Orion lay sleeplessly in bed, listening to the plumbing churn away in the walls. Sickly green light from the city aquarium sign seeped in through the standard-billet-issue blinds, scrawling “Come And See The Dugongs!” in distorted letters across the ceiling.
He’d performed at the opening of the dugong exhibit. They’d even named one of the creatures after him. Well, after Elvis actually, but the thought was there. He’d been popular back then, almost as popular as the dugongs themselves which were generally regarded as wildly charismatic. Orion could never figure out why. They were rather ugly really, and all they wanted to talk about was kelp.
His head still ached, and he couldn’t stop thinking about tea.
Shouts, laughter and cries of “Tally-Ho!” from the street below as the nightly Happy-Joy paraded past. So different to that dreadful year when no one dared be out after dark for fear of the T-Gangs. Ah yes, the T-Gangers with their pinstripe suits, bowler hats and barely contained expressions of savage joy. Gathering in the empty warehouses down on the waterfront to sup from fine china and compare the financial papers, then – suitably refreshed – heading out into the streets in search of anyone foolish enough to be abroad after curfew. The chilling cries of “More tea Vicar?!” and “Freshen your cup?!” would ring out, followed by running feet, terrified screams and the dull, damp thud of umbrellas on flesh.
Dark days indeed.
No one was sure how it started. Megaglobex Corporation News issued hourly statements – many delivered by the very popular Newsreader Number Five – categorically denying NID involvement. The NBBC blamed alien influence, although with the world tea monopoly held firmly in the NUK’s grip they could hardly be trusted. Word on the street spoke of a Tok’ra plot, or the disciples of Steen, or any number of other fringe groups and splinter factions. But when night fell all speculation stopped and anyone with sense cowered in their beds, dreading a knock on the door and plaintive call of “One lump or two Ma’am?”.
The local Runners proving ineffective at containing the menace, the decision was finally made (at – it was rumoured – the highest levels) to send in the SG-Teams. Not even the notorious Threadneedle Boys could stand up to veterans of a hundred offworld conflicts, and the warehouse district went up in a maelstrom of flame. The city reeked of smoke, fish and Lady Grey for days, and years later the docks still hadn’t been rebuilt – a matter most vexing to the Merchant Combos.
Orion sighed. So much death, so much violence, and so little tea.
The Happy-Joy went by again, blowing whistles.
The plumbing finished its growth cycle around 3:00am, and Orion finally drifted off to sleep. Dreaming of dugongs, flames and a howling wolf silhouetted again the full moon.