black_cigarette (black_cigarette) wrote,

Numbskull Nine (Like a Complete Unknown)

TITLE: Numbskull Nine (Like a Complete Unknown)
SUMMARY: They need a break from each other before they break each other.
CHARACTERS: House, Wilson
RATING: R for language and themes (gen fic).
WARNINGS: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: Interlude piece between Evo Krater and the upcoming Cierros chapters, which we will begin posting on Monday, 3/28.  Here are the links to all chapters of the Distress Call universe.

They'd made dock at Numbskull Nine -- the real name is something that starts with an N and ends with two Ls, but the in-between is a rush of jumbled consonants Wilson can't pronounce -- thirteen days post-Krater, ready to kill one another.

There were, it had turned out, only so many antique films and books Wilson could consume, only so many times he could nose around the same holds of the ship, only so much history he could read about the artifacts Jerome discovered hidden there. Wilson's forged credentials would let him downstream almost any medical journal off the subether feeds, but he didn't. Whatever advances were being made, what did it matter to him now?

Hyperspace travel meant viewports all shuttered, no pulling a chair up to one and losing himself in nebulae and stars. So he'd been trying to run away instead, on the treadfloor of the ship's tiny exercise room. That hadn't worked either, until the day he found the visual function. Holographic scenery flowed past him as he jogged until he was ready to drop and then pushed on, past barren violet mountains and looming red suns; into a forest thick with giant blue ferns; through the white stony ruins of some fantastical, long-dead citadel. Wilson ran until all he could feel was heat, everything in his body burning -- and then the treadbelt abruptly slowed to a stop.

He looked up and saw House standing there with his hand on the control panel.

"Get showered," House told him. "Time for bed."

And Wilson did it, because what the hell else was there to do?

Their nights have all been the same since they left the Zelushka. They don't talk at all. Wilson lies down and allows House to bite. No more performances, no card games, no drinking first. House's new routine is to knock him out swiftly. When Wilson wakes, he finds the single healing incision, small and exact, never above the elbow. Distance, precisely what he wanted, but he got himself drunk one night just to see what would happen -- whether House would drink too, or at least talk to him.

"You're an idiot," House said, and bit hard and deep into the flesh between Wilson's radius and ulna. In the few spiraling moments before sleep, Wilson knew for certain that House was serious. He would break the addiction that bound Wilson to him, hop the next vampire-manned stock freighter out of the quadrant, and that would be that. Wilson would never see him again.

There'd be nobody to help Wilson celebrate his freedom.

Numbskull Nine is possibly even weirder than Exeter Prime.

Its commons, under the metal dome, is guarded on four sides by cobbled-together gods, with tokens and rows of candles -- actual, open-flame candles, in the middle of a station -- arranged on pedestals around them. A reptile, an enormous bird, a leaping ... deer, Wilson thinks it is, its body formed from what might have been an incineration cylinder. The fourth god is a fish, strangely graceful with its steel-spined fins pushing through the air.

There are things drilled and hammered into almost every visible surface inside the station. Chains dangle from arching beams above Wilson's head. Drink-cans of all shades and hues have been crushed into flat tiles and fixed into patterns on the walls in a series of junkheap mosaics. A merchant-stall's corner posts bristle with metal tubing and springs and triangular bits of colored metal; it takes a moment for Wilson to realize they represent trees.

The stall itself sells foodstuffs Wilson can't identify, but can smell from several meters away. It's not a good smell. He wonders whether House knows what any of this is, or likes any of it, and then he remembers that he's not thinking about House. That's why they stopped -- for a lousy little third-rate vacation from each other. They've been waking each morning in their own rooms, listening for sounds, softly asking Callie where the other one is. They might spend a few terse minutes in the kitchen having breakfast, but only if Wilson cooks, which he's been less and less inclined to do. What House does while on the station, Wilson hasn't bothered to ask. Whatever Wilson does, he thinks House never asks because House can smell everything on him the way a dog could. Produce vendors, a tailor who wore too much scent, the liquor in the only almost-decent restaurant on the whole Round. Cheap massage oil from a place very unlike the spa on the Silver Bay; the other services offered there, Wilson had declined. His shirt, when he put it on again, clung across his back where the girl's hands had spread the potion. Its sweetness wrapped around him when he moved, turning his stomach. He'd gone straight back to the Callie and scrubbed himself clean.

That was the last of Wilson's thoughts about finding physical solace on this station. The freightship women keep to themselves, not returning his glances; there are no passenger cruisers docking up, only merchants with wary eyes and stockhands too tired for any thought other than business. House won't get to mock him for smelling like sex, not here.

Nor will Wilson smell of soil, grass, water, sun-touched skin -- because Numbskull Nine's a floater station, not an orbit. Or rather, it does orbit something, but that something is only a gigantic anchor in space, a boulder sheathed in an atmosphere so toxic nobody will ever bother trying to transform it.

Welcome, Wilson thinks, to the inn between Nothing and Nowhere.

He's standing in the center concourse, in the dead space between the traffic flow and the central row of merchants. The metal dome won't let in light or darkness, and the few stalls that sell plants have their wares under light-traps. Wilson drifts toward one, intrigued by a dozen miniature pots sprouting delicate shocks of pink.

"Love-lace," says the woman in the stall. Her face is pale, like she's never seen the sun, but lined with middle-age. "Snip off just this much, drop it in your cooking-pot, invite someone to dinner. Just be sure," she says, leaning closer to him, "it's someone you really want to fuck."

"Ah ... I ... that's all right," Wilson stammers, eying the bright, fluffy foliage like it's poison -- and if it's a folklore aphrodisiac, it very well might be. His attempt at casually wandering away is failing; he can hear the woman and her friends laughing at him, but he can't understand what they're saying. This station has its own dialect, a cawing, half-sung tangle of slang that its freighter visitors call Stranded instead of Standard.

He'd learned this yesterday, when he sat at that halfway-decent bar and asked the bartender what language that was, where all these people came from. "Here," the man replied. "Born here and they never leave. All those big crazy statues?"

"The, uh, gods?"

"Not gods. Strander graveyards, is what. Bodies of 'em are hollow, and there's hatches at the top where they pour the ashes in."

Wilson decided to order another drink.

Three days and House hasn't scented out a single other haemovore. He decides it's a relief, even though the station reeks of vulgaris of varying levels of hygiene. In this bar, especially, it does, but House likes it here as well as he'd like it anywhere else; alcohol counts for a lot.

"New in town, I see," says the heavy guy behind the counter. "You'd been here before, you'd know better than to eat those."

Those are the handful of squarish, lumpy, wheat-colored tidbits in House's hand. The bowl on the bar is full of the things, and they can only be snack food. "Not poison?" House asks, popping one into his mouth. It's atrocious -- sharp-edged, unyielding, too hard to chew and too chewy to crunch. Completely stale, unless of course there's just no concept of "crispy" on Numbskull Nine.

That's what Wilson calls it, because he can't pronounce whatever the hell its actual name is. House figures it fits, but at least the Numbskull Bar Guy seems pretty bright.

"You're right," House says, and takes a long drink of ale. "Never hauled this route before. Need some information, if you have it."

"I might." Bar Guy leans on the bar, his eyes showing his amusement.

"My business partner, back on the ship, he's pretty sick. You know a ... half-civilized place we could go, find a doc who doesn't keep lots of records?"

"Might," Bar Guy answers. He looks pointedly at House's cred-key. "Need a good drink first, though."

House raises the key in informal salute. "Don't we all."

Out of earshot of the love-lace sellers, at last, Wilson slows down and is almost run over by a pink-skinned teenage girl driving a fully loaded boxhauler. Her blue eyes are clear and hard. He can't understand what she shouts at him as she forces her way past, but it's certainly obscene, and has the hand gestures to match.

Wilson can't summon anger at her, knowing she's a Strander. He got the story last night, how these people run the airsystems, the waste processors, the circuits, the docks -- and they hate James Wilson and Greg House and everyone else from outside, despite or because of the knowledge that if the outsiders were to stop coming, everyone left on Numbskull Nine would starve to death.

"I hate it here," Wilson murmurs to himself. He turns around, using the station's bizarre statues as landmarks, trying to remember -- was their dock in the direction of the giant welded-engine-part lizard statue, or the huge scrap-novaglas bird? The bird, he thinks, and turns left toward it. If he recalls correctly, the edge of the commons, and a row of dingy, stuffy freighter-taverns, is just past those crazed, fracture-blasted wings.

Yes. He's chosen the right direction; there are the half-dozen taverns, with the passage through the middle from the first ring, through the second, and outward to Four-Dock.

He threads that darkened path back to the Hotel California, looking neither right nor left and especially not back again. They'll be leaving tonight, if Wilson has any say about it, away from this doomed life-raft of a station and never to return.

Up two lift-levels, tube-door on the left, a voice command because this joint's palmprint locks don't work anymore -- and he's fleeing through the docking tube, through the front airlock, into the control room.


"Yes, Captain?"

"Where's House?"

"Captain House is not on board."

"Thank you." Something in the back of his mind wants to run, run now while House won't know, take the ship and fly and to hell with the consequences. He could, and House would be resourceful, get the freighter gig he planned to get anyway, and Wilson ... would die. He couldn't treat himself for voracin withdrawal. Symbiotic crisis. He'd die, and there's a part of him that wouldn't mind, but that part is very small.

He grabs his ethertab off the console and retreats to the haven of the kitchen. He'll downstream back-blocks of Fourworlds Medical Monthly, and he'll cook; he got a few untainted fresh items at the Numbskull market square the day before.

He isn't sure yet what's for dinner, but he'll figure it out before House gets back.

House snatches up his plate from the table, adds another serving of everything, then slides it and two tall ale-bottles onto the tray he keeps on the kitchen counter.

"Coming?" he says. He's looking at the door.

"To, uh ... the lounge?"

"Or the theater. I don't care. These kitchen chairs suck."

This is the most they've said to each other in days. Should it feel this good? "Lounge is fine. I guess I have to carry the tray?"

"I guess I'm still crippled?" House lurches away from him and is gone, remarkably fast for a cripple. Wilson feels himself smiling, even though he knows this isn't going to last. He sets his plate and a third bottle next to House's, lifts the tray, and follows.

"I hope you don't think just because you cooked for me, I'm gonna put out."

"Well," Wilson answers in his best philosophical tone, "I hadn't had any luck with the women here, and ..."

House snorts, stops flipping etherfeeds, and takes another drink. He's finished his ale and has been sipping from a different bottle, one that seems to have appeared by magic in his hand while Wilson wasn't looking. Some kind of whiskey he must have stashed here, it smells like caramel, if caramel could knock you on your ass.

"I want to leave here tonight," House announces, resting the bottle on the sofa cushion alongside his hip. "Got what I came for."

Wilson can't resist. "An exotic new disease?"

"Probably, now that you mention it. We should scan ourselves before the -- oh yeah, I said we weren't having sex, didn't I?"

"Gimme that." Wilson's stretching his hand out toward that bottle, wiggling his fingers. He wants a real drink, damn it.

"You want the bottle? After I've been drinking out of --"

"You drink out of my damn veins every night and you think a little spit's gonna freak me out? Hand it over."

House does, but he's scowling. "You don't want to know why I'm ready to leave?"

Wilson leans back, shuts his eyes and takes a first careful sip of House's booze. Oh, yeah -- blazingly warm, perfectly dry, potent stuff. "I already know," he says, as soon as his voice works again. "Same reason you're watching crappy shows and drinking with me tonight instead of being a complete ass. You've decided where you want to go, where to get the supplies you need in order to divest yourself of me. You have a plan, you feel like you're in control of something for the first time since they stuck you on the Medusa, so at least for the next five minutes you're feeling good. Don't worry," he continues, holding up his hands in mock surrender, "I know you'll be over it by morning."

"Sooner than that if you don't shut up."

"I was planning on exdock tonight anyway. This place is a shitball."

"So's the place we're going. Some little half-Focus, heavily-farmed larder to the stars. Cierros. You can probably get work there, once I'm gone. The orbit station needs some qualified medical personnel."

"And you found this out how?"

"Asked around. I'd tell you to try it sometime, but you'd get shot. You look too much like a cop."

"Agricultural planet?" Wilson's still drinking, paying no heed to House's demanding outstretched hand. "You mean ... real farms? Not nutro factories?" He swallows, the caramel bitter in his throat as he remembers the Pur-Quality facility he'd visited on a school trip. That was where the "employees" of Delphus Planetary got their food -- the miles of giant beaker-vats, extruders, conveyor-belt ovens that turned various colors of slurry into the "complete balanced diet" of the working underclass. The mingled scents of the factory had risen up and turned Wilson's stomach. The other kids had gone equally green, and one boy nudged Wilson in the ribs. "Sure glad I'm not a Drone," he'd said, "so I don't have to eat that crap."

"Real farms," House says, either not noticing or studiously ignoring Wilson's expression. "So I can get something with four legs, and yes, the supplies I need to get rid of you and your Intro Psych bullshit. Well --" House leans sideways until he can reach over and snag the bottle out of Wilson's hand again. Victorious, he swigs down a bit more. "-- the supplies I think I need. You'll be happy to know, probably not from the vet supplier. Just need a place with access to compounds for human medicine, but ... not so much insistence on strict record-keeping. Farming cultures are usually pretty relaxed about that stuff." He burps loudly. "Too busy chasing the sheep."

Wilson shakes his head and sighs. "Speaking of relaxation ..."

House passes the bottle back without further complaint. "I won't miss you," he says.

"I know. Callie?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"Get us out of here."
Tags: cierros, distress call

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  • Distress Call: Game Over

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  • Distress Call: The Stalking Game

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