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16 December 2017 @ 08:57 am
_Mirror, Mirror_ part 5  
 

Chapter Five

Nick was quite familiar with hangovers. He'd drunk himself insensible more than once, after . . . after that nightmare flight from Makkah. Almost four years, now.

But this was a grownup hangover, with a bad attitude and a determination to stomp his brain into mush. In between stomps he remembered a hell of a party. He'd found a couple of drunks, offered them wine, some prostitutes had joined them, their pimp had stalked up and threatened them . . . Nick had decked him . . . then a dozen women had been laughing about it, more wine . . . and there'd been some skinners . . . more women . . .

"That was not . . . " His voice trailed off in a whimper, and he whispered the rest. "Not how I'd envisioned losing my virginity. Well, maybe I imagined an orgy a couple of times before."

The doorway he was sitting in was littered with bottles. Once he'd had a sip of that treated wine, he'd told everyone to pour a little into every bottle . . . Hell, even the pimp had joined the party, once he'd been dosed.

There were plenty of snoring, groaning and puking bodies around. Half of them totally naked.

Good thing this is the part of town the police avoid.

He managed to get to his feet and start walking. Started crying. I had a fantastic party while my sister was dying! And it doesn't change anything. I'm still a Eunuch, still a wanted criminal, still a mass murderer.

And if Gamer is still alive, I'll need to come back here regularly and find people I recognize, study them to see what the wine has done.

And figure out what to do with Gamer, if . . . if there's a mental spell. Something that makes her dangerous to the rest of us.

He made it far enough out of the Red Zone to find a corner vendo. Bought water.

Amazing. I still have that cash card. No one lifted it last night? Guess the couple I hit made the rest . . . too happy drunk to worry about it. I sort of remember buying more wine a couple of times.

The really astounding thing is that I managed to keep my clothes on. In the dark no one saw . . . the scars. The lack. Even when I . . . I hadn't realized how good sex was.

He kept moving until he was a couple of blocks from home. Then he slipped into a shaded corner and leaned on the wall.

Abbaas joined him a few minutes later. Sniffed. "You drunk, or just roll in a gutter for the fun of it?"

"Hungover. Anything?"

"Quiet as can be. The mothers are going to ream you. Karima slipped in to check Gamer. Said she was sitting and eating some nasty soup Umaya made."

"Right. Wait another hour. If the police aren't waiting for me to show . . ." Nick hesitated, then fetched out the cash card. "Go shopping."

Then he shoved off the wall and went in to face the music.

Gamer's face lit with relief . . . then dismay.

"You're . . . all right." Nick found himself on his knees beside her chair.

"Yes. What did you give me?" She leaned away, waving a hand through the air.

"Sorry. Umm . . . I'll go get cleaned up . . . "

"Drunk! What would your father say!" Umaya drew breath to continue . . .then shrank away from something she saw in his eyes.

Nick dredged up a smile for Gamer. "She's right. But it's mostly just a hangover now." He reached out and touched her.

"I'm real. Whatever that was healed me. Nick . . . go sleep. Tell me about it later." Her worried gaze followed him as he staggered back to his feet and into the little bathroom they all shared.

He shed clothes and climbed into the shower. Even the water hitting his scalp hurt. He made himself soap down and rinse before he gave up and headed for bed.

The early morning sun woke him.

The clothes he'd shed were washed and folded at the foot of the bed.

Abbaas and Hakim were snoring in the next room. The four women shared the largest bedroom.

I won't be sorry to move again. Pity we have to stay in the city, but people notice us out in the country. If the gates still worked . . . if we could find a way through security to one of the smaller colonies, live off the land . . .

I hate being a thief.

The cash card was on top of the pile.

That man. Ebsa Clostuone. He looked at me and saw a friend. And if he is from another world, a close split? He must have a gate beacon, a place where they will pick him up. Could we get through it? All of us?

But then his One would take the younger boys, and that I won't allow.

Sleeping the clock around had cured the hangover, so he dressed and followed his nose to the kitchen.

Gamer grinned over her shoulder. "Did you really just throw a whole chicken and vegetables in the pot and walk out to get drunk?"

Nick looked into the pot. "Huh. Someone went and cut up my vegetables. And what about the chicken bones? Very nutritious; you lot ate them all already, didn't you?"

She snickered. "Yes, and this is all that's left." She dished out a bowlful and handed it to him. "You slept right through an earthquake, but no buildings collapsed here that I've heard. The Middle East and the West Coast of North America got hit a lot harder."

Nick hunched his shoulders. "I hate these quake swarms."

"Now tell me what that . . . medicine . . . was and where you got it."

He took a bite and chewed. "Huh. Ruined it with spices as well."

She just waited.

"I walked into an auto café for lunch. There was a man at a table. Dark hair, blue eyes. He spotted me and looked . . . relieved? Happy? I don't know. Like his best friend just walked in. Then he really looked at me . . . " He touched his ear, the old nick . . . He shoved back from the table and walked to the mirror. It was gone. A little patch of new pink skin, not the slightest dip in the curve of his ear.

He walked slowly back to the table. Stared at the soup and started talking. Ran out of soup about the same time he got to the part about going out the window. "Got away from the cops. Shopped, got a bottle of wine and," Shrug.

"It worked. So . . . I'm betting you kept some before you went out . . . Why?"

"I thought I'd try it on some winos, see what happened."

She raised eyebrows.

"I didn't mean to drink any myself. But I got the wrong bottle and it just . . . knocked any common sense right out of my head. I bought more wine, hard liquor, we experimented with everything."

"We?"

"The winos, the tarts, some bag lady . . . there must have been a hundred people mixing drinks all over the street before I passed out." He felt his face heat.

"I suspect you're leaving out the indelicate parts?"

"Yes. You are much too young to know what an orgy is."

That made her laugh. But then she sobered. "We'd better wait a month and see if there are any adverse effects before we experiment any further. And . . . I'd better get back to work."

"You missed a week. I expect they'll tell you to get lost."

Snort. "No, they'll believe me. The factories always need people." She touched her face. "Once I get the bones molded back to . . . my disguise."

"You reverted fast. I wish I weren't so well known." Nick looked down at the cash card.

More money than we've had for months, and he just left it sitting on the table. Didn't even notice my sleight-of-hand picking it up.

I'll need to get back to work soon enough. Day jobs, cash pay, no questions. Construction, cleanup, whatever. Holding illusions all day. And when no one is hiring, theft.

But today I think I'll head back to the Red Zone.



Chapter Six

"So . . . what was that about a test? I couldn't find any references to a new gate complex, or whether you'd found any of your colonies. Well, actually the colonies wouldn't have split, would they? But surely you've got a working gate again!"

Ebsa ignored their glares. Slid out of his coat and draped it over the back of a chair. Dumped his pockets on the desk, smoothed out the tie.

The he eyed the silent men.

"No gates? Holy One. What happened?"

The slightly shorter one shrugged. "Odd things happen when we fire up the gate."