Hive 18-II

A More Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villainy.

Scarf wrapped around my face and goggles over my eyes, I ventured inside after Kai. It was a good thing I did, too, because the dust kicked up just from our entrance looked enough to asphyxiate a person. Kai covered her mouth with one hand, waving the other in front of her to try and disperse the cloud.

“I'm starting to see the appeal of those ridiculous get-ups,” she said, muffled through her hand. She sniffed, and then sneezed, causing a plume of dust to expand away from her. “It doesn't even make sense for it to be this dusty; people come through here all the time.”

I waved a hand in front of my face, trying to blow away some of the dust that had already begun settling on my goggles. It didn't work too well. “Darn it,” I said mournfully, glancing down at my impromptu filter mask. “I really liked this scarf.”

Kai waved a hand. “It's just dust, it'll wash out.” She coughed again. “I kind of wish I had brought one. God, this place. I swear they do it intentionally.”

“They?” I asked. The interior of the building was as abandoned as the outside had been. We passed a small reception desk, empty of any papers or detritus, and walked through an open doorway into a cramped corridor. The floor beneath my feet was linoleum, stained and faded, and the walls were tiled, and in a similar state. Whatever Kai had brought me to, this clearly was only the path there, not the location itself.

The light dimmed quickly as we moved away from the door, but Kai’s sunglasses stayed firmly affixed to her face. My own goggles were making it pretty dim, but I didn't want dust in my eyes, so I left them down. “What's with the glasses?” I asked.

She glanced back at me, one thick eyebrow raised over the rim. “They're… sunglasses. There's not anything special about them, they're just sunglasses.”

“No,” I clarified, “I mean why you don't take them off.”

“Oh, that. Light hurts my eyes, so I wear them outside, and I'm so used to it by now that it's less hassle to just leave them on indoors.”

“Oohh.” I winced sympathetically. “That must suck.”

She shrugged a shoulder. “It's a pain, but I'm used to it. Could be worse.”

“Still…”

“Still,” she agreed.

At the end of the corridor, and the door coloured an ugly, faded green, she stopped, and turned to face me. “Alright. Ordinarily, there's no way I'd even tell someone like you about this place, let alone bring them here, but…” she drummed her fingers against her thigh, “you saved my bacon, and I owed you one. But if you're not smart about this…” she stopped, frowned, reconsidered. “Well, you'll be dead, so I guess there's no real point in saying anything else.”

“Oh for goodness sake!” I burst out. “Will you stop being so cryptic?!”

She reached up and tipped her glasses down, revealing her eyes over the top. It was meant to be sardonic, I think, but it just ended up being… uh, distracting. “Don't say I didn't warn you, then.” She pushed open the door and stepped through. “Welcome to Market Square.”

Like opening it had broken a seal, sound flooded through the doorway, washing over me. People, yelling, swearing, growling, calling, every noise imaginable. I actually had to take a step back, it was so sudden and unexpected. Kai grinned at my reaction. “Just wait.”

She strode through the door, and I followed. The room had obviously once been the core of the homeless shelter; I could easily imagine the place lined with row after row of cheap beds. Now, though, it was like it had been taken over by a comics convention. Small stands lined the room in a rough, unorganised fashion, creating raggedy rows and columns in some places, miniature plazas in others. These stalls weren't hawking artwork or posters or action figures or cards or whatever, though; their wares were distinctly more varied. The one closest to the entrance, no sign, was staffed by an older woman with graying hair and pince-nez spectacles, was selling what looked suspiciously like grenades. A few down was a man with stone skin, browsing through… okay, yep, that was pornography. I immediately averted my gaze, but I highly doubted it was… vanilla? Is that the term?

“You know it is; stop playing innocent.”

Another sweep around the room confirmed my suspicions. “Holy heck, it's a literal black market.”

Kai nodded. “Now do you get what I was talking about?”

“Uh huh,” I breathed out, distracted. “I'm not sure whether to be amazed or horrified.”

“Try both,” she suggested wryly. “I find it works best.”

I spent a few more seconds staring around, then shook my head, trying to clear it. “Okay, okay, this is very interesting and all, but we came here for a reason?” I hoped.

“Yeah. As interesting as it is, it's not where I found them.” I noticed we'd both unconsciously avoided mentioning who we were talking about. There wasn't really anyone near enough to us to hear, but still. “We're going through there.” She pointed to the back of the room.

In the sensory overload that was entering, I hadn't even noticed it, but now that it had been pointed out, I was amazed I'd missed it. There was a hole in the back wall, maybe four meters high, with rubble piled around it. It looked like it had been taken out with a wrecking ball. Or, more likely given the surroundings, someone had punched through it.

“Where does that go?” I asked.

“You'll see,” she replied, chuckling.

I sighed.“Please don't.”

“I think you need to lighten up a little. It's funny.”

“I'm perfectly light, thank you very much. And-” something rammed into me from behind, knocking me over and cutting off my sentence. I let out a little yelp, but managed to catch myself before falling flat on my face.

“Well, I guess I deserved that for standing in the doorway,” I said, a little pained, as I stood up and brushed myself off. “Still, I-” I turned back around, and froze. Looming over us was a man. He was tall, unnaturally so, and lanky, even more so, and his head looked closer to that of a shark than a human. In one hand, he held a rifle, loosely by its strap. In the other, a phone, the screen glowing softly. He wasn't paying any attention to either, though, nor was he looking at me. He was too busy staring straight at Kai, a predatory look on his face. She'd gone completely still; I wasn't even sure she was breathing.

“Well well well well welllllll,” he said in a high-pitched, nasally voice, “if it isn't Tanner, come back to roost.” His smile deepened. “It's so good to see you again.”

I didn't think he meant it.

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