Someone’s hand shook me awake.
“This your stop?”
Instinctively, I slapped the arm and tried to grab the sleeve,
forgetting I didn’t have a hand to grab with, just a growing bulge,
like a plant illusively unfolding. The woman looked sorry she’d
disturbed me. Her smooth skin and soft features said early to mid-
twenties in Earth cycles, but her eyes held the wisdom of age.
“My lapse, miss,” I said. “Bad dream.”
“No worries.” She seemed relieved. “You should have that worked
on.” She nodded at the missing hand. “I know an amazing
“This?” I said. “Don’t worry. I’ll get along.” The woman
“Still.” She handed me a clear, flimsy card. Images appeared at my
fingertips – an alluring virtual woman posed with bared breasts. A
naked man posed beside her, his muscles shapely, as if carved from
bronze. Shiny letters above them said “Neuron Prosthetics.”
“A fairly simple procedure, to get a hand made,” she said. “Dr.
Merlo’s the name.”
“Thanks.” I slid the card into my wallet, hoping it would please her
enough, and stepped off.
The Auto left me at the curb of an empty street. There was no transit
interval there. I hadn’t known the wall district could only be reached
via SkyTram. Someone could fly an air cart up there, I supposed, but
only famous faces owned them, and no famous face would be caught dead in
the wall district.
Most residents on the wall were alleged criminals who’d survived
citizen justice, or people like Lead Eye, mechanically altered with too
many parts that weren’t human. Only wall residents who weren’t
“diseased” or “accidentally mutated” had clearance to even ride
the trams. Hodge said some mutations were from being too close to the
Ether Shield that wraps Starlight City in a sterilized bubble.
The rain had stopped. To my right, cloudscrapers lined the city limits.
Clean white pavement extended on my left and stretched to steel beams of
the Diamond, a steel wall that encircled Starlight City. It was a fourth
the height of the cloudscrapers near it. About half a mile down where
the wall vanished behind other tall buildings was a big "419" painted in
Beads of water trickled down the gray steel beams, reflecting LED
screens on buildings behind me. I slid my hands across the wet surface,
looking up. A silver SkyTram coasted along a track above me.
It was quite a climb.
I was out of breath as I reached the top, the microfibers in my palms
and fingertips loosing clinginess. Grabbing the high fence along the
edge, I felt a surge of strength, wedged my shoe through a gap and
climbed over. A dark-skinned, skinny little girl in purple leggings
stood beside a mammoth canine to my right. Each stared toward the
cloudscrapers, watching ads flash on the screens. The girl’s pink hat
had a fluffy ball on the end; her rainbow-colored hair was spread across
her coat collar. A C-shaped ‘Link device with blue lights was clipped
to her ear.
The wolf’s furry ear flipped toward me as I leaned on the fence to
catch my breath.
“You climbed way up here?” the girl asked. The wolf looked curious
too, cocking its head.
“Sure,” I breathed, finding a cigar in my pocket.
“Can you teach Augie to do that? He don’t listen to me. I tried
teaching him to fly like Zero from the holo show, but alls he did was
lick stuff.” Augie approached as she said this, sniffed my shoe and
“Sorry,” I said with the cigar in my teeth. I took off my shades to
wipe them with my sleeve. The girl wasn’t shocked at my yellow eyes,
clearly visible in the flashing lights. I was surprised when the lights
hit hers. The irises were multicolored prisms.
“I’m looking for a friend,” I said.
“The wizard?” she asked. Augie thumped his thick tail against the
“Huh? No, just a woman.” I walked along the fence, noting a sign
that read “high voltage.” They walked alongside me. Augie was nearly
my height on all fours.
“What kind of woman is she?” asked the girl. “A tin woman?” I
shook my head. “A brown woman?”
“She is a brown woman, actually.”
“What’s she look like?”
I paused. How to describe her? “Blue-streaked hair, usually wears a
ThinkCap.” Not much for the kid to go on. City walkers wore their hair
in lots of colors, and wore all sorts of StarMack accessories and
‘Link attachments. “Never mind. I think she’s hiding.”
“Bet she’s in the secret club.”
I asked what she meant.
“My pop goes to this secret club every night,” she said. “Augie
and me are gonna find it. We’re on a mission.”
“Really?” I looked at her. “Is he there tonight?” She nodded.
“Maybe my friend’s there,” I said. “But you don’t know where
this club meets.”
“It’s a secret,” she grinned with tiny, perfect teeth.
“Of course.” I walked on, moving toward a “West 419” signboard
near the SkyTram platform. They followed.
“I think Augie knows,” she said.
“Yeah?” I stopped again.
“Show him, Augie.” She stood in front of Augie, ruffling his huge
ears and touching her nose to his. “Can you find Pop? Come on, let’s
find Pop, Augie.” The wolf barked, sniffed the ground and scampered
off with the girl skipping behind him. Reluctantly, I trailed them.
The SkyTram platform was usually deserted, except twice a day when the
West-17 made routine stops. Other trams had to be programmed manually to
stop here. I did spot a drunk in a windbreaker jacket staggering near
the platform, gritting his teeth each time he took a sip from his flask.
He stopped to squint at a paper comic the wind had blown against the
The prism-eyed girl trailed Augie between vendors’ crates containing
packaged foo, thrift clothing, discarded talismans or other random
trinkets. Two older men with red faces casually browsed through clothes
piled in a crate under a plastic awning.
Not wanting to lose my lead, I sped up the pace.
Brick housing units sat along the inner and outer walls of the Diamond
surface. Space heaters rested between every few units; their fans blew
heat into the damp night. Aluminum pipes branched from each furnace,
poking through unit walls so families could get heat. Some units were
big enough for several families. Iron chimneys emitted smoke from
rooftops. A savory smell hung on the air, salt and lemon – fish singed
in a kettle maybe.
Augie stopped near a weathered unit with boarded windows, sniffing
patches of grass growing through cracks in the cement. Along the outer
wall at a gap between units, the surface was cracked and shattered. The
top of the steel beam was warped in one small section.
“What happened to the wall here?” I wondered.
“Pop says a missile smashed it.”
“A missile from where?” I asked.
“Hey, he found something. What is it, Augie?” Augie circled
restlessly near the warped edge.
“Down there?” She pointed. The rain began pouring once more. She
looked beyond the city toward a black horizon as lightning streaked
above endless Forests far off.
“Whoa boy. Pop said not to get my shoes soaked, Augie. Let’s get
back.” She promptly turned and ran, skipping around puddles; Augie
barreled ahead of her.
They faded in the downpour.
Excerpted from "Starlight City" by Radford Lee. Copyright © 2012 by Radford Lee. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.