The Crane, pt.5- Leaving the World
Seppy kept giving Del a funny look, like he was waiting for him to realize the humor in a complex situation. Delmar had a feeling of open ended enthusiasm, like a good sodawire, but cleaner. They had a pot of tea and crashed out.
In the morning they wordlessly pulled their cart to the slopes and packed up the tent. Del found some blocknoodle, but no backpack. He left his few clothes in some grocery bags and hung them on the cart. He logged on for a bit and put in notice to vacate his apartment, trying hard not to let out any scenes from the last few days. He expected he would have much to do, since he wouldnt log on again for a long time, but there was nothing on. It struck him that the entire nueralnet was a poor substitute for actual experience. What if everyone was bored for a day? What wonderful things would they create, if they were bored for an extended period, and not pressed for time? The space between Del and Marie had changed drasticly. As they walked through the slopes, everytime they looked at each other, there was a feeling they already knew everything about each other, and there was some odd sweetness in that. They took turns pushing the cart. An amazing array of stuff was packed into it. Marie kept looking at a compass. It was a tiny glass antique. It didnt put out a location signal, but was hard to use. Del didn’t ask where they were going, he kindof didn’t care, and trusted whatever Seppys reasons were, for not telling. But after several hours of walking through backstreets and tent towns, Del began to wonder what he’d gotten himself into. His doubts came and went like a breeze. Marie sang some really old songs. She sang far more than she talked. They were all about couples in love, where one of them was dead, and an Ireland. Listening to the old songs, the hours seemed to slip by. A life that was once experienced 90seconds at a time, was now a day, and the next. There was a peacefulness about it.
They walked all night. Seppy talked about putting yourself in a mindframe that made long distance travel possible. He taught Del other endurance tricks as well, some were like walking meditations. Some were like martial arts, and most the methods involved nonthink, which Del was already a little practised at. During this time, Delmar was intermittently checking old files in his head, editing his own exp files, sorting data, and recording a bit. He had kept his promise to not log on, but half of him was getting uncomitted and suspicious again. He half expected to go back to his normal way of life at some point. He wondered if throwing his lot in with Seppie was like volounteering for lifelong devoicing. It worried him. What if the culties really were homicidal kooks, and Del had just given his solemn vow to join them? Delmar looked at the files from Maries memory again. The data from Marie was not formatted normally, and Maries actual memories of the culties had somehow mixed with the imagined images Del made in the 3kings story. In some cases, he couldn’t tell his own imagined ideas and pictures from the actual memories. This phenomenon was disturbing, but it also made Delmar feel that he was very close to creating imagined files that could pass for exp files.
As they made their way further south, the city became more spacious. The blocks were bigger, more buildings were empty. They found a squat by a seldom used train station and took turns taking short naps.
When Del woke up, he was sore all over and Marie was nudging him with her foot insistently. “A medbot is here,” She whispered “can’t let it read a genome on me or Sep… you gotta get it to piss off.” Del was surprised at how creaky his legs felt as he got up. A tall, thin medbot was ambling slowly towards them, from the trainstop. “The Gov is fully invested in a healthy populace… you may be carrying a pathogen and not be aware.” The bots’ realistic voice was dripping with the fakest concern. Del staggered toward it and a tiny green laser scanned him, from nearly 50 feet. “How is your emotional state?” the bot voiced warmly, already mixing psychemeds in an injector. “Man, I feel great!” Del said with a ridiculous grin. “Everyday under the protection of the glorious Republic is like a beautiful dream of universal prosperity!” Del was quoting directly from the gov mess’s now. ” Long live the Peoples Gov!! WooHoo!!” Del started dancing around and clicking his heels, moving too fast for the injector to safely reach him. “Stand still, Delmar… these meds will help your fatigue and imbalanced mental state” the bot said softly, as it’s arms waved around wildly,trying to get a fix in his arm. Delmar jumped down next to the tracks, where there was soft, stinky mud full of tiny flies. “I make my own medicine” Del shouted inaneley,taking a huge handful of the muck, as the bot scrambled to catch up with him. Del jumped up close to the bot, while its arms were extended out several meters from it’s trunk. “You should take a sample for testing!” Del slapped a huge glob of the sticky mud over the medbot’s optical sensors and scanning diode. The bot froze. Del could hear ticks and whirrs as the bot acessed its sudden blindness. “Non-compliance is a crime under global statute 957-d” it said. Apparently the mud had something truly toxic in it, because there was a flash down in the bot’s drug box, incinerating any meds that might be worth stealing. It would now have to go back home to re-supply. Del slipped away quietly as the medbot felt around slowly for anything it might be able to wipe its lenses with. Seppy re-appeared laughing, Marie followed soon with the cart. “You seem to know a lot about medicine,” Seppie was giggling like a madman. “I’ll be sure and come to you first whenever I’m short on sewer sludge-haha!”. Seppie slapped his back as they left the area. Even Marie smirked with amused approval.
As they walked toward a murky sunrise, Delmar could discern some thinning in the smog. It made him hopefull that they would reach the end of the Southern Slopes before sundown. Seppy said it would be time for a new puppetshow soon, and asked Del if he wanted to help. Delmar felt a bit nervous, but was a little excited over being behind the scenes for one of their shows. They painted and dressed the puppets as they walked, and Seppy told Del this story that they would do on their next stop. It was a story about cops, from back when they were employed by city, instead of companies and corporations. There was a young cop being trained by an older cop who was really like a corrupt gangster. The newer cop gained respect from some of the criminals that the corrupt cop did business with; by trying to protect people in the city against violent crimes. The story covertly criticized both the blackmarket, and cops, by associating them with unreal story elements. Del thought that was a bit reckless, but clever. Seppie had Del repeat the lines of the older corrupt cop over and over till they sounded genuine. Del would voice this villian who, by the end of the story, was shot down by the criminals he had once politically controlled; while the young idealistic cop looked away. Delmar didn’t mind that his first character would die, but he wondered if there was something prophetic in this character who was an almost paternal mentor to the hero, then turned out to be a monstrous bad guy. Del had seen things from Maries childhood that should have removed all doubt about the kind of people Seppie and Marie were, but some part of him still wondered if there was some truth to all those gov messes about “the culties”. If it was all propaganda, how could they have sold it so openly? Wouldn’t there be more public doubt on the nueralnet? If the gov had enough influence to pass off a blatant lie, wouldn’t they also have the influence to eradicate them completely? It was odd for Del, to hear about a large social phenomenon that he didn’t know about. Marie’s explanation of the gov needing an enemy out there seemed honest, and he knew she had nothing to gain by trying to fool Del, but part of him still had a hard time letting go of years of programming. Del practiced saying “smoke it, muthafucka! out on the street, they wont ask you twice!” in a voice he thought was appropriate to an old currupt gangster/cop. He held the puppet whenever it wasn’t his turn to push the cart, and tried to imagine the little plastic head uttering convincing advice to the younger cop character. The hero of the story had a blue jumpsuit that Seppie crafted from plastic bags. It looked like the suits chromaguards wore. That kinda didn’t make sense, since chroma corp security was regarded as fairly brutal and currupt in most of the slopes. The older cop was dressed like a blackmarket boss, with a big shiny pistol, Seppy had whiddled it out of soap and covered it with inside-out soda pouches, to make it look like metal. Delmar could smell the remnants of soda in the old pouches, but for some reason, it didn’t make him as nervous as it used to.
After practicing lines for the show, and trudging through the sparsely populated, and dangerous hills of the Southern Slopes for what felt like weeks; they topped a hill and saw open land. Del let go of the cart and stared, smiling. He had seen open land in exp files, but seeing it with his eyes was a new and strange thing. His eyes couldn’t adjust to the distance, and it looked strangely flat. There was a wall and a gate at the bottom of the hill. The hill, like most of the South Slopes, was full of semi-abandoned resident blocks. Beyond that, there was wide open, sandy country. Del could even make out some little plants growing in the sand out there, and a large rocky hill in the distance with nothing on it but a few towers. They went down the hill and Del could see some people congregated at the bottom, by the gate. There were a few bums and devoiced (probably waiting for clearance to leave the city), a watertrader caravan with a camel, and about twelve chromaguards settled around the imposing southern gate.
Delmar was feeling tired but hopeful. Part of him wanted to rest and stretch, and part of him wanted to spread wings and fly over the wide open space beyond the wall. He imagined what it would feel like, just flying with his arms out, far above the dangers that kept everyone in the cities…the wind and the smell; he wished he could sell it. They approached the forlorn, sandy gathering by the gate. One of the blue clad chromacorp guards had apparently gotten too wired on Mecha Soda and disassembled his railgun. He couldn’t find all the parts, and was getting bitched out by his boss. The ChromaCorp commander looked like a bad genetic expiriment. He was over six feet tall and absurdly muscular. His arm was so thick, he couldn’t hold it out straight, and his movements were akward beyond belief. Some of his veigns looked misplaced and ruptured, they squirmed and balled up painfully under his thin skin, and they swelled to the size of small fingers as he yelled at the wired guard, who scrambled around wide-eyed, looking for his missing railgun parts. The water traders from the caravan looked worried, and tried to pretend they didn’t notice the noisy abuse that was being hurled at the shaky guard. Seppy squinted at the scene as the blowing sand moved his braided beard. He turned subtly to Del and Marie and grumbled: “These folks need a puppetshow.”