He grit his teeth and swallowed hard. He could feel the sweat on his brow collecting into little beads. The beads would continue to grow in size until they dripped down his face. He squeezed his eyes shut trying to fight off the slight burn the sweat made.
Opening his eyes, he once again had full view of the entrance to sector five before him. Already the lighting had faded to simulate night. Dingy yellow lights from the the bars and taverns mixed with neon reds and blues of the overhead archway sign. The steady flicker of a faulty bulb seemed to keep time with the patter of conversations and the movements of the people on the strip. Time had given this sector the peculiar aroma of spilled beer mixing with various spices wafting from taverns and kiosks. The smell was obvious even at the mouth into sector five and no matter how hard the air scrubbers were worked they never quite removed the smell.
Breathing in a deep breath, he felt his stomach lurch which was followed by deep hacking. Try as it might his stomach had nothing to give up. He didn’t want to eat on such a day. It was important to be pure, to let his motions carry him to that which needed to be done. A full belly would only calm him and whisper that this could wait. He trusted the bile in his belly. It sympathized. It understood. These shops made mock of his people. All he needed to do was travel deeper into the sector for more reassurance.
He passed the vendors and ignored the garishly caricatured images of his people being used to hock greasy food and cheap liquor. His eye couldn’t help but be drawn to the signs written in what he could only consider a mockery of his language. Words crudely joined together to form meaningless sentences seemed to be the marketing fad. It made his anger boil and his stomach churn. Still that was not even the worst of it. He would soon be at the girls.
One of the well known aspects of sector five was that many of it’s seedier activities were ignored by law enforcement as long as there was a veneer of excuse painted over what was really happening. This meant there were several “friendship clubs” scattered throughout. The purpose of these clubs were to give a man who spent much of his day working an opportunity to flirt and enjoy the undivided attention of someone beautiful, all for a nominal fee. If the friendship went further than conversation, that would be the affair of the two involved as far as the law was concerned. Many club owners viewed it as more their concern than the girl’s and they were willing to accommodate to any amount of friendship desired as long as the price was paid.
None of that concerned the man with the burning belly. He often felt he could use a more friendship in his life. What turned his smile into a snarl was the thought that the current trend was to dress the girls in the garb of his people. Or at least in revealing, overtly sexual versions of traditional wear. Outfits designed for modesty were being twisted into the signature outfit of whores. The whores had even started adorning their foreheads with their own versions of the m’har. Ornate designs used to depict family and station were being shamelessly depicted as simple stars, hearts, and kiss marks on the foreheads of these women for sale.
He could see them now. Milling about in front of one of their clubs, using their exposed flesh to entice men inside. Their touts and pimps in their sharp suits both kept an eye on things and tried to convince the passers-by to step inside.
He passed the first and second clubs. The third on the right seemed more lurid. Not only were their girls on display, but the glowing sign showed a cartoon girl of his people half disrobed and with a mixture of fear and lust in her eyes. He knew this is where he should make his statement and headed for the club.
One of the pimps barely looked his way. Another drunk lured to the smell of honey. The other and older of the two, saw something in the man’s face he didn’t like. An anger that didn’t fit. The clothes were the typical jumpsuit worn by any of the machine smiths, complete with oily bandana. Only the bandana had ridden up. Through the grime on the man’s forehead the pimp could make out blue ink.
“This club ain’t for you, man,” he growled, heading over to the man. His partner started to glance over. The three girls continued their cooing at no one in particular. One of the girls looked over at her employer in time to see the stranger reach into his jumpsuit and pull out a large knife. The blade looks curved she thought just before the explosion of red came from the pimps neck.
There was no sound. Or at least the noise of the street cancelled out the sounds of the attack. The partner stared not knowing what to do. Only when the man started coming towards him the the younger tout realize he should be doing something besides simply standing there. Understanding came to late.
When the knife entered the tout’s eye the girl finally began to comprehend what has happening. She didn’t know what to do. She heard a high pitched wail of a scream. Only when the two other girls next to her began to scream did she realize the first voice belonged to her. As if attracted to the sound, the man turned towards them. His blue jumpsuit almost looked purple, now splashed with highlights of red. Her legs wouldn’t move. He kept coming forward. He rasped something she didn’t understand. Her voice gave out. The other girls kept screaming.
His arm lashed out and one of the voices stopped. She felt wet on her left side. Out of the corner of her eyes she could see one of her friends running away into the crowd, all of whom seemed to be running. Why was no one running this way? Why wasn’t anyone coming to help? Her legs went numb and she gracelessly sank to the walkway. Her eyes found the man again as he loomed over her. All she could see was the blood stains on his smock and face. He took off the bandana. Most of his forehead art was still clean. She’d never really seen one up close before. It was beautiful.
He pointed at his art with his knife and barked something she couldn’t understand. He pointed at her head with the knife. She noticed it wasn’t curved after all. She felt herself start to cry. She looked down. Strong hands gripped her head and forced her to look up. The knife was ready. She closed her eyes. Nothing. Opening her eyes she say the man staring at his left hand. His fingertips were blue. He had smudged the blue lipstick used to draw the heart on her forehead. He used a clean part of his left sleeve to wipe away the rest of the lipstick. She was surprised that he was gentle.
Again he said something she didn’t understand. Her face must have shown her lack of comprehension. Finally he said in English “No m’har,” and walked away into the panicked crowd. It wasn’t until much later when she was talking with a police detective that she learned what a m’har was.
(This is a story that I thought was lost after a hard drive crash. I finally remembered that I had emailed a copy to a friend who I was trying to convince to work on a comic book with me. That project fell through due to a natural disaster that convinced the friend to leave the country. Anyway, this short story was supposed to link up with the two detectives in Partners who were to be called in to investigate this killing. The basic story was to be one of how the mixture of culture and prejudice can lead to violence through the filter of science fiction. Not exactly original, but it was fun to write.)