From Above, by Donna J. W. Munro
“Ugly, innit?” The soap lady asked as Julia picked among her basket of goods, glancing up with keen eyes.
As she sniffed a bar of lemon soap, Julia looked up at the bottom of the floating city. The craggy black rock that blocked the sky and cast a pool of darkness on the landlocked part of the city hung in the air above them, floating on some invisible science that none of the landlocked citizens understood.
“Like arse end of frying pan,” Julia said.
They tittered together but it felt like they were laughing at their own funeral.
Since the day the upper city came down from the sky and the creatures who lived on it set the new rules, life in the under city had been rough. No sun. No rain to wash away soot. That wasn’t the worst. Shit rolls downhill.
Julia was an enforcer. One of the few humans allowed to move between the upper and lower city. She hunted the burrows and narrows and downs for those desperate humans that took from each other or killed for money. Didn’t matter that the folks below hated her for having connections with those up top. They loved her in equal measure because she was fair. She didn’t double deal them.
“Goin’ up?” The soap dealer asked. “You tell ‘em we don’t get enough trade down here. They got to start buying from us.”
Julia nodded. “I’ll pass it along.”
She dropped a token in the lady’s hand and the lemon scented soap into her pocket. Lemon was a lost food. The new climate didn’t allow for such heat loving fruits, so she wasn’t sure if the tangy scent truly was lemon, or just some pleasant brew the old soap maker called lemon to sell it to folk like her.
Knowing what was real didn’t matter to most of the undercity dwellers, as long as the upper city didn’t drown them in filth.
That had happened in Old New York and Atlanta.
So far, so good. That’s why Julia knew her job mattered. When something came down the pipes and washed something into the undercity river that the bottom dwellers knew they shouldn’t see or have, they passed it to Julia to return up city.
Kids fished roken pieces of upper city tech that glowed with a green power out of the brackish water. The power radiated them the longer they kept it. She had special bags to collect those pieces and take them back up.
Sometimes, things fell that were whole.
In her bag, next to the bar of lemon soap and my synth gloves, lay a black hook that sparkled like wet obsidian. One of the old women who sold corn mash had given it to Julia. Said her son found it and she was worried that he’d hurt himself with it.
It fit in the palm of her hand like it had been made to fit every line and ripple of her palm. She’d seen them before.
Always in the hands of the royals at the very top of the upper city rock.
How one had found its way down in the under city, she couldn’t guess, but there’s be hell to pay if it didn’t find its way back into their blue-blooded hands.
She made her way to the elevator, the black spired monument that used to be dedicated to the poet of the old world. They’d made it over into the only way to get from below to above. The green energy flowed in a waterfall from the rock above dropping down into an enveloping beam.
It lifted her, though it always felt like her stomach stayed below.
Once she’d found her feet on the cobbles of the upper, she glanced around, noting all the shoppers, the guards, the servants of the blue-blood houses. The ending hour when all the undercity dwellers left the upper was only a few turns away, so Julia began jogging up the winding cobbled street that led up into the sky precinct where all the blue-blood mansions wrapped around the pointed crags at the top of the rock. The green lights lit the path. Color spilled from every window and light so bright, Julia always wondered if there was any end to their powers in the upper city.
She finally knocked on the tallest door of the highest building at the top of the crag. The door opened and one of them, a lesser blue-blood stood as servant behind it.
“Enforcer? The ending hour approaches. You must…”
“I need to see your master.” She pushed past him–a brazen act no other could under city dweller could get away with but Zorm needed to see the tech.
She opened the door to the library that Prince Zorm spent almost all of his time in. His father was head of the city and his mother the ear of the gods, but Prince Zorm kept all the records, tracking all that happened above and below. She was his personal enforcer.
“Julia?” Zorm turned to stare at her as she hustled across the white marble floor toward him. He was a handsome one. Blue heart beating inside the crystal enclosure of his chest sending the blue blood coursing through his branchlike limbs. He glowed with his royal blood and his eyes were huge. Human-like but brighter, bigger just enough to make him alien. He smiled and his features softened into the expression he liked best–something between curiosity and lusty hunger.
Julia grinned like a fool. She usually did when he looked at her that way. “Found something.”
She flipped her bag on his desk, dumping the gloves, the bar of soap, and the hook-shaped tech she’d found. Zorm picked through them, first opening the soap and taking a bite of it. It was his favorite, after all. Then he picked up the hook. It lit up in his hand, glowing green and flashing with black shine.
“I can’t believe it.” The blue of his blood glowed in his hand around the object. “When did you find this?”
“And how many people have seen it?”
“Me, an old woman, her son.”
“Did anything happen when you touched it?”
Zorm sighed and flipped the object over in his hands.
“This is a key. The most important of our tech. In the wrong hands…well, I don’t think it’s a real threat. You humans aren’t shaped like us.” Zorm started to set the piece aside.
“I know it’s not my place, but what does it do?” Julia asked.
Zorm looked up at her sharply, studying her face. She kept her features neutral. She always did.
“I guess there’s no harm. This is a blue-blood’s personal key.” He picked it up and put it in his palm just so. As he did, the grooves in his branchy fingers lit up as did the object. The room seemed to shift and around them pictures of things Julia had never seen floated. Zorm touched one and as he did, it expanded. “It keeps all of our knowledge.”
The image was of a forest, though it wasn’t on earth. Julia watched as a creature rolled toward her like a pinwheel–all tentacles and teeth. She gasped and threw up her hands. It was so real.
Zorm laughed at her and drew the image back.
“One of our enemies. Just an image of it.”
“So, it’s not a weapon?” Julia asked, smiling with all the innocence she could muster.
“In the wrong hands, it’s the worst weapon of all. A species’ weaknesses are hidden in their history. I applaud you for returning such an important thing to us, Julia. The ending hour is here and you will not make it back to the common transport pad. Allow me to send you home myself. Father and I will discuss your reward tomorrow.”
Julia smiled and followed Zorn to a closet that glowed with the green light of their power. He bowed as she went in, then in a wash of green, she found herself back in the bottoms of the under city, at the door of her house.
She turned and made her way through the winding alleys and snickleways until she stepped through into a hidden warehouse. Hundreds of humans, the best minds of the city, labored over new and old tech cobbled together. The resistance. She smiled and walked over to the soap woman, General Tomlin.
“Did they take it?”
“Worked perfectly. He thought he had the real thing. They won’t come looking for it, I’d guess.” The real key sat open with all the scenes spinning around the rebel scientists. They picked through the scenes, finding images of the tech, reverse engineering it and making it work for humans.
“I have a good feeling about this,” Julia said, then she left to scour the city for more of the shit that rolls downhill. They wouldn’t be downhill for much longer if she could help it.
Donna J. W. Munro’s pieces are published in Dark Moon Digest # 34, Flash Fiction Magazine, Astounding Outpost, Nothing’s Sacred Magazine IV and V, Corvid Queen, Hazard Yet Forward (2012), Enter the Apocalypse (2017), Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths II (2018), Terror Politico (2019), It Calls from the Forest (2020), Borderlands 7 (2020), Gray Sisters Vol 1 (2020) and others. Her upcoming novel, Revelations: Poppet Cycle 1, will be published by Omnium Gatherum in 2020. Contact her at https://www.donnajwmunro.com or @DonnaJWMunro on Twitter.
2/16/2021 09:54:20 am
Cunning heroine. Cleverly done.
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