the last sip of his drinking water, he dipped the brush in and ran it along his teeth as best he could.  He trimmed his nails when he needed to do so and his gibbet was raised to the guards’ office every six weeks or so for a shave and a haircut.

More years passed.  Sean grew pale.  He grieved for each of the 27 tourists who died on the tower because of him.  He recalled their names and faces over and over again in his mind like a chant.  As the years rolled by, however, his pain faded and he felt more and more ready to rejoin society.  He put more effort into keeping himself hygienic and he used the bars in his gibbet to do pull-ups and sit-ups after meals.  He didn’t know what he’d do when his 15 years were up, but he knew Triton’s belly was getting closer.

Finally the day came.  Sean waited in the guards’ office quietly, his belongings in a small sack in his lap.  It was the winter of 97 P.A. and the deputy mayor rappelled down to finalize his release.  Sean greeted him.

“Ah, but it’s Mayor Davis now, Mr. Bellamy.”

“What happened to Mayor Staps?”

“William Staps retired, I’m afraid,” Greg Davis said.  He couldn’t be bothered to hide his excitement at bearing the news, either.  “He’s moved in with his son and daughter-in-law on Naiad, if memory serves.”

Sean remained quiet as he was outfitted with his own climbing harness.  Every man, woman and child on a theriopolis knew how to equip rope ascension gear and secure his or her lifeline to a ropeway.  Using locking carabiners, foot ascenders and the rest of the gear was second nature to everyone on one of the colossi and Sean found that despite being 15 years out of practice, he could pick it right back up like it were yesterday.  He joined Davis at the bottom of the main rope that ran from the prison guards’ office up to the docks.  Davis stopped him.

“Staps asked me to give you these.”

A pair of tinted goggles was shoved against Sean’s chest.  He grabbed them, fumbling a bit as he put them on, and asked what he’d need them for.  He realized the answer as soon as he asked the question, but before he could tell Davis not to bother, the mayor had already started ascending the rope and talking – and Greg Davis loved to hear his own voice.

“When’s the last time you were exposed to direct sunlight, Mr. Bellamy?  I’m sure some peeked in for a few minutes around sunrise and sunset as the sun squeaked past the fog to or from your roof here,” he said while patting Triton’s hide, “but judging by the tone of your skin I’d say you haven’t seen a sunny day in…my God, has it been 15 years?”

“To the day,” Sean replied flatly, following him up Triton’s side.  He was glad he’d been exercising; his arms were aching by the time he reached the docks and they shook forcefully as he heaved himself over the railway and back onto the surface of his city.  He collapsed on the ground and caught his breath.  He was dizzy and as he sat up he felt light-headed, but he’d never been happier to see the streets of Triton and its people going about their everyday lives, even as some of them stared at him and hurried along their way.
“Jesus wept.”

*  *  *

Sean returned to his house.  He expected the broken windows and the graffiti on the walls – enormous insults and profanities scrawled in capital letters – but he was surprised that they constituted the majority of the damage.  Some of the junk thrown through the windows had broken his mirror and scratched the paintings that hung on his walls, and there was some water damage from years of storms passing overhead and raining on his broken windows, but his domicile was otherwise intact.  Sean stepped back outside and picked up the large plastic garbage can that had collected and filtered his rainwater before the Moscow Tower incident.  He walked to a lookout on the edge of the city and emptied the can’s contents over the railing before returning with the empty garbage can to his house.

He carefully picked up the shards from the broken mirror and set them on his kitchen table – mirrors were hard enough to come by that he decided it best to reassemble the mirror later.  He broke down the ruined paintings and their frames and he placed them in the garbage can.  He added the junk thrown in by the vandals to the can.  Sean dumped the load of trash over the edge again and returned home.  He slept deeply on his bed that night, waking the next morning.

Sean needed new windows and something to mask the graffiti on his walls, but first he needed to eat and he obviously had no food growing yet.  He stopped to see Allison Mackey, the city gardener.  She tended to the tall building in town square built by The Founders to house hydroponic and aeroponic gardening systems and the city’s supply of seeds for future use.  Using those methods of farming and containers filled with soil substitutes made mostly of sand and compost, she was able to maintain dozens of hearty crops including quinoa, potatoes, onions, strawberries, tomatoes, cantaloupe, bananas, spinach, kale, lettuce and cucumbers.  Virtually every home in the city had its own small garden inside or out, but Allison’s remained the largest and most diverse, serving as auxiliary in case of some unforeseen food shortage (or population boom).  The stock of re also soldor future useund and 5 and 20165seeds that shared space in the greenhouse was also sold to any family who wished to expand or change their own supply.
When she saw him she dropped her spray bottle.  “By the Goddess…Sean?  Sean Bellamy?”

He offered a meek smile.  “Hi, Allison.”

She wrapped her arms around him and cried tears of joy.  She was a short woman with a medium build and straight brown hair.  Her large brown eyes were always alight with wonder and a love for her work.  She was close to his age – they were both in their mid-40s now – and they’d been friends before he put together the Moscow deal.

She regained her composure and they exchanged pleasantries.  She boiled potatoes in a pot and mashed them with a fork, seasoning them with fresh oregano pulled from one of her crops.  They caught up while they ate and at the end, she sent him on his way with a wide variety of seeds, a gallon of water, a jug of coconut milk and a signed order slip for rocks and sand – both coarse and fine –  to bring to the pier.  Sean was to keep these last supplies to rebuild his water filtration system.

Bit by bit, Sean’s house became a living home again.  He lined the bottom of the garbage can with paper made of pulp from coconut fibers and he poured the fine sand on top of it.  He then added the coarse sand and several rocks on top, lining the rig up under the spout from his house’s drainpipe.  A hole in the bottom of the can fastened with a smaller drainage pipe dripped clean water into a second, small container.  He scrubbed the graffiti from his walls – it seemed to be a simple ink of vinegar and berries and came off slowly but surely.  He boarded up some of his broken windows and nailed clear hard plastic over the others.  Eventually the house was a reflection of the owner – not quite its former self, broken and reassembled in some places, but still standing.  When Sean looked at it, he couldn’t help but think of the jilted spouse in prison, her broken hands growing mostly back together.  She’d lose some functionality in them, and she would develop arthritis, but she could still open and close a fist.

*  *  *

It was almost alright.  It was almost enough.  It was almost a full life.  Mayor Staps’s promise that the city governments would remember Sean’s sacrifice proved to be little more than empty words.  Mayor Davis turned him away and his letters to the other officials were never answered.  Sean’s surprise and anger on this matter faded to complacence and acceptance.

Sean worked several part-time jobs to maintain him in Triton’s barter economy, much as he had in his youth.  He kept his head down, still fearing his own ambitions.  Nobody asked him much about his past, and he became friends with some of the younger people from his work who were too young to remember Moscow.  Some of the older residents of his neighborhood nudged each other and nodded their heads towards Sean when he passed, but he pretended not to notice.  As long as they kept it to themselves and let him move on, they could think what they wanted.  He borrowed books from the library to keep himself occupied.  A year after rejoining society, he was even asked to come out to eat with the boys after work.  They sat around a small fire in the marketplace eating their dinners and drinking the fermented cider from the apples grown in a container in a co-worker’s backyard.  Sean had a pleasant buzz going and the group shared plenty of good laughs about their boss, local girls, one another’s tolerance levels of the fermented fruit ciders concocted on Triton and so on.  Suddenly a voice pierced their personal space.

“Holy shit.”

Sean and his co-workers turned to see the voice’s source.  A man with his arm around a young woman’s waist had stopped in his tracks and was staring directly at Sean.

“I spend 18 months off-Triton for business and I get back and I’ve got to see this son of a bitch walking the streets again?”

Sean’s expression darkened.  His colleagues stood up and began to defend him, but he knew what was coming.

“Watch what you say about Sean, asshole; he’s our friend.”

The man laughed in disbelief.  “This man is your friend?  Sure he is, until he decides he’s all too happy to take your money and leave you for dead in the wasteland.

The young men looked to one another and to Sean with uncertainty.  Sean stared into the fire, his eyes glazing over in the same way they had in the courtroom 16 years before.

“What the Hell are you talking about?”

“Shit boys; don’t you know who this is?  Ain’t you never heard of the Moscow Tower incident back in 82?  Why the Hell you think everyone gets so goddamn quiet every time we pass that cluster of buildings in downtown Moscow?”  His eyes fixed on Sean for the rest of his speech, slowly walking towards him and leaving his girlfriend where she was.  “Some 30-odd people paid up for a vacation – three weeks relaxing in the Russian summer breeze on the roof of OKO South Tower – and when Triton dropped them off, them Russian birds fought ‘em for their food.  Ended up shittin’ some killer disease all over these folks who died coughing up blood all over each other.  The damn vultures were picking ‘em clean by the time Proteus came back around to pick ‘em up, all because the fella who came up with the plan didn’t bother to look into the local wildlife!”

One of Sean’s co-workers, Freddie Jarvis, who hadn’t said a word all this time, knit his brow.  “I…I remember hearing about that.  My old man said they locked somebody up under the city for that and he’d been hanging there ever since.”

The man concluded.  “And who do you think it was sold them 30 people their deaths?  Who was it who piled a skyscraper with bird shit and half-eaten corpses so they called him the ‘Topper’?”
Freddie turned to Sean.  “Topper?  Mr. Bellamy, he’s got you mixed up with someone else doesn’t he?”

Sean stood slowly.  He tossed the rest of his meal in the fire and took one long look at each of his co-workers, knowing this was the last time they’d see him as a friend.  Silence hung in the air like a dead man swinging from a rope; the fire crackled to remind the boys it was still there.  Finally Sean locked eyes with his accuser.  “They were 27, not 30.”  The atmosphere around the fire shifted dramatically.  Topper continued.  “And there are no vultures in Moscow.  They were sparrowhawks.  And I…I served my time.”

“They should’ve thrown your ass off this city, Topper,” the man taunted.  A long moment passed before his girlfriend pulled him away and they continued walking.  The boys stared at the ex-con, whose eyes drifted to the floor.

“How…could you do that?”

“Jesus Christ; I thought you were my friend, man.”

“Wasn’t one of them a baby or something?  What the Hell kind of man could…”

Topper turned away from them and walked home as their voices stiffened and grew angrier.  He found his front door by muscle memory alone; his vision was clouded with tears.  For the first time in over a decade, he felt a weight press down on his shoulders that led to a restless sleep.

His co-workers told everyone, as the young are prone to do.  Memories resurfaced, wounds were re-opened and Topper became a pariah.  He fumed, but to keep himself fed he held his head up and took it all in stride – the name-calling, the threats, the garbage thrown at him.  They taunted him with the nickname he’d hoped died off with his trial.  Work was harder to come by, but he managed.  Soon his anger subsided into something quieter and duller within him.  The streets looked a little narrower and darker, but he started to seem resigned, almost indifferent.  He visited Allison at the gardens a second time, and she consoled him as best she could.

“You paid what you owed, Sean,” she said.  It was nice just to hear his name; they both knew she was the only one he could count on for that.  “15 years for those talking heads in city hall.  But people are always looking for someone to hate.  To them, it’s not about what you do or don’t deserve.  They just want – “

Topper interrupted her.  “To feel better.  Yeah.  Someone told me that once.  Look, thanks Allison.  I’m…I’m headed out now.”

She mustered up the most optimistic face she could.  “Take care now.”

Some mornings Topper struggled to get out of bed.  It seemed like the world outside was poised and ready just waiting for him to step out onto the street so it could start picking away at him one stranger at a time.  He procrastinated and invented excuses to stay indoors.  He knew he could go see Allison again but couldn’t convince himself to make the trip, short as it was.  When he woke up for the day he’d look out his window with dread or stare at his breakfast in a daze for an hour.  Every day at work he looked at the floor, unable to look anyone in the eye.  Some people threw their waste buckets at him.  “How you like a taste of your own medicine, motherfucker?”  He could feel everyone glaring at him and he did his best to wait it out and hope it would all die down again, or that he could get used to it.

In late July, 99 P.A., Topper walked to the gardens to visit Allison Mackey for the third time.  He’d been living the last several months as though everything was fine, almost to the point of seeming sedated.  To his acquaintances, it seemed he’d accepted their name-calling as a gentle ribbing, no matter how hatefully they addressed him.  He didn’t seem to notice when they spit on him as he walked, or flicked their still-flaming cigarette butts at him.  Every day promised a regular schedule of ridicule and isolation.

Topper brought Allison a quinoa-based risotto he’d managed to put together at home as a token of appreciation for her advice.  The gardens were a quaint, quiet place and in his increasing ambivalence towards himself, they started to look like sanctuary.  He’d hoped they could sit and eat together.  He knocked on the gardens’ front door and Allison opened it with her usual smile.

“Hey, Top –“  She clapped a hand over her mouth.  “Oh Sean; I’m so sorry!  I know how you hate that name…”

She was relieved that he was so nonchalant about it.  “It’s okay,” he said, only wincing a little.  “I’ve gotten pretty used to it.”

“Well would you like to come in?”

“Oh, no thank you,” he said.  “I was just…I was just dropping off this dinner I made for you.  When I first came back you helped me out so much and cooked for me; I just wanted to return the favor.”

Allison recovered quickly, pouring extra sugar on her voice.  “Well thank you so much!  You know you didn’t have to do that for me!”

“It’s alright; it’s not a problem at all.”

“Wouldn’t you like to come in and eat with me?”

“No thanks; I just ate,” he lied.  “I appreciate the offer though.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.  Yeah; I’m fine.”

She relented, afraid of pushing him too hard even as he politely backed off her porch.  “Well okay.  Thank you so much for the dinner; if you come by tomorrow I’ll make us something Italian.  Sound good?”

“It’s a date,” he said with a smile.  She watched him leave.  He seemed fine.  She was looking forward to their dinner together the next evening.  Allison felt bad for Topper; she’d seen how the people in the neighborhood treated him and she tried to convince them to stop, to no avail.

Topper’s smile faded as he walked down the street towards his house.  He crossed paths with the septic manager, an elderly fellow named Gary Royce, carrying his wheelbarrow of human waste down to Triton’s rear end.  Topper remembered the luck he’d felt not to have that job back on Proteus.  Here, he pitied the man.  The septic manager nodded at Topper with a smile.

“Evening,” he said.

“Good evening,” Topper said.

After a brief conversation about the thankless nature of Royce’s job, which Topper said he could relate to through his own labors, Topper offered to carry the barrow the rest of the way down Triton’s back and drop its cargo while the old man headed up to his next stop and took a rest.  Topper would then return the barrow to him further up the road.  The man thanked him profusely, agreed, shook his hand and went on his way with a spring in his step.  Topper proceeded slowly so as not to tip its foul contents.

The next morning, the septic manager reported to de by the septic manager led sogether.   ridicule and isolation.the authorities that he hadn’t seen his wheelbarrow or Topper since that moment.  He accompanied them to Topper’s house, agreeing to stay on the scene for questioning in order to clear up the matter.  Detective Leon Adler broke the front door in and entered the house.  Even at the front door the odor was an angry wife’s slap in the face.  Adler entered slowly, carefully, finally searching the bathroom.  He knelt by Topper’s bathtub with a rag held up to his face.  Adler’s low, gravelly voice cursed the visage before him.  “Dammit Bellamy,” he said.  “I thought you were going to be alright.”

The septic manager spoke up over the clamor of the growing crowd outside.  “Did you know this man?”

Adler nodded.  “He was my first case.  I was learning the business from my predecessor and we were assigned to the Moscow Tower incident.  I was just a boy.”  Detective Adler remembered interrupting Dr. Iweala and the scolding he got afterwards.  He remembered how shaken he was by his mentor’s damning testimony against Sean Bellamy in court and the anticlimax of hearing Bellamy was imprisoned.  Adler looked over the contents of the bathroom and pieced the scene back together.

Judging by the empty wheelbarrow on the floor next to the body, it looked as though Topper had returned to the house straight from meeting with Royce.  He had pushed the wheelbarrow into his bathroom, rounding the corner carefully, where he left it and went to the kitchen.  He took a paring knife – which now lay on the floor, caked with crusted bloodstains – from a drawer and returned to his bathroom. 

After Topper had returned to his bathroom with the paring knife, he must have removed his clothing and sat in his empty bathtub, resting the knife on the sink within arm’s reach, and leaned forward to grab the wheelbarrow.  It would’ve been heavy, so with both arms he’d upended it into the tub, spilling its contents around him, filling the bathtub up to his waist. 

The smell had made Topper gag; he dropped the barrow and it fell to the ground with a clang as he threw up onto the excrement and on himself.  He held the paring knife in one hand, desperately, and let himself out through his veins.  Topper joined the victims of the Moscow Tower incident in the same state as they left this world – covered in other creatures’ defecation and his own blood and sick.

“Poor Topper,” Royce said.

“The man is dead; you want to call him by his real name?”

“No,” Royce replied.  “Sean Bellamy died somewhere along the way between the OKO South Tower 17 years ago and the humiliation those people outside have been giving him since his release.” 

Adler knew he was right, but he’d never admit it.  Sean Bellamy was long gone.  All that was left in this body was Topper – and had been for some time.  As the life drained from his eyes, he’d raised his wrist and rubbed a final marking of atonement on the wall in his blood.  Adler looked at it and shook his head.

28.

*  *  *

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