Chapter 2, pt. 1Mature

Chapter 2: Rules for Commuting Workers

                ‘Commuting Workers are not permitted to remain in the city past their Shift, unless special permission is acquired.  Noncompliance may result in the suspension or permanent revocation of the violator's Work Pass. '

I backed away from the gate, clutching the envelope in one hand, and looked up at the sky to see the sun sinking fast behind the buildings, mocking me with its one red eye.  In a matter of minutes, the sky outside the dome would be dark and the Culture District would light up like a carnival.  I hurried away from the tram station and its lone whistling inhabitant and headed back in the direction of Edison Park.

                The trams closed at eight, signaling the end of the Day Shift and the beginning of the Night Shift. 

                I had never seen the inside of the Culture District at night.  And I didn't know what to expect as I hurried through the gates of Edison Park.  The path was lit in shades of blue and gold and silver by hundreds of tiny colored lanterns I had never noticed during the day.  I could hear music from all directions, different tunes that clashed at some points and blended together at others to produce one tuneless, halting song.  There were only a few people walking on the paths, but I stuck my Work Pass in my shirt before continuing.

                ‘Commuting Workers must always wear their Work Pass in a clear and visible manner.'

                 The Night Watch may not even notice that one out of hundreds of Day Workers had not clocked out for the night, but I wasn't about to get cozy.  The best plan, I decided, was to find somewhere remote to hide out until morning.

                I soon realized that Edison Park, or at least this end of it, wasn't the place to do it.  I thought that the park would be mostly empty by this time, but in truth, it was livelier by night than during the day.  Blue Square had been turned into a dance floor and a portable bar with Edison Country Club's logo printed on it was set up at the edge in the grass, tended by a man with a black Night Work Pass around his neck.  The fountain was lit from below in ever-shifting colors, turning the bubbling water pink, then gold, then bright blue.  There was no way of blending in with the wealthy crowd in their expertly tailored designer suits and flowy, nearly transparent dresses to get across the square, so I skirted around it, moving silently behind the trees.

                If I could get to the other end of the Park, I could take refuge in the man-made forest there.  I didn't walk on the paths, but I followed them from behind bushes and trees.  I felt my heart almost stop several times when a Night Watcher or policeman passed, scanning the area with a flashlight.  Branches and brambles tugged and scraped at my jacket and pants and rustled noisily when they released their grip.  I cringed every time a twig snapped under my foot, but it was better than being out in the open.

                As I moved further away from Blue Square and the country club, the sounds of talking and laughter grew more remote and fewer people stumbled along the paths.  Soon, there was little more than the mixed calls of mockingbirds filling the air.  I relaxed a little, straightening my hunched shoulders and allowing myself to breathe more deeply.  I remained wary, however, keeping an eye on the path and around the gardens for flashlights. 

                I put a hand over my chest in, gripping the silver cross through my shirt.  My fingers ran up and down the strand of beads, a nervous habit that I had often seen my uncle do.  There were times when he'd sit at the scarred kitchen table for hours, staring at the wall and mumbling to himself while his fingers counted off the beads one by one. 

                Werner. Where had I heard that name before?  In fact, I was sure I had heard it several times before.  It must have been a popular conversation topic at one point. 

                ‘I'm guessing Leon is pitching a fit.'

                Leon Werner.  That was the name, though I couldn't remember what its significance was.  It was stuck at the back of my mind like a stale cracker under a stove. 

                I spotted the beam of a flashlight bobbing its way down the path and ducked behind the branches of a forsythia bush.   There was a muffled crunch under my foot and the cat whose refuge this was let out a howl and darted out from behind the bush in a streak of orange, pulling its tail out from under my foot.  I curled myself into a tight ball as the chatter on the path stopped and the flashlight swung over to illuminate the hedge.  Branches which had seemed a tangled, solid cover in the dark turned to lace in the light, revealing my huddling, shabby form behind them.  I was stuck, squinting into the beam that concealed its bearer.

                "Hey, kid!" a voice came from behind the flashlight, "What're ya doing back there?"

                Another flashlight clicked on and shone its light in my eyes.  Stifling the useless urge to run, my mind raced to invent an excuse.  One of the flashlights had stepped over the row of boxwoods lining the path and was now circling around me. 

                ‘Come on.  You have to think of something. Anything!'

                It wasn't until the officer behind the flashlight had grabbed my arm and was hoisting me up that I blurted out:

                "I lost my cat!"


                "Your cat, huh?" said the officer with the vice grip on my arm, "And how'd you get a cat over here in the first place?  Pets are only allowed in the Residential District."  He dragged me out from behind the hedge and onto the lit path.  Here, my eyes were able to adjust enough to see that they were both Watchers in their khaki shirts and heavy boots.  Just the people I had been trying to avoid.

                "You got a permit for this cat?" the other one asked.  He was older than his cohort, with gray budding at his temples and a receding hairline.

                "No," I admitted.

                The younger one laughed and gave me a shake, "Well, why not? It's the law, ain't it?"

                ‘Because,' I thought bitterly, ‘I don't have a damn cat and you know it.  You know I'm Old Towner or you wouldn't have bothered with me.'

                "I don't think he's got a cat, Olson," the older one piped up, a smirk pasted onto his wolfish face.

                "I don't think so either, Vance," Olson said, twisting my arm painfully, "In fact, I think he's some Tag up to something he shouldn't be."

                "Only one way to find out," the graying officer said, flicking off his flashlight and sticking it in his belt.  He stuck his hand under my shirt collar and fished around for a moment before pulling out my concealed Work Pass.

                Olson shook his head and clicked his tongue, but his muddy eyes shone with cruel triumph.  "A Day Tag.  Boy, you've gotten yourself into quite a jam, haven't you, Barcode?"

                "It was an accident!" I protested, squirming, "I was late for the tram."

                "How come?" Vance said, "Looking for your cat?"  They both cracked up.

                "Nah," Olson said, "I bet he was planning on hopping the clubs tonight. Weren't ya?" He gave my arm another twist, causing me to gasp and drop my case.  Again, it popped open and an avalanche of paper and supplies poured out.  The two Watchers burst into raucous laughter as I scrambled in vain to retrieve pens and charcoal that were rolling away and losing themselves under the hedges.

                "Hey, hey," said Olson with a chuckle, "I've seen these guys at Edison Fair before.  They draw people with little bodies and giant heads."

                "I'm not a damn caricature artist!" I snarled, despite myself, and was only met with more laughter.  I had thought the Day Watch was intolerable, but my prodding, jeering first experience with the Night Watch outshone any daytime performance.

                "Well, we got up to forty-eight hours to find out what you are and what you were doing here in Edison past your shift," Vance said, "I'll call him in, Olson.  You just hang on to him for a bit."

                "Sure thing," Olson replied and while his partner pulled out a phone that was almost too small for Vance's meaty fingers to use, he pulled a pair of handcuffs from his belt and cinched them around my wrists.  He closed them too tight and the cuffs pinched uncomfortably.  I closed my eyes and tried to keep my breathing steady.  Tried to accept the fact that, after tonight, I would probably be out of a job, at least for a while.

                ‘Oh, well.  Look on the bright side,' I told myself, ‘you'll have more time to work on your paintings.  Ray did it and took care of me.  It was hard, but we survived.  I don't need Edison.'

                "Young?" Vance said to the phone, "Yeah, this is Corporal Vance.  Corporal Olson and I have a Day Tag here, stayed past his shift.  Can you check the number for me?  Uh-huh, here goes."

                ‘I don't need Edison.'  But telling myself that twice didn't do much to convince me.

                Vance took my Work Pass and held it up to Olson's flashlight, leaning in to get a good look at the line of numbers under the bar code.

                "15-67-02-3158," he told the phone, and let the Pass drop.  He crossed his free arm over the one that held the phone and leaned back, listening and nodding occasionally.  But as I watched him, his smirk disappeared and was replaced with a look of confusion.

                "Commander Werner?  Are you sure?" he said.  So that's where I heard the name Leon Werner before.  He had been elected as the new Commander of the Watch.  It had been in the papers a few months ago.  Olson's jaw went slack and his mouth hung open slightly.

                Vance's confusion turned to irritation, "Okay, I got it.  ‘Night, Young."  He flipped the phone closed with a snap and stuffed it into his jacket pocket.

                "What's up, Vance?" Olson said, puzzled. 

                "Tch! Let him go, Olson."

                Now my jaw dropped.  What in the world was going on?

                "What!? Why?" Olson demanded, as shocked as I was.

                Vance threw his hands up in the air, "Hell if I know, but it's on the Commander's orders, so do it!"

                With obvious reluctance, Olson unlocked the cuffs and stepped away from me.  I rubbed my wrists.  Why would the Commander of the Watch bother with me?  My thoughts went straight to the card in my pocket.  I had never met Leon Werner.  My release must have been the work of that Miss Werner.  Whatever she was to him, she must have had a heavy influence on the Commander.

                "Hey Barcode," Vance said, feigning disdain, but eyes burning with hatred, "you're one lucky bastard to have the Commander on your side.  You're free to go and there's a room at the Tyler Hotel with your name on it."

                I was speechless, and the Watchers didn't wait for me to say anything.  Olson elbowed past me and followed Vance down the path, like a dog called off by its owner.  I let out a long, slow breath and bent down to gather up my things, totaling up my damages.  Four round pastels and a pencil had rolled off into oblivion, and a pen handle and a brand new box of vine charcoal lay trampled to death on the path.  For a moment, I was angry, but realized that it was a small price to pay for escaping a night in a Watch Station cell and consigned them to the dust.


The End

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