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by Emily Piesz 11 months ago in Sci Fi
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The Market

Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

The rain was coming down heavy. It was always raining now. He used to love the days when the rain would come down during a hot sun. Prisms of light dancing as he shielded his eyes, water dripping down his forehead. Then there were the years of no rain. A decade. Lakes had dried up. Gone were the summer memories of jumping off a dock into a cool body of water. Not giving a thought to bacteria counts and rations. The rains that followed were unrelenting. You could never get dry. And the air, it permeated with a dampness and must that burned your nostrils. There was less and less light now and it had grown colder. A welcome relief from the decades of heat that they had adapted to. Everything had run on cooling. Labyrinths had been built to take advantage of the coolness below the surface. They were now full of water. Skyscrapers were being erected under absurdly difficult building conditions. Everything was wet and slippery. It was the most dangerous profession to be on the building crews. But it held the most money.

He walked with his head low. His rainslicker collar pulled high above his neck. He sweat with all the layers but it was the only way to keep warm and prevent the icy water from permeating his skin. His hat had an extra wide brim that hung over his ears, muffling sounds while shielding him from both the cold and the wet. The glasses he wore were fog resistant and gave everything a greenish hue. If he forgot them the world looked completely different, but he risked the slight acidity of the rain damaging his sight. Truly there was no glimmer of green in sight. Not a blade of grass, no leaves on the trees. It was bleak, dark, and overtly miserable.

Today he walked quickly. There was a market opening up at noon and if you were quick you could get a table for 30 ration tickets. It seemed like a lot but if you had good stuff to barter you could make it back easily in a few sales and get your eye on some strategic trades. Last week he came back with 100 ration tickets, a watch (that amazingly wasn’t waterlogged), some batteries, a tarp and a pair of boots with the soles still intact. It was a risk coming out and not going to the government stores for supplies. People were getting desperate again. Sometimes he would notice that things on the end of the table had been lifted. But he was getting smarter too and laid the things that were worth something within reach to snap back if the place got crowded.

Curve 23 was coming up. None of the streets within the city limits ran parallel with the new builds. It was to prevent the tsunami like waves that sometimes came when the dams water crested too high. If they could divert the water there was less damage. It didn’t stop the tunnels from flooding. So those that took the risk of sheltering in the ones on higher ground lost everything and had to rebuild if they heard the sirens in time. He went round the back of the building and waited for the red light above the back door to flash. This signaled that the hidden entrance was about to open. You had to be fast and know exactly where the alternate entrance was. Usually tucked behind a dumpster or a false brick wall. The only way to know for sure was to check the boards. Nothing was communicated electronically as it was too easy to trace. So there were the boards and a language you learned to decipher if you wanted to survive.

RED. Today it was behind dumpster 5. He looked to be sure no one else was around. This wasn’t the only way in. There were safer ways to get access but today he had already been out grabbing what he had hidden for the market. He ducked behind the small opening and squeezed through the gap in a door painted to look like the rest of the wall. He wasn’t in the clear yet but got through the first hurdle. The concrete floor had the familiar damp smell that couldn’t be escaped. The rain that had accumulated in the folds of his rain slicker pattered on the floor. He quickly swept his hand through the fabric to hasten the process and avoid drawing attention to himself as he maneuvered further inside the building. Nothing was marked you just had to know where you were going. Peaking in every doorway and down every hall drew suspicious attention. Some days you simply never found the pop up. Which was a waste of time but understood that it made them safer. B016 was straight and to the left. He’d been in this building before about a month ago. That market had been on the second floor which was risky as it meant he had to travel up stairwells. He was relieved that wasn’t the case today. As he walked by closed and opened doors he saw a room with several families camped together. The familiar clotheslines hung with sheets separating the living quarters. There was always one family member positioned at the entrance barring outsiders.

Another room appeared to be an office space. A few desks, a phone, and computer docks. Some of these places housed legitimate businesses. Small fractions that the government allowed to operate. Mostly doing tech sales or gathering census information. Their tech would be searched regularly, and the lower ranks would pop in unannounced to ensure they weren’t dealing in supplies or print communication. Phones were a rarity now. Used to communicate with the government or owned by the rich. Less traceable than electronic communication and easier to tell if you were being bugged. Another thing that wasn’t allowed to be sold- the sweepers. Sweepers could be used to trace any foreign tech that didn’t have your signature on it. Things operating in your space or attached to your communications to divert them elsewhere.

He came to the spot where the hall to the left began. Looking swiftly behind him he darted onto his path. Keeping his pace even and unhurried he headed towards the pop up. No sounds of the market could be heard from here. Just rustling in other rooms and those housed as living quarters. B012, B014… B016. At a glance it appeared as a room for a family. A guy, looking disinterested camped at the door on a folding chair. Sheets hung behind him. Nodding and flashing his open palm, the guy also nodded and went back to disinterest. Silently he slipped passed the folding chair and followed the curtains as they snaked to a metal door. Here he gently tapped. A small window flashed with light and after a moment the door opened into a 3 foot by 3 foot space. Once inside the door closed behind him, an entrance slid up and the sounds of the market were audible. Quickly he slipped inside and pulled the door down again. Letting out a sigh he allowed his shoulders to drop and the bag that had been concealed under all those layers made an appearance. A familiar face inside pointed to table 4. He walked over dropping the canvas bag on the tabletop untying it. Before he got too far into unpacking, he slipped his hand inside an inner pocket at his chest and pulled out the required ration tickets. The same face headed over to him.

“Staxs… I’ll take those, thanks” she said. “What are you peddling today?”

“Not much. I found a guy who was looking to unload some solar chargers. Not much use for them now but maybe for parts?” he shrugged.

“Good luck with that” she said with a skeptical grin. “It’s an interesting crowd today.”

She placed a coin into his palm, a penny. Copper was being coveted again. It was slightly green. Probably unearthed recently from the tunnels. He never asked her where she got the treasures. He was just thankful he was part of her clan. The coin was dry in his wet palm. The tattoo he got years ago flashing as he looked down.

In a few more minutes the market would be buzzing. People moving around. Less hurried than on the outside. Here they took their time. Considered trades carefully and sometimes would walk away disinterested only to return later with a revised deal. He pulled everything out of the bag and laid it carefully on the table. The solar charges tucked closer to the middle. On their own they were likely worthless but to the right person he knew he could use them to barter. He never came with a plan as to what he was looking for, that was too costly. Instead, he would do a walk around during his allotted time. When he saw something he tried not to pay for it outright. Often encouraging the seller to check out something on his own table. Usually, he was able to persuade them after a brief conversation about where they were living now, where they housed during the drought, or some other hardship he could relate to.

The market was alive. He had managed to unload 3 chargers, a canteen and 3 pairs of wool socks. The canteen and chargers earned him the return on his ration tickets. The socks he traded for a coveted box of Band-Aids. He knew these would be a big trade to the right construction worker. Most of them made more than enough but there were a few that weren’t on the books working on the borders that would genuinely need these.

It was his turn. “Alright Stax, you get your time. I’ll cover your table while you walk around” she said as she literally covered his table in a large red cloth. This meant no deals could happen while he was gone and ensured his stuff wouldn’t get swiped.

He began on the far side of the market. This was his ritual. Start at the farthest table and work his way back. He could quickly glance at the vendors along the way to not miss something he needed but at the same time didn’t get caught up not knowing what lay further down the line. It was all the usual stuff. Tarps, rope, miscellaneous tools, sought after tins of food, old clothes, sometimes you would get some furniture items but people didn’t really have a use for that now. He worked his way back. Table 12. That’s when he saw it. He wasn’t sure at first but he noticed it peeking from behind a stack of carabiners. The smooth rectangle shape was unmistakable. He could only see the binding but he was sure it was something he needed. Walking carefully towards the table he asked the guy how much for 5 carabiners. The guy looked up noting that the carabiners were not at all where his focus was. He patted the book saying “I’ll part with it but not for rations.” It didn’t matter the content of the book. It was print… and print was coveted. They rarely showed up at the market and if they did you could bet they would go for top dollar. He ran his fingers through his hair not wanting to show his cards but knowing he had to come up with something to trade or he wouldn’t be walking away with it. This guy was not likely to go for a low-ball offer. He reached his hand back to that inside pocket and pulled out a gold heart shaped locket. He had a stash of jewelry and once in a while he would barter with it. Jewelry was of no use to him but some people still went blind over it. Carefully he palmed the locket before offering the deal.

Sci Fi

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Emily Piesz

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