One thing I’ve noticed? Even when we think we are, no one is quite playing the same game. The motivation is never one. That’s the rule.
I could swear I’d seen a body. In a glimpse, moving fast, it had passed in a blink. The fires and strange lights of the marsh cast every form in shadow. And the figure had been no different. Hairs stood up on the back of my neck.
But now, the light had appeared up ahead, blackened for moments by the shifting rider in front of me.
The stagnate stench was quickly passing.
I tried not to think about the depth of poverty under my feet at any one time. The zombies shambled in the cinder, I guessed. But it was bad business to roll this way. Stay above ground. We’d had one or two make a run at us already. People got violent across divides. Moreso if the gulf was high and low.
That was their game to play. Mine was to dodge.
Hundreds drowned down here every time it overpoured.
The flood control channel opened out into the air again suddenly and we were up the incline, smoothly. Onto the ridge of concrete before the slope.
My eyes were darting, right lung still struggling to expand.
I’m gonna be pissed if there’s nerve receptor damage.
I can’t afford a mechanic.
I pushed my mind to someplace else. The Orpheum and a wicked smile.
We came revving up the channel’s side and had to stop there. The pipes forming a half-wall were vertically four feet, too steep to ride up. No way around.
“We can’t chain them up here,” Skrimp said. “Too close to the marsh.”
“No.” Dag killed his engine and dismounted. “We can’t.” He looked down the long unturning way of the canal and grimaced.
The top edge of the piping was too high for us to lift. We could maybe toss them over at best. But that’s not happening.
“Shit,” I swore.
“W-we could…” Skrimp trailed off. “You know?”
Wally was silent, display blank.
It was close to dark, now. It looked like a storm brewing overhead. I stared up for a moment as I thought.
Dag dropped his kickstand and leaned back against the piping. He sighed. “I’ll watch the bikes,” he said, reaching into his coat to pull out a popgun. A microwave emitter. Active deterrent. A garbage stinger.
We’d never been this way before. We’d explored the marshes, but this was shit. There wasn’t a way out on the better side of the channel in sight. No idea how to work around to the Orpheum without getting back on the highway.
Psychos threw wrenches into it.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “I don’t mind missing. I can watch the bikes… my dude.”
Dag smirked. “You love the Orpheum, Frode. Probably a little too much.”
Skrimp threw himself over the piping as I was figuring whether I should be offended. But I couldn’t argue. I wanted it.
“Fine then. I’ll go have fun. Watch me!” I hopped up, swinging my legs over. As I looked back I threw out the bird. “Later skater.”
He rolled his eyes.
Wally was the last one to make it. We knew the way from here.
These shadier districts. Smiler’s blind spots were ironically where fun dwelt.
The low windows of the Orpheum spit reds and purples onto the street. The arches and eclectic architecture called to mind ideas of past grandness.
Barbeque. Barack… Baroque?
The street corners outside were covered over with loiterers. The first of the bass blasting inside could be felt. Adrenaline, pain, and motion sickness stirred up in a knot of burning butterflies in my stomach.
The best way it does.
We approached the doors, under the cover of building overhang, now, three gatekeepers there. One sat in a folding chair, smoking, the other on the ground.
The last moved their glowing gaze our way. The plastic covered soft robotics of their muscle torqued to track us, weight shifting as they crossed metal arms, every inch of them graffitied in childlike art, fuchsia and green. Their metallic jaw was animate as they asked, voice of a small girl, “what’s your business?”
“Just the entertainment,” I said, reaching into my pocket.
The man in the fold chair uncovered a pistol in his grip. Slowly, to say.
I had three square coins in my silver hand. Bits. Encrypted, only to be cashed in for credits at the right facilities. Illegal facilities, untrackable.
I wasn’t smiling. No eyes on me.
The door’s guard stepped aside. The robot spoke. “Take care, little ones.”
The opposite will do.
I was up and through the door.
Then came the flood of senses. It was nothing I wasn’t used to. My dreams were more blaring than the day. This wasn’t the entertainment. Not the classical furniture and rubble piles. Or the bodies strewn on every surface.
We descended into the concert hall. The rave was going on, DJ on the stage, rows of seats piled up in great pyramids. Glow sticks and morons. Yours truly.
I noticed that Wally was still wearing his helmet. “You gonna take?!” I asked over the music.
Skrimp ran off.
“Spectral possession is no good,” he yelled, shaking his head. “Keep the color in the phylactery, I think.”
“Come on!” I punched his shoulder. “We came all this way. Don’t I know you?! You need to loosen up a bit, friendo.”
Wally stared for a second.
“Hey now!” Skrimp came running back up, precariously carrying three solo cups. He was quick about it. He had the entertainment.
Wally raised his helmet up, tucking it under his arm.
Skrimp threw back his drink and howled. “Yeah boys!”
I took mine and Wally’s, extending his. “Potable party,” I grinned.
Wally broke, his eyes lighting up. As much as they could. “Fine.”
“That’s more like it.” I stamped my foot. “We’re all here for the same thing. It’s not complicated!” Some exceptions to the rule.
Just an hour, then back home. Can’t keep Dag waiting all night.
He took the cup and we downed them.
Down the rabbit hole we go.
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