“Move 2 degrees to your right… half a degree down. Do you see it?”
The sights adjusted slightly, the dark autumn eye of the gunman focusing in on their target, the glow of the dim yellow ring around their iris almost shutting down as they zoomed into the corner of an e-advert.
The rifle let out a soft fwip while the gunman was pushed back a few centimeters. The bullet cut through the air, zipping passed ears, tearing a hole through thin robes that hung on clotheslines between apartments, chipping off the concrete to some of them, before making its mark in the corner of the advertisement.
The add flickered slightly, the green lighting bringing the face of someone with an enormous sum of a reward underneath.
Colored ads would have shown the figure to be short in height, not even quite five feet even, dark-skinned, with dark eyes with green circles and red hair.
“Fried,” the shooter said, pressing a button on their rifle, the ad sending out a shower of sparks, passersby moving out of the way of a potential fire; ads were known to randomly spark.
The yellow light turned up in brightness in their eyes, the purples of the iris clashing with bright to make it seem like their eyes were almost a fire. A scar ran down their left cheek, a dirty gauze on their right, sweat from the heat (and nervousness, truthfully) and humidity of Electric Bay ran down their brown face as they turned to look up at their teacher.
“Did I do better this time?” they asked, slowly standing up and dusting off their front, a thin, red tank top, and light, black cotton pants that cuffed at the ankle. They dusted off the tops of their black hi-tops, taking the worn-out leather jacket from the teacher.
Green circles from the shadows from a dark red hood darted back and forth, up and down their student’s body before a small smirk played across their dark brown face.
“About as well as a clumsy handjob this time,” they teased, laughing when their friend punched them in the arm. “I don’t know what, what do you want me to say!? Fuck.”
The firey eyed friend rolled their eyes, squatting down and taking apart their rifle, opening up their backpack and putting the parts in their designated slots.
“You told me just now with PINPOINT ACCURACY, where a god damn corner of an ad with your face on it is, sorry if I keep assuming that you know to read people’s bodies and notice small changes,” they grumbled loudly. The hooded friend’s smirk changed into an embarrassed frown.
“If you’re trying to figure out something about your aim, I can’t help you there, T’Rax, you know that. My aim isn’t even perfect.”
“But you JUST–”
“I keep tryna tell you, Rax, that I am an abomination between humankind. This is just who I am. I’m not some beep boop ass–”
“Will you both keep it down!?” someone yelled at them. The hooded one rolled their eyes and turned away, the cape behind them flapping.
“Don’t walk away from me like some villain,” T’Rax hissed, stomping after them, swinging their backpack over their shoulder.
They scaled down the ladders of one of the taller apartments, the dust, and salt kicked up as they jumped down a few feet from the ground, their footprints back in step with normal foot traffic. They walked down the empty alleys, zig-zagging their way through and back into the busy streets of Electric Bay.
Neon lights sprinkled the buildings like powdered sugar on a beignet. From food to dancers, from drinks to games, from music to plays, bodies moved throughout the street like a lazy river; smooth and unintrusive. The smells that ran through the swell of bodies were heavy and thick, sweet yet sour, and yet strangely appealing.
The train above the crowd moved north to south, coming and going from the Gentle Glance mountains, their shadows peeking up against the light pollution. The train only had two tracks and it took 8 days and 9 nights to get to the mountains. It blew its horn to alert passengers that they had one hour to get back lest they wanted to wait another 10 days and 11 nights before the train came back.
A stilt-walker passed by T’rax and their hooded friend, contorting their body, almost stretching their toro, to bend down to a small child behind them. An old woman was passing out deep-fried eel for one bronze coin. T’rax gave her a silver coin plus 20 bronze ones and took them all. They watched a man in a tall hat pull a live snake from it after putting in a rabbit.
“Hoy! T’Rax!” Someone called out. They blinked, taking a pause at eating their 8th eel, looking around for the voice. The hooded friend looked around as well then nodded their head toward a noodle stand, a squat, egg-shaped man with puffy cheeks and a bald spot flailing at them. They hurried over, looking over the boiling broths and noodles and at the man. He smiled at them and made each of them a bowl of noodles.
“Dendarion is in the back. Please bring these to him,” he said, grinning. T’rax nodded, taking the bowls and walking passed his stand and behind a heavy curtain, behind a heavy door, into a cool, air-conditioned hallway. T’rax sighed happily, shuddering at the air.
“Oh, that feels so good,” they groaned. Their hooded friend shrugged.
“Wouldn’t know. My “blood” regulates my temperature to 98.6 from 150 to -48, regardless.”
“…-48 is oddly specific.”
“That’s as far as I sank before I blacked out.”
They walked through another door, stepping into a tacky living room with brown carpet, brown wallpaper with pink flowers and a white ceiling with that ugly crunchy looking shit on it. T’rax and their friend shuddered at the decor of blue couches and stuffed deer heads on the wall.
“Yo, where the fuck has Dendarion sent us this time?” T’rax asked quietly. A tall man stepped out from another door, the clatter of kitchen noises slipped through.
“You here for Darion?” he grunted at them. They nodded. “Follow me,” he ordered, motioning with his head. “You got his soups? Good. AYE, JONI, BRING RATFACE,” he called out as they walked through the kitchen that was rather large and packed with bodies and uncooked food.
“Man, I done told you to stop calling me that!”
“I will when you stop looking like a rat-faced bitch, ugly ass.” T’Rax, their friend, Joni, and Ratface each held a bowl of noodles. The man from the door looked at T’rax and their friend.
“You give your bowls to the two suited jackals on the side by the windows. Join and Ratfink are gonna give theirs to the panthers by the head of the table. Dendarion will do the rest.” He led them out of the kitchen and out of a door. T’rax peeked through another as they passed by another door, seeing restaurant-goers eating noodles, fried fish and other street food eats in a standing room only eatery. They went up a flight of stairs and hung a left, the ugly interior from before a new modern and clean off-beige and white carpeting. The man opened the door and nodded them in. Joni and Ratface went to their two and T’rax and their friend went to theirs, a pair of twins with pointed faces and squinty eyes, like a jackal. They placed their almost cold noodles in front of them and stood in the back of the room as Ratface and Joni left at the man from before’s urgency.
A window facing Electric Bay, the actual water, lazily moved against the purple sands, the lights of millions upon millions of eels moving around the water. It was unsafe for humans, cyborg and android alike to enter the waters, regardless of the season. The dark water would have melted in with the sky if the eels weren’t in it.
“Sir, do you think that is unreasonable?” one of the panther people asked, their wide faces and wide eyes watching a tall, striking man stand in front of the window, watching the waves crawl into shore before crawling back. He slowly turned on a polished heel, eyelashes, and eyeliner making his brown face look like the patient scowl of a cheetah. He held his chin with his thumb and forefinger, pure grey eyes staring into the pather-looking person’s.
“Making sure your people have food, shelter and healthcare isn’t unreasonable. What are you saying, Sister Chairman?”
“I’m just saying that… Well…”
“Mm, it’s Marl, isn’t it?”
Sister Chairman let out an exasperated a sigh. The one by the window smiled and walked over to Sister Chairman, placing his long, manicured hand on her shoulder. She seemed to relax.
“Eat your food before it gets cold,” he said. “I have to discuss something with my board members. Excuse me.” He stepped away from the table and headed to the back of the room toward T’rax and their friend, smiling.
“It’s so weird seeing you work as a politician,” T’rax said. “It’s kind of scary.”
“You don’t even know the half of it. Just watch,” he said, grinning even more.
The panther people started to choke and cough on their food while the jackal people watched in horror. Their faces turned a shade of pink before reverting back to normal. Dendarion stood between the panther people and wrapped his arms around them, squeezing them tightly.
“Who is Marl’s command in Electric Bay?” he asked, standing up roughly, making them clunk their heads together. He pinched his chin again, looking down at them in disgust.
“The Jester and Siren’s Widow,” they said in unison, their eyes boring into the jackal people, who were stiff in their seats, their breathing becoming ragged and shallow.
“Where are they now?”
“Outside of the city gates, passed the Soggy Roar.”
“Medium during the day, skeleton crew at night.”
“Do they serve food?”
“Tragic.” He snapped his fingers. The man from before entered the room.
“Clean up their bodies. Make it newsworthy,” he said, waving his hand.
As the man had other people out the four bodies, Dendarion was pouring himself a glass of bourbon over a large ice cube.
He sat at the head of the table, taking a small, slow sip of his drink. T’rax and their friend sat at either side. It was the first time they had seen Dendarion work. He looked at the hooded figure, swirling his drink with one hand.
“Aren’t you warm outside in that cloak thing of yours?” he asked, his perfect face frowning.
“No, my bl–”
Dendarion waved his hand and scoffed. “A simple yes or no would have done enough, abomination.”
“Wow, hey, Den, that was uncalled for.”
“Oh? This thing that has the wires of an android, not even a cyborg!, and yet still has a beating heart!? What else am I supposed to call this child of Marl?”
“That is not true!” The hooded person called out, the green of their eyes shining brightly. Dendarion smirked and took a sip of his drink.
“No other person or ‘droid has green wiring like you besides Marl. And I know about your little shooting games in the alleyways. Been here for a month and the city has spent so much replacing them. Had to start having the police beat up old ladies so they could pay the fines to replace your signs.”
“WHAT!?” T’rax called out, standing up and tossing his chair back.
“Relax, I would never. But Sister Chairman would, though. That’s why she’s gone and I am here,” he said, taking one more sip. “And those other two were just as terrible. My associates at Horace’s Bay are one the way to collect their things so they can move up to taking that position just as I have down here. That way this… thing, can continue hiding,” he said, looking the hooded figure up and down in disgust once more. They snarled, pulling the hood back, dark brown eyes with green circles shot daggers at Dendarion, who just stared back like a bored house cat.
“My name is Izirho and you will address me as such, you dry sandworm!”
Dendarion gasped, placing his free hand on his chest.
“I moisturize, thank you!” he cried out, almost in tears.
Izirho’s eyes crossed in frustration. T’rax sighed.
“We get it, you’re a purist, but that doesn’t help the fact that Marl will stop at nothing to find Rho and turn all humans into beep bop husks.”
“Well it has been almost 25 years, I’m sure Marl hasn’t thought about his seed in 23.9 of them. It’s a surprise he hasn’t found you sooner. Being that no one can survive the Bay’s water, yet here you are. Alive. Having survived the Bay’s water.”
“You talk to me as if I’m not even here,” Izirho hissed at Dendarion.
“I wish you weren’t, truly. But seeing as you are here now, I will have to deal. If I was against my personal moral code, I would have turned you into Marl as soon as you washed up on shore ten years ago. After all, who could pass up 900 billion gold coins? Me, a bigot with bigoted morals.”
It took 25 years to find the Queen’s Ice. Worker droids worked day and night to remove the frozen woman from the rock it had settled into at the bottom of the trench 100,000 leagues down. When one ice finger was cut free, another would spring someplace else, digging into the rock, resisting being pulled away. It was another month before the Ice rose to the surface with the bots, the ice crawling into the circuitry of the bots, rending replacement after replacement unusable.
Marl stood on his ship, looking down at the land he slowly conquering. He liked to stare at the snowy caps of the Drowning Reach, thinking that’s what he would look like if he was an old human; ancient but strong, covered in white from centuries of wisdom. Well, several millennia at this point in Marl’s life. He had sat with many an old man in his years in these lands. He listened to how they talked about their bones creaked and ached, how their body stopped working in the bedroom, how their hair fell out. Marl turned away from his conquest, his cream-white android skin with gold trimming bounced sunlight off his body as he headed to the laboratory where the Queen’s Ice stayed.
It sat in a clear goo that was able to keep the frozen fingers from clinging to the glass that encased it and shattering. Marl stared at the woman inside. Her eyes were closed, her dark red hair spread out behind her like a bloody sunset. Her hands were clasped together tight against her chest. Marl’s facial interface smiled, reaching up and touching the area where her face would be on the glass.
“Our child will save us both,” he whispered.