Nothing moved, even though this was not true. Something moved. In cities something always moved. You could look at a scene and even though its entire frame and posture was quiet something would be moving. The Rail, for instance. The small tight glow of a car on the Eastbound. Signs blinking. Windows. Small functions of light blunted by distance.
The boy looked at the city and waited for the sun to come up. This is what he was thinking; that something always moved. Sometimes when he looked at a scene that was perfectly still and saw something moving at last he found it strangely heartbreaking. It was like looking at a person sleeping; like looking at this person breathe. Modest and necessary actions.
War had not changed the city. There was, in some way, a tightening of things. Prices gestured in faintly dangerous directions, as they always did. Until the war came, actually came, to the city, it would not change. That was the thing about cities. They grew voraciously and then at some point having received some sign or signal they stopped and started falling apart. It was decay but it was gentle, untamed but idle, and reassuring. It gave resilience. So even though war had taken people and money the city did not notice.
People would come back from the war, alive and therefore unmourned, but people forgot to celebrate. But the boy thought that in any case there was no need to celebrate. Things were always moving, even moving on.
The Recruitment and Transfer tent was in the shadow of one of the larger buildings. In an hour or so it would open. The boy had watched military take people for several weeks. They took people; yes. They told people the truth; they forced no-one; they followed procedure; they kept you informed; they accepted only the consenting; and they took people. The process was immaculate and venomous. It was hard to say what was wrong with it and in any case the boy thought, in a way that few people his age realised, that the military did something very good. Alchemising pain into something more soluble. Even if people died, which they did, there appeared something in that function that was not easy to dismiss. The boy had watched people return from the war. Their faces were blank. They came to the offworld terminal and walked out of the tent with blank faces and put their bags down just outside the entrance. They talked to people. They bitched about the military, sometimes, and laughed. Some of it sounded very genuine. The voices were blank and relieved. Sometimes they did not talk to people and just sat and cried. Some of them held papers in their hands and looked at them for a long while. Some of them put their hands on the shoulders of other people. The hands were big or small or dark or pale and they clutched or were loose. The thing was that the military did not attempt to hide this. You signed up for the military while you watched people return. There was nothing to hide. It was a trick made unassailable by its honesty. Tell people about the duty and the glory of it; tell them about the death. And then say: but there is money, and this a death you are allowed breathe about. In an incalculable way it was, as they said, worth it. They never said what it was because there was no need or because any need had long since bled away.
The boy stood on the hill and watched the sun come up. A train rumbled in its slow inertial flight past the Old Interbank building. Metal shone. Even concrete has its inflections of loss and grief. The boy thought this, or came close to thinking this, in a way he might not have been aware of. He went down.
The inside of the tent smelled of paper. There was a lot of it around. The boy stared for a while; paper was very expensive. But information on paper could only be stolen if you took the paper. In the war that had turned out to be important.
How did you fight the Kingdom? They had their Descendants; they had their Leviathan. These things people knew about and spoke about. Then there were other things people knew about but did not really understand or did not want to understand and these things people rarely spoke about.
It was not now relevant. The soft bustle inside the tent moved around they boy. Dates were mentioned; someone asked for the PT Forms to be passed over please before lunch this time; a sentence that ended with “…total fucking dickhead, that’s why…” – and then laughter; more faintly: “Well I mean yes but you know…” There were no queues at this hour. Some people stared at the boy. They knew what he was here to do. Maybe they pitied him. The boy did not know what to feel about that. Maybe it was not so much that he did not know what to feel about it as much as the fact that he did not feel anything about it in the first place.
A sign said: UNDOCUMENTED ENLISTMENT. The corporal at the desk leaned over to look at the boy. He saw a slender wounded thing that was grey everywhere. Grey eyes, grey hair, hands that came together in nervousness.