An essay by Rhiann, as provided by M A Smith
Art by Luke Spooner
Life as a pick-pocket is much easier when you are in possession of six arms.
I followed in the family business, so to speak, and relocated to the Second City as soon as my spines had parted. Plenty of humans there, you see. Or, as Mother calls them: marks. It’s a long journey via cross country train, swamp ferry, and, finally, fusion-chopper to the heights of the Second. I’m not the best traveler; I haven’t got the stomachs for it.
Two of my cousins were already out there, and one of them, Kez, met me at the pad.
“Rhiann!” he yelled, his voice a high-pitched buzz amidst the humanoid bass rumble.
“Here,” I called, nudging my way through the throng, keeping all my arms tucked respectfully tightly against my upper body. Even so, I was on the receiving end of some “accidental” shoves; the Second City is not known for its tolerance, whatever the local rags would have you believe. Someone hissed, “Go home, goddamn termite,” in my aural cavity–annoying to be lumped in (erroneously) with those uncivilized folks, worse still to feel the thin spatter of someone else’s saliva on my skin. We have particularly sensitive skins. Again, pretty handy in my line of work.
Kez wanted to hit a bar as soon as I’d dumped my stuff in his nest, but I wanted to hit the ground running and get out on the streets, plying my trade, as it were.
“Are you sure?” he said. “There’s this place in the Colonies that you’re not going to believe.”
“Next time,” I said.
“Your call,” my cousin shrugged. He tossed me a set of keys.
I had done a couple of practice runs in some of the smaller townships and waterholes, but I’d be lying if I said that my abdomens didn’t feel as if they were being pulled into two tight knots when I merged into the crowds that were gathered at the Tube. Above, a small violet moon had risen, twin to the more distant satellite that glowed off-white in the dusking sky. Coming from where I did, all that open atmosphere never ceased to amaze me.
But I wasn’t in town to gape at gorgeous celestial gyrations. I had a dance of my own to perform.
I insinuated myself into the throbbing mass of sentient life and wormed into the middle of the crowd. Timetable peripherals, flashing destination information, would have been a distraction to an amateur, but I had no trouble blocking out all but the most necessary incoming data: average exposed skin temperature of those around me; dust concentration in the air that would provide minimal, but vital, visual disturbance; presence of ethanol on the breath of potential marks.
I selected my target with care. A middle-aged human in dinner jacket and tails, flipping a theatre pamphlet under the nose of his pink-nosed female companion. Two glasses of red wine and a couple of brandies in him, I calculated; maybe half a bottle of champagne inside her. Perfect.
As I approached the pair, I kept my head lowered and made a discreet little show of checking my coat pockets, allowing a frown of concern to mar my lower brow. The marks were directly in front of me now, the gent still flapping animatedly, the woman looking weary. I mocked up a stumble so that I collided gently with the human male. He looked away from his mate in alarm, his centre of gravity shifting with the knock, and I caught his arm–on the verge of a flail–with a steadying hand … while four of my other limbs mined the pockets and crevices of his jacket and trousers. Oldest trick in the grifter book.
The gentleman, firm on his feet again, recoiled instinctively from the touch of my helping hand, his lips curling downwards before he could stop them. He seemed on the verge of saying something ugly, but his wife put a restraining hand on his other arm, and he swallowed it down. I gave a little nod, muttered an apology, and stepped back a pace or two, allowing the throng to swallow me. And then, I ran.
Pushing though people and foreign travelers, ignoring the odd recoil, the odd noise of disgust, I barged onto the first inter-city train I saw that was set to depart, heedless of destination. Sometimes it’s best not to know where you’re going. The doors sealed shut, narrowly missing my tail, and I moved down the carriage to tuck myself tight into a corner at the back of the compartment.
As the train sped past the spires and cesspits of the city, I thought over my evening’s work. The mark, he would already be changing. There would be a tingling in his sides that he would put down to the wine, a buzzing at the base of his spine that he would blame on the brandy. But they would be neither of these things. His essential internal components would, at this moment, be shifting: the complex spiral of his deepest anatomy broken open like a money box and reformed, melded and re-set like forged gold. A most beautiful transformation.
Because, you must understand: I do not merely take from the pockets of those that are marked. I put something back too. In place of the loose change and Solar Bonded Cards and scraps of identification, I leave something. The thing I leave needs only the small heat of a human hand to activate.
I smiled into the eyes of my own reflection, as I leant my head against the grime-streaked window of the carriage. Outside, like a swamp cat, a purple night had dropped over the face of the city. I continued to think of the man I’d picked. I wondered what he’d do for work when his four new arms sprouted. Maybe become a pick-pocket, like me. After all, life as a pick-pocket is much easier when you’re in possession of six arms.
Rhiann has six arms and some very sticky fingers. Born and raised somewhere in the marshes that lick the borders of the civilized world, she is believed to have operated in the Second City before using a Solar Bonded Card to move off planet. Legislative Officials seeking her whereabouts have cautioned System Citizens: be wary of unknown Hexapods…and keep your hands out of your pockets.
M A Smith writes from Gloucestershire, UK, where she lives with her family.
Her fiction has appeared (or is due to appear) in publications including Mythic, Gathering Storm Magazine, Outposts of Beyond, and Dark Moon Digest. Her flash fiction tale, “Plain Sight” was selected as a finalist for Havok Magazine‘s Monsters v Robots contest issue, and featured in the July edition.
Smith’s novella Severance (published by Fantasia Divinity) is available now on Amazon or via the publisher’s online store.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“Marked” is © 2019 M A Smith
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Luke Spooner