Someone was going through my pockets.
I blinked several times, as though that could scrub away the black fog that seemed to have wrapped itself around my mind. Dimly, I could see the figures of two men kneeling over me, taking everything of value from my pockets. I let out a groan, remembering how many of the smaller gifts I’d stashed in my jacket; with a painful effort of will, I forced myself to a sitting position, shoving at one of the men.
Both of them panicked and fled. I very nearly fell back over, but I didn’t want to lose the progress I’d made in sitting up. Slowly, I reclaimed my grip on the world. The first thing I noticed was that I was sitting on top of a substantial pile of rubbish that seemed to have come from the mansions above. The second, that those mansions were high above me, and drifting away.
I slid off the pile and immediately fell to my knees, an involuntary hiss escaping me as every bone in my body protested the movement. The suppression field designed to keep ships from flying up and out of the city had also slowed my fall, but that field only began a hundred feet above the city. I glanced back at the rubbish, which, on inspection, seemed to be mostly fabric and organic materials. Any less welcoming of a landing site, and I probably would have died.
When I moved to push myself to my feet, a much sharper pain lanced through my arm. A sharp hiss escaped through my teeth, and I looked down at it, seeing the entire shoulder of my jacket soaked with blood. Slowly, I stood, fighting a wave of dizziness that could have come from the shock of the fall, the blood loss, or the unusual smells of this poor district.
I turned towards the sound, looking for the source. A young woman, perhaps my age or a bit younger, stood in a doorway, glancing down the alley in the direction my two assailants had fled. She looked back at me and beckoned, then ducked inside. I frowned softly. However, seeing no other real options, I followed her through the small wooden door.
It opened onto a small kitchen, with the girl standing at the far end of it holding a knife at arms’ length. The blade was marred by rust, but the point, which was leveled at my heart, looked very sharp. I held up my hands peaceably.
“You are Alphonse Benedict Meridius the fourth.” Her voice surprised me; far from the gravelly, slurred speech our storytellers used when acting as surface-dwellers, her voice was… normal. Clear, and… beautiful. But once I got past her voice, her words made me blink.
Her free hand reached into her blouse and pulled out his identification. “Nicked this from you when you landed. I knew scavengers would be all over you, and I didn’t have the time to drag you inside.”
My brow furrowed slightly. “And why, out of all my possessions, would you take my ident card?”
“Not just your ident, Alphonse.” A smirk crossed her lips as she returned the card to her blouse, then reached into one of her belt pouches and withdrew a smooth, black device.
I hissed slightly, my hand going to my holster. Of course it was gone. Yet somehow I needed to feel the emptiness of the leather hanging at my side before I could believe that this urchin had it. “Give me back my belongings.”
The girl laughed, a musical sound entirely out of place in the tense situation, in this dirty kitchen. “We’re not on one of your floating castles now, Alphonse. Power rules down here, and right now, I have the power.”
My jaw clenched as she taunted me. “Fine. What do you want?”
“Reparation.” She slipped my lasersword back into her belt pouch as she continued, “Your ident can get you back to your sky palace, but only if you can find your way to one of the shuttle towers without being mugged and killed for your pretty coat.”
“If I had my sword, I could make my way.”
“But you don’t,” she said with another faint smirk. “I do. And I’m not going to give them back unless you make me a promise.”
That took me by surprise. “What promise?”
She gestured around with her free hand. “Fix this. The system that has a handful of families living in paradise while the rest of the world rots here in hell. Your family is strong, Alphonse, and you are coming into power as its next patriarch. When your father hands the family over to you, I want you to fight for the cause of the people below.”
“Of course,” I lied easily. “Anything you want.” I took a step forward, holding out my hand for my belongings.
The girl struck my palm with the flat of her knife, glaring. “I don’t think so. You nobles don’t exactly have a track record for being trustworthy.”
I shook my hand lightly, trying to rid myself of the stinging sensation. “You asked for a promise, I gave you a promise!” I glared back at her. “What more do you want?”
“Take me with you.” My eyes widened in shock as she kept talking. “I want you to take me with you up to paradise. You adopt me as your sister, and I stay with you to make sure you keep your promise.”
“Take you?” I was dizzy again. I reached out and grabbed onto the wall with my uninjured arm. “I can’t take you. My family wouldn’t allow a surface-dweller to be adopted!”
“You are the sole son of the Meridius family. Your father is aging and will not maintain control for much longer. No one can question you, Alphonse.” She shifted her grip on the knife slightly. “What do you say? Will you help us? Or are you so prideful that you’d rather die alone on the surface than be seen above with me, helping those who need it?”
I ground my teeth, a bad habit mother had long ago broken me of. The surface was already corrupting me. In this moment of relative stillness, I attempted to recall my teachers’ lessons, to still my mind and think clearly. My body was battered, and my shoulder all but useless. I could feel that all of my pockets were empty, and even the gold buttons stripped from my coat. This girl whose name I didn’t even know was holding me at knife-point, demanding sweeping social reform in exchange for my life.
Slowly, I looked up at her. “Do you know how to treat a serious cut?”
She blinked, some of the certainty flickering from her eyes. “I… Yes. Everyone down here has to know basic medical skills. Why-”
“Fix up my shoulder, give me back my sword, and I’ll take you home with me.” I looked into her shining green eyes. “I promise.”
07/17/2013 · 9:09 am