“It’s now or never, London,” she said to herself and crushed the cig into the chipped paint of the reprocessing bin beside her. She shook out her hands, tossed back her shoulders, and rounded the corner to the entrance reading Dogma in unlit neon tubing.
“I have something I want you to hear,” London announced, breezing into the dark room still swimming with smoke from the night before. She dropped her guitar and backpack to the floor.
Pauly swung a burly arm across the once polished wood of his City Central bar, now rubbed raw at the corners and pitted with deep dents from years of use, wiping it with a torn bit of rag from an old t-shirt. He didn’t look up.
London reached out and grabbed his hand, forcing him to stop. “I have something I want you to hear,” she repeated, more forcefully this time. If there was one thing she couldn’t abide, it was being ignored.
He sighed. “Kid, I got loads of work before the night crowd arrives. You gonna wash my glasses if I stop to listen to whatever it is you got to say?”
London smirked. He always did this, acted put out. But deep down, she knew Pauly cared about her. In fact, he might be the only one who did care. He’d been sharing his rations with her mom for the last thirteen years just to make sure London kept clothes on her back and food in her mouth. Which was more than most people would be willing to do for someone outside their own family. “Come on old man. I’ll shine your glasses later. And it’s not something I have to say. It’s something I have to play.”
Pauly dropped the rag and folded his arms across his barrel chest. “Who you playin’ now?” he asked as London moved to the little stage and propped her long self against the edge of a stool. “You already mastered that entire album by the Replacements I gave ya last week?”
“Just listen,” she said and began to pick out the unsteady chords on the black acoustic guitar he’d given her barely a year ago, feeling her way through the melody. The bite of the steel strings hardly registered on her calloused fingers anymore, but the vibrations seemed to carry all the way to her soul. She moved her way through the tune, doing her best to maintain the pitch of her voice, first soft and trickling, then ripening into a bold chorus where she strummed with such aggression she worried about popping a string or vocal cord.
Popping a string was bad. It could take weeks to scrap a new one. Popping a vocal cord would be worse. Her mother had very few medical rations stored. They only came biannually, and the handful of doctors inside city walls already had ridiculous waiting lists. Capital City used to be full of hospitals, or so it was said, but after the Energy Crisis, the rooms were needed for housing.
Pauly was listening in spite of his earlier moaning. His round head bobbing with the rhythm told London that. She smiled inwardly at the light bouncing off the bald section in the middle. He liked it, she could tell.
When she at last finished, London put down the guitar and said breathlessly, “I’m still working out the lyrics on that last part.”
Pauly gave her a quizzical look, but didn’t respond.
“So, what do you think?”
He nodded, “Not bad. But I’ve never heard that one. Who’s it by? They can’t be anyone I introduced you to. You got a disc Scrapper up your sleeve that I don’t know about?”
London laughed. Pauly always shared his discs with her, which allowed her to save anything and everything she could to trade for illegal tech. He should know she wouldn’t turn to a Scrapper for new music material, no matter where they managed to find the discs and sneak them into the city. “No old man. It’s mine.”
Pauly dropped his arms, his face serious now. “What do you mean yours?”
London shrugged, her loose sweater nearly dropping off one shoulder. “I mean I wrote it.”
Pauly shook his head, his remaining wisps of hair dancing in the air above it. “Wrote it? You?”
“Yeah,” London said, nonchalant. “What’s the big deal?” But London knew exactly what the big deal was. Her song was New.
London and her teenage friends live in a reprocessed world.
Confined within Capital City’s concrete walls, London has done the impossible and the illegal. She’s created something New- a song. But her mentor, club owner Pauly, is not impressed. Since the historic Energy Crisis forced everyone behind walls generations ago, the Tycoons have ensured there is truly nothing new allowed under the sun. Pauly warns London to keep her song to herself, if she knows what’s good for her.
What he doesn’t know is that London is keeping an even bigger secret: she dreams. And she’s not alone. London’s band-mates and friends have begun dreaming as well, seeing themselves in “night pictures” as beings from another world. As Otherborn, they must piece together the story of their astral avatars, the Others, in order to save their world from a dreamless, hopeless future.
When Pauly is murdered and an Otherborn goes missing, London realizes someone is hunting them down. Escaping along the Outroads, they brave the deserted Houselands with only their dreams to guide them. Can they find their friend before the assassin finds them? Will being Otherborn save their lives, or destroy them?
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