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I’ve done it! I’ve bloody done it!” he cried, leaping into the air, clapping his hands, beaming, the problem finally solved.

The autumn wind was coming down the valley from China, but, to Javad Azaizeh, it felt as chilly as if it were pouring south from Siberia. He should be inside on a night like this, but insomnia always left him feeling lonely, and Khabarovsk’s night market seemed like the perfect remedy.

Vermillion in the shadows of the next row of kiosks caught his eye, and he walked closer. In the narrow aisle between a noodle stall and one that sold prepaid viewpads for the municipal space, a stocky man in an apron swept his bare forearm up and down, back and forth. Red flashed with every movement. The noodle-seller — he hadn’t even put down his long chopsticks — paused, and the diodes in the skin of his forearm winked out.

He was looking over Javad’s head, and Javad turned.

Up on a rooftop overlooking the market square, a woman waved in response. Her arm, too, traced red on the night, a series of symbols that hung on the air through persistence of vision.

Javad smiled in recognition — he knew those symbols. Forty years ago, touring with Cheba Alia’s orchestra when he was just a city kid who’d never been more than ten kilometers out of Paris, he’d seen the same alphabet on hand-lettered signs in towns on the edge of the Sahara. They’d seemed then like the most exotic thing in the world. He’d never learned how to read them, and what a noodle-seller in a Korean market in a Russian city was using them to say, he couldn’t guess.

Javad turned back to see the noodle-seller resume his side of the conversation, his arm a blur. There must be some sophisticated on-the-fly processing behind the simple arm-waving — the quick-fading scarlet lines were crisp.

Javad’s admiration was tempered by hunger — the smell of fish and spices reminded him he hadn’t eaten since midday.

“Pardon, but when you have a moment…” he said.

The noodle-seller’s arm continued flaring letters on the twilight, his gaze remained fixed on his distant companion, and Javad had no idea if the man had even heard him.

Luc Reid

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