Some time has passed since Gloriana's death and Sierra's dazzling performance hit The Feed. The DVFP sub-warden was shamed before she was killed, and a great many things have changed in the Death Valley Free Prison.
What has happened to each of you? What do we see as we approach the end credits of the movie version of this story?Cinch
, where do we see you driving? What's happened to Mimi? What about your former life "outside"?Gigg
, what's the final shot of Gigg? What about Sasha?Esco
, what are you running now, and how did you end up after all this mess?June
, what's happened to your crew and your mobile workshop? What about "the cause"?Motley
, what's happened with you and the Crue? What about you and Marigold?Sierra
, where are you playing and singing music? Who is with you? Who's gone, and why?
That's a lot of water. I never knew there was that much. That's more water than there is sand in all the Valley. Everyone in the Valley could drink from that for a lifetime and still not one drop would be gone. Deep enough that there's a whole nuther world living under it. Certainly deep enough to drown a man in.
I don't know if it's the fading light from this sunset, or my eyes growing dim, but I can barely see him anymore. Off in the distance, now. Bobbing, face down, still floating. But soon the water lizards will have him. They say evil like that can curse a land, so I figger just take him out of the Valley so even the death of him wouldn't taint the ground. No one will ever know there was two of 'em.
So, this here is the Gulf of Mexico, huh? It must be some other world, a place Chaz said you couldn't get to from the Valley, but wishin' he was here to see it. He'd sit here for hours and not say a word. I know he would. Just watching the sun go down.
I ponder a moment how Esco and Sasha made out in the aftermath. I told Esco to be ready to take over Depot. Hopin' he didn't think I was just crazy talkin' and decided to just get drunk all day, and missed out. Wondering a moment if Sasha's gonna have that little teeter... now that's some crazy talk. But there's been a whole lotta crazy goin' on, so maybe crazy is normal. Dunno.
It's quiet.... well except for the crickets and frogs and birds and blazin' hell all the life making noise in this world. Way off in the distance some settlement called Grand Isle has grumps and teeters just playin' in the water like that night in the Valley of the big rainstorm.
Time's almost up. I can feel it. Since I came back, this body's still dead. Decaying, decomposin' right from under me. I knew I wouldn't have much time, and now there's more than just the sun going down. This body's goin' down. I'm leaning against this sand bank, with tufts of long wispy grass behind me, my mask close by in my lap. Already, the legs don't work no more, and soon neither will the arms and hands. It's all about timing now. Not gettin' caught unable to put the mask back on, but wantin' to watch all this without looking through cracked glass eyes. Watching the sunset and the Gulf as long as I can, but not too long that I can't get my final last escape. This time there'll be no emerging somewhere else. This time I'll stay there... in the by and by.
I feel my arm getting weaker, and that makes me think about Mimi. I wonder if she'll get a new arm, if she'll let somebody love her. If she'll ever love herself. A spirit that won't be broken. The best the Valley has to offer.
I slip the mask back on my face and my arm falls limp in the sand. The top of the sun on the horizon just a speck amid the darkness through the cracked glass eyes of the mask. Cracked from banging my head on Cinch's dash. Cinch. Like some guardian angel that never sleeps. And June Weaver.... like some ole' wise owl... I hope folks listen ta her bedder than I did. And Motley... I wonder if Motley got his Glory like I got my Pops... and that Miss Sierra turned out better than Little Li did...
And then the sun is gone, just a spray a red and purple and yellow light in the distance, and the sound of the water lapping gently nearby. All the frogs and crickets and birds are suddenly quiet, and the only sound is the sound of a mother's heartbeat calling out to me...
I flip the steaks the final time on the grill and brush on the liquid once again. I have to swat Riots hand once again as she tried for the fourth time to steal a bit. I dont even tell her not to anymore, it has almost become a game. She darts off giggling... giggling. That is not a sound I thought I would ever hear again. As I wait for the steaks to finish the last bits, I look around the spread.
It's been six months since that entire incident with Gloriana went belly up. We left the area and picked a spot away from all the fight and sweat of the settlements. I found a abandoned building and a lot of open land surrounding it. Setup a perimeter with enough signage to keep the casual folk out, and a more permanent method to deal with the stubborn ones. We are a lot less than initially came with me. Some like Dokken didn't want to settle down, they still thrived for the struggle, I let them have it. Some stayed with me for a while healing up both in body and spirit before finally realizing they still wanted more. I reminded them they were always welcome back. A few have returned to visit occasionally. Then the final few have made this their home. We have even started working the land a bit trying to see if we can grow something for ourselves.
I remove all the steaks from the grill and stack them on a plate to bring to the table. I walk past Riot who playfully jumps and grabs one of the steaks with her hands and and laughs at her triumph. She was one I was surprised that stayed. Sure she comes with me every opportunity I go into Depot. I laugh as she settles down and starts ripping at the steak. Marigold watches her with a resigned smile. I set down the platter and stab a few small pieces and pile them onto 'Gold's plate. She smiles and nods thanks to me as she scoops up some of the potatoes from the bowl. Satisfies she resettles down and rubs her belly before digging in. It brings a smile to my face, I have never been happier than I am now. I sit beside her and get some food for myself. "So is our little Twisted Sis hungry today?" I ask.
"Yeah She is got me craving all kinds of weirdness. I am hoping this at least satisfies her for a bit."
I smile at her, and lean in for a kiss, "I love you...more than anything!"
She smiles back and my world spins a bit like only she can make it. "I know." We kiss and ignore Riots snickering as she steals the steak off my plate. As I said, never been happier.
Mimi and I spent a couple seasons together dominating the arena. Everything shook up around the place after the fall of the Fat Man, but down in the dirt nothin' really changed. We made top-notch partners... never quite friends...
But like all my promises seem to, the horizon called and I just couldn't take livin' in one place any longer. Racin' in circles just ain't my thing.
It took many months to get it set up. Contacts outside who saw me featured on the feed... couple friends in the force holdin' a well-deserved grudge 'gainst Gloriana and how she and her ilk treat this place. Gear from June Weaver to set up the coms, Motley runnin' interference and old Esco greasin' palms where doin' what's right ain't enough... it ain't enough all too often.
In my mind, we do it for Li, for Gigg, but also for myself... and yeah... yeah I know corny as hell but 'cause it's right.
So far we've gotten eleven out. Eleven souls saved from this cursed place I've decided to call home. They gotta be lifers, Kids, mostly, or folks with a price on 'em too high to live with... I wish it was more. I wish I knew more about how they're gettin' on.
I'll never know, this is my life and I picked it... ain't never allowed myself too much doubt. Ain't gonna start now.
But hell... when the sunlight's shinin' and the heat's dancin' on the blacktop... engine roarin' and some poor fuggers tryin' to keep up and eatin' my particular dust. Hell becomes heaven and here's where I belong.
Well, everyone, same as it ever was. The hunt is on. I've been a very, very bad, bad girl. But I'm very good at making myself unavailable to the justice of the houses..better than ever. People try to find me, but..
After all the fallout and scrutiny that came down on the sub-warden's treatment of DVFP, and quite a bit of leveragin' on my part and that of some..concerned citizens..things are changin' in our own Death Valley Free Prison. Inch by inch, like pullin' on weeds, they're tryin' to run the place a little more like an actual prison and not just a churnin' wheel upon which people are tortured and mutilated.
They're hammerin' out a structure for hearin's on lifers. Rumor is, they'll prevent future costs by sterlizin' the chum before they come in - they've dropped the memory wipes as a cost-savin' measure already and played it like a marketin' campaign.
'Everything you know about your favorite reality feed has changed!'
People call that 'jumpin' the shark.'
I've had a couple'a chances to leave. Always the same things come up, am I ready to give up the rig and the relative safety that the desert affords us? What about the relative respect I get on the inside? And I just can't give it up, when the chance comes around to me I give it to someone else. I can fugg with the rest of the world alright enough from in here, get back in touch with the people in my old network who are still alive and free (or free enough). So I stay on the run inside the valley, us and the rig, dodgin' Fippers and rippin' up camera networks.
Bee Bee can't be convinced to go, even though she's so young. I've managed to replace her eyelids and offer her all sorts of trainin' and mentorin' and..you know, motherin', I guess. She's a good worker, but I think she'll find her independence before too long, a new grower of things in our parched valley.
Missed is still here, figures she's 'comfortable with bein' uncomfortable' and who would hire her on as a technician on the outside, really? Well, I try to tell her that's anybody with sense, but it works out for me.
Beckett is someone who actually took one of my tickets out. From what I can tell she's smugglin' between territories, so maybe I'll see her again.
Claire and I are still makin' each other happy. We've pieced together her old memories, bit by bit, and she's grown up some. Not too much, though. That wouldn't be nearly as fun.
The Twins are still with me, though I'm havin' trouble keepin' their hearts goin'. They seem nonplussed about it. I have some ideas, I'm doin' what I can.
Mimi sees me from time to time, gettin' maintenance on her new arm and socket. Rehabbin' her anchors and nervous system without Fleece's help was a bear and a half, but Depot has other doctors, and I am damn good.
I've been tryin' to get back in contact with Sierra since the concert.. leads are promisin'. I haven't seen Fleece either, and I miss her sass. Hopefully she's out and safe.
The Slow War, as I like to call this great resistance of the people against the Houses, does keep takin' up all of my heart and my time. We won't complete the work in our lifetime, but we put in full days for the time bein'.
Oh..Sight-of-Day loved the Gallica, by the way. I haven't managed to charm her away from the Sand Snake lifestyle, but it pays to have friends in low places. Next month the delivery is lilies.
I swear I'm cuttin' back on the smokin', too.
And I did, that is, survive.
It's been 15 years since the death of Gloriana. I still think about her, though I don't find myself missing her much anymore. Sometimes there will be a particular song,
or a book, something that reminds me of childhood and it produces a mix of feelings. One of those feelings is longing, but only one.
The moments immediately following the concert were zaridann. People parted for us like the sea, like I was something special and it was... it was terrifying. But it was also power. A power I would learn to wield.
The Gryphon fawn found me, only an hour after the concert and took me to where the Fat Man's heli-pad was. Fleece, Reese, the boy and I were taken out of the DVFP that afternoon. The Head of the Gryphon House had a gift for me - citizenship. Real, actual citizenship. Independance. I was to be a member of Gryphon society, he gave me an estate, staff, everything I could need and reintroduced me to House society. It made me sick, but it was useful.
I perform sparsely for the houses, who all clamor and pay top dollar to have me at their events. Performances go to the highest bidder and they easily pay for my expenses and unknowingly my other activities. A majority of my performances are "charity" work, performances at Fleece's network of clinics, the prisons, or the DVFP itself. Where I use my unwanted celebrity to inspire the masses to principles of freedom and independance.
Fleece is still with me. Not everyone is. We love each other, though I think she would rather I not engage in such "dangerous endeavors." She makes me deliriously happy. As deliriously happy as people like us could be.
It took months for me to establish a reliable connection with June. In the beginning some of the communication was rough. A few missions were compromised. In one of the early missions, before we were able to create reform for the DVFP, Reese died when Manticore attacked the cell we were communicating with - he was there to pull a child out, one of Cinch's. They attacked before the drop-off, it will be 13 years this August.
I keep training, honing my skills. Being the Skinner was one set of abilities, but paired with everything I learned from June, it makes me even more unique. Incredibly valuable as a way to gather information and spread it to others - without ever writing a single thing down.
June, myself, and the other cells have slowly taken out the more dangerous political figures one by one. Either through blackmail or outright attack on the feed, anonymously of course, we've been able to surgically start to dismantle the "house born power structure" - as June calls it.
The DVFP now runs, more or less, like a normal prison. Prisoners are paid for their stardom potential and they have the ability to get out on "good behavior." Lifers, that's simply a thing of the past now. Though I know a few stayed. It's not enough, but the mortality rate of inmates has dropped to 11%, it was at 71%. It's good, but I won't consider it a victory till that place is closed.
House Manticore is all but destroyed, half the territory is a free democratic nation. The north-west, bordered by mountains, was the perfect place for the first revolt. It's been 4 years and so far they've managed to become more and more independant. House Grendel has even started trading with them and the Phoenix House is in negotiations.
It's maybe the most important step so far in the "Slow War." And in a way, it feels like getting retribution for Gloriana. For what her people turned her into - that's a sentiment though, I don't share with anyone else. I don't think they'd understand.
But enough about politics. About Gloriana. Tonight isn't about politics. Tonight isn't about surviving, it's about the survivors, about friends.
Fleece has just brought over the paella. We are all on the patio, watching the sunlight fade over the ocean.
This house is completely off the grid (thank you June and Missed). I bought it for Fleece, since I couldn't buy her the island she wanted to whisk me away too. I told her, 20 miles of feed-protected space might have to do. It's normally a safe house, or a place for off-grid meetings, not tonight. Cinch and I are on our second glass of wine. June is joining us via a secure vid-feed, and Missed and Beckett are here, having met up to do a drop off. They each drove about 100 miles out of their way to be here, but I'm glad they did. We don't get to see each other nearly enough. I'm singing along to June's violin and honestly - it's nights like this that make it all worthwhile.
I smile as I watch the way the fire flickers over Fleece's derisann face, the way Beckett laughs, high and staccatoed, the way June plays - freely.
Nights like this, it's not just about surviving. It's about living.
A young man about half Esco's age barges into the establishment, his knuckles dripping with blood — both his own, and someone else's. "It ain't damn right," the boy growls, singling Esco out at the bar, and closing the distance between them, "It ain't damn right that you name that sniveling pile of horse shit the town's Fipper. That asshat just watched on as Big Tim and his boys shot Thirsty in the head, in broad daylight, for who knows what? Does it even matter? He's out there now, standing over her bloody body, strokin' his beard like a sunscorched blazebrain, and stalling for time until the crowd disperses." He shakes his head, "It ain't damn right..."
Esco pours a pair of scotches and seamlessly slides one in front of the young man, who takes it up and starts drinking without giving it a second thought. "I ain't never said that boy would make a good Fipper — just that the town needed one, and he's the only man stepped up for the job... Thirsty was a fine young girl. She bein' seen to?"
The young man shakes his head, "You kiddin' me? That blazebrain's gunna leave that poor girl to rot out in the sun. She deserves a proper burial, and justice done on her!"
Esco downs his shot before pouring two more. "See, now that sounds to me like a man who has the town's best interests at heart... Most blazebrains out to call themselves a fipper are in it for the glory — the respect the vest brings. I'd just as soon not have a fipper in town, seeing as that glory gets to a man's head – a fipper's wake is nothin' but corruption, yeah? But if a boy like you took up that vest and wore it, I might be inclined to think that meant somethin'... Maybe it doesn't have to be that way, yeah?"
The boy eyes his shot glass like it was poisonous, before protesting, "I didn't want to be fipper then, and I don't wanna be fipper now..."
An amused smirk lifts Esco's lip, "yeah, I gathered. Sounds to me like you're the only blazebrain in this entire valley who doesn't wanna wear the vest because of an overburden of moral conscience..." He downs his shot and slams the glass upside down on the bar, before pointing down to the boy's busted up knuckle, "seems to me like you're already itchin' to fight for what's right, though... Sounds to me like you're already wearin' that vest — you just don't know it yet. Maybe it's time you put it on for real."
The boy stands against the bar in quiet contemplation as Esco pours a drink for another customer. When Esco comes back to him expectantly a few moments later, the boy nods. Esco nods in return. The boy finishes his drink, wraps his knuckle in a handkerchief, and heads back out the door into the burning sun. Esco, satisfied with himself, goes back to serving his customers.
Law in the valley is still a youngling, and these fragile first steps could be the difference between it taking off at a full sprint, or walking lame for the rest of its natural life... His grandfather had fought long and hard for the right to self-govern, but he hadn't counted on how long it would take to transform the image of the fippers from one of oppression to one of protection — to change the hearts and minds of the people in the valley from captives to citizens.
Some kids come running into the bar, filling the room with laughter, and the frantic patter of footsteps. Esco summons them over to the bar and serves them all glasses of chocolate milk. When his wife comes out from the back room to see what all the commotion is about, he plants a kiss on her cheek and slips out onto the street to keep an eye on the young man — to back his play.
He hoped the young man would step up and keep the peace. It was time for a change, and he hoped the valley was ready for it.