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At the door beside the gate, Lepsi pressed his hand to the lock. It slid open, revealing the city and all its chaos. The lords’ homes were on streets lined with trees that sprawled like umbrellas with tiny orange flowers. The flowers smelled sweet, disguising the odors of traffic and the masses.
Beeps and shouts and squealing engines blasted Lepsi’s ears, and the swarm of folks hanging around jumbled in a mosaic of color. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust before he could make out individual people. Twenty of them moved toward him like a burp, threatening to topple him with the force of their momentum and stench.
One bloke fell to his knees, a bloke with shorn blue hair and bare feet, an aviarman like Lepsi and his family. “I need shoes to get a job. Please, brother. Once I’m employed, I’ll pay you back. Promise.” The blue hair signaled common blood.
The other supplicants backed away and left. Obviously, they couldn’t offer to repay Lepsi.
“I carry no chips on me,” Lepsi answered and refrained from fingering the coin in his pocket.
“Maybe lend me a pair of shoes, then?” The fellow blinked at Lepsi’s fancy footwear. “Maybe you have something you wear for gardening or the like, mate?” The cuffs on his canvas shirt were frayed and stained.
“What happened to your shoes?”
“A gal I met on her way to the docks needed them. She had a job offer on Elstwhere, including the fare. Someone has to make it out of this wretched hovel, brother. The gatekeepers don’t let you on a shuttle without shoes, ‘n no employer will speak to me about work without shoes.”
The last thing Lepsi needed was another brother. “Did you know her? The gal?”
“What if she made up the story?”
“Then I don’t want to know. I want to think at least my shoes made it off Doka.”
Lepsi could empathize with such a hope. Thrusting his hand into his pocket, he fished out the coin and gave it to the fellow. “Here. I hope my chip will help you earn your way off this planet. But I don’t know where you can buy a pair of shoes for a mere chip.” Lepsi hoped the fellow knew where to buy what he needed. Lepsi wanted his chip to do as much for this young man as the young man’s shoes did for that gal.
“A sterling chip? This will more than do. May the galaxy grant your every wish.” Standing, the fellow shook Lepsi’s hand longer than was polite. “You’ll have your chip back, mate. I promise.” Waving, he ran off up the street.
Lepsi felt as empty as his pocket. He didn’t know why, didn’t know why he regretted the stranger leaving. He didn’t even know his name. “I’m an idiot,” he sighed, heading in the opposite direction, toward the better shops.
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excerpt, copyright of M. Pax, 2023, all rights reserved