The Literary Corner: The Vats by Brian Broderick

By Brian Broderick

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Transmission recorded: 02:04 12 – 25 – 3267
Speaking: Victor Whale/Reanimated! at present
Transmission uploaded: 05:51 12 – 25 – 3267

Stone landed a left that made me split at my seam. I’m not laughing, I’ll show you in a second. Of course that is fairly normal over the course of a fight, you just start fucking falling out of yourself. But to do that in one shot, two minutes into a fight, well that’s a hell of a goddamn punch.

So, I took a big step back. I swear I could feel my organs slap against the walls of my insides. This big haggard line, here, that crawls its way up my stomach was all torn. The Barn smelled like a dusty brothel and the fight had barely been going on maybe two minutes but the noise was a pitted howl. I swear they packed three rolls of quarters into the palms of each of Stone’s hands when they put him back together.

Someone launched an empty beer can at me.

Me? They just kind of put me back the way I was, built like a bull of a man with hands that were meant to move things. Outside is mostly mine, still the skin doesn’t match up in spots. The only thing inside that used to be mine is my brain. Even my eyes are transplants. Shit, used to have some real handsome blue ones but these things look like pans of used oil. Probably was a real bitch to find a heart big enough to pump around this frame. Maybe not that hard but expensive as shit for sure. Cam has plenty of dough so in the end it’s nothing really.

The ring was different that night, set inside a circle of handrails. Some Corp grunts had been paid overtime to set them up and GravPunch the dirt down two feet. These mods meant “Big Fight Night” and I wasn’t too stupid to miss that. I still have my own brain, see?

Then there was the fact that Cam pulled me out of the Vat almost a day in advance, and I don’t remember asking but Cam was saying he wanted to check a new Soup dosage. Soup’s fancy for, you know, Vit mixed with your own boiling cocktail of amphetamines and booze and whatever. Except my cocktail isn’t mine, it’s Cam’s. Like a chef’s famous recipe, the details are a secret but you can get a taste of what’s in it from what you feel. I ask him every time and he just smiles and allows the screens to play witches or whatever with tall hats and long eared gray animals.

When you come out of the Vat, blind and spitting and dripping sharp microbe chips, you’ve got to be leaked. So, they strap my thawing body to the same stained carbon-mesh cot and over saturate the circulatory system. While I sink into chemical shock, time allows for the neuro work to be pulled into focus. Cam did it twice this afternoon. Well, not Cam I guess, he had plugged back in; allowing the screens to feed from his tight skin and bones while he projected a blurred flash of images, falling through the web like a used carcass.

I spat at Stone’s feet and gave my bare belly a slap.

And Stone came at me with another left. Stupid. He got confident after he felt the first one land with a quake and went for it again. I read it and stamped his left knee cap inside out. Some of the boys at the edge weren’t too fond of that and made noise.

Stone doubled over and I gave him a hard kick with my steel toe to the teeth. Wasn’t really teeth though, I didn’t focus on it too hard but I could tell whatever came out of that nasty hole wasn’t right.

He dropped faster than a pile of wet bricks. I got another can to the back of the skull and this one was full.

I wish I could have a beer.

They were fucking tired of me. After I tore Shelly into a bunch of pieces that no one felt like putting back together again, I guess it was just me around for two months maybe. They had me doing everything. Big radiation rats when there wasn’t another Thing to bring in, and hungry dogs when they didn’t have enough Vit to pump into the rats. You can still find those out on the Rim if you know where to look. Nasty fuckers. Cam knew the show would bring dough no
matter what. It always did.

I was one of the first, I know that much. Stone was new. People are getting creative. Stone looked like someone patched a fleshy quilt back together a bit too fast. His skinny little head rested on top of bulging shoulders, one arm bigger than the next. He’d been swinging his massive right arm more like a club sticking out of his torso. The neuro work done on him was also really cheap.

You know what I mean, how when some of you A.I.s get old and outdated and you try to do something instantly and it takes a second to move the limb you’ve commanded to immediately fire into action. Well, it happens with us too. Sorry to break it to you.

Stone’s deal was that he seemed to struggle putting his full body into constant motion. Could maybe do one complicated movement at once. They probably juiced the shit out of him with Soup instead.

Makes sense, the amount of dough spent on Soup alone to make a new one run — regardless of the construction costs — must be a fortune. I mean for fuck’s sake the overalls they’d put on him might as well have been a nostalgic neon sign for a quick scam budget.

Anyway the full beer, the inverted knee and mouth I had just sculpted, right?

I took the pause for granted and turned to search for the slick asshole in the crowd who had launched it. Felt like making an example. Problem was I clearly didn’t kick Stone hard enough either time and that son of a bitch caught me square in the side of the head. Hit from behind. No doubt Stone still had his own brain too.

I’d only got a single scan of the edge of the sneering crowd before I was staring straight up at the rafters of Old Cam Caucasus’ Circle Scrap Barn. Then I saw the sole of Stone’s boot come down. Not really stars anymore, but a foggy granulated mist that made everything too bright. Thinned black Vit poured from my nose and I rolled before another boot came down. I was back up in a long labored second and spit more black as I swayed and got focus on Stone.
His left knee was still incapable of taking any weight. He dove with another big ass right and I calculated it stepped and threw him over my leg.

Stone ate sand so hard that a little cloud went up around him. Beautiful in its own small moment. I stretched my chest, felt another stitch pop and laughed one big cough.

“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” The crowd was yelling right at me.

“FUCKING FIGHT WHALE,” bellowed another.

Mrs. Shelly who was chain smoking all night in her pink and piss yellow lawn chair cackled and flicked a butt at my dirty jeans. She gave me the middle fingers of both her greasy hands before snarling through brown teeth, “You always were a big fucking pussy Whale.”

I didn’t want to fight Stone, not tonight. The Corp allows the Lord’s day off, so Saturday night is left for the fights and drinking. Grunts tired from a week of scraping at radiation soaked machinery in the Perimeter Gap left their oily H suites on their porches with their spouses and piled into electric Corp trucks headed south toward Cam’s Circle Barn. The Corp paid for the ‘transpo. The fights gave the men something to do and gave the families something to worry about. A couple of dead men, reanimated purely to fight for a worker’s entertainment was how the Corp flexed its terrifying God muscles.

Don’t ask me what it’s like on the other side. I don’t know.

Some spectator slump got confident and jumped into the ring to pull at the back of Stone’s overalls to help him up. His hand got within six inches of Stones back before the big monster rolled over and grabbed his head with his right hand. The man was standing over Stone on the ground and you could see the fear shit right out of him. Stone’s dead eyes looked at me the whole time. Stone squeezed and the man screamed and red mess cracked out in between his big dead fingers. He tossed the limp headless body over his own lying hulk and it hit the earthy side of the sunken ring, one arm got stuck around one of the vertical pipes on the handrails. The crowd roared.

I died out on in the Perimeter Gap. Nothing fancy. I know what you’re thinking, it wasn’t anything like in the old movies I heard they show out here beyond the ‘Tangle lines. Just slow and boring if you compare it. I was never close enough to the Rim to even come across anything you imagine. Never heard any of that shit ever happening myself anyway.

It was simple. A small hose in a Triple Drill lift blew and I went to go take a look at it during an excavation. We were water sourcing. When I hopped down from the crane seat I missed one of the guide steps and fell on my ass. It was all fun and games and chuckle town until someone saw that my H suite was ripped clean up my back. The Corp loves their over-recycled plastic. I heard it took less than 5 minutes for me to die of exposure.

Right place. Right time.

I remember we would sometimes crew on overtime hauls through different ‘Tangle territories and see workers with different colored H suites. They say they have one like me in every territory by the way, but I wouldn’t know. Even if you tried to talk through the storms, Corp area-code wavelengths were offset on purpose. I was born in my ‘Tangle, died out half hour drive from our side of the Rim. Now I get to be around until the Vit dries up.

First time I woke up dead I nearly strangled two Corp scientists. Their tiny feet were about 16 inches off the ground before CarrierBots got sent in and I got fire so fast I was sure my dead flesh would scar big and blue.

They had been toying with how much Vitriol I was going to need to get up and dance and they gave me a few cells too many. I want someone outside to hear this, because everyone in here thinks it’s just vitamins and petrol but it isn’t. I know, my old man had a half burnt Dictionary when I was young. Somehow I know you know what I meant, I know you A.I.s can feel the body movements don’t match your consciousness. You don’t feel alive, you feel like you just can run in a lurching cyclical way. I feel it too, trust me. Dirty gears trying to run with slushy
frozen oil. Too much of it and you feel your muscles whistle and your heart hums like a warehouse.

Cam got his dosage dialed in perfect.

Those little sunburnt wasps just wanted to give me enough to breath calmly in a nice deep sleep. I guess instead I was ready to toss them through the shield walls. I barely remember it.

Listen, try to imagine yourself right back in this world after your last memory was
vomiting sand and choking until the Big Black spread out over you like a blanket. Confusion is nothing compared to what that feels like.

Punch line to this long assed joke is even after I was dead I got to work for the Corp. I can live if I fight and sit in the Vat. Turns out life in itself is the biggest goddamn prison you’ll ever find.

Anyway the rest of the fight is where it goes south fast. Stone stood up real awkward and for a second I thought he was going to just fall over.

Shit. I’m not going to make it. I can feel it clotting up now. It’s happening faster each time. I just want someone to hear this. Outside. That’s why I dragged you out past it and into the Rim. Beautiful isn’t it? Who would have known there is still green in the ‘Tangle? Who? Just a little farther than you’re ever supposed to and it isn’t like they say. It isn’t anything like they warn you.

You laugh, yeah, go ahead. You can go back and it’ll be, it’ll be a mal-malfunction.

But instead he beat on the back of his leg. Stone, yeah Stone and his fucking knee just banged. Banged and popped right back to place. I put my hands up, you know? Went downhill from there real fast.

Just take this to someone. What I’ve told you. I’ve got seconds now. I’m used to it. No pain in me but I feel the sludge. And the sludge is what they’ll come looking for because it’s precious. They’ll find me and I’ll be not dead again. Too much dough to waste. With enough Vit they’ll wake me.

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