Tree took the train to her studio. She couldn't stop thinking about Chip's odd call. She looked at the people on the train. Most of the time she didn't. Look at people. Most people were clothed in verts--it was safer in the city to be covered. Many wore big glasses--verts on the outside, personal computers facing them. But today Tree looked at people. She did what she could to imagine their naked bodies beneath clothes, unclouded faces underneath hair and behind vert. There was a small woman across from her with blue hair. On purpose blue, not old lady blue. The woman's lips were chapped. Tree watched her lick them twice and wipe her nose on her glove, an ivory leathery one, possibly antique: it had no digitals. Tree thought the woman to be about thirty, with a frail, pale skeletal body. Perhaps with freckles across her chest--she had that type of coloring. Tree couldn't decide whether her thinness was hunger or fashion. But it mattered, and she tried to scrutinize the question. The woman coughed and Tree wondered, Disease?
It was more difficult to see the person beneath than she remembered. In the slumurbs when she was little, people had worn less. An apron with a vert perhaps, or on an overcoat. But more and brighter verts meant poorer--so the scrappers in the slumurbs tried to keep it subtle, tried to hide their reliance. In the city--though--standards were different: reversed in that way that indicates a rebellious attitude combined with the complete lack of power and will to change anything. Everyone embraced the verts. Everyone on public transport anyway. The people with enough money to use the skyway--she never saw them. When she sold an erasure to a rich client, if she got to meet him or her (sometimes they wanted this), they'd have verts on their clothing. But Tree imagined, as with their homes and with her art, that if they wanted to--they had enough money to make things blanker.
When the train pulled up to her stop, she stood to get out and the blue-haired woman stood with her. They walked out of the train together, and for the first time in a very long time, Tree felt someone's presence beside her own. She liked the sensation, also she was pained by it.