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Slave Master
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

The morningís light finally filters through the heavy curtains and falls on my closed eyes, long enough to force me to acknowledge, finally, that I am awake. Itís not much use turning my back to the windows and falling asleep again. The windows are all around me; at the most, I can stay asleep for another fifteen minutes, and thatís not worth all the effort.

The curtains, though heavy, are badly drawn, carelessly so. I had drawn them, myself, before going to bed, hours ago, sloppily as usual. I usually draw them the last thing before going to bed. Itís not really necessary to do that; Iím far too high up here for anyone to look in on me. Itís just a habit. Ever since childhood Iíve never been able to sleep with uncurtained windows.

Every evening I sit up here, on the top floor of this building, and watch the darkened city streets. Iím too high up to see anything clearly without a telescope, but I like to just sit back and watch the flashes of gunshots and the glows of little fires. It gives me an odd sort of satisfaction sometimes to think of how the life has fled the city; how the flashing billboards have gone dark and the hurrying masses have gone from the streets.

Once or twice I have been tempted to get hold of a high powered rifle with a telescopic sight and add my little bit to the mayhem that goes on below. Each time I have fought down the temptation, although getting hold of the weapon would not be a problem. I know where one can be found, and, of course, I already own firearms, chief among them a pump-action shotgun and a 9 mm pistol. Everyone who wants to survive these days free has to be armed.††††

From the next room comes a stirring. It is, of course, my slave Stenna. I know without opening my eyes that she is gone from my side. She will have been up since before dawn. Those are my orders, and so far she has obeyed without question.

I acquired Stenna some time ago. It was on one of my infrequent forays down to the streets. It had been another thick grey overcast evening, the clouds overhanging the city almost at roof level, but making no move to lighten themselves by releasing some rain. The clouds were sooty with the smoke from fires burning out of control across the river. That was where small crowds of refugees would be forming up now, to find their way out into the country or somehow, across the shattered bridges to this side. Wherever they chose to go, it would not get them to safety. There was no safety anywhere.

That evening I had gone down to find clothing. For the time being I had food enough, something rare and wonderful; also I had more clothes than I could immediately use, but I wanted to stock up for the future. Once the gangs discovered even so much as a single piece of cloth or food, it would disappear. Books, though, were something different Ė no one had any need for books, and I could have gathered as many as I ever wanted. The only problem is that as time goes on I become less and less inclined to risk my life for only a book.

Because, however careful I am, going down to the street is risking my life. I have to remember this every time I go down. Unless one remembers this, one doesnít last long in the city.

That evening with sullen clouds hovering overhead, I had walked down to the street, carefully locking the doors behind me. Back when the city was alive we would often leave doors unlocked, but those silly trusting times are long gone now. Everyone has to look out for his or her own security.

The streets were silent as usual at that hour. It was the quiet hour Ė the ordinary citizens who still scraped a living from the shell of the town had withdrawn before nightfall, along with the criminals who preyed on them. They had gone to ground in their apartments, fortified with home made sandbags and wooden beams. Meanwhile, the gangs hadnít yet emerged. At night the city belonged to the gangs.

I carried my pistol prominently on my hip. It was my first line of defence. I did not plan on using it; but anyone who saw it would probably think twice before taking me on and go looking for easier prey. Back when I still dared go out at night I would have carried my shotgun too, at the ready, a shell in the breech and cocked. But going out at night alone is suicidal now. If the gangs donít get you, the packs of feral dogs probably will.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Science Fiction
Type:Short story
Rating:6.25 / 10
Rated By:22 users
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