Anyway. I was in the back of Bernard's old EH Holden
. He was driving; some guy I didn't know was in the front passenger seat. We were cruising up the Maroondah highway
, that elevated-road section that they put in to keep all the street scum out of their shops. Every building along there was at least four storeys high, the first two being burned-out shells, the third being armored doors and defense systems; anything above that was fit for Citizens to shop in and conveniently at street level.
So, me and Bernie and this guy are cruisin' up along the highway when the guy offers me the open end of a brown paper bag. He has this half-concealed sly grin on his face which tells me it would be a sensible thing to refuse, and I do, Ringwood being Melbourne's home of poor quality back-yard psychoactive chemistry. He sticks his face into the bag and takes a good snort, then offers it to Bernard, who does the same. Nothing seems to happen after that for a few minutes, then they both fish around underneath their seats and take out automatic weapons. Really old, crusty-lookin' things, must be at least fifty years old. The guy knocks out his window with the butt of the rifle, somehow manages to swing the gun around and then starts shooting at the other drivers on the road. Bernard actually bothers to wind down his window (it's his car, after all) but also starts takin' pot-shots at the people walking along the balconies in front of the shops. They're both rotten shots, and they put more small holes into windows than they do people, but whatever was in the brown paper bag is working now, and their faces are red and they're screaming wordlessly, almost like they were singing along to grunge or something.
It didn't take Bernard long to lose control of the car. It bounced off a council garbage truck to our left, across four lanes of oncoming traffic and onto a shop-balcony. It didn't hold out for very long; the car slipped forward, nosed over and slid down between the third-floor shop-front and the concrete road support. Bernard and the guy were a-whoopin' and a-hollerin' and still shootin' at things that only they could see, and I was crouched down in the back seat, hangin' onto the safety belt, hoping they didn't turn around and decide to start shooting at me.
The balcony finally gave way completely and the car dropped three storeys to the ground below, nose first. The left side of the car was mashed away by the concrete block at the foot of the road support; a long, sharp piece of balcony strut went through the windscreen and then through Bernie and then through the back of his seat and then between my left arm and my body and into the back seat.
There were a few moments of silence after this, some tinkling of glass, some wheezing as one of the people in the front seat exhaled for the last time. I kicked the back door open and climbed out into the under-road twilight. There's no artificial lighting down here; all you can see is lit by whatever photons manage to squeeze between the shops and the road. "Wau, just like them tunnel and bridge people in America," I thought. I dropped down to the ground - which was made up of decades of compressed rubbish - and started edging around, looking for a way back up to street level. It felt like playing a dungeon game and suddenly being dropped down to level twenty-three when you're a level two fighter. I knew I was way out of my depth here, and if I was going to survive, I'd better get the fuck back up to street level. The car was a complete write-off; I couldn't even get the doors open to get their guns, it was that badly crushed.
So. Skulking from one basement shop front to the next, looking into the shattered window-frames, trying to determine which would be the best way up. None of them looked too inviting, but that's the whole idea. I was leaning against one, peering into the dimness and trying to spot a stairwell when there was a faint sound above me, bare feet on concrete. I froze, trying to hear more; it stopped. I opened my mouth and breathed very slowly through it. Some instinct told me to move to the right. I did, and someone leaped down onto where I had just been standing, dropped to a crouch, sprang up and back into the shop. I tried to catch a glimpse of them; too late.
I moved down the rough path, paused in front of another shop; there was that feeling again. This time I looked up and saw her, staring down at me. She jumped out of the second-storey window and tried to land on my head. It occurred to me that, strategically, she wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. She missed, jumped up and ran back inside the shop. A few seconds later and she's ready to try to jump down on me again. This time I reached up, pushed her feet to the side as she dropped; she hit the ground very awkwardly and bashed her head against the grimy shop front tiles. She didn't move.
I grabbed her feet and dragged her inwards, away from the shops and the edge of the road, around behind one of the concrete road supports. A single slat of light fell from somewhere above, maybe a drain-hole in the road; I positioned her head directly under this and brushed her madly tangled hair out of her face. She was dressed in about half a dozen different styles, each one clashing. She bore a striking resemblance to Cracky-Chan.
She was breathing shallowly. When I peeled back an eyelid to see if her pupils were dilated (not that this would tell me anything about how badly she was hurt; 's just that I'd seen people do this on t.b), her eye was.. it.. she must have stolen these from someone very rich. Her eye was a crimson crystal sphere, the pupil a night-black well glittering with reflected highlights. Her other eye was the same. I kneeled there with her head in my lap and stared down at her eyes. It didn't take me long to come to a decision.
I reached up to my own right eye (standard cheap-ass Tleilaxu issue), worked my long thumb- and index-fingernails underneath the lids and around the eyeball, popping it loose from the socket. About an inch and a half of soft, ropey cable trailed from the back, leading to a plug set in my skull. I picked the plug out, vision fading from the right side; pocketed the old eye, reached down and removed her right eye. It felt warm, soft; a large grape that had been held close to her heart. The plug went in, and I squeezed the eyeball between the flaccid lids, rubbing it with the left side of my index finger until it settled and came online. I kept that eye closed, half-taking-notice of the standard diagnostic displays it was giving me while I repeated the process with my left eye; the old eyeballs sitting snugly in my overcoat pocket, the new ones swivelling about in my sockets.
Because I'm not a complete bastard, I gave her my old eyes, fitting them by feel. I think I correctly matched them, left and right. It matters with some people.
My eyes both felt a bit swollen, so I sent a command to the left eye: lose two percent fluid. It did so, a viscid tear trailing down the side of my nose. That felt about right, so I adjusted the pressure in the right eye as well. Much better.
I wiped the tears away with the cuffs of my overcoat, took a deep breath and opened my new eyes.