On his compulsion, Jack moved forward and looked at the coursing bottle. Then looking became touching as he grabbed the strange undulating bottle in a hand to look it over. It was strange, although strange was really not so much strange anymore—as the world into which he’d stepped foot was downright otherworldly.
A long, fierce, but clean-looking needle sat beside the place it had once been, as though a gift to him.
Something new for someone new.
The Gatherer’s Garden began to speak to him—literally, with a young, chirpy voice. Tinny with age.
My daddy's smarter than Einstein, stronger than Hercules and lights a fire with a snap of his fingers.
He took very little time to observe it, as the compulsion struck again and he rose the needle above his wrist, above the tattoo of that wrist—a pattern of three black-coloured chain links.
Are you as good as my daddy, Mister? Not if you don't visit the Gatherer's Garden, you aren't!
The memory he had of those tattoos was hollow, like he had gotten them one night, drunk, or perhaps high, in his home town of Overlook, Kansas.
Awaking one morning with sore forearms and a throbbing headache, accompanied by rising bile and a lurching stomach.
Smart daddies get spliced, at the Gardens!
Those thoughts seemed to vanish when he injected the red, glowing fluid into his veins as easily and as quickly as pulling teeth—provided it was his own teeth he was yankin’.
It hurt and it stung like a sonovabitch when the stuff began to take. Jack could handle that.
Alright, alright, you’re tough. You can take it.
There was this audible, persistent buzzing betwixt his ears, and right before his eyes, he was seeing flashes of bright blue strings of what he swore was electricity. His mouth tasted sour and metallic, and his back teeth were arcing.
“Steady, now!” Atlas said aloud, damn near shouting over Jack‘s howling as blue threads of light reached out to each other between his hands, completing the circuit. “Your genetic code is being rewritten.” He continued, as though explaining it would make the pain any more bearable.
Clearly Atlas’ bedside manner left much to be desired. “Just hold on and everything will be fine.”
Hunky-dory , Jack thought hazily as he turned around clumsily and stumbled and staggered like a lush over to the railing on an outcrop that overlooked the lower half of the room. His voice foreign to his own ears as it produced incoherent cries of both pain and confusion.
He gripped the bar of the railing, leaning over.
The height gave him some nasty vertigo, and he leant even further, his feet disembarking from the tiled floor below him—and he was positively shocked to suddenly find the floor getting closer and closer until everything went black in one, painful instant into peace, however brief.
Approaching voices dragged him from the abyss and reminded him that his body ached, whatever the hell it was that he’d shot up with had fucked him up six ways from Sunday. So he didn’t move. Even when something nudged him in the stomach and sent a jolt of pain up to his skull, and then down to his toes.
Every sound was loud, his eyes cracked open, just enough to see who it was lingering near and inspecting his would-be corpse.
A metal object—a lead pipe—caught a spot of light and drew Jack’s eye over to it, then the person wielding the pipe went down into a low kneel, his head ducking down and eclipsing into view.
He was masked, but the lower, slack-jawed half of his face was visible.
Jack hadn’t the composure nor the strength and will to remark at his disfigured face, so he listened as the looter spoke with a thick, rasped accent emanating foully from deep in the pit of his throat, leaning in, breathing on him.
“This little fish looks like he just had his cherry popped!” The man said tauntingly as his hand groped around at any available part of Jack as he mumbled further to himself, as though a separate person had taken over. “‘Wonder if he’s still got some ADAM on ‘im...”
Jack faded into black again, falling—nay, throwing himself—from such a height had definitely knocked something important loose.
He opened his eyes once more as he heard a second fellow gasp and caught a foreboding, whale-call-like rumble and a faint, vaguely childlike hum in the distance, punctuated by the sound of heavy, slow footfalls.
“You hear that?” The other robber said, visible beyond the one immediately in front of him, half-hushed and hurried, panicked as he started off in a direction that the incapacitated Jack was unable to see. “Let’s bug!”
“Weak!” The other one spewed angrily as he advanced a single step in his buddy’s direction and waved the bloody lead pipe at him threateningly. “You’re a weak chopper!”
Then the other one retorted from the distance, somewhere behind Jack. “This little fish ain’t worth toeing it with no Big Daddy.” He explained, harshly, and with plenty of volume.
There were a few more footsteps, departing footsteps, and the other one seemed appalled a moment before shouting again. “Yellow!” He insulted with an indignant, drooling snarl. “Always have been!”
The pause was short as the one remaining knelt down and inspected the semi-conscious Jack before speaking again, his long, heavy lead pipe slammed down next to his head, nearly clipping his nose. “You’ll be no better off with the metal Daddy, little fish.” He forewarned as he stood up again to reunite with his already-departed partner-in-crime. “See you floatin’ in the briny...”
Jack faded off into black again. Was this death? Was it peace? Kingdom come?
The now all-too-close thudding sound interrupted his resignation to death. His eyes opened again.
The strangest thing appeared in his vision. His body was metal and canvas, and that drill—how it was coiled and dented and giving the slightest, softest tk-tk sound as it moved gently in its foundations.
The small voice, oddly precocious in its lilt, reached his ears, high-pitched, grating, even. Referring to her caretaker, she indicated to Jack with a tiny finger.
“Look, Mister Bubbles,” she chirruped, “it’s an angel.”
Jack felt his brow furrow in response to her comment. Angel, huh?
“I can see light coming from his belly.” Her needle came alarmingly close to his squirming gut.
“Wait a minute,” the yellow-eyed child paused, back-pedalling a step or two and giving a disappointed-sounding sigh, “he’s still breathing.”
The “big metal Daddy” gave a disjointed groan in response.
“It’s alright.” The girl in the dirty, patterned dress said. “I know he’ll be an angel soon.” She began to disregard Jack’s existence, walking away. The golem of metal and canvas murmured deeply to itself, hanging back for a moment before he followed his charge with a fading rumble.
Jack could feel his back teeth buzzing as he came to his senses and rolled back over on his stomach to push himself back up on his forearms.
Atlas’ rather cheery brogue came on over the radio, making Jack’s headache feel just a mite bit worse, somehow.
“You alright, Boyo?” He asked, though the concern was downplayed. “First time Plasmid’s a real kick from a mule,” he admitted—though it may have been better to know in advance—and then he continued on as Jack’s hand, sparking and alive with electricity, eclipsed into the newly-enhanced Jack’s blurry vision, “but there’s nothing like a fistful o’ lightning, now, is there?”
In the distance, the machine with the two metal girls came to life again with a whirr:
In the garden we are growin', many changes will be flowin'.
If you want to be amazin', see the flowers we are raisin'