Blue Lines. An incomplete novel.
Earth, 524 P.S.
Tell me about Bay City.
Not much to tell. Place is a bombed out shell. Industrial wasteland, immigration sob story. Why, sir?
Who lives there?
Citizens...Portuguese and Italo-African, dark-skinned for the most part. Small Caucasian population. First language English Standard, same as us, plus a large helping of Portuguese, NA standard, a smattering of whatever Italian anyone can remember. Spanish isn't spoken. Last overthrown in 266 by the Swiss, who hauled ass home as soon as they could refuel their ships.
The Swiss got themselves nuked into oblivion a century ago. Who owns the damn place now?
Um. I guess...they do?
The air shaft was cramped and dark, with aluminum-tube access shafts to different floors and rooms leading off to each side. It was completely disused -- all air shafts were, since osmosis filtration was now not only cheap but mandatory for all nonresidential buildings -- and the maintenance hatch had simply been left unlocked. There was even a flap gouged out of the side where they could see the entire dance floor underneath their feet. It was a good find. Cutter had probably noticed the shaft weeks ago and planned this whole thing from the start. That was why Cutter was a good boss. He was smart.
The Cutters sat in a circle around their boss as he tossed a ball bearing from palm to palm, fixing his gang with a steely stare. At thirteen, he was the oldest, which automatically made him boss. That was how it worked, even in a family as odd as theirs, and it had worked as long as any of them could remember. Junk-hop floated up from the club below, just loud enough to force the older boy's voice above a whisper. "This," he hissed, "is a mag conker from the fort. Sério."
"Looks like any old riot shot to me," muttered the boy they called Bit. "Pick it up off the street, any old day."
"Fuori dalle palle!" Cutter bit back, in clipped Italian.
"Like he could reach," muttered Alemão.
"Che schifo!" Macaquinha interjected, wrinkling her nose at the offending phrase and setting off fresh waves of bickering.
As if oblivious, Cutter continued to palm the bearing. The little steel ball had become a blurry cloud in his cupped hands.
"Prestar atenção a isto...." he whispered.
Instantly, they were attentive. His palms flattened abruptly into a paddle shape, and he pushed hard, sending the little ball flying into the center of the group. They all ducked, reflexively, as it zipped past them and dived into the access shaft directly behind. Cutter grinned at their startled faces and beckoned them over to the makeshift vent into the club. They scrambled, jockeying for a look. It was hard to see at first, and yet once seen, it was unmistakable: a line of destruction was carving its way though the Vake-addled crowd below. Glasses splintered on the steel bartop, light fixtures swung, and partygoers yelped and gaped at each other with stares accusing and fearful as the conker ricocheted hyperkinetically off of every metal surface it could find. "Si stanno cagando sotto!" Macaquinha cried, all aversion to obscenity having vanished in the excitement. It took nearly three minutes of utter chaos before the ball finally embedded itself in the ceiling, barely three feet from their vent. There were low whistles all around. Even for one of the boss' games, that had been good.
It was evening by the time they found their way to their home, a hollowed-out hovel of crates and boards by the old light rail transit station, south of the Old Bay. It was all Bay City, around the bay, but most of the people living south had packed up years ago. The Cutter gang didn't know or care much why, as the houses were too far gone to make good scavenging and the territory was too crowded with grownups to be safe. Most of the street kids spent their entire lives in Old Town, scavenging from the gringos and capiras who passed through. There was a massive encampment to the north of the city, only accessible over a ruined landbridge. It was a slum of its own making, and the Cutters prided themselves on staying away from the insanity of the place. In conversation once, Alemão called the other kids "Los Turmas Loucas," "The Crazy Gangs," and from there it was shortened to "Los Tuloucas," and finally just "Tucas." From there, it wasn't long until little Macaquinha made a Cutter flag to fly over their little encampment. The design was a roughly drawn scythe chopping through an apple, crafted with discarded toner cartridge ink and a dirty white rag. If the Cutter flag was crude, however, cruder still was the symbolic sign she made for the Tucas a few weeks later. Alemão made her walk a long way north from the camp before she was allowed to hang it up on a signpost, and it had disappeared by the next morning.
Macaquinha tottered over to her brother and curled up next to his feet. Quin had been seven when their foster parents were killed. They had celebrated her eighth birthday in the rain, alone, as brother and sister. If pressed, even Cutter would admit that he had neglected Macaquinha lately. Alemão kept her safe during the day, and Bit kept her amused. And I keep her fed, he reminded himself. Yes, he thought. We are all protecting Quin. He squatted cross-legged in front of her, ruffled her hair with calloused fingertips. Cutter leaned in a little and whispered, "Occhio scuro e capelli biondi...e' il piu' bello del mondo." Blond hair and dark eyes, the most beautiful in the world, a phrase their madre adoptiva had thrown sarcastically in their faces on occasion, usually in a rare phase between drink and sobriety. It was true that Cutter and Quin were two rare spots of pale gold in a sea of dark brown. After they were orphaned, the little insult became somehow important, a little badge of stupid pride. And it's true, Cutter knew. We're different. On a whim, he whispered this last thought to his sister, ruffling her matted blond hair. "I know," she giggled. Then, with understanding: "And you know."
"Different," Cutter murmured back.