Allen is a young painter working in the New World town of Edison and living in the Old Town, the living ruins that surround it. A mysterious woman and an opportunity he can't refuse pull Allen into the complex underworld of Edison's wealthy.
<I watched, clinging to those few objects that were worth anything to me, while the dome stretched outwards. It glowed, throwing blue light into the overcast night sky, and it hummed like a hive of bees. It engulfed one building after another, many of them homes, which work crews inside began to dismantle immediately. I was surrounded by others, their eyes as fearful and hopeless as my own. Families clung to each other as they watched the men tear apart their lives inside the dome. Tears ran down cheeks and heads buried themselves in hands, but no one made a sound. It could happen to anyone and it would happen to everyone one day. The ancient city that had somehow resisted the coming of the New World was slowly collapsing under it. Inch by inch, brick by brick.
As Edison swallowed the place I had called home for nine years, a single sound rang out over the crowd of the newly homeless. A sound that had torn its way out of my own throat.>
“No!” I gasped, sitting up with a jerk before realizing where I was. I sighed and leaned over, placing elbows on knees and head in hands. I had a headache again. I always did after having that dream. I had fallen asleep in the threadbare armchair which had come with the apartment, the photo in my lap. It was my uncle, his back to the camera, but his head turned towards it like an owl. His eyes were wide with surprise and flecks of paint stuck to his messy graying hair.
‘That’s right,’ I thought, ‘It’s been three years.’
Three years since an expansion in the New Town cut another circular swath out of the Old. I put the photo on the table beside me and stood up, looking around my apartment.
“Fresh air…” I mumbled and walked towards the window. I pushed it open and let the night winds blow out the stub of a candle stuck in the reflective lantern by my bed, casting the one room apartment in darkness. I climbed out the window and up the rusted fire escape. It groaned under me, but held as always. I reached the roof and pulled myself onto it. Cool, short gusts skipped across the roof freely, bringing the smell of autumn with them. The night was one of those rare, soft ones. The sky was a murky dark blue and the full moon was so close that it illuminated the patchwork streets of cracked asphalt, brick and concrete below.
I sat on the edge of the corrugated metal roof, drinking the night air in gulps, hoping the wind would sweep away the leftover shadows of the dream. As endlessly as the sky stretched, so too did the sea of chimneys, smokestacks and wires that made up the Old Town. A short distance away, I could make out the glassy dome filled with constant daylight that was the Culture District. Behind it, I could just spot the dim glow of two other Districts that had closed for the night. My feet dangled above a web of clotheslines three stories deep. Underpants and blouses were pinned to the lines like the prey of some great, fabric-hungry spider and I wondered if such a creature would have a taste for shoes as well. I pulled my feet up, lay on my back and stared up at the sky. The same stars I had watched from my own roof just three years ago danced above me now.
I was just glad my uncle hadn’t been there to witness it. To see the house both he and my mother grew up in, the house he had remained in all his life, torn apart in minutes would have killed him faster than the Flu, which had claimed his life two years earlier. I’d heard from some of my uncle’s old neighbors that a mansion of some sort had been built on top of our demolished homes, but I hadn’t been anywhere near the Residential District since that night.
I laid my hand on my chest, feeling the comfortable shape of the little silver cross underneath. I pulled it out and held it up to the moonlight. The cross was on a string of blue and white glass beads. Several of the beads were cracked or missing and their purpose was long forgotten. It had moved through the family, belonging to my mother and, when she died, my uncle. It was a piece of the Old World, my uncle said, an ancient sign of protection.
‘Didn’t do much for them in the end,’ I thought and put it back on. Sighing, I swung over the edge of the building, falling for a split second before landing on the fire escape. I climbed down to the second floor and stepped through my window, closing and locking it behind me. I undressed in the dark and climbed into bed, burying my head under the blanket. But the night didn’t bring sleep, only memories disguised as dreams as the eyes of a half-finished painting watched over me from across the room.