"Shows us yer ID, then." Whoever it was tapped at the door in annoyance.
Not needing to be told twice, Jackson held his phone up to the peephole. A slitted, feline eye darted over the screen to his face, but he didn't have time to think about it before a hand reached through. It scanned the phone with a device and pulled back. A second later, the door swung open.
He hesitated for a split second before walking through. A short, slim figure confronted him.
"You been gone fer a while," she growled.
And yes, Jackson realized, it was a definite—if unconvincing—growl. The girl couldn't have been more than fourteen years old, but she had some strange fashion sense. She wore fake whiskers, mangy cat ears and a tail which barely had any fur left on it. He tried not to stare. He tried not to consider how the tail was attached. Instead, he focused on her name badge. Safe Space Security – Officer Starlet Moon.
Safe Space? Was that seriously their name for the city?
"Doomerdom?" Officer Moon growled at him again.
Jackson's head jerked back to her face as he recognized his stolen name. "Sorry. I had a nasty virus for a while. Nearly died. Didn't want to bring it back."
"Well that's nice considerate of you, but remember ye've used up five years' outer-time on this excursion. Nothin' I can do to change that."
Jackson let his shoulders droop a little, but nodded. "I understand."
"On yer way now."
Nodding again, he set off at a brisk walk, not wanting to attract attention but eager to leave the freaky cat-girl behind.
In any case, he had a contact to meet.
* * *
Jackson navigated the run-down streets, switching from his map of the city to a book on the app whenever someone passed by. Even from the little he allowed his eyes to see, he hesitated to call it a book. Whoever wrote it could barely string a word together, let alone a sentence. Picking at random hadn't been his best bet.
The closer he got to the central areas—and the person he was supposed to meet—the more he was able to pick up individual smells. The ashen scent of smoke danced in his nostrils, weighted down by a heavy, cloying smell. It was a smell he recognized from the Burning Days.
He replaced his phone in his pocket, strode towards the source. If he was going to get data back to base, this seemed as good a place to start as any. Screw the contact. Once you smell that smell, there's no ignoring it.
Rushing now, he half-noticed throngs of people in the street. He weaved in between them, not paying attention to guise or physique. There was nothing untoward in his peripheral, but here and there he caught a glimpse of fur, the glint of a sharpened tooth.
With a last squeeze, he pushed his way into what seemed to be the central plaza. The crowds focused here and though it took him a while before he could get a clear view, he knew the fire stood at its centre, not least from the heat of it. He craned his neck to see and, sure enough, a massive pile of books stood burning in the middle of the square, haphazardly bundled around a central pole. Remembering the book he'd read earlier, he couldn't help noting that this was probably something they couldn't afford to burn.
Near the top of the fire, a group of people clustered around a gangplank on a balcony. Tattered banners hung from its railings. Screaming from its multi-coloured face was painted every liberal symbol known to man, all arranged around the symbol for peace. This was odd, he thought, when you considered the charred corpses smouldering below the gangplank. They didn't look too peaceful to him.
YOU ARE READING
Epic Tales from Beautiful Minds: An Ooorah AnthologyScience Fiction
Inspired by @rskovach's DECAMERON 2.0, EPIC TALES FROM BEAUTIFUL MINDS is a sci-fi anthology. Spread across multiple sub-genres, EPIC TALES features short stories from Wattpad's best sci-fi writers. The majority of these different sub-genres feature...