Jaqui woke with a start, sitting bolt upright on her tattered sofa and bouncing on its worn springs. A rusted vent overhead blasted her with warmth. She had been deep in a dream of her youth, something about how she used to nap atop the furnaces of the old family home, curled up around steady streams of oil-burned heat. She often had that dream and wondered how much of it had to do with her sleeping arrangements. She rubbed an oily pair of fists into her blackened eyes and yawned, stretched, then threw her legs over the side of the sofa so that she could sit up and look out at the city. A yellowing plastic jug sat near one foot; she took it up and drew a deep draught of water. It tasted like the air, dry and artificial. She fished in her overall pockets for a crumpled pack of cigarettes and lit one. She blew out a cloud of smoke and the current that constantly eddied around her tiny perch whisked it away.
She had lived on that ledge for the better part of the year, having taken great pains to make it habitable. The sofa had been the biggest challenge, and in hindsight she would have been fine with a futon or a padded sleeping bag. The thing had required a proper block and tackle to hoist it up from the street, some fifteen stories below. Tobias had helped her with it. At first, she had her doubts about his motives, as she did with all men who offered their assistance, but in time he had revealed to her that he was a eunuch, and all Jaqui’s imagined threats vanished. The revelation also explained his weird, almost alien softness. According to him he had had his manhood crushed in the revolt of ’19 during an overzealous arrest, and ever since then he had found it impossible to muster even a spark of aggression. Jaqui would have loved to have known him before then, just for a frame of reference. The man he was now suited her just fine, though, and they had formed a comfortable, almost symbiotic relationship. He never asked to come up to her perch, but part of her hoped that someday he would. The view was fantastic.
She was situated in the crux of one of the great support struts that held up the local Kozaki manufactory. The corporation built their industrial edifices as high above ground level as zoning regulations allowed, partly for safety but mostly to impose their presence over whatever area they occupied. The structure rose a further ten stories above Jaqui’s tiny platform and looked like the mutated union of an oil refinery and an atomic power station. Three titanic concrete silos blew white plumes of exhaust into the sky at all hours, and a million kilowatts worth of lights dotted the frame and various twisting pipes like a mechanical Christmas tree. Jaqui had no idea what they did in there. Tobias liked to call it a ‘Soylent factory’ and warned her that they would reprocess her into chicken nuggets if they ever caught her squatting. She wondered how that would feel but doubted that Kozaki was in the business of turning people into food. The Andrej conglomerate, on the other hand…
She stood and shook the sleep-knots out of her legs. She really should have done her yoga routine, but that morning she felt like getting right to work. She crossed the plywood floor that made up the whole of her living space to her workbench. Myriad electronic components covered its surface amidst several tools: soldering irons of assorted sizes, tiny wrenches and screwdrivers, various magnetized pincers, and clamps. A magnifying glass surrounded by a hoop of fluorescent light hung from the end of a spring-loaded arm, and always stood lit and ready for operation. Jaqui left all her appliances running—it wasn’t like she was paying for power.
She slumped down onto the cracked plastic surface of an old diner stool and peered into the glass. The tiny drone she’d been constructing was nearly complete. “Just a few more adjustments,” she murmured around the cigarette butt. She took up her tools and got busy.
2015.01.06 – 2023.08.07