PART ONE: TASNICAPORT
2131 Joch Blvd, Sigurdsen Heights, Tasnica, Mana Dimension
“Excuse me,” muttered a man in a dark grey spacer jacket and wearing sunglasses. Nada stepped aside nervously as the man opened the glass door to the market’s refrigerated section and grabbed a six pack of beer. The urchin turned their attention back to the selection behind the glass as the man stepped away. They however did notice that the man seemed to be light on his feet while his stride to the checkout counter gave a contradictory commanding presence.
“Hey Bro,” muttered the cashier as he reached to scan the six pack of Kuors Light. The customer gave a small nod before reaching for his wallet and pulling out a wrap of fresh bank bills.
Taking into some considerations of her current financial situation, Nada pulled out a small can of carbonized water from behind the glass door.
“Thanks bro! A pleasant night to you!” spouted the cashier as the market door closed behind the customer as he left. Nadia noticed that he was slightly shorter than an average Tasnican at 5’9 if the measuring sticker by the door was to be trusted.
“Just this.” Nada muttered as they placed the soda water on the counter. The cashier was still beaming with a wide grin. He traced the middle age Karrkan’s eyes to a tip Jar that was now filled with an assortment of twenties and tens.
“Big tip yeah?” Nada asked with a soft smile. The thick peppered mustache of the man curled to expose bright white teeth as he punched a few keys on the register pad. “I was just blessed by the Angel of Sigurdsen Heights!”
Nada had only been in Sigurdsen Heights for a few weeks but this was the first time they had encountered the Angel. The Tasnicaport burrough was once considered one of the roughest areas of the sprawling portside city, but was now less dangerous from the arrival of the Angel almost a decade ago.
“Thanks, good night.” muttered the cashier. Nada nodded as they grabbed the bottle and opened their backpack as they rolled it off the shoulder. As they looked downard, they noticed something on the floor.
“Oh, is this part of your tip?” the urchin asked the cashier as they picked up a clip of bills from the linoleum floor.
Nada’s eyes grew wide as they realised the clip was in denominations of hundreds. “Looks like you were blessed too!” cried out the cashier. Nada’s chest grew tight and their throat choked.
“No, I need to give this back!”
“Well hurry then bro, before he disappears!” spoke the cashier with an unusual glee. Nada pocketed the bills and rushed outside.
The parking lot was mostly empty, only a few cars were parked. Nada heard a car screech somehow but their ears couldn’t decipher the direction. Looking about frantically, a voice from above her called out to them.
“Hey! You lookin’ for him? He lives on top of one of the towers! Go get ‘em little girl!” a voice yelled from above. Nata turned to see a man with a shaved head and oversized white shirt sit with his lands dangling from the floor above. He gestured with a plastic bottle of juice in his hand.
“That’s not a girl! That’s a boy!” chimed another voice that Nada couldn’t see. The urchin turned to look where the man was guestering, and saw the two large towers rise above a line of trees on the far corner of the adjacent block.
“Oh yeah? Then go get ‘em little boy! Go get your man!” the bald juice drinker cried out. Nada bagan to race across the street to the loud cackle of the unseen companion laughing.
The park was mostly empty as the curchin raced through it. There was drops of water on the blades of grass he crossed the park, but they were uncertain if it was from the irrigation or late night dew.
Nada tried to sort through their racing mind as they approached the twin towers of Sigurdsen Heights. In their possession was the pocket money of the angel of Sigurdsen Heights. It was a name the locals had given a man who had literally changed the landscape of one of the many burroughs of Tasnicaport. Although Nada had only been staying in the hyper populated village for a few months, the moniker had been present on the whispers and murmurs of the people Nada had encountered.
Who has The Angel of Sigurdsen Heights? From her understanding as a bystander in the periphery of the community, The Angel was a real estate developer who put the needs of the community before his own pockets. He had torn down a monolithic tower of housing for the poor and put in its palace the park they were jogging across currently. Before the borough had history as a slum for Tasnicaport proper. Now, it was a quiet housing conclave with its own main thoroughfare of shops.
In the Sigurdsen public library, where Nada spent their days hovered over books and a free omninet terminal, the urchin had heard conflicting opinions on The Angel. He hadn’t gotten rid of the poor, but instead just sprinkled them across the borough with two towers and several apartment complexes–had just placed a veneer over a damaging situation. Others had praised him for not outright gentricating the neighborhood. Yet many saw the persona as a boon to the broughough–he had seemed to want to be engaged with the area although he still had seemed to be aloft. He resides there, although be it on top of one of the towers he created.
There were two towers in Sigurdsen Heights. Nada stood before them now as they thumbed the wad of bills in their pocket. One tower was directly across from the park, while the other was on the corner of the park at the opposite corner of thestorefront they had been moments before. Both towers looked identical with the color scheme of Canto culture that was popular in recent years. A black, maroon, and navy edifices accened and adorned the towers that raised in an almost glass cage of the individuals inside.
Nada caught their breath as they stared at the two towers. One of the penthouses that crowned the towers was the residency of the Angel. This was common knowledge. Which though? Nada looked at both buildings. They had been almost identical, but the one at the corner had seemed to have additional buttresses that ordimented the structure. The other had an heightened bottom floor for store stronts.
The lack of an address for the penthouse all but confirmed to Nada suspicions that they had chosen the right one. How to get the money to the penthouse shough? Her eyes darted around as their mind raced with ideas. Nada’s eye rested on a white callbox.
“Hello? I’m looking for the manager. One of your residents left something outside.” spoke the urchin into the intercom by the door. They tried once more before, waited for a moment for a response, then stepped back.
Nada’s stomach began to churn as they walked back to the street, looking at the building. The sides seemed to appear almost reinforced with large metal plates and ran the course of the tower. She walked around the structure. In the alley, there was a utility ladder on the second floor that ran the course of the tower. If she could get high enough–
Without giving it much thought, the urchin flung their backpack off their shoulder and hooked one of its shoulder straps to a ladder rung. They jumped on a dumpster, then found their small frame to the pack, clasping the free shoulder strap and pulling themselves up to a run before the backpack slipped away.
Easy. Placing the back over one shoulder, the urchin scurried across the protective cover to the ladder itself and began their accent. The first year of living on their own there was more fear of exploring such spaces, but Nada now felt at ease in her abilities to rise the several stories of height effortlessly. Their mind began to wander slightly as they reached up to the top of the tower.
Nada continued upwards, the lights shimmering against the sea flickered far off in the distance beyond the towering monuments in capitalism that encompassed the basin’s center. Every major core corporation held a tower of metal and concrete at Tasnicaport’s kernel of a downtown district. Many were large enough to encompass entire blocks on their own, well over a square kilometer wide at their base. Each was a city unto themselves and were fed by several of the surrounding boroughs. Some burroughs, like Little Egmont, Diamond Burrough, Dauner Lake, supported and exclusively housed employees of one AAA level corporation or another.
They wrapped a ladder rung with their elbow and turned to face the Tasnican night sky. Being a plateau, Sigurdsen Heights held a vantage point over the basin of Tasnicaport to the measure that the urchin could make out the red and green lights of barges far off in the ocean. There was a portal out in the sea there–a colloquial term for the more common phenomena of a wormhole between planets that made up the ‘core’ worlds. Though almost undetectable during the day, a phosphorus amber hue pierced the sky and sank across the horizon. A teacher had told her once that the color was not from the burning of the salts in the sea as it flowed between worlds.
As she reached the top, the urchin found themselves standing on an aircraft landing pad raised half a meter off the rooftop. The Angel lived here and he was most likely flown to and from the penthouse. To the side of the landing pad was a set of stairs. As nada crept down the steps the soft glow of floodlights and steam waffed from a pool that hummed as its waters flowed like a current. The urchin noticed small pools of water leading away from the pool towards a thick transparent wall. It seemed to be glass but as nada stretched their neck to look around the corner from her perch on the stairs, the steam seemed to reflect in an oily-like iridescence.
They pulled the clip of bills out from their pack slowly as to muffle the noise of the old backpack’s zipper. Inside the penthouse the lights were mostly off save for a lamplight radiating from a back room. If they hurried, they could drop the bills by the door with little notice. Cat-like, they stepped over to the door and extended their hand to the laminated deck.
“Normally people knock on the front door, not the back.”
Nada’s head turned quickly to see the large frame of a man hovering over them. The man’s skin seemed to glow from the steam and his earthy complexion as water still dripped from his briefs. Instantly the urchin realised The Angel hadn’t gone inside–they had hidden submerged in the pool.
Naada gasped and reeled back, nearly backing themselves against the thick transparent wall. They raised their hands into the hair, guestering to the wad of bills in their hands.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t think you’d be right there! I wanted to return your money to you!”
The man turned to a pool chair and grabbed a towel. “I’ve lost the mood to swim. I recognise you from the market. The system spotted you about ten minutes ago. Most people give up when they get to the lobby door.”
He tossed the towel down and threw on a loose oversized shirt. It was a soft regal Arythian fabric that made the urchin feel underdressed in comparison to the ragged band shirt and unwashed jeans they wore.
The Angel gestured to the door. “That was a long climb. Twelve flights. You’re insane. Water?”
With a gesture he directed the urchin to a kitchen barstool as he grabbed a glass from a cupboard. As expensive as the kitchen seemed, the man poured the glass from the basenet tap.
Nada put the money on the countertop, pushing it over the rich man’s side. “Here’s your money. A look at this place I can see how you can neglect a thing like this! It was going to bother me if I couldn’t return it, especially if it belonged to The Angel of Sigurdsen Heights of all people. I’ve been living in a bunch of neighborhoods lately, and this feels the most homely of all of Tasnicaport. I’d feel especially bad.”
The Angel leaned back against the kitchen sink and gave a sigh. He went to his refrigerator and to Nada’s surprise pulled out a beer and popped it open. He took a sip and stared off across the open air of the penthouse, still mostly dark.
“They call me that, but I’m just a selfish person. There were three towers here a few decades back. Mostly poor folks from Karraka and Zozo lived in them. I grew up in them and I hated them. So I tore them down.”
Nada jerked their head to the side quizzically. “…and built two new towers? That doesn’t make any sense!”
The man rubbed the back on his neck trying to find words to speak. He relaxed, then took a sip of his beer. There was a measured tone of thought to his voice as he spoke. “Well, people still lived here. They go to work, go to school, I didn’t really want to disrupt that either–I still knew some of the families, you know? And the law states I can’t just remove all the housing.”
“I talked to several people about it, and one lawyer noted that there didn’t have to be three towers. It could be two towers and an apartment building, and a few duplexes. There could be no towers and two hundred duplexes, If that was true, I could add apartments to existing houses and people would barely even notice it was there.”
“So I hired a few people to sell the idea to the neighborhood. If we could make enough homes into duplexes then I could keep my towers torn down. A handful of people jumped on board right away and we did a dozen or so duplex conversions. Gave people move out vouchers and promised them the same rent.”
He took another sip and his lips curled slightly at the edges as he looked at Nada. “Felt great to do that.”
“Unfortunately, the suburban parts of the neighborhood had a stigma against the tower people. They didn’t want them living literally in their backyards. I had to settle for three small apartment complexes in the end–and two smaller towers. Damn shame. But I was able to remove one tower completely”
“And now you’re the Angel of the Heights because you got rid of crime and built a park.”
“Make no mistake, the crime is still here. The people are still here–for the most part. It’s just no longer concentrated. And the poor aren’t looking to the poor for help. They are looking to the weather community as a whole. Its literally no longer a tower of poor people. And I wanted a bus stop closer and the city wouldn’t do it, but my lawyer friend pointed out they would if I added a park.”
“So that park is there because you wanted to take the bus to work?”
“Naw, I just fly in my giant space robot.”
Nada’s brows furrowed. They drank their water. “You’re a confusing person.”
“Don’t try to make sense of people. You’ll have a better time in this world.” spoke The Angel as he took another sip. He leaned against the sink. His eyes went to the money clip on the counter.
“You have a name?”
“Oh, I go by Nada. I like it because it means I can be nothing.”
“I’m Clay. It means I can be anything.”
“Oh! So your name is Clay Reynolds then? The giant robot joke makes sense now. You’re the Diamond executive mentioned in the obituary I saw posted at the library’s digest this morning. You must be in town for the funeral.”
Clay pressed his frame down onto the kitchen counter as he looked at the urchin puzzled.
“Yeah, they mentioned you in your Grandmother’s obituary. Didn’t you read it?” asked Nada as they pulled it up on their phone. Before Nada had pulled up the library’s digest the man was hovering over them. As the site pulled up, he grasped the phone from Nada’s hands and turned away and stared at it intently.
“I guess you didn’t read it? It mentions you as an executive of Diamond, in ending the ‘survived by’ part. You know I read a lot of these when I’m at the library and I thought it was pretty tasteful. I think–”
Nada looked up and paused. The Angel’s broad shoulders crumbled and they heard the rattle of the phone dropped on the kitchen counter. The urchin’s eyes grew wide as the man’s hand pressed against the counter to prop his frame upwards.
“Oh. Oh no. I’m so so sorry.”
He was frozen in place. Nada opened their mouth to speak, but words didn’t manifest. They raised a hand to console him, but Nada instead wrung their face as a fever of anguish flushed across their skin.
“I need to make a call. Stay here.” the man muttered. Without looking back he left the kitchen and headed down a darkened hallway. She heard the sound of a dresser drawer open and close in the stillness of the apartment.
“Hello. This Clay, Kaylan’s son. I apologize for calling at this hour, but I just learned that teta is dead?”
There was a long silence that followed. Nada fidgeted as the apartment was still, a balmy lump manifested in their throat as they tried to swallow some more water. The flash of panic Clay’s face came back to Nada, and they forced another gulp of water to focus on the cooling sensation over the sudden pang of anxiety.
“No, I haven’t talked to Kaylan in a long while. I think I’ve seen you guys more than her since the foster. Been busy doing my own thing.”
The urchin softly slid their chair back and stood quietly. They tiptowed over to the angel’s bedroom and peppered through the door frame. He saw the man sitting on the bed, his head sunken into his hand as he listened to a voice on the phone.
“Would it be ok if I send flowers? Should I come?”
The man’s hand visibly trembled even from Nada’s position at the door frame. The urchin slunk back to the kitchen as their face felt flushed. There was a level of vulnerability Nada immediately felt like they had to escape from.
Nada went back to her phone and the kitchen counter. They began to look up florists to suggest to the man. Wasn’t there a Karkaran florist that wason their social feed a week ago? Nada began to mindlessly thumb through the feed’s articles, seeking solace in the information overload.
It was successful as they did not notice when the Angel of Sigurdsen Heights returned to the room. The refrigerator door opened and the man retried another beer. He sipped it down as he stared at the drain in his kitchen sink.
“I made two calls just now. One was a personal call, and the other was a background check on you. We have some synthetics who are remarkably quick in these things. I should have a call back shortly.”
Clay Reynolds explained as he continued to look away from the urchin. Nada felt her heart sink into her gut. She looked at the water glasses and realised it was empty. Their body slouched slightly lower as they looked at their phone.
“Its me. Yeah. Just a gist.” spoke Clay. Nada looked up to notice that the man hadn’t used his phone this time and was speaking out loud to what seemed to be nothing. He looked to be staring at something in front of him but the curchin didn’t see anything discernible.
“I can work with this. Escalating and going dark. Thanks.”
The words made Nada thumb over the emergency dial on their phone. They gave out a breath and put the phone away. What good would have that done, when they were the ones who had broken in?
Clay turned to face the urchin in his apartment. He placed both hands on the kitchen countertop and leaned in. He turned his head to the side partially, not looking at the person as he struggled to find the right words.
“Nada, you’re not in trouble. In fact, I’d like to reward you. My grandma Shala would have wanted me to honor your compassion.”