Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Chapter 28

The cool night air pressed against Caleb’s face as he lifted from the bike seat, leaned forward, and pedaled hard. His thigh muscles grew tighter with every downward push. His lungs felt larger with every breath.

A car turned in front of him without using its blinker. Caleb hit the breaks and turned to pass behind the car, pushing off its trunk with his hand to regain some momentum. He usually avoided biking downtown because people drove extra-stupid here. But tonight, after taking his mom’s bike for a ride to blow off some steam, he soon found himself drawn straight into the heart of the city. He was tired of being afraid. He was tired of relying on others. He didn’t need Marcos or Dem. For the first time in a while, he felt great. He was strong, full of energy, and—most importantly—unafraid. Hiding at home wouldn’t solve anything; he needed to deal with Yin Jiāng.

Caleb weaved between two cars and turned at the next intersection. A convenience store stood on his right. The flickering holoboard above it projected the words “24 Hours” beside an attractive winking woman. Caleb hopped onto the sidewalk and skidded to a stop beside the automatic doors. He texted Bō as he walked the brightly-lit isles.

Where are you? We should meet.

Caleb grabbed a bottle of water and an energy bar. He gulped down the water before even reaching the counter.

Xièxie,” the old lady at the cash register said after taking his cash.

Caleb’s phone vibrated as he chewed into the energy bar. Characteristically, Bō had replied with only an address.

Caleb met Bō and his crew on the roof of a small apartment building. They were eating burritos as Min-to played Chinese hip-hop from his phone. Min-to rapped along with the song even with his mouth half-full of beans and cheese.

Caleb greeted each of them with a fist bump.

“I want you to take me to the Yin Jiāng building,” Caleb said.

Bō’s crew exchanged glances.

“There are more drones now,” Bō said. “They patrol a twelve-block radius around the tower every night.”

Caleb shrugged. “I’m not scared. Are you?”

Lei crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at Caleb. “You’re tough all of a sudden.”

Johnny chuckled. “Let’s go.”

Bō agreed to take him. They walked across a plank to another building and climbed a set of utility stairs up several stories. At the roof of the second building they came to the end of a cable that reached across to a building on the opposite block.

“What is this?” Caleb asked.

“A zipline. We set them up between blocks,” Bō said.

Min-to patted Caleb on the shoulder. “You’re up first.”

“Um, I don’t know.”

“I thought you weren’t scared,” Johnny said.

Caleb took a deep breath and moved to the edge of the roof. Four lanes of traffic passed on the street below. “I’m not—” he said, but his voice caught in his throat. He coughed. “I’m not scared.”

“Okay,” Bō said. He handed Caleb a tangled mass of straps. “Put this on.”

It was a harness like mountain climbers use. Min-to showed him how to put it on. As he did his best to adjust the bottom portion positioned awkwardly between his legs, metal glinted further down the cable. As he watched, several

“What’s that?” Caleb asked.

“Remote handles,” Bō replied. “You can call them back with an app on your phone.”

Bō brought Caleb to the cable and hooked his harness into the last handle. “Are you good?”

Caleb tugged on the connecting strap. “I think so.”

“Good.” Bō shoved him off.

Caleb screamed as the roof disappeared below him. He was weightless, several stories above the ground, then falling. But the harness caught him and he moved sideways. The terrifying sensation of falling quickly gave way to the sensation of flying. His scream became a laugh, but he was only slightly aware of the sounds he made as he took in the world below him. Under shifting colorful light of holoboards and screens, people walked—chatting—laughing—staring at phones. A grandfather struggled to catch up with a young girl skipping down the sidewalk. Two people, nestled in a nook between buildings, kissed like it was their last day to live. The elegant music from a street performer’s violin mixed with the bumping dance music blasted from a passing car. Caleb felt simultaneously like a god, a superhero, and a soaring eagle. He’d never seen the city like this before, and it was beautiful. Then it was over. Caleb jerked to a stop on the other roof.

The others zipped over in quick succession. None of them used a harness. A chill ran up Caleb’s spine as he watched Johnny go halfway across the cable hanging by only one hand.

“What did you think?” Bō asked when they were all across.

“He crapped himself,” Johnny said, making the others laugh.

Caleb smiled. “Almost, at the beginning. But it was a rush. It was amazing in a way that I can’t really describe.”

Bō nodded. “You felt simultaneously removed from the city and more a part of it than ever before. You could see the people moving through the streets like blood cells through the veins of a larger organism. You could see how each part of society relates to every other part.”

It sounded goofy, of course, but wasn’t actually goofy at all. “Yeah, exactly.”

“That’s how I see the city every day. Most people think of it simply as a place, but it’s much more than that. It is not just a construction of society, it is a part of society. It influences the way we think and the way we live.”

“I’ve never thought of it like that before,” Caleb said, “but that makes a lot of sense.”

 “It’s why we write graffiti. Some think we’re destroying property, but we are making our environment more beautiful for everyone. The city speaks—through architecture and advertisements; its only fair that we add to the conversation. Why should corporations hold the exclusive rights to fill our city with their messages, while we are chased and thrown in jail? We are the ones who live here and we cannot be intimidated. Our voices deserve to be heard.”

This was the most Bō had spoken since Caleb had met him, but it sure was some deep stuff. He had time to mull over Bō’s words as they traveled the rooftops, and—all of the sudden—the city felt different. Caleb absorbed every detail as they traveled—the snatches of conversations overheard from the street and through open windows—the way signs were distorted by dead lights or glitching holoprojectors—the ebb and flow of traffic, punctuated with the staccato blasts of car horns. He paid attention to the graffiti, too. He noticed it almost always appeared in places where the walls were discolored or damaged or where the paint was flaking off. Graffiti artists seemed to avoid clean, well-designed spaces out of respect.

Caleb was so engrossed in the texture of the city around him that he didn’t notice the drone at all until Min-to grabbed his arm and pointed. The small machine hovered about two blocks away, moving in their direction. Bō led them around to avoid it. Less than ten minutes later, they came across another.

“Do you want to turn back?” Bō asked.

“How far to the Yin Jiāng building?”

“About five blocks.”

“Let’s go for it,” Caleb said, eagerly rubbing his hands together.

Bō smiled, looking Caleb up and down. “All right, but we’ll have to be fast and quiet. If you fall behind this time, we leave you.”

“Fair enough,” Caleb said. He bounced on the balls of his feet and shook his arms at his sides to loosen up.

Each member of the crew went through their own simple warm-up routine. Johnny interlaced his fingers and pushed both of his hands out in front of him to crack all of his knuckles at once. Min-to took his Yankees cap off and put it on backward. Lei quickly rubbed his palms against the stubble on either sides of his mohawk. Bō turned his head from side to side, cracking his neck.

Before Bō or anyone else had a chance to say anything, Caleb jumped into action. “Go,” he said as he ran for the next roof.

The others caught up easily enough and Bō took the lead. He brought them through a maze of passages through, behind, and between hulking buildings that kept them mostly concealed from the sky. They jumped railings, slid under giant pipes through maintenance areas. At one point they had to freeze against the walls in a narrow passage as a drone’s light swept overhead. Once it passed they burst back into action.

Caleb kept up the entire time. He followed Bō’s trail as closely as he could, even performing vaults at a full run without falling.

“Here we are,” Bō said, but he didn’t need to.

The Yin Jiāng building towered in front of them, a silver and gold monument of corporate power. It stood across the street, on the other side of a plaza peppered with large sculptures and manicured trees.

Caleb took out his phone to activate the camera. He zoomed in on the base of the building.

“There’s a lot of people going in and out,” Caleb said.

Bō approached beside him. “The building is busy twenty-four hours a day.”

“I guess there’s no sneaking in when it’s closed then.”

“You want to get inside?”

“How else do you expect to get Lucidity out of there? Wait a second—”

“You see something?”

“Someone. Yeah, it’s him. The bastard that tried recruiting me to help Yin Jiāng find Lucidity. He called himself ‘Miranda’.” Caleb hastily put his phone away and headed for the access stairs they had passed at the back of the roof.

“What are you doing?” Bō asked.

“I’m going to follow him,” Caleb said.

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