Warning: This picks up Stylet's course as he flees from Easy City, so it's an emotional roller-coaster. Highlight for more specific warnings, some of which are spoilers. There are bad decisions and repercussions thereof, references to human smuggling of unofficial immigrants, another round of Stylet splicing up critters in a lab, why it can be a bad idea to read the comments on the internet, and other angst. If those are sensitive issues for you, please consider your taste and headspace before reading onward.
"Going to Ground"
After the Spectrum cracked his lab
and released all of the berettaflies,
Stylet knew that staying in Easy City
was no longer safe for him.
So he took himself and
the few insects that he had
managed to recapture into
the bayous in search of refuge.
Somewhere around in here, if
Stylet could find it again, Abbs Ortego
had a lair that he used for smuggling
people from places like Mexico,
Cuba, and Haiti into America.
A particular benefit of this system
was that Abbs hid his premium customers
inside the compound while he worked
on setting up their new lives.
Eventually Stylet succeeded
in locating the place, and
made his appeal to Abbs.
"I can put you up for a while,
but it'll cost you," Abbs said.
"Okay," said Stylet, who
had been expecting that.
"What do you want?"
"I want you to fix the gatorbirds,"
he said. "I'm still not getting better than
twenty percent live hatching, and
most of them don't live long."
Stylet remembered those,
a handsome blend of alligator,
crocodile, parakeet, parrot, and
a few other ingredients meant
to discourage immigration officials
from snooping around the compound.
What a pity that he'd never
gotten above 'marginal' viability,
and Abbs could barely manage
'potential' level, which meant that
some lived, but the offspring often had
health problems or a shortened lifespan.
"Yeah, I can do that," said Stylet.
He had improved the genetic binder
over time, and after the excellent results
with the berettaflies, felt confident that
he could fix the gatorbirds now.
"Premium," Abbs agreed with
a thin smile, and they shook on it.
So Stylet went to ground alongside
a handful of people who could afford
to escape their shithole lives south of
the border, each of them tucked away
in their own private can to minimize
the chance of anyone exposing
somebody else if captured.
Abbs also gave Stylet access to
a lab where Abbs cooked up
the gizmotronic tricks that he
used in smuggling people.
It was dim and cramped, but Stylet
had worked in considerably worse places,
even if the comparisons made him miss
the lovely spacious laboratory that
the Spectrum had destroyed.
He lost track of time as he
put together a batch of
gatorbirds and carefully
spliced in the new binder.
After he put them into
the quick-grower, he went
back to his quarters, and
this time actually appreciated
the refuge he had there.
Stylet settled onto the couch
and opened his laptop to see
what the public feeds said.
The city was in an uproar
about the berettaflies.
The police had already connected
Mr. Pernicious with the lab, although
not pinned down his relationship as
the sponsor of those guardbugs.
The Spectrum's reputation had
taken a beating in the humor blogs.
The cartoonists were out in force;
one had already issued a t-shirt
with a rainbow-striped skunk saying,
"I used to think this was nifty. But
Spectrum's giving me a bad name!"
Stylet took a drink from his Jazz soda
and paged to the next entry.
It consisted of a cryptic button
that bore an interrupted rainbow stripe
and the caption, "Spectrum Stinks."
Stylet stared at it for a long moment,
as the pattern seemed vaguely familiar.
Then he chuckled. "Sulfur. Good one."
He flipped to the next page,
a cartoon drawn in snazzy style.
The left panel showed a swarm of
killer bees, swinging whips and singing,
"Down, down to Goblin Town you go, my lad,"
while the right panel showed berettaflies with
battle axes and crossbows all screaming,
"WE ARE THE FIGHTING URUK-HAI!!!"
Stylet laughed so hard that he
snorted Jazz out his nose and
all over the computer screen.
Mr. Pernicious had missed
a terrific opportunity there;
Stylet knew that he would have
loved a set of berettaflies with
the White Hand on them, and
it wouldn't even have been very
hard to massage the white markings
into the shape of a handprint.
Eagerly he scrolled down.
"They were Elves once,
taken by the Dark Lord,
tortured and mutilated,"
said the first comment.
"A ruined and terrible form of life,"
continued the next by a different author.
Stylet's giddy exaltation abruptly plummeted,
his Jazz turning to acid in his stomach.
"Never read the comments," he muttered
as he slammed his laptop shut.
"They're always creepy."
His berettaflies were nothing like that ...
all right, so they were terrible, but
they certainly weren't ruined.
They were fierce and
powerful and beautiful.
He hadn't broken them.
He had perfected them.
... hadn't he?
* * *
Abbs Ortego -- He has toffee skin, brown eyes, and long black hair done in tiny braids that fall past his shoulders. A little scruff of mustache covers his upper lip. He has small scars on his chin and cheeks from fighting. Abbs is Creole, with ancestors primarily from Africa and Spain, along with a smattering of others. He has relatives and other contacts throughout the Gulf area.
Abbs spends much of his time smuggling humans into America from places like Mexico, Cuba, and Haiti. Several years ago, he commissioned Stylet to create the gatorbirds -- tiny voracious hybrids of alligator and parakeet that fly and bite everything in sight. The idea was to discourage immigration authorities from breaking into his compound, where he shelters his premium customers while setting them up in their new life. Abbs has no morals, and indeed, doesn't even understand what morals really are. He just tends to think in terms of contracts.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Gizmologist, Good (+2) Human Smuggler, Good (+2) Resourceful, Good (+2) Strength, Good (+2) Wealth
Poor (-2) Amoral
* * *
Bayous form a vital part of the Louisiana landscape, as their slow-moving water creates a buffer between freshwater rivers and saltwater tides. Culturally, that's a great place to get lost and not found if you want to disappear.
Human smuggling is distinct from trafficking in that it conveys willing cargo. It still causes problems, especially around the Caribbean.
Gatorbirds are avian-reptilian hybrids that Stylet created some time ago and is currently improving. Their green wings and blunt tails come from such species as red-crowned parrots from Mexico and parakeets such as budgerigars although they have more pointed tails. Alligators and crocodiles make up a majority of the reptilian ancestry.
Viability describes how well an individual or species can survive, or in gengineering, the efficacy of a technique in producing live healthy offspring. Making cloned mammals can be very inefficient (Dolly the sheep was the only survivor out of 277 attempts) although by 2014 local-Chinese scientists claimed 70–80% success in cloning pigs. Stylet uses this scale:
Nonviable -- no living births.
Unlikely -- less than 1% living births; most or all offspring have health problems and greatly shortened lifespan.
Potential -- 1-25% living births; many offspring have health problems and/or shortened lifespan.
Marginal -- 26-50% living births; some offspring have health problems or shortened lifespan, but the effects are not as bad.
Viable -- 51% or more living births; few if any offspring have health problems or slightly shortened lifespan, and those rare effects tend to be minor.
Stylet is staying in a Vigilance pod similar to the 9x30' model, but with a double bed like the 9x40' model has. Abbs uses blank pods to set up as lab space, and has loaned Stylet the one best suited for biological work.
Dark humor can be a positive coping skill. There are exercises for using humor to handle stress.
The black crack! the black crack!
The black crack! the black crack!
Down down to Goblin-town
Down down to Goblin-town
Down down to Goblin-town
You go, my lad!
Ho, ho! my lad!
-- from "Down, Down, to Goblin-Town"
"We are the fighting Uruk-hai! We slew the great warrior. We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, The White Hand: The Hand that gives us man's-flesh to eat. We came out of Isengard, and led you here, and we shall lead you back by the way we choose."
-- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Chapter 3, "The Uruk-hai"
"Do you know how the Orcs first came to be? They were Elves once, taken by the Dark Lord, tortured and mutilated. A ruined and terrible form of life. And now, perfected. My fighting Uruk-hai."
Jazz soda is a Terramagne-American brand vaguely similar to Jolt Cola in terms of extreme caffeine and sugar content. However, Jazz is electric blue and sweetened with emulsified corn syrup. This is Stylet's favorite soda, and he started out feeding his berettaflies on Jazz syrup, although he later modified that into a customized food for them.
Sulfur creates a distinctive spectrographic pattern. It is a key component in the smell of rotten eggs and various other stenches.
Never read the comments is common internet advice, because people say a lot of mean or stupid things.
People often have second thoughts about their decisions, which can have positive outcomes. There are tips on how to keep from second-guessing yourself and how to reassess your choices based on shifting situations or values. You can also help other people make good decisions.