After creating the character of a faceless enforcer of the dystopian state in the previous story in this setting, I thought it would be interesting to characterise them as something other than the usual meathead or killer cyborg.
Thus this came about.
Sunrise over the towering, curving streets of the upper city. The light begins to catch the mirror-like surfaces of the buildings, and a band of white slowly widens across them.
On the other side of tinted windows, music fills an apartment, timed with the sunrise. The room is unkempt in the way a show home is. A pair of boots are artfully discarded at the foot of a low, wide bed. Clothes are folded in a way that will mean they hang elegantly on the body, but look classily as if their owner could afford replacements every day when they sit on a glass coffee table. The kitchen is a neat array of ingredients that look more like they have been chosen for aesthetic properties over practicality in preparing meals.
The whole open-plan white-and-chrome affair is designed and laid out as if the occupant expects a journalist to walk in at any moment and want a stage-managed interview about the “real person” behind the image. Even the computer terminal, a vast gently curved sheet of glass that sits above a mirror-sheened faux-obsidian desk, would show useful but mostly inoffensive information if switched on – realtime news and stock feeds, the sort of productivity apps marketers love to make it look like a home office is where the real work can happen.
As morning makes itself known, there is the sound of a shower running.Time passes, and a woman steps out as if a camera is discreetly positioned to catch someone fit, attractive and professional modelling personal care products, and gets dressed.
Breakfast. Fruit, yoghurt, a sprinkling of various supplement powders, blended together in a chromed food processor and drunk straight from it. Quick, easy, nutritious. Exactly the things someone who has a high-energy job needs to make it through the day. Somehow, the occupant of this unattainably expensive apartment is able to live as stress-free and effortlessly as the inhabitants of commercials.
From one angle, anyway. To see her from angles other than her best is to see bruises and a well-hidden limp. Last night was more difficult than she can let on. Nevertheless, with a while before her day begins proper, she does some stretches on the exercise mat in her living-area while watching the news, and tentatively jogs on the spot to make sure there is no potential damage beyond a slight sprain. If there was it would be a simple matter of making an emergency appointment with the most sought-after physiotherapist in the city. Or even, should the unthinkable happen, an appointment with a cyberneticist.
A year ago she had enjoyed none of this. Life had been a dull day-to-day existence on the edge of the upper city, one of the precarious lives one missed payment away from an inglorious descent into the depths below the Orbital. She had looked for ways to make it interesting, taken up running. Headphones in, hitting the soft, almost sprung streets every morning on the way to work. That had got boring, as most healthy new year’s resolutions do. So she had turned to running at night to “see the city” in a safe, middle-class fashion of running around parks and squares populated mostly by other people whose nightly exercise was “seeing the real city” and then, because she had been short on rent one month, night-running of the sort she now very publicly hated.
It had just been a simple errand, someone in her block she had never really spoken to had met her in the stairwell, seemingly knowing she needed help this month, and given her all she’d needed on the condition she just delivered something somewhere. It had been mildly diverting, a quick jog through some backstreets and a building site long after the workers had gone home to leave a small envelope behind some boxes. At first, in the days afterwards, she had been terrified. Every knock at the apartment door could have been the Spectors looking for her. Any event on the news – terrorism, robberies, whatever – could have been linked to what she had done. When nothing had clearly come of it, she slept easier.
One day she ran into some interesting people in a bar. They had heard she had done a favour for someone they knew. They asked if she enjoyed running. And so she had ended up making frequent nighttime excursions, going from place to place to deliver packages and so on, and enjoying it. There had been vague chat about a “cause” sometimes, easy enough to tune out. The people she was working for didn’t seem to care where the money was going, even though (she gathered) the cause meant disliking people like her out of principle. Little by little her quality of life had improved – better running shoes (needed if you were climbing scaffolding or balconies), a nicer mobile phone and television, generally just a little bit better everything.
It had become easy enough to forget it was, actually, illegal until the Spectors did pay her a visit, over some highly suspicious activity in her bank account. Regular, quite large deposits from unknown benefactors. Not used to criminality, not clever enough to lie but too scared to be properly contrite, she had given all the details of her “handlers” as she’d put it.
It had definitely been fortunate that her arrest had come at a time when “new initiatives for crimefighting” had been a hot topic. Someone who had, quite inadvertently, sold out a whole bunch of notorious criminals with no worries about her safety or demands beyond being let off and allowed to keep a pathetic amount of money. An idea had formed. She had been given a job.
A Special Consultant had been created, someone who had “risen up from the criminal underworld” to use the knowledge she had gained against the foes of the City. Someone who had been “one of the best free-runners”.
Someone who really had just been a useful victim of circumstance who was fit enough to take well to an expensive training regime and good equipment.
TV appearances had followed. An exercise video. Advertising deals for blenders and supplements and running shoes. Her face had been all over the city, a curious sort of middle finger to the night-runners. Someone who had barely interacted with them, glided through the depths of activism without caring about much beyond her new television, but somehow caused spectacular damage to the image of the runners, and was now directly putting them behind bars with a public image of smug you-too-can-be-like-me. She would appear on the news talking about how easy it was to catch the criminals if you were just fit and a little bit cleverer than the average lower-class citizen. Comfortably ignoring the fact that arrests and chases generally involved three or four teams of Spectors and the ability to open security doors with a simple wave of a wireless bracelet.
Those sorts of thoughts never crossed her mind as she woke up, did her morning routine, checked her schedule and set out to sell the idea that if you ate your greens, obeyed the law and assisted the police with their enquiries you could be a successful and happy citizen.
It was easy to be the best when the world made way for you.