Holleran Meris moved slowly through the main pedestrian thoroughfare of Aecer, relaxing as the warm rays licked his aged and crinkling skin. He wanted a cup of coffee and quiet, without solitude, and trode toward his favorite automat to sate the fickle desire. The street was filled with musicians and migrants, service drones and spruce businessmen, above whom the vast, albescent spires of Central Sector cut up the sky like incandescent brands, girded by the argent lifting envelopes of affinity dispatch dirigibles, whose prodigious shades variegated the bases of the high, glistening towers, and lent, to those magisterial constructs, an appearance of orphic flotation, as if the city’s lofty edifice rose not from the ground, but levitated inertly across the roiling, red horizon.
Meris paused and absorbed the palatial scenery as two children romped by, riant and nescient of the erstwhile striving that had brought forth the vertiginous bailiwick on which they twirled. He watched his people’s apogee turn, rosy cheeked and waving, and raised a hand in avuncular greeting, whereafter they waved back and passed west over the road and melded with the cosmopolitan itinerants, who scurried thickly along the bustling sprawl. Meris turned, left off to the north, and primed the credits in his wrist-borne affin module for the delights of the Wyntwurth automat. As he wound about the corner of the avenue which led up to the restaurant, he froze, perplexed and shocked.
The automat was awash in violence, visible through its diaphanous, polymeric exterior. Everywhere within the building, men collided, one lay upon the floor, bleeding from a deep gash upon his head. The server drones lay overturned, food spilling from their dispensers. A crowd began to form outside the restaurant, some recording the conflagration with their affin modules, others simply observing the row. None possessed of the courage or interest to intervene in the broil. Meris scanned the street; no Consortium security officers were in sight.
As Meris returned his attention to the motorized cafeteria he noticed, amidst the noisy crowd, a vivacious blonde, habilimented in sleek running shoes, skin-tight shorts and a crop-top, and a merry, lissom man, clad in a pale green coat and off-white sweater with pale blond hair parted to the right that fell down just below the eye. The pair conversed with adjacent observers, the man gesturing animatedly with a left bandaged hand. Meris approached the couple and raised his voice above the din.
The man with the green coat paused and gazed over his shoulder at the old man with a sorrowful expression.
Meris’ brows knit in confusion as he watched the pair depart, then in concern as several members of the crowd dashed into the restaurant to restrain the combatants.