The Gutters

Open up your eyes. A sliver of light slides through the window of her tent. She sits up.

I’m awake. Good.

The sound of rain and nature is intimate in her ears. She stretches her leather boots over her socked feet and rolls onto her knees. It’s early in the morning, it’s the middle of the night. She throws a few things inside a rucksack.

Change to waterfall. Hmmmm. Louder. There. Set to automatic upon exit.

Between the rooftops in the distance and the bridge above, the sun peeks at her gold with warmth. She steps out into the quiet world outside, out into the mute masses. Shhhhhhhhhh, her headphones, her messy hair, she drives her hands deep inside her coat pockets and takes a deep breath. Shhhhhhh, she dives into the dense shuffling crowd, shhhhhhhhpp, and much like the vacuum of air penetrating through a tight seal, the sound barrier of rushing water sharply shifts into the sound of a busy intersection. Rush hour: a subtle blend of distant conversations, heels and soles, pant swish, passing vehicles, wind displacement, as complex and as delicate as a familiar fragrance slowly maturing into auricular perfection. Counter-current, she weaves her way through the herd. Scarcely noticed, lost in thought. A dark hooded organic thread in a scarf of streaming code. She always felt a simple, more serene loneliness when surrounded yet ignored.

Without breaking stride, she grabs hold of the left lens on her goggles, twists it a quarter turn and takes an exhaustive look around. To her one eye, the world is suddenly grey and lifeless, dark. To the other, the crowd is flowing by still, avoiding her, paying her no attention. Once the perimeter is clear she drops to her knees and rolls under an old rusty personal transit tube, under an air vent gushing a warm humid night air. Once inside the maintenance cubicle, she twists her right lens. She had begun writing a decor for the cubicle on the overlay she had designed using the Happiness 5 programming but had eventually thought it too risky. Besides, she reminds herself, the plain interface, with its cushioned, round-edged dullness kept her sharp, attentive.

From her inside pocket, she withdraws a small anachronistic calculator and proceeds to type on it. The gadget beeps angrily once. Twice. She sighs and begins to type and swipe on a terminal screen mid-air with her gloved left hand. A few disks whir inside the little device as she drops it into the maintenance tunnel at her feet. There is a distant crash and a lever draws back from the grate. Stealthily, she lifts the grate and steps into the tunnel disappearing through a cloud of steam.

Deep inside the bowels of the machinery of her physical world, lit only by the blue-green neon coolant fluid running through the pipes and the two tiny LEDs on each side of her goggles, through kilometres of tunnels and ladder wells, she eventually turns a sharp corner into a small alcove. It had been years since she had used a map to reach this place, for she so thoroughly enjoyed the company of the machinery for how tangible, how impermanent, for how meaningful its purpose, that she eventually came to remember every passage, every intersection, every shift in infrastructure, every broken rung and hanging wire. A net of invisible sensors scans her as she crawls through a tiny opening. A huge expanse lays before her extending into unfathomable obscure reaches. She sits on her vantage point and draws a soggy day old sandwich from her bag. She takes small bites and looks on never not bewildered and excited to witness her playground bare. All this space allocated for further expansion, space enough for an entire world, a world she could architect to imperfection, where a single moment is more alive than an entire life of Happiness 5. A dim crease in the underworld of the great city in the sky.

Boot the gutters.

She slips her other glove on and watches as her creation, her own diminished reality, gradually comes to life before her. The glow of the colourful city lights shimmer in the scratched glass of her goggles. Her feet dangle excitedly over the razors edge into nothingness. Just then, a black cat leaps out of the darkness, takes a few tentative steps towards her and stretches glitching. She offers it a few chunks of her sandwich and pets it with her glove.

Hello Monk.

From their perch, the pair sit in silent awe for a long moment, side by side, admiring the spectacle of a city being born at night.

Let’s see now.

She hides the remainder of her sandwich into her bag and begins absently swiping and typing.

To Be Continued…

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