A Scene From Seven Drifts
Maybe you've read "Cradle", or maybe even "Thus They Left". The former was a scene I picked from the second draft of my work-in-progress novel Seven Drifts, while the latter was just the seed of the idea that eventually led to it.
Subsequent to “Cradle” within the story, here’s another scene. It comes from my more recent draft of Seven Drifts, and I did publish it earlier in this interview (also here). But things happen, and you might have missed it...
It too is bound evolve over the remaining revisions, but here it is, just as it is now.
Hope you enjoy!
Here Comes The Flood
At five to seven, the Balgo elevator door opened and Anita emerged to B5, doing a good job of looking just like one more busy Wednesday morning worker in need of coffee.
She had never been further down than B2—which was basically just a basement level to many buildings in the Mile-End—but er fave bookshop keeper had mentioned furtive raids to B5; meetings with some Underlevel contacts: this was where the Stalker Stories would be found.
B5 was also where other shady, dark, and otherwise gloomy things were to be found. Anita didn’t care much for these, but they tended to keep the Rita side of her brain in alert mode.
Here in the Underlevel, you could watch pushers, junkies and prostitutes of all types, going openly about their business, right outside their establishments, as if no law enforcement had ever bothered them. Since they didn’t have to contend with heavy clothing against the cold weather and rain, they could be brazen about it.
Anita had no idea where to go from there. Her eyes followed the flow and ebb of people going about their business, waiting in line at a nearby food stand, entering other elevators, or walking farther away along the street—because, now that she saw it, B5 indeed had streets. The place was like a city under the city, bustling with activity, wide streets stretching out of sight and branching away in the distance. Streets underneath the city, with a far ceiling to protect them from the district’s weather systems. The roof’s height explained why there were no B3 or B4 levels.
She walked slowly, keeping to the side of the street—which was named Sincath street, just as above at legitgee level. She wondered whether the city plan was the same down here as it was up there where she lived.
She looked for other differences. As expected, she saw many maintenance plan workers—MPs on their way to their workplaces...
Quite a good number of them were Nomen. You didn’t see as many at citizenry level.
Then she saw Laffond, as he entered the last of a series of elevators, two blocks down the street.
“Hey!” She cried out.
If he saw her, Richerd Laffond didn’t acknowledge her presence. He might have glanced right through her, then looked down at his feet; she couldn’t say for sure.
The elevator door closed before she had time to get any closer than across the street from it.
Why had he not waited for her? Hadn’t he been counting on her to meet him at seven A.M.?
What if he expected her to follow?
What else was she going to do?
Flustered, Anita waited for the next elevator down. As it was, another door opened, spewing out a dozen workers of all venues. An equivalent number of the same hustled to get in. She joined them.
The elevator dashboard was unusual. There were only two ends to the journey here: Underlevel #0—she assumed this was where she was—to Underlevel #1. Good. No wondering what level Laffond would be at, provided this particular array of elevators were all the same.
As the elevator started down, the display changed. The level indicator remained, but it was pushed into a corner by an urgent-looking message.
Prepare for hypergee.
Anita stared at the display, only now internalizing where she was really going. The Underlevels weren’t considered part of legitgee for no reason.
This was one of those things you just knew from childhood, but as you were never confronted with them, you tended to forget about their existence: Seven was a stack of rotating cylinders—the districts. People lived upside-down inside them, actually standing against the inside face of the spinning cylinders. This meant that the rotation rate and distance from the central axis had to be finely tuned in order to provide a perfect illusion of gravity—applying to the people’s feet a centripetal force feeling like exactly one gee of gravity, which had remained the standard since The Old Legit—planet Earth. Easy enough to grasp.
Anita had never questioned this. The Mile-End was her home district, and no question, the best one: it was central to the city, equatorial. Above all, it was cool. In her short century of life, she had visited many destinations within the greater Seven, including Brooklyn to the north and Soho to the south, and various other tourist, recreational destinations. If you ignored the climatic and architectural differences, life wasn’t that different from one district to the next after all. Gravity-wise, they were all the same.
This changed as soon as you travelled down an elevator. As you went down, you moved farther away from the district cylinder’s central axis of rotation, and simulated gravity grew as a square function of the radius. In layman’s terms, this meant you became heavier as you went down, and it could change fast.
As a result, Anita felt like the elevator was slowing down all the time, but it wasn’t: she was just becoming heavier along the way.
From the display, she learned a thing about legitgee level: it had been set up at exactly two kilometres from the central axle. Underlevel #1, her destination, was two more kilometres down, that much closer to the district’s outer hulls.
It was a long elevator ride, even for an express without any other stop than top and bottom. When it finally ended, Anita had to hold on to the side bars while she forced her legs to adjust during the final deceleration.
With two gees of simulated gravity, for as long as she remained there, Anita was going to be twice her normal weight. She hoped the stay would be short.
The elevator door opened to Underlevel #2.
It wasn’t so different from Underlevel #1, at least architecturally. It was much less crowded, and for some reason, Underlevel #2 was also less gloomy.
Less shady enterprises, more Maintenance Plan workers—more coveralls, more construction helmets and other specialized gear: the place had a cleaner feel to it, more professional. City workers, mostly. It was an easy guess: the gravity conditions here might be less conducive for the kinds of illicit activities displayed above—unless you had peculiar tastes.
Most people here were different too. Or rather, she was the different one down here. Her body was ill-adapted to the simulated gravity conditions.
A banner attracted Anita’s attention across from the elevator.
Not-Only-Woman, Not-Only-Man. This is the land of Not-Only-People.
Hypergee was the perfect environment to develop a powerful body, and these guys had made it their trademark and way of life. This is why you saw fewer of them at legitgee: this was their home.
No time to play tourist, though. Anita was no nowoman herself, so she needed to find Laffond ASAP and be done with the unpleasant trip.
She located him, entering yet another elevator. Anita’s heart sank. The mere thought of going further down the hypergee well caused her legs to hurt more.
And this time, the elevator was guarded by an official-looking noman.
She approached, as inconspicuous as she could. It was no easy feat given the nature of the crowd, but she managed to get a better view as the elevator door closed on Laffond.
Worse. The noman was an ACFID officer—Admin Constable Force Inquiry Division.
And worse yet, the elevator-guarding ACFID officer was soon joined by none other than his very boss, inspector David Duvic in person—himself a bulking noman.
Anita flattened herself against the wall.
Damn. What was Duvic doing here?
There was no way she was going to share an elevator ride with the inspector—there was no way he was going to allow her in any case.
As a matter of fact, why had Laffond led her here in the first place?
Obviously, she was getting closer to the crime scene: the dripper shaft victims had surfaced at Underlevel #1, but they may have floated up from much lower down.
Had they found another victim yet? Tuesday’s killing?
Last night, Laffond had said he wanted to show her something. For sure, he had a lot to teach her, but what the Void was he looking for down there?
One way to know only: she had to get to Laffond before Duvic did, and tell him about the inspector, no doubt coming down to catch up with him. She could only hope Laffond would know what to do next.
The thing was, she wasn’t in a good position to achieve any of it.
At least this time, there was only one elevator, so Duvic had to wait for it.
Anita wished there was a way to force him to wait even longer. Could she find a way to make him go away, and stalk her way to the elevator unseen? Or could she just give Laffond a call? Her hapscomms ring decided for her: her comms package didn’t cover the Underlevels. Because, why pay for this.
No time to upgrade. She needed something else, something faster.
She couldn’t call Duvic either, and lure him to some fake clue, or fake victim… not to mention, it would have hurt whatever remained of her already miserable credibility with the inspector.
Anita inched her way along the wall, trying to listen to the inspector’s conversation with his subaltern agent. She didn’t make it close enough to eavesdrop, but she found something else: a side passage in which she could breathe more freely without fear of being seen from the elevator door. Unfortunately, once in there, she couldn’t see nor hear what was going on either.
She took a second to look around. The passage was in fact a maintenance alcove. It featured a metallic door with a tiny window, plus some maintenance and emergency gear, a fire hose and a wall hydrant. Behind the door was a staircase winding its way down.
Anita paused for half a second, then she took a closer look at the fire emergency gear.
A fire hydrant… And why not? Wouldn’t it be a sure way to shut down the elevator operations for a while?