May 21st, 212.
Anoteri Epistemi; Mid-Forenoon.
“Wait. Not good enough… Maybe… Now, you’re really peacocking.” Yaz said. Paused. Then slapped his thigh. “Ahh, fuck, I got it! Looks like you flock together with birds of a loser feather!” He stared at the ground. “Nah, that’s dumb. The first one stays.”
No one paid attention to Yaz’s rambling search for the perfect quip. Most of the crowd had dispersed already, having satisfied their curiosity. Some spat insults towards Kenneth’s dormant form as they walked by. The girls of his entourage, the ones he’d most heavily affected with his Sobriquet, had begun taking turns kicking and punching the defenseless guy. Yaz hadn’t felt the urge to stop them.
The LADs, however, only allowed a few rounds of hits before stepping in. One, his muscles bulging inside his uniform, stood by, guarding Kenneth from any more attacks. He had a tablet and stylus in hand taking statements from the various victims. Even distracted as he seemed, his stance still looked poised for action. In that regard, LADs reminded Yaz of his fellow PRI gangsters. They were the opps, but any opposing factions were waging war as sure as your crew was.
The other Youther, whom Yaz had judged a girl by her voice earlier, walked to him.
“Heya, LAD.” He smiled, offering her a wave. She made no response.
Yaz couldn’t see her face through the tinted plastic of her mask. Yet, even without seeing any clues, he knew what she was doing. The LADs helmets also functioned as interactive, virtual interfaces. Connected directly to the main computer at their headquarters back in hood Sector. She was scanning his record. Yaz waited patiently.
“Yaz Amentrope. REP: Rumored. Record, expunged.” The woman said. Her voice juvenile, tinged with irritation. “And not by us.”
The Youther quirked her head, giving him a once over. Behind her, one of Kenneth’s sufferers were throwing a tantrum, trying to bypass the LAD bodyguard to little avail.
“So, you’ve been Shrouded then?” She continued, putting the pieces together. “Care to tell me why?”
“Uhh. Not particularly, no.” Yaz’s response didn’t seem to soothe her irritation.
“Oh? Us LADs aren’t too keen on being told no.” Yaz supposed they weren’t. Most came across in the same vein as self-important teenagers. Then, he wasn’t too keen on authority at all.
Her arms were hanging casually to her side. But her fingers tensed, subtly, over the rectangular wrapper hanging off her belt loop. Yaz sighed. The, uhm, ‘racquetball captain’ turning out to be a sick douche was one thing. This was definitely the type of trouble Dean Riddle wouldn’t turn a blind eye to.
“Is there a problem here?” Her voice wasn’t like Yaz’s, or even the Youther’s. Whereas Yaz had an eternally blithe lilt, and the officer a trained irritation, this voice sounded tough. Like someone always ready to fight, and stalwart enough to back it up. Yaz looked down at Aggadah. Oddly close to not having to look down at all. The girl was tall.
Aggadah was standing on the lawn just beside the raised marble platform. Somehow, even holding the low ground, she came across as intimidating. Even if, Yaz noted, she was wearing periwinkle ballet shoes. She spat out a peach seed and it landed in a trashcan. Much further away than a regular person should ever be able to spit. Orchid Swank stood a few feet behind her, looking uninterested. Trusting her to handle any outcome alone. Badass.
The officer looked down at Aggadah. She stared, obviously checking her info, and then scanned across the lazing Orchid Swank members. Five against one, six counting Yaz. He smiled, almost chuckling out loud. He could tell that she had the nerve to be weighing the odds. Irritating. And arrogant too. Fucking LADs.
“No, no problems here, Aggadah Vahis.” She said, turning her gaze to each of the Orchids as she spoke. “Namju Chun. Kikami Mojong. Zosha Oracle. All Rumored REP, except you miss Vahis. You’re Known REP now. You should avoid assaulting people in the future.”
“Get a time machine and stop me.” Aggadah flipped her off. The LAD Youther turned back to Yaz as if they weren’t there.
“Enjoy your graduation. I’m certain I’ll be seeing you again once you enter the real world. Be careful of the company you keep.” With that, she marched away. She joined the other LAD who was still taking statements from angry women. Kenneth hadn’t stirred.
“Oh, no! She knows our names! However will we face the might of Older Brother?!” Aggadah rolled her eyes. The Orchids laughed. “Ugh, fucking bitch.”
“Irritating, fucking bitch.” Added the hooded guy, Zosha Oracle
“Yeah… I liked that suit on her though. Think it’s callowsilk or Kevlar?” One of the female Orchids spoke up. She had long coral-red hair in a bob and a thin, svelte body frame. Namju Chun, the LAD had called her. Yaz noticed, like Aggadah’s, the orchid flower pinned to her shirt was a bit more elaborate than the others. Second-in-command?
“So,” Aggadah moved her eyes swiftly from Namju to Yaz, “Just wanted to come say thanks. For leaving me alone earlier at the mountain, and for taking on Kenneth. Just heard about what the fucker was doing today from a woman lucky enough to escape. He’s a cunt.”
Yaz tried to smile as naturally as he could but found himself self-conscious about even his usual actions. Strong, beautiful women. Oh, the effects they could have. “Yes, well, some of us are favorable towards cunts.” He laughed at his own joke nervously, Aggadah joined him. Her laugh was brusque, but feminine. Like soft chains massaging each other. “No need for the thanks though. I didn’t do either seeking recognition.”
“Even more reason to thank you.” She said, smiling for the first time. It was pretty, even with the aggressive sparkle in her eyes. One of her canines was chipped. Yaz hopped off the platform, landing beside her. She didn’t flinch. She’d had braces.
“No worries, Aggie. Just tryna keep the days bright, you know?” She winced, smile instantly vanishing.
“Don’t call me Aggie.” She said coldly. Yaz shrugged noncommittally.
Aggadah turned and reached to Zosha. Beneath his purple hood, he frowned at Yaz. He placed a small sheet of paper in Aggadah’s outreached hand. There were messy scrawls of writing on it.
“Here.” Yaz took the offered paper. He squinted his eyes reading the messy writing. “Sorry about the quality, Zosha wrote it.” The girls chuckled, Zosha was still frowning at Yaz.
“A party?” Yaz asked. There was an address, time, and even small tacked on bits about nearby landmarks and the types of drinks that’d be available. There was a glyph drawn at the top of the note. Informative. Periander St, West Epistemi district. A sorority house. XOX. Being that it was the final few weeks before the semester ended, plenty of people were throwing large bashes. He hadn’t necessarily planned on going to any. A sorority though…
“Yep.” Aggadah pulled a cigarette from her bra. Not the most sanitary thing he’d ever seen. He didn’t know she smoked. She hadn’t smelled like it. She smelled like sweat and lavender. Zosha lit the square for her. Black Solemns. They weren’t the same brand as Zarat’s.
“I heard you earlier, saying you were from The Highlands. So, you’re probably not the biggest fan of Tuina people. Shouldn’t be anyway, they’re pretentious pricks.”
“Ha, most, yes.” Yaz chuckled, nodding in agreement. Aggadah continued.
“Yep, and most bad things have a positive side. Pretentious pricks throw the grandest parties. Nothing else to do with their money and time, pure appellation for status, the standard sorts of fuckery, you know?”
“Sure.” Yaz didn’t have much real-life experience with the ‘higher society’ standards of living in Tuina, but he’d learned enough in his cultural studies. Travelled as much as he could during his time at Ash U, abusing the cheaper passage rates for students. He got the gist.
“Well, whatever the case, the festivities normally end up pretty lit. Should be free drinks too. Those Auric Coast fuckers like to throw money around. Anyway, basically, you’re coming. I say it’ll be fun.”
“Uhh, yeah. I mean, sure. Definitely.” Great, now he was a nervous sputtering idiot. “Sounds nice. I didn’t have much planned today, besides being a peeping tom and peacock hunting. So, my schedules pretty free.” He smiled.
Aggadah chuckled a bit. Then, abruptly, she turned to leave. She paused, “You can bring your friends too,” her gaze drifted behind him over the quad, “Even that one.”
Yaz swiveled. Viego and Angie were by a small olive tree in the quad. They watched his interaction with Aggadah. Viego, no doubt expecting a shocking story from it, was grinning broadly and waving. Angie wasn’t grinning at all. She was fuming. She did, however, look fantastic. Even in anger.
“Uhh, I will. Thanks?” He sputtered, turning back. Aggadah was already gone. Her and the rest of Orchid Swank were leaving the grassy quad, heading towards the steps of the Athenon. Her stride was confident and powerful, graceful as black swans on darkened lakes.
“Argh!” Yaz groused. “She’s such a fucking badass!” Strong, beautiful women. Every time.
May 21st, 212.
The Highlands; Late Forenoon.
“In the latest Metropolitical news, our Pneumancracy is shaking up again. Spirit of Piquant Oasis, Yotty Mandel, announced recently that he’d be stepping down. Using his appointing rights as anteSpirit, he’s chosen young culinary prodigy Eponge Bobbins to nominate for initiation. Here we have, the never resting, Bryce Vigil in the field…” Ken Superb’s smile was sensational, even warped as it was on the old and worn television set.
Aaron, deciding he’d pretended to care about current events enough, pressed the mute button. He spun his swivel chair, using the least movement possible, rotating to face a small countertop. The chair, not designed for a person of his particular bulk, wobbled. He unwrapped a bowl, shaking it so the contents inside shuffled.
A severely generous person, upon seeing Aaron’s bowl, would call it inedible. People prone to stating facts would call it trash. Literally. Trash. Meatless fish bones, discarded meals, wadded tissues, and what might’ve been mud filled the bowl to the rim. Aaron took a whiff. Vulgar. His favorite. His large stomach growled. He leaned forward and pressed the start button on the microwave. The chair wobbled again. More violent, threatening to collapse.
“Cheap bullshit.” Aaron muttered. He was already irritable without worrying if he could enjoy his third lunch in peace. That’d be just what he needed, getting Blaine on his case about weight loss and nutrition. From a cheap fucking chair collapsing. Of course it was third rate. Just like the tv. The microwave. Even the clipboards they used to sign-in everyday were outdated. He didn’t see how Zarat could spend so much on that piece of shit up on Rising Ridge, but not bother giving more to Zone Knoll’s Sentry Tower.
Actually, he could see. Better than most, in his humble opinion. He could see the facts. While everyone else was busy sucking Zarat off, taking the bullshit about important hood civil services and intelligent distribution seriously.
It wasn’t true. Just the lies people had always told Aaron. Fuckers trying to sound smart. Thinking he wouldn’t realize they were fucking him over. Zarat had always been one of those fuckers. Even before he’d proposed to unite the top three gangs in The Highlands under one moniker. Asking for Alerio’s Late Noon, and Aaron’s own Sudden Evening to drop their flags; joining the Midnight Showoffs. Pick up a united flag. An ugly, false amalgam of their symbols.
Aaron had been against it immediately. The others had argued. Fought. Won. Zarat always claiming it was for the betterment of the hood. Bullshit. More like for the betterment of Zarat Icewood’s status. It was Spirit Zarat now. And nothing was better for Aaron. The Highlands was still a shithole. A shithole that didn’t even see morning till noon.
The microwave beeped, signaling completion. The beep repeated. Then again.
“Alright, alright, you fucker!” Aaron heard another sound. This one wasn’t from the microwave. It was much louder. Then, he felt it.
Alarm. A sheer terror that exploded so quickly into his mind, he couldn’t recall ever having had anything else in there. The sound echoed; squirming like a sonorous worm into the deepest parts of him. Thoughts came then. Unwanted memories. Like when he’d tried to jack another gang’s heist and first met Zarat. Or, when he’d first saw Meech die, the lively aura draining from his face. Even such moments as the day his mom had almost purchased him a generic tablet when he was dying for a Hadron one. False alarms.
Then he thought about the day he would die. The fear, the panic. That moment where he knew Aaron Cruzeboy would become small motes in the fucking Æon Änim. The alarm he’d feel exactly before his spirit faded. Then, he screamed. A strangled noise, his overworked lungs unable to sustain the sound. His eyes rolled to the back of his head. He fell out the chair. Visible silver soundwaves leaked from his ears. The chair collapsed. It really was quite cheap.
For Aaron the moment had seemed a horrific infinity. In reality, it had been seconds. The microwave beeping. A wailing siren. Aaron spasming. Screaming his throat raw, bloodied. His large frame slamming onto the concrete floor. Cheap chair collapsing. The microwave beeped again. Then it exploded. The tv followed. The windows, computer, Aaron’s cellphone. Shrapnel of glass littered the floor of The Highlands’ Sentry Tower Knoll. A figure glided by the door.
They didn’t even bother to look inside.