The River Horse is a legend. One of those Sparkly Last Humans, you never really see them, just hear about them from cousins and old friends and the guys in the Tank Shop. Supposedly he was like a last Renaissance Survivor, multilingual, book-headed, self-aware, a master codemonger and reputed to be hell on earth in a knife-fight. I assumed the name came from some sort of odd reference to Nessie, and I knew for a fact that the only people left alive were the Small and Lost -- people like to blow things up into great stories, though, especially when they get compressed down to the last few thousand or so, those on the very last millimeters of When We Lived, before the Fall.
Soon enough, there'll be no reason to read the clocks.
My old buddy The Rack blipped me through the pipe that River Horse was throwing a food party, and wanted to know if I could show. Hell. I hadn't been invited to a gathering of people in at least a decade, it seemed. In the old movies, everyone gets together in the face of certain death and re-establishes their humanity in some soulful catharsis; but in real life, when fear becomes a gray buzz in the early morning, after the soul has grown so weary of expecting death that even the strongest hominids lay down and wish to die, no one gathers at all. More like dogs, slinking away to find a hole to curl in, alone, utterly tread upon.
But the invitation seemed genuine, and as an unexpected burst of generosity in a time when most bare teeth at the thought of sharing, as well as a chance to see if this famous River Horse was real at all, I had to go. The Rack also invited Cheeba, and asked me to travel with her in the tunnels for safety. I was glad to have the extra gun along. Tunnels are bad these days. Places where they fall in, the gremls get in and go to havoc, laying traps and chopping whole branches off the last human tree. No one travels without a damned good reason.