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[2006: SEP-OCT] Reality's edge


Estantia
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This was not a normal city.

For a start the city didn’t begin, if you wanted to continue the statement it would take forever, so the conclusion was that it didn’t end. Space was warped here, countries were neighbourhoods, a conventional town was a flattened planet, and it was all spread out flat and within easy walking distance wherever you were. In short, you had to be as warped as it was for it to make sense.

However that didn’t mean the inhabitants didn’t go for a drink every so often, even the recluses went to the quiet pubs for a game of pool and some political debate. It was in one of the rougher bars that a Terran walked in, gold-bronzed skin and jet-black hair marking him as a Spaniard, the razor of a nose and slightly flared cheekbones almost giving him the look of a hawk that in anyone else might be considered feminine.

He sprawled easily in a seat, his status made him obliged to choose this pub to haunt, though his clothes were well cut, flattering his easy grace as a familiar waitress served him his favourite wine from the fields near Zaragoza. He closed his eyes and sipped, the liquid conjuring pictures of home until he opened his eyes to see an argument taking place at the table next to him.

The Spaniard wasn’t exactly surprised, those three were always bickering over their cards... “Oiga!” he called over, “If you can’t handle your Cards quietly, callate!”

“You ain’t in the game!” one called with a thick Irish accent as the Englishman and American made angry noises about their hands, drawing attention back to the game. The Spaniard stood and walked over, fully intending to yell when he saw the game they were playing when he paused.

“You guys were attempting to play Duel Poker?” he asked, one eyebrow raised, “Gods it hurts the eyes...”

“We’re good at it!” protested the drunk Englishman as his Irish friend said much the same thing.

“You guys wouldn’t know how to play it if the rules were put directly into your minds,” commented the Spaniard dryly as he pulled out his own deck of Cards with the distinctive picture plates that shimmered slightly in the dim light.

The other three grinned and their Cards immediately shuffled themselves and sat by their right hands as the third man took a seat. The Spaniard rarely deigned to associate himself with these types, but it seemed he was making an exception today, and no-one here had ever seen him take out his Cards.

The bartender immediately raised the beer prices, this was going to be one heck of a spectacle.

----

“Deal.”

The cards landed in front of Anton Mil in downtown Zaragoza and he picked them up, a swill of synthahol running down his throat as he studied his cards, then placed a button in the centre. No-one played with real latinum here, the buttons served as representatives for the on-running competition between the guys, tallied on a grimy sheet of paper next to the dingy bar. The cascade of buttons ended and Anton withdrew two cards from his hand and tossed them down, a discard.

The cards stopped in mid air, smoke also freezing in place as the Spaniard spoke, “This person and the bar make a good combination of cards, but my other cards don’t fit the situation, they simply wouldn’t be here. I need a better placement card, and hence he goes with it.”

“Oh shuddup and play.” The two cards landed on the table, the man frozen and a view down the full bar. The Spaniard picked up two more from his deck and raised an eyebrow, “Interesting, yes, these will create an okay hand.”

“My turn,” the American grunted, and the game continued. The others discarded and picked up, the infinite probability of a good hand with a deck this large, and plenty of arguing over the best hand... They showed with grins and winks, a clear win for the Irishman...

However the Spaniard still held his up in a fan, dark eyes studying the other men with a disquieting glint in them, “Ready?”

“Just show yer Cards.”

“You asked for it....”

His hand snapped round, six cards shooting onto in a glowing arc the table face up as he gave a command, voice sharp as the cards burst into a dazzle of light.

“Ignite!”

----

Footsteps wafted hauntingly through the empty corridor lifted above the main bustle of the city as the sun started to rise, arrowing through the corridor, beams of light forming blocks of light on the opposite wall. Perfect in sunlit silence on this rib above the city. She supposed it was okay before the others came, soon this corridor would fill with bustling, yelling people, chatting eagerly amongst themselves about Sarah-down-the-road or Mr-so-and-so.

But that wouldn’t be the worst bit, every flinch, every spring of guilt, every angry explosion would crowd her vision, buzz of nerves would mix the sounds and she would be buffeted on all sides by so much that her eyes unfocused, having to trust the crowd to carry her in the mess of sight. At least she could get some quiet to do her work in before the day started...

“Early again Mil?” the male voice startled her out of her thoughts as her tutor entered the highest corridor in the school.

“Yes sir, the school’s beautiful this early in the morning,” came the soft reply, dark eyes tracing a building.

“Really?” the young teacher yawned, “I never noticed.”

The girl remained quiet, returning to gazing out the windows at the city below her, glinting in the new dawn. It was a pity it was only now and in the evening it looked nice, light reflecting and shimmering off windows and aerials, it would lose its splendour later, return to faded bricks and grimy glass, it was a pity, light could be so enchanting as it rippled through the city...

“I don’t believe I have ever been here before you in the time I’ve been here,” the man came to stand next to her, surveying the city below them, thinking, though the subjects were most likely quite different, as his next statement implied.

“And you’re always looking out the window, always. Just standing completely still until your friend comes.”

Again Cara didn’t reply and remained looking out, but her attention on the man. He was working himself up to saying something, all she had to do was wait until he came out with it, people liked to fill silence.

“Why are you always so quiet Cara?”

The 15-year-old’s eyes lost the sparkle they’d had, like shutters had closed behind them and shut off the internal light. “That’s a very personal question sir.”

“That’s why I was asking it, I am concerned about your mental welfare and your happiness, being at school at the crack of dawn every day hardly seems social.” For an instant Cara thought he was referring to her empathy before she shook herself, very few knew about that aspect of her, they’d be scared of her and taunt her for it, she’d seen the fear in their eyes.

“I was expecting a reply.”

“I was thinking of how I could reply,” she said quietly, looking out the window again, carefully considering what to say before settling on a metaphor, turning to the window.

“Look down at the courtyard sir, what do you see?

“That doesn’t answer my question,”

“What do you see?” The teacher sighed and decided to humour her,

“I see an empty courtyard.”

“The people from the bus are about to arrive, then there will be something to see, you can watch and guess about what’s going on down there, see how students move through the crowd to find their friends.” He didn’t get it, she thought with a sigh, and explained.

"If you watch until registration comes you can see how the groups of people move and fluctuate, you might even see the vague groups, bookworms, plastics, gangsters. If you watch at lunch you can see them more clearly, maybe from a different angle so you see people hiding in the corners. If you watch over many days you start to recognise people, follow through an argument and it’s affect on those around, it’s amazing how much you can see if you watch.”

“I don’t see what you’re trying to tell me.”

“Then watch and you’ll see what I mean, you don’t have to speak to be part of the group, like the person sitting in the old buildings.”

“She’s not even part of it!”

“You can see her can’t you?” The teacher remained silent until the bell rang and the rest of the class entered and as always the girl turned from the window and quietly talked with her friend.

Once more the scene froze, though it rewound to where the girl’s eyes reflected the school below. “See? I got mine to Ignite when I put together the girl, Dawn, and the corridor with Outside Influence, in this case a teacher, and the action Watch. I will now bring my sixth card, Switch Perspective, into play.”

“Watch is boring, and besides, you aren’t allowed to switch perspective to an Outside Influence! It has to be a Main Character!”

The Spaniard smirked. “Shows you much you know, you can if it’s the same situation or a continuation.”

Something about that conversation was still niggling at the teacher's mind later when he had a free lesson to work. It irritated him that she knew something he didn’t understand. With an irritable sigh he stood with his mug of coffee and moved to the window overlooking the rest of the school.

He frowned as his eyes wandered through other windows, students sitting, talking, sleeping, one was even chucking a paper aeroplane and his mouth twitched slightly in a smile, remembering his own schooldays.

The teacher’s eyes remained on the boy, who was now having to explain himself to his colleague, eyes wide and innocent behind flashing glasses. That blank look was so common, reflecting false innocence to the teacher, who was normally forced to give up as she had done. The eyes flickered in glee for a moment before he turned to the person behind and continued his conversation.

The watching member of staff turned to another window, and another. In each class he saw the same things, lessons, pupils, talking, what has that girl been getting at? He returned to his work frowning, he had wasted enough time already on the girl’s little game, eyes flitting from one piece of paper to the next busily, burying himself in thoughts other than the riddle buzzing round his mind.

Needless to say he returned to the window a few minutes later, eyes stormy, he still saw nothing, just normal boring people, nothing more, nothing less. He slammed his fist against the glass, feeling it reverberate with a gentle hum.

Far below in the old classroom Cara tilted her head on one side slightly, watching the teacher high above become frustrated, framed in the small patch of sky that was visible. She had known he wouldn’t understand, he would never understand until he had learned patience and let the veil of anger spread itself on the wind.

With a slow blink Cara watched, fascinated, as rainbows skittered across her eyelashes to be replaced by golden light and back again. Even when she moved her attention to the teacher the blue sky out the window caught her eye once more and she couldn't help but look, hypnotised.

“Miss Maria-Mil, what is the author thinking about?” Cara’s eyes returned unconcernedly to her Spanish teacher,

“The dream of the freedom that embodies forever, Miss.”

“Anything else?”

Cara was about to speak when the window caught her attention and her eyes slid over to it, “the way the character knows the dream is unachievable but cannot help but try.”

“Excellent evaluation Miss Mil, however I would appreciate it if you looked like you were paying attention in lesson.” Cara didn’t reply, she wasn’t expected to, just looked up at the teacher, benign shutters behind her eyes again. However once the teacher had moved away her eyes moved back to the window and wondered how long it would take him to see and how long it would be until she could see more than a square of periwinkle forever.

----

The camera stretched away, looking back at the girl through the window before it froze, the girl’s eyes still watching them, reflecting the square of pure sky. The colours of the large screen faded and split into the normal six individual pearlescent plates on the Cards before they deck shot back into the Spaniard’s raised hand with a snap. The imperious gaze challenged the other men with a smirk.

That, gentlemen, is how you play Duel Poker.”

The silence was broken with an American drawl, “You play too much.”

“No, I just spend my time actually getting to know my city,” he replied in a slightly scathing tone, forefinger flicking a card out of the deck that spiralled to land on the table, pearly plate parting to reveal the girl.

“That little beauty is one of my favourite cards, however she can only be used in a certain time frame, limiting what I can do with her, a risky card, but it can pay off.” He studied the card for a moment with the body shot of the girl rotating before the pearly screen closed in and it slid back into his pack of Cards, “Whoever has that girl as a woman is a lucky person indeed if they know how to use her, she’s a good Card.”

He slotted her back into his deck, eyes on the Cards as he next spoke, “However it’s not just the cards, to be a good player you need to spend time getting to know your city, the bond pays off, unlike drinking in here all day,” the Spaniard quipped, turning from the table.

However a faintly blue-silver hand held him back and the shorter man turned, raising an eyebrow at the person who had detained him. “Yes?”

“I think we ought to play as a tag-team sometime,” the man said, skin shimmering as he spoke with a hint of a grin under pale white-silver hair.

“You know something that I don’t,” he stated eventually as the crowd drifted off, drawing a smile from the stranger.

“Correct, let me introduce myself,” the silvery hand was extended, Terran-style, to the Spaniard, “I am the USS Independence, you are Zaragoza I presume?”

“Maybe,” Zaragoza replied with a wary look, “Why do you ask?”

“Because that little girl is a very interesting Card,” the white-haired being replied cryptically. However the Spaniard grinned, getting the connection,

“You’re a lucky man aren’t you?”

“Indeed I am,” they replied with a grin, “I think that a tag team may work nicely between us.”

“Certainly," The spaniard offered him a seat, "would you like to sit and talk about our Cards for a while? Our cities can wait for a bit, it's not like we'll miss anything, not here anyway.”

----

The city twinkled in the darkness, a beautiful spectacle that stretched forever and seemed to reside on the edge of reality and all the forces that came with it, time, space, life, death... and yet it was tied by a thin line to everywhere in the universe... somehow.

Cara was watching it as the sun rose.

Edited by Cara Maria
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