In the wake of the toxic flush, the above-ground group stood speechless. The cloud of steam emitted from the manhole had early scattered them, all
running for fresher air. It had been Wild who first approached the open hole, this time wearing a gas mask that she'd seemingly conjured up out of
Ben was the first to come back to the alley, and Wild waved him away and shook her head, no
, gravely pointing first to her head, then to a door
nearby, back the direction he had come. He held up his hands and backed away. The event had been so gruesome and horrid; he had no real urge to go
closer, even out of reverence for their lost friend, lest bits of Dag emerged like feathers from an exploded pillow and danced up out of the hole,
buoyed by her own broth's vapors.
He turned toward the door she'd indicated and looked around, then saw Mucklebones' head leaning around the edge of the jamb. He went to her rather
than return to his own hidey-hole.
"Where'n tarnation'd she git that mask?" he muttered to her. Without waiting for a response, he continued, "Ah'm thinkin' this mission was a mistake
from the git go. We need ta git Sslar to neno, 's all, and then we kin leave him to his planet. Ah
shore ain't gettin' in line for no
citizenship, thanks very much and how's yer mother!" He started to stomp off.
"Where ya goin'?" Muckles cackled at the back of his head. "There's equipment in here!"
"To Cecilia," he said, "and outta here. Ye kin come, er not, makes no never mind ta me, but Ah'm too old to have to put up with bein' turned in ta
Satan's soup. My pal neno wants his kitty -- or rather, she wants him, so Ah'm takin' her to him."
"But you don't know how to pilot Cecilia," said Muckles. She was trotting behind him, her dirty poncho flapping in the breeze. Behind her were Gert
and Brittle, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. Both looked a bit green, and were clearly in shock. Ben turned to look at her, and saw them.
"Aw, no. No, no. This here seems a right decent prison fer you two, and I'm thinkin' I'll jess leave ya to it. Good luck. That gal kin look after
It was Brittle who spoke next. "Sslar's not on board," he said. This stopped Ben in his tracks once again. He turned to him.
"What?!" he demanded.
Brittle continued, "I saw her, in one of the scanners. She jumped off before the ramp was all the way down."
Ben looked at Mucklbones then. "You let 'er git away?! She was near comatose, then up and about, and now she's gone?! How'd she slip past ye,
Brittle said, "She was wearing her monocle and not paying attention." Mucklebones turned and glared at him. "What," he said, spreading his hands.
Ben barked, "Dagnab it 'n' Ah'll be go straight
ta hell, which way'd she go?" To this, Brittle just shrugged.
"Er, my thinkin' is, we orta go and git us some o' that 'quipment," said Muckles. Much as she hated technology, she valued being able to breathe more,
and she knew in her little grey heart that the monocle had
brought her some comfort. "An' then go lookin' fer the cat," she continued. "We
oughta not leave anyone behind, ye know. Bad enough about Dag...she was jess gettin' to know herself. But she'd not want us to fail the mission now,
Ben stopped and took a deep breath. "Fine!" he barked again and started back toward the warehouse. The rest followed, and into the depths of the
clanking rusted building they went.
A lone gas lamp illuminated a shelf near the door, and on it was a pile of gas masks of different sorts. They each began sorting, looking for one
Mucklebones, with evident distaste, pushed aside one after another, using only one finger (and that from inside her poncho) as if the things had
cooties, but then an audible gasp escaped her. Ben looked at her as she picked up from the pile a mask that was made differently than the others
(which were all clearly for human heads )
"Looks almost like someone were expectin' us," she croaked with an ominous tone as she held it up for them to see. She placed it over her face, and
sure enough, it was a perfect fit. So she pulled the strap around the back of her head and looked about the warehouse. The rest couldn't see her
mouth hanging open, but it was.
Gert smiled with an insider's satisfaction, but said nothing.
"Hrmph," said Ben. "Just, everybody find one, eh? C'mon…" so he and Brittle and Gert continued to inspect them, and as luck would have it, each
found a unit that fit them perfectly as well, as if they'd been made from casts of their very skulls.
The mask seemingly tailor-made to Brittle's face was identical to the one Wild was wearing, and he felt a spontaneous surge of joy, akin to what a
young boy would feel if a pretty girl in class was assigned to be his lab partner, or his assigned "buddy" on an excursion.
Gert's was less elaborate...
And Ben's was equipped with an earcom which just happened to be "on" and picking up a signal.
And so, all outfitted, their voices muffled, they looked one another up and down. Ben said "What about the cat?" and Mucklebones lifted from under
her poncho (as though embarrassed to have taken a second helping of technology) a custom-made cat-muzzle shaped mask.
rag-tag, mismatched team emerged from the warehouse then, and looked over to where Wild had been when they'd left. But she was gone.
edit on 5-7-2012 by wildtimes because: count cheater