Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry
“Looks like another sunny day on Cloud Nine folks!” the weatherman said while showing a hologram of the busy city at noon.
Since the gravity-defying technology of 2993, Earth’s cities were built high in the sky to avoid the widespread pollution on the planet’s surface. Only the poor, and cast-offs roamed earth’s filthy highways to nowhere.
The rest of the people lived in Clouded Communities that required vigorous vetting to join. Cloud Nine had the most exclusive lodging and the best food and drink in the United Association of Cloud Communities in America (UACCA). Only the super wealthy and well-connected could afford to live and do business there. There were no violent crimes or murders.
At last count, there were twenty-eight cloud communities in the northern hemisphere.
Cloud Twelve had white-collar workers who were employed by the city as computer techs, accountants, lawyers, and copyeditors at publishing firms. They exported their expertise to other UACCA communities in exchange for their goods.
With the New Science of the age people were able to breathe normally at 10,000 feet in the air. The protective shield around the city was a standard model used by nearly all of the other Clouded Communities.
Cloud Seven was known for being a haven for blue-collar workers who enjoyed assembling machines from Aero Cabs to elevators. The people worked hard on assembly lines during the day, and partied hearty at night watching air hockey games between the Clouded Communities pro teams. They enjoyed being a thriving export/import member of the UACCA.
Down on the ground.
Rogun resented being a cast-off. Going from the luxuries of Cloud Nine to the massively polluted world on the ground was hard. More worrisome however, was the fact that there were no laws on the ground. Roving bands of armed thugs fought one another in the crumbling cities.
Life was boiled down to its simplest element; survival in a hostile world.
He was here because he didn’t follow the rules on Cloud Nine. Now he lived where there were no rules. The irony wasn’t lost on Rogun who now lived for revenge. Physically, he was in the prime of his life at thirty-one years-old. He hoped it would be the difference in surviving while plotting his revenge.
He was sent to “the ground” without any weapons or clothing. It took a full day of patiently waiting in hiding before he was able to take care of his most immediate needs. He set up an ambush inside of an electric station building. It was still functional and there was a chance others knew this.
He found a three-foot long steel pipe to use as a weapon in a small storeroom. He heard voices before he saw the old aero car pull up outside by the charging tower. A man wearing black leather got out of the car when it stopped. He was about the same size as Rogun. Maybe a little heavier.
He watched the man hook up his vehicle and throw a switch. There was no charge for getting the charge. The station was still functioning after one-hundred years. An impressive achievement but not appreciated by Rogun who was circling around the building to get a good angle on the man.
He waited until the man walked a few steps away from his vehicle and was relieving himself, before he ran up behind him and hit him in the head with every ounce of his strength!
There was a sickening thud and the man fell face forward. Rogan watched his body twitch a couple of times before going limp. He quickly went about stripping the body and dressing himself. Feeling a little more confident he walked over to the vehicle. He checked the meter. It read FULL.
The aero car was so simple even a kid could drive one. Inside, Rogun found a laser rifle with a scope. He rustled around the back seat and found some food and water. Famished, he greedily stuffed down the stale bread and drank the cool water. Feeling refreshed, he pushed the start button and pointed the aero car north, the same direction it was heading before he hijacked it.
A day later.
When Rogun saw the city he grinned. It appeared to be thriving with numerous merchants selling goods on the streets. Most of the aero cars he saw were parked near a large casino with a flashing neon sign that proclaimed, “The Star Humper Casino.” He parked and watched people go in and out for a while.
One thing he noticed. Everyone was armed with rifles or hand guns. He checked his laser rifle out and decided to take the scope off. There would be no need of it up close. He rummaged around inside the car until he found a small bundle under the passenger’s side seat. It was the tender used by large organized gangs who took over cities.
He peeled off half of the little bundle and stuck the rest back under the seat. He pocketed the rest. It was time to meet and greet whoever was in charge of the street. He suspected he’d find who he was looking for in the penthouse suite of the casino.
No one seemed to notice him, with his rifle slung across his back, as he stepped into an elevator and hit TOP FLOOR. Surprisingly there were no guards there when the elevator opened and he stepped into the vast penthouse apartment.
He looked around and was surprised at how nice it was. It almost looked like something out of a Cloud Nine room. It even had its own bar. That’s where he saw a tall thin man wearing a golden jacket hold up a bottle in his direction.
“Irish whiskey? the stranger asked conversationally.
“Thank you, I will,” he answered.
“Straight up, or on the rocks?”
“And what shall we toast?”
“How about revenge?”
“Ohhhh..” the stranger purred. “Tell me about it.”
“I shouldn’t be down here. There’s a judge on Cloud Nine who was out to get me. I’d like to personally kill him with my bare hands.”
“But how will you get back on Cloud Nine to do it? You know that planes can’t get past that security shield without authorization.”
“There must be some way to get inside,” Rogan said.
“There might be. What would you say if I were able to get you inside to extract your vengeance?”
“I’d say, why would you help me? You’re a complete stranger, and I don’t see wings on your back.”
The stranger chuckled at the comment. “For good reason, sir,” he grinned.
“I need a spy on Cloud Nine. Someone who will eventually help me, and my crew outside, gain access to that privileged community. You seem to fit the bill nicely.”
“But how will you get me in?” Rogan wondered.
“There’s one product that those wealthy people still want from the ground. Bodies. Apparently they make some – forgive my pun – killer compost for their beloved flowers. We quit burying our dead decades ago because they just dug them up. Now we dump all the bodies at the end of town and they take them away and leave potable water in exchange.”
“Are you suggesting I lay among those foul and stinking corpses?” he asked.
“Have you got a better idea?” the stranger challenged.
A day later.
“The two-man crew of the plane from Cloud Nine wore white biohazard suits as they tossed bodies into the rear cargo hold. One of them wheeled out a fifty-gallon plastic container with potable water. It was mind-numbing work, and the men went about their duties daydreaming they were somewhere else. Somehow, Rogun didn’t scream out in horror as the bodies were thrown onto him.
The plane had no trouble re-entering the safety shield. It landed on a runway next to a public warehouse where citizens could come by and get all the rotting flash they needed. When all the bodies were transferred to a waiting area, Rogan saw his chance to slip away when the crew left.
The assembly line was turned off. He cringed when he saw the meat grinders and the massive presses that pulped the bodies. When he left the warehouse, which was located on the east end of town, he walked into the city under cover of night. When he got to the center of town, where the hall of justice was located, he broke into a parked aero car and waited until sunlight.
Rogun woke up in the morning just as the streets were coming alive with traffic. He watched pedestrians walking into the Hall of Justice for a few minutes as he woke up. When he saw his target, Judge Lee, walking up the steps he got out of the car. The judge was getting into an elevator when he came into the large lobby. He watched the floors go by and the red light settle on the sixth floor.
Rogun pushed the DOWN button and waited.
He stepped out into a hallway and looked down the corridor at the signs above the doors. He opened the door that said Honorable Ralph H. Lee. The room had a receptionist’s desk and leather chairs lined up on one-side of the room.
There was no receptionist yet. Apparently it was too early. He opened the door behind the desk and stepped into the room. The judge was sitting behind his desk, reading some paperwork when Rogun entered. Their eyes met. Fear in one. Rage in the other. Then Rogun lunged across the desk and attacked the judge!
Afterwards, he drug the judge’s body into a closet and shut the door. He was looking out the window at the view when he heard a door open. A minute later the door to the judge’s office opened and the stranger with the gold jacket entered…smiling.
“Well, you did it,” he told Rogun. “Your murdering this man has opened the gates of hell to invade Cloud Nine!”
As It Stands, the devil always gets his due.