Jay peered through the flap of his small grubby tent, once white but now a mottled mass of browns and blacks. The storm seemed to have passed and already the sky was filling with the thick acrid smoke of camp fires. He pushed through to the outside and looking about, the thick mud seeping over the top of his shoes.
“Where you going boy?” Snapped the old man from the tent opposite. “You better be careful out there”
He might only be 13 but he had seen enough to know how to look after himself. Mr Brabbin was harmless enough, he had lost his wife and three children to the plague so could be forgiven being grumpy.
“I will Mr B” He said reaching down and patting the lump in his pocket, checking it was still there. “I’ll bring you back something.”
“Good boy” Mr Brabbin mumbled climbing back inside his tent “just like my Jacob”. Jay watched him disappear and headed off across the camp towards the river without bothering to secure his own tent, it wasn’t like he had anything worth stealing.
Through rows and rows he walked, people emerging and getting back to what they spent most of their days doing, which was not a great deal. Dirty faced children milled about and the smells and noise of a million refugees filled the air. The food drops were due soon, which was the highlight of the day, but outside of that it was a pretty miserable hand to mouth existence they lived. Each week an envoy from New York would fly over and update them with the latest immigration status, and each week it was the same old story. New York was full.
Even from this far out he could see her in the distance, her hab-zones reaching high into the sky. They were so large they dwarfed the old skyline, huge structures of concrete and glass built to house those that were lucky enough to make it in before they stopped all movement in an out of the city.
He followed the line of tents until they lead him down towards the shoreline, the black waters of the harbour stretching out before him in the distance. He picked up a rock and threw it at a sign that warned that a one hundred metre wide stretch of land around the water’s edge had been mined. He winced as the rock ricocheted from the sign and rolled across the ground.
He climbed up onto an oil drum and reached into his pocket pulling out a ration pack, ‘Courtesy of the New York City State’ stencilled across the silver foil packaging. Sitting there watching the shuttles buzzing around the high towers of the city in the distance he bit off the corner and squeezed the contents into his mouth. Probably Banana but it was hard to tell.
As palls of smoke drifted from the camp out towards the water’s edge he watched the supply drones growing larger as they headed across the bay towards them, large spider like craft with their legs wrapped around the containers of food and water. They would drop their contents and then monitor the distribution from above, with any sign of unrest ensuring that perpetrators would soon discover that they were also heavily armed.
He craned his neck as they buzzed overhead, shouts and commotion from the camp filling his ears. He finished his ration pack and screwed the packaging into a ball and tossed it towards the warning sign and watched it fall to the ground into a pile of the discarded silver packages.
The sound of a patrol boat in the harbour caused him to look up and hurriedly he pulled a small notepad and pencil from a pocket and scribbled the time and a description of the boat. Leafing back through the tattered pages he noticed that it was running a minute late. Pretty unusual for automated craft he thought.
For a while Jay just sat, scribbling notes into his book and watching the shadows grow longer as the sun began to dip in the sky. It wouldn’t be long now.
Soon two men emerged from the tents heading towards the shore about forty metres away. It was the nightly ritual, a run for the city and a chance of a life away from the desperation, death and disease of the camp. Dressed in little more than rages, their faces gaunt and eyes sallow they moved slowly, the setting sun warm on their backs.
They paused at the edge of the restricted area and then, without speaking, set off towards the waters edge. Jay watched, his heart racing and the paper in his hand shaking as step by step they drew nearer and nearer to the waters edge. A step became five metres and five metres became ten.
He noticed one turn to the other and smile but in that moment there was an ear splitting thud and an explosion of dirt and fire and both men were thrown up into the air like rag dolls. Limbs torn from their bodies they didn’t even have time to scream before they came back to earth in a plume of smoke and falling debris. The taller of the two set off a second ear splitting explosion as he landed and he disappeared in a pink mist spread across the ground and reflected in the late evening sun.
As the smoke drifted away Jay uncovered his ears and flicked through the pages of his note book. On a small diagram of the shore front he marked the spot where they had triggered the mines. Their loss was his gain, and it had him one step closer to his own freedom…