State of Flux
Chapter Two: Stupid
(Five days earlier)
Wed 15th Jan. 11:13AM
Scritch looks bone-tired when she arrives, and she knows he’s been up trawling the web long before she got here. The silver stubble which usually shadows his face is on its way to becoming a wiry beard, his greying hair isn’t long but it looks dirty. He’d been varnishing something earlier, and the keyboard on the counter is smudged with brown residue. The F key is darkest. He’s the only person she knows who still uses a hardware keyboard, built into the countertop. When she uses it, thick cubes depressing down like keys on a piano, she feels like she’s using some old world relic, thinks with pity about the discomfort of typewriters
The wall mural is covered again. Helena understands. She knows what the date is, and that for Scritch these are the few high pitched days before his full moon, before all hell breaks loose for him. An endlessly repeating cycle in which the wire that is his grief is gathered and pulled ever taughter until the day it’s cut loose and he breathes easy, back at the beginning of the loop.
“You’re early,” he grunts.
“Yeah,” she replies, pulling up a stool and setting her PortPad on the counter. She’d googled a bit herself and learned what had happened – six pieces in two nights. As least so far; more seemed to be popping up every few hours. Even the best copycats had never had this kind of courage. Helena never watches live action news, but every site, blog, feed and profile she follows or browsed has something to say on the matter. She’ll have to write something about it herself for the Arcis, it wouldn’t be a Pride culture publication if she ignored the biggest Pride event to happen in her lifetime – the return of Flux. If that’s really what it is. But she hasn’t yet figured out how to juggle both Scritch and The Nightly Arcis when it comes to the topic of Flux yet, she’s never had to. She has to publish something, and she’s definitely in a better position than any of the Arcis’ other journalists to get information on Flux, but she’s also inherited Scritch’s dedication to protect Flux’s identity. She could write the exposé of the century with Scritch as a source, but he would never forgive her.
If she’s honest she doesn’t know how Scritch would react, in all the years they’ve known each other, nothing on this scale has ever happened. She’d known he would need her. And so here she is.
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” she says, pushing her PortPad close enough to pair with his countertop. He lifts his hands clear and pauses typing to let her drag a copy of his open browser tabs from his screen to hers. She reads through them methodically.
The headlines are sensationalist (of course) and there are a million pictures of varying size and quality of the same few pieces. A mix of articles, some street art enthusiasts are using it as a reason to dig up every photo of Flux art they can find, most of which Helena is familiar with; the most iconic ones are everywhere. The one with the bear and the bee, honey dripping down in brown-yellow-brown stripes. The back of someone hooded running, a trail of firework sparks traced into the pavement under her feet. A spray paint sky on a subway carriage, clouds like cotton candy fibres, or spiderwebs, or milk in water, but frozen like 3D on a pretty big screen. The wisps collecting to form shapes.
Some are reporting on the new police department that has been assigned to scrub away the new masterworks. Community service workers can’t be trusted with such a responsibility anymore. Speculation on the return of the AVE Division, the graffiti hunters.
“Okay, they are good,” she says to Scritch, “But there isn’t much here that really distinguishes them from other copycats.”
“And there isn’t anything here that proves it IS a copycat.”
She sighs and looks up from her screen, “I dunno…”. She wants to tell him she doesn’t know if she can watch him go through this one more time, but is unable to spit out the words. “It’s just hard when… it turns out to not be what we’re looking for,” she finishes.
The only sound is the gentle clicks of his fingers on the keys. He doesn’t look her in the eye.
“You know I can’t just ignore it.”
“I know,” she says with resignation. She owes him this, for putting up with her crap all these years. For helping her get ahold of things she needs for keeping clean, for sterilising the seats she sits on in his workshop and for a million other things. She owes him, and they’re each all other has, so she’ll do it.
“Look, we’ll go take a look at a piece, if it doesn’t measure up, you promise to let it go?”
“Deal,” he says, even though they both know it’s a lie. He won’t. Because he can’t.
(Four hours later)
Wednesday 15th Jan 2:55PM
Flashrat is hanging out of the window smoking when he gets back, back aching from sleeping in an awkward position in someone else’s place, Jeddah’s grinding blades digging in through the fabric of his bag. He slings it off and dumps it near the door, stretching to try and drive off the stiffness.
“He returns!” Flash says, the words muffled because he’s keeping his lips clamped around his cigarette. “You had sex, didn’t you?” he adds accusingly.
“Ha,” Jeddah snorts in reply. Coming home feels like taking a step backwards. He feels like Xander in one of those first episodes, where he has to go back and sit in a class and care about school things when he knows Buffy is off storming a nest of vampires and fighting for her life.
“Oh come on, you were out all night, it must have been a girl.”
It’s just then that Flash is close enough to notice the wound on his head, and he wraps a hand around the back of Jeddah’s neck to pull him closer and inspect it. “Hey, what’s this? Stitches? What happened?”
“I fell grinding.” Flashrat pokes the stitches with his free hand while Jeddah tries to slip out of his friend’s grasp.
“Ah, so it was a nurse, it all makes sense now.”
“I was not out all night getting off with a nurse who just treated my head wound, Flash, my life is not a low budget porno. Contrary to popular belief.”
“But you were with a girl.”
Jeddah sighs, and takes a drink of water. It’s stale and room temperature, tastes of plastic. “I met a girl. Nothing happened though.”
“But you like her,” Flash finishes, matter of factly.
“Maybe. I dunno if I’ll ever see her again. Can you not-?” he adds, nodding towards the cigarette Flash is holding inside the room now. “The flat stinks enough as it is.”
He wants to tell Flash how weird and cool and mysterious Trinai seems. And how she has this secret she won’t tell him but he knows it’s something important and exciting, but everything has turned grey again, like life has just melted straight back into mundanity. And, if he tells his roommate everything, wouldn’t that just prove she was right not to trust him? She’s not here, you’re not going to impress her or earn her trust now matter how much aura preening or halo shining you do in private.
Flashrat throws the stub out the window and shuts it, grabbing the remote and switching the wallscreen to live TV. “Fair enough. Your mum called by the way. She left a message.”
He opens the message on the kitchen wallport, salting a plain slice of bread and folding it into his mouth as a pre-meal snack while he listens.
“Jeddah, I know your deadline’s passed now, so can you please send us what you’re taking this year? What are you specialising in? I don’t know what the big secret is, you decided ages ago, doesn’t your family deserve to know what you’re doing with the rest of your life? Call me back in the evening.”
Fucking fucky shitfuck. The choice form deadline. In all the drama last night, he’d completely forgotten about it. He freezes at the realisation, fingers poised above the buttons of the microwave ready to make some quick chips. Oh man. Would begging via email get him in for this year? Does he even want to try? He opens his inbox, finds the address for admissions and opens a new message. He types an apology and then ‘the classes I want to enrol for are’ and switches tabs to check the course choices list.
His eyes skim the list he knows almost by heart now, and he stands for a moment, just looking, and then he closes the tab and email. It asks if he wants to save it as a draft, and he clicks ‘discard’.
(Thirty minutes earlier)
Wed 15th Jan. 3:36PM.
She feels strange as she walks down to the Plaza, the sleep deprived feeling something between sick and tired, like she’s stayed up too long and the hours are staining her tongue. The cold bright sun beats down on her as she trudges in her jeans across to the granite boxes planted with small bushes and flowers, scrunching her eyes against the light. She finds the place she’s looking for, and rummages in the undergrowth of a straggly bush, up to her elbows in twigs. She extracts what she came for; her bombing gear, tucked up in her V-cord bag.
She slings it over her shoulder and squints down at her Link screen, which promptly blinds her with a reflection of the sun. She manages to scrounge the tiny clip on earphones from the crease in the bottom of her jeans pockets, and fixes the cuffs into place at the tops of her ears. The minute speakers hang down close to her ear-canals. Flicking through her Link library, she stops on the most chilled music she can find.
It’s a long slow walk back up the stairs to her flat, but she gets there eventually, only to find someone already at the door waiting for her.
Her heart hammers.
Why is he here? She’s glad. At least she can’t stop herself feeling a skip of excitement, but she isn’t sure if that’s the kind of feeling she should be trying to suppress. She can’t remember the last time she saw him. His hair is shorter now, so his dreadlocks stick out jagged like little twists of wire or plastic bag, but there is the familiar, severe angle of his eyebrows and the tone of his skin, which is deeper than her own. He’s easily two feet taller than her, and wearing a black tee and camo patterned shorts.
“Hey, how’re you doing?” His voice has a kind of lazy articulation that comes off as confident, as though nothing ever bothers or scares him.
“Uh, I’m fine. Just tired… the usual… do you want to come in?” The words are out before the back of her brain can stamp them away. The voice that tells her this is stupid is always conveniently quiet when he is here in the flesh, which makes it somewhat unhelpful, though it returns extra loud every time, after he leaves.
“Yeah, thanks…” he says easily, pushing the door open and walking through. He doesn’t hold it open for her. Trinai is beginning to feel it already, his absence. Because even when he’s here, he’s never really with her.
She dumps her things, offers him a cup of tea and they make small talk. She asks the reason for the surprise visit.
“We never had that talk,” he replies, sprawled on the sofa. “You know, we always said we were gonna properly have it out about the Flux debate.”
She remembers. A night some months ago (or was it weeks?): they’d argued late on the topic over hangover food, and she’d lost. She hated the fact that she’d lost, because he’d proved she couldn’t justify her conclusion and he’d made her feel dumb, inarticulate, unattractive. So she’d stayed up all night; reading and researching and writing, figuring out the perfect answer to his argument. And when it was ready… he wasn’t anymore. She can’t remember what it was he said exactly (the occurrence wasn’t an isolated one after all) but she’d waited around for him to be ready to hear it, and he never had been. She thought she’d moved on.
And now here he is, on his own terms, and everything is as it was.
And it’s at this point that some switch flips in her; she’s sick of mind games, gaining control over him and losing it, losing it, losing it. And when she looks at his face, even though she still feels a compulsion there, it’s finally clear to her that even if she were smart enough, or quick enough to keep up with his power-play; she wouldn’t want to. Why would a mouse run back to a cat? What kind of worm offers itself to a bird?
“Oh yeah…that…” she stalls for time, in the aftermath of her realisation. She doesn’t want him here….does she?
And though she resents this stunt, showing up unexpected, demanding her rebuttal on his request, she knows (and he knows) that she still wants to prove herself. He’s counting on it. She still wants to show him her work, to hear what he thinks. And even as she’s thinking this is a bad idea and I shouldn’t speak to him her eyes are travelling to his lips of their own accord and her mind is wandering away to relive that one kiss where it had seemed like he really wanted her. Wanted her,when all the time she’d known him it never seemed like he ever wanted anything.
She tries to think of a solution. A happy ending, that would be a solution. He’ll read my ramblings and finally realise I’m as smart as he is, and after that he won’t be able to keep his hands off me. Ha ha.
“I’ve still got it written down somewhere,” she says “in all it’s sleep deprived glory.”
“I’m surprised you don’t have a printed and bound copy at the ready,” he says with that sort of almost-smile that lights up his eyes and makes a conversation seem worth it.
“Give me a second.”
She finds the thing in her room, underneath a stack of books, a crumpled wad of paper, scribbled, with diagrams. Her brain spilled on pages. For him.
She hands the sheets to him, and he takes a drink from the mug of tea while he looks at it. His Link buzzes, and he unlocks it to check a message or call.
And then he places the tea back on the coffee table and stands up, stretches. “I’ve got to go meet my friend. We’ll speak about it later, yeah?”
“Looks interesting though.” He scans the first page again. “I think my uncle would get a kick out of it.”
A police officer. No. No way. He can’t be serious.
“You can’t show it to him,” she says. And he changes, like a lake in a flash freeze.
“Why not? It’s not like he’s gonna report to his superior about some rant by a kid who wants to crawl up Flux’s arse.”
She flinches as though the blow is physical, fumes at his condescension, furious and cut to the bone. A kid? He – it’s all there again, every last feeling of stupidity and inferiority and shame. Her eyes are hot and threaten to water.
“You can’t show it to him,” she replies firmly, jaw clenched, “If you’re going to then give it back.”
“You gave it to me,” he scoffs, backing towards the stairs slightly. “You can’t take it back cause you’re worried you’ll get in trouble.” A joke, this is all a joke to him.
Her expression becomes thunderous. How dare he- “You have NO idea what you’re talking about. Now give it to me.”
“Too late for that,” he grins, as though the atmosphere of the conversation hasn’t changed at all. He rolls it up, stuffs it in his back pocket, and starts down the stairs. Disappears. And that’s the end of it. Because that’s how it works, if he doesn’t want to give it back, she can’t make him. The idea of trying physically is laughable, and what else is there to do when the person has proved they don’t care if they hurt you?
She slams the door shut, but it doesn’t lock itself. She gives a frustrated wail and tries her thumb on it, but it just keeps rejecting. Now she has a broken door as well, fantastic. She slams it with her fist and her eyes well at the pain.
She slides her back down the door and sits on the floor. Well, she’s fucked. Jeopardised everything just to prove to some guy that she’s got a brain. Smart, Trinai, real smart.
Some rant by a kid who wants to crawl up Flux’s arse. The words won’t leave her, they sit unmovable and thorny inside her, echoing over and over, magnifying her mortification.
She sits there for longer than necessary, defiant, about something. She doesn’t know what. Maybe waiting for someone to come and tell her it’s all going to be okay.
But she’s alone. There’s no parent to run to, not teacher to tell, no friend to share the responsibility, nothing to do but sit in her own mess. She has to figure this one out for herself, and the thought of it brings her to tears like a child, hiccoughing and sobbing until her throat aches.
(Half an hour earlier)
Wed 15th Jan. 1:03PM
He wakes up slowly, with an aching head, and as his consciousness swims into focus, he guesses he must have had far too much to drink last night.
Before he opens his eyes, he catches a sweet earthy scent with a tinge of smoke and realises that it’s linen he’s lying on, not his own bedcover, and he remembers he’s not at home, he’s at the girl’s flat. He lifts his head gingerly, and it throbs painfully again. Forcing his eyes open he takes a look around. He can barely remember getting here last night, he supposes the painkillers are to blame for that.
Jeddah pushes himself up carefully, into a sitting position on the couch. It’s red, and raggy. You can tell it used to be thick coarse linen, but it has been worn thin and become softer. He finds his ice pack from last night, chemical blue, liquid and slightly warm – there are creases on his arm from where he slept on it. He takes a look around the room. The wallskin is a wraparound panoramic photo of some misty mountains, and various stacks of junk are piled in corners. On a low table next to him there is a bowl full of dried red flowers, a Link charger and a small brass elephant with ash on its back. A bookshelf only half full of books begs to be examined on the other side of the room. Numerous jars of varying sizes sit on it, along with a small fish tank, though from here he can’t see any fish inside it. There are candles dotted around: some new, some half burned.
Realising simultaneously his intense thirst and a bad need to go to the toilet, he scans around for a likely looking room. The first door he goes to doesn’t slide open when he pushes it. Then again if it’s an old system then the sensors will be getting rusty. He tries again, slightly harder. It still doesn’t budge. There doesn’t seem to be a switch or handle. It can’t be a thumblock door surely? Why would anyone need one in their own house? The door next to it opens of its own accord and the girl appears in the doorway.
“What are you doing?” she demands, shifting her weight to lean against the door frame.
Jeddah jumps, like he’s been caught doing something wrong, and apologises immediately. The girl from last night… her name… it begins with a T? She has sepia skin and asian features, a smooth shallow nose and these sharp dark eyes he wants to see up close. Shorter than him by more than most with a slight, boyish build.
“Sorry, uhh…I was looking for the toilet?” he says.
“Well it’s not in there.”
Her hair’s black and fades into purple, as though she’s growing it out. He’s annoyed she looks barely sleep-rumpled, because Jeddah is sure his own hair is sticking up everywhere, and that he can feel that he probably still has blood on his head. Saliva crusting on his cheek. He’d drooled in his sleep? At someone else’s place. Nice.
He can feel heat rising in his cheeks.
“The toilet’s over there,” she say, pointing to a door on the other side of the room. She’s wearing something baggy that had creased in the night, but she still looks pretty, though less dangerous than before. He tries not to look at her bare legs, which end in a pair of pillowy slippers. Behind her he can see a glimpse of bright paper, a kaleidoscope composed of a multitude of smaller, overlapping pictures.
“It’s over there,” she repeats. He mumbles “Yeah, thanks,” and opens the door.
The bathroom is tidy, clean too, which is unusual for someone their age living alone. Assuming she is living alone. What if she isn’t? Did he see another bedroom door? He looks into a toiletry box for anything that would indicate either way. There doesn’t seem to be anything conclusive. He finds a shaving razor, though she might have one of those anyway, but it’s blue and orange. A men’s brand. Jeddah puts it back with a sinking feeling. Is that what she was so touchy about last night? Some roommate or boyfriend that’s a sore topic? Still, why would you be embarrassed to tell a stranger you were out in the middle of the night to see someone? And an explanation as dull as that wouldn’t explain it surely, otherwise she wouldn’t have been so cryptic. Unless she just likes fucking with people. No, there’s definitely something weird here. But judging by her mood, she isn’t going to tell him anything more than she did last night.
Looking in the mirror confirms his suspicions about his hair, the saliva and the blood. He wipes off what he can, and tries to flatten down his hair and make it look both neat and fashionably tousled. It doesn’t really work. There is still a tuft at the back that won’t go down, it needs a wash. Would it be rude to shower here without asking? Yes, Captain Manners, it would.
When he gets back she’s changed into loose denim shorts and a deep green top with half length sleeves. She stretches and yawns. She’s reading a book he can’t see the cover of.
“I’ve got to go to work today,” she says without looking up. “So we can’t really hang out, sorry.”
“Oh… right,” he replies, doing a bad job of covering his disappointment by taking a closer look at the fish tank. “Where do you work?” There is something inside after all. A strange mish mash between something froglike and fishlike, legs and a tail, a fan of spikes around its head, gaping its mouth open and closed. The pearly white skin makes it look like a ghost from a kids’ movie.
“I do laundry.”
“You know, the chutes in apartment buildings. I work there. Sort through the laundry bins, fold and return clean stuff and that.”
“Ah, cool. Well, I was gonna ask if you wanted to go out somewhere later for coffee or something,”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“I’m sure we could find a place that serves other beverages.”
“The point was to say thanks for helping me out and that. You don’t have to drink coffee.”
Next to the tank are a plethora of mismatched jars and boxes filled with herbs and things. He wants to ask about them.
“Can’t you just say it now?”
“Uhh… thanks?” and then, pointing at the tank, “What is this thing?”
She gets up. “You’re welcome. Its a juvenile aquatic salamander. Axolotl. I’ve given up on him metamorphosing into adult form.”
The salamander swims in behind some plastic seaweed.
She moves to the door in a way that makes it quite clear it’s time to go. And he has one of those silly, romantic ideas that never works in real life.
(Half an hour later)
Wed 15th Jan. 1:32PM
Jeddah’s awkward in the morning. He’s looking for something more, and she can’t give it to him. She can’t get involved with anyone else, not right now when the city is trying to hunt her down. Letting in someone new… it’s a liability that has to be avoided like the plague. She tries to make it clear he has to leave early. Like as soon as possible. He slept on the couch and she’d left him there last night; a mess of limbs and a shock of untidy brown hair. It’s a pity, she thinks as she watches him hunt around for his shoes. He seems like a decent guy, he’s good looking in that real-life sort of way, and if things were different she’s probably like to see him again, but the timing is just all wrong. She’s still tangled up in Cooper (and look where that got her) and knee deep in the secrecy that painting by moonlight demands of her. He makes some small talk about her salamander.
“Can I just use your toilet before I go?” he asks, yawning.
“I thought you just-” she cuts herself off. “Yeah, sure, whatever.”
She’s still waiting by the door when he gets back.
“Well I hope your head’s okay, goodbye…”
“Yeah you too, g’bye,” is the last thing he says before he’s gone and she is left in merciful solitude again.
She finds her jacket because she still has to go and pick up her gear. When she goes to brush her teeth there’s a square of toilet paper sitting by the sink. She reads the small, jagged handwriting on it.
“I know you don’t want to see me again, but thank you for helping me out. I appreciate it. If you need anything let me know so I can return the favour.”
It’s signed with his Link number.
(Eight hours earlier)
Wed 15th Jan. 5:04AM
His legs obligingly push him up the flights of stairs to her front door. He has the feeling that his arm would ache from holding the ice pack to his head if the painkillers from the hospital hasn’t already started to kick in. His limbs hum happily with the feel it, warm and sleepy.
The girl is swiping open the front door with a plastic fob, but pushes him back when he tries to follow her in.
“Just wait here a second, all right?” she says, hand splayed against the door behind her. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
He hears some thumps and thuds come from behind the door while she’s gone, and a slight judder along the wall where he is resting his head. The ice pack cushions his forehead and he lets his arm hang at his side. Nothing hurts but it’s all tired, that drowning sort of tiredness you get before drunkenness or after sex.
There’s a soft click, and the purple girl pulls him gently inside, with one foot wedging the door open behind her. Inside her flat is very red, but most things are through half shut eyes. She slumps him onto the couch, like dropping into a cotton cloud, and night falls.
(Two and a half hours earlier)
Wed 15th Jan. 2:36AM
The hospital, a white and boxy cluster of buildings, takes them in and lets them digest – with forms – in various waiting rooms. It stitches up Jeddah’s forehead, sewing through his skin the way you’d sew up a stuffed chicken, and it deposits painkillers into his hand, waits while he swallows them, instructs Trinai to keep an eye out for signs of concussion, Then, a handful of hours after they entered, it deposits them politely out onto the street.
All Trinai wants to do is get him home and fall into her own bed. Jeddah is less chatty than before, he walks quietly, leading them to his place.
When they reach his door as few streets away from the other side of Rhombus Park, he roots in his pockets for his keycard. His building doesnt have a thumblock system.
“Fuck,” he mumbles, hands coming out empty.
“I dunno where my key is,” he says hopelessly. “Maybe I dropped it on the Plaza.”
He presses the buzzer a few times, but there’s no reply. He tries to phone his flatmate but there’s no response to any of the five calls.
He slumps down in the doorway wearily. “I’ll just sleep here until Flash wakes up.”
Trinai looks at the pathetic sight that is him trying to rest his head comfortably on the door and failing. Part of her very much wants to leave him here, but the other is her conscience and it forces her to sigh reluctantly and say “You can sleep at my place. Come on.”
(Twenty minutes earlier)
Wed 15th Jan. 2:16AM
The hospital is only a few streets away so instead of calling an ambulance or paying for a taxi, they walk. Well, the girl walks. Jeddah trudges and sways and treads softly to try and stop each step sending a shock of pain through his head. She supports him with an arm around his waist and drapes one of his over her shoulders. The going is slow, but she keeps him putting one foot in front of the other. It begins to snow lightly, dusting the tops of shop signs and bins.
“Hey,” he says.
“What?” She doesn’t turn her head to look at him, just stares ahead at where they are stepping next.
“Thanks. For this.”
“I’m Jeddah by the way. And I don’t usually look this… head-injury-ish.” Her sniff, a quick exhalation of air through her nose, might be a laugh. “What’s your name?”
“Jemima,” she says, ever so slightly too fast.
“Jemima,” he repeats.
He tries to turn and check her expression and in doing so trips on the curb as they cross the road. Their heads are very close in this position.
“Yes.” She sounds a bit pissed now.
“Like the duck.”
“Jemima. The duck.”
“Fine, fine. It’s not my name.”
“Good, ‘cause it sounds made up.”
“My name is Trinai.”
“I mean, has anyone called their child Jemima in the last two centuries?”
“There’s a duck called Jemima?”
They pass a 24 hour corner shop, fruit stacked in crates out front, all of it shiny and dark blue in the light from the window. A strand of her hair is tickling his face, just next to his nose. It makes him want to sneeze.
“So why were you out grinding so late alone? Aren’t you in a Pride or something?”
Why would she lie about her name? What exactly did she think he was going to do with it?
“Just felt like it. Like getting out of the house, I mean. And there isn’t a railgrinding Pride anymore. What about you? What are you doing out this late?”
“None of your business.”
Her sigh sounds like an eyeroll, but not directed at him, as if she regretted her answer as soon as she said it.
“If you’d rather you’d just lied, we can try that again. What are you doing out this late, Trinai? Well Jeddah, I’m on my way home from a party because my friend threw up on the couch so I can’t crash there. There you go.”
“Funny,” she says.
After another street of falling snow, cold feet and monosyllabic answers, he just lets the silence unfold around them.
(Half an hour earlier)
Wed 15th Jan. 1:58AM
It’s been a long night. Trinai loosens the strap of her respirator and unsticks the rubber from her face. The cool air stinging her skin after the hot dampness of the mask is invigorating. She stows the mask away and grabs her food box, opening it to start wolfing down the cold noodles. The Plaza is a vast expanse of grey paving, dollops of blue light spit out by various lamp posts onto its surface. Just as she’s passing the tourist kiosk in the centre she catches sight of something lying out on the pavement. Like a big trash-bag, but as she gets closer it’s less like a bag and more like a person. Heavy traffic area like this in daytime, there’s no snow left on it from all the walking, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hella cold here too. Probably not a good idea for them to lie there all night in it.
She deliberates, mouth stuffed but she isn’t chewing. Nobody should see her at this time, coming from this direction. She has a strict No Socialising On The Job policy, and she’s never broken it before. Closer up, the trash bag is a guy around her own age, maybe a little older. Out cold. It’s not really socialising is it? Helping an injured person. It’s not like she’s stopping for a cuppa and a chat, this guy needs help. Why does it have to be now? Tonight, the one night it’s more crucial than ever that no one sees her out on the streets. She’s only stopped for a few seconds but now she’s walking again, chewing. Someone else will walk past won’t they? She’ll make an anonymous call to… someone.
She’s on the edge of the Plaza where it meets the street now. She looks back at the dark shape on the ground. He needs a doctor or something. A chorus of pleading puppies, heartstrings, empathy: begging her to go back.
And if he’s unconscious out in this cold he could die of hypothermia or that silent P thing, even if his injury isn’t too bad.
“Fuck it,” she grumbles, sighing loudly to herself and swallowing a hunk of cold noodle, as though to show her conscience she’s not happy about this but it has to be done. She stomps back towards him, taking off her bag and stuffing it in the bushes just in case. Crouching next to him, she clears her throat in the quiet which doesn’t want to be broken.
“Hello? Can you hear me? If you get me in trouble I’m gonna be pissed.”
There’s no response, though he seems to breathing fine. “Hey, wake up,” she says, shaking his shoulder ever so slightly, “What happened to you?”
He twitches then groans, and manages to pry his eyes open. They’re nut-brown, a few shades lighter than his hair. His nose is narrow and sort of pointed, lips slim and gently vee’d in the centre, the way a bird’s beak looks from the front. Altogether his features are spare and boyish. Pretty.
“What’s your name?” she asks, keeping her balance with one hand on the ground.
He coughs, and then winces at the pain of it. “Jeddah.” His voice is raspy. His jacket, a deep blue thing, is wet and scuffed with dirt. She sees a thread of silver attached to the arm, like the glint of a spiderweb, but when she goes to brush it away she can’t find it again.
“All right,” she says with a sniff, “let’s get you to a hospital.”
(Two hours earlier)
Tues 14th Jan. 10:44PM.
When he gets back home to the flat he halfheartedly tidies his room, mulling over what he saw. He opens the choice form on his PortPad, sprawled on his bed. Yet again, none of it looks exciting and only a few courses look bearable. Maybe he should switch colleges altogether. Still… would the courses there be any different? He blacks out the screen. Maybe some fresh air will help him think.
He’s not sure if bored is the right word to describe this feeling, all he knows for certain is that some small spark has been ignited in his somewhere, he wants to do something meaningful, crazy or stupid. Preferably all three. It’s been almost a year since he did any railgrinding, and his blades are under his bed, but it’s the only thing can think of to do that might satisfy this hungry restlessness. He sticks the blades in a bag and lets the door fall closed behind him. He’s making his way towards the Plaza, since he can’t be bothered going all the way out to the bombsite again.
When he reaches the central steps on the Plaza the cold of the pavement scorches through his socks as he clips the blades onto his trainers, then puts them on again. The biggest staircase has a nice riveted rail so he backs up a bit and then runs for it, blades clicking on the stone.
He makes it beautifully, leaps at the perfect time, hits it at the perfect angle and the magnetic surface sticks around the side, and for a few seconds he’s his old self again. Free in the exhilaration of the sport. Alive. His blades need to be slicked a little, there are almost sparks, but they’ll do for now.
He makes it to the next rail without dismounting, and this one feels fine too. He almost can’t remember why he quit this in the first place. He makes the leap to the nearest rail after that. He gets the angle a little wrong on this one, one foot on, the other not clicked properly. Off form. And now starting to get off balance. Fuck.
He jumps, to reset both feet, but it backfires and now he has zero feet. He hits the rail chest first, then his head hits stone. And then nothing.