There are a great many places in Stroud where a person can look up and see only glass, concrete, and signs of life. If the thousands of driving, hovering, and flying vehicles were another form of life. Sunlight is a myth, told to children in the same manner as the mythical man who brings good children gifts on a day long since forgotten. Some even think that the sun, if such a thing exists, is owned by the powerful and wealthy of Stroud. Rain falls from the sky, but not from rain clouds, and burns exposed skin. The temperature, never fluctuates, at least not for those at the bottom, it is hot, always hot and humid in Stroud, at least in the parts of Stroud where John lives and moves.
John looks up not because he is looking for the sky. Years in the City Militia and Police Department have taught him looking up was vital to longevity. Overhead, cars and trucks fly by at breakneck speeds following the city mandated flight lanes. Under the flight lanes, walkways, pipes, girders, wires, power lines, and other detritus of life crisscross over the street, connecting one building to another. In some places, connections from one building to another look as if one building is attempting to absorb the other. For a brief moment, John wishes he could live above the street, never having to touch the ground again. From that lofty wish, he would be able to look up, look down, and if he was rich enough, never see the ground again.
The moment over, John quickly scanned the area around him. A few older model non-hover cars, belonging to the factory workers, line both sides of the street. A ground truck rumbled past picking up or delivering something for the factories. The ever-present din of the city reverberated through every object. Across the street three members of a local gang, the Mechanics or something like that John thinks, stood around the entrance of the all-night stop-n-rob trying to look tough and not bored. Neon and holo-ads illuminated the front of the store advertising products inside; everywhere else, paper ads advertised products and services for those with the money. Paper, empty bottles, and other garbage are everywhere. The oppressive odors produced by the factories mask the stench of garbage. Graffitti, mostly gang tags, but a few pieces of “art,” cover every surface, even the parked cars. City services are non-existent. Just another day in paradise, John thought as he straightened his jacket, adjusted his wrap around glasses, and headed down the street to his meeting.
Fade loved the city. To him, Stroud was a living breathing entity. The city liked to keep secrets and loved to swallow up the unaware, the failing, and the unlucky by the score. Success of any kind was something that a person fought for, hard. Fade knew many of the ins and outs of the city, but even he would say that he did not know them all and because of that willingness to accept that, he was still around. Never seen outside of Crescendo, anyone who wanted to find Fade would find him there. Crescendo was his home and if word on the street was true, Crescendo was more than just his home, but his treasure trove as well. What was stored in that trove was anyone’s guess, but whatever treasures Fade had kept from being taken out or so the word on the street said. Fade was connected.
The view of the top of the city was magnificent; the top floors of the city lit up, the night clubs and party spots were particularly bright and colorful, like gleaming jewels, colorful lanes of vehicles flying throughout the city and the Floating City aglow from the lights of the buildings and the anti-collision lights hovering over downtown Stroud. Everywhere were giant holographic advertisements stuck to sides or tops of buildings or free hovering selling their wares to anyone who could see or hear them and the moon was out. Not a cloud in sight and the moon was looking down upon Stroud.
Mr. Slade stepped back from his panoramic window to grab a drink off the edge of table and to cast a quick view at the vid-display on one of the windows. Stocks were up. Stepping back up to the widow with his drink in hand Slade smiled when he noticed the latest Saertai Pharmaceutical Aid; a herg sneezing so hard that the house he lived in was blown down. He watched the advertisement play through and then started watching the flow of night time traffic while working on the day’s issues.
The view never failed to impress. Not just anyone could have this view every day. Taking a sip from his drink he thought about the attempt on his life tonight at the Tumbledown Charity Dinner. He was well aware that he had enemies. Slade liked to think of them not as enemies, but as challenges to overcome and people who kept him at his sharpest. Without them he might become complacent and lazy. That would not do. Another smile as Slade thought about how he didn’t want to attend the dinner in the first place. He would have to check on Tic-Kill’s injuries and even get him another reward for saving his life. The publicity, if managed correctly, would be invaluable to Slade.
A single chime announced the silent arrival of Ulla. Slade mentally corrected himself, Ul-il-tal-Ar’tam, although she preferred Ulla. Ulla floated into the room. She was a Nemtsa Brain-box; a nemtsa who had their brain encased inside a technological marvel that allowed them to continue to live long after their body had ceased functioning. Her brain-box like most consisted of a two-foot long abdomen with various arms and attachments on the outside. Ulla’s abdomen was golden in color and made to look like a seashell, the hover generators on the underside were a light pink color. She only had two arms both slender and designed to look like pieces of gold corral. Slade never inquired why she was brain-boxed or when, he just assumed that it was because of the disease that all nemtsa contracted at some point in their life. He mentally kicked himself for that oversight and made a note to find out why.
“Sir, sorry to intrude, but I have some updates on today’s news and developments,” Ulla said, she had a light and airy voice, no voice-modulation at all.
“That’s alright, I was just beginning to wonder myself,” responded Slade.
“As you may have noticed on your vid-window most stocks rose. Stock transactions for the day resulted in a profit, which were following your orders re-invested. Your incident from tonight has made the news, unfortunately…”