Ozone, deplete of thought and intention, only sits with a blanket over a lap of wiring. He scratches once more, a secondary thing, and covers himself with another blanket he’d found being pulled into one of the great compactors out in Warrendale, before he’d come here, been pushed here,in the Cart of Dreams.
—Cart of Dreams can hold two-hundred pounds of man muscle or machine.
—Cart of Dreams, the scream of the century.
Nobody sleeps in the Cart of Dreams.
One of the three is a fact. Number one of the three. Two is something he’ll tell fast-moving passerbys—most everyone, given that he hangs on Old Washington, which is a sublane frontage tube to New Buren and 1004th, which heads right to Loftbridge and the bulk of the outer financial districts.
Some of those passerbys are pizza boys and couriers who at least acknowledge his screaming.
The third is a lie: Ozone sleeps in the Cart of Dreams almost every night.
He scratches his head again and some white dander falls down across his blanket. Not tonight.
—Nobody’s sleeping tonight, said the punks who came by earlier, drunk.
—A hootin’ night.
—A night for Reckoning!
Ozone could hear them deifying the word. They hadn’t noticed him.
—Yeah, especially Martha, cause I’m gonna be so deep up in her wiring.
—Martha! Together, clinking bottles of dark liquor.
They’d walked on.
He scratched, sipped from his canteen, and busied at what remained of his face.
Thinking it sun was foolish. A swaying light and then more splashes of water.
Thinking of rafts and rivers and times gone, Ozone blinked one eye and eyed the oncoming stranger, who was no stranger.
—Roland! Roland you ass-eared oaf.
The short-legged man smiled at Ozone and held up his hatched lantern, casting ugly light on the pavement and rubbish heap.
—Marianas said you’d be here. Said I should find you and bring you in.
—I’m perfectly happy. Ozone waved his hand about at the rubbish. Can’t you see. Cast that light down, will you. He scratched at his head and made suppressing gestures. Roland visored the eye and the two were just shadows.
—What are you doing out here?
—I’m just fine.
They let the rain drip quiet.
—You’ve got water and oil?
Ozone had only water.
—How about your face?
—It’s in a rough place, but I wouldn’t afford to be fixing it regardless, so no real difference, right?
—Marianas wants me to bring you in regardless.
—Rega– well– isn’t that just like Marianas. Always looking out for Ozone, said Ozone.
Roland grunted and sat down in the rubbish, a clack and a bump in the dark.
—How long did it take you to get here? Ozone turned in his cart.
—Some parade of punks and skitz down thataway held me up and ID-screened me. Roland coughed. Couple hours, maybe. Took my phone.
Silence, blackness. A car skidded by. The frontage didn’t have tracks like the New tubes. The car’s tires splashed and rumbled through potholes.
—How’s it out here? asked Roland. He wobbled his lantern back and forth, sliding the visor open here and there. Insects had begun to crawl at its seam, eager for the false warmth.
—Not so bad.
—You get to movin’ at all in that thing?
—Oh sure, said Ozone. Sure. Move, get moved but–
—You want to go somewhere? asked Roland.
—No, figure I’ll tell Marianas you ran out of oil, ended up at the scrappers.
—Well, where then?
Roland didn’t answer, hung his lantern on the Cart, and pushed Ozone out from underneath the bridge, towards the parade.
A thick-grey blue sky clung to the building as an acrobat might. Fire blazoned from small chapels and pyres, around which danced a legion of chop-haired punks, spotted skin, leather; rips of laughter and yelling that, even in its jubilant form, carried a pounding anger.
Roland pushed Ozone past the drums.
A float sat amidst the throng, shaking, seeming a nest. Spoyders, mutli-legged robots without faces, pumped their metallic claws to the thrum of percussion.
—They’ve been reprogrammed, said Ozone idly.
—The whoresons, said Roland.
Ozone looked back at Roland who was staring off. He noticed Ozone.
—The Kims– he gestured at something Ozone couldn’t see– a gaggle of men-women in the throes of a white-robed dance atop the next float. They’ve been rough with four or five passengers since you’ve left. Demanding rides, robbing.
Roland shook his jowls.
—You want guns, huh.
Several humans walked by, drinking.
—Know what all this is for?
Roland shook his head.
—Drinking. Drunks. The wasted.
—Sure. What else’ve they got.
Ozone stared down at the blanket on his lap.
They hung around the edges, walking in the lick of shade at the edge of the buildings.
The snake of the parade seemed headless and neither moved nor stayed, just gyrating in time to the drums. Men played at sport, robots ran oil on the backs of dog and fleshless birds were flung into pits to snap and thrash against each other until one collapsed, blooded; then cash traded hands, men touching card sparks, the losers drifting into the same lick of shade, the winners barraged by a stream of other men, women, dancers. A great fleshless bird dressed as a Native bucked and cawed in its cage atop one of the floats. Tiny mouse creatures ran in the thousands through plastic tubes, hollow things like serpents between floats.
A man with the arm of a sledge, thrashed a gong and the waves of sound toggled the tribe into a tentative silence.
He sat, and a wolf-hooded woman rose and said in a whisper that echoed through speakers implanted in the crowd.
She waved her arms softly at the buildings and from the windows weapons stuffed with paper and rags fired, littering the sky in a long fluttering.
--This seasons fades. Change with, she made a circle with one hand, change without.
The gong. The parade thrashed in new fervor. The smell of liquor or sweat, dispersed fluid, overrode all.
Someone stumbled into the Cart of Dreams and a man-woman sneered down onto Ozone before being told away by Roland.
They flung their white cloak high, covering their face, flashing away as though trying to fly.
—Witch, said Roland.
—Police, said Ozone to Roland. Look at them run. A behemoth galley had swung around the elbow of the parade grounds’ main street, a weighted scimitar of steel suspended longly in the sky, twice as tall as any of the tenements. Tiny compartments at the main deck pulled inward, closing in case some incendiary was tossed from nearby, but the fury of the city-lit masses split apart like dogs to their corners.
Roland pushed Ozone into a side street, headed back into that darkness.
—Where are y–
—Can’t. Can’t be here.
—What do you mean, the fun’s just about to get started!
—Roland! Roland! ROLAND! Let’s go back. I want to watch those punks get stormed.
There was no consideration of stopping on Roland’s part. Whatever ship listed inside of him had made him queasy, but his push did slow the more distant the two got from the parade grounds, turning corner after corner until an elevator.
—Gas the light, will you?
A tiny swarm of nano spun in helix, trapped behind a small laser wall at elevator side, serving as lift operator.
—Up, yeah. Ogretown.
—You’re taking me to Marianas’?
—All that no oil stuff…
—Was true. You are out of oil, and without it those ruts in your circuits’ll dry and you’ll end up where I said you would.
Ozone fingered his sacral wire beneath the blanket.
—Take it up with Marianas. She wants you back in the driver’s seat.
Ozone pulled the smoke of one of his coils and set it to the plate.The steel doors rattled open.
The elevator shot them skyward through the branched cortex of the city, following track to track, the horizontal changes registering only slightly, the two men in the quiet of small betrayal.
The doors gassed open and Roland apologized.
Ozone silently figured his face. Ogretown was a low-rent district, mostly lots. remembered dragging himself off the elevators days prior. It made his head itch, so he let Roland push him into the dockyard in silence.
Marianas was up to her knees in robotics, a soldering gun in left hand, a vid-screen forecasting some repair, remote ear buds in place.
She unplugged and stood on her two metal legs.
—Driver 4, returned. She wasn’t smiling or gloating, simple information. Your new ride? She handled the Cart of Dreams roughly, pulled up the blanket on Ozone’s lap, exposing the alternate cords and fibers.
—Jeminy, she said, You’re days of work, huh.
—I’d rather not be interred again, Mari.
—You’ve made that clear, runaway.
—I’m sorry if it seemed abrupt, I’d just– I thought it’d be easier.
Marianas scowled, she gestured to Roland and they went through the machine shop to Taxi 4. It was covered in dried ichor, dented heavily from the outside. Marianas sparked the passlock and the door swung open.
His old seat. The spill of wires spread up from the hole from which he’d severed himself from the car.
—Took Roland days to get into where you bailed, Driver 4.
Roland grunted. He took his lantern from the cart.
—By then, there were so many bugs sapping at the gone-heat, he had to come out and ask for a gun. Marianas wiped at some of the crusted gore. All cost? More than you make me in a month. She looks at Ozone, doing math visibly. You aren’t worth the reinstall.
—Then why’d you bring me back.
She got up close this face and dug a finger through the gap in his cheek and pulled at the cables running up his jaw.
—Your wires, Driver.