Come The Revolution – Snippet 20

“Nothing stupid,” I agreed.

They had ground transportation waiting, a beat-up old manual-drive ground car parked in the public garage inside one of the south road access ways for Katammu-Arc. Lefty drove and we all crammed ourselves into the single broad seat. I had the feeling the original plan involved me riding in the baggage locker, but times change.

We emerged from the base of Katammu-Arc into drifting smoke and the stuttering sound of distant automatic weapons fire. My stomach churned in fear. Not your typical day in downtown Sakkatto, even in the slums. The city outside the arcologies was mostly made up of improvised structures with winding streets, some of them too narrow even for Lefty’s little clunker.

Some of the buildings were almost substantial: one- or two-story cast foamstone, with the exterior clearly showing the pattern of the improvised mold used to cast it, usually wood planking with gaps between the wood so the foamstone had oozed out a bit in the seams before hardening. A lot more of the structures were discarded metal cargo containers of varying sizes and colors, some with windows and doors cut into the sides, others with flexible plastic or composite sheeting flapping across the original entrance.

Most of the space in between these was filled with shacks, lean-tos, and improvised tents, all of them looking like they wouldn’t survive a good strong wind. Building materials were almost all metal, plastic, or composites. No wood — wood was fuel. Thin grayish smoke curled up from cooking fires, from a distance looking like the dirty plumes of a hundred cigarettes.

The ground was covered with garbage and the smell was about as strong as you’d guess. I didn’t imagine there was regular trash pickup. In terms of filth and general dilapidation, it was worse than the Human Quarter back in Crack City on Peezgtaan, where I’d grown up, and that was really saying something.

I saw evidence of recent violence: structures gutted by fire, merchandise looted from stores and discarded in the street, and lots of flashing Munie hard posters stuck up on building fronts telling people the curfew hours and which areas were under interdiction, all of which lent a grim post-apocalyptic feel to the landscape, made all the more surreal by our having been in the clean and orderly interior of Katammu-Arc only minutes earlier.

Once we had to double back and go around an area completely cordoned off by barricades manned by armed Varoki civilians. The unarmed Varoki we passed looked sullen and ready for a fight. A couple times groups of them started to crowd around the car but Pablo showed them his gauss pistol and they backed off. The farther we went, the more nervous I got, and I could smell both Lefty and Pablo sweating to either side of me, and it wasn’t that hot a day.

We passed five Munie checkpoints and I kept the fisherman hat low on my face when we did. Even if Varoki weren’t good at telling one Human from another by sight, the Munies’ facial recognition programs would ID me and bring up the summons flag, but I needn’t have bothered. As soon as they saw the car held Humans, they waved us through. Humans weren’t the problem today. That was the oddest part of the entire trip.

We drove through a landscape, altered and made unfamiliar, even to Lefty and Pablo, by the growing evidence of mass violence and the responses to it. The situation must have deteriorated just in the time they were inside Katammu-Arc dealing with me. I could tell they were as spooked as I was, although none of us let it show in our faces. We were tough guys, right?

The two-kilometer drive took almost an hour and there were several times I didn’t think we were going to make it, but we did. I was right about one thing: I’d have never made it on foot.

Prahaa-Riz arcology looked desolate from the outside, with much of its foliage burned away and many broken windows, particularly on the lower levels. We parked west of the arc and walked to the maintenance access bay I had an illegal key for. I’d set this up as an emergency escape route, not a way in, but doors swing both ways. The streets were wet and slick with black soot and flame-retardant foam from fighting the exterior fires, but all the streets were nearly deserted, at least on that side.

Once inside we stayed away from the public spaces, instead following the arcology’s circulatory system of air and power and fluid pipelines, making our way up through service elevators and maintenance access ways. We saw some damage, but not a lot and most of it was already repaired. A couple Varoki techs we passed looked at us funny but the gauss pistols discouraged their curiosity. I was half-surprised we didn’t see any Munies, but they apparently had their hands full in the public spaces of the arc.

I wasn’t sure what I’d find at the apartment. Our address was public knowledge and I half expected to find it vandalized and looted, although someone would have needed a pretty high-powered pulse laser to cut through the armored door and walls. In any case, the upper levels had come through in pretty good shape. Lots of well-off Varoki lived here and the Munies had protected it, contained the trouble down below.

We had to go through all those layers of security to get it. I doubt that Lefty or Pablo had seen anything like it, even at Munie lockups.

The apartment impressed Lefty and Pablo at first; then it sort of pissed them off. They knew some Varoki lived this well, but the idea that Humans did seemed more unfair, rather than less. That’s Human nature for you. Actually, this was very austere by e-Varokiim standards, but telling them that wouldn’t make them feel any better.

I moved the couch to show them the floor safe and then pointed out the gun safe in the corner. It was all transparent composites so it doubled as a display case. I had a neuro pistol, a couple very nice gauss pistols — one of them a big Zaschaan model with custom grips — as well as two old-style slug throwers: a little LeMatt 5mm and the Hawker 10mm I used to carry and which Marr had used to save my life after I was already dead. Long story.

“I’m gonna take a shower,” I said. “One of you guys want to check out the john before I do?”

Lefty did the honors, leaving Pablo with his nose almost pressed against the clear composite gun safe. The master bath was through Marr’s and my bedroom, and I imagine the bathroom itself was about as big as this kid’s apartment, which he probably shared with someone, maybe several someones. He checked the shelves and drawers and cabinets, looked for control surfaces, and then just stood looking around for a while, fingering his ear.

“You trying to grow that ear back?”

He scowled at me and dropped his hand to his side.

“Leave doors open, wise-guy, so we see when you get done.”

He left and I turned on the shower, waited a minute or two, and then went to the sink.

“Yanni,” I said, which was Marr’s and my security code for the apartment system. It was sort of a joke between us and usually brought a smile, but given our last conversation it made me feel blue instead, and lonely. A verification square appeared on the mirror and I pressed my left palm against it. The smart wall changed from a mirror surface to the default security screen: a layout of the apartment with thermal tags for the three occupants — me in the john and the two punks in the living room. I brought up the control interface and then closed and sealed all the doors to the living room. As the doors snicked shut I briefly heard Lefty and Pablo yell in anger and alarm. I pumped the living room full of gas and then took my shower.