About The Laws Of Space
The Laws of Space
Chapter 1: Drinking and Vaporized Humans
He stood in the alleyway, cast partially in shadow, watching them rush by. His frame was covered by a tattered cloak as the sun descended and the air chilled. A few defunct souls noticed but none would approach; no one approached anybody here. Only his piercing eyes could be seen by the Hopers and the Breathers as they made their way back to the Doms; he cut a rather menacing figure, scarf over the face, bottle dangling by gloved fingers. The little ones scurried along the sides of the thoroughfare, probably anxious to avoid anyone, most of all the specter in half-light.
It was vexing to see a person drinking in public, though it wasn’t against one of the Laws. Strange is all, whispered one of the Breathers. He didn’t mind their mutterings, not right now. Another pull from the bottle. It spilled and soaked through the scarf, prompting self-mockery and laughter from the alley man. The sound of it was foreign, foreign as him, an unwanted candle amidst murk and gloom. Pull it down, then drink. The mistake was the product of distraction and weariness. Then came a subtle self-reminder that he was there by choice. This was his spot, day after day, for months now.
A Spacer lived just across the way and over a large hill, behind walls that would never have to be used, behind fences left from the time before. Most of the people walking by were aware of the danger, knew to keep their distance and then some. Only you couldn’t know when a Spacer might move; your proximity chip might call out late or simply be defective, so you had to be careful. The alleyway was far enough. That’s why he was there, watching, drinking. In truth, unlike the hapless masses traipsing across his field of vision, most of the time he enjoyed himself.
The man turned his face from the thoroughfare a moment, pulling down the wet fabric so as not to repeat his foolishness. It tasted like venom and kicked like fire. For a moment the good life begged back. As the alcohol burned its way down his insides, he peeked at his left palm. A digital imprint imbedded in the skin read Minus Seven Credits. “Is that all,” he smiled, once again covering his face to turn back to the languid, plodding crowd. Some looked haggard, some pale, some ill-used and all underfed. This was the worst section of City Five, and City Five was the most forsaken of what remained. It didn’t make sense to put one of the Spacers here, adjacent this sad, broken highway. It was probably a neophyte or one that was on the way out—that’s how things worked.
The sun was nearing the horizon, making it hard to see clear across the way. He could hear two little ones yelling in the distance—exactly what he was afraid of. Setting the bottle down, he stepped carefully into the crowd, keeping distance from those around him. There were so many. Meandering through the river of Hopers and Breathers, he struggled to source the tiny voices. “Sorry, sorry,” he repeated, hands raised, trying to seem as innocuous as possible. Most of them shied away; he was a moving statue imposing itself against a stream of the frail and weak.
At long last he spotted the kids in the failing light. They were roughly thirty yards away, yelping about some food, each tugging on an end of a tough loaf of bread. Oh God. “Boys!” he screamed, speeding up his pace, continuing to avoid contact.
“Stay out of it,” brayed the one with his back turned to him.
“Stay out of it,” echoed the other. They hadn’t noticed, but in their fracas they had made their way outside of the designated safe path.
“I’ll leave you gents be, but my signal says you’re too close. That’s a Spacer up there, right over that hill. Have you been tested?”
“Stay out of it,” said the one farthest away, yanking on the bread. His adversary didn’t let go. Momentum was taking them closer every second.
“Have you been tested?” he repeated.
“I have,” snapped the one farthest away.
“Dammit,” he screamed, diving for the kid he could reach, clattering onto broken concrete. It was too late for the other one—in a breath there was nothing left of the little body but ash and dust. The boy he saved wriggled wildly in his arms. No one was allowed to touch the untested. They had no chips, after all, no protection. He looked up for a moment. Sky Eyes.
“Boy,” he said, shoving the struggling youngster a safer distance away. “Why didn’t you listen? You see what’s happened?”
“Who cares? I got the bread. Stay out of it.”
Still sitting on the pavement, the man eyed the intractable urchin slinking into the crowd, holding up his loaf like a trophy. He turned back to the pile of ash, cursing himself and mourning the life he failed to save. Killed by hunger and an unknowing Spacer. For a moment he wondered after the lives he might have taken.
Rising up, he dusted off, not knowing how much was dust and how much was, well…
“Hey,” said one of the Hopers. It was one of many now surrounding him. A crowd had congregated.
“It is. You were right,” said another. Breathers and Hopers alike began to point and mumble in their disbelief, their amazement. The dead child was of little consequence. The man was news.
He needed a drink more than ever. Licking his lips, he realized the scarf had fallen. They knew. Annoyed but not afraid, he shrugged his shoulders. The crowd wouldn’t hurt him, couldn’t. No one dared break the Laws. Above the scene, Sky Eyes made a slow, loud pass.
“By all that’s—you’re right,” said a Breather with a worn and jagged look. The mumbles grew louder. “You don’t forget the most famous face in the world. That there is Alder Tate.”