Overpopulation and toxic air plagued the planet. The solution to both problems was to box everyone up in multilevel superstructures that had not a single window, just incredibly strong walls. Everyone was moved in and the doors were closed for good. Although one of these levels could hold an entire city, it soon became a cramped box, forcing people to wait until someone was incinerated before they had a single kid.
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No level was more cluttered with makeshift buildings than the bottom level of each block; the slums. Wood and corrugated metal shacks made from scrap were used to construct upwards along the enormous walls that closed them in. It looked like a tide of buildings was curling in on itself.
Clara, a young girl, wanted to escape her grandparents' shack and get some air. She climbed atop a nearby home and from there used the roofs as stepping stones that took her close to the massive pipes that ran up one of the walls. It was secluded enough for her to think, as nobody wanted to build their homes near the pipes.
Clara climbed up scaffolding until she reached a level that was high enough off the ground for her to have a great view, but not so high that she hit her head on the ceiling.
“Always the same thing,” Clara muttered. “If it isn't a lack of money, it's a lack of food. When the food comes back, there’s not enough money. Always less and less and less…”
She realised that one day there would be a breaking point. The people would struggle to breathe more than they already did. The food would slow down to such a degree that people would starve in their homes and the small pathways. Fights, suicides and sacrifices...the lower city of Block 19 did not smell of death yet, but it would reach that point eventually.
Clara didn’t want to linger on the subject, she climbed the pipes for a distraction from what was happening below. She eyed the city below, looking for something to watch, be it a group of people playing cards or a small fight breaking out between the kids going home. Anything that would alleviate the boredom and free her from dark thoughts.
What she saw was far more interesting. Two figures moving quickly across the rooftops. They wore large coats, but she could still make out a strange blue glow. It reminded Clara of the energy weapons that she saw the middle and upper city cops use when they came down to check on things.
Yet, the way they moved, the disguise they wore, they could not be cops like the ones that Clara saw visit her city.
Her interest reached a point that pushed her to follow. The figures were slowing down, exchanging conversation and pointing. She kept them in sight at all times as she descended, until finally she touched the rooftops and moved towards them. Clara made sure to keep a certain distance between her and them, but just close enough to hear them speak.
“...way. I think that the energy signature would change due to the heat difference down here, so I am going to loosen the set value a little.”
“Broaden, Zed, not ‘loosen’,” the other replied, crossing his arms.
“It’s my machine and I say ‘loosen’. Now, see, that has to be it. We’re close.”
“Lead the way.”
The one tinkering with a small gizmo, Zed, leapt into action and sprinted across the rooftops, moving with such energy and emphasis on his movements that it seemed like he was having fun. The other sighed at the sight of him and followed at an equal pace, but in a more dignified manner.
Clara found herself completely invested in the strange individuals and followed, almost matching their speed, but let them go on ahead. She knew she made more noise moving so fast and decided she would speed up when the gap was wide enough.
“Definitely not cops,” Clara thought. “I could only see their hands, but it looked like they were wearing some high-tech gloves. Not to mention that little scanner, it looked so advanced.”
The duo soon came to a stop and descended on what appeared to be a small storeroom in Clara’s eyes. Yet, they were not so convinced.
“Qu, this is it,” Zed told the other when he caught up. “You want to do the honours?”
Qu reached the door to the storeroom and Clara wondered what he expected to do. The door was chained and locked. Yet, Qu saw that as a small obstacle as he tore the chains apart as if he were ripping apart plastic wires. With each small snap, Clara’s eyes widened a little more.
“Those gloves must aid their strength,” she thought. “That would be very useful to have.”
Qu slid the door open and inside was something far more shocking. Racks of weapons. Guns, large and small, and every one of them looked brand new. Some of these weapons Clara had never seen a cop carry, even when they went to the worst sides of town.
“Now, what are lower city-dwellers doing this much firepower?” Zed asked.
“These aren’t the weapons of civilians. My guess is we have found a small division of those terrorists that attacked the Institute in the mid-city.”
“Well, we know where they are storing their arms, but we don’t know how they even smuggled them down here, let alone back up to mid-city.”
“Scan the serial numbers, we will trace them with that.”
“And what about the weapons?” Zed asked as he quickly scanned them with another device.
“You can do the honours.”
Zed was all too happy to comply, holding out his arm once finished scanning. The arm twisted strangely, it then broke apart and reformed into a small energy cannon. A small red orb of energy shot out the cannon and into the storeroom. Qu promptly closed the door and there was a muffled thump of a sound. When Qu opened the room to check, Clara could see that all the guns, even the racks, were melted and broken.
“Nice work, let’s go,” Qu said, turning around.
Clara could see their faces, which were robotic, not humanoid. Their eyes had that blue glow and at that moment, both pairs of eyes focused on her.