As he brushed past a cluster of hyper-dandies, their tattoos glowed and squirmed, pantomiming making way for him while the bodies they were attached to remained focused elsewhere. Hypnotics, he assumed, from the discoloration under their eyes the tattoos couldn’t quite hide. He had heard about some new popular one, but before he could recall its name he became distracted by an impromptu drag race between rival food trucks, jerk chicken almost flattening him into the gravel.

The other truck sold synthetic giraffe. It had seen better days — the novelty of exotic synthmeat had worn off for the locals, and there weren’t many tourists around any more, what with the floods and that monkey flu scare a few years back.

He stood himself up, studiously ignoring the short pile of loose brown cloth trying to sell him a string of fried animal hearts on a crinkle of opalescent glass, and cursed the jerk truck’s grandmotherly kindness under his breath. The heart vendor turned and spat.

A salaryman staggered, some ways down the street, talking to a ghost. “Those pufkoffs are transferring me out of The City,” he slurred, too loud. The ghost made a sympathetic gesture and mouthed something inaudible.

It was always The City, never New Tscsk’klpsk. The problem with adopting alien names for cosmopolitan but mostly human places was half the population didn’t have the phonemes, or the hardware to produce them.

When he was young, the punks would call it “the pile”. Back then, you could identify the punks by those crazy swirls of color on the sides of their head. He could never afford the earrings that produced that effect — which was for the best, because it turned out continuously tattooing your eardrums would cause you to go deaf real fast, something somebody should have noticed earlier — and you couldn’t make it look the same any other way because of how the skin grew.

Maybe as an adaptation for the pounding in their heads, there was a special evocative way they used language. Everything was short and packed full of images. So he called it “the pile” still, in his own mind at least.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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