Decanting Hank

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The rope they had lowered Fred in with had dropped in untidy coils between them. Fred and the human sat opposite each other in the cylindrical tank, about five feet apart. Fred turned on his flashlight but wasn't really sure where to point it. He let the frayed circle of light drift over the floor of the tank, there was a discarded shoe, scrap marks, and smears of some dark liquid. There was the place the human had been pooping, he darted the light away from that, embarrassed.

"There were two others with me," the human said. "They started to turn, so that lot..." he pointed upwards. "Killed them before they"--air quotes—"lost all their value."

The problem with being evil, Fred considered, is that you have to be an asshole. Fred knew he could be arrogant, selfish, lazy and several other of the dwarves of deviancy. But he did not want to be dishonest and it was not in him to be cruel.

Fred shone the light down on his own feet. He nodded. "I am meant to pretend to be a human, and get you to tell me where your people are."

There was a long, silent pause and then: "No diss, man. But you ain't ever going pass for human."

"Well, you'd make a pretty shitty zombie, so I guess we'll call that even." The low light bounced off the metal interior of the tank. It was enough to see the human was maybe twenty years old. With pale hair, a gaunt face, and large pale eyes. He looked terrified but sounded defiant.

"So, what's your slant; your plan?" the human asked.

"Well, kid. You've been here longer than me. Assuming the goal is to get out of here, what are the options?"

"There's some ladder rungs, but they start too far up. I can't reach them. And everybody knows, grey men can't jump."

That was true, zombies had power-strength but no velocity. Lift like mo-fos, jump like elephants, swim like rocks. Fred played his flashlight up the sides until he saw the rusted ladder bars that started about half way up.

Fred looked over at the human. Fuck. "So, there's a pretty good chance you're immune."

"Wot?"

"Your two friends were turning, so you were probably all exposed. But here you are a day or two later, still pink as a petunia."

"Yeah, I guess."

"So, if I lift you up by the ankles you can probably reach that."

"You aren't touching me."

"Kid, there are two nasty reasons why I would want to touch you and I'm not either kind of pervert. So, if you want to stay here and become homo delectus, I'll just take a nap." Fred turned off the flashlight. This is better, he thought. If I helped him escape, Wiki and the boys would hunt me down and disarticulate me.

"Sorry," said the human.

Fuck.

"My name's, Hank."

"Is that Henry or Harry."

"No, I just said, my names Hank."

"Right." This kid had never lived in the pre-poc world. That thought bounced around in Fred's mind for a while. He couldn't even imagine having such a lack of... context.

"If I get up there I don't know if I can open the top... thing," the kid said.

Fred sighed. He turned on the flashlight and stood, shining it up to the hatch about eight feet overhead. It wasn't designed with the idea of keeping anyone in. "You should just be able to push it up, about two inches, and slide it to the side. Tie the rope around your waist before you go up. I'm going to want out of here too."

"Are you sure they aren't still up there?"

"I'm not, really. They said they were leaving, but they don't strike me as the most reliable sort of zombies."

Hank dithered.

"Would you prefer a reassuring lie."

Hank laughed nervously. "It might be worth a go."

Fred took a deep breath. "Once you get up there, you'll be greeted by a flock of gorgeous women who will give you a bottle of bourbon, a surf-and-turf dinner, and a huge piece of red velvet cake. Then they will fly you in a helicopter to a luxury hotel suite with a hot tub and a feather bed."

"All right. Just one question."

"Fire away."

"What's ber-bin?"

#

They arrived at the idea of Fred crouching down against the inside of the tank under the ladder. Hank awkwardly put one foot on his shoulder, while trying not to touch him in any other way. It was like the world's most awkward game of Twister.

Hank finally got to a position where he was standing with a foot on each of Fred's shoulders. Fred slowly straightened to a standing position.

"Hold still," Hank said. "I'm going to jump for it."

"I don't..."

Hank had already crouched and jumped, kicking Fred hard in the side of the head as he did it.

"Sorry," Hank huffed.

Fred stepped back and saw Hank hanging from the bottom rung, swinging slightly from side to side. "You need to lift yourself up."

"Thanks for that very-bloody-helpful suggestion." Hank adjusted his grip, scrabbled his feet against the walls, and with all the style and grace of a drunk gibbon, lost his grip and fell back. Fred broke his fall a little before he slammed into the floor.

Hank was winded for a while, groaned and sat up. "And another thing," he added. "Why would you make a cake out of velvet?"

#

It took three attempts, interspersed with explanations of the concepts of surf and turf and a hot tub. Then, Fred had his own dose of humiliation climbing up the rope as he swung from side to side, cursing.

They both eventually ended up sitting on at the top of the tank, surrounded by the roar of the wind, still shaking the corrugated iron barn. Hank had cut his hands and blood was running down his fingers. Fred tried not to stare.

"One more thing!" hank shouted over the storm.

"Yeah?"

"What's a helicopter?"

"Jesus Christ, Hank. Tell me you at least know what women and beds are."

"Ha. My brothers would say I've got that a bit mixed up too."

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