The Ministry of Work and Labour is closed as it is not their monthly two hour window of operations. There is someone in there though, you can hear the unmistakable sounds of an elegant cocktail party through an open window. Tempted as you are to make your disgust apparent you cycle on. After all if it wasn't for these people you wouldn't have a job and therefore no citizen card and so wouldn't be entitled to any of the life's little luxuries like food, water or shelter. Bless them, every one. \n\nYou carry on down the wide grey street, between the wide grey buildings. Will you go towards the [[Ministry of Environs and Conurbations]] or the [[Ministry of Administration]]?
You are not about to cycle into a strange man's house. Nor will you take sweets if he offers them. You make a gesture to indicate you need to go another way and the man looks very confused. \n\nThe music is wonderful. You feel as though you could be on a beach, a tropical island behind you and the azure ocean before you. There would be a cocktail in your hand, in a hollowed-out pineapple. You cycle around two corners to follow it. \n\nAnd then there they are, a group of teenagers with home-made instruments, producing the best new music you've heard for a long time. Perhaps ever. The one playing a tall drum holds out a flyer for their next gig and you snatch it as you ride past him to [[the eastern edge]] of the large village.
You clamber past some old stage sets and piles of rusted car parts. It looks like a bomb went off in here and smells like no one's got round to searching for bodies yet. You head through a set of double doors daubed with the Imagination Industries logo. There is a long corridor with various doorways on either side. You stop at another logo that's been sprayed on the wall. It's between two doors one for the lead actress and one for the leading man. Someone's scream echoes down the corridor and you decide not to linger. \n\nDo you enter the [[actresses]]' dressing room or the [[actors]]'?
The other passenger is a woman with a huge amount of shopping. It's all from the designer boutiques up near the Academies, where all the elderly artists are forced to work now there is not much money to spend on their art. You only just fit becasue she refuses to move. She spends the first half of the journey complaining about you and then second half changing her mind about where she wants to go. After a whole hour the gondolier has had enough and makes her disembark in the Riverside Sector, miles away from where you want to be. \n\nYou radio Sorcha and explain. Given that you've just messed up the job so badly there won't be any payment, never mind bonuses she is pretty nice to you. She does warn you to stay away from Casino for the foreseeable future though.\n\nYou picked the wrong gondola. If only you could go back and [[pick again|gondola stop]].
The last aisle is full of cleaning product and small gadgets which is unusual for two reasons. Firstly, they are available in the NW Sector and secondly, they are priced far below what you would expect if you saw them in a shop in the N or Riverside Sectors. If you were allowed in one of those shops, of course. You're not the right kind of citizen.\n\nHaggia is scribbling on a scrap of paper. 'Would you mind delivering the package to this address,' she hands you the paper. 'It's just around the corner.' You notice a strange twinkle in her eye.\n\nWhat do you think? Do you say [[yes|Yes]] or [[no]]?
'Nothing,' you say. 'Some guy staring at us, that's all.'\n'Really?' she says and looks worried for a moment.\nThe man has gone. \n'Some weirdo, forget it,' Casino says. 'Let's go.'\n\nHe prises back one of the wooden boards sealing off the old station and you [[all wheel your bikes in|roll out together]].
This bridge is much more satisfactory than that other one. For a start it's about five times wider and you note that it's been anchored to the solid roof with some heavy duty rivets. Still, it would not do to become complacent and you give your full focus to the job in hand. \n\nYou arrive in one piece on the other side and cycle on a little. You can go through [[the gap in the tents]] ahead of you or [[up the slope]] to your right.
You lean so far into the corner your knee almost touches the ground but it gains you many metres. You haul your bike upright again and, way ahead of your rival, push for the [[finish line]].
When you arrive back at the office Sorcha and Casino are waiting outside with their bikes, Roach is leaning against the door frame scratching his head. \n'Hey there,' Casino says. 'Congratulations. First decoy run. How does it feel?'\nYou shrug, modest to the end.\n'Three very important words,' Casino says, holding up three fingers, one for each word. 'Big. Fat. Bonus.'\n'Sorry I couldn't check up on you too much,' Roach said. 'I had to follow him with the real package.'\n'What did you have in yours?' Sorchas says to you. 'Turns out I had a fish. I thought it smelled funny. Viral media campaign apparently.'\n'Let me see yours,' Casino says to you.\nYou get the package out of your bag and hand it to him. [[Casino inspects the package]] as though he's trying to guess what's inside without opening it.\n
Sorcha is already heading down the other side of the road somehow managing to overtake a taxi. You cycle across the traffic, darting from lane to lane each time there is a lull and by the time you reach the lane on the other side Sorcha, Roach and Casion have all disappeared. A taxi slows down as it goes by so the driver and hurl abuse at you. You ignore him and concentrate in dodging the loose manhole covers by the gutter. \n\nYou are done with this busy road. You can take the peaceful first left, [[Scrubbers' Lane]], or the tranquil second left, [[Servants' Row]].
You lock your bike to some railings. You use every security device you have so it takes a few minutes. Then you wander over to the cafe. A bell give a cheerful 'ting' as you open to door and go in. The only customer is a woman who is only as tall as she is wide. She can only just see over the counter. She is wearing so many rings and bangles you're suprised she can lift her arms up. She's wrapped in a very bright piece of fabric which has been elaborately folded, you hope so it doesn't come unravelled. \n\nThere's a man in a filthy apron behind the counter, polishing a glass on a rag that looks as though something died in it. This must be Clive. \n\n'Excuse me,' you say. 'Do you know if the shop up the road is going to be opening again today?'\n'Why?' he says.\n'Yes, why?' the woman says. 'Do you want to buy something?'\n'No, I have a delivery,' you say. 'I'm a courier.'\n'We've got plenty of couriers round here,'Clive says. For some reason he laughs at this. \n'A courier,' the woman says.'Follow me.'\nClive tutts, an impressive noise like a gun shot. 'You could have strung it out so I could sell something. I've got all these sandwiches left. The only good thing about these couriers is that they're hungry all the time.'\n'Now, Clive,' the woman says as she bustles towards the door like galloon on rough seas. 'You know that's not the only good thing about them.'\n\nShe beckons you to the door and you [[follow her]] back to the shop.
The planks made a terrible racket as you ride over them, like the devil's own xylophone. You go past the back of some houses and past a fishmongers. How do they get fish up here? You are just wondering when a sheep wanders across your path. It stops and looks at you as you ride around it. They must have a butcher's shop as well. \n\nYou can carry on [[past the medical tent]], where a man is leaning against the wall groaning, or slip down an alleyway \n[[behind the crates]] that are blocking the way to your left.
\nThere aren't many other people in the park despite the brightening day. Given that the Royal Park has been home to no less than five serial killers in the past decade it's not all that surprising. Although to be fair, one of those was a hoax to persuade people to get out and vote in the Ministry elections. The path is pitted with potholes and you are not making the speediest progress. \n\nLooking over the balding grass you noticed the main gate that you were aiming for. You don't want to risk riding over the mud given the toxic rain of the night before. Will you stay on the path and head for [[the ranger's hut]] or take a narrow stone trail towards [[the fountain]]?
You're in the flow of traffic, drafting the cars as they move up to the roundabout at the top of Park and Arch, one of the busiest junctions in the city. It would be dog eat dog out here if anyone had a millisecond to spare to think about dinner. \n\nIf you could tear your eyes away from the traffic you would see the Flyover rising into the air up ahead, and if you were in that lane, that's where you'd be heading whether you liked it or not. \n\nThere's a strange kind of a hush here. No car horns sounding, no abuse hurled from vehicles. Just engines roaring. Like the sea in a shell. Andrenalin floods your system, the will to survive strong, urgent.\n\nThere's only one option now. This lane takes you onto [[Death Row]].
'I'll go down by the coach station,' you say. 'If I go down Blakes Alley I should just miss the crush.' You don't want to seem like a starstruck kid and just copy Sorcha all the time. \nSorcha shrugs but she doesn't seem offended. \n'That big fat bonus is as good as ours,' Casino says. 'No hard feelings, Sorcha. I'm off the Ministry, so you've got Roach.'\n'Right on cue,' Sorcha says as an enormous man on a tiny moped pulls up. \n'What have you done to Yum?' the man says to Sorcha as he flips up his visor. 'He is ten types of mad at you.'\nYou like Roach right away, you think he has a nice way about him, and then he spots you and frowns and you break out in the cold sweat of dire terror.\nCasino introduces you and Roach smiles again. 'First week and you're playing with the big kids already,' he says. \n'I was at a loose end,' you say.\nRoach grins at Sorcha. 'That explains Yum's tantrum.'\n'Let's go,' Sorcha says. 'If Casino's so worried about our bonus.'\nSorcha rides off back the way you came, nipping across the traffic with Roach puttering behind her, his overburdened moped whining like a consumptive mosquito. Casino is still getting on his bike as you go flying up the road. You'll get Casino his bonus.\n\nYou're heading for the roundabout at Park and Arch. Do you take [[the service road|the service road]] down to the underground carpark or stay on [[the main drag|the main drag]]?
It really is a bit of a maze around here. You realise that Packet must deliver round here a lot and so Sorcha knows this place inside out. Literally. Still the Ministry of Culture and Endeavour is a sight to behold. As the Ministry responsible for every element of culture in the city as well as every endeavour not covered by the other Ministries, and all the things they don't want to do, the Culture and Endeavour folk don't have time to do much else but work. As a result the building is leaning over to one side and many of the windows are covered with old towels and bedsheets. This is because of the Great Window Smashing Festival that took place a couple of years ago. In actual fact, it was a protest about the Ministry of Work and Labour dropping the minimum wage so low that people had to pay to go to work. Given that it's illegal not to have a job this did not go down well. The protesters got the wrong Ministry building though so the whole thing was repackaged as a festival celebrating something that happens so long ago everyone had forgotten about it. Something that, actually, they made up. \n\nAs you ride by there is a strange sound like a group of flowerpots tapdancing and a chimney smashes into the ground in front of you. You swerve to dodge it.\n\nFinding yourself somehow faced with the choice of the [[Ministry of Environs and Conurbations]] or the [[Ministry of Work and Labour]] you wonder if you might be lost. Just a little bit.
You're keen to avoid another Enforce encounter. They're just as scary when they're sniggering at you, as when they are looming out of the shadows. And the questioning? Terrible. You take a series of narrow lanes and dark alleyways that have no CCTV coverage. They do have heavy vagabond and shifty-character coverage but that's preferable. The area near the flooded streets has been reclaimed by a bohemian community that try to set up alternative services to those run by the Ministry of Welfare. It's not always successful but it is a form of progress. They even have a cinema where they project old films on a giant bed sheet. \n\nYou stop at a crossroads to get a fresh water bottle out of your bag. As you shift things around you feel the package. It feels different. When you pull it out it looks different. When did that happen? The only time they could have been switched was when you were talking to the Enforce officers. But who would have switched them? The invisible man? \n\nWill you [[open it]] or [[put it back]] and forget about it?\n
The man who is groaning looks even worse than he sounds. He has a small axe sticking out of his thigh. A nurse comes out of the medical tent and hauls him inside. The man screams and passes out and then another nurse appears to help drag him inside. \n'Not again,' one of them says.\n'I know,' the other says. 'I don't know why a butcher would recruit a blind assistant.'\n'Well, he's paying for it now. This is the second time this week.' \n\nLucky sheep, you think, and ride on. You soon reach [[the eastern edge]] of the rooftop village.
She spots you and waves, in a nonchalant way, rather than a hurry up where the hell have you been way.She is much more relaxed then Casino. \n'Alright?' she says.\n'Great,' you say. 'It's amazing up there.' You forget to pretend you've seen it all before, got the t-shirt. Before she can say antyhing there is a sudden burst of Enforce siren behind you. You almost jump out of your skin.\n'Don't move,' a man says.\n'What can we do for you?' Sorcha says with a lazy grin that doesn't seem at all appropriate for the situation. You are terrified of Enforce. \n'Routine,' a woman with very blue eyes and a head full of dark curls says. 'Nothing to worry about.'She's very tall and imposing. You decide not to mess with her. \n'This is Vermina and Tixylix,' Sorcha says. 'Enforce's finest.'\nVermina snorts as Tixylix tries very hard not to look pleased and fails. \n'Where are you going?' he says to you.\n\nDo you [[speak up]] or [[leave it Sorcha]]?
You swerve into the side of Swifty and he leans into you. It's like a mild breeze, nothing more. You force him into the gutter and the bumpy surface loses him speed. the effort of keeping up with you and on track is too much for him and you move ahead as you approach the [[finish line]].\n
A Courier's Tale
You thank the man in the shower cap like the professional you are and close the bathroom door behind you. You don't fancy going back past Yammer and his friends so you clamber out of the window. It's a tight fit but you squeeze through. You realise, as you hang by your fingertips that the ground is a few feet further away than you calculated but a pile of rubbish breaks your fall. It also makes a growling sound so you hurry off down the alley and back round to the front of the theatre to retrive your bike and call Yum so you can make [[your rendezvous]] with Sorcha and Casino.
You ride up the slope. It's longer and steeper than it looked but you manage to get to the top without embarrassing yourself. You see the whole of the Sky People's settlement laid out before you, a patchwork of bright material and greenery. The sounds of the community going about their business float up to you, punctuated by bursts of laughter and music. \n\nThere's one obvious exit. You ride [[under the bunting]] that's strung across a broad street up ahead.
You flap your arms at the demon creature. \n'Go away,' you shout before resorting to more colourful language.\nThe bird just stares at you. Then it takes another step toward you. You think you see it lick its lips. \n'Shoo! Shoo!, you shout waving your arms even more. \nIt squawks and jumps on the plank, making it wobble. Then it does it again. And again. Everytime it lands you can feel the plank sliding along the roof until it's just hanging on by a splinter. \n'Please,' you say, but to no avail.\n\nWhen you open your eyes the ground seems to be coming up at extraordinary speed. There's no time to notice anything else. \n\nAfterwards? Well, they scrap you up off the pavement. Sorcha brings [[the whole gang|The Vanguard]] to to the funeral. It was a great party, it's a shame you missed it but death is a great excuse.
At first things work out well. You stand in the front of the gondola with your bike and bag beside you and make good progress through the submerged streets, past the tops of old traffic lights and road signs. Things take a rather bad turn when you feel a sharp crack on the back of your head. New gondola, sharp suit - of course it was dodgy. In a daze you realise that you are heading over the side of the boat. \n\nYou drown. Had you been murdered two months earlier the of toxicity in the water would have meant you were poisoned. This is of little comfort though. \n\nIf only you had a [[time machine|gondola stop]] and could wait for a different gondola.
The leading actresses dressing room is dark so you flick a switch by the door and the bulbs around the mirror flicker in to life. At least five of them do. The rest can't be bothered. There are three black sacks on the dressing table but otherwise the room is empty. Someone has put on a lot of bright red lipstick and kissed the mirror. A lot. You hope they are getting the therapeutic support they need. \n\nYou hear a cough from the bathroom and push open the door. The room is just as empty but the shower curtain is moving and there's no breeeze in the stale room. You open the [[shower curtain]].
'Now?' Prophet says to Sorcha. What is he talking about?\n'Sure,' she says and nods to someone over your shoulder. \n'All right?' Casino says. He's standing next to Lola and on her other side is Roach. You can just about make out Minos behind him. \n\nThere's no time to wonder what's going on because Prophet has cleared his throat in a very portentous manner. You pay attention despite the insistent beat of some amazing music having started up somewhere in the hotel.\n\n'Right, here is a question for you,' he says. 'You have arranged to meet Minos at the dock, where he works, to collect some small and portable computer devices he has lifted off a salvaged ship. On the way you notice a very attractive person, who is exactly your type, standing by the side of the road. They are trying to get your attention, flagging you down and what have you. They are extrememly attractive and you know that they are interested in you romantically.'\n'How do you know that?' Minos says.\n'Don't interrupt,' Lola says. 'Carry on Prophet.'\n'So, there's this gorgeous person at the side of the road, waiting for you to attend to them. Do you stop and see what they want or do you make haste to help your comrade Minos.'\n\nWhat's your answer? Do you [[stop for a romantic interlude|wrong]] or [[hurry to Minos and his contraband|right]]?
You figure that Sorcha can handle it. She is the expert after all. \n'Delivery,' Sorcha says. 'You know very well you can't ask anything, say anything or do anything about it.'\nThis seems a bit bold given that Vermina looks like she could snap both of you in half without fluttering an eyelash. Not that she looks like she flutters her eyelashes, or anything else. She's getting you all confused and she's not even looking at you. You stare at the ground. \n'She's right,' Vermina says to Tixylix. 'What can we do?' She doesn't seem at all bothered. \n'This your new partner?' Tixylix says pointing at you. \n'It doesn't really work like that,' Sorcha says.\n'Poor Casino,' Tixylix says with a sneer.\nSorcha sighs. 'Can we go,' she asks Vermina.\n'Yes, see you later,' Vermina says. 'I'll be a bit later than I said.'\n\nYou decide not to ask what that meant. [[You ride on]] behind Sorcha.
You stand in the pedals and start to spin them as fast as you can aiming for a gap between a yellow van and a taxi as the lights turn red. Sorcha shouts something as you sail past her but you can't make it out. The traffic is heading right for you as most drivers jump their green light. You slam into the back of the taxi and as you somersault over it you see Sorcha track-standing at the lights, arms outstretched wondering what you were thinking.\n\nYou smash headfirst on to the road and if that didn't kill you then the taxi running over your body did. \n\nIf it is any consolation Sorcha and Casino come to your funeral, and bring [[the rest of the gang|The Vanguard]].
Death Row is six lanes pouring down towards Victoria's transit hub like burning oil over a rampart. You are millimetres from the four vehicles that surround you, millimetres from death. Cars are changing lanes, jostling for position. Using a red van as protection you shift into the left lane and spin the wheels, praying.\n\n\nAnd then, you're almost surprised to see the main gates are up ahead. You skitter up the kerb, dancing across the cobblestones and slide to a halt outside the [[main gates|the main gates]] of the Royal Park.
You accept the invitation. The ginger head disappears and the gap opens a little wider. A hand appears. \n'I'm Minos,' he says as he shakes you by the hand.\nYou tell him your name as he drags you through the gap and into the hotel. \n\nIt's tatty and delapitated but it's still grand. It must have been one of the five star hotels that used to pack in celebrities and politicians thirty years ago. The walls are covered in gig posters and a large mural of urban life that you think was done by the graffitti artist whose name is a string of numbers you can never remember.\n\nDespite the lack of music there is still quite a party going on. There must be a hundered people in the lobby and disappearing up the stairs.\n\n'Bit quiet still,' Minos says. 'But it's really early so don't judge us too harshly. Now, I bet you are in need of a drink after a busy day on the road.'\n\nYou agree that you are thirsty and follow him to [[address this issue]].
You are tempted to have a good nose about up here but the clock is ticking, as you're sure Casino would remind you. The clothes stall has been set up in a tunnel that runs under an extension someone stuck on top of one of the buildings long ago. You can see a two pairs of legs hanging down over the edge above you and wish you had time to see what's up there. You pedal on though, like the dedicated professional you are. The clothes being sold here are not the latest fashion, they are far more practical than that. They are the sort of clothes that you could make a real contribute to society in. Tilling the land, tending the chickens, that kind of thing. \n\nYou emerge from the short tunnel and cycle down a quiet street which doglegs into an avenue that has flags hung all over it. You ride [[under the bunting]].
You've never seen fruit and vegetables like these. You stop to stare. That purple thing must be an aubergine. You've seen pictures of them in books. A piece of cardboard propped up against a cob of corn, a whole cob of corn, indicates that the produce is homegrown. There is a pile of apples that aren't too shiny or too red. They look like they came out of the pages of a fariy tale. A man comes out of the tented shop. He's wearing a green apron and carrying a box of oranges. The smell makes you feel a bit dizzy. \n'You with Packet?' the man says. \nYou nod. \nHe holds the box out. 'Take one, on the house,' he says. 'Say hello to Sorcha and the gang for me, she said you'd be coming through.'\n'Did she just ride through here?' you take an orange. \n'In a manner of speaking,' the man grins like he knows a big secret, showing you a set of very white teeth. Must be all the fruit and vegetables. 'Now pedal on, you'll be wanting your time bonuses I expect. It's expensive down there.'\n\nYou thank him and pedal on, the orange pressed to your nose. You don't have time to wonder how Sorcha got up there ahead of you. You have to decide whether you'll go [[under the bunting]] or [[around the corner]].
Sorcha calls Roach on some kind of watch that she's wearing. It seems to do much more than tell the time but you are reluctant to stare. Casino has one too. You wish you had one. While they are relaying instructions to Roach, he is to follow Casino until the they reach the Riverside Sector, you notice a very suspicious-looking man watching the three of you. He is pretending to read a newspaper, but given that the headline is about the fifty degree heatwave last summer, and that it's upside down, you are pretty sure that he isn't. \n\n'What's up?' Sorcha says, looking around. \n\nWill you [[ignore the man|ignore him]] or go and [[confront him]]?
You slot in behind a long black car, like a stunted limousine, and hang onto one of the ridiculous fins that stick up on either side of its rear. They don't like this very much if the deliberate attempt to shake you off by swerving about is anything to go by. You cling on and as you go around the roundabout at speed you slingshot off the car to catch the rail on the backdoor of a truck that's in the right lane to go the way you're going. At the last minute the truck doesn't turn off as you expect and heads off towards Death Row, but you manage to let go and use the momentum to get across before a taxi driver sees you and attempts to mow you down. You don't remember why couriers and taxis hate each other but given how much you hate them you don't care. \n\nYou're heading to the Ministries District though, there are no taxis there. They all have chaffeurs. Will you take [[Servants' Row|Servants' Row]] or hang on for [[Scrubbers' Lane|Scrubbers' Lane]] just up ahead?
You just fit your handlebars in the entrance, maybe holding your breath helped. Blakes Alley is so narrow that fat people are foridden from entering. The warning signs at either end of the passageway are thought to be two of the only signs in the whole city that people pay attention to. Not least beacuse of the cautionary tale of Forty Guts Finnegan who was wedged in the alley for seven years, surving because his wife came to feed him his beloved deep fried, double battered, sweet and sour lard balls. He died when someone offered him a chicken leg, he accepted and choked to death on a bone. The residents were relieved because Sunday night was bath night for Forty and it wasn't safe to leave the house. \n\nYou pop out, smug and righteous, just around the corner from [[the theatre]].
She's not puffed out at all. You, however, are blowing like steam train. And sweating. \n'I think I'll head out and wait for you,' you says. 'I think I got a bit stiff sitting around the office.'\n'You better loosen up then,' she bunny hops over a pothole. \nYou've never seen anyone ride a bike like she does. It's almost magical. \n'We'll be in touch,' she says. 'Hang out by Circus.'\nYou nod and switch lanes behind a taxi that brakes to try and clip you as you pass. Sorcha yells at him for you then waves as she cruises over to take the left hand fork that goes up to Park and Arch. \n\nYou arrive at Circus in no time at all and wait by lamppost covered in stickers advertising gigs and protests. A dog attempts to pee up your leg but you manage to move him on without getting savaged.\n\n[[You wait]].
As you cruise by them, trying not to draw attention to yourself, you realise you know one of the boys. He's Yelstin Box's eldest kid, fresh out of prison. You wonder why he's wasting his time on minor vandalism when he could be out perfecting his advanced stabbing and slashing skills. Kids these days, they don't know they're born.\n\nBox Junior makes a joke and the others offer dutiful laughs, hearty and false. There is a shout from behind you and a bout of energetic and menacing barking. The big black dog has gotten his way and will not be going in the back of the car.\n\nAs the dog gallops towards you all the gang scatters, some climbing up into the broken concrete of the ceiling, in among the pipes, and some squeezing through the boards to hide in the gaps behind. You are away and heading up the ramp to the park.\n\nBlinking in the sunlight you are faced with a choice of routes across the once grand Royal Park: take \n[[the path|the path]] or go past [[the old duck pond]]?
'I'll take the scenic route,' you say. You're not sure what the Northern Point Sleeper is but Sorcha's word is good enough for you. \nCasino groans. 'There goes our bonus,' he's smiling though. 'I'm off the Ministry, so you've got Roach, Sorcha.'\n'Right on cue,' Sorcha says as an enormous man on a tiny moped pulls up. \n'What have you done to Yum?' the man says to Sorcha as he flips up his visor. 'He is ten types of mad at you.'\nYou like Roach right away, he must have a lovely aura, and then he spots you and frowns and you break out in the cold sweat of dire terror.\nCasino introduces you and he smiles again. 'First week and you're playing with the big kids already,' Roach says. \n'I was at a loose end,' you say.\nRoach grins at Sorcha. 'That explains Yum's grump.'\n'Let's go,' Sorcha says. 'Casino's worried about his bonus.'\nSorcha rides off back the way you came, nipping across the traffic with Roach puttering behind her, his overburdened moped whining. Casino is still getting on his bike as you go flying up the road. You'll get Casino his bonus.\n\nYou're heading west across the flow of traffic. Do you follow Sorcha [[across the traffic]] or go up to [[the roundabout]]?
You wheel you bike out into the pale sunlight and call your despatcher. Yum is as charming as ever and after a gruelling and unhepful conversation you work out that you are supposed to meet Sorcha and Casino at the old Bank Station. It's on the way to the Cathedral Quarter. \n\n<<if $visited_have_a_snack eq "yes">>You head into the traffic, Casino's keeness to bank that time bonus spurring you on. You're glad you had a chance to eat earlier otherwise you would have to stop and rammed some food down now. As it is you have a quick swig of water and pedal like a maniac. You make the station rendezvous just as Sorcha rides in from the west and Casino arrives from the south. Bang on time.\n\nYou dismount as you roll up to the barriers in front of [[the station|Old Bank Station]] and give your esteemed colleagues a jaunty wave. <<endif>><<else>>You wish you'd had something to eat earlier while you were kicking your heels back at the office. Your stomach growls in protest as you contemplate having to get back on the radio and tell Yum you'll be a few minutes late. You try eating and riding but it slows you down.\n\n'What time do you call this?' Casino says as you pull up beside him and Sorcha at the station. \n\n'Sorry,' is all you can say. \n\nSorcha sighs. 'Never mind. We can catch up.'\n\nA few minutes make all the difference in this business. You resolve to do better as your esteemed, and disappointed, colleagues start discussing [[routes|Old Bank Station]].
'That man,' you say.\nThere's no time for anyone to reply. You march over to the man with a fearsome expression on your face.\n'Oi!' \nAt your shout he looks up and, seeing you mean business, legs it into the traffic. \n'Nice one,' Casino slaps you on the back as you swagger back to them. 'Observant and menacing. Killer combination.'\n'That looked like the man from Energy Entertainments,' Sorcha says. 'I thought they went bust.'\n'Who knows,' Casino says. 'Bonus, people. Come on.'\n\nHe prises back one of the wooden boards sealing off the old station and you [[all wheel your bikes in|roll out together]].
You are sorry to be leaving the rooftops. As well as great food and music, even the people seem friendly, the view is breathtaking. You can see far across the city, the dirty grey mass of water innundating the city to the south, the Project poking way up into the clouds to the east and the rest of it, smeared across the landscape - a sprawling, livid mass of humanity and struggle. It's quite humbling in a way. \n\nThere's no time for this quiet contemplation though. You put your bike back over your shoulder and bound down the fire escape. You can see down the street below, you've a clear view all the way to the end, where [[Sorcha is waiting for you]].
'That's right,' Prophet says.\nMinos hisses a triumphant 'yessssss' with clenched fists and Roach slaps you on the back so hard you almost swallow your tongue.\n'Reclamation and fencing,' Lola says. 'Vey important in our business.'\nYou wonder what's going on here. But as it seems to be going well you decide to get on with it, no questions asked on your part.\n'Next question,' Prophet says and solemn order is restored. 'An Enforce officer asks for your help. They have been badly beaten by one of the McBride family. There is no vehicular access but if you do not get them to a medical centre they will bleed to death. However, you are carrying an illegal weapon, some banned substancces and a bag full of stolen car parts. Do you help this agent of the oppressor or hurry away?\n\nWould you [[come to the aid of the officer|Correct]] or [[move right along|incorrect]] because there is nothing to see here other than your own arrest?
There is a large purple pool of liquid seeping out from under the large front door of the Ministry building. It is, you are relieved to note, odourless. You have to mount the pavement to avoid it but there is a marked lack of pedestrians around here. The large hazard signs standing every ten metres or so along both pavements might explain that. The Ministry are always engaging crazed scientists to solve the various environmental disasters plaguing the city. Half the city being underwater is a major issue, the disastrous weather experiment out west which creates the toxic rain another, but there is a long list of critical problems on file inside the Ministry. The list of solutions is much shorter though. \n\nA strange cry echoes around the elegant streets, half-scream half-lament. You look up and see the fabled MX-547-T bird sitting on top of a lamp post. Ajax, as he is called by unwashed masses, is another experiment. A mournful soul he glides around the street near the Ministry on his broad cerise feather wings, waving the strange chubby human hands that grow out of thier ends. What he was the soultion to it's hard to say.\n\nNow, is it the [[Ministry of Security|Ministry of Security]] or [[Cheap Street]]? You can't quite remember.
The man curses you as you board but once you have set off he calms down. He moves the gondola through the water as though he were one with his boat. He sails like Sorcha cycles. You are making incredible progress through the submerged streets. \n\nThis gondolier is truly [[a master of his craft]].
'Brace yourself,' Sorcha says.\n'What for?'\n'Yum wil call any second now with a change of address for you. That one is fake, there's no such place.'\nYou don't mind at all. Maybe it will somewhere you've heard of. \n\nYou ride on for about a quarter of a mile before your radio sputters into life. It is Yum with the new address.\n'That's in the Cathedral Quarter,' Sorcha says. 'If you get a gondola they will drop you on the edge. You can find the house from there.'\n\nYou are in the middle of an affirmative nod when uphead a cacophony of sirens arrive and another roadblock is assembled at remarkable speed. \n'There must be something going on,' Sorcha says. 'Perhaps we should stay out of sight. I'll check in with Roach, you make your way to the drop off. You know the way?\n\nYou nod. You know how to get a gondola at least. That's a start. Will you go via [[Mercenary's Row]], the fastest route, or go the longer way and [[avoid the Enforce cameras]]?
'You are a friend of Sorcha's,' the woman says. 'She said you might be coming.'\nYou nod, which is pointless because the woman is leading the way and can't see you. Unless she has eyes in the back of her head that can see through hair. Which she might.\n'Let's open the shop up and have a sit down,' she says. 'The problem with having such little legs is that they get tired quickly. I bet I wouldn't even reach the pedals on your bike. That Minos tried to get me on a tricycle. He is a very naughty man.'\nYou don't know who Minos is but he sounds like he would be fun to hang around with. The woman chatters on, fitting a surprising about of words into the short walk up the road. She is babbling on and on and being so warm and welcoming that you, citizen of this city that you are, start to wonder if she might not be up to something. If this whole thing isn't some kind of trick. \n\nShe pulls up the shutter and any suspicious thoughts you had disappear when you see her stock all laid out. \nYou go [[into the shop]] with her, lost in wonder. Who is this woman? And how does she know Sorcha?
The man disappears and you ride onto the gondola stop, which is just an upturned bucket with an oar stuck in it. The paddle has been painted with red and green strips. You get off your bike and lean aginst the crossbar to wait for a boat. \n\nYou wait a bit longer. \n\nAnd a bit longer. \n\nYou hear the sound of an overtaxed moped and turn to see Roach driving up the road towards you. Sorcha comes flying out of a side road to join him. You think maybe she actually is flying she's going so fast. \nThey stop beside you and Roach marches up to you and picks your bag up and tosses it to Sorcha. He glares at you as she takes the package and throws it in the water. \n'Now?' Roach says.\nShe nods. She looks very unhappy.\nHe punches you in the face and you lie on the ground as you watch Sorcha ride away. You feel bad. You made the wrong decision. You should have stayed loyal. You should have stayed with Packet.\n'You ride for Swift now,' he says. 'Enjoy it.'\n\nYou don't enjoy it. The rest of your life as a courier is a souless, sad run around the business graveyard of the SE sector. And to think you could have hung out with [[The Vanguard]]. \n
You are kidding me, right? You've come this far and you're going home?\n\nI don't think so.\n\nYou turn yourself around and get in there.\n\nRight now. Go on. Go and [[join the party]]. \n\n
You decided to go back to the shop and tell Haggia that there's no answer. Maybe she will give you an apple, you are starting to get hungry. You ride back round the corner and when you arrive at the shop there is a man talking to Haggia who looks like he's been assaulted by a jumble sale. \n'Darling, you're back,' Haggia says.\n'There's no answer,' you say.\n'At the hotel?' the man says. 'There should be. I'm Marshall Dailly by the way.'\nHe's a TV reporter. You've seen him on the TV. Reporting. \n'Did you knock really loudly?' Haggia says. 'Really, really loudly?'\n'Yes, the whole place is abandoned,' you say. You feel a bit cross.\nThey look at each other. Marshall shrugs.\n'All right then,' Haggia says. 'You better leave the package with me after all.'\nMarshall is giving you a strange look. Then he turns fast on his heel and marches down an aisle. He rummages about and then comes back, handing you a couple of comics. \n'I'm sure they'll give you another chance,' he says. 'In the meantime, you can read all about [[The Vanguard]] here.'\nHaggia makes a sympathetic noise, like she feels very sorry for you indeed. \nPoor you.
You think about it for a minute and decide against it. You're not sure why. Something in your subconcious maybe. \n\nEveryone looks at you like you're experiencing some kind of breakdown. Sorcha nods at Minos and he dashes to the door and shouts for someone to get Prophet. When he arrives he's wearing a party hat. \n\n'Let's try that again, [[shall we|You shake Prophet's hand]]?' he says, taking your hand.
You take the job, just out of curiousity. You make sure the package is still secure in your bag and set off. It's a short trip up to Arch and Park and then you head up the old Roman Road to the NW Sector. The further up you get the more derelict everything becomes, only the huge adver-ganda screens pumping out public helath information and corpoarte advertisments get any regular maintenance. They stick out like shiny thumbs on a sore hand. You have to concentrate on dodgy potholes and taxi drivers on their way to or from thier shifts. You ride about mile of boarded up houses, clumps of security guards posted outside to stop the homeless people from getting inside. You read somewhere that if all the empty properties in the city were made available for people to live in there would be five homeless people on the streets, and that due to chronic claustrophbia. The newsfeed you read that on was shut down just after they broadcast that. It was a tiny bit off message.\n\nYou get off the main drag and take a shortcut down a road that has had the top layer of asphalt stripped from it. It makes for an interesting ride which become downright riveting as a pack of dogs come howling out of a side street and aim themselves at your spokes. \n\nAre you going to [[try to out run them]], or turn into the Basin to [[try to lose them]]?
The man starts howling and you opt to dodge behind a pile of wooden crates that form a precarious tower reaching further up into the sky. You ride out into an open space between some low sloping roofs, the tiny windows under their eaves propped open with a variety of household items. A washing line is strung between two corners. Someone left their washing out last night and as a result their underwear features a number of yellowing, burnt holes. \n\nYou ride across the square and down a short path that leads to you [[the eastern edge]] of the Sky People's territory.
You shift your bike a little further across your back and edge out onto the plank. You feel the swell of vertigo but focus on the end of the plank, feeling the wooden surface with your feet. You wish you didn't have cleats on your soles, but you were born to cycle on the ground, not to prance about in the sky on twenty centimetres of rotting wood. It is rotting? You daredn't look. You take a few more steps. You can't even think about how amazing the view must be up here. There is no around, only down.\n\nFrom behind you hear a heavy beating sound, like a wet towel in a gale. Something brushes your head and the stench of fish and diesel fills the air. There is a nauseating bounce as a bird lands on the plank ahead of you. \n\nIt's the size of an obese seven year old. One of those weird mutant seagulls that come up from the docks looking for food. The feathers on its chest are stained with blood. You don't want to think about what coats its wings. It opens its mouth and makes an earsplitting yowling sound. You didn't think birds had teeth.\n\nIt takes a step towards you, sizing you up with it's head to one side. You're pretty sure one of these abominations has never eaten a person but you're even surer you don't want to be the first.\n\nDo you wait for this horror to fly off, all [[zen and patient]], or [[shoo it away]]?
'New person, I have a new drop off for the decoy package,' Yum says.\nYou don't understand. 'How come...'\n'Listen, little beginner,' Yum says, he seems to be chewing something while speaking to you. 'It wasn't a decoy, it was a delay. If you don't want it, it will wait until tomorrow. Bonus for delivering today is paltry.'\n'What's the address?' you figure if it's a long way you'll take it tomorrow. \nHe tells you. It's strange. It's in the NW Sector. You've never delivered there beause there's nowhere to deliver to. The poor people live in the NW Sector, it's a lawless, desperate place filled with artists and vandals. You live there but the address takes you a few miles out of your way. Still it's bound to be an interesting job, given it's location. \n'Well? Well?' Yum says. 'Decide. We don't have all day and you are on overtime.'\nYum hates overtime. It's expensive.\n\nWill you take the run to the [[NW Sector]] or [[knock off for the day]]?
Race him? You will wipe the floor with him. You let him set the finish line. You even let him say 'ready, steady, go'. Being a Swift rider he cheats, of course, but you're a wheel length ahead within forty metres.\n\nPedestrians are scattering as you both fly up the street. There seem to be some minor roadworks up ahead. There are various cones surrounding piles of dirt and debris. Will you take the shortcut [[up the ramp]] or sprint past the [[oil slick]]?
You knock back the fiery shot in one and feel the jolt as the high-octaine caffeine hits you fullin the heart like an H-bomb. It's like someone turned everything up to eleven. Twelve perhaps. \n\nYour radio squeals and it sounds like an aria to you. It's Yum. You [[see what he wants]].
This game, interactive fiction or whatever you would like to call it, is inspired by The Vanguard, the first part of The Vanguard Trilogy. A science fiction, fantasy, action adventure trilogy I wrote.\n\nYou can find you more about it, and download a free copy of the first book <a href="">here</a>.\n\nOur narrator is Sorcha Blades. When we first meet her she’s a bike courier, living in an extravagant squat with her four best friends – her family – ducking and diving to stay one step, or maybe two, ahead of the authorities. The city they live in is caught between an environmental nightmare and an economic apocalypse. It’s a sclerotic dystopia unable to function even enough to collapse. Then stuff happens, a lot of stuff. The Vanguard’s adventures involve super powers, time travel, celestial beings, cities of machines, crashed space ships, crime syndicates and celebrity. And that’s without the spoilers.\n\nI hope you enjoyed this game. It's the first one I've written so any feedback will be gratefully received. Either through the usual IF channels or by emailing hello at squintarium dot com. There might be more interactive fiction on the way. There's two more books after all.\n\nSJ \nLondon, July 2014
The woman smells flammable. You hope you won't have any need to stand next to a naked flame within the next two hours. She has hair like a sheep, oily and unkempt, wrapped around her head in one massive tangle. She must be in her eighties and has outlived all her teeth if the proud gums are anything to go by. She scratches her hairy chin and says, 'I've been stuck up here for seven years.'\n'What?' you say.\n'Seven years I've been stuck up here.'\n'How do you mean?' this is confusing to you.\n'Up here, I've been stuck for seven years,' she tries again.\n'How come?' It would be fun to see how many different permutations there are of her statement but you are on the clock here.\n'Can't get down.'\n'Why not?'\n'No way down,' she says. \n'There is,' you say.\n'Nope, no way down.'\nYou're pretty sure, seeing the mysterious twinkle in her eye that the woman either has some amazing wisdom to pass onto you, or cataracts. She smacks her gums together and scratches her stomach. It's the second, clearly. \n\nYou ride on as she bellows abuse at you. It seems to be your fault that she is stuck up here. You can escape the toxic old crone nd her colourful vocabulary at a junction up ahead. You can ride past the [[greengrocer's]] stall or down the side of [[the baker's]]?
You only wait a minute, if that, for the first gondola. He greets you with a polite wave. He is wearing a three-piece suit, a straw boater and a pair of very shiny brogues. His gondola is just as well turned-out. It looks brand new. This is most unexpected. \n\nTake the [[this gondola|first gondola]] or [[wait for the next one]]?
A bike rolls in through the door and seems to hang in the air for a moment before a woman follows it in and catches its saddle. The bike is lean and tough and so is the woman. She has dark hair that falls over her forehead into her eyes and her scruffy clothes, cropped jeans and a few thin layers of t-shirts and a jacket, are dirty from many run outs and run-ins. This is Sorcha Blades. The best of the best. \nYum opens his mouth to say something and thinks better of it. \n'I need a messenger,' she says. 'I've got a double rush account job with two decoys, rolling address updates and only one Casino to ride with.'\n'Security?' Yum says.\n'Roach is on it,' she says, tapping her saddle with an impatient finger.\n'Ain't got an available messenger,' Yum says. His mouth is full of hot dog, his chin smeared with ketchup. 'Not for an hour.'\n'What's this then?' she points at you. \n'New,' Yum says.\n'Doesn't matter,' Sorcha says. 'It's Imagaination Industries. We can't miss the timeslot.'\n'You there,' Yum struggles to his feet. 'You up for this. Tough job. Too hard for you. You can say no. I've got little local lollipop runs coming in for you.' He rubs his greasy fingers against his thumb, he has an evil glint in his eye. 'Lots of credit.'\nSorcha snorts at Yum but smiles at you. 'It's up to you,' she says. '[[Credit]] or [[glory]]?'
The dogs are a motley crew of mongrel mutts and pampered pedigree pooches. It's the posh dogs you have to watch out for. After the flood pets were a luxury that only the very, very, very rich could afford. The streets were full of strays: dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish. The fish fared best, the rabbits suffered most - because of the food shortages they were caught and eaten. The dogs breed like the rabbits would have done and a few years ago a failed cull resulted in a poopulation explosion. How the pedigree breeds remain so pure is something you don't want to think about. Somehow they still seem to know that they should be lounging around on plush sofas in elegant drawing rooms instead of scavenging on the streets with the canine scum. It has made them very bitter.\n\nThe pack snaps at your ankles and there is a tense moment where a greyhound with ribs like a toast rack outstrips you and tries to knock you off balance but after two miles they give up. You can still here the black horse-sized beast barking when you are a mile away. You get your head down and pedal, avoiding eye contact with anyone until you arrive at the [[delivery destination]].\n
Given that this is the first time you've been up here and you would like there to be a second time you decide that you'll see what's round the chimneystack. The large tent turns out to be a school. The cloth door has been pulled back and inside you can see about twenty children sitting in a circle. There is a teacher reading from a book. The class are listening in rapt attention. You've never seen anything like it, not in a classroom anyway. You stop to watch for a couple of minutes and in that time no one throws anything, shouts an expletive or attempts to stab anyone. It's remarkable. There's another classroom ahead of you, leading to a pathway. The school is on a small square with a flower pot in the middle. There are flowers in the pot. This is an incredible place. The east side of the square is taken up by a wide clothes stall, there are all manner of bright garments hung on the walls on either side of an alleyway.\n\nWill you go [[past the classroom]] or [[through the clothes stall]].
You head back to the auditorium, your fake association with the McBrides like a cape of teflon about your shoulders. Yammer and his friends are still standing centre stage discussing something quite contentious. It turns out that you are the subjetc of their discussion. \n'You ain't with the McBrides,' a small man says. 'You're not their type.'\n'Too intellectual looking,' the woman says. \n'So, you're back to being Enforce,' Yammer says. 'That's bad for you but good for us.'\n'How is that good for you?' you say.\n'Because we are having a special offer for Enforce this week,' says the small man.\n'Yeah,' the other man says, the one who spoke before. 'You get a free kick with every punch.'\n<<if $visited_take_the_card eq "yes">>\n'All right, you got me,' you say. 'I'm not with the McBrides. But I'm not with Enforce either. Look.' You shuffle about in your bag and pull out the package and the card. 'It's my birthday and my friend is working backstage and asked me to come and pick up my present.'\nThe woman snatches the card. She would have taken the package too but you were too quick for her. You put it back in your bag before anything happens to it. She looks inside the card and laughs. She passes the card round and they all have a good laugh. \n'What?' you say, unable to work out if they are laughing at you or they are laughing because they are going to kill you.\n'Your name is Flossie?' the small man says. 'That's so sweet.'\n'Your parents must have had a sense of humour,' Yammer says, he hands you the card. 'Take this and go with our blessing, Flossie. You have enough problems.'\nYou shove the card back in the bag, you feel your face flushing with shame. Flossie, indeed. With as much dignity as you can muster you stride off to reunite yourself with your bike and to [[check in with Yum|your rendezvous]]. <<endif>><<else>>\nWith great reluctance you take the package out of your bag and show it to them. 'I am a bike courier,' you says. 'I've picked up this package from Imagination Industries.' You point at the logo tag on the wall as further evidence. \n'That is a rubbish cover story,' the woman says. 'Where's your bike?'\nYou are about to say that it is in the foyer but a left hook lands on your jaw and hampers your ability to get the words out. The kick they mentioned was part of thier special offer lands in the vicinity of your liver and fells you. You noice as you hit the ground that the smell of greasepaint has lingered. You lose conciousness.\n\nYou wake up some days later in makeshift hospital with a ringing in your ears and a pin in your leg. They say you might never courier again but you refuse to believe that. If you were finished why would Sorcha and Casino come and visit, bringing [[the rest of the gang|The Vanguard]] with them?
You stare at the bird. It stares back. It has a little twinkle in its eye. You can't help but smile. Poor creature. It's only a terrible winged-demon because of the disaster and destruction that your species, the human species, has wrought on this city. Did this bird burn all the oil and coal, spend all the money, rip up the very fabric of society and set it alight? No. And to be fair, neither did you. You and this bird suffer the same. You will sit it out together, up there on your perch high above the city.\n'Whenever you are ready, old friend,' you say. \nThe bird squawks again. You decide it's a sound not without music. Then it shivers and a stream of brown steaming liquid pours out of it, all over the plank and down into the street below. It smells worse than the bird. As it flies off, you hope it's ashamed of itself. \n\nYou take a huge step over the mess, keener on falling to your death than getting such high grade guano on your shoes. Three, four, five more steps and you're on solid roof. \n\nA pile of rags and rubbish on the floor transforms into a grubby woman and she beckons to you. She's quite insistent, convinced she has something very intersting and useful to tell you.\n\nAre you going to [[ignore her and carry on]] or [[stop and chat]]?
The address is a corner shop. It's all shuttered up and locked with the flimsiest lock you have ever seen. You could snap it open with your bare hands, not that you would. No one else seems to have done either. This is odd given that there's a Bottle Shop opposite that sells all the illegal substances that anyone would need to fuel a ramraid of the nice, genteel shop. There isn't a scrap of graffitti on the shutter either. You can smell oranges coming through the tight mesh and some has taped a sign up saying 'Back Soon'.\n\nA little further down the street is a cafe with a red and blue sign over its front window and door. 'Greasy Clive's' it says. \n\nYou wonder how soon 'Soon' is. \n\nYou could [[go into the cafe]] and ask there, it's the safest place open, or [[hang about outside the shop]] for a bit.
You cycle in through the broad doorway, hoping that this man is not a serial killer disguised as a cyclist. \n'Straight ahead,' the man says as he shuts the door, plunging the hallway into near darkness. 'Sorcha said you'd be coming this way.'\nYou ride into the man's kitchen. It's a sparse affair but pride of place has been given to a fancy coffee machine. A small girl shots out from under the table and opens the door for you. She must only be about five years hold but she's wearing full cycling lycra and a little racing cap.\n'Shortcut,' she says. 'I saw Sorcha! She waved at me!'\n\nYou yell your thanks as you realise what a good shortcut it was. You are at [[the eastern edge]] already.
The Vanguard. That sounds familiar. That was the name of the merchandise in Haggia's shop. The comics and the figurines. The Vanguard. You realise now why the models looked familiar too. Because they are standing right in front of you. Sorcha, Minos, Casino, Lola and Roach are The Vanguard. \n\nAnd now, [[so are you|The Vanguard]].
You're not dressed for this. You can't make up your mind whether a hazmat suit or a full on diving gear would be the most appropriate as you're almost swimming through the thick noxious air. Up ahead you see a long line of old buses and The Northern Point Sleeper setting off. You curse yourself for not listening to Sorcha and are rewarded with a consumptive coughing fit. When you are forced to pull up to the kerb outside the station people back away. \n\nYou decide you have two choices: do you go back and take \n[[the alley|the alley]] or [[do you get off an walk]]?
You pick up a package from a strange office near the Entertainment Centre, and ride out to the Project. Nothing interesting happens apart from you nearly get crushed by an enormous lorry that's come over from the continent, a woman with a cat in a shoe box chases you down the street and the Project security guard chews your tyre to make sure it's not made of explosives. You suspect you have just delivered the plans to a invasion of the weather facility in the middle of the swollen river but decide not to worry about it. \n\nOn the way back into the heart of the city you stop off at Wired and Buzzing, a coffe stall that is famous for its fabulous hot beverages. You are a regular customer so the barista greets you with a great caffeine overdose induced bounce of enthusiasm. It's quite scary.\n\nWill you have a celebratory [[espresso]] or a [[chocolate milk]]?\n
'Good job, good job,' Minos says. 'I'll go and unlock the control room.'\nProphet puts his hands on your shoulders and stares deep into your eyes. It's like he's looking into your soul. 'Well done,' he says. 'Now go forth and be awesome.'\nYou look at Sorcha for some kind of clue. She hops off the worktop and points over the busy kitchen. 'Let's go somewhere we can talk. It's about to go mad in here.'\n'True,' Casino says. 'This track has quite a drop in it. Sends the dancefloor wild.'\nYou suspect that everywhere in here is a dancefloor.\nYou follow Sorcha out of the kitchen and see that she's right. You cross the lobby, past the lifts, and through a games room. \nRoach knocks on a discreet door and Minos opens it. Beyond lies [[a quieter room]].
SJ Griffin
You take the narrow service road weaving between the debris of urban life: litter, excrement and a severed limb that you wish you hadn't noticed. You roll down the ramp to the underground carpark. It's deserted on the whole, it won't get busy with the pimps and dealers until nightfall. Some of the lights are working, most of them covered in graffiti, the light casting colours on the ground like a very lethargic disco. You ride on dodging broken glass and plastic bags until you can see daylight up ahead. To one side there are three large black cars parked. A man is smoking a cigarette at one end and two other men are trying to persuade a big black dog that he wants to get in the back of the car in the middle. He seems sure he doesn't. Ahead of you a gang of kids are spraying something colourful and obscene on the wall. \n\n\nDo you go past [[the kids]] or [[the cars]]?
A bold move, cycling across the grass after last night's rain. Thick puddles sit on the surface of the ground, blades of grass sticking up like stubble. Your tyres make an unsettling fizzing sound as they plough through the water. It splashes up and you try to ignore the slight burning sensation. You decide speed is the best option and sprint, head down, to your destination. \n\nBy the time you reach the other side of the park a pale steam is rising from your shoes but you are unscathed. The exit looms. The entrance also looms but only from the other side of the gates. \n\nWill it be [[the main gates]] or the secluded [[Blake's Alley|the alley]]?
There is a smattering of applause as you win by an ever-increasing margin. You acknowldge it with a grin and a wave.\n\nYou leave the Swift rider far behind as you \n[[concentrate on making your delivery]]. You know that Packet are the best, and you ride for Packet.
You are glad you picked the archway. Those people are dancing, lost in the music. You shake your ears free and cycle down a wide pathway until you coome out in an allotment. You almost stop and stare but content yourself with gazing across the green field as you cycle across it. There are vegetable patches, small fruit trees and over the other side greenhouses that look like they've been cobbled together out of rods and plastic bottles. A chicken struts across a row of lettuces. Its living conditions are better than yours. \n\nAnother archway takes you to [[the eastern edge]] of the Sky People's baby city in the sky.
You slither up the side of the oil slick, it's tighter than you thought but you manage to avoid sliding on the surface of the spill. The Swift courier has caught you up. Will you try to out muscle him, going [[shoulder to shoulder]], or [[out pace him]]?
'Riverside Sector,' you say.\n'You didn't have to tell him that,' Vermina says, giving Sorcha an amused glance.\n'And what are you delivering?' Tixylix says. He is a small, mousy man with greasy black hair. Easy to ignore and forget.\n'I don't know,' you say.\n'Why not?'he says.\n'I haven't opened it,' you say. You reckon this man is an idiot.\nThey laugh. All of them.\n'How do you get into the Riverside Sector?' Vermina says.\nThe two Enforce officers look at you while Sorcha studies her handlebars.\n'I'm not sure,'you say.\n'Have you been there before?' Vermina says.\nYou have to admit that you haven't.\n'Alright,' Sorcha says. 'Leave it out.'\n'Bit green for you,' Tixylix says. 'I thought you lot were the elite.'\n'Just like you,' Sorcha says. 'Just like you.'\nTixylix is smirking at you, delighted that he's not the dunce for once. \n'What are you looking at you?' you say. Not the wittiest retort you've ever come up with. \n'I'm no looking, I'm laughing,' Tixylix says.\n'Not both? Not so hot at the multi tasking? you say.\nVermina groans.\nTixylix gets a small black box out of his pocket.\n'Don't,' Sorcha says. \nTixylix gives you a triumphant grin and tasers you. \nIt's a bit like that time you stuck a fork in the toaster. [[But worse]].\n
The awe-inspiring effect of the elaborate wrought-iron gate is a little dimished by most of the top having been stolen but the general impression once hoped for is one of grandeur, ownership and authority. Perhaps because of that it is festooned with toilet roll and old odd socks, someone having gone so far as to donate a whole pair. You breathe in a few cubic litres of traffic fumes as you join the heavy traffic. Sorcha was right, it is busy but it's not that busy, not yet. You paused while one of your lungs tries to evacute your body through your mouth.\n\nYou wonder if you try and hold your breath for short hop past [[the coach station]] or head back to the dark, still air of [[the alley]]
It's maybe a mile or two to the gondola stop so you opt for the fastest route. You bomb down Mercenary's Row. The traffic is quite heavy but there's only two lanes, one in each direction so it's easy to negociate. Mercenary's Row is so called because that's where all the financial instituions had their offices. Now they are all shut up with private security staff sitting at desks in marble hallways waiting for people to come and claim the contents of the safes. Most of the bulidings are falling down now so in a few decades those safes will be all that's left, lying in a big hole along with the rubble. \n\nYou stop at the end of the road to get a fresh water bottle out of your bag. As you shift things around you feel the package. It feels different. When you pull it out it looks different. When did that happen? The only time they could have been switched was when you were talking to the Enforce officers. But who would have switched them? The invisible man? \n\nYou are very puzzled. Will you [[open it]] or [[put it back]] and forget about it?
<<silently>>\n<<set $visited_have_a_snack = "no">>\n<<set $visited_take_the_card = "no">>\n<<set $visited_open_it = "no">>\n<<endsilently>>You slip through a gap in the queuing traffic just wider than your handlebars and join the flow of traffic heading west. It's more of an ooze than a flow but you make quick progress weaving your bike through the cars and vans that clog the streets. The roads are still slick from the overnight rain, they smell a little of sulphur, the product of another cloud of pollution drifting over the flooded city. You take the next right, dancing across the junction as drivers jostle for position, and then cut down a narrow alleyway that will bring you out on Parker Street. \n\nYou see Packet up ahead. The best cycle courier company in the city. Their riders are the fastest, the bravest, the most hated by taxi drivers, Enforce and the most used by corporation and Ministries alike. And now you are one of them. Years pounding the pedals for fourth and fifth rate outfits have been rewarded with a berth at Packet. You are still new, still getting the kid's runs, fool's errands, but today [[you feel lucky]].
Weighing it up you decide that you like your odds better against three men and a big dog than you do taking on a gang of kids. Today's kids being tomorrow's serial killers. You slow down in the hope that you will be able to sneak past, you would like to avoid the dog's attention most of all, it is black as death and the size of a hearse. It's bark is like a sonic boom.\n\nThe hound makes a break for it and gallops towards you. You skid to a halt fearing the worst. The man and gang of kids all seem to hold their breath and they wait for your inevitable demise. You close you eyes. There is a plantive whine. At first you think it's you but you open one eye and see the dog, wet nose level with you dry one. It is holding out it's paw for you to shake. You take it, it's as heavy as a corpse, and shake it. There is a smattering of applause. The dog is still sitting there, but it looks quite peaceful so you set off again. For one horrible moment you think that the dog is going to follow you, as he trots after you, but at the last moment he swings to the right and launches himself at the gang of kids who disappear in the walls and ceiling with impressive speed.\n\nYou emerge, whole and uneaten, in the Royal Park. Will you take [[the path]] or brave it over [[the grass]].
'I don't know,' you say.\n'You don't know?' Latch says. 'Does it not say on the package where it's going?'\n'It's complicated,' you say.\n'Complicated?' he says.\n'Look, let me show you,' you says and start to open your bag.\n'Hold it right there,' Latch says. 'Hands above your head.'\nSorcha starts to say something but you interupt her. 'No, it's all right, I'm just...'\nLatch smiles. It's a very unpleasant smile. Like a shark approaching a concussed surfer. You pull your hand out of your bag and Latch snaps some cuffs around your wrist.\n'You're under arrest, both of you,' he says. \n'When he tells you to put your hands above your head,' Sorcha says as he cuffs her too. 'Put your hands above your head, yeah?'\n'And now, we wait for back up,' Latch says. '[[Might be a while]].'
The Ministries area is a winding mass of broad streets with huge grey buildings rising up four or five floors. It took a lot of money to build once upon a time. The Administrators are housed in a very dull building with no embellishments whatsoever on its facade. You delivered a package there once and know that inside it's the very essence of baroque and rococo excess. There's also a lot of paper. If anyone ever sets fire to it, it'll be an inferno in seconds. You wonder why no one has ever tried to burn it down. \n\nThe Ministry of Administration is the very heartbeat of the city. Without them everything would probably function quite well. No mysterious taxes, no bribery or corruption, no overjealous Enforce arresting people for breathing in a laboured and wheezy manner. The normal folk would get a break, and somewhere to live. Perhaps it is not a coincedence that their building backs on to the Ministry of Security. \n\nThe richest families register their first born sons for jobs in the Ministry of Administration because it is a guarantee of a life of ease and privilege. You were not born with a silver spoon in your mouth and if you were you parents would have whisked it away and sold it for food before you'd even taken your first breath. \n\nThe road forks uphead. One way will take you past the [[Ministry of Environs and Conurbations|Ministry of Environs and Conurbations]] and the other will afford you a view of the [[Ministry of Culture and Endeavour|Ministry of Culture and Endeavour]].
'Wait,' the woman says. 'You're a courier?'\n'Ow!' you say, with all the indignation you can muster, which is a lot. \n'I'm so sorry,' she says. 'How terrible of me. Come inside would you. Sorcha said you would be coming.'\n'You're not going to hit me again?' you say.\n'Of course not,' she says. 'Any friend of Sorcha's is a friend of mine. Lock your bike up there.' She points to the railing.\nYou do as you're told as she pulls up the shutter and any grudging thoughts you had disappear when you see her stock all laid out. \nYou go [[into the shop]] with her, lost in wonder. Who is this woman? And how does she know Sorcha?
You zip past the old duck pond which is now more of a graveyard for things prone to rusting. There is a strange sulphorous smell and a large winged insect hovers towards you. It seems to be a mutant hybiod of a dragonfly and a wasp. You are almost tempted to stop and take a closer look but it makes a sinister buzzing sound that reminds you of a runaway chainsaw you heard about in the news. \n\nYou pedal up, cheered by this cunning shortcut. You can already see [[the main gates|the main gates]] up ahead.
You decide to wait. \n\nYou wait and wait.\n\nThen you wait some more.\n\nYou are about to wish you'd taken the second gondola when you hear the jaunty swish of another one arriving. \n\nYou wave and he hurls abuse at you and your bike and your mother, and she isn't even here. He stinks. You're not sure what of but it's nasty and it probably lingers. His left arm has been amuptated and he has had his oar attached so his arm is nearly six feet long and ends in a paddle. He is clearly a psychopath. On the other hand you have a delivery to make. \n\nWill you take this [[third gondola]] or [[wait for a fourth]]?
'Little baby courier,' Yum's voices crackles through your radio. 'Sorcha's new best friend. You have a hot date at Chico's Rumba Shack. Over.'\n'Thanks,' you mutter. 'Out.'\n\nChico's Rumba Shack is on the other side of the road. It's a shack. It's closed at the moment but were it open no one in a half mile radius would be able to hear anything but Rumba music. You cross the road, riding up and down between the lanes and arrive just in time to see Sorcha and Casino racing down the road towards you. Sorcha is winning so she arrives first.\n'No fair,' Casino says as he skids to a halt. 'You cheat.'\nSorcha laughs and introduces you. \nThen this is for you, my little gooseberry,' Casino holds out two key cards. \n\nDo you take [[the red one|the blue one]] or [[the blue one]]?
The theatre has seen better days. The name of the last play staged there, decades ago, is still hanging up in lights, the only working bulbs displaying an obscenity. It seems appropriate. One of the front doors is hanging off its hinges so you squeeze in with your bike which you chain to a narrow pillar inside. You can hear a bass reverberating. Someone is playing music upstairs. \n\nLike many of the building that have lay wasting away since the Flood and the subsequent Collapse the theatre has been taken over by various groups of people trying to make their way during these interesting times. You could be confronted by a criminal gang or a knitting circle, or both. There could be a guerilla training centre in here, or a peaceable community who just want to get out of the rain. It seems unlikely though, unless they listen to thrash metal. \n\nThe doors to [[the auditorium]] have been tagged with the Imagination Industires logo so you take a deep breath and go through.
As you approach the hut, at speeds close to sucidial, you notice that the building is a hive of activity. A siren sounds from behind some trees and as you skid across the gravel a makeshift ambulance burst out of the weedy copse and heads for the hut. Cycling nearer you see a banner, it's just as makeshift an affair, made from an old bedsheet and red gloss paint, saying 'Medical Centre'. A nurse comes out, tattoed and bearded, and joins in as a few burly paramedic haul a crumpled form out of the back of the van. It's followed by a crushed bicycle and your stomach gives a queasy somersault. Another fallen comrade. \n\nYou raise your arm, palm up and open, and make a questioning gesture while looking most indignant. The Couriers' Salute. Without words you ask 'What are you doing, fool? Can you even drive?'on behalf on your mangled colleague. Then, before the bad karma rubs off, you speed off in pursuit of your package.\n\nWill you take [[the main gates|the main gates]] or slip down [[the alley|the alley]] just lurking to the side?
There is no escape. Your tactics have failed. Six people all dressed in combat gear (they've even gone for face paint) emerge from the tent.\n'You took your time,' a man says. He only has one eye. You wish someone would buy him an eye patch to cover to gaping hole next to it.\n'We've been waiting,' another man says. He has two eyes. \nThere is a long pause as they stare at you. It's your turn to speak. 'Waiting for me?' you say.\n'Don't play dumb,' the one-eyed man says. 'We've seen you watching us.'\n'Me?' you say, hoping this cause of mistaken identity is going to work out to your advantage.\n'Yep,' the first man says. 'You've been watching and we've been waiting.'\n'I haven't been watching you,' you say.\n'You have,' the second man says.\n'Why have I been doing that?' you are not keen to get into a yes you have, no I haven't type argument. The clock is ticking. \n'It's what Enforce do,' the first man says.\n'Particulary undercover Enforce,' a woman says. \n'Me?' you say. 'Enforce?'\nThey all nod. \n'And you know what we do to Enforce round here,' the one-eyed man who is king says. \nYou can hazard a guess. 'I'm not Enforce,' you say and risk a laugh at the ridiculousness of the idea. \n\nWhat are you though? You could try [[telling the truth]] or you could [[make something up]].
You slow down and then slip into the shadowy recesses of a garage door. You can hear metal clanging inside and then the sound of a blow torch. You wait. Then you peek out. The street is empty. It must have been your imagination.\n\nYou feel a bit foolish and [[carry on]].
'What are you then?' the woman says. 'You even smell like Enforce.'\nYou rise above this heinous insult. 'I am a bike courier,' you say, with great pride. 'I am picking up a package from Imagination Industries.' You point at the logo tagged on the wall with one hand and hold out your key card with the other.\nThere is a contemplative silence and followed by a merry round of applause. You smile and they smile. \n'We liked you better when you were Enforce,' the woman says. 'Didn't we Yammer?'\n\nMaybe it's Yammer who throws the first punch, there's no more time for pleasantaries. The last thing you see is the floor of the stage which still smells of greasepaint and sawdust. There is no place for the truth here.\n\nYou wake up some days later in makeshift hospital with a ringing in your ears and a pin in your leg. They say you might never courier again but you refuse to believe that. If you were finished why would Sorcha and Casino come and visit, bringing [[the rest of the gang|The Vanguard]] with them? \n
<<silently>>\n<<set $visited_have_a_snack = "yes">>\n<<endsilently>>You unwrap your sandwich. Chocolate with feta cheese and strawbery jam. At least you think it's feta cheese. The stall holder at the Jubilee Market didn't seem sure but swore it was made from sheep's milk. He was also ambiguous about its geographical origin. It is the champion of sandwiches whatever the cheese might be. \n\nYum shouts at a courier who is running late on a job and prodcues a steaming hot dog from somewhere. You decide not to think about it and gulp down some water. \n\nYou tidy away your rubbish and go back to waiting, [[poised and alert|ready to spring into action]].\n\n\n\n\n\n
<<silently>>\n<<set $visited_open_it = "yes">>\n<<endsilently>>You peel pack the tape sealing the package, with great care so you can stick it back down and hide your subterfuge. You slide out the contents. There's nothing but a silver disc in a thin case. No invoice, note, nothing. There's nothing written on the disc either. You must have the decoy package. \n\nYou can't help but feel a little disappointed as you reassemble the package. You would have liked to make the real delivery, but you suppoe that if you had that package Roach would be about somewhere. You look around to make sure he isn't, realising that you've broken the sacred courier code never to open the package. You put it back, a little ashamed of yourself, and [[keep going]].
You hold out your hand and introduce yourself to Latch. He is unimpressed. \n'What are you doing down here?' he says.\n'We're on our way to...' you realise you have no idea as to your precise destination. 'deliver packages.'\n'Where are you delivering them to?' he raises one eyebrow. It is somehow terrifying. \nYou shiver. 'Um...'\nSorcha looks at you. Her expression suggest she can take it from here.\n\nDo you [[let Sorcha do the talking]] or [[keep gabbling on]]?
Now you have spent time hanging around waiting for a travesty of evolution to deficate you can't linger for a chat. The rooftop is vast. This is the edge of the Sky People's community. There are tents everywhere you can see, made of a various of materials, plastic, metal, fabric, in a rainbow of colours. There are narrow streets winding between the tents so you get back on your bike. You can get your bearings up here, you head towards the east and the Riverside sector. There are a few people miling about. One shouts to you to say hello to Sorcha, you yell back that you will and feel like you've made it. She must come this way all the time. It's a handy shortcut if you know about it. And don't fall over the edge.\n\nYou wonder what it's like living up here. They seem to have everything they need. There's fork in the path uphead, you can go past a [[greengrocer's]] stall or down the side of [[the baker's]]?
You follow Minos through the lobby. There's a woman you almost recognised standing talking to man you do recognise. He is Stark, a famous artist, rebellious - he's a thorn in the side of the Ministry of Culture and Endeavour. She looks a bit like one of the figurines in Haggia's shop. How strange.\n'That's Lola,' Minos says. 'You'll meet her later, I'm sure.'\n\nMinos leads you into an enormous kitchen, it's just the size you would need to service a hotel restaurant. There are lots of people in here but through the crowd you can see Sorcha. She's perched on a worktop next to a gigantic refrigerator talking to a man who looks like he just came back from a pilgrimage.\n\n'Hello,' Sorcha says. 'You made it. Sorry about the unorthodox invitation.'\n'I'm going to go and give this to Loki,' Minos says, waving the disc around and almost taking the man's eye out. 'Get our new friend a drink.'\nAs he disapears into the crowd Sorcha opens the fridge. The door swings open to reveal every beverage, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, you could desire. 'Help yourself,' she says. 'This is Prophet.'\n'Hello,' he says. 'I've just heard all about you. Not that they have to explain anything to me, I think they just like the input of an elderly gentleman.'\nYou can't tell how old he might be. He could be ancient or not that old at all. [[You shake Prophet's hand]].
The secret route, once you've passed through the dark archway, is a long alley with a few doorways on either side that turns to the left at the bottom. There are many of these all over the city, at once unremarkable and strange, sinsiter even.\n\nYou are halfway down when you get the sudden and unmistakable sensation of someone following you. You can hear footsteps. They are speeding up. \n\nDo you [[hide in a dark doorway]] or [[carry on]]?
You are about to leap up and grab Sorcha's hand in a desperate bid for glory and comradery, then you stop yourself. What are you thinking? You have rent to pay, a mouth to feed (your own) and a comics habit to feed. You can't be distracted by trivialities like glory. \n\n'Credit,' is all your mouth is prepared to allow you to say. It's mad at you.\nSorcha's smile disappears and a breeze ruffles the yellowing notices pinned to the wall. '[[Your loss]],' she says.\n
The shop is quite dark, which only adds to the mystery and amazement. \n'My name is Haggia,' the woman says. \nYou murmer yours in reply as you gaze around the shop. At the front are crates of fruit and vegetables piled up. There are green lettuces and cucumbers alongside bright red tomatoes and carrots that are a shade of orrange that makes you dizzy. There's aubergines and some things you think might be peppers, you've read about them. \n'I get them from the Sky People,' Haggia says. 'I'm not sure how. They just arrive.'\nYou wander up an aisle made of shelves full of noodles and pasta and tinned produce that you have only dreamed of. \n'I'll make you up a bag if you like, on the house,' Haggia is smiling at you as she waddles up the aisle behind you.\nYou go down the next aisle. There is a shelf with five shallow boxes of colourful plastic figures in them. They are in different poses and three of them almost look familiar but you can't quite place them. On the shelf below them comics are piled up. You flick through one, it's a subversive, underground type story, different to your average superhero material. Haggia is looking at you with great interest. \n'I'm sorry,' you say. 'I have a package for you.'\n'Oh, that's not actually for me,' Haggia says. 'They sometimes use me as a dummy drop for things. Could you [[do me a favour|a question for you]]?'
Fancy seeing you here,' he says.\n'Latch,' Sorcha says. It's a calm observation. \nCasino is no longer behind you. You don't remember him leaving. This must be it getting heavy.\nYou are about to think about panicking when this Latch pulls an Enforce badge out of his pocket and holds it up. His gloves are shiny and black, expensive. They are scuffed at the knuckles. Is that a bloodstain on his lapel?\n'Who do we have here?' he points at you.\nYou skip thinking about it and start panicking. You can't get round him. You can't turn your bike around and leg it. You can [[let Sorcha do the talking]] or [[come over all chatty]] yourself. What will it be?\n\n
You start thinking about it but then you hear someone laugh in the background on the radio. Yum surpresses a snigger and you think it must be a joke. Some sort of initiation. Well, you don't have time for that and you won't have anyone thinking you're stupid.\n'I'm done for the day,' you say. 'See you tomorrow.'\n'I'm looking forward to it,' Yum says. He doesn't mean it.\n\nBut you're looking forward to it. Today was a good day, maybe [[tomorrow will be too|The Vanguard]].
<<silently>>\n<<set $visited_take_the_card ="yes">>\n<<endsilently>>\nYou pick up the envelope as though it might bite you. It might well. Inside you find a birthday card with a cross-eyed cat on it. The cat looks so out of it you wonder if it's been on the schnapps. You put the card and envelope in your bag.\n\nThere is nothing else here of interest so you head back to the [[other dressing room|actresses]].
Well, this is annoying. You ride down the narrow lane, it smells damp and moudly, and squeeze round the corner at the end only to find another fire escape with another sign and arrow. And a smiley face taunting you and the clock that's running down.\n\n\nYou go [[up the fire escape]] trying to remain of good cheer.
You stand in the pedals and start to spin them as fast as you can heading for the back of the line of cars as they flow across your path. Sorcha is right behind you as the murderous taxi driver starts to honk his horn in fury. This prompts an impromptu redition of one of the more obscure car horn symphonies, the cacophany filling the air as you ride out of trouble.\n'Nice,' Sorcha says. 'Very nice.'\n\nPark and Arch is just ahead. It's unnerving having Sorcha behind you so you're glad when she rolls up beside you. \n'What time do you call this?' another courier joins you. He peers round Sorcha at you. His beard is as well groomed as a Riverside chihuahua in a designer handbag.\nYou're supposed to be at the junction,' Sorcha says. 'What time do you call it?'\n'I do love it when I get to work with you,' Casino says. 'The comradery, the team work, it's so special.'\n'Pull over here,' Sorcha says. 'We're on the clock here.'\nYou all dismount in an old bus stop, the shelter stripped for metal long ago is remembered by a rectangle of brown concrete in the grey street and a melted mas of yellow plastic seat.\n'You're the new messenger then?' Casino says to you. 'Yum is livid he's not been able to do his usual spirit breaking induction programme. He's complaining bitterly about Sorcha to anyone who has a radio. Bitterly. You wouldn't know she's his absolute favourite.'\nSorcha laughs and introduces you. \n'Then this is for you, my little gooseberry,' Casino holds out two key cards. \n\nDo you take [[the red one|the blue one]] or [[the blue one]]?
Casino Flamingo, second only in the Packet Hall of Fame to Sorcha herself. You are not about to put off hanging out with both of them any longer. \n'I'll come up to Park and Arch,' you say. 'I got a bit stiff sitting around the office, it'll be good to loosen up with a sprint.'\nSorcha laughs. 'Try and keep up,' she shouts over her shoulder as she sets off with blistering acceleration.\nYou wonder if maybe her bicycle has an engine. \n\nYou only slip back five or six bike lengths as you cycle up the road but she looks like she's taking it easy for you. Up ahead you see a the traffic lights turn amber and Sorcha puts a burst in to get over them then checks herself and slows. She is taking it easy for you. \n\nDo you [[pedal like a maniac]] for the lights or hang back and [[play it safe]]?
'Glory,' you say. You sound like the hero in an action film. You like it.\nSorcha grins as Yum slumps into his seat, defeated. The seat groans, also defeated.\n'Good choice,' Sorcha says. 'Let's go.'\n\nYou swagger out of the office behind her. The street is quieter than before but in a quarter of hour the rush hour will start again and it will be carnage out there. \n'She just picked you annoy me,' Yum shouts from his booth. 'Don't get all cocky.'\nSorcha gets on her bike. 'I picked you because you were sitting there,' she says. 'Nothing to get cocky about.'\nYou get onto your bike like a baby giraffe taking its first steps. Since when did you have three knees?\n'Not yet, anyway,' she slips into the light traffic. It seems like she's barely pedalling but she's fast. You almost have to go all out to keep up but you manage to pull alongside her.\n'Do you want to come up to Park and Arch to [[meet Casino]] or head out to Circus and [[get a head start]]?' she says.
You ride between two tents, skidding on a banana skin as you emerge in front of them. You thought that only happened in cartoons, as does a woman in a large pink hat who you almost run over. She doesn't seem to mind, patting you on the handlebars as you set off again. These people are so nice you fear it's a conspiracy and you are soon to be robbed and/or stabbed. One of the tents is a shoe shop, there's a boy polishing shoes at a counter inside. The other tent is selling gardening equipment and plants. There's a carousel of seed packets being spun round and round by a man whose muttering something about fennel. \n\nUphead there's a wide street festooned with bright flags. You ride [[under the bunting]].
Sorcha is gazing at Latch like he's an interesting problem but not one that she expects to be hard to solve. You close your mouth and let her deal with it. They rattle off their parts of the conversation like a routine they have to go through. \n'New courier,' Sorcha says.\n'What are you doing down here?' he says.\n'Short cut.'\n'Why?'\n'On a delivery.'\n'Where to?'\n'I don't have to tell you that.'\n'I'd like you to.'\n'My client wouldn't like me to.'\n'I don't care.'\n'Are you paying us?'\n\nAnd so it goes on. Each taking their turn until Latch gets bored and stands aside. You and Sorcha continue down the tunnel. You are relieved to find that it's not much further and you follow Sorcha up an inclined which leads to a platform which leads to a station which leads to a street. You feel giddy in the wide open space, like flinging your bike aside and skipping. You don't though. That wouldn't be cool. \n'That explains it,' Sorcha says.\n'What?' you say.\nShe points up the road. 'Roadblock.'\n\nUp ahead there are a lot of green flashing lights. They are on top of the Enforce patrol cars that are parked acroos the road. That explains both why the street is empty and why Latch was down in the tunnel, you suppose aloud. You are correct. \n'Let's spilt up,' Sorcha says. 'I'll go back down to the tunnels. I suggest you go that way or that way.'\n\nShe points to [[a quiet road to the right]] and then to a dark corner [[to your the left|the secret route]].
<<if $visited_open_it eq "yes">>\nHe looks at Sorcha and frowns. She looks surprised and then disappointed. Roach growls. They know. Casino throws the package at you. It bounces off your chest and hits the ground. You let it lie there. \n\n'Shame,' Casino says. 'We had hopes for you.'\n'You messed that up, kid,' Roach says as he gets on his moped and Casino rides off.\nThe worst thing is that Sorcha doesn't say a thing. She doesn't even look at you. She just gets on her bike and disappeares into the traffic. \n\n[[What have you done?|You ride home, broken]]<<endif>><<else>>\nCasino opens the package and smiles at the disc inside, then at you. 'As I thought,' he hands it to Sorcha.\nShe looks at it and hands it back to you with a wide grin. 'You want to hang onto that,' she says. 'Might be useful.'\n'We should go,' Roach says. He's smiling at you too. They are odd but you like them.\n'New person!' Yum shouts from his cubby hole. 'I got exciting job for you as this lot are too lazy to do it.'\n'Knocking off time,' Casino says. 'Tell him to shove it.'\n\nYou don't though, you are so excited and pleased with yourself you take it. You [[zip off to the Project]] with a whirl in your pedal and a song in your heart.\n
As you rattle over the path small stones kick up and hit your legs like shrapnel. You comfort yourself with the sight of the gates looming ever large behind the fountain. The statue in the middle of the fountain is of a woman, a former queen. She looked like she's wearing a fluffy green jumpsuit but that's just the carnivorous algae that's crept up her. It took a while for pigeons to stop perching on her, but once a few of them had been eaten by the hungry plant they got the message. Once in a while a distruntled gang will try and diposed of a rival by throwing them upon the mercy of Her Majesty. It's a slow death but quite good for the environment. \n\nThe exit to the park can take you away from all this. Will you take [[the main gates|the main gates]] or slip down [[Blakes Alley|the alley]], just lurking to the side?
You quicken your pace and almost overcook the corner. At the end of the alley a fire escape has been pulled down almost to the ground. There is a strange symbol painted in brown paint on the wall. It's the colour of old blood. It is a picture of a winged figure, either a fat angel or a chicken with a dress on, it's hard to tell. There is an arrow pointing up and another pointing to a smal lane leading off the right. The lane is dark and the fire escape is crumbling. \n\nWill you go [[up the fire escape]] or ride [[down the narrow lane]]?
You wake up in a cupboard. You blink a few times and then rub your eyes and it turns out that it's not a cupboard. It's the Packet sick room. Perhaps so called because it smells of sick.\n\nYou don't remember how you got there but as you're crammed in there with your bike you assume Sorcha had something to do with you. You ache all over. You can hear Yum laughing at someone, his voice shrill with malice. You lay back. Your head hurts.\n\nRest a while. [[The Vanguard]] will have to wait.
Curiosity gets the better of you and you roll down the path so you can have a quick look in the next classroom. In this one a teacher is standing in front of a dozen kids, older than in the other class, who are all swiping and tapping away on tablets. From the pedagogic scrawl on the blackboard you surmise that they are learning to hack into Ministry databases. What an education system they have up here! All the essential life skills covered. There are more tents here that are part of the school, a science lab and a canteen as well as a gymnasium that seem both well-equipped and well-sized.\n\nYou run out of school buildings and there's a street up ahead with flags strung up and down it. You cycle [[under the bunting]].\n\n
It is indeed. You spend the whole day waiting for Yum to allocate you a job but nothing comes in. Various couriers pop in and out of the office with rumours of Sorcha, Casino and Stevie Q's run, destined to become a lendedary job. Stevie Q. He started the day before you. \n\nYou go home. You cry a bit. Years later you'll be hauling packages for Moo Messengers, just another rider who couldn't cut it at Packet. \n\nSorry, kid. Maybe [[your luck will change|Start]].
For a moment you think you have taken a wrong turn and ended up in some primordial swamp. The whole auditorim is wreathed in vines and other untamed greenery. It's hot and humid and you can hear the hiss of the water spray that is keeping the air moist. Someone has pitched a large tent on the stage, you can hear a heated debate going on inside. Spotting the Imagination Industries logo you are disappointed to see that you are going to have to cross the stage to get to your pick up. \n\nYou can [[tiptoe, slow and steady|run and disappear]], hoping that whoever is in the tent is too embroiled in their discussion to notice you or you can [[run and disappear]] backstage before they even realise what's happened.
'Do you mind?' There is a man in the shower. He is wearing a bright yellow suit and tie, no shoes and a floral shower cap. A small grey tablet computer sits on his lap and there is a pile of packages near the plughole. \n'Pickup,' you say. 'Packet.'\n'Keycard,' the man says. 'Idiot.'\nYou give the key and he scans it with his tablet. You are tempted to turn the shower on but resist. The man reaches forward and gives you a thin square package. You don't recognise the address on it, it's somewhere in the Cathedral Quarter. \n'Any queries or returns, tough,' the man says. 'Imagination Industries is relocating in seventeen minutes.'\n'What about those?' you point to the packages in the bottom of the shower.\n'If people can't pick them up on time, it's not my problem,' the man says. 'Mind you, if people stand around chatting like you do, I'm not surprised these poor packages are not going to be delivered on time. You must be made of money if you don't need the bonuses or maybe you think that...'\nYou don't hear what you maybe think, you are too busy looking for an exit. \n\nYou could [[go back the way you came]] or you could [[climb out of the window]] and go down the narrow passage behind the theatre.
You are determined to deliver this package for Haggia. She seemed like a very nice woman, she knows Sorcha and you can afford to buy a media-sync headset at her shop. You really, really want a media-sync headset and that's the smallest draw. You knock again. \n\nNothing happens.\n\nYou knock again.\n\nThere is a scrapping sound and a dark gap appears in the board. From it comes first a babble of chatter and laughter and second the ginger head of man with a grin almost as wide as his freckled face.\n\n'Hello,' he says. 'You were quick.' He holds out his hand.\n'Here you are,' you give him the package. \n'This is the music we've been waiting for,' he says as he rips the package open. 'You can't have a party without music.'\nIt sounds like they are having quite a party. You remember Sorcha had said you might want to hand onto the package. You wonder what's going on.\n'You want to come in?' he says. 'We have spectacular booze.'\n\nDo you [[join the party]] or [[make your excuses]]?
There is no way you are going to ride along that narrow death-trap. You stand up in your pedals and put in a real burst of speed to get past the brawling cats. As you zip by you notice that they are larger than normal cats which might explain how one of them manages to catch you with its claw. You drag it along behind for a few turns of the pedal. It is not impressed and tries to bite through your shoe before it realises that retreat would be the better option. You bet your shoes taste horrible.\n\nIt skulks back the way it came as you cruise to a halt, having arrived at [[the eastern edge]] of the small town.
The last time you had their coffee you didn't sleep for a week so you opt for the chocolate milk. It is a velveteen dream, carressing your tastebuds with fluffy pillows of cocoa and vanilla. \n\nYour raido squeals, a gentle plea for your attention. It's Yum. You [[see what he wants]].
The ultimate indignity for a messenger. As you get off your bike you hope that no one can see you. It comes as little surprise, though, when you hear the sound of a moped panicking and look up to see Roach puttering across the station forecourt, scattering pedestrians. He gives you a thumbs up and carries on his way, disapearing down the subway steps. He must know a shortcut. The traffic is so stationary passenger disembark and start unpakcing picnic hampers. They must have lungs of tar.\n\nYou trudge in his wake as people pick themselves up. You fake a limp as if to excuse your indiscretion and after a ten minutes of a slow meander on the busy pavement you turn the corner and arrive outside [[the theatre|the theatre]].
Ajax swoops down to either land on you or eat you so you nip under the high stone archway that leads to Cheap Street. There is a Enforce car parked up ahead making a routine check on the wealthy inhabitants of Cheap Street, or rather a a routine check on their assets. They are casing the joint. They must be making a thorough job of it because the two officers inside don't notice you cycling past and you are allowed to proceed unmolested by the long arm of the law. \n\nYou ride down the quiet street which winds its way all the way down to the square at the top of Ancient King's Road and [[the theatre]].
There is a collective groan. 'I thought you were going to do it, I really did,' Minos says.\n'You nearly made it,' Casino says. 'Very nearly.'\n'Bad luck,' Lola says.\n'I tell you what,' Sorcha says. 'Why don't you try this?' She reaches behind her and finds a small green bottle, so small it's almost a vial. 'Stay, have a great time and maybe we'll talk again.'\nThey melt into the crowd and leave you. You knock back the drink. It tastes like carnivals and tropical sunsets. \n\nYou wake up, the following afternoon, on a sofa in a remote drawing room somewhere in the hotel. The party is still raging. As is your head. You can't remember what happened the day before. At all. Something about [[The Vanguard]] maybe?
The ledge is quite boring apart from one spectacular feature along one side. A severe drop. There is a busy street below and preferring not to find yourself smeared across it you concentrate very hard on cycling very straight and very fast towards the end of the ledge. \n\nYou almost don't realise that the next building has butted up against the ledge and you are quite safe, riding towards [[the eastern edge]] of the settlement.
The street looked deserted when you started down it but all of a sudden there is a sound like a blade slicing through dry grass and the pavements are full of burly people. They're wearing black uniforms with Enforce logos on their breast pockets and large machine guns in their hands. They all stand motionless and you slow down, terror making it hard to pedal. Then one officer raises his or her arm and points to the large banner hanging across the fourth storey on the ornate pillared building. The emblem reads'Ministry of Security'. \n\nSilly you. What were you thinking coming this way? Before anyone has a chance to shoot you, you pedal with great haste down the first available exit. It leads to the [[Ministry of Culture and Endeavour]].
This road is quiet, too quiet. It leads to another road which looks very similar and is also quiet, too quiet. You've never been to this part of the city before and because you don't know how you get here above ground you can't get your bearings. \n\nYou ride around for a few minutes in the hope that something will look like the right way, that a sign will appear but nothing presents itself. Maybe you should have got better directions from Sorcha? \n\nYou decide to cut your losses and go back and take [[the secret route]] Sorcha suggested.
You do not have time to deal with Swift and their stupid shenanigans. You tell the man where he can go, and with an injured look he goes there.\n\nYou arrive at the [[gondola stop]]. It's an upturned bucket with an oar stuck in it. Nothing fancy.
\nYou ride along the street which twist labyrinthine towards the waterfront. You take a quieter route to dodge the congestion caused by a street market, cycling through a rundown park with a ruined bandstand in the middle. \n\nYou become aware of another cyclist trying to keep up with you. There's a very skinny man on a shiny red bike behind you. He looks like he is made out of bits of old string tied together. \n\n'Wait,' he says.\n'I'm on the clock,' you say. \n'You want to work for Swift?' he says. 'We've been following your progress, like your style.'He's quite puffed out. He is riding a very nice bike though. It's much better than yours.\n'Never heard of them,' you say. You have. Everyone has. They are Packet's main rivals. They have more money, bigger contracts but they aren't as cool as Packet. They are a little bit dirty, cheap even.\n'You like my bike?' he says. 'You want one?'\nYou shrug and take a corner at speed. When he catches up he offers you a job with Swift. \n\n\nDo you [[just laugh]] or ask [[how much money]]?
Sorcha high fives Casino. 'Very important to recognise that the uniform is not even skin deep in some cases,' he says. You remember Vermina and Tixylix. Well, you remember Vermina. She seemed friendly. \n'This is the final question,' Prophet says. 'You are invited to a party organised by the Ministry of Culture and Endeavour.'\nYou pull a very doubtful face as it seems very unlikely that this would ever happen.\n'Stark invited us,' Lola says. 'Happens a lot.'\n'This party,' Prophet says in a voice that invites hush around him, 'is attended by many rich and high-profile individuals and you are a bit nervous about going. Do you hop yourself up on all manner of chemical substances to make sure you have a great time or do you come up with a strategy for the party with the rest of the gang.'\n\nThis is a tricky one. You can't quite see what he is getting at. [[Will you confess your fears|Pass]] to Sorcha and her socially adept friends or [[get tanked up|fail]] and hope for the best?\n
You have to knock again because no one answers the first time, but in the end a very tall, elegant man opens the doors. You look down the hallway behind him and it's like loking into the past. There is an open door at the other end that appears to lead to a black hole. You feel nauseous.\n\n'Ah, the decoy package,' the man says. 'Marvellous. Thank you.'\nYou look blankly at him. \n'The code, please,' the man says. 'On the back.\n<<if $visited_open_it eq "yes">>You turn the package over and realise with horror that you tore the code in half when you opened it earlier. You can only give the man half the code. He's polite but you're sure he knows something is wrong. He shuts the door without a word. \n\nA heavy dread settles on your shoulders and you drag yourself and the evidence of your crime [[back to Packet|ride back to Packet]]<<endif>><<else>>\nYou turn the package over and give him the code that on the back. \n'You'll need to call that in and take the package back to your office,' he says with a smile. 'First day?'\n'On a job this big,' you say, smiling back. He seems like a nice man. Very calming.\n\nHe thanks you and shuts the door. You stand alone in the quiet street for a moment. Your work is done here so you [[ride back to Packet]] satisfied that you have done your job and done it well.\n\n\n\n
There is a collective sigh and you realise that you've given the wrong answer. \n'That is a shame,' Lola says, digging her fingers into your arm just above the elbow. 'We had high hopes for you.' She steers you through the kitchen. 'The thing is that we don't judge people by the clothes they wear, even if it is an Enforce uniform.'\nShe propels you, with alarming force, through a gap in the board and closes it behind her. You are alone with your bike on the forecourt. \n\nNever mind. You almost made it, you almost joined [[The Vanguard]].
You swerve off the road and down a steep ramp that leads to the Basin, a cluster of high-rise former offices and narrow canals that now houses the aspiring lower classes. The security is heavy and as a courier on a run you will be allowed through on sight but the dogs will be caught or chased away. There's a huge black one that could be a pony that might end up with Enforce. A chunky shorthaired dog that looks like it's run very fast into a wall will be sold for meat in the Jubilee Market. There is a poodle that has a very brief future if it gets caught. \n\nYou duck low as you ride under a security barricade and the dogs seem to know better than to follow you as they skid to a halt and turn tail. \n\nYou ride through the Basin where a group of people seem to be assembling a huge bonfire. You don't stop to ask why, they seem to be very angry about something. The rest of your ride is uneventful because you keep your eyes on the road and don't notice anything around you. It's safer that way. \n\nYou arrive at the [[delivery destination]].
'If it's all right with you, it's been a long day,' you say. You've ridden further today then you have in a long time and that last run out to the Project took it out of you more than you realised.\nHaggia looks very disappointed and tries to persuade you otherwise but as you stand there with your legs getting stiffer and stiffer you remain unmoved. \n'Well, if you're sure,' she says. She assembles a bag of produce for you and you ride home. \nYou are so tired you fall asleep on the sofa. You are plagued by terrible dreams about missed opportunites and bad decisions. \n\nNever mind. You can always [[try again|Start]].
There are more shops around the corner. People are milling about bartering for goods and swapping items at a butchers, a fishmonger and a general store. There's a barber and a shop that can only be run by an old-fashioned rag and bone man. The sign above the door says 'Fancy Goods'. You wish you had time to stop but you don't. Two boys cheer as you ride by as though you are in a race. You're spurred on to greater speeds and dodging around people so fast they don't even notice you until you are gone. \n\nYou stop at a junction. One way leads only to fresh air, taking you right over the edge of the building. From another way you can hear music, great music to dance to but ahead a man is gesturing to you ride right into his house. This would be suspicious if one of his trouser legs wasn't rolled up, revealing the oily imprint of a bicycle chain on his calf. \n\nWill you [[follow the sound of music]] or go [[through the house]] after your fellow cyclist?
The smell from the baker's tent is wonderful. The bakeries on the ground don't smell like that. The Sky People's bakery smells of bread. Actual bread. With an underlying note of cake. You want to lie in the doorway but you resist and ride on. You are a professional. A man comes out with a baguette under his arm. He only has one. Arm, that is. And that one only goes down the elbow. Maybe he fell off the roof? You figure that's a small price to pay for fabulous bread. \n\nNow, a choice lays in front of you. Will you go [[through the plastic sheeting]] or [[over the planks]] that have been laid over a hole in the roof? \n\n
The tiny room smells of stale aftershave and stagefright. At least you think that's what it must be, it smells like an incontinent cow died in an onion field in here. A pile of costumes sit on a chair in the corner by the door to a bathroom. You decide not to venture in there. It's probably contaigous. The dressing table is covered with cosmetics and wigs. On closer inspection it transpires that one of the wigs is a dead cat. An open briefcase is under the table. It contains six empty potato schnapps bottes and a bright yellow envelope. Something has eaten away at the corner of the envelope. Probably the schnapps. \n\nWill you [[take the card]] or leave it, heading for the [[other dressing room|actresses]]?
You zip up the ramp, crouched low over your dropbars. The wooden buckles a little under you but you fly off the top, airbourne for so long the crowd cheer. You land your leap well but the Swift rider has made up some ground. Will you go [[shoulder to shoulder]] or take [[the corner flat out]]?
You should have take that one. That was the stuff of legend.\n\nLet's pretend this never happened. Go back and [[do the right thing|hang on for another one]].
Scrubbers Lane is so-called because, well, people who had lax morals and personal hygiene used to ply thier various trades there. And they still do, it's proximity to the Ministries providing plenty of rich cliental with rather esoteric tastes. A man is standing by the side of the road twirling a single red rose from a battered bouquet while on the other side a woman with an embaraased looking cat on a lead is doing something esoteric and not at all tasteful to a man who looks very much like the Under Minister of Academies. \n\nA car pulls up on the other side of the road and although it looks nothing like a clown car seventeen men and woman somehow get out. They are all dressed in red tutus and leotards. A door opens nearby and they all disappear inside. You can't make anything out in the black depths as you cycle past. It's probably for the best.\n\nIf you're feeling brave you could turn down the shortcut by the [[Ministry of Security|Ministry of Security]] or carry on past the [[Ministry of Administration|Ministry of Administration]].
He says a figure and it's so big it almost forces you off the road and into a wall. It's too big to turn down. You splutter your agreement. \n'Great. This is so I can find you later,' he says and slaps a small skull and crossbones sticker on your bike.\n\nYou begin to worry a little bit about what people will say. Sorcha, for instance. Casino and Roach too. But the tag is tiny so you figure no one will see it. \n\nWill you keep going [[straight ahead|Packet are the best]] or go via over [[the old bridge|Packet are the best]] to your south?
It would be easier to get through these people if they either got out of the way or at least stood still. You get off your bike as they dance around you and wheel it through. You don't blame them for dancing. The music, that must be coming from just behind that building, is fantastic. \n\nIt takes a lot of will power to get on your bike and ride off. A couple of turns and you come out on [[the eastern edge]] of the settlement.
The gondola arrives at your desintation, gliding gently up to the edge of the water. You pay the gondolier and he gives you his card as a reciept.\n'You're Gunter Armstrong?' you say. 'But you're a legend.'\n\nHe's such a legend you thought he didn't exist. When he was a young man, late teens maybe, the flood hit the city and he went out on a wooden pallett, armed only with a snooker cue and bottle of whiskey, and saved the lives of over five thousand men, women and children on his own. Days it took. Now, you're pretty sure that it wasn't that many, maybe every time the tale has been told a couple of people have been added, but it's how he lost his arm, his family and his dog. His name isn't even Armstrong. That name was bestwoed upon him by grateful, rescued people who would live to see the economic and environmental ruin first hand. Better that then a watery grave though, eh?\n\nGunter just grins and asks you what address you're delivering too. He points up the road and then pats you on the head. You may never wash you hair again.\n\nYou cycle off, not even getting your feet wet so skillful was Gunter's parking, to find your destination. You need number five. You can see number four, a large granite townhouse with columns on either side of the front door, and number six which is the mansion where the cardinal lived way back when most of the Cathedral Quarter wasn't elegant ruins. Up and down you ride, up and down until at last you spot a tiny archway hiding number five and [[knock on the door]].
Servants' Row is where the servants used to live when people could afford them. Now the people who had servants have slaves. Except they aren't called that and they do, technically, get paid. Just not in money. The Row itself looks quite affluent from the road, with tall red brick buildings with white sash windows and bright front doors. If you look closer you'll see that each door has so many doorbells to separate rooms they almost stretch the length of the door. There are so many 'servants' crammed into these quarters that if anyone gets a rash, everyone gets a rash.\n\nFrom here you can cycle past the main cause of this degredation, the [[Ministry of Work and Labour]] or brave the [[Ministry of Security]].
That looks too good to be true. You wave him on. The torrent of abuse that pours fomr his mouth suggests that you've made the right decision. \n\nIt is a good ten minutes before the next gondola arrives, you are just starting to feel a bit tense abou the time. This gondolier looks like your average gondolier. Grumpy, tired with one massively over-developed shoulder. She also has a passenger already. \n\nYou inquire as to their destination. It's a little out of the way and will double the time it will take to get to the Cathedral Quarter. There's no telling when the next gondola will be along though. Will you take [[this boat|second gondola]] or [[hang on for another one]]?
You sling your bicycle over your shoulder and haul yourself up the fire escape. It is not uncommon for couriers to take ununsual routes around the city but you've never been in the old underground tunnels or on the rooftops. You've heard that people live on the roofs, Sky People they're called. People who live nearer the sky than other people.\n\nAs you reach the top of the stairs you hope they are friendly. \n\nThere is a large gap in front of you with a plank of wood forming a very casual bridge across it. You can't help but notice that you are ten storeys up. The roof spreads out in the other direction and the threats are less obvious that way.\n\nSo, courier, take the shortcut [[across the walkway]] or head south [[over the rooftops]]?
You peer over the edge. There's only one way that plank leads and that's to certain death. You decide to take the longer route over the sloping rooftop. You ride up a roof and down another. It's quite good fun. You pull a couple of tricks at the top of the next ramp and then you run out of these short ups and downs and there is only flat in front of you. You're closer to the main settlement here and can see tents and stalls over another makeshift bridge, this one wider and more sturdy. \n\nYou can go [[across the bridge]] or ride [[around the chimney stack]] with a large tent backed up against it.
You don't fancy going into the cafe. It's likely to be one of those place where you go in and everyone stops talking and stares at you as you stand in the doorway. And it's likely to have contagious germs clinging to every surface. \n\nYou decide to wait outside. You lean your bike up against the shutter and sit down next to it. You must nod off for moment because when you open your eyes a woman is standing in front of you. She is only as tall as she is wide. She's wrapped in a very bright piece of fabric which has been elaborately folded, you hope so it doesn't come unravelled. She is wearing so many rings and bangles you're suprised she can lift her arms up high enough to punch you in the face. It's so unexpected that you can't do anything but stare at her. You feel certain that you will have [[a black eye]] in the morning.
You look ahead to lights and see that the drivers waiting at the junction are already starting to creep ahead in anticipation of the light going green. She's taking it easy for the conditions, not for you. Jump these lights and you'd end up smeared across the junction. You balance on your pedals next to Sorcha at the head of the queue, wobbling. She's not wobbling. Not even a little bit. You wonder if she is even a little bit normal. \nThe taxi behind you is revving his engine. You can hear the abuse he's shouting at you even though all the doors and windows are closed. He is, he says, going to kill you. When you look round his face is at the point of explosion, it's so red and sweaty. \n'Better get ready, take the best route' Sorcha says. 'He's taken out six messengers already this week. They're having some kind of competition.'\n'What about you?' you say.\n'I can outrun him,' she says. \nYou know she's right. The lights are still red. You can just see the lights for the junction to you right. They are still green. You wait. They turn amber. And you are off into the tail of the traffic crossing your path. \n\nDo you take the quickest route [[into a gap|pedal like a maniac]] or [[arc round]] behind the last cars?
'What are you grinning at?' Yum shouts from his booth. It's a miracle he can manage to squeeze his gargantuan form in there never mind his industrial-sized lunch box. He doesn't wait for a reply. You are new, you are not expect to speak. 'No jobs right now. Sit and wait with the others.' He returns to wheezing into his tiny despatcher's headset.\n\nThere are no others so you lean your bike up against the rough whitewashed breeze block walls and sit on a ricketty bench. \n\nTime passes. It's boring. \n\nYou fish around in your bag and find something to eat and a bottle of safe drinking water. Will you [[have a snack]] or sit coiled, [[ready to spring into action]]?
Prophet frowns so hard it seems like his face is trying to fold itself in half. You are not quite sure what happens, it happens so fast, next but the result is that you are standing on the other side of the boards outside the hotel next to your bike and Roach is standing next to you with his hands on his hips.\n'Thanks for coming,' he says. 'Bye-bye now.'\n\nOh dear. You could have been one of [[The Vanguard]] if only you'd been a more reliable friend.\n
There is a sacred courier code that says you must never open the package. Even if a rival courier or Enforce or an evil taxi driver on the make has your fingers in a meat slicer, you never, ever open it. Ever. It would be better to die.\n\nWhat would Sorcha think of you? And Casino? \n\nYou check to make sure that the package isn't lighter because something has fallen out. It's all intact so you return it to your bag and [[keep going]] to the gondola stop.
They look at you with great expectations. This is no time for the truth.\n'I'm with the McBrides,' you say, invoking the name of a notorius crime family working out of Stadium City who are not to be messed with. The mere mention of their name is enough to make the one-eyed man look nervous. 'You don't want to know what I'm doing.'\nThey give this some thought. \n'I reckon you're right about that,' the woman says. \nThere are various murmers of agreement and a vague air of disappointment.\n'We'll let you get on,' two eyes says. \n\nYou don't wait for a written invitation and nip off, [[stage left]].
There is so much in this shop that is fascinating. The comics and figures, the pricing, Haggia herself. You decide you would be a fool to say no. \nYou unlock your bike and Haggia waves you off, her jewellry jangling like Christmas. She is still chatting away.\nThe address is round the corner. It's an abandoned hotel, all boarded up. There's one board that looks more door-like than the other, less fixed and forbidding. You knock on it. It reverbarates and makes an impressive amount of noise.\n\nNothing happens. The hotel stands as before, silent and shut up.\n\nWill you [[knock again]] or [[forget about it]]?
You go for pure speed and put in a lung-blistering burst that takes you a few metres clear of him. He's done. You lengthen your lead as you head to the [[finish line]]
It is a while. Hours. You wait in the damp tunnel for hours. Then you wait in a hot Enforce station holding pen for hours. Then you wait in a cell for hours. \n\nA few weeks stay in the Detention Centre teaches you one important lesson. When Latch tells you to put your hands over your head you do it. \n\nAnd if you do it, next time you might find out about [[The Vanguard]]
You laugh long and loud. There's no way you're going to leave Packet. You're almost mates with Sorcha, their best rider. You're on a triple headed double rush job with security detail. You are living the high life. You're not about to screw that up. \n\nThis guy is an idiot and his shiny red bicycle is starting to irriate you. He can't even keep up. Will you offer to [[race him]] or just ride off and [[concentrate on making your delivery]]?
The room is dim, lit with a blueish light from a few flourescent tubes hanging from the ceiling. The air is alive with the hum of electronic equipment. Almost every flat surface is covered with a computer or a receiver of some sort, all whirring away. There is a large whiteboard on one wall covered with cryptic notes that you don't understand. \n'Goods incoming,' Minos says, he points to a list on the right hand side. 'And buyers.' \n'Enforce radio channels,' Roach says and he points to a table full of black boxes and wires.\n'I thought you were couriers,' you say to Sorcha and Casino. \nCasino laughs. 'Only for the citizen card.'\n'We've got quite a complex operation,' Sorcha says. 'There's no point telling you all about it now. It would take too long.'\n'Not before we ask you one more question,' Lola says.\n'OK,' you say.\n'We need another pair of hands,' Sorcha says. 'Someone clean who Enforce won't suspect, but someone who can handle themselves. Be relied on. Not take unecessary risks.'\n'You,' Casino says.\n'Me?' you say.\n'What do you think?' Sorcha says. 'Want to join the Vanguard.\n\nWhat do you think? Will you [[join up]] or [[give it a miss]]?
You sure did mess it up, kid. You turn up for work in the morning and Yum takes huge pleasure in gloating about your code violation. He gives you a second chance though, just to be cruel.\n\nCasino never speaks to you again, making a show of ignoring you. Roach glares at you whenever he sees you. But worse, far worse, Sorcha doesn't even notice you exist anymore. You may as well be invisible. \n\nNothing good happens to you from here on. And [[The Vanguard]] had such high hopes for you.
You are not sure what the bunting is celebrating. There hasn't been a holiday and there isn't one coming up. Events like street parties were all banned years ago. The only time people come out as a community is to protest or riot. Or to watch a protest or a riot. The flags are all bright and cheerful colours and strung out all down the street from tent to tent. The street winds along, there aren't many people about until you take a bend and see up ahead a large crown blocking the street. They don't seem to be rioting or protesting. They seem to be listening to some music you can just about make out. It's coming over the rooftops. \n\nYou wish you had time to stop and listen but bonuses and reputations will not allow. You can [[squeeze through the crowd]] or ride [[through the archway]] between a mechanic's workshop and a dentist.
You ride through a curtain made of strips of plastic sheeting almost strangling yourself with a thin red piece that seems to have taken a liking to you. A man is sitting on an upturned bucket, he has a radio pressed to his ear like a seashell. Given the amount of incomprehensible code names and numbers you suspect he is listening to an Enforce patrol channel. He writes something down on a dirty scrap of paper and swears. You ride through another improvised curtain and out onto a wide pathway with more tents and stalls onlong it's edges. \n\nA group of a dozen or so cats are fighting up ahead you can tell it's cats from the noise they are making, otherwise you would suspect it to be a grubby, ginger tumbleweed on speed. Will you [[pass by their rumble|pass by the cats]] or risk riding [[along the ledge]] to your left. \n\n
You take the card from Casino and he gives the other one to Sorcha. It has the Imagination Industries logo on it. They are one of the only corporations to survive the economic collapse that followed the flood. This has made them as paranoid as they are powerful. \n'Swap this for the package,' Casino says. He's a little taller than Sorcha, but not much. His clothes look cleaner though. And as you look closer you can see how stylish they are, how they fit him to perfection. You remember someone saying that he could be almost as good as Sorcha if he wasn't so worried about messing up his outfits.\n'Their office is in the old Sloane Theatre,' Sorcha says. 'You know where that is?'\n'Yes,' you says. Because you do. It's out on the Ancient King's Road. \n'Go up by the coach station,' Casino says. 'It'll be quicker. You can go through the park or round it.'\n'Not at this time,' Sorcha says. 'The Northern Point Sleeper leaves in ten minutes, it'll be chaos round there.'\n'No it won't,' Casino says.\n'Take the Ministries route,' Sorcha says to you. 'It's a little more scenic but you'll get there faster at this time of day.'\nCasino looks as though this is the most ridiculous thing he ever heard in his entire life. His expression is so exaggerated that an old lady asks him if he's all right. He clutches her in mock-desperation before pulling himself together with a range of theatrical flourishes. \nSorcha rolls her eyes. 'Honestly, take the Ministries.'\n\nDo you go [[Sorcha's way]] or [[Casino's way]]?
The abandoned station is cold and the air feels stale despite the stiff breeze coming up the stalled escalators. There is a huddle of men by the ticket booth. They don't acknowledge you and you ignore them. There is a clatter of boots as a man with a pickaxe over his shoulder comes up from the platforms below. He turns and shouts for someone to hurry up and a small boy scampers up behind him and then races ahead. \n\nCasino gets on his bike. He looks a little tense. 'We'll split up if it gets heavy.'\nSorcha spots your wide-eyed expression. 'Have you ever ridden down here?' \n'Sure,' you say. 'Once or twice.' You haven't. You haven't even stepped foot in the Riverside sector. This whole job in uncharted terrority. \n\nYou get on your bike and follow Sorcha down the escalator, just managing to stay upright. Casino is behind you. You cycle in single file onto the platform and into an old train that's been left to rust halfway into the tunnel. Sorcha seems very sure of the way so you concentrate on following her back wheel and not noticing too much of what's going on around you. There are people bundled under dirty blankets in the carriages along with the paraphernalia of substance abuse. The tunnels are less oppressive and you are surprised to see that some of the rails are still in place, most having been stolen years ago. \n\nYou almost ride straight into the back of Sorcha as she brakes, stopping in an abrupt shower of shale and gravel. There's a very, very large man standing in the tunnel up ahead [[blocking the way|Latch is blocking your exit]].