Wesson Street

Zim is a runaway looking for a corner where it's quiet and doesn't rain too much that he can call his own.
Lissajous is a hacker and an addictive personality. At the moment he's just hunting for other people to play Psychic Go with him.
Noura is a woman with a book of prophecies that she's trying to force come true.
All three of them collide on Wesson Street.

The smell of smoke: acrid, teasing tears from the corners of people's eyes.  Something a little plastic in there, a note of something man-made.  It's not even sun-up yet, and already something is burning.  There's no sirens, no shouts, not even hurrying footsteps.  Whatever it is will be left to burn until it goes out or it can't be ignored any more.  And if it can't be ignored any more... Lissajous shudders.  As far as he's concerned, fire is suffocated by a halon system, or the ferocious -- and fun! -- application of a CO2 fire extinguisher.  Wesson Street, well, that has its own ideas.

It's early for most people, but it's just later for him.  Despite that the street is still busy.  Not crazy busy, like it will be after nine, or psychotically busy like it will be when the souks officially open, but he's still weaving in and out of the crowd, stepping on and off the greasy pavements (do they call them sidewalks here?  Or is that just in the North?) dodging people who're moving with intent in the eyes, or focus written in their faces.  The street gets called feral, but it's not the street's fault, it's the people on the street.  He's never seen the street empty, but he thinks that it might just be an ordinary, dirty street in a dirty city on a dirty planet.  It takes people to turn things feral.

The smoke's behind him now, but the sear of spices rushes upon him fast.  Something sizzles, and a voice -- perhaps a woman, perhaps a young boy -- cries out briefly like a brightly-plumed bird calling in the canopy of the jungle.  Lissajous glances left, there's a tattered plastic awning suspended on old scaffolding poles forming a street stall, and behind the trestle tables that are the counter, a kid, maybe even a year older than Lissajous, is nursing a burnt hand against his chest, and stirring some meat in a hot pan with the other.  No spoon, just mixing it around with his fingers.  His not so clean fingers.  Lissajous's stomach rumbles anyway, it's been a while since he ate.  Remembered to eat.

"Fifty rahk," says the kid, staring back at Lissajous.  They've both got huge eyes in small heads, the food-prep kid's got black hair and Lissajous is blonde underneath the grime.  The stare holds briefly, like a moment in manga, and then Lissajous fumbles in a pocket in his jeans, struggling to get his fingers in because the jeans a little too-tight.  There's a few coins in there, nothing silver or shiny though, and he has to find five of the ten-rahk bits amongst the fluff and shrapnel.  He hands it over, and watches as the food-prep kid makes them disappear into a zippered apron pocket.  Then he picks up a ladle, adds a generous spoon of something red and tomatoey to the meat.  It hisses and roars like an animated dragon on one of the cheaper online role-playing games, then settles down to a thick boil.  No sooner is it there then it's scooped up and splattered into a plastic dish, a final sprinkle of something from a spice jar scattered on top, little white crystals like a snow-fall, and handed over with a thin, shiny paper napkin.

The plastic's too thin for the heat of the food and is already warping, but Lissajous's hungry so that's not a problem.  The white scattering is MSG, but the tomato sauce doesn't need it, so he brushes it off to the side.  The meat tastes like chicken, so he decides not to think about that.  So much tastes like chicken these days, it's even an advertising slogan.  Unleaded auto fuel: tastes like chicken!

He's moving again, heading up Wesson Street while he eats, his mind alert for a touch.  He's looking for a player, someone else who can handle Psychic Go, and it's not a game for everyone.  But this is Wesson Street, and it's where all kinds of people who might just have the edge, the fuzziness at the edge of consciousness that's needed to play it.  And it doesn't hurt that there's probably people selling the kinds of drugs that'll make you think you can play Psychic Go, and Lissajous wouldn't turn down a mark or a rube.  Money's money, after all.

He discards the carton on top of an overflowing bin; the clean-up crews haven't been through yet.  Even so, it'll be full again minutes after they've gone, it's almost like the full bin is a landmark for someone, or somepeople, a navigational aid to make sure that they turn the right way, or perhaps even don't turn but carry on, across the street and into other realms.  Safer places, where life is attenuated and dull, but no-one will call you out on the strength of a feeling, where no-one will ask you to play a game for stakes you can't understand, even when you've lost.

There!  Just for a moment, a passing fritz, a frisson of excitement.  Like an atom suddenly gaining a charge and then losing it again, the tiny Planck pulse of coherently emitted light striking a receptor in Lissa's head.  He dodges around a woman power-dressed in a suit that must cost tens of thousands of rakal; she's screaming into a cell-phone that keeps changing colours.  Lissa guesses that it's a mood-phone, retro culture clashing with the future, trying hard to imprint the unthinkable with a casual veneer of the contemptible, humanity trying to understand -- still -- why it came down from the trees and listened to the monkey with the hot burny stuff.

"--gave you eighteen thousand the week before, you Harvard-educated prick!" she screams.  Both eyes are ticcing like clockwork and muscles are working in the corner of her mouth.  Lissa knows it can't be her that's offering, and scans the street again.  It's almost a relief when he spots the solid closed doors of Asian Steve's all-night barbershop and feels the fritz spark up again.  It's almost like coming home.

The End

12 comments about this story Feed