Mimi’s adventure continues in Chapter 2: Home Sweet Home.
Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.
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Home Sweet Home
Mimi worked her way through the large, cold pipe on her hands and knees, careful to keep the fish from touching the ground. The weight of it dangling was not great, but she struggled to steady its swaying motion as she shuffled along.
She slid out of the exit into the open area that led to her lair. A giant, metallic cylinder occupied most of the space. It was several stories tall and made a constant humming noise. Its outer shell was marked with rust and age.
Behind her, Shannon slid out of the pipe. Her sneakers slapped against the ground. The impact was almost too much. The sneakers barely hung together, bound by adhesive strips. Her clothes, like Mimi’s, were sewn together from discarded bits of cloth they had scavenged from the clothing recycling center.
So much of the city was recycled; it had to be. But the city, approaching the mid-twelfth century of its age, was showing signs of its tireless movement. Only rarely did the city cease walking across the barren landscape, and then it shuttered under the vibration of a massive drill, extracting the scraps of resources that were left in the earth’s crust.
“Wow, this is where you live?” asked Shannon. “Yuck.” She plugged her nose. “What’s that smell?”
“Sewage and garbage. Though there might be other things mixed in there, I’m not sure.”
Shannon almost gagged. “Here I thought, we’ve been together six months and I haven’t even been to her place yet. I thought maybe you were hiding something. You were: your place smells like shit.”
Mimi laughed. “Shit’s only part of it.”
“Why does it smell so terrible?”
“Because,” Mimi waved her stick toward the giant cylinder. “That’s a biorecycler. Well, the bottom half of it, anyway. The other half is up in one of the Sanitation departments.”
“But aren’t those things supposed to be sealed? Why does it smell so bad?”
“It leaks sometimes.”
“What, like, on you?”
“Nah, I’m over on the other side over there.” She pointed down a narrow corridor. “I think things would have to be bad in the city before the whole thing emptied. Maybe a war with one of the other cities or something. Besides, it’s one of the safest places in the whole city for someone like us.”
They walked toward the corridor. Small, iridescent puddles twinkled in the light. Mimi didn’t know what all the chemicals were, but she steered Shannon around each one.
“Doesn’t smell like it. Why’s it so safe?”
“No one comes down here unless there’s a major problem. So far, there’s been one in the last few hundred years.”
Mimi realized her mistake at once and hoped Shannon wouldn’t notice. She almost swore out loud. Instead, she held her breath.
Shannon stopped and grabbed Mimi’s right arm, the one without the dangling fish. “Wait a second. How. Old. Are. You?”
“Seventy or so.” Her words came out rapid fire. She knew she could pass for seventy, though she didn’t look a day over the age of twenty-five; it was the product of the regeneration alcoves. Even the homeless had occasional access to them. It was cheaper than dealing with disease and medical care, so the Uppers–the ones who lived in the top floors of the city–had decided to make some alcoves accessible to everyone, but only often enough that someone who was homeless or living in the lower parts of the city could live a maximum lifespan of two-hundred years or so.
“Then how do you know when this thing last broke down?”
“Uh… I looked it up. Come on, it doesn’t smell so bad back where I’m at.” Mimi knew that wasn’t going to cut it, but she couldn’t come up with anything else to say.
Shannon followed, but Mimi could tell she was frustrated. She would have to tell her some truth soon at least. It was hard to lie all the time. There was so much to keep track of. But how was she going to explain her age? How would she explain that she had found a way to access a regeneration alcove and extend her life like the wealthy Uppers in the city? She knew exactly where that would lead. Daniel had wanted access to the alcoves, and it had cost him everything.
They stepped over the crisscross networks of pipes in one section, ducked under them in another, and moved their way through several cramped areas until, finally, they reached her nest.
It wasn’t anything special, but it was a spot to call home. Multicolored sheets patched together tightly to create a sturdy outer covering over a frame of pipes, tucked away in a corner. It was well-hidden. You had to be looking for it to know it was there. Mimi pulled back a flap and ushered Shannon inside. A small, ancient mattress lay on the floor next to a small makeshift camping stove. The mattress also had patches, like a bandaged soldier after a battle. It was lumpy and uneven, but much better than anything they would find at street level. A few tattered maps of the city hung in the corners, displaying the underground networks of tunnels and pipes.
“Where’d you get the furniture and pictures? Some place down here?”
“The furniture, well, you just have to know where to look. Mattresses don’t exactly grow in Central Park. The maps I stole from Sanitation. Not like they will miss them.”
“What do you need the maps for?”
Mimi shrugged, “Nothing really, anymore. I know most of those tunnels by heart now, but it took a while to get the hang of them.”
“So why do you still have them up?”
“Habit, I guess. Better than nothing, right? Makes it feel cozy.”
Shannon walked around the room inspecting everything. “Hmmm. I suppose so.” She lifted the bottom of one of the maps and looked under, exposing the splotched green and brown cloth below. “Yeah, better with the maps. You need some flowers here or something.”
“Flowers? You’re joking, right?”
“You could swipe some from Central Park or one of the other green spaces in the city.”
Mimi shook her head, “Do you want to attract attention? You know how much those flowers go for in the uppers?”
Shannon shook her head.
“Let’s put it this way, you’d probably end up in front of the Supreme Justices.”
“So, you’ve never picked any?”
“No, have you?”
“No, but they smell so nice. I just thought that…” Shannon trailed off.
Mimi shrugged. “Think whatever you want, the point is, getting the attention of the Security Officers for flowers seems like a waste.”
“But in the vid screens… when a girl brings another flowers, it’s so romantic.”
“That’s the vid screens. Those programs are all about Mids and Uppers, anyway. No one wants to hear love stories about a couple of homeless women.”
Mimi reached over and pressed a few buttons to prime the makeshift stove. She pulled the fish off her broom handle and flopped it down on the grill. She turned around and pulled out a wide and flat piece of metal with a wooden handle. It was bound together by some cheap twine.
“What’s that?” Shannon stared at the object.
“You ever gut a fish before?”
“Yeah, gut. You can’t just plop it on a grill and cook, you know. You gotta take out the guts, cut off the head.”
“Ew, what?” Shannon’s nose wrinkled. Her face paled.
“I’ll show you.” Mimi grabbed the fish and stepped outside her dwelling. She found a flat surface and Shannon, following reluctantly, watched as she raised the blade and brought it down just south of the fish’s head. It made a soft squishing sound and a little of the creature’s juices sprayed onto both women.
Shannon’s eyes widened, and she pushed past Mimi. She ran around a corner and vomited.
Afterward, Shannon refused to eat the fish. Mouth full, Mimi said, “You can’t be so squeamish about things down here. You have to eat what you can get or you’ll go hungry.”
Shannon said nothing. She kept looking at the maps, kept looking at the ancient sheets that were tied to the pipes. Her hand caressed them. Then, keeping her eyes off of the fish, she stared right at Mimi.
“Alright, how old are you, really? And don’t give me that seventy crap. Besides, you look way too young for seventy anyway, even with our alcove allotment. It’s clear you’re a lot older than that.”
Mimi shrugged. “Women of Asian descent just age slowly.” She paused for a moment. “Tomorrow we’ll take another trip down below. There’s a food dispenser down there I can hack sometimes, if you don’t like the fish.”
“Don’t change the subject. You have access to an alcove, don’t you?”
Mimi swallowed her last bite of the fish. “Sure you’re not going to eat?”
Shannon shook her head and gestured for Mimi to eat the rest.
“Answer me, please, or I’m leaving.”
“Come on now, Shannon, don’t say that. I love you.”
Shannon was almost sidetracked by this. Her face lit up. “You do?” Then her face darkened a little. “You love me, do you? But not enough to tell me the truth?” Shannon shifted her body in the chair, the little table wobbling off balance. “You’re always lying to me. You’re always holding back information. This little hut or whatever this is, is just another example. You didn’t tell me about it ’til last week. So, tell me the truth.”
There was a severity in her voice that Mimi took seriously. Shannon’s mind had always been a rather serious place, and her emotions always close to the edge, but it was clear she meant what she said, even without skimming.
“Alright. What do you want to know?”
Mimi rolled her eyes. “They always do. Just pick something.”
Shannon scowled a little. “They? How many women have you brought down to your little hobbit hole?”
Mimi knew from the surface of Shannon’s mind that she didn’t really want an answer to that question. Few did. She knew that Shannon was a jealous person, but she was feeling a bit annoyed. Plus, the fish hadn’t been as good as she had hoped.
She made to count her fingers, pretending like she had to think about it. “Oh… Hmm… I think nine women and eight men have shared this bed.”
“What? You told me to be honest.”
“So what am I? Your flavor of the month or something?”
Mimi rolled her eyes. “Considering how many years I’ve been doing this, more like flavor of the decade?”
Shannon’s face reddened for a moment and then she smiled. “Ha!” Shannon shouted. “I knew you were older than seventy. Tell me the truth. How old are you? You won’t distract me.”
Mimi bit her lip. Again, she pretended to count. This time she took much longer to respond even though she knew the exact number. It was hard to forget her 13th birthday. She thought on how easy it is to mark that night as the end of her normal life, to count off the exact distance from it. How could she forget the night she had murdered someone?
“Let’s see, in April I’ll be 782.”
Shannon’s jaw dropped, fishlike. Mimi was tempted to throw a piece of fish into it, but restrained herself.
“But… how? Even most Mids rarely live that long with their allotment. Oldest Mid I ever heard of was 650. I mean, Uppers, sure, but they’re the only ones who can afford unlimited access to the alcoves.”
She shrugged. “You’re right. I found an alcove.”
“What, just lying around?”
“Yep, just sitting right in the open underground.” Mimi knew Shannon didn’t understand her sarcasm and heard her ask herself if she was serious. “Yep. Serious.”
Shannon’s big eyes narrowed, “You’re being sarcastic.”
It wasn’t a question. Shannon was catching on, at least. “It’s dangerous.”
“So what? So is living on the street for any woman in this city.”
“Not like this. My last lover, Daniel… he got…” Mimi froze. She didn’t like to talk about Daniel, about what they had done to them. There were worse punishments than becoming a Runner, worse than dying. Daniel had been caught red-handed because he hadn’t listened to her, had gone to the alcove when she had told him not to.
“Don’t even think about it,” said Mimi. “It won’t happen.”
Mimi saw the anger forming on Shannon’s mind. She saw what she was about to say. She felt her own rage envelop her.
“Oh, I see. So, every few decades you get yourself a pet, someone to shack up with for a while, someone whom you can cast away when you’re bored, when they get too old and you don’t want their body anymore.”
The anger rolled from Mimi’s tongue, like dripping venom. “What the hell do you know? You’re just a little girl. Twenty-seven is barely an adult. You have no idea how deeply I’ve loved. You don’t understand what it’s like to watch someone you love stolen away from you.”
“Um… Tanya,” said Shannon.
Mimi felt the anger pulse in her chest. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears. She felt her tone sharpen. “Oh, no, no, no. There are things much worse than becoming a Runner, worse than death. You don’t even have a clue.” Mimi slammed down the remains of her food to the floor. She stood up at full height, which wasn’t much above Shannon’s height at sitting. But Shannon drew back.
For a moment, the light of the room tinged red. She had the strange sensation that her words somehow flowed into Shannon’s brain almost in the same way that Mimi could skim minds.
“Shannon, I’ve never had the luxury of watching someone grow old. Every single person I ever brought down here and told my secrets to ignored me. Every single one either left me because I wouldn’t tell them how to find the alcove, or ended up a Runner because I did. You have no idea what it’s like to live for centuries, having your heart broken over and over again. You have no idea what it’s like to lose every single person you love, to have them stripped from you. Wonder why I lie? Because no one ever listens to me, even after I tell them what happened to the others. So, Shannon, I do care about you, or else I wouldn’t tell you shit.”
Mimi’s sight cleared a little, the red tinge faded, but she had not seen Shannon’s reaction until that moment. She had not seen the fear and the pain that she had somehow pushed inside her. Shannon sat motionless, eyes wide open. She appeared unable to blink, but tears were pouring down her cheeks. An open faucet.
Then her face came back to life again. She blinked and her cheeks twitched. Shannon’s whole body shivered as she buckled from the inside. She was a building, collapsing under its own weight, unable to stop falling.
Mimi reached out to catch her, but missed. Luckily, she fell on the bed.
What had Mimi done to her? Was she able to push her thoughts onto Shannon? Did she somehow… scream into her mind? A sense of panic took her as she examined the ruins and wreckage of the woman she loved. Sharp sobs punctuated the space, deep rasping breaths and gasps for air. Shannon did not seem to be able to speak and Mimi walked closer to her, hesitantly putting a hand on her shoulder.
Shannon turned over, just enough to look in Mimi’s brown eyes. “Did… How… What did you…”
It was all that Shannon could utter.
Mimi felt the anger rise in her again. Shannon had made her do this. It was Shannon’s fault and if she didn’t get out right that moment, if she didn’t get away from her, she would hurt her again. She didn’t understand how, but she knew it on some instinctive level.
Her anger was a pulsar, a radical sun, heavy and dense and full of heat and fire. She felt it radiating from her body, she felt almost a desire to scream at Shannon again, to go back to the red. That redness was almost hungry, and now that she had let it see the light of day, it wanted more.
Mimi turned and fled the space. She hurried toward the long metal pipe at the entrance. She didn’t know where she was going, but she needed out, needed away.
Why was it they never understood? They always thought she was holding out on them. Didn’t they understand that she had loved them all? She watched them all leave, or be taken to the Runnercore or… She swallowed hard. She couldn’t let herself think of Daniel. Couldn’t think of what he had become. She didn’t dare turn her mind that direction.
The red had faded with each footstep. She felt herself cooling. The tectonics of her inner life had settled, for now.
Why did she keep doing it? Why did she keep sneaking into the alcove? Why did she keep extending her years? Most of all, why did she keep taking new lovers? Because she could? Because she needed to fill some emptiness in her? There was some reason, she reached for it, but it seemed impossible to grab hold of.
She heard footsteps behind her, felt the gentle press of Shannon’s mind come closer, like an invisible tide gradually rushing in. She did not turn to meet her.
Shannon had come. After what Mimi had done to her, of which she still wasn’t sure, Shannon had still come after her.
Her voice was soft and hesitant. “What happened to Daniel?” Shannon waited a moment for a response. “Mimi, please. Tell me. Sometimes it helps if you talk about it. It helped me… no, it saved me to tell you about Tanya. I don’t think I could have gone on without telling you. Just tell me. I love you too, you know. I didn’t say it earlier, but I do.”
Mimi still didn’t turn. She kept herself cold, afraid of the return of that redness. “Me. I happened to him.” Her voice was cold and quavering. She barely held her tears, her tears cried for freedom. She headed for the surface, breaking for a run, and did not stop until she saw that Shannon wasn’t behind her anymore.