Nesson is a biweekly serial novel about living with technology, sprawl, and consumerism in the near future. Learn more.
Monday. Monday was market day. Time to restock and, more importantly, catch up on wins and losses. Some Mondays Marcus needed to hide a bit, but on this particular Monday, he had winnings to collect. Overall, for the past few months at least, he had been ahead. No small feat considering the odds when using an unlicensed bookie. Under normal circumstances, the volume of bets Marcus placed might reflect compulsive behavior. If you asked him though, he would tell you that his fervor for gambling stemmed more from boredom and excess currency than any thrill it afforded him.
Despite the general disrepair, the faint odor of drying fish mixed with sweat, and the need to check your pockets every ten steps, the New St. Louis harbor was a welcome sight. Anything was a welcome sight after hours in a cramped ferry bucking on the waves. It was not the locals he had to worry about here. There were not many of them at ground level. Rather, the harbor attracted less than scrupulous travelers and Links workers on leave. It was a rough crowd, one isolated from the rest of the settlement. This isolation was not through any sort of law or force, but by inconvenience. Anyone except a long time native finding his way out of the docks using the winding narrow pathways would be a miracle.
There was something charming about the harbor: seedy subterranean stores, the women of the night out in broad daylight, and the street merchants just as quick to fleece you as to sell to you. It reminded Marcus of old pirate tales and the shady urban neighborhoods of the mid-twentieth century. The place was especially bright today; the grit illuminated to sparkle as he thought of heading down to Lucky Jack’s to get his money.
Maybe with the extra funds he could invest in some more palatable food and drink for his American customers. Well, more like customer, but Marcus would not mind some real cheese and hamburger patties himself. His East Asian suppliers, accommodating and affordable as they were, simply did not supply many of the staples of an American convenience store. The markets here offered everything and anything, for a price.
The streets lay out in a spider web. If one knew what to do, there was a straight route from any one point to any other. Unfortunately, Marcus did not know what he was doing, and always spent half his time in town going circles trying to find places he had been to several times already. The walks, though, were pleasant enough. Despite the squalid, seedy look of most parts of the district, violent crimes were rare and the stranger on the street was friendlier than necessary.
New St. Louis was minuscule in its footprint, but it was dense. It was narrow and vertical, thrusting several hundred thousand people high above the ocean. The main arteries through the city were small enough that little more than a motorcycle could pass. Most traffic was by foot. Some alleyways were barely wide enough to walk through sideways. There was a joke among some residents; it started as a joke anyway. Some said it would be easier to travel between buildings by hopping through open windows, jumping from one apartment and office to the next over a twenty story gap. Marcus swears he has seen the shadow of aerial pedestrians before.
His first trip to New St. Louis struck Marcus ecstatically dumb. He was a typical child of sprawl, growing up in the middle of nowhere with the whole world streaming to his home. His parents were of the generation that first settled into suburban stasis and were among its most enthusiastic supporters. As a family they spent hours in the Holoroom and the video walls, though changed frequently, were never off. Marcus did not interact with people besides his parents in person. By the time he decided to move to Nesson, he was living alone in a large house nominally in the same city as his parents.
Any kind of business could hide in the crevices of New St. Louis. The city festered with places like Lucky Jacks. Marcus could have his pick of gaming houses, most of them nicer than this one, but he stuck to his old haunt. First, everyone there spoke English, a small wonder. Second, it was one of the oldest and yet most obscure spots in the city. Marcus was a fool for esotericism. The manager Jack was an old charmer and he and Marcus became fast friends. Marcus could barely enter the building without Jack pulling him aside for complimentary drinks and demanding conversation.
Marcus walked into Jack’s and made a beeline for the cash window. Due to an upset in a much anticipated and widely broadcast fight, Marcus had a small fortune waiting for him.
“Afternoon, Rachel.” Marcus wore a disgusting smirk.
“Ohh. Mr. Cook, wish I could say it was nice to see you, but you’re kind of cleaning out the house today.” She slapped his arm with a giggle while she turned towards the vault.
“What’s it to you,” he called to her back, “you’re getting paid either way.”
“Not if you keep up this streak!” she turned from the vault door long enough to wink then disappeared into the metal cage.
“Mark! Leave that girl alone, would ya?” Marcus jumped at the sound of his old friend’s voice and instinctively flinched while he waited for a jest-blow.
“Oh come on Jackson, why do you even hire these girls if I can’t talk to them?”
“I don’t see you talking to Jennifer over there.” Jack pointed at a handsome but graying woman a few booths down.
“Not my type.”
“But more your age, you letch.“
“Oh come on, wasn’t she a friend of your mother’s or something?”
“Yeah, yeah. Anyway, I’ve got to talk to you, come sit down at my table.”
“But my money…”
“You’ll get your stupid money. Won’t he Rachel?”
“Yes, Jack!” a bright voice echoed from inside the vault.
Jack’s table was more of an office sitting in a dark corner of the floor. It was hard to see from the game tables, but easy enough to see the tables from the corner. Jack always furnished his table with a bottle of whiskey shipped from somewhere antipodal to New St. Louis, which he drank neat and some reason thought Marcus would too.
“Thanks Jack, could I maybe get some soda and ice?”
Though his face dropped a few millimeters, Jack pulled a seltzer bottle and glass of ice from under his side of the table. He slid them over and before Marcus could open his mouth, Jack spoke. “So Mark, how long has it been since you saw the continent?”
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