Meeting of Chance
On arriving in VeloCity I began selling my noodles. I found no shortage of customers in the narrow streets of Terminal district behind the hydrocab docks.
They ate not with empty stomachs but with empty souls. My fish broth reminded them of home. Of the Osaka they had left behind and the noodle stalls of Umeda and Shinsaibashi that were now under the control of the Byakkotai - the White Tiger Gang.
Terminal was home to migrants and foreigners. After the Earthquake, the skilled and lucky had gotten permits to raise pedicab companies and cycle workshops on the unused man-made land.
Mostly they were Mechanics: men and women of various colours and creeds who worked with speed and precision, tinkering, tightening and testing the two-wheelers that Velocitizens brought to them for repairs and maintenance.
Needed a new tyre, chain, cog, spoke, brake cable or a saddle fitted? The Mechanics of Terminal were at your service - for a price. Bike parts and pieces hung from their shop hooks like cheap trinkets - and sold for the price of precious gems.
You see, and I remind you, motorised transport was outlawed in VeloCity. The island floated on water, but by decree, its citizens travelled on two wheels. Demand for necessities always exceeds supply.
But enough chatter, let me proceed with my tale.
Within the labyrinth I was soon lost.
“Which way to the hydrocab terminal?” I asked a man seated outside a shop.
“Udon?” he said without looking up.
“I’ve sold out.”
“Too bad, I smelled you coming and my stomach got its hopes up.”
I thought it best to move on, but I hesitated.
On the man’s knees a lifeless animal lay. Over it he held an antique soldering iron and in his other hand a brilliant blue glass marble. This he inserted into the animal’s eye socket and sealed it beneath a ribbon of white smoke. He pushed a finger into its anus. The animal stiffened. It leaped from his lap onto a wall and ran three stories to the roof without stopping. It paused at the top to glower at us with glinting blue eyes, then it was gone.
“Felinoid?” I asked.
“Streets are full of them. Thrown away by their owners when they upgrade. They come here because they smell oil.”
“You are a Mechanic - of androids?”
“Of anything with two wheels that is powered by blood and bone.”
“That is the official answer.”
“That is the safe answer.”
This was no ordinary mechanic, I thought. His own eyes had been doctored. His left eye was green, his right blue. From brass-capped boots his body grew tall and sinewy to a tousled head of chestnut brown hair. His lips were full, like the ones on his T-shirt. Beneath them was printed a name of some ancient tribe - “The Rolling Stones.”
“You’re half,” I said.
“There are no full bloods in Terminal.”
“Ha! Myself included.”
He studied me, searching my face for an origin.
“My father was a priest from the holy mountain of Koyasan,” I said. “My mother, a Shanghainese lady of the night.”
“That’s honest,” he said.
“Honest noodles for an honest price.”
“What is your dream?” I asked him.
“I don’t dream.”
“Not me. But if you’re asking me do I have a plan? then the answer is yes.”
“Then what is your plan?”
He looked up the street, then down it.
“To sell my permit and get off this island.”
“Most are trying to get on.”
“Powerful forces are at work. They don’t favour me.”
“More powerful than in Osaka?”
“Have you seen the southern territories?”
“You mean Okinawa?”
His green eye sparkled.
“No, but I have heard it is a poor place.”
“In wealth or in spirit?”
“Is there a difference these days?”
“You sound like the man who can best answer that.”
I readied my cart.
“And you are?” I asked, pushing off.
“They call me Axyl Gris.”