Chapter 3: X-XIII
He strode down Harriman Avenue with what could be called a smile on his thin, pale lips. He felt the thrum of ChiMera power lines as they lanced across the sky-less air in Cellar City.
In this part of town, there was no sun. The man in the black coat didn’t mind.
What he did mind was the blood, sticky and drying to his hands.
Her blood, that woman.
He rubbed his hands on the coat. Well, the coat was his now. He liked how it felt, how it whipped past his legs as he walked, collar popped and stiffly at attention to guard his neck from the damp Cellar City chill.
Now it was dirty. And sticky.
He supposed he would have to get accustomed to that.
The smile began to dissolve as he rounded the corner. Just past the circle of the streetlight was a dimly lit convenience stall. The booth had an older man tending it – gray at the temples and a salt and pepper stubble across his jaw. He was reading a magazine.
He walked right up to the shopkeeper and stared through the glass window that separated them. At the sight of his reflection, the man in the black coat paused.
He looked more alive than he had just a few hours ago, that was certain.
The smile returned. Maybe tonight had been a good night. Regardless of the pain.
He tapped the glass to get the shopkeeper’s immediate attention. The shop-keep jumped, startled by the noise and instantly alarmed. The shop-keep peered quizzically at the smudge of red left behind, but wisely said nothing.
“Oh hey, I didn’t see you walk up. Watcha need?” The shop-keeper looked to either side of the man in the black coat before he fixed him with a smile.
The shop keep was giving him a strange look – but then, they usually did. He had unmistakably unique features – he was sure he could stick out in a crowd easily if he wanted to. Malnourished, scraggly and demented were easy to pick out of a crowd.
Not to mention his eyes.
And the blood.
“Travel-size detergent. Electrical tape. Roll of paper towels.” The man in the coat said.
The shopkeeper hustled around the small boxed convenience shop and gathered the items as he listed them.
“Paring knife?” He added as an afterthought.
The shopkeeper shook his head. “You’ll want Harry’s Place, next street over tomorrow morning. He isn’t open right now.”
“How will I tell?” He felt anxious at the answer.
“Tell what?” The shopkeeper placed the items in a large drawer beneath the window.
“When it’s morning?” He looked up, eyes shining in the yellow gleam of the streetlights. He could see faint lights from above, but past the metal and fog it was hard to tell anything. The mighty pedestal that held up Mid-level and Sky-city was like a shutter, closing Cellar City off from the world.
“New to Cellar City?” The shop keeper asked with another smile.
“Yes. I guess so.” The man in the black coat mumbled.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll get used to it. Besides, lots of shit in the fog lights up, heats up and gets brighter when they operate during the day.” The shopkeeper paused and watched the man in the black coat take out his wallet.
At least, it was the wallet that he happened to have on him.
“Besides, they’ve installed UV plating in some sectors above us so we can get some sun.”
“Not enough.” He shook his head at the shop keeper, the both of them wearing rueful smiles.
“That’s 18.70 total.”
He flipped through the wallet and found some of the credit notes used for casual tender. About as wide as three fingers and as long as his hand from fingertips to wrist. He had several 20 credit notes. They were beige. The text and number was an efficient swirl in darker browns and darker reds. Like Henna.
Whatever Henna is.
The man in the black coat got a vague impression of it and then put it out of his mind. Thoughts about it made his head ache.
“You ever taken the shuttle to Mid-Level?” The shopkeeper asked, grateful for the company at this late hour.
“No. I don’t… think so.” Truth.
“Oh, you would remember it. Everything above you shines, and sometimes you can even see the great blue sky.” The shopkeeper shook his head wistfully. “Hoping to get the time to make a visit.”
“Why don’t you just go?” He asked, enthralled by the concept of the great blue sky. Why not go now? Why wait? The question had a mind of its own and was out before he even had the choice to keep it to himself. He didn’t take it back though. He liked this shopkeeper.
The man in the black coat decided he would keep him around.
And then the man in the black coat chuckled, visions of himself as a mighty king done up as a cartoon whirring around in his brain.
“Well, it’s a 50 credit ride up in that Verti-rail. With how busy I am here, I don’t have the time.” Sigh. “It’s a real shame. But a guy like you? You should take a girl up there one time, go on a nice date. I hear they have some great food up in Mid-level. Here’s your change.”
The shop keeper pushed the drawer out, and it opened in front of the Brilliant eyed man. He accepted the bagged merchandise and the change.
“You live around here? Careful on the way home. Dangerous in these parts.” The shopkeeper settled back onto his stool.
“For now.” He responded mechanically.
“What’s your name? I like to know, if you’re going to be a regular.”
He had started to turn from the shop when the question was asked, but then slowly turned back.
He… he knew he had one, he had to. It was like it was right on the tip of his tongue, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t grasp it. The only names that were coming into his head were the ones that They gave him. He felt the thrum of the ground beneath his feet and he felt his eyes widen in a moment of shocked panic.
He hated Them.
But this shopkeeper was all right.
“Thirteen? Like the number?” The shop keeper scratched his jaw thoughtfully. “I think it’s an interesting name. I like it. I’m Westy.” Westy pointed up from his position behind the glass.
Thirteen looked up and saw the dimly gleaming sign above the window.
‘Westy’s Convenience Stall.’
“…Westy.” He grinned again. “Nice. To meet you.”
“You too. Thirteen. That your first name?”
“They called me ‘X’ too.” X mused out loud.
Then again, they usually combined the two. With a hyphen.
“Like ex-marine, or extreme, ‘ex’?”
“No. The letter ‘X’.”
“Huh. You got an interesting family, kid.” Westy grinned.
“Not my family.” Thirteen turned then, the smile on Westy’s face somehow unbearable. He clutched the bag of items in one hand. “Bye Westy. See you tomorrow.”
X-Thirteen strode away, brain rattled behind the shock of his eyes.
…Why had he not thought about his own name? Did he look like he needed a date? The idea of a date sounded more familiar then having a name. No matter how much he racked his brain it didn’t come to him. There were so many strange concepts, all things with startling familiarity, but otherwise unknown to him. It was almost as if he had known, but now it was all washed away.
He’d tried. He’d tried to remember things.
Then he had been too busy to care. There had been a club, and violence, and lots of shouting and a girl bleeding in his arms.
The thought seemed so positively asinine to him that he let out a string of clattering chuckles, teeth flashing.
And now to find a place to patch himself up.
X-Thirteen took out the wallet and examined the address on the Identification. His name had been Paul McCormack. He had been 32 and 5'10" without enhancements.
“Ok Paul Mak-or-mak, you demented fuck… where did you live?”