Images & Words: Void the Light

Images & Words: Void the Light – Part 8


Image
Cyberpunk City by Job Menting

Words
Neal Ulen

When : Where
269 DE (2579 CE) : Terra / Techspire 1 / The Rise


This is part of a first draft novella entitled Void the Light which takes place in the Infinispace Universe.

The novella is set about 15 years before the events of Infinispace: Deception and is approximately 50,000 words in length. It will be posted in serialized format.

Parts:
1 - Martos
2 - Integrators
3 - The Rat...
4 - ...In The Cage
5 - Benize
6 - Taria
7 - Meetings
8 - Direction
9 - Lost
10 - Coming Soon
Preceded by Void the Light – Part 7.
The mag-ride to the portion of the Tangle where Benize made his home, which was far more Spireward than either of them had ever been, took almost an hour. The circuitous route of the line added significant travel time, but they agreed that it would be a safer route than traversing one of the Spokes towards the Rise. Citizens shuffled on and off their car at fixed intervals as the rail stopped and started again at centuries old stops. Most conversed in hushed voices, but even so their collective was eventually enough to create a low din.

Much needed to be discussed, but Taria and Martos made the trip in almost complete silence, not wanting to share their predicament in such an enclosed public setting. Their eyes often wandered through the ever shifting mosaic of faces occupying the seats near them, searching for possible threats. But they were mostly met with downturned heads or sullen eyes that quickly shifted gaze to avoid contact. The habit of the oppressed. Confidence in trust, even between Citizens, had been eroded to a razor thin state. The Spire loomed ever to their left, its opulent glow flashing between gaps in the structures, its size slowly growing and filling the car’s windows. As time wore on they shifted seats to the Zoneward side of the mag-rail not wanting to set eyes on the Spire more than necessary.

Inevitably they spiraled inward and gently upward toward the Rise. The buildings grew taller and even more impossibly dense. The streets below the rail disappeared from sight to be replaced by clean and brightly lit elevated walkways that connected buildings like coarse spider webs. Benize’s cube was in the Rise, nestle up against the broad base of the Spire. He could afford such a home, but affordance was more than just delts … it was about friends and influence. One did not nestle this close to the Spire solely because of monetary wealth.

Neither Martos nor Taria got this close to the Spire on a regular basis. Their belief was that the further away you were, the better off you were. But some citizens spent their entire lives clawing their way to get as close as possible. On rare occasions some citizens were uplifted out of the Tangle and allowed in the Spire.

Occupants of their car began to thin the closer it spiraled in. Very few Citizens had reason to travel between Circles.

“This is it. Benize’s cube is not far from this station,” Martos said quietly.

They funneled out with the small crowd and Taria began making her way towards the lifts that would lower them to street level.

“Taria, not the lifts … we’re taking the upper level walks. His cube is up high.”

Inevitably they spiraled inward and gently upward toward the Rise. The buildings grew taller and even more impossibly dense. The streets below the rail disappeared from sight to be replaced by clean and brightly lit elevated walkways that connected buildings like coarse spider webs.

“Of course it is,” Taria said with disdain. She turned back and caught up with Martos walking towards a well-lit walkway, suspended several hundred feet  above the cuts between the buildings that were lit by the lights of the avenues far below.

As they walked between the buildings under the lights of the Spire, Taria noticed that the air was cleaner and crisper. The mélange of troublesome odors that normally assaulted her senses further out in the Tangle were muted, almost to the point of absentia. She had no doubt that this portion of the Tangle, if it could still be called as much being this close to the Rise, was better maintained by the local populace. Higher standing affords a more welcoming environment.

“Martos, have you been to Benize’s cube before?” Taria asked.

He slowed down to let her catch up. “Only once, long before you and I met. I had requested if he could find something special for me. Eventually he did and he asked that I stop by to pick it up in person instead of at his stall.”

Taria’s curiosity was piqued. “What was it he found for you?”

Martos only lifted up his left arm to reveal the tarnished time piece strapped to his wrist.

“Oh, I should have guessed,” Taria laughed. “Why are you so obsessed with that antique?”

They had reached a lift at the side of a building that looked to be carved from a solid piece of graphite. Its shiny gray sides glistened in the light of the Spire. Martos looked for a button to push to summon the lift, but found none. He stepped closer to the closed door and it glowed to life automatically.

“It’s a story I’ll share with you later. I have a feeling we’ll have plenty of time together from now on … if we survive this.”

The door of the lift slid open to accept them. They entered and Martos called out “One-two-one.” The door closed silently and they could feel the upward motion as the lift ascended further up the structure.

“Taria, I’m not sure how this is going to go. Benize and I didn’t exactly part on the best of terms. He knows what the mark on my hand means, and he knows the Spire has deemed us as Uncitizens. He will be frightened and possibly angry. We mustn’t place any blame on his shoulders, we don’t know for certain if he had anything to do with this … even though I might have accused him. Anyway, he will either choose to help us or not. It’s his choice, not ours.”

Taria nodded in understanding.

The lift slowed to a stop and its doors opened. Martos adjusted the pack on his shoulder, grabbed Taria’s hand, and set out down the long, spartan corridors to find the door to Benize’s cube.

Mark of the Triocracy

He sat in his favorite chair, its synthetic leather timeworn from decades of accepting the weight and fatigue of his tired body. A glass of water balanced on his knee, telltale condensation gathered at its base creating a wet ring on his equally timeworn pants. He stared at the empty wall.

The lights were dim, he had no need for them to be up … not when he was in a mood such as this.

Benize hadn’t moved from the chair since he returned home after the incident at the market. It had been many years since he’d seen an Integrator meld with a Citizen, and he’d never seen an Integrator meld with a close friend. It had left even a wizened old man such as himself shaken. He raised the glass to his lips, his hand trembled slightly as he took a swig of the tasteless, processed water.

It would be better for him if he pushed the incident out of his head and focused on his own life instead of the lives of those he had not control over. The fate of Martos was already set in motion, there was naught he could do. Benize’s mind was awash speculating what the young man had done to deserve the wrath of the techspire.

I may not be safe in my actions, but I’m safe in my thoughts. Then he recalled the newly grown tendrils of the bio.node that spiderwebbed through his brain.

He leaned his head back in the chair and stared at the low ceiling before closing his eyes.

Let it go . . . there’s nothing you can do now. And there’s nothing you should do!

A chime sounded from the cube door and it startled him from his repose. His knee jerked and the water glass fell into to his lap, soaking the front of his trousers.

“Damn it!” He lunged towards the door to confront who was disturbing his precious solitude. Then he caught himself. What if it was an Integrator coming for him? Or a Collector? Or worse? Was there worse? He didn’t dwell on that last thought long. He’d made every effort to disassociate himself from Martos as soon as he saw that he’d been marked. Surely the Spire would understand if he explained himself. He wanted no part of this mess, and there was no use denying what had happened.

A loud knock came from the door. An impatient staccato.

“Just a moment!” Benize said loudly, as he came out of his momentary reflection and moved again towards the door.

The face he saw when it opened was not the one he expected, nor the one he wanted to see. Martos stared back at him with worried eyes, and Taria stood motionless just behind him holding two bulging bags on her shoulders. They both looked exhausted.

“No! You can’t be here! You should not be here! Please, go away!” Benize yelled in a tone of panic. “I can’t be involved.”

“Benize, wait!” Martos held out his hand to impede the quickly sliding door, but withdrew it to avoid having his fingers smashed in the jam before it fully closed.

“Leave!” the muffled shout came through the door.

Martos beat on the door with the flat of his hand. “Benize! Benize! We need help! Any you can give us. Then we’ll leave you alone, I swear.”

“Swear? Martos, what could you possibly swear on that would protect me?!”

“Benize!” Martos hammered on the door again, this time with a closed fist. The sound echoed down the endless and featureless hallway.
Nothing.

‘I may not be safe in my actions, but I’m safe in my thoughts.’ Then he recalled the newly grown tendrils of the bio.node that spiderwebbed through his brain.

“I guess I really was right about you … you old bastard!” Martos screamed and kicked the door as hard as he could. It didn’t budge.

“Come on Taria, we better leave. Benize is a heartless old man. He cares only about himself just like I’ve always suspected.” Martos grabbed one of the bags from Taria and started stalking down the hall toward the lifts.

But Taria didn’t follow. She stepped slowly to the door and placed her face close to its surface.

“Benize, I know you’re still listening, and I know you’re frightened. So are we. But you still have everything, and we’re about to have nothing … or anyone. We’ve done nothing to you and we don’t deserve this. You can make a difference.”

Martos returned to her side and whispered, “Come on, we have to go! This is useless!”

She held up her hand toward his face in a command of silence, then continued. Martos turned way, shaking his head in futility.

“We’re only asking that you give us directions to anyone who can help us. We know that you know people, you have much more influence than you would care to admit. We’re not asking for your direct help, just a name or a direction. As Martos said we will leave you alone after you guide us. Please help us.”

She paused, then looked at Martos.

“Please help our child Benize.”

The silence enveloping them was oppressive. Martos put his arm around her and began to guide her away towards the lift. “Let’s go!”

There was a soft clack as Benize pushed the handle and cracked open the door a few inches. They leapt back to the opening, Taria wiping tears from her eyes.

Benize peaked through the crack in the door, one eye staring at them. “Listen, don’t say a word and don’t interrupt.” His voice was low. “Go to the Amaranth Bazaar in the Fifth Circle. It’s near the west Spoke. There you will find a shop that sells rugs, mats, and such. Ask for Challe and tell her that Varga has sent you on an errand. Use those exact words … nothing more, nothing less. Then walk to Amaranth Plaza, it is not far from the Bazaar. And wait. Do you understand?”

“Varga … ?” Martos began to ask.

“Shut up boy. Do you understand?”

Both Martos and Taria nodded emphatically.

Benize was silent for several seconds. The look from his single eye seemed to soften. “Never mention my name. We will never speak again. Goodbye.” The door was closed abruptly in their faces, Benize’s last words lingering.

“Thank you,” was all Taria could muster, speaking to the cold, grey door.

Continued in Void the Light – Part 9.


Words © 2022, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
Images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).


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