Chapter 5: Rules

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We left too early. I kept telling Eleanora that, just before we left. She wouldn't listen. So now we sat in the car as the rain poured torrentially. It obscured the world through the windshield, warping and distorting shapes. Outside, a security droid rushed out of the rain to the safety of an awning, irritation written on his face at the sudden pour. He didn't pay attention to our car parked on against the curb, a few blocks from the market. Eleanora and I sat perfectly still, not speaking as we stared at our surroundings. Eventually, the security droid grew bored or frightened of the rain and crept inside.

"Should we go now?" Eleanora asked, breaking the long stretch of silence. I looked at my watch casually, as if the time was actually relevant. It was a human habit, one I was trying to slip into if we were to go through the market unscathed. It would be hard to pick the both of us out as androids at first. As long as we stayed cloaked in our gray garb and made our movements clumsy, we could pass as human easily. No one would look for black digits on our throats. But this crowd, this market in particular, was more hostile toward android visitors. They saw our presence as dangerous. We would never be welcomed.

Best to stay hidden then.

"I suppose," I sighed and pulled the key from the ignition. I gritted my teeth against going out in the rain, but opened the door without hesitation. I kept the collar of my canvas jacket pressed tightly against my neck and my cap pulled down. Even covered, I could feel the water trickling on to my skin, slithering down my face and my chest. It went against everything to be out in the rain like this, to be so exposed. But we had no choice. We had to blend.

Eleanora looked just as irritated as I did as we crossed the street, rain splashing her face and exposed fingers. She yelped when a passing car splashed us, droplets spraying across our gray pants and soaking our shoes.

"May I remind you that this was your idea?" I joked, amused by her expression.

She practically growled in response and charged ahead of me. She clutched the supplies tightly against herself, hidden under her coat. It contained some array of needles and basic medicine. Some painkillers, maybe some penicillin. Nothing of too much consequence, but important enough for Eleanora to want to deliver.

I only brought things to trade. Some batteries. An old clock. Matches I found buried in the kitchen pantry. Nothing of consequence, not enough to make me or my face memorable, but enough to start a conversation. That's all I planned to do, talk to the people at the market and get a read on the community. Mine for secrets.

The market was in an old warehouse with metal walls and cement floors. It never housed manufacturing of any type, that was obvious by the cleanliness. Victor had mentioned a memory of it as a furniture store, or "maybe something for home improvement." He wasn't really that sure. Regardless, it wasn't the building that was alive like my house, but the buzz of a crowd and people that squeaked by each other, speaking in voices that fought for dominance practically hummed with life. It brought me great joy, to see people still gathering, to see them working together still, in spite of everything.

I focused on the whispers as I glided through the people, though I stuck to the outskirts, hiding my face in the shadows from the few fluorescents.

"-I'm not going to take 4 of those for 5 of my teeth-"

"-Old man's probably going kick the bucket some time soon, lord knows what our owners will do without-"

"-did you hear about the raid?"

That stopped my movement through the shadows. I moved closer into the crowd, standing in front of a table full of rusted gears and questionable electronics. I pawed through, pretending to look as I focused on the conversation happening a few feet from me.

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