I tried to point out the euthanasia shop to Travis, but he missed it.
“Super senses?” I asked, speaking softly and, turning away from the window to look at him.
Travis frowned for a moment. “Night vision,” he muttered. “Not this. Besides you’ve got the window seat.”
I smiled at him. “You were polite.”
He had been. He let me on the bus first.
“See if I do that again,” and he grinned at me.
We both laughed a little.
It felt good, reminding me of what it’d been like when we’d dated. It had been easy most of the time. Not that I was angling to start it up again. With my younger brother dating his sister, that would get a little strange.
Plus, there were other reasons. I remembered them too well.
I leaned back in the seat. The bus company hadn’t paid extra for comfort. These seats were hard plastic.
Travis seemed to notice my change in mood, and he didn’t say anything.
We rode the bus, watching the neighborhoods change-Chinatown disappearing, replaced by brown brick row houses. After a while, the stores near the row houses began to include words like “supermercado” and “taqueria.”
The skyscrapers grew nearer, but they still weren’t close.
As we passed through another neighborhood, one where the Greek alphabet became more common, and the restaurants advertised gyros, Travis said, “There’s another one.”
I followed his hand. Between “Kronos Cafe” and “Palamara’s Pawn Shop” stood a small shop called “Ed’s Euthanasia Emporium.”
A “Sorry, we’re closed” sign hung in the dusty window.
Well, at least it didn’t seem popular.
On the next block over, children played baseball in the street. I’d never thought there would be children here.
In another few minutes we reached downtown. The skyscrapers still weren’t very close, but they were closer—a little closer anyway.
Tara turned around, and said, “We’ll start here.” She pulled the line that ran next to the windows, and a recorded voice said, “Stop requested.”
We got off the bus next to a series of shops that had been designed in the Art Nouveau style. They were brown brick buildings like many others I’d seen so far, but here the brick and concrete around doors and windows had been shaped into branches and leaves.
Park benches and actual trees stood near the curb.
The people walking the sidewalk, and sitting on the benches could have been in any city in the US. Here though, they got one step weirder.
People in business suits were everywhere, but as I looked closely at one of the men, I realized he had pointed ears. He smiled at me as I noticed. All of his teeth had pointed tips.
As the man passed, Travis asked, “What happened?”
“Nothing.” I might have explained, but in all the stories I’d ever read, elves had remarkable hearing—if that’s what he was.
The five of us stood together on the sidewalk. Tara’s voice broke in, “We’re here in the core city, the part that’s almost entirely in our universe, and stable. I’m going to show you around the core, and then I’ll take you to each quarter, and show you the landmarks. For now, follow me.”
We listened to her, and she showed us around. I’d pegged her as an empty-headed pretty face with far too much respect for authority, but she knew the city.
As we passed another empty euthanasia parlor, I asked her, “What’s going on with the euthanasia shops? They’re all closed, but they’re everywhere.”
Tara nodded. “Isn’t it strange? I don’t know the answer, but sometimes different governments have blockaded the city, and there’s been no food. To some people, the euthanasia parlors looked better than starving, and to others it looked like a business opportunity.”
She stopped, and then she said, “Except sometimes things just happen. They could have all appeared one morning. I don’t think they did, but they could have.”
Samita leaned in a little, and said, “I thought you said the core was stable.”
Tara said, “It is, but it still happens.”
We’d changed places since she’d started our tour. We stood on the edge of a park by a river. A Chinese restaurant, complete with pagoda facade stood only fifty feet away.
People sat on benches and at picnic tables eating food out of take-out containers.
I thought about following up with Tara, but recognized one of the people. It was Julie. She wore a jogging suit, and had her blond hair tied in a ponytail. She’d gone to the same high school as Nick and I, and had a thing for Travis that was so obvious it had been part of the reason Travis and I broke up.
She was in the Stapledon program with us, but she was a freshman in college, so she wasn’t supposed to be on this trip.
She could control people with her voice.