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| Preface |

By Brandee Laird All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Action


It is overwhelmingly magnificent from here. To the east, the curfew blue pulses throughout the city at fixed intervals, a vast grid of twinkling lights towering above all else. They stretch away until my vision can't follow them, where they curve over the horizon and give way to the distant ultra-white aura of Centricity against the nighttime clouds. The whole sky glows the reflection of our existence. I imagine the sky as a murky electric sea, and I'm sinking upwards into it. I can breathe in this sea, inhaling the current--it drags me forward, shoots excitement through my muscles and livens my brain.

To the west, the dissonant blue pulse extends outward into the void, bleeding off at the exterior walls, rendering the world beyond completely black. The fixture above me hums as light grows in intensity, draping me in a blue that makes my nails glow dimly green, casting my broken shadow onto the tower structure far beneath. The electricity sings its highest pitch as the light is at its brightest--an almost-painful buzzing--just before popping back to dark to begin its cycle again.

I quiver with the exhilarated fear that keeps my body hot, muscles still thrumming from the climb. My breath has slowed with my body, legs up and leaning comfortably against one thick pillar. I never imagined Megametropolis was so visibly vast, a human-built layer of polyplass and light enveloping the earth. And here the line where the Dark West stretches out, its mysteries only whispered of. No one goes there. No one arrives from there.

 Usually, no one even sees it.  

It is seventy-eight years since the last Citizen--reportedly--failed such a profanation; the tower had immediately stricken the male dead with electricity, a blunt security system rendering the entire structure ampered well beyond human-killing levels. The moment the male placed his hand to climb, he was fried within his body--the images were too horrible to be contrived.

I've seen it in birds, too, while passing the outer walls; I can smell the seared meat, and have witnessed many a small black-and-yellow finch intent to perch upon a lower railing exploded outward with the force of the electricity. It's not like lines, neat paths of particles moved toward a focus, but a cloud of charge, emanating a fine hum and the distinct, sweet smell of ozone.

It's how I know I'm safe where I am. This tower has killed no creatures for beyond three revolutions, nor does it smell of charged air, or produce the fiery itching of too-dense electricity. Careful to observe during daily passing, I've seen multiple jays and crows sit obliviously on the upper levels, demcats sneaking in and perching on the cross poles. Potentially cruel--but, for my sake, the only option--I brought with me a caught rodent only drips ago, tossing it toward a base-leg. The rat thumped against the metal before--squeaking but alive--it scurried away.

Somehow, my Lumiture has no alarm currents, and I sit witnessing the spread of Megametropolis Minor, humming softly with the light.

By the rhythmical glow, I write my thoughts on a collection of thinnest coins of peeled paint, using twigs tapered and seared on the ends for blackness. Already with the stow for my notes in mind, I elaborate on my fear and accomplishments:

 I am a champion of exploration,

 unafraid to motivate myself.

 Even in this place, infinitely harsh, I find the paths to cultivate freedom...

After divulging my thought process delicately to myself, I tuck the pieces away into my stockings to begin the long descent.

Allowing myself to pace the down-climb, I revel in the solid feel of the cold metal under my hands and the last breaths of the top air. It's nothing like the tobacco and fuel infused ground-level, is wet, somehow smoother, and fills my lungs like cold water does my throat post exertion. The top air seems more..real, but has still the barest edge of grit, like the tangy aftertaste of pipe-moved water.

So slowly I make way toward the ground, feeling the fatigue of the ascent clinging to every movement, eyes adjusting to the dimmer, constant illumination of nearby streetlamps. They waver faintly as the blue of the curfew light brightens, becoming solid again as it burns out.

Sometime between swimming the sky sea and my feet touching the ground, I've grinned until my muscles hurt--at the corners of my mouth, and just behind my ears. A short, loud burst of my laughter startles me into recalling the gravity of the moment. I fold my reveling away for a private time, edging low along the ground, at times on all fours. Though I fully doubt they're being constantly monitored, electronic eyes watch from the walls surrounding the tower, feasibly scanning for movement, light, and heat. I've done nothing to hide my heat--I cannot--but I move slowly and in strange patterns, assuming the program is designed to detect standard human movements: walking, running. I'm much calmer on this journey back than when infiltrating; moving the same distance has taken half the time, and I haven't stopped once to ask myself what I'm doing.

Or why I'm doing it.

The walls, arranged in a rhombus around the tower base, reach approximately eleven heads tall, these the unkempt grey-black cement found only in the outer rings of the city. Compared to those I've seen on Pledgings, these are little more than piles of soil. Inner-city, the Lumiatures are protected by twenty-head high walls with black polyplass sheets fused together, these inside an initial ring of barrier fence.

I laugh inwardly at the ironic lucks of living in the outer ring.  

At the top of these walls are five levels of bang-cable; fingerthick electrified lines stretched horizontally, beginning about a half a head beyond the top of the wall. Cool cement at my back, I have a sudden panic--If I'm to be caught now? Is such temporary pseudo-freedom worth whatever the penalty?

 What other option do I have?

Shivers overtake me, hairs prickling against my clothing, causing my skin to itch at my joint-bends. Stupid. I can hear the crackling of the bang-cable, remember the bothersome static warmth of it at my back and realize, as if for the first, that I'm already on the inside. The deed is done; I must go, as there is no reason to stay.

Washing the rough concrete with my hands, I eyes-blind search its length for a cracked, loose portion I know to be near. I hide my paint coins directly in this crevice, knowing I'll never come back to read them. Just as all of the words I've written to leave astray, it's done for the process of so many small rebellions. Perhaps another so bold will find them one day...

I breathe deeply, with intent. Eyes closed, I release my fear into the air, turn to rest my forehead against the wall. Each barrier as it comes.

Stepping back three paces, I mark my cadence and lean into three leaping steps, ending with one foot pushing into the wall to direct my momentum upward. Exhale. Barely grasped with the fingers of my right hand, I feel the sharp bite of skin tear as I fall back to the ground.

Panting, I crouch, edged into the wall, ears straining for sirens, eyes affixed on the dimming blue light. The fear sits thickly in my throat; I want to cough to expel it, but don't, instead shake my head to reset my mind, and take my three paces again.

Focus. I need explosiveness, sure footing, strong reach. Again for the wall, bounding steps, hard push on contact, both arms up this time, both hands catch. My right fingers sting--I want my place on this wall--grasping tightly, arms locked straight, I struggle my feet up until my legs are tucked beneath my body.

For a moment I rest here, testing my hold with small bounces beginning in my ankles, arms and shoulders trembling. If I up into the bang-cable, I'm done. If I lose my hold, my confidence is backset.


I push with staggered feet, pulling in the same motion, trying to force my forearm up. Just one is all I need. Scraping thin slipper soles on the wall, my feet scramble, trying to run on vertical ground, forearms burning with effort. Slowly I hook my left elbow up, leveraged now to push my chest above the top. My breath blows dust  into my face, sweat dripping in soft ticks. The margin between me and the bang-cable is slim; one head forward, half that to move beneath.

 How under Law did I get here?

I exhale again, stretching left leg up until my foot's on top, inching my thigh over, pulling the right leg up. In ages--moments--I'm resting on all fours as a beast might, head down and panting. Knowing I’ll only trick my confidence the longer I wait, I inchingly change position to lay face up. The wall is cold compared to my fevered skin, and rubs roughly through my clothing.

And even in so tense a state, I find comfort in its solidity.

Taking two deep breaths, I reach an arm underneath the bang-cable on the exhale, searching blindly for the far edge, just within my hand's reach. Once grasped, I do the same with my left leg, careful to laterally rotate so my foot is flat when passing beneath the buzzing line, hooking my heel at the edge of the wall.

Breath shallow, I sweat copiously despite the chill night wind. Another full exhale and I pull myself beneath the cable, back scratched raw through my shirt. As my face clears, my heart jumps--I turn my head to watch my right foot pull under, and I'm on abode side.

Freed back into the outer enclosure.

Taking no time to congratulate myself, I check the travel ways and ease to the ground, feet whispering down the wall, crunching into gravel. My legs are shaking. Quickly. I'm sprinting,  steps falling with the barest muffled claps on the ground. Staying to the few shadows offered, I take long, sure strides in darkness and make quick, accelerating steps through the steady light. My intestines are cramped with anxiety, causing me to methodically reassure  myself:

 I know these ways, where the eyes are, and where the dark lies thickest.

While running, I'm scanning the streetways, stretching my awareness out until each roughened brick and weed-grown crack stands out in high relief as I pass them, catching every zooming rodent shadow, ears following the scritching of their feet.

Arriving at my abode complex, I slip into a thin, dank maintenance path between buildings, little wider than my arm span. I'm amazed and wary that I've not yet come to a lawman, even knowing the schedule and that none should pass for forty drops minimum. It seems too presence-less, as if I am the only humanoid nearby.

Looking toward my next endeavor again, I realize I'm holding my shoulders tight with stress and force a sigh, fatigue setting in deep and heavy. Pain beats in my chest from running and my eyes ache as I review my route. Relaxing for necessity, taking a path cemented into my body's memory, I put my back to a wall, feet on that of my building. Push. I climb by walking my hands and feet up alternately, until I can reach an outcropping of haggard bolts, each large enough to grasp with a hand.

 --They say buildings used to have escapes, that one could come and go at will, and have an emergency exit ready at

 need. I wonder, again, if these bolts are remnants of such fantastic ideas...

Calm and invisible, I climb the last paces to the rooftop, focus narrowed on sure footings and strong grip. As I move, I count the steps without thinking; seventeen vertical strides.

 Familiar ground.

Reaching up for the ledge, my right triceps spasm suddenly. Painfully. I'm startled into involuntary movement, my left hand slipping around the last bolt. With a quick jolt of panic I shift my feet for a better stand only to slip there too, all of my body weight dropped into my right shoulder.

 I am not prepared for this.

Thrumming with fear and fatigue, I will my right arm to robotically hold the ledge, fingers burning from losing skin too many times already today. I envision falling, flailing at the walls to no avail. Not an option. I relax, finding my left bolt-hold quickly, replacing my left foot even as I pull hard with my right hand. Bending the arm releases the cramp, and soon my left hand meets the right on the ledge and I'm hauling my body over the top, graceless, loudly, and relieved.

I roll to my back and stare up at the sky-sea, swallowing my pulse and wishing the air I'm sucking down was that of the tower top. I lay imagining seeing the stars, supposing they look like the Lumitures do from up high, wondering if there are truly pictures in the night sky. I close my eyes, listening to the sound of my micromovements on gravel, reaching over to massage my right triceps where they had seized so violently. I drift here for a moment--forever--breathing slowly.

Releasing fear.

When the first shivers of sweat drying hit, I move to a crouch, beast-walking the roof to the access door. It's a square, heavy steel hatch set into a head-high rise in the rooftop. Once it was locked with an ancient mechanical device, but I broke it off long ago with a few quick strikes from a dislodged bolt--used then to jam the catch--which had to be opened from within. The hinges screamed painfully that night, enough to motivate me to generously lubricate them upon return. Though the door has gotten lighter with each new adventure, tonight it is heavier than the first, and I’m sure that I've got too little strength left to control its fall as I ease down onto the metal rungs beneath.

Managing to lower the door smoothly despite my worry, I rest my head on my hands as they grasp the thin, ribbed metal. Close. I'm in a small utility room, ancient electrical cables still lining the walls like ivy, grey metal boxes marked "Danger" posted throughout. It smells stale in here, dusty and dead. The door to this room, I know, has been walled off from the outside, no sign of it's existence from the halls. I can open it to red and brown brick face from here, if inclined. Once was enough.

There is a ventilation grate in the wall just to my right--I've already removed the screws at the bottom and can lift it from my place on the ladder. The top hinge is sticky, so the grate stays open, but having to step up to it is awkward even when energized. I grab the highest rung and lift my legs with a grunt, walking my feet up the wall because I am so tired, angling legs in first.

It is my thirty-third time along this path, as comfortable and mindless as they come. Now I have the luxury to reminisce on discovering the vents, how excited I was to find them unused by all but the rats. How proud of my boldness I was! And overwhelming the fear of reaching each new grate too loudly, head first and helpless. I'd been sure I'd get myself caught amongst the droppings and nests by finding passageways too narrow, or detected by management when ineptly entering or exiting near diligent eyes.

Now I know Management to be too tekless and lazy to post at every grate, that the eyes watch in a strange but predictable patterns throughout the building, and that none bother to even look up to the walls for signs of passage. More than a few edges have light prints from the oil of my hands and the dust of the vents, or have paint flecked off by my passing.

No longer is there dust in my planned passageway, and I've since learned to wipe my hands on my shirt's neckline before emerging. I have no fear as I edge backwards blindly, slowly, taking the tight corners by rolling to my side and pointing my feet around the way, pushing with my hands and bending my body into an "L" that will pivot around the junctions. I do this for approximately seven drops, ending face-first at my end grate so to visually clear the way.

I breathe softly, trying not to laugh at the memory of my first, tactless trip through the dark tunnels: I'd managed to urinate in my trousers--so slightly--at the first squeaking rat to pass by, had made it only in and forward a pace before backing out. Too eager, I was soon falling to the floor in tears, frantically shoving the profuse tufts of black dust clods into my undergarment before being caught.

I close my eyes to listen down the halls, open them again to peer at sharp angles in each direction. Soon satisfied that the whitewashed corridor is free, I back up into the first bends, a "T" intersection. It allows me to inch forward enough into the other tunnel to then back up so my feet gently tap the grate.


Eyes closed again to listen, I know that with each breath the chance of a Manager passing grows. I push myself slowly and smoothly out of the grate. When my hips pass the edge, I spread my feet to catch the doorjamb beneath me on either side, pushing with muscles long past screaming to hold me aloft. Easing my feet down the metal frame, I push until my head passes and the grate falls lightly onto my knuckles. Extracting them from beneath it, I hold myself--trembling--with just my feet and legs as I tighten the bottom screws with my fingers enough to go unnoticed, grab the top edging of the door to assist my descent, and drop quietly to the floor directly in front of my abode.

Whipping my head to the sides I check for observers--humanoid or other--before pushing the door open minimally to slide through.  

My entrance is just as I'd left it, a strip of adhesive bandaging--what a find--ensuring the door bolt remained open for my return, small magnets harvested from various objects at the dump placed strategically along the jamb to trick the door into thinking it was shut and locked. I leave it as-is; removing the items now would mean creating the belief in the door that I was opening it, defeating the purpose of the rig. I can't afford another Incident Report. I’ll break it down before leaving for lessons.

 Another success.

Once inside my darkened abode, inhaling the familiar scent of my shower from hours ago, I let go of tension held with a breath, then a laugh. Walking quietly, I remove my outer garments--torn, dirty rags I'll wash and hide for the next outing--and move for the lavatory, humming softly and not quite believing my feat.

Making a point to use the minimal light of various utilities aglow, I wash my hands, facilitate my waste release, and wash my hands again. Padding out to my sleep room--the same as the living and the kitchen--I let my voice rise, from humming to singing,

 "I live in this mega city,

 looking for something pretty.

 I need something that fits me..."

--All the lights come on with a sharp electric whack. Law personnel in black and grey armoured uniforms waiting with charged batons drawn, eight that I can see, surrounding me. I crouch rapidly and feel a rush of air emit from my throat in a hiss--a strange, thoughtless reaction--and feel a sharp, hot pain in the back of my neck. Suddenly I'm sprawled on the floor and fading, many hands seizing me, hauling me up by my arms. I want to scream but don't think it matters as the world blackens, the aggressiveness of the handling fades, and I realize that none in the room have the courage to view the city as I have.  

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