Celesé only had a small plastic umbrella to keep the rain off her.
She wandered the Marché des Produits Exotiques that cold Wednesday afternoon, in the 42nd arrondissement of Greater Paris.
Her daughter, four year old Kerry, followed closely at her side. Her nostrils sniffed up the smell of the damp, the stinky chemicals in the rain, and the odour of food being cooked at various stalls.
It was mid-afternoon and Celesé knew she had to be back at their apartment soon. The Russian would be coming for the rent, which he knew she did not have. Times were tough, especially after the worldwide banking collapse of 2060 and the wars that followed. If she were philosophical about things, she would wonder about the future of the human race; but for now, her only concern was herself and her daughter.
She guided Kerry through the market, away from the myriad homeless and luckless who occupied the streets and avenues of this once-great city, this once-great world.
She stopped at one of the food stalls.
The old man at the stall greeted her with a broad smile, “Good afternoon. What can I offer you today?” He spoke no French but their electronic translators allowed them to communicate.
“Two croissants, please.”
He handed two warm croissants over.
She gave one to Kerry and kept the other for herself.
Kerry wrinkled her little nose. “I like the taste of pastry.”
“Let’s go back home,” Celesé said.
“I don’t like home.”
Me, neither, she thought.
Kerry was safely encased in her fantasy world of playing with her dolls in her bedroom. Celesé envied her, being the child. Being the adult was tough. Too tough sometimes.
She cleaned the apartment a little before he came. Compared to the grime of the block their apartment was in, their little abode looked like a palace.
Three rough knocks on the door signalled that he had arrived. She put her cleaning cloth down, straightened her dress and composed herself. She opened the door.
He was tall and big; one felt dominated just being in his presence. A large, thick moustache rested on his upper lip like a slug. His black hair was slicked back, his clothes drab and dreary. The ruddy red of his cheeks was perhaps the only colour in his life.
“Afternoon,” she greeted him, smoothing her hands down the sides of her dress.
“You got it?” the Russian asked. Smalltalk was not in his nature.
She shook her head. “You know I haven’t. Just give me a little more time, please.”
“You know I’m not the type of man to offer concessions. You owe me.”
You’re no type of man at all, she thought bitterly.
“You know what happens if you don’t pay the rent. Tomorrow night at eight.” His eyes looked her up and down with a stare that made her feel uneasy. “Wear something… skimpy.”
He left. Celesé fretted. She knew what he was like. All the girls in the apartment block did, which was why most managed to pay on time.
She returned to her cleaning to take her mind off tomorrow. She didn’t want to think about it.
Celesé was in the market again the next day, her little umbrella raised above her head to protect her from the omnipresent rain.
She had one item to buy, and it wasn’t something skimpy. Kerry was at a nearby free pre-school, run by a local charity; even in their broken society, there were still a few good, selfless people.
The stall she wished to visit was towards the west of the market. It was small and nondescript and sold all manner of things. If the woman who ran it did not like the look of you, she would not do business with you. Many of the items she sold were illegal, so she had to be careful. If the authorities discovered what she did, they would give no mercy.
“Morning,” Celesé greeted her.
The woman got out a small hand-held scanner and pointed it at Celesé. It buzzed and whirred, taking readings. Satisfied with the results, she put it away and used her human judgement before finally deciding whether or not to sell her anything.
“Is there anything I can get you?” She also spoke French, like Celesé, so their translators were silent.
Celesé cleared her throat. “Do you have one of these?” She handed over a scrap of paper.
The woman read it, raised her eyebrows, and passed the paper back. Celesé dropped the paper to the ground and let it wash away with the rain water.
“What rating are you after?”
The woman sucked in her breath. She disappeared into the back of the stall, hidden behind a thick curtain. Celesé looked about nervously as she waited for the proprietor to return. Momentarily she reappeared. “This is a highly illegal device, the cost reflects that, dearie. Seven hundred credits. Ten per cent more if they’re anonymized.”
Celesé gasped. “I’m sorry, I don’t have enough.” Her plan was unravelling.
The woman shrugged.
“Can’t I not owe you?”
The woman shook her head. “Sorry, dearie. People don’t always pay – I can’t trust anyone these days.”
She thought, what can I do? She hadn’t expected it to be so expensive, she could not afford it. Her face contorted in anguished thought.
The woman sensed her dilemma. She nodded at her free hand. “I like that ring of yours.”
Celesé instinctively pulled her hand to her chest. “It’s my wedding ring from my late husband,” she said, though the woman probably cared little about its providence.
She knew what she had to do.
Celesé read a bedtime story to Kerry about three pigs and their comical adventures in Pigtown, which always had a happy ending. Kerry loved it and didn’t want to go to sleep.
“It’s late,” Celesé told her. “You should get your sleep.” She pulled the sheets up to her neck so she was snug in the bed.
“Mummy, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, hun. Why do you think that?”
“You’re nervous, I can see. You aren’t normally nervous.”
“Everything’s fine, hun. Now go to sleep.”
She waited until Kerry fell asleep and kissed her forehead. What a world you’re growing up in, my little princess. What a world indeed.
In the living room, she tidied up, washed the dishes, and paced nervously as the minutes ticked by. She was wearing a simple skirt and blouse, nothing skimpy. After all, she did not intend to allow him to have his way with her. She would do anything to keep herself and Kerry safe, but selling herself like that was out of the question. Even when times were tough.
She took the device she’d bought, carefully regarding it. She stroked a finger along one of the two inch-long metal pins, which protruded from its side. She hid it behind the sofa’s left-hand side cushion.
She gave the place one final tidy up and prepared the drinks. She placed two filled glasses of red wine on the living room table.
The sound of his banging against the door caused her to jump.
She let him in.
Before she could direct him otherwise, he slumped into the left-hand corner of the sofa, where the device was hidden. Damn, she thought.
The Russian patted the vacant place beside him. “Aren’t you gonna join me?”
She nervously seated herself on the edge of the sofa, next to him.
“How about a drink?” she said.
“Not thirsty,” he said. He then grabbed her with his big, clammy hands and pulled her towards him. She closed her eyes tight, as though bracing for impact in a car crash. She felt his hands roughly exploring her body, then their cold, unwelcoming touch as he slid them under her blouse.
She needed to get to the device. This was all going wrong.
“You must be thirsty,” she said, jerking away from him and grabbing a glass from the table. As she handed it to him, she purposefully spilt it on his trousers.
“Idiot!” he yelled, standing and looking with annoyance at the dark stain over his crotch. “You bloody idiot, look what you’ve done?!”
She reached behind the now exposed cushion and grabbed the device.
The Russian only had time to see the small electronic device in her hand, his eyes widening in realisation, before she thrust it into his leg. The two metal pins dug into his flesh, contacting with the metal underneath.
She held on to it for a second too long. The substantial charge it held discharged into his robotic body. Celesé was thrown back against the sofa. The Russian began staggering about uncontrollably as every circuit and microprocessor in his body fried. He fell to the floor, dead. A terrible smell – the flesh on his metal body was smouldering – drifted into the air. Celesé felt sick.
She rushed to the window. Rain slid down it, blurring the view of the city below. She didn’t want to look back at the body of the dead man/robot but couldn’t help herself.
She thought of Kerry. “I did this for you, sweetheart.”
Unbidden, tears began to well in her eyes and slide down her cheeks.
I have become demeaned, she thought. I am humanity in all its horror and sin. May God help me.
Dan Shelton writes about whatever comes into his head. He veers towards science fiction, fantasy and horror most of the time though. He likes chocolate.