This chapter is a little dated! I started writing it a couple of years back, when Notes from Home was still told from a first-person perspective. It definitely needs a lot of work (why would there be such a concentration of architectural colleges in this very run-down area, for example?) but that can come later.
You can probably guess which part of the world Tyrväl is based off, especially if you’re from West Yorkshire.
Enjoy this first draft!
I wandered along the bridge as a particularly weathered maglev swept into the platform beneath me. Already I could tell that I wasn’t in the most luxuriant part of the system; while the bridge was tastefully constructed from hardened glass and a smart dark-coloured metal, the railings were coated with dirt and other substances, and the whole bridge seemed to creak with every step.
Beneath me, the once clean and undisturbed floor now carried with it the prints of a thousand feet. The gripped surface that had adorned the floor years ago had worn away into a surface that was on the border between ‘safe’ and ‘hazardous’. Even the ceiling, normally a haven for the wear-and-tear of a life serving commuters and travellers, had succumb to an unpleasant, blotchy yellowish stain, the origins of which would need a forensics team to be determined.
One wrong move, and this whole thing could collapse.
In its defence, Tyrväl was something of a go-between; despite its grungy and disused appearance, the station was frequented by all manner of commuters and holidaymakers, due to its location and, by extension, its vast connections to other planets. The city was also home to a number of architectural colleges, bringing in more visitors – which, of course, meant they had to have an opulent, yet overdesigned, station. Unfortunately for the community based here, travellers’ money didn’t generally go to the city. Instead, part of it was siphoned off to the nodeway companies, and the rest ended up in Old World coffers. So, what had started out as a well-meaning hub for travel in this sector had turned into an unmanageable dump.
Stepping down to the ground floor, I looked around at the various shopfronts and traders’ posts situated in the main foyer. Two or three rickety-looking cleaner ‘tronics, which had probably been running non-stop since the station was first opened, wove their way around the detached and disillusioned throngs of travellers, in a desperate attempt to make something presentable of the cracked slate floor – its veneer lost long ago, like an old rocker trying to appeal to a new audience.
In contrast to the rest of the building, however, many of the shops were modern chain cafés and takeaways, their bright colours reflecting from the metallic décor of the foyer. A high-footfall area such as this must be a goldmine for any business quick enough to get its foot in the door, and I imagine they’d have negotiated the rent down to a ridiculously low sum. Even Hocus would be jealous of those margins. There were a handful of local businesses also enjoying these benefits to a partial degree; I directed my custom to a small pasty shop, shouldering my backpack as I picked my way through the hordes.
Sadly, I wasn’t in the position to jump on a maglev and get out of here; I had to stick to my word. It was just rude not to. Of course, finding the Heron House was going to be something of a task, as the run-down state of the nodeway station had extended to the city itself: as I walked out onto the orange-tiled plaza just outside the entrance, I saw abandoned buildings that seemed to line every street, and those that still functioned were only just making ends meet. It was–
“’Scuse me, pal!”
Startled, I rapidly turned to see a fat, balding man waving what looked like a ticket in my face. I pushed it away, saying nothing.
“’Ey, didn’t mean t’ alarm yer,” continued the man. “’Ere’s a crackin’ show on down the ‘Eron House tonight! ‘Ave yer booked yer ticket, ‘cause you look like the sort that’d be up for it.” He offered me a flyer as his slack-jawed discourse rang in my ears like an alarm clock on a Saturday morning. I took it, hoping it would shut him up. It was a basic design: in large, white block capitals, it itemised a multi-disciplinary concert headlined by the one and only Saint Percival. This man apparently didn’t have up-to-date information, and as such, his tickets would be null and void. A scalper if ever I saw one. I played along, if only to confirm my suspicions.
“Saint Percival, eh? Great little band. I’ve seen them a couple of times here and there. Heard the frontman was feeling a little under-the-weather, though – will he be playing?”
The scalper grinned, baring what few yellowed teeth he still possessed. “O’ course, squire! All of ‘em are playin’. You wan’ a ticket? Bargain, these. Won’t find ‘em cheaper. Only got–”
I cut him off. “May I take a look at those tickets? Just that I’ve been burned in the past. Never hurts to be sure, you know?”
“Oh, yeah, tha’s foine. Just no touching, right?” He held one of his tickets taut in front of me, snorting loudly as he did so. As I suspected, these tickets were invalid, as they missed one fairly important feature. Saint Percival had dropped out because…well, because their frontman wasn’t up to snuff. Official vendors would have reissued their tickets or at least reimbursed their customers, but not this guy, who’d clearly done a dodgy back-door deal to get hold of his.
Of course, he wasn’t best pleased when I divulged this information.
“’Ow d’you know, eh? Yer just tryin’ ta scare me off,” the man asserted. “I know your type, mate, so don’t try it on wi’ me, yeah?”
“Actually,” I replied calmly, “I know because I’m playing that event. But you already know that, don’t you, since your tickets are totally legitimate. Or you’re trying to get rid of them as quick as possible. Either way…”
This sort of business disgusted me, as it would anyone who’s ever worked in music, or any other kind of performing arts. Scalping was bad enough – the act of buying tickets in bulk only to pawn them off to unsuspecting buyers at a seriously inflated rate only made it more difficult for genuine customers to enjoy concerts and similar productions. It also put a dent into the numbers, which doesn’t help anyone. This fraud, however, had probably posed as an official. Maybe a critic, or part of the crew, or even – if he was really ballsy – one of the VIPs invited to the concert in good faith. He’d then used that leverage to extract some free tickets from an official channel. The tactic took a little cunning, and generally stipulated inside contacts, but worked surprisingly well. After all, which well-meaning ticket vendor would refuse a VIP?
The trouble with that tactic was that, if the tickets are for some reason voided – such as this occasion – the scalper would end up with a load of duds, and one lucky pundit for some magazine or another would end up with stacks of freshly-pressed, valid tickets on their doorstep.
“I fink yer lyin’”, accused the man. He seemed to have regained his composure a little. “Just ‘cos you got a guitar and a funny hat, doesn’t mean yer playin’ one o’ the biggest events in the sector, does it? Eh?”
“Alright”, I countered. “Hey, how about you come down tonight? Saint Percival are great in concert.”
The man barged off, disgruntled. Several onlookers had seen our little altercation, and a few of the rougher-looking ones – not an uncommon sight on Tyrväl – started after him. I hastily slipped away into the streets as shouts of disapproval swept across the smoggy air.
The city was a derelict jungle of concrete – it made the inside of the station look like a high-end central spaceport in comparison. As for people, the place was a ghost town. I felt as if I’d emerged from a vast seafront onto a long-forgotten beach, scattered with dead, shrivelled seaweed and sun-bleached shells. To say the city was disenfranchised wouldn’t even begin to describe it.
And it was raining.