I am currently entertaining the notion that this story would be better served if we met (character) before being sideswiped by (event), rather than allowing (event) to push characters together in what I suspect would be a dishearteningly mercenary way. So I’m backing up and trying out an alternate beginning, and a character introduction that’s more character-driven than plot-driven. I expect I’ll flail around trying various versions of The Beginning until I exhaust myself, or until every successive attempt has become so similar that they all converge.
She knocked and nobody answered.
In the darkened glass Tedis could see her reflection (looking peeved) and behind it, the reflection of golden midday wasteland just outside the back edge of town. Engines and bells and voices she could hear further in, out of sight on busier cross-streets. But so far, nobody but the sun and the two biggest moons were watching her; nobody listening but the wind. She looked over her shoulder and listened back.
The sun was preoccupied of course. The two moons, neat half-circles placid and pale above the mountains, looked reproachful. The third moon might have had a different opinion, if he had been up. Or if Tedis actually believed that moons had opinions.
And the wind was singing to itself as usual — though, as expected, it sounded sickly here, where it ran up against flagpoles and cables and straight brick corners. It belonged out there on the highland where it had fashioned its own favorite instruments from bent trees and hollowed rocks. Even there its songs were wild and strange, even sad, even dissonant to make her head ache; but Tedis still always thought of them as music, notes whose colors painted pictures. In town it was just wheezing and muddy noise. Town was nonsense, she thought peevishly; about that, she and the wind were in agreement.
If she were to march out and walk the little stone meadow just outside the fence, picking flowers or something, she would probably not draw comment. Midday was a perfectly safe time to walk, especially so near town; anybody who knew her would know she habitually walked the highland flat right up till dusk and knew how to handle a krek, at least in theory. She could waste her time and then tell her father, when he returned, that the broker just hadn’t been in.
Stuck on the broker’s darkened window was a handwritten sign. It was a cheerful, thoughtless message in atrocious handwriting on a torn scrap, probably saying “back in half a moment” or something else of the sort, vague enough to be defensible no matter when its author returned to explain it. Tedis lifted the note with a forefinger and peered in underneath.
The lights were on, probably. She tested the latch — the door was not locked. She sighed. This place was just neglected enough to look unoccupied even if it wasn’t. She might enter to find the broker blinking up from his nest of papers behind the counter, or she might not. It was impossible to tell from the outside. It didn’t look promising.
On the other hand — quite literally — she had an appointment. She had written it small and precise that morning, in pen on her left palm: an angle to signify clock hands at two in the afternoon. She peered through the door, discerning the office’s clock in the shadows. She was in the right place. She was on time.
She opened the door and went in. The wind went quiet.
Green Street wasn’t a proper street. It was outside the old city limits, in the sprawl where the rocks were too tough to clear and the buildings rooted among them anywhere they’d fit. The street was narrow and crooked because it was packed down along the crack of a shallow old ravine, really only half a level down, neither fully open to the air but not quite committed to being underground either.
And the office of the Green Street broker wasn’t a proper office. It was, generously, a clever afterthought in brick: no more than the tight space between older, better buildings filled up with masonry. It would have been easy to miss but that the door was painted a bright green to match every other door in Green Street. The copper plaque above the latch was polished and gleaming.
Inside smelled faintly of tobacco. A flowering plant curled elegantly around the edges of its pot under the window, but its flowers were past and two of them lay wilted and flattening on the brick floor. Shelves behind the narrow counter were stuffed full of yellowing papers. A radio in the corner filled the room with the gentle cadence of indistinct voices; a news program, playing less for the sake of news than for the quality of noise to fill the air. The clock on the wall ticked. As the door closed behind her, a set of crooked and dusty chimes jingled. They sounded much prettier than they looked, pink and white and coral.
“Hello?” she called.
and I’ll continue, of course, shortly getting back here.