Punky swipes his credcube over the meals cart’s paystalk then gestures for a footlong hotdog.
Dogman sees Punky by means of dreamy mists. The credcube registers and unlocks his crankshaft. Dogman’s titanium elbows squeak to life. The dream lifts — he acknowledges the boy, smiles. The cart clock resets to 2 minutes; an aperture spirals open over the hotdog tank. Dogman fishes a footlong from steamy water utilizing copper-tone tongs.
Punky shifts from foot to foot — the asphalt sunblazed mushy. The Collective’s group air models gust an city canyon coolness for merciful distinction. That synthetic wind splays into invisible chaotic eddies round Dogman’s meals cart and animates the manbun roosting on Punky’s green-streaked moptop.
“He’s banishing me!” Punky says.
Dogman checks his matte steel jaw earlier than talking. “Decelerate, boy. Who’s banishing you?”
“My Pop — capturing me off to a Moonside commerce faculty, rinky-dinky, unaligned, sittin’ there on that useless rock. In the meantime, my buddies get to go out to the brand new Collective Institute proper right here on Earth.”
“Context, Punky, context.” Dogman wristflicks the footlong dry and nestles it into the mock-seed bun with a servo-fluid movement, then tool-changes the tongs for a yellow squirt bottle.
“He’s sending me away, Dogman!”
Dogman shakes the mustard bottle as soon as, twice, then tops off the canine with seaweed relish. He presents the masterpiece. “Eat, Punky boy, and pay attention about context.” He wipes his non-slip fingers on a purple chequered towel. “Pay attention good now.”
The boy retains shifting as he takes a chew. Yellow and inexperienced streamers of condiment dapple a patchwork mosaic alongside the bun.
Dogman leans in near Punky’s ear. “Way back, when the Collective was simply startin’ up, a person and his growed-up son was celebrating by eatin’ swanky at a cloth-napkin joint. They order and — lickety lickety — a white-glove waiter plops down two high quality porterhouse cuts sauced up ritzy. Son appears to be like at dad and says, ‘This steak wants extra salt’.”
Punky stands mid-chew, transfixed.
“Dad’s face twists horrific for a blink, then he squares up. Bounds over the desk, sending plate ’n’ platter ascatter, lands along with his boy in a full Nelson.” Dogman folds up his arms round an invisible opponent to display the unbreakable wrestling maintain.
Punky’s eyes go double large. “The hell? Simply ’explanation for salt?”
Dogman holds off the query with one outstretched manipulator, as just one minute stays on the cart clock. “Everybody within the joint is shouting on the dad’s violence, cursing him, however they’re afraid he’ll snap the boy’s neck, so stand again. Cops arrive forthwith and tear the person off his son. Boss cop takes one have a look at the person’s face and orders the son to be toted off in cuffs to Thought Remodelling. And the dad? Launched, weeping. The gang rails in opposition to the injustice.
“What you consider that, Punky?”
Punky’s face is all scrunched up machinating. “Crooked cops. They had been all crooked again then, Collective says. Tight with the dad, took down that poor, harmless son —”
“Context! Yeah, cop knew the dad, however weren’t no cahoots concerned. Simply this: cop knew the household, knew the historical past. The context.”
Punky takes one other chew, shakes his head whereas chewing. “I dunno, Dogman.”
“Rattling proper you don’t! No scenario on this planet nor some other is ever the true begin. There’s all the time a earlier than. And the story don’t make no sense with out figuring out that specific earlier than. Or worse, what sense you attempt to make with out figuring out that earlier than ain’t no sense — simply nonsense.”
“You makin’ my head spin, Dogman, you might be!” Punky laughs.
“Properly, then,” Dogman says, laughing with him, “spin the opposite method to straighten on out!”
Punky tries it, spins on one foot, thereby to counter-rotate his confusions. Globs of mustard and seaweed relish fly out from the footlong. Punky slows to a wobbling cease.
“Did it work?” Dogman says, laughing so arduous his audio system crackle.
“Naw, simply dizzy.” Punky’s eyes dart backwards and forwards following a gyrating world Dogman needs he may additionally see.
“And what must you be a-searching for to know, Punky?”
Punky’s eyes settle, and he’s again to feet-shifting on the sweltering floor. “Possibly … context?”
Dogman raises his manipulators within the air as if praising the Almighty. “You bought it, Punky. See, what the cop knew, and also you didn’t, is that this: that son received launched from a Collective Thought Remodelling Centre that very day. Why’d he been there? Years earlier his thoughts received scrambled by a glitchy mindforge at his Collective faculty. That night time he stabbed a waiter with a steak knife. And earlier than he killed that first waiter, what that boy’d mentioned?”
Punky has each completed consuming the footlong and completed reckoning the reply. “Not sufficient salt?”
“Yessir, Punky. Yessir.”
“Dad was justified, then. That boy wanted one other spherical of remodelling. First spherical didn’t take!”
Dogman nods. “Really. Everyone there thought in any other case, you thought in any other case. Since you all had no context. So, what must you be doing, Punky?”
Punky stands there for a second like his mind is a vulture circling overhead, in search of a carcass of that means to select by means of. “I ought to … ask my Pop why he needs me to go to that unaligned Moonside tradeschool as a substitute of the Collective faculty. Ask if there’s some sorta … context.”
A tone sounds from the cart clock, calling for extra credit.
“I’m quick at present, Dogman, sorry. Can’t maintain ya awake.”
“It’s OK, Punky, let me dream. Go speak together with your Pop.”
Three extra tones: sharp, insistent. Dogman freezes up. The vat’s aperture twists closed, encasing the steaming water.
As his mind mists over, Dogman watches Punky stroll away — looking for context. Dogman will dream of distant instances, earlier than the Collective decanted his thoughts. He’ll dream of his long-ago life, of his hard-won knowledge, of his many struggles. However Dogman fears that he’ll additionally dream these painful recollections of his addled, murderous son.