We return tonight to the Dystopian uber-city with the second part of Night-Time is Always the Worst. This is the product of a collaboration between myself and Luke Newman, creator of the P.I. Kriever seen in the previous chapter, and creator of and model for Kirk Hazard’s “Sarge”, who walks behind the Jumpgates story.
As always, this is original work and not to be re-sold. Enjoy!
Neon tubes glared through the smudgy rain as Jonas made his way home. The sub-level buzz of the air scrubbers and the human muttering of the crowds drowned his thoughts and the plodding of his feet. A shrieking bell came up the pavement attached to a ProleBus overflowing with passengers. Sometimes it stopped, but usually it didn’t. Sometimes people got off, and sometimes they didn’t mean to when they did. The thing to know about a ProleBus is that it will not stop and there’s nothing that a prole like Jonas can do to stop its progress. If he wishes to board, there are rails on its exterior which he might grab and pull up by, provided his hand is not stepped on by those standing on them, and then he may ride in relative promptness to his destination, provided the ProleBus is going to pass his destination and that he can hold on that long. And even if he does not, his account will be charged a minimum passenger fee of three hundred quid—more if he hangs on for a mile or more. Jonas moved instinctively into the shadow of the buildings that soared into the barren neon-shot greyness that was the sky. Icy rainwater shot out from the blank-faced gargoyles far above and splattered in front of him. He buttoned his coat up to his nose and continued on.
Almost half an hour later he heard the homely, asthmatic death rattle of the air-scrubber at his corner. It was a comfortable sound, a beacon home in the crushing waves of the street. It had guided him home every night now for eight years to the same drafty building and the same putrid stairs, and the same motherless little girl at the top who made it all worthwhile. Clara was just at that dizzy age when a girl knows she is almost a lady, and a father knows only that she isn’t going to want anything the way she wanted it last year. Or maybe last week. In short, she was eleven and all that came with it. Her father doted on her. He would give his life to save hers.
Jonas was a Prole like seven hundred million others in the city. Every day he stood beside the conveyor and bolted little metal rods into place on half-finished iron hulks the men called Patosars. It was a reference to a forgotten monster in a forgotten time, that once lived on Earth That Was (ETW, usually pronounced Etoo). The Patosars came into the shop by sub-sentient robot out of a great dark door high in the north wall, and when the men on the floor had finished installing and lubricating and sealing and calibrating and polishing their assigned parts, another robot lifted the Patosars away through an identical door in the south wall and nobody knew where they went. They were never seen again.
At the top of the stairs Jonas lingered to listen behind him to the sounds of the building and the street beyond. The shriek of another ProleBus sounded far below and somewhere downstairs the Men In Their Suits were roughing up some other poor Proles who had angered the Suits somehow or not been able to pay them off. Jonas didn’t pay them off, either, but out of principle: if he did not pay them they did not know he existed, and he would be left alone. The seventh door past the corner was his, and Clara was waiting for him. He felt the tiny parcel under his coat. He didn’t feel quite safe yet, not until he got into the little three-room flat where Clara waited. She would love them.
The last door on his right was open, just before the corner. Voices were raised beyond it: frightened voices. Someone inside was crying as someone else—a husband, by all estimates—was trying badly to comfort her. Jonas caught his foot lingering and he reminded himself that it was not safe to eavesdrop, nor to be apprehended at it. Snooping was for the government to do and they retained the privilege themselves. But he caught this: someone was enrolled in the Homeland Attitude Directional Education School this morning and would not be coming back for a very long time. Jonas knew three lies about the school: first, that it was a popular and elite academy for the promotion and fostering of the best and brightest patriots into top level buerojobs; second, that it was a government program—but wasn’t everything?—to instill and achieve patriotism in enemy prisoners or civilian anarchists; third, that it did not exist. There was no fourth description.
Jonas cracked his neck as he approached the door of his flat. Rent would be coming due soon enough—too soon, in fact—and the landlord had begun to insist on ChinYen almost exclusively. The factory of Patosars paid by account deposit in DysCred, and the ChinYen exchange was so unpredictable at times that even on a good payday he did not know if he could get the ChinYen he would need for things that required it. It wasn’t that the exchange rates fluctuated, of course, it was the exchange fees that ran anywhere from two to sixty percent of the amount of currency exchanged. Of course the Black Market’s corrupt, they said. There’s no honor among thieves.
With this on his mind Jonas pressed his palm against the Gypsy Panel (so called because it read his palm), and…. Nothing happened. They still had not fixed it, no matter how many days they promised it by tonight. The crack down the middle of the gray panel was getting longer. With a sigh he typed in the backup entry code. The panel beeped, dinged, and a little red light blinked at the top of the door. He was locked out. He typed the code again, and again. He pulled out the lining of his coat pocket where he had written the combination in dye-pen and keyed it in one digit at a time. The emergency alarm went off.
Jonas panicked and froze. He muttered a prayer behind his lips that the Men In Suits would not arrest him for burglary at his own door. He grabbed the package in his coat—It had cost him his last four ChinYen for Clara’s sake, but it was worth it, if he could see her again. He tore the paper and felt the amulets: tiny gold things made into earrings for a Prole girl’s first piercings, in the shape of the Sacred Eagle, the symbol of the One-God to whom Jonas prayed at the locked door. The amulets brought him comfort. Was it the One-God that saved him? He did not know for sure, but suddenly, the locked door opened from the inside and a hand pulled him in. The alarm stopped.
“Who are you?” Jonas asked the tall woman in the leather uniform. “What are you doing here, and where is Clara?” He was frightened, and angry, but mostly frightened.
“The girl?” asked the woman in the bodysuit. “The one whose toys are all over this apartment? I didn’t see her. I only came in response to the alarm to keep you from being needlessly arrested, but I don’t know much about your daughter. Dystopiads In Suits, I suppose, from the looks of the place.” She had closed the door behind him and now walked casually to the open window where the cold rain blew in out of the neon-painted dusk. An expensive skybike was idling outside, painted in the same red-browns as her uniform. “I don’t mess with DIS, and the Homeland Attitude Developmental Education Schools are beyond even my reach. I’m sorry. Get yourself Miss Alex’s Department or some divine help if you want to see her again. I’ve got a long night ahead, though. Good evening!”
The woman dropped a card casually on the wet rug as Jonas reached to strangle her. What did she mean, D. I. S., huh? She was out on the skybike and fastening her helmet. At least she’d been decent enough to close the window for her own protection, the….. No, Jonas, he told himself, such thoughts are unholy and do no good, even if it feels good to think them. He picked up the card: a parody of a government shipping label: four lines of text and a bar code.
QTY 1 EACH
VOLATILE HANDLE WITH CARE
THIS SIDE UP
But Jonas was no fool, and had a lot of practice reading government bar codes. The one on the card described an image of an extended middle finger.
He had to find Clara. He squelched across the carpet to the commo-booth and ran a directory search for “extra-governmental investigators”. Three names. He added “non-affiliate police”, “mercenaries” (which he misspelled twice before the system accepted the word), and “vigilance committees”, and saw the same three names at the top of a very long page. With his thumb he covered the listing for the agency the leather woman recommended, and there were still too many. He shut his eyes and stabbed the screen. When he opened them, he saw above his finger “KINKADE, ALEXANDER: MERCENARY FOR HIRE“, but the entry his finger struck was “KRIEVER, DATHAN W. T. F.” Nothing told why Kriever was on the list, but Jonas stood back and watched the screen as it began to dial the connection.
To be Continued…
Thanks to Mr. Luke Newman for permission to post his parts of the story as well as mine. Let us know how we did in the comments!