Someone is trying to beat down the door to their basement flat.
Zofia Kowal is enjoying one hell of a mellow high, the churning baseline of the pounding industrial music flowing over her, waves of rhythm dancing lights in her mind as she leans back over the torn up leather sofa blowing smoke rings into the air.
They float through the hazy basement light floating up to the exposed wooden ceiling supports above her.
“FUCK OFF!” She yells, into the air.
The banging ignores her, immune to her aggressive outburst which is unheard over the pounding music.
“I SAID, FUCK OFF!”
Suddenly the music drops off to a muted whisper and with a flamboyant shrug of her arms Zofia heaves herself out of the sofa, careful to the little glass pipe gently down on the battered wooden coffee table and stares daggers at the stairs at the end of the apartment, leading up to the steal security door.
There is mess everywhere, and after flipping a few pizza boxes out of the way she finds a grey t-shirt and pulls it on over her head, ready to find out who has the audacity to screw with her moment of calm.
It’s probably that worthless prick looking for another hit of H to go with his shitty business suit. Why he doesn’t go and buy some new clothes is beyond her. If he doesn’t have some real money to pay this time he’s going to take a beating for messing up her vibe for no fucking reason.
She could have happily carried on ignoring him, she thought as she clomped past the row of burnt out luxury cars and the golf driving range with it’s small mountain of smashed beer bottles, but Humaria had wired the knocker into the sound system so when someone hit the doorbell it made the music go all quiet and that suited fuck had just found it.
She had done that after they were all too fucked up to hear the bartering lady arrive from the boats that stopped here every now and then, she always had the best shit and little Tamaki had nearly had withdrawals by the time she came by again a week later.
They could have just gone out on the street to get him some shit, but he has very specific tastes and the last time they found what he took on the street it was mixed with something nasty that put him in a coma for three days straight. Twat.
Smack bang in the middle of one of her favourite songs too, streaming over the ‘net from that Canadian station over in Vancouver, been streaming music since streaming music was a thing.
More anger vents towards the door as she clomps up the stairs and starts pulling bolts back on the big security door.
She opens the door a crack, metal chains snapping taught, holding the door from opening more than an inch and peers out into the dark corridor beyond, her long blonde hair hanging greasily down from her face, a baseball cap doing its best to hide the worst of it.
“Zof, that you? Jesus you guys should put some lights down here.”
“Tommy, that you?”
“Yeah Zof, it’s Tommy, you got a moment?”
Chains clatter as they fall from the door, she opens it wider.
“Fuck Tommy, I thought you were that suit from the first floor, the one always trying to score H.”
“Why would you think that Zof?”
“Because I’m having a bad day?”
“Well,” Tommy says, a little too cheerily for Zof’s liking, “I think your day just got get better. Anders’ got a job for you – make some big money.”
Her eyes lit up, Anders always had the best jobs round here, and he never gave them to her crew.
She opens the door wide and beckons him in.
“Come into my humble abode Tommy.” She gives him her best smile and wobbles, nearly falling down the stairs behind her.
He gives her a sad, pitiful smile and follows her down the staircase, his bright white trainersgleamingin the gloomy basement.
“Is Humaira in? She wasn’t replying to my messages this morning. Can you turn that shit off?”
Someone has turned the music back up and Zofia goes over to the old Hi-Fi, dialling it back down. Neil looks up from the couch, annoyed, but sees they have a guest so he keeps his mouth shut.
“Let me get her for you Tommy.” Zofia has a big soft spot for Tommy, he moves in some pretty big circles and she likes that, she likes that a lot.
She offers him her seat on the couch, he refuses a hit on the little glass pipe, so she wanders off through the big brickwork arches to try and find Humaira, if she’s not answering on chat she’s probably fixing something in the electrical cupboard.
One of the best things about their basement was the electrical cupboard where the power to the building came in from the electrical grid and the fibre reaching out into the ‘net. They had been cut off years ago when the owner of the building went back to Dubai after the bottom dropped out of oil and gas, but Humaira had jerry rigged it back in and they were well looked after as long as the power flowed up to the floors above, and the ‘net stayed online distributed to the whole settlement from here.
She finds her laying under a buzz box, a thick cloud of smoke filling the small room.
“H, Tommy here to see you. Stop fucking around with that and see what he wants.” Zofia says to the pair of dirty jeans sticking under from under the grey cabinet.
Nothing happens, no movement, Humaira’s probably got her headphones in again. Zofia angrily kicks at the grubby desert boot, attached to the end of one of the jean’s legs.
Wriggling, tinny thrash metal floating out of headphones pulled from ears, a black top appearing above the jeans, messy black hair framing a pretty face with a massive joint dangling out of one side of her mouth.
“Fuck me H, I thought the leccy had blown up again.”
Dopy smile on her face, laying on the concrete floor staring up at Zofia.
“Tommy you say?”
“Yeah, Tommy – come see what he wants so I can go back to getting fucked up.”
Slowly, carefully, Humaira gets up off the floor, and brushes the front of her jeans and top off. It doesn’t do much to get rid of the grime and dust.
She follows Zofia back through the basement and sits, happily on the sofa, fixing Tommy with an intense stare.
“Hey Tommy, what’s a fine boy like you doing in a shithole like this?”
He chuckles. “Hi H, what’s happening?”
“Not much, just keeping the power company. What can we lost souls do for you?”
Zofia picks the glass pipe back up and sparks her lighter, that’s about the last of the conversation she hears.
“Zof! Wake up!”
Awareness of something hitting her leg, she mumbles something obscene into her pillow.
“Zof! Come on, we have things to do.”
It’s warm and comfy here, the darkness peaceful behind her closed eyes.
Suddenly there is breath on her ear, a breathy whisper.
“Zof. Tommy is here and he says he wants to talk to you privately.”
Tommy is here?
Zofia leavers herself up, the pillow sticking to her face then falling back to the torn seat below.
Her hand slips off of the back of the couch and she bounces off of the cushion and crashes to the floor, knocking the coffee table as she falls and sending things flying in every direction.
A large plastic bong falls over, rolling papers scatter, bits of weed join the mess ingrained in the carpet and her pipe smashes into a million pieces.
She looks up groggily to see Humaira towering above her, the desert boots inches from her nose.
“H. Where’s Tommy?”
“He left Zof, he left a while ago. Needs us to do a package run for him, urgent, so you need to get up and get your shit in gear.”
“He’s not here?”
“No, I told you, he left.”
The carpet smells like sweat, feet and a hundred bad drug trips.
Zofia scrapes herself up from the floor and groggily looks around the basement.
It’s the same shithole.
None of the group know who used to own it, some posh twat probably made millions that turned to vapour when the markets crashed.
When Zofia had moved in a few years ago the whole building had been cut up into a dozen or so squats. Old man Durande lives upstairs, sitting on his windowsill playing a violin as ancient as he is and writing poetry or some shit.
Then you have a bunch of rooms occupied by some low-end wage slaves working for companies in the Birchwood Global building above them, some students who can’t afford the accommodation elsewhere, and a bunch of families with no where better to go, some of them hardcore Chelsea, some looking for a way out.
Humaira was the first in the basement, been living here sorting out the ‘leccy and ‘net for a good few years before Zophia moved in.
Then there was Reznor, a goth model doing fashion shoots and magazine covers for an online high end agency. Can afford to live wherever the hell he likes, but chooses here so he can ‘channel its energy’ whatever that means.
The last of the original three is Alyssa, art student who never managed to find her break but pushes enough virtual paintings to keep her happy. She did most of the graffiti on the walls of the basement, beautiful murals covering every possible space, gets really funky when you let the augmented reality kick in.
Alyssa, H and Rez were long time friends and settled here together long before anyone else joined them, H took over maintaining the wires coming into the building from the last electrician who lived here, making sure the current and data flowed up the walls and out over the hamlet, joining up with five other houses to make sure the power never went out.
Zophia moved in next, spent a year travelling after Uni then never settled into a job she liked. Decided to keep her nomad soul and live the transient lifestyle here, that didn’t work out so well.
Then there was Tamaki, a proper smack head came over from Japan on a student exchange then never left when he got a taste for the white stuff. London’ll do that to you, if you’re not careful. He started in one of the student squats upstairs then eventually made his way down here when the other students kicked his smacked up ass out.
Finally there was Clint and The BuzzSaw. Both over from the states, Buzz, as everyone who refused to call him by his full handle called him, was some kind of hacker who traded in dirty secrets and mercenary jobs online. Clint crashed with him and they generally kept to themselves, when they weren't smoking with the rest of the crew.
Everyone was here, huddled around the little coffee table, most people smoking cigarettes which generally meant this was a serious conversation as people tried to stay sober.
Clint has a smirk on his face as he tries to not laugh at Zofia’s less than graceful awakening. She thrown an empty cigarette packet at him.
“Alright, now Zof’s joined us, I need to run you all through what Tommy has just told me. It’s important and time critical so pay attention.”
Humaira looks incredibly serious for a change.
“Tommy swung an hour ago and let me know about developments that have been happening just down the road. He has a package he needs us to take care of and transport down to The Wharf and it needs to get there now.”
“Zof would take care of his package on her own – why he need us?”
Clint laughs at Buzz’s joke, Zofia flicks him the finger.
Humaira let’s a smirk cross her face then she’s all business again.
“Very funny Buzz, but we need to focus here. The thing Tommy needs us to move needs a power supply, that’s why he came to me. I’ve already been out and hooked it up to a battery but it doesn’t have an infinite charge on it, so it’s got to move quick. Too quickly for the hamlets to organise anything so it’s going to be up to us to move it.”
Tamaki sits in thought for a second, Humaira sees him thinking and waits for him to speak.
“What….could be so urgent…..the hamlets pick us? Surely another crew…...more….suitable.”
He’s fucked up again, words slurring slowly out of his droopy mouth. Zofia rolls her eyes, he’s a screw-up but he has a point.
“Not all of us Tamaki, just a few. I don’t think you’re in a state to move yourself, let alone a package. But I need you all here to know what’s happening today.”
Most people would take offence, Tamaki just gets a look of relief on his face and he sinks a bit further down in his chair.
“So who’s going?” Asks Zofia.
“Me, you, Alyssa, Clint and Buzz. Tamaki is on the bench of obvious reasons, Rez is too recognisable – plus we don’t want him messing up his hair or pretty face if we have any trouble.”
“Trouble?” Zofia asks, a wicked grin on her face.
“We are moving property of a Birchwood company called Wyke-Veillon, they may have a problem with that.”
“Awesome! Then I’m in.”
“Zof, you were always in.”
“Fuck off H.”
“Right. Anyway, Alyssa, Clint, Buzz – any questions?”
“Oh, I do. What are we moving?” Alyssa asks.
“It’s a data packet, stolen from a Wyke-Veillon lab.”
“They are pretty high tech,” Buzz cuts in, “Do we know what is on it?”
“Nope, wasn’t told that, just told to hook it up to a big battery and take it to The Wharf.”
“Why does it need a battery? Isn’t it just on a memory stick?”
Humaira pauses for a second.
“Yes, but it’s volatile, needs to be kept running or the data is gone.” She hefts a large white box onto the coffee table. “So we hooked it up to a battery and shoved it in here. Neat eh?”