His head pounded within the blackness. A tight constricting bind held the inside of his chest with little allowance to breathing. His heart raced, pulsing with a torrid pace that he could hear as loudly as if the thing in his chest was residing next to his ears. He wanted it to stop, to not be heard. His breathing he could almost control, but his heart, it was impossible to quiet something that would only grow louder with his every effort.
The clanking of boots on metal grating was coming closer. Men’s voices were shouting things, but they were unintelligible over the sound of his pounding chest. He clenched his mouth and eyes tightly shut, as if they too could allude to his position. He begged again for his heart to shut up as an electronic beeping outside continued to grow louder with the approaching foot steps, but he could barely hear anything more than his chest’s absurd thumping. As the small crate he hid in was ripped open, he suddenly realized he was sitting in a warm puddle of his own doing. It smelled, and even as a thick hairy arm gripped him tightly and birthed him from his chosen prison into a steamy and stale world where giant churning metal pushed and functioned within everything, he could now only hear the incessant beating within his chest. They would yell, and beat him, but everything had stopped. Save for the thump, he had lost everything.
Bal Drude strode in through the dusty entrance to Mic’s Tavern. His swagger was different than the rest that came here, sure and cool. The tenants looked up from their dreary states and took a quick look at him and continued looking to the bottom of their glasses. Some younger guys in the rear of the establishment continued on with their business, a rousing rotation of “slamming,” the term for neglected youth now wayfarers of the world to lose their cognizance from some illegal injections. He would try to avoid them, he never liked dealing with their kind, and something about their over-excited head damage that just irked him.
“Bal! Muck up boyo, at’s yur mudda’s pleasin?” The bar hand greeted him pleasantly, a seeming familiarity with the man.
“Mic, you old hand, I’ll take a Sprice, leave the mix.” He said while surveying the scene from the top step, still by the door, and still looking cool and calm.
“Ight away, two giff’rs please.” Slamming his fist on the bar table and cleaning some gunk up from the counter by an empty seat, he gestured to the man to sit. He moved slowly to the other end of the bar, a severe hobble as he dragged one nearly dead leg at his side, a metallic bracing keeping it straight.
Bal made his way slowly to the seat. He walked simply, but brushed his dark coat aside as he propped himself up on the stool, a pistol strapped to his right thigh, obvious, and a warning to anyone looking for trouble. He brushed a gloved hand over some light stubble on his chin, a motion he made often.
“You ever gonna fix that Mic? That leg’s been dead most near a year now.”
“Aye, dead an sure. S’no prolem, just nutty s’all.”
“You keep saying that, but it’s not gonna get any better that way.”
“Yu kep yer trapper shut. I’s fine nuf. Here’s the Sprice, where’s the giff’rs?”
Bal reached into his pocket by his pistol, a motion he made while watching the people around him, some knowingly flinched, or hid slightly behind their beverage. He pulled a couple of small thin strips from his pocket and slapped them on the counter. Mic came over and sloshed the drink in front of him as he snatched up the strips and hobbled off to attend to others.
Bal chucked the thing down his throat, the drink coating the passage on the way down. When he had finished he came up for air, a quick intake that stung every bit of the area the sprice had touched, and his stomach burned. He repeatedly slammed his fist on the counter as his face contorted and he hacked slightly. When the moment passed the sting subsided into a calm warmth in his throat and down to his stomach. A light twinge went through his head, and an ease came over him.
“That yur pleasure Bal? Y’ant nother?” Mic asked looking down from the other end of the bar.
“No,” he said with a near gasp, his voice for the moment hazy.
Mic shook his thick face, a clumpy chin wobbling as he did so. “Don know aye yu drink at. Some sauce yu choice. A dapper fel ike yu.”
Bal cleared his throat and muttered lightly. “Simple logic really. I needed a meal and a drink, this takes care of both. Besides, it gives me a head thrill.”
“Ya, but at stuffs s made of the in…”
Bal cut him off sharply, “Doesn’t matter Mic. I was raised on this kinda stuff, a quick fix for everything really. Heals all your worries in a single glass. What else you got can do that?”
Mic chuckled, undulating his skin around his face and downward. He spit on his rag and kept on shining the counter tops.
Bal looked around again, the bar had seen better days. The windows were nearly clouded over with age old grease and burnt consumables. Time had worn down the once shining metal of the place into a murky looking surface. The floors had been worn down, only specs of the original tiling remained, and an earthy looking surface is all that remained.
The people around were even more worn. The under surface dwellers always were. A forgotten section of the city that was built over as the city continued its upward stretch towards the skies. The streets above now congested, the world below remained a dumping ground from the growing atop. Heavy iron bracings littered the side areas here, and even outside the murky windows, metal garbage and plastics and such were the only real scenery.
The world had grown tall, and aspired even higher still. The com-minded had taken over as the god-given graces of the people. They had been given the knowledge of so many before them, and with that they were able to improve upon what was in ways previously unimaginable. But with progress came a falling, or at least a normalizing of the regulars, the un-altered.
The com-minded excelled at schooling, becoming the only real focus of the progression of man. Regulars were encouraged to be altered to keep up. Many parents forced the change upon their children, accepting it as the modern standard. But those just outside the generation of change were left behind, a lost generation amidst the great and prospering world around. Forgotten and never missed.
Bal never cared for the com-minded either. He had been just beyond the changes the P1 programming brought in. He resented the new status quo that it brought about, and his progression had been halted, replaced by the machine minded mannequins around. No, he didn’t hate them, he just couldn’t see them as anything more than an extended programming that governments could use to control even more than any group of people should ever be allowed.
The rear of the bar lit up suddenly, one of the tweakers had gone soft and fallen on the floor in a convulsed splendor. He frothed at his smiling mouth. Mic hobbled over towards their table, his limp seemingly worsening with each hard effort. He shoved the others out of the way and fell to the floor at the side of the twitching patron. He cradled his head and reached in a small pouch near his lower back. He pulled out a small tube, and bit off the end exposing a tiny needle.
“S-ss-s-s-a-a-a-r-r-r-n-n-n-a-a-h,” the boy gyrated out as his eyes began to roll back in his head.
The attention of the whole bar was already on them, but at the stuttered name from the boys mouth, Bal suddenly found himself rushing to the side of this person.
Mic tried to find the artery in the boy’s neck, but was having difficulty with each flailing motion he made.
“Help me, Bal. Little tyke’s a loosin im’self. I can’t fin da slip! Hol im dammit!”
“What did he say Mic?” Bal asked as he took the boy’s head out of Mic’s rough hands. “I heard him say Sarnah! How does this boy know Sarnah, Mic? Where the hell is she?!”
“Hol im stead Bal. I miss I got not a chance. You ask this un. Soons he stands.” At that Mic stabbed firm into a bulging artery jutting from the boy’s neck. In an instant his convulsions subsided and his eyes shut passively.
The other tweakers stood staring down, dumbfounded.
“Ya scum! Hows I got ta hand ya? I tells you to ofn. No Slammin here! Go die an kill yuself out in the res of da worl.” The boys quickly ran out of the bar, leaving their friend, and nearly falling over themselves to get out before the other.
“Now I’s got ta call GP. Lots a questns, yeah, lots.”
“Mic! Dammit, answer me! This kids not coming to anytime soon. You know something, something I need to know. Where’s Sarnah? And how long have you known?” Bal pulled his piece from his hip and shoved it up under the flapping chin of the bar hand. “Tell me quick, I seem to have lost my patience with you.”
“Bal, crazy fel! I ony knows wha these tykes talk. I overhear, and I overheard before that name. S’no surprise. I don’t volve mesel with the raf though. Side you, o’course. Put that piece way, I don no bads.”
“But you knew!” Bal shoved harder the barrel of the pistol in the man’s thick skin. “I’ve been looking for near four years now! How long Mic? How long have you been hearing that name within this rabble and you never said a word?!”
“M-month…may two? Things fly here. You know. Sides, who say it same Sarnah. Huh? Could be some other? Ah?”
“No! That name only has one carrier! You know as well as me that she’s the only one. Especially around here!”
His finger twitched over the trigger, a willingness filling the tip as the seconds ticked by. It had been a while since he’d pulled, but it was all coming back to him at the sound of that name.
“I know, Bal! I know. I sorry kay? Ole mistakes. I not want this, no truble. Please. Ease up, we talk over next sprice, on me course.”
Bal stared into the fearful eyes in front of him. Mic was an old friend, he told himself, but this lie was beyond both of them. He thrust the gun back to its holster and pulled Mic to his feet and made his way to the bar, sitting where he had before, awaiting Mic to get back to the bar.
Mic keyed a series of numbers across a pad behind the bar, and relayed to the GP about the tweaker in need of further medical assistance. After doing so, he served up a Sprice to Bal, and leaned in to talk to him, quietly, and covertly, though all eyes were on the two of them.
“Ere’s a deal. Sarnah’s name pops up month o two ago. Tweak flops in, chats fellows, name falls out. He meaks afterward, leaves. That’s it. Name’s been flowing in and out o convers’s since. I know no else. Jus a name, falls aroun ere. S’it.”
Bal choked down the sprice in front of him, a wicked face of repulsion coming over him as he slammed his fist on the counter again.
“Alright,” he dryly heaved the words from his mouth. “But you ever hear anything else, you call. We’re on shakey ground now Mic. You know how long I’ve looked for Sarnah, or anything about her. Why did you keep it from me?”
“I wan tat el yu somthin. But alls I hads a name. I kept an ear to em, but not a thin ever came after. S’like I’s hearin things, sall. I’m old, and I take thins a bit off. No harm, sorry pal.”
“Okay. But you might want to call the GP back, I’m taking the kid. Tell em he ran off. Less questions for you. Call them in three minutes, that’s about the amount of time it takes for them to come around after the Remist. You got that? I’ll see you later Mic, and sorry bout the gun, I just haven’t heard that name for a long time. A really long time.”
“S’oky, we ol pals Bal. You me go backs. No gets, they be comin already.”
Bal stared around the bar at the onlookers around. They were witnesses, yes, but no one liked to get involved with anything down here, especially with the GP. He got up and grabbed the kid throwing him over his shoulder. He made his way out of the bar, and tossed the kid on the back of his Coaster. He strapped him in, and jumped into the front seat, lighting up the pads underneath. The thin cycle-like vehicle steadied itself upright on the air, hovering just above the strewn garbage around. He pressed the peddles beneath his feet, feeling the jumbled hum as he did, and took off down the street, a dark cloud of dirt and old dust kicked up behind him as he faded over a small hill and out of sight as the GP sirens in the distance getting closer, and the lights fell upon Mic’s bar.
The boy took longer than expected to come around. He opened his eyes slowly and blinked pacingly as he tried to clear his blurred vision. He moved his head slightly, catching a shining light that hurt even through the fog. The corner of his mouth felt wet, and as he tried to swallow he found he didn’t have the saliva to do so properly. He tried to reach up to wipe his chin, but found his hand clasped somewhere beneath him, unable to move. Sudden panic began to fill him as he began to struggle against his confines. His vision was quickly coming back now, probably due to the quickening flow of blood in his system. He tried to flail his legs hoping to find something not tied down , but they too were bound inescapable.
Footsteps had begun to move towards him, and looking up he was greeted with a quick jab to his face. Again his eyes fell upon the floor, a dirty and dark slab of concrete. No furniture littered the small room, save for the sturdy chair he seemed to be tied to. Only a couple of windows let light into the darkened room, and when he glanced back up at the man that had just punched him, he could not see his face, as the light only hit him just below his chin. Again, he felt panic and tried to break free of his binds.
“What chu want ace? I done nothin wrong you know? Man I was just enjoying a quick slam, that’s it, honest. Please ace just let me get goin. There’s no need for this. I was just hangin out, won’t do it there again…promise!”
The room was silent save for the boy’s own racing breath.
“Come on ace! Let me out already! This things rough you know? I gotta be getting home now. My mom’s she’ll be damn angry if I’m late.”
Again only silence answered back.
“Come on!” The boy bellowed his eyes bulging from his frail head. “Let me go! I ain’t done anything! It’s just slammin! Let the dregs have their dope man! We ain’t got nothin else man, please!”
Another quick jab to the other side of the boy’s face quickly shut him up. Finally the man backed away, pulled up a chair and sat in front of the boy, his face now fully visible in the coming light.
“Kid, I couldn’t care less what you do or where you do it. Sure you’re an idiot for slammin, but I ain’t your dad or for that matter anyone that could give a rat’s ass. What I wanna know is one simple little thing: what do you know about Sarnah?”
The kid went ghost white, his breathing halting mid-exhale.
“I…I don’t know whatcher talkin about ma…”
Bal lashed up grabbing the boy’s head from behind as he brought it down quickly against his knee. The boy’s nose errupted with blood.
“Ahhhh…ou roke ma ose!”
“Tell me the truth! I know you know somethin!”
“Ah old ou…ah ow othin ma…”
Before the last word fully exited the boy’s mouth Bal had gripped a handful of hair from the side of his head, pulling swiftly downward ripping the chunk from his skull.
“Ahhhh…Motha fug! Stah it! Ou’re gonna ki meh!”
“You ain’t gonna die from a broken nose and some missing hair! Now tell me what I want to know already! We can keep this going if you want.” Bal cracked the knuckles in his other hand as the boy eyed it fearfully.
“Loo…loo,” he spit blood trying to clear his lips. “Ah ow uthin bu da ame. Kay? Sh’jus a ame!”
“But why do you know that name?! Where did it come up?! Who said it?!” Bal had his fist up threateningly.
“Immy man…uz immy det ed it!”
“Jimmy? Are you saying Jimmy?” Bal’s fist hung in the air and the boy shook his head in affirmation. “Who’s Jimmy?!”
“Immy jes da work’m guy. Ee jes da smiffy! Oh evow, shenteh bock.” Again he spit trying to clear the flowing blood in front of his mouth with little success.
“Low level, center block?” Bal asked nicely. “is that what you said? Jimmy the smithy in low level center block?”
The boy again shook his head agreeingly.
“That wasn’t too hard now was it? You sure that’s all you know?”
The boy quickly shook his head, obviously fearful of any further torture.
“Good. Thanks a lot kid.” As the last word left his mouth he swung heavily into the kid’s face knocking him and the chair to the hard floor. The kid laid there bleeding, but knocked out. Bal took out a knife from near his gun and cut the tight rope binding the kid to the chair. Grabbing his coat, he scooped the kid up over his shoulder and carried him out to his coaster, again throwing him on the back before speeding off down the road nearly a mile before depositing him harshly on a well-lit corner in a nearly empty neighborhood. The GP made their rounds throughout the day, if the boy didn’t get up on his own soon, the GP would take him somewhere to fix him up. He was their problem anyway, Bal told himself. All he did was delay it an hour or so.
He jumped back on to the hovering coaster and toed the foot controls as he sped off turning right down a near street. The thunderous echo of his bike vibrated between the crumbling buildings to his sides. The old city, built upon to rot underneath. But this was home, and nothing felt more familiar than these decrepit streets. Above, things had become too busy, a world moving in every direction at once, never still, and never unsure of itself. A thought that Bal believed proved the world’s growing lack of humanity.
He pushed his bike unknowingly to its peak, making abrupt turns through the twisting streets that lead to Low town. This man Jimmy apparently knew something about Sarnah. Too long had he gone without hearing that name. Hearing it again pressed his mind to remember nothing else. Old thoughts and feelings, torments of days long since over. He wondered exactly how he felt at hearing her name again. The immediate reaction of it all was to find the source, and so he had started on that path, quickly, and now he realized it could be the death of him if he didn’t at least slow the Coaster down.
A tight corner ahead nearly saw him and his bike permanently engraved in the surrounding wall. He could see the fastly approaching wall ahead, but his mind refused to react, it was as if it accepted the wall as one would a cloud. The memories of Sarnah continued to dump into his mind and cloud his other senses. He hit the brakes before he even realized he had. His mind suddenly caught up with what his eyes had already known was approaching. His heart raced as the bike shuddered against uneven ground and he knew it would not stop in time, so he shut the pads down, letting the bike make contact with the ground below, sparking and screeching against the hard world.
He held tight as the bike made contact with the wall, one final jostle as the frame lightly tapped the concrete slab. He looked around at the wall, laughed once as he realized he had never closed his eyes, and let go of his tight embrace on the controls falling to the ground. He kicked at the bike as he chuckled at the reality of his near demise. He checked the bike over, one of the pads was badly damaged, but as he triggered the panel, he could see it would take him some distance more. The frame had taken the brunt of the damage, but mainly just dents and hard scraping.
“Sarnah, you bitch,” he said aloud still eyeing the wall with an escapist’s smile, “you nearly killed me again.”