Like fluttering feathers on the back of a strange beast, white-knuckled men and women and children in all sorts of tattered, bright-colored clothing hung on for dear life.
Throbbing with archaic machinery that spewed curlicues of black, rank smoke from the undercarriage, the pitted and rusted bus howled down the bustling pedestrian lanes of Tachyon Boulevard through a gaggle of construction laborers, housekeepers, compost professionals, wiretappers, juvenile delinquents, garbage deliverymen, document shredders, newsread reporters, heavy-lidded THC specialists, steam technicians, bacterial engineers, teleprompter typists, clamoring tofu dog vendors, wicked cardsharp hustlers, retrofitted geriatrics with guttering valves, soul buskers, prowling blue badges, streetcorner winos, rickshaw operators, integument artists, SPAZ salesmen, holo skin sensations, disaffected yiffer gangs, Banger Street Boys, the cracked legend Metro Transit emblazoned on the grille in flickering blue neon that sent cool sparks haloing along its dented side onto the faces and arms and legs of these people half-heartedly leaping out of the way, to briefly illuminate their shadowed features.
The bus bucked and weaved between cars and pedestrians under glass cracked, brick crumbling edifices of a more majestic past, rushed past irregular intervals of bent and broken lamp posts guttering dead pools of halogen, through an tide of waste that swirled and eddied in its wake.
Empty road stretched ahead: the Corridor. Its engines groaned, and it roared on, almost mythical, a metallic dragon rising across the ferrocrete way, dribbling spumes of smoke shot with blue lightning.
In his high tower the watchman looked up blearily from the skin glossies that kept him within sanity’s breast during these shifts, and saw the monstrosity.
He sighed, took a rag and wiped his hand, then sat up in his creaky crèche. He cracked his knuckles. There were always a couple every week. Poor souls. Nothing going for them in the tenements, or they caught cabin fever. There was no magic bullet; outside, they all died sooner or later.
Grunting, he reached towards the switch that operated the first gate and, waiting, looked at the brutal ferrocrete wall that separated the city from the outside. Some wit had spray painted, in stylized letters, HERE BE DRAGONS. True enough though, he mused, crushing the switch.
The gate groaned open and the bus shot through. Someone lost his grip, rolling in a tide of rubbish thrown to pile up against the gate by the incessant North wind and scrambled to his feet, slipping frantically. He seemed to be screaming, the watchman thought as he squinted through scratched plexiglass. Probably was.
The figure threw himself through as the gate juddered closed. A pulp of blood. The watchman imagined a sickening crunch, shrugged. This was routine. He activated the second gate, closed it, then the third.
Once anyone exited the city there was no coming back. They became voluntary exiles. Anyone or anything remaining within the second and third gates would be purged by modified jet engines. Sometimes whole caravans got trapped inside, and stinking smoke would linger in the air for days.
The watchman jabbed the switch that activated the torches and turned to gaze at the city; he didn’t like to watch the burn. It was almost dark. Torchlight and gas stoves wavered a man made constellation that stretched to the horizon.
The stars were faint angels in the sky. Roasted chicken and boiled vegetables taunted his nostrils. He had a craving for cold goat milk. Faint singing, boisterous, wafted in with the occasional zephyr.
Sighing, he returned his attention to the glossies and soon was snoring.