We burned the whole morning and half the afternoon in the market. I thought we had it made when we uncovered a stash of clean water in old-world containers. I should have known better. Nothing is ever that easy. It turns out there are entire merchant companies devoted to the water trade, and nobody in Milwaukee is in a hurry to hand out goods or tokens to scruffy-looking strangers with water from a mystery source. I can't even blame them, really – tainted water will kill you in a messy, unpleasant way, so you want to get it from someone you trust. But that doesn't make it any easier, or any less frustrating, to lug two heavy jugs around from stall to stall looking for a buyer.

The market is laid out like a maze of narrow streets between jerry-built merchant stalls. The stalls are wood, anything from stained and fitted planks to hunks of old crates and scrap lumber hammered together. You can get an idea of how a merchant's business is doing by how crappy the construction of his stall is. We stick to the most rickety ones we see, figuring a poor merchant will be more likely to pay or barter for water. It hasn't worked out so far.

They sell almost everything here. There are stalls for tools, farm implements, parts for old-world machinery, clothing, liquor... my first instinct was to look around for weapons, but I haven't seen any, unless you count the tools (Mom used to say, “Any tool is a weapon if you grip it right”). And of course there's food, in what seems like a third of the stalls. There's meat roasting on spits, a thick goopy porridge that looks vile but smells delicious, and plump sausages sizzling and splitting on a grille set over an open wood fire, making my mouth water and my stomach grumble as we pass. It's been a while since we ate last. It isn't helping my mood.

Bindi and Marv both talk about the market like it's filthy; they wrinkle up their noses whenever it gets mentioned. Maybe it is. I don't know. All I can say for sure is that it's cleaner than most of the places I've slept in the last few years. A matter of different standards, I guess. I wouldn't mind being here if it wasn't for all the people.

They're everywhere, moving in all directions, milling around, nudging and bumping, standing too close, everyone in everyone else's way. Twenty different times I catch myself reaching for a knife and have to force my hand away. My people had a healthy respect for personal space. Standing too close to someone just wasn't done, and uninvited touching was an invitation to fight. Here, everyone does it, to each other and to me. Nobody else seems to mind. They act like it's natural for people to brush up against them without an apology or a brawl. It keeps me on edge all day, getting more and more cranked up until it feels like I'm going to explode. Finally I shove my hands in my pockets so I can't do any of the obvious things with them. Drawing attention is the last thing we need.

Marv spots her first: a haggard middle-aged woman in one of the rattiest, most run-down stalls, her hungry eyes fixed on the water jugs we're carrying. The stall is just a tent rigged to keep the sun off her, nailed on top of some old crates. Inside there's a big kettle cooking over an small open flame. The hand-lettered sign out front reads, “SouP”. We step inside so Marv can talk to her.

Her name is Anna, and she's got a sad story. Her son – a stocky kid, probably seven or eight years old – tried to steal from one of the water merchants, got caught, and now they're blacklisted. The kid ducks his head and looks like he might start crying while his mom tells us about it. Marv and Bindi make sad puppy-eyes at him. I just stand there and wait for the story to be over. It's not that I don't feel bad for the kid. But this world is a big nasty monster, and it'll eat him if he gives it half a chance. There are things he has to learn, and some of the lessons will be harsh. A couple of days without water won't kill him, but they'll teach him not to steal things or to get better at it. Either way, he'll live longer.

Marv and Anna work out a price for the the water. She treats us a bowl of her soup, on the house, while she counts out our tokens. We each grab an earthenware bowl and help ourselves. The stuff's been boiling all day until it's a lumpy brown sludge. My mother would have called it stew. There are potatoes in it, and a couple of vegetables I don't recognize; the tribe didn't didn't have the land or the interest to grow plants much. The meat in it is hard to find, but the flavor of it is everywhere. It's salty and tangy and heavenly, so thick I can practically chew on it. The bowl is empty before I know it.

Bindi and Anna are chatting about growing vegetables; I remember for the first time in days that Bindi was a gardener back home. Marv is sitting cross-legged on the ground, playing a dice game with the kid. No coins are switching hands, so he must be trying to cheer the boy up. I scoop up another bowl of stew and watch the crowd, looking for enemies.


Bindi is at my elbow, staring up at me. “You're really tense,” she says. “Is it because you haven't gotten to hurt anyone in so long?”

I study her face, looking for a grin that would tell me she's joking or a sneer that would tell me she's giving me shit. Neither one happens. It's a serious, legitimate question. And I realize I don't know the answer.