Ryard Vancing adjusted his coat collar and surveyed the crowds marching through the streets below the main CAV-way warily. Individually, the discordant multitude was unremarkable, composed of both men and women, young and old; the general heterogeneousness of their dress suggesting spontaneity of organization. There were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, CAV-keeps and sky-techs, street-sweepers, artists and vagabonds, some with signs, most without. All particularities of the wild conglomeration evanesced in the novel meta-organism that roiled across the pedestrian lane with stark ferocity, howling to self and sky, breaking windows and signs as assurance drones of the Consortium moved to meet it. Chastising the malcontents with workshopped slogans.
Vancing idly wondered why the Consortium had their drones fly so low, where any volatile fool with a blunt object to-hand could strike them down.
As he watched the fray, he listened to the newsfeed on his wrist-bound module; an Aecer Digest roundtable discussion between a female anchor and two middling-profile pundits.
“Would you agree with Ms. Choufey, Mr. Sabin?”
“Not at all. He killed two people. He’s a maniac. The KSRU are not law enforcers, they’re mercenaries for Kryos Industries. Hired guns. The guy should be arrested.”
“Arrested? He should be given an award.”
“I’m beginning to think you’re as crazy as he is.”
“What kind of society is it, where you’re called ‘crazy’ for saving a woman from god-knows-what?'”
His module lit up, breaking the passenger from his oneirism. Call incoming. He looked swiftly to the name displayed on his bracer’s screen: Lind Howell. Vancing accepted the transmission request, listening as he continued to anxiously observe the mob pump their fists into the air and smash up the storefronts below.
“Ryard, are you alright?”
“Oh, thank goodness. I was worried sick about you.”
“Its not as if they’d clamber onto the CAV-way.”
“No. I guess not. I don’t know. Things have gotten so… I just had a bad feeling.”
“You and me both. I’m coming up on the way-station. I’ve gotta go. I’ll be home soon.”
“Alright. Stay safe, Ryard.”
He closed out the line and leaned back in his seat with a sigh as his lev-han shot beyond the pedestrian overpass and pulled into the eatery district substation shift-yard, just beyond Southern Block. His vehicle parked and opened the leftern passenger door, whereupon Ryard exited and, with practiced ease, strode to the back of the machine and removed two large cases, which he carried, one in each hand, as he walked into the station.
Inside a pert woman at the counter held up her hands in entreaty as a small, olive-skinned man gesticulated frustratedly.
“Its just cause I’m an outsider, isn’t it?”
“No. Sir, please calm yourself, I’m doing all I can.”
“We don’t have any more vehicles at present. We’re working at full capacity, and-“
“Lying bitch! I know how you people operate!”
Ryard set the rough-worn cases down gently and raised his calm, clear voice above the commotion.
“What’s the problem?”
“Who’re you?” The man snarled, whirling upon the entrant.
“Ryard Vancing. I’m the station manager. Now, what’s the problem?”
“I know that name.”
“How can I help you?”
“Ah. Well, its just-,” the man looked to the woman behind the counter and then to his shoes, unable to meet Ryard’s gaze, “Its my wife… she needs medicine regularly and we don’t have the credits for a home crafter and… and I needed to get to Southern Block for her medication – but there’s no damn vacancies in the line. She’s… not doing well… and…”
The man began to cry and turned away in shame.
“I don’t want to lose her.”
Ryard reached out and put a firm hand upon the distraught man’s shoulder.
“I understand your frustration. But you shouldn’t lash out at Victoria, she was telling the truth. Lot of my workers have gone out to protest. Line and vehicle maintenance has been suboptimal.”
The man nodded and, with considerable effort, looked up toward the woman behind the counter.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I shouldn’t have-“
“Its quite alright.”
Ryard took the man some distance from the counter, mouthing “sorry I was late” at Victoria over his shoulder, to which the woman, with relief and exasperation, mutely lipped a “thank you.”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Well, Mr. Wasil, you said you needed to get to Southern Block.”
“Yes,” the man replied despairingly.
“A vacancy just opened up. I live in Southern Block and was just headed home. I’ll give you a lift.”
The small man’s eyes widened and he took Ryard’s left hand in his own and pressed it firmly.
“Bless you, sir.”
With a faint smile Ryard patted the man on the back and walked him outside and down the substation stair to the shift-yard where he discovered a tall man with a long orange coat standing before his lev-han.
“Been a while, Mr. Vancing.”
Ryard regarded the man a long moment before he spoke.