Linnie steps through the light-lock and heads toward the restaurant district, toward an old boyfriend and a conversation she is not looking forward to having.
The concrete ceiling of the Blank Dome is painted Threatening Storm Gray, a somber color accented by the occasional Hot Ecru of a gull squawking from rafter to rafter. So much clearer than they would be outside in the sun. Truer. But then, that’s what people pay for.
She sets her hypervest to Mango Left In the Rain to ward off any potential conversationalists and checks her pocket for the gazillionth time. The swatch is still there, her whole lousy future distilled into a particular hue on a slice of stiff paper. Jimmy’ll buy it. It’ll be fine. She’ll make the sale, get the cash, pay off Carnadine Dan, and live to see tomorrow.
Not many people out in this neighborhood at this hour, and for good reason, but Linnie swans down the Composition Notebook Gray sidewalk casually. Mango Left In the Rain cost her some serious cash, but the taste it leaves in peoples’ eyes was worth every Jaunty Copper penny. She snagged it off a creepy little chromafex who has a real gift for passive-aggressive pastels, and ever since she’s been able to ward off just about everybody by adjusting her hypervest’s HSV clip.
Just about. A hue-hungry beggar sitting against an alley wall eyes her Original Cast Orange laces and takes a swipe at them, gritty fingers just missing her feet.
Pops the clip. A hissing noise as the H-vest adjusts to that particular shade of Overdone Minestrone. The grubby bastard’s Carolina Loam eyes go dinnerplate.
Linnie chuckles at the sound of him puking all over himself as she walks away. She can still hear him dry-heaving when she turns at the sodium streetlight down Parlor Street toward Jimmy Cornflower’s restaurant.
Jimmy. The name still feels strange. He was Jim when they were younger. The first and last boy ever to get her name painted into his
• • •
Jim pulled down the collar of his Dusky Heather sweatshirt to show Linnie a patch of skin on his chest, just over his heart. Linnie, for the first time in their four-month relationship, was interested in what he was doing.
A tattoo. Jim had gotten himself a tattoo. Where had he found the jaunty for that?
The line work was fair, but the coloring turned her stomach. The quality of light in his aunt’s sun-leaky apartment didn’t help, probably. But still. Appointment Book Red petals. Latrobe Green stem. The ribbon which wound around the rose faded from Saccharine Pink to Golden Reflection and back in the artist’s attempt at depth of field. The letters of her name, rimmed with a painful-looking red, in Crown Indigo.
“How long will they stay like that?” Linnie asked. “The colors. They fade, right?”
When Jimmy didn’t answer, she lifted her eyes up to meet his. Mountain Hazel, with a heterochromic splash of Devil’s Rust in the left one. That splash was part of what had attracted her to him in the first place. Every time he shot her a look when she said something crazy or looked in her eyes as they toasted with jars of cheap liquor, that dab of extra color threw her off. The asymmetry promised surprise, unpredictability.
As Linnie looked at him, his eyes filling with hurt, she wasn’t surprised at all. This again. All she wanted was some company. Somebody to mess around with and have some fun. She wasn’t looking for a lot of talk about her feelings.
She stepped in close and let her body rise to meet his.
• • •
Jimmy Cornflower doesn’t go by that name to anybody but the shavings. To people like Linnie and Carnadine Dan. Tint-runners and chromafexes. His restaurant – Entendu – is way too Brenner Gold for that. There he’s James Karnett, purveyor of fine colors to the city’s elite. To the people who can afford rent in the Blank Dome while everyone else is stuck in the sun.
Linnie lives outside the Dome still. When she gets the jaunty for this sale, she can pay off Carnadine Dan and maybe start saving up. If Jimmy won’t buy… She pushes the thought from her mind.
An older couple crosses the street in front of Linnie as she gets deeper into the trendy section of town. The colors of their clothes have been matched by someone with skill and fine taste. One man in Leonine, the other in an opulent shade of blue which it takes Linnie a moment to recognize. She’s getting rusty. Taken too much money from too many dealers, and getting a rep for making deals go her way. No one wants to talk to her these days.
Jimmy has the jaunty to pay for Linnie’s swatch, and plenty more where that came from. And he responded to her message.
Phoenician Noble. That’s the lush blue the second man is wearing. It tastes like respect. Reverence. The other’s Leonine feels like virility. The combination, though – that’s where the magic is. Put them next to each other, and they dance. Old families on older land, keeping traditions alive through prudence and labor. Linnie feels like she should bow, that she wants to.
The couple step into a quiet club, a thin shaft of expensive light hitting the pavement as Phoenician Noble opens the door.
That’s what Jimmy had wanted. To grow old next to each other.
She needs this buy to go right. Dan has had enough of being used. He won’t give her another extension this time, as he made very clear by sending her pictures of how he got the sobriquet Carnadine.
• • •
Entendu. Linnie scopes out Jimmy’s clientele as she walks past the fishbowl windows. Rich folks dressed in Linen Morning and Darjeeling With New Acquaintances, tasting swatches under the perfectly clear light of custom lamps. Waiters in Kelvin Black serving artisan-prepared combinations on silver trays. She can almost taste them, but the washout glass keeps the true hues on the inside. Paying customers only.
She sets her H-vest to Stoplight, something with a bit of allure. An out-of-fashion choice, but one she knows Jimmy likes. Or used to, anyway. Before he went all classy.
• • •
Jim looked at her with a shy smile. “So, what do you think?”
A circle of pure, clean light on a tabletop of clouded glass. Jim’s new scheme, a streetside color vending booth. He had unrolled his savings and bought a fold-up table, a high-end lamp, and as many swatches as he could afford with the remainder. She had let him insist she watch on his first night in business, so she stood behind him, leaning against the brickwork of an empty municipal building with arms crossed.
Before she had to answer, another group of customers walked up. Teenage girls in precarious skirts and Bulbflash Blue eyeliner, twittering their way between bars and spending someone else’s jaunty. A Stoplight top chased with Gandolfi Gold embroidery. Danxia Orchid shoes.
Linnie had heard of these tones. The latest fashion. They worked their effects on her, even in the poor light of the street. Despite herself, she wanted to be with these girls. To join them on their impossible stylish adventures. To touch them. And at the same time felt that to do so would make them fade away, like touching a snowflake. She could only watch and want. She knew it was just the colors talking, but the effects were undeniable. Any one of those colors must have cost more than Linnie had ever seen. These girls were trendsetters.
And they were standing at Jim’s booth.
Colordrunk eyes danced with anticipation. They wanted street-hues. Something new, edgy. Dangerous.
Linnie caught herself holding her breath as she watched Jim working through his spiel, flipping swatches in the light, laying them against each other to produce new effects. Here’s something from a one-eyed chromafex who works out of a library boiler-room. Flip. Taste the reflectance on this one. A real aficionado can feel it in the back of her eyes. Flip. This one was almost lost forever until a robber found it taped to the back of a portrait he was stealing. Don’t ask how I got it. Flip. Smile. Flip. Tease. Flip. Wink. Flip.
The girls laughed and clattered off down the sidewalk toward the fancier side of town. Linnie could hear them naming some of Jim’s colors as their voices faded and combined into a single, happy sound.
Jim pocketed the crisp cash and turned toward Linnie with a grin. “So…?”
Linnie smiled back, and actually meant it. “Nice show, Jim. I mean, you can’t really expect rich kids like that to come around here too often, but great job.”
Jim packed up his table without a word.
• • •
Jimmy’s at the loading dock, Fuck You Blue suit pressed to perfection. He’s fleshed out since last time she saw him, but in a better way than a lot of guys. No guards. Doesn’t need them. Linnie’s H-vest is a cheap gadget compared to the tech Jimmy’s got. There’s a crane cordoned off, and the building next door is in rubble. Jimmy’s expanding.
“Hi, Lin. It’s nice to see you.” He uses his business voice, both ingratiating and condescending. Then, with a slight waver, “You look good.”
So, she still has an effect on him.
Linnie points a thumb at the crane. “Looks like business is going well.”
Jimmy nods brusquely. “It’s going fine. Now, tell me about this color of yours. I don’t normally buy from tint-runners these days, you know.”
A few formalities. Jimmy staring with more hunger than that vomiting beggar. Is it the swatch, or her? The blot of Devil’s Rust in his left eye still makes him hard for her to read. She takes a tenth up front, just for a look.
She pulls out the swatch with a flourish. “Cast your cones on this.”
A flashlight from Jimmy’s pocket held over Linnie’s hand. The crystal light shakes a little. She thinks she hears him smack his lips, a wolf about to bite.
“That’s worthless,” Jimmy snorts. “You said you had a statement color. Something with real flavor, you said. Depth. This is a shade past Seafoam, nothing more. Go hawk this to your addict friends.”
Linnie gives him her best spiel. It’s fresh. Untried. Invigorating, with a hint of anomie. Strictly kelvin market. No one else can get this for you.
She toys with her H-vest’s clip.
“Don’t bother.” Jimmy points at the clip with his chin. “I have a much better tolerance than the people you usually deal with.”
Sweat on the nape of her neck. A different approach, maybe. “How can you stand being around these brenners all the time?”
“You might like them.” A flash of anger. That Devil’s Rust splash. “You always did take a shine to people useful to you.”
Her bait worked. “I guess I deserve that,” Linnie says. “But it’s not like you’ve never used anyone.”
A challenge. She gives him her best glare. Maybe he did use her in some way. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t need to be honest. She needs to hurt him and make him crack. She needs to win.
The armpits of Jimmy’s suit crease as his hand shoots up to point at her. “Is that what you… no.” He closes his eyes, breathes deeply and straightens his cuffs.
• • •
Back in the street, sodium light monochroming everything. Her phone glows Galaga with messages from Carnadine Dan. She throws it in the sewer and bolts.
She needs another buyer. Tonight. She could sell to two or three low-rollers, maybe. But each sale reduces the value.
Footsteps. A long shadow. Two.
Jimmy sent a few guys to take the swatch from her gratis. Son of a bitch.
Linnie twists the clip to In The Details, a lifeless color which the human eye usually just ignores. That may get her a half a minute.
• • •
Jim took it pretty well. No crying or anything. “I was thinking I should get it removed anyway.”
“Yeah,” Linnie chuckled. “Wouldn’t want your next girlfriend getting jealous.”
More quiet. Jim’s new place in the Dome didn’t get a lot of noise.
“I knew this was coming,” he said. “You know how I knew?”
Linnie didn’t. She just knew she wanted to get out of this place before she broke something expensive.
“I knew when I realized I can’t hurt you. I never understood why you didn’t get upset when I was too busy to see you. I even started making things up, just to see if it would piss you off.”
She let him ramble like that for a while.
• • •
The H-vest hisses, adjusting to her sweat. The thugs wear Done and Dun, designed to make you feel sluggish. They’re close enough for her to hear their breathing.
Jimmy had sent men after her. Tough men. Sick shapes and angry colors from Dan’s threatening pictures run through her head. Jim, the boy who put her name on his heart. Now he wants to see her bloody and broken in an alley. Or worse.
A green knot of guilt dissipates in her stomach. She breathes it out in panting breaths.
Linnie digs her toes in hard and cuts back towards Entendu. If slick talk won’t make the sale, maybe something else will.
She dodges through a crowd of HRH Beige and Grandfather’s Handkerchief. The last few patrons leaving the restaurant as it closes.
Whoever’s doing the demo next door left the keys in the crane’s ignition. Linnie’s never operated a crane. The first push of a lever shoves the Tonka Yellow claw out and across the ceiling of Jimmy’s fine establishment. Tin panels crumple. Sodium light coats the dining room.
Jimmy appears, looking up through his ruined ceiling. He swears at her. Threatens. Reaches for his suit’s HSV clip.
The claw raises, extends. Over the rooftops. Between the rafters. It strains against the Threatening Storm Gray ceiling. Mortar dust falls.
“I’m here to make a deal, James. You buy from me right now, or we see how your stuck-up customers like tasting those fancy colors in the sunlight.”
• • •
With the money left over, Linnie buys herself a reservation at a fine restaurant. Not Entendu. Some of the patrons scowl at her patently street-style clothing as the nonplussed maître d’ leads her to her table. She sets her H-vest to Phoenician Noble and scowls back.
Alex Livingston grew up in various quiet New England towns before moving to Buffalo, NY to study English at Canisius College. His fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Bastion, and Quantum Fairy Tales. He is married and lives in an old house with his brilliant wife and a pile of aged videogame systems.