Trip Nortrel woke up that morning immersed in steam. It was steam that made the world go around, steam that made all the difference in the world, steam as the tie that bound. It embraced him and stimulated him, made him stretch long and languidly before wriggling out of his sleeping pod and rising to his feet.
He looked out at the rows upon rows of rooftops stretching as far as the horizon. In the distance one could see giant-size gears appearing as ferris wheels in the distance, alongside towering windmills and chimneys belching steam into the sky. The sun was white-hot to the east, shining blindingly over Border Town, or Bartertown as it was also called, a couple of miles away, casting silver shadows across the industrial landscape. It would be a hot day, and he would want to run his errands early so as to be able to chill out until the cool of the night settled in.
He went over to the yellow-colored steam pipe, a big squat cylinder rising four feet from the rooftop, curling in a ninety-degree angle to a three-foot opening. It was covered by a huge terrycloth which collected water that dripped down into a huge basin. Anyone could go over and use the cloth to scrub themselves as the steam blasted over them while they waded in the ankle-deep water in the basin. He pulled the tape off his clothes and scrubbed himself pink before wrapping himself in his cloth and putting his socks, underwear and boots back on. He then went over by the wrapwear booth, helping himself to some tape as he rewrapped himself before heading over to the Stream Crossing as he had every day for over a month now. He waved to some of the girls and young’uns tending their gardens as he made his way across the rooftop towards the great canyon that was Stream Crossing. He and about fifty other kids lived on top of the Acme Industrial Building, which was west of the Maruchan Textile Building and east of the Beaumont Fabrication Center. Across the backspace of their block was the Southern Recycling Building, but that was too far away for him to concern himself about.
He went over to where he had left his mirror on the edge of the roof, and hoped that Lyrica was awake and waiting for him on the other side. She had become an obsession for him in a world where was little to do other than eat, sleep, play games and dream. Those who yearned for more generally made so much of a nuisance of themselves that they were crossed out and banished to the Low Ground, and Trip was not going to let that happen to himself. He would keep Lyrica to himself, and one day he would make the Journey that would make all his dreams come true. He caught the light of the sun in his mirror, this being the best time of the day to Morse undetected. He flashed his name across, and his heart leaped in his chest as she flashed back.
LYRICA trip HOW ARE YOU TODAY
im fine how about you I DREAMED ABOUT YOU
IM COMING SOON
keep saying never do NO FUN ALONE me neither MAKING PLANS
for when THREE DAYS QUIET SAT believe when see
ILL SEE YOU see you later
He was beginning to realize that she was waking up from the dream, and if he did not act soon, one morning she would not be there. He did not dare to take that chance. She had become the only meaning in his life, the one thing to look forward to in the coming day. He had grown tired of reading, and he had outgrown most of the rooftop games though he knew better than to speak too much of it. He was probably about sixteen or seventeen now, not far from the age of reason. When one reached eighteen they were brought before the Council and questioned, and if they were not seen as valid they were crossed out and banished. He resolved they would have to finish him before he let himself be crossed out. He only knew of a handful of people who had been judged as thirty, which was the mandatory age of exile. Most willingly banished themselves at that age, no longer to cope with life on the rooftops. He knew a couple who were about twenty-eight or so, and they did their best to be juvie, but almost everyone knew they were shamming. People tried to ignore them, allowing to live their time remaining on the Tops in bliss. Everyone knew the Council got to everyone else sooner or later, so why wish bad upon others when bad was waiting for you?
He knew of quite a few people who had gotten crossed out and banished, and a handful who left on their own accord. There were also a few who had jumped off the Top and vanished into the steam. No one knew what was down below, what the Stream looked like. Only the Traders knew, and no one bothered asking because the Traders never gave anything away. Knowledge was the most valuable thing on the Tops, and upon it was what the Traders placed the highest prices. It was said that most of the babies that were made was by girls who exchanged sleep time with Traders for secrets. Babies either came out right or wrong. If a baby was wrong, it grew up sick and weak and was usually banished along with its mother when it was able to walk. If it was right, everyone on the Top helped it grow healthy and strong. Even though right babies were the biggest blessing to the Top, making them was forbidden. If boys were caught making them they were judged invalid, crossed out and banished. Girls were only forbidden to encourage boys to join them at sleep time. He was sure Lyrica was healthy and beautiful, she had to be. He fantasized about crossing the Stream and sharing her sleep time, of making babies and going down to the Low Ground. Yet he did not dare share his dreams with anyone, not even his set (*clique). If they decided he was not right, they could turn against him and declare him invalid. He knew all fourofthem since he could remember, but as they grew older they all realized that no one could never dare really trust anyone. He would keep Lyrica to himself, and if he had the strength and resolve to cross the Stream, then all of this would be part of a past to which he could never return.
Even if Lyrica was not beautiful, it did not matter. She had to be healthy or she would not be on a Top, even in North Streamtown. He would accept her for who she was, and he would take her as a Mate even though they would be banished. He would dare to love her, and if she did not love him back then he would be faced with a crisis. He could try to come back, but it they found he had gone he would be in danger of getting crossed out, in which case he would go over the edge. There were no real options here. He would fall in love with Lyrica, and he would do whatever it took for her to love him back. He saw young’uns running towards him, and he was in no mood but would suffer them anyway. Those who did not play with young’uns were suspected of being invalid, so he would ‘divert and distract so they don’t react’.
“Come out and play, Trippy Boy!” one of the leaders of the youngun group skipped forward, hopping back and forth defiantly. “You can’t catch me!”
“If I catch you, I’ll stick your head in the poopy box!” Trip crouched into a runner’s stance. “Run! Run!” the leader yelled in mock terror as his playmates, about seven in all, ran off as fast as they could. Trip streaked out as a flash and caught the leader in leaps and bounds, cradling him to the tarpaper and tickling him until he couldn’t breathe.
“Had enough?” Trip taunted him. “What’ll it be, tickle or poopy pot?”
“No more! I give!” the little boy gasped and giggled.
“Cross your heart hope to die?” “Cross my heart hope to die!”
Trip let the boy up, and once he had gotten about ten yards away, he held up his right hand. “I had my fingers crossed!’ he cackled triumphantly.
“Poopy pot!” Trip threatened, lurching towards the boys, who disappeared within seconds. He was going to go collect his set so they could head over to the Tower at Bartertown to trade off some items. They had gotten some handcrafted items from a few of the girls, such as knitted blankets, beadworks, laceworks and trinkets. The Council requested that they bring back some steam engine parts for the mechanics to use in repairing some malfunctioning devices. The Team relied mostly on the building’s steam pipes and chimneys, but had their own handmade engines for specialized use along the rooftop. Food was the most important commodity, but cloth and engine parts were the next highest priorities. Trip and his set were the designated traders, and they always had to check with the Council before they cable-crossed to the Tower to wheel and deal. As an afterthought, he trotted back to the edge of the roof where he hid his Morsing mirrors, and flashed to see if Lyrica was still there. His heart leaped for joy at the very thought that she might have lingered to see if he would try contacting her again.
GOING TO TOWER
when THIS AFTERNOON will see if I can go
HOW I KNOW YOU I have long hair
He walked away from the ledge even more mystified than before. He knew that Lyrica must have been like a Princess if they let her have long hair. It was generally disallowed because long hair was harder for girls to keep clean, got tangled and could attract insects. She either had Big Boys protecting her, or she was in a set run by a Team Lead. The Acme Top had not appointed a Team Lead yet, but Trip was a prime candidate. He was not particularly looking for the assignment, because it would have gotten him involved in rooftop politics, which is one thing he despised. A Team Lead was equal to a Council member, which would give his set a lot of leverage on the Top, but that just wasn’t Trip’s style. He decided to go about collecting the set and picking up the barter bag before checking with the Council before heading off. The Tower generally started trading at about ten AM, so they would probably sit around the sundial and wait until 0945 to cable over. He headed over towards Gian’s campsite, hoping he had turned over by now.
Gian Baclofen woke up in his own corner of the Top around the same time as Trip. Like everyone else, he stayed close to his set but found his own little cozy spot where he could enjoy what precious privacy one could afford themselves on a rooftop. He crawled out of his sleeping pod, yawned and stretched, but found himself blinking in surprise at the four Big Boys standing at a respectful distance, staring back at him. “How now, boys,” he called over, retrieving his boots and adjusting his wrapping. “What’s going on?” “Just thought we’d come by and see how you’re getting along,” the leader of this particular set, Radia, swaggered over. Radia stood almost six feet tall, a couple of inches taller than Gian, but weighed about fifteen pounds less at one hundred eighty five. The Big Boys were all solid, muscular types who enjoyed lifting weights and doing calisthenics. They provided security for the Council and acted as the Top’s unofficial police force. Since there were no written laws, they merely enforced the common protocol. “Pretty good,” Gian smiled broadly. He was an affable type who could be cunning in his own way and had a deep mischievous streak. “We were thinking about going over to the Tower at Bartertown and trading some items later today.”
“We were wondering if you’d thought about our offer,” Radia folded his arms. “We could use a guy like you giving us a hand now and again. You know there’s always something going on that needs tending to. Either we’ve got to make sure younguns aren’t playing too close to the edge, or we’re checking invalidation rumors, making sure girls aren’t sharing sleep time or doing favors, or denizens aren’t pilfering, things of that nature. We always get to eat first in return, plus we’re not a bad lot to be hanging out with.” “I’m giving it a lot of thought, and I know that’s what I want to be doing in the next year or so,” Gian replied, sauntering over by them. “It’s just that my set kinda needs me. You know we go to the Tower a lot, and you know how it is, having to watch each other’s back, making sure we don’t get waylaid by other sets or ripped off by the traders. Plus, you know that I’m watching after my dop (*adopted) brother Herc, and also how me and Trip go back quite a ways.” “Life is hard these days,”Radia nodded sagely. “But you got to think about yourself. Self-preservation is the greatest good, you know that. Only by staying strong can we help our set and our Team. If you were a Big Boy, what better protection could your set have? Even better, suppose you were to bring Ken in with you. He’s a pretty big fellow, about your size. You two would be great additions to our set. Besides, a set is usually made up of four guys, and your group is five. If you and Ken came in with us, I’m sure Trip would find someone else, and everything would work out fine for everyone.” “Have you talked to Ken?”
“No, but he’s a pretty agreeable sort, and he also likes competing with you, we’ve noticed that. If he saw you moving up, he’d be easier to bring along. Besides, he’s not as loyal to Trip and his own dop brother as you are. I think if you approached Ken it’d be a great deal for all of us.” “I’m not ready just yet,” Gian was resolute. “It may not be long from now, but this just isn’t my time yet. I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”
“We’ll be around,” Radia smirked. “We’re always around.”
Trip waited until the Big Boys had departed before coming out from behind the steam stack where he had been standing.
“Those fellows just never give up, eh?” Trip smiled.
“Well, like I told them, I’m planning on being a Big Boy someday,” Giandeclared. He always seemed to enjoy asserting his independence and liked pointing out that he had options extending beyond his set with Trip. He and Trip always had a friendly rivalry, and he sometimes chafed under the notion that Trip was often seen as the leader of their set.
“To each his own, I guess,” Trip shrugged. “You know, there’s only fifty people living up here that we know of, and twelve of them are on the Council and one is the Mayor. If they keep recruiting Big Boys, there won’t be a whole lot of people left to boss around.”
“It’s like Radia was saying,” Gian insisted. “Lots of what they do is keeping younguns from falling off the roof.”
“Sure, sure,” Trip waved him off, heading over to where the others had set up their campsites. “Tell it to the kiddies.”
The booths at Bartertown were made of fiberboard and had locked storehouses in the rear so that the traders could use them for storage or domiciles as they saw fit. The traders were huge men with long scraggly beards who wore stitched clothing made of flannel and denim. They had their usual haughty attitude towards the Abovegrounders, but maintained a professional demeanor nonetheless as they did business. Trip and his set had a bagful of handcrafted items they had brought along, and one of the traders dumped them out on a side table to assess them while the boys waited. At length, it appeared as if two sets from the Northland arrived at the next booth, and they exchanged frosty glances with Trip’s friends as they set out some hand-made clay figurines and pottery. He sauntered along at an angle away from the booths, noticing the presence of a girl among the Northlanders. He caught her eye and raised his eyebrows, and the flash of recognition told him instantly that it was her. Lyrica was a beautiful girl with long chestnut hair, pale skin and violet eyes. She wore stitched clothing which accentuated her generous boson and an hourglass figure. She smiled at him with full ruby red lips, knowing that he was the one she had been morsing over the last couple of months. He tilted his head ever so slightly so as not to tip off the fellows she was with, and they both wandered nonchalantly over to a vacant stand where they leaned against the tables in order to talk without facing one another. “I can’t believe we’re finally meeting at last,” Trip said, propped on an elbow on the countertop. “I’m so glad,” Lyrica replied. She looked over from the corner of her eye at the tall, dark-haired boy with the hazel eyes and slender, athletic build. She could see that he had wrapped himself in fine material and was carefully taped, unlike so many other boys on the Aboveground. His boots were also well cared for and polished, which spoke well of his character.
“I’ve been planning to come across on the conveyor, but I wanted you to see me first to be sure it’d be all right,” he spoke into the countertop, glancing over to make sure her companions did not take notice. They continued to gripe amongst themselves as they waited for the trader to come up with a deal, suspecting that they were going to get a bad one. It was very much a buyers’ market, and around the holidays was when there was a big demand for handcrafted goods on the Low Ground. At certain times the traders would make no deals for certain items, and it was impossible to tell when things would pick up again. “It’d be wonderful, but we’d have to be careful,” she replied softly. “You’d be worth every chance I take,” he glanced up quickly and shot her a smile.
At length the traders heaved a long bolt of denim onto the counter, and two of Lyrica’s companions hauled it down to carry back to the cross cable. The other six boys swaggered over to where Lyrica was leaning against the counter, staring across to the other side of the booth where Trip was standing. “You shouldn’t go off wandering around,” a tall, stocky boy growled at her as he glared over at Trip. “You don’t want to run into one of these traders or Southies and get contaminated.”
“That’s not a nice way to talk about others,” she insisted.
“That’s not just talking, that’s fact,” he grunted. “C’mon, we got a nice deal for those pots and jars. Let’s get back to our side.”
Trip watched as Lyrica and her friends went back to the galvanized steel cables that stretched across from the Bartertown Tower to the rooftops of the Northland. They waited as each one attached the straps of their bucket seats to the pulleys and crossed in turn back to the north side. The last one, the big boy, tied the bolt of denim to his waist, juggling it like a tightrope walker as he flew above the steam clouds back to the Northland.
“So that’s your sweetheart,” Gian cocked his eyebrows as he watched the big boy disappear into the mist. “Not bad, not bad at all.”
“That looks like a nasty bunch she’s with,” Ken decided. “You’d better think twice about crossing over there. If you don’t get killed on the conveyor, those slimeballs are liable to put you over the edge.” “She’s worth it to me,” Trip insisted. “She’s my dream.”
“Okay, they gave us some pistons and a solenoid,” Geodon held his sack towards them. “This should be enough for Morph to finish up that new engine he’s been working on.”
“Isn’t that weird how working on engines is fine, but if someone tries to do anything else besides arts and crafts, they’re threatened to get crossed out?” Herc observed wryly.
“You hear about Amit getting scheduled?” Gian asked as they headed back to the south side of the tower to cross back over to their Aboveground.
“I don’t think he’s ready,” Trip said morosely. “You know the younguns have been picking on him a lot, and I think it’s more about him getting tired of it. They’re going to make a bad call on him, I just know it.” “Well, I guess we’ll wait and see. Everybody’s got to go sooner or later,” Geodon waxed philosophical. They all considered the notion as they took turns hooking up their bucket seats and crossing back over to the Southland.
The sun was setting along the horizon as the denizens of the Aboveground realized an Event was being scheduled. They gathered around the center rooftop where the dais sat, an eventually the Mayor arrived to address the crowd.
“Hear ye, hear ye,” he called out raising his hand in summons. Cipro Diclofenac was eighteen years of age, the minimum for a mayoral candidate. He was not only able to make words but could read and write as well. He was also skilled in numbers and could even follow the ancient blueprints to make steam engines. No one doubted that he would rule for the entire three-year term for he was still pure at heart and loved to play with the younguns.
“What’s the call?” the younguns began asking, until enough voices joined together to turn it to a chant. “What’s-the-CALL! What’s-the-CALL!”
“The denizens of Aboveground South have a question for AmitizaCefdinir,” the Mayor called out as four Big Boys escorted Amit to the platform. Amit, a dark-haired, pudgy fellow, seemed calm and collected but his eyes betrayed his nervousness in hoping the Mayor and the Council would not make a bad call. “What’s-the-CALL! What’s-the-CALL!” the younguns kept screaming joyously.
“All right, knock it off,” the Mayor laughed. “We’ve had a bunch of younguns coming over to complain that Amit doesn’t want to come out and play anymore. They’ve also said that he gets mad, calls names, and has even hit with his hands.”
“No good! No good! No good!” the younguns began chanting and booing. “Okay, Amit,” the Mayor beckoned, and the Big Boys brought him onto the platform. “Did you do it?” “Did-you DO-it? Did-you DO-it? Did-you DO-it?” the younguns began chanting in singsong voices. “I’m too big to play run and jump games,” Amit called out in his own defense. “I get tired too fast. I only get mad when they keep bothering me. I call names back when they call me Fatso. And I only hit when they don’t stop bothering.”
“No good! No good! No good!” the chant began anew.
Amit’s face began showing his fear as the Mayor walked over to the side of the dais to discuss the matter with his twelve-person Council. Trip was seething with resentment over the unruliness of the spoiled brat younguns, but like everyone else, dared not say anything. He also knew it was about food. The word was out that the camp was running short of food, and if things got worse, they would start making fibs to get denizens crossed out. Right now, anyone who got called was in a bad situation, and he hated to see a Nice Guy like Amit in this spot.
“Amit, the Council says you have to go back in the Box,” the Mayor was apologetic. “Either that or you have to be reset and sent down.”
“Reset! Reset! Reset! Reset!” the younguns began chanting.
Trip was filled with revulsion over what was happening, and moved with sympathy for Amit. Amit had gone in the Box a few months ago and it made him sick. The Box was a huge metal crate filled with steam that overweight denizens were kept in until they lost weight. The Big Boys kept them locked in, and they could only come out to use the restroom or the Scale. They could only drink water and got no food until the Scale showed they lost ten pounds.
It took Amit three days before he lost, and he was sick in bed for a week afterward. Lots of kids thought he was going to die, but he eventually recovered. No one wanted to see him go back in, least of all Amit himself.
“No, don’t make me go in the Box!” Amit pleaded. “I’ll stop eating for a week!” “It’s too late for that,” the Mayor said reluctantly. “Either the Box or a reset.”
“Reset! Reset! Reset! Reset!” Amit’s face was now flush with terror. If he agreed to a reset, they would cut a small hole in his forehead and go in with an icepick to cut his front wiring. He would not be able to remember anything when they lowered him down to the Ground, so that the Aboveground would remain secret. No one ever talked to someone after they had been crossed out, so there was no way of knowing if it hurt, or if they could ever remember again, or anything like that. Trip and his friends made a pact that they would fight their way to the cable and slide down to the Low Ground or die trying before getting crossed out. “No-oo-ooo!!!”Amit cried out, and immediately bolted from the platform and began running through the crowd across the roof. The younguns began racing after him, grabbing at his wrappers and trying to step on the backs of his boots. The Big Boys took off behind them, jogging in unison at an even pace, knowing he would tire when the younguns wore him down. The crowd began surging right behind them, and Trip and his friends were slowly left behind as they did not really want to see what would happen. Amit began swinging his fists at the younguns as they drove him further towards the edge of the roof. Finally they hemmed him into a corner where the denizens slowly surrounded him in a semi-circle. The Big Boys finally began spreading out behind the younguns, who were now dancing around and taunting the terrified Amit.
The frightened youth saw nowhere else to go. With a scream of anguish, he hurtled over the edge of the roof and out into the mist above the Stream, plummeting down and disappearing from sight into the steam clouds below.
“Why don’t we just go and join the Team on the Southern Recycling Building?” Gian morosely as the five of them watched the sun set over the Beaumont Fabrication Center. The Acme team had long since dispersed, going back to their tents and sleeping pods for the night, though some of the young’uns were still romping about until it got dark.
“First of all, we’d be taking a risk going that far across on cable without being invited,” Trip replied. They were all distraught over Amit’s demise and found solace in each other’s company. “Plus, there probably isn’t any food over there. What rooftop has enough extra to feed five more guys?” “Why didn’t you trade for food?” Herc griped. “I’ll bet if we had a sack of food we could join any team we want.”
“Yeah, and who was going to bring it over the cable, you?” Gian demanded. Everyone suspected they were brothers, though the girl who was thought to be their mother had left the team of her own accord many years ago. “A sack of most food is at least fifty pounds, whether it’s grain, flour, rice or beans. Those damn cables are who knows how old. Why do you think teams only let riders cross one at a time? You can be sure I’m not gonna be the one who takes a chance of breaking one.” “Suppose they were coming to cross you out, Gian?” Trip asked softly. “Would you jump?” “Hell with that,” Gian grimaced. “We made a pact that we’d fight it out if they ever came after any of us. Just like we’ve always said, I’d wrap my hands and take my chance sliding down the cable. I’d never jump. I don’t blame Amit, though. I’d never let them cross me out. If that was the only choice…I guess I’d jump. But it wouldn’t be the only choice.”
“Suppose he landed in the Stream?” Geodon mused. “Maybe he’s not dead.”
“Who knows?” Ken shrugged. Like Gian and Herc, most thought that Ken and Geodon might have been brothers but there was no way to prove it. “Nobody’s ever come back from the Low Ground. Some people say it’s so great down there that nobody wants to come back, while others say the Grounders won’t let you come back. The only ones who know for sure are the Traders, and they’ll never trade those kinds of secrets. If Amit did fall into the Stream, we’ll never know because he’ll never come back.” “Are you still taking the conveyor after this?” Gian asked Trip. “Suppose something goes wrong over there and they try and cross you out? What are you going to do, are you gonna jump? You should just have her come over here, at least we can protect her.”
“You’ve got to be crossed to think that,” Trip was derisive. “How’s a girl going to jump the conveyor?None of us have ever done it before, and I don’t know anyone who’s done it.”
“Then what makes you think you can do it?” Ken demanded.
“I knew this girl who found out from a Trader that someone made it. She exchanged a favor for the secret.” “How come you never told us?” Herc insisted. “Because I didn’t want you guys to know until I was ready to go. And you would’ve never agreed to help me until you got to see her for yourselves.”
“So when are you planning to do this?” Gian finally relented, knowing Trip had made up his mind. “We planned on Saturday when the sun comes up. I’ll tie a rope around my waist when I make the jump. If I get hurt, you guys can pull me back up.”
“It’s crazy as hell,” Ken shook his head angrily. “You know if you get hurt bad, they’re going to want to cross you out. The Council will vote against keeping you up here because they won’t be able to fix you. If you break an arm or a leg or get messed up inside, they’ll have no choice but to send you down.” “I’ll just have to take my chances and have you guys watch my back while I lower myself,” Trip shrugged. “Crazy as hell,” Ken hissed. “C’mon, let’s go play donkey ball.”
Donkey ball was a subterfuge their set used to make the Big Boys think they were still engrossed in trivial pursuits. Trip always brought some books along to read, but they did not spend much time at it so as not to create rumors that they were becoming too studious. The game was played against one of the large steam vents where they marked off four-by-four-foot boxes against which they bounced a rubber ball. Whoever could not keep the ball in play was given a letter and sent to the end box. A player was eliminated after six strikes, or D-O-N-K-E-Y. They would play until a youngun came along and stole their ball. After that they would lounge around, taking turns following the younguns around until they could swipe the ball back. The Big Boys suspected what they were up to but could do little other than help chase down the younguns and get their ball back. They played until dark, at which time curfew was declared as it was considered dangerous to chase after balls or toys lest someone slip and fall off the roof. Some sets stayed up and chatted, and a few girls sat around and knitted or handcrafted, while most others went off to their pods. Trip was on his way to his pod when he heard a girl’s voice calling his name.
“Cari,” Trip turned to face the pretty young girl. She had her thick black hair cut to shoulder length, and her blue eyes were enhanced by her pale skin and ruby lips. “About ready for the pod?” “Ready as you are,” she smiled suggestively. “Well, it’s been a pretty long day,” he forced a yawn.
“Aren’t they all,” she said mournfully. “We got a good deal on those handcrafts you and the girls came up with, especially with that blanket you knitted,” Trip said admiringly. “We got that solenoid the mechanics were looking for. I think we’ll have a new steam engine going sometime soon.”
“I told you I was spotting (*menstruating), didn’t I?” she asked quietly.
“Yes, you did,” he started feeling very uncomfortable. “That means I’ll be able to have a baby,” she pointed out. “I told you I wanted to share sleep time with you, Trip. I know they’re going to send me down below sometime soon, and I want to have your baby when I get there.”
“Cari, you’re going to get your life all crossed up,” he insisted. “Just because you’re spotting doesn’t mean they’ll send you away. There’ve been girls who’ve stayed here until they were thirty years old.” “Have you ever met any of them?” she insisted.
“No I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean it’s not so,” Trip was adamant. “Look, you’re the best knitter and the best handcrafter. This Team is going to lose too much to send you down just because you’re spotting. You’ve got to think positive. All your friends are here, this has been your Team since you were a little girl. You don’t even know what’s down there, how could you even think of going to the Low Ground?” “Trip, I can’t live like this anymore,” her eyes grew misty. “It’s boring living like this!”
“Cari, don’t ever use that word, you know better!” he hissed at her.
“I don’t care anymore, I don’t care what they do to me!” she wept. “Everyone running around here trying to act like little kids, pretending they’re not interested in anything but playing games and having fun. I can’t just sit around all day and knit and make crafts, it’s killing me! I feel like a piece of me is dying inside every single day! At least you can cable across to the Tower and see something new once in a while. Do you know what I would give to be able to cable through the clouds, just once? Everybody wonders why all the girls end up doing favors for the traders, well, there’s your answer. Oh, Trip, I know there’s another world down there, and I want to be part of it. If I have a baby down there, at least I’ll have someone who I can love and care for, and who will love me back for who I am, not for what I can do. And at least if it’s your baby, it’ll be like I’ve got another you with me for the rest of my life.”
“There’s lots of people who feel the same way you do, but first of all, you can’t go around telling everybody how you feel,” he warned her. “You never know if you’re talking to a snitch.” “I’d throw myself off this roof if I thought you were a snitch, Trip,” she declared.
“That’s not what I’m saying, and you know it,” he sat down on the sealed hatchway next to where she stood. “Everybody knows they’ll go down one day, and everybody plans for it. You just have to keep it to yourself until that time comes. You need to be ready to go, you can’t give them an excuse to lower you ahead of time. Maybe you can even get a fellow to go down with you so that you’ll have someone, not just a baby to have to fend for down there.”
“I’d want to go down with you, Trip, you know that,” she stared at him.
“I’ve got other plans, and they’re almost in place. You need to make plans too, Cari. You’re too fine of a girl to let them put you down.”
“I’m not going anywhere until they come for me. You know where to find me if you ever want me, Trip.” He walked over and cupped her face in his hands, kissing her gently on the forehead.
“Stay strong, Cari. Make a plan for yourself, a good plan, and abide by it.” With that, he returned to his pod for a long and sleepless night.
The sun finally rose on the horizon on the fateful day, and Trip and his set assembled at the low parapet overlooking the Conveyor. It was built on a long and wide stretch of concrete that crossed the Stream to the Recycling Plant on the other side of the bank in Streamtown South. Apparently the Residents of the Acme Industrial Building put their refuse and surplus items on the conveyor belt to be sent across to the Plant for processing. The belt was a good thirty feet below the edge of the northern side of the roof, and Trip would have to wait for a thick cushion of material to pass by before taking the plunge. He would have to time it perfectly, because if he slid off or missed the target he would be seriously injured or killed upon impact on the belt.
“Well I guess this is it,” Gian tried to smile. He, like the others, was trying to remain nonchalant though the event was lying heavy on their hearts. Only Ken showed his true emotions as a grief-stricken look crept across his face. Herc and Geodon wanted to present themselves as stoic as Gian, fighting hard to hide their sorrow.
“Okay, now listen, guys, I’m going to be depending on you with my life to make this happen,” Trip said as he wound the end of a forty-foot rope around his waist. “As soon as I jump, you guys get ready like for tug-of-war. If I bounce or miss, you be sure and pull me back up. No one knows what’s at the other end of that conveyor belt. It might be some big grinder that’ll rip me to shreds. If I hit, I’ll wave to give the okay, and you just drop the rope over the side. Got it?”
“All right, let’s do it,” Ken said, wanting to get it over with. Trip stood at the end of the roof with his friends on either side, watching and waiting for a soft target to come along. At long last there was what appeared to be a huge crate of discarded material that might have been carpeting torn off a floor inside the building. They had read enough catalogues to know of such things, and even saw racks of carpet at the Tower that the traders had for barter. It looked like the best chance Trip was going to get, and if Lyrica was waiting on the other side, he did not want to make her wait long. “Now!” he yelled, and at once leaped off the ledge of the roof. His friends watched breathlessly as he dropped through the misty pre-dawn gloom, and with a loud thump they realized he had successfully landed on the carpets. They could see him waving frantically, and with what seemed a collective sigh of apprehension, they released the rope and watched as Trip disappeared from sight into the bowels of the Center on the other side of the Stream.