Luck of the Dice (HOES Entry: Rebirth)
Ibdah cracked open one eye, and wished he were still asleep. His mouth tasted like rustcrawler dung; not the firm stuff that you could barter with Hake to put on his mushrooms, but the runny stuff that oozed off the ceiling onto your face. Odd thing was he seemed to be sitting up and when he tried to spit his tongue was drier than starchbread.
Finally some pieces of last night started to crawl free of his headache. He had gone to the Olympia after second shift with Ardias and Fenoff....
Ibdah creased his head in concentration. "You lost the last five throws, so it don't seem clever to back you."
"Nah.... I'm telling ya....", explained Ardias to Ibdah's shoulder, "swell known fact... chances of getting skull are one in sis as there's sis sides see... and I lost the last five..."
"Then only side left is skull ain't it... so he's gots to win", completed Fenoff triumphantly.
Despite all logic and reason the bone came up coffins. It similarly refused to bow to the law of shaking it real hard. It even defied the well known requirement to roll the winning face if you blew a pretty girl a kiss across it; although Ibdah reckoned that might be because Ardias had a lazy eye even when he was sober so the kiss was aimed more at the man to her left who - although he returned the kiss - might not count as a girl.
Everything ached and something was wrong. Ibdah's eyes had been rutted since he got moved onto the sulphur baths at work, and the hangover wasn’t helping, but the shapes definitely didn't look like his room. He tried to stand but his limbs refused to co-operate. Even his head was rebelling, although squinting sideways as hard as he could he could make out something pressing against his cheek. After several more attempts to stand, with no noticeable effect other than pain, he began to think he was actually wedged. Merri was going to be mad when he got back.
His brain finally catching up with his ears, he noticed that there was a regular beeping noise coming from somewhere behind him. Trying to ignore the presscast running in his head he struggled to understand his surroundings. The air smelt clean but oily with a slight hint of the stuff the cogboys used to commission new presscasts, and he could just make out the occasional sizzle under the beeping.
Where the rut was he...?
"Come on.... I'm late already and Merri will get proper rat if I ain't in bed when she wakes up."
"Emp's Gaze, you're loos' piped letting her reg' you," said Ardias.
"Yeah," crowed Fenoff, "loose piped."
"Rust you. Leas' my bed's warm. When's last time either of you got your pipes serviced?" For a moment Ibdah felt the savour of winning, before his losing streak returned with his supper.
Swaying wildly, the three friends continued their circuitous walk to the transit station. More by luck than judgment they arrived without further incident. After several minutes they realised the gate was not opening.
"Wakey wakey," shouted Ardias banging on the latch, "we're here an we.... bleurgh...."
"You chucked," sniggered Fenoff, "can't handle your... ouff... bleurgh...."
"I'll show you cant's handle drink," said Ardias, removing his fist from Fenoff's belly while trying to wipe vomit off his jacket with the other. Succeeding only in evening out the stain, he slowly turned and, carefully lining himself up, started hitting the latch again.
Meanwhile Ibdah had been blearily studying the wall. "Hang on... s'notice... TS9-43’s close' for reconrecsecation."
"Was reconscration?" asked Fenoff, picking himself up.
"Means pour liquid over something," replied Ardias.
"Well I gotta reconsicrafe soming," declared Fenoff tugging at his overalls. "Hey I gotta idea. Lets do the door so it opens."
"Don't seem right,” muttered Ibdah, watching his friends try to aim at the lock.
"You just don't wanna drop your overalls cos you don't wan' us to see Merri took your nuts," laughed Ardias.
"Least mine ain't pointin' at Fenoff," jeered Ibdah, fumbling with a strap, "But if'll shut you up fine." Letting out an exhalation of relief he jetted straight into the centre of the lock.
A juddering hiss broke Ibdah's recollection, and he felt something move below his waist. His legs felt slightly lighter... if it shifted a little more he might be able to stand! Struggling, he felt a slight movement before falling back.
"You are conscious. Remain still."
Ibdah tried to turn to face the voice, confirming his head was still stuck.
"Remain still. Your flesh suffered damage. The weakness been replaced with tracks."
Tracks? Ibdah discovered his last memory of the station was agonising pain. Trying to ask questions he emitted only a breathy rasp.
"Non-essential systems offline to aid repair process."
Offline? Ibdah's mind carefully dragged itself to a conclusion. He was not wedged; he was in a surgical bay and an Adept was healing him. How badly injured was he?
"Bioelectrical activity outside optimal range. Adopt efficient function."
What? Racking his mind he realised the Adept was trying to keep him calm. Personal care cost money. How long had he been here? What had Merri done to afford it?
"Interaction Protocol indicates that the flesh is calmed by information in excess of functional necessity. Commencing audio patch....
"You and your companions committed an act of defilement on the lock of Transit Station 9-43. The machine spirit struck back. Your companions' waste disposal processes were flawed resulting in vengeance striking all of you. Lacking efficient surge protection this rendered you offline. You were found when we investigated the machine spirit's distress call. As your flesh was aberrant we commenced optimisation. Your biological and neural distinctiveness has been reduced.
"Interaction Protocol indicates that flesh is calmed by association with familiar flesh. You will be assigned to function alongside your companions.
"Initialising Test Routine Epsilon Delta."
Ibdah tried to understand the words but they kept slipping beneath the fog of his hangover. Lost in his silent battle he did not immediately realise that he was moving; however the sight of a cutting disc rising slowly into his field of vision followed by his upper arm ended his search for answers.
With a faint clatter, something rolled into view.
"This cuboid talisman was discovered in your pocket. Inspection showed that inferior production methods had resulted in an imperfect cube. It has been optimised."
The skull filled Ibdah's vision before madness euthanised his vestiges of self.
- 1096 words