Fallsday, 11 Photus

Earned 13 / Spent 8

Savings 14,816

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I was carrying around a dead anteater in a bag all yesterday.  You wouldn’t know it but them smaller ones hardly weigh a thing.  Course, I didn’t know that’s what it was when I picked it up from Ochre, just a soft lump in a sack then, not smelling at all.

Ochre was still building his shop front when I got the message, and ran up to pick up the package I was told he wanted delivering.  He’s a good guy is Ochre, and I know he’s got a lot to be proud of.  He’s the only Sunnu I heard of made his way over here, and is a few days away from opening up the very first halal eatery in Kernel.  I don’t care much either way, but I know good business when I see it.  Might not be any of those other fellows up here yet, but Ochre won’t be the only one now that things are settling down a bit.

I ran on the spot there watching him hammer away.  He’s a big lad.  His back was sweaty with his hard work.  I admire that.  Gentle giants are one in a million here, and he’s the best example of one I ever saw.  Shaven head, neat little beard, built like a laughing Buddha.

When he saw me he gave me this look, like why don’t you ever stand still?  He doesn’t know much about the competition here for my kind of work, how every courier has to literally run circles around the other to get the best jobs.  You want to keep the business you got to stay fit as a fiddle, or else someone younger and faster will steal your seeds right out from the customer’s hand.

Nearly finished, Ochre? I said, and he said Yeah yeah buddy, not long now, just gotta do this and that and he went on about what he’s got left to do.  Eventually he got around to the job and gave me this sack, explained it’s for someone called Master Miu at the Den.

I don’t go to the Den, I said, and he gave me this sad face like why are you giving me this shit on a Bloomsday? as if I’m spoiling the beauty of the morning.  He said, it’s only a little thing, so I took the sack, thinking it’s maybe some of his special halal plantflesh, and ran it up the thoroughfare towards the Den.

One of the things that bothers me about Kernel is that it’s all so new, just like Ochre’s eatery.  There’s no history to the place; it’s a frontier town, still putting itself together out of the wreckage of the Displacement, rising in blocks and jags out of the Veldt.  It’s too fresh and new, as though it was made up yesterday.  Of course there’s a vibrancy to the town, which is better than the deadness of the place that we left, and the political stagnancy of the cities across the continent like Metrodon, where Foist is.

And even though I hate where I came from, and don’t care for where I am, and have no warm feelings for where I want to go, I still take Ochre’s job.  If I don’t get what few seeds I can, here and there, then I’ll never be able to pay for a ticket to Metrodon and Foist.  I’ll take anything they want to give me to any place they care to name.

The Den is a crazy little place on the edge of the line, where the old railroad got ripped up after the first pioneers.  It’s pressed up against Forest, which gives me the creeps, but that’s probably why they like it: the worst of the wilderness rising up behind them like a cliff of boughs and tangled bracken, impossibly huge, breathing with every mad breath they take.  It made sense that the settlers set up this imaginary district and called it a haven for the eccentric: now all the crackpots and troublemakers congregate in their little ramshackle arrondissement instead of getting underfoot in Kernel proper.  Frontier towns attract loonies like pitcher plants attract bluebottles.

I got to the boundary, picked out by rickety fences made from old vegesaur teeth.  You can almost feel the compressed lunacy in the air.  Stepping across the boundary is like pushing through a giant bubble, where normality has its own membrane to keep this kind of craziness out.  Once behind the tooth-fence I felt a little better.  There’s always relief when you give yourself in to madness.

I looked out at the multi-tiered district.  It’s piled against the massive roots of Forest.  Most of the houses and wooden shacks go up and down along the uneven ground, like they’re built on frozen waves.  Walkways and rope bridges droop from one pointed rooftop to another, crossing ladders and a clattering paternoster.  There are signs pointing in most directions, some contradicting another, some pointing into Forest as though any human being’s been in there since the Displacement.  Eventually I saw a pointed placard marked MIU! and followed its lead up a long wooden walkway that wobbled with each step.

There was only one place I get enter from the end of the walkway so I pushed through the bead curtains and looked around.  If it was a house it wasn’t big enough.  There was only this single pokey room practically bursting with guys, most taller and fatter than me, dressed in hempweave robes.

I said Hello and the man in the middle, the only one wearing black, coughed into his hand and didn’t said a word.  I said How’s it going, I’m lookin for Master Miu, and the guy opened his mouth and said Do not address this Tom, address me.  The Tom is just my mouthpiece.

And next to the guy, pretty small so as I hadn’t really noticed, there was this small cat curled up into a wheel on a cushion.  It got up, stetched so its claws popped out and tail curled up and down like a crook, and yawned and yawned.  Then it sat up neatly and looked at me intently.

I said, I’m sorry? and the cat just looked at me.  The man in the black robe wiped his lips and said Not everyone knows that they shouldn’t talk to the Tom, but that they should address me.  But the Tom speaks on my behalf with his voice.  You are forgiven for the mistake, son.  What can I do for you?

The cat? I think and yes, he’s a cat.  I look at the cat and said You’re Master Miu then? and the man said Yes.

Oh, I said, well, I have a delivery for you.  And I went to give the man the sack, but corrected myself and offered it to the cat, who said, through the man, Please open it.

I opened the sack.  There was a dead anteater in it.  I said Oh.  The cat lifted its nose and sniffed, narrowing his green eyes.  The man in black said Yes, I see what he meant.

It turned out that Ochre had already written to Master Miu about the anteater and this was just a follow-up package.  The cat seemed to know what it was doing.  As a sinuous drip of black and white fur, it arrived at the anteater’s cold matt nose.  The cat rubbed its cheek against the dead thing’s portly stomach and hairy legs.  I swear I saw a spark of electricty fizzle between the two animals.

Hmm, said the man. No, nothing doing.  He’ll have to stay dead.  You can take it back now.

Take it back? I said, still holding this lifeless thing in my hands.

The man nodded, said, Please tell Mister Ochre that I tried.  Or maybe I could pursuade you to leave it here?  A price?  You could tell your client that I recommended he burnt it.

The cat licked its lips.  The thought of anyone, even a cat and its mad owner, eating another creature’s meatflesh made me feel ill.  This was a sort of wrong I couldn’t stomach – as though plantflesh wasn’t enough!

In the end, I took the dead anteater back.

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I hung about in the Den for the afternoon, watching its demented inhabitants scurry about like bugs, up and down the ladders, sachaying across the walkways above.

About halfway after noon I looked out through the wide, glittering panes of a huge conservatory and saw well over a hundred red balloons shoot up into the air.  Each one had a white message tied to it, and they waggled like feathers as they rose up and up over the township.

The cat came and sat next to me on the decking.  I said, What do you suppose that’s all about?

I don’t know, he said.

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That was yesterday.  Not much happened today at all.