The lights surrounding Ruby’s Underground were nothing more than tubes of neon; blazing fires of brutal color mixed with a neo-techno thump that passed for music down in the Deep.
I didn’t have room to complain about the ambiance or…lack thereof. I couldn’t have stayed away even if I wanted to. In the darkness, I was a moth and Ruby’s was my flame.
Dalton Majors was on door duty again. Part of me likes to think the brute of a surfacer enjoyed the work. Maybe there’s such a thing as getting a cheap thrill beating on the dregs that littered the streets like pack rats waiting for their next meal to drop down the drain.
This oversized prick, however; was no rat. But he was blocking my way. Dalton was a rudimentary obstacle if I ever witnessed one yet, in a way, I liked Ruby’s choice of gatekeeper. Sure, he was dumber than your typical surfacer living out his meager existence down upon the dirt and stone mixed with rusted metal – with the rest of us – but he was a decent sort. At least Dalton Majors was kind enough to spit behind our backs. When he wasn’t beating on our fronts.
“Morri,” Dalton said with his usual pomp and bravado. I waved as I crossed the broken black pavement where Block 119 intersected with the Gith Occupancy at Block 120. “You’re over your limit. Ruby’s rules.” He made it much clearer as he sidestepped his massive fucking frame in front of the door. Come to think of it, there’s just no way this lump of flesh made cognizant wasn’t using surfacer drugs to obtain his bulk. I think someone may have just made a friend. “You know that.” He finished by crossing his arms and peering over his bull steak turned appendages down at me.
“Right you are,” I replied with as much of a genial a smile as I could muster upon my pale face. “But,” I said with a mischievous grin as I reached inside my beige trackers coat inner pocket and pulled forth a genuine Sternburg cred stick, untraceable and ‘loaded to the gills’. I once heard an old man who had claimed he was tubed in Louisiana say that. Seemed fitting. Nonchalantly I flipped the card between my fingers until I grew tired of the game and held out the key to the gatekeeper. “A thousand creds says I still have one more trip left on my ticket.”
Obnoxiously loyal Dalton may be yet behind his thick brow and a chest wider than my arms were long, along with a pair of bulging eyes that reminded me of a dredge addict with a needle deep in his veins, Dalton Majors was a man of pragmatism and a thousand creds could keep a man knee deep in hungry mouths.
“Yeah,” Dalton said with a sly smile to match my own. “I just remembered; you do have one trip left. But hey, Morri…?” The smile that had been suddenly sly and mischievous took a quick somber turn as Dalton inched closer so that only I could hear. “This shit…. look, I saw a woman just last week being carried out of here by a couple guys in black suits. Been happening to you uploaders more and more. Besides, if the blend doesn’t kill you, the fucking UEE will put a bullet right between your eyes if they even THINK you’re over-juicing on that stuff.”
Dumb, loyal, pragmatic and maybe just a tad sweet. I had never known Dalton to ever care about an uploader’s well-being. Maybe times were changing. And maybe I was the fuckin’ Pope.
“Thanks Dalton, but I’m good. Same trip. Same memory. The blend doesn’t scare me. Just don’t deviate. Not that hard of a lesson ya know? As for the UEE? Fuck ‘em. What more can they do to us that hasn’t already been done?”
Dalton just shook his head and spit a large glob of Pinkman’s resin on the ground. “They’ll space you.” He said while wiping his mouth with the back of his gorilla sized hand.
“And waste the fuel? I’m just an old decker seeking a cheap thrill.” I said while patting Ruby’s gatekeeper on the shoulder while slipping passed him. “Be safe out here Dalton, never know when the guys in black suits will jump out of the shadows.”
“Ha…ha…ha…fuck you, Morrison. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Enjoy your trip.”
“Always!” I shouted over my shoulder, but I doubt the lout heard me. My voice was suddenly mixed with an undulating rhythm coupled with what I swear sounded like the high screech of a distressed digitizer some junker found in the Ut’Sult Hills far beyond even the Gith occupancy of Section 15 and I’d wager my words would have been far too challenging to decipher by a surfacer’s ears. At least it wouldn’t have been a suckers bet.
There was something to be said, however; about our small slice of heaven tinged with the unsanitary yet undeniable pleasures of hell. No other shithole down in the ‘12 quite captured the dysphoric sense of being trapped in an ancient F. Scott Fitzgerald novel mixed with eye bleeding, neo-apocalyptic lighting that existed solely to shine down on just how much of a shithole this section of the Deep really was.
I was here more than anywhere else I was allowed.
“I didn’t want to see you here tonight but am I surprised you found a way to slide your greasy self in here?” You ever hear a noise that even when it was buried under a ton of other noise, it still made your skin crawl but when you didn’t hear said noise…even for a night…. you find yourself strangely missing the sensation it gives you?
Her voice was my noise.
Daeja Uth’Gurn. Gith ambassador to the ’12 and one of a growing number of non-purists to come out of the Gith wardens to the south. Farther than I’ve ever been. It was still unfathomable to think of where I stood. Two miles underground. A series of tunnels more or less, lined with durable-enough steel to not collapse in on our heads but if there were any sense of the sky above us, the UEE took it from the Gith and then later, each-other. These tunnels had originally been dug out specifically for the unfortunate blue-skinned bastards taken hostage during the First Contact War of 2029. Fuck, if that wasn’t a long time ago. A lifetime ago. Not that it mattered anyway. We weren’t treating the Gith any better now than we did when their ships first broke out of the Gloom and into our galaxy. And still, even after being forced into the sunless cavern with no chance of seeing their homes ever again, the Gith seemed to take it in stride. Much like Daeja.
We, as in the human pieces of garbage that put such a…sweet isn’t a word I would use but…endearing species into captivity, called Gith like Daeja, Night Angels. A sect of the Gith population that have broken from their purist-of-blood bullshit to mingle, quite often, with those of us who now too called the Deep…home.
The Gith, for their physical difference in skin pigment, were surprisingly human-like. Daeja, for all her bluster, reminded me of the holos of women from ancient civilizations I learned about from the Edu-bots as a child. A combination of a mind that could be several steps ahead of every person in the room mixed with the confidence only years of surviving in the darkness of the Gloom could provide. Her ambassadorship came easily; a shame her talents were wasted on the malfeasance of the Imperialists thriving under a blue sky. “I’m pretty positive I won our last little go-round there Blue. But, if it gets me to the upload any faster…. I’m willing to throw your ass around a little more.” I replied as we strode towards the far back wall of Ruby’s den of devilish delights where the neon pinks and purples and blues that wrapped themselves around the dark stain of the bar, the only known wood to exist in this part of the Deep, lit up like a beacon of hope for the weary, the downtrodden and the god damned thirsty with every thump of the bass echoing low like the rumble of a giant cave worm.
“Oh John,” Daeja cooed, “misogyny like that only works on Imperial girls. Besides, I let you win our last scrap. Seemed like you could have used a win.”
“Is that what it was? Cause I remember you lying flat on your back with a knife under that pretty lil’ blue neck of yours.” For a moment, and only for a moment, Daeja Uth’Gurn allowed my fingertips to brush against her chin. Any longer and I may have found a Gith war dagger in my stomach. Not to kill me, oh no, that wouldn’t have been the Gith way. The blade was nothing more than a delivery system for a poison never before seen on the planet before the Gith’s arrival that when presented with warm flesh would leave a series of bulbous boils that would rack the poor bastard with a pain so intense not only would they wish for death but more-so for the sweet relief of pure non-existence.
And yet, death would never come. Not for the unlucky son’of’a’bitch that would cross a Gith woman whose pride had been scorned.
Luckily for my own future suffering, or lack-thereof, I knew my limits with the ambassador and as I slipped my hand from her skin to the pockets of my long coat I saw her usual scowl replaced with an easy smile that stole across her usual sullen façade.
“And then you found a barrel lodged against your crotch,” she replied.
“I remember you pulling the trigger and….” I glanced downward in hopes her eyes would follow. “…My dick is still attached.”
Her sight line never wavered. Honestly I wouldn’t have expected less. “I can shoot the head off a pin at nearly three-hundred yards and John….” Daeja began to say as her palms suddenly pressed into my chest allowing her face to lean close and whisper against my cheek. “Even I couldn’t find that thing you call a dick.”
“Touché, Blue. Touché.”
Sins of the Earth Empire is an original piece of fiction by Christopher Ryan. To stay up to date with this work of fiction, follow along on Twitter at Twitter.com/C_RG_Ryan