The three of them walked away from the Gate. Tunnel was noticeably in a happier mood, skipping ahead from time to time.
“How do you know that Pusher kid?” Lasko asked Sharp. And what is his history with Tunnel? Lasko wanted to add, but kept the thought to himself.
“He’s just a holdings kid that we used to know. We’re not friends. Pusher’s a giant prick.” Sharp laughed. “He runs a small group kids doing various jobs here and there. I messed him up real bad one time, and ever since then he pees himself whenever he sees me.”
He frowned suddenly. “But if he did sign up with Vance, we might need to be a bit careful next time we see him.”
“Why? Who’s Vance?” Lasko got the feeling that this Vance was not good-news.
“Vance is a ranker that leads one of the small-time gangs in town. He does the typical illegal stuff, stealing from holding kids, black market dealing, beating up shop owners for units. Actually, I heard recently that he was trying to get into the major distribution business, just like Leonard.” Sharp shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. We’ll probably never run into them.”
Lasko nodded slowly, but he was a bit worried. That Pusher kid didn’t seem like the type to let things go…
After walking for a couple hours, they finally arrived at their ramshackle hut; Tunnel made sure to hide the hover cart in its hiding place. By this time, the sun ship was far past the horizon, and with it went the light, revealing the distant but breathtaking view of the Upper; its lights blinking like stars in the sky, shedding a soft light on the surface world below.
Lasko could have spent the entire night watching the beautiful sight, but it had been a pretty full day, and the trio were exhausted. Sharp collapsed on his cot with a sigh. Tunnel fell to the ground and began to eagerly dig at the dirt ground.
“Aw, dammit, Tunnel.” Sharp complained. “You couldn’t wait until the ranker went to sleep?”
“What?” Tunnel stopped digging, confused. Then he realized what Sharp meant and shook his head. “It’s OK, we can trust him.” He resumed digging.
Sharp threw his hands in the air in exasperation, and after giving Lasko a misgiving look, hopped off his cot and squatted down, helping Tunnel to uncover a rectangular surface, which appeared after a quick minute. With a grunt, Sharp dug his fingers underneath and lifted the metal, revealing a box filled with a blue glow.
In shock, Lasko realized that this must be their secret stash. I thought it was weird that they would put their belongings into the locker, Lasko thought. That must have been the decoy, and this is where they put the real loot. Pretty smart.
Tunnel pulled out their latest acquisition, a large blue glowing orb.
It was their recent winnings from the bet with Leonard. Peeking into the stash, Lasko saw right away that it totally surpassed the amount of small blue pebbled units that lined the bottom of the buried container.
They quickly shut the lid and recovered the hidden box, finally tamping over it with their feet, so that even Lasko couldn’t see any signs pinpointing its location.
The two boys looked at each other happily again, with Tunnel jumping up and down excitedly. Now that the units were in their secret hiding place, they relived the joy of obtaining the wealth all over again.
After the small celebration, Sharp went back to his cot, and laid down on his cot. Tunnel headed to his own, when the small boy realized something and stopped. He turned to Lasko. “Hey Lasko, where are you going to sleep?”
Lasko blinked. He hadn’t thought about it. But now that he was tired, Lasko realized that he didn’t have a place to rest. Thinking of a temporary solution, the man sat down on the ground, and patted it. “I can sleep here.”
Tunnel looked at Sharp. But Sharp just turned his back to the both of them silently. Tunnel’s face lit up instantly. “Hey, you can sleep with me!” he said gleefully.
Sharp groaned from his cot, but Tunnel ignored him. Lasko tried to protest, but Tunnel pulled him with his typical eagerness. “Don’t worry, there’s lots of room.”
Hours later, Lasko was still lying awake, the heavy breathing of the kids the only audible sound, not even the chirping and buzz of the nighttime outdoor ambiance of the 21st century. Tunnel lay by his side, clutching his hand. The man was lost in thought, reflecting on the day, and just overall trying to figure out how he felt.
Is this OK? Lasko wondered. Is it OK that I don’t know who I am? Did I leave anybody behind?
It was an awkward feeling; that even if he had loved ones, they were all long gone in the past. Was there even a point in remembering?
As Lasko drifted off to sleep, one last thought crossed his mind. Maybe all I can do is embrace this new future. A fresh start.
Late that night, back in town, loud cursing erupted from a large concrete building, the headquarters of Vance’s Crowd. Inside, a crowd of thugs, enforcers, and thieves stood completely silent. Their attention was focused at the front of the room, where a large, well-built man stood, dressed in a flashy jumpsuit, a purple tattoo patterned on his face and neck. He spat on the ground.
“What do you mean we haven’t sold a single one?” Vance shouted.
A skinny man groveled at his feet, spluttering out barely coherent phrases.
“…we… cornered the market…. I swear….but Leonard…. All the other merchants are scared…but Leonard… he keeps undercutting….”
“Leonard!” The leader cursed again, kicking the sniveling man viciously in the face. The injured man fell back with a cry. Everyone in the room flinched. “We’d be running the entire hex by now, if it wasn’t for that piece of shit.” Vance turned his attention to the rest of the gang. “Where is he getting his merchandise from? I thought we shut down his suppliers!”
The group of people murmured amongst themselves. A tall beautiful woman, the only one in the entire room, appeared from behind Vance, bowing slightly. “We’ve completely convinced them, even the ones operating out of the other hexes.” She said calmly. “All of the smuggling and scavenging groups are now selling to us.”
The man grabbed the woman’s arm and yanked her stumbling towards him. He brought his own face close to her, some spittle flying from the man’s mouth as he shouted straight into her lowered ear. “Then tell me how Lasko has managed to flood the town with light spectrum producing DVG’s in a single day? The 3rd generation machine we spent 400 units for is now a worthless piece of shit!” He accentuated the last word by pushing the woman away, who just stood there silently, not having an answer.
“First it was the heat DVG’s, then it was the regulators. Now this? How did Leonard get them? Who is feeding that old asswipe dvg writers?” Vance screamed question after question.
The entire organization stood there with their heads down, afraid to make eye contact with the furious man. Then a shaking hand rose from the very back of the crowd. Vance noticed it right away.
“Who’s that?” The man began to stomp towards the hand, while the gang members scrambled out of the way, trampling over each other in order to give their boss a wide berth. Finally, Vance arrived at the source of the hand; a skinny, frightened holdings kid stood there with wide eyes. It looked like the kid could hardly believe that he had been noticed.
“What?” Vance growled. His voice was low and dangerous.
Pusher swallowed, the one drop of saliva in his mouth soaked up instantly by his suddenly parched throat. He was scared.
“I didn’t ask for your name, you shit-for-brains pipsqueak! You know something about Leonard? Spit it out before I kill you.”
It all came out in a rush after that. “There’s this kid who left the holdings and scavenges, he lives out in the dumping fields somewhere. He comes into town every few days to Leonard’s with pretty good stuff, and he went by there today… I bet that’s how Leonard got that new writer, from Sharp.”
Vance scowled, revealing a pair of unnaturally long and sharp canine teeth. “You’re telling me, that this little holdings drooler is supplying Leonard with late generation machinery?” He laughed; a coarse grunting that shook his whole body.
No one else laughed. They knew better. Vance hated it when people laughed with him. When it did happen, Vance made sure that the offenders would not repeat their mistake by ripping out their tongues.
Vance suddenly stopped laughing and glared at Pusher. “Alright kid, I believe you. Not like anyone has any better ideas.” The large man cast a cold glance towards where the tall woman stood calmly, eyes still averted downwards.
“You take care of this…” He waved his hand, searching for the name. “…Sharp, and I’ll take care of you; maybe make you my personal stooge, give you a position. Kill him if you want; just make it so that punk never sells to anybody again.”
He turned around and pointed at two nearby thugs. “You, Marky and Nuthead, you go with this kid and make sure the job gets done.”
Marky and Nuthead nodded vigorously. Vance looked back at Pusher menacingly. “But if you mess up, I’ll kill you.” The young, skinny kid gulped, and nodded his head in understanding.