When mining operations ceased in the valley over a century ago, the unearthed ore had been refined and utilized for the construction of the city. The resulting metal, rhodium, had been used in nearly every structure in the district. In the shadowed lower streets of Rhod, this metal shimmered like polished ebony.
Rain had been falling steadily for half an hour. It created broken streaks of neon on the streets and walkways. Shallow puddles began to form. They rippled in intersecting rings of all colors of the spectrum. 4th Avenue was flanked by wide structures that stretched hundreds of meters up into a livid blue sky. The median lines glowed gold through veils of silver mist that hovered above the road like phantoms. The air was a hush. The tire of a night-blue sedan splashed water onto the walkway. The reflected lights of the city glossed over the car’s surface as it cut down the wide, multi-lane street.
At the next intersection, the sedan turned down a narrower street that shone with more colorful lights. Although the roadways were sparse with foot traffic, Lena could see plenty of nightlife in the bars and clubs they passed. It was nearly 10 o’clock and this was her first time seeing the inner city. From the back of a taxi she was able to examine her surroundings. They entered an entertainment district where business grew dense. Ahead of her, vivid hues of light overlapped against the jet-metal backdrop. She felt as if she were travelling deep into the mouth of an immense liquified kaleidoscope.
Lena sat in the back on a black leather bench seat. Her left hand rested in her jacket pocket, kneading the leather gloves within. She rested her other elbow on the windowsill, unaware that she had been restlessly biting her thumbnail for most of the car ride. Although safe from the weather outside, she covered her head and hair with a dark hood.
She had been eyeing the message over and over. She had no idea how he had gotten her contact, but Jael had sent her the address to his office. Although nervous, she was still interested in his offer. Vermilion was one of Rhod’s top choices for adult entertainment, and she felt like she was in for a crash course in Rhod culture.
She peered out her window, assessing how much water was going to make it past her hood. The car pulled off to the right shoulder of the road and glided to a soft stop.
The building had a beautiful, illuminated red sign featuring a circle pierced by a sharp-lettered “Vermilion”. A green light blinked on the passenger side door. She pressed it. The rear car door slid forward on its track. Bracing against the weather, she zipped her outer jacket and cinched her hood just a bit tighter.
She only had to jog about twenty feet, but by the time she reached the door her hood was soaked through with cold rain. A line of about thirty people huddled beneath a well-placed awning. Around them, a low barrier kept the queue single-file. Huge, dark tinted windows covered the front of the building. A large man in his mid-30s stood at the double-door entrance behind a podium, tall and black clad. From within, a low bass beat carried through the glass. He looked down at her questioningly.
The podium he stood behind displayed holographic text that floated a few inches above its surface. Without reviewing the list, he stepped aside and opened the door. The bass was accompanied by melodic dance music loud enough to drown out all other noise. Lena entered a hallway. To her immediate left was a counter. Behind the counter stood a young woman with short, unnaturally bright red hair who acknowledged something the security guard said before motioning for Lena’s hand. When Lena presented it, the woman marked it with a bold ‘X’ that glowed sharply under the colored lights.
As Lena withdrew her hand, the red-haired girl motioned for Lena to move in. She yelled something to Lena, trying to speak over the music. However, Lena could only catch some of the words,
“...DOWN...THE...WAY, ...TAKE….GO UP ... STAIRS...OFFICE….HALLWAY.” Lena had to place her ear almost inside the other girl’s mouth to hear her instructions. Thankfully, the girl’s hand motions filled in the gaps.
“THANKS!” Lena screamed back as politely as she could.