Something Strange in the Streets
by Ethan Gibney
Few know these streets as well as she. Even such a night, when even the lamp-lighters have stayed home, deterred by the dense fog and air thick with rumors of things in the streets, she treads the streets without hesitation.
She, too, has her fears. But her fears do not come from mystery, her fears come from deep knowledge of what waits for the unwary. For she has met the Surface King, has courted the woman in the pale mask, and has riddled with the Treaty Arch more times than, perhaps, even the nameless wastrel itself.
The fear never goes. But there is something new, something worse. The King won’t act, the woman has gone, and the Treaty Arch is silent.
But, tonight, there is other work to be done. There’s a symptom hiding in the streets tonight, something that surfaced, killed, and fled. She’s traced it here. A dead-end alley between the Sortridge Sundries warehouse and a West-West Corp. factory. The former is silent, the latter covers all organic sound with asynchronous metallic strikes.
“The Compunction would have you leave the city,” she says to the walls. There’s a scraping to the side, like stone on stone. It goes on for a few seconds, which tells her exactly what it is. She pulls a small turquoise from a pouch and places it in her ear. The scraping turns to words.
“Pardon, would you repeat that?”
“I said, I don’t answer to the Compunction.”
“The Compunction Strictures apply to any entity which commits crimes on City soil. Murder of humans is considered to be a crime.”
“I didn’t do it on any soil.”
“Thanks for sparing me an interrogation. Soil is figurative, the Compunction dates to before pavement.”
The fog thickens. None of her doing, but she takes the opportunity to twist one of the shineless rings she wears. She holds that hand out in front of her, waiting for any sign.
“What if I don’t go.”
“You’ve two options: imprisonment or forfeiture of life.”
“Why is it you humans get to kill us, but we aren’t allowed to do the same?”
“When pressed, I consider it to be an advantage of having opposable thumbs.”
“Won’t matter soon, anyway. Things will change soon.”
There. The smallest shake in the ring. She can’t help but smile. She moves her hand to the left, and the shake gets stronger. Honing in.
“The option of imprisonment stands, of course. Though that tends not to be a preferred option.”
“So you’ll go?”
“No, I think I’ll just kill you.”
“The attempt would be unwise.”
A brick leaps at her through the fog. If not for the shaking in the ring, she might have been hit.
She lifts her hand in time, and the brick drops straight to the ground, making a small splat.
She scoops up the dead creature and bags it. The things are more of a nuisance than a threat, but did it mean by “things will change soon”?
© 2017, Ethan Gibney
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