Arcology

He was a mouse, quiet and small, hurrying from shadow to shadow. She followed behind with her hand in his, his grip as sure as his timing.

A whisper: "There'll be a service robot coming through, one minute, maybe two. I can already hear it. After that we go."

"Where?"

"Across to the catwalk. Down the ladder."

"Lower? Even lower?"

"Shh!"

The robot's whirr was growing louder, and she watched its shadow spread and distort along the wall before it came into view, sliding past them unawares. She covered her own mouth with her hand.

After the robot passed, he stuck out his head just far enough to glance back in the direction from which it had come, before turning back to her with a nod and a wink. They were moving again. Her bare feet lifted off rubber tile and landed on metal grate.

"There." He pointed: a service ladder, surrounded by safety rings, led down and away from the catwalk into darkness. There were no windows, not down this low.

She looked down nervously into the blackness. "Aren't we near the ground yet?"

"We're still twenty stories up."

"What's a 'story'?"

"Level. Come on."

"How many levels… how many 'stories' is Olympia?"

"You don't know, do you? You're not supposed to. The Governing Council keeps it secret. It's at least two hundred, maybe more, and I'm pretty sure they're still adding to it. The upper levels, the rich people levels, they're taller than the ones for people like us. Higher ceilings."

"That doesn't seem fair. My sister and her husband had to wait two years for an apartment. They're in an efficiency on eighty-three—"

"Come on. Just don't look down."

The ladder rungs were cold against the soles of her feet. She couldn't help looking down to keep from stepping on his hands; she didn't stop shaking until she could see the concrete floor below them.

He was already examining a door control panel when she stepped off the ladder and exhaled in relief. There was a level placard on the wall beside the door, inscribed with a neat, bold '1'; she had never seen one in single digits before. "What now?"

"Almost." He tapped three buttons, and then three more, but nothing happened.

"You have done this before?"

"Twice." He tapped in a slightly different sequence.

"Who'd you bring?"

He laughed, turned to look at her. "Nobody. Only you. Now let me concentrate, they change these codes once a week." He tapped another series of buttons. The door buzzed, slid open.

They were bathed in a brilliant light. He was through the door immediately, and she lost him in the glare. "Wait! I can't see!"

"You're used to windows, they're filtered. Your eyes will adjust. Just don't look directly at the sun."

With eyes squinting under a shielding hand, she stepped out onto gravel, wincing at the discomfort. "I should have brought shoes." Ahead of her, he grinned, beckoned her to follow. She stepped onto the grass.

14 comments:

  1. Great story. It reminds me of Inside by Maria V. Snyder.

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    1. Thanks! I don't know Maria V. Snyder, is that a novel or a short story of hers?

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  2. Is this part of an ongoing story? I'd love to hear more about Olympia and these characters.

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    1. It's a setting I've used before in a couple drabbles... if you click on 'Olympia' in the tag list you'll see them. :-)

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  3. Very engaging...could see it in my mind. Nicely done!

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  4. Great world, interesting characters - love how you create the setting so efficiently

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  5. "What's a story?" I liked that detail - thinking about the little things that define a character in dialogue.

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    1. I'll do anything to avoid exposition... :-)

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  6. Very nicely done. You did a great job creating a world in a few words that had me wanting to read more. (I'm also currently watching a lot of Doctor Who at the moment and was thinking this could totally be an episode.)

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    1. It does have sort of a Whovian quality to it, doesn't it? I had in mind more about a boy trying to impress a girl, you know. :-) "Wanna go... *outside*?"

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  7. I enjoyed the way you set up an "another" time/setting/world quality to the whole story in just a few details. I love the idea of something as simple as a little grass as something so novel as to impress a girl.

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    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting! :-)

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