I grabbed my shabby leather trench coat as we left the office, making our way down the dimly-lit, musty corridor to the street. The wiring here was as bad as the office, and the flickering bulbs did nothing to calm Erin‚Äôs nerves. Against my better judgment, I offered her my arm. With a wan smile, she placed her palm in the crook of my elbow, and drew close.
The scent coming off her, like the fields of Amsterdam, like the first rain of summer, mounted a frontal attack on my brain, as the pressure from her fingertips made me think of what those hands could do, in another time, another place. Dammit! Get a hold on yourself, L! And yes, I know that was another pun. Shut it! Don‚Äôt think that she‚Äôs gonna get over the Face-Raping Bat anytime soon!
Turning towards me, Erin said, ‚ÄúI still don‚Äôt see why we‚Äôre going to a Bar.‚Äù
‚ÄúNot just any bar, honey. This one is‚Ä¶ Special.‚Äù
‚ÄúSpecial like ‚Äòmine is the power and the glory‚Äô special, or special like ‚ÄòI need help wiping my own ass‚Äô special?‚Äù
I chuckled. ‚ÄúNeither, doll face. There are some pretty weird characters who hang out there who might help us with this.‚Äù I pulled the scrap of binary code from my pocket, & she flinched, but kept her cool.
‚ÄúYour friends, I bet.‚Äù
‚ÄúWell, some of them. Others‚Ä¶ let‚Äôs just say we have an uneasy truce.‚Äù
‚ÄúHmph. Sounds like any other joint in the City.‚Äù
‚ÄúAh. But can you say that any other bar will talk back to you?‚Äù Leaving that last comment hanging, I opened the front doors onto the street.
The City loomed through the threshold, the grim oppressiveness pushing down on your shoulders almost immediately. It wasn‚Äôt supposed to be like this, originally. There was something about the way the City was built. ‚ÄúPsychotecture‚Äù they called it. The theory was that the brain interpreted angles in the same way it interpreted feelings and emotions. Make the angle big enough, prominent enough, and it will affect your mood. Of course, the possibilities were huge, and Government, inc. ate that shit up like pancakes. The designers got to work, like Frank Lloyd Wright on steroids, plotting out the buildings, the streets, even the lampposts. Great idea, right? Make the City what you want it to be: The financial center attentive, focused, precise, the Restaurant district warm, inviting, etc.
When it was finished, the designers submitted the City to Government, inc. who then did what they always did: Auction off to the lowest bidder. Who, of course, will cut corners. Literally. The precise distances and angles the designers calculated were eyeballed, estimated, and (occasionally) eliminated. When it was all done, the City was a mockery of itself, a concrete and steel grotesque, oppressive and forbidding, even on the brightest Spring day. Needless to say, the suicide rate in the City shot up 1723% in the first year after completion. No wonder no one left their windowshade up for long.
Pulling up my collar, we hunched against the psychic assault of the City in all its vast malevolence, and made our way to the car. A silver, beat-to-shit late model beast, it contrasted sharply against the sleek and sinister beauty of the latest models parked nervously alongside.
‚ÄúHoly shit,‚Äù Erin said, bemused. ‚ÄúDoes that thing run on gas, still?‚Äù
‚ÄúNever got around to installing the hydro cell converter.‚Äù
‚ÄúWhere do you find the cash to refill the damn thing?‚Äù
‚ÄúI try not to use it that often, but today, we‚Äôre in a hurry, and since there‚Äôs no one on the road yet, I figure we can get away with it.‚Äù
‚ÄúDamn, I think I will need a drink after riding in that piece of junk.‚Äù
‚ÄúJust get in. We‚Äôve got to get to the Open Bar before the Troll gets too drunk.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre actually looking for a Troll?‚Äù
‚ÄúA collective, actually,‚Äù I said, hitting the started, & gunning the car to life. The engine fought me for a second, as if it knew it wasn‚Äôt long for this world, and just wanted to fade away into rust, but then it remembered why it was made, and let out an angry roar as it cleared its pipes of any carbon that might be in its steel throat.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got to find Aini.‚Äù