Chapter 259 Randall's Repairs
Aldrich made his way through the streets of Redrock. Like every tiered city, Redrock was built high and packed together with industrial efficiency. Neo-Modern architecture valued utility above all else, taking the bare austerity of modernism and drenching it with acidic utilitarianism to bleach it further of any vibrancy.
Buildings from the Panopticon came in black, white, or grey, and that was it, as if the Panop was allergic to any real sense of color. Designs were simple and geometric, consisting mostly of various flavors of cube and not too much else.
Granted, the Panop did allow for independent contractors to build, but only in select spots and for a fee, making buildings that stepped out of this mazework of blocks and cubes and rectangles and dull colors a luxury afforded to, well, those who could afford it.
Funny how rampant consumerism and economic inequality never died down even after an apocalypse. One would have thought a globe shaking event that culled near half of humanity could have changed society completely, but then again, people did fear change.
Made sense why the Panopticon had worked with corporations and governments to keep things as similar as possible even after the Monstering.
"Blocks everywhere" Chrysa remarked as she looked up, squinting her eyes at the crowded urban skyline. "Can't see the sky." She pranced to the side, getting closer to Aldrich as a group of suited up corporate workers passed by her. "Everything feels so crowded. It feels scary."
"I am not used to it as well. The constant din of these metal beasts called 'cars', the way so many humans pack themselves into these narrow streets and tall buildings, and the flashing lights and signs, so many of them in the place of hawkers; it truly is overwhelming," said Valera. "The cities of man have become unlike anything I have seen before. It feels marvelous and yet, strangely dreary at the same time."
"Just a week seeing cities and you're already burnt out, huh?" said Aldrich. He looked down at his phone, analyzing a map of his surroundings. Red dots indicated where V tracked movements of known bounty hunters and villains, though she did warn that if there was an experienced one, they knew how to hide themselves from her.
"It simply feels odd," said Valera. "It reminds me of the spire colonies of the Kitan. Towers of earth and drones all buzzing about."
"I see where you're coming from." Aldrich nodded. The Kitan in Elden World were an ant-like insectoid peoples that lived in cities of towering rock spires that looked similar to modern day urban cities. "Some people feel the city suffocating them. They feel like drones or cogs in a machine, so they leave. That's how you get nomads."
"Were I to have lived in this realm, I surely would have become like such," said Valera.
"Hero!" Chrysa pointed to a black costumed and helmeted hero making a patrol across a street. He had twin katanas on his back, but the metal sheaths were scratched up enough that it was obvious the guy was not exactly drowning in money.
Chrysa waved at the hero, and he waved back before he got back to his patrol, his gait lazy and tired even though it was early morning.
"I figure he's tired of the job. He won't last more than a year or two," said Aldrich.
"But I thought heroes always protected everyone," said Chrysa.
Aldrich glanced at Chrysa. She must have heard that from her dream, from Aldrich's younger self. "Some do. Some don't. People are complicated. Being a hero doesn't change that."
"If they uphold an oath of duty, though, they should keep it," muttered Valera.
"Not too many are as stubbornly devoted as you are," teased Aldrich.
"This devotion of mine has saved you countless times, you know?" Valera crossed her arms.
"I know." Aldrich faintly smiled. The Death Lord was right. Valera really was easy to tease.
A man, a suit with a cybernetic arm, bumped into Aldrich roughly. Not because he was on his phone, unawares, no, he fully saw Aldrich, but because he did not care to get out of the way.
But instead of pushing Aldrich to the side, the suit fell backwards, ass to the dirty pavement, like he had hit a brick wall.
"Get out of the way, nomad!" growled the suit. He got up and patted his suit down, but noticeably kept some distance because he had felt Aldrich's body was like steel - tempered and tough. "Fucking dirt eaters crawling around even here, in the inner district. Looks like I've gotta make it to a T2 city to stop seeing your kind."
Aldrich sensed Valera' bloodlust rising. He put a hand on her shoulder, calming her. Chrysa huddled behind Aldrich's legs, scared of the angry energy around her.
Aldrich walked straight up to the suit.
"Wh-what, you want to fight? There's a hero right there-" the suit began to say in panic, looking up at Aldrich's height.
Aldrich just walked straight through the suit, making him scramble away to the side in fear. He did not spare a second glance as he left the suit behind.
"We're not here to make a scene," said Aldrich. "No fighting."
"Shall we take these cloaks off?" said Valera. "That human seemed fixated on them, deeming us 'nomads' to revile."
"No. Redrock's known for having a lot of nomads coming in and out of it. They're a little rarer in the inner district where things are slightly more upscale, but not so out of the ordinary that it warranted a reaction like that," said Aldrich. "The further we move from the center, the more and more we blend in."
"Then why was the man angry?" asked Chrysa. "Why did he hate us?"
Aldrich paused for a moment. "Because it's easy to hate." He looked down to see that Chrysa did not quite understand. He patted her head.
"I don't like the city," muttered Chrysa. She now instinctively shrank from every suited person coming by, and in the inner district, there were plenty.
"After I'm done with what I need to do, I'll treat you to something nice," said Aldrich. He wondered what he had liked as a kid. "I'll take you to the arcade. We can get ice cream right after."
"Arcade? Ice cream?" Chrysa said quizzically, though with how her ears twitched, it was obvious she was interested.
"Fun things. Tasty things," said Aldrich. "You'll see."
Aldrich stepped out into the edge district, so called because they bordered the very edge of the city's walls and forcefield. Out here were the ghettos. The closer to the walls, the cheaper rent prices got, and the cheaper things were, the less incentive there was to maintain anything.
The streets were dirty, littered with trash. There were no suits here, mostly cloaked people shifting in and out.
Buildings were not high - they only got tall closer to the city center. Most of what Aldrich saw here were shacks of pieced together, rusted metal or weather beaten trailers crudely sandwiched atop each other to form some facsimile of an apartment.
"Quiet," said Chrysa. She walked more confidently beside Aldrich now. "I like it better."
"I agree," said Valera. "There is far less going on here."
"And that's why this place is so poor," said Aldrich. He stopped in front of a trailer home with three deep claw marks gouged out into its metal grey side.
Bolted to the top of the trailer was a sputtering, half-lit sign that read 'RANDALL'S REPAIRS. "And we're here."
Aldrich checked his phone, making sure he had everything he needed, before he stepped up to the door and knocked on it, each knock emanating a dull, hollow clang.
A few seconds of silence. Before Aldrich wondered whether he was going to tear the door off, it opened, slowly sliding to the side with an awful metallic screech and groan that made Chrysa cover her ears.
"What do you want?" A tired young man with deep dark bags under his eyes stared up at Aldrich. His skin was pale and sallow. Goggles on his head, grease smears on his face, wrench in hand, and a tool belt at his hip indicated he worked here.
Aldrich knew that Elaine was not the only assistant Randall had. She mentioned he had another one, someone called Alan.
"Alan, I assume?" said Aldrich.
"Yeah, that's me. You need something fixed?" said Alan. He looked down at Chrysa. "And I'd prefer if you kept the kid out. I do my repairs out in the open. Sparks flying and saws buzzing and all that. And I don't do well with kids."
"No, just here to see Randall," said Aldrich.
"Randall?" Alan tilted his head back, brows raised. It was evident not many people ever asked about Randall. "What you need him for? If it's repairs, then I've gotta say you're too late. Old man's not in any condition to do them anymore."
"No, just want to talk to him. I knew Elaine," said Aldrich.
Alan dropped his wrench. It clattered on the metal floor. He grabbed Aldrich by his cloak, but could not move Aldrich at all.
Even then, though Alan could probably already tell there was a heaven and earth difference in physical specs between them, he glared at Aldrich. "You…you must be from that school. The fuck are you here for? Pity? Give us a few credits for killing her, huh!?"
Again, Aldrich sensed Valera's bloodlust. He raised a hand, stopping her.
"Take care of Chrysa," said Aldrich. Valera nodded and scooped Chrysa's scared, trembling body into her arms.
"Answer me!" said Alan.
"Let's take this inside," said Aldrich.
"The hell we will! I'm not letting the likes of you anywhere near here! Get out!" said Alan.
Aldrich grabbed Alan's arm and pried it off of him with no effort. "Let's take this inside," repeated Aldrich, a stronger edge in his voice. "I'm just here to talk, and I'd prefer to do it without the shouting."
Alan struggled for a second before realizing there was no use. He stopped resisting, and Aldrich let go of his arm.
Alan whirled around and walked into the trailer, passing by boxes and shelves packed with gears, bolts, chips, and other miscellaneous items.
Aldrich followed, motioning for Valera and Chrysa to follow. He closed the door behind them, leaving dim, sputtering yellowed lights the only light source available.
"Keep watch, but stay hidden," Aldrich activated his earpiece by pressing into it with a finger.
"Roger." Diamondback's voice replied. He had followed Aldrich from a distance, tailing him so as to not draw attention.
"Got men around here, too? All that manpower and you didn't even have the decency to bring her body back?" said Alan. He stood behind a worktable cluttered with engine parts and cybernetic limbs. The wrench in his hand had been replaced with a bolter pistol.
Alan trembled as he held the pistol, entirely unused to using it, but what kept his hostility up was hate against Aldrich. It was evident that Alan thought Aldrich was associated with Blackwater somehow, part of the organization that, in Alan's eyes, had taken Elaine from him.
Aldrich shook his head. "Put that thing down. You're only going to hurt yourself."
"No." Alan pointed the pistol at Aldrich. A red strip running from his middle finger up his arm lit up bright, and the bolter crackled with energy as Alan boosted it somehow with his powers. "She was everything to the old man. Everything to me as well. And you took her from us."
Aldrich sighed. This was not going to go anywhere with calm talking. He pulled down the hood of his cloak and took off his shades.
Alan dropped his gun, grey eyes wide and unblinking. "You…you-re!"
"Yeah." Aldrich walked up to the worktable. He reached out towards Alan, and the mechanic cringed in fear. Aldrich put his hand on Alan's shoulder. "I'm not part of Blackwater. I'm here to fulfill her last wishes."