No Fruit But Figs
Felix always liked Periville. It was never too loud or too busy. People seemed to live in slow motion, like leaves on a quiet stream. On easy days, he’d watch those little leaves from a park bench on Piper Ave. If he got really antsy, he’d talk to them; make up stories about lives he never lived and people he never met. To Jennifer next door, he was Arnold Worthington, the bastard of a young duke that lived in the Worthington Estate hundreds of miles away. He spoke of his mother, and how she ran away from the death sentence and saved his life, never again being able to fall in love. Yet, she’d always wanted another son.
Felix rather enjoyed that story. And he had the satisfaction of living in it whenever he ran into Jennifer at the park. The woman was older and wrinkled, and would always ask what time it was or where the water fountain was. She’d forget about Arnold Worthington, and he’d practice the story all over again. His dream was that one day, maybe he could become Arnold himself.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Felix bused dishes as “Frank” at Brews and Brothers in Knoxville, and then worked the rest of the week as “Finnegan” at an auto-mechanic shop in West Fort. He didn’t really have a place he “lived” per say, but he had many places to squat in. Sabine thought he was in school, but he hadn’t showed up at Wakefield University in months. She’d call him every once in a while, from her place up in Periville, but the two never talked much. He’d show up on weekends and stay in her place, let her mother him and baby him for a bit, and then leave again to work. She called him “Fred” or “Fredrick.”
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were his favorite days to work. At the mechanic shop, Phil, his manager, really let him run the show. He’d take on cars, misbehaving or broken AI systems, faulty cybernetic implants, tablets, and just about anything that had working, mechanical parts. One woman came in with a cybernetic plant pot that’d pick itself up and walk to the nearest patch of sunlight whenever it needed it. The thing had been broken, and would scuttle around the house, trashing up her furniture while she slept. It took two days for Felix to fix it. She’d paid him partly in cash and partly in garden vegetables of which Felix froze and ate over the span of weeks.
Food was, at first, the biggest issue of living without a home. Restaurants were too expensive and utilities were luxuries he couldn’t house. On weekends, he’d stock up on food from Sabine’s. But unless he could find a way to store them, they had little to no use.
Normally, Felix didn’t eat much, and tramped around town as a twiggy, stick man. He made sure to stay clean, though, using public bathrooms and whatever cash he picked up on good clothing and hair products and shoes. He never wanted anyone else to know he was poor.
He started camping out in the “Weird” Underground subway stations on the days he had work in West Fort. It was a grim place, full of scumbags and criminals who came to life at night. The entire complex smelled of grime and cigarette smoke. Felix could squat in a corner and watch freaks go by dressed in anything one could think of. Propaganda posters, police tape, rugs, newspaper, leather, animal skin, or just about any other substance available to man.
Down there, the people called him “Fig,” and waved or winked at him from time to time. But Felix’s favorite underground citizen had to be green-skinned, fanged, and winged Gem. She ran a small business of potions and herbal medicines and charms and trinkets of all mystical sorts.
He’d watch her the closest. She had a head of thick, glittery black hair and whatever color eyes she wanted. When she smiled, her teeth were sharp, glassy peals. She had countless tattoos and piercings and decorations. He’d gotten his first tattoo in her tent, a month or two back. It was a rotten apple over his right shoulder blade.
It was only a week later that Felix’s life truly kicked into motion.
December 8th, 2039.
“Freddy, it’s time to get up. If you sleep too much, you’ll rot your brain.”
It was Sabine yelling in from the kitchen. Felix was sprawled on the couch from where he’d fallen asleep last night to Wakefield’s Got Talent. Cheesy-Chips were scattered across his chest and he sat up to realize he’d been sleeping on top of the remote the entire time. It left a bright red outline on his lower back.
For a moment, he had nothing but a distant sense of disorientation. Who was he? Who was Freddy? It always happened like that whenever he woke up. He had to give his brain a second to boot up.
Kicking away the blankets, he clamored into the brightly lit kitchen. A single chandelier bathed the room in artificial sunlight.
“Are you excited for your swim meet tomorrow?” Sabine was at the stove, boiling water for oatmeal.
Felix bit into an apple from the table. “Yeah, I’m real excited. Exercise is great.” He rolled his eyes.
“It’s good for your bones. And it’s good for parents to put their foot down on things. I wouldn’t have forced you if you weren’t just so gosh-darn lazy all the time.”
“I know, Mom.”
“Have you picked a major yet?” Sabine turned around and leaned against the counter. Her skin was bright and soft, with just the subtle hint of a tan. She always had her blonde hair high in a ponytail, and wore sneakers and yoga pants religiously. Felix hated the way she looked. Always so preppy and energized. It sucked the life out of him.
Felix smiled. “I’ve got the rest of the year, don’t I?”
“It’s never too early to start planning things out, though. Wouldn’t want you to fall behind.”
With a snort, Felix watched Sabine pour oats into the water. It bubbled down to a simmer, and he imagined cupping the back of her skull and forcing her face down into the pot. He’d tell her his real name, then.
“Oh, hon, could you grab those bowls over there?”
Felix hesitated, Sabine’s back to him. He inhaled and then exhaled. “Sure thing.” He turned to grab two bowls from the cabinets, setting them on the counter next to the stove. Sabine smiled and went back to cooking.
As the two sat down to eat, Felix watched Sabine shovel food into her mouth. “So, hey,” she started. “I’ve been trying to find my juicer for a couple days now. You didn’t happen to put it somewhere weird while you were doing the dishes last week, did you?”
“No, I put it where it usually goes. Next to the dishwasher by the cookbooks, right?”
“Yeah.” She paused to chew her food. “Weird.”
The following day, Felix left the house with a small pack of “school lunches” and bathing products. Half the time, Sabine didn’t even know they were missing. But this time, he’d also stuffed in a juicer and a couple old necklaces from Sabine’s “gold days.” She only wore silver and sweat bands nowadays.
From Periville, Felix took the monorail into Thespianora and then into West Fort, where he took a bus to Nails, an auto repair shop where he worked. Gunner was there, caked in oil and grime.
“Hey, Fin, can you pick up that car?” He pointed to an old, beat up Rolls-Royce. “It needs an engine replacement. I gotta work on this tablet.”
It was always work from the get-go. Just like Felix preferred it. He took a towel from the toolbox and wiped his hands with a smile. “Sure thing, man. I got it.”
Three hours later, he ate lunch in the break room, drinking water from an old jug that worked only when it felt like it. Felix adored the smell of oil and exhaust mixed with cheap, cherry air freshener. The stench enveloped the entire facility, it seemed. But mostly, it followed his backpack when he left the repair shop later that night to go underground. He’d made a very, very small fortune bartering off objects and spare parts that he’d picked up from his various jobs. This time, he had three necklaces, some old tablets, a juicer, and an entire car engine.
The booth where he sold things was owned by a guy named Bart. He, too, was an auto mechanic and used to work all in way in East Fort making utility systems. He’d been fired for snorting Xmint on the job.
“Damn, you got a lot of shit today, huh, Fig,” said Bart, clearing the counter.
“You’re damn right.”
“Is your wife in the hospital again?”
Felix dumped out his backpack, rifling through the supplies. “They said she’d be good as new, but they keep trying to pump new medications in her.”
“Not wrong.” Felix brought the engine to Bart. “Do you think this could be useful for something?”
Bart scrunched his dark, bushy eyebrows. “Yeah, probably. Looks old.”
“Not much, but yeah.”
They were interrupted by a couple guys outside. “Hey, Bartholomew! Get out here. We need to talk.”
Bart’s eyes went wide. There was sweat on his forehead. “Shit, I’ll be right back.”
“Nothing. Stay here.” He shuffled up front, but Felix could still hear them.
“You said it’d be ready three days ago. Where the fuck is it?”
Bart’s voice answered. “It’s in the back. I just haven’t been able to break the incryption. It’s intricate, you know?”
One of them snorted. “I think you’ve already broken it. I think you’re snooping around in the shit I found, and lying to my face. Are you lying to my face, Bartholomew?”
Felix furrowed his brow. He sneaked around towards the front, peering around the counter.
There were four big guys in leather, and just one Bart. He knew everything was going south.
“N-No, of course not! It’s the customer’s property, I’d never--”
“Bullshit.” The one in the middle took a gun from his coat. “You’re a fucking liar.”
Bart ducked behind the counter for his crowbar, but the man jumped, his boots slamming onto the wood of the counter. He fired three times at Bart, who had crouched down below. Smoke slipped from the barrel of the gun as silence ricocheted throughout the area.
“Imbecile,” he spat.
The other two guys pushed through the counter-door and back into the supply room where Felix was hiding. He tired to slip away, but they grabbed him by the collar, slamming him down in front of the man on the counter. Felix landed next to Bart on his knees, his hands flat in his boss’s blood.
“You, do you know where my tablet is?”
Felix looked up. Four guys, one of him. He couldn’t win in a brawl. He was unarmed.
He inhaled and exhaled. “Yeah, but Bart never let me touch it.”
The man laughed. “Scum was searching through my things. I know it. He didn’t want you to find out.”
“But I did.” Felix bit the inside of his cheek, head spinning. “I knew all along.”
“Wait a second.” The man crouched down so that he could stare directly at Felix. “You’ve seen it, too.”
Felix blinked. “Yeah, I worked on it behind his back.”
The man swung his arm so that the barrel faced Felix. “You sorry sonofabitch. You could have lied your way out of this. What an idiot.” His cronies laughed.
Felix clenched his jaw. “Bart never saw anything in the tablet. I was the one who wrote the encryption.”
“It was encrypted years ago. I stole it.”
“I know.” Felix raised his hands in the air. Blood dripped down his arms. “I rewrote the encryption to keep it to myself.”
The man’s eye twitched. “I’ll kill you.”
“Sure.” He shrugged. “Just as long as you’re okay with killing your tablet, too.”
There was a moment of long, drawn out silence. Felix made eye-contact with the man. He leveled each intake of air, convincing his own mind of the lie. He had to adopt it wholeheartedly.
“What’s your name?” The guy grimaced, as if disgusted by the fact that he had to ask.
“Stupid name. I’ll give you five thousand dollars to remove the encryption, Fig. This is my deal. Take it or the bullet.”
The man blanched. “The fuck are you talking about?”
“One million dollars. That’s my deal.”
Felix shrugged. “Or you could just take it somewhere else. I’m sure there are plenty of government officials who’d love to speak with you about it.”
Sweat dripped down the man’s forehead.
“That’s a Vega Soft version of the SX Tablet, eighth edition. You can’t even find those in East Fort, and they’ve got a first model of a hovercraft vehicle. I don’t know what kind of deal you had with Bart, but he was an imbecile. I could decrypt that thing in fifteen minutes.”
Internally, Felix flinched. He had to watch his tongue. It ran faster than reality.
The man looked him over, eyes sweeping up and down his body. “What makes you think I could trust you?”
Felix’s eyelid twitched. It was a subtle hint of deception. He laughed before he froze up. “I’m a likable guy.”
“One million is crazy. I’ll give you ten thousand.”
The man laughed. “You’re new, Fig.”
“A million or no deal.”
“Who do you think I am?”
Just as the man started to laugh, a gunshot rang out. Felix squeezed his eyes shut, hands in the air. He didn’t open them again until he heard a loud thud at his side. The man laid flat on the ground, his own blood adding to the collective pool of Bart’s. Felix’s eyes flashed across the counter to see another man step into the light from the shop. The cronies of the dead man ran off.
Suddenly, it was just Felix and the shooter.
“I’ll give you a quarter million, this shop, protection, and a name, if you’re really who you say you are,” the man said. He slunk the gun into the holster at his belt.
Felix’s knees shook. “Who are you?”
“You really are new.” The man was hooded, and two gloved hands slipped into the pockets of his leather coat. He looked rather normal, in a way, compared to the collective crazy of the Weird Underground.
Felix glanced down at the bodies on the floor. “My deal was one million.” His voice quivered, ever so slightly.
The man smiled. “Trust me when I say you’ll have well over a million dollars of profit in my deal. I’m being incredibly generous.”
“Also, unlike Alan down there, I have limited interest in your encrypted tablet. I wouldn’t mind spilling your blood over theirs. My deal includes your life.”
Felix’s heart raced. His mind told him to give in, but there was a deeper, more raw part of him that wanted to continue the game. He knew the shooter wanted the tablet, that much was evident. But how deep did his desire run, was the question. Felix couldn’t quite tell.
“What do you mean, a name?”
The shooter stepped closer to the counter. The world seemed to slow down. “Pick one. I’ll be sure that everyone in this complex knows it. Fig is rather strange, so feel free to choose something more creative. More challenging, perhaps. “Bart” was pretty boring anyhow.”
”Is limited, but available. I have a name, too. Names are quite powerful, you see. I think you’d be surprised to know how much influence a name can have.”
Felix let his hands fall to his sides. “And this shop would be... mine?”
“If you so desired. You seem much more qualified, I must say.”
“I’ll take it.”
The man paused, his smile disappearing. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning for the tablet. If it isn’t decrypted, I’ll hunt for employment elsewhere and you’ll die a bloody nobody. I’ll have the money then, of course. I’ll be your first business client. Don’t disappoint me.”
The man turned his back. Felix stood frozen. He didn’t know what to do.
“Wait!” he called. “What’s your name?”
The man laughed. “You’ll figure it out.”
And just like that, Arnold Worthington died. “Fig” grew on him just a little bit more.