Chapter 3: A Girl Named Mina – Part 2
Old man Joab taught her all she needed to survive. The old man, closest she ever came to a father figure, found her on his doorsteps as a baby, raised her, and showed her the value of being happy. Resilience, Joab would say, lay in being happy. Happiness was not a function of money, nor of status. People make themselves unhappy because they feel they must become better than the other person. “The moment you tell yourself you’re better than another… ” warned Joab, “you set yourself up for disappointment time after time.” Instead, happiness lay in enjoying life, the company of loved ones, and the passing of time. None of of those required money or status, and those that looked for happiness in such things missed the point of life. Mina learned those lessons well, often listening to the old man’s stories with rapt attention. They made her strong, kept her going when times had been tough. Most importantly, they kept her alive.
Mina been very fond of Joab. She’d been very sad when he eventually passed away. When he did however, Mina had not been afraid, for Joab had prepared her for it.
Mina finished the last of her meal, the best one she’d had in a week, and got up. She had to make her way back to the street level. Fortunately, she knew her way around this part of the sewer. To the experienced street rat, the sewers were a remarkably convenient means of getting around. The triads avoided it for fear of encountering Taiyou-Shi security probes that patrolled the sewers, and it was brightly lit, one of the few areas the government was willing to make an expenditure of the Goddess Essence for, a small price to pay for ensuring no unlawful activity took place in this darkest of places.
She stretched and looked around. The walls, though dilapidated, were sturdy, a testament to the engineering genius of Diskarma Corporation who built all the sewer ways. She saw her reflection in a sewer puddle and frowned. A tiny girl, barely five feet tall with a slight frame frowned back at her from the water. Her dark hair was unwashed and unkempt, her face was grimy and her overall appearance disheveled. She thumbed her tiny nose at the reflection and it thumbed back. Mina couldn’t remember the last time she had a bath. She’d seen the public one near the red light district and thought to visit it during the Waking, but realized she needed to save her money to pay back a few shopkeepers she had stolen from a few days ago.
Mina descended lower into the sewers. There was a portion where the sewer level went deeper for a while, but she knew it came right back up, leading back underneath the electronic district and then past that to a safe haven where she could sleep with other street urchins. The ceilings gradually shifted higher as Mina descended. The sound of running water was continuous, accented by the pitter patter of what remained of the Rains a few moments ago. It still reeked, but she was desensitized at this point, so the smell didn’t bother her. She’d lost the worn pair of sandals that served her well for the last two years in the mad scramble earlier, the poor things, she’d been quite fond of them, and was walking barefoot now. Fortunately, the cold didn’t bother her.
As she approached one of the ladders to begin her ascent, something made her pause. She was glad she did. Shadows passed above. Through the sewer opening, she saw a regiment of heavily armored soldiers passing by, their heavy boots pounding on the pavement above. Large, snarling, wolves followed close behind, dragged by their leashes, their angry, guttural snarls echoing through the sewers.
“Preserve the Peace.” Mina whispered sarcastically.
The Taiyou-Shi Police Brigade hid conveniently under the pretext of maintaining law and order in the Utter Darkness, their true aim unknown, but enough stories had been passed around. Whispers in the darkness mingled with old wives tales and urban legends. The Marauders hunted little girls in the dark, preying on poor lost souls in the Utter Darkness and the neighboring villages.