Two Worlds Apart

Lorden was in one of his apathetic moods, and mixed emotions were boiling in his head. He was relieved he was out of danger, and that he hadn't been sentenced to death (yet), but he was angry that he had been forced to submit to the will of some stranger. But Lorden wasn't stupid, he knew who was holding the knives - and he hated her for it.

She called for him the next day. The stuttering plasma bulb dangled pathetically in a plume of cold air from the door as Ceridwen opened it. Lorden looked up, immediately clocking her.

"Time to get up," she said, a mocking smile on her face.

"I haven't been asleep," said Lorden indignantly. "I haven't been sleeping properly since I came underground."

"That's the way. You'll get used to it."

Lorden followed her out of his room and into the corridor. It was poorly made; the floor was no more than compacted earth. Plasma bulbs hung from the ceiling, though many had been shorted by the dampness. Iron posts rose to support the ceiling, interspersed with rusty sheets of sharp steel. Lorden knew if he lost his footing here he would cut himself badly on the crumbling metal. But he was concentrating all too much on the woman in front of him. He could not deny he was attracted to her - and that made him hate her all the more.

Ceridwen led him past many people, who she said had dubbed themselves underworlders.

"So who exactly lives down here then?" said Lorden indifferently.

"People who would otherwise be outlaws under the new regime," said Ceridwen quietly. "People who feel shut out in their own city, where you can scarcely say "Good morning" without a dozen cameras on you."

"This place looks like it's coming down at any moment," Lorden said nervously. "How can you be sure its -?"

"The only weight above us now is ground, we're not even in the city. When we're in the city these tunnels would collapse, so we drill crawlspaces in foundations, clean out sewers, dig -"

"No way! That's disgusting. You're not taking me there."

"You'll go where I tell you," she said coldly. "You owe me, remember?"

"Where are we going, anyway?"

"We're heading out of the city, towards a place where we have a base on land. We need food, and you need to meet some of my skivvies."

"Your skivvies? You actually have friends?"

"More friends than you, at the moment." Her eyes flashed dangerously.

"What, the people who rescued me the other day?"

"And more."

"But how do -?"

"If I want a talking shadow, I'll ask for one, now shut up."

And a stony silence fell between them as the tunnel began to rise. Soon, iron treads barred across the floor, forming crude steps. Smelling fresh air above him, Lorden began to climb faster. Before long he had climbed up into bright sunlight.

Ceridwen emerged after him, her eyes narrowed in the dazzling heat. She closed the tunnel with a strangely fashioned iron plug, which strangely had a bush planted into it which completely concealed the opening.

They were standing on a brown hillside, about five miles east of Dartoc-6. Lorden's mouth opened in surprise - he had never been out of the city before. Desolate, grassy hills roiled around them, right down to the city borders below. The urban district peppered the lower valley, only to be dwarfed by the imposing cloudcutters in the city centre, with their own network of sky-high, suspended walkways and bridges.

And then Lorden turned, and a rather different view met his eyes.

It was a slum, like the ones he had seen in documentaries about Ancient civilisations. It was more convoluted and yet simpler than the city - crowded with tiny streets, people, and noise. Flimsy iron lean-tos were all that some of the residents had managed to build, although here and there Lorden saw a decent building or two. But while the slum thrummed with activity, the city seemed to stand, proud and silent, oblivious to its own inhabitants.

"Well - what are you gawping at?" snapped Ceridwen. "We don't have all day."

Lorden frowned, annoyed, and turned his back on his former home. It had nothing left for him now. He headed towards the slums, and what he hoped would be a better life.

The End

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