CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken (Chapter 38: Talking at Windows)

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19 minutes ago, 0111narwhalz said:

Of all the things you could've said…

Yeah, it's almost like I meant to do that... :ph34r:

 

And before I forget any further, another special thanks to @Ten Key & @KSK for polishing this one up (and keeping Burdous and his tentacles in check. Mostly. :wink:)

On 12/22/2017 at 4:00 AM, monophonic said:

You evil sadist tortureminded devil! You kraken! This bit felt so sad it almost physically hurt me. I hope you're pleased now! ;.;

Personal sensitivities aside some top class wordcraft there, again. Well written!

 

On 12/22/2017 at 6:23 AM, Just Jim said:
On 12/18/2017 at 11:52 PM, CatastrophicFailure said:

You cannot destroy my destiny.
 

First thing that came to mind!!!

And speaking of things I meant to do...

Credit to anyone who gets the reference. It is, most certainly, deliberate. :sealed:

 

ETA: Oh, cool. New page and first chapter of 2018. :D Only another year or three to go... :o

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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Introducing the new Darth Vader Exosuit! With its fake Darth Vader breathing sounds, black paint, and domed helmet you can mimic the evil which is Darth Vader. It also can survive any place or circumstance on the planet! Only a 10 day garrenete! Prices at 500000$ per suit, 10$ cheaper than last year's model. What an improvement!

Be sure to get your own Darth Vader Exosuit Today!

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38 minutes ago, Alpha 360 said:

Be sure to get your own Darth Vader Exosuit Today!

May cause a slight tinting of the eyes... but we assure you this is a totally harmless side-effect... :0.0:

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4 hours ago, Alpha 360 said:

 It also can survive any place or circumstance on the planet!

Except for sand.

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"Our lives are but sand in the wind, dude."

"Sand..."

"Wind..."

"Dude!"

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30 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

...”everywhere...” <_<

So THAT'S why old Darthy is weezing! He got Sanded. Must pay havoc with his filters. And definitely not due to any more... uncomfortable abrasions. :o

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On ‎15‎/‎01‎/‎2018 at 7:09 AM, CatastrophicFailure said:

And before I forget any further, another special thanks to @Ten Key & @KSK for polishing this one up (and keeping Burdous and his tentacles in check. Mostly. :wink:)

As always - you're very welcome. :) 

Very much enjoyed the chapter, particularly the 'unexplained' earthquake link back to the previous chapter. And in an inconstant (and growing ever more so) world, it's good to see that some 'kerbs never change. Good to have you back Burdous - may your spoon never get blunter!

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Amazing writing!

Nice to see Burdous is still around!

How long have you been planning to get those two together, relationship wise?

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Spoiler

Hahahahahahaha, Darth Burdous. And the SPOON. Great chapter. And the glorp virus destroyed? I hope so (zombies creep me the hell out) but I doubt it. People saying "the situation is under control" always means the opposite.

WHY IS THIS IN A SPOILER? I CAN NEVER MAKE THEM WHEN I WANT TO BUT NOW I DONE IT ACCIDENTALLY D:

Edited by vsully

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I might be a little late... I just read Chapter 12

AD ASTRA PER—“

ASPERA! I knew I found a good avatar!

Edited by Cortwade

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Soooo... y'all can thank @CSE for this little gem (if I actually stay up to finish it, it's way past my bedtime). His comment on another thread got the ol' wheels turning, and now my mind's been chasing this all day. Not real sure if I'd use it in the actual story at this point, so it's canonicalness remains rather dubious, but whether it's less perfect or less real, I suppose, is up to the reader... Use at our own risk. :wink:

Spoiler

 

"OK, mac, that'll be √15."

"Fifteen?! Bloody hells, that's highway robbery!" said the Stranger.

"Best I can do at the window, mac. Always cheaper to buy ahead."

"Highway. Bloody. Robbery!" the Stranger persisted, and pointed, "there's the highway, and you're bloody robbin' me!"

"I already told ya, mac, I'm doin ya a favor. We ain't s'posed to be selling at this price at all, but there's a couple empty seats left on the bus so I'm trying to give you a break here."

"Mac. You havin' a go at me?"

"What?"

"What?"

The ticket agent shook his head, "look, that's the price, do ya want the ticket or not?"

"Aye, aye, here ya are," the Stranger tugged at his long braided hair in frustration, and handed over a √20.

The ticket agent handed back his change, and of course the ticket, "now this is non-refundable, y'know. Make sure you stick close and don't miss that bus, ok?"

"Yah, Ah've got it." The Stranger left the window, taking a moment to mark the waiting bus with the PORTSTON EXPRESS sign in the window. He wiped at the sweat rolling down his brow with one long, billowy sleeve. He'd had more than enough of this strange country, that much was certain. Being stuck in this coastal backwoods was just adding insult to injury. Another blob of sweat rolled into his eye, followed by a curse. Cor, it was hot here! Tropical places usually have unfailing breezes to tame the heat, but this place just seemed to swelter endlessly. A few ramshackle structures and a shabby hotel where the bus line ran what it called a 'hub,' that's all it was. Once in a while, there would be a hint of a breeze, but all it did was carry the stink of the swamp beyond the dunes. He didn't even think there was a name here, everyone just seemed to call it "BFE." He thought, perhaps, it was another inside joke he was missing.

A loud gurgling just below drew his attention. He frowned at the √5 note in his hand, the last of the local money he had. There were ways to get more, of course, but... an involuntary shudder ran down his back despite the heat. No, he was done with that, by Jool! Done with the lot of them and their bloody games. A nice, peaceful life as an acetic at a Kednarman monastery, and bollards to all this! His belly grumbled again. Well... monasteries weren't exactly known for their food, perhaps the shunning of worldly needs could wait until he actually got there. He trundled off towards the food truck parked on the scrap of hardpan that served as a bus depot here. "Roach coach," the locals called them, and always with disdain. That didn't seem to make any bloody sense, either. He'd had roaches before, plenty of times. They were actually quite good if cooked just right with a bit of paprika and salt.

"What'll it be, lady?" said the grimy proprietor. There appeared to be more grease on his face than the griddle behind him.

"Ach, Ah'm no lady, ya uncultured mug!" the Stranger spat back.

The Grungy One blinked, "but... you's is wearin' a dress... and you's hair is long...?"

The Stranger rolled his eyes, "it's not a bloody dress! It's a traditional Edinosanian sarong, and it's a good spell cooler in this blighted weather than the fool things you people wear!"

Another blink, "you's tawk funny."

"Ah--" the Stranger ground his teeth together, "can I just get a plate of hash and eggs, please?"

A shrug, "that'll be √5.25"

"Five twenty-- ach!" he tried not to think about how much food that could buy in Eurp, or Ponpin, or even Cocomor, "here." Money hit the counter.

A greasy thumb and finger picked up the coin, "da flarp is dis? Why it gots a squid on it?"

The Stranger winced again, "just a moment," and began digging through the assortment of coins, wooden dowels, and polished rocks in his purse."

"Hey, you's gots a purse, too." 

"It's not a--!" Well, ok it was a purse, but not that kind. A Kleptogarti coin dropped on the counter, "keep the change." 

Then, quite softly, "ya filthy animal."

"What wazzat?"

"Nothin'."

The greaseball looked the coin over very carefully, before pocketing it. It took a grunt from the stranger to get him to hand back the first coin. 

"What kinda weirdos put squids on coins?" he said as he did.

"The same kind who put dead presidents on them," the Stranger tucked the coin away with a sigh. With that one coin, he could live like a king in a far-off place that didn't even have a name. But of course, he knew how a king lived all too well. The other kerb turned to the griddle, to the Stranger's surprise not instantly busting into flames as more great spattered him. In a few moments, he passed over a beat Styrofoam container.

A very loud declaration from the Stranger's stomach dissuaded him from any more banter. He took the container and trundled off a bit, steeling himself to the mess he expected inside. But much to his surprise, the food actually looked quite presentable, the eggs just perfectly runny and not a single yolk broken. The Stranger noted his bus again and walked that direction, looking forward to this local delicacy he'd oddly enough taken a liking to. A long bus ride to the port, then find passage on a ship, and then---

Wait, what?

Just as he approached the bus, he found the driver changing the sign.

"You're not going to Portston?" he asked.

"Sorry 'bout that," the bus driver said, "had the wrong sign up. The Portston bus is over there."

The Stranger followed his gaze and... "Oh, no!"

The other bus was just pulling off.

"No! Wait! No! Nononononononononononononono!" the Stranger took off after it at a full, pointless run, for a moment, after his fashion, musing on how Kerbals were not built for running, just before his feet came out from under him and he went splaying down in the sandy grit hard enough to send stars through his head.

For a while, days, weeks perhaps, he just lay there. Bloody hells. Bloody, bloody hells! This was a fine lot. And that was the last of his money. Of course, he knew how to get more, but that was a phone call he never wanted to make again. If this place even had a phone. Maybe he could just lay here forever until he turned to dust, that had a certain relaxing draw to it. But in the end, he pushed himself to his knees. His hash had spread itself out in a delicate fan pattern all in front of him, and the scrawny local pigeons were already feasting upon his misfortune. His stomach grumbled louder than ever, and he started wondering what one of those pigeons might taste like. Of course, he'd eaten far, far worse, and--

A hand appeared in front of his face.

"You all right there, m'friend? You took quite a spill."

"Ach, Ah'm fine," the Stranger said, pulling himself up on his own.

"Didn't quite stick the dismount but I'd give ya a 10 for form," the Newcomer smiled. The Stranger eyed him, expecting the usual sarcasm from these people, but... the fellow's face seemed quite genuine. "Where ya headed?" he asked casually.

The Stranger just stared at the bus, now a bare dot on the wavering horizon, "just... away..."

"Away, huh?" the Newcomer's eyes flicked down to the ravished hash, "Been there a time or two, myself. That's a long trip on an empty stomach, why don't ya let me buy you a burger?"

"What?" the Stranger's head darted back to him, "you? Why?"

A shrug, "you look hungry, and I like to live vicariously." He patted his own stomach, "Werner says I'm not going anywhere if I don't take off a few more kilos, but smells are still diet approved!" He gave the Stranger a wide grin.

And... oddly enough, the Stranger felt his own mouth trying to do the same, "wait, do Ah... Have Ah seen you somewhere before?"

A hint of color flashed on the other kerb's cheeks, one of which looked like it had a small burn on it, "probably. There was this... thing on the news a while back, and my face was up there for like three seconds. Now everybody seems to recognize me. Gets kinda awkward, sometimes," yet he smiled again.

"Thanks, but, um... Ah really should..."

"And hey, speaking of awkward questions," the Newcomer didn't seem awkward about it at all, "you looking for a job, by chance?"

"A... job?" the Stranger felt the paltry weight of useless chits in his... purse.

"Sure, we're always looking for more bodies. I'll be honest, room and board but the pay is crap and the scenery never changes," then he leaned in, and whispered conspiratorially, "but they let us use explosives." He gave a few sober nods.

"Explosives... ya say..." the Stranger could already feel his latent curiosity dragging itself form whatever hole it'd been shoved in the last few weeks.

"Yup, yup!" another bright smile. The fellow's face almost seem to shine in the bright tropical sun, "why don't we start with that burger and talk things over? Oh, I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name, mister, um..."

The Stranger felt a wide smile blooming across his own face, felt he could do nothing to stop it, and felt he didn't quite want to, either, "well, Ah've been called many a name in mah time, some of them a bit more unkind than others," he brushed a stray lock of bright red hair from his face, and held out his hand, "but mah friends call me Chadvey."

"Chadvey it is, then," the other one said, smiling brighter than ever as he shook his new friend's hand.

"You can call me... Jeb."

 


 

 

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It's canonical enough for me. Thanks @CatastrophicFailure - and @CSE of course!

Enquiring minds want to know where Chadvey stands on the question of haggis though, being as it's Burns night tonight. :) 

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6 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

A Kleptogarti coin dropped on the counter, "keep the change." 

Then, quite softly, "ya filthy animal.

An excellent quote from Home Alone. Prefect. 

 

6 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

"Sure, we're always looking for more bodies. I'll be honest, room and board but the pay is crap and the scenery never changes," then he leaned in, and whispered conspiratorially, "but they let us use explosives." He gave a few sober nods.

"Explosives... ya say..." the Stranger could already feel his latent curiosity dragging itself form whatever hole it'd been shoved in the last few weeks.

Explosives........Rockets mayhaps?

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On 1/25/2018 at 8:32 AM, Alpha 360 said:

Explosives........Rockets mayhaps?

Mayhaps. :wink:

On 1/25/2018 at 4:58 AM, KSK said:

Enquiring minds want to know where Chadvey stands on the question of haggis though, being as it's Burns night tonight. :) 

Oh, I’m sure that’s one of a great many meals he’s addressed... some of which likely addressed him back. :o

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"MMmmmmMMMM! Delicious. What is it?"

 

"Oh, just the heart lung and liver of a sheep boiled in it's own intestines."

 

"Oh,. Ulp. BLARF!"

 

 

 

 

Whenever I hear about Haggis I always think of Earthworm Jim (The Series) and the often (VERY Often) repeated gag. Sometimes there is too much of a good thing... but not that one :)

 

 

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"MMmmmmMMMM! Delicious. What is it?"

”Ah’ve found it best not to ask, lad; just smile, ask fer seconds, and keep a roll of antacids handy.”

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15 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:


"MMmmmmMMMM! Delicious. What is it?"

”Ah’ve found it best not to ask, lad; just smile, ask fer seconds, and keep a roll of antacids handy.”

Weirdest thing I ever closed my eyes and tried was Korean style squid... little ones, maybe 6 inch or so... super hot, like Kim-chi, but surprisingly yummy.

And being it was squid... I figured this wasn't entirely off-topic... lmao....  :rolleyes:

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7 hours ago, Patupi said:


"MMmmmmMMMM! Delicious. What is it?"
"Oh, just the heart lung and liver of a sheep boiled in it's own intestines."

Now, now. I'm fairly sure there's barley, oatmeal and spicing involved. The spicing in particular is really important - it helps mask the taste of heart, lung, liver and intestine. :) 

Although I shouldn't mock, being rather fond of haggis myself.

7 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:


"MMmmmmMMMM! Delicious. What is it?"

”Ah’ve found it best not to ask, lad; just smile, ask fer seconds, and keep a roll of antacids handy.”

Ahhh - you've been to Scotland then. :) That's sound advice. And now - back on topic...

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20 hours ago, KSK said:

Ahhh - you've been to Scotland then. :) That's sound advice. And now - back on topic...

I think I might have been, but I was far too young to remember it... or appreciate the local cuisine. :(

Actually on topic... the next topic is still maybe a week out. It’ll be a bit... different. And As always, progress is slow but... sporadic. Wish I could pump out words like the smidgen above on a regular basis. :rolleyes:

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Sooooooooooo...

next chapter would have been up last night if my cable comany hadn’t decided to make like it was the 1950’s. :huh: Will try again tonight.

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One night in Bangkong makes a hard man humble,
Not much between despair and ecstasy.
One night in Bangkong and the tough guys tumble,
Can't be too careful with your company.
I can feel the devil walking next to me. 



Chapter 16: One Night in Bangkong



Bangkong, Oriental setting. But the city doesn’t know what the city is getting. A sprawling metropolis at the tropical tip of the long Ponpín Peninsula, where fifty-five million souls live in a space that was cramped when it was only ten million. It a place of contrasts and contradictions, where one can never be sure if what one sees... is what one gets. Indeed, this very curiosity is what has drawn many of the denizens here. 

It is a place that was ancient even when the first Roamin’ legions arrived, already battered and bloodied from their long string of conquests. Yet the city welcomed them with open arms... and questing hands. Some time later they left it as they had found it, their wounds salved... and purses lightened, and so it remained the only independent city on the Great Tethys Sea. Centuries later, as the mighty Ussari Empire waxed and waned across the region, the city would rebuff the armies of Boris the Bloodaxe, the flirtations of Elizaveta the Chaste, and the tendrils of Ivaylo the Cabbage. 

Contrasts... and contradictions, where one hand reaches to the future, while the other braces in the past. It is a place of astounding wealth, and abject poverty, where cutting edge medicine shares the same clinics as traditional healers, and the patients are perhaps not whom one might expect. A place of ancient temples and massive data centers, of quiet libraries and thumping dance clubs, of martial arts... and chess tournaments. Yes, in this place can be found every imaginable delight and succor for the mind, the spirit, and the body. A little flesh, a little history. 

Centuries ago, a royal decree quite literally set the city’s boundaries in stone, to perhaps cease its growth, and yet grow it did. Ever higher the buildings stretched, until the physical city became as terraced and divided as its people. Rising from the center of the city, looking down on everyone else, is the realm of the elite and the powerful. Soaring crystal spires and ivory towers glory in the tropical sun, and curse the daily monsoon rains. Five hundred meters, a thousand, two thousand, each one straining to outdo the other... and yet each is bound to the other, surrounded in a nascent but ever-growing net of graphene and nanotube strands, each gaining strength from its neighbor against the unceasing threat of earthquakes. Zipping along these gossamer filaments are enclosed trams, interspersed with sleek VTOLs, moving the residents about in utter luxury, so that they need not sully themselves by descending to the streets below and mixing with the proletariat, for labor is ever beneath them. Even that glorious and life-giving sun is kept in check as the residents calmly stroll, if they so choose, down covered walkways and glassed-in corridors where the windows let in only just enough light. Occasionally, they may pass a bit of wall that briefly becomes a screen, where some figure of otherworldly beauty and grace might politely suggest this product or that may be of benefit to the honored client, or learnéd and composed correspondents may pass on the news of the day.

“The Prime Minister expresses his regret that the Honored President of Kleptogart will not be attending the upcoming summit of the Southern Free Trade Federation, and will, of course, extend every courtesy and hospitality to Vice President Kerman in his place. The Prime Minister understands that the Honored President must be with his people, if these troubling roomers of an infectious outbreak bear even a grain of truth. 

Below the dominating spires and graceful towers are buildings somewhat more stout, if only slightly less beautiful. Marble and glass are the architecture of choice, here, covering strong steel skeletons holding up the city above. The best locations get a few hours of brilliant sun a day, while the higher structures channel away the worst of the rains. Roads ring these buildings, passing between them on airy trestles made of ornate wrought iron or titanium mesh, while here and there near-silent electric kars slip past. This level is popular with tourists and expatriates, eager to experience the “real” Bangkong, or perhaps its dazzling nightlife, where enormous billboards and gigantic screens cover the entire sides of buildings. 

“Try all new1Tas-T-Mush™️, space-age superfood!2” urge fair, beauteous people so carefully rendered they nearly look real, or “Brain-O™️-brand brain cleaner, for those stubborn mental stains!3

1surplus.
2Not an actual food product, do not consume.
3For external use only.

Occasionally the ephemeral hawkers relent, giving the screens over to principled reporters, whose reports are, of course, free of any measure of bias or subjectivity, “shock and concern from the Prime Minister’s office today, when it was revealed that the President of Kleptogart would not be attending the G-12 Trade Summit after reports of a mystery illness in that country began to surface.” Or perhaps they pause as they go about their business (for their business is business, and business is good), “in financial news, national asteroid processing profits are up fifteen percent in the last quarter following the commissioning of three new gigaton-class retrieval tugs constructed by the Layland Wutani corporation. This expansion of the Royal Mandate has no doubt led to...”

They move about with their eyes cast ever skyward, for here ‘upward mobility’ is quite a literal term, when it is to be found. Never do their eyes dip down, toward the hazy smog of the place they’d all rather forget, for it is far too near. They would rather forget who washes their windows, cleans their streets, removes their trash and prepares their food, and all other work they see ever as beneath them. 

Below that ever-present layer of smog, glass and marble quickly give way to simple, solid concrete. These structures are stouter still, for like the people who live here, they must support everything above. Whining turbines and clattering pistons belch out noxious fumes from which the rest of the world has largely moved on, as trundles and tuk-tuks in every imaginable shade of rust putter back and forth on streets that appear as solid as the buildings. For a few lucky souls here, who live in just the right places, if the wind is just so to part the brownish clouds overhead, a glimpse of sun or a dash of Münlight may be had, if one knows where to look. 

And not many look at this place at all, making it a favored respite for those... who do not wish to be found. The lost and the seeking slink about in dark corners and shadowed alleyways, content with their humble level of comfort in this oft-forgotten place, for of course, it could be worse. Much worse. 

Festooning the sidewalks and alleyways are neon signs standing in stark negative to the dismal greyscale surroundings. They advertise wares and trades in dozens of languages, but always in simple words, for the laboring souls here do not have time to pause and stare. Yet as they bustle about, cobbled together radios in storefronts and high windows call down the events of the day, as irrelevant as it is in this hive of desperation. 

“The Prime Minister is patently insulted at the honorless foreign leader’s rejection of his invitation! Such a breech of sacred etiquette has not only offended His Excellency, but the Honored leaders of a dozen other neighbors across the region! Such a slight by this outlander dog will not go unanswered, and furthermore...”

Such things are expected to be known, it is only proper. Yet such things have no bearing on these beleaguered toilers. Life here is harsh, and often brief, yet like the dark shadows in the alleys and corners, the dwellers here rejoice for what comforts they do have. 

Yes, it could be much worse. 

For there is another layer to this place of layers, a realm where neither sun nor rain ever reach. Buzzing sodium lights cast it forever in pallid yellow; a haphazard conglomeration of tilting shacks, crumbling alleys, and piled stone that gives the impression that at any moment the entire blighted complex will collapse under the weight above... and yet this haunted place is, in every regard, the very foundation of the city itself. There are no screens here, no hawkers, no news of the higher world, for such things are as immaterial here as this place is to those above. Or at least, as those above would like to think it is. 

Everything is dirty, although there is no dirt. That lies lower still, in dark reaches even these lost souls fear to tread. There are no kars, or trundles, or even wagons. The spaces between the towering huts belong only to the sure of foot, and there are many, many feet here. They clog every alley and passage, moving back and forth going about the motions of utter insignificance. They pass by each other in an unbroken mass, their travel chaotic, like molecules in a liquid. Yet their surroundings belie efficiency; there are no collisions, no shoving, no cross words. To do so would be wasteful, as such action requires fuel, and fuel of every sort is a scarcity here. 

Yet they move on, insects in a hive, each one trivial and pointless. The whole is the beating heart of the city, pumping its lifesblood throughout the body, sustaining it. These are antibodies and corpuscles, each one without value, yet without them the body withers and dies. There are many words for them in as many languages as are spoken in the city, and always with a curse or a spit, for they all mean the same. 

Kowloon.

The Unseen.

One is passing now, as unremarkable as all the rest, making his way down another clogged, nameless lane. With one hand he reaches out, a gentle touch on the shoulder is all that is needed to move through the mass, such is only proper. He moves, and he touches, snaking his way to his destination clutching a dingy yellow Icefort™️ cooler. He moves, pausing every so often to cough into his hand. An uncovered cough in this breathless place would be a breach of protocol, such is only proper. He moves, his eyes perhaps a touch duller than all the others, his long, greasy hair shading the blotches on his face from the glow of the buzzing lamps, wearing a hungry, snaggletoothed smile.  

He floats to a dark side way, out of the crowd, and takes a moment to compose himself. He wipes at his grimy face with a grubby rag, the filth coming out even either way. Out of habit he looks up at the hanging sign over the door, although of course he cannot read. The carved outline of a fish is what he seeks. This one is called Khang, a common name in this place, which means... absolutely nothing. His grotesque smile creeping a spot wider, he opens the door...

...And immediately bows his face to the ground, “a thousand blessings upon you, O—“

“Khang!” the proprietor calls out from a counter across the small room, eyeing him suspiciously, “you look like crap.” And then, “wipe your feet.” This one is called... by a much longer name, which roughly means, ‘a thing proven useful if one needs fish,’ so for brevity’s sake, let us call him... Bob.

No, not that one. 

Bob the Fishmonger is an anomaly in this vast city, a specter, one who is able to move freely about the many facets and layers. His meager status never leaves him, and yet there must be some in this enormous place like him, and likely many, for someone must move commodities around. 

“A thousand apologies, O my Better,” Khang says, wiping his feet on the mat, which somehow come out dirtier, “honor and blessings upon you and upon your ancestors for dispensing such hospitality on one such as I. May your toenails be ever free of fungus!”

Bob lets out a belabored grunt, and rolls his bloodshot eyes. Then those eyes fall on the cooler Khang is carrying, and his face blooms into his own horrid smile, hungry for much different reasons, “what did you bring me?” 

“Delicacies, O corpulent one!” Khang practically squeals as he approaches, “indulgent delights unknown in this land!” He makes his way forward, kowtowing, past crooked shelves scattered with dented, rusty cans.

“Eh? Is that so?” Bob’s grotesque smile widens. 

“Yes, O odiferousness!” Khang proffers the cooler forward, plopping it on the grimy counter, “such rarities that have never been savored here, not even by your greatest Upward clients!”

Bob pulls the cooler close with both hands, nearly embracing it. Then he opens the lid... and his smile vanishes. 

“What’s this?” he reaches in and pokes at something, “what even are these?” he draws something floppy out, turning it over in the meager fluorescent light.

“Treasures from a far off land, O my Better! Flavors to excite the tongue and lift the spirit!”

Bob sniffs, recoils, “where did you get them?”

“From a trader, in the marker, O your nasalliness!”

“And where did he get them?”

“I did not ask, and he did not say.”

Bob pokes the thing again, “teeth. It has buck-teeth. What sort of fish has buck-teeth?”

“The better to garnish with, O unlaundered one!”

“And it has ears...”

“The better to glean your Most Honored clients’ secrets with, O your oleaginousness!”

“And this tail... what sort of thing even has a tail like this? It looks like vermin...”

“The better to, ah... brush one’s teeth with after the meal, O my Better!” Khang smiles a big smile, possibly not brushed in ever. 

Bob releases the... thing, then grimaces as it slowly slides from his hand with a loud schluck sound, plopping back into the cooler. He grimaces more at the blackish slime covering his hand, sniffs at it, then wipes it on his stained apron. 

“They look sick. I cannot sell these! It’s probably illegal for me to even have them. Do you have any idea what the Inspector would do if he caught me with these? Well, do you?”

Khang looks at Bob. 

Bob looks at Khang. 

A pile of coins patters onto the counter, “half your usual rate.”

Khang’s eyes and toothless grin swell for just an instant, he pauses... then he slams his face down onto the money in a quick bow, rattling the change. 

“A thousand apologies, O my Better,” he mumbles and coughs from the crusty surface, then his face comes up... and he appears to be swallowing something quite large and unpleasant, “for your most benevolent generosity, may the hair upon your chest be ever sweet smelling, and shame be upon me and my ancestors for stretching it, but I must ask that you bestow my full rate, for you see, my beloved wife has taken ill, and I must call the healer to her bedside.”

He adds, “also, one of the coins has clearly fallen on your side of the counter.”

Bob looks at Khang. 

Khang looks at Bob.

Bob rolls his red-rimmed eyes, “Khang, your wife is dead. You sold her death-shroud to the healer to pay your debt at the Red House.”

For a moment, Khang’s eyes dart back and forth, before his face slams down onto the coins again, rattling the shelf behind Bob. 

“Ten thousand apologies, O my Better!” he comes up struggling a bit harder to swallow, “for my spirit is much troubled, and it seems that in my haste, I have misspoken! You see, it is in fact my Honored mother who has taken ill, and if you do not grant me my full rate, I shall not be able to call the healer to her, and she will suffer greatly.” He adds a few coughs for emphasis. 

“Also, it would seem two more coins have fallen on your side of the counter.”

Bob looks at Khang. 

Khang looks at Bob. 

Bob rolls his tired eyes, “Khang, your mother is dead. You sold her hair to the healer to pay your fine after the Inspector caught you in the Red House.”

Nearly without delay Khang’s face once more slams down on the counter, making the coins jump and knocking something off a distant shelf with a metallic clatter. 

“A thousand, thousand apologies, O my Better!” Khang’s face comes up. For a long minute, his gullet just sort of... twitches, bouncing up and down until it finally drops away with a loud gulp, leaving him hacking and dry heaving, his face going rather green... Er. 

He presses on, “my spirit is much belabored, O grandiloquent one! Great is my distress in this, my time of tribulation, for once again I have misspoken! You see, it is my Most Esteemed grandmother is who is deathly ill, and unless you relinquish unto me my full fare so that I may call the healer to her side...” he leans in and blinks until tears drip down his cheeks, “surely she shall not live through the night!” He nods soberly. 

“Also, more coins have fallen on your side of the counter...”

Bob lets out a long sigh, and squeezes shut his own eyes, aching from all the rolling, “Khang... your grandmother is dead. You sold her toenail clippings to the healer to bribe the Inspector to let you into the Red House.”

Bob looks at Khang.

Khang looks at Bob. 

Bob looks at Khang.

Khang looks at Bob. 

More coins clatter to the countertop, “three quarters...”

Khang lets out a squeal, and greedily reaches for the money. 

Thock!

A fillet knife lodges into the wooden surface, its razor-sharp edge a bare hair’s breadth from the tender skin between his fingers. The squeal becomes a soft whine. 

Bob’s face stretches into a grin that makes Khang shrink back a step, “...and you will bring me more.”

“Yes, O splendiferous one!” Khang begins sweeping the coins into his pockets, flailing about and knocking many to the floor, “of course, O most piscatory culinarian!” he gathers them up, backing away, his long greasy hair trailing on the floor... possibly the first sweeping it’s had in, well, ever, “blessings upon you, O my Better! May the bunions on your feet be ever cushioned! May that growth upon your chin grow no more hairs!” As he kowtows out, passing the shelves, here and there there is a whoosh, and a dented, rusting can disappears, “may the flakes of your scalp be never as the snows atop sacred Mt. Wanahakalugi! May the boil upon your posterior not drain in the night! And may that most unfortunate rash clear up with all haste!” Khang’s own posterior, which needs no descriptor, reaches the door, and he turns to leave when—

“Khang!”

He looks back, confused at the breach of protocol. 

Ting.

A single coin tumbles through the air, seemingly in slow motion. Khang reaches out and catches it with both hands, his face a mask of unbridled joy. 

“Go and see the healer. You look... unwell. Can’t have you dying on me before you deliver.”

“Thank you, O supercilious one!” he bleats, “may the blowflies pass over you in the night without pause, and may you not live in interesting times!” The door creaks, and he is gone. 

May you not live in interesting times.

To declare otherwise is a curse so vile it burns bridges and kicks down doors. 

In this crowded, polluted, stinking town, times were about to become... most interesting, indeed. 
 

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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