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Jetamors ([personal profile] jetamors) wrote2010-11-13 09:47 pm
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Nanowrimo Day 13

I hit the halfway point! \o/



Fatima giggled. "Why, fees, of course! Docking the ship on Deck 21--the most expensive option, of course--the cab ride between decks, admission to the park and to the shows you watched, your hotel for the night. And of course the services of moi, ushering you around the station."

"Yeah, but. But how could it possibly come out to that much? How could we ever have known it would be this much?"

"You could have asked at any time," Fatima said. "You didn't."

"But there's no way we can pay that much!" Tatiana cried. "We came here with the ship and the clothes on our backs, nothing more."

Fatima frowned at that and pulled out her pad, tapping at it. "Well, your clothes are nearly worthless--no offense--but your ship would more than pay your bills. You could probably even use the extra to charter a ship back to Garvey."

"No," Kid said.

"We're not selling you Hold Steady," Tatiana interjected right after him. "Isn't there some other way we can earn money?"

"Hm, if you don't want to pay with your ship, you could try to find work on the station," Fatima said. "But you know, the longer your ship stays in dock, and the longer you have to live here, the more debt you'll be racking up. I really think selling your ship would be the best option."

"Okay, where can we go to find work here, then?" Tatiana asked. And then, as Fatima started to open her mouth: "Wait, how much would your advice cost us?"

"Job search advice? Another fifty thousand, probably," Fatima said.

"Never mind, then. Except--oh, can you take us to your boss? Would we have to pay if we said it was to file a complaint?"

"I have to take you to him for free," Fatima said, scrunching up her face as if she'd bitten into a lemon, "but the cab there will cost you."

"Well, you said there are other ways to get between levels, right? Would one of those be cheaper?"

"We can take the elevators, but I'd really rather not," Fatima said. "My boss' office is on Deck 75, it'll probably take us three or four hours to get there."

"And how much do the elevators cost?"

"Those are free."

"Then that's the way we're going," Tatiana said. "Come on, Kid."

The elevators seemed designed to be as difficult to use as possible. They were in a completely different part of the ring in each area,and often on different levels. (The zip tubes, fortunately, turned out to also be free.) Because their acceleration was perpendicular to the gravity field, everyone who got onto an elevator had to lie down, instead of standing or sitting. And, unlike the sparse population of the cab waiting areas, the elevators all had very long lines. Apparently Tatiana and Kid weren't the only ones who vastly preferred the free option.

Decks 51 to 58 were similar to Deck 50, filled with similarly highly-priced shops and attractions. Decks 59 to 62 seemed to be mostly residential, with any shops being the sort with more mundane food and clothing. Deck 63, when they reached it, was seemingly full of androids. Many of them didn't even bother to project faces, or even wear clothing.

"Do all the androids in the station live here?" Tatiana asked Fatima.

"Not all of them, but most live here," Fatima replied. "Apparently their living analyses often predict optimum quality of life on this deck, though I'm not entirely sure why."

One of the faceless androids, walking in a group with others, broke away when she saw Fatima, Tatiana, and Kid.

"Hey, what are you guys doing here?" she asked.

"Chay?" Tatiana asked.

"Oh, yeah," Chay said. "I always forget to wear my face, don't I? Anyway, thanks so much for the fare the other day! That'll keep me in anti-virus protection for a month!"

"Yeah, about that," Tatiana said, with a glare at Fatima. "Someone didn't inform us how much we would have to pay for that ride."

"Oh, no worries," Chay said, still cheerful. "The government here guarantees payment for everything like that. You don't really owe the individual people who served you; you owe them."

"Oh, is that how it works here?" Tatiana said. "I suppose that makes sense... but it doesn't help us."

"Well, good luck with that," Chay said. "Anyway, I've got places to be, so I'll see you around maybe." She waved goodbye and then jogged back to her group. The entire time, she still hadn't remembered to project her face.

"Is it much further?" Kid asked on Deck 70. They had gone through more residential decks, some farm decks, and now what seemed to be a neverending procession of office areas.

"Only five more," Fatima said. The paint under her eyes had been red with either annoyance or anger since Deck 65. "Now do you wish we'd taken a cab?"

"Only if you picked up the bill," Tatiana muttered. Fatima rounded on her.

"I did pick up the bill for my section! I paid one third of that car fare, I paid my admission to the park, I pulled my own weight everywhere. What kind of hypocrite do you think I am?" Her facepaint was getting darker and darker red.

"Sorry, sorry," Tatiana said. "We don't know how things work around here, you know that. Even if it's obvious to you, it isn't obvious to us."

Fatima didn't say anything, just scowled. She stomped off down the corridor, and Tatiana and Kid followed.

By the time they reached Deck 75, they were all out of sorts. This was yet another of the interminable office decks.

"Could we, I dunno, stop and get some food or something before we see your boss?" Tatiana asked. "I mean, at a reasonable price. I think we need a break before we go see your boss."

"Yeah, that's probably a good idea," Fatima said. "There's a good pho place nearby, I get lunch there a lot."

The three ate mostly in silence. Tatiana finished her bowl first, and fought the urge to put her head down on the table and go to sleep. Their trip hadn't only been long; it had been tiring too.

But Fatima stood up almost as soon as she'd finished her meal. "Okay, come on you guys," she said. "You wanted to talk to my boss, about who only knows what, then you talk to him now."

Kid picked up his bowl and drained the last few drops of broth. "Okay, I'm ready," he said.

"Let's go, then," Tatiana said, standing up as well. "Better to just get it over with, right?"

From the pho restaurant, Fatima led them down two levels and into a passageway with many branching corridors. They turned and turned again, until Tatiana was completely lost.

"Here's our office," Fatima said finally, stopping in front of one of the doors, which looked no different than any of the others. "After you."

Tatiana opened the door and stepped inside. And suddenly, she was not on a spaceship any more. She was in the middle of some sort of desert. Instead of the ever-changing grey clouds of the sky of Garvey, this sky had no clouds at all, only a static blue sky. She was walking on sand, and on the ground, sand was all she could see, stretching away from her in every direction in huge dunes and billows. She could feel the edge of the door in her hand, but when she looked over her shoulder, all she could see was yet more sand and sky.

"Hey, let me in too," Kid said. She couldn't see him, but when she stepped forward, he came into view behind her where there had been nothing before. He looked around at the sky and sand, just as she had, and whistled. "Mighty nice projection."

Fatima stepped in behind him. "Yes, the boss is quite proud of his simulations. The last one was very busy, the rainforests of Baracka. I much prefer this one.

"I'll keep that in mind," a voice said. A figure was suddenly standing on top of the nearest dune, looking down at them. The sun was behind its back, so Tatiana could not see the person's face.

Fatima sighed. "Stop trolling the tourists, boss," she said. "I don't know how marginal their world must be, but they came here not even knowing there were fees for spaceship docking."

"Yeah, that's what we want to talk to you about," Tatiana said. "It's not fair to charge us for things when we don't know we're being charged."

While she still couldn't see the figure's face, she could tell somehow that they were smiling. "You could have requested a running tally of your bills at any time."

"But we didn't even know there was anything to request," Tatiana said. "It's not fair at all. And stop looking down on us," she added. "It's condescending."

"Condescending, is it?" the figure asked. "Well, perhaps I mean to condescend. But at any rate," he jumped down from the top of the dune to stand in front of the trio, "is this any better?"

Tatiana gasped. She was starting to get used to androids, but she still hadn't expected Fatima's boss to have a smooth silver panel in place of a face.

Fatima's boss cocked his head to the side. "Wow, you two really are from the boonies."

Abruptly the projection ended. Fatima, Tatiana, and Kid were now standing in a small office. In front of them was the android body they had seen before, now hooked up to a multitude of wires trailing back behind him into the wall. "Is this any better?" he asked.

"Wait," Tatiana said. "If you're an android, you have a digital intelligence, right? Couldn't you just shoot your personality through the net and talk to us down on Deck 50?"

"Clever idea, but It's against regulations," the boss said. "And when you're less ignorant, you may find out the reasons why androids prefer to locate their intelligence in some unique physical apparatus. Anyway, what do you want here? Surely you didn't truly think we would forgive your debt."

"We wanted to ask first," Tatiana said. "But since you've said no, we have another idea. Hire us, to do whatever work you need us to do! We can pay off our debt by doing any odd jobs you have around."

The boss stared at her for a moment; since he had no expression, Tatiana could not read it. But in the next moment, his feelings were made obvious; he threw back his head and laughed uproariously.

"You? Do jobs for us? Little ignorant one, what could you possibly help us to do?"

"We have our ship, the Hold Steady," Tatiana said. "If you need us to fly to other planets, to carry messages, or equipment, or--"

"Oh, you have a ship?" the boss said. "Well why don't you just sell it, then, that'll solve all your problems. Certainly we aren't going to let you off-station with a balance in the red, you'd simply fly off and never pay your debt."

Tatiana glowered, but bravely soldiered on. "What about Kid, here. He won the Races just a week ago. Surely there's something he could do..."

"A racer? What use would that be to us here? We don't have any professional competitions of that sort, and there's no way you would be able to afford a cab without going deeper into debt."

"But what if we did buy a cab?" Tatiana said. "It would put us deeper into debt, but once we had it, we could pay off all of our debt with the fares."

"If you can find a cab somehow, then go to it," the boss said. "But I'm certainly not going to help you out."

"Well maybe we will!" Tatiana said. "Let's go, Kid."

"Bye," he said, waving to Fatima and her boss. Together, they stepped out of the office and back into the corridor.

"I can't believe him!" Tatiana fumed.

"Did you really think he'd help?"

"Well, no. But still, I was hoping that he would, and he didn't at all. He didn't even tell us his name!"

She poked her head inside the door. "Hey, what's your name? We might have to report you to your boss."

"It's Tayra, and don't bother," Tayra said. "You won't get any better answer. You should really just sell your ship."

"Shut up!" Tatiana said, giving in to the urge to be childish.

In the corridor, Kid was looking around dubiously. "Um, Tatiana," he said. "Do you remember how we came in?"

"Did you check your pad?" Tatiana said. "It can probably give us a map... unless they charge for that too."

"We do!" Fatima said from inside.

"Well, we'll just have to add another charge to the account," Tatiana said. "It's so big already, adding one or two small things probably won't make it much worse."

As they were walking to the elevator, finally out of earshot of Fatima and Tayra, Kid asked Tatiana: "So, what are we going to do? They won't help us, we don't know anyone here... it's not that I want to sell Hold Steady, of course, but what other choice do we have?"

"But we do know someone else here," Tatiana said. "And even better, she can be our connection into the cab business."

According to Hurston Station's net, there were three androids on the station who went by the nickname Chay. (Their actual names were long serial numbers, difficult for humans to remember or repeat.) One lived on Deck 48, but the other two lived on Deck 63, and it wasn't clear which one was their Chay.

"I guess we could go visit both of them," Tatiana said. "But I honestly don't know how often androids come home. I mean, why do they even have homes? Couldn't they just sleep in their cab forms?"

"Maybe they keep their cabs at their homes," Kid said. And in fact, this turned out to be true.

At the first address they visited, no one was home. But they were fortunate; the second address was the one that belonged to their Chay, and she was there to meet them.

"Whoa, how'd you guys find me here?" Chay said when she saw them at her door. "Asked the net, I guess. Anyway, you can come on in."

Chay's living space was one large, open area. Her cab was nestled there, taking the bulk of the space; since this was the innermost level, she could easily lift out whenever she wanted to.

"What do the cabs in more outer levels do?" Tatiana asked.

"Oh, all the cabs live in the innermost levels. Even the few human drivers do too. There are androids in the more outer levels, but they usually do other things."

Aside from the cab, the room was almost completely bare. There was a hardwired net terminal against one wall, and two chairs bolted to the floor in one corner, but that was all. The walls, however, were anything but drab; they were colored in beautiful swirling colors, abstract designs and soft-edged depictions of androids doing various activities.

"Do you like the walls?" Chay asked. "I painted them myself, you know."

"They're absolutely beautiful," Tatiana said. "How do you get your ideas?"

"Some of it comes from things I've seen in the static of uplink, and some of it is portraits of friends. A few are just ideas I dreamed up."

Tatiana thought, but did not say, that she had not realized that androids could dream. "Well, they're absolutely lovely. Don't you think so, Kid?"

Kid had been paying more attention to the cab, but he jumped and nodded when Tatiana talked to him. "Yeah, they're really nice. Better than anything I could ever do."

"I'm so glad you enjoyed them," Chay said. "I would offer you sustenance, but I'm afraid I don't have any human food. Still, what can I help you with?"

"Well, we've got this huge bill, y'know, and we'd like to pay it off without losing Hold Steady," Tatiana said. "We were thinking that Kid might be able to fly a cab, while I think of other ways to make money. We're not trying to cut into your business or anything, of course," she added, waving her hands, "but if you need any help, or if you know anybody who might need help."

Chay put a finger to her lips in thought; she had remembered to project her face this time. "Let me see... actually, there is something you can do!" she exclaimed. "My daughter, little Qaf. She's been sentient since she was switched on, but that was only a little while ago, and she's still very inexperienced. If you pilot her--not forever, just for a few months--I think she would really get the hang of flying. Now, she would take 60% of the revenue from any fares, but the other 40% would be yours. How does it sound?"

"Make it an even share," Tatiana said.

"Fifty-five forty-five?" Chay riposted.

Tatiana considered. "Okay, accepted. And as for me... I didn't want to ask Fatima, because she would just charge me, but how can I find work here?"

"Let me see your pad for a moment," Chay said. She tapped on it for a moment and then handed it back. "This is where you can find any legal job listings. Now, the underground here is pretty big, so if you want to make some extra-legal revenue--which will probably pay much better, unless you have some special skills--you can go visit the Consortium's head on this station. She lives up on the topmost deck, Deck 114. I think they need more bodyguards, so if you're any good with a stunner, you should apply to them."

"Thanks so much, Chay, you're a lifesend," Tatiana said.

"Thank you," Kid said, echoing her. "By the way, where is your... daughter?"

"She's just two doors down. I'll take you two to her now," Chay said. "She can be a little childish, so I apologize in advance if she embarrasses me."

"Don't worry at all," Tatiana said. "As long as we get paid, we can put up with anything!"

"I hope you still say that after you meet her," Chay replied.

Qaf's room was very similar to Chay's. However, instead of meeting them in her humanoid form, she remained a ship when she talked to them.

"What do you want?" she asked sulkily as they came in.

"Qaf, this guy is--"

"I'm not talking to you until you give my humanoid body back."

"She's had hers taken away for bad behavior," Chay told Tatiana and Kid. And then, to Qaf: "Look, I know you're in a snit, but this is important. This is Kidlat Malaqui, the guy who won the Races this year."

"I don't care about the Races," Qaf said.

"She's lying," Chay said. "We watched them together, and she loved them. Of course, that was before she started pouting."

"I'm not lying," Qaf said. "I just want to hang out with my friends, is that so wrong?"

"Not when you're running up my bills!" Chay said. "I'm not made of money, you know!" She simulated a sigh. "Look, I want Kid here to pilot you for a while. You can cab, make your own money, and then you can pay for whatever you want."

"Really?" Qaf said. Her voice had gone from pouting to cheerful in an instant. "So I'll finally get to go out?"

"Yes. But listen, Qaf, you need to listen to Kid. He knows a lot about flying."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. So when do we start? I am so tired of staying in the house all day."

"Is tomorrow okay?" Kid asked. "I need to sleep."

"Sure!" Qaf said. "Are you staying here, or do I need to pick you up somewhere?"

"Well, I think it would be best if we stayed on our spaceship while we're here, that way we won't have to pay for food or housing aside from dock fees," Tatiana said. It would be tough going back to the ship's mini-showers, but not as tough as paying off their debt if they kept staying at the hostel. "Tonight, though... it'll take us another four hours to get back down there, and we've been traveling all day."

"Well, I'm certainly not going to take you," Chay said. "Any flying time I waste on you is money out of my pocket. But Qaf's got nothing better to do. She can take you down tonight. That way, she and Kid can start getting used to each other, and you two won't have to take any more elevators."

"So you're saying I can go out right now?" Qaf said.

"Yes, but I'm coming with you, and we'll be coming right back after we drop them off. You're still decked until tomorrow, young android."

Okay! You guys can get in, then," Qaf said, and opened the ramp that would lead them into her passenger area.

Inside, Kid looked around in confusion. "So how do I pilot her, as a human?" he asked.

"Qaf, show him your control panels," Chay told her.

A small slot opened in the floor; a pole shot up, and its end unfolded into a small control panel. "Now, Qaf has absolute final control over herself, of course. But if she knows what's good for her, she'll take your commands as well as she can."

"Yes, Mom," Qaf said. She was back to sulkiness. "I don't see why I have to be piloted by a human, though. It's so embarrassing!"

"Embarrassing was those three near-misses you had last month," Chay said sharply. "My daughter will not be the one who causes the first android-caused cab crash in this station's history.

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