It was really only a matter of time before I remembered that I needed to at the very least call ahead, and not just storm up to the car and start knocking on the windows. Knowing my luck, she probably slept in the nude, and I’d end up further scandalizing the poor woman.
Fortunately for me, I remembered while I was walking through the campground to my former turnoff.
I pulled my phone out and took a few deep breaths to steady myself before calling her. The deity in the phone sighed as he waited for me, then connected the call. Molls answered almost immediately, and the phone showed her oversized, blinking eyes peeking out from inside a nest of blankets.
“Tyson?” She croaked. “What time is it?”
“Hi, Molls. It’s early.” I glanced up at the starlit sky overhead. “Very early. I’m . . . sorry.” I winced at the compulsive apology. “I need to talk to you about BuyMort. Right now.”
She blinked rapidly and rose from the blanket nest. Her head emerged and she raised a hand to yawn into. “No, it's fine. I thought something like this might happen. Come on over, I’ll put coffee on.” She hung up the phone, and the deity in the fog stared at me before I pushed the button to banish him. Obediently, the screen went dark, and I pocketed the device.
As I walked to my road, the stink returned. Putrefaction drifted by on the wind, and I recoiled.
It smelled exactly the same as the mystery stench at Mr. Sada’s.
This time, it was wafting toward me from the pile of boxes and flesh-tape that had been growing behind Phyllis’ deck. Mr. Sada kept his covered up by the boxes. I had heard him telling Hord to do it that way once. Like most everything else, the flesh-tape creeped him out.
Apparently it rotted if you left it out in the sun for three days too.
Guess I shoulda seen that one coming, in hindsight. It occurred to me, as I stared at the stinking mess behind Phyllis’ trailer, that I should probably give Molls a few minutes to get ready. She likely thought I was leaving from Mr. Sada’s.
A reasonable person would have called from there. I just festered and stewed as I walked the idiot corridor the gobbs had built for me.
In my hesitation and procrastination, I walked over to the Shasta and started arranging boxes. Phyllis was either asleep, or watching tv and not caring, cause the mech never moved.
Her helmet was closed, which pretty much meant ‘do not disturb.’
I tried my best not to touch the stinking flesh tape as I worked, but a glob of it fell across my hand anyway, leaving a smear of wet stench on me before it plopped onto the ground.
The tape had darkened slightly and was becoming a deep green color from the inside out. It was also sweating some kind of horrible smelling oil.
I immediately rubbed my hand on the sand to get it off, which helped a little. The funk died down significantly once I got the majority of it shoved and scooped into place beneath some boxes. I set bigger boxes over the smaller ones covering the flesh-tape, and it helped even more.
Once I had a few layers, I wiped my hands on the dirt and called it good enough, before heading to Molls’ site.
As I walked down the small road between privacy hills, I raised my hand and sniffed where that gross stuff had touched me. It was still pretty funky.
Molls was sensitive to smells, but there was nothing more I could do about it, so I just walked up to the car and knocked lightly on the passenger side front door. Its lock thunked, and the door popped open a crack.
I opened and hurriedly sat down, keeping my stinky hand tucked under my robe. It didn’t help, she noticed almost right away.
Molls was in the backseat, coils arranged neatly beneath herself. She was wearing her robes, but also had the electric blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Her eyes flickered over my outfit, but her expression remained neutral and her scales didn’t change color.
One of the new additions to the car was a gently rotating disk in the ceiling. It faintly glowed, and radiated gentle heat. The bracket it sat in was sunk into the metal of the ceiling, and a cable ran across the top of the door to the dashboard, where it plugged into what the front of my car had become.
The dashboard had a lot of real estate. These land yachts always had giant slabs of dashboard anyway, and the Continental dash had room to spare. Molls had been busy, customizing the interior with several gadgets, all of which appeared to plug into the car’s cigarette lighter.
Everything was plugged into it, with wires run cleverly across the roof and sides of the car. There was no way it had enough power in it’s battery, and I became suddenly interested in seeing what was under the hood these days. I wondered if it even ran anymore.
Gentle lighting on strings ran through the entire car and provided soft light that could scale brighter or darker on a switch Molls controlled in the back. Our coffee was bubbling, two small metallic cups of it embedded in rests on the dashboard. Molls’ tail reached past me and hooked a cup, balancing it perfectly as she brought it gently into the backseat with her. She smiled at me as I watched and flicked her tongue into the steam rising from the cup.
The look that crossed her face was almost comical. She was clearly revolted. Shocked, even.
But her sense of decorum fought the reaction away as her scales flushed through several colors. Bright green mixed into orange, mixed into a solid pink that stayed as she blinked and looked over at me.
“Tyson?” She started, gently. “Did you, by any chance, happen to touch the tape that’s been rotting behind Phyllis’ trailer?”
I blushed and nodded. “Yeah. I tried not to, but . . . some fell. It’s really gross, I know.”
The pink in her scales brightened, and she started digging in a bag in the back seat. “I have something, just a moment.”
She produced a small bottle and squinted at it, before nodding excitedly. “Yes, this is it. Hold out your hands, please.”
I did as she asked, cupping my hand together in the backseat. She poured a tiny amount of clear gel across my palms and dropped the bottle back in her bag. When she saw me staring at her, she motioned for me to rub my hands together. It smelled faintly astringent, so I treated it like hand sanitizer. It went on slimy, but quickly dried, leaving no smell at all behind.
Bacto-Annihilate — Kills 99.99999% of germs on contact. Eliminates smells. Destroys viral enemies upon contact. 1800 morties, 4.7 stars.
Molls pointed to my coffee, still lightly bubbling in its bracket. “That should be ready.”
I thanked her and hesitantly touched the handle. The mug was all metal, but the handle felt cool to the touch. The mug bottom was comfortably warm as I held it in my lap, and the coffee itself smelled amazing.
Dark, rich, and flowing with hints of hazelnut and vanilla.
I glanced in the rearview mirror as I took a sip, and watched Molls open a tiny paper package to drop two moth wings into her own cup. The package came with a tiny bamboo spoon, which she used to stir the wings in. As I watched, black coffee to my lips, her cup lightened to the color of coffee with cream.
She flicked her tongue out again and her scales shimmered purple. “Mmm, much better.” Then she took a sip and set her cup down in a holder that attached to the space behind the back seat.
The rear window was covered fully with drapes that extended down the glass, and Molls had turned the flat area up there into a cubby of sorts. When she noticed me looking in the rearview mirror, she smiled gently at me and adjusted her blanket.
“So. What can I help you with, Tyson?” Her voice soothed, full of practiced patience and intentionally calming tones.
I thought for a long moment before answering her. “Is that those drumu-dust moth wings you just added to your coffee?” I pointed over the back seat, bringing her attention to the steaming cup.
She blinked a few times and nodded, glancing between me and her cup.
“Mmhm, I love drumu. It’s possibly my favorite flavor.” There her eyes went up and to one side. “Have you tried drumu flavored ice cream? By BuyMort, it’s unbelievably good.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Moth wing ice cream?”
Molls smiled and let out a tiny snort. Just a rush of exhalation, a puff of air through her nostril slits.
“Of course. Drumu moths are exquisite. Enhances almost anything it’s added to. They can be rich without an acid to counter them, but that’s hardly a problem when it comes to ice cream.”
I stared at the coffee cup in the back window. It looked just like normal coffee with creamer. There were no bug bits or dust particles anywhere to be seen. Molls gently lifted the cup and brought it closer to me.
“Would you like to try some?” She offered.
I blanched and waved my hand. “Oh, no thank you. I don’t eat bugs.”
Molls chuckled and raised the cup to her lips with a gentle smile. “Your loss.”
She slurped it and breathed out her pleasure. That moth must have been delicious. I shuddered.
“Anyway.” I took a breath and looked her in the eyes. My anger had faded in intensity and become confusion again now that I was around her. She'd offered me coffee, with tasty bug parts in it. How could she be part of something so evil? I decided to go for precise information. “I need to know about your religion, Molls.”
She blinked a few times, and her scales flickered orange for an instant. “What do you mean?”
“What are the tenants of your faith?” I locked eyes with her. “Specifically, what do you believe about BuyMort, and why?”
Molls blinked again and flicked her tongue out. Her scales filled with yellow that quickly faded to pink. She looked down at her coffee, before taking a deep breath and starting.
“Of everything that exists in the known multiverse, one element stands out for two important reasons. It is simultaneously the single rarest element in known existence, and the single most influential.”
I stared at her, trying to keep my expression neutral.
When I didn’t deliver the question she was expecting, she answered it anyway. “Life, Tyson. Intelligent life is the most precious, important, and powerful part of the multiverse that is or can ever be. BuyMort serves life, by ensuring freedom and bringing us all together with the holiest, purest act that life can engage in. The exchange of value between equal sapients. BuyMort reveres life through this tremendous service. We believe life should revere it in return.”
“Drumu moths don’t count?” I snapped. “They’re not life?”
She blinked and grimaced, the yellow to pink thing happening to her scales again. This time, she didn’t answer right away. When she did, it was aimed at her coffee cup, and not me.
“Are you upset with me, Tyson?” Her voice was so small it nearly broke me. I stopped myself and thought hard about why I was angry at all.
“I had a nightmare about the Sleem.” I said, finally. “And then, when it was over and I woke up, I unconsciously paid morties for a Sleem cube to arrive via BuyMort pod and attack me in my own bed.”
Molls shook her head and scowled, but when she lifted her head to respond, I cut her off.
“This thing added itself to BuyMort, specifically to answer nightmares like mine. And BuyMort allowed this. Encouraged it, even,” I growled.
The Nah’gh priest in the backseat took a deep breath and steadied herself. “You blame BuyMort for the actions of the Sleem.”
“No I blame BuyMort for allowing those actions,” I instantly retorted. Her scales tinted orange, but I continued. “I blame BuyMort for doing business with the Sleem at all. For allowing them to prey on decent people, for bringing them to my world in the first place. I blame BuyMort for encouraging a Sleem cube to lay in wait for a nightmare, to make it come true.”
Molls shook her head more forcefully this time. “No, that is a complete misinterpretation of BuyMort’s will, and intent. The Sleem are a monstrous people, but they are people in the eyes of BuyMort. And so they are offered the same freedoms we all enjoy. It is how they mis-use those freedoms that is the issue here, not them having that freedom in the first place. The Sleem are a threat to us all, BuyMort is our only hope against them.”
I clenched my free hand into a fist unconsciously. “BuyMort took my nightmare and brought it to life.” I stared over the seat back at her in the rearview mirror. “How can that possibly make it the good guy here?”
Her scales flushed red, but quickly cooled to a mix of purple and faint yellow.
“BuyMort simply offers the services. We, the sapient people who populate BuyMort, make those services what they are.” She glanced at my clenched jaw and raised one hand into the air as she met my eyes. “Breathe Tyson. Breathe. In, one. Out, two.”
When I started doing it, I felt the ball of fury uncurl in my chest. My back muscles came down a notch in their clench, and I blinked for the first time in what felt like forever.
“I will help you control your unconscious spending, Tyson. I promise. Just give me time, and work with me, I will help you,” she said.
I blinked a few more times and kept focusing on my breath. Count to ten, start over. Molls helped me stay on track for a few repeats before the relaxation effects began to really settle in. The anger washed out of me, and I regained my focus.
None of this was her fault. Her perspective on it was skewed, and she didn’t know what BuyMort really was. Couldn’t know. Once I had calmed significantly, I started the conversation again.
“Molls, I don’t know how to tell you my perspective without being blunt, and probably hurtful. Just be prepared for that and know I don’t mean to hurt you with it. I just need to express this.” I looked her in the eye, and she nodded. My phone was out and the home screen up before I realized it. The numbers had finally slowed their rapid advance. Just over two billion of us were left.
“Molls, a week ago, there were roughly eight billion humans on this planet.” I held up the phone and showed her the app. “Now, barely four days after BuyMort, there are six billion fewer. That’s not revering life. That’s directly causing death.”
She paled, flushing pure white as she stared wide-eyed at my phone. “The-the church says that what came before BuyMort was flawed, and those flaws are the cause of any . . . any death.” Her scales brightened, filling with yellow as a thought crossed her mind. “There are some, newer figures in the church, who advocate for the removal of worlds that don’t fit in easily.”
My brow furrowed as I looked at her and took my phone back. “Aren’t you new?”
Her scales dropped back to the standard pink. “Yes, but I’m from a family with a long history in the church. We’re part of the original affiliate bloodlines. I have always been taught it is right to help ease new worlds in, because it can be . . .” She trailed off, blinking at the phone in my hand. When I moved it, she snapped out of it and continued, “difficult, when BuyMort arrives.”
We sat in silence for a few moments, and I sipped my delicious coffee. It helped some. At least the mood was calm again. I was quiet out of shame for my eruption at Molls, and she didn’t appear able to control the pink in her scales, because it wouldn’t go away. Eventually, she spoke again, in a small voice.
“I am sorry, Tyson. For your people. I . . . I did not know it was this bad.” There she raised a hand in a defensive gesture. “My daily communes with the affiliate have mentioned nothing about the death toll, I assumed it wasn’t bad. Meeting or beating projections.”
I nodded, staring down into my cup. There was almost nothing left, just a few dregs in the bottom. I swirled it and didn’t respond.
After a few moments, she quietly asked a question. “What was that app? The one that is tracking the death toll.”
I shook my head. “Sorry, I don’t really remember. Just some app that tracks a bunch of different info.”
She winced. “Did it have words with elongated S sounds in the description?”
My head came up and I nodded, my confusion evident on my face.
Molls nodded with me and smiled gently. “I’d like to tell you a story if I may. It’s a personal story, so I would appreciate it if you don’t share with just anyone.”
I blinked and nodded at her.
“Thank you,” Molls began. “My people have a long history, and we proudly remember it. The good and bad. Dark and light.” She wistfully stirred her coffee with the tip of a claw, before taking a long sip and continuing. “We were once slaves, all of the Nah’gh, on our own world. Playthings and workhorses. They performed experiments on our bodies, with our genetic code. Our minds. Made us . . . mere dolls, instead of people. Our world’s master race claimed to have created us, but after BuyMort we discovered they were merely invaders and usurpers from a long gone age. BuyMort’s arrival gave us the tools to break from our oppression and join the multiverse as leaders of industry. It freed my people.”
I scowled at her story. Each world BuyMort arrived upon was wildly different. Even the other Earths it had consumed, I was getting the feeling were not the same as my world.
It made sense that some worlds would see it as a savior.
A BuyMort ad popped up, for a course on BuyMort history. It featured several races of note, including Human and Nah’gh. I subtly saved it for later. She wasn’t done, and I focused as she took another sip of her coffee before putting the cup down and folding her fingers in her lap.
“One of the things that the master race used to do to my people was force us to ingest a potent drug, something they called simply; Control. It makes us extremely pliable and open to suggestion, while removing our inhibition completely. One of the side effects of the drug is slurred speech, which for my people, comes across as elongated S sounds in our words.”
I stopped dead, and the realization hit me. “I downloaded a super racist app, didn’t I?”
She smiled softly and her scales finally changed to purple. “You kind of really did. That app is unfortunately popular, and it always has ads for anti-Nah’gh hate groups. I’m so relieved to hear you didn’t know.”
I blinked a few times and nodded. “Oh yeah, no idea. So much of this stuff is just confusing and bizarre for me still.” My head hung and I leaned back against the seat again. “And I’m really sorry for snapping at you earlier. None of this is your fault, and you came to help save me in the Sleem dungeon. It was a crap friend move for me to come yell at you for it.”
She reached forward and grasped my arm, lightly. “Don’t dwell on it Tyson. I understand. This is a hard time for everyone, and I’m grateful that you want to be my friend, in spite of having such different religious beliefs. I looked up your religion, and I am very impressed. It is unusual.”
I smiled, in spite of myself. “Yeah, Molls. Religion is different to everybody, and mine is not like yours.” I narrowed my eyes and laughed at the expression she gave me.
“To me, being Pastafarian was always just another way of being atheist. Or agnostic, I guess, now. It was more about showing up at town hall meetings and making the same exact speeches that fundamentalist religious folks were making in order to try and rule others’ lives with their beliefs, just with spaghetti in the place of any kind of deity or belief structure.”
I sighed and chuckled at the memory.
“It was to get a rise of out folk mostly, and a fun way to be drunk in public without getting in trouble for it.”
She frowned and turned faintly orange.
“You have battling religions?”
I choked on the laugh that erupted from my throat. “Uh yeah, that too. But this was more like civil discourse. In my part of the world, all religions were legally required to be treated equally, so folks like me would sometimes mock people from other religions that didn’t respect that. That’s how I did it, anyway, when I was young and gave a shit.”
“Strange,” she said. Her lips twitched up in a smile though. “Well, I certainly do not lack for engaging work in this new post.” Molls adjusted her robe, and blanket across her shoulders. “First the daring rescue, and then a full session in the night.” She made a comical face, blowing up her cheeks.
“Oh yeah, thanks for that. I really want to hear about your armor and weapon sometime, that was impressive.” I cocked my head to the side.
“Oh those were my mother’s. She insisted I take them when I came to Nu-Earth. Said it was too dangerous.”
Molls waved a hand. She looked sadly at her empty coffee cup, and then shrugged and lifted it to drain what few drops she could. I liked her better for the act, it was exactly what I would do.
“Smart lady,” I said. “Your mom, I mean.”
Molls blinked a few times and shrugged, with a shake of her head. “I do not think you would like to meet her.” She looked away, focused on putting her coffee cup away. When she turned back, she smiled at me, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. “I rather regret bringing her up, in fact.”
With a blink and quick shake of her head, she changed the conversation track. “Are you feeling any better?”
I nodded. “Yes, thank you Molls.” It was suddenly uncomfortable, and I put my empty coffee cup back in the holder. “I should probably get out of your hair. Scales? Car, for sure.” I fumbled at the door handle.
She blinked and watched me. “If you feel you should.”
I froze. “Should I not?”
Molls chuckled and shook her head.
“Tyson, I’m sorry. Your indecision is adorable, but no. If you want to leave, you should. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m your friend.”
“Just don’t want to overstay my welcome.” I shrugged. “Should probably also get moving and get everyone fed.”
She smiled softly. “There is much work to be done on new affiliates.”
My mind made up, I popped the door. I placed my hand over hers and nodded to her. “Thank you Molls. I appreciate your counsel.”
Her scales radiated pink, then purple, before shifting back to a brighter pink, all from the place I touched her forearm. She smiled and averted her gaze, huddling down into her blankets without retracting her arm.
I slid out of the car and shut the door behind me, taking a deep breath of the cold morning air. In that moment, I realized that my problem with most of the jobs in my past had never been the work. I was actually looking forward to getting started.
I left Molls site via the privacy hill, climbing up to where I had first fought the vein-scorpion, and stared out over the campground. Tents dotted the area, and more vehicles were in the parking lot. Phyllis had no neighbors aside from Darclau and the Unkindess’ reserve. They had put up a fence, with very comfortable looking toppers on the wire to sit and preen from. Most of the new action was on the far side of the complex. Hobbs walked silently between sites, and across the top of the wall in the distance.