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(Liz Polanski continued from Metalcrafting)

Liz's forge was sloppy. She had taken a trowel and dug a pit, lining it with charcoal, lighting it with accelerant and her precious lighter. A lid to one of the plastic buckets in the garage--hole cut through the plastic--had gone on top to contain the heat.

Liz crushed a couple of cans viciously with her foot, put them in a glazed ceramic jug, put the jug in the middle of the coals. The workmen's gloves were good; they kept her from burning her hands. Then the cap went back on the fire.

Aluminum took a long time to melt.

She had constructed a makeshift blower for her makeshift forge, using the plastic-bladed battery fan from a spray fan water bottle, inserting it into the ground, digging a little tunnel between it and the coal pit, and turning the fan on. It blew oxygen into the fire and kept the heat up.

Heat.

She would need nerve for this, and speed; she would have practiced scraping her collar with water on her knife (she had kept a river close, and filled two coke cans with water for safety), but her sloppy lean-to was the only thing blocking her from the cameras. She'd built a lean-to, badly, out of a knit blanket and several of the tomato sticks; it leaned more ways than it was supposed to, but it looked like convincing shelter, and looks were all that mattered. Liz didn't intend to stay.

I hope.

Aluminum took a long time to melt.

No people around. The closest forest to the garage she had found her supplies in was now a Danger Zone. She'd taken notes of the killers and the dead numbly, no longer much caring. Her food, her water, the rest of her clothes, everything but weapons, lipstick, lighter, pen and paper, was in a purple cooler, hidden in a garage in the Residential District. Her rucksack had been used to carry aluminum cans, charcoal, the accelerant bottle, the trowel the spray fan, and two handheld mirrors. One of Cyrille's tank tops, too, in case the fire was too slow to start, but the accelerant had lived up to its name.

Liz hoped her old clothes--sweatshirt and cargo pants, still soaking in a sink, rude shirt and underwear and bra--were okay.

Aluminum took a long time to melt. But it had melted now. Liz had cleared the ground for meters around, but still the smell of hot pine sap was in her nose. She snorted.

The plastic top was hot, and smelled. Liz kicked it off the top of the coals. Underneath, the charcoal was beautiful; orange on the fire's edges, then yellow, and near to the center, white hot. She removed the jug from the fire carefully, touching only the top edges. Unsurprisingly, though the jug advertised as heat-resistant and microwave-safe, her fingers burned. She took a moment to take off the gloves, pour a little water over them, used the rest of the water to douse the fire. It hissed and sizzled and spit.

No more time.

With a snort of ugly hesitation, Liz dipped her knife in the metal. The heat from it made her face burn, but on the knife, it was surprisingly beautiful; orange-yellow, like fruit juice, it clutched itself in droplets, rolling to the sides of the knife as she tried to balance it on her hand.

Her hand was shaking.

She had a mirror by her, on the soft bare earth, pointing at her neck, at the tiny radio port she needed to block. Maybe she didn't need this much metal, but she didn't want to risk trying for a smaller droplet. The metal was cooling fast, and she didn't know the response time of the terrorists, once they realized what she was doing.

The thought was dry. I hope this works.

She put the knife to the collar, to the hole, to her neck.

Pain.

Once, when she was small, one of her mothers boyfriends (he had only been there for a short time--the cruel ones never lasted long) had shoved a piece of glass in her hand and stomped it there. Liz was seven at the time. She had never felt pain like that before, or seen that much blood, when he shut the door, her mother passed out on the couch, and she was gasping with too little breath to scream. The blood was pouring from her hand, was pouring everywhere, and there was a throbbing in her hand that was alien and strange, and she didn't know if she could die from blood loss in a hand. It poured out so quickly.

Pain.

She scraped the knife off, trying to see if the hole was covered. It looked like it was. Was it? She scraped an idle drop of metal into the port. Too far. The metal hit her neck, and this time she screamed. Flesh burned. A smell like smoke, meat and ash.

My body.

That time, when she was a child, she had moved her fingers. Things were exposed, broken and cold, that shouldn't be out in the air. A shred of glass had borne under her skin. She pulled it out, gasping, choked shrieks petering to whimpers, and pain spreading, to her head, to her stomach, to her spine. Tears came out of her eyes. Throbbing, fear, this alien pain of hands on glass.

What am I doing to myself?

The other side now. She had to move quickly. Another mirror on the other side, this one fogged from the heat. Kick it aside, use the first mirror. Squeeze your eyes shut, metal hurts, don't scream like a baby. Another drop on the knife, tipping more this time; her hand was trembling wildly. But the metal was cooling, convenient cohesion, it stayed, miraculous, and she slapped it on her neck. On her metal collar. Clumsy hands. The metal spattered, and she screamed again, doubling over this time. She forced herself up again. She needed to do this right. The metal was dripping. She needed perfection.

Need it to work.

Thing had been broken in her hands, then, something important, something structural. She didn't know what it was, but there was fear, in her childish brain, shivering fear and somehow certainty, that if she didn't get her hand back right it would stay not right forever. Something would be wrong with it. Her fingers would be gone…

She pulled on a snapped finger determinedly. Pulling the bone back into place. Screamed. There were too many tears, but she didn't like crying now. Everything stung. Another bone, but she didn't have the nerve, it hurt, it hurt, but if she didn't do it, something wouldn't be right, her fingers would be gone, the structure would be damaged. Pull. Too much pain for a scream. Several marked gasps in a little girl. There was blood all over the kitchen floor right now and she didn't know what to do, didn't want to move her fingers…

My hands…

She used the knife to slough the rest of the metal into the port. Great blobs, dripping out. Clumsy hands. Some had already gotten on her neck. Make sure the port was closed, make sure the port was closed….

Let me live!

She had staggered, one hand on the kitchen table, to where the paper towels were. Her mother didn't believe in dishcloths. The paper towels weren't soft. They quickly soaked up too much blood. She tore it into strips, elbow and good hand, and wrapped the fingers in rolled up paper towel. Like a toilet paper roll. The paper towel soaked blood too quick. It sprang off as soon as she let it go. There wasn't masking tape close, and nothing was tearing with one hand; helplessly she wrapped the paper in easy-tear aluminum foil. Wrapped it tighter. It stayed. Wrapped the other finger. Tight. Try not to scream. It didn't work.

"MAMA!"

She never came.

Why?

Make sure the port was closed. Everything had to be perfect. Everything had to be perfect, or she would die. Pain didn't matter now. Ash in the air, nothing. Pain. Perfection. Push the aluminum into the radio port. Sealed. Sealed once more, just in case. Metal splashed to her hand. Scream, the smell of char, cauterized veins. Breaking yourself. No matter. She could hardly hold the knife anymore. The other side, the other side, the metal hadn't dripped out the other side, this side and the other side, sealed by pain and perfection, mirrors speak protection, closed collar, Faraday's cage, let me live! but so much pain and it was worse now she wasn't thinking about the task she was thinking about her body what had she done to her body--

"Mama! Please help me! Mama!"

Why do you call?

Mama didn't come. Mama didn't come. Mama never came. She could call and call. She was hoarse. The paper towels were wet. Still, she didn't dare take them off, her fingers might get not right again, she couldn't shift them, she couldn't fix them again, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt, everything hurt, her whole body, in sympathy for her hand, and the floor was cold, and she cried.

Mama!

Liz fell. The pain was too much. She couldn't hold. Couldn't stand. Had to gasp. Had to scream. Keep herself from putting hand to her neck. That would lead to more burns. Only more burns. She wanted water. Didn't know which Coke can had water. Her leg jerked. She kicked them over. Now she knew. Too late.

Did it work? Did it work? She had to know.

Pain making her head thrum. She wanted her collar to explode. End this.

Knife in hand. Crawl. Scream. Jerk it into the camera lens. Call out (to who?). She doesn't explode. Still the pain. Sobbing. Crawling. "Mama!"

There was something nearby she needed to get to.

Mama!

Mr. Kwong said later she had broken her fingers. He said she had made a makeshift splint. He said she was lucky she wasn't infected. He showed her what sticking plaster was, and taught her about casts, and bones.

Let me go!

And strong hands dunked her in the cold river water, in the cool, in the cool, and she breathed and passed out.
--------


Alice Boucher was a liar.
Liz Polanski played with fire.

And who the hell is Radio Asuka?
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Faraday's Cages · The Woods: Inland