I have had it with these people, these clowns, and I have had it with this city! It stinks! The ivory towers with their atrocious neon signs lumber like giants over those of us on the ground; giants which threaten to swallow us up if we make a mistake. Oh, Maya is such a mess! Did you hear about what she did now? No, of course they hadn't heard! What would be the point in gossiping about my fuck-ups if they weren't news? They laugh at me because I don't fit in, because I am not as experienced or skilled as they are.
"No more", I say.
A man in a patched coat, and a brown top hat that's broken in half, gives me an odd glance as I thump my chest with the knapsack in my right hand. I blush, shifting away from him towards the docks, where the workers are too busy to care about a little girl like me. Chains moors airboats to cement pillars. The green murky waters of the swamp contain beasts, and predators of all kinds, but thanks to the guards patrolling the outskirts of the dome they rarely slip inside.
There was a gator once, who got inside, and ate fourteen people before they managed to subdue him. He broke right through the dome, created a hole the size of a fast-food joint, and scared people into evacuating to the other side of the city.
I gulp. On second thought, maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe I shouldn't travel to another city to exchange my culture for someone else's. It will be fraught with peril, gators, and creatures bigger and meaner than the one who ate fourteen people.
Haha, what was I thinking? I should return to Ruby with my tail between my legs, and beg for her forgiveness before it's too late. I am such a small girl; the world is a massive unfathomable place. As I have barely ever left the Magnolia District, I should explore my home a bit, and maybe in a few twenty years I'll be qualified to undertake the journey.
I spin on my heel, walking the wharf back to our hideout with decisive steps. As I pass the corner of a warehouse, where they are stacking crates, someone runs into me, and I tumble into the swamp. Or I would have, instead I land in an airboat, striking my forehead against a seat.
"Aw, ouch," I say, pushing my palm against the pain. "Watch where you're going, man... I could have drowned."
"You could literally stand on the bottom of the swamp, and it would only reach your hips," a female says, jumping into the airboat after me, and dumping a couple of bags on the deck. "And you watch your step. I had the right of ways, girlie."
"You better do as she says, or I'll knife you, girlie!" a tiny grey robot, with large round eyes, a square speaker for audio, and stumpy legs threatens with a hoarse voice, then follows its master into the airboat.
"Chill it with the pointless death threats, Prisk, or I'll scrap you for parts," the woman says, as she fiddles with the propeller, and levers of the airboat. "You don't even have a knife, or arms to stab her with. Make threats that you can actually fulfil."
"I'm keeping an eye on you," the robot says, leaning close to me, and shoving one of its eyes into my face.
"Still need practice, unless you gonna watch her in the shower or when she's sleeping, but that's just creepy. It's not terrifying."
The robot sighs, despondent. I don't know what to make of this couple, but I know that I don't want to be around them. They are too eccentric. I like people that I can understand, and relate to. I suppose that reasoning explains why nobody likes me, because no one can relate to and understand me.
The propeller at the stern of the airboat begins to spin, after sputtering, and choking. The woman grins, getting in the driver's seat, detaching the airboat's chain from its pillar. She's tall, and muscular, with a bald head, and a couple of scars; one is under her grey eyes and recent, covered by a bandage, while the second is on the top of her head and faded. She's wearing a white dirtied vest, and a pair of maroon slacks. Her countenance might be attractive to men with a slant in their kinks for the peculiar.
"Um, I'm going to leave if you don't mind," I say, rising from where I landed, as the airboat begins to float away from the wharf. "I have business to attend to. Yeah, important business. Top secret stuff."
"Just get off if you're going to. We don't have time to stop."
"Halt in the name of the law!" The leader of a squad of guards shouts, as they come jogging, providing an answer to my question. "You are under arrest!"
"What!? I'm innocent, haven't done anything!" I freak, as I realize the severity of the position I am in. They'll interrogate me with these renegades. "They are kidnapping me! I am a victim of circumstances! Help, help!"
"Hah! Who isn't?" the woman says, winking at me, and bringing the throttle lever forwards. "Officer, I am also a victim of circumstance! The ones that you've brought to bear upon me, and my kin since my arrival, so screw you! We are rebelling!"
The airboat picks up speed, heading for one of the tunnels in the dome that leads to the outside. The guards each get down on one knee, careful not to dirty their golden uniforms, training their rifles on us. I am going to die. Sure, that would have been the plausible conclusion to my initial plan, but that's why I changed my mind.
When I try to crawl to the side of the airboat, to fall out of it and accept my fate, whether it's drowning or imprisonment, Prisk leaps on top of me. "You ain't going nowhere, Girlie. You're our ticket out of here. I will blow you up if you do any sudden movements."
"I doubt they'll care if you blow me up. They think I'm with you," I say, and the robot stomps his foot on my back. It feels like someone poked me with a stick. "Fine... I'll be your prisoner."
We're going nowhere anyway, as bullets whizzes around the airboat. The guards couldn't hit a wall with a shotgun if they were a meter away from it, or they're attempting to de-escalate the situation, force her to stop. We still have to get past the tunnel, where another squad is going to be waiting.
Searchlights activates, and aims at us. The airboat takes a number of bullets to its hull, but it doesn't have an impact on its speed. The cage around the propeller is protecting us from harm, as the bullets hit it. What material did they construct the cage with?
"This is your final warning!" a voice echoes, as we enter the tunnel, but the woman doesn't slow down. She narrows her eyes. "We will have no choice but to shut the exit, trapping you inside if you persist in this endeavour."
"I thought this was a free city!" she shouts, but I doubt they can hear us. "What are you afraid of!?"
"You are worthless thieves!" The voice responds, pausing. "And, and-"
"I'm blowing girlie up if you don't let us leave! You wouldn't want to hurt girlie, would you? A member of your esteemed city, and a proper citizen!" The robot shouts, louder than I expected from someone of his stature.
"Girlie isn't my name, and again, they won't care if you do it. You're shooting yourself in the foot," I whisper, which makes Prisk stomp on my back once more.
There is no response from the guards. Daylight appears at the end of the tunnel, and a powerful musky scent wafts into my nose. It smells like the city, but stronger, and somehow less awful, like the outside is healthy while the dome is deteriorating.
"You are going to regret this! We will charge your accomplices with your crimes!"
The woman blinks at that, tapping her fingers against the throttle, and the steering lever. She glances into the murky waters for a second, biting her lower lip.
"Come on, Zeta! They'll be fine. Survivors, wouldn't want you to surrender yourself for their sake. Stay focused. We can get through this, and when we have we can save them as heroes. Imagine that!"
"That's not what Magnesia would have wanted me to do, Prisk," she says, with an expression so full of apprehension. "I have to defend and guard those of the same creed as me. That's a tenet."
"But you can't, they'll imprison and torture us," Prisk stomps on me a third time. I decide I've had enough, so I sit up, and he falls onto my knapsack face-first. It's some relief that they didn't knock it in the water, or that I didn't drop it on the wharf.
"Zeta, is that your name?" I ask, reaching for the knapsack before Prisk gets too curious about its contents. "I'd love to go home, but maybe, just maybe, you've dragged us too deep into this now for there not to be consequences for all of us... Including your friends. If they're cunning, survivors, then they'll know how to deal with the guards. They're inept at basic stuff, even if they're oppressive. You can hide in this city for years without encountering them."
"How do you know that...?" She asks, giving me a look like I've become too interesting to her. "Who are you?"
"Haha, me? I'm a total loser! I march in line to their beat. One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four!" I say, but it's clear that she's suspicious towards me. "...I mean, I've heard stories about how urchins evaded them, and all that. How they learned to navigate the streets, and the wharfs better than anyone."
We slam through the metal gates that was barring the exit, out into the swamp, and Zeta have to yank the steering lever backwards to prevent us from crashing onto the bank of a small island. She decreases our speed with the second lever, so that we aren't going as fast as we were.
There are several islands in the area, with dense forests: trees, bushes, and vines hanging across our path. The airboat continues floating away from the home that I grew up in, but never felt at home in. It fades into a huge mossy hill in the distance, disappearing among the trees. A couple of airboats with guards exit the tunnel to pursue us.
"I'll lose them in the swamp. No biggie," she says, noticing our pursuers. "But, you're both right. It's time that I went to my own city. I'm tired of being this hopeless wanderer, and unwelcome immigrant. I'll... I'll pray for them."
Will I regret this sudden change in my lifestyle? I could plunge into the water, and wait for the airboats of the guards, but I would surrender my freedom. I asked for something like this, yet I didn't have the courage to go through with it on my own. Should I be grateful for her?