The Stars Look Down Part 1

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I’m starting a new piece of short fiction this week I expect this will end up under ten thousand words, but I’m not sure yet. It’s a dark cyberpunk piece about the death of the American empire and smuggling children.

Jude was running again. Seemed like she was always running, she was so tired of running.

Security was right behind her, heavy boots pelting steel, echoing through the damp air, moist, humid, hot. Everywhere was the smell of hot metal, baking under the sun. Jude ran, her small frame shaking with each in breath, gasping for air. They were so much bigger than her, so much stronger. She saw an opening, a tiny hole in the grating next to the walkway. She dove, knowing there was no way they could follow her there, they were too big. Her skinny legs caught on the metal, a sudden sharp pain, then she was through.

It was dark inside the wall, the only light coming from the hole Jude had just used. Jude could feel something wet on her leg, trickling down from where she had caught her shin. Blood, at least it looked like blood in the half light. She let out a whimper and then forced her small body to turn away from the light and crawl into the darkness. If security caught her she wouldn’t see Bobby again, or any of the others. They needed her, she was the fastest, the best thief.

Jude was small for her age, which she thought was around twelve. It was hard to know, she didn’t remember when her birthday was. She was fast too. If she didn’t make it back they wouldn’t be able to get enough food for all of them. Jenny would probably try to take over, but she was too little still. No more than five. Jenny wasn’t cut out to be a thief either, she was even more afraid of the dark than Jude. Jude kept these thoughts running through her head so that she could keep going. It was so dark, she had no idea where this tunnel led, what might be waiting for her.

Her knees hurt, crawling for so long was hard. At least it was cool in here, this hidden little tunnel of steel. She whimpered again, it was so dark. Finally, a spot of light ahead… just a pin prick, enough to see by, sort of. Enough to bring the patterned metal underneath her into focus. She crawled toward it, tears running down her cheeks, dripping on the thin steel.

The light didn’t lead to an exit, but Jude could press her eye to it and see the street below, people walking, going about their day, their lives. Where was she? She couldn’t see enough to tell. She basked in the light, starting out at the people, then, with a visible effort, she wrenched her eye from the hole and kept going.

For Tommy the world had never been kind. When he died Laura didn’t know how to feel. He was her child, the only one she was ever going to have, but his short life didn’t contain anything other than pain. He was born screaming, his bones broken by the process of birth. Any slight bump would break him. Normally the condition would be caused by the mother’s drug abuse while pregnant, and Laura got looks whenever someone found out about Tommy. In her case that wasn’t it. A rare genetic condition apparently. He died before he turned two. Of course it ended her relationship with Ernesto. He moved back home once his son died, leaving her stranded in a foreign city, where she didn’t know anyone, not really, and she wasn’t fluent in the language. She adapted, learned Portuguese, met people, got a job. She’d been in Sao Paulo for five years, including the two with Ernesto and Tommy. Now she had contacts, and her work was important. Hard of course, but important.

Paul walked up to her, “Come on, we have to go. The window is tight. We have to be wheels up in fifteen.”

“Come on man, you know I’m ready. Have I ever delayed us?”

“Yeah, I know. Still, we’re the only Americans on this trip, we’ve gotta look good. Don’t want the Brazilians to think we’re lazy. Already enough prejudice against us.”

Someone yelled, “Rapidamente Big Macs. Get your butts in gear.”

Laura ran for the plane, a low profile stealth job. It was quiet and fast, and it looked like a predator of some sort, strange angles that didn’t make sense. The latest in Brazilian technology, decades ahead of anything from the states. Even the interior, utilitarian, essentially military, was ahead of the Americans. The acceleration couches, made of smart material that cradled the body, allowing it to handle greater g-force, it was a slick machine, the best that the second most advanced nation on earth could afford.

The engines hummed, quiet, subtle, then the jets kicked in. Laura felt the acceleration take hold, a sick feeling in her stomach, then the hull turned clear and she could see the ground vanish beneath her, the sky above, darkening into night.

A voice came over her headset, Thiago speaking in heavily accented English, “Hey pretty lady, you ready for this?”

“You know it.”

“This isn’t going to be like the other runs. This is Dallas. These kids have had it rough. They pretty much live like animals, hunted, put into prison, working hard labour if they get caught.”

“You know I know Portuguese right?”

“You need to be speaking English, and with that sexy American accent. You slip, you talk Spanish or Portuguese to the wrong person, well, I did say it’s Dallas right?”

“You mentioned that. Is it really that bad?”

“You grew up in Miami right?”

“Yeah, a Florida girl all my life, at least until I hopped the border with Ernesto.”

“Dallas is different. The minutemen won there. They own the city, completely. There’s no pretense. They figure out you aren’t from there, it’s going to be a problem. These kids, we need to get them out, get them someplace safe.”

“Okay, I get it. So, I speak American even during the flight.”

“I would think you’d be glad to speak your native tongue.”

“You haven’t spent much time in the States have you? What am I saying, of course you haven’t. Everyone runs around talking about how we’re the greatest country in the world, the most free, meanwhile if you aren’t white and christian you don’t have a voice, you don’t have a place at the table. If you are white, well, you better hope your family has money, because there ain’t no jobs. People starve to death in the streets.”

Laura set her face forward, her lip quivered, just a little, her eyes shining. Bad memories, seeing her Father, too many years giving what little food he had to her and her mother, finally it caught up to him, his body quit. Maybe if they’d been able to take him to a doctor, but no money for that. Laura had wanted to do whatever was needed, but at ten there hadn’t been much she could do. Some parents sold their kids, especially daughters, but not her father, he’d placed her before himself until his final breath.

This was Laura’s third run, Child Care International was a big deal, well funded and well equipped. Her last two had been to Miami, in her comfort zone, but this was different. Dallas was the real deal, the worst of the worst. Ever since the minutemen took over immigrant children didn’t have a future. When Laura got scared that was what kept her going, knowing that what she was doing was saving at least a few of those children.

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