Chapter 3: A Girl Named Mina – Part 1
“Stop thief!” A voice in the darkness admonished.
Mina ran as fast as she could. She’d done this countless times before, and today was no different. For Mina, life was about survival, and one did what they needed to do in order to make it. Bright neon signs became a blur as she sped past rows of shops, taking care she didn’t slip on something in the darkness. She quickly veered at a fork in the road, steering clear of the red light district where the triads mostly hung out around this time. She would fare better cutting into the electronic district.
The scene changed rapidly as she passed rows and rows of stalls carrying all manner of electronic devices, antiquated technology still plugged into receptacles from another day and age. With the Goddess Essence so sparse in the Utter Darkness, electricity powered much of everything still.
Mina panted, gasping for breath as she ran. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her she hadn’t had a decent meal in over five days. Other than the scraps she had to fight a dog for on one of the corners, she hadn’t had anything. She glanced around her and saw some of the bigger boys who were stronger and could bully their way into a good meal. Mina envied them. For a brief moment, she wished she’d been a boy instead and not a short, skinny girl of fourteen.
Still, she had her speed thankfully, and her health. Mina thrived in the bleak and perilous way of life that was Sector 6. Tough as nails, and smarter too, she knew. How else would she be able to her avoid the terrors of the Utter Darkness on her own?
She rounded the corner and slid into a narrow alley between two buildings and paused to catch her breath. Posters were plastered to the dilapidated concrete walls of the establishment across her. More government propaganda. A sign caught her interest, its corners peeling: the Clean Ups were back. The government was willing to pay every able-bodied citizen of the Utter Darkness 50 GEUs apiece in exchange for keeping the streets clean. A rather poorly and hastily-drawn sketch of citizens smiling as they cleaned up their city was drawn underneath. It had been crossed out and someone had written over the words, “Thanks for nothing, government dogs.”
Mina sidled along the narrow gap and emerged at the other end, hoping her pursuer had fallen away. The old man who watched the boiled potato stall nearby, grinned and tossed her a potato, parts of it spoiling, but mostly edible. Mina caught it gracefully and waved at him gratefully. The old man winked and pointed behind Mina, smiling. Mina turned around and saw her pursuer coming up from behind her. She smiled sheepishly at the old man and took off.
The burly man giving chase was huffing and puffing, huge knife in hand, ready to stab her from the looks of it. “Come back here you little rat!”
“Geez… it’s just a loaf of bread, give me a break already! I promise to pay you back when I have the money!!!”
She rounded a corner, and found an easy opportunity to escape. There was sewer access nearby. Mina knew it well because she had used it several times in the past. Residents of Sector 6 avoided the sewers like the plague. To the young and reckless however, they offered an opportunity to escape, and sometimes, to be alone. Many sewer access points were uncovered. One merely needed to know if it was safe to jump in or not.
Mina felt drops of water on her skin. She glanced up at the dark metallic dome that covered the Utter Darkness and cringed, realizing the implication as more droplets came. The Rains came without warning, an unwelcome phenomenon. By the time rainwater had filtered through Taiyou-Shi’s Upper and Middle Plates, it had absorbed enough refuse to turn it into harmful acid water. Mina dove right into the sewer access without a moment’s hesitation. She landed with a splash into the filthy water, a cesspool that reeked of refuse, of the city’s many iniquities that washed down here, collecting in a sea of vile obscenities. She looked up to see her stalker staring down at her with disgust before he too, had to run for cover. Mina steered clear of the sewer opening as the Rains poured for a few moments. The pavement above hissed where the corrosive water touched, the entire area drenched in acid rain, the water tempering the smoke rising from the concrete pavement. Mina made sure she stood on higher ground letting the acidic water pass downstream. Mina took a look at her arms, rubbing them vigorously. No burn damage. She would sit here under cover and wait for the Rains to pass.
Mina heaved a sigh of relief. “Safe for now.” She walked away from the sewer’s waterway and salvaged what she could of her now soggy loaf of bread and boiled potato that had gone cold. A short walk later, she’d found a good place to sit down and have her dinner. Most of the people of Sector 6 let this dismal environment break their spirits. Mina refused to let that happen to her. Ever the optimist, she happily devoured her prize. She’d taken great care to make sure water from the Rains didn’t touch her meal. She savored the soggy loaf bite by bite as if it were a delicious piece of cake. In between bites of bread, she bit into the boiled potato. Though cold, it was quite tasty. The old man at the potato stall did right by her. She’d taken from him the other day too, but paid him back when she earned surplus GEUs from an errand she ran for the pawnshop owner. That’s when he realized what Mina was about. For a brief moment Mina imagined herself a daughter of an elite living at Upper Plates, perhaps a family from the Economic Assembly – somewhere she’d never been in her life. She quickly brushed away the thought. No sense in dreaming about something that would never be. Immigrating to the Middle Plates for a resident of the Utter Darkness was incredibly difficult, moving to the Upper Plates was all but impossible.