Rats in the Pipes

By vagrant All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Romance


The earth has suffered a climate catastrophe far exceeding even the most pessimistic 21st century scenarios. The idealists who built the biosphere Eden city of Esperance to protect and shelter humanity were betrayed by the super-rich Tesh Viks to whom they turned for financial help. The Tesh Viks took the view that the city and its inhabitants were to be theirs to rule absolutely, dedicated to preserving a life of luxury and comfort for the few. Under their despotic rule Esperance is crumbling. Mired in corruption and incompetence the city is beginning to fall apart. Every free citizen lives with the fear of slipping down and over the line into debt bondage and slavery. Apathy and fear keep people obedient. Life is regulated by the City Code that governs all aspect of dress and behaviour. Fines and punishments for non-conformity are increasingly severe. Ben, a dreamer with a past and a price on his head, longs for love and companionship but he dare not trust anybody. He survives alone until a chance encounter with a very unusual person shakes him out of his safety zone and makes him start taking risks. But then everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

Just Another Day

200 New Era Calendar (2219 AD) – Turn 2 – Work Cycle 1 – Day 5

Today is another day to exist. One more day like every other day in the termite mound of Esperance. The City of Hope, what a joke, Desperance would be a more accurate name. Except a three cred tip makes it a good existence. Three meals or maybe two meals and a shower, options are a nice thing to have…′

I was jerked out of my thoughts by the beep of a citicam drone that sped along the street and hovered in front of me for a moment. I turned allowing it to scan my tabard and in a mood of not caring about taking the piss out of authority winked at it. Once it turned the corner I was alone in the street. I bent and loosened the top of my boot, pushed the tokens into it and refastened the clips. No way were anyone’s light fingers going to relieve me of the welcome addition to my finances.

Here on the top level of MidCit, unlike the lower levels, there is a feeling of light and space. The skin of the city is solar glass but here, unlike the lower levels, there is no inner wall to block the natural light. The buildings are not crowded in on each other. I hitched my now empty bag securely over my shoulder. As I did so the setting sun shone through a break in the clouds and I paused for a moment, enjoying the brightness. The architects of the biosphere city intended every level to be like this. If you stood on the other side of the reservoir the City would entrance your eyes. Esperance rises out of it’s own reflection in the artificial lake that fills the valley. A green column against the dark, weathered grey rocks, rising out of the water and climbing the scarp face of the cliffs that form the north side of the valley. A place of refuge and beauty. Unfortunately dreams and ideals don’t compete with cold, hard cash. Space and light have a commercial value and below the top ten levels we live in an artificially lit, noisily air conditioned and crowded environment. The lower you go the smellier, dirtier and more claustrophobic it gets.

I plodded my way slowly back towards the central concourse. There’s one on every level surrounding the spine of the City. Level 1 as high as the central elevators go in the City. Above them is the separate elevator that goes to UpCit. It’s in a cage with gates but it’s a very elegant cage with plants and seats and a heavily guarded checkpoint. None of which interested me in the slightest. The timer read 17.45. If I didn’t hurry I’d get back to the depot a few minutes after the official end of my shift. My feet hurt and I was in no mood for another delivery. I took the escalator rather than the elevator. No-one ever calls them by their full names. I think Scaler and Vator are probably official new words. As I travelled slowly downwards I considered the ethics of augmenting my income by using my boyish looks to flirt tips out of middle aged women. I shrugged off the voice of disapproval in my head. I depend on tips to make ends meet.

The depot is on level 27 and I was back down to the familiarity of home; the lower levels of MidCit. No trace here of status or wealth. Just an existence that is tolerable, at least for me, since I have no desire to hustle my way up the levels. I dawdled my way from the scaler along the spoke to the Speedel depot. If I got back even a minute before 18.00 the chances were that dispatcher would send me out on another delivery that would take me well over my shift time. It is a game of power and dependency played out every day between me and Dom. The timer screen in the dispatch area registered one minute past when I got there, good, perfect timing. I threw my bag in the bin and took off my Tak card. I had just finished swiping it to register the end of my shift when a voice rasped.

“Hey Benny boy, c’mon over here when you’re done.”

Damn, what did Dumhead want? I slid over to the dispatcher’s booth.

“Hi Dom” I waited for the man to speak. I had discovered it was better to let him take the lead in all exchanges; one, he liked the sound of his own voice and two, there was less chance of getting suckered. Dom opened the Tak record on the screen. I stifled my annoyance at him checking over my log. There was no need but Dom liked to exercise power.

“You didn’t hurry back from that last drop, wasting time again.”

“That was the last few minutes of my rest period time. I don’t have to rush back for an over the shift job today. My numbers are good this cycle.”

Dom pointed his finger at me “Stay nice Benny boy or they might drop off.” He glanced round the depot. We were alone. There are no night deliveries though the front office stays open until 22.00. “Want you to do me a favour.” I scowled and Dom said hastily. “No need to look like that; not that sort. Want you to give me a hand getting to the concourse. I’m knocking off.”

I was surprised, that was the last thing I’d been expecting.

“I don’t mind. Got stuff to carry?” I waited while Dom shut down his station and then came out, manoeuvring himself awkwardly. I whistled.

“Spire shite Dom. Your legs are really bad.” The skin of Dom’s legs stretched shiny tight over the swollen flesh that bulged out from beneath his shorts, his feet lost in folds of inflamed skin. He was leaning on two elbow sticks and could barely shuffle. He gestured at the two bags by his chair.

“Lot worse than the last time and that was bad enough. Carry those for me.”

“No problem.” We made slow progress out of the Speedel depot and towards the concourse.

“You want the Vator Dom?”

“Yeah easier” He looked at me “I didn’t want to ask in there but this ain’t the favour. Want you to take something for me personal. Not Speedel business, not illegal. I do it myself once a Turn. I can’t not with my legs like this. No money in it as such but I’ll make sure you get some HiMids or even an UpCit job when I can. You know I keep them for the boys who are more obliging than you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I know how scratch my back works. Is that why I had a top HiMid today, to soften me up?” I paused then when Dom said nothing asked, “What is this drop then?”

“It’s just some food and a few creds for a friend of mine. He’s fallen on hard times. Problem is the drop has to be made on 48 and that’s a place where you need to move fast sometimes.”

“Rat crap. That’s a place where you need to move fast all the time. Can’t your friend wait? I don’t fancy getting knocked over the head. You probably only asked me to get rid of me.”

“Nah, I asked you because I can trust you.” I stared at him in amazement.

“You abuse me as a waste of space Dom. Where’d this come from all of a sudden?”

“You won’t do illegals. We’ve been round that pipe enough times I know you mean it, not holding out for a good cut. So you’re roked in the head but that’s your problem. I figured it’s the kind of weird that means you’ll keep your mouth shut and not take advantage. This friend doesn’t need people clacking about him.”

“Is he wanted Dom?”

“Yes but not criminal. Look he wisped damn fool that he is. Well he didn’t want to end up down the garbage chutes so he cut and run. I give him a bit of help that’s all. You don’t need to ask any more. You do it or not?” Indecision churned my stomach. The sensible thing would be to give Dom his bags and go home but Dom could always pull my card then I’d be back to not eating. Then again I’ve never been sensible.

“Yes all right.” We shuffled into the down Vator.

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