That year, a long, sweltering, dusty summer, a seemingly endless summer had fallen over the City. By mid-day, it looked as if the air were rising from the ground and from the sand, spurting hot from stones, climbing along scorched branches and leaves only to drift back down in a dizzy spell triggered by the heat.
It was Saturday morning and he woke up tired though he had slept a bit longer. It felt like he had been moving logs all night long. He had a slight headache. He had dreamt of his mother looking at him lovingly and then starting to sing something. A nightmare… her singing was very bad, so he decided to go to the beach.
The beach between the lakes was narrow, a sandy strip that was grey in one place and golden in another and full of pebbles.
Cat slouched near Uncle Sandu’s terrace because he was alone, because he wanted to enjoy his beer, to feel its bitter taste, to gaze at the cool and misty amber-like yellow in the glass; but then, he also had to keep an eye on his new T-shirt, the one he fell for the moment he saw it. In fact, the Ur, the guy who brought it to him, had driven a hard bargain.
– Hey, listen here Cat! You won’t have it unless you pay! You know what I mean, I don’t want favours in return…
He had been so taken with that black T-shirt, with its chartreuse yellow phosphorescent stripes, that, for the first time in his life, after allowing the Ur to complain about his tough life, about the dear price of milk and of bread and about how hard it was to find a job those days, he softly snarled at him:
– You’re a two-bit racketeer…
– You’re right, I’m a wretch, said the Ur in a sugary voice and, like the con he was, went on praising his merchandise and telling his tales… You can tell it’s the real deal, right? It’s worth ten times what I’m asking for it, but, you know, I have a large family and I don’t want them to know I gamble and I lose money.
– Are you trying to swindle me? Don’t you think I can see right through your tales?
– Listen, boss… it wasn’t easy to get it… for two days I lay in wait so I could get it!
– You lay in wait my foot… you’re not only stupid, but you’re a liar too! You simply can’t lie in wait, your stench can be smelt from a mile away… the Krabors would smell you from afar!… C’mon, take the money and scram!
Cat’s answer had been short and had sounded bored; afterwards, he simply produced two pieces of blue paper and, not caring anymore, paid up.
This came as a surprise to the Ur who had expected first to get a thrashing and then to be paid a ridiculous amount…
He had moved on to the terrace, shaking the sand off his sandals. He was savouring his beer as if it were an eternal youth potion, his hand was stroking the glass and his narrowed, admiring eyes were sweeping over his beautiful, soft olive skin and the tattoos on his arms …
They were something to brag about…. most of them made by true masters and all of them having a meaning.
His first love, ah!, the wounds the blonde woman with eyes the colour of violets had carved deep… she’d taken away everything that was good in him, leaving behind an unhealable fury, the name of his first son… his beautiful boy whom he hadn’t seen for a year… his rank in prison… a high-rank offender, that’s what he was, and you couldn’t ignore that… to make a long story short, if you knew the language, if you found yourself on the same terrace with him and accidentally met his gaze you couldn’t help being startled, dropping your fork even.
It was no joke… only that out here, at the end of the earth, no one knew that was his first beer after having escaped from the Island, no one knew how much he’d missed this small, colourful community where clans, civilians, thieves, crooks, recruits and veterans mixed…no one knew he’d do almost anything to stay and be spared further trouble.
These people here at Uncle Sandu’s, the ones eating anchovies, were real suckers, they were “normal people” who knew nothing about Cat and his clan… Take, for instance, the family sitting at the first table, near the entrance – He, She, and two children; the two kids were too naughty for his taste, the way they were toying with their food and chewing half-heartedly, stomping their feet and turning up their noses as if they had poop on their plates. Their mum, though young, had dark circles under her eyes already and the corners of her mouth were turned down, a sign she was not happy; she was nagging the kids in soft whispers while cutting their food into small pieces which she was resolved to shove down their throats. Her husband, bent over his plate, was gulping down his food untroubled, oblivious to what was going on around him. They had left all their unpacked luggage on the floor, an open invitation to the Tarcats, who could already smell the suckers’ wallets.
Another three young ladies, wearing dresses with shoulder straps and large earrings, were smoking leisurely and were sipping still water with a lemon slice; their beach bags had been hanging on the backrests of their chairs for about an hour and the girls were giggling every time a man stepped in alone.
They, too, could be a “target of opportunity” for the Tarcats, but they weren’t, the girls were of no interest to them. They surely had just enough money to buy still water… therefore, their bags, mere replicas of famous brands, were still hanging on the high backrests undisturbed.
* * *
Cat had noticed the two women the moment they stepped in and sat at a table. There was something special about both of them, in the way they walked and in their gaze, and he found that slightly annoying as he couldn’t say what it was… it was something vague, something he couldn’t grasp, something that slipped away leaving no trace behind …
He felt neither anxiety nor joy. As a rule, he felt anxious when around the League and he felt a sudden, intense joy when he was around a descendant of the Sines. So, there was no great danger but his innate curiosity gnawed at him.
He looked at them more attentively from under his pitch-black eyelashes.
Both women had blonde hair… dyed blonde hair, but not an obvious dye job. They were both tall… one of them was younger, she had slanted black eyes and a penetrating gaze and a sensual, well-contoured mouth… there wasn’t much you could read in her eyes. They were like two dark lakes in the depth of which you couldn’t imagine anything but death or complete mystery.
Just for a moment he caught her eye as she was looking around, her gaze on his skin for about two seconds, long enough to feel its warmth, and then he watched her lighting a cigarette and starting to talk to the other woman.
The other woman was obviously older, still beautiful though, and there was a distinguished air about her which she clumsily tried to hide. But it didn’t work, you could see from afar that she was a character from another movie, as he used to say… however, she didn’t command too much attention. You could tell that had been her behaviour for quite a while and she didn’t really care if it was working or not. As a matter of fact, she no longer made even the slightest effort. The moment you saw her, even if you looked at her for only a few seconds, you knew she was something else. There was sadness behind her greenish eyes which she smothered and kept unwatered…
He suspected the first woman was a last-generation replica, but he couldn’t be sure. There were many imperfections and he couldn’t believe they’d already come up with one that good. While in jail, he heard many stories about how they’d released several replicas that were being tested …
But, take for instance this one, she had freckles and dark circles under her eyes… and replicas don’t drink and don’t smoke… while this one enjoyed her beer and smoked like a chimney…
“It’s out of the question! Out of the question!… this is something else…,” Cat muttered to himself.
And the other one is a “Civilian”, definitely!
You place her on a tray and have her for breakfast!
They were talking quietly to each other, they were laughing, they didn’t seem to have any valuables though the Civilian was wearing a gem-studded ring on her left hand which was a dead giveaway.
His trained eye couldn’t have possibly missed such a piece of jewellery. Unless in her naivety the woman didn’t pay too much attention to what she was wearing. Her clothes were not expensive, they were the kind of clothing the penniless class wore, but her ring and her bag raised some questions.
Her black leather bag, which looked a bit out of fashion, had magnetic clasps which…a-ha!… that was it … the clasps took double fingerprint scanning to unlock … So, the woman did have something of value unless that was the latest fad in bags.
Anyway, he had grown more watchful, his eyes glued to the T-shirt and his gaze on the girls.
He was genuinely startled when the She-android stood up, walked over to him and, with no introduction at all, said:
– Excuse me, I’d like to get a tattoo and, if you have a moment, could you tell me what’s the thing with tattoos? … I’d be real grateful!
Cat didn’t seem surprised to be approached like this and he quickly reckoned the girl already knew what kind of tattoos he had and her walking over to him was no accident. He answered half-heartedly:
– My expertise isn’t for free.
– It’ll be for me, the girl retorted.
– Is that so? What are you? Cat asked calmly. An android, right?
– No, she said without smiling and without blinking.
– A clone?
– No! was her terse, monosyllabic answer as she took another drag on the cigarette she seemed to never put out.
– Gingerbread? Red Riding Hood? asked the man raising his voice in an attempt to joke or to slap her down delicately, waiting to see if she would get it…
– You’re an ass! The girl replied gracelessly and at that moment her slanted embers blinked once.
– What are you then? He went on, ignoring the insult.
– I am a Katena of the Krabor kin.
– You don’t say! And so what? You have no jurisdiction here… so, stop hitting on men with lousy pickup lines!
– I don’t need to bank on my kin to show you your place, I have the necessary training so I can tell you that you are a felon, that your rank is low, that you are not a petty crook, that you spent at least two years in jail, so move your ass to our table and start telling your tale!
– Ha-ha! Cat laughed… OK, I’m coming! Let me get my beer and my T-shirt from the beach; I really don’t feel like having to chase a stupid, robbing, dwarfish Tarcat and get myself into a tangle in this heat.
He had actually burst into laughter, he really liked the girl’s insolent boldness.
When he got to their table, Katena was smoking and the Civilian was looking at him with her big eyes, staring like a stupid child, and you could tell she was not paying too much attention to his face. She seemed a bit distracted and Cat couldn’t say why, but her silence and her timidity, which contrasted with Katena’s arrogance, aroused him more than they should have. He looked at the ring, at her hands that were like the hands of a teacher, at the bag left there on the backrest as an invitation… and decided a little bit of conversation before anything else would hurt no one.
The Civilian’s offer to buy him a beer simply snatched him away from his thoughts, which had grown drowsy from the heat, and also made her downright interesting. Had she kept it low, he’d have probably ignored her.
Most Civilians are down-and-outers, pretty boring toilers who have to work long and hard since they’re not too bright. As a rule, they are very fond of the pieces of blue paper they keep in the bank. They count them, they kiss them, they invest them and then again they count them, they kiss them…
How about that! A Civilian buying someone a beer…!
This was indeed out of the ordinary.
Katena said bluntly:
– I want to get a tattoo to drive my folks crazy…
– Will they give you permission?
– Well, I’ve just told you, I want to piss them off!
– Piss the Krabors off? You’re out of your mind!
– Do I look in my right mind?
– What rank are you?
– On my mother’s or on my father’s side?
– Your mother’s side, of course…
– The 27th.
– Oh… Here’s my advice: you’d better argue with them, it’s more constructive, you know words can hurt more than a lizard tail tattooed forever on your white, freckled skin. You’ll be happy with your lizard, but then you’ll want a Gnuc and then an inscription in the old Gowsca language and you’ll end up looking like me….
– So, what’s it to you?
– Well, you said you wanted my advice.
– No, I asked you to tell me about getting a tattoo…
– Are you sure you’re a 27th-rank Katena? You should be smarter.
– I am! said Katena…don’t get me started…
– OK! Don’t get a tattoo because you’ll get addicted!
– What does that mean?
– It means that’s what happens! You become an addict! You’ll eventually want to have a church tattooed on your blond scalp and I assure you not even I could hang around with someone looking like that…
– Are you married?
– I was. I have a son…
– When the hell did that happen? While you were in jail?
– You’re being ridiculous…I drifted a lot, but now and then I took a break…
Their talk was like a game of tennis, with the two of them tossing the ball over the net and unembarrassedly staring each other in the eyes. So, when the Civilian spoke they both turned their heads as if they had just discovered she was there too.
– Where have you been drifting, Mr. Cat? she asked softly and looked through both of them, as if through glass.
He voice was clear, cultured, like she had attended a most exclusive private boarding school.
– I’ve been everywhere… in Ennis, in Gowska, in Skillden…
– Have you been in Brosem? she asked again and for a moment there seemed to be a sparkle in her eyes.
– Yeah…screw the boring bunch…the man answered and this time he looked at her through squinted eyes to see her reaction.
The Civilian sat there, mouth agape. He eyes were big and surprised, a little sad but inquisitive nevertheless.
She couldn’t abstain, it was as if those words had brought her to life somewhat.
– Boring bunch? Brosem is absolutely wonderful. It is the only land that still preserves works of art within legal boundaries and despite difficulties, despite everyone. It is unique in this crazy world. Have you seen the museum, Mr. Cat?
It was Cat’s turn to gape! Never in a million years would he have expected such a question.
About The Threshold
The Tracus Arte Publishing House
Published 2014; Reprinted 2016
National Award at Romcon 2015
Konos’ Journal Vexhal Mountain Platform Day 1 Dear Father, If I call you this way, I hope that both of you, or at least one of you, can hear me. I never really understood why humanity decided to make me so important. Why couldn’t you just leave me alone? Why did you...
Chapter I “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” (Romans 9:14-15) In the luxury residence where Kor had been locked up only...
Lia woke up that morning as a ray of the autumn sun was tickling her eyelashes. She gave a start sensing that something was amiss, the creature sleeping by her side since she had got on the train. A somewhat loyal, sticky pain she had grown fond of and felt too sorry...