The probability storms rage over the city of Orokus, changing it and changing the people who live there. There are rumors that somewhere else exists, but are they true?
Orokus is a frightening place. A dangerous place, where the unexpected is commonplace, and nothing stays the same for long. When the probability storms lash the city, it and its citizens change. Streets appear or disappear randomly. Entire neighborhoods are created or swallowed up. Old folks still recall the day Orokus reversed itself, creating a mirror image of itself. But usually the changes are smaller. A girl might wake up changed to a boy, a man might suddenly start speaking another language, or with six fingers on his hand instead of five. People could be transported over time and space, and children changed to fragile, breakable glass.
Once it had been a magnificent city, with elegantly designed and elaborately decorated buildings. But today it lies in ruins, the technology used to create it long forgotten. The people who live there range from the very rich to the very poor. The rich live in luxurious houses or towers, and are comfortable and well fed. The poor live in crowded, dirty, walled ghettos, and have to scramble for every scrap of food. But the probability storms are equally dangerous to all of them, no matter where they live.
Rail and Mao live in the ghettos. They are thieves, the best of the many who work for Anya-Jacana, the cruel and powerful thief-mistress they must call Mother. The stripes tattooed on their arms ensure that they will live in the ghettos forever, with no chance of making a better life for themselves, doing whatever they can to get food, living in a den in one of the ruined buildings. They both bear reminders of the probability storms. Rail's lungs don't work, and he must wear a respirator that covers the bottom of his face. Mao has recently changed from being right-handed to being left-handed, something that makes her ability to pick locks more difficult. Anya-Jacana has given them a floorplan of one of the old buildings and strict instructions on what to bring her from it. A gang of Mozgas live in it, unhuman monsters created by the storms, with an insatiable desire for human flesh and the ability to move faster than the eye can see. Rail and Mao are lucky to find the box they are looking for, empty it, and escape with their lives.
When they get back to their den to rest before visiting the thief-mistress, Rail shows Moa what he found in the box. It's an amber disk with two bronze rings set at right angles to it. Rail knows it came from the "before" time, built by the people who built the city. He didn't know what it was for, but he knew it was valuable, very valuable. Anya-Jacana couldn't possibly have known it would be in the box. He'd give her the rest of what he'd found, and keep this for himself. She'd never miss it.
But Rail is wrong. Anya-Jacana did know the amber trinket was in the box, and now she knows it's missing, and that Rail took it. Suddenly, Rail and Mao are on the run, running for their lives and for the right to possess a small amber and bronze object that allows its wearer to walk through walls.
This booktalk was written by university professor, librarian, and booktalking expert Joni Richards Bodart.