Something that looked an awful lot like an unkempt Citizen sat in a broken structure in the ruins surrounding New Prosity. It sat cross legged and straight backed and had before it a black rectangle that possessed the same dimensions as a briefcase. This rectangle looked cleaner and newer than anything within miles. On this black rectangle was a white letter Z, embossed boldly on its large surface.
There was a stillness inside of the ruin that was tied down by beams of sunlight that were strung through various holes in the roof and were anchored to the ground by silence. The figure sat perfectly still and the box did not move.
District 5 was a place of aggression and violence and the kind of folk who would mug you, but more for the fun of punching you in the face and kicking your soft stomach than for any other kind of gain. There wasn’t much they could gain by mugging some random bloke on the street.
We had everything we need in New Prosity. Food was grown in large warehouses, tended to mostly by Citizens. Warmth and shelter was available and enticing. Clothing was spun by Citizens, healing even was done by Citizens. Entertainment was likewise provided.
Even still, the Guests of New Prosity brought with them the idea that there was more that they needed. Something that New Prosity couldn’t provide of itself. In District 5, entertainment was provided around the clock. District 5 was entertainment, more than anything else. The Arena pitted Citizens against Citizens in complicated and destructive battles. Crowds cheered as bot crushed bot.
Mostly the Citizens that fought in the Arena were built for it, obviously equipped for battle and entertainment. There were, however, occasions where Citizens of other purposes were pitted against other ill-prepared Citizens, and where those same Citizens would have to fend for themselves against the mechanical deathbringers whose purpose was the Arena.
Then there were the Guest fights. People fought each other for the pleasure of others, and I’m sure for pleasures of their own. They also fought Citizens, though. In District 5 the tension between the Guests and the Citizens was visible, where in all other districts it was well covered. In District 5 this tension turned a profit. District 5 was almost as profitable a district to frequent as 2. You’d think that, with everything provided, money wouldn’t have been an issue, but you’d be wrong. Guests are as thirsty for Currents as people have ever been.
“Oather Simmons… Hmm. Name rings a bell. My memory isn’t as good as it used to be though. I can’t even remember the last time some kind soul bestowed upon me any sum of Currents.” The man my inquiries landed me with was old, but was said to have a firm grip on the Guest fighters and their capabilities. Apparently he sold information.
I produced ten Currents from the folds of my jacket. On principle, I didn’t agree with Currents. New Prosity provided everything a body needed, we shouldn’t have had any sort of currency. In practice though, I found it nearly impossible to get anything worthwhile done without a couple Currents to grease the wheels and pepper the beaks.
“Come to think of it, I can remember the last time someone gave me ten currents. Twenty Currents though, now that’s something that truly evades me.”
“You know, everyone knows you sell information. You don’t gotta be so gamn dodgy about it. It’s not like a Citizen’s gunna throw you away for tellin’ someone if Joe Blow’s got a busted ankle or is nearsighted in his left eye.” I yielded another ten Currents. “Just doesn’t seem practical, all this ‘Oh, me? No I’m not selling information, we’re just having a nice chat, and you decided to give poor ol’ Yentz a coupla Currents, which we negotiate in an elaborate dance around the bush.’ You should really just state your price outright. It’d make things easier.”
“Hrmph,” Yentz hrmphed. “It’s just my way of havin’ a little fun. Plus, combatants don’t take to kindly to an old man who sells their heels for a quick buck. Now, if we’re just talkin’ as good buddies, and I happen to bring up something about a game I saw the other day, and how Mr. Blow was caught completely off guard by Baaron Kill, when he shouldn’t have because it was fairly obvious from my vantage point that Blow should have been able to see him down the corridor, well then that’s just talk about the game, right? How’d you know about Rodrick’s ankle, by the way?”
“I paid attention, or I heard a thing. It doesn’t matter. I could care less about any of that right now, I’m looking for non-data on Oather.”
“I don’t care much for stats. I’ve got a feeling Oather was up to something and involved with someone, and I’d like to know what it was and who it was with.”
“Oy, I shoulda asked for more than twenty. Data’s one thing...”
“Maybe if your terms of engagement were a tad less shifty, you’da know what I was looking for. What do you know? Non-data.”
“Well, he’s dead for starters.”
“Knew that. Why do you think I’m here?”
“Well, you didn’t say. What else do you know about him, so I don’t waste my breath.”
“I’m not here to let you onto anything you don’t already know. I know data and that he’s dead.”
“Well, he participated in a good deal of the unsanctioneds. Good fighter, he was. Not many people came askin’ about him though. There was a shady fella from 6, I think, who came askin’ about him earlier. Mostly curious about his whereabouts. Told him that he was dead. Near certain that man was his patron, but I’d only seen him at Oather’s fights. Don’t have any confirmation on the connection. Oather was a beast against Guests, but you could see a true thirst for violence when he fought Citizens.”
“He ever one on one an Arena made?”
“He did. Won too. Sure couldn’t beat his size, stupidity, and rage around machines. Seems like he was done in with a gun, poor sap. Fight all his life with fists and honorables to be put down with a gun in an alleyway. Died in 2, by the way.”
I just nodded, hoping he would continue.
“Aside from that he seemed a simple guy. Liked to punch things and spend his winnings on women from 6. As far as I know he didn’t have any real friends. The fighters all get along in a cutthroat brotherhood kind of way, but he was alone often. Most of them are. I think it’s ‘cause they know one day they might be smashing the eyes out of the person their drinking with.”
“Know if he frequented any particular house in 6?”
“I might.” Yentz extended his hand, palm up.
I took it in my right and squeezed. “Mighty fine of you to tell me then,” I said through clenched teeth. I waited for him to profess pain audibly before I let go.
“Alright, fine. Slane’s.” He hunched over his hand and rubbed it. “Now go away.”
My goal was the man who was askin’ about Oather earlier, but if I couldn’t find him, a cat would do. They might not have had as wide a range of information as someone like Yentz, or any 2 worth his salt, and definitely not like any of the Brown Leaf, but the information they did have was intimate. Often it was valuable.
It was midday in 5 by the time I crossed the border and midnight in 6. It was always dark in 6. Roaches and light and all that, I guess. If I had files, and someone downloaded them, they’d find I used to frequent that district. My early days of question asking dragged me into 6 all too often. The majority of my clients were Guests of 6 who were claiming to have been wronged. They were, of course, usually wronged. Unfortunately, they were also usually wronging someone else, generally the person that they had me after.
I’d find out, and I’d get after them just as much as the person they had me after. Sometimes instead of the person they had me after. Eventually it was made clear that justice couldn’t be bought or sold by anyone other than Truth herself. Or something like that anyway.
I still spent a good chunk of my time skulking about the dark district, but it was far less often for someone from the district. Come to think of it, most of the skulking I did ‘round that time was self directed skulk. Clients were fickle, often adding more to the equation than was really there. The forest is already difficult to navigate, I don’t need fog.
I knew the place fairly well. Staying where it was lit was the goal if you were just passing through, or simply trying to keep from trouble. But the darkness held secrets, and of those I am a merchant. So I got good at walking through those back alleys. I generally knew when to take a roof or two, and when to detour a good distance ‘cause of sheer numbers and my not carryin’ a gun and on account of certain people knowing me and not liking me very much. Couldn’t say why. I was quite the charmer.
I got by safely, only having to turn down one fine goods peddler with my boot.
Slane’s wasn’t a large tower, like a good deal of the buildings in New Prosity. The structure struck me as odd. New Prosity was, for the most part, very conservative with the space it had to offer. Slane’s was only three stories high and maybe four rooms wide. The depth of it though, was impressive.
I peered down the side of the building, looking for a door, or a window I could sneak in through. There were windows a plenty, and a couple cracked ones with cathouse noises spilling out like a woman dumping out old wash water. They crashed and echoed against the walls and the stained ground with I-don’t-know-what. There was a door, not too far down, but the alley lights flickered, and I changed my mind. The front door would do just fine. I wiped my hands on my pants and knocked twice.