There was some small victory he could find in those seventy-seven minutes beneath the street lamp. The night was neither noticably warm or cold, the lamp gave out a soft, steady glow, and Kytus had over an hour to spend at his leisure.
The light was located in an odd location, an awkward junction between two paths - one a thin concrete strip sided by high concrete walls, the other a brick avenue that descended into trees in both directions. All the pathways were dark. He could imagine he was the only person in the world, a world consisting of a two metre radius of street lamp-light, the glistening lights of the city Heights far away, and the ancient stars, so much farther.
His temples were pounding. He felt cramp in his shoulders and left knee. Images rushed through his head, a hypnogogic show playing in his mind. It was not his style, but he needed to rest.
He leaned back against the lamppost and sunk down to the ground. For six minutes he was completely inert while his mind filed away the events of the day.
He then analysed the best expenditure of this free hour. Physical training was always possible, but not wise in his present state. He would have liked to practice with his cards, but had left them at the node, and his harshest critic, taskmaster, and slavedriver - himself - had not forgiven this laxity of order and organisation. He, of course, had his handheld, the lampost had a compatible snout, and this opened up other possibilities for mental improvement. After the shameful drama just passed, he felt the dire need for improvement, in any and all areas.
He could visit, as he so often and so religously visited, the Gone, but he admitted to himself that he could not, in his present state, face it. No, he had a task to do, one he had thought could be helpful in the long view, but still a relatively idle one.
Kytus reached inside his jacket, slid his hand along the belt of tools he wore hidden around his chest, and located the pouch that contained his handheld. A slim, dull-silver-and-black piebald affair, the original model was a Scalibur144, but so many replacements and modifications had been made it would not be inaccurate to say that Kytus had built it himself. Its sleek surface had been marred, its geometric outline interrupted by asymmetrical protrusions. But these had been positioned in a rigid pattern, and the roughened edges had been resmoothed.
He stood up to examine the snout on the lampost. It was about four feet off the ground, a small protrusion on the lampost that surrounded an inch-wide socket with a 55-10 pin array. A fatter line than he might have expected for such a neigbourhood.
Sixteen seconds of work had the neccesary cabling and adapters retrieved from his chest belt and connecting the handeld to the snout, which connected Kytus to the nos. He slid back to the ground to begin his wander.
The aim of his search was to find the location of useful newspoints. He could foresee a future need for accurate information on current affairs in Sinset, and although "reports", rumours and gossip were ubiquitous, unbiased facts were not. The task could easily take up the next hour.
Trawling through the static and rutnos, his first node of interest was a neat circular screenup maintained by an individual named Chevy. Chevy's current distraction was locating old roadnodes and linking them to his personal node. The man's interest in the oil-age transport network was somewhat eccentric, with hardly anyone using the roads for their intended purpose nowadays, but his node was not without use to Kytus. Linked up, the data from the roadnodes created a rough, vague, and self-updating map of the city. Kytus checked the archives to see how the roadnodes might report a news event.
Three weeks ago, a routine teenage gang brawl had exploded, metaphorically and literally, beyond the usual pistols and posturing, and had ended with the demolition of some unwanted old Height. The roadnode at the scene, in its report for that day, noted that one shufflecleaner, eight motorcycles of various design, era and utility, and one genuine old-style battle tank had passed over its precinct that day. Kytus had heard rumours of some unusual weapon making an appearance, but a genuine Lastie war machine was a rare one. The roadnode, although not keeping track of buildings, had noted that a new forty by forty metre section of road had appeared that day. Assumedly the Height had dissolved itself shortly after it began to topple, probably to prevent collateral damage.
Kytus recorded the string, frequency and coords of Chevy's node, and continued his wander. He hit a few nodes of comparable use to Chevy's, but most, even those with human maintainers, seemed like complete rut. There were Lastie-tales of 'newsfeeds' - constantly updated, accurate reports of major events as they happened. Kytus had heard these stories and had dismissed them immediately. Last man must have been so much the greater creature than Postpop man to ever have acheived such feats.
Knowing how to access such data, he decided to check the movements of the many and various cameras that roamed the city streets, installed whenever the present government was tough and they felt the need, or whenever the government was lenient and individuals felt the urge. Three minute's work and his handheld was displaying the data: a long, green-coloured list of coords, locations for over fifteen-thousand devices.
Something was strange about their movements today; he mentally calculated the trajectories of three of them and estimated they were clustering around the same place. He hacked out a quick algorithm to check, and added a graphical plotter just because he could. He called up the screenup; the red dots were clustering, like an angry mob around a scapegoat.
Kytus was intrigued. The sure mangnitude of the event, the sudden immanance of history (for that is what he considered it), had made him forget his habitual vigilance. Every other thought had been blown out of his mind. He was absorbed.
It was rare for anything so important to happen that the cameras would begin to cluster; unknown for so many to flock together at once. Not that there was nothing for them to record - it seemed the main ambition of a sizable sector of the city's population was to get their face in front of a camera, sent around the nos, and so to eventually appear on half-a-million screens across the city. Did not the signs say 'Fame is life'?
But when Kytus routed his handheld to a decent available feed from a camera at the scene, recalibrated both his packet protocol, arrayer and image viewer (there was a very wide range of technologies in Sinset), and finally called up a view of the event, what he saw did not help him live. It instead started the chain of events that would lead to his death.
The screen covered one entire wall of the node - one of the DiHi era nodes and so fairly sizable - and Monay and Teapott were sprawled on adjacent sofas facing the cinematic display. Monay played with a tube of crisps while Teapott, a sound engineering student with ginger hair, flicked through the rutnos. On some evenings he would find interesting viewing in that baroque mass of advertisements and attention-seeking, but today the rutnos was just that - nodes that were complete rut.
He had the idea of checking the common bands at the same moment as a cheese-and-onion crisp, sent in a graceful parabola across the room by Monay, struck him on the cheek. He angled his head to the left, curled his tongue out and snaffled the crisp on its slow flight down.
'Woot! Stunts!,' cheered Monay.
'Oh, why don't you try one of the common bands,' suggested Monay, 'People's, HiTransmission, Screencast Main, I hear they're all good today.'
People's was showing a mob of people weilding (or dressed as) large toy crocodiles. This is almost inexplicable to non-residents of Sinset; the best explanation is that it was their idea of a joke.
HiTransmission was sending footage from their number one camera device: a car-sized flying machine that transmitted a beautifully-styled, three-dimensional (an array of six hundred small lenses ringed the three state-of-the-art main lenses for maximum immersion) image with orchestral sound, backed up by a reinforced-alalloy hull and a bank of six Dragonfly missiles. Chopping through the city at an unsociable speed, it was evidently on its way to a major event; "HiTransmission's Camera One is on its way to a major event," informed a disembodied voice in the background, "other Screencast networks are attempting to sabotage our footage, we are sending in the Cavalry. HiTransmission's Camera One is on its way to a major event..."
HiTransmission was not being singled out for abuse. As Camera One was fast approaching the swarm of cameras that surrounded a tall, broad Height on Sinset's East side, Teapott, Monay, and fifty-thousand other HiTransmission-viewers saw the swarm resolve itself into a mechanical pandemonium, ten thousand demon devices jostling for a view of the rooftop. Cameras of so many shapes and sizes were coming in from all directions; for every one that joined, another was jolted, halted, sent spiralling down and down to either smack straight into the earth and terminate in a million crystal raindrops, or land at an obtuse angle to skid some distance along the ancient tarmac, ground down to nothing but a billion flaming sparks. A red glow lit up the scene, bloodening the sterile metal and glass cases of the machines, and further adding to the battlefield effect.
Three skeletal Redellion cameras detached themselves from the chaos and yawed to face Camera One. Their cross-shaped front faces grew rapidly as they aimed and accelerated straight toward Sinset's largest camera. The view twisted, bearings rolled against metal and stopped with a satisfying clunk, and three flickering anomalies raced across the sky as Camera One fired its Dragonflies. They whirred, spiralled, and danced, eventually tricking one of the Redellions and quickly dropping it. The fast paced dog-fight continued, but Teapott had already changed bands.
He was flicking through the nos, eager to find out about this event. Most of the camerabands showed various views from inside the metal maelstrom, but he could find none with a clear and steady view of the rooftop.
A small icon flashed and whistled to indicate that they had received a message. Teapott activated it to 50 percent, and the dependable-looking face of their friend BB filled half the screen.
"There's some seriously distracting shit taking place right now. Gigli band's got good footage. See Oh it."
Although they had never met BB physically, they both considered him a quite good friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance. This in itself was not unusual, but BB had never really spoken to either of them, except to recommend things on the Gigli band. They had not mused on this fact, nor did they muse on the fact that Gigli band came up automatically after the message closed. But they cannot be blamed for that. The events taking place on the rooftop really were seriously distracting shit.
Did she know that everyone in Sinset was watching her? That she had the city's undivided attention? Those who had not received BB's message had heard from their friends about Gigli band's excellent footage, or had found another band with a decent view. Those outsiders like Kytus who lived outside the bands had found their own feeds. The fighting swarm was beginning to calm itself into a net of eyes.
A perfectly formed body cloaked in black, white hands and face framed by dim red light and raven hair, a crimson line on the left wrist, a knife in the right hand.
Although he was not at all intelligent, even by Sinset standards, and had an average amount of moral integrity, that is, very little, Monay was one of the few people in the city that still possesed something that could be described as a soul.
That is why the image that impressed him the most was not the girl with the knife in her hand, nor the girl leaning over the edge and looking, gazing, long into the pavement far down below. The image that stayed was the girl that turned around, and the eyes that had turned away.
It is also why his reaction to the scene he had just witnessed was not to talk about it, watch it again, take drugs, or change to something more cheerful, which roughly covers the behaviour of at least ninety-five percent of his citymen. Monay drew a picture of it.
His tool was a basic graphite pencil, light blue; centuries-old tooth marks marring the end, and the legend, in neat black print "Moteley Assurance - Jeesuchrise' Insurance 990thg54g 1h". The pencil was being furiously manipulated by a hand that expected nothing less than photographic realism.
His canvas was a yellow-white, perfectly square sheet of thick, fibrous paper, that could be obtained from a slot in a wall half an hour's walk from Monay's apartment. Pushing a button there produced a seemingly endless supply of thick, fibrous, yellow-white, perfectly square peices of paper. Monay never took too many peices, however; he didn't want to abuse the machine, and he enjoyed the walk. His limited supply of paper was growing more limited, as the failed attempts, lying screwed up all around the room, grew in number.
His muse was a synthy heartbeat of a tune; the windows of the room acted as amplifiers and pulsed with the bassline. As the track faded, Monay's music player chimed the message "Get Dulahan Dungarees. The dungarees of-". The advertisement cut out as Monay kicked the skip button.
The next track was faster, and Monay's scribbling also increased in tempo. He could describe the curve of the cheek, was getting the lines of nose and lips, but the eyes...
What about the hair? Yes, that was always tricky, but he realised after some practice attempts that it could be suggested rather than reproduced exactly.
But the eyes...
Scribbling, work on the clothes. They had to look like clothes, folded and creased and hanging, not stiff...
Those eyes, those damn eyes. Leave them blank for now...
They expressed everything, though. And the colour!
It made him want to investigate the legend of the coloured pencils, that blue. He wanted his picture to show the colour of those eyes.
They had been bright. Monay had never seen lightning, but he imagined it would be that colour. Electric blue. Or colour like fire, or anger, or passion. Red blue.
He had now skipped the advert ten times. There was a dangerous chance that he might not get to find out everything he needed to know about Dulahan Dungarees. The music player sent out its invisible message to rectify this troubling development.
Monay was oblivious until he heard a high-pitched whistling increasing rapidly in volume. He hadn't had time to look up when a small, circular device punched a small, circular hole in his window, extended a wicked-looking commercial needle, and began to chase him around the room, attempting to implant the commercial needle into the brain. Monay would sleep well that night, on the floor of his studio; apart from his rapid and shallow respiration, motionless; the distraction of a girl's blue eyes forgotten, he would dream of dungarees.
She sauntered along, wishing someone was there to see how beautiful she looked tonight. Of course he would be there... and she looked forward to intimidating him with a low cleavage. But she wanted to have witnesses to how she looked good, even in an allyway where no-one could see her, and how she'd look good in a dramatic confrontation. Well, she was certainly impressing herself, if that counted for anything. Yes, it did.
She was about ten minutes late. Kytus had fucked off. Well, this was how it ended then. "Not with a bang but a whimper."
She was pleased with the fact that she didn't whimper, although for a moment she was worried that she was going to. It came out as a contented sigh.
The heavens open, smearing her makeup, ruining her hair, sticking her clothes to her skin; and her small part ends.