Here goes — my attempt to get back on track with the Neeka Story, moving the tale forward even though I’m still not sure exactly where we’re going. In fact, it’s been so long, I had to review where we’ve already been!
You can find all of the previous chapters of this story, as well as a quick recap, at the Neeka Story link, if you’d also like to review before you read this new chapter.
Back when I started writing this — over a year ago, it was July 2016! — the Discover Challenge writing prompt was called For Posterity, and it asked us to “play archivist,” documenting “a place, an object, a word, a custom, a smell, even a person — … [to] save for posterity.” But as usual, I’ve taken the idea in a bit of a different direction, just using it as a springboard to keep the narrative of this story flowing.
In the prompt post, the For Posterity Discover Challenge editor featured an amazing blog called Abandoned Southwest, created by “a millennial from Birmingham, Alabama [with an] obsession with the forgotten and abandoned.” The images from this blog are haunting and beautiful, and I was particularly drawn to one of their more recent posts (at the time), called Bone Valley.
Those are just a few of the blogger’s amazing photos of this derelict phosphate plant in central Florida, and you can see many more in the original post. When I saw the pictures, I knew it was exactly where Neeka was headed for the secret UAV (drone) race she was so eager to get to in the last chapter, after her encounter with the invisible stalker and the private investigator she met at her door.
So, finally, here we go! The image credit for today’s awesome dragon, which I thought had a bit of an old, cobwebbed look due to its stitched-in-thread nature, is at the bottom of the page, as always.
Neeka was just barely in time to catch the express bus on the main road that separated her neighborhood from the rougher north side, so she was forced to stand in the crowded aisle, hanging on to the rail above her head while trying to cradle both the UAV case and the cobike, recollaped and slung over her other arm by the strap, against her body so as not to bump any of the other riders.
It was a forty minute ride, most of that on the superbypass that swung around the entirety of the megacorp City, until they reached the government housing camps on the southern outskirts where many of the these bus riders lived. Her job at the Corp tower involved mostly sitting all day, but standing for that long wasn’t the only reason she felt uncomfortable; Neeka had rarely been out of the City this far, and she didn’t enjoy being confronted with how bad her fellow travelers had it, she admitted to herself.
These people worked for unimaginably low wages in the shining inner City but were never able to enjoy it, as she had the leisure to during her time off. They slaved away in boiler rooms, water treatment facilities, sewage collection plants, and all manner of other ‘dirty’ places that were necessary to keep the City functioning, all hidden underground so as not to offend the ‘better-off’ with their existence. There were even tunnels running under the City to the outskirts of downtown, where the bus stops were, so these people could get to and from their jobs without being seen by the middle class.
Neeka looked around at the faces lined from hard labor, the bodies shrunken from malnutrition, the eyes empty due to exhaustion or to heavy reliance on the multitude of drugs the Corp tolerated in the camps because it helped to keep the workers docile, addicted, and needing to work to support their habits. Most were human, although there were some young half-elves who probably had human family in the camps, and weren’t old enough to make it on their own yet.
Half-elves, as Neeka was, matured at the same rate as humans, although their aging slowed in their thirties and they outlived humans by a few decades. Full elves were much slower to mature but had fully double the lifespan of humans, so they tended to keep to themselves in the tight-knit communes on the north side, where each generation supported the next until the younger ones could get jobs in the City.
Then there were the orks, who matured faster than humans and had shorter lifespans (by the same decades the half-elves gained). They had their own camps on the west side of the City, and used specially converted freight trains as their daily transport, the only vehicles able to carry their extra size and bulk when they rode more than a few at a time.
The main City was a mixture of all the races, including half-orks and half-elves (elf-ork couples were rare and never produced children), where the lower- to upper-middle class of wage slaves made their homes. At the top of the social pyramid, a mix of the wealthy of all races lived in the upscale (but still segregated) boroughs on the inner west side, where mag-lev trains shuttled them in comfort to and from their cushy Corp jobs.
Here on the express bus that jostled and hummed and stank and sweltered, Neeka found herself clutching her UAV case and cobike closer out of more than just concern for her fellow passengers, and she didn’t feel good about it, either. She was hyper aware that these commuters wore drab and dirty work uniforms, and she stuck out like a sore thumb in her crisp black slacks and shimmery red club shirt, which she wore especially to bring out the red in her Corp-issued cybernetic eye. She silently cursed the P.I. Asher O’Leary as well as her invisible stalker for making her late in the first place, distracting her from putting together a more suitable outfit for the journey.
She was left unmolested, however (and of course she was, she chided herself, these people weren’t outland savages), and before too long the bus started making stops to drop people off. It became less and less crowded until Neeka could finally take an empty seat beside an older man, who smiled kindly at her, and then she had the whole double seat to herself when the man disembarked at his stop.
She spent the ride flipping her private digital display between the tech sites she followed online and the encoded directions to the race, worried she’d miss her stop. Finally, Neeka disembarked with one of the last groups of workers and moved across the hardpacked dirt road, waiting until the crowd started to disperse before flipping open the cobike again. She realized with a start that two other racers had been riding the bus with her, as they also waited beside the road and then one pulled out a cobike like Neeka’s and the other engaged a mechanized longboard. The pair took off down a side road in the direction of the Styx, and Neeka followed them.
The Styx was the blighted, far southern edge of the Corp City, outside the superbypass, that had been the site of some sort of massive chemical accident decades ago. The Board (the ruling authority of the City) still banned people from trespassing in the “contaminated zone,” but that was where the encoded directions were leading her, and Neeka tried to breathe normally. People in the underground scenes had been reporting for years that the area was perfectly safe now, and that the land was even starting to recover, but the majority of the population still believed it was a wasteland, hence the depressing name.
Empty shells of buildings and farmhouses stood miles apart from one another across the bleak rural landscape, lit by the sun that was starting to sink toward the horizon to her right. Neeka’s first thought was that the soil in the fallow fields she passed must still be contaminated and unusable for crops, but if the reports were true, it seemed more likely that the Board had worked out some deal with the agricultural fiefdom far to the south, rather than let their own workers venture out this far. As she swerved around a particularly deep rut in the road, her thoughts quickly returned to the present as a massive, rusting building came into view ahead.
Even from this distance, Neeka could see that it was probably three city blocks long, a wide, rectangular brick structure with three metal sheds perched atop it and a narrow metal silo standing beside it to the right. There was a smaller building set off to the left with it’s own top shed and more silos, and what she couldn’t help but think of as waterslide tubes arching around, above, and through it, though she couldn’t imagine what they would have been used for in a factory like this. The encrypted digital flyer that had led her here called this an abandoned chemical processing plant. It was eerie, and she felt slightly better when the two racers in front of her also slowed to take in the scene.
When they stopped to talk to each other off on the side of the road, Neeka decided to get a closer look at this monster squatting on the barren landscape. She rode past them and down the middle of the path toward the factory, following the curve of the road to the right, bringing her along side it. As she got closer, she could see the building was supported by dozens of thick columns. It reminded her of buildings she’d seen in photos that were built near the ocean; it hovered above the land, as if waiting for the sea of tall wild grass all around the property to rush in and reclaim the gravelly earth beneath it.
She didn’t think it could be completely hollow underneath, but it was too dark to see into any of the spaces between the columns from this distance to be sure. She returned her focus to the road as it took her to the left and around the west side of the building. Another outbuilding loomed in front of her, this one a square brick tower as high as the factory with a rusted metal stairway — no, conveyor belt, she realized as she got closer — leading from the road to a window near the top. Under the conveyor, a large half-orkish woman lounged on a pair of chemical drums, part of a circle of makeshift chairs around an unlit firepit.
Neeka blinked on her virtual display and glanced around; there were no other signs of life, so she headed toward the woman, and relaxed when she finally noticed the race info sign in stylized graffiti along the conveyor’s edge.
“I’m here for the mini-golf — did I make it?” Neeka asked, using the code phrase from the flyer and hoping the qualifying heats hadn’t started yet.
The bigger woman looked her up and down, taking in the quad case and Neeka’s Styx-unsuitable attire before gesturing with a tusk behind Neeka and toward the main factory. “Take that stairway on the left, door at the top, code is 1337. Better hurry,” she said, then grunted as Neeka smiled her thanks and spun toward the factory. The other two racers had come up behind her and were hanging back, waiting for their turn with the gatekeeper, but Neeka didn’t stick around to hear if they had the right code phrase.
When she got to the bottom of a wide brick staircase leading up to a doorway in the wall above the columns, she saw with surprise that in fact at least this part of the building was hollow underneath — lots of cars, some abandoned and rusted, but others definitely those of other racers here for the event, were arranged haphazardly in the shadow of the factory, out of sight of any surveillance drones. She stepped off the cobike and flipped it closed, slinging it once again over her shoulder as she made her way to the door at the top.
A brand-new keypad, looking very out-of-place set into the decrepit metal door, buzzed her in when she input the code. She blinked on her virtual display as she pushed her way in, easily picking out the race graffiti on the wall, and headed down the left hallway, mentally psyching herself up for the races ahead.
Continue this tale with the next chapter, [link will appear when next chapter is done!]…
This post is copyright © Jamie Lyn Weigt. All rights reserved. Please do not share without credit and a direct link back to this post and my site, writingdragonsblog.com.
Today’s dragon art is called Dark Creatures – Dragon, and is an embroidery design (both hand and machine) available for purchase by the folks at Urban Threads. They also have a blog called StitchPunk where you can see finished versions of their great designs by other stitching enthusiasts, enter contests to win prizes, and in general see amazing stuff — go check them out! 🙂