When I was writing this scene, I was thinking about the Bechdel test. I was not thinking about the World Trade Center bombing. What I ended up with is a conversation between two women interrupted by a falling building. I feel slightly embarrassed. This is a pulp sci fi story. It has too little gravitas for my subconscious to be sneaking in images of real world terror. Also, Persephone’s callous reaction now means that I hate my main character. I’m thinking about killing her off…..
Featured image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Trade_Center
Persephone woke up to the smell of mud and sewage. The janitor’s uniform was gone as were the papers. Her panicked searching brought Japeth back into the room.
“Mr. Albion has them. He said he’d get back to you about payment.” Japeth’s lips were pursed. She looked like she’d been chewing on something rancid.
“He’ll pay. He’s okay.” Persephone suddenly wasn’t sure about that.
Japeth shrugged. “Yeah well. Mr. Okay patted my ass on the way out. I wasn’t impressed.”
Persephone wanted to say something positive, but the best she could manage was “His family has the money at least.”
“What was the job?”
Persephone relayed the eXime story to Japeth.
“H-craft racing? Giant tube-fish in the fountain?” Japeth’s eyebrows had nearly vanished into her hairline. She shook her head. “When are you going to get a real job?”
Persephone grimaced. They’d had this conversation before and probably would again. They’d grown up in the slums together, both children of Old Sol families that had been hit hard by the metal riots. They used to work jobs together back when Persephone was building a client base. Japeth had seen it as a means to help destabilize the New Regime government, Persephone had seen it as a profitable calling. Japeth had left when Persephone had agreed to work a government contract. She claimed that she was leaving to make something more of her life, but Persephone was pretty sure it was just her feelings for the New Regime. Persephone had accused her of being unrealistic and Japeth had accused Persephone of selling out. That ended their partnership. Japeth had gone on to make a name for herself as one of the best Sublimators in the colony. Sublimators took scrap metal and converted it into new tech. The best were able to create circuits with only the minimal amount of material. They could spin wires that were angstroms thick and that still performed efficiently. Japeth was the reason that Persephone was able to afford so many cameras and other forms of electronics. That didn’t keep her from chiding Persephone about her job choices.
“Hey. The New Regime Is sponsoring eXime. Once upon a time that would have been a good enough reason for us to trash their office.”
Japeth shrugged. “Stealing form a minor H-craft manufacturer to benefit a major manufacturer hardly constitutes a change in the status quo.”
“If they’re so minor than why does the government have their hand in this.”
“Bread and circuses. It’s what the New Regime does best.”
“This is bigger than that. I feel it.”
“Feel? You?” Japeth snorted. “I gotta go to work.” She waved Persephone in the direction of the kitchen and told her to help herself.
“I’ll pay you,” Persephone blurted. “I mean for putting me up for a couple of days.”
Japeth met her gaze for a second, then looked away and sighed. “Honey. I wish you had something that I wanted.”
Japeth took the only boat leaving Persephone to chew over their last conversation. Where did Japeth get off on being so superior? All she had was this two-room floating apartment in the lowest rent district of town. Persephone had two apartments in the city center.
To ease her mind she sent a message to Arch. She suggested that it would be wise for Albion to wait before making the cash transfer to her account for the work she’d performed. eXime knew about the break-in and might be tracking financial transfers in an effort to see who was behind it.
About an hour later she got a message back saying that no payment would be forthcoming since the documents that she’d acquired were of no value
Despite her rage, Persephone still managed to keep her response professional. “I acquired classified documents as requested. Payment is warranted.”
The response was irritatingly brief. “The documents contained the chasis designs but no reference to the engine mechanism. Payment will be rendered if you provide the engine specifications.”
Did they think that she was withholding something from the break-in? That was ridiculous. Arch had been watching the entire time. Did she have any legal course? She tried to imagine enlisting a lawyer. ‘Well…I was hired to perform a crime and now they won’t pay me.” That wouldn’t fly even in a colony court of law.. She’d just have to hack the Albion accounts in order to extract the money that was her due. She spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how to accomplish that.
Japeth arrive home at dusk to find Persephone sitting on the edge of the apartment raft, tossing bits of dried tube-fish into the canal. A rat sat on a nearby raft avidly watching each piece of meat vanish into the muck.
“Good day?” Japeth asked.
“Albion won’t pay me.” Persephone groused, then whipped the remaining scrap of meat at the water. The rat glared at her. “I don’t need your lip.” Persephone addressed the rodent. Then she wadded up the wrapper and threw it at the animal.
“Umm. Don’t.” Japeth said. “I haven’t seen one of those in weeks.”
“What are you talking about? Rats are everywhere.” And this one was a particularly sorry looking specimen. It was emaciated and was missing en eye.
“They used to be,” Japeth replied. “They’ve gotten scarce. Like a lot of things.”
The rat plunged into the mud and paddled in the direction of the vanished jerky. Persephone watched it dive and not come up again. She shook her head. “Sorry, I’m in a mood. I should get dinner together.”
Japeth joined her in the kitchen and together they put together a nice spread. Green house grown lettuce, rice (one of the few earth crops that grew fairly well in the colony’s wet conditions) and chicken.
“Where ever did you get a whole chicken?” Persephone stared at the naked little carcass in awe.
“Oh. You know. I take on jobs for barter sometimes. People in the shanty towns don’t always have credits. And you keep telling me to move into the city.” Japeth smiled triumphantly. “We take care of each other out here.”
By the time the bird came out of the oven, Persephone’s awe had turned to something approaching worship. “It. It smells like food.” Six generations in the colony and countless generations on ships and humans still craved Earth produce. They didn’t bother with forks. They pulled the thing apart and ate with their hands.
“You have rice on your chin.”
Persephone wiped it off and smiled. “You always were a neat freak. But seriously, what do I owe you. For the food, and for staying here and everything.”
That was apparently the wrong thing to say. Japeth got up and started washing. Persephone hung back but eventually grabbed a towel.
“It’s the weather,” She said.
“What?” Japeth asked.
“Typhoons. Mud waves. It’s why I say you should move into the city. I mean how many people sank last spring?”
As if on cue, there was a dull boom outside and the apartment raft shuddered throwing Persephone to the floor. Japeth kept her feet and turned towards the door. She was outside before Persephone could say,”Wait.”
Persephone scrambled to her feet and followed her friend. Streetlights in center city normally came on at dusk and gave the low hanging clouds a grey-orange tint. There was black area now and what looked like smoke pouring up to the join the clouds.
“Blown transformer?” Persephone asked.
“Too much smoke”
“What part of the city is that?” An interesting side effect of staying in the floats was that your view changed constantly. Persephone wasn’t accustomed to it anymore. Japeth checked her transponder.
“Silt-flow sent us west last night. That means we’re looking at the Ark district. That big building is Sky Ark tower. That cloud is over…” Japeth trailed off and glanced at Perephone. “Well. It’s over the Albion engineering complex.”
Perephone drew a quick breath. “Isn’t Dete there as well? I mean we’re miles out.” She reached for her goggles before remembering that she’d borrowed some clothes from Japeth and didn’t have her equipment belt. She went in to find it. Goggles in place, she selected low-light and magnification and that brought the smoke cloud into sharp focus. She could see tendrils of heat radiating up to the clouds like the branches of a skeletal tree. The device must have burned intensely hot to leave so much residual. There were no visible flames now of course. Everything was too saturated to catch.
“Damn it. That was Albion. Now, I’m definitely not getting paid.”
Japeth shook her head, but Persephone didn’t notice, still completely absorbed in the magnified view of the engineering complex. She’d found the building at the base of the column of smoke, The top was shattered, but most of the structure still stood. Correct that. It had just collapsed in on itself spewing more smoke. The residual heat signature looked less like a tree and more like a maelstrom now. The building’s collapse had stirred the smoke and clouds into a frenzy. In the city center, the collapse probably sounded like a roar, all the way out here it was just a rattling sigh. It still made their raft quiver.
“Can you see people?” Japeth asked.
Persephone shook her head. “Don’t tell me you’re worried about Mr. pat-my-ass Albion?”
“A lot of people work there. A lot of people might have just died.”
Persephone pulled her goggles off. That brought Japeth’s agonized face back into focus. “Maybe not so many,” she mumbled. “I mean it’s late. Maybe they all went home?” she finished lamely. The raft was still rocking under her feet, it seemed stronger now. Shouldn’t it be dying down after that shock wave? She stared down at the mud-streaked platform then froze.
“Japeth,” she said as calmly as she could manage. “Get inside. Now.”
“What? Why?” Japeth took in the direction of Persephone’s gaze and her eyes went wide. “What….what is that?” There were black tendrils groping over the edge of the raft. Hundreds of them, identical to the vine-like feeding tendrils that Persephone had seen in the eXime compound. It looked like a swarm of glistening snakes.
Persephone lunged for Japeth, pulled her through the door and slammed the thing shut. The raft shuddered and lurched. Outside, the platform was nothing but a writhing mass. Persephone slammed windows shut and pulled the interior storm shutters across each opening.