An hour later I find my self in the middle of a surreal scene. We are again driving around in Petrova's monster of a car that whines its way through the rain splashed streets of the Russian sector. She is driving intricate pretzel routes through her neighbourhood while I sit in the back with the large broken man who is wearing a very stylish little sack over his head. I point my gun vaguely in his direction making sure that he does not do anything clever all of the sudden.
This is wrong. Somehow I find it deeply disturbing that I am the gorilla in this piece and this strange failure of man is our hapless victim.
I takes a while until Petrova is finally convinced that she has driven around enough bends and turns to utterly disorient our guest. It certainly worked on me. I have no idea where we are and I was looking out of the window most of the time.
She drives the car into a little ally. One that looks as if it was just waiting for a lone blond teenage girl to pass through and meet an unpleasant fate. We disappoint the little street as we unload Carter. I pull the sack off of his head and Petrova has a few words for him. I am surprised at how tender she sounds. She tells him that he is OK now and explains him how to get to the next main street. The broken man nods like a childlike nod. He turns and walks slowly away.
'And do some more respect to women in the future Darren.' Petrova calls after him. The man hesitates for a second while a slight tremor shakes his bis whole body for the length of two heart beats. A meek nod and he continues his voyage back to what ever hole he crawled out of.
Two minutes later we are back at Petrova's house.
'What?' she says looking at me with arched eyebrows. 'Did you think I drive that scab to the other end of the sector? It's enough that he doesn't know where I live, right?' I shrug. Now it is just a matter of putting her car back in the garage grab our stuff and get going. When we are all set she hands me a hat that had seen better days and was a thrilled to see me as I was wearing it. I held it between thumb and forefinger, me and the hat looking at Petrova with slight disapproval.
'Is there a problem?' she sighs.
'What's the hat for?' an obvious question.
'Your head...' her obvious answer.
'I don't wear hats.' they ruin my hair.
'They ruin my hair.'
'Is that noodle salad on your head supposed to be a hair-do?'
'Normally it is yes.'
'Well right now it looks like an otter cemetery. Also you are getting recognized by almost everyone who crosses our path. I think we are going to be pretty save where we are going now. As all your fans so far seem to come from the European sector, but we are not going to take any chance. Are we?' there is an uncomfortable amount of school teacher in her voice.
'No. I guess we shouldn't' I take the hat and put it on my head. 'Do you have by any chance a coat for me? This one is not the most discreet model either.' Suddenly the navy blue with gold highlights, hiding in plain sight does not seem all that bright any more.
'I can't believe it there are actually signs of intelligent life in your head? I think I might have one that will fit you.' she signalled me to follow her. We moved upstairs where she led me to a large closet filled with various types of men's clothing. 'Why did you not buy yourself a new coat when you knew that you were being targeted by assassins?'
'Er... well... I... This is my new coat...'
'What. You mean that is not... I thought that was like what you wore for work or... Where you on drugs?!'
'Yes. But I did not know it at that time!'
'That makes it OK then.' she shook her head. She pulled a long heavy coat out of the closet and held it against me. It smelled of one hundred years of solitude inside a stuffy cupboard. 'Try it on this one should fit.'
The coat was heavy even when worn and apart from its centenarian smell was very comfortable. Like the loving hug of an exceptionally large and maternal sheep. It was a bit to large hanging down almost to my ankles and the sleeves moving a bit to far past my wrists. Bit there was something nice about it.
Petrova seemed to agree. 'Good enough. Now we can go.'
'What's up with that collection anyway?' I asked as we moved back down the stairs.
'Ex-lovers. Some simply vanish without taking their stuff. Others get vanished and are not allowed back in.'
Each of us garbed a backpack filled with a bit of food, spare clothing and some tools which should get us to our destination. The plug-in was now in a more neutral looking transport case. It was far to large for it but that way we got to cover it in books which would serve as basic camouflage against curious glances and superficial controls. Many of the books were either about the terraformers or about their programming so that they might come in handy later when we reached our goal. It was also a convenient cover story which put is as travelling petty merchants travelling along the sector buying and selling cheap shit to make ends meet.
Petrova stalked of into the direction I liked to call 'not towards Kiev Station'.
'Isn't the station in the other direction?' I should have become a detective.
'Yes. But we are not going to that station. We are going to take a black ship.'
'One of the ships that go through the storm drains?'
'I always thought they were just rumours.'
'For someone dealing in information you are pretty clueless.'
'Well I was mostly involved with small time criminals. But even they would not go down into the storm drains. If there is anything down there apart from rats it would be bums that would be to broke and burnt out for the Drain. Hell. That's where the drain flows into.'
'Well if you know where to look the storm drains are actually quite busy and they are perfect for our needs. They will get us where we want to go and there will hopefully be hardly anyone that knows about you and the price on your head.'
'Sounds fine to me. You lead the way.'
And so I followed Petrova through her part of the Endless City. I noticed that the Russians had a bit more style than Imperial Europe. While this part of the Europa was also rather low rent. It was built with a certain dignity in mind. The faux brick of the houses made them look more respectable. And where we had just naked stone columns holding up the high rises far above, here they were usually carved out into melodramatic statues. There was somehow not a place where you could not have symbols of the 'oldest democracy in the system', the statues of Presidents, Generals and of course the Hero of Democracy in his and her various guises. The mechanic, the scientist, the doctor every job had its own little monument. All of these idols to modern mankind were invariably looking at the far horizon catching a glimpse of the radiant future or had their gazes turned upwards gazing towards the infinity of space. The constant rain water washing over them just made them even more melodramatic. But despite them being slightly ridiculous in their grandeur I could not help but feel slightly impressed. Just like the Opera these monuments where so well crafted in their ridiculous pathos that they did not fail to impress.
To keep the moon warm the terraformers kept part of Europa's ice molten. The warm water evaporated heating everything above them and as the water cooled down it came back down as rain again. Little paths and channels were everywhere for the water and in the city centres where there was no space left to let the rain simply slip back down to the moon's surface it was collected in channels and led into the storm drains. As far as I knew they were not only used to get all that liquid back down but also to power all kinds of clever processes and machines. No idea what that actually was. I mean who cares as long as it works, right?
The gate to the underworld here was far more impressive than the few I had seen on the Imperial side. I was used to simple holes in the wall with large trellised metal gates. Here the arch of the gate was, of course, engraved looking like a sneak that bit its own tail at the apex. The gate itself too was decorated. Every metal bar of it looking like a dozen meter long spear. Out of it came a sustained deep rumbling roar of a waterfall. And just to make matters perfectly it was illuminated from within the water. That many of the giant submarine floodlights were broken did actually enhance the effect even further. It really did look like a gate to another world.
'Ready Orpheus?' Petrova asked.
'Ready Eurydice.' my answer raised a smile.
The descent which I imagined to be a water soaked disaster and near drowning experience was actually pretty easy. We did not go through the main gate but through a much more humble service door which opened into a cramped stairwell. The only problem we had was getting the damned plug in within its case down the stairs. There was not enough room to manoeuvre. At every bend we had to tip and tilt the odious box. Not to hard with gravity dampers. Yet it was also not very hard to get a bunch of fingers between the box and the wall. After a lot of screaming and pain we finally reached the rusty door at the bottom that some kind souls had tried to protect from corrosion by covering it with graffiti colourful in language and shading.
As I opened the door the sounds and smells of a new world broke over me like a wave. It sounded not unlike the crowded open air markets I knew from the surface backed by the throaty roar of the nearby waterfall. The odours more varied than upstairs. First of all there was the vague smell of soggy human. But also the smell of a dozen food stalls deep frying, grilling and cooking everything that looked edible and had not vanished inside a wall quickly enough. The very base of smell was that of oil slick machines and the complex bouquet of their exhaust fumes. We stepped through into the market and got instantly swallowed by the crowd. I stopped after a couple of paces. Hand on mouth. Mostly so that my chin did not fall to the ground and crawled under a stall or other. I would not have ever found it again. Also I did not want to look even more like an utter stranger. Looking like an outsider is an internationally recognized invitation to get robbed. Petrova took the lead and I was happy to follow her. I was still a bit dazed by the various sights. I was deeply impressed by a little stall that pressed pots out of scrap metal using a machine powered by the waterfall which chewed on the metal that was fed into it for a while seemingly lost in mechanical thought to spit out a pot or a pan. Or a knife sharpener who simply used the rough wall behind him to sharpen his clients knives and scissors back to genius level sharpness. He simply used his skill to make up for a lack of tools.
'Kane?' Petrova had stopped and was facing me.'
'I will have to leave you for a moment here OK?'
My good old friend panic kicked me affectingly in the stomach.
'Don't worry. I just need to speak with an old friend of mine. But he is a bit paranoid, OK? I have to talk to him alone first. You just keep your head down and all will be fine. I won't take long.'
If she was not on my side she could have killed me or delivered me to who ever wanted my head a long time ago. I was rather certain that I could trust her for now. After all I had brought her the plug-in and with that she could do something that most people who liked to tamper with terraformers could only dream of.
'OK.' I said. 'Go speak to your friend. I'll just have a look around here and keep an eye on our merchandise.' I patted the cargo box with my hand as I said that. She was about to say something but changed her mind while still drawing breath. I expected a witty remark or some eye rolling. But she looked me in the eye and simply nodded.
'You are right. You should look after our stuff. ' she had a quick glance around.
'Hey look over there,Madame Apollonia. Why don't you join her in her tent and have a look at our future?'
The tent was a a collection of clashing colours that had locked jaws at each others throats, crowned by a large sign which proclaimed that indeed this was the fabled seat of 'Lady Apollonia. ORACLE of the UNDERWORLD!!!' And why not. I would be out of sight and Petrova could go and talk to her friend and know where to find me. I nodded.
'You know where to find me. Go and talk to that friend of yours.'
She vanished into the crowd and I into the oracles tent.
Despite not being that big I found out that it was a little masterpiece of tent architecture. After the first cloth flap I was inside a tiny ante-room with enough space for one person and a metal sign that was bolted into the floor imparting the following mystical knowledge:
Palm reading. 1 Credit
Aural scan. 1 Credit
Consulting the Tarot. 1 Credit
Commune with the dead. 3 Credits (angry spirits cost extra)
Full Karmic Evaluation 5 Credits
No credits? Piss off.
Perfect. I moved past the sourly sign into the next antechamber. This one was much larger with enough space to hold four chairs for people waiting. There were none. The room also had a serious patchouly problem. Its walls were decorated with what I suspected were once innocent bed sheets that had hung out with the bad crowed to often which resulted that after a drunk night they had found themselves in here tattooed all over in mystic cross-stitch. I sat down.
'Stranger I can feel your presence! The spirits of time and space have made your presence known to me!' the woman's voice came from everywhere. I felt slightly ashamed when I noticed that I had jumped to my feet and that I was fingering the grip of my Chekhov.
'Do not be alarmed, stranger! For I have vowed to use my powers only for good.' after a short pause the voice added 'And for self defence. Now. Enter my chambers so that I might peer into your future.'
I entered the third even larger room inside the tent. It was covered from floor to ceiling in with mystic imagery. A very through collection ranging from Russian Icons to European alchemists symbols and to Sanskrit sutras. Obviously this woman had all bases covered. I was obviously in the right place. The woman looked surprisingly plain. Middle ages. Not ugly, not pretty. But she made up for it with her fantastical robes which much like the rest of the room had confused the history of human mysticism with a end of season super sale and had gone into a little shopping frenzy. The only really impressive part was her 'crown'. A circlet of rusted metal with a piece of shining evil looking glass embedded in its middle.
Between us stood a small table covered in dark violet velvet. I was a bit disappointed that there was no crystal ball.
'Sit down oh seeker and all will be clear.'
I sat down.
'Tell me then oh wandered. What do you seek?'
'What the future holds for me?'
She looked at me for a moment obviously struggling with some internal dilemma.
'Which program do you wish for.' she said 'Oh seeker.'
Of course. What was I going to pay. I guessed that Petrova would need a while to locate her friend and talk to him or her, so I could as well enjoy the ride. I took a a couple of one credit coins out of my pocket and gave the woman five of them.
'I'll take the full Karma Revelation.'
'The Karmic Evaluation.'
'Of course. That one.'
Half an hour later Petrova found me standing in front of the the tent.
'So how did it go?' she asked?
'Oh brilliant. Utterly fabulous.'
'Really? What did she say?'
'After cold reading me like a cheap romance novel she told me that I would end my tragic journey with my hands dripping blood. My own blood.'