The Crane Pt.7- The Open Secret

Part7-The Open Secret

The town of Knowhere was nothing like Delmar had ever seen. Seppy and Marie were well known there, and they had no problems getting in. The settlement was nudged up against the sunny side of a mountain of spraypainted granite. Behind the mountain was more mountains, and still more, getting bigger and scarier, all the way to the horizon. More than half the buildings were tents and yurts, but there were adobebrick buildings too, some had 2 floors. New buildings and outer citywalls were growing here and there. A few buildings had mudbrick walls, and tent tarp roofs. The sunlight in these buildings took on whatever colors the tarp roofs had, and the effect was cheery. The whole place smelled like campfires, that were made with real wood (Delmar was impressed). All kinds of salvagers, fringe blackmarket, chipless, and devoiced people traded from booths and tents. There were a few things up for trade here that would’ve been hard to find in the cities at any price. There was an old couple with animal skulls and bone tools, some young people with foodplants and seed, a pickaxe and crossbow guy, all kinds of clothes, scrap materials, and whores. It was dizzying. The noise was incredible too. The population here looked like a tenth as many as one could find in Overlap, but sounded like ten times as many. It’s like everyone was talking at once, bartering, bidding, haggling, and hawking. “Witness the abject misery of the devoiced!” Seppy intoned woefully. Del had to turn and look at his face, before he realized he was joking. “How is it even possible to hide all this?” Delmar asked Seppy, as they were jostled through the mosh-like crowd. “It’s not really a secret like it should be,” Seppy had to yell a bit over the bustle, “but the devoiced who know about it don’t want anyone else to know about it, and the gov certainly doesn’t want anyone to know such a thing is possible…exp files showing settlements like this are usually backdated, or used in anti-culty propaganda…look over there,” Seppy pointed to a wide, offwhite tent with one brick wall. Pictures of people with various injuries were painted badly on the outside of the tentfabric, and drying plants hung on strings on the sunny side. “They sell plantmeds there?” Del asked. “Some,” Seppy hollered, “but the guy who runs it is an old friend of mine… knows how to cure soda addicts. Go find the tall guy with a big chest, long blond hair,called Golden…ask if you can teach some of his new sodajerks how to do non-think and trade him for some good tea…me and Marie are gonna go stash the cart, I gotta talk to some people about gettin Selest a booth… meet us at city hall after,” He pointed to a little square mudbrick building, with living plants cascading down from the roof, then disappeared into the crowd.

Delmar squirmed out of the thick sea of bodies, running into a guy who had a bunch of salted lizards on a big aluminum walking stick. As he walked into the big tent, he was wondering why Seppie had taken it on himself to help the jewelery lady so much, when their own survival was hardly guaranteed. He felt something sweet, something solid, toward Seppy, and wondered if it was something from Maries direct link.

The air inside the med tent was nice. A big old airclean unit hummed in the corner. Presumably sick people layed around it on cots. They had electricity, Delmar was impressed again. “Sit down” a voice croaked at him. Del looked down at a tiny old hunkered bald man, sitting on an upturned bucket. The little man squinted at Delmar, head to foot. His tiny peircing eyes seemed to lean over the rectangle of plastic he held. Del sat down obediently on the other bucket and tried to ask where Golden was, but the little birdlike man interrupted: “Stick out yer tongue”. “What?” Del said, then found himself sticking out his tongue, looking around the tent akwardly. The little man streched out and tilted his head back to examine Dels tongue and eyes, and Del noticed the man had an ample crop of nose hair. He grabbed Dels’ arm, pressing the inside of each wrist with 4 fingers, then stabbed the inside of his hand with some kind of scanner. The little old man was unnervingly quick and methodical. Del tried to talk again, “Quiet” said the little old man, “I need to hear”. He started tapping on various places on Delmars body, listening closely. He tapped above Del’s right hip and it hurt. Del jumped a bit, and he did it again. Before Del could say anything, the man handed him the rectangle of plastic, now with weird symbols painted on it, and pointed him to the tentflap beside him. Del walked through, dumbfounded, to the apothecary. There was a long counter, behind it was a barrel chested guy with a shaved head and a false leg. He took the plastic board from Del. Behind him was an enormous bank of tiny drawers, lit blue by the sunlight through the tarp roof. The guy studied the slate closely for a moment, then wiped it with a rag. “You got a fucked up kidney.” the guy said, “looks like nothin communicable though, you need a whore ticket?”. “Whats a whore ticket?” Delmar asked, trying not to sound naive. The shaved guy at the counter looked at him for a sec with an unreadable expression before answering. He held up a little peice of stamped metal that hung from his neck. “don’t get too close to anybody who aint got one of these, it means Doc Golden cleared you for cooties.” Delmar realized that the little birdlike man had been the guy he was looking for, and was again struck by Seppys’ bizarre humor. “Ya see this mushroom?” He showed Del a tiny, white, dried up thing from one of the drawers, “take one right after you eat, once a day, 13days. I can whip it up in a teamix, with a sweetner, and bancha for the soda cringe …you need lotsa clean water, and avoid any drink with ‘nephrin boosters in it, k?”. “Wow” Del was impressed “how’d you know I was a soda addict? I’ve been clean quite a while…”. The counter guy was very matter of fact, not too judgemental, and not too kind- “Sodas probly what fucked up your kidney. Don’t let it slide if you start pissin red…Golden put it all on the slate. What do you got to trade?”. Del’s suspicion gland fired up, and he wondered if every new visitor got this speech. It was impossible to log on and verify anything he was being told this far from a real city. “I… um…”Del was again unshure of how to live without logging in, “A puppeteer said you might need someone to teach nonthink to some soda addicts…”. Golden suddenly poked his head in and looked at Del like he just realised he was a person, and smiled hopefully- “Seppy?! The puppeter is Knowhere? where he at? Gary, give’m 3days worth, offload any medical data he’s got, and he can come talk to the addicts when he needs more tea…I gotta go get a drink with Seppy…hot damn, why did’t you say somethin?”. The guy at the counter gave Del 3 little paper bundles of tea. Del gave up his med data to a box with a crank on it, and he left with the doc for city hall.

Golden waddled fast on his short legs, swinging his hairy arms, and Del had to jog to not lose him in the crowd. The “City Hall” building looked like a smaller version of a resident block from outside, except for the beautiful roof garden. Inside, it was warm and wet. Tiny gutters ran all around the high mesh ceiling, catching water from the garden above. The floor inside was uneven, but covered in some thick plasticky material. It looked much bigger inside than outside. There was a cement pool thing just past the entrance. Bits of old glass and plastic had been set inside the cement, in a design. Del had never seen anything so decorated before, without logging on. In the center was a fountain and a sundial, that couldnt have possibly gotten much sun from where it was, inside that strange building. The top part of the fountain had some kind of air coil transformer, probably scrambling signals with cancerous rf, Del guessed. Delmar looked around, saw Selest with the kid asleep in a sling. She was with some traders lined up in front of a lady at a desk. A few small high windows let in the waning, late afternoon light, and the mist inside made the beams of light look spectacular. Golden motioned impatiently for Delmar to follow through a door he called “Council Chambers”.

This room had ruff, granite walls and a long, smooth mudbrick counter, lined with a bench. A greaselamp swung from a chain, like someone had just run into it. Marie and Seppie were sitting at the bar with tiny ceramic cups, acting odder than ever. He saw Seppy and the doctor exchange some inside joke loudly, then hug as a greeting, which Del found unnerving. Even more unnerving, Marie was being loud, and greeted Del with a very uncharacteristic “What up, biaaaatch!!” As he sat down next to her, a very flirtatious dumpy looking woman put a tiny cup in front of Delmar. It smelled like alchohol, and Del got drunk for the first time in his 33years. Marie kept laughing for unclear reasons. As Golden and Seppy exchanged short humor stories, Marie tried to tell Delmar how reject beets from the communal gardens could be used to make sugar and booze. Several times the doctor had the flirty bargirl insist on giving Del big cups of clean water, and she looked more attractive each time. Marie was deeply invested in a rant about the process of distillation. Delmar already knew how it worked, but didn’t remind her, because he loved seeing Marie so sloppily talkative. She interupted her own rant with a sudden inhale and wide eyed look of surprise- “Oh… doodooDelmarrr!!!-you wanna see what I got from crossbow guy!? Check this shit out- sucka!!” She pulled a tiny handle under her armpit and 2meters of flexible steel band seemed to magicly emerge from her small frame. “memory steeeeeel shuperpowers, activate!” She yelled as it straightened out into a razorsharp sword. Delmar was glad there wasn’t anyone else there besides the two old men and the beautiful bar girl, but still cringed as she staggered around the dirt floor, swinging the shining, microthin strip of metal in dancy circles. Del was getting the spins, a little, and couldn’t quite tell if she was secretly a master swordfighter, or about to accidently slice something up that she shouldn’t. “I kin git lotsa heads with this!” she slurred, and launched into a leaping acrobatic sword dance that was precarious beyond belief. She ended by zipping the ribbon of steel back into it’s tiny concealment, and they all sighed with relief. She grabbed Seppys old hat from his head and made a sweeping bow with it, mimicing the old mans’ voice as she intoned “tipsh in creds..are mushapreciated!”.

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