Her name changes as we know her. In the bar with the lights and the heavy beat and the stims and the slows and the dancing which might as well be fighting or sex, her friends call her Flossy, which King says is a nickname for Florence. What sort of parents give their kid the name of Florence? Humbert says it means flowering or in bloom. She’s not flowering. It’s not a right name for her. She has brown eyes and I don’t remember what color her hair was, but it was different every time I saw her, right up to the end. She stole my black leather jacket that first night. She was wearing it the next time we saw her.
She was slumming it, her and her friends. We all knew that, King and Maho and poor little Humbert and me. She was in charge of her little group, and she was a little rich girl, and she wanted a little rough. So she dragged her friends downtown with her, and went to the clubs. But the clubs weren’t dirty enough for her. All the little rich kids came to the clubs. We were practically a tourist industry, us not-rich boys and girls. King hates it, it makes Humbert happy, fuck only knows what Maho thinks and me… I used to think, they’re using me, it’s only right I should use them. Now I’m not sure anymore.
She came to the clubs and we met her. I don’t remember her friends except Mel, who I see every week at the sanitarium when I visit. She’s just leaving as I’m coming in, and we nod at each other. Nobody else visits. I looked at the log once. The others, her other girls – I think one had rainbows on her cheeks for a while, and another liked to drink these glowing green drinks that smoked, like they were toxic or something. But I don’t really remember them.
She stole my jacket. That’s how we met the second time – they, she and the girls, were leaving the club early just as we were getting there and I saw her wearing it. I yelled and they laughed and ran, and we chased them, and we caught up at another club. This one was a little seedier. I grabber her wrist and she swiped her nails at me, scratched the hell out of my face. I didn’t let go – too surprised that an uptown rich girl would do that. She looked up at me, her head tipped back and her eyes full of something with electricity and sharp edges. We went and had drinks and danced. I called her Kitty-girl, and she liked that.
She kept the damn coat. I think her mother still has it, somewhere; she only wears paper robes in the sanitarium. I never asked her mother for it back.
Kitty-girl was more than a name; she had some cat DNA. More than a little; more than most, and a lot of folks have cat in them. It’s a popular sequence. Her parents, all the rich folks, they can do the designer genes in their kids. Started a couple dozen years ago, now all the rich kids are part something-or-other. They’re all geniuses and athletes. Cat is a popular one; the eyes, the joints, the muscles. You can tell, looking at someone, what they have in them. It won’t last – as folks get mixed up in a few generations it’ll all be a muddle – but right now, you know when you look who has a little bit of beagle in their nose, a little bit of weasel in their spine, a little shark in their joints. Humbert’s got some naked mole rat in him. He was really drunk when he told us that. He’s gonna live maybe two, three times as long as us.
So she had cat. But sometimes I think she had more than that. Can’t quite tell, not now. I’ve looked at wildlife encyclopedias, I’ve thought about taking a sample and getting her sequenced, but nothing in the books quite fits and I can’t bring myself to pull out her hair.
She’s like a drug herself. She wants to party. She wants to see it all, know it all, do it all – she’s fierce and bright and only as big as a twelve year old, but she says she’s twenty. Still living with her parents, just like the other rich kids. Family estate; she calls it a compound, tells us about the walls and the guards and the dull dull parties. Tells us how to break in and how to break out. We laugh. Downtown boys like us don’t break in or out of houses up there, not where the air is sweet and green things grow. I think she’s a little disappointed in us.
We don’t want to disappoint her. So we take her and the others on a tour for the next three weeks, them coming down to meet us at the Wavelength late in the evening and us taking them other places, other bars and private rooms and stores. Kitty likes me, then she likes King. He calls her Flika. I look it up; it’s part of an old show about a dolphin. I don’t tell her. She likes Maho, she likes Humbert. Maho and King fight once, words (King wins) and fists (Maho wins) and Kitty, she laughs and laughs and takes Humbert into the other room. King and Maho get drunk. We hear Humbert call her Pixie Queen, and we hear her silver laugh. I take Mel up onto the roof, and we lie back and look at the city lights. She tells me she’s seen stars before, on a sailing trip. I’m not sure I believe they exist.
Kitty owns us all. We’re her pets. In two weeks she spins us around. We party for her, dance for her, fight for her, do everything for her. She’s our little queen on tiny spike heels, grinding herself into our slum and making the dirt look like platinum. We live for her. Then we kill her.
Not really. She’s not dead. Might as well be, though. And it’s not on purpose. It’s an accident. It’s not even our fault, not really.
It’s all our fault. It’s her fault. It’s her parent’s fault. Who the fuck lets their kids run around with folks like us? Who lets their kids come down and do all the stims and slows and trips and drinking, then lets them come back again and again? But we should have known we weren’t enough for her, the way she got us into fights, the way she flirted with the worst stuff she could find. We tried to say it was the cat in her, but it wasn’t. It was just her, and we should have known.
The bazar comes through every month or so. It takes over a street, runs for miles and miles. It sets up as soon as the streetlights come on and breaks down before the sun comes up, and all night long everyone comes to pay for what they need. The lights are sparkling, the merchandise is shiny, the sellers are carnival barkers, hawking their wares in sing-song voices. Rainbows shimmer off the puddles and it smells like rotting garbage and ozone. Old tech and experimental stuff and broken stuff and illegal stuff, pieces and parts and things you can’t identify. Some of the tech needs to be fed on blood, some of it shits diamonds. I don’t know what half of it does, but we took Kitty-girl there because we were loosing her and we knew it, knew we had to up the ante, had to bring her new dark things to explore or she’d leave us for someone worse. And we didn’t want her to leave, not even when she crawled out of Maho’s bed instead of King’s, or when we caught her naked in Humbert’s room and he refused to say what they’d been doing. She had us all wrapped around her little claws.
She left us, all right. Her crew, her friends – they left first, going back uptown, not showing up the next day. Mel was the last; she stuck it out the longest, kept trying to keep her friend out of trouble. But in the end she didn’t show, and that night was the first night Kitty had us all to herself, and we were drunk with it. With her attention, her flickering laughter, the way she tipped her head down and looked at us from under her eyelashes. She had lavender hair that last night, with pink bits. She’d done her nails and lips pink too. I remember that.
She was dancing in the room we shared, in the living room on the table. It had a glass top, and Humbert was lying underneath it, looking up at her with rapture on his face. King was sitting in the recliner smoking and watching, and I was getting some coffee. I’d stopped drinking for a little bit, trying something new, trying being sober. Mostly. There was whisky in the coffee, but no drugs. Maho was lying on the sofa pretending to be asleep. I don’t remember who mentioned the bazar. It wasn’t me. It couldn’t have been me. Maybe it was Humbert. Someone said it, though. “It’s bazar night.” And she perked up and looked at us, her eyes bright and her skin so pale and King told her about it in his rich voice that could sell hawks to mice, and I had a feeling. Just a little feeling down at the bottom of my spine that this was bad. But I shut it up because she was wearing my jacket and a tutu and tall black boots, and she looked at me like she was excited and like I was the only one who could say yes or no. And I could never say no to her. So we went.
When I saw her face when she saw the bazar it was like Christmas. She clapped her hands and bounced in place and laughed, as though we’d rolled the bazar out just for her like a magic red carpet. It was beautiful, then, and I smiled and thought, it’ll be ok. We’re here, we won’t let anything hurt her. And we wouldn’t. That night we were her escorts, her knights, her bodyguards and slaves. We picked her up so she could see into the blacked-out tanks of custom jellyfish, we kept people from bumping her in the crowded street, we bought her drinks that sparked and sticks of meat that sang softly as she ate them. We poked through buckets and boxes of old hard drives, ribbon cable, enhanced neural network implants, batteries that chattered to each other in clicks and snaps, lobster that mournfully computer pi to a hundred thousand places while they ate their own tails. We looked, and walked slowly down the strip, and then we met Alan.
He had the most magnificent mustache, I remember. His eyes were black and gleaming, and he wore a striped robe. His stall was a pale yellow tent with grimy edges, and everything was a dozen years old. There were bottles, and tubes, and little LCD screens, and he had an old dentist’s chair sitting there with a mini MRI in a box next to it. Kitty girl, she was paying attention to Humbert, so when he poked a collection of junk and asked what it was, she heard Alan answer.
It was a time machine. Broken, of course. Not a literal time machine; this one took you to places that had never been, dreams that had never existed. It took you back and forwards,high and low, out and then back in; and as Alan spoke I could see the excitement in her eyes, and feel the dread in my stomach.
I tried to distract her. I pointed out the stall just down from us, where they were growing glowing moss and real fairies in terrariums. But she was uptown, rich, and they’d probably had and thrown out a dozen nicer pets than the cheap knock-offs we had down here. She listened to Alan, and she got a look in her eyes, and she decided she wanted it. And nothing would do but for her to get it right then.
Even the fact that she’d have to shave half her head didn’t dissuade her. She sat in the chair while Alan shaved her head, and we stood there blocking anyone else from coming near his shop but he didn’t care – she’d paid him an insane amount right then and there, and we had nothing that would compete. It was fast, what he did, his hands flying. He put on white gloves and swabbed her scalp and used the laser cutter, so there wasn’t even any blood, switched on the miniMRI and moved his hands with expert care as he popped the tubes in slid the casing over her ear. The status screen he just dropped there, and it slid its legs down into her scalp and snuggled itself down and I felt my stomach turn like I was gonna puke. So I looked away, shut for a sec, and that was when he switched it on and she screamed.
Just once. Then it was a moan, and we all knew that moan, but it was deeper and longer and it trailed off in a sigh. Her eyes went wide then slid shut, and she slumped there in the chair, and for a second I thought she was dead.
Humbert went nuts. He had Alan up against the side of the tent screaming at him, what did he do, how did he undo it; Maho had a knife out, King was moving over to her but I beat him to it. I checked her throat and yeah, there was a pulse. And her eyes were moving behind the lids. King saw me and then he turned, grabbed Humbert and picked him up off the ground. Shook him, told him Kitty was fine.
It was a lie. We did everything we could to wake her up, but she just lay there. Alan said it was how it was supposed to go, that it was perfectly normal; but he looked a little nervous, and we smelled it. When we asked when she’d wake up he dodged. Then he called bazar security on us, and they came to escort us away. Bazar security is nothing to sneeze at; they wear robes over bodies that don’t move like humans, and they’re twice the size of any of us. Maho wanted to try and cut one open. He said it right there in front of them, his eyes wide and shining with unshed tears and rage and fear. King talked to him, took his arm, walked him. I carried Kitty in my arms, and Humbert followed along practically on my heels, his eyes never leaving her face.
The guards left us at the edge of the bazar, and stood there; they weren’t go gin to let us back in. So we brought her back to the room and lay her on the couch and tried to figure out what to do. None of the hospitals we could get to would be a damn bit of good; they specialized in abortions and overdoses. This might conceivably be an overdose, but we agreed it wasn’t one the hospital could help with. Sometime around then Maho vanished; he grabbed his stuff, put it in a bag and left. King watched, and stayed until dawn, but when the sun came up he took off too. Only Humbert and I remained. Humbert, he spent the whole night crouched by her side, eyes on her face, tears running down his cheeks. He wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t leave her side. I hadn’t realized how much he loved her. So I was the one who called Mel.
She came down on her own, took one look at Kitty and called Kitty’s mom. Mel was looking different than when she’d come for a party. Now she wore a nice skirt that decently covered her knees, a blouse that had more than two buttons, and a jacket. Her shoes had never touched anything quite as nasty as our carpet and her hair was straight and dark. I barely recognized her.
Kitty’s mom came down in a dark silver car that didn’t have a spot on it. It moves quietly instead of rattling and didn’t seem to care what it crushed, it never changed the smooth ride. I watched it from the window. Her mom came out the same as the car: smooth, silver, elegant, crushing everything before her. She took one look around the room. Mel bowed. I stayed by the window. Medics trailed her like pets, then swarmed Kitty’s still body, hooking up more tubes, waving more wands, muttering in a strange language.
And then they were gone. When they picked Kitty up Humbert wailed like a broken thing; Kitty’s mother waved a hand and amebic touched Humbert, and he collapsed blank-eyed on the ground. I moved then but Mel stood in front of me, bowing, and I couldn’t punch her, and then the whole crew was gone. I went around Mel but they were really gone; down the stairs and out the door, and no way I could catch them. When I got back up, Mel was gone too, and only Humbert remained on the floor of our room.
Two days later he was gone too and I was the only one there; a month later, I left, and I haven’t been back since. Someone else must live there now.
I called Mel. She didn’t take my calls at first. She was mad at us, at me. But I left messages and messages, and finally she left me a text telling me where Kitty was. In a sanitarium in the upside. So I went to visit.
She’s not the same. The first time I saw her after, when I walked up to the pale sandstone building across the rubber-coated driveway and checked in at the heavy wooden desk, after they walked me down the elegant corridor and into the room with the mint-green walls and the beeping life support machine and saw her wearing the straightjacket, it was almost like seeing a different person. The color was nearly out of her hair. It was silvery-white, like an old woman’s, but showing something darker at the roots. The ends still had a little pink on them. Her makeup was still there, smudged and dark, making her eyes look bruised. Or maybe that wasn’t makeup. Her eyes were still brown, but she didn’t see me, and she didn’t talk. She smiled a little, and bit her lip like she was seeing something that she wanted to touch. She twitched a little in the straightjacket. Then she shifted, eyes wide, and she was someplace else.
It’s like looking at reflections on a puddle of water, looking at her face. Watching the expressions change, hearing her make little noises. Like the weather, or city traffic seen from the roof of a tall building. It moves and it doesn’t care about you at all.
I tell her hello, and I tell her what I’m doing, and sometimes I get to tell her I saw Humbert wearing a business suit and working as a manager at a club, or King dressed in carnival colors standing in front of an audience, selling them Othello. Once I had to tell her about Maho’s corpse and the gang fight, and how his liver was in some kid and his heart was keeping an 80-year-old pensioner alive a little longer. I told her about my job as a courier, how I got to see all sorts of people and places. I tell her I cary a gun and how I’m working my way up, getting trusted.
She never wakes up. She opens her eyes, and moves, but it’s got nothing to do with where she is. She giggles and laughs and sometimes she says stuff, slurred stuff, but her eyes don’t focus and there’s no scratch in her claws. They keep the stuff in her head from getting infected and they keep her fed and they clean her up, and her mother never comes to visit. I went to her house, once, jumped the fence and snuck up to look in the windows. It cost me a kidney to get the tech to do it but I did. Her mom has a new kid, a little boy who looks like he has no cat at all in him at all; beagle, and maybe some black bear, but nothing fierce and wild.
She was always gonna leave us. Sometimes I think taking her to the bazar was the best thing I ever did, sometimes I think it was the worst. How can you know? At least she’s still alive, in a way. If it wasn’t the bazar it would have been something else. She was going down, as far as she could go, and if she’s caught up in a net now maybe it’s for the best, right? She might even be happy. And maybe they’ll find a cure for her in a few years, and she’ll wake up and look at us and see us.
I can believe any lie I want to, dammit.