A longish extract from Interlude. A street scene set in Irontown. Who else shall I have?
(Some of these folk may not stay. Not sure about the skin-trees. Anyway, even if they're not mentioned, they're secretly all there).
Also (backchannel, perhaps), any recommendation of city-walk scenes I should read, from any genre?
The previous evening Gurm’s stomach was literally thungabungling so she threw on a raggedy-ass mustard-yellow cotton jacket and skated down the teeming hu-t’ung, reciting the jaw-dislocating phrase that probably meant ‘anything for the special, honoured vendor’ over and over under her breath. She could have taken the job with her, but she was on something of a solitude kick just now. Reason for renting the hu-t’ung garret in the first place, right?
It was too crammed, and the hu-t’ung climbed too steeply here, so Gurm sucked her wheels into her shoes. Around the edges of her sensorium she still extruded feelers for Pruri Y but didn’t hold out much hope. Bunnybee – on some serenity kick halfway up a mountain, for fuck’s sake – supposed Pruri Y was a ghost. Gurm knew better, though maybe a ghost would have been easier to find.
Still, Gurm wasn’t exactly paying detailed attention to her surroundings.
If she had, whom could she have discovered? A steadily thickening throng. Hollowcheeked human jakies. §hit junkies. Dataheads. Warp Drives, winking into solidity mid-deranged monologue. Huddled holograms betting on jellylike battle-bots. Illicit AI, automata-dwellers, defiant in daylight. The dying. Half-beggared Fain sherpas scouring for tourists on boda-boda bikes and every manner of honking, smoking, tuk-tech. Fully beggared Fain newcomers, their oozing chitin bodies held together by masking tape. Tomworm (yes! No more of that). Spiny-furred Geffen immigrants, gone all ogee-rigid with cerebral ticks or sitsit §nowscrypt, fretted over by §cryptnet-deputised gendarmes and ransom-seekers. Hard-times piebald Geffen immigrants, vertebrae jutting, fewer teeth than mouths, whimpering polyphonically. Rentxens edging at career changes.
Above the awnings, smart-scaffolding was crawling delicately along the wall, steering for a building site in west Irontown. Three vanilla-furred and jade-scaled raccoon minimals, none any taller than three inches, hitched a ride, grimly hugging rivets as the scaffold performed its perambulatory cat’s cradle. A red-crested pipistrel minimal, several times bigger than the racoon minimals but batbrained, no match for their bravery and wits, perched with thrumming satisfaction, was unsettled, perched again, was again affronted, and so on, across the top of four shop fronts, before finally he flapped off in mortified confusion, eventually tucking himself into a cracked solar panel, to seriously reconsider his direction in life.
Gurm might have discovered a sentient and very formally dressed fragrance, like joss-stick jasmine robed in endlessly hinged reek-garb, floating in the air of a stair-snicket, afraid to waft forth. She might have found the cohort of Alien Aesthetics 366 (PGP) offworld impresarios and artists, academics and impestors, dealers and collectors (and at least two Locklany spies) who’d made the fatal error of booking the cheaper accommodation nearer to the conference centre, almost all of them currently in one sort of complex predicament or another.
Demonosopher veterans left over from glitching wars, semi-obedient to their inlay spam, the voice of Brass having now accrued a querulant and quasi-divine quality. Involuntary and unvoluntary actors, shudderers and tiquers and entities essentially tics all the way down. Mercenaries and bounty hunters, striding tall in spindly, whining exo-rigs. Brigands and kidnappers. Nullbrood sabre-toothed Fain burlesque performers, gossiping territorially from the mouths of back-stage step-snickets, or somehow twitchingly napping just a few steps down.
Gurm's sensorium predicted a path and her shoes morphed back into skates.
Highbinders and civil servants on publicity drives, checking boxes marked “squalor” and “despair” in their sensoriums, gravely crouching or squatting or floomping, dilating their assorted faculties of pointed compassion, chronicle and analysis. Students and smugglers. Swivel-eyed wilderness witnesses. Pushers and stall-keepers. Folks. Drunks who had to be drunk to do what they had to do. One mercenary, rigged up, stepped out of her garret with very little of her usual swagger. A second gangly powered exo-skeleton, slaved to hers, followed her tentative steps exactly, carrying her artillery ops colleague, dead of wounds during the night.
Gurm glid by.
Gurm was skating through something of a bodymod district now, not that she really knew it. Groggy toddlers, fitted with inlays for the first time and apprehensive of the solicitations of their new take-it-slow sensoriums. Stitched-up punks wrestling mortally with medusiform muscle tissues chestbursters, bystanders yelling and gingerly borrowing butchers’ cleavers. Cosplayers and modplayers, the spit of Sylvester Lady of Risk, or the House Locklany golem, or the new Darkspawn Dawnspark, or some other needled-in pin-up, each to their own personal degree of insane devotion and fidelity. A celeb or two, subtly disarrayed, on a double-bluff incognito trip. Tentative tweens, proud and hot beneath new Dally MacFarlane Durians and Banyans, succulent marketing, twisting from their red-raw shoulder-soil, speckled with untaxonimised fungi. Dirigible drones and triple-rotors skirring overhead on deliveries, yawing in shockwaves as corsairs dogfought escorts.
Soon Gurm passed her first fab lab. In its doorway a blue-scaled xen was swaying proprietorially, thin and fluid like an upright serpent, crested with a small, pinstriped crescent, resembling the horns of a ram, and tripedal, with feet resembling boar trotters.
Nah. Gurm wanted that crisp, cool, fancy fab lab farther along the mini-map. Dwarflust Enterprises or something.
The xen looked hilariously hopeful. Gurm grinned as she barged past.
Dandyish Curlies wormed painstakingly onward in kid gloves. Shimmering jale and purple Musteds, taking it just as slow, magnificently genteel, wreathed in rictuses, their species claustrophobia thoroughly bottled up itself. Providentialist almoners bounded frantically off the hu-t’ung, clattering down step-snickets after the complicated life stories of bugs and vermin. Second gen Hyder charlatans with plexiglass jars of megascopic ingredience dustbunnies chatted to one another, drawing dry wit from the year’s Repentercurls Games at an infinitesimal grain. Gregarious gladiators strutted and loafed, their proferred flesh all albino, incarnadine or wine-dark with scar tissue, their spectral orreries of overcome foe offal orbiting them in full boast-ghostcast mode. A mobbed purveyor of Geffen meconium kept her customers at bay by brandishing a hacked gladiatorial v-halberd. Sensorium mini-map showed not far now.
Jump Drives nervously phasing in and out as they chatted up tourists and students, and gladiators and sellswords and traumatised vets, self-sabotaging their pick-up artistry with nauseous giggles and erratic, broad-spectrum libidinal investment. Fanfanners. Swivel-eyed wilderness witnesses, AH-gain. Inventive parents. Chibi didappers. Whipjack cons and PUAs posing as Warp and Jump Drives. A-list celebs, B-list celebs, and on down the abedecary and annexes, test-sauntering their newly acquired celebrity identities. Journalists and pundits embedded in their own lives. Cool hunters. Pets. Chibi minimals, nipping from one obvious hiding place to the next, intent on snarfing crumbs of rice, blowing up the beautiful forest-mountain in the heart of Irontown, or seizing the throne of distant Ambershadow.
Crushes. Prowling proto-beloveds. Love’s soldiers bivouacked. Pet-keepers – some petless, their pets now with sitters, walkers, flyers, simulators, vets, bodymodders – conscious of the silliness of certain pet-related feelings. A panicking parent. An elf crone yelping in cluster pidgin about her accelerated heart-rate.
Gamers and workers. Leaderboard junkies grinding task categories. Hatchet-faced Game Theory dogmatists. A pair of bickering macropodine xens, ash-discoloured and the last of their species.
Chefs. Turnspits and sous turnspits. Pulled-pork-and-coleslaw-waffle scoffers and squid-slice scone aficionados. Gunkers, digesting dinner externally. Huffy peace legations of eyestalked lupine minimals, looking like bad taxidermy, their traditional tribal dress flicking in the tuk-tech wind, and their Fain drivers grinning and honking and sirening more than strictly necessary. Imprecators. Cannibals. Hereticastors. Zealots. Fouled and shunned wretches. Xens extending baffling cheer every-which-way via systematically wrong, evolutionarily stable translation interfaces. Wimps. Bigots. A really, really wide range of recruiters and Satans. Fourth Wall panderers and Fourth Wall side-eyers. Fourth Wall frotteurs. Trolls and famicides. Newbies to the Telluric Devolve, the frontier of the §crypt currency zone, stunned in the streets of Irontown, in total thrall to their first §crypt Pelfie, as they checked their balance and recognised for the first time the complexity of the concept of "balance."
Grey robed hominid xens, indeterminate, systematically wandering and huffing out burrs, analysed as inert. Someone should get on that.
Slaves and servants. A few chattel slaves, dressed in the latest smart-casual fashions, collared, glittering rivulets of remote explosives visible like extra veins, plus a few off-duty footxen, heavily powdered inside their hermetic bio-suits – evidence Empire was in town tonight. But mostly humans running errands, at the ends of reins that ran to a closer node, the neighbouring moons of Locklany. Someone should get on that.
That was pretty much it, apart from humblebraggers and attention-gardeners, editors and détraqués. Geeks and winnowers. Fain agent provocateurs, false flag operatives and askefises. Workaholics and ergophiles, obviously. Jubilarian activist gamers, and social worker gamers, annoying, endangering, liberating and propagandizing the slaves who moved about Irontown on their masters’ business. Trail-etchers, criers and whifflers. Replicant androids, banned from having sentience or personalities, mixing along as best as they could manage. Slab-passers. Butchers. The benevolent. Canters, encrypters, bohemians, pyromaniacs and ciplinarians. The tendril-torn, the bruised and split-lipped. Innumerable shades of jobbing bombasters, pandars, cotton-woolsters and situation-defusers. Innumerable shades of jobbing interpreters and translators, inscribers and transcribers, white liars and typhlophiles. Entities spewing sense data for innumerable senses. The overloaded and the ennervated understimulated. Lubricators and labour dispute arbitrators. Fuckers and lovers. Fasters. Luddites and inlay-shunners. The infected and the allergic, the convulsing. Flyting husters, sessile in scaffold lecterns, or fleet upon casterboards. Redemption spotters. Engineers and tech people who definitely knew what the problem probably was now. Bottom-wipers. Clumsy greeters. Dump-tacklers. The thick-skinned skinned raw by the sensuousness of the turn of the seasons. Confidantes on frostiness gambits. The inarticulately vulnerable. Griefstricken. Flâneur prosthetics. Autos-da-fé. Phenomena, including personages, not strictly present, but edited later into collective memory. Developers and terrorists. Spoilt Fain finance brats riding on hella hu-t’ung-inappropriate bounce-orbs, and mammothrept Curlies in crystalline, fairytale carriages, splurging §crypt on sight-lines and personal space. Pheremone lattices. Unexplained luminous sails. Hick fortune-huntsters wading, with sinking hearts, through ominous backlog of chat from backwater kaleyard orbital.
In a pothole, an escape pod smouldering, fringed with melted vegetables.
Indecipherably exotic fugitives.
Sneering second-gen Fain solicitor and engineer aristocracy, fanatically urbane, disrobing the lamentably-disguised minimal freedom fighters, upright leverits and toads, sporting that bad taxidermy look, by means of tiny bespoke tridents, as the Fain whizzed by on diademed street-luges on their way to do something far more important.
All manner of debtors. Some debtors but browsing picaroons, dabblers and compers, picking and choosing, perhaps merely pollarding a Hyderworld fasttree infestation first thing this morning, then knocking off till tomorrow when it was time to pass a redeye ambassador of the Poor Empire their Fainshell comb or butcher’s cleaver or baker's rolling cudgel. Other debtors were on the cusp of peonage, able to dent their principal only provided they outcompeted the debtors crowding that cusp alongside them, grasping and struggling, and begging solidarity.
The sky was full of rainbows and machines. Gurm WiPped openly.