It was a cold dry day in New Cluster. The evening sun painted the smog a dirty crimson. Talon walked alone, or as alone as anyone could be in a city of twenty million.
Hardened boots drove a rhythm into the pavement as he dodged trash, dregs, and things more dangerous. Becoming too lost in one’s thoughts was a luxury ill afforded amongst the streets of New Cluster. Like the animals that used to live in the Earth’s savannahs, whether one was predator or prey, they had to remain constantly vigilant. Sometimes Talon wondered where he fit in that spectrum and he needed figure it out.
Talon had an extra reason to be careful. One of the biggest gangs of Bangers in south New Cluster had him at the top of their Shit List. Sure, he had straightened things with their leader, Ax, but that did not keep the droogs that had ended up on the wrong side of Talon’s baseball bat from wanting to flatten him.
Darkness had already claimed the crumbling streets, when he heard a frantic shout. It came from within a decaying brick shelter that had long since lost its war against the elements. It loomed dark and roofless; the tumbling walls cast long shadows that concealed whoever might lie within.
The shouting continued, clearer this time. “No, please let me keep it. What represents only a few Universals for you,” there was a pained grunt, “represents long months of work for me.”
Another figure moved in the gloom. “That won’t matter when I splatter your blood over these walls?”
The figure moved again and he saw the tattooed skull and blood red mohawk. It was a Rip and one he recognized as Strang. Without considering the consequences, Talon lifted up a brick, waited until he could see the man’s skull again, and then whipped the brick against it as hard as he could.
Strang collapsed with a yell, but more shouting quickly followed, and two more Rips raced out of the abandoned building. Another brick filled his hand and Talon was pleased to see it fly true taking a second Rip in the nose. The Banger stumbled and fell. For the moment, he just lay there groaning.
A bright light flashed, its narrow beam lighting up the ruins. It lasted just long enough for Talon to see that this last Rip had drawn a long dagger. Its rusty blade was the size of a man’s forearm. Talon was forced to backpedal as the Banger approached. Soon, he was past his supply of loose bricks
As his eyes combed the ground for more weapons, he said, great, I’m in the only place in New Cluster without mounds of trash covering everything.”
“Talon, I should have known. When will you stop poking that stupid PR head of yours where it doesn’t belong?” He suddenly laughed, edging closer. “I guess I know the answer to that question. As of tonight, cause you ain’t gonna be seein’ mornin’.”
“Now listen. Your Tern right. We could-”
“Save it, gutter boy. I’m going to open you like a can of soup.”
Another bright flash occurred. Tern went limp and toppled to the ground with a loud thud. His body began to bounce and quiver in a discomforting manner.
Talon watched it for a moment until a new form emerged. On the surface, this new figure appeared far less intimidating than the last. He was short and thin, even frail. Narrow shoulders huddled over some small device that emitted a slight glow. The dim light bathed the man’s face in an eerie electric radiance.
“Who are you?” the young man asked, stepping closer, Talon saw that he was dressed in a simple outfit, more utilitarian than fashionable. His brown vent was creased and stained along its left side. A clean-shaven boyish face met a tangle of dirty blonde hair.
Extending his hand, he said, “The name is Talon. If you were the one that just took out the riff, then I guess we’re even.” Only then, when the new man refused to shake his hand, did Talon see that the small device pointed towards him.
Seconds stretched. “And you are?”
“Oh sorry, I’m…. I’m Micro.”
“Micro, huh? Were the Rips after you for any reason? I’ve had run ins with them before?”
“What? No, no, I uh… they were trying to mug me I guess.”
Squatting down next to Tern, Talon began to go through his pockets as he continued. “Yeah, I suppose it’s been known to happen. These guys aren’t choir boys”
“What are you doing?”
“What, this? Times are tough, man. A guy’s gotta eat. I’m not like these Rips who just take, but if a guy comes at me with a knife, he deserves to have his load lightened at the very least.”
Micro looked behind him as the first Rip began to groan. “The stunning won’t last much longer.”
“Then I suppose we should be on our way. Thanks for the fun and I’ll think of you when I’m eating.”
“You look hungry.”
Talon stood up, but looked away from Micro for a moment. “I have a job, I’m not some dreg, but it’s a few days before payday and well…”
“So you were just walking by?”
“Why did you help me?”
Tucking Tern’s Universals into his jacket, he answered, “not sure really. I just hate Rips and Strang in particular. Besides, I guess I would hope somebody would help me if I was in trouble.”
Micro hesitated. Strang groaned again. “Come to my home with me. I could fix you some dinner at my place. It’s the least I can do.”
“Is there beer?”