The Price of Entanglement - Chapter 1, Pt. 2


The cloud cover made it difficult to tell what time it was by sight; Jo checked her phone and grimaced. It was getting on toward 6pm; her Gran would be worrying soon. Assuming, of course, that he was going to remember who she was today. Unfortunately that was not always a safe assumption to make.

She checked the grocery bag she carried; canned tomato soup, crackers, some sort of artificial cheese spread, a loaf of bread that the manufacturer claimed was whole wheat, but she was convinced was 90% sawdust--it was bare bones, low quality fare, but the it was the best she could afford until business picked up.

She stood under the awning and opened the umbrella as the rain poured down in sheets; it was picking up. That was bad; even if it wasn't strongly acidic, it would make it hard to see anything. Even in a relatively safe area like Dolesham, situational awareness was a survival trait. Anything that hindered that was to be avoided.

The streets seemed pretty clear other than the rain; she couldn't decide whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. She was running home, unless she had to splurge on a cab, but even as cheap as they were she'd prefer to avoid the expense. Clear streets meant she'd be able to see trouble before it arrived, but also meant it could find her more easily.

She glanced back into the shop; the warm light inside was inviting, but she couldn't wait it out. Her Gran would need her soon. With a sigh of regret, she lifted the umbrella over her head and headed down the street.

It was a good half-hour jog for her, but they didn't live in the most convenient part of town. As the rain got heavier and heavier, she considered her options. She could signal for a cab; one of the large, warm and dry automated vehicles would be by in moments to pick her up. But it would cost. She was sorely tempted, and found herself fingering her phone in anticipation of sending the signal before she'd jogged for more than five minutes. Reluctantly she pocketed the device again. Last recourse, Jo, last recourse, she scolded herself.

She was a couple of long blocks away from the store; she recognized the intersection she was at by the massive crumbling ruin of the old Dolesham central rail station. She could turn down the street that ran along side it and get home quicker, but she hesitated, undecided. That way was the way she thought of as the bad route home; she was probably safer going that way; she was certainly less likely to run into people, anyway; but that was because the area had a reputation. It made people uneasy.

The wind picked up and threw spray in her face right under the umbrella, which was nearly yanked out of her hand. She shivered and cursed as a trickle of water found its way down through the neck of her heavy green fake leather jacket. Far ahead on the regular route, she saw the lights of cars traveling the wide streets, the street lights, spaced so much more frequently than they were out where she stood, even a few people moving around as she was.

She grimaced as the water made its way down under her clothes. She could cut probably five minutes off her trip. She really didn't like the route, but another wind-thrown spray plastered her dark hair to her face and made her spit it out; she turned down the darker road, following the chain link fence that enclosed the old train yard, eyes longing for the lost light already.

Not many cars traveled here. The roads were bad, cracked and potholed and un-upgraded; they existed much as they had back at the start of the millennium, before road works crews began seeding the asphalt with programmable smart chips to aid navigation systems with metadata about road conditions.

Almost every car on the road these days was self-driving, and while they could navigate these old roads perfectly well, they preferentially avoided them in favor of smart-roads unless there were specific reasons not to.

Jo kept to the broken old sidewalk, moving at a slow jog so as not to lose her footing. She'd have to call a cab if she hurt herself.

She passed beyond the train yard fence and tightened her lips in a grimace; this was the part of the route she had never liked. The skeletal remains of an old, old ironworks stood silent sentry over the road. Rusted girders rose to the sky, visible against the glowing lights of the twilight city in the distance.

For generations, people had said this place was haunted. One of her strongest memories of her parents had been an incident when she was a kid; she'd been out playing with friends. They'd gone down a street they never played on. Jo's father had been furious; she was never, ever to go down that way again.

Years later her Gran had told her about the ironworks and how it was haunted. By then she'd heard all the schoolyard stories, even had friends who swore they'd gone there after dark, but nobody she knew had seen anything. Nobody but Gran anyway; he insisted that he'd seen a blue glowing ghost walking the site when he was a young man. By then he was already showing signs of dementia, so Jo didn't believe a word of it, but she couldn't help herself; it felt creepy just being near the place.

She'd only walked this way a few times in her life, all of them starting from her late teens, and she'd never seen anything. As she had then, she found herself keeping half an eye out for any telltale blue glows, but aside from glowing neon on the tall buildings downtown, she saw nothing.