Authors: Randall Farmer
Gilgamesh’s Repair Service
“No, Gilgamesh. I think it’s time for you to get your
own vehicle,” Sinclair said. Seven children ran by the park bench where the
two Crows sat, talking, under an old red oak. The children continued on, to play
on a nearby swing set. “You’re supposed to be the great heroic Crow. Surely
Gilgamesh had been asking Sinclair once a week for help from
him and his truck. At first, Sinclair had begged off, one excuse after another.
Later, Sinclair refused to answer with more than a patient look. Now, firmness
“I’ll think about it,” Gilgamesh said, not letting his
annoyance show. The Philadelphia Crows no longer granted him the slack of a
beginner and there were more than a few wry comments along the lines of ‘the
great Gilgamesh, Crow adventurer’. He had told them too many stories.
His need for Sinclair’s truck wasn’t huge. He had
spotted a couple of old washing machines out in a junkyard six miles from home.
Perfect to fix up, save for the fact he had no way of getting them back to his apartment.
Gilgamesh went home and thought for a long time. Driving
didn’t need to be unreasonably dangerous, if he drove slowly, and stayed away
from busy streets and rush hours. Hard, certainly, but not impossible. Having
a vehicle would make life more convenient…and more profitable. Hell, he ended
up giving half of his profits to the other Crows, in gratitude for what they
had already done for him.
And he did have enough money saved up to buy a truck.
The next evening he read the automotive classified ads
in the newspaper, taking notes as he went. Two days later he bought a ’59
Chevy pickup, 67,000 miles, dark gray and rusting. The truck turned out to be
a maintenance nightmare. He spent nearly as much time tinkering with the truck
as he spent with all his other appliances combined, but he could keep it
running most of the time.
After he bought the truck and drove it slowly back to
his apartment, he spent the next hour curled into a ball with the shakes. A
week passed before he managed to drive without curling up in a ball afterwards.
Driving would never be easy.
The truck opened up a whole new world for Gilgamesh,
more places to go for junk.
Once he fixed the junk, though, he had to sell it.
After going through the hassle of getting his truck
working again, carting around washers and dryers two at a time, and fixing them
up, and returning them to the thrift shop, he decided the thrift shop, although
convenient, didn’t pay him enough for his work. Three miles from his
apartment, though, he found a store specializing in used appliances. The place
was barely more than a barn on a dirt lot, but they charged much more than the
thrift store, and they paid more as well. He took his latest truckload of refurbished
washers and dryers to them, and of all things, they offered him a job.
Gilgamesh said no without thinking about it.
Later, home in the peaceful dark, he reconsidered his
decision. A job wasn’t an impossible idea. He had special needs as a Crow,
but if he found a way to make everything work…
The next day, Gilgamesh went back to “Smitty’s Used
Washers & More”, and talked to Smitty. The day was hot, and the dirt
parking lot was dusty. Gilgamesh nerved himself up, and walked into the cavern
of a building.
“You come in at 9:00 in the morning,” Smitty said in his
Virginia drawl. “We open at 10:00, and you can do some fixin’ beforehand. Then
you can keep on workin’ in back, an’ jes’ come on out when we got some customer
bringin’ in somethin’ t’trade. Take a look at what’s been brought in, ‘n let
me know, so’s I know how much t’pay ‘em. You keep on workin’ while there’s
work to be done, an’ then you can go on home. I’ll pay you two dollars an hour
for every hour you’re here.”
Gilgamesh stood silently listening to Smitty’s drawl,
and tried to keep control of his nerves. Dammit, he hated the panic that ate
at him. Why did this always have to be so hard?
“I’ll work at night,” Gilgamesh said, his voice far
quieter than he intended. “No customers. Leave me the work that needs to be
done, and I’ll do it at night. You’ll have the work done in the morning. And
I need to be paid in cash.”
Smitty looked down at Gilgamesh. Smitty was a big man,
several inches taller than Gilgamesh, and nearly twice as heavy. He wore a
crew cut and a pair of overalls that looked more like a tent than simple
clothes. He shook his head at Gilgamesh.
“No good. I’m not payin’ you for hours worked unless I
know you’re there an’ workin’. An’ I need you lookin’ at the trade-ins as they
“You could pay me piecework for each item I fix,”
Gilgamesh said. His voice shook, and sweat beaded quickly under his shirt.
Smitty shook his head again. “I’m not havin’ someone in
here when I can’t keep my eye on ‘em.”
Gilgamesh nodded and turned to go. He knew an agreement
was unlikely, but still worth the attempt.
He was climbing into his truck when Smitty called out
from the door of the barn, “Wait!”
Gilgamesh turned back to him.
“You’re gonna walk out if I don’t let you work at
Gilgamesh nodded, not trusting his voice. His nerves
were collapsing under him, and he still had the drive home in the truck yet to
“Aw, hell. If my old guy hadn’t a quit last week, I’d
never agree to this, but I do need a guy. I’ll give you a key and you can work
at night. You just make sure you lock up when you’re done. You make a list of
how much you want for fixin’ each ah the different machines, an’ I’ll check it
over. So long as you keep fixin’ things for me, and don’t do anything funny at
night, you got yourself a job. I’ll be watchin’ you, though.”
Gilgamesh nodded again.
That night, he started working at Smitty’s place. He
arrived each evening around 10:00, an hour after the store closed. The barn
held a workroom in the back, with tools and supplies. Much better tools than
Gilgamesh had been able to obtain for himself. In addition, Smitty kept a
collection of instruction booklets and repair manuals for the most common makes
and models of home appliances. Gilgamesh worked eight hours for the first
several nights, while he worked through Smitty’s backlog, and after that
usually finished after four or five hours. With the tools and manuals, he worked
efficiently, and found himself raking in fifteen to twenty dollars a night.
A hundred a week was an astonishing amount of money. Real
money, enough for a person to live on. Almost enough for a man to support a
family. More than enough to cover the costs of his apartment, food, gas, and
repairs for his truck. He spent more time in the thrift shop, bought more
clothes, and even bought some dishes and pots for his apartment.
Smitty’s was a peaceful place to work late in the night.
Smitty stopped by several times in the first couple of days, checking on him,
as he promised. After that, he decided Gilgamesh was trustworthy and stopped
coming by. Gilgamesh enjoyed the work, long late hours happily working with
tools and small machines.
The routine: Smitty’s was closed on Sunday, but every
other evening, Gilgamesh went to work. He would finish around 3:00 AM or so, and
on the way home stop close to the Arms’ warehouse, or one of the safe Focus
households, and sip some of the dross. He usually got home around 6:00 or so, ate
breakfast and got a few hours of sleep. He would do whatever business he
needed to in the late morning, some occasional shopping, or more likely some maintenance
on his truck. In the afternoon, he would read, or write long discourses for
the other Crows, or entertain himself by metasensing the Arms or the Focus
households. In the early evening, he might take dross again, or might meet
with one of the other Crows.
He changed his routine if fresh dross appeared, but most
of the time he puttered away the weeks at Smitty’s. Settled in, he envisioned
his routine lasting for years.
Unfortunately, this would turn out to be a world-class
(Carol Hancock’s POV)
Okay, I understood myself. I understood Keaton. We’re
Arms, uh huh. I had gone over this a thousand times. I went over it again as
I pedaled through the quiet streets between the warehouses of Keaton’s
neighborhood, attempting to ignore my juice monkey’s screeching counterpoint to
the clatter of the cheap bike. I bumped over yet another collapsed section of
sidewalk and muttered curses.
Something was wrong, something I couldn’t put my finger
on. I had kept this wrongness locked up in my mind ever since I returned from
California, but my blow up with Zielinski brought it out into the open for the
first time: I didn’t understand my relationship with Keaton.
I didn’t know why she did the things she did. What I
told Zielinski, about Keaton using me as a guinea pig and ground-breaking tool,
wasn’t wrong. Just incomplete, according to my gut feelings.
I put myself in her place. If I were in her position,
what would I do?
Dumb move. I almost fell off my bicycle. Some things I
shouldn’t figure out when I’m this far down on juice.
In her position, I would have killed me long ago. Being
a ground-breaking tool and guinea pig wasn’t enough recompense.
If true, then why the hell was I still alive? I would
never have tolerated some ignorant junior Arm putting me at risk and competing
for my kills. Taking my things. Sharing my space. The
were too strong. I would have given into the temptation to torture her to
death long ago. God, with an Arm’s healing abilities, I could have kept her
dying for days.
I tapped my fingers on the handlebars as I dodged a
stack of collapsed cardboard boxes. I came up with two possibilities. One
possibility was that her gut reactions were still too different from mine for
me to understand her. Perhaps the territory thing was all in
and Keaton’s gifting me of official territories was a ruse to keep me in line.
Possible, but I didn’t believe it in this case. There had been too many occasions
where I had aggravated the hell out of her by infringing on her turf. Why didn’t
she kill me just for being another Arm? Why did she agree to teach me?
She must have some rational reason, one strong enough to
override her natural impulse to kill me. Being an information source covered
the ‘acceptable but annoying ally’ aspects of the problem, but not the turf
The turf emotions meant a lot to me as an Arm. I
remembered an incident, from before my California trip, when Keaton destroyed
my little nest, after I fixed up my storeroom to be a proper home. I had broken
down and cried for hours, physically sick from the loss of my turf.
I lived on Keaton’s turf; I shared her turf, but I
didn’t think Arms
well. If at all. I wished I knew how much it
would take to push her over the edge from this forced sharing. I touched my
throat and shivered. Damn, I could die so easily.
What factors had I overlooked? They must be important,
something absurdly important to a more mature Arm. But what?
I thought about what she taught me. What set off her
paranoia the most.
Doctors and researchers.
There were demons out there haunting her, hunting her. Somehow,
the existence of other Arms was part of her long-term survival plan. The
hunting and haunting was strong enough, hazardous enough and dangerous enough,
at the deep-down Arm instinct level, to offset the territory issues.
My answer satisfied me. My realization also scared the
crap out of me (at the deep-down Arm instinct level, of course), enough to make
me almost want to cuddle up with Keaton. We Arms had some strong instinctive
reactions when faced with an external enemy.
Instincts might be fine, but I had a real and rational
problem with all of this: to be a part of Keaton’s long-term plans, I needed to
I reached Ed’s apartment. I left my bicycle in Ed’s
parking place, took my car, and drove to a different grocery store. I didn’t
want to run into Ed; I wasn’t ready to face the fact I cheated on him with
Bobby. Oh, and if you think my problem here was shame, you don’t understand
Arms. My problem was yet another new Arm instinct, the one now telling me
‘since you have replaced Ed with Bobby at the relationship level, you must clean
up your backtrail and kill Ed’.
Goddamned Arm instincts. As long as I didn’t see Ed
today, I wouldn’t be forced to kill him. Gah.
I forced myself back into the world of rational thought:
I needed a way to survive Keaton until I graduated.
So: what lay behind her psychotic rages?
History, of course. History she wouldn’t tell me
She must have met this demon or demons of hers.
Well, then, what would set
The most obvious answer: losing to a demon.
Perhaps the Pittsburgh demon had injured her mind. The
demon had to be a Transform. Were there more types of Transforms than people
knew about? Hidden Transform masters?
Given the crap they spewed about Keaton and me?
Keaton returned three hours after I got back and she had
a man with her. He was a young man in a business suit, medium height, just a
little heavier than lean, and with the barest hint of muscles starting to go
soft. His dark hair appeared to have once been carefully styled, and he
smelled of alcohol. Keaton had him gagged, with his hands tied behind him. She
hauled him out of the car and threw him to the floor.
I came running with the shackles as soon as I realized
she had brought home a new toy, and stood waiting for instructions. Keaton gave
me a cold glance, a glance holding an aura of deadly danger. Then she tilted
her head slightly to indicate the squat rack.
The toy attempted to rise from his knees to his feet,
punctuating his efforts with muffled sounds of protest and confusion. He didn’t
understand what he now faced. He didn’t understand who I was and why I wore a
Catholic schoolgirl uniform.
I picked him up and dumped him over by the squat rack. Before
he reacted or tried to escape, I shackled his right leg to the rack. The rack
itself was bolted to the concrete floor, so he wouldn’t be going anywhere. The
man screamed ineffectual protest through his gag.
I had a problem. Toys were for torture, not necessarily
to the death, but the squat rack meant ‘public’. Keaton hadn’t put me in this
position since I loosed my Beast.
I found the idea disturbing, not the torture, but the
‘in public’. The thought of Keaton watching me just seemed, well, invasive. This
was private. Like sex. Or taking a kill. I didn’t want Keaton intruding on
those pleasures any more than I wanted her in bed with me when I fucked.
Of course, I couldn’t do a damn thing about this. I
couldn’t ever do anything about what Keaton wanted.
I did wonder at the changes in myself. A few months
ago, I hadn’t considered my kill to be a private thing. I did, now.
I stood up and faced Keaton, after I shackled the man to
the squat rack. Her expression remained cold and judgmental. I wondered how
much of my thoughts she read. Probably too much.
I stood, attentive, as she came toward me.
“Make him afraid.”
I did so, following Keaton’s orders. He scrabbled back
from us in terror.
She did something dismissive with her predator effect,
and the fear left him. She leaned toward me. “Tell me what he’s thinking.”
“Ma’am?” I said. I glanced at our victim and shook my
head. “He’s scared and trying to escape. A part of him suspects he’s drunk
and hallucinating. He thinks you’re a man and I’m your slavegirl. He…”
Keaton grabbed me by my ear and led me into the kitchen.
“This is going to be hard,” she said. “But it’s
important, and for you, I suspect very important. I want you to do your thing
with him in a way I can understand.”
Oh, crap. This sounded like an invitation for a pain
orgy. My pain.
Perhaps I should have taken longer to master Keaton’s
mind reading and people-controlling lessons.
I guess I had showed off a bit much.
“Ma’am, how do you want me to do this?”
“Joe is yours. Learn him. Use all your senses as an
Arm. Think about what you’re doing as you do it, so you can explain what you
No profanity. Keaton was deadly serious. Keaton must
have tried to duplicate what I did with Bobby, and failed.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. This, I realized, was a test of
my worth. What use is your groundbreaker, if you can’t understand what the
groundbreaker is doing? My ass was on the line here. If I didn’t satisfy Keaton’s
unstated needs, I would pay for my failure with pain.
“By the way,” she said, an exasperated parent lecturing
a dense ten year old, “keep Joe out there alive for several days. This is a
wonderful opportunity for you to be of some worth to me for once, and earn my
good will. Don’t waste it.”
I had a problem, though.
“Ma’am, I’m low on juice. I need to hunt,” I said.
“Damn. How low are you?” she asked.
“I think about 107.” Keaton blinked, hostile. “Uh, below
110, as best I can determine. Please, ma’am?” I needed juice, but Keaton had
no patience with my weaknesses. I went down to my knees on the floor,
Keaton watched me thoughtfully. “107 isn’t that low. You
can restrain yourself a little bit.” A low whimper tried to come from my
throat. I forced it back down.
“Ma’am,” I said.
“You can hunt Newark tomorrow night. You can hunt
Baltimore the following night. You stay here during the days and work with Joe.
By the time you finish with Baltimore, we will have gotten about as much as we’re
going to get out of Joe, and you can kill him and get serious about hunting.”
Damn. Three days at my current burn rate would put me
I glanced at Keaton’s cold hard face. I thought about
what argument I might use, about how I might react if an Arm underling of mine pushed
the way I wanted to push, and blanched. Yes, I needed the juice. No, she
wasn’t punishing me. I had already tried every bit of groveling and pleading I
could come up with without going overboard. I stated my case; she made her
decision. This was Monster Arms again. In her typical sadistic fashion, she
was giving me another lesson on how to function with low juice. I understood the
logic, but her lesson irked the crap out of me anyway.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, trying to control the shaking in
my voice and my body’s stubborn refusal to ignore my intellectual acceptance of
her lesson. “I’ll get right on it.”
She watched me. I didn’t move and I didn’t say anything
“Fine,” she said, after a long wait. “Go play with your
new toy. I’ll be watching.”
My task for the rest of the night was looking after Joe
in the gym, while observing him. He fell asleep about ten. I couldn’t figure
out if he was too tired for fear to keep him awake, or he had simply passed out
in terror. He lay on the cold floor by the squat rack and snored.
I studied him with all my senses, and with my mind. I
didn’t get much, not with him splayed out on the concrete floor in half-drunken
exhaustion. Wrinkled suit coat, mussed once elegant hair, drool leaking out of
his mouth around his gag. This helpless victim, this exemplary example of
humanity, was mine for the next several days, and I was supposed do to what?
Duplicate my success with Bobby? Blech.
I put my hand up to my temple and rubbed. The low-juice
headache throbbed with a grinding ache and interfered with my thinking. I
wanted to be out hunting.
Keaton rattled around in the kitchen, getting herself a late
supper from the supplies I left in the refrigerator. I wondered if there would
be anything left for me.
What tack should I use with the toy? I couldn’t be the
predator. Keaton would have my ass. I could try to get him to trust me. If I
got him to relax and let his defenses down, I would be able to do all sorts of
things with him.
I left the toy to fetch some supplies. I briefly
touched one knee to the floor as I came near Keaton in the kitchen. She didn’t
do more than watch me.
I took my supplies back to Joe and woke him up. He woke
up with a grunt and tried to speak through his gag and couldn’t. He came awake
with a start.
“I have some things for you,” I told him, speaking in a
He made muffled sounds through his gag.
“Shhh,” I said, my voice still low. “You need to be
He stopped trying to talk through his gag and gazed at
me with hope in his eyes.
“Here,” I said. “I brought a mat for you to sleep on,
and a blanket. And a bucket. I also brought some apple juice. But I have to
take your gag off for you to drink it, and I can only do that if you promise to
He nodded, cocked his head toward the bucket and grunted.
I gave him the bucket. Which left the problem of how to
use it. With his hands tied behind his back, he couldn’t manage his pants by
himself. I ended up having to help him, embarrassing him mightily. I kept my
After several minutes of awkward fooling around with his
clothes, I helped him put himself back together again. I picked up the bottle
of apple juice and held it in front of him.
“Do you want some?” I asked.
“You know you can’t make any noise. Or cause any
trouble. If you do,
come back.” I heard a muffled snort from
Keaton in the kitchen, too quiet for Joe to hear.