Unontu skipped barefoot down the dusty alley, enjoying the shelter the buildings and banners offered from the sun. He’d had a growth spurt this year and his mind hadn’t adapted to his body yet. His feet thwacked loudly against the hard ground with each step. Though he looked older now, he was still on the cusp of paying any special notice to the provocations of the fleshhouse workers who called for his attention as he passed; there were more workers than demand, even in their business. Finally, Unontu reached the entrance of Bora’s Bazaar.
He pressed through the steel carousel, holding tightly to his find. It was very dimly lit inside and he stood squinting like a lost richman until his eyes adjusted. It smelled faintly of mold in here, a marked improvement over the oppressive stink of sex and bile that pressed down against the alleyways.
“What have you for me, boy? Don’t tell me you’re intending to buy something.” Bora laughed in the darkness ahead. It was an awful wet sound, like he was choking on a live fish. Unontu pitter-pattered forward and found the shopkeep toiling over a workbench wearing a helmet covered with a variety of optical enhancers and magnifiers.
“No, man. I have a good find for sale. Fetch a pretty dollar, this one.” He held out the strange little cube.
Bora grumbled nonwords and snatched it up for appraisal. The silver metallic cube had intricate circular grooves over every face. Unontu had been unable to get it to do anything—to open, or light up, or unlock—but it looked expensive. He’d found it out in the wrecks.
“Do you know what this is?” asked Bora.
The boy shook his head.
“It’s trash! Get it out of here, and touch nothing else. Waste no more of my time, boy.” Bora chucked the cube toward the exit. As it hit the floor an orange light burst from its seems, making wild shadows run laps around the cluttered shop. A sound of static screeched in the air, and from the cube metal gadgetry unfolded, seeming to grow and multiply most unnaturally. It happed too fast to be terrifying. In heartbeats, a Pre-Pocalypse era combat mech stood imposingly in the shopfront, its chest cavity open and ready for a pilot. “Holy shit…”
Unontu was compelled by the invitation and covered the distance in just a few long awkward strides. Before he knew it he was nestled inside the graphene cocoon and the cockpit hatch was closing. Bora was running up to him on weak meaty legs, his face twisted in a lustful rage.
“Mine, you damned scavenger. Hand it over at once you little piece of—”
The hatch sealed shut, and Unontu swatted Bora away easily before smashing his way out of the bazaar in the most destructive fashion possible.
I’m in charge now, he thought. Where should I go? Or more accurately, where should I go first?
Then the idea struck him. It was obvious.
He ran down the alley at full sprint, cracking the filthy concrete walls of shops and apartments as he passed, raking them with the barrel of a pulse canon like it was a wooden stick against a picket fence.