Act I: The Warden’s Office
Warden: “The boys ah acting a little glum lately.”
Deputy Warden: “un-huh”
W: “You know what we need?”
DW: “unnnh. no.”
W: “Dance party. Yeah., yeah.that’s it. Live band. You know. Rock-n-roll”
DW: “You really think that’s a good idea?”
W: “Yeah. It’s getting like a morgue in here.”
DW: “Unh. right. yeah. I see that. yeah. unh,… it is a prison though.”
W: “County jail.”
DW: “Right. county jail. sure. but since the overcrowding at the state CI’s, and the executive order, we’re at least sort of like prison. now.”
W: “Dulls-ville Prison maybe.”
DW: “well. sure. yeah. We do have a lot of over spill from downstate lately though.”
W: “Ain”t that the truth, and it’s made the whole place plain grumpy. We need a band.”
DW: “How about a radio?”
W: “No. live band. We’re havin’ a party up in this joint.”
DW: “uh. okay.”
W: “Call the party rental place. We need drums, guitars, horn section. Some tables, soda pop.”
DW: “PA system?”
W: “Hell yes. that too. We gonna rock this joint.”
Act II: The Dance Party
Warden and Deputy Warden stand on the edge of the crowd. Band is wailin’ on the bandstand. Prisoners circulate. Some inter-prisoner dialogue is spoken audibly.
W: “Dig this party boy. That tweaker from Illinois they got running meth interstate?”
DW: “What? Illinois? What?”
DW: “Damn. What a waste of humanity. Trial next week and a shitload of evidence, but listen to him bang them drums like he ain’t got a care in the world.”
Number 47: “You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see.”
Number 3: “Step off motherfucker. I will cut you.”
W:” What’s wrong with that guy in the corner?”
DW: “Which one?”
W: “That one in the corner, sittin’ all alone on that stone block.”
DW: “Wait. You’re right. Where the hell did that stone block come from? What’s up? Where’s Shifty Henry… This ain’t right Warden. This ain’t right at all. You, buddy. You in the corner! Get Up! Step away from that stone block. Now!”
Warden approaches the prisoner in the corner.
W: “He’s right buddy. Come on and get up. Don’t be a square. If you can’t find a partner use a wooden chair.”
Enter Bugsy at a run from stage left who swings a wooden chair striking Warden forcefully in the back of the head. Warden falls face first screaming “Let’s roooooock.”
A riot ensues. The band plays on until Little Joe jumps from the stage, followed by Spider Murphy, both use their horns to strike guards and prisoners as they pry their way through the frantic crowd for to make a break.
Shifty Henry: “Bugsy, it’s on. Let’s split.”
Bugsy: “Nix nix. I wanna stick around a while.”
Shifty Henry: “For what?”
Act III: The Fence
Shifty Henry, Spider Murphy, and Little Joe race across the yard and converge at the chain link fence. The Purple Gang follows about ten paces behind.
Spider Murphy: “This is it fellas. Give me ten fingers.”
Little Joe: “Why you get to go first? I made the break.”
Shifty Henry: “Jesus H. Christ. Just go. Here I’ll give ya ten fingers.”
The Purple Gang, yelling: “Tower! Tower!”
Spider Murphy: “What?”
Little Joe: “Aaaarrrgh. Sonafabitch!”
Little Joe collapses, shot from behind.
Shifty Henry: “Dammit. Murphy you idiot Mick. You said the CO’s were all rockin’ and rolinaaaaaarrrrgh. motherfuckerIbeenshot.”
Shifty Henry falls, also shot in the back.
Spider Murphy and the Purple Gang surrender. Fade to black. Pause. Orchestra strikes up a peppy rendition of “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Enter full cast at a trot from stage right for a curtain call.
Next stop North Station. Change there for the Green Line.
We apologize passengers. We will be standing by for a police action at Downtown Crossing.
Next stop Chiiiina – town
Attention passengers we will be standing by for a few moments; there is another train directly ahead of us.
Attention passengers the train ahead of us’s doors won’t open. We will be standing by.
We apologize for the inconvenience.
Attention passengers that train with the doors that won’t open is disembarking passengers at Tufts Medical. We will be moving momentarily.
Behind the yellow line! Sir! Behind the yellow line. Yellow. Bee- hind. Step back. SIR!
Attention passengers please step all the way into the car. If you can’t fit there is another service train directly behind this one.
Please don’t hold the doors. No reason to hold the doors. There is another train behind this one.
Attention passengers there is a disabled train ahead of us at Ruggles. We will be standing by.
This is a packed train. Step all the way in. If you can’t fit in there is a train directly behind us.
BEHIND THE LINE!
We are just waiting for the green light from dispatch. We will be moving shortly.
Next stop: stoooony Stonybrook.
We apologize passengers; we will be standing by two minutes for a schedule adjustment.
Next stop, what could it be? It’s Greeeen Street.
Standing by, traffic ahead of us.
Last stop. Forrest Hills. Please take all your personal belongings with you. Thank you for riding the T.
Hate. It’s an ugly word. Kind hearted teachers told us not to use it. “You dislike them.” Bitter hearted teachers, with the hair cut short and blow dried into an immovable sort of helmet, the seasonally-patterned cardigans grudgingly containing their lumpy forms, they talked a game about peaceful restraint, fronting all along, but they seethed with hate. Hate was the blood in their veins, their meat and their potatoes, and it leached out of their stiff smiling faces in so many ways, the public humiliations doled out to confused children, the kid sitting alone on the carpet for ages, the clipped repressed racism, the fake niceness, oh that niceness, dripping with contempt, but they too, the nasty nice teachers, they forbade that ugly word too, through clenched teeth they reprimanded: “don’t say you hate American Chop Suey, you dislike it.” But this is about hockey and I seriously fucking dislike the Pittsburg Penguins. Actually, I hate them.
Should we start with Matt Cooke? Yes, let’s start with that infected asshole. When rules need to be re-written and new kinds of protective equipment invented in order to protect others in your industry from your blindside assaults to the head, or your Achilles-severing skate weaponizing, then you sir, are a punk. Matt Cooke deserves to be hit in the face with a shovel, repeatedly. Hate him. Like seriously, I really hate him. You don’t understand. I don’t believe in Hell, but fervently wish it existed just for his sake, or if it does actually exist, that a special chamber there is even now being set up for him where he will be hit in the head from behind, sharply, by the thick heavy elbow of a giant demon, open sores scoring the demon’s huge arm and reeking of shit and sulfur filling Cooke’s senses anew with each blow, while smaller demons, little scamps with high pitched irritating voices eternally cut and re-cut the back of Cooke’s legs with extremely sharp skate edges, laughing all the while and shrugging their shoulders like “what, what did I do?” every time Cooke shouts at them in fury and agony. This will happen again and again for as long as it takes for a bird to move one grain of sand from one hill to another spot to make, grain by grain, another hill until it is a mountain, or whatever the hell it is, you get what I mean, a long fucking time is how long Cooke should have to deal with that.
The other dudes, yes, I hate them too: Sidney Crosby, Malkin, whoever all those other guys are, dicks, all of them. Letang is all right, plus he is named “Letang,” so we can put him to one side, but the rest suck. Hard.
But how does one know it’s truly hate, and not just dislike that got carried away? “You don’t really hate them, you just say that.” Really? Okay, so, how does one know they are truly wallowing in that barren emotion we hear will slowly choke us in a burning desert swirling with own boiling stomach acid? How do we know the hate is real? The Philadelphia Fucking Flyers is how. I dislike them, always have, some of my earliest family memories involve being aware that Bobby Clarke had epilepsy and bravely played on at personal risk, and all of us still hating him anyway. But the Flyers play the Penguins often. And since the two networks that carry hockey nationally have a serious pants-wetting-heavy-breathing-sweaty-kind-of-loving thing for those punk-ass Penguins, their games are on national TV all the damn time. When the Flyers and Penguins play each other it is invariably broadcast in every corner of the US and Canada, which is good as it gives me the opportunity to watch in eager anticipation that the Flyers, who I deeply dislike, might beat the piss out of the Penguins one way or another: goals, punches to the face, either is good. No cheese-bloated drunk ass Philly fan cheers harder for the Flyers in their weird orange shoulder stripes to beat those Penguins than me. I want the Flyers to hurt them, to embarrass them, to make the Penguins go away as the Flyers so sweetly did in a series last spring.
Sadly, this year looks iffy. The Philly goalie, not the most reliable paladin to begin with, appears to have almost completely lost his I’m-a-sort-of-normal-employable-person stride, and while his custom Star Wars goalie mask, with Yoda on one side and Darth Vader on the other is clearly awesome, it seems to betoken a troubling mental state, and he is scored on easily some nights. Like really easily, like he is actually playing out cool epic light saber fights between Yoda and Darth Vader during the game, probably making those “whoosh” sounds to himself, in a Russian accented sort of way, which who could hear anyway, with that mask completely surrounding his head. “Fuck! Was that a goal? Damn, got carried away Star Warzn there, sorry bro, I totally got the next one.” But carry my hopes they still do, those avenging knights in that whacked seventies cream sickle orange with the “P” on their chests which is a “P” with wings, which is…flying I suppose? No matter. When the enemy of your enemy, who is also your enemy, but through the intensity of their hatred for the other enemy becomes your dear friend, then you know the hatred is real. It’s pure. I hate the Penguins. Hate them. Do you hear me Ms. Ratsnfatzen? I h-a-t-e them. Go Philly.
Alhora was a city of average size. As of the last accounting four million six hundred twenty seven thousand eight hundred some people lived there. By people the accounting means full blooded Homo Sapiens. The state aggregates all the rodent mutates, as they were officially classed, regardless if their genetic ancestry tied to the original Norway Rat or the North American Field Mouse, and they numbered 162,011.
Other crossbred sapient sub species had been accounted for at one time or another, and many were counted in the heyday of the mammal mutation, though they are mostly vanished now. The canine subspecies had been riven with problems from the start and the last of the “dog men” as they came to be vulgarly called during the rabies epidemic had been quarantined and killed long ago. The few fugitive “dog men” disappeared from reports soon after, though there are some simple exurban Sapiens who will claim to have seen one even now. Some of the primate sub species are still reported to roam the earth; The Silvers are said to be surviving, and, if the stories are to be believed, interbreeding again overseas. But turmoil during the stateless period of 2311 and 12, had seen the sadly violent end of the primate subs on this continent, and there are none left today, save those mounted in private collections, including the Pink Estate’s esteemed installation.
But the rodent mutates have thrived. Rodents, of course, had lived closely with Homo Sapiens for all recorded time, or longer, and the similarity of their internal organs to those of humans’ have made them invaluable to science. Hardly a single advancement in human medicine occurred without rodent testing, and considerable sacrifice of rodent life. As the genetic splicing movement came into full flower in the late twenty second century of the Common Era, a rodent human hybrid, with its presumed highly enhanced immune system, seemed a concept worth testing.
Starting from single cell experiments, moving to hybrid tissue floating and growing by millimeters in petri dishes, progress led inexorably to lab production of a hybrid species based on a human egg artificially inseminated with rodent sperm. In time the vast reserves of frozen human eggs that had been banked ages ago in the ardent hopes of now long dead infertile couples, were finally put to use. The human egg glut may require some context:
The pathogen bound fertility scares of the early 2100’s had created a bull market in egg storage, and a parallel black market in human eggs. Over years a large backlog of still viable frozen genetic material, “wet inventory” as genetic scientists sometimes called it, remained frozen, and pushing the limits of its useful life. The time was ripe for experimentation.
For the human rodent hybrids that survived past the lab-bound incubation stages, life tended to short and painful. There were issues with bone density, cognitive capacity, and terrible manias – fever like states that caused these unfortunates to exhibit destructive repetitive behaviors including, famously, compulsive chewing. Many early rodent hybrids ceaselessly chewed at anything available, including their own flesh, to the point where their teeth were broken and bloodied. These specimens, who passed their days in state care, were closely observed at all times and many valuable insights were gleaned through the study of their brief lives. They also reacted well to antibiotics, both in combating topical wounds and in beating back diseases, though not, sadly, in combating psychological disorders. Three valuable synthetic antibiotics were developed at the old Johns Hopkins Institute for Genetics alone during their seven decade study of their locally created resident rodent hybrids.
But, to sciences’ frustration, each rodent human hybrid generation needed to be created from scratch, lab fertilized. This was an expensive and laborious process with a high failure rate. The grail of genetic science at the time was sexual reproduction among a mammal hybrid species. The primates got there first. Many argued that this, while remarkable, was not the breakthrough all of genetics had been waiting for however. The genetic code of the Chimpanzee and Homo Sapiens were so close to begin with, and there was a literature documenting multiple attempts at sexual reproduction between the species even before the golden age of artificial gene sequencing, so the natural birth of a primate human hybrid through an artificially primate-inseminated egg carried to term by a human woman, while a celebrated event in most quarters of the global scientific community, was not genetics’ summit achievement.
In the initial attempts at rodent hybridization several strains were tried, though two ancestral lines showed the greatest promise. These were, not surprisingly, the two lines of rodents who had lived closely with humans for so long. The aforementioned Norway Rat and North American Field Mouse strode alongside humanity from soon after its emergence in central Africa through its domination of the entire globe and the nearer reaches of space. They lived in all types of human dwellings, in gaps in all structures made by human hands. No city dweller anywhere in the world was ever very distant from a Norway Rat regardless how clean their rooms might seem. A smart dinner party on an upper floor was not more than a hundred feet away from at least a few rats, scurrying along the vent and waste water pipes, nesting deep under the bowels of the building, in tunnels burrowed through the smallest bubbles in the supporting concrete.
Rats had a bad reputation. They were vectors of disease, harbingers of filth and degradation. In late twentieth century New York City as Great Aquaria was then known, an accounting of rats was taken. This count was primitive, as even the human census was at that time, and relied much on sample, inference, and projection, but the counters could say with confidence that more rats than people lived in that great city. At that time the estimated human population was eight million four hundred thousand.
Though they were generally hated and feared, some humans knew rats were also smart. They had saved themselves work and trouble for ages by integrating their colonies into the infrastructure of humanity. They occupied the flawed spaces of the human world, easily modifying to their needs. They could live off human garbage, a fresh supply delivered daily. Plumbing systems provided access to fresh water. Efforts to eradicate them, which were a constant part of human urban life, all came to disappointment. Poisons were the usual method and they would cull numbers initially, quickly killing the weakest and oldest members of the massive colonies at all times underground and behind the walls of all the cities of the world. Many rats would get sick of poison and die slowly, but some would not, some survived the sickness, absorbing the newest poisons into their systems, into their blood, breaking it down, unfolding the poisons’ molecular secrets, decoding them, immunizing those rats. And that rats that beat poison would mate, triumphantly. One thing ,among many, rats did consummately was reproduce.
They carried ghastly diseases, going back to the European Plague of the dark eras of human history, diseases that disfigured and slowly killed people, but had no effect on rats. In the late twenty-first century, an era in which humans became veritably obsessed with disease, the resilient rat became an ever more ardent subject of study.
That humans of that time lived disease-haunted lives was not mysterious. Their environment had become dangerously polluted with toxins. Plastics breaking down into their component compounds, their decomposition gassing off into the air and water, paired with the rapid consumption of the remaining reserves of coal had filled human lungs with many hazards. Cancers of all kinds flourished. The cancer epidemics exacerbated the ongoing crisis of ancient diseases, notably smallpox returning to potency, having become immune to common antibiotics and vaccines. Scientists began injecting disease into rats with fevered intensity. Thousands, if not millions of rats died in this effort, but an admirable number of them adapted and survived the rafts of injected disease, producing, in only a few generations, offspring entirely immune to many of the sicknesses then ravaging the human population. The time had clearly come to put old prejudices aside and begin the work of finding ways to borrow the great immuno-tenacity of the rat, to graft it directly to human stock.
Field Mice were generally better thought of. Perhaps not so much if they found their way into the kitchen, their little faces and broad whiskers peeping up from the torn silver foil below the heating coils of the stove, or heard scampering around the basement. But they were easily enough dealt with, and the sight of them writing pathetically on cheap paper glue traps could elicit pity even in cold hearts. It was the field mice who boasted the loved Town Mouse and Country Mouse, Mighty Mouse, Mickey Mouse and all the others of human imagination, unknown to Lily and Herm. The rat , however, always occupied a darker place. People, generally, were repulsed by the idea of their descendants spliced with genetic material drawn from the Norway Rat. Further, the very idea of “rat people” as the gutter press and video talk programs called them caused an uproar. But the mouse presented a more palatable alternative, given the circumstances, so some scientists, though convinced all the while that the highly intelligent and adaptable rat was a more promising resource, began work on mouse genetic extraction and grafting, stressing the improved resistance to disease, and ancillary benefits such as vastly heightened olfactory powers, all the better to detect airborne toxins.
Debates about the ethics of cross species splicing carried on for years, with some nations outlawing the practice and others throwing full state support and funding behind it. Naturally the best genetic scientists followed the money and opportunity to and the work progressed at a fervid pace in many regions regardless of political, popular, and religious objections, and within four human generations the first surviving rodent human mutates walked the earth, those spliced with genetic material of the Norway Rat preceding their mouse spliced cousins by a few years. They were resistant to most airborne diseases, unfazed by a battery of cancers, and they looked recognizably human, to greater or lesser degrees.
The fine hair covering the body took some getting used to and many early “rat people” required police protection just to go about in public. Few employers would hire them. Many made their livings simply being specimens, existing day by day to have their every incident observed, cataloged, and analyzed. But in time the rat human hybrids developed their own specialties favoring underground jobs, infrastructure work, mining and engineering.
The mouse human hybrids came and died in fits and starts. Their establishment, due to their less robust constitutions, was slower and more painful than that enjoyed by the rat humans, but they were far more well received by Homo Sapiens. In many parts of the world they were tolerated as marvelous eccentrics. A Cult of mousine beauty worship developed as some humans came to fetishize these lean and downy half humans among them; their gentle faces and dark eyes were fervently admired and desired, where they were not hated. In time the mouse human hybrid population stabilized and began to grow. They were gradually accepted into general human commerce and discourse, and housing.
It is held to be true that in some politically unstable nations they were hunted and murdered by gangs of men, and rumored to have been sometimes eaten in deplorable acts of cannibalism, though opinions differ if these incidents actually occurred, and if they did really qualified as cannibalism. These atrocities, occurring as they did primarily in the Earth’s southern Hemisphere, were rarely reported in the world known to Herm and Lilly.
The mouse humans came to live peaceably with Homo Sapiens, considering themselves essentially human though with a few modifications, some remnants of traits artificially selected for early generations of their lab grown ancestors, the tail for instance. It added little to scent powers or disease resistance, but it was a marvel to behold. To see essentially human figures walking around, with great swishing tails three and four feet long behind them, often swinging over their heads, was delightful.
The “rat people” a name they could never shake had far greater difficulty assimilating. Despite their great usefulness, their willingness to do dangerous but essential jobs humans did not want to do, the great advances in medicine their ancestors had provided to humans, remained on the margins, never fully trusted by most humans. An ancient specter of the rat as an envoy of death persisted. Rat human hybrid culture split over time, as most chose to move as far as possible from full blooded human, Sapien, society, and live underground, work underground, and keep entirely among their kind, out of human sight.
The first of these stories they had both heard was about the awful Cornelius “Corny” Pink. There are many stories about Pink, but this one seeded his legend:
As a young man, Corny Pink went abroad to work in a copper mine. The operation was just setting up when Pink read of it in a business paper printed in Manhattan. “Rich deposits of the useful auburn metal discovered” in some African country or other, the exact location varied.
Much is lost to time: the steamer journey across the Atlantic, dining with the captain, or not, dusty trains, strange animals glimpsed in passing, the first sight of the growing mine. Pink had studied machines, and he rose quickly from a junior engineer examining the soundness of the scaffolding and supports, to overseer of the transport of the mined metal to the surface, and onto trucks, to be driven miles away to the rail lines.
Pink was a slight young man – thin enough they said the strong African sun seemed to shine through him. He admired the bodies of men in the mines, the diggers, men who were lowered down in wooden boxes by steel cables forged in England and bound to pulleys and levers at the surface.
In the heat, which was always, many miners worked shirtless, and Pink envied their solid torsos. He wanted these for himself, specific ones. He devised plans for men to fall, to work alone, on edges, digging new openings, crawling ahead a tunnel with a lamp to scout out a fissure, suspended by wires, swinging picks.
Pink would go down into the tunnel or onto the platform the night before, and weaken a support, file a line, leave something behind. One man had a wooden scaffolding fall onto him, and the three men who had been standing on it, crushing his ribs and lungs. One lost his footing and fell at least forty feet into blankness concluding with a muffled thud that discouraged the workers for hours. Another died from asphyxiation which caused the entire operation to be suspended as another miner was sent into the area where the man was taken breathless with a bird in a cage to see if either he or the bird dropped dead. When neither did, work resumed. But Pink did not allow the bodies to be returned to the villages where the men had come from. He insisted on examinations, to, he said, determine what exactly had caused these deaths, what hazards lay in wait for the miners, so that by identifying causes Pink could devise solutions, so that mining may be made safer.
He paid the company doctor, a man from a French Colonial establishment in that continent, the exact colony differs, to fake diagnostic examinations and write up official reports while Pink was left alone with the bodies and the doctor’s equipment. From one corpse Pink cut away the arms, from another the shoulders, and from the third the entire chest and abdomen. The tools were fine and sturdy and designed for the job, and the cuts thrilling, but the effort was exhausting for Pink. Further payments were required for disposal of the damp remains
Pink wrapped the parts in animal skins he’d bought from nearby villagers and carried them to the smithy that had been constructed to melt the impurities off the freshly mined copper. After paying off another man, a local who worked the fire, Pink set the stolen flesh, spreading out and distorting as it was, on stone and, with the flunky heaving the cauldron, poured liquid copper over the parts, vaporizing the skin and leaving the remnants of and muscle and bone fused to a coating of pure copper. The products roughly approximated the shapes of the shoulders, arms and torso he so admired. When they had cooled Pink wrapped his pieces of copper armor in the same animal skins, now fouled with the miner’s blood, and buried them under the wood plank foundation of his cabin in the managers’ section of the mine camp, leaving some boards loose over the spot.
At night Pink would remove the floorboards, dig into the loosed soil, haul up the animal skins and unwrap his armor, loving the smooth cool touch of the pieces but regretting the loss of the original muscled flesh. He wished he could have that too, and put it on, and wield the strength it once contained. It was that longing that led him to begin to eat his victims, just a bit a first, saving a portion of each of them for copper casting, a portion he found especially beautiful, including, eventually, a face.
After a few years Corny Pink loaded up his trunks, had them piled onto the trucks that drove along the newly paved road to the railway and and then to the docks and sailed home with his beloved copper molds.
Herm and Lily’s friend had always said that story was total crap. Yes, there was a human, a real, a pure born homo sapiens, named Cornelius Pink she said. And yes, he had made a fortune in copper mining overseas. But much of that fortune was earned from his own innovations, his own inventions that made copper mining more productive. He held patents on equipment whose derivatives were still used today. Sure, there were stories that he exploited the local labor, that he used bribes, fear, superstition and violence to keep them under control, and some miners may have died, but isn’t that always how it is when you open up new markets?