“I’m never eating again.” Zedd fell back in his booth. He tossed his fork into an emptied cup of green beans.
Zark scraped the bottom of a bowl of mashed potatoes with his spoon, dipping it in gravy before pulling it clean from his mouth.
“So good,” Zark said. Before them, a graveyard of chicken bones lay strewn about the table. Cups sat scraped. There were crumpled napkins piled in used heaps. Zark wiped his face with the last clean one. “Now what?”
Zedd groaned. “We need to get to the tram station. It’s one-thirty now. The next one leaves at two.”
“No, we have to take the tram to the train station on the north side. We’ll meet up with Lena there. I think she’s there already. Then we’ll all take a bigger train into Rhod.” He leaned forward, “If I don’t get up now, I never will.”
Zedd scooted out from behind the table, grabbed his jacket and pressed the button for the table service. Zark grabbed the tall cup of Coca-Cola he had been drinking from and followed his dad out the door. As Zark topped off his drink at the automated refill station, a small robot zipped over towards their table to bus it.
They walked along the large hall. The stores began to sell more than food. Most sold clothing and small ornamental placements, all advertising Vogt and/or Zarmina. They found a moving walkway and hopped on. The walkway sped them down the next few hundred meters before they found the exit.
“This is it. Your first look a sky,” said Zedd. The large wall at the port’s entrance was paneled with glass from top to bottom. They approached, feeling the air depressurize around them. As soon as they passed under the doorway Zark looked skyward. He spun in dizzying circles trying to view it all at once.
He felt very small as he stared up into the sky. The Duskrider had a dome over the park that displayed a clean blue sky but, in the back of his mind, Zark knew it wasn’t real. This was real. It was the first time Zark had ever not had a ceiling over his head. He felt exposed. His knees buckled slightly under the weight of such an impossible concept.
Industrial structures of blackened steel surrounded them, forging squat shapes against the noxious yellow sky. Enormous ventilation ducts, intertwining below them, were visible through the grated walkway they stood on. Some of these pipes would trail their way upwards beyond the walkways and rise up to disappear within some hidden crevasse. Others dug themselves out of tops of buildings, and erupting in columns of rusty steam.
Zedd, also looking upwards, took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Man, I forgot how nice that is.” He looked over at Zark who was bent over with his hands resting on his knees, trying to regain his balance. Zedd laughed. “You gonna make it, soldier?”
“It’s too big.”
“Here, let’s start walking. You’ll re-calibrate once we get moving. Just look straight ahead.”
Zark followed his dad. After a few steps, he grew steady. There were more people here. Some walked into the port where they had just left, others were waiting on the steady stream of cabs coming and going.
“Are we taking a cab?” Zark asked.
“It’s quicker to walk,” Zedd said with certainty.
They continued to work through the crowd of people until it began to thin. Once they they had some elbow room, Zark began to regain his full composure. The grated walkway turned into a wide black walkway posted with tall street lights on either side. It stretched in a long straight path that disappeared into the horizon. Menacing industrial shapes lacerated the sky.
They had been walking along the pedestrian bridge for about ten minutes when Zedd spoke.
“We can either follow this bridge to the train station, or we can dip off at the next exit. There’s a street below. It would bypass all the congestion ahead.” Zedd touched his head when he said this. Zark decided to take the exit. They descended a tall staircase to another street below.
Below the bridge the streets grew dark and shadowed. The road ahead was flanked by the bases of buildings that stretched beyond the bridge overhead. This new road was quiet and dimly lit with a sickly green glow. Between buildings, heaps of garbage bags spilled out of alleyways only to expose the rotten masses of makeshift shelters. Down here, they heard no conversations. The silence was broken only by a deep wind that occasionally crept through the lower levels. Overhead, cramped apartments housed nests of inhabitants. Plain-colored clothes were strung high across the walkway, pinned to clotheslines, but there was no sign of those who hung them.
Bark! Bark! Bark! Zark and Zedd both jumped. Zark’s hand squeezed his cup of Coke in reflex, causing a small amount to flood over and splash onto his hand. Above them, on the
second story, a German Shepherd bared its teeth at them as it blasted its warning. It stood on its hind legs, watching them from above a balcony ledge.
After a few minutes, Zark, wary, spoke softly,
“How far do we go through here?”
Zedd, daring not to take his eyes off of his surroundings, answered quietly,
“Let’s just take the next staircase up.”
The cramped apartments continued. There was no sign of another stairwell. An old grey man shambled from out of one of the narrow alleyways, . He coughed as he walked carrying a bag with him. He eyed them momentarily and continued on his way.
“No wonder they built the walkway. It’s cheaper than fixing slums,” said Zark.
No sooner had he finished speaking when they heard a scuffle. Zark moved ahead to see down the alley. It was dark, but he could see silhouettes. Three figures stood around a smaller man, defending himself. A stout man threw the smaller person against a wall by his throat, before punching him in his stomach. The beaten man collapsed to his knees.
Zedd pushed in front of Zark.
“What are you doing?” Zark asked nervously.
Zedd didn’t answer. He walked intently towards the alley.
Zedd was at the mouth of the path.