Lime is talking to someone in a stall across from me.
"How do these compare to Pink Flamingoes?" she asks, pointing into a locked glass case.
"Ah yeah," the stall owner replies, moving a tooth pick from one side of their mouth to the other. "They are more, like, chill, ya know? They are the same basic recipe as the Flamingoes were but with some Kalonyne."
"Eh. Do you have anything without any Kalonyne? I get a bad reaction to muscle relaxers," Lime lies.
"Oh yeah sure... well if you want the Basic 3 from the Flamingos, but you don't want any muscle relaxers, you could try the Sand Snakes. Now, do they have a stimulant. It's not all that strong. Not like the White or Yellow Lightnings. It's actually just B-12. But it's cyanocobalamin and if you have problems with panic, it can make you anxious."
"Naw, I'm good with different forms of B-12. Could I get two dozen of those Sand Snakes?"
"Sure. Let's see that's 24, at the dozen rate... That's 600CASH, unless you wanted to buy some water?"
"Naw, sorry I'm CASH only. But hey how much are those Ice Elementals?"
"They're 200 each."
Lime leans onto one hip, pretending to think about it.
"Yeah they are pricey. But you know, I can throw in a few Dreams if you buy one," they offer.
"Alright, cool." Lime bends backwards towards me, her hair hanging down under her upside-down head. "Sugar, do you need anything?" she asks with a grin. After how crappy I felt this morning, it's hard to imagine wanting to feel like that again so soon. But last night was fun and I don't have to take them immediately...
"Yeah, I used to love that stuff we did with Sked. What was that?"
"Oh yeah! Do you have any of... oh shoot what was that even called?" Lime asks, staring up to the sky, trying to summon the name.
"Was it a hallucinogen? A stimulant? A chill? A memory enhancer?..." The shop owner starts to guess.
"It was a..." I look at Lime. Flashes of laughter and running down hallways fly through my memory. "I mean it was an... intoxicant? Is that even a thing? It was like being drunk, but no headaches..." I try.
"Yeah! It was like a stupidant," Lime giggles. "It just kinda turned us into children for a few hours."
"Honestly, that could be anything. What form were you taking it?" the shop owner replies.
"We were inhaling bumps but it could have been a crushed tablet," I told them. "Maybe I could just try something new? I have problems with The Fear, so..."
"Sure, of course," the shop owner replies. "Your friend just got a Basic 3 that is Fear Free, but if you are looking for a stupid-good time, I would reccomend Toys. They come in low doses so that you can take a small amount over and over throughout the night. I think it was made for folks who are in the habit of overdoing it, or people who think that party favors are like alcohol and want to be taking stuff all night. But I think it's also good for people with The Fear because if you don't like it, it will end in an hour and you don't have to continue your trip unless you decide to take the next dose."
I look at Lime. She is nodding, like she has already heard of this stuff before.
"Sure... So how much is a dose? I mean, I take one per hour... and if a party starts at like midnight..." I try to remember how late we usually get done.
"Let's be realistic," Lime interrupts. "You'll need at least 8 hours for one night. I mean you might be able to quit whenever you want, but the rest of us will be going until morning. We'll take two dozen Toys too. That way you'll have some for another night, and you'll have enough to share."
"Okay, that'll be another 150CASH... wait, let me get a total for you... So that's 950CASH so far for 24 Toys, 24 Sand Snakes, an Ice Elementals, and 3 Dreams."
"Alright, well I still have a few thousand to spend today before my account clears, so... you sure there isn't anything else you want, Sugar?" Lime asks.
"Yeah, let me get a couple Chills, and a couple Dreams?" I ask.
"Yeah I can sell you 2 Chills and 3 Dreams if you sign the Chills contract." The shop owner pulls out a dirty clipboard with a stack of curling pages.
"I am accepting 1-5 Chills for the explicit use in my own personal body and hereby agree to not administer them to anyone else knowing or unknowing. I understand that giving these to another is in violation of this agreement and the consequences that I will suffer may be decided by the punisher at the time of punishment and may extend beyond what I find to be reasonable." I sign, date, and fill in the number of doses I am receiving.
"Have you ever had to hand that list over?" Lime asks, her eyebrows waggling.
"Oh yeah, all the time." they say, flipping a page and pointing at a circled name. "This jerk. Atom. He bought a few chills, gave them right to his friend who proceeded to drug some teenagers that same night." My stomach dropped. Chills are fun but you have to know how much to take for yourself and they can be easily abused by rapists and kidnappers. I'm surprised they still make and sell them. I keep trying to get a few before they stop making them altogether. I'm not sure if I want to know what happened to those teens.
"They were able to report being drugged though?" I ask.
"Yeah they were at a big event and a bouncer in a bathroom found them and helped them out of there."
"So what happened to Atom and their friend? They got IDed?" Lime asks.
"I'm not going to spread gossip about what The Punisher does to dudes who pull shit like that but I mean when she came here to see the list..." They let out a strained and squeaky wheeze. "I mean she didn't have time for small talk, ya know? You better keep those safe. I always worry like, what if someone steals one off you and then does whatever they want with it and then you got a knock on your door for being the one who signed for it..." they start, wiping their palm over their mouth.
"Luckily, I don't hang around many people who might take them," I laugh.
Lime asks what The Punisher looks like and the shop owner provides a vague description of a tall woman in all black with a headscarf and wearing running shoes. Lime tries to ask for details but the shop owner doesn't give her anything new. Why is she asking?
"Do you think they really catch people like that?" I ask Lime as we weave our way through the stalls.
"Absolutely. There are so many creeps out there. It probably isn't hard, they aren't exactly sneaky. What I wonder is if there is really only one Punisher. Like why wouldn't there be more than one? I mean Punishing doesn't pay and who has time to do all that hunting alone? I bet there is a group you know. Some day I want to figure that out. I think I could join. I think I'm about one more year of living with J away from being angry enough to do it, you know?"
"You think J could use some Punishment?" I ask, raising an eyebrow. Lime smiles. "Although I feel like if he did, wouldn't he brag about it, like he does with everything else?" I add.
"Not if he's worried about getting Punished," she sings.
I find the stall that buys and sells stealth devices to try to sell Mix's hoodie. A twitching person with thick goggles is watching a monitor with their feet resting on the counter.
"Hey," I say, yanking the hoodie out of my backpack.
"Hey girly girl! What you want? Upgrade those goggles?" they ask me, as a lens inside their right goggle opens and closes on me. I don't know this person personally, and it is a little rude that they called me a girl but whatever.
"Naw, I've got this hoodie to sell. It's got a hood to protect your face from surveillance and there's a charging pocket inside and..." I turn it inside out and feel around if there are any reminders hidden in there of some feature I've forgotten. "I dunno, but he wants 175CASH for it."
"Gimmie gimmie!" they say, their hands stretched out, fingers flapping open and closed, long teeth gritting through a wide grin. I place it in their hands and they put it on and flip a switch next to their monitor and turn a camera onto themselves. "One of Mix's hmmm?" they ask before shoving a box into the pocket.
"Beep-beep!" the box sounds under the slight muffle of the sweatshirt.
"Yeah," I say
"Alright. Seems good. I've been selling these pretty fast lately. You want part of that 175CASH on your number?"
"Yeah 25 of it for me, and 150 for MIX," I say, picking up their handheld. "I'll put my number in first, okay?"
"KAY!" they yelp. I hand it back to them and they snatch it out of my hand. "You know MIX's number?" they ask.
"Yeah, let me put it in though, they don't like me saying it out loud."
"Very smart." They nod, handing the device back to me. "Better safe than broke! That's what I always say ha! Ha!" I enter it and the amount and let them confirm the deposit.
There is a huge collection of boxes behind them in the stall with labels I can't read, all open with various bits of clothing, cords, and hunks of electronics spilling out of them. There is a neon yellow toy laying on the floor. Its shiny black eyes are staring up at me, and its formless arms or legs or tentacles are splayed out around it on the black mat that covers the foor.
"That's a Mol!" the shop owner yips at me. They snatch it up and place it on the counter in front of me and then start digging through the boxes. "2-way communicator! Totally secure channel! Each message is encrypted and can only be decrypted by its mate!" Their voice becomes more and more muffled as they sink their head deeper and deeper into the box. Soon their shoulders and entire chest are deep in the box. One foot leaves the floor, and then the other for a moment before- "There it is!" they exclaim, their voice cracking. They slam an identical yellow Mol on the counter next to the first one. "And so cuuuute!!!" I just love them! Pin on back! Just like on Star Trek!" They squeal. "You a runner? Don't know why runners don't all have them. Tell your central dude to buy a set from me. I can get em made special. The whole team. Then you don't have to call on phone. Very secure. Totally new encryption technique. Very Very stealth." The lens on their goggles has opened completely so only glossy black domes are staring at me from their wirey, hairy head.
"How much?" I ask. I don't even know if I can use them. I'm certainly not making suggestions to the Directory. I have no idea who makes decisions about how they get requests out and to be honest, I wouldn't want to always be on call to them. I get enough work as it is.
"400. Each," they say.
"Each?! But you can't use one without the other!" I exclaim. What the hell are they getting at anyway?
"Oops. Then they cost 800." Their lips widen into a smirk. "Good deal, that is."
"It was laying on the floor," I say. But they don't seemed moved. Their face stays frozen. Their glossy black lenses still wide open on me. "Well, I dunno. They are cute though." They gather the two Mol twins in their arms and sit back in their chair, extending their legs back up onto the counter by the monitor. I take this as my cue and look around for Lime.
She is pulling a slot machine out of the back of a sticker-covered van a few stalls down. Loud, horrible beeping and clanking sounds blast from it. There is a person laying in the back of the van on a mattress with a big fuzzy blue hat on their head. The inside of the van is covered in lights and toys hanging from the roof. A small stereo is playing pop music on the back bumper.
"DAMN!" Lime spits over and over, each time failing to nail a jackpot on the slot machine.
"You are runniiiiiing out of crediiiiiits" coos the person in the van. They are lying on their back, reading one of the magazines Lime got from Dial.
"Okay add another 100CASH but that's it," Lime says, pumping the lever again. I lean against the bumper of the van so that she might see that I'm there. "I'm trying to win those magic handcuffs," she says to me. I turn around and look around the inside of the van. On the stomach of the reclined person is a set of sparkling purple handcuffs that are blinking with a light in the middle.
"Magic?" I ask, trying to look harder to see if there are any spirit remains stuck to it.
"YUP! MAGIC!" says the person in the van. They drop the magazine and flip over to their stomach, holding the hand cuffs out in front of them, open. Am I supposed to put my hands into them?
"What's the magic?" I ask.
"Put your haaaaands in and seeeeee!!!" they whine, waving them up and down. I look at Lime. She is clearly transfixed by the gambling machine.
"Lime," I say, placing my hand on her shoulder as gently as I can. She jumps slightly and shrugs it off.
"Leave me alone, I've almost got this darn thing." I'm pretty sure it doesn't work like that.
"How much have you put in already?" I ask.
"I dunno like a few hundred."
"And these are worth all that?" I ask. She pulls the lever again. Then again. And again.
"I hate slot machines!" she screams suddenly. She snatches the cuffs out of the person's hands, and grabs her CASH card out of the autodebit machine. "Come on, Sugar! We're going!" I pick up the crate of magazines and smile gently at the van owner before following Lime down the alley. They didn't seem upset about it. I guess she must have already given them a lot. It's weird, with all the policing in the underground and obsession with ethics and avoiding abuse, there are no rules against gambling.
"You gotta do a better job keeping me away from those things, Sugar." Lime says. "You know I have a problem."
"Well I'm glad THEY didn't have a problem with you taking their merchandise like that..." I say. I look around to see if we are being followed. I don't see anyone watching us as we push around an exceptionally crowded part of the market and curve around to the east.
"Don't worry about it. It's just a toy. I doubt it's worth anything." Lime calls back to me, weaving in and around crowds of shoppers.