“Ok I think I get it…” Jess mumbled beneath her breath as she finished reading the last sentence of the dusty old book. “Their part is a utopia, and ours is a dystopia. Except ours isn’t because we’re not always being oppressed. Just sometimes. It’s more like no one cares about what happens to us anymore.”
She closed the book, snapping the pages together with a ‘thump’ that sent a cloud of dust up into the air. Jess held her breath for a moment to let it blow away, then put the book back on the shelf. She stood up and swung her satchel over her shoulder. She took out a small notebook with most of the pages torn out, and using a stubby pencil crossed the number of the book off the list. It was a long list, but she was significantly getting through it now. She walked down the passage made by the bookshelves and stepped out into the opening around the help desk in the middle of the library.
“But they never said their part was utopian, so can our part be called dystopian? Does it have to be a utopia to begin with? Gah.” Jess let out a sigh – she had read so many books, but still didn’t understand so much. She was probably one of the cleverest of the Rundowns – they didn’t get an education provided for them outside of manual labour skills, so most didn’t bother beyond that. Those in the Glamour – what they called those who had the privilege of being born on the right side of the boundary – didn’t need the Rundowns being able to think. Not properly, anyway.
Jess reached over the desk and placed to notepad and pencil back where she had picked them up from earlier – the same place she had found them – and picked up another list. Her fiction list. She grabbed the next few books from the stacks nearby and walked towards the front entrance. She calmly walked between the sensors as she strode into the foyer, and as usual, no alarm sounded. Of course, there wasn’t any power here. Since everything had been digitalized, libraries had become rarer and rarer and eventually fallen completely out of use. No one cared about books anymore – Jess must have been the first person to even set foot in this building for at least twelve years. She had been living here for the last nine – just over half her lifetime.
As she pushed open the doors to the café, she could see from the slits in the boarded up windows that the sun was going down. She jumped over the counter, taking a few water bottles, protein bars and a small apple from her ‘fridge’ – the cupboard she kept all her food in. She had opened the actual fridge once to find it filled with rats and rotting food. She wasn’t likely to go in there again, and that was years ago.
As she trudged up the stairs to the first floor, to her ‘hidey-hole’ - composing of an old tarpaulin thrown over two bookshelves, cleared of books to be replaced with her few items of clothing, her tools and whatever reading material she had decided to bring back that night – she wondered if she could ever actually use this information she had made herself learn. Yes, it was a brilliant distraction from her life of running through the streets, avoiding everyone and stealing what she needed, but nuclear physics? Genetic modification? Politics? Not only could she hardly understand them, but she would never use it. She knew this deep down, but it was an interesting change from survival guides and history books telling of ‘better times.’ Times when everyone was clever. Unlike now, where ‘education was a privilege, not a right’. She hadn’t read that from a book. That was right from a Councilman’s mouth.
As the glass roof of the building clouded over, Jess crawled into her ‘room’, wrapping herself in the blankets and leaning back on the beanbag she had taken from the library’s stores – a genuine luxury for a Rundown. Glamours had seats that floated above the ground and were lined with fur, but that was nothing compared to Jess’ beanbag. She smiled at the thought.
But as she drifted off to sleep, the words came back to haunt her. Words that had been engraved to her soul the day she had started fending for herself:
‘The police look out for the police, the politicians for the politicians, but in the end it’s every man and woman for themselves…’
Jess woke to the sound of doors being kicked in. There was a sharp snap as the wooden beam holding the main entrance shut snapped, and the doors creaked on their hinges as they swung open. Just another reminded of how old this place was. People entered the building – lots of footfalls, calls of “clear!” and then silence again. Jess slowly raised herself into a crouch, her hands rapidly stuffing all her things into her bag. The Law was here.
“Spread out. Find the squatter, shoot it if it runs.”
Jess heard the orders loud and clear through the open area by the help desk, that linked all the floors and was topped by the glass roof. She crept up to it and peered through the gap in the panels. At least ten officers, armed, and they had already covered the bottom floor. She needed a plan.
The one she came up with wasn’t exactly brilliant, but it wasn’t terrible either. Quickly, she reached back into the hidey-hole and grabbed her beanbag. Then, without a second of hesitation, she threw it down to the ground floor, right on top of a cop.
Muzzle flash lit up the dark hall as nine guns trained on her instantly, the silence broken by their shots. Jess dived to the side, the panels nearest to her now riddled with bullet holes. She quickly checked herself over – no damage – as she heard their captain’s orders.
“Upstairs, now! Cover the first floor, you two keep going up, cover the other floors unless it bolted!”
It. Always an ‘it’ to them. Some would forgive them for saying it because they didn’t know she was a ‘she’, but Jess knew better. Hearing them coming up the stairs, she sprinted to hide behind the rack furthest away from the doors to this floor. She heard them get closer, and then closer still, thinning out as each one walked down between different stacks. Several had gone inside her tarp to inspect it.
She took a few steps back for a run up, then dashed forward and jumped, launching a two-footed kick into the end stack.
It was a classic domino effect. One stack crashed into the next, and then the next and so on, trapping the officers under shelving and literature. There were several more sprays of gunfire, but again miraculously Jess was nowhere near them. She ran back towards the doors, but as she neared she saw the gloved hand of one of the officials stick out from her den, gun in hand.
‘So much for the safe option’ Jess thought to herself, changing course slightly.
As the officers head cleared the tarp, she pulled her legs up and jumped over the railing.
The beanbag didn’t provide much cushioning between jess and the floor, but the padded leather chair it had landed on did. As Jess landed the back, came off, turning what she had expected to be a drop-and-roll situation into more of a sledding occasion. When her unintentional sled stopped, she laughed at her good fortune and sprang up, sprinting for the exit.
Jess span as she fell, her arm flailing out as blood spurted from the hole in her shoulder. She hit the ground on it and screamed, her face contorting and her teeth grinding together. She rolled onto her front and then onto her knees, as a pair of leather suede shoes calmly walked into her eye line.
She slowly rose her head, taking in the muscular cop with the shaved head and smoking gun in one hand.
“You shouldn’t have run, kid.” He said, now levelling his gun at my head. “I have no desire to take a second shot, so don’t make me.” He waited a second, expecting Jess to respond, then sighing when she did nothing but continue to grimace. He put the gun back in its holster and removed a pair of handcuffs from his belt. “You have the right to remain-“
Jess felt a static shock when the cold metal of the ‘cuffs met her skin, and then everything changed. Sand replaced the carpet beneath her feet. The nighttime darkness was replaced by blinding sunlight. The silence after the shooting was still there, until their ears popped – then they heard the whispering of a thousand voices, coming from nowhere.
“…silent” the officer finished, his mouth hanging open.
Jess stood up, warm blood still running down her arm. This place didn’t have the slum-ish qualities of any kind of Rundown settlement, nor was it ultra fancy like a Glamour’s residency. This was something new. But she was pretty sure who it belonged to.
That would be the creepy masked individual who was sitting in a throne on a balcony, which was carved with elaborate decorations so complex it hurt to look at them. It also hurt to look at him, but that was for other reasons.
“Welcome” it said, seemingly from ever direction at once. “To my game.”