I knew two things for certain. The first was that Grace was hiding something from me. The second was that I needed her as an ally and that whatever crimes she and her friend had broken to get me this far were worth the deceit.
For now I needed Grace on my side and that meant hiding my suspicions. She clearly had friends in powerful places, that much was true and when we had finished in TethTech answers would need to be shared.
“Everything ok Emzie?” asked Grace, after she finished her interrogation.
“Yeah,” I hushed my voice so it couldn’t be overheard by the guard. “The documents worked like a charm.”
“Excellent, for a second I thought I may have to go in guns-a-blazing!” Grace was far less quiet. Does she have a gun? I thought to myself. This was just a research mission and talk of firing guns didn’t appeal to me. I’d only bought my own gun with me to protect myself.
“Well let’s get going,” Grace grabbed my hand and dragged me towards a huge sign that showed the different routes through Birmingham. “TethTech,” said Grace and the map zoomed into show their building on the map alongside the words “TethTech is located on Broad Street on the Pride line, Building B.”
In front of us were five large buildings, each of them enormous warehouses with giant letters from A-E on the front of them. We headed towards the building with a giant letter ‘B’ that filled the entire front of the building. A ramp led up from the floor and we entered through the lower part of the B.
Inside the warehouse was a platform that filled the building from left to right. As I looked up I could see what looked like two or three more platforms that could be accessed through a sequence of stairs. A further set of stairs also descended downwards to what I assumed were more platforms.
“We want the Overground Level 2, come on Emzie,” she continued to hold my arm and led me up a wide staircase towards the 2nd level. The station was buzzing with activity and everyone around us seemed to be in a rush. Heads down, legs running, no one in the entire station seemed to say a word to each other, even couples that were clearly together.
We dashed through the crowd of people to our platform and saw the giant train sitting on the platform waiting. Coloured in a metallic grey and designed with a curved shape it gave the presence of a giant bullet. Inside the train there were two clear compartments, one for the haves and one for the have-nots.
The haves would prefer to keep Birmingham all to themselves and at one time it had been that way. Prices had risen in the city to such an extent that it had become possible for only the wealthy to live there.
But the have-nots fought back. They built small towns on the edge of the city to provide things that the wealthy could not. Food, clothing and shelter were still three basic human needs and there would always need to be people to provide the raw materials and put the work in. So the edge of the city had large blocks of farmland and factories that provided food, clothes and building supplies. The have-nots were also worked in the city power plants to do the jobs the rich felt like they were too good for.
In return they didn’t receive a salary but were guaranteed a place to live, heating, electricity, clothes, and food for their family and a rail pass for their daily commute. They got the bare essentials, with clothes that were usually unwanted rags from the rich and food that was often the leftovers from city centre stores that would go off that day.
If they wanted anything else they could only get it by keeping back some food and selling it. A trade that was seen as illegal. If the Government couldn’t make tax from something then they’d arrest you. Unlike the town I grew up in, bartering was strictly forbidden.
I instinctively walked onto the ‘have-nots’ section of the train and Grace followed. This end of the train had stained seats, broken tables and a horrible carpet that looked like it had seen better days. I walked past a man who was probably living on the train. His clothes were torn from months of constant wear, he smelled like he hadn’t had a bath in a year and I swore I could see flies buzzing in his vicinity.
We took a seat two rows down from the homeless man. As I sat down in my seat the fold down table in front of me snapped off and an adult magazine tumbled down onto my lap.
“Eugh!” I batted the magazine away with my hand, trying to touch it as little as possible.
“Now that’s service,” remarked Grace. “Where’s my free magazine? Ah, I know where we can get one,” and with that my hand was once again in hers. She walked me through the carriage and handed me a golden piece of paper. Printed on it were the words;
First Class Ticket: Jessica Young – Pride Line
It seemed Grace’s connections did have some advantages. We scanned our tickets on a control panel and the doors to first class opened. The first thing that hit me was the smell. Gone was the rank odour of ‘have-nots’ class, replaced by a light smell of perfume. I was greeted by a stunning looking man who walked us to our seats.
Everything about first class was extravagant. The lights were dimmed slightly to create a serene atmosphere and each set of two passengers got their own private rooms with a TV, separate lighting, air con and a mini bar. The seats even folded down into a bed, which was madness given that you could cover the whole city in around an hour.
“You like?” asked Grace, already knowing the answer simply by looking at my wide eyes and slightly open mouth.
“It’s amazing? But don’t you feel a little guilty sitting here whilst people in the other class have so little?” I asked.
“If it makes you feel better, I didn’t pay for the tickets. Technically we’re robbing from the rich.”
“That helps a little,” I looked back at the ‘poor’ class, knowing this could possibly be the only time in my life I’d get to enjoy this much luxury, and decided to make the most of it.
We sat down and fastened our seatbelts. Walking while the train was in motion was strictly forbidden, due to a high top speed and the tight corners that allowed the train to snake around the city skyline.
“Thank you for choosing Kaitu trains and for visiting the amazing city of Birmingham. I will be your driver this morning on a beautiful twenty degree day. We are almost ready to depart.”
My seat began to vibrate as the engines under the train started to burst into life. The driver started a countdown and Grace began to join in. In the background I could hear the ‘have-nots’ carriage counting down but here in first class Grace and I were the only ones who seemed to care. For the ‘haves’ in first class this was just a normal day.
The countdown reached its crescendo “3, 2, 1, Go!”
I expected to be thrown back into my seat and although the train set off at a speed of 150 miles per hour I felt nothing but the faint rumble of the engine below. I imagined it would be a lot more fun in the other class.
“Birmingham has undergone a massive change in the last one hundred years to become one of the largest cities in the world and the pride of Britain. Now covering an area of one thousand square miles, Birmingham has seen rapid expansion, also encompassing the city of Wolverhampton, Coventry, Redditch and Stafford.” a TV switched on and began to show how Birmingham had changed. We quickly turned it off, instead preferring to watch the real world version by looking out of the window.
The entire left side of our cabin was made of a see-through glass. People couldn’t see in but we got a perfect view of the city as we raced past at breakneck speed.
First of all we saw the farms and factories on the outskirts of the city. The train roared past this area at a ferocious speed and there were very few stops. For the ‘have-nots’ they would have a long way to walk to their homes or to work. There was a simple beauty about this part of the city. It felt like a larger Smyth West and I hoped they had a similar community spirit.
Grace seemed to be enjoying the view as well. “The Overground is so much better than the Underground, why would anyone not want to see this?” she stood up from her seat, with no regard for the fasten seatbelt sign. “Come on Emzie, it’s first class, we won’t feel any of the G force in here.”
She was right, it was as easy to stand in here as it had been on the flat ground of the station platform. We looked out on the city as we approached the rich part of town and watched as skyscrapers whizzed by. Pillars of industry stood tall, with almost all of the world’s biggest brands taking presence on the city skyline.
The richest families of the UK all took residence here. The McDougals, the Joneses and the Kings, their three buildings seemed to touch the sky, like giant hands reaching out to God. Their towers held their three companies and each had a crane sitting at the top of the building. As each family grew in wealth they added more floors to their building, as a power play and a series of one-upmanship to their rivals.
Right now it seemed The Joneses were winning, followed by the McDougals then the Kings, although it seemed fairly close. Despite their size and clear wealth I had no idea what either family did. The Kings had a series of satellites on their building, the Joneses’ building showed images of drugs and pharmaceutical products down the entire side of its building and the McDougals had a sleek black building that offered no clues. Whatever they did it was clear they had not been affected by the 20 Day Siege like the rest of the world.
On the horizon I saw a building that had not gone for height but had instead chosen to dominate the city with its width. What better way of showing wealth than by taking up a large city block? Anyone could build upwards but to build outwards, in a city with such scarce free land? That was a real power play of dominance.
That’s not to say the building was short either. It rose into the sky in a single pillar that twisted from top to bottom. Around the pillar were orange beams of light that ran down in twin spirals from each side of the building. The two spirals twisted with each other like DNA strands, connecting at the bottom and top of the tower in a raised point. At the top of that point sat two T symbols. They seemed almost like crosses, as if this was a place of worship.
The lower, wider part of the tower contained a glass circle that had spikes around the edge. Looking down on it as we approached the building made it seem almost like a giant glass crown. The glass was intercut with a map of the world, with the main base of the central tower sitting where the UK would be on the map.
As we approached our fifth stop, I started to check my backpack for everything I’d need. My weapon, police badge, and the fake ID Grace had given to me. I stared at the weapon hoping I wouldn’t have to use it but it felt better to have at least some protection entering a military base. I slipped the weapon and badge under my jacket and placed the ID into my pocket.
The train slowed down and passed by the TethTech tower, circling back on itself so everyone could get a better look. This didn’t happen with the towers of the three richest men in the world but it seemed this building had been deemed to be worthy of a second viewing. The track ran around the edge of the building in a circle and then came to a stop several meters from ground level.
We grabbed our stuff, left the train and started to walk down the stairs that would lead us to TethTech. We stashed our backpacks in lockers by the main building and grabbed a quick snack to keep us going.
As I swallowed the last mouthful we heard a loud roar from the TethTech building.
“Something is happening, something big,” shouted Grace and we ran towards the building, heading inside the glass dome and into a screaming crowd.