Catalyst

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catalyst
ˈkat(ə)lɪst/
noun
a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.

"The sunsets here have always been the best," Furey said quietly, looking out the window of the car as it bumped its way down the wide, dusty road between apartments and villas and palms.

The car had once been a prestigious vehicle: large and long, with leather seats and a sunroof and fancy automatic windows. Now it was filthy, a film of oily grime sitting atop everything. Running your finger down the window glass left a smear. "You've been here on the other side?" I didn't think the driver spoke the same language, but didn't want to take any chances. Not just yet.

Furey nodded. "I moved around a lot as a kid. I lived in Mumbai for a few years. Been through there a couple times for work."

The meeting had gone down at a huge market, which wound for miles around a hillside, narrow lanes turning back on themselves like a cobweb designed by a drunk spider. It only took about a minute for me to be completely turned around. Stalls lined the streets, even where it was super narrow, selling all kinds of things and grouped into themed areas. One twisty street was packed with live animals tied up in cages, fresh blood flowing between paving slabs. Another displayed row after row of the freshest, lushest fruit I'd ever seen - I didn't even know what half of it was. The smells signalled what was coming up next, especially as we approached the spice stalls, with their iridescent powders piled into high pyramids. Those guys wouldn't want a strong wind blowing through. We'd been told to wait at an open air cafe nestled between adjacent alleys of fabric merchants.

We sat on stalls sipping tea and wondering if our contact was going to show. I sat silently watching the bustle of the market. There were some tourists but it was mostly locals, haggling furiously. It was funny watching the occasional out of town visitor get completely shafted on the price without even realising. The market was covered, sometimes with wooden boardings, other times by deep red sails that were supported by an enormous wooden lattice. The sun was kept at bay, glinting enviously around the edges of the roof, hunting for a way in.

The guy who showed up was tusked which, as you know, hits a particular chord with me. This particular specimen was especially fine: his tusks had been left long, and had been chiselled into beautiful geometric patterns, swirling down their length as they protruded out of his mouth and down the sides of his chin. There were all kinds of tusked genotypes from 1943 and I wasn't especially fussy, but I'd never actually known anyone from this specific genodate. He looked like a movie star.

"You're Kay," he stated.

"Hello," I said automatically, before realising that you never say 'hello' at a covert meet-up. Such an amateur. I only barely restrained myself from asking how he was doing. "You're Kandak? I was told I'd be meeting Kandak."

"Then that's me," he said, smiling. He snapped his fingers and the staff immediately brought him a freshly brewed pot of tea, which I'm pretty sure had just been about to go to someone else. "I don't normally waste time with westerners," he continued. "Are you here to waste my time?"

"I'm here to give you something worth fighting for."

He took a sip of his tea, then nodded slowly. He snapped his fingers again and called the waitress back over. "This tea," he said, "is exceptional. You should be pleased." With a small motion of his hand he waved her away, then turned to look more directly at me. "There are two things I must share with you," he said. I couldn't help but stare into his eyes. "We already have plenty to be fighting over. And you should watch your tongue in public."

I felt my skin flush, which in squamata means not only a slight hue change but also a subtle separation of scales. "You're the one that decided to meet in a busy market," I said quickly, trying to paper over the cracks. "And I know you've got plenty to be fighting over. You've been doing it for decades. Doesn't seem to have got you very far."

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