In this second The Crux Chapter 1 installment, our story continues as Vyris enters her dark, mysterious underground world.
I stepped out, smoothing down the unruly tangles in my hair. As efficient as the tubes were, the winds made a mess of just about everything. I adjusted the tight, armoured fabric of my shirt, which was also made as lightweight as possible, and I yanked my cloak back over my head. With a deep inhale, my stress washed away. I was safe; I was home.
The Crux was, in its own way, indescribably beautiful. I’m probably just saying that since, well, it was the closest thing I’d ever had to a place I could call home. It was like a little underground town, lit dimly by neon signs of stores and stalls, by LEDs which shone upon illegal goods, and by the electronics we carried with us. The ‘heart’ of the Crux acted as the main market area. You could buy or trade for all your typical illegal goods: drugs, poison, weaponry, special ‘favours’, you name it. But the further you managed to make it along the market’s alleyways, the worse the stalls’ contents got, and pricier.
Past the heart, there were more local areas. Bars, clubs, eateries, complexes – virtually anything you would expect a small city to have. Plenty of people resided mainly in the underground. Some probably hadn’t seen sunlight in years – but that wasn’t my crew. It just so happened that the crowd I dealt with spent the majority of their time as far from the heart as they could; a real pain in the ass because the time I wasted walking back and forth to the tubes felt endless. This problem had to be fixable – hopefully with some sort of nanotech I would soon be able to afford. The slightest smirk absentmindedly crossed my lips as I imagined the possibilities.
As I maneuvered through the pulsing underground heart, I was immersed in a dense and unforgiving crowd. I carefully avoided contact with the haggard strangers whose proximity I was all too aware of. The first vendor stalls were typically a hotspot for drug-related goods – a market which was always in high demand. (A sweet, skunky aroma billowed through the open air. While sweaty vendors shouted at the people who were foolish enough to make eye contact, I quickly made my way towards a more tech-oriented area. Further down the path, the mob of people dwindled – allowing me to take a more detailed look at the newest goods they were offering.
I peered into the half-lit stalls as I wandered by, but the available items were mainly ones I had already seen or purchased. There were security cards that unlocked almost any locked door, gloves which give their wearer an unbelievably strong grip, mouthpieces that allowed you to breathe underwater temporarily – plenty of novelties. I’d always found that if you wanted good physical enhancements at a realistic price, implants were the way the market was heading. I wasn’t a big fan of turning myself into some Chaser wannabe, instead seeking deals on wearable tech. I swallowed as my eyes briefly glanced over my comm.
“Oi!” I turned my head as a raspy, familiar voice rang out. I took a few steps over to the dimly-lit stall, crowded and tucked away into a nearby corner. Its outer appearance left something to be desired; raggedy with slabs of dark wood and plain sheet metal seeming to be sloppily nailed together.
“Ickar, what do you have for me today?” I peered towards him, eyes slowly beginning to adjust in the darkness. I’d only recently purchased my nanotech boots from him, but was interested in seeing what upgrades he had gotten in since. His withered, modified face poked out ever so slightly from the shadows, covered by drooping, greasy locks of his sickly ash-blonde hair.
“You’re going to like this, one second …” Ickar ducked down beneath the counter for a moment, before springing back up. In his skeletal, electronic hands there were thin, unlabeled parts. He noted the quizzical look on my face, continuing. “Some of the best attachments I’ve seen in a while!” His robotic eye protruded from his face, lenses extending for him to have a magnified look at the pieces he held.
“What do they do?” I leaned in, very interested in improving my boots as much as possible.
“Speed! You’ll be faster than a Chaser with these bad boys.” He snorted slightly, eye retracting. “They’re an easy implement too, and for you? A fantastic deal.”