The market place was alive. It was so wonderfully full of activity that Zoey couldn't even think of where to begin. There must have been hundreds of merchants, and thousands of people. In fact, Zoey reckoned she had never seen more people in one place before. Dozens of tribes must have been represented within the markets walls. Some had painted bodies, others wore decorative feathers or leaves. The only ones Zoey could identify were the Gens, who were defined by their blue face paint. Huge mutants, Giba's kin, walked around, buying massive clothing and whole buckets of food. Other mutants were scattered around as well, people with three pairs of eyes and three arms and such.
And the colors. Everywhere there was a new color. Neon pinks, electric blues, blood reds. There were more colors in one square foot of the market then there was in the whole of the fleet. Zoey was constantly dazzled by new colors.
` “George would love it here,” she smiled to herself.
“Who Geordge?” Giba asked. He had remained alert in the market, not bothering to take in the sights.
“Her boyfriend back in the fleet,” Derek said mockingly. Getting into the market seemed to have cheered him up significantly. “He's an artist who's oh so sensitive,” he continued, placing a hand over his heart and pretending to look dreamy before cracking up.
“He's not my boyfriend!” Zoey said, almost laughing herself. “He's just a friend!”
“Well...” Giba said slowly, thinking hard. “If hie's yoors frund and a boy, don't dat make him yoors boyfrund?”
“He does have a good point,” Derek said, still laughing.
Looking to change the subject, Zoey saw a stall full of colors and rushed towards it, leaving Derek and Giba behind.
“Hey girl!” the merchant there said as she ran up. “I've got lots of things that can help you look beautiful. I've got nail polish, lipstick, and a number of perfumes that will drive any boy wild!”
“What's that?” Zoey said, pointing to some boxes at the back.
“That's hair dye,” the merchant said, talking very quickly. “It can turn your hair any color you want!”
“What colors do you have?”
“Every one you could think of! I think that you'd look great as a redhead, but you could be blond, have black hair, or even a lighter shade of brown if you want!”
Zoey sighed. “No, I mean do you have purple or something?”
The merchant didn't waste a moment. “You want purple? I'm sure I've got purple, just gimme a second.” She went to back and looked through the boxes. After a few seconds, she let out a cry of victory. “Yes, yes! Here I got purple! Can you read?”
“Good, the instructions are on the box. Just follow those and you'll get purple hair. That's five copper coins.”
Zoey counted out the money and handed it over just as Derek and Giba came up. “What are you doing?” Derek asked.
The merchant handed Zoey the box and Zoey couldn't help but hop from one foot to another in excitement. “Going a little crazy,” she replied.
Three hours later, Zoey had spent every single coin she had. They had all gone into new clothing, new jewelry, and new shoes. Her hair was now bright purple, her arms were covered in bracelets made of multicolored string, and her clothing was a mish-mash of dozens of different colors. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she was shocked at how different she looked.
Derek hadn't gone quite as crazy. He had gotten a shaving kit to tame his stubble, which was determined to grow into a beard. Other then that he'd bought lots and lots of different kinds of food. Although he said he was stocking up for emergencies, most of the food he bought was rich and expensive, and most of it would be devoured before it ever got to the Bright Side.
Around noon they met back up for lunch in a tiny outdoor cafe that had rusty chair and plastic tables, but very good smelling food. Giba had wandered off an was talking too some of the big mutants about something that must have been very funny, as they kept bursting into big mutant belly laughs.
Derek was in an uncharacteristic cheery mood. Zoey had gotten used to him being grumpy and pessimistic, but now he was joking and laughing all the time. He had taught her how to play “twenty questions.”
“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” he asked.
“Mineral... I think,” Zoey answered. They were both sitting at their table. Zoey was sipping chocolate and Derek was sipping some extremely purple drink through a straw.
“Is it... metal?”
“Is it taller then... Giba?”
“Could it fit in my palm?”
Derek smiled. “Can you buy things with it?”
Zoey sighed in defeat. “Yes.”
“Is it copper?”
Derek pulled a copper coin out of his pocket. “Does it look like this?” he asked mockingly.
“Yes,” Zoey answered, exasperated. “You win aga-”
“No! No!” Derek interrupted. “I haven't won yet. I still need to guess what it is.”
Zoey rolled her eyes. “Alright, guess.”
“Is... it.... a...” he left long pauses to build up imaginary tension. “copper coin?”
Zoey took a breath of mock surprise. “Yes! How ever did you guess?”
“Because I am the undisputed master of twenty questions,” Derek said, standing up to take an overly dramatic bow. “None of my friends back on The Sphere could ever beat me.”
“You played this back on The Sphere?”
“Oh yeah. A dozen of us or so would get in a big circle and take turns. Didn't matter how tired we all were, we always had energy for some twenty questions. We could play for hours, and even after we'd guessed every conceivable thing we'd keep going just because we were having so much fun and didn't want it to stop.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Yeah, it was. Although keep in mind that that was when I was ten or something. Most of the group is gone now.”
Derek seemed reluctant to answer. Eventually he said “Life is hard in The Sphere,” and left it at that.
They kept on playing twenty questions for a few hours, quite happy and content. Zoey wondered about all those times she'd said no when George asked her to play one of his games. Is this what she'd been missing? She was such an idiot.
“Um.. uh... could I bother you for a moment?” a shy voice came from behind them. They looked over to see a short, nervous looking man wearing oversized bifocal glasses that made his face look pitifully small. He had short, neatly cut hair, and had a leather satchel over one shoulder. His hair was a pale, featureless red. But most interesting was he was wearing a priest's collar just like Clooney's. “Um... have you see another man with my kind of clothing on? Blond, maybe five foot-”
“Father Clooney?” Zoey wondered. “Is that his name?”
The man let out a cry of relief. “Jack? You've seen him? Oh thank God!” He sat down next to them. “I'm Father Glen Bates. Father Jack is an associate of mine. I've been looking for him for weeks and had just about given up. But enough about me! Where is Jack? We have great need of him down at the monastery. I suppose he's told you all about our little patch of God's creation.”
“No, he hasn't,” Derek spoke up, and Zoey realized that he had turned back into his suspicious, pessimistic self. “How do we know that you're telling the truth?”
Bates was confused. “Surely he's told you about me! Where is he? Bring me too him and he'll recognize me! I promise! Besides, where else in this world are there priests!”
“We have priests in The Sphere,” Derek said.
Bates suddenly looked like a deer who'd been caught in headlights. “Oh... you're from The Sphere... well I'd better be going then...” He got up and started walking away as quick as he could, muttering as he did so.
“Wait!” Zoey yelled after him. “He's not bad or anything! Come back!”
“Why are you telling him that?” Derek sounded scornful.
“Look, he may know where Clooney wants to take us. I know we can't trust him but we need all the information we can get!” Zoey snapped back. “Hey! Come back! We're fine, really!” Bates ignored her and continued to speed walk away. “Look at what you did,” Zoey continued, rounding on Derek. “We needed him!”
“I didn't do anything!” Derek defending himself. “He just inferred that I'm from The Sphere and he has some sort of irrational fear of people from The Sphere or something!”
“Irrational fear?” Zoey laughed. “You think that all the tribes and mutants that have been murdered by you people doesn't justify at least a little fear?”
“He was clearly civilized! Only uncivilized people are enemies of The Sphere! Besides, it's not like I'm that much of a threat! I don't even have my gun! So yes, it's irrational!” They were both shouting now.
Zoey was outraged. “Who are you to judge who's civilized and uncivilized? You didn't even finish school! You never would have even been able to leave The Sphere if you hadn't gotten lucky with that stupid crane! Sometimes I think you just made the story up to impress me! It didn't, by the way! You're an arrogant, stuck up bastard!” It was the first time Zoey had used a swear. She'd heard Chan use it so many times it had just popped from her mouth.
“Oh yeah! Well you're nothing but a cleaner because you had failed your final! You're an idiot! You just think your smart! You're just a-” He was interrupted when Giba ran between them. The huge man easily blocked their sight lines.
“Stop fiting!” he begged. “Stop fiting! Yoo ain't gotta fit nomore! Stop! Giba say stop!” Derek and Zoey remained mad, but Giba's bulk stopped them for now.
Zoey saw Bates off to the side, watching. “I'm sorry...” he started to say, then trailed off. There was a long silence. It wasn't really a silence of course, as the market was still quite active, but it felt like it should have been silent. Derek and Zoey were steaming on either side of Giba. Each thought about how unreasonable and selfish the other was being.
“I didn't want to start a fight,” Bates continued, breaking the silence. “I just want to find Jack. Please could one of you tell me where he is? I need to speak with him. Please.”
“He's in a coma on a ship called the Bright Side. It's captain is named Joshua, and should be somewhere in the market trying to sell Well Well water,” Zoey told him, knowing with satisfaction that it would piss Derek off.
Derek was pissed. “Now I can see why The Defender wages war on your stupid White Fleet! I hope he wipes you all out! Every last one of you is rotten to the core!”
“I couldn't have said it better myself!” an arrogant and swaggering voice cut through the crowd. “Good to see you still hold Sphere principles so dear Derek my boy! There's hope for you yet!”
Zoey turned and saw a tall, strong man with an unmistakable harsh authority to him. His face was drawn into a cruel, mocking smile, and he wore the black uniform of a Sphere officer. Most notable was the eye-patch across his right eye. “Hello, everyone. Don't worry, I'm here to settle this matter. I'm fully qualified,” he said arrogantly, pointing to the stripes on his arm. “Look! I'm a Colonel!”