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The Scrambling of San Angelo | 3 | Monday, September 22 | Post-Game

by Ventomology


Warning: This work has been rated 16+.

"Next time someone suggests drinking on a weeknight," Francesca said, as she hauled George out of the way of a light pole, "they should be shot."

George patted her arm and listed into her. "But Cheska. Ches, open carry is illegal in San Angelo county."

"And concealed carry," Winona added, leaning into Francesca’s other side with wide, knowing eyes. “We don’t offer permits for either.”

Francesca staggered under their combined weight and stopped to adjust them so they hung more off her shoulder and less off her elbows. "You two are never drinking liquor again."

"Awww," George whined. He scratched his butt under his shiny soccer shorts and shook Francesca’s arm. "But we beat the firemen. The firemen! We deserve all the liquor."

Winona’s mouth curled into a smug, satisfied smile. “We totally did. Can you believe it? We’re so cool.”

“Yes, yes,” Francesca said, “you’re very cool.” And they had been, two hours ago, when the City Hall Ballers were actually on the soccer field. Even George, loathe as she was to admit it, had been kind of cool, especially when he’d toed the ball into the firemen’s net on a lightning quick assist from one of the city council clerks. But now, with the captain and back-up forward somewhere on the falling down side of tipsy, they were very much not cool.

“Oh my gosh,” George squeaked, hugging Francesca’s arm and peaking past her at Winona. “Win, did you hear that? Cheska called me cool!”

“I did not”-

Winona reached out to press her meticulously manicured finger to Francesca's mouth. "Shh. Let him have this."

Well, no use arguing. She grumbled her assent and kept dragging the two along, careful to avoid stepping in anything gross. The city carted away the port-a-pottys at eight, so there'd been plenty of time for people to defecate on the streets.

A block later, they hit the city hall rail station. The part of it that stood above ground matched its surroundings in miniature; doric columns held up the thin portico at its entrance, and its triangular roofline evoked the image of a tiny, roadside shrine. The open garage door glowed a flat, flickering white that cast eerie, upward shadows over its own relief ceiling.

Winona blinked bleerily at it, and then tugged George toward the stairs. "Here’s our stop. Text when you get home, Cheska!”

Francesca waved them off. "Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye!" George shouted, not quite landing the consonant right. He drooped back into Winona's arms and stared at the stairs, struggling to focus even as he began stepping down them. "Win. Win wins when… um. Something that starts with a W. Winter?"

Now he was making up alliterations. Maybe if George called out with a hangover tomorrow, Francesca could take over the Vinedo project. She watched until George and Winona made it all the way down the first flight of stairs, and then turned towards home.

She knew the route without thinking. Francesca's feet carried her across the patterned bricks of Market Square and out of the neoclassical maze of city hall district. From there, she had a few blocks of generic mixed-use buildings before the hills of San Angelo made their presence known.

Hill Centro rose like a cliff face over city hall, cutting off the grid of buildings with a cracked concrete wall crawling with staircases and vines. And just above the concrete sat layer upon layer of townhouses. They rose like the layers of a wedding cake, smooth and pastel in their stucco facades, and manicured bushes accented each tier like fondant flora. Francesca had walked through Hill Centro one time, early in her tenure at city hall, and she would never do it again.

Though the buildings ended at the hillside, the street did not. Instead, it cut under Hill Centro, its flickering lights the only indication that anything lay beyond the pitch black tunnel. Every night, as Francesca passed underneath, she reconsidered her life choices. She could walk above ground, along the pretty, circuitous streets of Hill Centro, or she could cut thirty minutes off her commute by taking the dripping, stinking Byron Street Tunnel.

And, well, the choice was obvious. Francesca would not let a dark, scary walk keep her from an extra half hour of sleep.

She held her breath as she scurried through the tunnel, counting the seconds between each inhale and trying not to gag when the stench of the decades old sewage system overhead hit her nostril. Her shadow flew, wild and erratic, across the rough brick arch around her, dancing to a beat completely inappropriate for the dirge of the buzzing, dying lights.

And then, at last, she made it out. With Hill Centro behind her, the towering red eaves and curved rooflines of Chinatown lay before her, rising like an out-of perspective painting on the next hill. A few neon lights lit up the streets, advertising bars in thickly-wrought Cantonese characters. The newer buildings wore banners in simplified Mandarin, and their windows were wrapped in sashes that displayed picture-perfect hot pot, sichuan stir-fry, and hand-torn noodles. Even in the darkness, even with the dirt and dust and grime that clung to the walls and trickled through the gutters, emerging from the tunnel always felt like coming home.

Francesca had not grown up in Chinatown, but she had always wanted to. Her Ma-ma thought it was dirty and unsafe, but Francesca had no qualms about trading those things for the opportunity to drink fresh soy milk every morning, to buy fish at a stall where they cut the scales off in front of you, or to smell chilis on the street as she walked to work. Even when the shops pulled their metal grates over the doors, red lanterns glowed overhead, and intricate wooden carvings stood in stark silhouette against the light of the moon.

She skipped up the hillside, stopping to check her watch when a lone car drove through an intersection in front of her, and sighed in relief. She’d get home just after midnight. Maybe she wouldn’t get her eight hours of sleep, but she wouldn’t be too worse for wear tomorrow. She came up on the bakery near her apartment, and her mouth watered at the thought of what she might eat tomorrow morning. Maybe she could get pork floss, or a barbeque bun. Something sour might wake her up.

Smiling to herself, Francesca stepped off the sidewalk, looked up, and froze.

She blinked. She blinked a lot. And as her breathing quickened, she backpeddaled, nearly tripping over the curb behind her, and swung around to see an unfamiliar storefront behind her. The signage read in Spanish. She picked out the word taqueria.

Chinatown had no taquerias. Chinatown had no forty story office towers like the one across the street, where her apartment building was supposed to be. The street, with its worn-down asphalt, so thin it revealed the cobblestones below, looked like the right street. It had the right manholes, down to the year printed on their lids, and the right make of the grates on the storm drains. The view down Byron street, south to the tunnel and north to the dock district, was almost right.

But Francesca didn’t recognize the buildings. It felt like she had blinked, and from one second to the next, the lanterns had disappeared, and the buildings had shifted, and the whole city of San Angelo had turned upside-down.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. The screen glowed, eerie and blue in a street that was suddenly much darker than it had been before.

She had a text from Tim. “Did you make it home safe? The Ballers had a game, right?”

Francesca gulped. She could text back. But maybe this wasn’t the time for texting. Staggering back to lean against the taqueria, she pressed the call button with shaking fingers, and held the phone to her ear.

“Cheska?” Tim answered. “You never call. What’s going on?”

“I”- What was she supposed to say? Francesca knew she hadn’t drank a drop of alcohol that night, but maybe she’d misremembered. Maybe she was just drunk. “Tim. Tim, I’m at the top of Chinatown hill.”

The line met her with silence.

“The buildings are wrong?” she gasped. “I don’t understand. Am I going crazy? Do I sound drunk? I was right in front of A-yi’s bakery.”

She heard the clink of Tim’s curtain rings. “I don’t see you at the corner. Are you sure?”

Francesca peered down Byron street. She saw the glitter of the San Angelo Bay, right where it should be, at the very end of the long, straight road to shore. “I’m sure.”

“Send me your location?” Tim suggested. She heard him bustling about his apartment. “I’ll come and get you.”

“Okay.” Francesca sniffled, coming down from the panic. Tim was a wizard. He had a car. He could fix this. “Okay. I’m hanging up now. Call me when you’re on your way?”

“Of course. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“Yeah. Yeah, thanks. Bye.”

She hung up and sent Tim her pin, which definitely showed her at the top of Chinatown hill, then slid her back down the wall of the taqueria, phone to her chest. The office tower in front of her loomed like godzilla, uncomfortably huge on top of the hill. Francesca thought for a moment, information coming back to her now that she knew help was on the way.

That wasn’t just any tower. Francesca could just make out the gleam of brand-new glazing panels and sleek metal storefronts. The tower itself, shaped like a shark’s fin, reflected enough light to display its XYZ corporation logo in clear silhouette.

Now Francesca knew she wasn’t seeing things. She’d kept a keen eye on that building when it went up, back when she was in school. It had a revolutionary elevator core system. Of course she’d know about it. But the XYZ headquarters were in South San Angelo, four miles from Chinatown, not even in San Angelo proper.

Its lights were all dark, even the logo, which was odd, because the building stayed lit at night. There had been a whole stink about running high-rise power to the area when XYZ decided to relocate.

But Chinatown did not have high-rise capacity. Chinatown’s largest building was a six story residential complex. And Francesca might not have been an electrical engineer, but she knew the requirements were vastly different. She glanced at the tower once more. It looked… tilted.

Her phone buzzed again, twice in quick succession. The first text came from Tim, already on his way. The second came from the city hall project hotline. Francesca didn’t have to read it to know what had happened. Someone had scrambled the city of San Angelo.

And to make it worse? They’d forgotten the infrastructure.


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Fri Nov 04, 2022 2:01 pm
Liminality wrote a review...



Hi again Ventomology! I didn’t really have any serious suggestions reading through this chapter, so this is mostly reader reactions and ‘what happens next’ type speculations.

First Impressions

I am really fascinated by the premise of this story! As I think I’ve said before, I enjoy seeing Francesca’s technical perspective on the city she lives in, and even though the end of this chapter is spooky/unsettling I also find it really interesting. Like how does one go about scrambling a city? How do you unscramble it? Those questions leave me eager to read on. The interactions between Francesca and her colleagues in the beginning were really funny as well and set up the contrast with the later more serious/ intense scene.

Characters

I like how Francesca is shown here being the ‘serious responsible friend’ to her other two colleagues.

Winona’s mouth curled into a smug, satisfied smile. “We totally did. Can you believe it? We’re so cool.”
“Yes, yes,” Francesca said, “you’re very cool.”

This moment was relatable – that feeling of placatingly agreeing to someone’s self-compliment but also *actually* agreeing a bit on the inside xD
Winona blinked bleerily at it, and then tugged George toward the stairs. "Here’s our stop. Text when you get home, Cheska!”

I also like this little detail of Winona asking her to text, because it shows that she cares for her (even while very very drunk).
Maybe if George called out with a hangover tomorrow, Francesca could take over the Vinedo project.

This continuity from the previous chapter is cool! Francesca’s passion for her work always shows.

Setting

Okay, this is also kind of related to characterization, but I thought it was cool how Francesca’s thoughts and feelings relate to the setting. The descriptions in this chapter showed that really well.
They rose like the layers of a wedding cake, smooth and pastel in their stucco facades, and manicured bushes accented each tier like fondant flora.

This line gets across a sense of phoniness, especially with word choices like “manicured” and the simile “like fondant flora” (and I also like how you managed to link that to the wedding cake !!). It conveys Francesca’s dislike of the place even without her saying so outright.
To contrast, the descriptions of Chinatown show how much she likes the place and feels she belongs there.

Plot

I thought it was spooky that *just* the buildings have been scrambled, detached from everything else underneath. Is there symbolism there I wonder? I haven’t read through all of your LMS pinboard yet, and maybe you talked about it there, but I’m thinking there could be just based on reading this chapter. To me it conveys this feeling of disorientation or being disconnected from the roots.
The tower itself, shaped like a shark’s fin, reflected enough light to display its XYZ corporation logo in clear silhouette.

This bit is ominous! I wonder if and how the XYZ corporation will play into this. I’m thinking they could either be involved in the scrambling somehow or that since their own building got scrambled, the person responsible had it out for their company. I’m also curious to see how the aether-loved will come back again since that was a key point in Chapter 1.

Overall

I think this is a good ‘inciting incident’ type chapter that shows the premise and how it fits into the larger context of Francesca’s relationship to the city. Having her muse about the city before seeing it being scrambled is definitely a cool way to introduce the stakes and why it matters to her.

Hope this helps and feel free to ask for more feedback!
-Lim




Ventomology says...


Oh my god Lim I love you you have added a layer of meaning to this that I didn't even know about when I wrote it. <3 <3 <3



Liminality says...


Hehe yay! <3




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