Skinwalkers, XLVIII

Perhaps it was the archaic thumbs-up gesture of Pul that confused Nathan. Perhaps he was, quite reasonably, diverted by the auburn-headed receptionist in passing her office space on his way out. Perhaps the waiting presence of Rex‘s barely-functioning Transport outside surprised him.

Most likely, all three distractions combined with his current mental load to lead to his lack of judgement.

Nathan stepped down the impressive staircase of Carapace, took a sharp turn to walk away from Rex’s attentions, walked down the citypath in an inattentive rush, and hurried right across a busy trafficsection.

He had a half-jiff to regret his short list of life accomplishments before a food transport permanently ended it.



Continued from Skinwalkers, XLVII.

Skinwalkers, XVIII

Nathan’s worried thoughts fueled a helpless anxiety. They chased each other round his head like feral Outlands beasts of some sort, snarling without reason or satiation.

“Look out!” Shin exclaimed, grabbing at Nathan. He managed to grasp at enough of Nathan’s thin upper arm to stop his oblivious pace, just as a large transport swung a sharp right directly at their toes.

*Cheerp!* *Cheerp!* Called the trafficsection signal, as the exhaust from the retreating vehicle still rose in the putrid city air.

Nathan exhaled; turned to his friend. “Thanks.”


They crossed. “It’s just further proof that the autodrives aren’t perfect,” Nathan noted as they walked down the citypath.

He glanced back at Shin, and was rewarded with a half-smile; a, “Nope.” A moment of even treading later, Shin added, “They still don’t solve stupidity.”

Nathan, who’d nearly been enveloped in his worries again, was a bit slow to hear the truthful tease. He stumbled, and turned a quick look to Shin. Shin’s eyes seemed focused on their path ahead, as he grinned broadly. Nathan took the moment of distraction to punch his friend’s shoulder.

“Ow!” Shin reacted, surprisingly pained. Quickly, he covered with a playful laugh. He pretended a return punch; but, Nathan noted, with his other arm.

*I only use Sultronous* a sultry female autoad crooned. Her image dropped the towel it had barely been wearing to begin with. *Because I need my skin touchably soft.*

They walked through her without comment, stopping at their last crossing. Shin stole a quick glance at Nathan. “Did you feel something at that last one?”

Nathan considered. “Yeah,” he realized. “I thought they weren’t going to add sensory to the street ads, though.”

“Well,” Shin answered, nodding at the ever-present street dwellers, “Guess they’ll learn.”

“Yeah,” Nathan repeated. His friend’s comment drew him back to when sensory modifications had first been introduced. Every advertiser had clamored to use them and the citypaths had been saturated in perfumes, breezes, and flashing lights -until the street dwellers systematically cannibalized them for parts. One sensory mod covered a week’s worth of hits from the right vendor.

“If they’ve got a way to get around it,” Nathan posited, “we ought to look into it. I could use new slipshods.”

“And I could use a hit,” Shin replied.

They walked to the other path, past two buildings, then stopped. Shin gave a low, appreciative whistle at the sight of the monolith before them. “Check that shade,” he marveled. He tilted his head back, attempting to see where Carapace’s grey pinnacle reached grey-clouded sky.

“C’mon,” urged Nathan, turning away.

Regretfully, Shin abandoned his scrutiny. Together, they stepped to the neighboring alley. As with most of their assignments, the service side was less impressive than the streetside façade. Still, this one was cleaner and more secure than others they’d visited.

Adjusting his satchel, Shin approached the access door. After groping around various pockets, he found and withdrew his comm. Nathan watched him place it on the sensor; watched the familiar green activation light.

The entry slid open, and they went inside.


Continued from Skinwalkers, XVII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XIX.

Skinwalkers, XVII

Nathan stumbled slightly, as he found his own hand automatically lifting toward the scanner. He recovered quickly enough to avoid suspicion, refusing to meet Choms’ mistrustful glare or Shin’s questioning brow lift.

He and Shin shuffled out together, tightening their tool satchels and ensuring their comms were safely pocketed.

Once beyond the exit and out on the street, Nathan set a rapid pace. Just a moment before, he’d been ready to interrogate Shin regarding his friend’s oddly sad expression. Now, he sought to avoid just such an inquisition from Shin. Unfortunately, Shin kept his constitution in good health and shape. He had no trouble keeping up with Nathan, though he recognized Nathan’s obvious attempts to avoid conversation.

*Liners to love; liners that don’t leave you lacking* Bragged an auto-ad as they passed.

It was interrupted by *Sirius Sustenance Supply is serious about more than sustenance…*, which was cut off by,

*Need a skin on the cheap? Look no further than Fantastique!*

Nathan’s unusually fast speed made the ad sensors flash on and off more quickly than they were designed to activate. He and his work partner walked through oddly overlapping projections all down the main stretch of the city.

After nearly a tick of rushing, Nathan finally realized what a funny spectacle he and Shin made. He laughed aloud, startling Shin. “Two Grunts, speedwalking at aftermeal,” he explained, slowing a bit. Shin smiled a half-smile of supportive humor.

They stopped at a trafficsection, their slipshods activating the embedded pedestrian sensors. Shin turned to Nathan carefully. “Nathaniel?” he asked.

“Hmm?” Nathan answered, feigning aloofness.

“Why are we speedwalking?” The signal flashed and chirped, so they moved forward and crossed. “What’s itching you?”

Nathan pretended concentration on the citypath beneath their feet. He slowed their pace further, realizing Shin was too astute a companion to be fooled by his childish efforts of avoidance.

Still, he couldn’t let Shin know about his job interview. He looked skyward; shrugged. “I just heard something about Carapace during my Advancement Studies. I felt a little surprised that they’d hire us.”

Mollified, Shin nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed aloud. Now was his turn to laugh, albeit less jovially. “Maybe they can’t get their own workers to dirty their gloves.”

Lost in thought, Nathan heard Shin’s jibe a bit late. He covered with his own chuckle a jiff after. “Probably true,” he said. Still, he couldn’t shake a paranoid thought that kept surfacing.

What if they know? He wondered. Then what would he do?


Continued from Skinwalkers, XVI.
Read to Skinwalkers, XVIII.