Stepping Up 2.08

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One of the paradoxical fact sets evidenced in the western society of the late earthbound years was the existence, in every major urban civilization hub, of both empty, abandoned buildings and. At the same time a substantial percentage of the population living homeless on the streets. These kind of inconsistencies, food being thrown away while people starved, and people without homes while buildings rotted uninhabited, were a trademark feature of the capitalist system dominating the social environment.

Some of our readers may not be aware of this idea of ‘capitalism’, as it was one of the first things we abandoned upon Ascending. The basic principle was that every single thing, from physical labor, to material possessions, to the very shape of the future itself, was quantified and converted into a standardized valuation unit, or capital. Any act or thing could then be exchanged for the capital worth by anyone who desired said thing or act. One of the many difficulties of this system was that the momentum of the system was derived from the tension between different valuations of given acts, given items, generating a limitless forward momentum, it was imagined, by the diversity of valuations available in an open market.

I digress. The point is this: every single thing or action could be reduced to its viable exchange rate, and there were buildings in every major city, despite the existence people living without shelter, sitting empty, and unused, too expensive to afford while being too defunct to justify the investment. It is to one such building that we direct our narrative attention, now.

After telling Kid what to expect this evening Twitch had bought the pair of them some food from one of the carts, which the boy had inhaled without bothering to consider what it might be. Twitch had then proceeded to detail how Kid should approach the occasion and before Kid had even finished processing the majority of his advice the pair had turned down an alley.

Weird.

Do you mean the

No.

But you don’t even know what I

Were you going to comment on the complete lack of garbage cans in this alley?

Oh. Um. Nope.

Makes it real easy to see the guy standing by that big door though.

Kinda what made me think about it.

Upon seeing Twitch the man standing alone in the alley banged an open hand against the metal door in four rapid rattling strikes and the door shuddered open in jagged bursts. Twitch might have thrown a nod at the doorminders as they entered, or his head might have just flicked in that direction. The doorman on the outside, after visible consternation, appeared to decide it was the former, and nodded back. The one on the inside just frowned.

The interior walls were covered with sheets of particle board illustrated with hand scrawled paintings. Sharp corners and sweeping curves squeezed next to each other in ways that gave the distinct impression of letters, while not coalescing into words. The brilliant pinks, oranges, and greens covering the majority of the walls injected a kind of vibrance into an otherwise uninspired decorating scheme.

The large open space was interrupted by bare concrete columns supporting the upper floor. Scattered about the lower floor were collections of furniture, most wooden, all nicer than one would expect to find in this kind of place, but not one piece matching another in any of the sets, except for a pair of large, identical recliners set by the far wall.

You know, none of these guys are what I’d call small.

I had just been noticing the same thing.

Really? I was thinking that the entire reason we wanted to join was to avoid fights.

It’s ironic. I mean, right? It is right? Ironic? I used it right!

That book made my head hurt. We should just avoid using the word unless we’re sure.

I’m sure. This is ironic.

Pockets of youth occupied different sets of furniture: gathered two deep around a table littered with little pale tiles, sprawled across a pair of couches, passing bottles and rolled smokes around. One muscular youth leaned against the wall beside the stairs next to the recliners.

By ‘youth’, our reader should understand that we are not referring to a particular age range, though many of the occupants of this repurposed building did fall under the quarter-cent most of us recognize as necessary for sentience to stabilize enough to support functional coherence and none had yet begun the decent into senility by any stretch. In this context, the term ‘youth’ should be understood to indicate rather a kind of unsettled, lack of definition in relation to the society around them, people who have not yet decided who-what they are going to be-do.

Of course, not everyone here were youth, even by that definition. There were those who had decided who-what to be-do, and they wanted to sit the toll at the intersection of addiction and pain for the rest of the time allotted to them.

Most of the boys did not look up as Twitch and Kid entered the room, chain rattling as the metal door lowered behind them. The game of tiles erupted into a flurry of low shouts and curses, but that seemed more related to the game than the entrance of the newcomers. Twitch nodded at two or three of the older boys, the one by the door in the back, a few sprawled on the couches.

Kid kept his eyes focused on the pair of recliners, one occupied by someone he recognized.

Big sat comfortable in his recliner, feet kicked up in front of him, looking down at a glowing screen in his hand. He wore one of the ribbed, tight tank tops the leader of the smaller boys had been wearing the night of Kid’s beating, and layers of chains hung around his neck, under a thick coat of pixelated grey and white. Despite his muscular build, even with the heavy jacket Big was not a large man, sunk into the corner of his recliner.

If Big’s recliner was occupied, the one next to him was filled.

Thick braids lined a head that seemed to sit square on shoulders, without neck intermediary. That is, his whole body, filling the whole chair, lacked transition points. Where Big had clear definition lining what body parts Kid could see, here things defied definition and just blended together. Head became, not even shoulders but whole torso, which branched somewhere under the draped t-shirt to become arms, and somewhere else, one would imagine, branched into legs.

The giant was one of the few who had looked up when the two boys passed through the chained portal, eyes narrowing as they approached. Without looking away, he muttered something Kid couldn’t hear over the general din of the room. Big responded with a look up so quick Kid wasn’t sure it happened, a subtle grin and quick retort. The giant rubbed his arm, or maybe just shifted to crossing his arms. Kid slowed his pace to walk a step or so behind Twitch.

Twitch grabbed one of the small, green plastic crates scattered about the floor, flipped it upside down and dropped into a half sitting, half crouching perch on top of it. Kid came to a stop just behind his shoulder. They waited until Big lowered his phone to look at them. Kid flicked across the room behind them.

So, sure seems like everyone in the room wants to come hang out with us.

That’s good, right?

Um, I don’t really think they are hanging out with us.

Yeah, they do more seem to be kind of gathered, well, around, really.

Behind, even.

Between us and the door.

Kid shoved his hands into his pockets and tried not to shuffle his feet.

“So,” Big spoke, shifting in his seat to look square at Kid, “Twitchy here tells me you wanna join.”

Not a question. Don’t speak.

Kid gave a small nod, just a raising of his chin. Twitch had a his grin and stray eye going.

“Ya know this ain’t a fucken babysittin’ service,” Big continued, “What th’fuck are we gonna do with you? ‘Part from watch you getcho ass beat.”

Kid looked around the circle of youth defining his viable space, eyeing the other boys who had found themselves at a place of such desperation as to cast their lot in thieves and worse than thieves.

Twitch told us about this.

Right. Pick the youngest.

Not what he said. Smallest. He said smallest.

Maybe we won’t have to?

Kid looked at Big, gave a hint of a shrug.

“I can hold my own. You caught me on a bad night.”

You know, we don’t know if that is true, ah, at all.

We only lost that one fight, and there were FIVE of them.

It isn’t as if we have been in a lot of others. You wanna count the rat?

But we won! We walked away with them laying on the ground. Win.

Um, I don’t think it counts if Big knocked them down and we left before they could get up and keep beating us.

Still a win.

Not helping.

“Can run things around the city? Deliveries and such?”

Kid shot a quick look at Twitch, who was still looking at Big. With one eye, at least.

“An’ if you get caught? Like the other night? Then I’m losing my delivery.”

Not going to work, do what Twitch said.

Um. That tiny guy looked pretty pissed.

Kid looked right at Big, another small shrug.

“I’ll show you, then.”

Grins flashed on the face of both Big and his pet giant, and the murmurs rippling through the circle surrounding Kid had an eager edge to them. Hungry, even. Big leaned forward, jacked one eyebrow up into what was more an inverted check mark than an arch.

Seriously, can everyone do that?

We need to learn.

Noted. And did you see that other kid?

The hunchy one in the back?

Yeah.

“What are you, fucken 9, 10? Y’anna fight one of these fuckers?”

Big stared at Kid, intense eyes pinning him to the spot. Kid didn’t look away. The semi-circle around him grew tighter, closer, denser, as more boys crowded around.

“I’m old enough to look out for myself. Or have to. Either way.”

Kid stretched his arm to point off to a side, in the direction opposite of the way Twitch was turning, getting the boy whipped by the whirling tips of his braids as the older boy swung to see where Kid had pointed.

“How old is that one?”

Wait, no, Twitch said…

But remember that look?

THAT WAS JUST AN IDEA!

“Benji?”

Big looked at the gang member Kid identified by extended finger as the rest of the group backed away to leave the boy standing in a space of his own that soon came to merge with the space around Twitch and Kid.

The boy Kid had picked was large. Not as thick as the giant next to Big, but maybe taller, with the kind of frame that would support a lot more mass in a few years. He was at least an arm’s length taller than Kid, and weighed maybe a full two times as much.

Big laughed, “He’s only 14, but come-the-fuck-on.”

Benji stood almost a head taller than anyone else in the room. Kid shrugged a third time.

“I’ll fight that fucker.”

Twitch looked up at that, both eyes pinned on Kid, eyebrows flat, pinched. Not grinning. Kid rolled his neck and Big sat back, laughter rolling out of the recliner, across the cleared circle in which a small boy stood, echoing off the sycophants bounding the boy’s  space.

“Fucken right,” Big said, looking a Twitch, “I like this one. Le’s do this shit.”

The group spread to form a full circle two and three deep around the two combatants, Kid rolling his shoulders as he walked at an angle across from the other boy. Benji for his part, swung his arms back and forth, bouncing light up on the balls of his feet, not looking anywhere near as awkward as a 14 year old kid in an adult’s frame should look.

Great. An athlete.

Um, do we have anything like a plan here?

Not a plan so much as a strategy.

Funny guy.

Kid circled back to the right, and the crowd moved with him, swinging the fight space across the floor of the room, shouting encouragements to Benji. For his part, the larger boy seemed content to just follow, waiting until Kid chose to engage. Big and his monster got up to join the circle as it drifted away from the recliners.

So, this strategy?

Pretty much centered around not letting him hit us. Or grab us. Or kick us.

So trying not to let him touch us at all.

While getting close enough to touch him.

And trying to touch him hard enough that we only need to do it once.

Kid kept backing away from the larger boy and the encircling mass of bodies backed with him. One of the large concrete pillars broke through the circle, and Kid backed a little more, and now exhortations from the gallery grew to include derogatory remarks as to his character, gender, and general value as human being. He blocked out the noise and shuffled to the side so the pillar threatened to come between the two not-yet fighters, and Benji stepped to the side to clear the concrete mass.

There!

Wait, really? 

No waiting. Go!

He charged across the open circle in the middle of the now screaming adolescents, a pulsing tide of energy flooding the space as the moment came to a head. Kid took two sudden steps, lunging hard and low away from the pillar as Benji dropped into what might be a fighting stance, hands up and knees bent, then Kid squared his hips, centering his foot beneath his weight as his muscles exploded in a familiar transfer of momentum up into the air.

Bound Step!

Kid’s perception of room dropped to the experiential crawl of his best roof runs, voices from the throbbing mass blurring in the shell of the moment, and he launched back across the front of Benji, who pivoted to follow his movement. Kid planted a foot on the pillar, body contracting and then uncoiling to shoot through the air, small frame twisting into a tight ball.

To a Wall Walk!

Just as Benji was leaning back, away from the incoming ball of Kid, and reaching up to block, Kid uncurled his body with a snap, feet thrusting straight down to hit the precise spot at which he had aimed himself: both feet hitting dead center on Benji’s chest.

To a Target Strike! Boom.

The air blew out of Benji’s lungs with an audible rush, and Kid rode the young behemoth’s collapse to the ground, landing on the front of a ribcage that had just met the hard ground, thumping like the flip of a heartbeat, leaving Kid sitting on the other boy’s chest, long arms pinned under Kid’s shins. Kid held Benji’s head to the ground and balled his other hand into a fist, then looked up at Big, gave something halfway between a shrug and a nod and hopped to his feet.

We really need to change that whole naming scheme. 

I can’t believe that worked.

Well, we don’t know if it worked, yet.

What do you mean? We totally won!

Only if he says it counts. We might have to fight again.

And I bet that trick doesn’t work if we have to try it a second time.

The room was the kind of quiet that only ever came when a group of people all held their collective breath, which emphasized the scrabbling of Benji struggling to his feet, gasping for air. Everyone looked at Big, breath abated in the literal sense.

Who laughed, stepping into the circle to clap Kid on the back. The rest of the gang took that as their cue to relax, some joined the laughter, and most began the gradual dispersion back to whatever they had been doing before the impromptu gladiatorial entertainment. Big walked Kid back over toward the recliners, into one of which he then plopped. After the monster and Twitch sat on their respective seats, Kid looked at Big.

“So, am I in the gang?”

Big laughed, short and hard, shaking his head.

“Fuck no. We’s One Blood.”

“Gangsta’s! Outlaws!” Someone chimed from the couch. Big grinned at the interruption, and continued.

“We ain’t takin’ some nugget off the street for just asking and whooping the retard.”

Kid looked over at Benji who, while still wheezing, did not appear a mental deficient.

“You gotta do work, ‘fore you get the go.”

Um, does that make sense?

We need to work for the gang before we are in the gang.

After which we would continue to do work for the gang.

Yup. Seems curious.

Kid looked at Twitch, who nodded. He looked back to Big.

Twitch doesn’t look like it’s weird. 

Guess this is just how things work here. 

“Tell y’what. We just acquired a some new turf. Need’a write our name on it, as it is.” Big reached down into the green plastic crate next to his recliner, pulled out a can of spray paint, and tossed it to Kid. “Seattle Boulevard, from Jackson to Dearborn, know where’at is? South down?”

Um, no?

Must be past the library, the parts we haven’t explored yet.

“I’ll find it,” Kid looked at the can of paint in his hand, “What am I supposed to paint?”

“Twitch’ll  learn ya,” Big waved a hand at the pair of them, as though shooing them away, “Du’e d’signed it.”

He looked back to his phone as the giant in the other recliner stood and rumbled toward the corner of the room. The giant put his phone to his ear, but didn’t take his eyes off Kid as he and Twitch turned to walk out of the building.

“Kid.”

Kid looked back at Big, who didn’t even raise eyes from his phone.

“Y’gotta week.”

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