Chapter 3

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I moved swiftly through the city, using the most efficient pathways possible, over, under, through, rather than around – as I had been taught. As always, it made me admire the neat order of the Lotus Cities. Only an educated Nori could appreciate how this was truly a sanctuary, an oasis of life perched on a toxic planet. I loved it fiercely, as I'd imagine a mother would her child. I knew it's mood through every gesture it made, every citizen that rose and fell in their duty.

I tracked those around me peripherally, hyper-aware of their movement, reading who they were and their intention as easily as I did words. A black clad, fully skinned figure flowed above, as fast, fluid and predatory as me. Definitely Nori. As the self-appointed guardians of our fragile world we moved with military precision and purpose. Anything else would be wasteful, we were in continual pursuit. The average citizens were a bit different, identifiable not only by their flowing garb but more noticeably by the freestyle form they followed, throwing in extraneous tricks to draw attention, a bit like a mating call.

As I flowed aggressively through my environment, tiny vignettes unfolded. On the corner of a gleaming street, I saw several black-clad Nori descend rapidly on three gaudy tricksters from all directions, including the tall building above them.

I was reminded of an historical documentary I'd seen on birds – a long extinct species. In this particular footage a flock of crows attacked some birds of paradise in the last aviary in existence. Resource shortages. Like others I accepted that in the Lotus a murderer could be applauded for taking the life of one who committed the unforgivable sin of wasting resources. Why not?

On a normal day I might stop and Dome the justice but not today. I had an appointment to meet and I never missed appointments. I'd certainly picked the day for it. There was a magnificent storm mustering force above the protective gauze we lived our lives under. The city felt edgy, caged. I accelerated, felt my muscles tense, under railings, over walls, a blur through my world. Then I stopped – a sleek, black-clad juggernaut frozen by the elements.

A blonde, dreadlocked figure with an elfin face had been marking my tempo for at least five minutes. It was obvious she had been trained differently to me – she tricked rather than obliterated her environment, but stealthily. I'd never experienced it before. The figure drifted away. One minute she was there, the next, one with the crumbling concrete. The disappearing act jogged my memory more than an overt act of aggression ever could. It was the pakeha girl from Wei's ghetto, the refugee Jamie.

I might have mistaken my shadow for a downtowner youth trying to develop her skills by mirroring a Nori. It was fairly common and mostly tolerated unless we were in an unforgiving mood. Except for the chameleon-like way she disappeared. I straightened, marked my bearings and casually ducked beneath the foundations of an old K' Road store.

I was entranced with her style. Like a spirit from the old tales if you looked away for a split second, you lost her. She just blended in. Was it training or something more esoteric? I couldn't decide. The store was right on the perimeter of the furthermost ring of the Lotus Cities so was mostly abandoned. Old fridges had long since been stripped for parts and resources and it smelt odd, a mixture of dank decay and long forgotten promise.

I cursed myself for inattention, it was just a moment but I lost the ghost girl. Then I spotted her, the apparition, right in front of my face. I smacked her solidly on the nose, not too hard, just a light tap guaranteed to get some blood gushing and stun her a little. For a ghost she had a lot of blood in her.

Jamie went down solidly on her bony butt, gasping for air. I could see her consider a fight with me, the weaving shadow but that would be as effective as trying to stop the setting sun from slipping down the horizon each night.

Instead, she yelled. "What'd you do that for?" I hit her again.

"Quiet," I ordered. "Don't draw attention to us. Why are you following me?" Any other day I would have neutralised the target and not bothered with questioning. Filthy pakeha. She really was a mess.

"Wei sent me," Jamie mumbled. I bet – with the express instructions to get my attention and crack a fast pace. I knew the way he thought. If I couldn't even keep up with the weak, the cash wasn't worth the risk. And Jamie was weak, even with her unusual skill. The deal would be off by default. I almost admired him, he thought like a Nori.

"Did he tell you to follow me?"

Jamie was silent, petulant, as she figured out her next move. Her eyes darted to my flanks so I shifted my balance slightly to block off any perceived escape.

"I could make you talk." I wiped some of Jamie's blood off my hand on to my thigh. "There's plenty more of this inside you. But I don't really have the time to waste."

Jamie shivered. "I was supposed to meet you at the waypoint. But I didn't. I wanted to check you out first."

I was scornful. "You're saying you can't follow your commander's instructions. Pathetic. What were they?"

"To lead you to the next temporary hold by midnight tomorrow," she said. "To go fast, to test you." Desperately she added: "Don't tell him".

I looked at the specimen at my feet. It could be useful. "What's my silence worth?"

"Information." She looked deflated. "I'm good at blending in. I'm new here too but I've been watching everyone. I can tell you who to trust, where to go and when to go. I can tell you what people are saying about you. I was there at the very beginning when you and Wei first met and I've listened to your past two meetings. I can help you get exactly what you want."

"You can't listen to orders, how do I know you won't betray me?"

"Because I need your help," said Jamie. "I'm an outsider, like you. If we both return, I'll be able to earn my stripes. Eventually, I'll get a name. My mark will only come later, with time and testing."

I wanted to globe that. I was trained to read truth in the body and could hear she was sincere, although I'd still keep a close eye on this one. "Fine, get up. Let's go. We're wasting time."

We moved on, mirroring each other's movements with our own distinctive style, dancing dawn and deadly dusk. It freed my mind and I marvelled at the development of these flowing movements from the old exercise called parkour. There were benefits to studying archaic art.

Nori taught a more efficient form that was all about pursuit, not escape. Normal citizens practiced a freestyle form with lots of tricking, what the studies had named Urban Freeflow. If the ghost girl was any indication, pakeha practiced a form of parkour in the purest essence, escape and reach. I'd never seen it in action before. Used to disappearing rapidly, no tricks were needed unless necessary for saving of face – otherwise it was generally frowned on as wasteful of life.

I could feel a frown directing my inner thoughts. Nori celebrated life by eliminating those who waste space or compromise the existence of their society. According to my research, the Pakeha loved life. So then why are they so wasteful? I guessed that's what I was going to find out.

Jamie was obviously trying to make up for her earlier errors by moving directly towards her target, pushing me. I was whippet-lean, strong and well-trained, used to competing directly against antagonists much bigger and stronger than the malnourished pakeha. She was no match. 

I easily moved through the terrain, jumping old fences and bouncing off structures. In fact, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Until we jumped the perimeter's sensor nets and ran into a Nori patrol.


A/N: Ah-oh. Now what?
Ping has permission to be here so she should be fine, right? Right?
Vote and comment lovelies. I'll post again soon :-)

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