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Freedom breeds uncertainty; uncertainty invites chaos.
The phrase comes to me unbidden as I stare at the graffiti: a crudely painted white letter ‘A’, inscribed within a white circle, symbol of the latest resistance movement. You see them all over the city these days, too many to blame on the resistance alone. Kids playing copycat I suppose, but that won’t matter if they’re caught. Promoting anti-government ideology is a capital crime and offenders can be shot on sight. Age is immaterial. That’s the law.
It’s eleven o’clock in the evening and the streets are deserted. No, more than deserted—dead. Deserted just means an absence of people, but death has a stench and the streets reek of it. It’s the smell of decay, of corruption and blight. Some places are worse than others, but there’s no escaping it. Unless you leave the city. And no one leaves the city.
Breaking curfew is dealt with even more harshly than graffiti, but my risk is small. I’m not tagged, so technically I don’t exist. The light from the scanner doesn’t even flicker. I don’t register. I’m a shade.
I could still be picked up on some random video surveillance, but there isn’t much chance of that. This area isn’t monitored closely. Nothing here to monitor except mountains of stinking, aging trash. The seventy-first precinct is the trash capital of the city. Not that the piles are all that smaller uptown, but they probably smell better.
I hear her before I see her, even though she’s wearing some kind of rubber-soled moc. A slight crack in the knee as she comes out of the shadows. Starvation does that to a body; makes it snap and pop in odd places, even a young body like hers.
She catches sight of me in the glare of the scanner and stops, a look of fear in her eyes. Can’t blame her for that. She doesn’t know me from the Director General. Devon would have told her something, but what, that I’m a thief? What of it? There are worse things in this world than thieves. I should know. I used to be one of those worse things.
Maybe it isn’t me. Maybe it’s the scanner she’s afraid of. If so, then I want to know because if she’s tagged, I don’t want be anywhere near her.
She seems hesitant, undecided. What’s wrong bobby, having second thoughts? Whatever your problem, doesn’t seem so bad now, does it? Not bad enough to have to deal with a man like me?
She looks quickly over her shoulder, back the way she came. For a blink, I think she’ll run. That’s fine by me. I only promised Devon I’d have a meet with her. If she decides to skip out, well, that’s her problem. Only she doesn’t run. She cocks her head and takes a step closer, eying my long leather trench coat warily.
So it is me she’s afraid of. Smart girl.
The fear doesn’t fade completely but she comes near anyway, so near I can smell her and maybe she wants me to. She raises the sleeves of her ragged sweater, making a point of showing me her arms. No tats.
Nice try bobby, but that can be faked.
Before I can tell her to, she drops the sweater and pants and steps naked in front of the blue glow of the scanner imbedded in the wall. She’s scrawny, but with a healthier look than most in this precinct. This one hasn’t been hungry her whole life, it’s new to her. Even so, she’s tough. Doesn’t blush or try to cover herself. Just stares me straight in the eye, face like a mannequin.
Not a peep from the machine. Nothing. That can’t be faked. I ease my finger off the revolver in my pocket and give her a curt nod. She picks up her rags and throws them back on, shivering. It’s cold tonight.