1.2: Laser Boy: Another Long Crawl
In the vents he pulled himself along quickly in an outward direction from the axel of the station through a skinny duct. As he moved, his weight gradually increased due to the spin of the space wheel that held him. The station was once called Shambala Station, but Shambala meant paradise, and few regarded this place as paradise anymore. Most called just called it the station without even bothering to caps the word. Some of Vince’s friends called it Ventilation Station, a name with dark connotations that lived in the stories that brain damaged moms told their children at night.
The station was a ten-kilometer long cylinder with nine immense wheels spaced out along it, and between each wheel a somewhat smaller sphere. The wheels housed the pillars of all caps SOCIETY, and the spheres were housing and some retail. The long and vast space of the axel cylinder was a lawless melting pot of all the various cultures of the wheels and spheres. That was where Vince had committed his daring peak hour robbery. The lawlessness of the common zero g area was relative of course. Those with money could pay for law no matter where they were or where the chase led. His face was broadcast everywhere, and the Leper Cheese Franchise could probably afford to hire bounty hunters to find him, but few hunters wanted to visit the Slum Sphere where Vince and his kras lived, so if he could make it there, he’d be safe. The greater danger was if the Papal Agency decided to get involved due to his use of a laser gun. The great fear of all the denizens of the station was being sucked into the vacuum of space. It was a taboo thing to play around with, and Vince had been videoed by dozens of cameras threatening to kill literally hundreds of people for a few hundred stakes. However, as always, money followed money, and there was not a great deal of money to follow from Vince’s daring robbery.
He was pulling himself along by bracing his palms against the sides of the duct and pulling himself forward. There was a gradual increase in gravity in the direction of his head as he moved, and when he reached his well-practiced sweet spot, he flipped heel over head so that now he was climbing outward or down feet first. His hair, so wild and impetuous in zero g hung flat across his face and neck. He batted at it impatiently. He hated how his hair felt in gravity. He was tempted sometime to move permanently to the axel, but people who stayed too long there lost muscle mass and could no longer venture unaided to the outer parts of the station. He and his kras had a series of tents in a .7 Earth g cave on a shelf in the Slum Sphere.
Three turns and a ninety-minute slog later, Vince banged his elbow on the metalastic border of a screened vent and it popped open. The view out the meter long rectangle showed the wild mix of wild flora and synthetic material that was the interior of the slum sphere. An explosive rainbow of shanties and shacks, buildings and pits, stair-stepped plateaus, fields of trash and weeds, entire blocks of overgrown tangle, flocks of stinging insects and trails of burrowing rodents. It was rather beautiful from here in the “ceiling,” but the view from within was grimy and uncomfortable.
Vince dropped down and hit harder than he meant to. Transitioning between gravities was tricky. He walked the dusty paths toward his kras’s camp, tucking his sack of cash under his shirt beneath his left arm.
It was late morning by the station clock. The slum sphere got only a small amount of the cherished and cleansing rain, and there wasn’t another one due for days. The air was dry and smelled of laundry water. It was bad, but not as bad as the methane days or the acid days. Several young children ran after Vince as he walked.
“Give us some venting candy you mutard!” Sereph Ablogaton jumped on his back with a shrill yell. His brother Caliphant Ablogaton got in front of him and matched his pace backwards.
“Ghost boy! Manooway man! Give us something man, we know you been workin.”
Vince reached into his sack and felt around for the one of the more smoothly worn bills that was generally of a smaller denomination.
“Watch your language you little skat bits! I vent the lot of ya!”
He tossed the 5 stake note on the ground behind him. The small pack of children instantly forgot him and dashed for the cash. Far overhead the outer part of the axel that passed through the center of the Slum Sphere’s hollow sky like a long cylindrical sun glowed bright and harsh as the real sun but with a spattering of dark burnt out patches. Beyond that he could see the other side of the sphere. When he was younger, he and his friends had tried like hell to throw trash up high enough to fall on the populace on the other side, but it always fell back on them. Two months ago, Syrge had launched a small rocket that arced past the axel before the engine died and it fell to the other side and its payload had been rancid meat. That had been a great night. All caps GREAT. Those venters over there were widely known to penn hard.
Vince had circumnavigated the entire sphere dozens of times, had, in fact, lived at various times at two, five, and eight o’clock relative to Arbitrary True, and it was the same over there as over here. The population in the slum sphere was so jittery and mobile, the structures so temporary, that one tended to migrate throughout the gravity ring. Tradition demanded, however that wherever you were, the people you could look up and see were a lot of irradiated folk with no genitals. They were probably looking at what you were doing through some sort of magnifier lens right now, so best to flip them the evil fingers. So they knew what the score was.
Vince’s steps took him past the market. Dozens of dozens of unlicensed vendors and con men were noisily going about their “business” with other unlicensed vendors and con men. On the edges, slightly more honest folk were selling food and essentials, but these people and whatever else’s with the bright tents were mean and desperate. All the hustling stalled for a moment as a group of three Fid moved through one of the lanes. They were about two and a half feet tall, dressed in loose white outfits that covered them all over with no seams or decorations. Even their faces and heads were concealed. They appeared to have two eyes, but they were just black rectangles drawn in the appropriate spots. A small oval was similarly drawn on where the mouth should be. As they passed through the crowd, you could hear their ubiquitous cheery refrain.
“Excuse me. Nice to see you. How wonderful you are looking. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. Have a nice day. What’s up my friend. Hello brother. You are lighting up my day,” and so on without end.
Nobody spoke back to them or impeded their progress in any way. Vince shuddered briefly and altered his pace enough to stay a bit farther away from them.
Once they passed, Vince paused and stood scanning around him. Watching the ground curve up and away. If he squinted, he could see phantom outlines where there used to be structures, in good repair, when people lived here in idyllic dreams. So many lives piled up over the years each one leaving traces and scars on this habitat. About twenty meters to his right he saw a small shirtless dirty boy slapping some sort of doll into the ground over and over. You could barely make out the remains of the right angles of a wall around him. Right where that kid squatted, there was once a house and probably a family, maybe some wonderful warm times, maybe the private horror of domestic abuse.
He patted the lump of money hidden in his pants and turned to head for the edge of the gravity ring of the sphere. His Kras lived a short climb into the grey where the slope made it seem like you were on a steep hill due to the direction of the sphere’s rotation. Some slum rats of the past had built a vice cave hidden away up there and built the floor at a perfect angle so that the gravity was just right once you got into the cave. Black Elvis had discovered it and each time he found a new member for their little tribe, he made them swear its location to secrecy. From the “ground” it couldn’t be seen, but it had a nice little ledge they could all sit on and watch the world from privacy, and if they lay back they had a great view of a functioning and easily hacked black wall.