The Crane pt.6- The Road to Knowhere
Part 6- The Road to Knowhere
Del marveled at the confidence his friends showed, setting up their little stage in the middle of such an unwelcoming environment. People stared, curious but dismissive, and Del tried to mimic Marie and Seppy’s unconcerned bravery as they unfolded the curtained box. The show opened with a flurry of flute music from Marie. Delmar had recorded all his character’s dialogue, but it took real effort to dream that he was this hardened, old cop who both hated and loved the city he lived in. He had to Become this person who was imaginary, to make the show work. It was fun and scary. Del used parts of himself he had left unused since he was a little kid. As he watched Seppy move the little characters, he forgot his travelweary body, and at some points, let himself believe he was this currupt cop. “Laws and Cops exist to protect the people!” Seppy’s faked voice, in the young hero said passionately, Del answered gruffly-“That shit won’t fly in the real world kid, out here it’s rule or be ruled.” He couldn’t see who was watching from where he squatted in the little box, but at the end, one of the guards went “Fuckyeah!”. Marie had put down her flute as Del’s character was being shot down by the gangsters. She smacked a metal bowl with a little Ready-Aide in it fast and hard, and it sounded a lot like a tiny railgun. Then she threw the Ready-Aide against the backdrop and it looked like blood. One of the guards misquoted the hero with real enthusiasm:”law and guards exist to perfect the people!, hooyeah!!”. The three performers stepped out of the box and bowed, and most the crowd had ignored the whole performance. There was the wired guard, smiling though,and a watertrader and a devoiced guy kept glancing over thoughtfully. Seppy made a sweeping motion with his hat and cerimoniously recited, “Tips in creds are much appreciated.” Then they started boxing things up. A little kid ran up to them. She could have passed for a street kid, except she had a fitted shift with noisy little metalbits stitched onto it, and her haircut was the same lice-resistant cut as Delmars’. The kid looked at Delmar like she wanted to say something, but neither of them knew what to say. Delmar felt like he was supposed to do something, like maybe wipe off the stripe of snot that ran between the child’s nose and mouth, but he hadn’t had much contact with people that age, and was completely unsure of what to do without logging on. Seppy saved him from the insecure tension by handing the little girl an unhooked puppet. Del remembered a similar act from when he had first met Seppy and Marie, and laughed. The little girl hugged the bluesuited puppet, that had once been Gwynplaine, still staring at Del with an unreadable expression. “Um…so… did you like the story?” Delmar asked, wondering if the little kid could have understood any of the show. “Beby” She said happily. She started to sway back and forth, still hugging the puppet and staring at Delmar.
A devoiced woman walked up smiling, jingling with the same little metal peices as her tiny offspring. She had a bit of decorated polytarp pulled up like a hood, and it shaded her thin dark face. “Give it back, deary”, she said to her daughter. Apparently, this woman was unable to look up reference tags, and wasn’t unnerved by Seppy and Marie’s unsearchably nebulous identities, as most people were. She just assumed they were devoiced as well, and treated them as equals. She seemed very relaxed for someone whose survival was sketchy. “I like the little show” She said to them with a dusty voice, as the little girl reluctantly handed Del the puppet. “You headed east?” Seppy looked at her with some suspicion, hidden under a masterful friendlyness, and answered, “What’s east? We might be game”. “The watertraders say theres a freetown with a tradefair east of here, mostly devoiced, almost no gov, might be freetrade, and more travelers make safer travel…”. “Where east?” Seppy prodded, smiling. “Knowhere?” said the woman. Seppy chuckled, putting the puppet in the box “Knowhere is cool, you’ll love it.” He said to both Del and the dark woman. “Is it as they say? freetrade settlement?” The woman asked, with renewed interest. “It grows and shrinks, might not survive, gets hit by robbers once in a while,” Seppy was flippant about mortal danger “but there should be a good crowd there now, and good trade for you. What do you trade?”. “Jewelry” the woman answered, touching her long, noisy ear ring. It was made of twisted wire and bits of thin scrap metal. Seppy raised his eyebrows, “you might actually find better market for that kinda thing in the slopes, than out there.” The woman looked sad and answered, “devoiced. My man got hooked on a game, racked up big debts and died of exposure, but people in the slopes are scared to trade, like I’m some kind of dangerous criminal. They see the devoiced tag, and I can’t even hold newdata or creds, you know, it’s hard…and ya know no one in the slopes cares what they look like, even devoiced, who’s gonna get decorated?…We gotta find good people who’ll trade realgoods.”. They introduced each other by name, like only people with no chip do, and smiled at each other like a ritualized interaction. The jewelery lady was called Selest, and she called the kid Hallide, after her late father’s gaming avatar. Her long, open clothes and black hair glittered with small metal decorations. Del thought it was beautiful from a distance, but looked like a scrap bin close up. “So are they gonna let us out?” Seppy asked, nodding towards the chromaguards. “The bastards are stalling, to see what they can get out of us, I’m thinking about going to the east gate,” the woman said, her voice like blowing sand. Seppy looked at the guards, “It’s better if less people know which way Knowhere is, we gotta leave through this gate, and follow the car highway east, by night.”
Marie interjected quietly “You have some 10guage wire for blocknoodle?” Selest nodded and Marie opened her hand subtly like a blackmarket trader. In very little time, Marie had twisted the thick wire into a spring loop with a catch, and handed it to Del. “The soda’d guard needs this to fix his gun,” Marie spoke soft and quick, glancing up at the guards nervously, “if I talk to him, he’ll try to get gross favors from me to pass the gate…talk to him now, while he’s still happy about the show, makem think he’s a hero.” Delmar walked up to the agitated guard with well faked boredom. “Talk to the commander if ya wanna get through.” the guard said quickly. “Already did,” Del lied, “He wants 10k in creds, how much of that do you get?” The guard looked around shiftily, and put his hands on his inoperable gun.”I do alright,” he said, but Del’s ruse had taken effect, and he could see the young guard, thinking way to fast, about how much the commander was keeping from them. He logged on for a sec and scanned his biz flow before looking at Del again. “So what happens if you dont get that railgun workin?” Del asked tentatively. “Thats none of your fuckin biz, citizen.” the guard snapped back. Del held out the little wire loop, and the young man lit up. “This is a gift…” Del said, trying to mimic Seppys jovial nonchalaunt demeanor, “this gate won’t stand much of a chance against robbers if that railgun’s just for show.”. The young guard took it quick, stuck it on the bare pin, and slid the lever back. The wire caught the top of the slide and held it, as if it were an original part, and the young guard smiled, “You’re alright, citizen,” he said, “you with that weird show?, I don’t imagine theres creds in that.”, “There isn’t,” Del agreed “That’s our prob, we gotta record a scavenging run to the ruins down south, or we won’t eat.”. The guard seemed to relax a bit as he answered, maybe his soda was wearing off, “The watertraders are broke too, I was kinda hopin to hire on with them, but it looks like no one’s goin through that gate, we won’t be coverin any caravans either. We got another job to go to, but the commander wants all us here, till these bums clear out… they’ll be easy targets out there, if they bring robbers into the gate, we lose face… maybe we just shootem all, yaknow?” Del was hatching another plan, and saw it in his mind, as if it had already worked. “These guys just wanna survive any way they can, if they knew they might get shot here, they’d try the eastern gate…but most these folks are devoiced and don’t have a clue… gotta tellem face to face.”. The young guard squinted, thinking about a heroic cop who defies all odds, and doesn’t get bitched out by his asshole boss ever again. “Yeah… railin down bums kinda makes me sick anyways… you getem to leave, and we can go do a better payin job.”. “I don’t know how this city would survive without the few good guards like you.” Del thanked the guard, like he had saved the world.
Delmar shared his plan with Seppie and Marie, and they clued Selest, the jewelry lady, in on it too. Everyone else heard the guards might start shooting soon, and all but the illegally armed water traders moved back up the slopes. As predicted, after spending the day out of sight of the gate, they came back a few hours before sundown, to find all but two guards gone. The guard Del had talked to was crashing hard from his hard wire, and the other seemed apathetic. The huge cement gate was opened for a firelit encore of the cop story and a funny scrapmetal bracelet.
Outside the gate, there was an old highway, cracked and tilted. The jewelery lady carried her daughter on her small cart. Her cart’s small wheels looked difficult on the shattered highway, and little Hallide’s disproportionately large head bobbed around whenever she got sleepy. Del wondered how the two of them had survived in the cities. Was Selest stupid, brave, or just out of options? “We aught to get within veiw of the watertraders,” Seppy said “any robbers out here will likely hit them first.”. The old road had kangaroo rats nested by it, and Del caught some in Marie’s bird net. They followed the yellow stripes of the highway, out into the open, as the now fully visible sun set behind them. Seppie seemed to have a good time telling the little kid stories, in an exaggerated and animated way. Hallide would wave her uncoordinated hands and utter words that sounded mostly like a made up language. The jewelery lady watched them closely, but seemed to enjoy the stories too.
The road was left over from a time when many people had private cars. “You ever drive a car? Seppie asked Del. He thought of the few car rides he’d taken as a boy, all were self piloted. “If we had cars, they’d just make the towns farther apart, and a guy would have to be rich as hell to run one.” Del answered. “Yeah..” Seppy agreed, “but they’re pretty fun too.”. They walked all night again. They stopped by some sandstone cliffs before sunrise and made a very concealed camp without the tent. Selest asked Seppy to watch the kid and disapeared for an hour. When she came back, her big white teeth where showing in a calmly satisfied grin. She had a bunch of dry sagebrush and a big dead rattlesnake. Hallide got the biggest choice bits, then the rest of them finished it off with some blocknoodle and surprisingly clean water.
Del was pretty sure that the woman couldn’t afford any armament more serious than her scrappy shank, and wondered how she killed the rattler. He thought if anyone had the skills to raise a child who survived, Selest was probably the one. She told them that any reptile was good for breastfeeding, but hard to get in the city; and Del was a little embarrased at how primal and basic her life must be. Del thought of his own unremarkable early childhood in the breeding center, and the kind bots that Marie had called “wire mothers”. Selest made it look almost easy, and it made Delmar kind of wish he could have met his own mother in person. An unreasonable flash of hatefullness and abandonment came up when he wondered about his birth parents. He still wanted soda sometimes and the soreness and angry confusion returned intermittantly. Selest had slowly let go of her streetwise waryness of the others, and Delmar was nearly glad they had come along. The good cheeriness that the little girl inspired was well worth the extra worries over vulnerability. Del found it hard to take his own soda-depravation symptoms too seriously, when two with such a fragile chance of survival could smile. They learned without having to ask, that Hallide had been been born after her mother was devoiced. The baby had no chip, no numbers, and probably no genome on file anywhere. Selest worried about how her daughter could ever hold a job, or own money. Del realized that this made the two almost no threat to the culties at all, and wondered if she would be able to meet them. Seppy didn’t mention it, so no one else did either. They smoked the sage in a long foreign looking pipe, and took turns sleeping and sharing stories. Selest was still a little confused by the stories, and saw them as an enjoyable mental challenge, like a roadgame, she called it. The next night, the sky was still light and thin enough that they saw some smoke from a fire. Delmar scouted ahead and was relieved to see the watertraders, undisturbed, in a wide open camp. They followed the water caravan, just out of view, all the way to the settlement.