This week’s free Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “Working the Game.”
UPDATE: Now that the free week is over, you can read the rest of this story by downloading an ebook at Smashwords and Amazon. Then you can read it on your laptop, desktop, Kindle, iPad, Nook, iPhone, or whatever device you use to read ebooks.
“Working the Game” — my take on the war of the classes in the future — was first published at the now-defunct PDF magazine Future Orbits in April 2002.
Working the Game
I knew it was going to be a bad day when I saw the scrag almost get cut in half twenty minutes after work began.
I was working on a crew off Hodges Street, a mile from the wall that separated us from the rest of Raleigh. I’d been on the job for eighteen days now. For my first two weeks, the oldest workers — the ones with years of breakdown and restructuring in their hands and backs and legs — constantly watched me for any hint of weakness in the chilly fall air. For all of them, half an instant’s distraction could mean a painful, crushing death. So I showed up early and worked late with the rest of them, and they were starting to trust me. I was finally working the game.
Before, I’d been just a scrag, doing the scut work no one else would do. At ten points an hour, this was my first legit job. At a hundred thousand points, I could put in an application to go over the wall, and at two hundred thousand I could pay for it. Kwabe and Natalie had the highest point totals at our worksite, so they had been chosen by the govvie to lead the job. They had the most to lose.
Maybe Lia and I’d be gone, too, someday. If we both kept working, and if Lia could hold out that long in the cold. This morning, my wrist had read fifteen degrees F, and the front door of Lia’s box had been blocked by half a foot of new, blue-tinted snow. It wasn’t supposed to be this cold, not in October, and especially not here in Raleigh. I’d been chilled to the bone since late August, and Lia hadn’t stopped coughing since June.
So, to keep my points flowing and my mind off the cold, I worked. Each day was a new list, relayed to the group leaders through their wrist implants. The routine was the same whether you were at a restructuring or a breakdown: you make or take down your quota of walls, you get your points. You don’t get enough walls put up or taken down, the points get taken away. Three of the scrags in my group had decided not to show up this morning. We’d have trouble making our quota with just the five of us.
On the top floor of the reconstructed building off Hodges Street, I melted a six-inch-thick border onto the floor with my fuser, getting it ready for a piece of duraplast. Coated with a thin lining of nanodes, each new wall on the fifth floor would get fused to the top-most piece of duraplast on the fourth floor. As long as we got the new piece of duraplast in place before the plastic cooled, the outer wall would be immobile in just over a minute. By that time the tech inside the new wall would have talked to the tech in the existing wall, and then you had a smart wall that controlled the heat and cold, blocked the sounds of the outside and neighbors, and even showed old vids, all according to the preset govvie settings. At least that’s how Natalie had explained the tech to me.
Nat had given me her leveler at the start of the day. Only team leaders used these yard-long tools, digital versions of the old levels that Nat said used to work with water, somehow. Half the junk she told me about old jobsites had to have been made up. But she’d lent me her leveler, and she’d kill me if the first wall I did on my own was crooked.
Takeem and two other scrags had a piece of duraplast waiting for me. Takeem was a good kid, and smart. When I popped off the fuser, the scrags hefted the duraplast over me and fit it into place, careful not to let their bare skin touch the melted floor before the wall was fused. If they did make contact, they’d be infected. Nat knew a scrag — there was always a scrag — who got sucked into a wall that way. He was now part of a smart wall in a ten-story outside Durham.
Once the wall was in place, I slid the fuser up the right-hand side, bonding it with the existing wall. I held the leveler next to the wall, squinting at the readout. The wall was level.
When I looked up from the wall, a stupid grin on my face, it happened.
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