It’s been a while and I’ve been working on revamping older pieces for so long I decided to start a new story through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.
Each week we get a prompt to write our chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words.
The prompt I used this week was: Use mustard, intriguing, and system.
So welcome to the first installation of Adrift, with a new post each Wednesday.
Traffic beacons swept the corporate work zone as a shuddering transport dumped off another load of hopeful men and women. The stench of mustard tinged exhaust choked the air in its wake.
Arad Ansari shivered in the claustrophobic queue leading to the Grey District A-5 techyard. He’d camped overnight after visiting the bathhouse using the token he’d lifted off a wayward tourist to be sure he was clean and ready to work. Manufacturing was automated, leaving tech jobs scarce among the self-made engineers in the factory slums. There was no way he could risk this chance getting away from him.
Boots clunked along the steel causeway in unison as the mass of people shuffled forward, invading Arad’s personal space in all directions. Whether intentional or not, he kept a tight grip on his shoulder bag even though it was latched tight, keeping his few possessions safe. The crowd funneled into a line aimed at the guard wall entrance, but the man big enough to be DemiShou blocked Arad’s view to see how much further he had to travel. The pace was cautious in spite of the anticipation present amongst the workers. Security drones hovered over the area scanning everyone present with their unnatural eyes maintaining order. No sane person would be willing to lose wages spending the day dealing with District Authority.
The crowd inched along as a sluggish wave. Stretching around the human wall before him, Arad could see the attendant reading his handheld against the scan results, passing some through the gate and sending others on their way. With too many people and not enough work, the whole labor force was built around a lottery system. A flawed and dysfunctional method, but all the slugs—poor bottom feeders like himself—could hope for. He’d arrived early, but there were still so many in need and not enough work to go around.
Finally reaching his turn, Arad pressed his finger to the attendant’s screen and waited for the gruff man to verify his details.
“Not authorized. Next.”
Arad’s chest threatened to collapse. “What do you mean not authorized?”
The man gave a frustrated sigh, but never raised his eyes to Arad. “You’re not on the work list.”
“No, no, that’s not right. Davis confirmed this yesterday.”
Using the scanner, he impatiently pointed at the milling group standing alongside the wall. “Then take it up with him. Next.”
Before he could protest further, Arad was shoved out of the way by the next hopeful slug. He managed to catch himself as the waiting crowd filled the space. Panic fed his outrage. It was a done deal. How could this happen? He needed to know. The attendant was useless. Arad would need to hunt down his source and there he was taking a drag off a cigar, waiting for the shift to start. When he caught sight of Arad approaching, Davis cursed to himself as he carefully stubbed out the smoke to salvage his precious vice.
“Davis, they kicked me out of line. What happened?”
The scruffy foreman hesitated, pocketing his dead cigar in his stained coveralls and avoiding Arad’s piercing stare. “Sorry, kid. Management went a different way. Management gave the spot to a wolf DemiShou this morning.”
“Why? You said the job was mine.”
“He’s got a wife and kids to feed.”
“So because the wolf-human hybrid is married and has kids he can’t afford, he gets first dibs?”
Shaking his head, Davis shrugged. “It’s a quota thing. Politics. Way above my pay scale.”
“Maybe I should let someone experiment on me and then maybe I wouldn’t have to slave for wages.”
With a firm clamp on Arad’s arm, Davis pulled him aside. “Don’t say stuff like that. Someone might hear you.”
“I know.” Dirty steam billowed out of a nearby service vent and Arad deflated. “I really needed this, Davis.”
“I know, kid. I’m sorry. I tried. Really.” Releasing Arad, regret colored every inch of Davis. It helped soothe the rolling frustration, but didn’t extinguish it.
“Yeah. Thanks. I have to figure what to do now.”
Brow arched, Davis looked around and lowered his voice. “I know it’s not much, but you could stop by after shift end. It’ll be another week before I can get home. I could use the company.”
“You’re not serious?”
Opportunistic prick. Even if it wasn’t the first time he’d exchanged funds for favors with Davis, Arad wanted to tell the man to go to hell. But he’d just lost the job he needed. He didn’t have any wolf Demi welfare to rely on, and those wages could have fed him for a month.
“Come on. We have a little fun, let off some stress, and you get some credits in your pocket. Everyone wins.” Davis smiled, which gave his smudged and unshaven face a certain charm. He wasn’t a slug like Arad on the bottom of the food chain. While not an elite, Davis didn’t need to scrounge to feed and had a real roof over his head.
“You’ve got some balls on you, Davis.”
“One of my best features according to you. You were right gentle with them even. What do you say?”
Rowdy noise behind them drew their attention. Furious shouts on all sides rang out as a man tried to push back into the job line. Probably a reject like Arad. Tempers flared as he refused to quit. Screaming and shoving escalated between everyone involved, tensions already strung tight threatening to break. A security drone swooped in and shocked the man to the ground. The stunned crowd quieted and went back to its dreary routine. Right then Arad’s stomach growled, gnawing at him with its ceaseless hunger and anxiety.
“I’ll think about it.” The money always became more intriguing when reminded about how little he had and how few options he had to acquire it.
Davis patted Arad’s shoulder and walked off. “You know where to find me.”
“Yeah. I always know where to find you.”
Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!