The bottom of the air barge opened, spewing thousands of tons of abandoned technology across the empty wasteland. Even before the broken computers and old phones had stopped falling, Mei dashed out to start rummaging through the heaps, one of hundreds of children hoping to scavenge enough metal to feed themselves for one more day.
Mei at least had one advantage over the other zinc monkeys. Before she ran away, Lok had replaced her middle finger with a scanning pen that flashed different colours depending on the metal content of the rubbish. She still remembered the pain of the rusty sheers slicing through her finger, but she was grateful for the scanner.
With swift, practiced movements she cast aside the useless items, dropping the more valuable ones into her sack. A circuit board here, a battery there, anything with enough precious metal to make it worth melting down. She ignored the numbness of her feet and the desperate hunger in her belly, just kept on digging.
A tablet flashed as she pulled it from the heap. In surprise, Mei tapped the cracked screen and watched it flare into life. The battery was nearly dead, but it had enough energy to show her that it was still full of files, the former owner having forgotten to purge it. There were accounts here, and what looked like a diary.
Hastily, Mei thrust the tablet through her belt and pulled her shirt over it. Her breath quickened in excitement. Data was worth more than all the gold and zinc she’d ever gathered. If she took it to Lok he could identify the owner through the DNA with which rich people marked their property. He might use the accounts to raid their funds, blackmail them with the diary, even get them to pay to have their own data back. And Lok was never as vengeful as he was greedy – he would pay well for this, and not beat her much.
The sound of helicopters made her look up. Figures with guns were descending on ropes all around the heap of discarded electronics, their armoured masks creating a faceless ring surrounding the zinc monkeys.
“This land has been re-zoned as a municipal dump site,” a metallic voice announced from speakers under the helicopters. “All refuse will be processed by the Ryu-Bok Corporation. You will be searched and escorted off the site.”
Mei cursed. The Corporation were getting quicker. They must have had the re-zoning writ on the mayor’s desk before the refuse had landed, again claiming all the resources under their government contract.
Abandoning her sack, Mei raced toward the edge of the heap, the tablet still pressed against her stomach. If the guards were busy she might get through a gap. They couldn’t catch everyone, could they?
A mercenary appeared around a heap six feet ahead of Mei. He raised his gun.
Mei twisted on the spot and dashed back among the heaps. Pain jolted her arm as a rubber bullet clipped her, but she kept going, weaving between the piles of rubbish and the other panicking children.
As she ran she kept glancing at her surroundings, desperately searching for anything that might help. She couldn’t outrun the guards, but how else could she keep the tablet? And without getting something from this drop, how could she feed herself?
She scrambled up a heap of broken mainframes. Her clumsy scanning finger caught on a metal edge and she winced as its rough connectors dug into her flesh. Behind her, someone else was coming up the heap.
At the top she stopped, looking around for the best way to run. A Ryu-Bok guard was clambering up behind her, a government inspector in a grey suit coming from the other direction. She was trapped.
She glanced back at the guard, and then at the inspector. The inspector might arrest her if he found her carrying the tablet, while the guard would surely beat her. Which was worse? How many years’ freedom were broken bones worth?
Pressing her hand against her belly, she felt the cold, flat surface of the tablet. Tears welled up inside her. She had come so close to something precious, only to have it snatched away. It could have been hers, just as it had belonged to whoever’s DNA it was marked with.
She gasped as a desperate hope glimmered inside her. The guard and the inspector had almost reached her. She only had seconds.
Closing her teeth around the scanning finger, she wrenched her hand away as hard as she could. There was a moment of agonising pain as the scanner separated from her flesh, and then blood poured from the empty finger socket. With her other hand she pulled out the tablet, then wiped the wound all across its surface, covering it in blood.
Her pursuers reached the top of the heap and stood staring at her.
“This is mine.” She held up the tablet. “It is marked with my DNA.”
“That can’t be legal.” The guard’s voice was muffled and inhuman.
“Probably not.” There was doubt in the inspector’s voice. “But do you want to cause the test case?”
“Not for what I get paid,” the guard said. “Not for the sake of a broken old tablet.”
“Come on, kid.” The inspector shook his head. “You’re not allowed here.”
Mei followed him down the heap.
“Can you take me to a hospital?” She felt wobbly, like she might fall over at any moment, and blood was still running from her hand. But she clutched the tablet tight. For the next month, she would not go hungry.
This story was inspired by my friend Dan, who challenged me to write some cyberpunk, and provided suitable music to write it to. He also provided me with three things to include:
You can see for yourselves how that led to this story.
Please feel free to provide prompts for my future Flash Friday stories – it’s always fun to try to write to someone’s specifications.
If you enjoyed this then you might also enjoy my other free-to-read Flash Friday fiction and my collection of science fiction stories Lies We Will Tell Ourselves.
Photo by Anna via Flickr Creative Commons.