Desperate Graffiti

"The streets became more deserted on his way back to Mirror Street, and so did the street lights. Some were broken and others looked like they hadn't worked in years. In the sparse cones of light, Lang could see the symbols that the newcomers painted on some of the buildings—meaningless splotches of paint, drawn with visible frustration in a hundred different styles. How many had tried to write on these walls when they first came to the city? On their world, they could have written down whatever they wanted, on paper, on the wall, wherever. But here, everything you tried to write came out as nonsense.

Lang figured that was the price. Nobody gave you anything for free, at least not Below. Everybody could understand everybody else, no matter where they came from. You could talk to someone fresh from some crazy world like you lived on the same block your whole life. You could also read anything written in any language. But you weren't able to write anything down. That was the price. Being born in the city, this didn't seem like such a big loss to Lang. Besides, what kind of world would it be, if anybody could write their own pages? The paper in his pocket, dozens of pages torn from as many books, would be next to worthless. But no one could write anything, and every page had real value.

Still, knowing all this, Lang's mind tried to read the symbols that appeared in the shafts of streetlight. He found this frustrating. Like meaning lurked somewhere behind the misshapen letters and words. But all his mind could register was static, like trying to listen to someone whisper across a crowded room. Unlike proper pages, the nonsense scrawled on the wall was the result when someone tried to write anything.

Lang purposefully looked away from the next cone of light, and that was when he saw her walking across the street, following him, as he had followed his own anger. He knew this was Reve before she stepped into the nearest streetlight. Her body moved with a certain quick grace. Like most people in the city, her body was unique. In her case, she was almost entirely composed of black coils wound around each other, forming all the curves of her body, face, and even the waves that were her long black hair. Her eyes he knew he wouldn't even see in the light—they were as black as the endless sky now above him.

"Taking it out on some poor refugees," she said by way of greeting. She moved the hair that had fallen in front her eyes without touching it, revealing all the serpentine shadows that the light cast on her thin face.

Lang couldn't tell if it was the light or if she was smiling at him. "Reve."

"Was coming to see you when you ran out of that tenement without a word."

"Yeah, well, I thought we had a suspect. A witness at least. Maybe a relative."

"A blue? Like the man or the woman?"

"Can't be sure, the guy seemed more like the woman."

"But you lost him," Reve said.

"This place, full of holes," Lang answered, looking back up the block where it met many smaller alleys.

"Chief tells the rookies never to go into these blocks alone."

"Then I'm glad you were here covering my back," he said, turning back to her.

"So you beat anything out of the hungry dogs back there?"

"You know I didn't. At least they know my name now."

"Is that how you made detective?"

"Is there another way?" Lang said.

"Some of us take a moment to think."

"That's when you make mistakes. Places like this eat up the thinkers."

"Only act from instinct, is that it? Predator or prey?" Reve said.

"Only if it’s the right instinct."

"Ha, you sound like such an old man, Lang."

"And you believe in more modern ways?"

"I don't have your muscles," she said, running one finger over the curves of his forearm.

Lang knew this game. Reve liked to go for the elbow or the wrist, twisting and pulling until you had to tap out. For someone with no joints in the muscular coils that were her bones, muscle, and skin, she seemed obsessed with the joints of her opponents. "One day you'll play this game with a guy you actually like."

"I won't like him if he won't talk to me after I hand him his ass," Reve said and dropped her hand.

"He won't talk to you because you'll break his bones."

"So many worlds out there and it seems most people have bones. Such a poor design, full of weak spots."

"You should be grateful. How else would you make detective?"

Reve touched her long finger to the center of her forehead, her bangs parting before it made contact. "I use this."

"Is that where you keep your heart?" Lang asked.

"Another weak spot in your design."

"And yet most people have them."

"So what now?" Reve said after a pause, "you looking for more gangers to scare?"

"Just thinking. I thought you were all for that?"

"Seems to me like you're just walking. Why don't you give me a rundown on what you have so far? So it doesn't seem like you were wasting so much time."

"You didn't make it upstairs?"

"Saw your big ass hauling it up the street and I took off after you. All I heard from the unis is that we have two blues dead."

"Let's walk and I'll give you the details," Lang said.

He started down the street again, trying to ignore the graffiti that appeared in the cones of the street lamps. The buildings here were hulking things with sparse windows, standing over the two of them. Warehouses and workshops closed for the night. They saw few people and Lang was thankful for that. He looked at the walls covered in shadow. It was easier to remember all his notes that way, like looking at a page whose words had long ago become illegible. It could have said anything.

Back to Two Skies Before Night.