Status Quo


Brace yourselves, it’s another long one.  Sci-fi sometimes requires a bit of world-building on the page so as not to leave those readers not present inside my head with questions and confusions.  Like what the hell is it with all the colours? (because it’s less blatant than labeling them ‘crap lives’ and ‘happy lives’, and they haven’t quite gone morlock vs eloi)  And why do insurgents seem to always be wearing eyeliner in movies? (so they can give the hero a really penetrating stare?  To make their eyes pop?  because men wearing eyeliner = bad men in a bit of Hollywood transphobia? I don’t know, it’s late.)

I used the following prompts from Inspiration Monday – check it out for other responses and to submit your own!

Armoured Ambulance

Bitter Half

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The massive buildings made deep narrow canyons of the streets. Heavy concrete, the structures’ lower floors had no windows, the light-access increasing as one rose through the building until the top floors were nothing but steel girders and plate glass. The rapport of gunfire echoed, disorienting, as squads of soldiers ran the maze; engaging pockets of the enemy. All civilians were placed on lockdown until further notice.

Dr. Timothy Marrick of block 719, Green level 8, recently honorably discharged from his time in the army, was not yet on a civilian card. He was absent-minded, one of the reasons he’d been discharged, and so had forgotten the need for a new card. This one still opened his home and business doors, still let him pay for his morning chai and order the occasional vid.

He wasn’t very good at following directions, easily distracted and, for such an intellect as he was, sorely lacking in the ability to interact with people. He was surprisingly fit for someone who lacked the basic coordination to reload a gun while running in a straight line. They’d said something about all this during his discharge interview, but he’d been thinking on a new bypass technique he’d studied in a before-time medical text, and hadn’t really been paying attention. Army service was randomly assigned through the Green levels, and always 18 months or longer.

He was aware that his discharge was in many ways a failure on his part, and had since been attempting to remedy it. His hour-long walk home from his government-allocated block 699 green level 2 medical practice was good for listening to self-improvement talks. He slipped out the door at grey-level one, already muttering repetitions of the enthusiastic man instructing him that Eye Contact is step one to social interaction. Smiling is step two.

It made sense, though he’d listened to this one three times and attempts to enact the steps to social interaction left his patients and staff uncomfortable. One woman on the elevator had burst into tears, and he’d gotten a reprimand in the mail citing him for inappropriate public socializing. This time he planned to enact only one of the social interaction steps at a time. Build up was key; first he’d master one, and then move onto the next.

“-tor?!” The doctor turned at the sound and found himself face to face with the Enemy.  The woman looked just like the pictures he’d seen in basic training. Tan clothing and weapon straps and… heavy black eyeliner. He couldn’t seem to recall the reason for that bit, but the eye-liner had stuck in his mind as in some way critical to the whole.

He gaped, tugging his ear-buds out. “Um?”

“Doctor?” she barked again, irritation across her face.

He nodded, taking a step back when he saw that the Enemy was surrounded by more Enemy.

The woman grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled. Doctor Marrick found himself in the middle of a cramped surgery, rumbling along at high speed on the smooth City roads.

“What?! No!” he yelped belatedly about his abduction. “Wait! Stop, that’s not right! Just let me,” he added, taking in the shaking scalpel, the vast quantities of blood and pained man on the table clutching at his abdomen. Doctor Marrick shoved the scalpel-wielder aside and took control of the surgery.

The features that made him a terrible soldier helped to make him an excellent doctor.  Immersed in his craft he barely noticed that the patient changed, what with them all having similar wounds.

What he did notice was that they were all young. And when he was between patients, he noticed the ricochet of bullets off the van. The enemy woman was quick to reassure him. “Armored Ambulance – can withstand a rocket-launcher or a gyre attack. What are you called?”

“Timothy Marrick, M.D., Green. Why are they all so young? What’s a gyre?”

“Because we die young. And it’s a very very big avian.”

“Then why do you even fight? Wait, what?”

“Because the government is corrupt, Doc.  And not everyone wants to stay in their caged and miserable lives.”

Timothy knew that the people living in the Grey levels – the levels without light – were crammed in like sardines while half the Green sat empty. They labored in the darkness of the sewers, moving the waste and never seeing sunlight, as they had been banned some years ago from traveling street-side. He knew the menial laborers of the Brown worked 14 hour shifts, to the 8 he and his fellow Green worked. And, though he didn’t think on them often, he knew that the Blue, way up high in their glass houses, were the only ones ever assigned to Government duties by the Government.

But the caste system was necessary. Every task required a hand, and after the blasts had wiped out so much of the human population, it was no longer reasonable to just hope that every role would be filled naturally. The world had become more dangerous, the Government handled the building of the first tower to host the small remaining nearby population. 20 storeys of blank concrete walls, 20 with arrow-slit windows, 20 with  square meter sized windows spaced 2 meters apart, and 20 with enough light to host plant-life for hydroponics, and, eventually, the Blues. Even though it was the Browns who maintained the hydroponics. It was a massive endeavor, and costly. The only safe place to be in these dangerous times. They were lucky the Government from before the bombs started dropping had arranged the beginnings of this project, really, ready to start this post-end-of-the-world off on the right foot.

The Government had invited in the dregs of humanity, so long as they were willing to put their shoulder to their government assigned grindstone. Better inside and committing the future generations of your family to shoveling waste than out there, with them. Everyone understood this. The population grew, and the next tower was built. And the next, and the next. None had been built for a long time, though, now that he thought of it, and with the Grey population outgrowing its floors, wasn’t that something the Government ought to be doing something about?

“They built the towers. The wall.  They protect us from the creatures in the Waste,” he said uncertainly. “Without a hand for every task the work won’t get done.”

“The Waste has been free of the big dangers for years now, doc. More than a hundred, in fact. Radiation made them unstable enough to get big and bad, and made them sterile, mostly. They failed to breed true, if at all. Mostly.  And the land out there is good enough for people to expand beyond the walls, survive without Government handouts.”

Really?” the doctor looked up from his careful suturing, eyes going wide. He’d dreamed of climbing the City walls as a child, of going on an adventure like Huck Finn or finding magic like Harry Potter. Become a knight like Alannah, fight alongside the enormous intelligent rodents of Redwall. See a tree, maybe even put his feet in naturally flowing water. “You’ve been there? What’s it like? Do trees really grow as tall as a tower?  The government says it isn’t safe out there. Why would they lie? What about the mutants?”

The enemy woman regarded him for a long moment. “I’m glad to see you’re interested,” she replied as they rumbled onto a bumpier surface than the cobbled pavement of the City. “Because you’ll get a chance to see it. And treat some of those poor unfortunates you call mutants,” she added mockingly, wiggling her fingers on her left hand so that he noticed that there were six.

“What? No, I’m not… I’m not good at things, I’m just a medical. I flunked army training,” he added morosely.

Just a medical,” she snorted. “Did you know there hasn’t been a Brown or Grey in medical training in more than 30 years?”

“… No?” Timothy had flown through medical school, and, honestly, couldn’t think of the name of a single person he’d known during that time. They were all just… fellow students. Though he supposed, now that he thought of it, that they were all greens. Probably.

“Do you treat Browns or Greys often?”

“Of course not, you only treat those within your… band…OhI see.”

“You’ve lived with the better half, Doc, now it’s time to tend to the bitter half.”

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2 Comments

  1. I love your use of his absent-mindedness to cover up the exposition, but let just enough of it through to explain things. It’s an exciting, detailed world, and his inner monologue, with the blend of distractedness and focus on his singular talent, makes him extremely likable. Love it.

    • My first draft left my sibling/editor so confused about the backdrop for the story, I’m glad the exposition fit in well with this round!

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