Grease covered everything in a grimy patina on the lower cogs of the city. It was a filth she grew up with and until six cycles ago, she had never not known. But now her home gear was half a kilometer underfoot and with it, its comforting damp heat and low light. The longing to be anywhere but walking down Dazhna Boulevard, embraced by the bright opulence of the top plate brought with it an awareness of a quietly building migraine. The tight throb of it was nestled near the forged ident chip embedded her visual cortex.
She’d done too much, today.
Letting herself slip from the flow of people and towards the bank of store windows was counter to everything that she had been trained to do. It was by grace alone that her feet had been put to course before panic could speed up her heart and make her palms sweat. No, she was committed now to pretend window shopping rather than chancing a short in the black market hardware.
She tightened the tiny muscles around her eyes, flicked her gaze to the lower left, then swooped it up and around a quarter turn clockwise. With the protocol completed the chip went to sleep and took with it her vision. As always, a beat after the stomach-flipping drop into darkness, she relaxed into freedom from the top plate’s deafening visual expression. With the flashes of light and icons hanging in the ether, the top plate was an ephemeral digital thing, and the mind could only process so much. Without the use of her eyes she could smell and taste and feel more keenly. And if she listened hard enough, she imagined that she could hear the heavy bassy throb of massive gears turning below.
When she was a kid, she’d press her face against and thread her fingers through the chain link fence along the perimeter of C6’s root circle, watching the huge metal teeth that were only a few meters away, ever so slowly interlock with C7’s. She’d spend hours just daydreaming of scaling the barrier and dropping down into that deadly free space. From there, in her mind, she would traverse the gears (she had the escape route memorized: C6 to C7, then to C10 through 17) to the outer wall. Then she’d climb up the million-step stairway and actually be the first person in her family to ever see that crazy fabled thing called a sky.
It was almost funny that after a lifetime of longing for a glimpse at the stars, of telling herself “If I just go up” that the never ending lights and projected advertisements of the top plate would keep it all from her. But then again, she had been warned, she had been told that —
Vertigo barreled into her sense of left/right/up/down throwing her balance. She lurched forward and quickly raised her hand, pressing it to the cold glass, letting it moor her to the tactile world.
“Can I help you, miss?”
She tried not to jerk as she sped through sequence of gestures to wake up the chip, summoning that brilliant horrible sense of sight. ”No, no I’m fine. Apologies,” she murmured, keeping her voice demure. Desperately she tried to wrangle in her vowels from being so big and full, forcing her tongue to give up the accent she’d always spoken with. She chanced a glance back at the window and then quickly moved to rejoin the safety that being one of many brought. But what she had seen would not leave her.
On that perfect pane of glass, there had been a barely noticeable handprint.
On that pane of glass, she had left an imperfection.
A physical expression.
And she was glad for it.
Notes: This was in response to io9's Concept Art Writing Prompt: The City Made of Gears Other than what I've typed, I (for the most part) have no idea what's going on in this world and I doubt I'll revisit it (yes, I know, famous last words... ), but hopefully this finds a place to play in someone else's brain!