by Faith Luna
all rights reserved
“If you work hard, you will succeed!” The voice echoed cheerfully, the sound filling the metal corridors.
“I still don’t believe it,” Nace said, again. “Did she really think she could just... decline the promotion?”
There were two of them, drudging with no great urgency down a narrow metal corridor. They wore company issued overalls, grey with their patron’s logo emblazoned on their backs. Nace had once a second sponsor who also had.
Sam shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe she was crazy. You know how the really desperate get. She had nice tits, but who knows what she was doing with her money? If she’d worked it she’d have easily been up twenty levels rather than down here in the guts. I saw it, you know.”
“You saw her turn him down?”
Sam nodded, smirking. “I was pulling a shift in the consumable mall. She was pretty, I’m telling you, really nice tits. I don’t know what he was doing down there. He was all posh in black, beautiful silver hair. It might have been metal. He was clearly monied. I bet if his people had ever had debt, they’d paid it off generations ago. He walked right up to her, scanned her chip, and bought her debt just like that. It ought to have been the most romantic moment of her life. Stupid cunt. If someone like that ever wanted anything from me, I’d be happy as hell to give it to him. You? If some beautiful upleveler comes up to you and pays off your debt, you gonna run from him like a crazy or drop to your knees?”
“Oh baby, I’m gonna be on my knees. So she turned him down, ran, and he jerked her air supply?”
“Yup. I wonder how far she thought she was going to get? Did he kill her?”
“No, I hear,” Sam said, smirking because he had more information to share. “Even for an upleveler that’d be criminal. I’m told he took her to an uplevel hospital after she passed out, probably had her brain cleaned of the crazy. I bet that added a couple decades to her service. Some people just never going to get any independence.”
“Yeah.” Nace agreed, pulling a small data chip from her pocket so she key in the security code for the room they were going to clean out. She’d grown up in a creche a few levels higher, but as a janitor, she was down to this level fairly frequently. The worms, those living in the lowest levels, those with the highest debt, they had a tendency to visit termination offices fairly frequently. It was a shame really, leaving their sponsors with as much debt when they did that, but the law said clearly that anyone who couldn’t service their debt had the right to self terminate rather than struggle on. It was a bane on society, but generous to those who couldn’t see beyond their own sloth. Life was sacred. In the barbaric past, a life was lost every time a woman had her natural period. That horrible loss of life was ended by the charitable behavior of the Consortium that found corporate sponsors for each life, that allowed the gestation and caring for of young humans. If you grew up and worked hard, you could pay back their investment and move up in levels. A really good phenotype could find themselves on an outbound ship, to Mars or father. Those people didn’t even have debt to pay back. “She’s better off uplevel anyway.”
The door hissed open with only slight grinding sound. The two janitors stared. All the rooms on this level were simple 8x10 spaces with hygienic facilities along one wall. The child, maybe two years old, lay in a rickety dreamer’s cradle, nurturing all the child’s biological functions and giving it engaging and educational dreams. The janitors looked at each other, then back to the sleeping child, long brown hair, creamy cheeks with a hint of pink.
Sam held up his data tab, scanned what looked like a child. “It’s got no debt, no sponsor.”
“How can it be … human without a sponsor? Who made it? Did the crazy woman steal it?”
“No, if it were stolen it would have been tagged or something. It has to have a sponsor. Even if it’s a parent, someone’s got to put up the funds to start a person. It’s got no sponsor. It must be just a doll.”
Sam took a breath, nodding, understanding. “That makes sense! Let’s just put it out with the rest of the crazy’s things.”
“Yeah,” Nace agreed. “I don’t want anything unusual, just do our jobs and get home.”
They both stepped into the room. Sam pulled out the collapsed container for the room’s contents. He set it down, signaled it to expand, and it grew to fill the door. Both of them working quickly, they filled up the container with the woman’s belongings. Little sketch books, a spare pair of shoes, all the leftover food, and eventually they unplugged the sleep cradle. The doll was waking up as they pushed the bit of unwanted technology into the container of throw away items. The doll rubbed an eye, yawned. “Mama?”
“What a fucking realistic doll,” Nace said, really creeped out. “They really shouldn’t make them like that.”
“Probably illegal. Maybe that’s why she ran.” He pushed the container back from the door, then signaled it to close.
The doll started to cry, reaching out, a little hand opening and closing. “Mama!”
It must have had some impressive battery power as it cried all the way to the disposal shoot.
“That does it for my shift,” Sam said. “Don’t let that doll creep you out too much. At least we know where her credits were going.”
“She was crazy, alright,” Nace agreed. “I got one more room to do, but I can get that one. See you next shift, Sam.”