Amara’s warning had set Meiki on edge as she cycled into Newbright.
She had never been to a city of course, but she understood enough from watching old movies. Those had always painted urban areas as dangerous dens of crime and poverty. Surely Newbright would be different.
She had surmised from all of the old books and films of Earth that cities there had long histories of cultures clashing. Invaders and refugees coming in waves and waves over the centuries. Each created a new wrinkle to the fabric of social classes. The haves and the have-nots were in a constant struggle. Every story on Earth pivoted around that basic principle.
But on Naya all people had everything they needed to survive and thrive. There was only one culture really, so no one to clash with. What type of crime and hardship could there be in a city where everyone was fed and clothed? Why would people fight if they all came from the same place and spoke the same language?
What nagged at her mind was the way Amara had said it. “Newbright is relatively safe city...” Relative to what? There were no other cities.
The strangest thing about entering the city was that she wasn’t entirely sure when she had done so. After being dropped off she rode at a somewhat leisurely pace for about an hour. There she started to see buildings up close. They were just small structures like the ones back home. One or two stories tops.
There were some warehouses and industrial sites. Eventually that gave way to dwellings. First just some isolated but large homes set off quite a way from the road. As she went on the houses got smaller, closer together and more frequent. She had entered a residential area. She saw schools and shops. It was starting to look like Gates, except way more densely populated. The people seemed friendly enough. They smiled and nodded as she passed.
The road led to a long bridge that spanned an enormous river. She stopped to read a plaque before the bridge. The river was called “The Barnum”. Named after a famous showman known for his dishonesty according to the plaque. Apparently the early planners of the city had a sense of humor as it was an artificial river.
Charlie’s history lessons had deliberately ignored Newbright. This bridge taught her more about the city than he ever had.
On the opposite bank of the river she was in the city for certain. Here the buildings were taller. Some dwarfed any building she had ever seen. They blocked one another out. The skyscrapers she had viewed from the road were now invisible behind the nearer structures. She thought it funny that something so big could become impossible to see as you grew closer to it.
Close up the buildings in this part of town were not so shiny as they had seemed from afar. Even so, the city was beautiful. Most were made of concrete and wood, but a few of the newer structures were formed of more advanced materials. It was still early in the day and many of the business seemed to not be open yet. She saw more shops, restaurants, art galleries, and even a theater. This is the place to be, thought Meiki. This is what I’ve wanted all my life.
As Meiki advanced toward the center of town she saw more and more glass and ceramics and some chrome-like material. It probably wasn’t actually metal, but it looked reflective and was certainly new and bright.
The largest and most modern buildings were clustered together in the center of the city. Meiki rode in that general direction for a while just taking in the sights. She stopped for breakfast at a park with a fountain made of pink and blue crystals. Out of her pack she pulled her water and a sandwich.
I’m going to need to figure out how to feed myself, she mused as she ate. In Gates everyone received a credit allowance that could be used for purchases. As far as she knew her credit would still be good here, but she also knew that using her ID would alert Charlie back home.
What would he do when he realized I’m gone? she wondered. She hadn’t planned for that aspect of running away. Not really. She assured herself that no one would really miss her, but didn’t actually consider what they would do. Technically she was under Charlie’s care and he would be obligated to at least investigate her disappearance.
Phel knew where she went. He would tell Charlie...if he survived. The thought of Phel getting attacked by the ghosts sickened her. They didn’t mess with her or him when they first set out, though. They left her alone after Junko abandoned her too. They only attacked when the...aliens were around.
If she could get to a maker Meiki could reconfigure her ID. She could create a blank new persona with ease. With that she would have all the credit she could need, enough to survive at least.
Meiki finished her lunch and decided to head to the nearest maker shop. She pulled a map of the city up in her book. The nearest place was just a few blocks away and next to the library. Might as well stop there on the way, she thought.
“Who’s there!” asked Phel, not wanting a response.
Probably a sheep that wandered into the woods, he thought. Or some wild dogs...or worse.
He stood rigidly upright and spun around. “Back off!” he said firmly hoping it was nothing worse than a dog.
“Back off!” came a weak voice in the darkness.
“I told you to back off!”
“I told you to back off!” mimicked the voice.
“I am not in the mood to play games, whoever you are!” he shouted.
“I am not in the mood to play games, whoever you are!”
Fearing what he would see, but fearing more what it would do if he didn’t, Phel spun around to see a pair of blue glowing eyes peering at him. They belonged to a dark figure in a vaguely humanoid shape. At first he assumed it was a person in a dark suit, perhaps another one like Rashmi as the blue glow matched hers. As he looked the being up and down in the dim light of its own eyes Phel realized it was made of black plastic and bits of metal. It was a machine made to look like a person.
No, he thought, it was made to look like me.