Thursday, 10 July 2014

[Glory Brats] Dr Mirren Scott

[Again, this is stuff that might not be in the actual story, but is trying to get a feel of the world and the people who live there]

I leave the city the same way everyone else does: by train. Board at the Terminus, and sit back as the train pulls slowly through the Residential and Industrial areas, gathering speed as we pass through the farmlands.  At the edge of the forest, the train enters a tunnel, the trees cleared back from the entrance.  Somewhere in the middle of the tunnel, the train stops. A light flashes from the tunnel wall, and the carriage door is unlocked. I leave the train, stepping carefully across the tracks and entering the doorway under the blue light. There are concrete steps, a metal encased door. In the bare room beyond, someone checks my Vacc. Papers are up to date, ticks my name on a checklist. Takes my ID tag and stores it on a hook on the wall. Enters the time and date into the register, paper only – don’t want Central to find out. I sign my name and am waved through into the holding room to wait for the other members of the party to go through the same procedure.

 Guards are essential of course: City Law only extends as far as, well, the cities. There’s a new rep. from Depot/Supply, a rep. from City Council, and the returning rep. from Medical: me. I know Warden Smith from D/S, he’s the one responsible for Sector 3 distribution. Nice guy, lets my daughter Tekla punch in the numbers on the call screen to fetch the supply crates through. I hope he sticks with the team – the last guy they sent from D/S cracked and wouldn’t leave the train. Had to go on all the way to Exchange and got sent back with 50 credits docked from his wage chitty and a black mark on his file. At least, that’s the gossip. I don’t know the CC rep. but she nods at me anyway, a brisk official recognition. Probably already read my file.

We have to climb up more concrete steps, the guards at the head of the party. When we finally get to the top there’s another metal door to be unbolted, another bare room beyond – a bunker really, protecting the entrance from the outside world…and from the Outsiders. Shouldn’t call them that – Lallanders is the correct term, itself a corruption of Lowlanders, which is mostly inaccurate now that everywhere here is considered high ground, but it’s stuck.

Once we’re outside, the four guards split up: two ahead, two behind. The first settlement isn’t too far from the train tunnel, but the half hour walk over marshy scrubland makes the journey seem much longer than it actually is. The Lallanders know the correct route to follow, and have sturdy horses that allow them to cover the same ground quickly. Maybe in time we’ll reach some arrangement with them.

The first thing I see as we approach the settlement is the scavenged barbed wire fence surrounding the perimeter. It’s patched in places with strips of metal track that look like they’ve come from the old airfield nearby. As usual, Garm meets us outside the fence. I haven’t yet figured out if Garm is his first or his family name. I don’t even know if they have family names. The dog is with him too – a large bitch with a brindle coat and ears that come to a point. Before coming outside I’d only ever seen a dog in the testing facility, and before that, only in books. I suppose out here they are useful for hunting and guarding. Garm seems to have the animal well-trained, but it still makes me nervous. I can see two others from the settlement hanging back. There’s a woman, about a head taller than Garm, and a skinny boy in an ill-fitting jerkin, who looks to be the same age as my Sparrow.

Garm calls them over and introduces them. “This is Bett, my wife, and our boy Sol.”

***
(some months later)

Bett comes out of the house to watch me work. She tells me I should relax more. I laugh. “But this is relaxing.” I wave at the scenery with my graphite stylus. “No one else around, hardly any buildings. Do you know how rare that is?”

She shrugs and heads back to the house. “Gets lonely sometimes.”

I pause, considering. From what she’s told me, apart from monthly trips (sometimes less) to the trading hub, the only people she sees are her husband and son, with maybe the occasional tracker or hunter staying the night. I shift in my seat, rub my stiff neck with my free hand. Maybe a break would be good. No one else is here – Garm and Sol are out back fixing the windmill blades with Warden. Dockery and the guards are walking the train line – some Central business we’re not allowed to know about.  I close my folder; crease my eyes against the sun. There is complete silence.

Bett reappears. “Just got some water boiling.  Want a cuppa?” She hesitates.  “You…you can come inside, if you’d like?” She rushes the last words out as if she’s scared of what I’ll think.

 None of us have spoken about entering their house, partly feeling it would be an invasion of privacy and partly because of the infection risks. When it rains, we shelter in the newbuild hut by the fence. But now she’s brought it up of her own accord, and invited me in. I look over at the house that is built of wood, scavenged metal and covered over with grass.

I nod, and smile quickly, not wanting to offend her. My vaccs are all up to date, and I can get a jag when I'm back in the city. No one will notice, not with my job. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

[Northspell 9] the princess runs away

The Northman - Jokul, she told herself - helped Oska to pack the boxes onto a small wooden cart. Irena watched as the pair of them dismantled the stall, folded the rugs and stored it all on top of the boxes. Jokul drew a small leather bag from his tunic and counted the contents. "Oska, mind the cart better than you minded the stall. I need to pay the merkfee on our goods. Pray they don't take too much of our profit."

 Oska shook out the final, dustiest rug, sending grit and bits of straw over Irena. She blinked her stinging eyes and lunged forward. "You did that on purpose."

 He pushed her away easily,  flung the rug over the cart, and began to fix it to the sides. She tried again, "You should apologise."

He laughed, and continued working. Frustrated, she stared down at the ground, thinking of all the things she would do once she was back in the palace.

 "That's her. That's the girl!"

Oska stopped working. Irena looked up. The guard had come back, but this time he had a woman with him. She was tall, and dressed in the city fashion, with her cloak pinned to one shoulder, covering the front of her dress as well as the back.

"That's the girl that stole from me.' The woman nodded at the guard. 'Just reached out and took it, cool as you please. I wasn't going to say, but..." she rubbed the fingers of one hand together in front of the guard's face. He handed her a coin, which she tied to the string around her neck with a satisfied look.

"I didn't..." Irena started to say, but her mouth went dry as she saw the guard reach for the knife at his belt.

She turned and ran. She pushed her way through the crowds of people, hearing angry voices raised behind her, but she didn't stop. She just kept pushing and moving forwards until the crowds thinned and she could run again. The angry voices were farther away now, but still she ran. She ran until the street widened, and the big bridge that lead out of the city was before her. Three guards manned the checkpoint to let people in and out of the city. A queue of people, carts and donkeys blocked the way, and it moved painfully slowly. She skidded to a halt.

The buildings on either side had lines of archways facing onto the street at ground level, providing shade and cool air for the open rooms beyond. Every so often there was a stall selling sweet spiced tea - the vendors competing with each other for customers by praising their own wares loudly, and decrying those of their neighbour's.

Plenty of children were in the queue - the smaller ones playing in the street during the long wait, the older ones carrying baskets, or minding a cart while their parents sipped tea. Some of them weaved in and out of the queue as if they were playing some game, following each other and laughing. The end girl stumbled into Irena, and clutched at her to steady herself.

"Oops. Sorry." She ran to catch up with the others, calling after them to wait. Irena watched as they clustered around a merchant trying to join the queue. He shifted his grasp, jostling the delicate cages full of birds. He tried to shoo the children away with his free hand, but they clamoured around him, demanding to see the birds. The birds, frightened by the noise, flapped against the woven sticks of the cages. One of the children whistled, and they all ran away, leaving a cage unfastened and the birds stretching their wings into the sky.

The people in the queue and under the arches pointed and stared at the birds flying away, as the birdman tried to stop the last few of his feathered wares from escaping. One of the guards from the bridge chased after the children. Irena began to walk back towards the city but was stopped by the sight of the guard from the market talking to people in the queue. A few of them nodded, and looked around as if they were searching for someone. She hid behind a cart filled with tall clay pots and scanned the street. Two guards still at the bridge, now standing with their spears crossed. One guard returning to his post unsuccessful at catching the children. The guard from the market walking towards the birdman. He'd have to pass Irena to get to him. She edged around the side of the cart, crouching down by the wheels as the guard went by.

"Hey, get away from there!" The owner of the cart appeared, shaking his fist. The guard looked around. Irena backed away from the cart and started running again. This time she turned off the main road, into an alley that smelt of fish, cluttered with barrels and stacks of shallow boxes. Wooden signs shaped like different types of fish swung above the doorways. She dodged the boxes as she ran, finding it easier to run on the sandy-coloured ground than it had been on the cobbles. The people in the doorways stopped talking as she ran by, but didn't call out to the guard, and one even seemed to be sympathetic, moving a barrel out of the way for her. She dropped down behind a stack of boxes to catch her breath, peering around the edge to see if the guard was still following.

An argument had started, and one of the barrels had tipped over, spilling a mess of salty water, fish-heads and small bones across the ground in front of the guard. He started to pick his way through it, putting a hand over his nose and mouth against the smell, but shook his head in disgust and turned back.

She sank back against the wall, and steadied her shaking legs. The smell from the fallen barrel was moving down the alley, and she wrinkled her nose as she got to her feet. She walked to where the alley merged into a small square with a well in the centre. The girl who had bumped into her was sitting on the wall around the well. She jumped off when she saw Irena.

"You're a good runner. Almost as good as me." She stepped forward and smiled at someone standing behind Irena, who felt a hand slip into her pocket. She tried to spin around but the girl was holding her wrists, "Hold still! Arkel's just getting the dibs I put there earlier. There..." The girl let Irena go, and rushed past her to tussle with the boy.

"Get off, Gia...ugh!" Gia held her prize high and danced around the well. Arkel followed, trying to grab it back, but failing. He pushed her off, snatched up the money pouch and scrambled up the wall of the square, finding footholds easily with his bare feet. He sat on the low roof and swung his legs, throwing the pouch up and down.

Gia scowled up at him from the dust, then broke into sudden laughter. She looked over at Irena, "I meant it about the running."

"You're thieves!" said Irena.

"The very best..." said Arkel, flicking a coin from the pouch into her lap.