Original novel by Yoshihara Rieko
Illustrations by Michihara Katsumi
Japanese translation and scanning by Shabriri
Spanish translation by San and Shiromori
All was dark… But it was not a distressing darkness. It was a darkness in which the silhouette of things could be distinguished.
All was calm… The air-conditioner which usually made a pleasant atmosphere wasn’t working, but the air was wavering, disturbed.
From the bed situated in the center of the room came a rustling of sheets. A shadow was shivering, and moving back and forth. His eyes had the look of one who could not sleep peacefully; as if his dreams had been oft interrupted.
No, that was not it.
He was not sleeping. It was that he was not able to get up.
In order to prevent him from moving, both wrists had been firmly shackled over his head. His outstretched arms were trembling slightly. Perhaps due to his impatience at not being able to free himself, he kept his hands fisted tightly. Nevertheless, he didn’t seem to have the spirit or the desire to free himself at any cost. Was it because he had given up already, or was he just tired of struggling? That was not the expression to be read on his face.
Now and then, he couldn't avoid letting a low moan escape him. He doubled up his body, bending his knees as he raised his head. He made terrible sounds, as if he were desperately resisting an unbearable pain. However, underneath those sounds, his voice oozed a terrible libidinous charm, as if he were breathing sweet sighs into someone's ear.
“D… damn you! ... Sh… shit!” As the violence of his rising pulse made his throat spasm, occasionally he spat such poison from his mouth. Having abandoned stubbornness and pride, having no shame or sense of honour remaining, he seemed ready to burst into tears at any moment, and to reprimand himself, he bit his lip until it bled.
How much time had passed since he had been forced to take the sexual stimulant? He had lost all concept of time. In reality, only ten minutes had passed, but it seemed to him that it had been over an hour. The muscles of his inner thighs were tensed with pain. His feet were trembling convulsively. His incoherent sighs kept on, causing him thirst. His strained hips burned almost to the point of numbness. Ready to explode, he shook violently as if his veins would rupture into pieces. He couldn't stand it any longer! He was going mad with the need to come as hard as he could, but he was prevented from doing so by the ring which tightened around him, obstructing his ejaculation.
A few minutes later, the room's door creaked faintly, and slid open. However, consumed by the madness burning deeply inside his body, he was barely aware of what went on around him, and he didn't notice that a man had just come in.
The man approached slowly. His bearing was refined and elegant, as if a thick carpet had absorbed his presence. Silently, the man touched the switch near the bed, and instantly the room was filled with a brilliant light. The man on the bed half closed his eyes, blinded by the sudden brightness, and there was the other man; beautiful, but with a beauty that reflected not frailty or indulgence, but a great acumen. When he looked at him, he couldn't help the tears that spilled from his eyes. The tension, having already reached its limit, seemed to give way the instant he looked up at the man's face.
"How is it? Does it hurt a little?" The man had a strange voice that sounded soft, but at the same time strongly coercive to anybody who listened.
"P...please… no more,“ the man on the bed begged, choked with tears, but the other remained impassive.
"I told you to get along with the others, but at no time did I tell you to mount a female."
Despite the man’s soft voice, the look in his eyes chilled to the bone. "Mimea already has a male Pet to pair with her. I believe you knew that, didn't you? Raoul came to me, furious, saying that you had spoiled everything... For all that, I think it’s only natural that I punish you."
" … "
"Did you really think you could have Mimea or whoever you wanted? Every game has rules, doesn’t it?"
At that moment, unexpectedly, a tinny feminine voice cut through the air from behind the man's back.
"It's not a game!"
Startled, the man on the bed cringed, and there was Mimea with whom he had met secretly so many times. He looked at her, astonished.
"She insisted on being allowed to see you. She says that love is blind, but you don’t have the right to choose, and it seems that you don’t understand that, so tell her clearly from your own mouth."
‘What does he…?’ his frightened eyes seemed to inquire. Perhaps he knew what the man would say next.
"Is it not true that it made no difference to you if it were Mimea or someone else; that all you were interested in was a body to use, no matter whose it was? Or isn’t that so?”
A shiver crept up his back. He would never be allowed to deny it. That low voice paralyzed him, and the man’s face was hard. He lowered his eyes heavily.
That was the catalyst that caused Mimea’s sudden outburst. “That’s a lie! It is, isn't it? Everybody knows that we’re going to be kept separated. And do you know who Raoul has chosen as my partner? Jennah! Supposedly because of his pedigree. It's disgusting! That sex maniac’s only qualification is his face! The thought of bearing his son makes me sick! You don’t want anyone but me, do you? The only one you love is me, right?” But although her words were full of emotion, not even half of them reached his ears. He was concentrating all his strength on trying to keep her from noticing what so shook him. So he writhed and bit his lips to repress any moan.
Mimea had only been told that, as their relationship had been discovered, he was being punished.
Believing himself at the top of his class, he had committed the error of putting his hands on an Academy-born virgin. This was the gibe in everyone's mouth. However, it had been Mimea who seduced him. She was bothered by the thought that he was suffering for her guilt, but he who only days ago had looked at her with affection, now turned his back to her without explanation.
To Mimea, this was the most unbearable. His silence fed her nervousness, and it soon became fury. Her chest ached with all the feelings roiling inside her. Unable to bear it any longer, Mimea shouted hysterically, “Why are you so quiet? Why don't you look at me? Answer me!”
When she realized that not even in this way would she get even a fleeting glance from him, she knit her beautiful brows and bit her red lips. The back of he who had not even tried to deny the man’s words suddenly seemed to her to be marked by the ugliness of treachery. At the limit of exasperation, words also failed. This is what her eyes seemed to reflect.
"It’s over," murmured the man’s voice from within his chest.
“Coward!” the desperate shout came from Mimea's lips.
He felt as if fire were burning his back, and he bit his lips harder. But what was he repressing so desperately, the sound of his panting breaths or maybe his own tears? Perhaps even he didn't know. Behind him, Mimea's lips trembled, and as he had done to her, she turned and gave him her back.
"This has probably been a lesson for you, too,” the other man said to her.
Mimea left the room, walking quickly. After assuring that she had left, the man sat down calmly on the edge of the bed.
"Well, after all, I should think you must have expected such an outcome." As the imperturbable man whispered, he gradually pulled back the sheets. He awaited the revelation of the naked body of the one who lay there. Even in spite of the adolescent’s wild appearance, the perfect proportions of his limbs made him terribly sensual.
The man let his eyes roam slowly. There was no excitement or discomfiture in the frozen serenity of his eyes. It was a dispassionate gaze, but when his eyes reached the place between the other’s legs, they darkened for a moment.
The young man’s erection throbbed, and in his mind grew only one thought: ‘I want release! Please, let me go!’
"Do you want me to release you?" the other man whispered softly, temptingly.
The one on the bed nodded vigorously, and carelessly, the other man's hand separated his knees. He held his breath. It meant, at last, an end to the anguish that was driving him mad, he thought, but teasingly, the man's fingers turned suddenly aside to caress the valley formed by his legs. Unconsciously, he opened his eyes wide, startled.
"You have been doing it with Mimea behind my back. Did you think for one moment that it would be over so easily?”
For the first time, a shadow of terror crossed his eyes.
The other man always seemed so serene. Whatever happened, the man’s voice never showed even the slightest harshness, but he knew better than any other how passionately violent was the man hidden under that mask. But, even so, he had not been repentant, thinking "Why did I do that?" Instead, he had shown a defiant face when the man found out about his relationship with Mimea.
He liked Mimea, her splendid features, even in spite of the arrogance typical of her breeding in a pure environment. He really liked her. She was not prejudiced against him like the others. She had been his only friend, but he knew that part of the secret pleasure he got from his meetings with Mimea was the electrifying excitement of betraying that man.
‘I’ll worry about it if I’m caught.’ Thinking this way had made the matter seem less important. The regret he had felt was more for Mimea than for the man, but now he was cowed.
"I… only did it once…. with Mimea!" Though he knew that the man in front of him was not the sort of person who would accept such a clumsy excuse, he was so frightened that he could not help trying to justify himself.
"Once or a hundred times, it is the same to me. You did it with Mimea. That is enough."
" … "
The man stroked him lightly with creeping fingers. “That you did it here is what pleased you most, isn’t it?"
He moaned weakly, and when he felt the touch of a foreign body sinking gradually inside him and wriggling lewdly, he couldn't repress the sound of his suffocated breaths any longer.
"What is the matter with you? There is no point in trying to pretend now. Why don't you moan openly?" The man's voice was so soft it gave him the shivers.
Every time the man's finger moved, the continuous ache spread suddenly. Unconsciously, he contracted his inner muscles. It was not that he rejected the foreign digit inside his body. On the contrary, he pressed himself against it, and gave short thrusts of his hips as if encouraging it to go deeper.
“That’s it. Good boy.”
When this whisper caressed his ear and flowed down the nape of his neck, he was startled, and he arched his body backwards loosing a small, pitiful cry. The tension which was biting into the very marrow of his bones showed its fangs, and rushed up to his head. Every time this happened, his body shook with convulsive spasms. When the man's deeply inserted finger pressed that certain point, he became breathless. He felt as if every vein in his body were aflame.
If the intense sensation would make him faint, it would all be over then, but the man forced him to pant lewdly and heavily without letting him come. He sighed harshly through trembling lips and a tight throat, thrusting his hips furiously. At the tip of his erection clung a sticky thread of pre-come, and whenever an almost sobbing cry escaped him, more of that essence dripped weakly from him.
Something in the man's skilled caresses made them irresistible.
As the man shoved in two fingers to open and stretch that place even more, he begged, gasping, “Forgive me…” again and again as if he were delirious with fever.
"'I'll do this to you however many times it takes to make you sufficiently regret doing it with Mimea. You are my Pet, and I will ingrain that fact into the very marrow of your bones." This the man whispered softly into his ear as he unshackled his wrists.
That man’s beauty was near perfect, inspiring of fear and respect, and his pale blue eyes were of burning ice. Was that fire fury at his wounded pride, or was it an expression of uncontrollable desire? Whatever it was, there was no doubt that beneath that damned excitement that twisted within him seethed dark whirlpools of jealousy towards Mimea.
The city was like a tyrant who mocked the night's silence and the peaceful flow of time. Lifting its skirt now and again to display the gaudy brightness of its neon lights, it gave a licentious smile as it seduced the hearts of those who fell to its charm. Here spread the complete decay of sensibility, willpower, and intelligence, and fearing no one, the city reigned over the darkness.
This was the Pleasure City, Midas.
Famous satellite city of the capital, Tanagura, which was ruled by the massive computer [Lambda] 3000, known under the alias of Jupiter; Midas was the city that never slept, in which there were casinos, discos, bars, luxurious brothels… It was pointless to try to count the various amusements and pleasures that could be found there.
In the night of Midas, yesterday and tomorrow didn’t exist. Its haughty magnificence overtook the night, and every day, being pure incitation to corruption, it sank into obscenity. In that place, under that resplendent appearance, there was a hidden face which was repellant. Instincts and naked desires, free of their chains, became intertwined and hypertrophied, paying homage to unrestrained pleasure. Such was the grotesque and undisguised face of Midas.
Lascivious and seductive, lights floated in the darkness, and among the close press of people, the air was warm and foul. Clinging to their languid limbs, the sighs of Midas fascinated the crowd as if they were an aphrodisiac, but only in stepping away from the main streets did that sticky sensation lessen, melting away in the cold air of the night. In that moment, the face of the city changed.
This was the ninth area of the outskirts of Midas, Ceres.
The inhabitants of the Pleasure City knitted their brows with disgust, showing their scorn towards what they considered the armpit of Midas: the slums, a place it never even crossed their minds to come. In the rubbish strewn streets, there was not a single soul, but the flood of brilliant neon that dyed the night of Midas drew halos on what it could reach of the half torn down walls just to avoid being accused of showing complete indifference.
It seemed as if time had suddenly turned aside towards a direction where the concept of past and future was unknown. It was a weird and uneasy sensation. Neither the warm air emanating from the Pleasure Zone, nor its charming voice reached this tired old district which was content only to surrender to its own chaotic and macabre colouration. In this place, the only thing to be heard was an indolent breath flowing in time. Its putrid scent propagated, making no distinction between day and night. This was a dull, empty zone where there was not even a single dream of which to gather the crumbs.
Tanagura, the capital where everything was ordered, where even time was controlled, was too distant a place for those who were not allowed even to bear the train of the proud dictator of the night that Midas had become. For the ones dwelling there among the ghosts of a destroyed past and a sorrowful reality, there was no future to aspire to. Things such as talking with a friend were their sole commitments.
Friday night ---------
A mysterious iridescent moonlight spangled the deeply shadowed darkness.
They were killing time in the room they had made into their den in a half ruined building.
"You know what? There’s going to be a market soon in Mistral Park."
In the semidarkness Kyrie held back the hand with which he passed the bottle containing that hallucinatory alcohol known as 'Stout', and said this as if he had just thought of it.
"Market? An auction?" asked Sid, raising aggressive-seeming eyes.
Kyrie nodded. "This time they’re going to sell Academy bred Pets, and it’s said that even the nouveau riche from Kaan and Rijina are pretty thrilled. It’s a widespread rumor that, this time, the price will be much higher than the usual double."
"Purebred… pedigree…" said Guy, talking to himself.
“What do we care about that?" spat Luke.
"It’s not that I mean to compare us to Academy Pets, but with enough time and money to polish us up, we wouldn't look all that bad. The only problem might be our awful manners. Don't you think so, Riki?" Directing his odd eyes, one ash-grey and the other blue, to Riki, Kyrie smiled at him, but Riki, seeming to want to show that he was not in the least bit interested, just held Stout in his mouth.
Faced with so blatant a gesture, Kyrie frowned angrily. What annoyed him was not the fact that Riki did not agree, but that he ignored him so calmly in front of everyone. Although sometimes he had embarrassed the others with his shamelessness, they had never treated him contemptuously. That was why Riki's behaviour was to Kyrie like a slap in the face.
‘Maybe all of this is because Riki hates me...?’ Kyrie had felt so for a long time. It was not that he had heard anybody commenting about it. Neither had Riki made any sarcastic remark to his face, but in spite of that, the thorns in those dark and fleeting glances that Riki directed at him could only suggest such a feeling. If it were mere slyness, he could put up with it, since in that case he knew how to throw a counteroffensive, but to Riki's behaviour, Kyrie didn't even know how to react.
‘I don't give a damn about what you’re saying.’ Having this so obviously pointed out to him made him glare at Riki fiercely, but Riki was paying no attention to him at all, nor to anything else around them. He didn't even attempt to raise his eyes, lost in the far off distance. Burning with rage for that, Kyrie's lips twisted, mumbling something. He was on the point of swearing when, as if he had calculated the precise moment, Guy said softly: "What is it, Kyrie? Would you like to wear a collar with your name on it around your neck?"
In an instant, those thoughts were cut off at the root. Kyrie clucked his tongue lightly, and, taking a deep breath, showed a false smile. "Why not? If my master let me trip out on first-class drugs, I'd be able to lick his feet!"
That stirred up something in Riki's soul.
Kyrie found himself the focus of a chill and withering stare, and unconsciously clenched his fists. They showed displeasure with Kyrie, those exasperating eyes... Having them focused directly on his face made his repressed anger rise in a column of fire.
But, even his suffocating bitterness was frozen by that cold, silent gaze, and no words welled to his lips. Only displeasure with his own clumsiness moved in the depths of his heart.
When, in that moment, Luke’s lips curved in an ironic smile, saying "It's not so easy to find someone with a fancy for a Mongrel Pet..." nobody laughed, nor was any sarcastic remark made because that was the plain truth.
Riki looked down, and drained the little Stout remaining at the bottom of the bottle, but when he held it in his mouth, it was bitter on his tongue. However, the taste was not that of Stout. He could feel a much deeper and somber displeasure.
‘It’s just my imagination...’
Pushing that thought away, he swallowed the liquid slowly and purposefully. If he’d had money, he would have preferred to get high on something that tasted better, but in this place it would be more than difficult. Unless he were generously offered a mine of gold... Here, he would find no one to borrow money from, either. Luxuries like expensive alcoholic drinks were a dream for people who couldn’t employ their youth. The Stout they were drinking now was a priceless commodity - let’s call it so - that Luke had gotten for himself somewhere three days ago. But treasuring its value was not the only reason why they always drank it slowly and by turns. Stout was a nerve stimulant which contained non-authorized substances. In other words, it was an illicitly manufactured alcoholic drink. It was really dangerous to drink it on an empty stomach. Instead of tripping, with a little bad luck, they’d run the risk of writhing in pain and suffocating to death right there.
That was the reason why it was said that among the alkaloid type hallucinatory alcohols, Stout was the worst one. Perhaps, deep down, it might be the one most appropriate to the Slum. However, good or bad quality was not so relevant to getting temporarily drunk, and it was just at that point where there was a fascination for the glass which, covered by their sighs, looked as if the mere touch of a voice could shatter it.
The young people in the slums shouldered a rage for which there was no outlet. Such was the emptiness in their souls that it could not be described by words. "There is no way." With such hopelessness, they would resolve everything by saying that phrase. Even if only temporarily, the Stout liberated them from all that. Nobody was there to tell them, “Stop it. It's dangerous.”
After a few minutes, the silence became stagnant. Lack of air was the cause of one or two faint sighs when the flow of the foul and dim atmosphere slowly began to invert its course. Then, suddenly, maybe because something had crossed his mind, Luke half sat, and locked his glassy eyes on Riki.
"What's up with you, Riki? Are you ashamed of tripping out on a cheap drug with us? That’s it, isn’t it?"
Luke looked annoyed at something, and his blurred eyes crawled over Riki's body as if they were licking it. That gaze was so undisguised that, normally, anyone would have frowned in disgust at such a crude look, but perhaps because the Stout had started to have the desired effect, Riki didn’t care. His heartbeat slowly marked the passing of time, and as it gradually increased, began to surge through his limbs, marking a peculiar rhythm.
Riki stretched his arms and legs widely, and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes gently, and listened to nothing, saw nothing, just felt that soft, almost soporific vibration...
When he relaxed, captivated by that fascinating sensation, both his body and soul seemed to lose contact with reality. The darkness behind his eyelids swirled and multicoloured spangles began to jump up. In that moment he was interested in nothing except concentrating on enjoying that agreeable tingling sensation.
When Guy peered over his shoulder at Riki's face in profile, smiling that vague smile, suddenly he felt the vacuum left by those three years, and turned his eyes down.
‘This… is not Riki,’ he told himself.
The Riki whom Guy had known had been so fierce as to strike sparks wherever he went. Extremely egocentric, he had also had great self-esteem. To Guy, Riki was not only his pairing partner. Long ago, they had so intimate a relationship that each one knew the number of freckles on the other's body. However, even at that time, Guy always had the impression that, although they were looking at the same thing, they were traveling down different paths. That was why Guy, much more than Luke, couldn’t stand seeing this shell of a human being that looked like Riki.
"I'll say goodbye to the Slum someday." That had been the favorite phrase of the old Riki. Many young people had left the Slum after swearing the same, but in less than a month everyone had come back again.
Shoulders slumped in defeat, used up, or with a weird brightness in their eyes.... But in spite of this same scene replaying again and again, Riki was not intimidated at all, and raising his voice, he repeated, "Someday. Count on it." But he seemed to speak more for the sake of encouraging himself than for Guy.
Three years earlier...
Late in the night, Riki walked on staggering feet towards Guy's house.
As soon as Guy opened the door, he was hit by the pungent alcohol stink of Riki’s breath, and unconsciously turned his face away. It seemed as if he had bathed himself in liquor, but Riki took no offence, and swaying to and fro, leaning half his body in the door, he smiled maliciously.
"A little visiting present." As he said that, he pushed an object against Guy's chest with clumsy hands. It was a high priced hallucinatory drink, much more expensive than Stout. Guy held his breath for a moment.
"Where the hell did you get this?"
When he repeated this question again with a halting voice, Riki chuckled. He was in an excellent mood, as if something really good had happened to him. He twisted his lips in a strange way as if he were unable to suppress a giggle.
"I see you’re in a good mood, aren't you. Has anything special happened to you?"
Being sounded out in this indirect way, Riki took comfortable possession of the bed as if he were lord and master of the place, and answered, looking up with a heavy gaze, laughing through his nose: "Tsk... more or less."
"Even so... Rozh-Liena Vultain! ...That's really great!"
"Are you being sarcastic?"
"Not particularly. I just wanted to say thanks for being given something that I hardly ever even get the chance to see the label of to appreciate it. I never would’ve thought you’d be able to get a hold of one of these."
Riki rolled, roaring with laughter.
Guy couldn't take his eyes off him, feeling strangely uneasy not knowing whether that laugh was only induced by his drunkenness or if, in a moment of lucidity, he was mocking himself. Recently there was something strange in Riki's behaviour. ‘The man has a foot in something dangerous.’ His financial situation was so good as to cause rumours to fly. He would disappear for a while, and suddenly come back bringing a liquor so expensive that, in places like the Slum, it was totally unknown. Then, he laughed openly at the commotion this caused, and got drunk under envious gazes.
Everybody wanted to know where he got so much money, but although they pressed him to talk with bitingly sarcastic jokes, Riki replied only vaguely, and avoided direct confrontation with them.
The reason his friends held no bad feeling towards him wasn’t just because he was their leader. His shining black hair and his obsidian eyes stood out in sharp contrast to the garbage heap known as the Slum. Nobody said it in words, but nobody could help but be captivated by that wild aggressiveness which burned on contact. They would not have done anything to break that charm, and that was why Guy couldn't help but be seriously worried.
"Hey, Riki, tell me honestly. You’re not involved in something dangerous, are you?"
"Why do you ask all of a sudden? ... What's with you? Stop looking at me like that!"
"Don't change the subject. Give me a straight answer!"
Guy was irritated. Where the hell had Riki been, and what had he been doing? Whenever Guy saw Riki, he had begun to feel strangely that, little by little, Riki was transforming into a different person, and that made him nervous. But Riki eluded the question with a smile.
Guy remained in silent. To be exact, it was that, suddenly, he could not find the words to speak. He was speechless with astonishment. The surprising kindness of Riki's eyes, misty with drunkenness, and the serenity of that smile chiseled in the corner of his mouth, for some reason greatly disturbed him. Although their relationship had been close to the point of having licked each other’s hidden places, he had the feeling that it was the first time he had ever seen that expression on Riki's face.
Aware of Guy's agitation or not, Riki, sighing deeply, suddenly changed attitude completely, and with a displeased expression as if he were chewing on bitter insects, he murmured between his teeth:
"Look Guy, opportunities don’t just pop up on every street corner, much less ones that help people like us into the light. I'm tired of stealing Stout secretly, and then sipping at it to drug me in the worst way. Since we can dream, I would like to stand out as fast as possible. Just looking ambitious and hoping that riches would fall from sky, time passed and we were still scum in the Slum. Me, you, and guys like us, we know thousands of them, don't we? Guy, I don’t want that. Just the thought of staying here forever like this, feeling how my body is rotting to the bone, horrifies me."
Who the hell had said that the Slum was a phantom, devouring people's youth and soul? The inhabitants had their own bodies as proof of how true it was. When somebody tried to leave the Slum, the deep disdain with which they were regarded overcame even the sickest of envy. Those who grew old piled up like snow-drifts against the houses' doors, and in them not even dreams could survive. Nobody could fly without hope and the dreams dwelling in it, but no one could excel without facing the fear of falling.
Insipid, like the sensation of sand in the mouth, days followed one another, limited, unchanging. Everybody in Ceres was aware of this, and even so, they cut off the wings of their spirits as if this were a necessity of survival. The wall called “reality” was thick and heavy. Those who knew full well that they would be repelled, yet sent themselves to defy it were sarcastically called "heroes". On the other hand were those who knew that they would never be in the boots of those "heroes." They limited themselves to self-pity, and took to the drink.
"I will get out of here. You’ll see." Raising his eyes towards the ceiling, Riki said this with a voice rougher than usual.
Guy lowered his gaze, and, not saying anything, he nodded agreement.
Leaving the Slum was easy. Physically, there was nothing separating Midas from Ceres. Nevertheless, to free oneself from the reality of having grown up in the Slum was something much more difficult. It was built on the same territory as Midas, under the same sky, and even shared the same language, but... Ceres' inhabitants had no identification cards. It was that difference which made it impossible for the Slum to be considered a part of Midas. Refuge for vagabonds and delinquents, the Slum was an underdeveloped place, and, along with its inhabitants, it had been erased from Midas' registries forever.
The abyss separating the two worlds was invisible, but nevertheless, in the eyes of Midas' citizens it pulsed incessantly. One would say that it was a peculiar feeling of superiority that Midas felt over what it despised as "the Slum".
The life of a citizen of the City of Pleasure was far from pleasant because their souls and bodies were bound, but criticizing the system or causing problems could mean forfeiting their identification cards, so all of them agreed that it was more judicious to obey the rules without resistance.
Before them, its people contemptuously self-named "Mongrels", Ceres existed. Moaning in the depths of a well from which the surface could not be seen was the Slum.
For the citizens the greatest humiliation was neither the lack of freedom of word or deed, nor rage against the injustices committed, but to be divested of all their goods and their rights, and to be cast into Ceres. The Slum equaled the loss of humanity. This ideology had penetrated the citizens' minds, terrifying them.
It seemed as if, hostile, Midas' own instinct for self-defense showed openly now. Midas was trying not to commit the same error twice, for at one time a great crisis had shaken its foundations.
Those who did not want a computer deciding their deeds, those who wished to break the chains oppressing them, looking for dignity and freedom as human beings - they occupied the ninth area, trying to build a new city where they might live independently. They said that it was not a rebellion, but a reformation. The age of submission and servility to a machine had ended, but how and from where the funds and materials for such a venture would come, they did not know. In the ninth area there were only those necessities needed to live without hardship.
To live without coercion, without class differences, and with one’s own private life was what they wished for. Ceres had to become that Utopia for them. "Absolute Freedom": the strength and energy they put into following this slogan without retreating a single step did not go unnoticed. From the ninth area to each one of the others from mouth to mouth it flowed, it expanded, it wound, and the displeasure and the protests lying under the surface emerged suddenly. Sabotage after sabotage followed here and there. From everywhere open criticisms rose against the system.
In the beginning, thinking it was not likely to spread too much, Midas despised the situation, but when their customers began to disappear as a result of it, they had no choice but to recognize the seriousness of the problem. Nevertheless, perhaps because they were aware of the shadow that moved behind the ringleaders of the rebellion, they did not try to destroy them or to crush them by force. Instead of ordering the total and immediate evacuation of all of Ceres' inhabitants, they chose to inform them that their names had been erased from Midas' registries.
That day, joyous shouts shook Ceres.
"We won!" they said...
Of course, there were also some who regarded with incredulous eyes Midas' decision that, as indulgent as it was, had left them more disappointed than surprised.
But these doubts dissipated between shouts of victory and the drunkenness of excitement. They had gained their rights without a single victim, and without desertion. That was their great pride. But had they really won? Why had Midas allowed Ceres its independence so easily?
Months later, when the exaltation of victory had past, they began to reflect on that continuously, because, in the various phases of Ceres' existence, they discovered not a chimera, but a reality. "Nobody coming will be rejected." That was Ceres' creed. "We, and all those with the same aspirations can create Ceres' future together." This was its optimistic forecast of the future.
Perhaps it was that the ties to the federations that had secretly lent them aid to obtain their independence were not completely broken. Thus, before being able to establish an organization based on that ideal, Ceres was invaded by people who came, attracted by the magical power of the word "freedom", many of them without any belief, only because they were sure that their lives would change if they came to Ceres. But their inhabitants were still too young to understand, and to direct those people with surety. That, and the fact they did not have a leader with enough experience, was the first thing that caused chaos in Ceres.
Later, egoistical protests like "You’re doing nothing" or "This work isn’t for me" came one after another. Soon it turned into rage, and into impatience that hindered them from thinking clearly since things weren't going as they had imagined. Freedom without restriction or intervention didn't mean that everyone could do as they pleased. In order to obtain it, a minimum of discipline and cooperation was essential. Otherwise, even if one shouted "freedom" until one lost one’s voice, the ideal would be no more than an empty shell.
The independence of a noisy flock of crows made no sense. Once freedom was obtained, it needed time to work out. Such a simple thing, and it was this principal they should have kept in mind. It didn’t matter that the Federalists, the best versed in this matter, desperately maintained this ideal. When the storm subsided and the atmosphere began to cool off in Ceres, people no longer took notice of them.
Due to the great amount of difficulties encountered in the attempt to fulfill their intention to become independent from Midas, Ceres had serious problems. No few were disappointed by Ceres, or cursed it. "If Ceres does not work, there is no other way but to return to Midas." That was the easy and comfortable thought that probably crossed their minds, but their childish behaviour received a hard counter-blow from Midas, and for the first time, they realized the high price paid for their freedom.
Midas, that had so easily granted them permission when they wished to settle down in Ceres, completely refused to admit them again, giving as pretext that they had already been erased from the registries. The reason for which its doors closed inexorably to them was not that it resisted readmitting these elements discordant with the system. If that were the only reason, it would be cruel enough to brainwash them unhesitatingly. It was a matter of honour as the satellite-city of Tanagura. For that reason, Midas did not yield an inch in its revenge against them. And, at the same time, it served also as an example and a warning to Midas' citizens.
With their dreams shattered, their shoulders slumped with loss of heart, and with no resources with which to surmount the wall of their rejection, they could only kill time in Ceres while staggering along between remorse and desperation.
Every night Midas displayed itself before them with its shining neon dress, charming and lewdly igniting their hearts, but never with the intention of inviting them to enter its zone. The apathy of not having anything to do but to let itself be dragged along by the passage of time soon generated Ceres’ spiritual ruin. Like a disease, it swooped down on them, and slowly but constantly, little by little. Ceres corroded.
Although generations changed, it showed no sign of stopping. Thus Ceres degenerated into an increasingly marginal slum.
Knowing this history very well, Riki should have kept his gaze forward when he took the first steps away. Of course, he promised himself that he would look back only in the event of a spectacular failure. Nevertheless, one night, after almost three years, Riki appeared unexpectedly back in the Slum.
Guy, taken by surprise, remained paralyzed, eyes wide, and unable to speak a word when he stopped in front of him. "You look good," Riki told him, smiling with a nostalgic air. He had grown and had a more adult appearance, so much as to seem like another person. He radiated with splendour that rough behaviour of three years ago. His limbs, long and thin, gave the same impression of flexibility, but his eyes were now cold and inexpressive.
His return caused a great turmoil among his old companions, for the good and the bad. That meant that Riki also had to face a vortex of calumnies and various jokes. In greater or smaller degree, everyone wanted to pry into what had happened in those three years that had transformed him so much. Nevertheless, Riki remained silent. Furthermore, if attacked with malicious and wounding murmurs or direct provocations, he did not fly into a rage as he used to do long ago, but calmly waited for everything to calm down around him.
Before the changes shown in Riki, Guy, aside from surprise, could not help but feel uneasiness in his heart, invaded by doubts. Without exception, all of those who came back to the Slum with their shattered dreams dragged with them some sort of trauma. Most of the time, it was frustration born from hopelessness, or the disagreeable habit of self-deprecation. And, in the end, the shade of madness watched them from the bottom of the abyss of desperation.
They used to debilitate themselves with drugs and alcohol in order to avidly devour dreams as repetitive as they were ephemeral, and in order to try to escape from the ghosts of the past, they made their own shells in which they locked themselves. But, there was in Riki something different. That aggressiveness that seemed to burn on contact had disappeared. Furthermore, his dull eyes looked at the others with coldness and even disdain, and when he was with his companions… What was that extreme serenity, that way of using his hands to drain the glass as if he were tasting the contents? Guy wasn't able to guess what was hidden in the heart that Riki had closed so conscientiously, but the transformation he had suffered was too brutal to be ignored and to pretend that everything was all right.
Midas, Third Area, Mistral Park-----
The auction day was near. At noon, when the crowded circular plaza began to fill with preparations, goods, and the echoes of people's animated voices, Midas began to acquire a feverish air. As Kyrie had said, this time, for the first time in five years, the Academy was going to sell its better Pets. Perhaps for that reason, even in a place like Ceres which had little to do with the auction, the unstoppable rumour ran by the bars and other hovels.
"It would be brilliant! Let's go! Watching is totally free. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll be able to get something good and hot to drink. Anyway, I don’t see any good reason not to want to go."
For Riki, who felt not the slightest interest in the auction, nor any great desire to go to see such an event, Kyrie's obstinacy was truly annoying.
"Is there somebody there you don’t want to meet?" Kyrie defied him.
" … Nobody in particular."
"Then it's decided! It's not bad to go out all together, once in a while, is it?" Kyrie gave him a significant smile.
Riki turned his gaze abruptly away, speaking in a voice so low that nobody would have been able to hear him: "There’s something about that guy I don’t like...”
Could it be that he was tired of his being a know-it-all in spite of not being even seventeen years old?
(No, it wasn’t that.)
Perhaps it was because he always messed him around in spite of being a brat three years younger than him?
(No, that wasn’t the reason either.)
What Riki wanted to deny was that, in the strange eyes of the annoying Kyrie, he had found his double exactly as he had been three years ago. When he saw Kyrie for the first time, he had not t had any particular thoughts about him. Only the fact of him having different coloured eyes had surprised Riki a little, although he had not attached great importance to the matter. Since when had he begun to notice that his old self was reflected again and again in Kyrie's behaviour and words?
"If he were the same as before, he would have said that."
"If he were the same as three years ago, surely he would have done the same"
Such phrases came to his mind constantly. As soon as he was completely aware of this, he began to feel that, except for the physical aspect, Kyrie was like him in everything. His way of speaking, his gestures, even his somewhat insolent tone of voice... It was unbearable. The illusion of facing his old self, whom he had assumed to have disappeared a long time ago, shifted in him the memory of that time and other deep emotions, giving way to a bitterness already forgotten but so great that, suddenly, he felt the desire to bite his lips until they bled.
The reason Riki had come back to the Slum was because, being there, he had the feeling of being able to breathe freely. He thought that there, the accumulated tension in his limbs could relax, and he could stay there doing nothing the whole time as he wanted and when he wanted. The paradoxical thing was that, although three years ago the fact of monotonous days passing without change or emotions made him nauseous, now he missed it terribly, and, although he could not change the past, he could feel that, while it remained completely submerged in the deep and cloudy sea of time, little by little, it would dissolve in it.
But, Kyrie's existence had been an error in calculation. Just hearing his voice, Riki felt a strong bitter flavor in his mouth. If he tried to chew it and to swallow it by force, he felt jabs of pain in his heart. The more Riki tried to ignore the too shrewd boy, the more Kyrie insisted on pestering him.
Riki's black eyes, which defended themselves with a quiet glance, had begun to shine in rage, every time more and more difficult for him to control. It was not that Riki was originally the kind of person who dedicated himself to observe, calmly waiting for the opportune moment, but during those three years, he did nothing but learn to control himself. No, to be exact, would it not be better to say that they forced him to? Compared to that, the backbiting and the jokes of the Slum were insignificant.
Thinking that he could, in his way, control his irascible temper was indeed what had animated Riki to come back. His pride and his stubbornness of long ago had already been worn away during those three years. But Kyrie, with only his presence, brought up the past sharply. Trying to look like a lout, innocently, he revived the memories of that time in which Riki had also been insolent and arrogant, and showed them clearly before him. It was impossible to have tranquility of spirit in such a situation.
An expression of bitter rage appeared in Riki's eyes, and it was as if that mask of passivity slipped from his face.
The day of the auction was clear as if it were honouring the great celebration that had been prepared. Riki, urged by Kyrie, directed his steps towards Mistral Park with Guy.
Standard time of Midas M9:20---------
Although there was plenty of time before the opening, on the way towards the place where the auction was held was a swarm of people. For that reason alone, Riki was annoyed already.
"This is great! What - what - what a crowd! It's obviously the auction. This hot atmosphere is suffocating, isn't it?" With more admiration than irony, Kyrie said this while watching with astonished eyes. Then, with a sardonic laugh, Luke said in a low voice, "You’re so excited about the auction, and in the end, we’re all going to end up tripping together. I don’t think that there’s any great change in getting groggy from Stout."
"But it’s interesting. Here, there are people of all kinds, and the Academy's Pets! We rarely have the luck to see them. People are crowding around in front of the exhibitors to see them. I wonder what they’re thinking."
He was not asking anybody in particular, but after returning his gaze from the boisterous human tide to again direct it to his companions, without meaning to, his eyes met Riki’s.
"What do you think?" he asked him.
Riki, who normally would have turned his face away without paying any attention to him, oddly returned his gaze fixedly. "The first thing that all of them think is ‘It would be nice doing it with this one every day.’ Then, they lay eyes on the starting price and… Pop! They awaken from their dream. Those who are loaded and those that don’t have a cent... Finally, they end up disgusted when they realize, much to their regret, the great difference between them and the privileged classes.”
"Wahhh...! So you can say strong things too sometimes, eh?" Looking at him in surprise, Kyrie smiled at him with interest.
"My character always was strong by nature. Just like somebody else I know..."
"… Oh yeah. Then it’s over the years that you’ve become a prudent old man."
"Because I can’t spend my whole life talking nonsense like a child."
“Ha! ... In only three years you’ve become a mature and responsible boy... In the end, the leader of Bison, one of the most emergent in the Slum, has ended up becoming just another old fogey. What a disappointment. Maybe you met somebody who plucked all the hair from your ass. Is that it?"
"You should save that comment ‘til the hair has finished growing on your own ass, Kyrie."
It was a cold tone of voice, but direct and full of poison. Kyrie was immediately enraged. Riki's words sounded as if he were holding him up to ridicule, saying "What are you bragging about if you’re still a virgin?"
‘Only because I am not some facile boy,’ thought Kyrie.
Burning with rage, Kyrie fixed his angry eyes on Riki. At the same time, without making the slightest movement, Riki countered with a violent glare. The resultant silence seemed like a volcano about to explode.
Did nobody did think to intervene...?
Suddenly Guy, as if throwing a bucket of cold water on the heated atmosphere, smoothly held Riki's shoulder: "Let's go, Riki."
Hearing these words, Riki felt as if the almost painful tension of his limbs dissolved. Nevertheless, the deep bitterness in his heart did not disappear so easily.
"Damn! What an annoyance…"
It was not because of Kyrie's defiant attitude, and much less because of the slight agitation produced by the oppressive crowd of people, but without noticing, he had been invaded by an unpleasant sensation like nausea, and an inexplicable rage seemed to burn his insides. As he approached, dragged by the human tide toward the numerous departments situated in the center of the plaza, it began to press him sharply in the stomach.
In front of each accumulation of people was one of the Pets who were going to be auctioned.
Divided into breeding centers, they waited conveniently in their luxurious rooms for their moment. They were of different sexes, skin tones, eye and hair colour, but as one would suppose, it was the elegance of their well proportioned bodies and the perfect harmony of their features that decided their quality. Among all of them, the ones that markedly attracted the most looks and interest were the Pets bred by the Academy.
Diaphanous golden hair, silken snow-white skin, their slightly humid crimson lips, and the delicacy of the lines of their androgynous bodies emanated a strange charm. Without doubt, they would have fetched a high price. Really, everything in them suggested this.
Among the Pet stores officially recognized by the central city of Tanagura, the Academy's Scientific Center enjoyed an excellent reputation as supplier of pureblood Pets. Blood type, quality genes... every detail was rigorously examined until it was perfected, and only selected individuals were allowed to be born. Therefore the Academy's Pets were very proud of their splendid figures. It was no exaggeration to say that only the Academy's Pets had the privilege to calmly despise the looks of mixed envy and jealousy flowing through the crystals. Just the piece of paper showing their pedigree was a symbol of their self-confidence and pride.
The auctions of Midas' Pets, celebrated with great pomp once a year, were established, more or less openly to be the new industry of Tanagura. Nevertheless, until only a quarter of century ago, this had a very bad reputation abroad.
"Anachronistic slave market"
"The worst attack against human rights"
Countless accusations such as these were shouted by the federated cities. And not only limited to the auctions, the mere existence of Midas as a symbol of pleasure and corruption was something that struck on their nerves. If Midas' visible face was that of an imaginary castle of pleasure where day and night did not exist and where ideologies were of no import, the hidden face that secretly manipulated money and influences was a more gloomy and ugly reality.
And the one which embraced this nest of snakes against its breast, the computerized Metallic City, Tanagura, was still worse.
Habitually, the free cities formed confederations, and they maintained themselves through bargaining relations in political and commercial matters, but, although as city-states, they were independent, not many of them functioned with total autonomy. The small cities that lacked particularly in natural resources, and did not have any notable industry, were absorbed by larger metropolises, and in effect they were no more than semi-colonial dependents for which the name of ‘federated’ was no more than a title. In the middle of all that, not belonging to any federation, not permitting any outside interference, not folding to any pressure, was Tanagura.
The twelfth planet of the star system of Glan, Amoi, was a small, remote planet, not even visited by delinquents wanted by the law. It had no natural resources or intelligent life. Even the federations that carried out periodical inspections once every certain number of years after a single exploration, had discounted it completely until one day, when a ship with a group of investigators known as "Abyss" landed on the planet. They wanted to create a city of intensive investigation, breaking with the established concepts, free from political pressures or religious taboos.
Thus Tanagura was born.
Many scientists met there, seeking human knowledge and prosperity. They gave life to the super computer "Jupiter". The memory bank of its artificial brain possessed all kinds of information and a colossal quantity of data. Thus, it went on accumulating experience until it reached a high degree of self-conscience, and one day, it suddenly realized the value of its own existence. To be exact, according to its human creators, its irrational attitude could only have driven it crazy. And, finally, it forced the humans to submit to its will.
Jupiter was Tanagura's main pillar, and as such, it snatched the city's control from the humans.
Looking to the heights, toward its lavender-blue sky sprinkled with the perpetual shine of the stars, the previously modest planet, Amoi...
When several federal cities began to notice the situation and, still dazed, thought on how to act, Tanagura had already completed its transformation into a strange city with domesticated humans as inhabitants, and, totally ignoring the clamour of the surrounding voices, began to excel as firmly as quickly, still trying to hide its own magnificence.
The city which elevated functional beauty and rationality to unheard-of heights welled with a fresh and shining appearance after a methodical and efficient cleaning. Nevertheless, rejecting not only its warmth, but also any filth typical of being human, this vision was dazzling but cold.
Spread throughout the whole city, were the dry gazes of "camera eyes.” In other words, the awareness of Jupiter had even been gifted with nervous terminals.
To what did Jupiter aspire after having surpassed the human intuition of its creators? With a team of investigators educated by itself, and a group of androids of the latest generation at its service, it was transformed into the "Almighty God" to which its name, Jupiter, referred. Tanagura's base was the negation of filial relationships, and the rejection of mortality, but that city which sought prosperity above all was no more than a creature engendered by the deformed awareness of Jupiter.
One day, humans who, limited by flesh, could not defeat death, would be made only to serve machines. Such an epitome of the future was what was suggested by the reality existing there.
Maybe the most surprising thing was that the federations openly declared their hatred, and gave hard criticisms.
In every era, it was a constant that the strong fed, devouring the weak. This was something that they themselves practiced. Nobody would dare to assume that the dependent cities that prostrated themselves at their feet would not be the next. Using, without restriction, biotechnology and electronic knowledge far ahead of its time, Tanagura, day by day, had built a solid position for itself, and, although the federated cities saw in this a serious threat, on the other hand they twisted with the dilemma of having become too dependant on those things that they obtained without having to dirty their own hands. So the federations suddenly found themselves looking each in other's faces, not knowing what to do.
When they made that realization, the critical voices publicly speaking against Tanagura and the shouts demanding the abolition of the human Pet auctions became more and more weak. After that, in only a half century, a new tendency even began to gain strength, as ridiculous as to think that to reach the light and to have a name in Midas constituted a barometer of political and economical power.
"Extreme pleasure governs life and death"
While this was whispered, people chased after the night of Midas without a care for the expense, thronging to the Pet auctions. Perhaps it was part of human nature to adapt itself to anything with time, whether good or bad. "When extremes are reached, evil turns to virtue."
Before this reality, human morals were lost once the chains of reason that held them were broken.
Perhaps because the auction would open at N15:00, the flow of the human tide advanced toward Mistral Park, being carried by those who went ahead. The ebullience of the din brimmed one minute and sank again the next, and combined with the heat given off by the multitude, it clung strangely to the body.
Bothered by this unpleasant sensation, Riki clucked his tongue.
It was then that, suddenly, he felt as if a look pinned him, adhering to his body. It was not a hallucination. It arose from somewhere among the sea of people and, obstinately, it refused to free its prey.
"Where are you?" Bracing himself against the current, Riki looked around him slowly.
"Riki, what is it?" Guy asked, surprised. Like Riki, he had also stopped at his side, but Riki did not show the slightest intention of answering.
"Where... are you?!"
The uneasiness caused by the gaze which kept him trapped increased his nervousness. Riki frowned deeply and, in that moment, startled, tensed all the muscles of his body, totally stiff.
"Tsst..!” He had found the owner of that indiscreet stare. He seemed to swim among the human silhouettes coming and going, as if only his face were visible, floating on the multitude. His beauty was such that it eclipsed that of any Pet of the Academy. His icy eyes caused shivers, and remained fixed on Riki without blinking. Riki thought that his heart’s violent beating would tear through his chest. His face went pale.
"Hey... Do you know him?"
Riki and that man remained motionless, and Guy’s whisper seemed to strike the tense thread of the situation. "Why would I know him?" Riki answered in a tremulous and weak voice, unable to hide his agitation.
Noticing it or not, Guy answered in a low voice, "… that's true."
This relaxed the tension of the surroundings - distension that Kyrie did not delay in annihilating, emitting a small whistle: "Wah! Incredible, guys! Look at that long hair! And he’s a Blondie!"
With an excited look and shaking his head involuntarily, Kyrie took the conversation up again before it completely decayed, and prompted it with new vigour.
The surprise with which he looked at that man with wide eyes was not unjustified. While people who, in order to flaunt their power, dressed ostentatiously and in luxurious clothes, the simple and functionally designed garments worn by that man, paradoxically, called attention to themselves. Even more so if he was an Elite, wrapped in the complete bodysuit typical of Tanagura's citizens.
Generally the Elite living in Tanagura kept their hair long in order to be distinguished from the androids. They possessed a perfectly proportioned body and a singular beauty, but, aside from an IQ of over 300, the Elite were only artificial beings incapable of reproducing.
They were organized based on a system of classes called "Norms", according to which they were divided by their hair colour. The ones dedicated to office work related to the outside, in other words the ones who were in charge of government business, were those with black hair, the "face" of Tanagura. As counselors in these matters, the members of each specialized field were divided according to the degree of their knowledge in red, green or blue hair. The highest responsible for each one of these fields had gleaming silver hair. And, finally, the elite among the Elite, the ones having the privilege of direct contact with Jupiter were those with golden hair, better known as Blondies.
"Look! He's still looking at us! Is he interested in us? He’s going to give us a sign!"
"Idiot! Stop talking nonsense!" Riki raised a bad-tempered voice. Kyrie’s almost happy tone had driven him up the wall.
"Why? He's looking at us! Isn’t it a chance? I think it is. Look at him, at his long hair. He’s a Blondie, one of the super-elite who are hardly ever seen in Midas."
"We’ve got nothing to lose by trying. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a surprise. I can’t let an opportunity like this to escape. I’m going to go..."
Riki frowned and remained silent. It was not that he had become speechless, crushed by Kyrie's passionate words, but, without his notice, his closed fists began to tremble, and an intense bitter taste invaded the back of his throat. It was as if the great resemblance between him and Kyrie was shown before his eyes until he said “enough.”
Seeing Riki in this state, Kyrie, triumphant, gave him an ironic smile. "See you!"
Kyrie launched himself as if he meant to tear up the space between Riki and Guy, breaking into a quick walk.
"Shouldn't we stop him, Riki?" said Guy with a worried look while his eyes followed Kyrie's silhouette as he lost himself among the sea of humanity, but Riki, with an angry look, spoke only a single sentence: "Let him do as he pleases."
In spite of that, the bitter stinging sensation remained. It was not caused by Kyrie, but directed toward himself. Riki, looking away from Kyrie's figure, directed his eyes again toward that man, to verify that he was still there. Then, as if he had been expecting that, the man returned him a sardonic smile, the corner of his fine lips curving almost imperceptibly while giving Riki a cold and limpid look.
Riki, without knowing the reason, got angry. He felt the impulse to tear that smile from the man’s face and trample on it with pleasure. Blood flooded his eyes, and his vision became smudged with red, and just in that instant, Kyrie's silhouette and the beauty of that man disappeared, dragged away by the sea of humanity. Riki, pressured by Guy, began to walk in silence. His steps were slow, and he dragged his feet…
That night Riki sat alone in a bar, drinking one drink after another. The liquor was stronger, and the rhythm quicker than usual, but even so, he did not manage to get at all drunk.
Those cold eyes that seemed to see through people’s souls, and which denoted an absolute and unbreakable self-confidence… And what was that ironic smile for, so full of meaning? Just remembering it caused his guts to burn.
Of course Riki did know that man, and although he tried to forget him, the memory was so deeply rooted that he felt he would never be able to be free of it. It was as if he had it etched with fire on the inside of his eyelids...
His voice, deep and emphatic, remained trapped, resounding in his ears. That gesture of combing back his hair with his graceful fingers, the habit of sitting calmly, toying with a cup with a lowered gaze… he had not forgotten a single one of these things.
What a bitterness that name spilled coming to his lips; from that moment and forever, however smeared he became with the filth of the Slum, as long as Riki was Riki, he would never be able to get rid of his past.
That day, since morning, a fine and unusual dust of freezing rain had been falling.
The streets littered with trash, and the ruined walls of the colony were in the middle of a great calm, as if they sighed with relief after a moment of tension, but when the sky that lay suspended low over the ground was wrapped completely in a veil of darkness, in the magnificent night of Midas, time slowly began to move its rusted gears, flowing with difficulty. It seemed that, oozing deep sighs, it raised itself calmly and heavily…
A bit late, Riki approached the dull place where they were usually met. He had not gone there in a long time. Kyrie, who was the one who always showed up first before him, was not there.
There was no nuisance of the boy's presence around there. Just that let Riki relax a great deal.
Nevertheless, for some reason, he felt a strange uneasiness. He was surprised to notice that he was thinking that Kyrie's absence was the cause of the lack of animation in the meeting’s atmosphere.
"Hey!" Guy realized that Riki was there, and standing up, held out a glass, inviting him to drink.
"What? Today’s a dead boring day, isn't it? It’s been a long time since you showed around here. We thought you’d found yourself another hideout..."
After wetting his whistle with a drink, Riki raised his eyes, and shrugging lightly, Guy said: "When Kyrie is absent, the conversation isn't what you'd call animated."
" … "
"Lately, Kyrie has become kinda unsociable."
"Better that way, don't you think? The brat must meet with other brats like him."
"Hey, Riki, it couldn’t be that..."
Leaving this phrase in the air, Guy realized that Riki's poker-face did not give any sign of change at all, so…
"Bah! Forget it. It's nothing." He said this with resignation, finishing the contents of the glass.
To be honest, Riki was not the slightest bit interested in knowing where Kyrie was, who he was with, or what he was doing. Still, if he had really gotten into trouble as Guy feared...
‘… Not my problem.’ That was all.
And then, a month passed.
Mired in monotonous days, the second month also passed.
Slowly sinking, half of the third month had passed already when the rumour came to Riki's ears.
"Hey! Is it true? That Kyrie is searching for colleagues of ours to take them to the androids?"
"Yes, and they say that he gets some considerable income in return for it. It seems that doing it with humans is the latest fashion among them."
"Huh! Even those mannequins have gone so far? Incredible, guys!"
"Bah! They can’t have as fine a sense of touch as a flesh and blood human."
"But it seems that, in that, they have incredible endurance. Look at Tam from the Saitz gang. When he went with Kyrie, he wasn't too convinced, but now he’s hooked. He goes for more every day."
"Wow! If they’re so good, I want to try doing it with them, too."
"Hehe… But they’d say ‘no thanks’ to you.”
"Right, the offer is for brats only."
"Look, man, they have the privilege to chose, right? Then it’s clear they’re not going to opt for the outdated, but for tender young things, almost untouched."
"And Kyrie gets his cut as intermediary, right?"
"Seems that way. Without a doubt, the boy is sharp…"
"But he’s a stingy bastard. Doesn't he intend to bring us even a bit of the extra?"
Sid's comment, impossible to tell if it was made in all seriousness or a joke, caused some dry laughter, but they broke off abruptly, and after that, the silence bore down on them. Norris began to feel uncomfortable, and as if he were saying ‘I can’t bear it any longer’, he spoke the first thing that came into his head.
"As for that, our leader Riki also did things like showing up with liquor never seen in the Slum."
"Well! Maybe you were doing the same thing as Kyrie, huh Riki?" A contained laugh echoed in Luke's throat.
"What's the matter with you? Are you speechless because I’ve hit the nail on the head?" Luke seemed more furious than sarcastic. He couldn’t bear Riki's pose of indifference.
"I don't care what you think. You can imagine whatever you please."
After so cold an answer, Luke couldn't help spitting loudly:
"That expression on your face makes me sick, Riki."
" … "
"It pisses me off so much that I get the urge to screw you, and make you moan like a little dog."
Nobody thought that that was a joke of Luke’s. Drunkenness made him show his true feelings like fire reveals invisible ink.
"You dare try it, and I’ll make your cock useless for the rest of your life. You’ve been warned, so don't cry about it later." Slowly and deliberately, and with a low voice, Riki threatened him with these words. It seemed as if, suddenly, the poker mask had slipped off of his face.
For a moment, everybody was quiet, holding their breath. Never had they seen such a naked expression of Riki’s, not even three years ago. What sparkled in his black eyes was different from that ardent excitement of long ago. It was something colder, fascinating and full of perilous charm.
The silence was suffocating, and made their hair stand on end. All of them looked at each other nervously, not even daring to breathe. All of them, except Guy, who watched Riki’s face, fascinated. His slightly dampened eyes betrayed the quick beat of his heart. It was as if an unstoppable sigh were floating on the corners of his lips. ‘That's it, this is the real Riki. That's how Riki should always look,’ it seemed to be saying.
The summer was almost over.
There had been a distinct lack of torrid heat in the short and atypically light summer. It had been only a year since Riki had returned to the Slum. The days had passed, grey and monotonous, with nothing interesting or worthy of mention, but Riki didn't feel uncomfortable at all.
It was said that one who did not have very high expectations, in a certain way, managed to lead a restful life. Even though he carried the burden of knowing that if he confessed these feelings, not only would they make fun of him, but they would be able to insult him harshly; just being able to breathe freely was now more than enough for him.
In the Slum there were no compulsions of any kind. Riki could again savour what it was to feel free of every tie.
His companions whispered that Riki had become a loser.
Every time, they became more and more irritated by the passivity with which he accepted everything that they said to him, without trying to defend himself. They were furious at not being able to ascertain Riki’s true feelings. But if nobody, being sober, had the courage to face those black eyes, brilliant as crystals, they were much more intimidated by the sweet and dangerous charm that sometimes filtered through his vestment of coldness, and that caused a cruel pain to their hearts.
The one who, years ago, used to fight for first place in the Slum, the leader of Bison, had disappeared. While this was already accepted, as much by Riki as by the other people in the Slum, Riki himself did not realize that he now radiated an almost stoic charm. The fact that he was not conscious of it, in spite of the fact that everybody around him perceived it sharply, was something intrinsically lethal.
"Eh?" Norris asked suddenly, thinking that perhaps he had misunderstood.
They were killing time in their same old hideout, a place somber even in the middle of the day.
"I'm gonna screw Riki tonight." That was what Luke had just said suddenly.
"I don't like those kinds of jokes,” said Sid, glaring at him with flashing eyes, but Luke ran his tongue over his chapped lips and smiled. "I'm serious."
"What the hell is wrong with you? Riki has Guy!"
"That affair is over. Those two broke up a long time ago. You should know."
Furious, but unable to retort, Norris kept silent.
"From the time Riki came back ‘til now, I haven’t heard anything about those two being together again."
"Come on, Luke. You’ve still got a grudge against him about the other day? Just forget it. Anyway, I don’t think Guy will be happy about this. And, besides, Riki was serious about what he told you."
"That reaction of his makes this even more interesting... I'm just fed up with those guys who come offering their ass to me of their own will." His tone of voice was playful, but none of his companions intended to play his game.
"Enough already! Drinking so much Stout has affected your brain,” spat Norris.
In spite of that, Luke retorted sarcastically: "Don't worry. I’m not going to ask you to help me. As far as I’m concerned, you can all continue drinking Stout until the matter is finished."
"I want nothing to do with this."
"For our friendship’s sake, I’m going to act as if the whole thing was a joke, but don’t mention it again."
"But Sid, you, who’re called the ‘Virgin Killer’... What the hell has you shitting bricks? Riki isn’t the same guy who was the leader of Bison. He has no reason to feel superior anymore."
"And what do you mean by that?" Luke's tone of voice, that had never worried Sid before, had suddenly become disagreeable to him.
"I’m telling you that your idol, Riki, the leader of Bison, doesn’t exist anymore. Do you get it? Now he’s no more than a loser, a ruin of a man… But ... his body is still as good as in the past, isn't it? For example, that ass, hard as a rock... Just imagining Riki's naked body, makes me get hard, man, really... and doesn’t it do the same to you? Isn’t that the reason why you’re going after Kyrie? Because he’s in some way like the old Riki? Or is it that the thought of doing it with the real Riki terrifies you so much that you can't get it up?"
Immediately Sid glared at him furiously. His face had turned pale and hollow, as if it had been squeezed of the last drop of blood. On the other hand, his eyes flamed, and they lit up with a reddish colour. Would that be the countenance shown by those whose true feelings were torn out from their guts and exposed to the light, to then be the object of merciless mockery? What Sid's expression showed was not only rage, but a deep hatred.
Worried about the possibility of being involved in a fist-fight, Norris swallowed loudly.
"See, Sid, I detest that smug façade of Riki’s." Luke’s tone was no longer heavy with the sarcasm that he had used until now. Beneath the drowned sound of his words fluttered his true feelings.
"The old Riki… seemed to burn on contact. He was ardent, wild... just being near him, made me feel as if my body had caught fire. The blood boiled in my veins. I felt as if, being with Riki, nothing could go wrong.... I wasn’t afraid of anything. So, when Riki left Bison, we all remained apathetic, and not in the mood to do anything, and even so, none of us held a grudge against him because, after all, although we’re reluctant to accept it, we were all in love with him... But who is the current Riki, always with that cold look, drinking Stout, with that façade of indifference as if his affairs were none of our concern? There’s a point at which I can’t continue looking the other way and pretending that it’s still the same."
Sid and Norris contemplated Luke’s words, saying nothing. Was it that the discomfort brought on by such a selfish speech had made them lose the will to fight back? No, it was not that... It was that they did not know how to respond. It seemed as if Luke had become the spokesman of the inexplicable rage that they all felt towards Riki, and this feeling had left them speechless, though they were aware that they would never reach the extreme that Luke had surpassed.
The indescribable confusion and the silence which reflected their weak opposition had become as stagnant as mud, and this caused time to seem to slow down. Breathing under this oppression was beginning to become nearly impossible, and in that moment...
"Hey! You were really early today, weren't you?" A familiar voice suddenly broke the atmosphere.
They jumped, startled, and as if activated by a spring, everybody fixed their eyes on the newcomer.
Riki stopped, and surprised, he asked: "What's going on?" but none of them opened their mouth. The three of them limited themselves to clumsy attempts at averting their eyes.
"It looks like Guy hasn't arrived yet, eh?" Riki asked again.
"He’s not coming today. He said he had a previous engagement with someone or something like that." Luke replied curtly.
Sid looked at him intently, with a menacing eye, and Norris, seeing the reason why Luke had chosen precisely this day, clucked his tongue slightly.
After that, the uncomfortable silence emanating from them was like a slap in the face to Riki, but even so, he sat down without saying anything.
"You want some?" asked Luke, handing him the Stout.
After having tripped up and swallowed a piece of cold and tasteless solid food, he drank from the bottle, and held it in his mouth. He slid the peculiar sharp and bitter flavour over the tip of his tongue to acclimatize himself to it, little by little. It was a rite. Riki breathed deeply, and offered the Stout to Sid, but he refused it with a light movement of his head. Then Riki turned toward Norris, encouraging him to the drink, but…
"No, I don't want to drink anymore. I'm not in the mood tonight…"
Luke curved his lips almost imperceptibly. It was an ironic smile, halfway between bitterness and self-mockery. Riki’s black eyes had already begun to become dull because of the Stout.
His loose limbs tingled, and a vague smile appeared on his face. The breaths that plumed from his lips were so painfully sweet…
The sight of Riki's smile was so fascinating that, unconsciously, their throats trembled contemplating it. In front of their eyes, Riki was revealing his defenselessness and naked face. It was as if, getting carried away by the wave of pleasure, his personality was completely transformed. That was the reason they could not help standing still, avidly devouring every single moment of this transfiguration, a sacred moment of ecstasy, during which they refrained from loosing even a single sigh...
Surrounded by a stiff silence, their respiration synchronized with Riki's pulse, they felt as if they were coming to the highest point of the abyss of pleasure.
In the end, that night, nothing happened… but, Luke had broken the last retaining dam. The image of that other Riki, captured by the effect of the Stout, had been engraved deeply on his eyes. What would come after that, there was no other way but to leave in the hands of destiny, thought Luke.
The sky was a cobalt blue. In spite of being that time of the year that announced the beginning of winter, the diurnal light that completely dyed the sky shone magnificently.
N 13:50 hours-----.
An air-car went past at high speed, traveling through the dirty streets of Ceres. All the people it passed turned their heads to look, stupefied. As if it found this greatly amusing, the car advanced, meandering and making its tail-lights flicker boldly. The bodywork was silver, and just looking at it, its quality was obvious. It was without a single speck of dust, and it looked really splendid. Although it was a small model, its aerodynamic design, faithful to the principles of aesthetics, seemed to possess the best features.
It passed like a flash through the main streets, and scattering the trash of the alleys, veered from one side to the other. When, in that way, it had drawn the attention of everybody there, feeling satisfied, the air-car descended. Who the hell would come in this thing, so extremely out of place? Making its way through looks full of curiosity and surprise, the air-car slid slowly to a stop. The door whined weakly, and opened up. Immediately, the murmurs died away, and everyone kept silent.
As soon as they saw the face of the one who nimbly got out of the car, a slight bustle occurred.
It was an unrecognizable Kyrie, free of all the stigmas of the Slum. He wore a bright suit that fit his thin body so well that it seemed to be made to measure. On his chest, slightly bared, a golden chain gave off a dull shine while a bracelet sparkled on his left wrist. Sighs full of envy, and looks hardened by jealousy formed a sticky mixture that clung to Kyrie, but Kyrie, unmoved, ignored them completely, and turned the corner with a quick step.
At the end of that street was an old building. On the fifth floor was the refuge of his companions. The obsolete elevator stopped at this fifth floor. Kyrie walked with calm steps, and stopped in front of a door painted a dark green. Then, for the first time, a smile grew on his face. Was it happiness at seeing his companions again after such a long time that had caused him an involuntary twitch of his lips? That didn't seem to be the reason...
On the left wall was an electronic lock to open the door. Kyrie punched in the password with ease. The last button being pressed, the door, as if honouring Kyrie's coming on stage, opened ceremoniously. Kyrie took a light preparatory breath, and went in.
With one or two looks directed towards him, Kyrie walked deliberately slowly. Perhaps because the bustle in the street had already alerted them to his arrival, no voice of surprise was heard at seeing Kyrie again after such a long time.
"Look! So Cinderella-Boy has returned," was the first voice welcoming Kyrie. Typical expression of Luke’s: half irony, half mockery.
"You haven’t changed at all. Anyway, I’ll take that as a compliment." Was it that, being dressed in elegant clothes, his tone of voice had regained its haughtiness, or was it that he was trying to make that impression? Whatever it was, he made no effort to hide his arrogant attitude.
"Eh? Still drinking Stout? Next time, I’ll have to invite you for a round of Vultain or something like that."
"Hmn... That’s a good prospect. I didn’t know that selling your pals off cheap to those bastard androids was such a good business."
As might be expected, Kyrie became angry, but instead of answering back rudely, he smiled widely. "Do you want proof? I can introduce you to them if you want."
"Oh, really? Well, I’ll ask you to do it if I get into a jam. At the moment, I'd be happy with some Vultain to drink, but don't be so stingy as to bring only one or two bottles. Bring at least a pack of a dozen, eh?"
"Ok. Leave it to me. But after having drunk like a fish, you’ll have to force yourself to keep your hands from shaking."
Nobody dared to put a word in so thorny a negotiation. All of them watched the development of it with interest. All except for Riki…
"Wow! Kyrie is ecstatic. Not even Luke can compete with him,” whispered Guy, smiling with indulgence.
"He's just a brat," grunted Riki in low voice.
"Don't be so hard on the boy. For him, this is his first triumphant return, and it’s logical that he’d want to swagger in front of us."
"…How understanding you are."
"When you manage to live for twenty years in the Slum, you learn to take things easy." Guy sketched a bitter smile so ambiguous that it would be difficult to determine if he were joking or speaking his true feelings.
Riki watched Guy in silence. With a hurt expression, his black eyes seemed to envy Guy’s unbreakable serenity. Suddenly, without knowing why, Guy felt dazed. Riki’s black eyes looked at him avidly, so close that he could reach out his hand and touch them. Having those eyes face to face with himself made him feel uncomfortable.
Quickly, Guy averted his gaze. Then Riki realized, for the first time that, like a fool, he was staring stupidly at Guy, and he also lowered his eyes.
The tension was abruptly broken by Kyrie, who, approaching them, said, "What? Have you reconsidered what we talked about?" Without even a glance at Riki, Kyrie sat down and scrutinized Guy.'s eyes.
"If you’re referring to that matter, I thought I’d already refused."
"That's why I'm asking if you've reconsidered."
"…Kyrie, don't be such a pain."
"Why? A chance like this won't come again!" Kyrie was as upset as if it were his own affair. His voice showed neither irony nor sarcasm, but he seemed to speak sincerely, from his heart.
"Don't you realize? He’s a Blondie! If he’s said that he really wants this, why do you refuse? It’s absurd!"
"Simply because I 'm taking care not to believe that pretty fairytale."
"But I told you that there's nothing shady behind this… That’s the truth."
"So, you’re saying that a Blondie of Tanagura wants a Mongrel from the Slum to be his Pet? You're kidding! Stop making bad jokes,” spat Guy, lowering his voice.
Immediately Riki, who was next to him, raised his head, startled.
"Besides, what seems more unbelievable to me is the fact that he’s chosen me specifically. No matter how flattering an eye you look at me with, I’m no more than a very ordinary guy. Are you sure that you’re not mistaking me for someone better than me?"
"Why are you so mistrustful? Just because you’re a Mongrel from the Slum doesn’t mean you have to humble yourself like that. There’s no mistake. He said it clearly: ‘The one who was next to that one with black hair,’ and that day, you were the only one next to Riki, weren’t you?"
He had not finished the last syllable when Riki threw himself forward, grabbing Kyrie by the arm. A shudder shook Kyrie's shoulders, and he turned his gaze towards him, but his eyes immediately put up an almost hostile hardness. Its intensity was much too great for him to be able to attribute it just to the annoyance of having been interrupted in the middle of the conversation.
"What's wrong?" said Kyrie, freeing himself abruptly from Riki's grip.
"That Blondie you were speaking about… Is he the same bastard we saw that day at the auction?" he asked in a low voice, as if he were considering the weight of each word.
"And what if he is?"
" … "
"This is none of your business."
Kyrie smiled sarcastically. It was as if, all of a sudden, he was free of all the bitterness of the grudge that he felt towards Riki, but Riki paid no attention to Kyrie’s ostentatious smile. The only thing that worried him now was why Iason was interested in Guy.
Riki well knew Iason's personality, and it was not necessary to know him that well to be aware of the fact that Iason was not so stupid as to make his desires known through the sweet words of another person.
‘What are you plotting… Iason?’
Recalling the significant smile that Iason had directed him that day, Riki frowned unconsciously.