|Under and Above
Author: tavvy-cat PM
Dar Drade lives a meaningless life of luxury until a strike team of drugged-fueled assassins whisks her entire family away to Under, a city of discontent, drug cartels, and rebellion against the bureaucratic machinations of Above, the capital city of a dystopian wasteland. prologue and chapter 1, please R&R!Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 2 - Words: 4,523 - Updated: 12-04-12 - Published: 05-29-12 - id: 3027226
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
High in the rank crevasses of the roof of the cavern, I clung spider-lite to inverted antennae, grasping lightly enough not to crush the rusted metal under my gloved fingertips. Tens of thousands of joules bled from the severed cables into the lithium batteries that lined the hollows inside my bones, producing excess energy in tandem with bone marrow. A sensor somewhere behind my left temple let me know my batteries were full, so I dropped the sparking cable ends, heedless of the energy shortage in the city Above, and plummeted, sending searing magnetism through the conductors laced through my fingertips. Raw energy slowed my fall, but only enough to keep from shattering my body on impact when I hit the streets below. Concrete gave way underneath my boots, and all around the denizens of the underside's underside scattered at my arrival.
It was night in the Under, the sounds of gunshots, sirens, and distant foundries comprising a desolate symphony that ran undercurrent to the pulsing in my brain. My cohort converged on an empty warehouse at the docks. Bry was there last, sealing the entrances with more than enough volts to melt the steel framework to molten slag.
"Report." His disarmingly soft tones carried across the production floor to where I crouched in a defensible corner.
"Malfrere is wiped out, Bry. We killed Toshe and Posey tonight and Stripped Harrison, Leela, and Jewels. Starr is dead too."
"Red Hand died quickly. Their base was weakly defended and they were overstretched from their territory dispute with Diesel. We stripped them and their base rather than kill them." A dissident rumble spread through the floor. Bry's advocacy of mercy to weaker bands was not popular.
Bry gestured, a dismissive hand thrown up that silenced the whispers immediately. He cocked his head in my direction. "Dar? What have you given us this night?"
I drew a deep breath and threw my trophy at his feet. "Volkyrion is gone, Bry. I infiltrated, but they set a self destruct in an attempt to trap me. I escaped with their mainframe." Around me a sharp intake sounded, progressive hisses both jealous and begrudgingly impressed. Volkyrion was a band of Ampers so far gone they were berserkers, sent on suicide missions only. Their price was high, and their success rate very high. The mainframe held all the details on their recent assassination spree. Many renegade bands had been kidnapping or murdering seemingly innocuous targets. The mainframe could tell us why.
The meeting disintegrated into tiny huddles and whispers in the dark. Bry moved between the circles, putting out instructions and cautions to each quiet member, pulling one or two aside occasionally. The meeting broke up gradually, ampers slicing back through the metal walls to disappear into the night. I huddled in a corner, waiting, know Bry would want something from me. I was not disappointed. After the last amps ducked away and a hushed, industrial silence settled over the warehouse, Bry cut the last dim light. A quick recalculation routed an enhancing jolt to my irises, opening them cat-wide to see his vague outline in the dark. He was looking at the mainframe in his hand, turning it over softly carefully between his fingertips.
"What else did you bring me, girly? I'll not believe you just made away with this shiny, as nice as it is."
"Nothing else concrete. I found their holding cells but it looks like they are funneling the prisoners away one or two at a time, couldn't track where. I found a massive bay of domes, maybe half full, I think it was some kind of medbay, every one in there looked adult. Could be hostages kept under for peace, could be Volks undergoing intensive rewiring. Didn't see Simper or her crew anywhere, which makes me think as massive an operation as I found, it's likely a decoy. I think they might be keeping the heavy hitters guarding something else. I can find out, given time. Unless they went topside, and then I might have an issue finding them. My web isn't as extensive there."
Bry laughed softly. "Little Spider!" He said, affection warm in his whisper. "So much you have accomplished, in only these two years." His fingers drummed along the edge of the mainframe card. "Follow this. Get me Volk's dubs and sniff out topside. Grow your web however you need to, I'll wire the backing credits to your account."
I nodded, pleased with the praise. Bry was in a strange good mood and I wasn't going to risk his temper by asking about it. We touched palms briefly, a quick money transfer, and I slid up the wall and out one of the windows of the old warehouse, careful not to disturb the caked grime and dust on the panes that remained. Atop the roof, I could look down from my perch to see an abandoned industrial region sloping down away from me to the great, sluggish underground river we called the Vein. At one time, Under had been a vast and prosperous mecca of industry and trade, a city of landmark achievements in sustainable energy, powered by vast hectares of solar panels surrounding the domed city Above. Through trade agreements and pacts eventually Above came to own huge patches of the solar panels, and after the economy spiraled during the Great Crash, untended and parted out for cash, the panels stopped producing. The denizens of Under had thrown off the management of Above and delved deep, reviving the ancient mining trade in fossil fuels. Our hyperefficient engines and motors and furnaces ran on miniscule amounts of oil and coal, and the great river was harnessed for a hydroelectric dam south of the city. Even now, politicians Under and Above scrambled and squealed about the best way to power the twin cities, but then they had done that for decades now, and instead of resolution both cities were shrinking as tempers were flaring. Only within the past years had an oligarchy begun to assemble in the sunlit city above, ruthlessly employing the ampers of Under as infomancers, thugs, bodyguards, and assassins in an attempt to cull the dissension. A dictatorship was coagulating from the spilled blood of reckless politicking above, and we were used as both the knife to cause the wounds and the bandages to seal them.
I took three deep breaths, triggering an interface to create devious beats in my head, synced my heart to the dropdowns, and flooded my muscles with the reserves I had sucked from power lines earlier. I took a running start, leapt, flared the glider-wings under my arms and made my way across the city, an energy vampire, a flying squirrel. I was unstoppable, twisting, launching, gliding, and swinging across the vast abandoned swaths of my adopted city. I needed to find my way to the Middle, a black market trader-space in a pocket of caves reached by Under's sky and Above's sub-basements. Over the years it had been reinforced, crafted, and shaped into a relatively neutral haven for those of us who needed such places. It was a difficult place to reach, requiring intimate knowledge of updrafts, passwords, ever-changing security measures, and hidden doors. I caught a rising draft from a foundry and launched myself upward into the sky until the exact pinnacle of my flight, and just as gravity reclaimed it's due I let fly two hundred yards of grapple rope, felt a jerk as it attached, and up I went, faster and faster, detaching at the last second, deploying boot spikes, to flip myself upside down and dig into the ceiling. I rerouted blood easily away from my head to keep myself thinking clearly. The first time I had done this walk, a mile above the great river, upside down and held by nothing but the needle fine spikes in my boots, I had vomited noisily upward, my equilibrium destroyed. Bry had laughed at me and threatened to retract my spikes if I didn't grow a pair and get moving toward the door. In a panic I had scrambled for the portal, only to completely detach my boots and start falling. Only Bry's override had saved me, deploying my chute and emergency rockets to return me safely to the ceiling. Now it was where I came to think, so far above the city in the relative peace of space. I reached the hatch and punched in a code. It slid open with a grating screech and I once again reversed my direction, this time to climb a ladder and emerge from another hatch into a narrow maze of carved stone corridors. It was the forefront Marketplace, relatively law-abiding, and safe enough to bring your visiting schoolfriends if they wanted to see the shady underbelly of Above. I slipped easily through it, ignoring the spices and scents of scorched meats and sweet fruits that assailed my amped senses.
I spent hours in hotbeds of political dissension learning nothing, disguised moments in the open source university picking up threads and whispers, more hours in the office of a radical newssheet hackers group. They had little to say, less I didn't already know. In time I found myself jolting shots in a seedy Amper bar in one of the darkest corners of the Market. It was dark enough for me to rely on widened irises, but there was nothing to see. I sat alone with my back to the furthest wall, savoring the low voltage shots. The electric bartender wandered from socket to socket, ineffectually cleaning, mumbling to himself most of the time, checking transformers and wiring that looked old enough to be original, brittle rubber peeling away to expose time tarnished metal beneath. Very few came through in the hours that I spent there, assimilating what I had learned, and none were wired enough to see me in the back. I left in the wee hours of the morning, tapping the exit stile to transfer the credits for my tab. The streets were deserted and I walked, distracted, kicking aside piles of trash.
I was sloppy, and that's how Simper's goons caught me. I turned a corner, suddenly aware of a spook somewhere behind me, casually mirroring my steps. Ahead in the dim two more stepped in front of me. I stopped, suddenly aware of the trap. I ramped up all of my reserves to hold in abeyance, flipping a mental switch on the fight or flight instinct that I would shove into overdrive when needed. I waited to watch the move unfold.
A figure landed gracefully in front of me. Vi, Simper's left hand man, a retconned hulk of wired muscle and sheer vicious strength. Whispers had spread through the underground years ago when Vi first appeared in action during Simper's siege on the Eastside Dandies after their hostage coup. A berserker, ran the rumors. An insane brawler from the illegal unamped fighting rings, bought from indentured slavery to the ring and brought to prominence when rewired as Simper's brute. A one man shock squad.
I counted the whispers of feet around me, six, at least eight, including Vi.
Vi broke the silence with a voice like ruined machinery. "Productive day, Dar? And after such a productive night?" Vi was terrifying not only for his brute strength and utter cruelty, but for his horrible, calculating intelligence.
"Hello, Vi. A very busy evening indeed. I see you are missing five of your elite ten. Did we do that?"
He flared the nostrils of his scarred face in sudden temper. "Eight of the bands have a capture or kill order on your head, you little shit. Bry's jumped up right hand woman has a bounty to make governors weep after the bloodbath you pulled off last night. Did you really think no one would know it was you?"
"And Simper's band? The Mighty Vainglorious? What are your orders, Vi? To talk me to death?"
I tensed miniscule muscles, ready to flee, but I wasn't fast enough as Vi growled, pointed his shockgun at my face, and fired.