Short Story – Honest Work

I wrote this for my Creative Writing course in response to a sci-fi brief.

Honest Work

Light shone over the city of London, the great council-regulated bushes and flowers basking in the sun where they’d been placed over every available flat surface. It glittered off the Thames and created dancing shadows where fish darted about in the clear water and the anemone stirred, creating long waving shadows across the riverbed. A large plaque announcing the installation date of the eco-friendly sewage filter system shone with a recently polished gleam.

The day-crowd of people wandered the streets, either on aviation bikes (avibikes) or hoverboard or even just walking happily, browsing the indie businesses that lined the edges of the streets or were dotted about the place in little market stands. The smell of freshly cooked pastries and sizzling food on open grills filled the air, steam puffing into the sky as stall-owners flipped burgers and shook pans in front of queues of hungry onlookers. Some people sat on benches set in shadow beneath large walkways going between buildings a few stories above, just as busy as those beneath them. Street cameras with bat boxes and birdhouses were positioned high on the roofs, looking down over the crowd with their huge gaze and up-to-date disturbance-identifying zoom technology.

The gentle hubub of the city was muffled between the walls of buildings, almost impossible to see down sometimes where light didn’t reach, or stalls were set up in the way. Not even tenants of the huge geothermal flats would have known what was happening down by the compost skips.

Here, among decomposing vegetation and neatly folded bio-degradable packaging, Aeron held a fixture gun to the neck of a long, scrawny man with greasy black hair and sunken narrow eyes. Her own stature in comparison was nearly half the height, three times the bulk and pine-brown face poking out of an explosion of pale green hair. Behind her was another woman with scraggly orange hair and dark skin, her sharp eyes darting between them and the alleyway entrance. Aeron was pulling a lazy grin that didn’t quite meet her eyes.

“Where’s the oil, Max?” Her tone was sweet, gentle even.

“I ain’t got none, fuck off,” the spidery man grumbled, flattening himself away from the heated end of the fixture gun.

“Really? Because I heard you traded some for a tube of modelling glue the other day. I thought that had all gone out of production decades ago. Is this how you’ve been getting your fix these past few years?” She bumped the end of the gun against his neck, singeing some of his hair a little. A waft of smoke and the smell of hot rubber twirled in the air. “And here I heard the new rehab treatments were guaranteed to sober you for life.”

“Lies ‘r somethin’. I don’t know ’bout any damn glue. I haven’t touched nothin’ for years. Move that- piss off with that thing!” He scrambled back a little, jaw clenched.

The woman with the orange hair glanced down at a thin screen in her hand, a sheet of clear glass with colours moving over its surface like ink rolling around and forming shapes.

“We’re running out of time, city watch’ve got wind of us.” She looked over to Aeron with her brow tense, tucking the screen away.

Aeron looked back at her and nodded, pressing the gun to Max’s neck to make sure he didn’t escape. “Keep an eye out, Kub, they’ve probably got bugs listening already.” She turned her attention back to the scrawny man.

“You’re making this awfully difficult for yourself, sweetheart, so just hand it over and I won’t ‘accidentally’ burn a rod of fixture into your throat,” She said this as though she were describing buying a nice sweet for a child, “You’ve got nowhere to run.”

He regarded her for a moment, then shifted a little and produced a small fruit juice bottle from an inside pocket of his jacket and held it out. As Aeron reached out to take it, a large man sprinted around the corner with a wild look on his face.

“The police!” He managed to gasp out, “They’re here!”

He threw a pair of rounded boards over to Aeron and Kub, which could be mistaken for skateboards were it not for the lack of wheels and the chunky disks attached to the underside. When she reached out to grab it, her hostage wriggled free from beneath her and scrambled away, long legs carrying him fast out of harms way. She cursed loudly and slammed her feet onto the board, activating the hover system that lifted her off the ground just as a large police avibike turned down behind the man.

“Split up!” Aeron shouted the command and geared the board sharp out of the alley, the large man diverting the attention while Kub went a different way. Aeron kept low, fingertips bouncing off the rubbery head of the board as she scanned the daytime crowd. There, across the street, was Max running at break-neck speed away from her with the bottle of oil still in hand.

She swerved around the people, crashing into a few of them without bothering to apologise and sped into the alley. When he was only a few feet away, she threw herself off and pinned him to the ground, the board crashing down onto his legs. The sudden pain was enough for him to lose his grip and she wrenched the bottle free of his hands, stamping down on his wrist before he could grab her and pushed herself into a jog.

As she rounded the corner, she yanked her jacket off and pulled it inside out. Unzipping a small pocket around the neckline revealed a hood made entirely of hair. She pulled it over her head, shaking it out to make it fall naturally over her shoulders and across her face. Pausing for a split second against a wall, she gave the soles of her shoes a forceful tug, which unfolded and clicked into platforms a few inches tall. In under a minute she now appeared to be a much taller woman with long black hair. Hand firmly holding the bottle in her pocket, she made her way as casually as possible to her hideout.

The police avibikes zoomed past towards the alley, all of the officers in the flexible impact-absorbant uniform and identification contacts making their eyes seem blurred. The subsequent breeze as they passed by her ruffled the wig hair, and she kept her face turned away to prevent them spotting her. It wouldn’t be the first time they saw through her disguises, and she wasn’t prepared to take any risks. She pulled her screen from her pocket and held it to her mouth, holding down the key to call the rest of the gang.

“Make your way back to HQ once you’ve thrown them off. I have the bottle and I’m going to make a round trip by a second level shopping area to throw off the cameras. I’ll meet you back in an hour.”

The warehouse wasn’t awful, given that it had been out of legal use for nearly two decades. It had a distinct smell of old engines and petrol, and despite the heat pads set up all over the place, parts of it got cold. Some rooms were completely locked off and there was no safe way to break into them, which most of the gang suspected had important or dangerous machinery in them. It was a blessing, though, that they had found a place for them all to stay together.

Thanks to certain building regulations, most places were a lot more stable these days. Which meant that anywhere abandoned but not taken down became a perfect place for gang hideouts or recreational free space. Some of them had been turned into indoor parks and lounges, or artist studios and busking halls. This one, however, had been claimed as gang turf and was surrounded by anti-trespassing measures- not that many people would go and stir up trouble there to begin with.

If the government were aware of where gang turfs were, they didn’t make an effort to smoke them out until the gang itself caused too much mayhem. If they definitely were not aware, then they would be eventually. Not every gang was necessarily up to something all the time, some just wanted a place to be. Somewhere to belong.

Aeron was holding Roary’s prosthetic arm in a tender grip as she applied oil to the joints using a dirty cloth Kub had provided her. The rust had started to seize up the elbow and fingers, and had done some serious damage to his knees and feet.

“You should just go to the local surgery, Roary. It’s not worth all this hassle. Oil won’t be around forever.”

“We’ll find something else,” His deep voice was dry and weary, “If I go in I’ll be arrested on sight.”

“At least you’ll be healthy for once. They’ve installed better surgeries in the correction centres and the tech equipment is almost the same as the ones in schools. You’ll have those new prosthetics that work just like regular arms-” She cut herself off at the look he gave her, and sighed heavily. She cleared her throat, “In any case, we can get back to the vintage races. I hear they’ve found a scrapheap near the coast, there’s sure to be wheeled vehicles there.”

She looked at him with an intense gaze, hoping this would spark his interest. Ever since engines had been deemed an environmental hazard and therefore illegal to run, vintage cars all over the country had been dismantled and scrapped now that they were worth almost nothing. The only ones still around were either empty and sitting in museums, or owned and driven in illegal race tracks.

Roary let out a low hum, great chest swelling and deflating. The man was more machine than human, once olive skin now pale streaked with red and blue with all the modifications his body had taken, hair that had once been raven was now a more coal grey. He was slumped in a huge scrap metal throne as though he’d been built there with it.

“We keep doing this until there’s no more oil. Same division- ten percent for me, ninety percent for fuel.”

“What about when we can’t get any more? This last one was in a juice bottle- the next one could be in a shot glass. You need to prioritise the cars or you, and those cars are keeping us going.”

“If we can’t get enough, we can just sell the cars to the collectors and make a business from car trades. Electrically powered vehicles are a good investment as well, they’re becoming more popular ever since that friendly energy law a few years ago.”

“It was ten years ago, dear. Which is why we’re struggling with oil.”

“Yeah, yeah. We’ll invest in that,” he mumbled, looking away from her, “and then, maybe then, I will consider the surgery.”

Aeron’s face lit up and her cheeks squeezed her eyes nearly shut with her smile. Roary glanced at her and a smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth.

“In the meantime, send a group out to look over that scrapheap, if we can finish that old Ford we’ve been working on we’ll be set for life.” He shifted himself, testing out his freshly loosened joints and smiled, “I got wind of a helicopter being rebuilt, so we need to get ahead of the game- see if we can find a jet or an old boat.”

“Anything you say, dear. I’m sure we’ll work things out,” she chimed, loosening up the last joint.

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