In the future of futures, Henry toils in fields until he toils in a rebellion against a created-tyrant. In the past of pasts—the nondescript early 90s—Eric toils at pretending he strings thoughts together.
Eric has never been a stupid man, but he'd like you to think he is.
Today marks a birthday party, one Eric is not so stupid as to forget. A birthday party the entire cast will attend, even a necessary future-variable.
Just what cast is that? The cast of cooperative cells—Alex, Olive, Percy, Moira and somewhat-Markov—already assembled, originally named, affixed, likesome and co-dependent.
Alex, a brilliant criminal with big plans and dreams, forced and reconfigured in every single way, who would fight God herself with his bare hands if she told him what to do and who to be.
Olive, a covertly brilliant young woman, who works a dead-end barista job, with nothing to show for her brilliance, and who covers herself in childish things because it's the only comfort she has.
Percy, a similarly brilliant young woman, who works a secretarial job at a police station, is treated as caustic eye-candy, and who adopted the airhead valley-girl trope because it was easier than trying to break free.
Moira, another brilliant woman, who found herself directionless, unfocused, and unable to escape her lot in life, until a brilliant criminal gave her permission to steal what she was owed, and she found herself at the top of her world.
Markov, another brilliant criminal with big plans and dreams, not forced and reconfigured the same as his current paramour, and who conveniently slips out the side of their collective when it suits him.
Lauren, a forgotten known unknown; onlooker. She's mentioned because she matters and is similarly brilliant, but the clump of cells only knew her for one thing: singing at their parties.
And what of subtle Eric?
In this collage of hardships, brilliance, contradictions and ideas, he seems out of place. A usual guy, with usual thoughts, a usual job, with quite unusual friends.
Like begets like in any time period, or so they say. If your friends are the weirdos, then you're probably one too. However, the weirdness of Eric doesn't live in the character he's grown through a crucible of pain, like the others.
It lives in how subtly amazing he is, and how subtly smart he pretends he isn't.
"Oi mate...we gonna' have to swing roun' Yuen's for it, yah?" Henry asked, causing Moira to raise a feline brow.
"Yes, darling. I've told you twelve times at this point, haven't I? Do you have cotton in those big ears of yours?!" she spat.
"Then why we goin' ta' Penny's? We tryina' get party favours?"
Moira stopped the car with a stutter, narrowing her eyes to tiny slits, jacked the clutch into reverse, and barreled the borrowed vehicle backwards up a one-way street.
"Oi, oi, shit, shit, shit facckkk me, Moi! Ya' gonna 'it someone if ya' go on like tha—"
"Hush!" Moira barked, nearly peeling over a pedestrian with the back-end of the baby-pink Chevrolet.
Moira edged the vehicle back towards them in little starts and stops, to communicate her impatience to the jaywalker.
"This gauche beast handles like its shitty owner," Moira seethed in her original brand of poison.
"Yeh, yeh it does. Couldn' be 'is car if it could drive straight any whichway, yeh?" Eric chuckled.
Rolling down the window, Eric peered around a corner.
A brilliant idea was formed between the empty space where he suggested, habitually, where no electrons lived.
"Moi," he insisted.
"Oi, Moira Angela Dahlin~"
"WHAT," Moira screamed, slamming on the breaks and causing the moronic pedestrian to flail like an infomercial person.
"Couldn' we jus' ditch and walk? S'right up—" Eric gestured with his chin, "to tha' left, down aways, then we're at the flat. Walk back an' drive up normal, yeh?"
Moira turned to look at Eric, her eyes narrowing yet again.
"And leave the vehicle here...unattended?"
"Yeh think anyone'll try ta' lift 'is ride?" Eric chuckled, shaking his head, "s'how tha' last guy got 'is kidneys cleaved out, innit?"
Moira turned back to look ahead at the road, then checked the rearview to eye the flailing pedestrian who had still not made their hasty escape.
"Locals know better is what you're saying, hmm, pet?"
"'Yeh'" Moira parroted her companion, yet all the same turned the engine off, dropped the keys into her bra, and motioned for him—Eric was already outside.
Eric, tall as an oak, stared back at the flailing pedestrian, who was speaking without being listened to.
"It is a one-way, darling...what if someone comes and tows the car?"
"Eh," Eric shrugged. He began to walk off towards the vague direction of Yuen's dumpling shop, and therefore, Alex's hovel of an apartment.
"W-wait, pet. Pet! It's a reasonable question—" staggered after him.
"Yeh, then tha' poncey Billy Idol knockoff looks at someone sideways and he gets 'is ride back withou' doing anyfing," Eric said, casting a glance behind his shoulder.
"Hmm...you're not wrong, dear...you're not wrong."
"What's worse, Moi? We late for Ollie's bash and getta' ear-full, or tha' blond wonder has ta' posture? Me mate likes startin' trouble; facts."
"Facts. Proper facts, Moi."
Moira groaned, yet trailed after her taller friend all the same. The walk wasn't too bad, or it wouldn't have been had Moira been in anything other than the shoes she was currently wearing.
Moira had to make a stop. She rested her hand on Eric's arm as she fumbled with the back of her heel.
"Oi," was all Eric said before he hefted the woman up onto his back. Eric would be the mule without complaints.
"You know, pet...you're not all that stupid," Moira said into his ear.
"Yeh, no, yeh. I'm not."
"Then why pretend you don't know things, when you do?"
"S'easier that way."
"What do you mean?"
Eric sighed and hoisted Moira up further.
"All you lot gotcha' worries. Things I dun even know how ta' think 'bout, or even begin ta'. Yah know?" Moira nodded into Eric's shoulder as he spoke.
"S'not my job to do tha' thinkin," he continued, passing around a brick building to sweep up a familiar alley, "s'not my job ta' plan 'less you lot forget."
"Your job? What do you mean, dear? What is your job?"
"Ta' make it simple," he said, dropping down Moira who stumbled slightly and brace her hand to the brick wall beside her.
Beyond the pair was Yuen's small dumpling shop, situated snugly below Alex's apartment. Eric held out his hand, vaguely gesturing.
"Get tha' snacks. I'll 'ead back."
"Are you sure, darling?"
Eric nodded, catching Moira's curious stare. She pulled the keys from her bra and placed them in his hand.
"I don' mind 'im yellin' at me. Rather 'im not yell at you," he paused, "rather 'im not have ta' terrorize somebody if his poncey car getsa' scratch on 'er."
"Did you come with me...just to carry me?" Moira asked.
Eric said nothing, gave her a smile, and left the way he'd come.
Moira made her way to Yuen's small shop; the food was ready for her. Alex bolted down his steps to confront her, primed to explode about any number of topics.
Moira made the first move by producing one solitary dumpling from a daisy-printed box and lodging it into Alex's face hole. He couldn't be angry with a face full of delicious food.
Yet he still tried, chewing with contempt.
"He's gone back, darling. It was my mistake; I'd had a long day at work, you see, and wasn't thinking. You understand. Retail therapy at Penny's. But he's gone back for your 'baby'...please don't be mad at him. He's not the brightest bulb in the shop, after all."
Alex finished chewing and glanced over Moira's face, then down her torso to her inconveniently beautiful shoes. The anger evaporated.
"I sent him with you for a reason. It's fine. Grab the goods, let's get the party started. Oh," Alex swept out to the metal counter and snatched a brown paper bag with something heavy in it, "don't touch this one, though."
"Oh? Is it for the birthday girl?"
"No," Alex said, pausing for a moment.
"It's for Eric."