Philip Brent Harris
In the shantyghetto of Mudfog can be found a broad array of those lowest on the social ladder; a rickety affair with many rotten and broken rungs. For all that, these are just people like people everywhere. They love, argue, dream and often fail, like you or I might. Their daily existence so far beyond challenging, that if it were us, we might believe we’d been dropped in hell. Yet they continue to survive.
I hope you will not be put off by their poverty and despair as I relate to you the tale of one man who found himself there. He remembers little of his life beyond his name, Toliver, though he cannot declare with certainty whether it is his given name or his surname. His experiences and pieces of lost time remembered will eventually lead him to understand, will lead him to the truth, but for now he is simply confused.
So, let us begin. Once upon a time….
The sky shimmered when he opened his eyes, as if it were frosted around the edges, then settled into its usual dull yellow-gray.
“What happened?” a man’s voice asked.
He didn’t recognize the voice, which sounded like gravel being poured through broken glass. He didn’t recognize his surroundings or the people, all the people, gathered around him. Hundreds of people, who converged around him and kept coming. They looked tattered and beaten, which felt right, somehow, but they also looked strange. They sported the scraps and scars of the long disenfranchised. They wore makeshift clothing made from whatever would serve or could be made to serve. Plastic from centuries past a favorite, combined with food containers, bits of cloth, metal, sewn together with cord pulled from the ubiquitous groups of plastic rings. Hats woven or hammered together from reflective materials, anything that came to hand, be it plastic, paper, glass or metal, for all the good it did them. Bodies young, though already ravaged, supported old faces under sparse hair. Red, raw faces, burned and scarred or black, blue black from unprotected days under the harsh, unfiltered sun, had grime-encrusted wrinkles and lines. Pink scars from where tumors had been crudely removed, shown like marks of Cain. Their odor nearly gagged him. Their indescribable smell stung his very soul, so foul, so intolerable. if he hadn’t seen them moving, he would have imagined they’d died and begun to rot.
“Who are you?” a women’s voice asked. “Where did you come from?”
He knew his name, assuming it was his name. What he didn’t know, couldn’t remeber, was how he had gotten here and why he had collapse in the street. He pushed himself to a sitting position, but had to stop until a wave of dizziness passed. The crowd around him wavered, doubled and then settled back to the scabrous strangers he’d seen when he first opened his eyes. He struggled to rise and strong hands helped and steadied him.
“WEE OOH, WEE OOH, WEE OOH,” a shrieking sound pierced his eardrums and shattered his thoughts. The crowd around him scattered like cockroaches in sudden light. He turned toward the sound as it dopplered down and found himself staring at an imposing CopBot®* from half a foot away. The vaguely human visage simulating a face left him feeling far more frightened than comforted.
“What are you doing in my district?” the CopBot® asked. Its human-sounding tones came out uninflected, devoid of emotion, further jarring him.
“Do you know who I am?” he replied.
“Unknown name, unknown personage; the Ancient’s Home should straighten you out.”
The CopBot® extruded a circular platform behind it near ground level.
“Wait,” he said, even as the CopBot® seized his shoulders with mechanical precision. It spun its upper torso one hundred and eighty degrees and deposited him on the platform. An electrified grid of light sprang into place around him, as the mechanical arms held him upright and secured him to the back of his CopBot’s® torso.
“Stop. My name is Toliver.”
“Come along then, Toliver, and we’ll find out where you belong.”
As this Plasceram®* law officer hummed rapidly away from the scene, Toliver saw faces and eyes follow his progress from the shadows.
*CopBot® is a registered trademark of Plasceram/Guardia Industries LLC
*Plasceram®is a registered trademark of Plasceram/Guardia Industries LLC