Tuesday, September 18, 2012


“Good, you showed up. Let’s go.” She said as she walked into the hallway. Garrett shook his head in confusion.
            “Where are we going?” He inquired
            “Tattoo parlor.” She stated
            “Uh, ok…”
            Nara headed into the more obscure region of the Old District. Most of the buildings here made the rest of the Undercity look pristine, but once in a while a mostly intact building could be found, habited by shop fronts.  They stopped at a cozy, almost inviting looking structure, the outside painted a soft blue tone and the lot in front was clutter free, as if someone actually took the time to remove the garbage that floated by.  But the windowless front still cast an ominous impression.
            “You know,” Garrett perked up. “It’s a wonder how people can find anything down here. Buildings never seem to have any signs displaying their business.”
            “Perhaps they don’t like too many people knowing where they are.” Nara commented as she walked inside.
            The room was lit in a purple glow, tapestries of various exotic patterns adorned the walls, and shelves were filled with figurines of what presumably were gods from a distant pantheon. A sweet smelling haze filled the room, and the place was furnished with several black organically shaped chairs. At the far corner of the room sat a rather out of place modern looking desk, where a large otherworldly proprietor sat, reading an old fashioned paper book.
            His skin was a sky blue, at least as far as Garrett could tell from the lighting. He wore a casual expression in his face, and dressed in a similar manner: a short sleeved black button down shirt which revealed heavily inked arms up to his wrists. His face was a round shape and he sported a well-trimmed goatee. He read his book through thick black framed glasses, most likely cosmetic rather than functional. The most distinguishing feature, however, was the pair of white ram’s horns coiled at the sides of his head. Garrett tried to refrain from staring, but he couldn’t help but wonder if the being was from another planet, or if this was just a human with expensive genetic makeup. At the approach of his visitors he looked up from his book, a frown of disappointment suddenly scrawled across his face.
            “Oh no, not again. Nara, you should really be more careful.” He said
            “And hello to you too. You always assume I’m here for work to be done.” She retorted.
            “You never visit me for any other reason.” The man retorted.
            “Oh, come now, you know I ruin them on purpose just to have an excuse to see you.” She smiled wryly.
            “Sit down.” He rolled his eyes at her. “And who’s your friend?”
            “This is Garrett, a shadow I can’t seem to shake off.” She took off her coat and hung it on a rack before settling down in one of the cushy black chairs. Garrett noticed a thick gold chain glittering around her neck, a medallion shape obscured by her shirt. He held his tongue and decided to ask about it another time. Nara motioned towards the blue man. “This is Matteus, the repairman.”
            “Welcome to my abode,” Matteus said as he walked into the back room. He returned rolling out a cart with several intricate metal tools. He picked up a small black box and opened it up, offering it to Nara.
            “Ah, thank you, my friend.” She said as she selected one of the black cigarillos lying neatly inside the box.  Matteus flicked on a lighter as she leaned forward to ignite it from her mouth. “Sit down, you are making the room feel stuffy,” She ordered Garrett as she exhaled a long casual puff of smoke.
            “I didn’t know you smoked cigars,” Garret said as he scooted a chair nearby and sat down.
            “You want one?” She offered.
            “No thanks, tobacco doesn’t agree with me.” Garrett sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. Matteus snickered at him as he was screwing on a tip to one of the needles.
            “Heh, right, tobacco. No, kid, you would be safe with these. They aren’t tobacco.” Nara smiled through another puff of smoke. "And before you give me that look, it's legit."
            “Oh, right. Well, thanks all the same.” Garrett declined.
            “Alright, let me see the damage,” Matteus ordered with a wave of his hand. She raised her arm and let him examine it, tracing his fingers over the empty space breaking the serpent pattern. “Your herbalism never ceases to amaze me, Nara. Every time you come here, there is never a scar in sight. Just an empty canvas.” He  traced over the image again to get a feel for the details.
            “Eh, you do it right, or you get fucked over in the long run.” She commented.
            “Hardly needs any ink at all, but unfortunately most of the work will be in the etching.” He put on a pair of gloves and turned on the needle, which hummed to his commands. He delicately laid out her arm on a cushion on his cart and started work redrawing the scales of the serpent.
            Garrett was mesmerized by the artist’s work, though that might have had something to do with the fumes in the room. The atmosphere was relaxing, homely even. And the man’s demeanor was gentle, even as he concentrated on the intricate work in front of him. He watched the man’s movements intently as the ink formed a raised surface with each stroke on the flesh.
            “That is some amazing work, is it your design?” Garrett asked.
            “No, he didn’t do them. I had them done ages ago. He is the only one here knowledgeable enough to fix them,” Nara explained. “Or the only one I trust.”
            “You flatter me, my dear.” Matteus responded as he shut off the needle. The artist picked up a tiny drill and screwed on a bit. “You always make me drag out the diamond bits, Nara, you know I hate doing that.” He frowned.
            “I’m sorry. But I always make it up to you. I trust your supplies are still full.” She remarked.
            The man sighed and turned the drill on, filling the room with a high-pitched whirr. He set to work drilling out the crevasses of the snake on her natural armor plating.  Nara settled further in her seat, taking in the smoke of her cigar, and letting the artist do his work. It was a different side that she showed, opposite the hardened defensive spirit Garrett was familiar with. He guessed she wasn't permitted to loosen up due to her job.
Sparks flew as the drill bit ground up organic matter, carving out the snake.
            “Doesn’t that hurt?” Garret chirped.
            “Nope.” Nara said through another exhale.
            “It’s like nails. Only tougher. A whole hell of a lot tougher.” Matteus continued, not looking up from his work.
            Garrett was beginning to think the fumes were having some effect on him, as he was struggling to keep focused on the man’s work. The screeching of the drill eventually ceased to bother him. As a matter of fact, he really wanted to go take a nap, but he wanted to see what the man would do to finish the repairs.
            Matteus shut off the drill, leaving a dull ringing in Garrett’s ears. The artist produced an instrument that resembled a tjianting, similar to the tool used for batik fabric dying, and stirred it around in a pot of what appeared to be liquid metal. He then grabbed a ball of black clay from the desk and molded it in his hands until it was supple. He tore chunks off of the ball and rolled them into thin snakes, pressing them into the edges of Nara’s plating to act as a barrier. He took the tool out of the pot and began to pour the liquid into the newly formed etchings.
            “What is that,” Garrett distractedly asked.
            “22k rose gold. A thin layer will fuse into the plating when it cools. It adds a wonderful contrast to the artwork.” Matteus said. Garrett shook his head in an attempt to grasp the notion.
            “Wait a minute. That is molten gold on a little kettle. And you are pouring it over her flesh? Isn’t the melting point of gold over a thousand degrees?”
            “1,063 degrees Celsius to be precise. Unless you prefer some other method of measurement. There are binders mixed in the metal that will evaporate as it cools, but it reduces the temperature to a steamy five hundred.” Matteus said.
            “And you are pouring it. In her flesh. Which can be scratched by a metal dagger with enough force. But not melted by extreme heat.” He blubbered.
            “You can shoot a bullet through a sheet of gold, and it will make a hole. But you have to burn it at 1,063 degrees to melt it.” Nara said with annoyance.
            “But….melting flesh…” Garrett’s voice trailed off, he though he saw something move in the corner of his eye, then immediately forgot what he was talking about.
            “Impressive isn’t it?” Matteus smirked. He finished pouring the liquid into her arm and drained the remainder into the pot. He stood and rolled the cart away. “There all finished. Now all we do is wait.” He wiped his hands off on a cloth hanging from the cart. “So what have you been up to lately, my dear?”
            “Oh, nothing much really. Still wandering the streets getting into trouble.” She snuffed out her cigar in an ashtray next to her.
            “I see. Is You-know-who still putting pressure on you?” Matteus asked as he prepared a kettle of tea for brewing.
            “Yes, and it’s getting annoying. But he hasn’t done anything stupid yet.” Nara said.
            “What’s a Who-You-Know?” Garrett slurred, waving the haze away from his face.
            “I didn’t agree to discuss politics with you, human.” Nara said, looking down at the new handiwork on her arm.
By this time, Garret was having a rough time keeping awake. He lowered his head an relaxed, letting the air fill his lungs. He suddenly snapped back up when Matteus dropped a couple of ceramic cups onto the tray with a startling clink.
            “You know,” Garret began as he shook his head in realization. “I feel really fucking weird.” His face turned into a bemused expression when he saw Nara looking at him with a raised eyebrow. “Did I really just say that?”
            “Hah. You’re alright, Garrett.” Matteus said as he placed the beverage tray down on a table and offered a cup to Nara. He handed Garrett a second cup, but he waved off the man's offering as he tried to clear his head.
            “Have you heard anything more about the galactic tariffs they’re trying to enforce?” Nara asked Matteus as she sipped her tea.
            “Not a whole lot. Uppercity is still trying to push for it, as if they need more money up there. It would mean bad things for business down here though. More fakes, hard to find clean sources of herbs and inks, and worst of all, more Enforcer raids. They love the smell of black market activity.” Matteus explained.
            “Great, that’s all we need. May have to start sending a runner to go to Upper and get what I need.” She said disdainfully.
            “Indeed. Or somehow get off of this rock and get it yourself.” Matteus offered.
            “That requires a new place to go. And space exploration isn’t exactly on my list of lifetime goals.” She sipped her tea bitterly.
“Eh, to each his own,” Matteus raised his cup.
They sat together in silence, relaxing in the dimmed light. As time passed, Garrett finally succumbed to sleep’s calling, snoring profusely in the quiet atmosphere. Nara smirked and pushed him to one side, and he absentmindedly caught himself on the floor. Matteus laughed and walked over to Nara.
“What? I...How much longer?” Garrett picked himself up from the ground.
“You should be about ready to go,” Matteus said as he started peeling off the clay barrier from her arm. He took a small pick out from his pocket and began to smooth out the rough flash that formed where the gold collected at the edge of her plating. “There, that should do it. Now be careful with this one.” He pointed a finger of warning at Nara.
“You always say that,” She taunted as she walked over to pick up her coat. “Pay the man, Garrett.”
“Huh? Oh.” He said in mild annoyance. He was beginning to expect this type of treatment from her. “How much do I owe you?”
“Three thousand,” Matteus grinned as he casually leaned on his reception desk.
“Ouch,” Garrett muttered.
“Don’t forget the tip.” Nara said as she shrugged on her coat. Garrett mumbled something incoherent he begrudgingly handed the man a slice.
“Thank you, kind sir. Do come back again, and make sure she takes care of that work.”
“I can only try, but I didn’t do such a good job, as you can see.” He blushed. Matteus raised an eyebrow at him.
“Goodbye, Matteus,” She waved and walked out of the building. Garrett chased after her. The rain had started again, and Nara stood motionless, staring at the sky. She inhaled deeply and let out a loud sigh.
“Well, then. Now that I have a burst of mental clarity, let’s go get shitfaced,” Nara said and started walking again.
“Wait, what? You serious?” He felt slightly ill at the notion. The air inside the parlor wasn't very kind to him.
“Yep. Drinks are on me.”
“Oh that’s very kind of you. Considering…” He trailed off. She ignored his attack.

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