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A NineStar Press Publication


Trans Liberty Riot Brigade

Copyright © 2017 L.M. Pierce

Cover Art by Natasha Snow ©Copyright 2017

Edited by: Jason Bradley

Published in 2017 by NineStar Press, New Mexico, USA.

This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events are from the author’s imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events or places is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher, NineStar Press, LLC.


This book contains scenes of drug use and gore.

Trans Liberty Riot Brigade

Book One

L.M. Pierce

Table of Contents


A Sorta Prologue

Lover’s Quarrel

Mothers and Lovers

If You Tell Me How

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

The Right Way In

Lessons for Students

What We Take With Us

Friends in the Right Places


Human Contact

Precious Intel


Home Sweet Home

Keeping Up Appearances

St. Agatha’s Residential Home for Needy Youth

Bodies of Rats

When You Need ’Em

Red Line

Payment & Punishment

Blood Running


The Wall

Fox Holes

Good Omens & Bad Solutions

Breathing for Two

Belly Fires


Lost & Found

Bird Man

The Ocean

Truth Hurts

Bigger than Friendship


Best-Made Plans

The Return

Coo & a Call


Buying Time


Seaplanes & Freedom

About the Author


Trans Liberty Riot Brigade is a melding of many minds, hearts, and life experiences. This book was made possible by the support of the amazing Olympia Writers Group, who encouraged me (and Andi) from the very first page; Dante, my amazing BB4L and confidant who keeps me going every day; and my loving husband, Chris, with whom all things are possible, probable, and beautiful.

Most importantly, Andi’s story is dedicated to Andrea Faye, whose experiences and questions were the beginning of my ongoing journey to understand and capture the many amazing ways we construct our identity and shape our presence in the world.

A Sorta Prologue

“Oh yah? Well, fuck off then, you cuck!”

He’s a penny pickle dick anyhow.

I walk into the men’s public shithouse and slam the door behind me. The splintered starburst of mirror glitters under the yellow lights. The reflection’s sportin’ a shaggy haircut like someone’s gone faggin’ buggers with a pair of kitchen shears. My pupils are blown black and wide with the upshot of Flow coursin’ through my veins.

That pickle fucker ripped my shirt.

I examine the ripped collar in the refraction of the broken glass. My hair ain’t too long, ain’t too short. I’m still man enough, should someone, maybe Pickle Fucker, come pokin’ around after me. Though, if I’m real honest, I’m gettin’ sloppy. Just like Elenbar’s always sayin’—keep yer head down, don’t draw eyes ta ya—but it’s a chafe to move through the world as a mere pockmark of who you really are. Yah, I’m still me, though they call me a “she,” but if I keep hackin’ at my hair, I’m gonna look more like the dangerous “Transgressor” news stations are always shriekin’ about. But underneath it all, underneath the shag, that’s what I am.

A Transgressor on a shithouse mission.

On the cracked vid screen in the ceiling there’s some report about us right now—another undercover operation arrestin’ a pack of Transgressors. They don’t wanna get the snip-and-clip, the assignment surgery that’ll turn us from who we are, into what they want us to be. They’re reportin’ two dead already—more to come, if you know news like we do. I shudder, imaginin’ gettin’ my delicates all mangled up by a doc with a blade and a twisted sense of divine providence.

I approach the urinals squattin’ against the far wall. Smell of piss cakes and wankin’ stains waft through the air, a strong reminder of this location’s dual purpose. I peek under the stall doors, but there ain’t no tourist trout loafers tappin’ a signal for a blowie or a pop-off. Though pickle fucker was a bust, I’m still hopin’ to cop some rand coins from a trout. Since I made the long trip and all. Don’t matter, though. There’s other work to be done.

I slip down my pants and jut my pubic bone and mini-man toward one of the white bowl interiors. Urine spurts, and I huff with relief. There ain’t no company to gawk at me, and unlike squattin’ in lady piss stalls, like a good li’l “she,” this is good, it’s good. Feels right somehow.

I zip up, don’t wash, and at the exit, I whip out the chubby marker I carry with me everywhere. The embossed man symbol on the bathroom door gets a scrawled-on miniskirt, a crotch sweeper hardly proper enough for street walkin’. Though after I finish the big circle and the crosshatch over him, li’l man’s got an identity problem, the blessed “he” symbol now one of those dreaded Transgressors. A s/he, they hiss in the not-so-quiet corners of the world. Well, the Society will be along to reassign h/er in short tit order, I’m sure.

I press a kiss on the new Transgressor. It’s a tough thing tryin’ to be alive these days.

I hear a whistle, the chitterin’ bird call of my hip-mate. Waitin’ for me to do what I came here to do. So I scrawl TLRB in big black letters on the door. Somehow it don’t seem enough. So I write “A riot is the language of the unheard” next to it, one of my fav tidbits by a righteous guy. A guy who got gunned down for bein’ the wrong color and bein’ of the wrong mind. The Society don’t like people of the wrong mind. Hey, I know, the message ain’t nothin’ fancy, but the truth don’t have to be. It’s just gotta show up.

The Trans Liberty Riot Brigade was here.

Lover’s Quarrel

“Spare us a Nut, would you?” Pint gropes at my chest, fingers searchin’ for some sign of the familiar rectangular box. His head of orange pubey curls tickles my chin, and his eyes roll loose in their sockets, the corners beet red and weepin’ yellowish slime. A puff of a Nutri-Stick could take the edge off a wicked withdrawal, but I ain’t got any and push him away.

“Jesus, here, fiending like a puckerfucker. Yer an embarrassment.” Elenbar flicks a Nut at Pint’s feet and sweeps back her long red hair.

He drops like a Bridge Street jumper, kneecaps a dull smack against the pavement. Blood seeps through his pants, and he fumbles with the stick, hands shakin’ with the withdrawal fever he’s fightin’. He brings the white tube to his chapped lips and jams the button to activate a smoky flow of vitamins and downer. Helps with the shakes, the fever, the gut punches to come.

Bosco glances up from his readin’ in the corner and shakes his head like he don’t approve of people bein’ alive at all. The whole room’s hot, air thick with chemical sweat and the smell of Pint’s sick body.

Everybody’s quiet, watchin’ Pint squirm and whimper on the ground. The small radio built into the wall of our headquarters mumbles:

“On this day, our Patriot’s Day, we remember those lost in the Great War and those still fighting the Daesh Eye threat overseas. Thankful are we to the Wall protecting our citizenry as we are thankful to the Society who guides us from ruin. Patriot’s Day of holiest remembrance, warriors of the Lord on High. Remember danger lurks not only abroad but within our own homeland. Those who would sow fear among us, the Transgressors who―”

“Turn that shyte off.” Elenbar glares at the green glowin’ light of the radio.

Bosco hops up from his seat and flips the switch to red.

“Faggin’ cucks.” Here I am, sittin’ pretty on the upswing of a warm solid high and good ol’ news from the Society broadcast gotta go bringin’ me down. See, lettin’ it get so bad is amateur shit for crotch sniffers like Pint. “You know, you gotta pace that shit out, stay in control, Pint. Stay on top of it. It’s how they get at us. If the Brigade’s nothin’ but a bunch of junk-tards twitchin’ and blasted off, who’s gonna listen?”

“Andi, just shut yer mawhole fer a pissy pretty second.” Elenbar slaps my dome with the flat of her metal clunker hand and my ears start ringin’. “Weather’s nice ’top that seat ya got? The pickle pricks yer sucking fer that seat? Brigade represents all people, not just the slick and squeaky clean. We’re like this fer a reason, ya know that, so stop talking like ya don’t.” Elenbar’s green eyes spark with rabid rage.

I rub my stingin’ head and eye my shitkickers instead of meetin’ her glare. “Look, I’m just gnawin’ on it. We might be like this for a reason, but we’d howl the Society right down if we weren’t just…” I need to drop it.

“Well, when ya get off and stay off the Flow perma-like, Andi, ya just fucking send me a postcard. I’ll slap yer fruity dicklips on the cover of Brigade: The Softer Side. Yer a junkie like the rest of us. Ya ain’t no better than any of us.” The gravel in her voice hurts more than the slap. “Ya do the marks like I told ya?”

She points her bionic metal finger at the borough map spread on the center table, the corners weighted by beer cans filled with gravel. This cinderblock shack is the headquarter hub of the Trans Liberty Riot Brigade. We just call it the Brick because it looks like nothin’ more than a maintenance shed. Basically is.

“Keepers. I marked up all the west front and the shithouses on the south.”

“Heard ya was hooking on the run. Again.” She flexes her right fist, curlin’ the metal jointed fingers like she’s testin’ it. The bionic arm’s a newly acquired thing and ain’t none of us used to it, especially not Elenbar.

Bosco’s eyes are on me, and I can’t keep the red outta my cheeks. “Just once and didn’t slop up anyhow. Just a tourist trout from outta the neighborhood.”

“Didn’t slop up? Then how ya think I’m hearing it? No hooking on the runs. Not ever, not fer nothing. Don’t care if the president’s begging ya fer a pop-off. Ya were seen, by one of ours, but ya might get remembered by someone else next time.”

“But not this time.” My beatin’ ticker’s takin’ missteps all over the place. I feel woozy.

“No, not this time. But it brings too much heat, attracts all sorts of problems. Ya keep it clean and straight fer the runs. Now, head ta Lover’s Lane with Bosco. He’ll fill ya in as ya go. Fagging twat.” She spits the last words and stalks outta the Brick, her lip wrinkled in a sneer of disgust.

Pint whimpers from his withered crouch on the floor. He tries to rock back on his feet but falls again. Don’t think he’s gonna be able to get up, and no one goes to help him. This ain’t the first and it ain’t gonna be the last time he’s quiverin’ on this floor. Pint’s got the hook worse than most of us combined. Smoke snakes from his mouth like someone’s lit him up from the inside. There are some things a good ol’ Nut can’t fix.

Elenbar likes to think I talk about things I don’t understand, but I do. The come-down off Flow’s some of the worst feelin’s in the world. The tremors start at the edges of your peripheral vision, li’l specks of dark like you’re rubbin’ your eyes too much, but they stick around, get bigger. Soon it’s rumblin’ through the threadlines of your nerves and your stomach clamps on your sack of guts. If you don’t rupture somethin’ internal, you can usually ride it out. But too many of us drag or get dragged to Dr. Chambers, beggin’ for a fixer. Most of the time he does us right, but he comes with a price. If you don’t have the rands to pay, he does accept other kinds of trade. Right and honest maybe, but still a sadist fagger.

Flow also comes in waves, and the nods are comin’ down on me, my body shudderin’ and losin’ some cohesion. I try not to let the fade happen too hard, or I’ll be right next to Pint on the ground. Gotta stay on top. Stay in control.

“Heh. Andi’s going wonky. Dr. Chambers’ll take it outta your ass, for effing sure, you wanker.” Bosco pounds me on the back, jerkin’ me from the pleasant grayspace I’d slipped into.

The weight of the nods dissipates a bit. “Suck a dick duck, ya cuck.”

He smirks, liftin’ his eyepatch to wink at me with the perfectly good blue eye underneath. He’s a faggin’ anglosax dramatic, fancies himself a limey punk-riot pirate. “Knockers. You coming with me to Lover’s Lane or what?”

“Keepers. Let’s get this shit right, though. I ain’t a fan of repeat business.”

Elenbar’s given us our instructions, and we gotta obey like the good soldiers we are. I try to pretend it don’t matter, but a trip to Lover’s Lane always gets at me, clawin’ deep inside my fleshy core where my feelin’ parts must be. I hate every minute, even though I ain’t seen her prowlin’. Every time I gotta go back, the possibility of seein’ her punches me straight in the mawhole. Nah, Lover’s Lane ain’t no love at all.

When we step outta the shack and into the night, I see Elenbar by the chain link, gazin’ at the shoreline of the Anacostia River. The water’s a shade of blotchy underpants, grayish yellow from the repeated wash and piss stains of the world revolvin’ around it. Lights fester on the river’s opposite edge, the shimmerin’ world of the Uppers, filled with people standin’ atop the shit crust of this Slumland the rest of us gotta live in. Elenbar cuts a statuesque silhouette against that distant glow.

Our little pocket of alleyway is littered with trash, knobs of it caught in the honeycomb fence line. You could follow that chain link all the way through the different sections of our quarter, if you wanted. Not that the fence serves any purpose. Rusted-away pockholes mean we could still duck to the water. Not that we would. The water incubates far worse than sewer sludge and dumped bodies, but there, across the rushin’ river, is Elenbar’s past, and I hope, someday, her future.

“Elenbar, you coming with us?” Bosco asks.

She wrinkles her nose at him. “I’ll stay here with Pint. Needs ta get shored up with Dr. Chambers. Apparently, I run a goddamn nappy factory, wiping yer shitty asses.”

“He’ll be all right,” I say.

Elenbar glares at me. “Aye, he will. But what about ya? Don’t fuck it up, Andi.”

Bosco touches my elbow, and together we slink back through the shadows of the alley, swallowed up in the bosom of the Slumland haze.

Back alleyways are transit of choice for scum breathers like us—like me—prowlin’ among the rats, kiddy-diddys, and other junk-tards. For the rest of society, it’s easier to ignore us, pretend we’re not there. We don’t fit into Temperance—the political catchphrase inflamin’ politics like a mutated case of syphilis. And though it smells of jizz wrappers and moldin’ dumpsters back here, I don’t mind the alleys so much. Keeps the questionin’ eyes away. Is she one of them? A Transgressor? A s/he? Why can’t they get h/er off the streets, reassign h/er like the rest?

But there’s more and more of us now. Some of us pass all right, wearin’ proper lady locks and skirts or sportin’ gentlemanly attire if such is our preference. But most of us struggle, eyes followin’ us wherever we go.

Bosco’s ahead, struttin’ to a prick-bustin’ beat pulsin’ out the back end of the Loosey Goosey Club. The back door butts up against the alleyway, and it’s here we come across Lucky Lips.

“Effing effer,” he whispers. Then he cups his mouth and lets out a chitterin’ series of bird calls. The ones we use to signal our hip-mates when we’re runnin’ our tags or an op.

She flinches and whips around like it’s a pinch on the ass. Bosco chuckles and sidles up to her, greetin’ her with a smarmy hug. His callused hands look like grease smears on her white latex dress. Lips’s got a smolderin’ Nut between her teeth, and she grimaces, pullin’ away from him.

“You smell like shyte, per ush.” Disdain strums her vocal cords, and she sounds prettier somehow, lighter and girly. Even her face, she’s already pale as milk, but her skin’s been painted ultra white, with large streaks of blue over her eyes. And her breasts, ones that don’t come natural home-grown, are crammed almost to her chin. I try not to stare. I’ve never seen Lips look this way, with tits like this, and in a dress too.

“Naw, serious now, where you been? Elenbar had the whole Brigade on fire lookin’ for you. Thought you up and drained out on us—you hawking Flow?” he says. His smile’s playful, but she frowns like it ain’t play at all.

Lucky Lips glances up the alleyway and drops her voice.

“Just shut it. I’m not Lips anymore. Name’s Lucy. Now get outta here. I don’t wanna call someone around, but I will if I gotta.” She glances at the backdoor of the club, where a bulgin’ beef steak stands with crossed arms. Watchin’ us.

“What the eff?” Bosco frowns.

“She’s been assigned.” I put a hand on his shoulder.

He wrenches free of me. The rims of his eyes water with horror. The look you get when you realize someone’s fallen beneath the waves and the person you’ve known and loved’s drowned and dead forever.

“Lips. What happened? What the eff happened? Is that what this is?” He grabs her wrist, his mouth a cavernous black gash of rage. Her nipples are hard in the chill clip of night, and he pinches one. “You think this is real? That you can escape what you are?”

“Feck you! Feck you, aye? Tell Elenbar she’s a fool. You all are now! How long can you go on playing at riot? It’s all a joke, ain’t—no, isn’t it? It’s all up someday, isn’t it?” She jerks away, cheeks burnin’ hot. Then she soothes her poofed dome of hair and nods toward the rump roast at the door. He slinks back inside, and she huffs an angry sigh. “Look, they patched me up. Got me off the Flow, and I can earn me some rands in a tight dress and clean hair. It’s not so faggin’ bad after all. Better than scootin’ around, s/he arses in the dirt.” Fury’s brought out her accent, and she sounds like Lips again. The real Lips. But I know, understand real clear, that Lucky Lips is dead.

S/he? Oh, pardon, like weren’t a season ago you were swinging your pecker ’round the quarter? S/he now—look, Andi, we’re just s/he scumsuckers to Miss Cock Queen of all the Land!” He laughs, lookin’ crazy as he spreads his arms wide, and gestures to the grime of the alley we stand in. A roach sips from a puddle of gutter fly puke. “Society slut, you’re just an effing Society slut. Gonna take that dick along with the poke of the Society stick?” Bosco grabs her arm again, twistin’ hard, and Lucy shrieks, her wrist at a funny angle.

I grab his shoulder, tryin’ to stop him because if he don’t, they’re gonna—

“Citizen, desist! You are in violation of the peace. Release her.”

We all freeze. We are straight, lubed up, and puckerfucked. Bosco lets go immediately, his mouth a pinhole of surprise.

“All right, all right. We got heated, it’s all right.” Bosco raises his hands, palms out.

The clunk-a-junk Security & Citizen Enforcement officer glares, red glowin’ bulbs where fleshy eyeballs would be. Assignin’ security to portable lug nuts I guess makes sense from an Upper’s point of view. No subjectivity, no bias. You can’t bribe a clunker. They stand upright; a coffin-shaped reinforced body of painted steel, hidin’ all the mechanical guts, nuts, and bolts of the system. The head’s a calculatin’ mass of probabilities and policy, enforcement and control. What made sense on an administrative level don’t translate so well to us faggers who gotta live with it. They use human Enforcers in the Uppers. Down here in the Slumland? We got a robotic task force seemingly programmed to fuck us on the regular.

“Yah, he’s right. We’re leavin’ Lucy here and continuin’ on our way.” I say it slow and clear. No misunderstandings. Tryin’ to be cool, easy. But it ain’t gonna fly. Not even a li’l tit bit.

“Ma’am, please resume your normal activities. Sir, please submit to a gender screening,” the clunker buzzes, polite as pie, sinister as fuck.

“Ah. Well, I can’t, things make me gag. I’m liable to throw up all over the place, all over you and the lady—” Bosco’s green eyes meet mine. Ain’t none of us want to be on the radar, gotta stay out of the system as much as possible.

I sprint towards Lover’s Lane while Bosco splits in the other direction. The clunker processes for a second before rollin’ after Bosco. Yah, they roll. Spry motherfuckers have got off-roadin’ equipment, chains, and regular asphalt rollers. Ready to deal with any and all situations.

“Bye, Lucky Lips! Hope you choke on a bucket of dicks!” I shriek over my shoulder, reckless immaturity givin’ me strength and speed. I’m still sprintin’ because clunkers round up quick. No doubt, any moment, they’d descend on our location like cockroaches, infestin’ the dark crevices of our back-alley world.

Mothers and Lovers

Lover’s Lane: place of sin and win. Though Temperance is determined to get us all back to America the Great, when everyone knew their proper place, certain allowances are made for the decadent pleasures of the citizens. Ain’t no wine, women, and song either. The mostly male clientele could come and be men, get some, be boys with their boys. Funny thing about it, though, the underground’s always gonna exist, and kinky flavors are always on the menu.

“Manly Breeze to Bring Them to Their Knees!” A billboard chimes across the square, a neon flashin’ image of a cubi-square sweepin’ some house-mama into his arms while she swoons. A newspaper crumples under the heel of my shitkicker boot, and I stare into the face of an advert for Lady Lace, a contour and reshape clinic for those who ain’t come natural to bein’ a “pretty lass.”

But though the Temperance is a “he” or “she” world, most of us Transgressors don’t really think about ourselves like that. Call it what you want, but all of us get called “she” because that’s all we’ll ever be assigned as. The sorta puckerhole fuckin’ the Society is so fond of. I mean, I sure ain’t a lass or whatever they call it. I’m a—well, I’m just me. All my bits and self equaling Andi. Just Andi. But no matter what we wanna be or don’t wanna be, there’s plenty of “hes” and “shes” who toe the Temperance line in the real world, and then duck down here for a taste of weird. For us in the Slumland, if you ain’t gonna get assigned, if you ain’t gonna let the Society clip you, then ain’t much work in this world for you. Except to be here, turning out ass or worse. Supply and demand keeps the world spinnin’, and there’s plenty of demand from the Uppers and cubi-squares. Demand for a taste of exotic Transgressor.

“Score a Fist? Flow on the side?”

I flinch away from the simper at my ear, recoilin’ from the lecherous grin of the Peddler.

“Come on, come on, score a Fist? Lookin’ like death on stalky legs, love.” One black eye twitches in the depths of his cramped face, skin like a fleshy paper bag. The other eyehole is a pock of blackened flesh and the shiny sinew of scar tissue. His whole quiverin’ mass is a layered wrap of clothin’, baskets, and tattered pockets containin’ all types of secret delights. I try to avert my eyes, but I can only avert my senses so far; his pores exude rot and the acrid tang of a chemical sweat. He’s with the Tivoli Clan, peddlin’ their chemical Flow in Lover’s Lane. He’s also a pipeline of information even while festerin’ with bacterium and malice. Been an informant more than once for the Brigade.

“Take your Fist with you. I’ll have a knob of Flow, though.” Hatin’ myself as I say it.

He gropes through a pouch disturbingly positioned where his crotch oughta be and pulls out a plex vial, stickered with the black flag logo of Tivoli. He passes the small vial over. I already got my own aerator, and I slap a couple rands in his palm, tryin’ not to touch the scabby skin.

Though the Peddler’s got all types, I don’t fag around with Fist or Lang or even Biff. They all got their different perks in my mind except for the motherfuckin’ sewer of a Fist high. Think of a fist, a mighty lubed-up fist. Then imagine it’s jackhammerin’ through your skull, splatterin’ your precious gray matter into puddin’. Doesn’t get you jacked like Flow, but it does somethin’ else. Fags up the mind’s timekeepin’ works; makes the world slower, longer, wider. Sexcapades lasts forever, but so does everythin’ else. Keep pumpin’ and it stays that way, your time placement gone, your anchor to the real world left on the seafloor. Days are years and reality fractures. Alice in goddamn Fist land.

“Ya lookin’ for ’er?” The Peddler leers at me, the only expression made possible by the tight web of mangled tissue crisscrossin’ his face.

“Nah, no one. I’m lookin’ for no one.” I try to load the vial into my aerator. My hands are shakin’ though. The closer it gets, the tighter my chest. Muscle memory and anticipation wring me out hard, and I stop to breathe before tryin’ again. The click of the vial snappin’ into place makes my knees weak.

“No one lookin’ for no one; ya still lookin’ for ’er.”

“Yah, no one.” I try to ignore the intense stare he’s givin’ me. I bring the metal tube to my neck and depress the lever. There’s a pop and my skin burns, but it’s good. It’s already in. My chest gets real heavy with a flush of heat, like breathin’ in a bonfire, then it gets light, my breathin’ loose and easy. There’s a hot throb in my crotch and dampened panties to show for the launch.

I stumble away from the viral pile of human, the transaction complete, and lose myself for a while.

The wide avenue’s drenched in a heavy red light, illuminatin’ the shinin’ flesh of the workers outside their indicated parlors. Most of them are Transgressors, but there’s a few mainstream joints. Surroundin’ the square, huge skyscrapers probe the thick nitrous sky, the metallic behemoths revelin’ as kings of our polluted underbelly world. Their mirrored stances reflect the flashin’ lights and the effect’s enhanced by the Flow coursin’ through me. It’s comin’ on hard, and I want to drop to the ground and finger-fuck myself until I pass out. Then there’s a surge of giddiness in my crotch and dome. The spiralin’ feelin’ of goin’ insane’s always on the up, but it’d level out. It always does.

Then I remember. I scan the heated crowds for some slip of Bosco. It’s hard to worry beneath a surgin’ high, but I manage. He’s not even a Transgressor, but his sister was. I say “was” because she’s gone now. Found herself at the end of a stiff rope. Bein’ clipped, the surgical assignment, well, it can warp the very mind. Not everyone can survive it, and so he’s been with us ever since. That kind of loss fags with you too. Both of us got somethin’ to prove maybe, takin’ the shitty calls. Like this one. Sketchy info from an unverified source, and it’s Patriot’s Day, which means place’ll be crawlin’ with brass soon.

As though on cue, there’s a loud rumble and the sky’s a sudden kaleidoscope of fire, hot embers bloomin’ as fireworks screech and pop in rapid succession. Red, white, and faggin’ blue, of course. There’s an eagle one. Oh, yah, there goes the Free States flag. It’s the same shit every year, but the crowd’s upturned faces and wide spinnin’ eyes watch like it’s the birth of the next comin’ christ cracker.

The blast of colors and the peak of my high makes for a cool effect, but I’m bored of the slatherin’ crowd’s mania. I search for Bosco and there, from the farthest corner of the square, I see him sidlin’ towards me, shifty as a tourist trout dodgin’ his wife.

“Knockers, that’s an effing omen if I ever seen it. Clunker on our rag already?” Bosco says as he comes up beside me. “And finding Lips—Lucy—like that? Shyte, keep your eyes open and stay up and up. Though looks like you’re up and up enough already.”

I feel the heat of his glare. Gettin’ spun on a run? Just like hookin’, gettin’ high ain’t proper protocol either, but it’s gettin’ harder and harder to give a rip shit about it these days.

“Right, keepers. Let’s find it, get it, and lose it. I’m startin’ to get a creepin’ feelin’ we shouldn’t be here.” Even through the shiny halo of the Flow, I can’t shake the itch of bein’ watched. I cruise the crowd again and meet fleetin’ glances, most of them loaded or fadin’ with wide pupils and pussy-lickin’ smiles.

“All right. Thissa way.” Bosco snakes his way through a throbbin’ group of men in business suits, ties loose and pants unbuckled. These cubi-squares—men in suits and ties—are already well saturated with drink and they’re takin’ turns smackin’ the bare ass of a mite who’s hardly bleedin’ age and that’s with the makeup. The mini bulge in her princess panties tells me she’s intact, a growin’ rarity with the mobile assignment wagon visitin’ the Slumland every weekend. “Bring your mite to keep them right!” Even though almost half of us are bein’ born Transgressor nowadays, the Society keeps thinkin’ up ways to clip more and more of us. This kiddo must be a gutter babe, hidden from the moment she popped out an unfortunate twat.

She looks over her shoulder at the growin’ line of cubi-squares behind her, face burnin’ with what looks like resignation.

“Effing hell. It’s worse every time I show my mug here.” Bosco grimaces. “Pixie’s just a mite! Grown-ass men. What big men they be.” He spits on the street.

I say nothin’, keepin’ my eyes steeled straight ahead. Though I wanna beat them down, sink my nails to the cuts, and count every bloody pulsin’ spurt as they die, I know all too well: can’t save them and save yerself. That’s Elenbar in my ears. She taught me that hard. I finger a shiny patch of scar beneath my navel.

“What the eff!” Bosco smacks me on my dome. I snap back with a closed fist and cocked elbow, but he grabs it easy and twists me around.

“I’ve been saying your name. You here? You really here? I’m about to walk outta here and tell Elenbar you’re too flat down to pull your head out. Gonna get us gagged and gutted,” he growls in my ear. I struggle against him, a pleasurable tingle in my crotch because I’m so spun. Plus it bein’ Bosco and he’s always got a tingle effect on me.

But it’s true, my mind is dodgin’, hoppin’ into pits and black holes. You start spacin’ on the Flow, you’ll get it comin’ and goin’.

“Keepers, I got it. I was up and up, but it’s comin’ down now.”

He lets me go, and I rub my wrist where he grabbed it. The skin’s bright red.

“Right. It’s your eyes I need up and up. This ain’t a tourist grip and trip.” He winces and grabs his side, teeth squeakin’ as he does. I’ve been so up and up I hadn’t seen the black scorch mark blazed across the right side of his rib cage. My heart, already aroused by the Flow, begins to pound in a painful staccato.

“Fuck, you all right? Did they shoot you? Are you shot?” I’m grabbin’ at him, tryin’ to see it, but he pushes me off.

“Nah, it’s the damn tazer plate. Sheared right to the white. Heh, deflected that clunker’s blast right off, though.” He can’t stomp the grin.

I smile too, but I know what’s gonna happen when we slink back to Dr. Chambers. I’ve seen them remove a taze plate once. Things’ll save you from a direct killin’ blast, but the heat fuses it right through your flesh. The whole plate’ll rip everythin’ back when you get up the sack to peel it off. Skin goes, sometimes parts of the bone. Leaves scar tissue fuel for shiverin’ nightmares.

“Knock the cock, it’s fine. Let’s keep moving,” he says.

I follow him in silence as we weave through the crowds. The hour’s growin’ later and more throngs of cubi-squares are emergin’ into the district. Some got a few ladies with them, quiet movers, lookin’ to score some chems or kink it up for the evening. Some are even with their fellows for some couple’s therapy. There’s two of them squattin’ in a back alley, a huge man plungin’ his stallion cock into a lady’s bare ass, panties around her ankles. Right beside them, her fella’s knockin’ his knob, like the sound of her screamin’s all he needs to get through his day.

But shit’s always like that here. Only place folks can be their kind of folks. Rest of the world’s so locked down, you can hardly rip a fart without bein’ ticketed for it.

Josiah’s ahead of us, still the same with his long jesus hair and flowin’ floral silk robe. I elbow Bosco. He’s seen him too, and we slow, tryin’ to make a casual approach. Without even lookin’ at us, Josiah turns and walks inside his shop.

Bosco slings his arm around my neck, like we’re lovers, and we slide through the entrance. The throbbin’ lights illuminate racks of implements and tools for the adventures of Lover’s Lane. Pussy willows, one of those spiked paddles, and varyin’ lengths of whip and rope are the main trade, but in the back behind grated cabinet doors are finer toys: glass fists, splintered clubs, even an Eve’s Apple. Bosco’s already leadin’ me on. I follow close, aroused and confused by the head of Flow that’s makin’ everythin’ more hyper-surreal than it already is.

The crammed front of the shop opens up into a hallway with lots of doorways, most shadowed with panels of fabric and sheer tapestries. Behind them or peekin’ out are the painted faces of the nighttime nasties, the Fist Royalty so many come to see.

Ya lookin’ for ’er?

The Peddler’s words are ringin’ in my ears, and I try not to see her face, willin’ us to go on and never see her there. But I already know, don’t I just fuckin’ know? The Flow’s already whisperin’ what I’m about to see, and when I do see her, her face pale and slick with sweat, I almost toss it, blow my guts all over the floor. Instead I let go of Bosco’s arm. He turns, his mouth open to speak, but I don’t pay him no mind. My eyes are on her, and the shiny white mucous of her foggy gaze swallows me up. She reaches a hand toward me, and I take it, hypnotized by the insanity, the nightmare I can’t wake from.

I let my mother lead me into her lair, the smell of spunk and incense makin’ my stomach lurch. My dome’s spinnin’ as she leads me to the bed. Her every step is so slow, so deliberate, it’s almost special. Like she’s drawin’ it out just for me, though it’s actually the Fist and what it does to your mind.

“Lie on…well…lie on the bed.” Her voice’s a quiet slur, and her painted lips are smeared, like a cock’s already been squeezed between them. She’s comin’ toward me, disrobin’ in that slow, deliberate way. I catch a glimpse of her saggy tits, the wrinkle of her nips sad and shrunken, like a grandma twice her age.

“Ma. Stop, I—”

She stops, and she tilts her head.

So slowly, so slow.

I imagine her eyes clear. I imagine she sees me, sees me at last. The li’l Transgressor baby she left on St. Aggie’s doorstep so long ago, a scrawled note tucked in its tattered blankie. The Flow is really muckin’ me up, or maybe it’s the fumes of the thick incense. She’s topless already and slidin’ her hand between her own soft legs. I see a delicate blush of fine blonde hairs on her unshaven legs and then I do lose it, upchuckin’ my guts all over the floor. She stops and tilts her head again.

“Effing goddamn effer.” I hear Bosco’s voice, but my eyes are squeezed shut. I let him jerk me to my feet, draggin’ me away, somewhere far away. I land somewhere soft and warm and empty. Everythin’ goes quiet for a while.

When I wake up to the smell of flowers, I sit straight up. I’m still in one of the Fist Royalty rooms. My brain feels like it’s gonna spin outta of my eye sockets.

“Peace, it’s all right. You’re safe, it’s all good.”

I see a spiral of gray smoke in the corner of the room. Josiah’s puffin’ on the end of a regal looped pipe, which looks like an antique outta time and place, and with the dim gloom lightin’, it’s like I’m in another world entirely. Like there ain’t no Lane right outside the door, we ain’t in the Slumland, and there ain’t no Society, Brigade, or worries in the world.

“Where’s Bosco?” The Flow’s still with me, but it’s come way down, and I can control it. My mouth tastes like an outhouse turd.

“Well, he came for something, I gave it to him, and he went back to Elenbar. Isn’t that how it works? Well, usually.” He gazes at me with placid eyes, and they look like they might be blue, though in the haze, it’s hard to say.

“He faggin’ left me here?” My voice pitches, and I hate the childish squeal of it. “Fuck, what happened?”

“Rose told me she had a child once. She’s not always like this, you understand. Once, in those rare moments, fleeting between one Fist bump and the next, she did tell me. Told me about you, as it so happens. Bosco had to go. The brass were sweeping the square, but I told him I’d stay with you, just ’til you came back. You’re back.” He rises to his feet, readjustin’ his long robe.

“Wait, has she, uh—ever wondered about me? What’d she say?”

“No. Never mistake the ramblings of Royalty to mean somethin’. Fist is her world, everything else too frightening to imagine. I had her tied after you. Won’t be any more of you to dump on the Sisters.” He sighs. “Wish we could tie more of them. No need for more lost babes like you in the world. All alone.”

My gut heaves, his words punchin’ through the haze of Flow. I spring to my feet, hot, yes, tears, stingin’ my eyes. I push past him, through the hallway, not lookin’ at any of them fuckin’ Royalty bitches as I do. The throbbin’ light of the street almost blinds me as I burst out into the grime and dinginess of the square, but I’m relieved. I slap myself once and begin to jog toward the distant skyline.

There’s only one place I go when I feel this way.

I can find Hanger’s Hill from any place in the whole Slumland. As I stagger up the steep incline, I suck in deep whooshin’ breaths. My lungs feel like they’re full of splintered glass, but they’re always like that after a good run.

The Hill’s a large one, givin’ a full view of the skyline and distant lights of the city and surroundin’ quarters. A few shadowy figures dot the trim soft grass, and I might be surrounded by shaggin’ couples. Always that way at the Hill, but it’s one of the best places, well, to just be, so I come here a lot. I seat myself away from the gyratin’ anonymous shapes in the dark and suck in the air that’s somehow fresher. Even with the stench waftin’ off the Anacostia sewer-swill River, still got a bit of breeze rufflin’ up here.

A rumble bellows below us, a groan of shiftin’ earth as a quake rolls through. A few of the gathered silhouettes freeze mid-action, but it’s over in a minute. They come more frequent, the quakes do, like grumblin’ titans sussin’ out territory deep under our feet.

But it’s all peaceful again, and the lights keep sparklin’ across the river. There’s a whole world beyond, though I ain’t ever been beyond St. Aggie’s. And beyond the erect spire of the cathedral—you can see it from the Hill—rises the stark crisp edge of the barrier erected against the even bigger world Outside.

The Wall looks like hardly nothin’ from here, but we all heard the stories. Sheer as a cliff, taller than most the faggin’ buildings in the Uppers or the Slumland. Except a few of them cloud stabbers with fancy lights and view portals. Yah, the Wall don’t look like much, but someday I’ll go. I might just go all the way there, and who knows? Someday I might even get beyond it.

A Transgressor can dream, can’t she?

If You Tell Me How

The alley’s quiet by the time I get back, and even some of the trash looks like it’s been swept up or somethin’. My skin’s hot, and I try not to lose my head. I’m twisted about Bosco leavin’ me and the knob-gnashin’ I’m gonna get from Elenbar. Pumpin’ Flow like that on a run? It ain’t hookin’, but it ain’t good either. Fear’s hot in my gut, and between that and the Flow, I’m worried I might shit my pants before I even see Elenbar.

The quiet continues even as I’m steps away from the front door of the Brick.

“You made it.” Bosco emerges from the shadows, puffin’ on a Nut. His one uncovered blue eye glitters in the streetlight, but he ain’t smilin’.

“Why you just up and leave me there?” My voice’s a whine, but I can’t help it. “Let me get scooped like that?”

“Josiah wouldn’t let no harm come to you. Quit sniveling. Clunkers were cruising the Lane after the firelights, and I figured I’d better get scarce.” He points to the wide white bandage wrapped around his torso.

I cross my arms. I’m poutin’, but feelin’s are like that. Irrational bits floatin’ around gettin’ all butt hurt about shit. “You all right then?”

“Yah, weren’t so bad this time. Popped the plate off clean.” Bosco flicks the Nut to the ground and stomps it out. “Hey, you ain’t been right these last few runs.” He steps closer to me, so close I can smell the antiseptic whiff of his bandages and a touch of chloro-juice the doc uses. “Are you all right? For real all right?”

“I’m fine.” I don’t want to, but I take a step back. The li’l part of me wantin’ to curl up against him and be close is the same part bein’ a li’l bitch and cockin’ up all the runs. That li’l part can go fuck itself. “Just all these runs and the sweeps last month. Seems it’s all gettin’ tight somehow. Like a squeeze we’re about to get stuck in.”

“Yah, the sweeps, it’s all savvy, though. Most of our lot cleared out. You cleared out.” He rests a heavy callused hand on my shoulder.

I shiver. “You and Pint got the worst of it.”

“Spendin’ a night in the Clunker Hut? Shyte, best meal I’ve had since New Year’s. Advantages of having a proper dong swinging down south. Not much reason to hold two fellas caught hanging out in a shit shack.”

I huff a sigh. He’s right of course. We had the warnin’ and, when the clunkers and brass came to look for the Transgressor supposedly hidin’ out at the Brick, wasn’t no one but Pint and Bosco to find. But they’d never come so close before. Not right into our center like that.

“Faggin’ hell.” I shake my head, and shove his hand off my shoulder. “Fine. Knock the cock. Elenbar on a tear?”

“Knock the cock, she’s definitely gonna beat your ass.” He smiles, and I swear he’s winkin’ under that eye patch.

“Let’s get it tit over tit then.” I grab the doorknob and mutter a hope before walkin’ in. Bosco follows right behind.

My eyes struggle to adjust. It’s dim as a sewer pipe except for one lantern burnin’ on the tabletop. Everyone’s here. At least, all twenty of us who’re tight in the Brigade. My heart starts riotin’ in my chest, and I wonder if I’m gonna get kicked out after all. Maybe even stomped down. Elenbar’s standin’ at the far end. She looks old in the flickerin’ light, creases and gray pools in the crevices of her face makin’ her skeletal.

“I’m glad ya made it, ya twat.” Elenbar’s voice’s sharp as a prison shank.

“Well, beanbag Bosco left me and—”

“I already tore his arse up about it. But ya had no right ta go about it like ya did. That’s the truth.” Elenbar sighs, like I’m a damn nuisance and a child. “But one can’t always be on, especially seeing what ya did. I’m sorry. Family’s the hardest.”

My dome might explode, everyone starin’ at me like I’m a prancin’ prick pony. The sick is one thing, humiliation’s another. I drop into a chair, my gut shiverin’ because along with humiliation, the come-down off the Flow’s startin’ to happen.

No one talks for a minute.

“All right. Now we’re all here and it’s the right time ta really look at what’s going on. And it’s something big. From what Josiah said, there’s been a reach-out. We’ve never had such a contact, right in the belly of the beast. The Society won’t be able ta stop this charge if we get what I’m thinkin’ we’re gonna get. But there’s a catch,” Elenbar says.

“Ain’t there always?” Pint’s lookin’ finer than he did when we left, though his booty-sore frown tells me Dr. Chambers got paid.

“There is. We have ta go ta the source. They can’t come ta us, and it won’t be as simple as popping ta Lover’s Lane. The contact’s in a secure location.” Elenbar crosses her arms.

“W-w-well, how you proposin’ we gonna get it?” Teeny whimpers, her voice whistlin’ through the big gap where front teeth should be. She got thrown durin’ a run-in with a clunker last year. Knocked her front teeth the fuck out. Lucky she didn’t lose her damn head or end up with a nip and snip between her legs.

“We’ll have ta go in deep. Now, I know we’ve had some burning licks this year. It’s been hard on all of us. So I won’t ask anyone ta go who don’t wanna. I’ll go myself, since I’ve been there before, but I need another ta come with me. Just in case.” Elenbar’s arms squeeze tighter like she gonna suffocate her own damn self.

“Well, to where?” Pint’s lookin’ more and more pissed about it.

“The contact is at the Farm, and I—”

“You up-ending bitch, you’re crazy as a fuck fly’s shit!” Pint’s on his feet, lookin’ ready to swing at her. P-Hat’s entire six-foot-plus frame is up, her barrel chest a vertical wall, and she leans straight into Pint’s face. Then they’re throwin’ elbows and—

“Tha’s a faggin’ trap, gotta be a trap, why you go right into a trap like tha’?” Teeny whistles again, her eyes blurry with tears.

“Right, it’s gotta be a trap. Effing place’ll snap you up, and you’ll be gone for good.” Bosco ignores P-Hat and Pint, who break a chair with their tusslin’ bodies.

“Sit down and hear it, ya twats!” Elenbar stalks over and twists P-Hat’s ear almost off her damn head, and she lets Pint out of an ugly headlock. “That’s why I said no one’s gotta go who won’t. I’ll go, since I got a pretty good grip on the damn place, don’t I? I’m asking fer a volunteer. Which obviously won’t include ya, ya crazy shithead.” Elenbar spits on the ground a li’l too close to Pint’s feet.

Pint slinks back into a chair, face red as his hair, not sayin’ nothin’.

Everybody else is quiet. I wonder if anyone’s crazy enough to volunteer. Minnie chews on a glittery fingernail, not lookin’ at anyone. Pint’s glarin’ at Elenbar. Bosco’s starin’ at me, a smolder of—yah, he’s probably thinkin’ about dip-stickin’. We been hittin’ it more regular than usual, and my crotch tingles with the pleasant recall of our fav back alley.

P-Hat’s rubbin’ her ear and grindin’ her oak slab jaw. The others might as well be shadows, silent and set back from the pool of lamplight.

Then, because I’m amped and twisted and still thinkin’ of my ma—well, I raise my faggin’ hand, don’t I?

“Fuck off, Andi, you ain’t goin’ anywhere. Junkie can’t stay off the juice for a sec to do a damn run.” Pint looks ready to punch me from across the table.

“You’re rich one to talk about any sorta shit. How is Dr. Chambers anyhow? You gonna be able to pop a squat anytime soon?” I can’t keep the slit-lickin’ smirk off my lips.

“I’ll fuckin’ gut you.” Pint jerks to his feet, comin’ at me, but Bosco shoves him back into his chair and points a finger at me.

“You ain’t ever been to the Farm. You got no idea what you’re volunteering for.” He glares at Elenbar. “You can’t let her. She don’t know.” It’s almost like he’s, well, pleadin’ with her. Rage and humiliation boil in my gut.

“He’s right. Andi doesn’t have the experience to understand what that place is like.” P-Hat’s thick velvet voice booms over the others.

“Andi’ll do fine.” Elenbar’s expression is all pissy vinegar as she stares at me. “If yer feeling up ta it.”

“I’ll do it. I can do it, serious, I can.” There’s that mitish squeak again.

But Elenbar nods anyhow. “Besides, they’ll scrub us out at the Farm, and sneaking product in is the least concern ya got once yer inside. So ya’ll be sober whether ya want it or not. Though, listen ta this, Andi, I can’t control what’s gonna happen once we’re in. We find the contact, then try ta escape as hard as we can. But, and this is fer real, ya could get assigned. It happens. If we can’t get out, if we can’t escape—”

“I know.” I say it, but I don’t. I have no faggin’ idea, but it’s real clear I’m gonna, and soon.

“All right then. P-Hat, ya’ll hold it here and wait fer us ta make contact.” Elenbar like she’s comin’ down off the mountain, tablets in hand.

“I’ll hold it down, I’m always down fer it.” P-Hat scratches the back of her neck. “But, and I don’t wanna say it, but I’ve gotta. What if ya don’t get back? What if it all goes to shyte? The Brigade’s gotta go on. Just thinkin’ we gotta have a plan in case it, well, goes wonky.”

“Well, ya’d take it over, step up, and do what ya gotta do. P-Hat’s in charge if I don’t come back. That’s how it is, so no bullshyte about who’s gonna rise up. P-Hat’s got the most experience, outside me, and all the other oldies are about gone or drained out. That’s how it’s going ta be.” Elenbar glares at everyone around the table, and the assembled Brigade is silent, gazin’ at us with a funereal finality. My skin prickles. I’m already wishin’ I’d shut my damn mawhole like Elenbar’s always tellin’ me to. I’d been lucky, mostly lady-lass enough to dodge most the bio screens and hightail it when I didn’t. I’d never been to the Farm, never been picked up, but it happened to a lot of us. P-Hat’s come real close a few times. Lips…I mean, Lucy, weren’t an exception really. More the eventual rule. If you got picked up, shipped to the Farm…well, they’d do what they do best. Elenbar’s the only one I’m sure ever escaped before gettin’ clipped. Her sister weren’t so lucky. Jane went from Transgressor to just “she” before they could get out. But that’s how it is. With a slice and dice, you’d be short half of yourself.

I stand up, open my mouth to speak, and puke all over the faggin’ table.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

“You can’t do this, Andi.”

I’m tryin’ to block out Bosco’s voice, but bein’ laid on Dr. Chamber’s table makes it hard. The doc is futzin’ with somethin’, and I wish he’d hurry with the shit so I can dodge Bosco’s lecturin’ monologue. I’m feelin’ sick, but I done puked up all my innards on the way over here. Overamped again. Happenin’ more and more these days.

I force my lips to form words. “It’s gonna be fine. I’m with Elenbar. She’ll keep it right.”

“Elenbar’s getting reckless; this is reckless. Ain’t no information worth the risk she’s willing to take, the risk you seem so set on taking.”

“All right, ya cock bumpers, back up.” The doc plants a hand on Bosco’s chest, givin’ him a proper shove. Bosco looks like he’s wantin’ a fight but steps back.

“Andi, Andi…what we gonna do with ya? Overamping’s a good way to wind up on the cold slab, ya know? Heart’s gonna rocket right outta yer ears, and no one to blame but yerself.” He leers at me, his double row of black stubby teeth makin’ me stifle a cotton-dry retch.

“Give her a Nutri-Shake and a drip.” Bosco cracks his knuckles like he always does when he’s stompin’ down mean words.

Dr. Chambers eyes him suspiciously. “Ya got the rands? I ain’t taking credit, ’specially not from this scab here. I heard what she been up to with Tivoli. Scabbing on Tank. Tsk. Word’s no good from a junkie.”

“I got your rands right here—”

“Shut your face.” Bosco glares at me. “Here, and I’ll get you a watch from my stash.” Bosco drops a few rands into the doc’s hands.

The doc counts them carefully, then nods. “All right, drip and sip it is. Don’t forget that watch, though.”

Then he’s hummin’ because it’s damn good deal he’s got just to do his faggin’ job. Though, I’m just grateful I don’t gotta stretch my puckerhole for his more unusual trade requests.

“I saw what you wrote. A riot?”

The way Bosco says it makes my heart stutter.

I shrug. “What? I always throw some shit up when I’m runnin’.”

He shakes his head. “It’s more than that. It’s like, you got something, something real good inside you, Andi. I mean, you’re an effing effer on your best day, but you got some poetry in there.” He taps my chest. “Poetry that needs to stay in the world. I’m serious about this. You got no idea what you’re walking into, what the Farm is really like. If something goes wrong and you can’t get out, you’ll get snipped. Won’t be anyone there to stop it from happening. No one can get to you deep in there like that.” Bosco’s starin’ into my eyes, and I can see the pleadin’, the worry, but I’m so sick it’s hard to feel nothin’, except about bein’ held down and getting’ a poke in the—

“Faaaag it! Whatcha usin’? A harpoon? Butcher!” I hiss as the doc digs at my thready veins with an awful sketchy lookin’ needle.

“Ah yuh, it’s in already, ya wailin’ babe.” Dr. Chambers hooks the straggled line to a sack of drip and squeezes the pouch a couple times. “Ya’ll be right and ready to go kill yerself in new and creative ways, I’m sure.”

I got a powerful urge to bite at him, but the warm rush of the drip’s already makin’ me feel more teddy squishy than grizzly.

“Andi, please.” Bosco takes my hand, his rough skin like a cat’s tongue.

I feel the tingle again. Annoyin’ because I’m tryin’ to edge him off, get him to let it go. Because don’t matter what he’s gonna say, I’m goin’.

“Nanni went in there, and you know what happened to her.” He flips up his eyepatch and levels both his blues on me.

I hate it when he does that.

“Your sister ain’t got nothin’ to do with this.”

Bosco’s upper lip lifts in a snarl. “Don’t she? Getting clipped and coming out like she did? That shit changes you. What I told Lips—Lucy—that’s true. You can’t escape who you are, no matter how they rearrange the pickle bits.”

I’d forgotten Nanni was in with Jane and Elenbar. Another snip-and-clip. “Hey, it ain’t gonna happen. Elenbar clapped it outta there last time, intact. She’s got this figured, what we’re gonna do.” Bosco’s sweaty hand makes me want more, but maybe that’s the warm crotch fuzzies the drip’s givin’ me.

“They didn’t get out in time. Not for Nanni. I gotta watch you blow your own brains out too?”

Faggin’ hell. His blue eyes look so sad I wanna kiss them. Oh yah, that’s definitely the drip doin’ its work. “It ain’t gonna be like that. I ain’t gonna… I wouldn’t ever…”

“But if it does. If that happens…I know you. You won’t hold for that. You couldn’t stand for that. Just like Nanni. She couldn’t either, bein’ all cut up and half herself. It drove her insane.” His neck’s a web of tendons, and I watch his god-given apple bob with the force of stompin’ back a knot of tears. “Andi, it’ll eat you alive, and all’s left is bones. You just—look, you just can’t do it.”

“You sayin’ I can’t take a wallop? That I ain’t got what it takes?” I snatch my hand outta his, a flare ignitin’ in my chest. “Ain’t like you holdin’ Elenbar’s hand, beggin’ her not to go, not to take the risk.”

“You can’t even straighten it out for an effing clip through the Lane!”

The doc scowls at us, and glances at my drip bag. “Hey, y’all twats need to save it for yer lover’s hole. This is a proper medical joint, ya faggers.”

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