Frisson

The people who came into the Excess Café after Lissa and Zim sit down across the central aisle from them, a heavy-set man with thick, tattooed forearms who grunts as he tried to squeeze between the fixed chair and the table, and an equally heavy-set woman wearing a mu-mu who decides just to stand.  There's a scent hanging in the air, something musky and electric-blue and the whole café blurs for a moment in Lissa's vision.  His hands tingle like he's been playing chicken with loaded capacitors again, and then he can see a Go board in front of him, hovering in the air like it could be real if he only wished it so.

On the other side of the Go board is a dirt street, pitted with waterlogged holes and bounded by rough cardboard and metal boxes that he slowly realises count as houses.  There's no windows, and doors are where you make them, pulling away a flange of metal or peeling up a leaf of cardboard.  The smell of sewage rises but cannot cut through the electric blue, and a dusty wind begins to blow.  Sand rattles against his ankles, gently at first but then harder, cutting scrapes and gouges like an ephemeral sculptor working with meat.

There's a man stood there, staring through him, shading his eyes with his hand.  He's wearing a sleeveless shirt with a belt of ammunition slung over his left shoulder.  His other hand holds a gun, some kind of semi-automatic rifle, as casually as Lissa might hold a laptop case.  Tattooes writhe along the man's forearms, easily as thick as Lissa's biceps, and it's like he's about to see those tattooes again.

"Noura's coming," says the man, talking to someone behind Lissa, or -- with a sudden frisson of horror, a shock of cold like white electricity crossing an airbreak he knows that the man is talking to someone who is stood exactly where Lissa is stood.  He flinches, tries to pull away and deny the superposition, and the board suddenly enlarges, forcing him to look at that.  The pressure in his head is like toothache now, ever-present and unignorable.  His neck muscles protest as they are pulled round so that his eyes can see the board, and there he watches as a white stone appears and is set down a short distance away from two black ones.

The click of the stone on the board breaks the vision and he's free again, sweating so hard that water is actually running down the back of his neck and making him shiver.  His coffee is spilled, the cup lying on its side and a pool of inky blackness spreading slowly across the table like the formation of a new reservoir.  Zim sips from his own cup and looks at him, his face unreadable.

"I don't do drugs," he says.  "So I'll probably pass on the salt."

Lissa hears him, but blood is still pounding in his ears and his headache is threatening to render him unconscious.  He scrabbles at the handle of his cup, trying to right it, but it disappears from in front of him, and he moans, the soft, sad sound slipping free from his lips before he can control himself.  A blue cloth with the Excess logo stamped on it whisks over the coffee, and a fresh cup appears in front of him.

"Drink it," says Lehar.

"Noura's coming," says the man with the huge forearms from the table across the aisle and he looks familiar.  Lissa puts the liquid to his lips and sucks, pulling coffee into his mouth.  For a moment there's an intense memory of his youth, and then the headache is receding, fading away like a night-blooming flower caught in the rays of the rising sun, his mouth is as dry as sandpaper, and he can think about what's just been said to him.

Zim stands up and there's a feeling of cobwebs tearing, and Lissa reacts before he's even realises what's happening.

"Let me teach you how to play Psychic Go!" he blurts, and everything hangs in the balance.

 

The End

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