If the Street Trash had one emotional weakness, it occurred when he smelled home. Few places had the fresh scent of the eastern sea so ever-present you only really noticed it when you went back. If one were to see that very first reaction, they would have no doubt how happy Jamie was to be home. It was the one thing the Street Trash couldn’t fake away.
The loud, powerful horn of the ship blared to announce they had stopped. The Street Trash was too busy leaning on the railings, eyes closed and turned up in appreciation of the breeze, to really react to the noise.
The noise was part of home, too, it was almost imbued in the urchin’s blood to disregard all aspects of it because no matter how sudden and abrupt, it never came unexpectedly.
Stair bridges were lowered so people could leave but Jamie waited, watching cautiously while appearing to simply not be in a hurry. The person who had allowed Jamie to pretend to be their son had lost sight of him soon into the trip, the Street Trash had a keen eye and had easily avoided the benefactor for the remainder of the duration, it would be silly to run into the woman upon arrival.
The Street Trash spotted her looking around with a mix of worry and anger, but already queued to leave. Like a true Neyerkian, few things were important enough to warrant a delay.
Sitting down so to cover from her view, he looked up in appreciation. The exhaust smoke coming from the ship was now catching up, just as it also started to dissipate since the coal no longer burned. The Street Trash iterated thoughts through what he needed to accomplish there.
Speak with the teens, the code word for the leaders of his guild: the Scavengers. Set information network to task helping the Shadow Conclave. Find my way into the big ceremony tomorrow, reconnect with the holy lady, the code word for the mayor’s wife. Achieve certainty that Neyerk will join the counter-offensive against the beasts. Report to the Conclave.
They were going to be two very busy days. Jamie uncrossed his legs in a mild hop, standing up. With hands in his pockets, he moved along.
Casey was there, leaning against the wall of a warehouse several feet away from the dock’s edge. Their eyes caught each other while the Street Trash was still coming down the bridge but neither of them reacted. Casey quickly looked away to stare hungrily at a passing gentleman.
“Please, suhr,” Jamie lip-read, “my pup will die, please.”
Jamie walked on out of the docks, not connecting with Casey at all. Despite appearances, however, Casey had definitely been sent to pick Jamie up. There was a particular alley in the dock, left forgotten, mostly because they had placed a broken, dirty steel beam in the way. Adults would have too much of an inconvenient time getting through, but kids? Kids were fine.
The innocent Street Trash suddenly noticed it with a glance of curiosity. A fun-loving smile showed up and the child decided to explore what was inside.
Jamie went through and into the alley, turned left into a part of it was unseen, and then sat in waiting.
Casey showed ten minutes later, to the second.
“The Street Trash graces us! Oh joy.” Casey had blonde hair usually wet, seemingly with urine, and long enough that it shadowed his eyes, it gave him a more depressed look. When out of sight, however, he would always brush it aside so that it curtained only one eye and ear. Otherwise, he was dressed pretty much the same as Jamie. Beige assortment of regular-looking clothes that looked uncleaned and unattended.
“Don’t be a putz, you’re happy I’m back.”
They brushed hands and knuckled fists, a common greeting between friends.
“You didn’t win, right? I got a k set down you wouldn’t win.”
“You’re a butt, Casey,” Jamie laughed, “things got messy, you been readin’ the news?”
“You kiddin’, right? I give out the news. You talking about the dark ones, I suppose?”
Quick deduction, that’s what the Street Trash loved about the Scavangers, everyone was so clever and quick-witted, she loved talking to them.
“Dark ones?” Jamie scoffed, “we’ve been calling them beasts.”
“Well maybe it’s like that out there but if you were from around here–”
Jamie pushed him hard.
“I’m more from around ‘ere than ye’ll ever be, ya turd-stomper,” Street Trash laughed again. Casey didn’t even fall, he just grumbled. “Anyway, I need a talk with the teens.”
“Well that works out, they want a talk with ya too,” Casey told Jamie while massaging his chest. Casey was a few inches shorter than Jamie, but most were: it was that growth spurt Jamie had been warned about. It would get more noticeable if Andy could be believed. It was rare but she believed him in that instance.
“Let’s get moving then.”
Casey smiled. There was something else.
“Just thought you’d like to know, the Schoolboy’s in town.”
Jamie’s eyes rolled.
“Oh no, what is that sore-loser doin’ here?”
“Trying to steal your thunder, from what I hear. Someone else met him but I heard he went to the teens yesterday.”
“Secrets and rumors between ourselves?” Street Trash frowned, “Schoolboy’s definitely in town.”
“Guy still might resent you for getting the title.”
“Oh really? Did you get that from how he goes around saying I stole it from him?” She crossed her arms. “Of course, he does,” Jamie walked off, there should really be no more wasting time, “silly little boy.”
“We’re all a little silly,” Casey pointed out, hanging back. He would wait five minutes before leaving the alley. “And definitely little.”
“At least, most of us know we’re on the same team,” the Street Trash commented back.
Of course, it was more complicated than that. Jamie edged his way out of the steel beams and walked off. He had planned to get some lunch money out of someone but now? The little street urchin was uncharacteristically hurrying.
There was steep competition in the Scavengers, for sure, but no one was so aggressive and mean-spirited as him.
The Schoolboy had left no doubts across the years how he was vying for the title of Street Trash. Just a few years from being too old to continue working the streets, he had really pushed for it, as it would greatly improve his chances of becoming a teen, part of the circle of leadership of the Scavengers.
Unfortunately, he was a bully. He found it easier to just steal money from rich kids, or even people, by using psychological or sometimes even physical bullying tactics. He was usually in a school uniform, dirty and spent. The media had, consequentially, given him the title “Schoolboy”.
He was the first of his name but due to his goals, this was the worst thing that could have happened. Now, the only way to have a good chance to be part of the leadership was to be the most useful member of the scavengers. The most popular, the most famous, he wanted to be more known and talked about and successful than even the Street Trash.
Unfortunately, none of that was happening.
Jamie smirked as he walked out into an actual street, exiting the docks. The Schoolboy was an annoyance but at the same time, the Street Trash derived great amusement out of besting people who were so intent and dedicated to besting her.
The Street Trash was the master manipulator. He did the impossible with an easy smile on his face. He made it all seem accidental, luck-driven, made others feel that if this or that had gone some other way, then they would’ve gotten the upper-hand.
That was the real talent of the Street Trash: to make someone perceive things incorrectly or think of things wrongly so that they continually and repeatedly made mistakes.
There was no blunt tactic. No bullying. The Street Trash got things done in a way it took people too much time to realize. The best way.
The Street Trash walked the streets of the mega city. Buildings went tall, wide, or both, all geometrical and with windows giving a clear representation of how many rooms it contained.
Inside the city, there was a lot less of the sea smell, what with the overpopulation and the many exhaust pipes expelling gas and fumes from all the cars who patiently waited for the traffic to move. It was energetic, a chaotic flow of people. Some places were all about tech, others about nature, others about the supernatural, but Jamie’s place? It was all about people. Busy, impatient, self-important hard-working taking-risks people.
Street Trash passed by many street urchins. Every time, they would exchange glances but spare no reaction, the only exception being one of the really new ones, barely out of being a toddler, who pointed in amazement before being reprimanded by his or her supervisor.
There was a specific thing about the scavengers, they were initially genderless. Or at least, able to be whatever gender people preferred. Of course, as they grew, it became obvious, but for as long as possible, with their genderless names and unisex clothing, and an underdeveloped voice, it helped them be whatever gender was more useful for however long they could.
In Jamie’s experience, however, it hardly ever paid off to be a girl.
The Street Trash moved out of the city center. Hunger was an issue so Jamie had swiped some bread, and after an hour, a piece of fruit. It took around two hours of walking to transition to one of the poor districts. The buildings grew flatter and more abandoned and the people went from moving about to standing around, watching and talking.
The unofficial and yet very well-known territory of the Scavengers. The homeless, beggars, and even unsavory characters of the underworld, thieves, and killers alike, were welcome to inhabit it as it made it look like a normal place – in terms of age difference. The real residents, however, were all youths. At the exception of the Teens.
“Hey,” Jamie smiled back.
“Lookit here, the Street Trash has returned!”
Most everyone mocked the Street Trash, using sarcasm or irony as a greeting, but that was to be expected. That was how they showed camaraderie, by making fun of each other.
“I’ll trash you right quick, Peyton, that’s what I can do.”
“Oh man, so scary!”
The adults there all looked interested at Jamie. Most of them were unsavory characters, with enough relevance in the underworld to know who the Street Trash was. They would stop talking to make passing comments about Jamie.
“That’s the Street Trash?” Someone said, too far to be heard but whose lips were visible enough to be read. “’s not impressive.”
“None o’ them are,” the smarter friend weighed in, “that’s the whole point, idiot.”
Jamie smiled. The unknown thief had some understanding of the Scavengers. The real trick to their territory was that a lot of the kids there, all looking and being equally feeble street urchins, were not affiliated in any way with the Scavengers.
Their guild, for obvious reasons, took as much responsibility as possible for lost little kids. Orphans, kidnapped or otherwise, were received into their several special-care districts around the world. Under a non-profit company name, of course, that was part of the Teens’ responsibility.
Only a handful of all of these kids actually belonged to the guild, so right now, even Jamie could just be another kid, though, in that instance, he walked liked he owned the place. He wanted everyone there to know.
As Jamie approached the center of the guild, one of those kids actually came up to walk beside the Street Trash.
“Jamie, good seeing you again.”
“Good to see you too, Jordan.”
Jordan had a curly helmet of black hair. Unlike the other boys, Jordan was not so little anymore, one or two years ahead of Jamie, he sported a lean tanned body that was noticeably taller than hers. He had given up on the whole genderless thing and usually wore shorts and a tight vest that was missing buttons. He was dirtied and dusty like all the rest of them.
“All the Teens are here.”
She stopped and looked back at him, a bit startled. Jamie was used to talking only to Andy, the Neyerkian Teen. The others, if they were part of the meeting, would phone in.
“All of them? Why? Has something happened?”
“The world was invaded, I dunno if you noticed.”
The Street Trash smirked. “Oh, I noticed,” Jamie resumed the walking, “I was there.”
“I was a finalist,” Jamie casually reported, “would’ve won, too, if those things hadn’t crashed the party.” That was a lie, of course. Jamie was friends with Jordan but she wasn’t against lying to her friends. She wasn’t against lying to anyone.
“Ha, sure you were.”
“But that’s why? Really? The beasts?”
“The dark ones.”
“Don’t call ‘em that,” Jamie scoffed, “sounds like they’re some gods or somethin’. Anyway, Casey told me that putz Schoolboy was hangin’ around here somewhere.”
“Oh yeah, he’s with the Teens. They’re all waiting for you.”
Jamie smiled in amusement.
“Remember to be humble, Jamie,” he suggested.
“Shadow Conclave did somethin’ to you,” he mentioned, looking at Jamie with a slightly different look than he was used to. He was looking at her instead of him. “You’re glowing. Lookin’ more arrogant than usual.”
Jamie didn’t know how to feel about that. She did know how to act, though. The Street Trash always knew how to act.
“Putting moves on me now, Jordan? You think that extra layer o’ muscles’s gonna fluster me? It’s not that thick, ya know?”
He scoffed. “Psh…naaawww. Of course not,” he sarcastically joked, “I’m bein’ serious.”
“Go bother some actual pimp-filled little girl, ya green grasshopper, you’ll never get one over on me.”
He laughed too and walked away.
“You lookin’ arrogant, I’m tellin’ ya.”
“I’m the Street Trash,” Jamie stated after Jordan, “I’m lookin’ like it.”
She shook her head and sighed.
Maybe he was right. With how often Jamie got the upper hand by being underestimated, the Street Trash should be less inclined to do that herself.
Perhaps the Schoolboy really had something big that would screw things up for the Street Trash.
Let’s assume that, Jamie thought to himself, what could it be?