Stepping Up 2.06

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One of the difficulties of the pre-hivemind version of the human knowledge share was the dependence upon constant reapplication of electrical energy. Cold fusion and perpetual motion were but speculations before the Ascension, so all the powered tools like computing machines or technosocial portals either needed to be chained to the electrical grid, or resupplied with regular power inputs.

All of which to say: if you wanted to use the Internet, you had to find electricity somewhere.

This was not an insurmountable difficulty for many, as it was common to have several electrical outlets per room in a given house. If one did not have the good fortune to have a house, however. . . If one did not have a house they might find themselves of an afternoon wandering the streets in search of an electrical outlet to reconnect them to the technosocial world after exhausting the battery on their phone.

Which is how Kid came to discover a corner sandwich shop advertising their grainy breads and free internet wedged between a nail salon with bars in the windows being gripped by dismembered hands with meticulous polish and a school for girls showcasing a series of rubber ducks hung by the neck in their display.

Kid had found a table in the corner with an electrical outlet. He pulled out his drained phone and grabbed the charger from his bag. Attaching the one to the other, and the other to the wall he watched the little light embedded in the edge of the phone flicker to a slim red line indicating the state of the battery and slid the phone onto the table. Then he shoved his bag into the corner of the bench.

Swinging his legs up to rest his feet on the edge of his benchseat Kid twisted to recline against his bag, resting his eyes to recharge more than just his technosocial access portal.

So we are gonna do this thing, join the gang tonight?

Haven’t we already decided? I mean, isn’t this like when we came up in the first place? Might as well go al the way up.

Huh.

In the sharpening clarity of the memory cavern Shady flicked a finger against a water globe resting on the shelf, revisiting the memory Fuzz had mentioned.

The tunnel narrowed after a while and kept narrowing until the boy was on his fingers and toes again, and he noticed that at some point the ground had stopped feeling as hard and cold, and now was a little warmer and brushed off on his fingertips. The tunnel came to sudden end and the boy’s fingers worked from the ground up along the wall when they found a wedge of familiar grainy lines spaced along the wall.

More wood?

Weird. Seems like just a piece tacked onto the wall.

Wait, reach a little higher, just above the wood?

There’s another one.

It might be a ladder?

Up. It goes up.

Maybe, out?

Grinning to himself in the dark, the boy tested the strength of the wooden slats, and then started climbing. When the eighth slat disintegrated beneath his feet, the boy dropped, and he found himself in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the ladder.

Um, are we trying to make a habit of this?

Not funny.

He craned his neck up into the inky blackness, rolled his shoulders and started climbing again, this time pressing his back up against the opposite wall of the tunnel, sliding up on the bag hung across his shoulders, while trying to keep his hands and feet on different slats all the time, and moving quicker.

The last few rungs were carved into the concrete wall. At the top of the tunnel was another piece of wood, spanning the entirety of narrow space. The boy pushed at the wood, which did not move.

I mean, wood covering a ladder? Got to be a door, right?

We can’t to the launching thing that we did at the cave.

The boy adjusted his feet, pushing hard against the opposite wall, wedged his shoulder and his good hand up against the door, and strained, feeling the door start to give. Then in a burst of dust the door gave way, and one foot slipped, dangling free, and his arms flapped at the opening, grasping for purchase.

Not again.

He began to slip back into the gap, flailing arms hitting a floor and another wall and nothing at all to grab. A sliding foot caught on a carved niche, and the boy caught his balance. He took a breath, and pushed his way into the space beyond the door. In which he still could not see. 

Feeling his way around he ran into a wall that felt made out of wood, and two others that felt closer to stone. He shuffle crawled his way toward where the fourth wall should be. He met the fourth wall, another colder stone type wall.

Remember how much easier it was to explore with the glowy pool? I mean it was pretty much just, look from one side to the other. Done. Room explored.

Yeah, light is pretty great.

Drifting fingertips discovered that the one wooden wall did not extend all the way to the last stone wall. Through the opening shaped by the two walls, the space spilled out into an area too broad for the boy to touch another wall dotted with splintered bits of wood. He grabbed one of the longer pieces, a round stick, about as long as his leg, and began poking it out into the darkness around him.

The tapping stick sounded to the dimensions of the space, which appeared to be empty except for the one wall that reached a little higher than the boy’s head and not all the way across the room, the scattered debris, and a single doorway. The boy shuffled his feet through the door following the soft tap of his stick. 

Poking and sweeping the stick out in front of him, the boy found matching rows of chairs and counters on the opposing sides of the room, remnants of the chair mounted on a single pole before each little alcove of counter space. In the corner he found a desk, and then another door across the room from the door through which he had entered.

He swept the stick through the last corner, then stepped into a narrow hall beyond the door behind him. He shuffled across one, two steps and felt the cold roughness of a stone wall that went higher than his hands could reach even with the aid of his stick. The wall extended without feature or indentation for twenty steps in each direction.

The boy walked back, one hand trailing the wall and crossed back to the door leading to the room which had the door down to his tunnel. Then he walked his hands along the building front, around the pole set to the left of the door, and down toward the adjacent building which shared the dividing wall.

Um, maybe take a minute?

Do we have to? I think this is it! Look at all these rooms, and right next to each other!

Is this Ground? Um, Above?

I don’t think so.

What do you mean?

Well, if this was Above, what would be above us?

Ok, I know I have asked this before, but are we SURE

It still doesn’t matter if we are crazy or not. Stop asking.

Oh. Ok.

Not like that. We have too much to worry about to waste time on things we can’t change.

Oh. Got it. I’ll remember.

Right. So, Above?

The memory haze flickered, revealing a miniature of the long corridor in which the boy stood, and there above them hanging in the dark are the faint orange impressions of twelve uniform glowing squares, in four lines of three.

I mean, maybe things have changed, but shouldn’t there be things like clouds?

Oh. Right. So maybe this isn’t the Above. So. How do we get up there?

Are we sure we WANT to go up there?

Pretty sure we need to go. Unless you feel like fishing forever.

And that ‘how’ part?

Did you notice that the, um, shaking seems, well, louder as we go up? Maybe we follow the noise?

No! I vote no. Do we vote? I want to vote no.

Hah. Um. Ok. Other than following the noise?

Chase the light?

I like the light. Let’s do that.

How do we do that?

Check this other room for a way up?

The boy ducked into the adjacent building. A cursory search of the place revealed one large room, which by shuffle step count was about the same size as the building next door, except without the divisor between the area he emerged into from the tunnel and the front area. The room was empty but for a few shelves in varying states of disrepair, some items of random shapes and sizes distributed among them. After tucking a few of the items into his bag out of curiosity, he found himself back in the corridor in connecting the two rooms, neck craned to stare at the glowing squares overhead.

Is it just me?

Nope. They look brighter, right?

Is that weird? Seems kinda weird.

A Quest!

Are there things on this wall we can climb? Um, things that stick out from the wall?

The boy faced the wall, grazing one hand flat over the surface of the wall, sliding to his left from the doorjamb, shuffling feet moving his body along with his hand. When he found a window, he patted out the depth of the sill. 

Just wider than our hand is long. 

It should be wide enough to stand on and find the next thing to grab.

Here we go.

Using two fingers to brace himself, the boy hoisted a leg almost even with his head and slid his foot onto the window sill, then pushed, leveraging his body to where he could tuck his knee beneath him and shift his weight. Standing, one hand on the frame of the window, one extended over his ducked head, he felt the top of the window, and patted his fingertips across the top of the frame. 

Maybe wide enough to rest or grip? 

Not enough to stand or pull.

He walked little fingers, stretched above his head, to the edge of the window farthest from the door. Up on his toes he searched the area above and around the window until he touched a cold, smooth square protrusion jutting straight from the side of the building.

It extended as far out from the building as the boy dared reach while balanced on the not-wide ledge. He wrapped his hand around the cool length and his fingers almost touched on the other side. Leaning more weight onto his hand, he pulled one foot up, brushing at the window and the frame for purchase, found halfway up the window where something hard joined the window to the frame.

Shifting his weight to his hands and one foot, he rose, then paused, holding himself with a foot dangling beneath him. That foot went up, next to his hands, and slipped over the other side, hooking a hold in the crook of his knee. Straightening, keeping one hand next to his knee, the other searched the wall in the slow brushing pat.

Right above his perch was another cold, smooth square pole, this time seeming to point back down at the ground instead of straight out from the wall. Gripping tight he shifted again to bring both feet beneath him and pull himself erect, again, whereupon he realized two things: he was facing another window, and he could see through the murky glass into the room waiting on the other side.

Beyond the window in front of the boy was a room which looked at a glance to be as large as the two below him put together, the scant light creeping through two small windows wedged where the wall met the ceiling on the far side of the room. Delicate light caught the floating dust, hovering above myriad boxes and furnishings scattered about the room, going unnoticed by the little boy clinging to a window staring over at the other small windows.

Then he looked down at the window just in front of him. The weak light from the windows did not offer a great deal of clarity as to the opening mechanism of the window, and when the boy placed a hand on the glass, braced his feet as he could, and pushed the window fell off the frame with a suddenness that almost catapulted the boy through the window and onto the now shattered remains of the window. As the crash dwindled, the boy looked all around at the darkness beneath him and the light before, not daring move or even breathe. When he did move, it was a roll of his neck, then his shoulders, and a little hop from the pole perch onto the window frame.

Um. Thoughts?

I think things are going really well!

Um. Helpful thoughts?

No, I agree. This is way better than I thought this was going to go.

Again. Thanks. So the, um?

Broken glass?

Yeah. Looks. Well. Painful.

Really? Let’s not do that.

Agreed. Um. Can we jump over it?

Can’t really see how far the shards go. I don’t want to seem like our buddy here, but there isn’t THAT much light.

Hey!

Right. Um. Drop the bag and jump onto it?

Nice. Um. Won’t we have to come back for the bag?

Rope. Boom.

The boy rolled his shoulders again, this time sliding the grey bag to hang from a pair of fingers as he rummaged inside to grab the rope. He leaned against the frame of the window, flashed a look at the still-lit windows, and shifted the bag to his knees. Looking down at the bag for a moment, he wrapped an end of the rope through the two dark leather handles. Looped two more times then brought the end to the line and stared at it.

His face twisted to one side, scrunched in the middle. He wrapped the loose end around the line three times, and another, wove the end of the rope in and out of the wrapping loops, then tucked it back into the middle of the two lines, where they met at the handles. He pulled on the line, hoping it would hold. And untie, but that was a problem for later.

He threw the bag what he hoped was a reasonable jumping distance, letting the spooled rope run through his fingers. Crouching on the frame of the window, holding the rope to the bag, he looked at the sharp pieces of glass gleaming in the half light with the crystalline promise of pain. Rolled his shoulders. And jumped.

Eyes took in slow motion swirls his arrival stirred in the floating dust, chalk on his tongue, sharp prismatic flashes of light cut to her constitute parts on the razor edges of the fragments of glass beneath him, before him, aiming feet toward the only hope, his bag, grey on browner grey in the dim, toes curling together, landing just on the forward edge of the waxed canvas, and his weight, his speed, his momentum carried him forward, too fast, too soon, and the glass edges rose in silvered slivers, and one large piece, large enough lose a finger, a nose, and there was nowhere safe and his one good hand shot out and pinned just the center of that large pieces of glass, right to the ground, and he caught his momentum, lowering himself to suspend his head eyeballs away from shards which, upon closer inspection, looked ever so much more painful than they had from the windowsill, before leaning back, pushing up to rest on his heels.

In the swirling ghost dust a half smile pushed onto a small boy’s face, and close to his chest he punched a quiet fist into an open palm. He looked around, peering through the dust to try and catch the twinkle of slivers marking the edge of the glass spray. One roll of the neck, a twist of the hips to face one of the corners near a side of the window he had just vacated, he launched himself through the dust swirls again.

No slow motion hyper awareness of his surroundings this time. Just the jump, the floor, and the wall. And the floor again. But no glass, and he pushed to his feet and looked around the open space.

That was, um.

Awesome? I liked the fist smack!

Fist smack?

That thing you did with the punching at the end?

Oh. Ok. Yeah!

Just don’t leave the bag. And maybe don’t drag it through the glass?

Right. So, the window, then?

Do we

Stop it. Yes.

There is a stack of rugs over there in the corner. We could climb up to the window and figure out if we can open it.

Isn’t there another way out? I mean, shouldn’t there be? Did everyone enter by window?

Um. Right. Good point.

A quick look revealed no obvious avenues to either exit or ascend to the upper floor. One ceiling tile in the corner of the room stood apart as being made of a bumpy kind of metal with metal rails running from the ceiling to the floor at the tile corners. Circumventing the glass the boy went wide, weaving between the remnants of an old chair and some boxes, looking up at the metal tile.

I think that is some kind of exit.

Which would be handy if we could fly.

Or if we had four meter long arms.

What? Why not just wish to be taller?

Or flying. Flying is awesome.

I was just saying, long arms could have helped.

Gah. Let’s go try the window.

Clambering up the hill of piled rugs was easy, and almost fun. When he reached the window the boy saw little lines crossing all through the glass which was thick and foggy on the inside of the glass where it would not wipe clear. His face twisted, scrunched in the middle. He looked at the edges of the window, eyes following along the frame, heart beating a little faster when he saw hinges at the top corners.

The boy checked each corner to be sure and looked down to the bottom of the frame. Right in the middle was a little curve of metal, with a flat knob where it met with the frame on one side. He grabbed the metal knob and pulled it toward himself.

Nothing.

He pushed the knob down, toward the frame.

Nothing.

He pulled the knob up, away from the frame.

Nothing.

He pulled, pried, pushed, twisted and beat the knob and the frame around it every way he could imagine until he collapsed onto the rugs. From which he leapt at once, brushing and scratching at his skin, jumping to the ground, and glaring up at the rugs, the window, and the damned little knob.

The boy approached the other unboarded window, and looked up at webbed glass. He could see the knob from where he stood, on the same side of this arch as the stubborn bastard over there was from his metal housing. The boy scanned the debris at his feet and reached down to grab a broken stick laying close to a broom head. Looking at the window, he stretched the stick up until the point rested on the under side of the knob, and he pushed.

And with a quick, little creek, the knob moved, up along the curve of the arch. He stared at it for a moment, jaw dropped, and he released the stick with a clatter. Then he looked at the pile of rugs. With decisivity to his stride, the boy returned to the pile, grabbing a rug near the bottom and dragging it over to rest beneath the other window.

Then he went to get another. After he had built a pile that was maybe a head shorter than the pile in the corner had been, the boy climbed to stand on his work, and the bottom of the window reached just his chest.

He stood for a moment, then flipped the knob to other side of the arch and wedged his tiny finger into a crease, and strained up on the window frame, which yielded to his pressure, cracking open in short, screamy bursts while he winced and tried to peer and pull at the same time. When it was open enough to tuck his head under the edge, the boy did, pushing his forehead right into a net of little metal lines criss-crossed so small as to be almost invisible. A screen.

After a moment he reached into his pocket and pulled out his knife, and removed the sheath. He held the knife in his hand, blade up by his thumb, like he had when scraping the fish. Looking back at the screen and then up at the window, he flipped the knife over to grip it with the blade out by his little finger.

He leaned toward the window and jabbed the knife at the screen in short, hard pulses until he felt the little links give. He had cut right along the bottom edge. Thrusting the knife back and forth he dragged the blade along the bottom edge of the frame, switched hands and worked it up the side, until the angle of the window stymied his efforts. He grabbed the now loose corner of the screen and yanked up, once, and the tearing revealed a gaping triangle just about the right size for a skinny little boy to squeeze. And through that gap he saw

Those look like…

Berries!

Wait, we don’t know

Berries.

It will be worth noting that this was not as unusual a discovery as it might seem. The rock from which we sprang into the verse was rich in nutrient-laden soil and carbon thick atmosphere. Delicious delicacies like, say blackberries, could grow wild, classified as an invasive species even, a weed. Post-Ascension organic fetishists had been known to trade entire spaceships for a pound of the fruit, but back then they grew, wasted on the branch and died with little comment.

A little hand shot out and snagged three, and four, little black clusters from the bush hanging over the edge of the window, which opened just at ground level outside. Right as he snatched the fourth a metal contraption roared past, flooding the room with sound and startling the boy into a tumble down the pile of rugs that ended in a black smeared lump at the base. He looked down at his hand and eased one of the remaining clusters into his mouth. He chewed for a moment, then his eyebrows skied and he shoved his whole hand in his mouth.

That was a car.

Yup.

That was loud.

Yup.

Well, we aren’t alone.

Really?

I mean, just.

We know. He knows. He’s just whiney.

I kinda know how he feels.

Yeah. Me, too.

So. We went up.

Got food.

Berries!

It is getting lighter.

Morning.

Right. Um. Do we want to, maybe, call it a day? Coming back will be easy now that we know the way.

No. We’re here. Let’s go all the way up.

He rolled his neck, eyes fixed upon the gaping window, slung his bag off his shoulders again, onto the floor, and crawled back up the rug pile. A wisp of wind drifted in the open window, across his face and he held, and leaned into the breeze, inhaling. For no reason he understood, the boy thought about the cave with the pool.

Eyes opened and narrowed, and he slipped an arm and his head under the flopping corner of the screen, feeling under his palm, under his cheek, the loose dirt, smelling the crisp morning air. Wriggling his shoulders though, and his second arm, he pushed though and looked around.

He was laying in a small dirt area, about an arm wide and a couple body lengths long, dotted with three small berry laden bushes and little clumps of smaller greenery along the edges. He rose up onto his elbows, neck whipping his head in a tight circle, eyes darting up, down and back as he tried to see everything at once.

“Ahem.”

A harsh throat clearing pulled Kid from reposed reverie and he jerked into a seated position to face an adult bearing a long fold of laminate and a scowl.

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