>001[spicy_noodles]

You know what every person needs when they may be dying at four in the am? Spicy noodles.

Maybe that was me.

The asphalt was flowing with dark water. My eyes fixed on my feet as I ducked out into the downpour, the technicolor lights dancing in my blurred sight. Under my hood, the sound of rain on plastic filled my ears.

I knew I’d ridden the elevator to ground level, turned left on B4-2 street. My eyes barely open, I had to stumble back as my foot unexpectedly dropped. That was the road. I’d catch a face of wind kicked spray if I looked up for the signs. So, I felt my way, veering left again round the building’s corner.

The pouring suddenly stopped and I ran a hand through my hair, pushing back the hood.

Concrete was above, crossing over the road from one building to the next. Inset into the wall beside me was a vending machine. The face glowed brightly, a haze of red and orange backlighting the menu. In Chinese and English lettering, under pretty pictures and aside vibrant, happy food characters, items were listed.

There were no buttons.

I perused the options and kicked it. Instead of getting any response, though, the light inside burst. Fun characters blinked out. The underpass was plunged into darkness.

Queer, I thought.

I looked down the street, watched sleek silhouettes cutting through the flooded roads, neon rain washing off them. The signs lit a path further down B4.

Under my clear plastic trench coat, I checked for my key, tucked into the inner pocket of the jacket beneath. I felt up my chest, both pants pockets. Wasn’t sure where I could have put them. Water was soaking up my legs, a chill settling in.

I had to remind myself that I didn’t carry keys anymore. I felt the small scar on the back of my neck to confirm. A years old habit. Somehow it was easy to forget.

Spicy noodles. You want to die without them?

There was another place on B6, I remembered. Relatively nearby.

Forgetting to put up my hood, I ran out into the rain. The jog took a while. Now, late, and on these streets, there were only a few people out. Vagrants.

I stumbled across the road, after looking both ways, and just past the next corner was another corner. I was soaked down to the bone, now, down my back, running heavy over my face. “Come on,” I said. On my spotty vision, I could see ahead that half the road had been blocked off, an amber glowing plastic tent extended out. A car swerved around it and threw water, dousing the side. I jaywalked again and, going around a dumpster, I ducked in through a plastic cover door.

There was a long countertop with stools, a steaming kitchen set up behind. One young Chinese man worked the place.

“Là miàntiáo,” I said. No translation needed.

He threw me a towel to dry myself and gestured for me to rest. I sat down at the countertop and buried my face in the fabric, beating my chest a few times to dispel a bad ache.

Someone else had sat down beside me at the counter.

“Do I know you?” I asked.

“Pobably not,” a male voice replied. One of those urban, northern accents. There was a fusion. I didn’t know.

I looked up at him. He was little older than me, maybe nineteen. He had a sparse beard and short brown hair. Unamused eyes creeping me out.

I realized my noodles were on the counter.

>student account charged

Beard guy’s imprint had been all over the machine outside my building, I realized. A recent impression left on the grid. But no traces in the vending machine data when I’d looked. Had to be a hardware trick. Power surge or something. I didn’t know. I hadn’t checked the port.

But I was sure he borked my noodle machine.

Now, he was pretending to look away as I stared at him. There was an exponentially increasing risk in this scenario. Clearly, he’d lured me out here to kill me. There was only one course of action I could take, now. As I leaned in, he leaned back, meeting my skeptical gaze.

Heighted paranoid state from sleep deprivation. We need to rethink this.

“Mars,” he started. He knew my name.

“Well that answers my question,” I told him.

I swiped my hand across the counter, dashing hot noodles in his lap. Covering my head, ducking down and through the door, left him singing swears as I pushed off the dumpster and into the street. As I was looking back, the dumpster rolling to block the noodle shop’s exit, I grinned.

The horn of a braking car blared as it skidded.

I bounced off the car’s hood, bashing my face into it, and, with the deceleration, was thrown into the street. Struck that hard, I hit my back in the rushing water, wind knocked out of me. Salt water flowed over my chest and I floated. The sky was foggy and dark, I saw there, too far hidden to see beyond a sea of windowless concrete. The sides of parallel buildings blending two unending planes into obscurity.

I was washed down the road for some ways. My head swam and I was tempted to try sleeping. My eyes, filled with rain and watching the dark, were like a snow crash. Static and blur surrounded me in a deep place.

Had to get up, so I turned over and crawled. I pulled myself onto the curb there and sat, looking back where I’d fallen. Recombobulating. The car had turned the opposite way.

I saw the bearded man run out that same direction. Lucky for me that’d not been the current’s same idea. He hadn’t seen me get hit, either. That would have been embarrassing.

I breathlessly laughed when I could, water and flem spewing from my mouth. I tried to clear my sight but the beat of the rain made it pointless. Hung my head and let the fit die. I didn’t worry about him hearing me over this volley, so I let it pass.

There was green, stringy hair veiling my vision as I looked under my brow.

Time? I asked. The computer in my head fielded the question.

>0446

I sighed. A shooting pain was traveling in my left arm, causing a twitch. My body was shivering and it felt like a nerves thing. Not the cold. I was used to that. I knew it was something different.

I didn’t think I would go back yet, I decided.

Just pick yourself up off the curb. Get walking. Go eat. There was an Indian place in the early A district, indoors. They’d have something spicy.

Maybe I’d put off dying long enough to get there, but I didn’t have any plans.

 

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