The tinkling of silverware on crockery filled the room, the murmur of people enjoying a wonderful evening out. The man facing her raised his glass and said something she didn't understand. She smiled and they toasted, their wine glasses clinking.
"Fine. " There and then, he took out his wallet, carefully counting bills and handing them over to her.
Shatter awakes with a start, jerking up from her old mattress in the corner of a rather large subterranean bunker. Concrete walls. Piles of paper, among them all sorts of other tidbits. The distant whirr of computer fans, faint typing noises, a word spoken here or there.
A dream. A memory. Nothing more.
But so damn vivid she could swear she still can taste the wine, smell that executive guy's after shave, feel that ever-present delight in being courted and attractive, and the slightly darker, underlying satisfaction upon knowing exactly how to lure him - anyone - in. The twisted joy of being prey, sought-after bait and hunter at the same time, of setting up a trap and watching it work just the way it is supposed to.
And still underneath that, almost successfully repressed, the disgust with her clients especially, and people in general being so predictable. The silent anger at the fact all it takes is to smile and to appear just a touch too daring, to come just an inch too close and to use just one "exotic" word more than necessary. And no one will bother to look further into her, as long as her mask is interesting enough to soothe their weak conscience into oblivion and to help forget the fact that they paid to see exactly that. And nothing more.
Lost in her memories, she clenches her fists. The pale light of an old lamp reflecting on the naked walls slowly brings her back to this day, or rather night. This life, or rather unlife. This city underneath the city of Rochester, NY, World's Image Centre on the shore of Lake Ontario. Somewhere in the distance, the dull roar of the High Falls echoes through the sewers.
Shatter grits her teeth. She needs to get out of here, to smell some fresh air and to see the open nightly sky. She wraps bin liners around her legs, puts on a pair of heavy duty plastic bags over her shoes as a sort of gaiters and fastens everything with twine. Two years in a sewer system make you careful; you never know when a tunnel is flooded or there is some kind of "high tide", as Seamus calls it.
"Will dash", she murmurs to no one in particular. From one of several desks on the other side of the room she hears a frantic clicking and then, "Damn, not again!".
A half-hearted wave, then she is off, climbing a ladder to an opening in the ceiling, squeezing through narrow drifts full of cables that probably never were intended to be used as passes, in the direction of the distantly roaring waterfalls. A short slide, then a staircase leading down to something that looks like an underground quay.
Along the "river", the stench of sewage overwhelming.
The waste water rushes down a hole almost vertically, the elevated walkway next to it ends. Shatter jumps off its end and keeps following the now more or less dry sewage pipe that winds and branches. The roar gets louder. She starts running, to get the weird feeling out of her system that she hasn't been able to shake since she woke. Since that dream.
She never would have thought that - but she actually misses the escort work.
Not everything. The good bits. Just them.
Especially being touched. She hated it back then, and still doesn't want to be touched by just anyone, but body contact in general is something she does miss. Hugs upon meeting, for example.
The warmth of another person. Their skin touching hers. Reading affection in their eyes, feeling wanted and admired.
"None of this really matters any more", Shatter murmurs, quoting one of Seamus's favorite songs. "There is no you - there is only me."
What was the first line again?
"I'm becoming less defined as days go by", something like that. Too true. She'd never thought of it that way, but if you never are touched by anyone else, not even someone brushing your arm ever so slightly in passing, you forget where your body begins and where it ends. And what it really feels like to be at home in it.
Shatter looks down at her still-running feet. A faithful machine, nothing more, nothing less. Stronger than ever, even though her left leg has started hurting more and more, day after day, as if someone reshaped it ever so slowly. Half an inch every three nights, maybe, nothing more, if that isn't just her imagination.
The slippery concrete floor slaps against the soles of her feet. She doesn't really feel it, notices her muscles moving, but ... not really.
The pipe opens to a shore; the roar of water rushing down is now deafening. She takes the last few steps outside and stands at the foot of High Falls, Genesee River flowing just a few feet away from the mouth of the pipe. She plops down, noticing only now that running through the Warrens has indeed exhausted her a little.
A crescent moon drifts through the dark sky, its blurred reflection in the waters hardly more than a lot of small twinkling shards. She lights a cigarette, sucks in the smoke like vitae, desperate, craving at least a poor rip-off of her memory. The taste of tobacco never before has disappointed her and now it doesn't, either; the greyish smoke blossoms on her tongue and in whatever is left of her lungs the way it always used to do.
They at least have stayed the same. Her oldest vice, her most reliable friends.
She thoughtfully scratches a speck of dried wound discharge off her left cheek and gestures with her cigarette the way she used to do. Back then.
She smiles alluringly, looking like a cruel caricature of her living self and knowing it.
Thirty feet above her, in the city, nobody sleeps. Lights are sparkling, people are walking, talking, laughing, getting in and out of restaurants, clubs, bars, theaters. People in the company of others, flirting, fighting, enjoying a night on the town with friends or lovers.
Shatter slowly runs her fingertips across her arms, caressing the skin in the places where it still is intact. She cups her cheek with one hand, her thumb gently stroking her own upper lip.