Fiction

Chapter 14: Support Local Business

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When asked why they lived in Container Town, the residents never mentioned the profound sense of family, the humble living conditions, or protection from the connected world above. Everyone claimed the real reason they lived there was the view. And it was easy to believe.

Fae leaned over the railing and looked up, blinking away the dripping water. Miles of sheer glass arced above her terminating in a circle of cloudy blue, encircled by burnished gold. It was early afternoon and the sun was beaming on the glass face of the WELL. Even the WELL’s small cloud system had cleared to let in the breathtaking view.

Container Town lent the perfect view for the ancestors of those who built the WELL. The containers had moved down mile after mile as the hardworking salt of the earth dug deeper, excavating one of humanity’s last sanctuaries. The crews dug down, building families and living their lives in the constant shadow of the excavating machines. And when they reached five miles down, when all that was left was to dig out Hydro, they stopped going deeper and built homes. 

It was hard for Fae to imagine those early days. Pictures and videos still existed, but even in school it all seemed so unbelievable. They lived in a modern time, where the images of mud-soaked faces and fingers caked with dirt didn’t fit. Fae tried to put herself in the place of some of the first crews covering a makeshift burial site in feet of concrete. Now people complain about their suffering athletics scores and the poor quality food they get because of it. They grumble about their commutes and how the trains run slow—never mind the fact that AURA had increased efficiency over 200%.

Most of those who lived in Container Town had never seen Lip, let alone Apex. They had never shopped at the massive malls, they had never had goods 3D printed at store in front of them. Some got jobs elsewhere and made it out, but most didn’t. Especially after the Strikes. They stayed in Container Town where they could be protected by the Locals without feeling the oppressive hand of the anti-union corporations. Blood had been spilled and there was still bad blood between those above and those below.

That’s what Fae had come to love Container Town for: the sense of family and community. In Apex or the Mids, everyone was about business or possessions. They wanted the newest or most fashionable. They lived alone in stark white boxes and sought excellence. But here, life was vibrant and Fae flourished in it. Creativity, industry, and neighborly compassion prospered. It’s how they all got through their lives of trudging through the mud that never went away and the gloomy dimness that never quite brightened. The sun would never reach them for more than an hour and the overhead lights created enough heat for a constant fog bank to hang in the heavy, moist air, but they had each other and that was enough.

Fae walked along the edge of the WELL with Kita scampering ahead, enjoying the beautiful view. They could have taken the local train lines to get to Jo’s shop faster, but after hiding away inside for the past few days, the fresh air felt good in Fae’s lungs. The edge of the WELL was surprisingly quiet, lending itself to moments of introspection: something Fae rarely could experience. 

She hadn’t got past the killing, but she was starting to accept Vera’s death. There were things she couldn’t quite figure out: the whys. It all came back to the derailment, that sphere, and those four diamonds. Dead end after dead end.

Fae started to put together a rudimentary plan of action: first, get AIVA on a workable computer; second, start scouring those hard drives and design journals for any sign of the sphere or diamonds; third—and third was a big one—figure out why and how whatever that thing was ended up on that train. In a checklist, it all looked so simple.

They had been walking for a little over a half hour when they started to see the sprawl of one of Container Town’s hub cities, Westfal. The rusty towers of containers spiraled up concrete pillars, looking more like a geographic feature than a modern skyscraper, roiling up to the level’s ceiling ten stories above.  The centers of the towers—and their highest points—were around the level’s concrete supports that spread out the rest of the WELL’s weight. Compared to the other levels, the foot traffic in the cities was tiny, but the containers and how they were built made the place feel cramped. 

Fae didn’t have any inherent claustrophobia, but as she walked through the first set of gate-like doors of Westfal, the weight of the containers was oppressive. She had always tried to stay away from cities like Westfal because they always felt uncertain to her as if the whole place could collapse in a moment.

As if on cue, AIVA reassured her, “I’m assuming that by your heart rate increase, now would be horrible time to tell you about the nearly inaudible groaning of stressed metal I’m hearing.”

Fae had forgotten about AIVA and was startled by the buzz in her ear. Someone walked past, talking to someone through the microphone in their ear. Fae acted like she was receiving a call and responded, “Yes, now isn’t the best time. I know they’re probably safe, but these cities always make me nervous.”

“With all the levels above being stressed as much as these, your fear is completely founded. I’m *sure* today won’t be the day they collapse though.” Impatiently, she asked, “How much longer, this is taking an eternity.”

“We’re almost there so calm down. Jo’s shop is right around the corner… I think.”

“Oh splendid. You got us lost in this cacophonous anthill of people.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.” 

Kita led them around the corner, weaving through the steady flow of people. It had been years since Fae had seen Jo’s shop, but she knew she was in the right place. A haphazard sign, half-lit, dangled a few feet above the thin crowd, swaying in the nearly non-existent breeze. The streets weren’t crowded, but it was hard to imagine how any of the city’s autos managed to get through them at all. A few of the slick black machines sat in the open garage bay—the waiting room of the shop was empty.

Once Kita saw Jo, she ran forward and nuzzled his greasy overalls, shedding some of her white fur. Fae caught up with her, amazed by how similar the shop reflected her memories of it. The shelves, the outdated computers, the jacks, the toolboxes, even the employees were the same. Everything was a bit greasier, blackened with use and a bit more slippery than it used to be, but ultimately it was all the same. Amazingly the same.

Fae walked up to Jo, reaching for his hand as he set his tools on a rag sitting on the hood of one of the autos. He wiped his hands off on the back of his overalls and gave her a bear hug, lifting her off the ground. Fae smiled uncontrollably—it felt good to be back home. He set her down and patted her shoulders, trying to wipe off any residue he left. 

“I’m just so damned happy to see you, kid. Damn happy.”

“Besides the massive headache, I’m glad to be here too, Jo. It’s good to see you haven’t burned the shop down yet.”

Jo chuckled. “Well, I like the bombed out look—no need to go and get it all charred too. Plus, Marty quit smoking a couple years ago. Ain’t that right, Marty?” Marty slid out from under one of the autos, nodded, then slid back under. “He still don’t speak much.”

“Sounds like nothing has really changed then. Speaking of, you still doing your—ahem—side business too?”

Jo smiled, then tugged at his beard. “Oh that? I’ve, let’s say, expanded my enterprises. I don’t know much about the stuff personally, but if you’re looking for electronics, the back room is full of it. What are you lookin’ to do?”

“I figured if I was gonna squat in the Tully’s I might as well make it livable and add a bit of tech. The place needs to be updated a bit.”

“Go ahead then and pick out what you want. The place is overflowing right now since a couple businesses, uh, rolled over.”

“Thanks Jo, I owe you one.”

“Don’t you worry—my treat. I’m looking forward to you being down here.”

Fae gave Jo another big hug and walked towards the back of the shop. Before she opened the door, Jo called out for her again and said, “Might be needing you for something later. I’ll call on you in a bit if I do.”

Fae tentatively nodded and walked through the door before he could call out again. Container Town made her feel at home, but even at home there can be dangerous things. Jo loved her, but he could be a dangerous man to cross and even more dangerous to disappoint. As Fae walked into the back room that Jo ran his electronics trade out of, the piled high stacks of computers and tech made it clear that Jo and his Locals had been busy.

Container Town was clear of almost all corporate influence after the Strikes, but something had to fill the power vacuum. The unions—in their capacity as worker groups—broke down when the corporations pushed them out, but the power structure remained. Already a vocal member, Jo rose to prominence in the defunct Auto Workers. When everyone—tradesmen all the way down to assembly line workers—was replaced by automated lines and workers, the only people left to take care of them were the unions. 

When the symbols of capitalism left, all that remained was the camaraderie and protection of the worker groups. During the Strikes, those worker groups changed into activists, sometimes violent. And that violence never left some of them. The Auto Workers, led by Jo, protect the citizens of Container Town and protection is expensive. If the businesses that remained in Westfal refused to pay for the protection, their assets were seized.

Fae frowned as she looked at the mountain of tech. Plenty of the components had been broken when the Locals had cleaned out whatever company hadn’t paid what they wanted. It was hard to imagine Jo sending guys to kick in doors and manhandle the same people he hugged and shook hands with everyday, but it was just business. What scared Fae the most wasn’t Jo, but what he could ask her to do that would be worth all the free tech she could grab. She wasn’t a Local, but she owed them for almost everything she had now and that was a dangerous place to be.

She started sifting through the piles of junk, using her multi-tool to open up computer cases. She called out the pieces she found, double checking with AIVA if they were the right components. After an hour of rummaging, Fae had more than enough pieces to build a computer large enough to hold AIVA, as well as a whole host of other tech that could be useful later.  Kita had been gnawing on a bone Jo had given her and AIVA was complaining about how slow Fae was leaving. They left, Fae’s bag bulging at the seams and heavy on her shoulders.

 
 

Chapter 12: Home

Artificial Intelligence was illegal. As corporations automated and human police forces were replaced by programmed and controlled drones, the thought of a malicious AI overtaking the WELL’s critical systems put a hold on all AI research. The potential cost of lost machinery was too high for the corporations; the potential loss of life was too high for the citizens.