Shin’s age-lined backside led Nathan through the shadowed dark of Ware Tech and to the entry. It paused, expectantly, till Nathan activated the door, then marched a bit floppily out into the dimly-lit city.
Nathan found himself as much at a loss for words as Choms had been, though for different reasons. Shin waited, his mouth twitching to keep a serious expression. Nathan was certain Shin could keep that smile fully at bay, since he knew Shin had studied facial forms and theatrics in Midpath Studies. Such subjects were discontinued shortly after Nathan moved on to Advancement; his father’s philistine views were shared by most.
“So….” his train of thought died as Shin turned his bemused, smug expression to face his friend. Nathan couldn’t resist; pent-up laughter burst out and shocked the silent air. Shin bent over, leaning forearms on thighs, as he joined in.
Only half a moment passed, and then they sobered to reality. Wiping at his eyes, Nathan said, “How you gonna get home, eunie?”
Shin sniffed. “I’m clearly not a eunie.” He straightened his posture, standing boldly erect in order to prove his claims; added, “In terms of getting back, I am not sure.” He deflated somewhat back to his usual stance and his smile became rueful. “I only have till midmeal before deactivation, too.”
The door behind them opened to low-voiced chatter, quickly stopped once the speakers saw Shin. The rest of their work shift were exiting; Nathan recognized a few of the men.
“Hey, Shin,” Lizard said, coming forward and slapping a hand on Shin’s naked shoulder. Shin flinched at the impact. “How’s the air?” Lizard laughed in a commiserating way, joined by one or two others. He dropped his hand and set it on his own waist.
“Quite a show back there with Chomsy,” a burly youth said. Nathan didn’t know the young man’s name; so far, he’d mentally named him Giant.
They all turned as another clump of people walked out of the building. This group stopped as well. “You’re quite the act,” Nathan whispered to Shin; who blanched slightly, but swung his arms in an unconcerned manner. He couldn’t exactly hide, Nathan thought, out there on the public citypath.
Someone from the back of the recently-exited crowd pushed forward. “Hey,” a midage man addressed Shin.
“Mons,” Shin said, in greeting.
“Thought you could use some cover,” Mons replied, shifting a small satchel from his left shoulder and carefully setting it on the ground. He was one of the few to carry anything besides a comm to work.
Mons reached in, removing a basic liner. Sealing the satchel and returning it to his back, he stood and offered the liner to Shin. “Hey, thanks!” Nathan’s slipshod-only friend said. He began putting it on, then stopped. “How much ya charge?”
The left eyebrow on Mons’ face raised slightly and his mouth flatlined.
“All right, all right.” Shin said, redacting his question. “I’ll get this back to you then.”
Mons shrugged. “Whenever.”
The show was less interesting now; their crew began breaking up. “Good luck, Shinny,” Lizard called, in parting. Others nodded, grunted, ignored; all walked off in the direction of the cheap rent areas of the metropolis.
Nathan and Shin glanced at each other, then followed a few steps behind the others. “Right decent,” Shin remarked after a moment.
“Didn’t know people had that anymore.”
They continued walking, thinking. The citypaths were dirty and sported an occasional dwellershack. They could taste exhaust in the smog-ridden air. Their bodies ached for rest. Yet, as their cheap slipshod steps echoed against dense surroundings, the dim and dingy city somehow felt lighter.
Continued from Skinwalkers, XXII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXIV.