‘Three, two, one’

“I’ll swap you.”

L-5 held out a clear plastic disc, scuffed in places but free of cracks. In the beginning, it had been the face of a wall clock, but they were too young to know what that was. He angled it back and forth, clasped tight in his grubby palms, like an auctioneer’s assistant might show off an antique silver platter.

“For these? No chance.” K pulled the sunglasses over his eyes. In the constant semi-darkness of this place, they no longer had any purpose as sun protection. It was just that he felt somehow more streetwise with them on.

“Yeah, I know. What about the pop tray?” L-5 eyed the half-crushed pill dispenser in K’s wheelbarrow hopefully.

“Sure. Guess they’re about equal.”

K extracted it from beneath an empty blood bag, peeling a sticky nitrile glove off the side. He couldn’t believe his luck. PET 1 for PS 6? And so much of it as well. This was an excellent trade, but he mustn’t give that away. Perhaps L-5 hadn’t quite grasped the rules yet.

They placed each item on the ground between them, as was the custom.

“Three, two, one, take,” they both grunted in unison, snatching their new item on the final syllable.

As soon as it was his, L-5 began to press each socket of the pill tray with a hunger that looked familiar. He pressed so hard, his fingers burst through to the other side of every cell.

“S’empty, man. I could’ve told you that.”

L-5 said nothing. He turned to face his trolley. He straightened the plastic and slid it in on its side, like a dossier into a filing cabinet.

“One for the collection?” K asked, with a wry smile.

L-5 raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, it’s not for me.” His hands moved forward to another tray. He lifted it up. “It’s for them.”

What K saw next was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Even in the dim light, it gleamed like cold petroleum jelly; like stearin set rigid in the tray’s square compartments. L-5 sliced the cap from one of the cells.

“Here, try it.” L-5 held the tray out towards him.

Inside the cell resided an amber liquid. Even through the darkness of his sunglasses it looked divine: enticingly clear, glassy, already spilling over the edges. It was begging to be tasted.

At that moment, a creature appeared at the edge of his vision. A humming fuzz of legs and wings. And another, and another. They bumbled clumsily towards the tray, so close he felt the cool brush of air they displaced against his skin.

K edged backwards, trying to act calm. He was used to bluebottles, but this… this was something else. They must have been five, ten times the size. Was this a trick? Could they kill him? Would they steal any of his load? The spell was broken. He threw the plastic disc into his wheelbarrow, stooped to grab its handles, and ran.

“Suit yourself,” L-5 called out after him. “It’d make a great frisbee, y’know.”