XV. Below and Beneath Part Two

"This is a real cluster fuck, ain't it?" I asked.

Vash squinted at the screen and rolled his eyes, although he probably didn't know he just did that. "It's not a cluster fuck… it's a puzzle."

I poked at the screen and ended up dropping my cigarette. Not willing to pick it up, I simply ground it out with my heel. "Cluster fuck," I argued, since I was really good at making a point. And the point happened to be… "You have no idea what you're doing. Do you?"

He scowled at me like I was the reason for him getting his panties in a twist. "I would if you would just shut up."

Vash proceed to pound the console with his fist. Didn't I call that? Getting his panties in a twist. He stared into space and began to… I swear I'm not making this up… drool. You can't get better than this. "I'm not shutting up."

And he sighed like it was all my fault. "I can't let them injured in any way. I put them on the subway… those two pretty girls. Those poor hot babes."

Okay, so why should I even give a rat's ass about Them? The beer in the fridge means I shouldn't give a damn. So does every channel of porn in existence. Vash makes me do this rescue mission and the chicks see me as a softie. Maybe that sounds like a good thing, but in the long run they expect you to go see chick flicks with them. The kind that are called My Best Friend's Gay College Slumber Party in Paris or something like that. The kind that no guy has or should be caught watching.

"These hot babes better have huge tits or I'm leaving," I said.

Vash looked up from the keyboard he was inspecting at the moment. "Huge tits do not a hot babe make."

I reminded my self to punch the bastard later as he was clearly asking to be punched hard. "Huge tits make hot babes and don't you forget it," I growled back.

He tried to ignore me and went around the room, flipping switches and pretty much guessing shit. Typical stuff for Vash and I guess in his head that made lots of sense. I hoped that he would explain it to me, because I was getting rather confused by all of this. "Ooh, extra Plant here."


Vash jabbed at a point on the screen. "That lump there is Pinky. To the right of here is a nutrient tank. And to the right of that is-"

"Porn," I interrupted. "Lots and lots of porn to read while your snowstorm rages above. We don't have to do this."

He gave me a long appraising glare, mulled over his options, and thumped me with his fist upside the head. Pinky had already crept outside her gooey center core and was looking at us as well as she could with wide pink eyes. "I think we should check it out. It may be another Plant. Pinky doesn't think about anything other than food."

"That close together?"

Vash snorted out of amusement. "Grigori Alley," he said, rolling his eyes. "Grigori Alley, Wolfwood."

Which I really didn't care about. I didn't care about the poor fools he had obviously put in danger, it was his fault and he should have to deal with them. Not me. And yet you're here with him.

Only because he would have fallen into the sewer, I mentally argued back to that nagging voice in the corner of my mind that sounded like a cross between Livio and Vash. And at the moment for a few seconds, I hated both of them.

I wasn't sure that he even knew that he was sounding like a complete asshole. "Perfect," I muttered. "Just perfect. Aren't we supposed to be rescuing…"

Vash paused and twacked himself in the forehead with a gloved hand. "Shitshitshit," he hissed and half-whined. "Those people on the train and stuff…"

"Oh so NOW you remember those people on the train and stuff," I mocked back, "Time to put the nookie on hold."

"I wasn't going to have sex with that Plant…"

"No… you were going to make lo-o-ve…"

"Wolfwood, shut up."

"You were going to get it on."

"Wolfwood for the love of all things holy and unholy…"

"Rocking the casaba, holstering the magnum, fitting the square peg in the round hole…"

"Who's in there?" an unknown voice croaked out.

Vash and I immediately stopped arguing. At first, both of us thought that the other was playing a trick. "What the hell was that about?" Vash snapped at me, "I'm creeped out as it is."

All I could was glare back at Vash. "That was a girly sound, smartass."

He bit his lip and chewed on it for a few minutes. When he finally spoke, he sounded like he a swallowed a toad. "I think we should leave this place and go back to saving the subway."

"What? Why?" I tried not to crack up, "Tongari, you lose your nerve or something?"

Vash did and I swear I'm not making this up, one of those full body shudders. Then I saw what was behind the barely closed door. If I wasn't a man, I'd have pissed myself. That scary, that disgusting. We walked through and found ourselves in a room lined with rusting computers and a tube that went at least six feet in the floor and in the ceiling. The Plant filled the cylinder entirely although its small feet hung in space.

It stared, or at least I though it stared, at us through its filthy tangles of long hair. It was a plant with more deformed limbs than what normally goes on a plant. It had the usual extra pair of limbs clinging to its back, but underneath its arms were two extra arms. All four hands were tipped with long curly nails. "What are you?" I heard Vash say and the plant actually smiled with long, broken yellow and brown teeth. "What the hell are you?" The Plant tilted her head back and silently laughed a long trail of floating bubbles in whatever goo she had been dunked in.

I didn't get it. "Wait a minute," I said, yanking on Vash's ear as he tried to bat my hand away from it, protesting something about me hurting his piercing. "Plants in bulbs can't talk." The Plant seemed to smirk in agreement, damned angel. "This can't be the thing that spoke."

"It did… ouch ouch ouch…" Vash whined, batting at my hand and looking put off. "I swear to God, it's attached."

Pinky's sister was watching us now. Her hand went to push away her hair from her very human appearing eyes with an echo of a pupil and iris under a thick film of white. "Isn't she blind? How can she-"

"See us?" Vash interrupted and pointed to a camera in the corner. "See that?" I nodded and he continued. "She's a database. Besides she's not as nearly blind as the rest of them."

"Come again?"

Vash shook his head and glared at me like he thought I was an idiot. Come to think of it, I am on most things, I'm probably not the person who should be telling you all this. I probably am an idiot. Big fat deal, huh. "What the hell is a database?"

He looked thoughtful. "Well… that is… a database… hmm… you see…"

"You have no idea how to explain what the damn thing is."

Vash didn't have the nerve to look the slightest big embarrassed. The bastard shrugged. "Well, it's not my fault."

"Uh-huh, keeping telling yourself that."

"Shut up," the voice said again, this time coming from a pair of speakers set next to a flickering hologram of a woman, "I can't concentrate on my favorite show."

The Plant was smiling even more, turning its head in a mocking manor. Okay, so it was a she, but there was something genderless about it at the same time even with those very female breasts. "Was that you?" Vash asked. Rather dumb question, I think, last time I checked, I still suck at ventriloquism. He walked over and looked at the Plant. "That WAS you. You…"

"I don't think she'd going to answer," I began to say, "Being a bi-"

It hissed at me and pointed over to a small table where a small hologram stood, only a few inches tall. The holographic woman stood, more disgusting than the Plant in her filthy, watery prison. "I know that I am a bitch," the hologram said, looking at us through her filthy bangs, in that exact voice the subway AI tended to you, "Bloody old news to me." She grinned, a six-inch high bag lady and six times as crazy. "I want to watch him take over the subway and make it his kingdom."

Vash rushed up and pressed his face right against the glass so he could stare in. I yanked him back just as her clawed hand broke through the glass of her bulb with a gush of putrid fluid. Vash looked horrified and cried out in shock. Even though the Plant's arm was lacerated and large blood-covered shards were embedded within her grey flesh, she still managed to wave. "Who the hell are you talking about?" I demanded, pulling her through the bulb and lacerating her face.

"Stop it," Vash said. When he didn't think I heard him, he started trying to pull me away. "You're hurting her."

The Plant tried to twist away and snap my arms off. "You don't even know what her name is and you want to protect her?"

She looked away for a moment; I followed her gaze to a nameplate that read "Technical Collection Military Unit - 07. "I am called July," the Plant said from the speakers. "There are eleven TechCom Military Grades also like myself." She spat a rotten jagged tooth at me and glared. "Let us go."

"Not a chance," I said.

"Wolfwood," Vash said warning, "I don't think she knows all that much."

July laughed as us, mouth snapping off a molar with each horrible giggle. "He's right."


Vash, you really don't need to get shocked with someone like that. I know I'm not. That Plant can be summed up with what's wrong with this whole damn world. Who makes something like that? July lunged at him and he didn't move. With a sudden calm evenness he put his hand in a coat pocket and removed the pair of shades. With a quickness to put any movie gunslinger to shame, he slipped on the shades and gazed at July with an unreadable expression on his face.

July would have taken his face off; I saw the way her jaws moved. I could no longer see if Vash blink, but not a muscle twitched. July's teeth snapped shut a mere inch from his nose. The tumor-like fetus shapes on her back and all of those cords attached into her scalp and along her neck and arms kept her from getting out of her bulb more than a few feet. The flesh on her many limbs had been lacerated by the glass of her bulb, but somehow she managed to remain awake. I didn't see how, I could see glimpses of pale bone beneath mangled muscle. Vash regarded her with a cool expression on his face, something I didn't know the goofball of a crybaby could manage. "You…" echoed from the speakers.

"You're not going to hurt me," Vash said evenly and for a second even yours truly believed him. "Or him."

"Vash, you idiot!" I snapped. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?" My hands shook as I retrieved my lighter and cigarette. It took me a few fumbling tries, but I lit one and held it up to my mouth and took several deep puffs. "What kind of fool are you, Tongari?"

Vash didn't even give me the slightest glance and kept his eyes locked with the blank gummy eyes of July. Apparently Vash was that sort of fool who didn't blink when faced with that. I would have, plus, I would have backed away. "I need to know what is happening. Tell me... I know you're in pain and I can make it stop. All you have to do is tell me… what happened to that subway train."

The Plant looked down and picked at one of the more deeply embedded sharps in her right breast. With a his and a grunt, she was able to slightly pull the glass thorn out before it hooked on her breast. "Don't do that," Vash said and before I could do anything, Vash had moved the one foot needed for him to get into July's range.

July struck with the speed of a viper and lunged for Vash's neck. He turned at the last minute and her teeth sunk through the thick fabric of his coat into his shoulder. His glasses were pushed half-up his forehead. His lips were moving even as the red of his coat turned a deeper shade around July's teeth. "Vash! Jesus!"

He turned his head; eyes squeezed shut in pain. "Don't worry about me," he gasped before he stroked July's back. It was a hard move since all four of her arms were wrapped around him squeezing him so tight it was a wonder that his ribs didn't snap. Vash bit his lip and continued to stroke July's back. "There, there."

"I hate you! Hate you!" came the voice from the speakers, hateful and hoarse with rage. "Let me go, damn you son of a bitch!

I held the cigarette tightly in my hand. Before I could even think, I had run across the room and jammed the lit end against the Plant's back. July screamed, her arms breaking their hold on Vash allowing me to pull him back to the corner of the room. He stood there in shock, sunglasses bent out of shape, July's rotten molars still embedded in his shoulder. "What kind of fool are you, Wolfwood?" Vash snapped, tossing my own words back in my face in a mocking version of my accent.

"The kind of fool that saved you from that!" I snapped, "You can't sugarcoat this! That bitch is working for the enemy!"

"I don't care!" Vash snapped, pulling a monstrous fang out of his shoulder before closing his eyes for a few minutes. The rest of the embedded teeth popped, clattering on the floor, each filmed with a thin layer of Vash's blood. "Everyone's ticket to the future is always blank!"

I backhanded him sound hard that the sound echoed through the tunnels. His glass flew across the room and shattered against the wall. July snickered, blood dripping from her wounded mouth. I had enough of that damned meaningless junk… if he wanted to save these people; he was doing a horrible job of it. "What is that supposed to mean? You were supposed to get her to tell us where the subway train is, because she knows."

Vash rubbed the bruise already forming on his face, a scowl already settling there. "That's what I was trying to do. She doesn't know what she does."

"Like hell she doesn't know!" I snapped back. "She damn well knows what she's doing and she doesn't care as long as someone dies. That's what happens every time one of those subway trains disappears. There are survivors and dead people who are never seen again." I looked at July, her massive bulk too heavy and her legs too withered to even hope to stand. "He feeds the corpses to you, doesn't he?"

July's voice crackled through the speaker, "Oh I wish he did." It sounded like the murmur of a lover. "Oh I wish he did."

Vash looked like he was trying not to throw up. I slammed her bulk against the shattered hull of her bulb. I could hear shrieking and thudding, but had no idea where the sound was coming from. Vash glanced out the door, his face set with grim concern. "It's Pinky," he said flatly, "She's trying to escape, because YOU'RE TRYING TO KILL HER SISTER!" The last part was screamed out in rage.

He tore out of the room just as there was an horrific crunch and tickling sound. I kept all four of July's arms pinned behind the growths on her back. There was no way I was going to let her get one up on me. July whimpered, as all four of her arms were dislocated at the joint. The smell of urine came from the lumps on her back, which looked rather slimy now.

"God, Pinky, don't do this!" Vash screamed from the other room and I slammed July's head again a bulkhead.

Like magic, her eyes slid closed as I picked up Cross Punisher and ran in the other room. If July woke up, I wouldn't want her to pick up my weapon and figure out how to work it. Vash stood there, biting his lower lip bloody. Pinky's brittle body was in his arms, her head nearly severed from her neck. Blood still pulsed from the severed arteries as if Pinky was so stupid that even in death she still defied logic. Even her limbs twitched though her spinal cord was in two pieces. "What the hell?"

"She panicked when you started threatening July. Pinky did what July did, but the glass from her bulb went through her throat. She's all but at death's door," Vash mumbled, "The only thing keeping her alive is her life support."

"So turn it off," I snapped. I could see her windpipe and her withered vocal cords flexing. "Just let her die."

Vash held Pinky's mangled bleeding corpse closer. "She's family… what would Rem say?"

I slammed the Cross Punisher into what I assumed was the Plant's control panel. It worked because Pinky's body jerked once and was still. "Rem's not around… so there's your answer."

He looked at Pinky's blood smeared face, the closed mouth and eyes making her look like a malnourished human teenage girl. He slowly lowered Pinky's body to the floor and lined her head up with her neck. Her hair/feathers were now a flat black color like the Plant last-runned in Central Park. Vash's mouth opened and closed without him uttering anything. "Look, if you hadn't been stupid none of this would have happened," I snapped at him.

"I was getting information for your information," he finally said, fists clenched by his side. Vash looked over at the corpse. "God, Wolfwood, I know I could have saved her."

"Stop treating every woman like Rem!"

Vash leaned against the wall and laughed bitterly. "Is this what you think I'm doing? By helping the girls, I'm helping Rem?" He looked down at his boots and shuffled. "Maybe I am, but that doesn't mean I should stop helping out people in need. I hope… well… I think that Rem would be happy with what I'm doing… helping people out. I just can't stand back and let the injustices of the world go on and on-"

"Damnit, Vash," I interrupted him, hand raised ready to punch, "Stop going on and on about this bullshit. It's not going to help us as you whine over a dead Plant."

Vash slammed his hand against the wall. "Don't you mean poor dead girl, preacher man? What sort of priest denies the dead rest?" He gritted his teeth. "I should have just saved the girls on my own."

"On your own? Don't make me laugh. You would be dead."

He snorted out of disgust. "I have some idea of who it is. A man named Brillant Dynamites Neon. Know him?"

I shook my head. "I know of him, I don't know him."

And I hope that we can just rescue the hostages and never have to meet him. I shook my head. "I have no idea why I even let myself get dragged into this. I'm going to beat the info out of July."

"Well, I'm not going to stick around!" Vash snapped, "Not for someone who needs to beat a poor defenseless Plant-"

"That almost ripped your throat out!" I interrupted. "Don't tell me you know where…"

"I have an idea," Vash said and pointed to the map. "He's somewhere in the abandoned tunnels. You on the other hand, can stay here. There's no way you can go back to the surface with the weather. You'd freeze to death in seconds."

I pounded against the wall. "Damnit, Tongari, you fool… the only person who has any… any idea where BDN is… well…" I pointed to the other room. "She's in that room and she knows damned well where that bastard is!"

Vash stared at me. "I… I… I just don't know, Wolfwood. You're too hardheaded and too hair-trigger. It was a mistake bringing you along, but damn it, I though that you could help." He clenched his fists in anger. "I really did."

"I didn't even want to come along, but you blackmailed me."

I leaned against the wall, just daring him to punch me or something like that. I wasn't prepared for what happened next.

Vash just shook his head and walked out the door. I waited for a comeback, anything, but Vash was too hardheaded to admit I was right. And I was too hardheaded to admit… why did I need to admit anything, I'm still right on this to this day.

I heard low groaning from somewhere. I looked around for anything that could create that sound. The Plant Pinky, there was no way she was making that sound with a severed voice box. Not unless the dead could speak. I nudged the body. Nothing happened. I still wasn't convinced and with a twitch of my fingers, Cross Punisher activated. I emptied a few rounds into Pinky's body at close range. The Plant's abdomen split open and loops of pale intestine spilled out. She had no stomach, bladder, or kidneys. The back of her abdomen was open and the intestines spilled out through that hole. The odd things were the roundish red objects in her belly on either side of her spine. The largest one was wedged under what appeared to be a second spine branching off from her main. I was about to inspect these orbs more closely when I heard the moan again.

And it was coming from the other room.

"Shit," I cursed out loud, "She's waking up."

I ran into the room, my cigarettes spilling from my pocket. I didn't stop to pick them up. It didn't matter if I would curse it later; July was waking up. I looked at the Plant struggling to stand. Her legs were wasted from years, maybe decades of not standing. She looked at me with her filmy nearly human eyes. "You can see me, can't you? Just blurry."

She didn't answer from the speakers, she just growled. Pinky dying had killed the power to her display thingie. She turned her head and tried to push herself over to my location. The floor was covered with a pool of blood. July's back was drenched in it. She had ripped herself free of most of those twisted bodies on her back.

July gurgled in anger.

"You can't do anything. You're too weak."

"You…" July gurgled. It was weak and barely understandable. "You…"

"Enough of you," I said, bringing her up to meet my stare. "You are going to tell me where the passengers are."

She grinned weakly. "Muh… muh… muh… ache me," she rasped out, her voice hoarse and crackling. She wasn't going done without some sort of fight.

Under the film of cataracts, her pupils were dilated and fixed. I had given July a severe concussion. She swayed and giggled like a drunk now, rubbing her hands up and down her body. "Tell me," I repeated and picked her up with one, giving her a good shake.

The giggles rippled through her body like waves. She obviously thought it was funny that I couldn't get an answer out of her. She was dead wrong. I brought my foot down on one of her hands, causing her to howl in pain. "I'm not going to move my foot until you tell me where he is. You got that, July?"

July struggling, broken nails clawing useless at my leg. I stomped down on another hand and bore down my weight. Her other two hands clawed weakly as if the pain was holding her back. "Lemme go," she gasped, "Lemme go."

"Only if you tell me what you know."


Her free hands shot for my legs. I grabbed them both in one hand and squeezed. July howled in pain. "Tell me what you know!"

"Fu… fu…"

"That better not be some cursing, little lady," I drawled, "Or I break your fingers into pulp."

July trailed off into silence. After a moment, she said, "Fu… fu… fu-ine. Buh… an…dge muh back."

"Only if you don't attack me," I replied. I opened and closed the machine gun on the Cross Punisher to prove my point. "You got it, July?"

July closed her gummy looking eyes and titled her head back. She stayed in that position for several minutes. She was weighing the damages I had inflected on her body. Two of her hands were severely bruised, possibly even broken. Her other two hands were already on their way to lightly bruised. Her body was lacerated, her mouth, already in a pitiful state, dripped with blood, and blood and bile dripped from the wound in her back. "If you don't help me, I don't help you," I pointed out. "And from that wound in your back, you're going to bleed to death."

"Puh-in-key… sa-ve-uh meh," July gasped out.

"Pinky can't save you. She'd dead."

July closed opened her eyes. "Suh-is-ter Puh-in-key de-e-e-aah-duh?" she quavering. "No-uh."

"And how are you supposed to walk?" I asked, jerking her up by her hair to view her own withered legs. "All those years… no… decades of not walking rendered your legs useless. And last time I checked, months was all it took to render someone who did walk useless. And you, you've never walked so you're helpless."

She looked up at me. "O… k." she said slowly in that annoying quavering voice.

There were no bandages so I searched the room for anything and found a sack and a roll of electrician's tape. If anything, I could stuff her extra legs in the bag and hold her mangled insides… well, inside. I slapped duct tape over the bag and wrapped it around her to form a seal. I expect her to bit, but July's stony expression remained in place. I would prefer an open crybaby like Livio that this.

I pulled the tape tight and heard a whimper escape her lips. Good, so there was a woman behind the shell. Good. "Tell me what you know."

In a quavering voice, she told me what she knew. BDN had been looking for a way into the lesser secure pathways in the subway system. She, July, had been left to rot as what most people believe was the subway's AI. When Brilliant Dynamites Neon had come, she knew that she a found a source of amusement. She would send those fools on a merry path of torture. She had shown him several ways into the subway, including the entrance to Grigori Alley. And no, she didn't hear the thoughts of other Plants; being a database Plant prevented her from doing so most of the time. But, why did that matter… she knew what she knew. And that was that BDN lived in the abandoned grandest of the grand stations and was that enough?

"Yeah and you're coming with me," I said.

I pulled out several pieces of tape and bound her limbs together. "Lemme go," July protested.

"You lost that right when you bit my buddy," I snapped, "Come on, July. We're going to save the day before that idiot kills himself."

…to be continued.