I was looking for a way to smuggle goods into Lorville.
The atmosphere matched my mood. Afflicted. An opaque yellow mist surrounded me. The air was thick and hot. Sweat flowed from my forehead. It smelled of oil, the noise of machinery could be heard. After my failed test at the Lorville city gate, it had become clear to me that I needed help. I had gone to Production Quad FD 19 to meet someone. Actually, I was hoping to find someone. Here in the lower levels in Lorville I had met my contacts earlier who had helped me smuggle. But no one was there. Slowly I felt my way through the thick fog. The air bit in my throat, it was difficult to breathe. I had to cough. My cough echoed muffled from the walls.
Then I saw someone a little way away. I could only dimly make out the person in the yellow haze. Had I finally found my old contacts? I walked closer when suddenly a metallic voice was heard.
“Stop! Access for workers only. You have no business here.”
The shadowy figure turned out to be a guard from Hurston Security. Behind the guard, a revolving gate blocked the way. Security had been tightened not only at the city gates. Down here, too. But where were the maintenance technicians I had met here earlier?
In the evening I joined the workers in front of the HABs. In a corner behind the pool table I drank a few Schmoltz with two guys. We stood comfortably around a high table.
“Hey I haven’t been to Lorville in a while. Has a lot of things changed. Has FD 19 been automated? Haven’t met any workers there, just guards.”
“Nah they beefed up security. We all have to go through the revolving door with an ID card now. Can’t just walk around there anymore. And you can’t hang out anymore. As soon as you stop, a guard will come and shit on you.” The guy sounded tired and worn out.
“Why? Did someone steal a wrench?”
“I don’t know. Managers are nuts. Those who stand don’t work. And anyone who whispers is plotting evil. That’s the way they think.”
“There have been some incidents,” the other guy added. “Maintenance guys were involved in illegal activities. They had used their extended privileges to smuggle goods. Now there’s more scrutiny.”
“Have the maintenance technicians had their privileges revoked”, I asked.
“At least restricted. They can move around more freely than normal workers. But without control, they can’t get in or out of the city anymore.”
Slowly I realized that smuggling to Lorville was not as easy as it used to be. Perhaps it was even impossible. Hurston was doing everything he could to stop the importation of unwanted goods. I was stunned. Why? Why did Hurston ban goods that could be purchased anywhere in the Stanton system? Even such practical things as DMC pants. It was simply a show of force. The Hurston family made it clear that everyone was subject to the will of the family. Annoyed, I left the apartment block. On the way to the M&V bar, dumpsters and trash bags lined my path. The working-class neighborhood looked terrible. Dirt everywhere you looked. No glamour like the central business district. With my head down, I walked past a guard. I didn’t want to attract attention.
In the M&V Bar the music was much too loud and shrill. One thing that hadn’t changed in Lorville. The old Cutterwash posters with the skull were still hanging behind the bar. I was surprised that they were not banned yet. The bartender put a glass of beer on the counter in front of me. It looked stale and thin. I could see through it. It didn’t have a decent head of foam either. Sure, good alcoholic beverages were forbidden. With a motion of my head, I pointed to the glass.
“Still colored water with a drop of alcohol?”
“What should I do.”
“What about the special deliveries? Cutterwash.”
The bartender understood my hint. Good liquor used to be smuggled into Hurston. I was part of the supply chain back then and had to deliver the goods at the rest stops at Lagrange Points.
“There’s nothing coming in”, the bartender said in an exasperated voice. “Nothing and no one is coming into town without inspection.”
“Seriously? Must take forever to get goods through inspection. What about express deliveries? Is there no such thing anymore?” My voice sounded like a mixture of surprise and exasperation. The idea of smuggling anything into the city melted like ice in the hot Aberdeen sun.
“The only ones who get in without being checked are the couriers from Red Wind. But only those with courier status. The regular delivery guys are checked, too.”
I took the glass of beer and retreated to a dark corner of the bar. Was that it? The smuggling was over before it started? Then an idea struck me.
The next day, I took the Metro across Lorville. Large and ostentatious, the Hurston Dynamics headquarters stood to the left of the tracks. No matter where you were in the city, the monstrosity of the building could be seen everywhere. Even from orbit, it could be seen clearly. Another demonstration of power by the Hurston family. Or rather a sign of megalomania. I had an appointment at Red Wind Linehaul, the courier service in the Hurston planetary system. The bartender had given me the idea. If couriers from Red Wind could get through customs without inspection, all I had to do was get in line at Red Wind to have the same privilege down the road. That was my ticket to smuggling.
The guy from Red Wind received me in a small semi-dark meeting corner. No pomp, no showiness. A picture on the wall, a lamp on the table, nothing else. We sat across from each other, the table between us. I sat there like a little schoolboy and dutifully placed both hands on the tabletop.
“We are always looking for reliable couriers,” he opened the conversation. “Reliability, punctuality, discipline. These are values that Red Wind stands for and that our customers rely on. You don’t have Citizen status, you’re just a Civilian. Accordingly, you have not served in the military or had any other assignment in the service of the UEE. Therefore, I cannot be sure that you have internalized our values. Thus, employment is not possible.”
Without another word, the guy got up and just left me behind. I was speechless. There it was again. The injustice and inequality in the UEE. My blood boiled, full of rage I clenched my fists and hit the table.
To get a cool head again, I drove a Dragonfly up a hill a bit away from Lorville. The skyscrapers were only visible as small elevations. The headquarters of Hurston Dynamics dominated the silhouette of the city. The sun was just disappearing behind the horizon, bathing everything in a rusty brown-red haze. It was quiet, with only the wind whispering softly. From a distance, Lorville looked like a fortress with a gigantic watchtower. How was I ever going to smuggle goods into the city? It was bad enough that I had to smuggle anything at all to help the workers. Why didn’t people have the freedom to buy what everyone else in Stanton could buy. Freedom was something that did exist here.
Then I had to think of the guard who had checked me at the city gate. What had she said to me? Was I one of those FROS guys, a freedom fighter? Was there a group that fought for freedom? I had never heard of FROS. But there was someone I could ask, someone who was guaranteed to know who or what FROS was. Brubacker.