And we’d learned a few things about that old house, the tall thin one with too many stories it seemed. Like how we all felt safer in one room with all the doors closed, or that it was better to light three candles than one. Or that if me and Lita – but only us – sat in the two chairs by the indoor tree on the third floor with everyone around, noises would begin and we would all giggle and jump up and clap, happy that we’d scared everyone once again before we fell to bed, at least one of us up and watching the ceiling for spiders or rats or whatever anyone else was dreaming of that might come to life there. For everything felt possible, in the swirls of the wood grain, as the distorted faces of creatures leapt from one wall to another.
Slowly, to consciousness, come and find your face crushed on pavement viscous. Dirt falling from eyelashes, blinking it away, gradually bringing your mind around.
On a long-stretch of road, nose full of tar, all movement meagre, your energy’s long fallen from bones. Use your dwindling strength to bring back what happened. Raise hand to forehead and press down on the crumbling wound there.
At first there’s no warmth. Only the hot black pain of frostbite. Then like a shock, the blankness ends again and I feel my skin start to thaw, my blood slowly pulsing through veins that had almost forgotten how to push it.
We’d gotten a vehicle to Mars for Christ’s sake, and this is what they choose to celebrate? Curiosity, out there all on his—its—own, humming to the frequency of “Happy Birthday”? Mics up to max, an ear-numbing static filling our large control room, some of the more senior staff sing loudly over the noise while eating crumbly cupcakes over their consoles. Normally I might put a stop to it, but they’d been working so hard.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I mean, I never got hooked.
Could’ve happened of course, that’s always a danger when you’re a Trader. Got a whole supply at my fingertips, could tap in anytime I want–be like those kingpins over there, rattling their yellow teeth my way, hopped up on the stuff, eyes crazy. But that’s not my style. A Trader’s gotta be fair, has to be clean. If he ain’t he’ll just be pushing for his own benefit. That’s not what it’s about, you know? It’s about helping people.
I’ve been doing this a long time, know all the tricks. That’s why I can call this side of town my own; everyone comes to me. They know I’ll be good to them, that I won’t cheat. I’m running a good thing, here. Got drop points all over the place, a few Runners and a couple of Recruiters. Good ones too. But they all know I’ve only got one rule: don’t get hooked and I’ll keep paying. Get hooked, and I’ll make sure you pay double-double.