Chapter 2: Say Something
To say the City of Uranda had problems was an understatement. As a city encased from sky to earth inside metal plated walls and an arching ceiling, it lacked not only cheer, but also sustainability. Once it had been a symbol of humanities last efforts for survival in the poisoned world they created, an escape from one’s troubles. Now the tight streets and shoddily constructed concrete structures only served to reflect the desperation.
In fact, the residents could hardly claim the city as theirs. These days everything was run by C.R.A.V.E. like some sort of giant life experiment. Of course, the people were kept ignorant; encouraged by false reports to believe this was still a refuge.
The woman in charge of holding it together was named Emilie Miles, the most manipulative of all the city keepers. She could convince children to kill parents, brothers to kill sisters, and she did without anyone knowing, all for the sake of a few science-loving tyrants.
Amid this tragedy, life went on. Many silent battles were waged, be it the fight for life, freedom, or fame, and this is where the people gathered. Out in the dark streets, scrutinized under the glare of artificial light, they continued purposefully, and sometimes Cecile wanted to tell them. Sometimes he wanted-
His ears rang from the resounding shot of gunfire. Cecile paused to look to the restaurant across the street from where the sound had originated. He saw the customers focused on the man who had turned into a killer in their restaurant. Then each customer’s attention turned back to their meals, noisy chatter arose, and the door to the restaurant was pushed open as two waitresses in red aprons dragged a body through the door. A queasy feeling settled in Cecile’s stomach. A mother pushing a stroller passed him.
Cecile remembered that he was missing lunch.
He continued walking, shoes crunching over the broken glass of smashed windows. His stomach knotted painfully. Yes, he defiantly needed to get something to eat. The scientists from C.R.A.V.E. had assured him that, since the bio-machines in his body produced all the nutrients he needed, his hunger was psychological. They had told him he would get over it, another thing that had never happened.
He rounded the corner and saw the one store that still sold natural food since C.R.A.V.E. started supplying lab-grown stuff. Since gaining his freedom Cecile had decided that he would rather eat plain bread for the rest of his life, then go back to a lab diet. It was an emotional preference the scientists would surely frown upon.
He was almost at the entrance of the store when a girl in a thin, white cotton dress pushed out through the door, and the handle of her yellow grocery bag snapped. The contents of her bag spilled over the ground, and liquids from a broken jar leaked out across the gritty sidewalk. At the sight of the mess, Cecile instinctively stopped and watched to see what she would do. The girl bent down to fill her arms with her purchased goods, but try as she might, items dropped back to the ground. Cecile realized that that she wasn’t going to be able to hold onto everything, which meant that she wasn’t going to move out of the way.
A speeding car rushed by him on the road. Forget it, he told himself. He moved forward and brushed past her as he went into the store. Inside, he browsed around for the cheapest loaf of bread he could afford. He was ready to be done with the stupid city along with all its dirt and noise, but when he got to the checkout counter Cecile was forced to wait while the store clerk’s gaze focused out the window to where the girl still struggled to pick up all of her purchases.
Cecile noted that the stupid white dress the girl wore was too short. He didn’t understand why any decent girl would wear it, especially with those little black flats that left her legs bare nearly to her ankles. Stupid. The only good thing was that with her as a distraction Cecile could leave the store without paying, but a part of him was also tired of seeing the girl outside so vulnerable.
Cecile kept his purchase held unseen below the counter as he turned back to the clerk.
“Can I have a bag?” Cecile asked.
“Huh,” the clerk said, noticing him.
“A plastic bag.”
“One dollar,” the clerk said, ignoring him again for the girl.
Cecile frowned, considering the loaf of bread held in his hand and the two dollars in his pocket. With his free hand he rummaged in his coat pocket and produced a dollar.
“I’ll take it,” he told the clerk.
Without looking, the clerk reached to the side, grabbed one of the yellow plastic bags he kept stuffed into an old trashcan, and handed it back over his shoulder. The plastic bag was quickly exchanged for the dollar. Cecile stuffed the stolen loaf of bread under his coat and walked out of the store. Once outside, he stopped by the girl and bent down to pack the plastic bag with the remainder of the fallen purchases. He quickly straightened to hand it over, but the stolen package of bread slipped out of his jacket to land by his feet. She looked down at it, then up at him. Cecile gave her an innocent smile and held open the yellow bag so she could empty her armful, but with her gaze now on the store behind them she made no move.
“What?” Cecile asked. “Do you think I’m going to steal your dirty food?”
That brought her attention back. Prompted by his insult, she leaned forward and dumped her armful of purchases into the bag. He handed it over.
“You’re not very smart are you,” he said.
She raised her head and gave a slight smile. Then she turned and walked off, so, in the end, all he was left with was his stolen loaf of bread and the sight of her proud retreat. That pride reminded Cecile of someone he had promised to visit. He set his sights on the crumbling east end of the city and walked off before the store clerk could give chase.