Skin of the Earth – Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Daniel sat in the slider quietly, feeling physically and mentally exhausted. He fiddled with the bubble, readjusting it to the cuff of his shirt. Sundown hadn’t said anything since returning to the slider. How had she known that he had magic? 

“I take it you’re going to strap me in once we get to the Junction?” he said after a moment.

“Why, are you forfeiting?”

“You mean I passed your second test?”

“Yep.”

Daniel went over the events of the ride thus far. The Grid question, then – what? Was it really a test to see if he had magic, or was there something else? What else could his partner have gleaned from pitching him out of the slider? What a question, he thought. 

“We’re almost there, so you do want to keep playing or not?”

“Are you going to throw me out of the vehicle again?”

“Tick tock.”

“Yes, fine. The last question, ask me.”

“Diggs is a low-level scumbag,” Sundown said as she lazily turned the slider off the mainfare and onto a descending subordinate lane. “Why would he point me to some kid, especially if that kid is as connected to Jerrica as he says he is?”

Daniel found himself looking at Sundown in disbelief. Was she actually talking about the case? Asking for his opinion? He turned away as she side-eyed him, running through the question and encounter earlier in the morning.

“He needed to give you something …”

“Yeah, but?”

“I don’t know who or what Jerrica is,” Daniel reminded her.

“Doesn’t matter, Spoons. Hurry up.” Sundown’s hand glided to the shifter again, this time bringing the vehicle down slowly. A great red brick building came into view, its arched roof a latticework of glass. The building was five storeys; from the top floor remnants of old rail jutted out, the ends of track curling away into oblivion. Soon, the red brick took up the entire view of the front window.

Cold panic inched its way up Daniel’s neck and behind his ears. He had survived a plummet from the trafficways and now he was going to lose this stupid game over this? Why? Why the kid?

“Spoons?”

“Maybe he’s got some score to settle with this kid,” Daniel tried.

“Nah,” Sundown muttered, swiping off the repulsors. The slider coasted to the ground. “Time’s up. I’ll give you one more shot.”

The panic flowed out of him, exhaustion taking over again. He slumped in his seat, ready for the tethers to bind him again. “I don’t know.”

Sundown sat back too, her hands still on the steering wheel. “That makes two of us.”

Anger sat Daniel up. “What? Then what are we doing here?”

Sundown shrugged. “Only lead I got.” She opened the door and got out.

Daniel continued his glare, unable to think clearly. 

“Coming, partner?” Sundown called from outside.

*          *          *

Sundown strode through the dirt lot that surrounded the Junction holding a large evidence bag against her hip. Masses of rust and iron littered the lot — what must have been some collection of machines — like petrified corpses of giant beasts. Daniel read the contents off the tag on the evidence bag as they approached the hulking entrance of the red brick building. Sundown glanced at him, her eyes daring him to make a comment. 

Deciding on a new tact for his partner, he said, “That’s contraband.”

“Only because it was sold in the boden,” Sundown reasoned. 

They passed through the tall archway into the shadow of the building. The entranceway — what must have been a lobby for the ancient transit hub — cut through the middle of the large building with walls on either side sectioning off the Junction into three main parts. This middle section rose up all the way to the latticed roof above. The window panes, some black with grime, others altogether missing, let in a patchwork of sunlight.

“I’m amazed by how much light makes its way to the boden. Midburg is always so dark,” Daniel remarked, leaving the evidence bag be. 

“Midburg is sandwiched between the lower and upper industrial complexes,” Sundown said, almost conversationally. “Bodenburg has a little freedom left in it yet.”

Sprawling was the term favoured by the city engineers in the himmel. If midburg was the sturdy trunk, and himmelburg, the vibrant canopy, the boden was the ever-reaching roots. Daniel looked up as he walked through a square of sunlight, both surprised and delighted to see only blue sky past the latticework roof.

“How do we find this Everseer?” Daniel asked, catching up to Sundown as she made her way deeper into the Junction.

She shrugged. “We ask.”

Daniel looked around. There were groups of people here and there — some lined against one of the walls with blankets of wares set before them, others in small crowds standing around fire-barrels or playing dice. Most kept to themselves, shying away from the detectives. In the next section over, he saw a flurry of activity as skateboarders raced about. The skateboarders caused him to reassess the denizens of the Junction — the coloured hair, garish clothing —

“These are all kids.”

“Yep.”

A group of boys in ragged trench coats, wearing blue bandanas across their foreheads, huddled around a pile of half-crumbled cinder blocks. One drew in the dirt while the others tried to build the pile higher, only to have a block or two tumble away each time. Daniel smiled at the game.

Suddenly, Sundown came to a stop in front of one of the makeshift vendors, causing Daniel to walk into her. She gave him a look before taking a newcomer ration from her jacket pocket and tossing it onto the teen’s blanket. Various mechanical components were displayed across the bright red fabric.

“Looking for the Everseer,” Sundown said.

The vendor, a girl with purple braids and a hoop nose ring crossed her arms. “Don’t talk to coppas.”

Sundown tossed another ration onto the blanket.

The teen glared upwards, defiantly. “No coppas.”

Sighing, Sundown reached into the evidence bag balanced on her hip and brought out a silver can with neon blue accents. ONE-ZERO-ONE was emblazoned in emissive text, giving off a ghostly glow.

The teen’s eyes widened. “Monkeyshine,” she hissed.

“Nah, genny,” Sundown said, kneeling down and placing the can on the blanket.

The purple-haired girl snatched the drink up and opened it immediately. The familiar hiss brought the attention of nearby vendors. The teen took a cautious sip, her eyes on Sundown the entire time. 

“The Everseer,” Sundown repeated.

The vendor took a gulp, her eyes closing briefly as she smiled. “Yeah, gent.” She pointed towards the section with the skateboarders. “In the back, coppa.”

“Dank,” Sundown said, tossing one more ration onto the red blanket. Either ignoring or uncaring of the attention they were now receiving from the other vendors around them, she turned and left.

Daniel kept a few paces behind her as they crossed the old lobby, making it obvious that he was watching their backs. The teens stared back at him, unwavering.

“You afraid of some kids?” Sundown asked as they reached the doorway to the next section.

“Some of them are armed,” Daniel replied.

“Of course they are, this is the boden … remember?”

The room the skateboarders had claimed was long, with ornate pillars running in parallel every four metres or so. Different ramps and obstacles had been set up in a sort of circuit, with cinder blocks and other odds and ends serving as bleachers around the perimeter of the room. A youth with inky black hair zipped by Sundown and Daniel just as they entered the section. Daniel stepped back; Sundown was unfazed.

She continued her march through the room, not bothering to slow or change course as other skateboarders neared her or circled around. Some eyed the evidence bag she carried with her; others just seemed interested in the stranger. Daniel opted to loop around to the bleachers, stepping over a teenager or two as he attempted to keep pace with his partner.

At the back of the room, a single door stood with the word Feckoff spray-painted in black across it. Sundown waited for Daniel to join her, readjusting the bag at her hip.

“You do know how to shoot, right?” she asked.

Daniel felt his brow scrunching before he had time to control himself. “You read my file — all of my proficiencies are in there.”

“Just stay behind me,” Sundown said as she opened the door. 

Daniel pushed his jacket back so that he could rest his hand on the butt of his pistol. “As you wish, partner.”

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