“Find the Englishman.”
He’s a foreigner so he won’t be as hard to find as he wants. This city is dark and deep. Shadows hide in the secrets here. I’m a bounty hunter and a occasionally a killer. I work and I get paid. I go anywhere in the city, hunt on every level. I’ve never missed, and I’ve never forgotten. I’ve made sure those I hunt know that. I’ve become, to them, the shadow walking toward them in the dark.
I windmilled my coat on walking through the steam to the lift. The lifts carry people through the vertical spine of the city. Up leads toward wealth and luxury and down to poverty and struggle. It’s very rare to see anyone take the lifts to the higher levels. I’ve been up there before but the Englishman would be selling his wares much lower. I rode down.
The sights, sounds, and smells of the market level assaulted me before I was even off the lift. The heat and crush of bodies and trade made the market thick with energy and moisture. If there was a place to hide it could be found among the stalls and stands of the market. I’d no idea where to start looking for the Englishman, but I knew where to start asking questions.
I found the Teller at the back of his stall. The Teller loves information, he reveled in the secrets and the money that dealing information brought him. And he hated me.
“Where is the Englishman?”
“The Englishman. Who’s hiding him?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know the man.”
I tossed a stack of bills on the desk between us. “Know him now?”
“I don’t know anyone for that.”
“This negotiation shit bores me, Teller. How much?”
“This can’t be bought. He’s paid and protected. Very high level.”
“Then tell me why he deserves to be dead.”
“Don’t know.” He looked at me. “Are we done?”
I pocketed the money I’d thrown down. “For now.”
I walked away disregarding his proclamations of my unfairness and greed.
The Teller was no help. I decided to ask the Preacher. I left the market by the south lift riding three levels up. Preacher lived on a level with artificial sunlight. I stood out there, my long coat and rough clothes contrasting with the manicured lawns of plastic grass. Since the War, the outside has been off limits to the public. Smuggling people is a very profitable business in this city. I’ve been outside, it’s gray and stretches on seemingly endless horizon to horizon. Nothing lives outside according to the propaganda. That was a lie, I’d helped smuggle the Preacher two years ago. Preacher knows who comes in from outside and who leaves the city to try and find the Green.
I found the Preacher at home trimming his plastic flowers.
“You know, I’ll never understand that.”
“Boy, you’re far too young to remember real flowers. There used to be fields full of them. Beauty direct from God. But you aren’t here to listen to me. You want the Englishman.”
“It’s just the job, Preacher, to find him.”
“He came a week ago, in an airship, from across the ocean if you believe the tales.”
“You know I do. They hide so much from us. Ruling with fear.”
“The Englishman brought poison with him, something they can add to the water or the air. Something to get rid of the masses, or those of us that question.”
“Does he still have it?”
“I should think so, he carries it around in his head, he didn’t come into the city with anything.”
“Where is he?”
“As far below as he can get, I suspect.”
“The power level?”
“Yes, there are labs, and access to the returns for the air and water there.”
“That is all recycled, whatever he plans to put in won’t be selective.”
“The upper level has it’s own air and water. They’ll survive.”
Talking to the Preacher never made me feel better. I thought about it and having the Englishman kill the entire population of this city below the highest level made some sense. The reduced demand on resources alone would be worth killing the rest of the city. The situation wasn’t getting any better outside and it likely wouldn’t in my lifetime. The English may have survived on their island. Killing the inhabitants of the lower levels would let the privileged survive longer. The precedent had been set through human history. There have been work camps and killing fields; people have been brutish to each other forever.
Thinking about it wasn’t helping. I had to find the damned Englishman. I was alone on the platform as I waited for the lift. The paranoia brought on by my conversation with the Preacher was making me tense. Someone had to know the Englishman intended to kill us all, the millions of us that live in this city.
I knew something was wrong when the lift stopped at the market level. I was afraid to open the doors, but the machines made the decision for me. I stepped out of my car. No noise. Silence hung over the bodies, a hush like a cathedral. Even all the caged animals for sale were dead. People had fallen in grotesque positions, frozen there forever, still warm monuments to the cruelty of man. In the distance the hum of the blowers turning on again signaled the gas was moving. Breathing through the collar of my shirt hastily pulled over my nose I turned back to the lift. The little black spots at the edge of my vision told me I wasn’t going to live. I wasn’t even going to die on my own level. I forced my way into the lift car. The PA system was telling me not to be afraid, and that all the levels below the top one were experiencing some kind of disaster, the news screens showed the same scene on every level. Bodies everywhere and those still alive in a panic eyes wild with fear even as they fell.
More spots obscured my vision. I drew my pistol and fired, shattering the safety door of the lift. Air rushed in against the negative pressure. I pushed the button for the top level. The car began to move upward gaining speed. The Englishman had killed me, he and the elites at the top of the city. I wanted a lift full of gas to kill them.