Backup Blues

When working for a charter company under the Axton-Hornsby Exploration Society, one must be prepared for anything.

Rainclouds hung over the old graveyard like heavy drapes, cold and steel-grey. Alone at the wayside of a lonesome road a hunched man walked, tired and chilled to the bone. His back was stiff, bent from carrying considerably heavy goods. A dusty wide-brimmed hat sat slumped over his face, his coat plastered by the wet wind. It'd rained earlier; he had no doubt it would rain again.

The nearest town was almost twenty miles off, and Percival had nothing with him to get there. His vehicle - gone. Explosions tended to do that. He grimaced, looking down at the covered cage in his hands. Creaking sounds.

"At least you're bloody happy," he muttered darkly, setting the cage down with a clank. He pulled a matchbox out of his pocket, lighting a quick cigarette. Acrid smoke filled his lungs. A habit, a ritual, whatever it was - the people back at Fellsworth Club certainly saw it distasteful enough - it kept him calm. "Going insane. Talking to a rat-creature that shouldn't even exist."

As if to mirror his thoughts, the thing snarled a little, squirming in its captivity. Good God, was it pouting?

"Sorry, can't have you jumping." To Hell with it all, he might as well just talk. Not like there were many people coming around these parts, anyhow. Not with the storm about. "Last time you did that you fucking blew up my car."

It'd been a nice car, too - vintage. Passed on from his father, who'd got it back in '76 back when his family had first joined in with the Society dregs. Nice teal-green paint, excellent condition - so of course the bloody beast had to have a tantrum when he'd pounced on it, spitting that blasted explosive acid all over his nice seats before he'd properly muzzled it in the first place.

He wondered vaguely if whoever at the Biology Department that'd filled out such an….unfortunate request as this, would be grateful with the acquisition in question; a foolish part even hoped for compensation as payment for the trouble it caused. No. That was far too optimistic. "Axton-Hornsby Charm," as the other departments called it, was in their eyes best celebrated in secret.

Besides, people were people, after all. They might compensate the Society at large, but not anyone from Fellsworth. Too low-brow. Too 'old-fashioned'. He spat at the road, daring a car to drive by and whisk him away.

No such luck. Blast it.

At least his hat was still fine. That was an heirloom he wasn't willing to give up so readily, not ever. Muzzle or not, the beast was in the cage now - E.B.H. runes inscribed on silver metal could keep any such 'dark creature' at least mildly restrained. A gift from the last World's Fair, in his eyes the thing was bloody superstition - but the Primogenitus twat Yohn Vezeem had sworn by it when he'd gifted his catchment for the Society's benefits. Such charity was rarer these days, so people were desperate. It was hard to deny results when they were presented so eloquently on-stage like that, regardless of definitive physical proof, anyway. The old cats at the Bureau's head were all too eager to invest in the new tech.

"Out-of-touch bastards," he muttered. Couldn't they see everything was fine the way it was? He chuckled softly to himself. As much as the old council tried to funnel all the fancy new tech to the Society - and by extension, Fellsworth - Explorator Agencourt was always quite laisse-fair in terms of actually using it. Computers thrown in basements, cubicles stuffed with old maps and barely used apart from storage, that was more likely the fate of such meagre attempts at 'modernisation'. Perhaps that was why they'd turned to magick now, of all things. A touch of the fantastical. It certainly worked on some others he knew.

Not him. He'd had more than enough magick or scrying or whatever that mumbo jumbo cult shit was in his life. He wiped his soggy beard, the beast squealing in the cage.

"Shut up!"

A loud boom echoed in the distance, a flash of lightning. Damn. He'd hoped it'd take a little longer for the rains to start, but who was he kidding. God had always had it out for him. The beast only kept squirming. He picked up the cage, the silver-wrought thing shuddering incorrigibly.

"For God's sake, would you just-"

The words died on his lips. Light. Light from a vehicle. The faintest hope crept in his heart. He stuck his thumb out into the road.

"Hello!" he called out. Nothing to give himself away, of course. "Anyone there?"

The lights grew brighter through the haze. A vehicle was slowly moving toward him. Ice-cream truck music - of fucking course.

When the thing - the bloody multicoloured truck - pulled up closer, he noticed the window was down, a familiar brown-skinned man that he knew oh-so-well sitting behind the wheel.

"You know, when you lot said 'backup'," Percival drawled out, squinting up through the fog. The rain was starting to drizzle now, but blast it if he wouldn't stay out as long as possible just to prove a point. "I expected it to happen while I was capturing the death-spitting creature, not fucking after."

Arnold only chuckled.

"Well if my eyes don't deceive me, it seems you're rather car-less, Percy. I'd say that's backup."

"You stole this, didn't you."

"Borrowed. There's a difference."

As if. Percival snorted, grip tightening around the cage-handle to calm his peculiar luggage.

"Just open the bloody door. My car, uh," he paused, swallowing a little. He still wasn't quite over the events that had transpired. "Car got totaled. The ungrateful culprit's been sniping at me for the past hour now from her, ah, compartment. Cold certainly doesn't help."

"Nothing helps your snobby arse - and if I'd come in earlier you'd probably have gotten this thing blown up, too. It's a wonder you haven't been transferred by Agencourt already." Lightning flashed, quite close now.

"You'd all get bored."

He'd meant to say it jovially, but the tired grin on his face told an entirely different story.

"Hah. Very funny, Percy," Arnold said. "Door's been unlocked this whole time, by the way. Get in; you're sopping."

"Didn't have to tell me twice, partner."

He packed his prize into the back compartment of the truck, keeping a careful watch on his hat the whole time. No more losses, Percival. Yes. No more losses.

With nothing more left to say, they drove off into the grey rain.


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