Mum continues to cackle to herself hatefully. She hobbles around gathering up the dropped boxes and bags, thrusting them randomly into my arms. I know better than to argue with a psychopath so I reorganise the pile myself while easing into an upright position; swearing as softly as the residual groin ache will allow.
A warning shout excites the group when a long-haired block-drifter is spotted darting from deep shadow to throw a magnesium flare. It ignites about fifty metres away and the courtyard dumping ground is illuminated in all of its ragged finery. The faces of the hard-core sadists who’d stayed to watch my misfortune are rightfully alarmed. We all know gangsters don’t waste such resources on a whim. They seek to blind the drone which would have bumbled off a few minutes from now anyway.
Whatever they’re up to, it is big trouble for us.
My danger sensing radar turns on well after hearing a sound from above. A flaming meteor streaks through the air, high overhead, trailing black smoke from the top of A-Block. I assume it is aimed at the passing drone although they miss it by many metres. The ball of burning cloth crashes to the ground, bouncing and throwing off streamers of flame. It heads directly for the smashed in gateway, like a soccer-ball booted at a goal.
Meaning I am the goal-keeper by default.
I don’t want to play that game. Suddenly I’m able to sprint. I dodge the flaming ball which scatters our group without setting anyone on fire. More screeches and cries greet a second projectile as it too arcs a bright red flame across the sky, completely missing the drone again. This ball of flaming rags explodes through someone’s window, halfway up B-block’s tower opposite. A fire alarm goes off.
My apartment in E-block is a fair way from these morons with the super-slingshot, but it wouldn’t surprise me if an unlucky overshot has my belongings in flames too. It’s been that sort of day really.
The brightly burning phosphorous flare ruins my night-vision but I run anyway. Blind, and scared witless, I cling to these packages instead of flinging them aside. They come in useful to bulldoze aside busted shopping carts and trashed furniture without causing myself further damage. I chant, “almost there, almost there” with every step.
My mother sprints faster than me. She does not relieve me of a single token package although her hands are empty. The bitch is as sure-footed as a cockroach, and she scitters past me across a pile of shattered concrete when I try to block her. She claims the vandal-proofed, latest model scanner at the entrance to our building a good ten seconds before I catch up.
These scanners are connected to a dozen formidable doors that are meant to prevent unauthorised access to the building. However I’m sure it’s main function is to keep tabs on us. Also it has been overridden in the past to keep us indoors at the whim of the authorities during riots.
I slam to a halt at the next closest scanner; a veteran model beaten to within an inch of its life. My mother’s scanner finishes validating her and she wastes no time disappearing inside.
The scratched and dented shield of my scanner is still grinding open to expose the silver orb inside. I agonise over a decision to swap to the newer model, but a laser begins to play over my face and interrupting it mid-scan is not recommended. The software behind the optics is very officious. A disrupted scan can cause a mainframe glitch that will won’t re-set until midnight. I’d rather not be stuck out here that long.
The scanner hums softly to itself, carefully verifying my residency with no consideration for the fire bombs that rain down. I scream encouragement.
“Hurry up, you bastard!”
The curved, mirrored surface of the globe reflects a distorted image of my anguished face derisively, and the progress bar seems to slow further as if personally offended.
The group I’d abandoned rushes past. An elderly couple peel off in my direction, mouths opening and closing like a goldfish spilled from their bowl, gasping for air. My eyes wash over them without a hint of recognition.
The thick, steel turnstile behind the scanner unlatches and I fall against it. It turns one notch and I fall inside.
The lobby is rank; the stench eye-watering. Paint is hard to come by, so bored kids have resorted to using their own shit to mark the walls. Whatever watered-down detergent the battered old maintenance-bot uses to clean up isn’t having the desired effect.
My mother has disappeared up the single working Slim-lift. I am relieved as I didn’t particularly want to be stuffed in that tiny, upright coffin with her.
I gripe about the cow behind her back and punch her name on the long black glass monitor when I pass it. The screen displays the names of ‘tenants in occupation’. The roll call function is used by visiting Social Adjusters to ascertain who is in, and who is pretending not to be.
The tiny, red, digital script flickers under the shit smears as I hit it, and adds my name under hers.
Oh no, surely I don’t share a room with that dragon! My headache is an iron band that tightens with the possibility. Absently I wipe brown smudges from my hand on my coat and let neurons writhe and connect in my head. The dislocated memory I seek comes with a bucket of not so essential information upended over it. But I clear away the ‘sauce’ only wanting to know one thing.
This is a ‘singles only’ block. Check.
I do not live with my mother. Double check
I do not live with my mother.
A shiver of relief shakes me like a wet dog.
Safe from that living hell, I’m immediately miserable that I must live next door to her.
All the peripheral crap that comes along with the information I request is getting cold. I stir through the fact that this tower; and a thousand others like it; has exactly fourteen hundred identical rooms, and that family duplex blocks are two rooms with a doorway punched through an internal wall. Nothing critical to my need to get up to my floor.
Oh, apparently my father and brothers are dead. This is of slight interest to me since it means not having to worry about being moved into a family block anytime soon.
I was five when it happened. A life-time ago. I watched them get blasted apart on a family outing to rob a back-town bar named The Crank. Unfortunately the well-armed Taiwanese body-part traders using its basement as a chop-shop hadn’t been factored into dad’s robbery plans. Only mum and I survived, sitting outside in the stolen car. I was crying because she wouldn’t let me hold the pistol and I clearly remember the fearsome, insane expression on her face as she ran over one of the killers, reversing over his body three times before driving away. We’d never spoken of it again.
Reliving this shocking memory stalls my progress long enough for the elderly couple behind me to be processed and allowed entry. They wheeze and cough in unison, spitting up phlegm in a corner. I hurry towards the Multi-lift, counting on being heavy enough with these packages to unlock it.
The power comes on when I jump on the sensor pad. Extending my elbows makes me look bigger.
“Sorry, full up. Take the Slim-lift.”
They stand before me silently, staring through their cheap Hi-Mag goggles that fill the lenses with enormous rheumy eyeballs.
The door closes an awkward thirty seconds later and the Multi-lift creeps upwards. The Slim-lift is a bit faster, but it wouldn’t return to the ground floor for at least ten minutes to encourage the use of the stairs.
I’m expelled on the thirteenth floor automatically, courtesy once more of the Prox-card. Height does not equal prosperity here. All it guarantees is lower water pressure, poor air circulation, and a long stair climb during power outages.
The weight of this crap I carry seems to increase exponentially to the distance remaining to my door. A corner unit at the back of the building is my billet alleviating the need to mark my door with obscure signs as other residents have done. The residents’ committee; in reality our block’s gang leader; insist we all pry the bar-codes from our doors to confuse the police during raids. It’s a stupid stipulation when we all know the SPUD’s have Prox-Card detectors, GPS tracking and every other whizz bang gizmo known to man.
I slink past my mother’s door taking care not make undue noise. There’s no way she’ll let me in, and I wasn't standing around out here feeding whatever the hell it is I carry, one at a time, through the security hatch.
Some kids have set a small fire against my door sometime during the day, blackening the heat-proof plastic. I kick the ashes aside and sure enough it’s the old ‘shit in a burning paper-bag’ trick.
I don’t care.
And I’ve never been so pleased to be here before in my entire life.