Breakfast Serial x.09

Due to me finally coming to grips with reality, Breakfast Serial x.10, the finale, will be posted next Wednesday.

In the meantime, enjoy the penultimate episode here or here.

And don’t forget the archive.

“Are…are you going to drink?” Wireframe laid on the bottom bunk of the dorm, her head propped on a hand as she watched the giant brain across the room.

“Hm?” Cortex studied the bottle of tequila in his massive mitts. “Ah, yes. I was merely calculating how much of this elixir I would need to imbibe to achieve a satisfactory buzz, based on the equation I established last year — during a particularly dry lecture on the history of spandex — to ascertain the effects of absinthe on my psyche.”

“And?” the inventor inquired.

“And, this should suffice,” the enlarged encephalon intoned. “I’m afraid the process by which I drink — for want of a better term — is rather unseemly, however.”

“It can’t be that off-putting.” Wireframe sat up slowly, slightly dazed from hitting the bottle. “Not if it’s part of you.”

Cortex ran a gelatinous hand across the fine print of the label. “There is a port at the base of my torso, where a perineum should be. I use it to flush and replenish my cytoplasm and plasma every six months. It is my only means of taking on liquid.”

“That…that’s not unseemly at all.” The diminutive machine-smith perched herself on the edge of the bed, ready to close the gap between herself and her peer in an instant.” “Everyone has orifices.”

“Yet, no one else need execute an inverted keg-stand to experience the pleasures of alcohol.” The weary wetware attempted to twist open the bottle, only for his grip to slip and his fingers to fail. “Oh, these damnable digits…”

“May I take a look?” Wireframe was on her feet and at the intellect’s side before the question had fully escaped her mouth.

“As you wish.” Cortex slid his left hand, palm up, toward her.

She clasped it in both of hers and immediately started testing. “Can you feel this?” Her tiny phalanges bent his index finger, as far as it would go.

“Only just.” The brain tried to avert his gaze, as not to let what he saw influence what he thought he felt, but found his optical sensors drawn to the girl conducting the experiments.

“And this?” Wireframe hefted the hand and brushed it gently across her cheek.

“A slight tingle.” Cortex succumbed to temptation and fixed his attention on her features, consuming her visage.

“Perhaps something with more pressure, then.” She wrapped her lips around his middle digit and suckled.

“Oh, lovely.” Mr. Popular stood outside RT’s Eats, a diner in the classic mold, down to the kitschy neon lights arcing over the entrance. “No drive-thru.”

Blowing hair out of his face, he pushed through the polished chrome doors. Two dozen sets of eyes trained on him at once, as he made his way to the counter.

A waitress with graying hair at her temples — who would’ve been called “Madge” or “Flo” in another era but was identified by her name-tag as “Jillian” in this one — flopped a laminated menu in front of the teen. While he steadied himself on a stool, she pulled a pen from behind her ear and a pad from her white apron. “Can I get you anything to–”

“Coffee. Black.” The media sensation lowered his head and raised his shoulders, his only defense against the incessant stares from customers and staff alike.

A dish — full of congealed fruit and crispy crumbs, under a mountain of whipped cream — and a spoon plopped in front of him. “Peach cobbler.” Jillian grabbed a mug from under the counter. “You seemed like a cobbler kind of guy.” She winked.

Mr. Popular stated blankly at the desert. “I didn’t… I don’t…”

“Don’t worry.” The waitress picked up a pot from the industrial percolator and poured. “It’s on the house. Compliments of the great state of Wyoming.” She placed the steaming mug next to the cobbler dish and leaned into the counter. “It’s not every day an honest-to-god hero walks through those doors. I had my doubts at first, but Shelly over there knew it was you right away. Didn’t you, Shel?” Jillian waved at the overweight server filling a napkin dispenser at the far end of the counter. The overweight server who promptly flashed her signed chest.

The teen idol emptied his mug into two swift gulps. “Refill.” He passed the cup to his waitress. “To go.”

“Ung. Uhh.” The moaning echoed through the hallway and collected in the commons.

“Um.” DoubleVision shifted uneasily in her seat.

“Mmf. Uff.”

“Uh.” DeathGrip stared at her feet.

“Unn. Unn. Unng!”

“Wow.” Spatter slurped her beer.

“Pow,” LiveFeed corrected. “Chikka wowwow.”

“Aah. Aah. Ooh.”

“Ah, nerd love is the best love.” Wavelength grinned.

“I’ll drink to that.” Tantric raised his bottle.

Sixty-four screens flashed red-white-red, as an automated voice announced: “Priority alert. Five alarm fire at the Adams Orchard apartment complex on the corner of Manly and King’s Crossing. Additional units requested.”

Micah toggled the controls on the end table, terminating the broadcast and refocusing the screens on the senior class. “Then, it’s come to this.” The old man retrieved the cellphone from the interior pocket of his silk-lined jacket.

“Don’t even consider it,” Gregor hissed, baring his fangs.

“You would prefer countless lives be lost in conflagration?” The arthritic retiree raised an accusatory eyebrow.

“I’d prefer the juniors be sent.” The cat leapt to the arm of his chair. “They’re more than capable of handling this call.”

“As are the sophomores. As are the freshmen.” Micah clutched his cane. “As are the seniors, regardless of their level of inebriation.”

“This isn’t what we agreed to.” Gregor moved his front paws to the table and inched forward.

“What we agreed to, my dear friend, was impartial assessment.” The aged hero flipped open his phone. “To properly gauge the abilities of our wards, we must monitor them under all conditions — at their best, their worst, and their most compromised.”

“You’re putting lives at risk.” The feline crouched.

“Lives are already at risk. The blaze has seen to that.” Perennially bent fingers began typing. “Anyone we send in will be in danger, so why not send in our best?”

“Because our best aren’t at their best.” Pointed ears slicked back, giving way to a snarl.

Micah shook his head. “How can you know that withou–”

Gregor lunged at the old man’s phone, his paws wide, his claws primed. The head of the cane crashed into the feline’s side, swatting him across the room. He landed, a whimpering ball, on the hard concrete.

The old man hit “send”.

The teen idol, sitting beside a styrofoam box on the loading dock behind the diner, sipped his coffee contentedly. It was an acrid brew, dark and bitter. But, he didn’t mind, so long as he was able to drink it alone. Without the stares and the questions. Without the gushing confessions and body parts to sign. Without the attention.

The pocket of his hoodie buzzed, and he fished out the phone. A glance at the screen revealed the message was from the AFTA alert service. He hung up and pocketed the cell. “Not tonight.”

Mr. Popular took another contented sip.

The moaning had been replaced by a shrill humming. Half a dozen digital locusts cried out in unison from their compartmentalized cages.

“Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit…” Tantric was stuck on repeat.

“The hell are we going to do?” Wavelength fumbled to find his phone.

“We could all call in sick,” LiveFeed suggested, pulling his cell from his back pocket.

“I don’t think they’ll buy that.” DeathGrip studied her screen.

“What is wrong with you people?!” Spatter snapped open her phone and checked the message. “People are burning alive, and you’re not willing to rescue them? Fuck you. Danger doesn’t disappear just because you’re a little tipsy. You think Bullet Magnet ever passed on saving the world because he tied one off? Hell, no. When duty calls, you pick up the fucking phone. Now, get suited up. We leave in five.”

“Guess that makes me the designated driver,” DoubleVision surmised.

Wireframe, completely naked save the goggles spiking up her bangs, laid atop Cortex, straddling his protruding brainstem. Her phone droned below hastily discarded clothes, strewn about on the floor, while his cell skidded across the desk of its own volition. She attempted to get back in the mood by kissing his artificial hide above his LCD and thrusting her hips, but the buzz — and what it indicated — was too distracting. “What I wouldn’t give to spend all night with you.”

“I share that sentiment.” The big brain traced circles on the small of the inventor’s back with an index finger. “But, we are honor bound. And, there will be other nights.”

“I will stop them.” Gregor got to his feet and began pacing the perimeter of the subbasement.

“And, how, pray tell, do you plan on reaching them?” Micah remained in his mesh recliner, watching the teens on screen and his associate in the flesh scurry alike. “This bunker was built to withstand nuclear winter. The only means of escape is through the lavatory.”

“Or the dumbwaiter.” The feline leapt onto the tray resting on the ledge of a recess adjacent to the wall of screens. Deftly dodging dirty dishes, he scampered further into the makeshift escape route, until it dead-ended at a set of doors. Digging his claws into the seam, Gregor pried the doors open and climbed inside.

“Clever cat,” the old man admired.

“Fuck.” Spatter flicked through the clothes in her closet, rummaging through an array of skirts of every length, fabric, and color. “Fuck.”

“What?” DeathGrip shimmied into her black-and-white jodhpurs.

“I don’t have a helmet.” The Chinese teen threw her boots onto the floor.

“Where’s your spare?” The Argentine slipped on her uniform jacket.

“Getting repaired.” Spatter unzipped the back of her sundress and stepped out of it. “That jackass broke it this morning. And, my other one’s getting re-lined after my hairpins got snagged in it.”

“Use my spare, then.” DeathGrip chucked the bucket at her feet to her roommate. “My original isn’t too funky from this morning.”

The Asian girl examined her reflection in the helmet’s faceplate. “God, I’m going to look like a bobble-head.”

The dishwasher plodded toward the sink, an eight gallon pot of starchy water skidding on the linoleum between his feet. His grip on the handles was steady, but his arms were noodles after fourteen hours of lugging and scrubbing. With what little might he had left, he hefted the pot and tipped its lip into the basin. The drain slurped up the murky liquid, potato skins and all, lightening his load. He flipped the empty pot into the sink and leaned on the nearest counter he could find.

The sigh of relief that escaped his lips was quickly followed by a “huh?” as something chimed behind him. He turned to see the doors of the dumbwaiter fly open. A black blur bounced off his face.

The dishwasher fell to the floor, shouting “gaaaaaah!” all the way.

“My apologies,” the cat offered, as he raced through the kitchen.

“Good hustle, folks. Good hustle.” DeathGrip clapped her gloved hands in encouragement, as the team bolted into the garage. “Ten-Sec would be proud.”

“Where is he anyway?” DoubleVision led the pack, the car keys dangling from the keychain around her thumb.

“Guess he’s sitting this one out.” Spatter kept pace to the blonde’s left.

“Maybe he’s got the right idea.” LiveFeed stumbled behind, nursing his stomach.

“Are you gonna be all right?” DoubleVision gave the tall teen a worried glance over her shoulder.

“I’ll be okay, I think,” the beanstalk reassured. “As long as I sit up front with the window cracked.”

“An old home remedy?” The Chinese teen didn’t bother to look back at her French-Creole compatriot. “Adorable.”

“Eat me,” LiveFeed barked.

“Why?” Spatter shot back. “You never–”

“Shut up and get in,” the not-so-bubbly blonde ordered, as she yanked open the driver’s side door of the blinking van.

Neon eyes narrowed. Paws plowed through dirt and upended gravel. Whiskers undulated. Gregor galloped toward the garage.

“Everybody buckled?” DoubleVision checked her rearview mirror but could only see the top of Cortex’s semi-human casing in the backseat.

DeathGrip patted the back of the blonde’s headrest from directly behind. “We’re good to go.”

“Initiating launch sequence.” The driver flipped a switch on the dash, and a new set of gauges were projected along the bottom of the windshield.

“Intracels up. Dynatherms connected.” LiveFeed’s knees nearly hit his chest in the tight space, but he was stuck. If he moved his seat back, he’d be in Wavelength’s lap. And, neither teen wanted that.

The blonde grabbed the transceiver above the air conditioning controls. “Grasshopper 1 to control tower. This is — ugh — DoubleVision, requesting permission to launch.”

“Destination?” the automated voice quizzed through the cabin’s speakers.

“Manly and King’s Crossing.” The driver hovered a hand over the shifter. “Fire in progress.”

“Permission granted.” With that, the garage door ascended. “Fly safely.”

DoubleVision hit the gas and peeled out. The second the tires moved from cement to asphalt, she crossed her self and shifted from ‘D’ to ‘F’. Wings sprouted from the roof, and the van took off into the evening air, narrowly avoiding a black blur speeding up the runway. The driver peered out her side window, at the tarmac below, and blinked. “Did a black cat just cross our path?”

The tall teen to her right rested his head between his knees, the wind from his cracked window playing havoc with his afro. “You sure you didn’t have anything to drink?”

On the ground, Gregor cursed his own bad luck.

Mr. Popular emptied his to-go cup and savored the last bitter sip. It went down as harshly as the rest, but the teen idol didn’t mind the burn. His distressed stomach — craving something solid — groaned, as acid mixed with acid, yet the styrofoam container to his side remained unopened.

As a distraction from his hunger, the media sensation flipped the spent cup into his left hand and, spying a dumpster no more than ten feet away, took aim. The cup ricocheted off the container’s lip and bounced across the ground.

The teen idol shrugged and leaned back on his elbows. His green eyes strained to see the first stars of the night. A bright yellow light obstructed his view, as it washed over him.

Mr. Popular sat up with a start, throwing an arm over his eyes to block the approaching beams. Tires rolled to a stop, crushing the coffee cup.

“What the…?”

Wireframe rested her head on Cortex’s ample, uniformed lap. The big brain wrapped an arm around her prostrate body, but the gesture couldn’t defend her from the blather the pudgy teen in front of her unleashed.

“So, you’re an Eskimo, right?” Tantric positioned himself to peer over the back of his seat, to address the inventor directly. “Or, right, it’s Inuit now, right?”

“Uh…” Wireframe was baffled by the intoxicated ignorance. “I’m Indian…not Native American. My parents are from Mumbai.”

“But, you live in an igloo, right?” The new kid was relentless.

“Minneapolis can get quite cold, but…no.” Bemusement played on the machine-smith’s face. “No igloos.”

“Huh.” Tantric sat back. “So, what does whale blubber taste like?”

“I interrupt this nattering inanity for the following random interjection.” Cortex threw his fists into the air — and into the roof, denting it. “Hot butter loving! ‘Popcorn’ is ‘porn’ with too many letters.”

“Was that outburst part of your epiphany about having more fun?” DeathGrip inquired from two rows forward.

“Indubitably.” The intellect’s emotional display read: “^_^”. “It was also fueled by seven-eighths of a bottle of tequila.”

“Could you guys keep it down back there?” DoubleVision focused on the sky, what little of it the van’s high beams managed to illuminate. “I’m trying to concentrate.”

“Don’t hurt yourself.” Spatter tossed her oversized, loaner helmet on the seat between herself and the chatty new kid.

The feline sprinted down the carpeted hall and pounced on the door marked “86D”. “Open!”

“Authorization declined,” the same asexual, unsympathetic voice that dispatched the Grasshopper informed. “Voice unrecognized.”

Gregor scratched frantically at the oak door, dusting up a storm of splinters. “Open!

The knob, six inches out of the founder’s reach, finally twisted, and the door parted enough for the Ten-Second Rule’s head to dart out. The Home Ec instructor checked the corridor to the left, then the right. “Hello?”

“Hey!” The cat waved his silver and white paws.

The teacher glanced down at the talking feline and cocked an eyebrow. “Am I asleep…?”

“This is all too real, I’m afraid.” Gregor lowered his attention-grabbing appendages.

“Liferaft?” The Ten-Second Rule’s brow was fully furrowed now. “You look like–”

“A Japanimation character,” the feline finished. “I’m aware.”

“It’s called ‘anime’ now, man.” The instructor ran a hand through his fiery red hair.

“I’ve been out of the loop,” the founder admitted. “But, so have you.”

“Do what?” The Home Ec instructor gripped both sides of the doorknob and twisted.

“The senior class threw themselves a party, got very drunk, and responded to an emergency alert,” Gregor briskly summarized. “They’re heading into a five-alarm fire.”

“What…?” The Ten-Second Rule tensed. “I…I didn’t get a call.”

“You weren’t meant to,” the cat revealed. “Get dressed. I’ll explain on the way.”

The door swung open, and Deadlift — fastening a lacy bra behind her back, her hair loose about her shoulders — stepped into view. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

The founder averted his gaze down the hall, to give the Phys Ed teacher a modicum of privacy as she got dressed. “You can drive.”

DoubleVision toggled the van’s lights and squinted, but nothing came into view. Blackness ate away her peripheral vision, leaving an ever-shrinking circle of haze in the center of her sightline. “Oh, no…”

“Do we have a flat?” Spatter slumped in her seat, her knees jutting into the back of DeathGrip’s chair. “‘Cause we can always use Tantric’s spare tire.”

“Hey!” the pudgy teen shouted, from two feet away.

“Uncool, lady,” Wavelength chimed in. “Uncool.”

“I’m dizzy.” The blonde bobbled behind the wheel.

“‘Fair-haired’ and ‘light-headed’ are not synonymous.” Cortex’s emotional display read: “-_-“.

“Stay with us.” The Argentinean teen held the driver’s shoulders. “Autopilot, engage.”

“Engaged,” the digital voice chimed.

DoubleVision relinquished the wheel, and the van auto-corrected — by taking a sharp straight up, arcing right, and jostling ninety degrees left.

“Ugg” flew out of LiveFeed’s mouth, followed by a steady stream of fluid. Booze and bile splashed the dash, shorting the controls.

“Disengaged,” the automated voice announced.

“Fuck! Engage! Engage!” DeathGrip released the limp blonde, who landed on the wheel, and tightened her seatbelt. “Emergency landing protocols!” She threw on her helmet and braced for impact.

The van clipped the edge of an office building and spiraled. Down.

New lovers embraced. Prayers crossed lips. In five languages. Hands gripped upholstery. Eyes clasped tightly.

The front bumper dented the roadway, sending five hundred pounds of gray matter directly into the roof. Busting it wide open.

And, the Grasshopper flipped.

End over end.

Micah hung his head. The audio feed was a hiss, and the video screens offered only static.

The limousine pushed ninety through the alley and swerved onto the street, sliding on two tires. Selina spun the wheel, fishtailing to land on all four.

Paint and parts — auto and otherwise — littered the buckled road ahead.

The backdoor swung open before the driver had a chance to stop. The departing passenger threw his phone at the vagrant in the backseat. “Hold down ‘2’. Tell the operator: ‘triage’.”

“Whatever you say, hoss,” the bindlestiff managed through bites of cobbler.

Mr. Popular flipped up his hood. “Time to save the fucking day.”

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