Death Cap – Fifteen – Visiting the Dregs of Society for a Post-Birthday Murder
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Stray Cat Strut (A cyberpunk system apocalypse!) - Ongoing
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Death Cap - Fifteen - Visiting the Dregs of Society for a Post-Birthday Murder

I started to graft my new mycelium to other subjects almost as soon as the strands had grown long enough to try.

Unfortunately, I’d discovered a few issues as I experimented with fungal grafting.

First, the big one. While I could graft a hybrid mushroom with a non-hybrid, the results weren’t always great. The non-hybrid mushroom tended to be the most... impactful of the two for whatever resulted.

Second, combining two hybridised strains resulted in a fat load of nothing. Were my hybrid strains sterile? Semi-sterile? I wasn't sure. Maybe if I still had my [Fungal Grafting] skill I’d be able to combine two hybrids together, but as it was, my experiments in that direction were nothing but a waste of time.

Finally, I’d discovered that I didn’t have the time or resources to combine every new mushroom with each other kind of mushroom I had and also all of the previous hybrids. It was going to be an issue eventually, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Just with the newest mushroom type added to my collection, I had literally dozens of possibilities available.

Too many for my meagre farm to support. At least, not while still growing food-mushrooms and running other experiments. Time was also something I had in limited supply. I could find new farming locations, but... well, that would take time too.

I had other things to take care of.

Autumn slowly turned to winter, which had me away from the farm for a little while as things cooled off and my growth was put on hold.

That didn’t mean I was entirely idle.

The day after I turned seven, I was going to commit my first pre-meditated murder.

My first step in that direction though, was getting informed. I visited my farm and collected a bagful of mushrooms of the edible sort. Just a nice mix of whatever I had left over. I hadn’t done much selling in the last couple of months, but that didn’t mean mushrooms would stop growing. If I didn't use the mushrooms I collected soon, they’d go bad.

At that point, giving them away cost nothing.

Of course, I kept a few more lethal samples on myself, some tucked into the thick knit jumper I’d made for myself. It had lots of pockets. And I had a matching scarf and toque. With my nose red from the cold and my freckles standing out, I was probably as cute as a button.

Hopefully that would be enough to distract people from the fact that I was carrying enough poisonous material on me to kill an entire garrison.

I crossed the city at a decent pace. My first stop was the union warehouse, the one where I’d met Markham. My goal that day wasn’t him though, it was one of his underlings.

The union was protected by the usual bunch of ruffians. Young men in ratty coats and mittens hovering around a fifty-five gallon drum filled with scraps of wood and fire. The warehouse doors were closed, probably to keep in whatever heat they had.

“Hey,” I said as I came closer.

A few of the boys looked me up and down, but they dismissed me as a threat almost as soon as they saw me. “What’ch’a want?” one of them asked.

“Is Dregs here?” I asked.

That got their attention. “Yeah," the more outspoken in the group said. “He’s inside. Why you need him?”

“Just need to chat with my favourite hobgoblin,” I said.

“That’s not much of an answer.”

I frowned. I considered the situation. They might well turn me away. I didn’t want to waste too much time though. I had a few options on how to handle this. An appeal to sympathy wouldn’t work. Cajoling young men was worthless. I certainly wasn’t going to try to seduce or sweet-talk them, and they weren’t worth bribing.

“That’s because it’s none of your damned business,” I snapped. “Is he here or not?”

The young man blinked. “Alright, yeah, he’s here,” he said, hands raising almost as if in surrender. His friends laughed at his discomfort, which was my cue to slip past the boys and to the warehouse door.

“Hey, wait, you need the knock,” one of the men said. He stepped over and beat a quick pattern on the door. I tried to memorise it. “Changes every week,” he said.

I rolled my eyes. Of course it did. I couldn’t even complain too much, it was a decent if simple security precaution.

Something clunked on the other side and the door slid open. I came face to knee with Gary. “Hello, Gary,” I said before I slipped past him. The interior of the warehouse was a tiny bit warmer than the outside, though not by much.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said. “Didn’t think I’d see you again.” He pushed the door closed and twisted a heavy-looking latch around to keep it closed.

“I have extra food I thought you guys might want,” I said with a gesture to my bag. “Business has been slow.”

“Uh-huh,” he said before taking the bag. He looked into it, then shrugged. Just a heap of fine, healthy mushrooms, nothing suspicious there. “Might actually make for good stew, I guess.”

“It would. Save me a bowl if they make it now,” I said. “So, uh, is Dregs around?” I glanced across the warehouse. It had changed a little. The barricades were pushed to the side and there were more tables out. A kitchen was set up right in the middle, and a few older women were puttering around in it. Plenty of big burly fellows just sitting around and playing cards or passing the time idly.

I heard a faint scuff to my side and turned to find the yellow-skinned hobgoblin standing surprisingly close. “What do you want with me?” he asked.

“Just to chat!” I said as I pulled down my scarf to reveal a pretty smile.

Gary looked between the two of us, but I could see the moment where he decided that whatever was going on wasn’t his problem. That was for the best, he seemed a little more reasonable, which would make it harder to convince him to help me.

“So, what do you want?” Dregs asked again. He scratched at his chest, sturdy nails digging into a shirt that was probably white once.

“Got a place we can talk without being overheard as much?” I asked.

He sniffed, then gestured to the side. I followed him. Unlike the last time I’d come here, this time I had a knife in easy reach and more toxic mushrooms ready to pop if someone jumped on me. It would suck, and I wasn’t sure I’d survive my own poison, but at least anyone that attacked me would die too.

Dreg’s idea of a quieter place was under the main office of the warehouse where I’d met Markham. It was pretty dark, with only a bit of light coming in from the other side of the room. A few hallwalls darkened the place even more. Still, there was a straight line of sight to the front door, and I didn’t fail to notice that a pair of rifles were leaning up against the wall.

“So?” he asked.

I licked my lips. “I need information on the Bluertons. The sort that you can only get from a member.”

Dregs tilted his head. “You intend to join them? Humans don’t usually hire kids your age for jobs that will let them keen in on things.”

“Join them?” I grimaced. “No, I wanted to question one of them. I know that torture’s rarely effective, but I have a few ideas on how to make it work better. And I have some anger to work out.”

Dregs grinned. “Oh! Well, why didn’t you say so? You’re looking for targets?”

“Exactly,” I said. “Someone the bluertons won’t miss too much to start. I don’t want to do this too stupidly.”

The hobgoblin nodded. “Yeah, I hear ya, kid.” He rubbed his hands together. “In that case, I’ve got my eyes on a few scumbags that the boss said I couldn’t just off. Real dirtbags. You won’t even need to feel guilty about killing them.”

“I wasn’t planning to,” I said. Guilt was an emotion for people who could afford it. I was too poor for that by half. “Got anyone easy? I want to make this something of a practice run. Get used to things, make mistakes now so that I can avoid them later.”

Dregs tilted his head to the side, and one of his long ears twitched. “You know, fresh killers aren’t usually so careful.”

“I’m a different sort of fresh,” I said.

He chuckled, then looked around. “Fine. I want to see what you can do. Follow me, I’ll show you someone.”

I scampered to keep up with the hobgoblin as he stood and took off without waiting. “Wait, who?” I asked.

“His name’s Dogbeater, and there’s not one soul in this shithole of a city that likes the man. You’ll be doing the world a favour, trust me.”

***

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