Joey Makes a New Friend
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“Hey.”

A voice made its way through all the nothing and into Joey's ears. Joey noticed it first, and then got to work remembering who he was and what ears were.

Hey. Ugly.”

A jabbing sensation in Joey's side. Not painful, but insistent. The voice was male, and rough, like its owner smoked nine packs per day and gargled a cup of razor blades every morning. Joey thought there was something familiar about it.

“Are you dead? You look really dead. Like two months dead, probably. If you're dead, I'm gonna take all your stuff. Admittedly I have no idea what I'm going to do with a big damn airplane, but hey, I'm an enterprising guy.”

Joey realized that his eyes were closed, he was face down in the dirt, and his body was very, very heavy. Joey remembered his name, then his friends. He remembered the beautiful trees, and found that he could hear their song right now, if he squinted his mind a little. He remembered the things that had happened to him, and the him that had happened to other things.

He remembered fangs made of wind, and the pain they had given him.

“If you're alive and you don't want me to take all your stuff, moo like a cow. If you're alive and I can have your stuff because you're just a generous kind of guy, burble like a wise old catfish. If you're dead, just keep on being yourself.”

Joey said, “Mmph.”

“Uh. Yeah, that was more 'indignant moose', which you'll remember wasn't on the list of options. That's ok, go ahead, give it another shot. Remember, catfish don't have lungs, so… really put your nose into it.”

Joey engaged his arms and pushed himself up off the ground. His joints and tendons popped and creaked. He flipped himself onto his back gracelessly, then sat up, and opened his eyes.

The first thing he saw was the sun, comfortable in its blue sky cushion. It performed as Joey thought it would and immediately blinded him. Some clouds came by at the same moment in an extremely suspicious act of kindness and dimmed the glare so Joey's eyes could adjust.

The trees were all around, just like they had been. So was the grass, mostly green, except for a black and burned part a short distance away.

There was also a guy.

The guy was skinny, and taller than Joey. He wore a metal helmet, and a long floppy coat made out of the same stuff as Joey's jacket, sleeves rolled up. He had a big gun in his hands, but it wasn't pointed at Joey. His skin and face weren't pink and nice, like one of the outside people. His skin was dark, greenish, and messed-up, with murky eyes and a nose that was just an empty hole.

Just like Joey's.

The guy said, “Wonderful. And here I was thinking this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Oh well, at least you're alive. That's… just keeny peach. Can you speak English too, or just Caveman?”

Joey blinked, and said, “Are we cousins?”

The guy blinked too. “I doubt it. Never seen you at any of the reunions. Although with a face like that, yeah, maybe we're a couple of long-losts, who knows. Aside from the general ugliness, you look like you went for a swim in a wood chipper. And then fell asleep in a blast furnace. And then went twelve rounds with some kind of friendly customer, maybe half grizzly bear, half chainsaw? Are you alright? You got a name?”

Joey didn't understand most of what the guy was saying, so he defaulted to his standard approach.

“I'm Joey. Do you want to be friends?”

The guy blinked again, and whistled. “Wow. You're fluent in Caveman. That's impressive, being a dead language and all. Okay. You seem like a guy who appreciates brevity. Short sentences. An, uh… economy of thought. That'll save time, I guess. Is this your airplane, Joey?”

Joey turns around, looks at his airplane, looks back at the guy, and beams with pride. “Yep. I made it all by myself.”

“I'm sorry? You made it? Yourself?”

Joey nodded, always happy to discuss his craftsmanship. “Yep. It took a whole year. It's got four engines! That's way more than just one, so it goes really fast. My friends said they could help me build it, but I wanted to see if I could do it myself. And I did. It's the best thing I've ever done. Her name is Mirror Bird, because uh… shiny. And because bird. Birds are pretty.”

The guy lets his gun fall to his side, and reaches up into his helmet to scratch his head. “Okay. Okay, this is uh… a lot to unpack. First off, how did you make an airplane by yourself?”

Joey smiled. “Mostly by punching.”

The guy took off his helmet and rubbed one of his temples with his eyes closed. “Right. Right, okay.”

He fell silent for a moment, making a face that Joey associated with very deep thought. Joey took this opportunity to look at the things that interested him, which was more or less everything he could see. He couldn't tell if the sun was rising or setting. Did that ever change? Was it always in the same direction? Joey couldn't remember a time when the sun had done anything differently, but he supposed that anyone would probably get bored walking the same way to and from work every day.

The guy put his helmet back on, wearing a determined expression. His gun was gone. Joey didn't see where it went; it was just missing.

“Okay. Okay, alright, Joeyboy. So you flew here? Where did you come from?”

“I came from home. I flew northeast for almost eleven hours.”

The confused guy furrowed his brow and frowned, looking down and putting his hands on his hips. “Flew… fucking math. Okay. Normal plane speed is probably… and southwest… so what, New Mexico? Arizona?”

“I don't know what those are.”

The guy sighed. “Is it hot where you're from? Lots of sand, no grass?”

Joey nodded. “Yes. And no trees. Probably because there isn't a lot of wood to make them out of.”

The guy nodded also. “Right. Okay, what the fuck is in… Oh. Oh god.” His eyes, filmy and yellow, widened in their sunken sockets. “Did uh… Joey, does your home have a wall around it? A tall white one? With guys outside it that told you and your friends to stay inside?”

Joey nodded again. “Yep! How did you know that?”

“It's complicated. Shit. Shit shit shit. Goddamn bastard banana balls and fuck.”

He took off his helmet and began to rub his head some more, pacing back and forth. He seemed worried suddenly, and Joey didn't understand why, but wanted to help, if he could.

Joey frowned. “Is something wrong?”

The man in the coat stopped pacing and walked closer to Joey, looking him straight in the eye.

“Look Joey, do you want to go home? Soon? Probably, I don't know, within the next few hours?”

Joey frowned harder. “Yes. But I can't. There are things I need to do and I haven't even figured out what they are yet.”

“Okay. On your feet then.” The man held out his hand for some reason, and Joey took it, not wanting to be rude. The man tried to pull him up, but Joey stayed sitting on the ground.

“Oh my God, how much do you weigh?”

“Almost a thousand pounds. How much do you weigh?”

How is that even. What kind of. What. Just stand up, alright?”

Joey stood up.

“Okay. My name is Gary. We can be friends. Friends trust one another, right, Joey? So listen. You know those guys that were outside the wall, where you're from? They're following you. They're right on your ass. They've probably been tracking your plane, and they've probably got satellite eyeballs on us right now. In space. Space eyeballs, Joey. They're on their way here, and if they catch you, they're going to bring you home, and they'll never let you leave again. And they'll probably scoop your brains out or something for good measure.”

“How come? My brains wouldn't work very good if they got scooped. That's, uh… inlogical.”

“That's just what they do. You were never supposed to leave, but you did, so they're going to do everything they can to put you back.”

“I don't think so. Those guys were nice. They gave us cars and stuff.”

Gary sighed again. “Look. If they did, they only did that to keep you happy and distracted so you wouldn't think of leaving. But it looks like it didn't work on you. We're friends, Joey. Friends trust each other. So trust me when I say that those guys are bad news, and we need to get moving. Now.”

Joey frowned. This didn't make a lot of sense to him. He needed time to think about this.

“I need time to think about this.”

There isn't any time to think about this. They would be hours behind you at the absolute most. The Foundation doesn't fuck around. How long have you been landed here, buddy?”

Joey thought about that.

“Uh. Well. The sun was getting dark when I landed. And then I looked at the trees for a while. And then the giant invisible monster showed up. It tried to eat me, so I had to fight it. It hurt me really bad, and I think I almost died, but then I exploded, and then I punched it in the face so hard that it exploded, and then I fell asleep.”

Gary was silent for a short moment, and then was not very silent at all.

What is that, a fucking riddle? Do you or do you not remember how long you've been here, Nostradamus?

Joey frowned again. “My name's Joey, remember?”

Gary screamed. The he took some deep breaths, and said to himself, “Does the plane work, Joey?”

Joey thought about this. It probably did. He would have to do some system checks, but it didn't look damaged from the fight.

Oh. But there was one thing.

“I think so, but it needs gas.”

Gary rolled his eyes exasperatedly. “Well, we're in the middle of the woods in fucking Ontario, so I don't think we're gonna find an airport anytime soon. We'll have to ditch it.”

Joey frowned. “No.”

The tall guy squinted, and leaned toward Joey a little. “No? Are you listening? Your plane will not take off without fuel. There is no way to get fuel. So your plane will not take off. We'll have to leave it behind, unless you can fit it in your fucking pocket somehow.”

Joey shook his head, adamant. “No. It took me a whole year to build the Mirror Bird. It's what the Boss wanted. It's the only thing I've ever done. And it's how I'll find the way for my friends. I won't leave it. It is a very good airplane and I love it very much. I'll gas it up myself.”

Gary blinked a few more times. “And uh, how exactly do you propose to do that? Is the cargo hold just full of extra fuel?”

Another head shake. Joey couldn't remember a time in his life where he had had to say “no” this many times. Gary seemed like he was a “no” sort of person.

“No. It's full of cigars, flamethrower axes, and my motorcycle. But I can gas the Bird. C'mon, I'll show you.”

Gary huffed a sigh. “Well, at least you're a guy that understands what the finer things in life are, if nothing else. Alright, I'll play along, but you better make this quick. We don't have a lot of time.”

Joey and Gary entered the cargo hold. It was a wide metal space that took up most of the belly of the bomber. Joey's black motorbike was lashed to some securing brackets by the far wall. The left wall held racks of flamethrower axes that Joey had built himself, along with crates of pressurized fuel canisters for them. Along the right wall were boxes of cigars, cigarettes, and a few drums of Chef's oil soup, a bowl of which Joey happily ate every few days.

In a corner of the hold toward the nose of the plane was a clumsily-welded metal chair, which Joey sat in. He reached to one side and pulled up what looked like a high-pressure hose, one end of which was attached to a connection in the floor. The other end in Joey's hand did not look like that of a normal hose. Instead of threads and a fastener, it had a gleaming metal needle, not unlike that of a syringe.

Gary looked at this with a blank face. “Joey, what the fuck is this?”

Joey didn't say anything. He simply rolled up the sleeve of his badly scorched leather jacket and jabbed the needle directly into his arm.

There was the sound of pressure being released. The hose stiffened slightly, and fluid could be heard splashing into a tank somewhere below their feet. A slight smell of petroleum entered the air.

Joey said, “Gas. Shouldn't take long. Where are we going?”

Gary had a few thoughts, in this moment. Unfortunately, these thoughts all simultaneously collided at an intersection somewhere in his old brain, and the smoldering wreck wasn't anything that he could properly articulate. So he gave up. His brain didn't have a fire department.

“Uh. I don't know yet. Away from here, until we can come up with a better plan. Joey, those guys aren't going to stop until they put you back home.”

Joey cocked his head. “Why? I'm not very important.”

“You uh, are, to them. They're going to follow you and follow you and when they catch up to you, they're going to capture you and bring you back. They'll put you right back behind that wall, where you started.”

Joey thought about this. It seemed very strange. The guys in the white coats and black cushions must have gotten upset when he left. But why? Joey wasn't a prisoner. He wasn't hurting anyone. Joey had never wanted to hurt anyone in his life, except that wind monster. But Joey wasn't sure that had even really been an “anyone” to begin with, and he had tried to reason with it.

Wait. Reason. Yes. Of course, it was so simple. The outside guys were smart. Really smart. Way smarter than Joey. You could tell because they wore glasses, had real noses, and had lots of pens in their pockets. Nobody would have that many pens unless they knew how to use every single one of them and really liked them, which only smart people do. So if they were super-smart people…

“Why don't we just talk to them?”

Gary looked at Joey like he was an idiot. Joey, knowing full well exactly how much of an idiot he was, understood this, and empathized.

“Ha. Hahaha. Oh, alright. You wanna talk to them? You don't, uh… you don't get it, do you, Joey? Do you? Do you get it? Do you get any of it, Joey? Riddle me this, Kasparov, do you even know where you came from? Do you know how old you are? Do you know what you are? Do you have any fucking clue what the situation is out here, how fucking dangerous it is? And do you know that you're being fucking taken advantage of by a piece of shit that's only pretending to care about you? Do you get it, Joey? Do you understand?”

Gary's eyes were wide, and he had come very close. Joey met his gaze confidently, utterly secure in his answer. He had never been more sure of anything in his life.

“Nope.”

Gary threw his hands up and walked away for a bit, going in a circle. “Well that's just fucking grand, Galileo. That's just the best damn story ever told, and in one word. How fucking true.” He went to stand at the edge of the hold, looking out at the trees with his back to Joey.

Joey could hear a sound. It was a sneaky sound. One of those ones that starts quiet, but gets louder. He didn't recognize it. It sounded kind of like a bee, but if a bee were very, very big and very upset about something.

There was the much closer sound of a lighter being flicked. Gary turned his head slightly, his body framed by the sun before him. The end of his cigar glowed nearly as bright.

“Well. We're friends now, aren't we? I guess we'll do it your way. You say you wanna talk to them? Get the Foundation to see the light that they've been blind to for hundreds of years? Okay. Now's your chance. They're already fucking here.”



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