The Wake-Up Call


Chapter 1.36: Downtime

The tiny wooden door opened with the help from a firm kick below the lock and Hetch walked into the grimy looking narrow doorway. The bare floorboards were badly eaten by woodworm and all kinds of other spillages from blood to acid stains. Below the horizontal window slit was a lumpy looking mattress on the floor covered with rags that barely fitted across its full width. There was no entertainment system, no hardware or even electricity. A few emergency flares littered the small shelf next to the door and were used to provide a little light. By the look of things Hetch imagined they had been used for other purposes seeing the broken teeth on the floor and fresh blood stains on the corner of the shelf.

Hetch stacked a black metal chair under the door handle, pushed the case underneath the mattress and found he was dropping like a sack of bricks onto it. His body was beginning to crash. The mixture of conflicting drugs, painkillers, stimulants and heavy pollution from his journey here were too much to resist. He curled up into a ball, pulled the rags over him and closed his blood-shot eyes. The smells from overloaded waste units fed through ancient vent systems gave him a moment of unrest before he was out for the count. The flare continued to burn its bright orange glow before it too slipped away into stillness.

Fragmented memories closed in on Hetch's mind. Stirred up by the sight of that hospital bed made him twist his body on the lumpy mattress. Even in the darkest recesses of his nightmares the case and everyone associated with it invaded his conscience. He boasted to himself that he was street smart, savvy with enough knowledge to spot danger a block away and take a short cut around it. Mewco's promise of 250 credits seemed like a lifetime ago. He flashed back to the day he met Mewco in one of his sleazy clubs. Surrounded by girls, drugs and protection he seemed like a God able to wave his hand and have anything he wanted.

Respect. That's what Hetch wanted above almost anything else. Respect from others. To have someone to care enough for him and give him self respect. What's the point of just surviving? He needed someone to miss him when he was gone. Being just another unnamed box of ash in the "Human reclamation site" like the millions of dead people before him was not a future; it was a punctuation mark at the end of a hard, short life. Everyone chased a dream, some form of escapism from the raging fight for daily survival. The false God of mindless consumerism, the pursuit of credits to buy pointless gadgets was a hollow paradise. Having a case with 150,000 credits proved to be more of a growing burden than a release, a way out of this scum-filled existence. Mewco was right, giving him an empty case was his warped sense of an education for Hetch. It showed that climbing up the credits ladder proved far more difficult than he could have imagined. Below him was a murdering mass of people, all-eager to pull him back down and kill for a foot on the ladder themselves.

The scenes of the taxi-pod crash on the rain soaked rooftop stirred up mixed emotions. His sleeping body twitched on the mattress as he relived this accident in horrific detail. Instead of rain on her face was blood as she crawled from the yellow wreckage. Behind her waves of fire escape ladders smashed down. The face of the cop in the alley and ghostly images of Seven appeared in his thoughts. Hetch clawed at the rags on his body as the sounds of a thousand police sirens broke his nightmarish slideshow. He jumped bolt upright on the mattress and his eyes exploded in a pinkish haze of sleepy focus. His heart pounded against his ribs and sweat poured down the sides of his gasping face. The lice and other parasites from the mattress stung at his body like a hornet's nest of needles. He threw off the dirty rags and pressed his palm against the case under the top of the mattress. The cold alloy was like a Midas touch of reassurance to him. It dispelled some of the nightmares. He pulled the case out from underneath him and looked back at the terrified face in its shiny chrome reflection. At least he still had the credits.

Lifting himself up he peered through the small horizontal slot that served as a window. Through the smog and rows of tightly packed buildings he could make out the movement of a thousand citizens all going about their daily rituals. Construction work continued amongst the crowded skyline of densely built factories and housing blocks. It was like an onion of overpopulation insanity. New layers were built on layer upon layer of squalid resident cubes. Hetch wondered how long it would last until the entire city collapsed under its own filth. The weight of these colossal structures was immense, so too were their oppressive nature.

His stomach flipped over, wrenched into a corkscrew after his sudden movement. The feelings of confusion and nausea increased in volume. He drove towards the stinking toilet shoot and let out of volley of black bile mixed with blood and food. His hands slid down the wall and activated the ineffective cleaning system. The veins in his entire body seemed to throb with pain as his body began to feel icy cold. He began to shake violently before crawling back to the case and the mattress. The muted colours around him blurred and spiralled into a hallucination roller-coaster as his body twisted under another attack of torment. His muscles grew tense as every nerve screamed out for attention. It seemed like his internal organs were determined to reorder themselves or escape from within. His teeth gripped against each other as he huddled in the corner and wrapped the mattress around him and the case.

Even in his present state he could diagnose his condition. He was going through cold turkey, his body was crashing down from the days and nights of drugs and lack of proper sleep. Mewco and Splice were heavy users and supplied Hetch with a few stimulants to keep his reactions sharp and clear, but who knows what they had actually supplied him. The combination of the various pharmaceutical substances floating around in his battered system was going to take days, if not weeks, to disperse. Without some form of de-tox agent there were going to be serious side effects and outbursts of pain as his carcass dumped itself back into a functioning state. He needed drugs to help lessen the drop, to take the knife-like edge from this cleansing process. It was a course that he had seen a few times before. Sorry looking narco users like Janice in the café were regulars to this hellish occupation.

It was going to be a long, painful night.

To be continued...