There was a storm brewing high in the stratosphere of Jupiter. It would not be a storm to remember, nor one to fear, but it was tempestuous in its inception. Whisps of grey-green mist swirled, wrung out from the sky like a great rope, frayed strand by strand. And the wind, the wind. Gusts of it corkscrewed down through the layers of ethane, hydrogen sulfide, and phosphine toward a thin, ever shifting stratum of oxygen where sat the city-state of Serrenis, floating like a dream amidst the vapor.
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The stranger stepped from the gond, onto the slick cobblestones of the piazza. The amonia rain made it impossible to traverse the square without a slicker. His chimed to him that he was entering hazardous conditions, but he paid it no mind. The message must be dispatched. The stranger would do anything to accomplish this. He pulled his slicker tight, hunkered through the deserted square.
It was one thing to walk the corridors of Serrenis, quite another to know them intimately. The stranger sometimes thought that the forefathers of the city intentionally laid out the most circuitous of routes on purpose. One could easily get lost among the twisty-turny passages, through the vapor canals on which the city floated. The stranger, however, knew these alleyways better than anybody.
He moved with purpose toward the other end of the piazza, scattering a flock of doe-pigeons, wings like obsidian, just about the only living things around when it rained. They fluttered away, nested in one of the cupolas over the archway the stranger was headed for. As he hurried under their perch, he wondered to himself if the birds knew his secret.
He passed, unnoticed, over one of the hundreds of bridges arched like a frightened cat. He thought he saw a figure in an open window high above. The thick globules of rain and the gathering fog obscured the stranger’s view, but he hurried on nevertheless. Head down. Slicker taut. Nobody could know he had come this way (the reason for his venture in the storm) and the stranger would like to get on thinking that this was the case. Even if it were not.
He came to a three-way fork in the alleyway. Ahead, to a smaller piazza. Left, toward rows of shuttered shops. Right, toward his destination.
It was like all the other informa-ports scattered throughout Serrenis. Sculpted into the rock, a gargoyle, a face pressing through the façade like a ghost through a bedsheet. Horns, reptilian eyes, a gaping, pronged mouth for any passer-by to submit to. An anonymous line that lead directly to the Supreme Chancellor's court. Whatever information passed through that cement maw, meant only for eyes in the highest office of the land, was to be certified, fact-checked before submission. For a wrongful proffering was worth nothing and, consequently, punishable. Not by death, but something financially akin to it. This was why he could never be seen. The stranger was about to submit information he could not personally vouch for. He was but a messenger, the data his way out of monetary woes that had plagued him since before he could remember.
It was necessary to remove one of his gloves in order to retrieve the data stick. As soon as he did, the slicker belted more warnings at him. He ignored them and worked quickly. As he pulled the small plastic piece from within, a bead of rain landed with a HISSS! onto the back of his hand. He gritted through the pain, knowing it would be an angry reminder of his deed here today. He slipped the data stick into the gargoyle’s mouth, quickly returned the glove to his hand and marched back through the deserted alleyway. The stranger could see the merciless clouds above begin to dissipate and rays of far-away sunlight stream through. As if his deed today had been washed away by the withrawing lambency, scorched clean by the harsh precipitation.
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The data packet passed through the city’s nest of wires and reinforced fiber-optics. Down through years of metal, laid upon ages of exposed technology keeping the city from being sucked into the abyss. It was the underside of Serrenis that bore the most incredible view of Jupiter’s depths. On a clear day, some said, you could even see through to the planet’s rocky core, exposed like a stone smoothed by millennia in a river of venomous gas and poison rain.
The information zipped up, diagonally through the city’s core processor and was sorted by way of the Chancellor’s court. There, it was fed into a grouping bin, blinking, waiting for one of the court’s minions to unfurl the packet and read the name it bore in its first line of decree:
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End Part 1.