“You were wise to avoid the fountain.”
Toliver stumbled back from the door and turned toward the voice. The man from across the plaza stood a couple of feet away, casually tossing and catching Toliver’s barely-eaten fapple. Toliver didn’t understand why he hadn’t heard him approach, felt him stealing the fapple or noticed him standing near Wurst’s.
“Who are you,” Toliver challenged, “and what do you want?”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the man said with a smile and a twinkle in his eye that clearly said he did. “Darnell Keith Walker,” he said, doffing a richly patched but well maintained black, old-style derby. “Some know me as Dark Walker. Dark by name and dark by nature. My friends mostly call me Art,”
Toliver wondered at that, but couldn’t be bothered to ask. “What do you want?” His gaze darted around the darkened plaza before returning to Walker’s face.
“Several things, actually,” Walker said. “It might be better if we moved away from the door.”
Toliver tried to peer into the darkness behind the stranger trying to see if he was being set up. He had nothing of value but himself, and decided if he was what Walker was after, Toliver would have already been knocked on the head. He motioned for Walker to proceed him. As if to show his trust, the stranger turned his back to Toliver and walked into the darkness. Toliver followed, but stopped after a couple of steps.
“If you got something to tell me,” he said, “you’d better get to it.”
“It’s not mine for the telling,” Walker’s voice floated back to him from further in the darkness. “If you’re coming, you’d better get moving.” Already the voice seemed farther away and Toliver quickened his pace and caught up.
As they moved further down the hillside, into the city, Toliver noticed how dark and quiet the world around him seemed. He stayed silent, focused on Walker. This illusion shattered when a door twenty yards away opened and rapidly closed. In the seconds it remained open, the street became filled with light, music and voices. Walker held up his hand to stop their progress as several figures hurried past them and vanished.
“What am I missing?” Toliver whispered in Walker’s ear. “This is Landing. Where are all the mansions and all the fine folk who own them?” Walker turned to face him.
“This is Lower Landing. As to those fine folk, you just saw some of them. As to the mansions, they’re underground.”
“That’s the joke, see? Upper Landing is underground and Lower Landing is above ground,” Walker said. “You wouldn’t expect them to live where they were exposed to the killer sun, would you?”
“But the people we saw?”
“They slum it with us sometimes, highly protected and in disguise.”
“I don’t understand,” Toliver said, shaking his head.
“You’re not the only one.” Walker motioned for them to continue, both slowed his pace so Toliver could keep up.
“Would you care to explain?” Toliver asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm. Walker didn’t bite.
“First,” Walker said, “despite seemingly large numbers, this is a small and fluctuating enclave. Mostly, it’s comprised of younger sons and daughters, sometimes brothers or sisters of the elite.”
“But why here?”
“Adventure, games, substances outlawed in space. Maybe they hope to make a contact that will further their cause, or they believe they have a calling.”
“Look,” Walker said, pausing as a door two blocks down spilled bodies, light and noise. He lowered his voice and continued walking, his pace even slower than before. “Just like here, humanity comes in all shapes and sizes. Most of the privileged simply consider it their due, with nary a thought for the common people, their condemned people. Some think they can find a miracle to fix this broken mess. We get DARN Rolers from the Genetic Science Church, and Preachers from the Brotherhood of the Atom. Others. They’re mostly harmless.”
“I’ve never heard of them.”
“Then you’re the only one,” Walker said. “Most of those coming here have no hope of inheriting power. The oldest family member, man or woman, will be ruthless, if they expect to remain on top. Since the Whist Consortium introduced MORlife Longevity Therapy, those in control have never stepped aside. Those in line behind them have no chance at ascending to the throne, as it were, unless there’s an accident, or an ‘accident’.”
“How often do such accidents happen,” Toliver asked, clearly understanding the context.
“None too often,” Walker said, holding up his hand to stop them. “We’ll need to be completely silent from now on.”