Tuesday, 18 March 2014

City Souls

Ahhhh, it's good to be back in the game. This is for Chuck Wendig's "Something Punk" flash fiction challenge, in which the topic is about:
a) A world taken over by the technology or fuel source or by humans (often in an authoritarian role) attempting to control the utilization and implementation of that tech or resource.
b) Characters who represent an anarchic, rebel “punk” vibe in this world.

I chose Soulpunk. Enjoy below!

The rickety elevator descended in fits and starts, as if it’s spirit were trying to discourage the passengers inside from continuing on their course. It also made a whining, grinding sound that drove Bennett up the wall. His fellow passenger on this little excursion certainly wasn’t helping, either.

“Quite the, ah, irony, no?” his associate, Dr. Harold Amon, said. His voice had the kind of nasal quality to it that was instantly annoying. “Power being so, ah, erratic this close to the Source.”

The way Amon said it Bennett could practically hear the capitalization. The reverence. He’d be glad to be out of this place and away from the generators. Ten levels below the City streets, past subbasement after subbasement. “The boiler room.” He’d heard others on the mayor’s staff jokingly call it. He knew they’d never been down here, had never actually seen it with their own eyes. If they had they would’ve gone with a much more gruesome name for it.

Truth be told this was only Bennett’s second time down here. He’d despised his trip so much he’d sworn never to come back. But he was back now, on a special assignment from the mayor. And when the mayor said jump you didn’t ask when or how high. You immediately leaped as high as you fucking could and hoped you overshot the mark.

The elevator’s grinding and shaking slowed down then a second later stopped.

“Here,” Amon said, and Bennett could’ve sworn the doctor had hissed out the word.

The elevator doors screeched open and they stepped out onto the metal catwalk above the boiler room. He looked down and there it was. Like something Bosch would paint if he were high on meth and listening to dubstep. A modern day vista of one of Dante’s circles of Hell.

Row after row of people, human beings, hooked up to the machine. All efficiently and evenly spaced apart, with wires and hoses and cables sticking into them. Bennett didn’t know how many were down here. Some things were better off not knowing.

Perhaps there was a time when the majority of electrical power came from coal or nuclear plants, hydro dams and perhaps for some other places it even came from ‘clean, renewable’ sources, such as wind or solar. But humanity’s needs had long since overshadowed what was possible to pull in from those technologies. Souls were the only thing that could truly supply the all consuming beast that was the City Grid, now.

“Isn’t it such a sight?” Dr. Amon asked. Before Bennett could reply he continued on. “So many, many sinners given the chance to put their filthy souls to productive ends. It is truly a miracle, is it not?”

Bennett felt like he was going to be sick. Instead he asked, “You told the mayor you had something to present?”

“Ah. Ah, yes, yes. This way.”

The doctor led him down a metal staircase and onto the main floor. From a closer perspective he saw the main metal tube sticking into the people’s chests: bolts and wires dug deep into their flesh, securing the apparatuses to them. He knew what the tube was, had had it explained to him on his previous trip. The Soultaker, the device that siphoned the contributor’s essence, their soul for lack of a better term, and shunted it away through a near endless warren of wires to refine and transform it into electricity to feed into the City’s electrical grid. It somehow seemed fitting to recall that that the plant was located beneath an old, disused slaughterhouse.

He recognized, too, the catheter and IV tubes shoved into their bodies, but the dozen other cables and cords attached to them he couldn’t name and had no idea to their purpose.

Amon stopped at a girl on the seventh row, nodded his head, as if deciding that she’d make the most appropriate subject. If he had to guees the girl’s age he would’ve put it at early to mid twenties. So young, he thought. Her skin was pale and clammy looking, and had a sickly greenish tint to it. Her head was shaved, though he could see faint traces of stubble, signs of a mohawk long gone. Except for the tubes and wires she was completely naked. Bennett found the sight more off-putting than erotic.

“Though I could’ve, ah, provided a detailed report or perhaps even a Powerpoint presentation, I thought that physically viewing would prove more revealing. Now if you look at them can you clearly see how the contributors fade on us, Mr. Bennett? How they’re sickening? The charts and diagnostics speak for themselves.” He tapped the small monitor beside the girl, the one with the innumerable and incomprehensible blinking lights and shifting screens. ‘But the ah, physical symptoms are the most telling, yes? To put it bluntly, she and a dozen others like her soon won’t be able to contribute.”

“And what do you want the mayor to do about it, Dr. Amon?”Bennett snapped, letting out more of his emotions than he should have.

If the doctor was at all startled by the outburst he didn’t show it. “I need more souls, Mr. Bennett. More to replace the ones we’ll lose and to provide for the City’s growth. Especially if the mayor hopes to have the riverfront and airport expansions he’s been, ah, longing for.”

“We’re already at the limit for those convicted of murder, manslaughter, assault and sex crimes. I don’t see how we can add more, unless you want the mayor to publicly endorse these sorts of crimes so we can prosecute more - - ”

“You misunderstand,” Amon said, cutting him off. “I comprehend that there’s only a certain amount of criminals that can be sent to me, ah, us. However, if he were to, ah, change the parameters for those who apply for the program? Expand it out towards those with drug and burglary convictions?”

Amon took Bennett’s look of shock as a sign to continue.

Ahelp to establish the mayor’s commitment to his tough on crime platform. Such a bold move would also, ah, show the bleeding hearts on the city council that they can’t push him around?”

Bennett closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. Goddammit, he’s fucking right. About all of it. If we play this right we can even guarantee the mayor’s re-election in the fall. He hated himself for thinking it but there was no use burying his head in the sand to try and ignore the facts.

“I can make the proposal to the mayor as soon as we get back,” Bennett said.

“Excellent, Mr Bennett! So, so good to hear.”

Bennett took a look over to the girl. She was staring at his shoes, bits of drool and snot drooling out of her nose and mouth.

“Just one thing before we head back,” he said.

The doctor cocked his head to the side and waited patiently for him to continue.

“Tell me what exactly this one did to get here,” Bennett requested, pointing to the girl. The doctor grabbed a tag hanging off one of the cables. He took out a small table from inside his coat, punched in the number on the tag, then scrunched his eyebrows together as he read off the screen.

“Armed robbery and, ah, manslaughter. It says she and her boyfriend held up a liquor store then accidentally shot the clerk working there when he was reaching down for a bag to put the money in. Apparently they thought he was reaching for a gun.” The doctor shook his head, reminding Bennett of a grade school teacher he’d had who did the same when marking bad tests. “That’s all there is in the contributors’ database. If you want more I can give you the police case number to follow up?”

“No, that won’t be …” Bennett started, then stopped. She was looking up at him, her near pupil-less brown eyes staring right into his face. She’s conscious! How? Weren’t all the contributors were supposed to be permanently comatose? He looked over to Amon, hoping he saw her reaction as well, but all that was there was the beaming pride of bureaucrat who’d gotten what he wanted. Bennett turned back to the girl but her head had returned to its normal position, her eyes again vacant and staring off at nothing at all.

“Mr. Bennett?” Amon said. “Are you, ah, unwell?”

“Let’s …let’s just go, alright?” Bennet said.

The doctor shrugged, no doubt returning his mind to other, more pressing concerns.

Back in the elevator, Bennett let out a long sigh of relief, even though the grinding and shaking seemed even worse than before. It didn’t bother him as much though. He had other things to worry over. He knew that tonight, and for perhaps many other nights to come, his sleep would be haunted by the girl’s face as she looked at him.

They really ought to come up with a better name than “the boiler room’, he thought. Another, more accurate yet more unsettling name came to mind. If you were going to be honest, you’d call it the Farm. 

If you liked this, why not leave a comment. You can also check out my first self-published novel, The Thornwood Plot, on Amzon here.

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