Short story: Christmas in the Sprawl

Kaylee Hamir was one of the first-gen mixed kids from the Great Wall flood. She knew all about that flood, but personally more than officially. Other than marking her conception and the start of her parent’s noncommittal, faux-intimacy, she’d grown up dealing with its effects. She lived in its world, breathed its air– even if she shouldn’t have. Because of everything else, she also occasionally dealt with its trash-heap refuse. Often by being confronted with it directly.

Her first night on the street after the war had taught her that. While the corps were busy pulling up their drawbridges Mom and Dad were scrambling with the masses.

Then, madness. Chaos. Far-off thunder. Sustained.

Dad got in. Mom didn’t. They’d never been together strictly speaking, but whatever had held them ’til then, ended then. Mom fled. Kaylee with her. They ended up under old infrastructure, more damp than wet, and stinking of human refuse and waste.

Kaylee learned the hard way what corporate love felt like; nothing. There was none. Love wasn’t cost-effective.

Though it felt longer to her young mind, Mom was hooking shortly afterward. Three years later, she was being thrown out for refusing to herself. In fairness, Madame Mimi had given her a choice. Kaylee’d chosen, but it still felt like a kiss-off. Since then, she’d been street-living in hovels, hideaways, crashing on the least forsaken couches of the countless, rundown apartments.
On the drier and warmer nights, she slept beneath stars and a mostly-shattered greenhouse. The stillness of the abandoned, thirty-story mini-tower whispered cold but not bitterness. She settled the old mattress in the driest corner of the day, then she looked up, out.

On clearer nights, she could even ignore humanity’s best attempts to batter its way in. Even if for only moments, it was something.

She’d gotten lucky tonight, lifted enough from the markets to form a proper meal; hunk of precooked ham, block of cheese, half-loaf of bread. She’d have to fight rats for scraps in the morning, but she’d even have enough for breakfast.

Meanwhile, she could eat, eyeing reality through electric-and-neon polluting the lower world.

Fact was, she didn’t need to live the way she did. She could’ve easily been one of Mimi’s girls like her mother. It just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t for her.

Part of the Madame’s goodbye seemed to take as insult that she hadn’t wanted to be a whore. She didn’t, nor did she think she needed to be, but it wasn’t meant as a slight.In the minds of Kaylee’s generation some people sold wares, others sold themselves. There was no judgment, just facts. Ones and zeroes.Her mother had been one of the prototypes of that mentality, that eventually gave it cause to form as it did.

The former trophy-wife of an Arab exec, Kaylee’s father chose lifestyle over family once forced to. Her mother then, rather than rebel against the decision, coped. It wasn’t that he’d always had to balance the two, he just did. When he couldn’t anymore, he didn’t. There was never uncertainty where his priorities lie. It was only Kaylee’s young mind, rich with naivete, that felt otherwise then.

Fact was, her parents hadn’t always felt their distance, but they could. Sometimes, they did. Eventually it became more trouble than it was worth. Way Kaylee saw it, that was change. Just a thing that happened, was happening, eternally.Accept it as inevitable.

Her generation’s collective grasp on that was a social defense mechanism against repeatingthe world’s dismal state. The war had done a lot to many. Most of all, it profoundly impacted the social psyche. Kaylee and her ways were part of that. She and all the others like her knew it. That truth was as much part of their own, individual legacies as of their collective one.

At its purest essence, that legacy said only, “accept change.

At its more complex layers, it told to accept the world not as one constant, but as subject to one constant. Change was eternal. Everything else was passing. Only context differed; from global landscape to personal routine. Change drove reality and everything apart of it.Change was the fourth dimension, that of duration. Flowing in only one direction.

The purity of the message itself contained a thesis on human-life.Why accept change? Because it is eternal, and you are not. Any thing subject to it is riding its own piece eternity, letting it constantly and rapidly change. But why? To what end?

The answer, ingrained in the universe down to the purpose of life itself, was refinement.

Refining oneself through existence among a system of constant change. Only then could each action to become an engine of change, refinement.

In the meantime, each iteration was one step closer to perfection– because of its nonexistence. It didn’t need to exist, because ultimately perfection wasn’t the point. It was the excuse, continued existence and refinement was the purpose.

Accepting the constant of change allowed one to continue discerning the variables of life’s equation. That was the whole point to the take-over, the war, its aftermath. A force– people, couldn’t be constrained. Shouldn’t be. Not just for their own benefit, but everyone’s.

Even the uneducateds like Kaylee knew that, because that was the point too; imprinting an ever-lasting record on both individual and collective human psyches.

Yet here she was. Alone and profoundly feeling it. Then again, she’d done it to herself. In that way, it was neither good nor bad. It just was.

Few cared about holidays. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone celebrated, let alone Christmas. Shameful memories of rabid consumerism still wounded the previous generations. While Kaylee’s was still too young, too scattered, to have yet formed any conceivable culture. It’d take longer than usual for them to get there, too.

Picking up the war’s pieces wouldn’t be easy, but they knew damned well not to rush it. If you rushed it, before long you ended up like all those corp-execs; bound to sacrificial altar of Human social-evolution. By that point, all you could do was hope to go gracefully. The idea was, never let it get that far.

She bit a hunk off her bread and chewed. She stared up, out, thinking.

Broken glass perfectly centered a line of stars through the missing hunk of window. She’d learned the hard way that it flooded the room anytime it rained. The first time she slept-in on a rainy day was also the day she learned to chuck the mattress just inside the roof-access too.

Change was a constant, after-all.

The best way to cope with change, Kaylee’s generation had learned, was through contingencies, redundancies, rigid logic-structures for support when needed. Ideas and systems engineered with switches, gates, walls and moats. All of them, too, built around digital principles dominated by duality. One and zero. On and off. In/out. The standby state was persistent, guaranteed, and because of that, moot.

Kaylee sighed. The weather was perfect. Cold, but neither bitter nor windy. Kaylee guessed this was what they’d meant by global warming. Too bad the planet was fucked now. They might help it recover in time, and she certainly saw no reason not to, but human focus had turned outward again. She felt it herself through the broken window.

A nearby scuff gave way to the roof-access door easing open. Kaylee froze. Part of her was ready for a fight from the desperate, post-war refuse. The rest of her was stunned; astonished anyone would bother to climb thirty floors for nothing. It took the girl in the doorway six, eternal seconds to find Kaylee in the darkness.

Kaylee sized her up, gauged her for threats. She was small, more than Kaylee. Long clothing hung off her enough to bulwark against the warmth, but not hinder her in fight or flight. Kaylee guessed she was armed, too, but unlikely to draw a weapon if it weren’t drawn already.

She was a streeter, and streeter’s lived by a certain style of thinking.

Months of street-living had thinned and leaned Kaylee considerably, but she didn’t have the same look or mentality as a streeter. This girl was street, through and through. Kaylee’d been plump in childhood from Madame Mimi’s good graces. It still showed in her lean-toned muscles, formed well despite recent scant nourishment.

Like most streeters, this girl had none of that. Daily fights for survival and sustenance had pulled any exposed skin taught. Her clothing was something between armor and all-weather gear. Each component cherry-picked as diamonds in the rough from the ruined chaos. The tatters said she’d fought every day of her life. And won. Likely, from an early age.

Yet her caution was almost apologetic, as if conveying she knew she was interrupting, but needed to anyway. Those extra seconds were enough for Kaylee. She took a chance.

“Occupied.” The girl homed on the sound. “Here.” Kaylee said to relax her.

The girl appraised the room’s remainder with a feral sweep. Viciousness pointed her features and firmed her spine. It flashed, relaxed back into human easiness.

“Got room?”

Kaylee almost said no. It was gut-reaction. The food weighed her hand, its purpose moreso.

“Just you, right?”

The girl half-nodded, knowing Kaylee saw it perfectly despite the darkness. She motioned her in and over, began tearing bread. The girl did another, feral sweep. She slid in and around the door, closed it as quickly and quietly as possible; an obvious manifestation of lethal paranoia.

Kaylee offered her a piece of bread and the Girl’s eyes lit up. She hesitated, “You’re not going to rape me, are you?”

The girl’s spine loosened with uncertainty, eyes on the food. “If you want.”

She shrugged, “Nah, not my type.” She offered the food, let her settle. “Kaylee, by the way.”

“Laura.”

She passed over the hunk of cheese, “Merry Christmas, Laura.”

She laughed harder this time.

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