What Came Next

Kaiden wiped his face with his sleeve as he stepped under an awning and out of the rain. The sky had been blue and cloudless this afternoon, but the low, heavy clouds that now covered the city were as black and malevolent as smoke from a burning mountain of coal. Couldn’t predict the weather an hour in advance anymore. He grabbed the last unoccupied stool at the packed open-air saloon. A bright green neon sign above the bar said Thirsty Cactus with a flickering orange armadillo rocking on its back. He didn’t think cacti or armadillos were native to the area, and if they were, the sprawling metropolis had pushed them away centuries ago. But the Cactus had booze, and that was what mattered.

He finally flagged down a bartender who unhappily wiped up the puddle that dripped onto the bar top from his dark hair and his gray long-sleeved coat which covered his hands. “What do you have?” he asked.

The bartender answered with obvious annoyance as she signed to another server at the other end of the counter. “All we got left in ferula.”

“What’s that?”

“Spiced liquor made from fennel seeds. Take it or leave it.”

“Take it. A tall one.”

The bartender poured without looking, rolling her eyes in response to someone else, and she called back in a language Kaiden didn’t know. It sounded harsh, like square wheels on cobblestone. English, maybe. She slammed the drink in front of him and tapped the bar top with her fingertips. A white square illuminated on the bar top’s stained and well-worn surface. The expectation was that he’d press his thumb into the outlined box to pay for his drink. Kaiden rolled up his sleeve, dragged the box bigger with his pointer finger, and paid with his palmprint instead.

The bartender openly stared at his thumbless hand until the box blinked green and disappeared.

Kaiden held his drink with both hands and drank it greedily until the bartender walked away. It tasted like well water and capsaicin, but it would do the trick.

“Looks like you made somebody mad,” interjected the man on the next stool. Kaiden looked over to find a man who looked like he was built out of yellow iron and had an ugly smirk that said he’d abused animals as a child. “Got money to throw away, I see. Does that mean you can pay back the boss-man too?”

The sky slapped a nearby skyscraper with lightning. Kaiden felt the pain of his phantom thumbs being ripped off and slammed the rest of his drink. He knew he’d rather not be lucid for what came next.

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