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[personal profile] lb_lee
Hey everybody!  This story was originally prompted by rolodexaspirin, and it was funded by a combo of the Patreon crew, and Lydean!  Enjoy!

Alpert’s Son
Word Count: 1500
Summary: To train her for their upcoming work in the Scattered Cities, Alpert introduces Perfection to his son, Zachary.
Notes: I never thought I’d get to utilize that one-off line from The Sins-of-Flesh Demon, and planned to retcon it out until now.  I’m not sorry.


Alpert and Perfection stood in front of the central church chicken farm.  Roosters and hens toddled around their legs, clucking peaceably, and people were loading a wagon with eggs and meat.  Feathers were everywhere, and the smell of poultry was overpowering.

Alpert said to one of the people loading the wagon, “My associate is here to see Zachary.”

The man gave Perfection an odd look, but went to ask his supervisor.  When he left, Perfection asked, “Your son lives here?  I thought he was an authority on plague zombies.”

“In a manner of speaking.  He’s also the chicken slaughterer.  Spend some time with him, learn what you can.  And please, be polite to him.”

The man returned and let Perfection in through the meat locker.  On all sides, cleaned chicken carcasses sat wrapped in paper on blocks of ice and sawdust.  They passed through other rooms and finally reached a heavy locked door.

The man pounded three times on the door.  There was a clank.

“He shouldn’t be able to reach you at the door,” the man informed Perfection. “Knock three times, and we’ll let you out again.”

The heavy door opened, and Perfection went in.

The room was sparse.  There was only the one door, and a few tiny windows.  A hole in the wall, from which protruded a metal cone.  A chicken had been shoved in, with only its head visible at the bottom.  Its throat had been slashed, and a bucket beneath caught the blood.

Bound to the wall, chains pulled tight through a slot in the wall, was a dead man with a knife in his hand.  At the sound of the door, he raised his head. “Hnn?”

The door slammed shut behind Perfection.  There was a clink of the chains being released, giving the dead man freedom to move and he shuffled towards her, looking vaguely puzzled.

Expert in plague zombies, Alpert had said.  Be civil, he’d said.  Dick. “Hello, Zach,” she said. “I’m Perfection.”

“Brf?”

Could he even understand her?  Better safe than sorry.  For a moment, she considered staying safely by the door, then took a step forward.  Zach was just a reanimated corpse.  Perfection could tear him apart if she had to.

“I’m with Alpert,” she said. “Your… dad?”

Zach’s face lit up.  The knife fell from his hand, and he staggered forward, throwing out his arms and burbling happily.

“Da!” he declared and hugged her.

Perfection tried not to cringe.  Zachary smelled as dead as he looked, and was covered in gore besides, but damn it, she was a monster too, so she awkwardly hugged him back.

“Nice to meet you.”

Zachary made a pleased sound. “Brf,” he repeated, and drooled on her shoulder.  For a moment, she worried he’d bite her, but after slobbering a bit, he seemed to lose interest.  Maybe she didn’t taste interesting.

Zach released her, then tried to pull her towards one side of the room.  She followed him.

The room actually had two parts—the slaughtering room, and Zach’s room, which was separated by a line of buckets of blood, feathers, and offal.  There wasn’t much to see—a shelf with an assortment of battered knives, and beneath that was a pile of greasy rags, where Zachary apparently sat or lay when not killing chickens.  Zach showed her all of these things with an air of dignified pride, pointing and burbling.

Next to the bed was an artistically arranged pile of pebbles.

“What are those?” Perfection asked.

“Da,” Zachary said, and after some fumbling, put one in her hands.  He looked at her expectantly with his one remaining eye.

Perfection looked at the pebble.  It was ordinary, smooth and gray—it could’ve come from any one of the riverbeds she’d traipsed through with Alpert, the past month.  She sniffed it, but smelled nothing unusual.  It smelled exactly as it should, of carrion.

Wait.  Not entirely.  She could catch just a hint of water and algae.

Perfection gave the pebble back, and Zachary gave her another.  This one was rough and reddish-orange and held the slightest suggestion of the scent of sand and sunshine, though it took all of Perfection’s concentration to tell.

“Nice,” Perfection said.  Indeed, they were the only clean things on his side of the room.

“Da,” Zach said, and gave her a third one.

This one was sea glass, a deep blue green.  Its natural smell was entirely gone, but Perfection could easily imagine it smelling of fish and brine.

Zachary had amassed quite the collection.  But he obviously hadn’t gotten them himself.  The chains around his waist and legs were obviously intended to keep him from wandering the slaughterhouse, and even if he did manage to escape the room, navigating the entire slaughterhouse seemed beyond his capacity.  She couldn’t imagine him making it outside, never mind to the ocean.

She got it. “Alpert brought you these.”

“Da,” Zachary agreed, stirring the stones with his ragged fingers.

Perfection looked at the collection.  Quite large.  She reached for another stone, but Zachary made a warning moan and she changed her mind.  So he didn’t like her touching his things without permission.  Fair enough.

After a minute or so, Zachary lost interest in Perfection and got up to pound on the silver cone.  Immediately, another chicken’s head popped through, this one alive.  Zach cut its throat, waited for it to stop bleeding, smacked the cone, and waited for the next one.

Perfection wasn’t accustomed to holding still for long periods, but her time with the genie had at least taught her the value of paying attention.  She was here to learn, so she watched Zach slaughter chickens.  He slashed throat after throat, slow and steady, showing no fatigue or strain.  Sometimes, the cone would be removed, and out would pop a defeathered, beheaded chicken corpse.  When that happened, Zach would remove the entrails, shove the chicken back, and eat his snack.  He drooled and fumbled a lot, dropping the knife often and stabbing himself with it, but he didn’t seem to notice or care.

When Perfection felt she’d seen all she cared to, she got up.

Immediately, Zach noticed her again. “Uh?”

“Bye,” she said, waving.

He waved back.  Then she pounded on the door and his chains pulled Zach to the wall so she could leave.

She found Alpert sitting on a fence next to a rooster, reading.  She tried to gauge if he thought she’d been inside too long or not long enough, but his expression was unreadable.  He didn’t even look up from the book.

“Well?”

“You,” she said, hopping up next to him, “are a dick.”

“You knew that already.  Tell me something new.”

Perfection bent backward over the fence to roll her eyes at the sky. “I assume that the Scattered Cities have lots of plague zombies.”

“And?”

“And most of them are not going to be as friendly as Zach.  What’s his story?”

She wasn’t sure he’d answer, but he did. “Early in my exorcist days, I made the mistake of offending certain people badly enough for them to wish me an unpleasant demise.  So they locked me in a barn with Zach and no chalk for three weeks.  Needless to say, I had a strong incentive not to get eaten, and at the end of the experience, I felt that after all we’d gone through together, it’d be a shame not to adopt him.”

“You were demented after three weeks in a barn with him, you mean.”

“Something new, Perfection.”

She rolled her eyes. “So you trained him not to eat people?”

“I trained him not to eat me, and he generalized.  What do you think of that?”

Perfection frowned, remembering Zach’s job. “They’re slow learners.  That’s why they only had him cutting throats and pulling guts.  That’s all they can get him to do, isn’t it?  I’ll bet it took you all three weeks to get him to not eat you.  So training them isn’t exactly practical.” Perfection remembered the huge buckets of blood and offal around Zach’s room, how the only door out went through the meat locker. “I assume they’re not as dangerous if you keep them fed.”

“And?”

“And I’ll bet they’re always hungry.”

“They also travel in groups.”

Perfection thought. “After a while, he seemed to forget I was even there.  Do they keep track of things with sound or movement?”

That got Alpert’s attention.  He shut the book. “He did that?”

Perfection described his behavior.

“Interesting.  You must not smell like food to him.  That’s good to know.”

She’d noticed something he hadn’t! “Does that mean plague zombies won’t eat me?”

“I don’t know.  Hopefully we won’t have to test it.  You’ve done well.”

“Do I get to know why you just threw me in there?”

“You acted on your own with the Angel of Joy.  I wanted you to get used to that feeling, instead of being ordered around by me.”

“What if I’d failed?”

“I didn’t think you would fail.” He hopped off the fence, pocketed the book, and headed towards the slaughterhouse. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll spend some time with my son.”

“Are you going to give him another rock?”

This time, she could see the surprise in his face. “I am.”

Perfection nodded. “Have fun.”

He went inside.  Perfection found a comfortable position, discovered the sandwich he’d left her on the fence post, and began to munch.

It was a long time till he came back, but she didn’t complain.  Even if he was a dick, it was good to know he cared for monsters.
 
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