The Electric Hum of Smoke – A Short Story

electric smokeDianne steered her bike carefully through the slums.

She could hear the hum of electricity that was the constant music in her world. To her, it sounded like thousands of slot machines, all going off at once. If you were in the midst of all the lights and bustle of the centre core of the city, it was just as bright.

She eschewed the tram, the monorail that ran through Campton and the other parts of the republic. Family vehicles flew through the air with a constant hum. If you were too poor to afford a family saucer, there was always a hover board. They had grown in popularity as of late.

Dianne liked to go her own way, to use her two feet. She didn’t like to rely on electricity, electronics and technology to get her where she wanted to go. She was considered an odd ball because of this and was an outcast.

She didn’t really mind, but it could get lonely. Living on the edge of Campton, she took her bike everywhere. Dianne still remembered the day she had found it: The bike had been on the trash heap, a forgotten relic from another time. She didn’t know what it was at first, had no idea. However, she knew it was something wonderful.

Taking it home to the slum she lived in, she turned on her computer. She didn’t have much in her life that relied on electricity, but she did have a computer. It gave her access to a world gone by, one that she frequently wished she had been born into. She used it to research things like music, television and travel from long ago and to find out more about a world she wished she had been part of.

Unable to find anything on the Universal web, she took the contraption to the only person who would know: Dickenson. He was the man that ran the black market. He claimed to be from the world before, the world that had existed before electricity had taken over, before people depended on gadgets to help them walk, speak or even think.

He claimed to be from hundreds of years ago. Dianne knew that this was possible if you wanted it. It was possible to live for as long as you wanted to, if you had enough money and enough access to the medicine that would keep you alive that long.

Dickenson claimed that his body hadn’t been altered, that he had no implants or electric parts in his body, nothing to enhance his eyes or his vision. He claimed to be just as the Gods made him. Dianne knew that there was no way he was hundreds of years old without having a little help, but there was no electric hum emanating from him. For all she knew, he was telling the truth, or his version of it.

His face had shone when he had seen it. “Where did you find that?”

“On the trash heap. It was buried under tons of other stuff, furniture and gizmos and the like.”

Calling it a trash heap was a bit a misnomer. It was actually a sea of trash and it took up an entire fraction of Campton. There were all kinds of things to be found there if you were brave enough to look. Some people, those that were homeless, lived there, eked out a life among the refuse and dug a home out of the things left behind.

“Well, you certainly found something useful though I doubt anyone would want it.”

“What is it?” Dianne asked, unable to keep the curiosity out of her voice.

“It’s a bicycle, or bike. Here, let me show you how to ride it.”

That had been three years ago. Her bike was Dianne’s constant companion. Now in terms of prized possessions, she had only two: her computer and her bike. She rode it now, once again heading towards Dickenson’s black market.

It had grown a lot over three years. Instead of just a garage, it now spanned a whole city block, largely underneath the city; all the better to keep it hidden. The Enforcers cracked down on black market trades but only if they could find them.

As she made her way towards Dickenson’s, she rummaged in a satchel. She slowed when she saw Sliver, a woman with skin as silver as her name. She had tried a skin transplant but the doctors hadn’t told her that they had gotten the skin from an unknown lifeform. The rosy hue of her skin gone, she left to go to the slums. It was safer for her there.

Silver smiled when she saw Dianne. “You got my order, honey?”

“You know it, though I don’t know why you bother. You’re already beautiful.”

“Yeah, yeah, so you keep telling me. Now do you have it?”

Dianne pulled out the slim tube and held it out to Silver. “That’s fifty credits.”

“Gosh, why not just rob me?”

“You have no idea what I did to get this. Trust me, fifty credits is cheap.”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever.” She held out her wrist and Dianne did the same. Dianne looked down at her wrist and saw that the screen was showing her balance of credits. It had just shot up twenty pieces. Of course, the wristwares were normally monitored by government and the republic, but Dickenson had hooked her up with one that wasn’t monitored by anyone. Most of the people in the slums had one designed by him.

“Thanks Diana.”

Dianne grimaced. “You know my name is Dianne.”

“I know, but I think that Diana sound prettier. Oh, and Ms. Kowalis was looking for you. Wants to see if you can get her some spare parts for her viewfinder.”

“I already got them. I’ll go see her after I see Dickenson.”

“I’ll let her know if I see her. Thanks Diana.” She looked back over her shoulder and gave Dianne a wicked grin.

Dianne smiled despite herself and got back on her bicycle. She headed towards the main entrance to Dickson’s. You now had to go through a maze of streets to find the entrance and only the people who shopped there knew where it was. It was a location that spread by word of mouth. This helped keep away those that would only cause trouble and helped Dickenson keep a low profile.

Zooming down a narrow street, Dianne came to the entrance. It was made to look like just an alleyway, with soot markings and crumbled streets, but only those in the know knew that it was something else altogether. She drove her bicycle up to the entrance of the alleyway and waited.

A wide red laser beam erupted with bright light in front of her. Then it spoke: *State your name and business.*

Looking into the red light, Dianne remembered to keep her heart rate steady. The laser was programmed to read the heart beat and scan the eyes of each person entering the black market. It had pained Dickenson to do this, but needs must. He had almost been overthrown twice; it would not happen a third time.

“Dianne Hartstock. I seek an audience with Dickenson.”

The red light bathed her in its glow and for a moment, all Dianne could see was the colour red. Then the ground beneath her feet started to rumble softly and a voice said *You may enter.*

It always astounded Dianne as the ground began to fall away, moving as if by an unseen hand. Dianne watched as the ground fell downward and began to form itself into steps. Then the rumbling stopped and Dianne took her first step down into the darkness.

As she descended, she began to hear the noises of the people going about their shopping and trading for goods they couldn’t find anywhere else. Dianne was always on the lookout for objects from a past she wasn’t from: records (she had been told they had been played with needles), cassette tapes (imagine there being songs on simple brown tape! She had a complete set of David Bowie cassettes.) and other trinkets. What Dianne most loved were the books. She relished being able to read without the aid of an eScreen or a vid screen. The story came more alive when she could actually hold it.

Dickenson was waiting for her at the front of the crowd. She smiled when she saw him coming towards her and felt that rush of heat she normally experienced when she saw him. He had dark curly hair and his chin was always covered in stubble. He also had a thin build but she didn’t let that fool her. She had seen him manhandle roughnecks that tried to cause trouble. She knew that every inch of him was muscle. He made her think of a sexy librarian.

“Dianne! Glad you could make it! Come on, I have something to show you.”

“Oh, is it more books? I loved the Jane Austen one. Hard to believe that that story was written thousands of years ago.”

“It’s better than a book. It’s a choice between this life and a better one. Come with me.”

He had a mischievous gleam in his eyes and she took his hand as he led her away from the crowd in the black market and down a hallway she hadn’t been to before. The hallway led to another staircase that led further downwards.

“What do you want to show me?”

“I’ll tell you when we’re there. You have to see it. Don’t worry, Dianne, I’ll keep you safe.” He squeezed her hand as if to emphasize this.

“Okay, lead the way.”

They went down one staircase and another, further downward than she had ever been before. She was actually starting to feel afraid. Her breathing was shallower and there was a film of sweat breaking out on her skin. Dickenson sensed her mood change and gave her hand another squeeze.

“Just a few more steps, Dianne. Then you’ll see what I wanted to show you.”

Indeed, there were only three steps left and they turned around a corner and Dianne felt her breath leave her momentarily.

They were standing on front of the largest indoor body of water she had ever seen. The water seemed to change colour, first blue, then green, then aquamarine. There was a smoke that rose off of the water and there was a hum in the air, as if the smoke itself was singing to her.

How long she stood there looking at the water she didn’t know. She jumped when Dickenson touched her shoulder. Turning to him, she tried to calm her breathing and her heartbeat, both of which were racing.

“What is this place?”

“It’s what I wanted to show you.”

“I’ve seen it. But what is it?”

He was quiet for a moment and she could see him trying to find the words to answer her question. Finally, he said “Do you remember me telling you that I’m over one hundred years old?”

“Yes, and I still find that hard to believe.”

“Well, it’s not true, I’m actually thirty-two, but I’m from hundreds of years go.”

Dianne let out a laugh that echoed around the cavern. The echo sung along with the electric hum of the smoke that rose off of the water. When Dickenson didn’t laugh with her, she stopped laughing. “You’re serious.”

“Yes, I am. I came from the year 1983. I came from there.” He pointed at the water.

“That’s not possible.”

“Well, human regeneration shouldn’t be possible, but it is.”

“I don’t understand.”

“No, of course you don’t. I’m not explaining it properly.” He took a breath and began again. “I was working in a sanitation plant at the time and we got all manner of water filled with all sorts of chemicals that we had to clean. The water was so contaminated that I couldn’t believe we were sending it back out into the world.”

“That sounds horrible.”

“It was. Even worse, there was an accident at work one day and one of the vats ended up releasing all of the water. I was the only one hit because I was working the floor that day. I was covered in it and every manner of waste. They took me to the hospital and I was left alone. The doctors said nothing was wrong with me, that time was all I needed to heal. But in the morning, I noticed that I was starting to disappear.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Exactly that, Dianne. I looked at my hand and could see through it. Then it was my arm and my other hand. My legs came next. Within the hour, I was completely invisible. I decided to lay down and sleep, hoping rest would give my head a shake. When I woke, I was here.” He pointed at the water. “Here at the waters edge.”

Dianne knew that everything he was saying should be lunacy, but one look at him convinced her that he was telling her the truth. She could feel it in her heart. “Why are you showing me this?”

“Well, this water was clean, it didn’t have the smoke the contaminated water had. I had to find the right mix of chemicals. I heard the humming from the smoke early this evening and knew I had finally found the right mix. I think it’s my way back, our way back if you’ll come with me.”

Dianne could only star at him. “What do you mean our way back?”

“Back to 1983. You’re always obsessing over a past you’ve never lived and don’t fit in here. I’ve been obsessing about a past that I did live and I think this is the way back. All we have to do is take a swim.”

He took both of her hands in his and looked right into her eyes. “Can you imagine it, Dianne? A world where David Bowie is alive, a world with no wrist scanners or the republic. A world where technology hasn’t taken over.”

“But it will take over, won’t it?”

“Yes, but we won’t be alive to see it. We’re a long way from 1983 so if we go back, we’ll never see any of this again. What do you say?”

“What about my life here?”

“And what kind of life is that? No family, no friends? Nothing to hope for but a life in the slums.”

“You’d leave all of this behind?”

“I would. And I want you with me.”

While holding her hand, he stepped into the water. The smoke swirled around him and the electric hum grew stronger. “Say you’ll come with me. Please Dianne.”

Looking at him, she watched as his skin began to go translucent, as if it were shining from within. She stepped into the water with him and her skin started shining.

All they had to do now was wait.

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