A Budding Plan

Early one spring morning Titus wandered casually around his garden, the lone wolf prowling his domain. The small paths he’d laid out through the trees, and the bright sunlight that caused the first early blossoms to shine, presented flickering reminders. He walked effortlessly, a clear alternative to his previous life outside of Atlas, a life that involved hunting and slashing a hard path through the detritus of a crumbling world in order to find a new home; someplace to plant roots and grow something beautiful and reminiscent of his distant origins.

He knelt and brushed his fingers over the first tiny yellow petals of an apricot bonsai, marveling in their bright light. All around him early flowers blossomed and brightened the world with their explosions of color; yellow, white, pink, orange, red. At that moment, seeing the luminescent possibilities in every direction, Titus thought of Celeste, their nascent friendship so similar to these flowers. A rush of memories came through in every color; white and pink ice cream, the blood red remnants of a bar brawl. His eyes came to rest on a string of white cherry blossoms standing out against the blue sky, and as a light breeze caused them to dance he saw the streak of white through her blue hair.

In as much as a tree seemed a solitary thing, and so alone, it survived as part of an ecosystem. It gave to the world in which it existed. A gift was in order.

*****

Zuki finished the additions to her high-yield munitions inventory. Double checking each bomb’s registration codes

L3XHKJ9Q2XNRQTHRLEJ7
P93YFQ9NGDNJJ7X6TYDQ
JJNTCKGXW2EWGNYCLEKL
RPW3MJ3DPXKEJFH9T2HM
7QPYPYRMJCG6WQXRXXDG

…she carefully stacked the five explosives into a secure locker, “Hehe, those’ll make a big splash.”

As she locked the door and turned, her brow furrowed at the hulking figure making his way through the junkyard.

“What is he doing here?”

A low growl came from the empty space beside her as she stepped forward.

“Easy, boy. He’s not armed. Let’s see what he wants.”

Titus stopped in front of Zuki and looked around suspiciously.

“What can I do ya for, big fella?”

The barbarian stood a moment longer, then turned slowly to survey the rest of the junkyard. Zuki stood watching him as he tried to find her invisible companion.

“Am I going to get bit?” He said, turning back toward her.

“You gonna do something stupid?”

“No.”

“Then we’re all good. How can I help ya?”

“I’m looking for a supply of small explosives. Not dangerous. I want to keep this private. No questions asked.”

“Fair enough, follow me.”

Zuki walked Titus through the junkyard to a far corner. They came to a series of makeshift awnings, tarps attached to the fences at one end and steel pipes at the other. Beneath these coverings lay piles of tiny devices.

“I sort through these occasionally to find the ones that still work. They’re pretty harmless, unless you put your face right up to one and detonate it. I use ’em for tossing out sticky bombs.”

“Perfect.”

“As they come in from the wastes, they get piled there,” she pointed to the largest pile on the left, “then I sort them into those piles of working, will work again, or never gonna work,” pointing to each of the smaller piles.

“I’ll take those ones, then.” Titus said, pointing to the ‘working’ pile.

“Nuh uh. You want ’em, you gotta earn ’em. Any that you find in the ‘arrival’ pile that work, you can keep, but you gotta sort the ‘will work again,’ and ‘never gonna work’ ones for me as you do.”

“Very well,” and the large man promptly sat down in front of the large unsorted pile. “What do I do?”

It only took Zuki a few minutes to instruct Titus on how to determine a working popper from the rest, surprised at how well his large hands manipulated with the tiny devices.

“A little off from your style, explosives, aren’t they?” She asked as she started to walk away.

“No questions asked.”

“Right. I’ll leave ya to it,” Zuki waved over her shoulder.

Some hours later she watched as Titus left the junkyard with an armful of poppers.

*****

“All day, every day, for the last couple weeks.”

“I know, I’ve been watching it, too.”

“What in the world is he doing?”

“I just can’t say, but it’s weirder than a bright red baboon butt.”

“You could try asking him, or even offer to help.”

“Nope, wouldn’t work. He’d hit the big old DENIED button.”

Titus collected up several small boxes, stood and turned to face Khita. “Instead of stalking around behind me every day, talking to yourself about what I’m doing, why don’t you ask me?”

“Because you’d just tell me, ‘None of your business.'”

“Try me.”

“Ok, Titus, what’re you doing every day, carefully pruning and trimming your trees, and plucking all of the blossoms and petals and keeping them in those nice, neat little preservation boxes?”

“None of your business.” Titus smirked and walked into the house.

“See, I told you.” Khita said to his back.

“No, you told him, but I told you.”

“You did.”

“I did.”

*****

In a far corner of Zuki’s junkyard PUP barked incessantly and Zuki woke to Rampart’s deep voice rumbling, “Intrusion alert. Investigating.” The big robot went clanking out the door, a rattle that drug Zuki upright and pulled her the rest of the way out of bed and into the cool dawn air.

“Awwuhn, what is it boy?” She grumbled, standing in the doorway of her shack and pulling up PUP’s remote holo-display.

A red NO TRESPASSING sign flashed, and then PuP relayed live video feed of Titus working through the pile of discarded munitions.

“Not again,” Zuki sighed as she rubbed her eyes. “Just leave him alone, PuP. You and Rampart keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t blow himself up, willya?”

The distant barking stopped, and a big green check-mark appeared on the holo-display. With this assurance, Zuki flopped back down onto her bed.

*****

Khita watched as Titus returned through the garden with another armload of little devices, wires sticking out in every direction. She shook her head and walked over to peer in the window. Laid out on a table, Titus had arranged the collection of preservation boxes which contained, at this point, every single spring blossom from his garden. Over the last weeks he’d meticulously harvested the weeping plum trees, the cherry blossoms, and every teeny, tiny petal from each of the little bonsai; all of which he’d sealed in those boxes. At the other end of the table wires protruded from a pile of low-yield explosive devices that Titus had collected from Zuki’s junkyard.

He stood at the table and pulled his hair back into a knot. After spending a moment staring at all of the components of his plan, he leaned in and began working. Khita watched as he collected pieces from each of the piles on the table, bringing them in and out of sight beyond his hulking torso, where he tinkered away at them one by one.

*****

As Titus stepped off the taxi into the sky-garden, another man quickly jumped into the vehicle and shot back a hard look. The bounty hunter glared through the window at the man as the taxi sped away into the night.

Titus walked through the sky-garden slowly, looking around for anything out of the ordinary. The suspicious man had him on alert. Once he had made a full circuit of the park to ensure that he was alone, he started making his way back through, pausing briefly at various points where he would rummage through his pack and deploy a small device at each location. After traversing the park in this fashion, he finally came to rest at the koi pond. He stared into the soothing water for some time, the fish gliding through the clear water, faint blue light glistening off their shiny scales. When he turned, he stood and surveyed the park again, his eyes searching.

After several minutes, he shrugged and then sat down on a bench. A holo-display lit up before him and he gestured a quick message:

<#!== PRIVATE MESSAGE KEY: W2QFC6FLG9YFGZLFEE2J ==>

Celeste,

Meet me at Cloudspire, tomorrow, one o’clock?
Have something for you.

Titus.

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