Munchkin

Sirens wailed in the distance as Ella braced her arms against the edges of her hard, narrow twin bed. Both feet planted firmly on the dusty floor of the apartment, she pushed against the old mattress with as much strength as her frail upper body could generate. Success. Now standing, she felt as shaky as a newborn foal, but managed to grab her ancient, re-purposed walker before she tipped over.

She recalled then the time her father had taken her out to the countryside as a young child and she had actually seen a real, live foal. The small creature with its glistening black coat and spindly legs had seemed huge then, to her six-year-old eyes, but she knew now just how large the beasts got. Not that there were any around the city — really, they were more of a rarity, barely any left at all these days. She knew, though, that seeing another horse up close was nothing but a pipe dream. Ever since she had contracted the illness, she could barely get around the small, cramped apartment, let alone out to the countryside.

Ella was what people used to call an old soul. Her poise and mannerisms belied her mere eleven years, and she had the maturity and comprehension of a girl twice her age. Of course, her body had also betrayed her — to a passer-by, her hunched and rigid movements appeared to be those of a old woman. It was a frustrating life she lived, and every day only seemed to make things worse.

She knew she was dying — it was unavoidable, given her condition. Everyone who contracted the illness, left untreated, eventually succumbed to it, after withering away for several years. The fact that she had been afflicted with it so young was what no one around had expected. The disease usually only affected adults, and in a full-grown human body, was easily remedied; in very rare cases, a child would come down with it. That was problematic, as most of the available treatments were aimed at adults. As reversible as the illness was, curing it required means that Aaron could not provide. Genetic treatments. Curative nano-implants. Things that only the rich or the privileged could afford. Thus, after living with it for five years, she was resigned to her fate.

Ella moved gracelessly across the floor of the small apartment — the one good thing that comes from living in this tiny space, she considered. The walker left marks on the floor as she traversed the living room, but it didn't matter. The state of the apartment was decrepit, to say the least; not that her father didn't try, but it was the best he could provide with what little funds he could scrape together, and the long hours he toiled left little time for housework.

She knew about the joyrides. She understood, in her own way, the toll it took on his still-young, thirty-something body. She realized he did it for her. She had asked him repeatedly to stop, to let her go in peace, but he wouldn't quit. He wouldn't let his daughter die without a fight.

My munchkin, he called her. Every time he uttered those two little words, her heart fluttered. She loved him so much, her father. Since mama had passed, he was all she had in the world. She didn't want to see him get hurt trying to find help for her, but she couldn't seem to dissuade him from trying.

In the cupboard-sized space that passed for a kitchen, Ella reached across the counter and dragged the rumpled newssheet over. Partially opaque and less than one tenth of a millimeter thin, the newssheet was updated any time a new edition of the news was released throughout the city-wide network. A sensor on the top or bottom right corner allowed you to "flip the page", the designer's tribute to the newspapers of old. Bright advertisements flashed between virtual pages, as the audio track played through the apartment's hardwired speaker system. Things people used to treat as luxuries were now commonplace, even in this run-down neighbourhood. The new luxuries fell mostly into the categories of medicine, entertainment, and weaponry. Defending or enjoying yourself cost a lot of money, now. As did curing yourself of the inevitable ailments caused by the pollution of this teeming metropolis.

Ella's thin, bony chest was wracked by a febrile cough, and she spat stringy phlegm into the sink beside her. Washed it down with undrinkable, unfiltered tap water. Her gaze, distracted momentarily by the pain in her chest, went back to the newssheet.

As she flipped the paper over, the headline updated. Large, bold fonts afflicted her eyes, and even as Ella read the headline that screamed across the luminous page, the audio track announced: "Eli Trammel, Chief Security Officer of Northern Data Systems found dead in his super-high-rise 175th floor apartment in uptown. Trammel, who had worked with NDS for over 25 years, was 54, and had recently been charged with handling the inspection of all merger information..."

The pleasant, yet vaguely robotic voice droned on, reading out the body of the article. But Ella was no longer listening. Instead, her eyes were locked on to the 5-second long, looping surveillance footage displayed beside the article. The culprit. Now being hunted by the police and god knew how many other bounty hunters. The look on the man's countenance was not familiar, but his face was unmistakable.

Aaron. Her father.

The End

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