How far had Draughton come from home? As the numbers on the elevator ticked, it transported him back to Kong Gong. He was just a boy when one of the older kids tried to steal his watch. His mother told him not to wear it outside. The watch was his father’s. Simple ivory face with a smooth, undecorated gold case and band. When the older kids tried to take it, Draughton sucker punched one and broke the kid’s nose. The young Draughton took off as quick as his legs would take him, holding the watch as tightly as he could to his chest.
The kids were gaining on him and he was losing his breath. Draughton made the quick decision to duck into an alley and hide behind the first door he could find. He caught his breath and realized he was in a curiosity shop. The elderly caretaker came storming in from the back. Draughton quickly blurted out his story about the watch, as the elderly woman listened intently. The sounds of the boys echoed through the streets calling to Draughton, threatening to kill him.
The woman’s face remained stern. Her left eye was covered in a patch and her good eye trained toward Draughton’s hands clutched against his chest. She asked for the watch in exchange for her protection. Draughton told her it was his father’s who died. It was his only possession. She threatened to kick him back out in the streets if he didn’t. Sullenly, Draughton turned to the door, but the woman stopped him. It was a test, and he had passed. The woman let him stay. Her name was Lola, and they became fast friends. She was an old courtesan of a witch king of some long dead kingdom in the outer worlds. She lost her left eye in the flight and wore the patch to cover the scarred socket (She had let Draughton see it once) and said that if he saw it again, he would glimpse his own death. He asked to see it again, and she refused
Lola taught him how to read and write and as Draughton would ask about the strange relics and ornaments she bought and sold, she would tell him the mythical history of the world. She explained that apart from gold alloy and the ivory in the face, his father’s watch was mostly worthless, but his belief and love in it imbued it with power. This is how magic items were made and how they came to end up in her shop. Kong Gong was a port city, so she was never short of treasure hunters and arcane seekers. Things imbued with a magic no one believed in were bought and sold in the curiosity shop.
Draughton thought the whole thing was complete hogwash, but it wouldn’t stop the traders and sellers from coming in and seeking Lola’s guidance. When his mother was drunk, he would stay with Lola and though he never believed her stories, he would sit and listen to her for hours tell of the wonders of the world. Even the ones about a real magic existing out in the dark of space.
Eventually, as Draughton grew into a young man, Lola passed and soon after, his mother passed. By then he knew enough of the trade to pick up where Lola left off. He lost the shop in a bet, but he had developed a network of storage units and cheap hotels to be anywhere in the system. There were plenty of old misers and superstitious aristocrats out there just waiting for the stuff Draughton had, he just had to go out there and find them. But a believer, Draughton was not.
It was a road that took him here. In an elevator fleeing for his life, chasing a stone idol he didn’t believe was magic for a buyer he never met, and by all accounts, wasn’t a good guy. He leaned heavily on the wall. The upward motion of the elevator made his stomach plummet with every passing moment. He watched the numbers crawl up and the motion made him nauseous. He sloppily hit the lobby button, but it was already set on its destination: the roof.
Draughton smashed the button several more times, but the elevator stubbornly drew upward. He was forced to accept his fate and take the rest of the ride.
Eventually the numbers ran out and they reached ‘R’. The door opened to a flood-lit hallway leading up to cold concrete stairs. Draughton smashed the lobby button once more, but there was a stop on the way. Floor 343, the casino. He imagined angry vomit covered bouncers were surely eagerly waiting to chase him down and brain him for ruining their overpriced suits. There is no way but up, the booze said. Draughton couldn’t see any other way. He reluctantly ascended the stairs and opened the unlocked steel doors leading to the world Luna City residents rarely came in contact with: Outside.
The air of Luna was deemed fit to breathe for long periods of time, but hadn’t been revisited by any sort of environmental agency in decades. There was no need, seeing as the entire civilization lived in climate control. Those who speculated on it however, didn’t expect it to be good.
It was snowing, or at least attempting to snow. It was more like sludging. The smog of the city planet accumulated in the deep streets going hundreds of stores down to the places where the sun never touched, into the lunar crust. The unnatural weather patterns rose up into the thin, cold atmosphere of Luna and resolved in the perpetual cold grey sky that no one ever saw. The waste of the surface occasionally clumped up and dumped its waste back down. It was supposed to be very hazardous stuff, but in that particular moment Draughton wasn’t concerned with consequences.
The gravel top of the roof was sparse, save the massive environmental support mechanisms feeding life into the soulless casino and dingy hotel. Despite the size of the building the rooftop was still surrounded by bigger spires and more electronic advertising. The lights and sounds made him feel small, but he supposed that was the idea all along. Something pulled him as he crossed the expanse of the roof and approached the edge.
The ravine of the streets glimmered and swirled with neon light dispersed in the fog of the acidic snow. For a moment, he just watched it. All of it. The movement. The life. The cars going up and down the air lanes with their blinking fluorescent lights. The people on balconies and moving within the safety of their individual apartments, flirting and fighting and fighting, and all those things that humans do. Indulge. Gamble. Lie. Consume. A billion people circulating through the electric veins that pulse throughout the city, and they all look out for themselves and their place in the greater organism. Everything.
He took the big step up onto the ledge. The alcohol made his movements fluid. Too fluid. Finding his center of gravity was like wrangling a fish. Part of his foot slipped off the edge, but he was able to pull it back. With a little work, he stabilized. The winds of the city washed over him and the metropolis roared for hundreds of meters below. Waves of heat that smelled like filth escaping to the gray sky billowed upward. It made his stomach turn, but it warmed his numb flesh against the cold of the sloppy snow. Draughton closed his eyes and held out his arms. He turned his chin up. Soggy, filthy snow plopped onto his face, cooling his burning skin.
He sighed into the void of the city impassive to his pain. If Draughton had a home, he wouldn’t have been able to see the path to get back there. Regrets of losing Lola’s curiosity shop washed over him again. He wasn’t even sure if it was still there or the property had been demolished and rebuilt for a corporate building. With this night’s mishap, if he didn’t get captured, tortured, and murdered in the next couple hours, he would have to start over again. And again. And again. How many times had he fallen flat, just to end up back here: drunk and on the run? Draughton was a man of 32 Earth years, and he was tired.
The void beckoned him. And he was ready to answer. Made the decision to end his life and let gravity take him. He felt himself lean forward.
“So this is where the story ends?” Draughton’s thoughts materialize into words behind him. But they weren’t his thoughts, someone was behind him. He flinched, but with his dulled reaction, his foot slipped off the corner of the concrete. The darkness accelerated toward him and a chill ran through his entire body. His hearing cut out. Panic set in and the air left his lungs in a gasp.
A strange feeling washed over him. It wasn’t fear, but fear was within it. Within the eternal moment as he tipped over the ledge, he realized what it was. The last thing he would ever feel in this world. Regret.
But then a new sensation came along that disturbed the status quo. Pain. Something with great strength grabbed him by his upper arm. His body weight yanked against this rotator cuff and whipped his head back. He cursed loudly and it echoed against the ambient traffic below.
His vision cleared and he rediscovered which way was up. Draughton realized that he was looking up into the dark face of a woman in large white rimmed sunglasses, scowling down at him. “Going up?” she asked.
Experiencing shock permeating his body, all Draughton could say was, “Not exactly.”
[To Be Continued…]