Chapter Two: Banter
Common Speechies loll shoulder-to-shoulder in seats a little way down. They just knocked off from one of New Babel’s big word factories. The grubby overalls are a sure-fire giveaway. Shut-tell passengers were already giving them the evil eye – never know what you pick up in those factories. But these two, they’re a couple of stroppy lads, naughty boys. They know what folk are thinking. But who knows what words these stroppy boys got brewing in ‘em, ready to spit out? That’s the danger. The frokers gonna play with that danger too, giving us any banter they got in ‘em to give.
Now they’re smirking at each other and trying to stampsie on each other’s feet. Yer man’s mouth curves into a smile and begins to open. I draw back. So does every other froker in the carriage. It’s like the shore shrinking away before the tsunami. Yer man’s eyes narrow, muscles tense. It’s gonna cost him to speak. Don’t it always in New Babel, particularly if yer nothing but a Speechie? But this one’s gonna give us bustwords what he’s got. Kimiel’s fists clench ready next to me and I sense the word worms flowing through his veins. Yer man’s mouthing a word. He ain’t got the synaptic strength to cuss it out loud. But we can see the word take shape on his lips and predictably it ain’t sophisticated. ‘Mouthafrocker…’
‘Banter! Stop – Shame!’ sobby mommy leaps up shrilling and falls straight back down in the effort. She ain’t got much synaptic strength neither, like most Common Speechies. Her sulky lad hauls her upright on the seat.
The whole carriage holds its breath, exhaling real slow, making sure the danger’s gone, that there ain’t no word-plague fogging around us. But Kimiel ain’t let go. His fists clench harder, the word worms flow faster and his eyes crackle to the right.
Hood pinches me neck, hissing ‘Door. Watch the door, dozy chops!’ I look right too, tense and sly, as the door at the end of the carriage opens.
He stands there, still. A pale-as-death angel. Unspeaking. Unmoving. Unforgiving.
Oblivion. Mortlangue’s Censor General.
Fearless, heartless frocker. But he still got fear to share. It seeps out from him. Even the Speechie gobspits are tight-lipped now as Oblivion’s glance falls over us like a shroud. The Speechies’ wrestling legs now shake ‘n’ shudder in a tap dance their nerves ain’t got no control of.
Hood claws at me lughole. Urgent and panicked. ‘Not a word, cabbage. Yer got it? Not. A. Word.’ I duck me head in a grim nod. Every bustword in this shut-tell would slice me dead if they found out I’m The Nameless’ Grunt. Let alone if they knew I could speak.
But I ain’t pressing me lips tight to burst ‘cos I fear for me scalp. I can’t speak. Even if there was no Oblivion. Or Mortlangue. Or every other bustword in New Babel who’d give a chuckle to see me dead. Even though I got all the words in the world bubbling away in me, I can’t speak ever. Yeah, all the words. Including the Word. That one I mentioned, The Word that can kill yer. Dead.
Press me lips tighter. Close me eyes firmer. See the same questions behind them. ‘&… how… how’d I get here… &….&…’
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