Tripping on the Street
part 1 of 2
Carmen stood on the corner of Broadway and Main, beneath the Island’s neon and vidboard glitter, and its middle-class, glitzy plastic opulence, scoping out another trip. This was where the high-priced girls could be found. The ones only really status men could afford. At street level mind you, not on the thirteenth floor’s interconnected pedestrian mall. That was where the cabs docked, as well as where most of the more exclusive shops and restaurants could be found.
If no one showed up before long, it would be time to call it a night soon. It was already getting late. The multicoloured lights of the city reflected back in kaleidoscopic splendour from the Island’s massive transparent dome.
There had been only the one date this evening, from which she’d just returned. But it had been a credzy one, even compared to normal. He’d been a slight little man, barely her own height, who’d wanted her to call him “daddy.” She still got that a lot, despite having recently turned eighteen. But she’d been dealing with these types of men off and on for about three years now, while lying about her age, so she knew the drill.
This one had been easy. She’d been able to play him like dialing the phone.
She first saw him when he cruised the girls on the corner from across Broadway. She was certain she’d caught his eye, even from a distance. Sure enough, a cab glided down to hover next to her about twenty minutes later, and there he was, motioning her inside. He was a member of the People’s Parliament — a liberal from what she gathered, though she hadn’t recognized him from the televid. They didn’t come any more status. Only being summoned to the Heavenly Land to service one of the Lords could top this. But that was just a dream. At least for now. You needed status and fame, as well as youth and beauty to hope for that.
He wanted full escort service first. That was pretty common with guys his age, even though it cost plenty more. As long as they were single and in the data anyways. They often wanted to show off their fancy young date, and to be seen in the right places. And she got wined and dined in a really top data joint in the process, which was another one of the benefits of finally turning eighteen.
She put on her best “innocent little girl” voice, and pressed all of the right buttons. When they finally arrived at the posh room he’d rented, she soon had him paying her for extras, and leaving her a hundred-credit tip besides. She took pride in the reputation she’d cultivated for professionalism in customer service.
If she could turn a couple trips like that in a night, or even one for that matter, she wouldn’t be on the street for long. She held down a regular slot as an exotic dancer at a thirteenth-floor club too, which also paid good data. She hoped it would lead to a spread in one of the glossy mags before long, and was already shopping around her publicity shots to try to make it happen.
They could never get enough of slender, leggy young blondes. And she figured her new tits shouldn’t hurt her chances either. Had to pay for them somehow. She’d gone for the top of the line genetically enhanced jobs, and not the street-level implants.
And once she had enough data on her Citicard from tripping and such, she had plans. Big plans. Tripping and everything that went with it was only a stepping stone, which would actually enhance her mystique when it came time to launch her real career, she was sure of it.
* * *
She wouldn’t be on the street at all if it wasn’t for her folks, at least not full time. They had data. They were flush with it. Hell, they lived on the 43rd floor. Her father was a corporate lawyer with one of the Lords’ conglomerates, and her mother was a gynecologist. But they never could agree with her career plans, and they had some weird ideas about religion besides.
That’s why she’d ended up on the street full time. She’d just been doing it for kicks to begin with. The religion thing.
The problems started when one of them left a copy of a book on her pillow, while she was away at prep school for the day. She found it when she got home. She headed to her room to play her synth guitar along to music on the televid before supper, as she usually did. It was the strangest thing, and really weirded her out. It was called “The Bible.”
She looked it over with some trepidation, somewhat frightened. When her parents called her to supper she took it with her, throwing it in the centre of the table before them. Then, as sternly as she could muster before her parents at the time, “Just what the hell is this, are you trying to get me arrested or something?”
“You watch your language young lady.” Her mother. Always the disciplinarian in the family. She was a mousy little woman, with no tits to speak of, and not overly attractive. Carmen didn’t know where she got her looks from, but it certainly wasn’t from her mother.
“That’s all right, Velma,” her father said, more gently. In spite of his status, he somehow always managed to look a bit nerdy and rumpled, even in the most expensively tailored clothes. “It may have been a bit of a shock to her.”
Her mother fell silent. She placed the last of the food on the table before she took her seat, her face softening somewhat.
Carmen also seated herself, but had no interest in eating at that point.
Her father was quiet for a long moment. He pursed his lips, apparently considering his next words carefully before he continued.
“It’s just that you are sixteen now, Carmen, almost a grown woman, old enough to know the truth. And old enough to commit yourself to your true beliefs... to your family’s true beliefs.”
“What do you mean, Ralph?” She used his name, rather than “father,” to emphasize her sarcasm. “I know what I believe.”
“Now dearie,” her mother cautioned.
Her father just shook his head. “I know this may be difficult for you, but there are important matters which we were not able to share with you until now. Until you were old enough to be trusted with them. And I know that we took you to the Church as a child, which you may find confusing in light of what I am about to tell you. But in order for your mother and I to be employed at the level we are, it was required of us in order to keep up appearances, you see. And there is even some truth to it.”
“Your point being?”
Her father gave his mother a serious look before he continued, then he picked up the “Bible” they had left for her.
“The truth is,” he adopted his most lawyerly and professional tone, as he often did when he wanted to add weight to his words, “this book here contains the true word of God, handed down from over two thousand years ago, from the beginning of the Second Age. Your mother and I are true Christians, who follow a tradition dating back centuries. The Book, on the other hand, the one you’ve been exposed to in the Church, has been modified. Much has been left out of the true word of God, and a Third Testament has been added. But it is a false testament.”
Carmen just blinked, and remained silent. She was quiet for a long moment. It was a lot to absorb in a short time at her age. Finally, somewhat timidly: “And how exactly does this affect me?”
“We want you to have an opportunity to know the truth, and to be saved.”
Carmen didn’t get that part at the time. She was already Chosen. In fact, the threat of being down and outed to the Mainland was often used by parents on the Island to frighten small children into obedience. And the threat was all too real for those who couldn’t maintain sufficient status.
Apparently sensing her consternation, her father finally continued, “What I mean dear, and again this may be difficult for you, is that The Book preaches many false beliefs, not only about history and the Lords, but especially, and most importantly, concerning how we must properly demonstrate our faith in Christ. Only by consciously accepting the spirit of Christ into your heart, as your mother and I have, can you hope to enter the kingdom of heaven after you die.”
That had just confused Carmen even further. Everyone knew the afterlife wouldn’t begin until the Final Resurrection at the end of the Third Age, or at least that’s what she’d always learned in the Church.
Reading the look of confusion on her face, her mother finally reached out and patted her hand. “It’s all right, dearie, you will understand everything in time, and you will see the truth of it, just as we did when our parents revealed the truth to us. It’s just that, as true Christians, we must be careful in these times. You know the law. That’s why we weren’t able to tell you before.”
Carmen nodded slightly, somewhat worriedly.
“We’ve arranged for you to meet with our pastor,” her father continued, “the leader of our congregation. He will teach you everything else you need to know about our religion and its history, as well as what is required of you if you wish to join the true church of Christ, so that you, too, may be saved.”
“Do I have to?” Carmen pleaded.
“Now dearie,” her mother patted her hand a final time, “we only want what is best for you. And we’ve already made the arrangements. Everything will be fine. Now you eat your supper before it gets cold.”
Carmen just shook her head worriedly and sulked through supper. She still hadn’t learned to defy her parents outright. She’d have to work on that.
* * *
Despite her misgivings about the whole situation, Carmen did as her parents asked and met with their pastor. Twice actually, over the following month or so. It was also the last time she’d ever followed her parents’ instructions unquestioningly.
Their first meeting had been only a few days later. The following weekend, actually, on Sunday afternoon, only a couple of hours after she’d attended Sunday services.
Carmen felt strange the entire time, almost guilty, as she sat in the Church, next to her parents, and listened to the sermon. All the while knowing for the first time that they didn’t believe a word of it, despite their high status. And if that weren’t enough, knowing that she herself would very soon be meeting with the leader of this cult who questioned the Church’s teachings to their very core.
She was still dressed in her Sunday best when her parents sent her on her way.
“No one but you can accept Christ into your heart, dear,” her father said.
The immortality of her own soul was apparently a matter which she had to attend to on her own.
She was to meet their pastor in a small conference room in a nearby hotel, which Carmen found without any difficulty. It was only a couple blocks down; a short walk past the trendy, upscale shops and restaurants which lined the thirteenth floor’s pedestrian mall, and into the hotel’s lobby. The rented room was obviously necessary. They couldn’t be in the habit of welcoming strangers into their hidden congregation too casually, not with the threat of being down and outed hanging over their heads.
When she arrived at the designated room, she hesitated for a moment, somewhat nervous, before she finally opened the door and stepped inside. She closed it quickly behind her.
It was a small white room, she noticed as she turned slowly from the doorway, lit by only the fluorescent wall panels behind her, to either side of the entrance. A small table and a chair sat facing the wall opposite, and upon the table was a plain covered book, untitled, like someone would use as a diary or notebook.
“Come in my child,” a mellow voice said. She was slightly startled, she’d thought she was alone.
And then, as more lights came up, she realized that what she’d thought was the far wall was actually a translucent white screen. As the fluorescent wall panels opposite the door came on, the shadow of a man sitting at a table similar to her own was cast against it.
“Don’t be frightened,” the shadow said. His voice made silk seem less than smooth. “You are quite safe. And I am sorry for these arrangements, a necessity of the times, I am afraid, as I’m sure you understand.”
“Please be seated, so that we may talk.”
That was when Carmen finally placed his voice, which she’d recognized immediately. After a moment’s hesitation, she did as instructed, though. She pulled her chair up to the table and rested her clasped hands nervously upon it. They trembled slightly.
“You would be Carmen, then.”
“And what have your parents told you to this point?”
“Only that they... or you all... belong to another religion, other than The Church of the Reborn. That you believe in a book called the ‘Bible,’ rather than The Book of New Man. Also that The Book is false, that you are true Christians, and that if I wish to become one of you and go to heaven, I have to be ‘saved’.”
“All true,” the shadow said. “And what of you Carmen? What do you think of what you have learned so far?”
“I don’t know, sir, it was a bit of a shock, really.”
“As it should be to any Christian who learns that they have been taught false beliefs concerning their saviour. And do you have any questions concerning what you have learned so far?”
After a long pause to consider her response, Carmen finally said, “No sir, not really. It’s just that, well, I don’t really feel that I have enough information to decide what’s true one way or the other at this point.”
“Well said.” There was a mellow and sensuous laugh from beyond the screen. “And nor would we expect you to be able to make a conscious declaration of your true faith in Christ without giving you more information first.
“On the table before you,” the voice continued, “is a book. Please take it with you, it is yours.”
Carmen picked it up, and upon opening it, discovered that it was actually filled with writing, just like any normal book. The plain cover was meant simply as camouflage.
“It will tell you much about the true history of Christianity, as well as concerning the beliefs of our own organization, and the true history of The Book and the Church that you know. Consult it, and consult your parents’ Bible. Compare what you read to the teachings of The Book, and read of its true origins. When you feel that you are ready, or when you have any questions, just tell your parents. They will arrange for us to meet again, as often as you wish.”
“Any time?” Carmen asked.
“Most certainly,” the voice responded, in tones filled with innuendo. “I am at your disposal. And when you have convinced me that you are a true believer, I shall conduct your baptism, and welcome you into our congregation personally.
“You may go now, my child. God bless you, and I hope to speak with you again very soon.”
Carmen rose. She slipped the little book into her purse and departed swiftly.
Once she returned to the hotel’s thirteenth floor lobby, she finally paused, heaving a heavy sigh of relief as she leaned up against a granite pillar. She was still trembling slightly. The whole experience had weirded her out. A deep feeling of unease had descended upon her the moment she’d entered that little room. It had only become worse after she’d recognized his voice.
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Dudgeon