Someone once said that hate is like a red-hot poker applied to your nethers by someone you love most in the world. We’ll take his word for it; it’s not our place to dispute the personal experience of the greatest scientist in history. Anyway, Flapman hates the Bolshevik, and the Bolshevik hates Flapman. We’re not saying there’s a red-hot or even a lukewarm poker involved here, but there’s definitely some ambient-temperature steel. Please enjoy Chapter 4 of Magnificent Bastards of the Apocalypse.
The Bolshevik stood under the Dark Sizzler‘s lights, her left hand on her hip and an arrogant sneer on her face. The thematic resemblance between her and the ship was surely premeditated: they were both dark, technologically superior, and deadly. Flapman stared coldly at his adversary, a notorious smuggler and repo agent who had made a great many enemies in the course of her work and who had made even greater numbers of dead enemies.
She was tall and athletic, dressed in black pants, jacket, and boots. Her clothing had a faint, uniform sheen to it, even though her back was to the light: advanced combat fabrics, certainly projectile-hardened and probably bio-mechanically enhanced. She wore mirrored shades despite the darkness, so augmented vision, too. Her hair was short and black, with a dramatic red stripe running through the side-swept bangs. And down the left side of her face, from scalp to chin, was a ragged pink scar that Flapman was all too familiar with. She probably thought she was pretty fucking cool.
Flapman wanted to murder her.
He recalled that, once, Super had sheepishly told him that some people were attractive, but Super was a fucking pervert, so who knew if that was actually true. He hadn’t the slightest idea if that applied to the Bolshevik or not, and he didn’t give a shit. Flapman himself had no predilection for Baseline humans; he found them all nauseating and shrill, and the thought of touching one for purposes other than murder made him want to kill them, which was consistent. And that applied to this one, for sure.
“Hello, Flapman. Gibson left you all alone in another parking lot, huh? That has to be getting old,” said the Bolshevik.
Flapman’s deadly eyes narrowed; he was ready for her verbal games. “Do I look like another parking lot is getting old while I’m alone?” She paused at that, and he smiled grimly under the eternally smiling bag. He wasn’t going to give that harridan an inch.
But Flapman did know that the Bolshevik was dangerous. Somewhere under that jacket was a flechette pistol that she could draw and fire faster than most opponents could even see. One second she’s flashing that shitty smile at you and making you feel inadequate, and the next, a hundred tiny, explosive darts are turning major organ systems into a pink mist and proving that she was right: you were inadequate. And now you were also dead.
Suffering from low self-esteem was no way to go, and Flapman held his inflated sense of personal worth sacrosanct—he would die before dying like that. But at this distance, Flapman and Ol’ Smashy wouldn’t stand a chance. If it turned out that he had to kill her, he’d have to get a lot closer. And she knew it. He adjusted his bag as weighed his options.
“Let’s just keep that bag where it is, shall we?” said the Bolshevik as she ran the fingers of her left hand absently over her scar.
She knew all too well about Flapman’s true face and what it would do. Her augmented glasses could go opaque in an instant to protect her from his gaze, but then she’d be fighting blind. That was something that Flapman could use to his advantage, but he knew that her nasty sidekick was safely inside the ship and was certainly targeting him even now. So he decided to play it cool.
“Go fuck yourself in your fucking merc face, you harpy.”
Yep, cool as a fucking cucumber, he thought. He often emulated that variety of gourd, with its general insouciance, hip wardrobe choices, and ne’er-do-well attitude.
The Bolshevik chuckled, but she didn’t take her eyes off of Flapman. “You aren’t still mad about that shipment of industrial mutton, are you?” He tensed and his free hand balled into a fist. “And I’m sorry about the Young Shavers—how was I supposed to know they’d be there?” That fucker. She smirked as Flapman stared and slowly brought Ol’ Smashy out from behind his back, his fist tightening in the spiked grip he had fashioned himself.
He was still angry about that shipment. Industrial mutton was like delicious, construction-grade gold, and it had all been destroyed. And she had certainly known about the Young Shavers—he had no doubt that she had lured them there too. She had wanted her competition to take itself out, and she had almost succeeded.
Those fucking babies, he thought.
The Young Shavers were one of the most ruthless and violent gangs in the Cromulent Zone. Months ago, the Bolshevik had laid a trap for Flapman and Super deep in the bowels of the InstaFlesh Superior Vat-Meat Delights warehousing complex, and they had had to fight their way out through the vicious Shavers, barely escaping. They had left a dozen dead Shavers in their wake, and Flapman could picture their little baby bodies in various stages of destruction on the concrete of the warehouse. He still dreamt about the last three, whom he had doused in 140 proof potato schnapps (a flask of which he always carried) and set ablaze as he and Super had fought past a final barricade. He always woke from that dream chuckling over their tiny, agonized screams.
The Young Shavers were part of a genetically modified human strain that retained baby-like physiques for their entire lives. Whatever evil sonsabitches that had created this race of perpetual infants must have had some reason for casting these monsters onto the world, but Flapman didn’t know what it could be. Probably just thought it was funny. But these babies definitely were not funny (except for the screams). Their plump, cherubic cuteness belied a particularly nasty brand of sadism. The Shavers all wore the gang’s signature pork pie hats but were otherwise completely naked, their soft, fragrant skin completely exposed in a display of Berserker bravery. They were, to a one, completely sexless, which might have explained their general surliness and propensity for violence, now that Flapman thought about it. Their adorable, waddling gaits and sweet, high-pitched voices disguised a preference for skilled knife-work in combat, and their ability to hide from and ambush foes scared anyone with any sense. Flapman wasn’t afraid of much, but those fucking babies weirded him out.
Flapman had once had a conversation with a very drunk Young Shaver in a bar called The Hurtin’ Yurt, his favorite Mongol-themed bar. The whole encounter had been surreal, not least because the baby wasn’t trying to kill him, but also because he had always found human babies to be absolutely revolting creatures anyway. This one was swilling rotgut beet vodka and emitting a squeaky slur that scraped like broken glass against the soft eyeball of Flapman’s distaste for all other life. All he wanted was to enjoy his fermented mare’s milk in solipsistic churlishness, and this baby was harshing his motherfucking vibe.
This Shaver, whose name was Cheeky Weeky, carved obscenities into the bar with a very tiny, very cute Bowie knife and settled on Flapman as the confidante for his drunken complaints. It told Flapman all about its terrible work life in the Young Shaver organization: its incompetent and vindictive supervisor, stagnant pay and benefits, the lack of a pathway for advancement. Cheeky Weeky was considering a move to a rival baby gang, and it had heard that the Silent Void Syndicate was more progressive about its working conditions. They also had more contemporary headwear. Flapman told the baby that he was lucky to have a job, finished his sour, calcium-rich drink, and moved to a booth where he didn’t have to smell talcum powder anymore.
Flapman shook himself and focused on the present: the Bolshevik was nearly close enough to kill, gloating over yet another humiliating victory. Flapman’s default disposition of latent, lethal intent was growing into his second most common disposition: bloodthirsty fury. He wasn’t sure if he could rein in his desire to pound the Bolshevik’s skull into paste before Gibson finally returned—he was about one more indignity from losing his shit.
Flapman growled at the Bolshevik. “That was our mutton, you sack of CHUD crap. By Segomo’s inadequate balls*, I’m going to shove one of those murderous babies up your ass one day.”
“Always the charmer,” said the Bolshevik waving away the whole thing, “Anyway, I know you’re surprised to see me now, but I’m guessing that you’re not wondering why I’m here.” She looked down at Flapman’s right hand.
Flapman tilted his head in the direction of her gaze. As he had guessed: she had finally come for Ol’ Smashy.
Ol’ Smashy! he thought, and yet another flood of anger filled him (honestly, even he was surprised at the amount of rage he was capable of generating). His eyes, whose (un)natural red seemed instantly to intensify, snapped back to the Bolshevik. His low growl became even lower and growlier. “You’ll have to take him from my dead, ambient-temperature hand.” He raised Ol’ Smashy and caressed its ambient-temperature steel.
“Oh, just stop it, baghead,” said the Bolshevik calmly. “You and I both know that my man in the Sizzler has you cold. You won’t make it two steps before he puts a few holes in you—and that’s if he even gets the opportunity.” She slid her right hand inside her jacket and stared stonily, as if daring Flapman to try something.
But after a long moment, the Bolshevik seemed to think the better of it and dropped the bravado, though not her pistol. “Don’t take this personally—it’s just business,” she said. “Mostly.”
And then she took a deep breath and recited the standard text in a flat and practiced voice: “Flapman, I am the contracted representative of Crassus Hardware Incorporated. They have authorized me to take possession of the Model 3 claw hammer to which you have made unauthorized and illegal modifications. You have violated the End User’s Agreement, and in consequence, the warranty is invalidated and the company exercises its legal prerogative to reclaim the product. This forfeiture is effective immediately and irrevocably.” She nodded at Ol’ Smashy, “So let’s just make this easy. Put down the whacker and step away slowly.”
As the lawyerly words emerged like dull farts from the Bolshevik’s mouth, Flapman knew he was going to kill her. Motherfucking, goddamn, shit-licking Freelance Intellectual Property Enforcer. This was one of her side gigs, and if Flapman had once-upon-a-time had a shred of respect for the Bolshevik’s murder-skills, it was flushed the fuck out of existence by her willingness to take on FIPE work. Lowest fucking form of life in this entire, twisted, horror show of a world. In a universe that tolerated the existence of CHUDs, enormous trans-dimensional, city-consuming abominations, and OCD, magic-dealing sociopaths, FIPEs were the absolute fucking worst.
Freelancers like the Bolshevik contracted as temporary agents of the Retail Corporocrats to hunt down and snuff out even the slightest hint of trademark, patent, or copyright violations. Their disdain for Fair Use alone was grounds to hate them, never mind their dogged pursuit of coincidental resemblance cases and functional expression infringement. They were masters of the legalistic fictions distinguishing licensing from ownership, and their neural implants harbored an encyclopedia of consumer-fucking contracts and user agreements. Violent, corrupt, and ruthless, FIPEs were the cockroaches of the Legalities Guild, which was in turn the cockroach of the Federated Consanguinity of Competencies, the Guild of Guilds. In other words, they were cockroach simulacra of larger, slightly more generalized cockroaches—they were essentially cockroach homunculi. Cockmunculi.
And now this cockmunculus wanted Ol’ Smashy.
That was it. Flapman crouched, preparing to fall upon the Bolshevik and fight until one or both of them were dead. His entire body tensed, and the hand gripping Ol’ Smashy shifted to put Flapman’s oldest friend into brain-pulping position.
The Bolshevik bared her teeth, “Oh, and Crassus Hardware will be charging you a 10% restocking fee, to which you consented by accepting the terms of service.”
“WAAAAHHHHHHHH!” As Flapman lunged, his bag strained against his ruined head. He felt the cool night air through his eyeholes, and the sound of rattling paper matched the pounding of his enormous feet on the pavement. The Bolshevik had drawn her flechette pistol, but it hung at her side. Her confident smirk told him that she was merely waiting for a point blank shot. Her man in the Sizzler knew her well and was holding his fire to let her have the pleasure of taking Flapman out.
Flapman covered the ground between them quickly, swinging Ol’ Smashy back in a long arc that he intended to terminate just at the top of the Bolshevik’s left orbital bone. But this time, he wasn’t going to leave her with just a scar. As he ran, he coiled for a last leap, and he saw the Bolshevik raise her weapon.
Suddenly, there was a flash and a low thump. His limbs went rigid and he felt himself pitch forward to the asphalt. His body twirled out of control, and he saw, as the world spun, the Bolshevik stiffen and fall like a doll. Of course, he thought, a doll wouldn’t stiffen before falling. It would just fall, unless it was supported by a nice display stand—goddamit, the whole simile was coming apart, and he wasn’t going to be able to revise it because he was probably dying. His head hit the ground, and he felt the paper of his bag tear as it slid along the rough surface of the parking lot. He saw the black soles of the Bolshevik’s boots, which twitched slightly. Otherwise, she was motionless. As his vision began to fade, he heard a familiar voice.
“C’mon, you affront to nature! Let’s get out of here before she and her crew reboot.”
He felt something drop over his head and then hands under his armpits, lifting. The voice was becoming fainter.
“Sweet balls, you stink.”