The Redcards: 3- The Fall

The Fall

Dale Fox couldn’t believe his luck. Okay, the Earth had been thrown into chaos by a horrific pandemic – and he no longer saw most of his family and friends – but his life was going very well.

Somehow, the good fortune kept coming his way. It wasn’t just the gambling. After his discovery of what were now referred to as crypto-crystals, he’d been promoted to supervising engineer, which meant easy paperwork and shorter hours. Shorter hours meant that he could play more poker, which was what he really enjoyed. Unfortunately, his wife Marie had recently discovered that he was still gambling. She argued that he was putting his career – and therefore his family – at risk. Dale had agreed to stop and for two weeks he’d held strong. But he wondered how long he would last; he just loved winning.

          It was a Friday and he’d just completed a very busy morning at the office so that he could take Marie and his daughter Julie to the beach. Wolf Chang encouraged such relaxation time, knowing that his isolated workforce and their dependents needed a release from hard work and their unusual existence. Dale was glad to see that his family, like most others, had adjusted to life on the island. They had been there more than a year now and he had begun to wonder if any of them would ever leave.  

          On his way home from the power station, he passed Extraction One. Looking through the wire fence, he spied tracked loaders and a mobile drill on the move. Six miners in red overalls had just reached the elevator, presumably starting their shift in the main shaft.

The discovery of the crypto-crystals hadn’t just changed his life. It had changed the whole island. Extraction One was the largest mine, built on top of the largest crystal field. This happened to be pretty much in the centre of the island, so Chang had ordered that the surrounding housing be demolished and replaced with the facility. Safety concerns had been raised at the time but Mr. Chang’s word was law so construction was completed; and swiftly. As it turned out, the safety concerns were well justified. When drilling down into the field, the mining teams sometimes ignited pockets of gas that sent crystals flying up to the surface and into the air. Some came down within the bounds of the facility but some landed in the well-populated surrounding area.

With a grin, Dale reflected on the fact that no one protested about the crystals landing on their roof or in the garden. Because anyone lucky enough to get their hands on them kept it quiet. These fortunate moments were now referred to as ‘airdrops’ or ‘gifts from God’.

Dale was also smiling because his second such opportunity had come the previous week. Julie had been playing in the garden when a soft boom from Extraction One was followed by the arrival of three crystals, which landed within feet of her. When Julie presented them to her parents, they were instantly claimed by Dale, who made his wife and daughter swear to secrecy. Marie wasn’t happy about this, though she did concede that a couple of her friends had also claimed such bounty. Even though no one could currently leave the island, there was an underground trade in both the crystals and the WOK currency. Dale knew exactly what to do with the airdrop.  

Passing Extraction One, he turned to look at City Hall, another recent development. This was a key administrative centre and Wolf Chang was often to be found there, briefing his underlings. It was a very modern structure; reinforced in case of an explosion at the facility opposite. City Hall also housed a medical facility and it was here that islanders were regularly tested for the virus.

There had been very few cases but rumours persisted that some had tested positive and been banished to the Wild Zone. This was an area where infected migrants had landed and gathered. It was said by some that these people had developed strange mutations, causing a wave of fear across the island. Wolf Chang had ordered his Head of Security, Mark Bryce, to contain the problem. This had first been achieved through fencing and patrols but Chang’s scientists had recently found that the versatile crystals could be used as a key component of a defensive system. When employed within vibrating emitters, a shockwave was created that kept the mutants at bay.

Whenever Julie mentioned the Wild Zone and the mutants that supposedly occupied it, her parents would insist that these were no more than scary stories. They also assured her that nothing bad would ever happen to them. They were some of Wolf Chang’s favourite people and they only ever had good luck. 

Dale’s new house had come with his new job and it was just a minute from City Hall. It could hardly have been more different from their place in Slumville. The house was located in a square reserved for Wolf Chang’s senior employees; rows of spacious dwellings with small but pleasant gardens and air-con – the ultimate luxury on a tropical island.

While the humid environment was a disadvantage, there were many advantages, one of them being the island’s beaches. Always looking to improve the environment, Mr. Chang had a team developing the main beach at the south end of the island. It was located in a long, deep bay and the team’s main job was to smooth out the slope and remove outcrops of rock: to improve safety and reduce the waves. The construction work wasn’t yet complete but the islanders were allowed to use one end of the beach.

When he arrived home, Dale found Marie and Julie packed – including a picnic – and ready to go. He changed out of his work clothes into shorts, t-shirt and shades and they all climbed into the tuk-tuk. The three-wheeled vehicle had been brought to the island by one of the high-ranking managers. She also lived on the square and was always happy to lend it to her fellow senior employees.

‘Can I drive?’ asked Marie.

Dale knew that his wife was bored of her job in the cafeteria and there were few chances to get behind a wheel on the island for non-professionals.

‘Sure, why not?’

As they swapped positions and he climbed into the rear with Julie, Dale waved to his old friend Luiz, who they’d arrived on the island with. Luiz seemed to be doing okay but the friends had drifted apart in recent months; mainly because Luiz was religious and didn’t approve of gambling.

Marie guided the tuk-tuk out of their driveway, back past Extraction One and eventually out onto one of the coast roads.

‘This thing goes pretty well!’ she declared, clearly enjoying herself.

‘Dad,’ said Julie. ‘What happened to those rubies that fell out of the sky?’

‘Don’t you worry about that, sweetheart,’ answered Dale. ‘Are you looking forward to the beach?’

They spent a pleasant three hours swimming and sunning themselves. On the way back, Julie kept shouting “Laew laew”, which is what the Thai construction workers called the beach. Apparently, “laew” meant faster; the workers would shout it when their ponderous heavy trucks were making the slow journey there and back.

Clearly tired, Julie soon fell asleep as Marie drove along the tree-lined roads. Though he’d enjoyed himself, Dale had been unable to fully relax because he had an important appointment later that evening.

Once they were home and Julie was in bed, he grabbed his jacket and was almost at the door when Marie came down the stairs.

‘It’s not what you think,’ he said.

‘Do what you want, Dale,’ she said angrily. ‘We both know you will anyway.’

He walked towards her, reached into a pocket and took out a transparent bag. Inside it were the three red crypto-crystals.

‘I can get a great deal for these. Come on, you know everyone else is doing it.’

‘That doesn’t make it right.’ She brushed her hair away from her eyes and sighed. ‘Just be careful.’

Dale soon found himself back in his old neighbourhood. The new Cyber Area was close to both Slumville and Techville. Resisting the temptation to see if anyone was playing poker at Ace High, Dale kept moving. The sun had gone down an hour earlier, allowing him to move between shadows and avoid the attention of the security teams.  He still felt tired from the swim and found he was sweating heavily; it was another humid night.

The Cyber Area was still under construction, a half-built structure surrounded by scaffolding. Though the graffiti was invisible in the darkness, Dale had previously seen the images and statements, some of them critical of Wolf Chang. Dale reckoned that even in a place that offered safety and order, there would always be rebels. In fact, wasn’t he one of them?

  Hurrying past a row of heavy vehicles, he reached the agreed meeting point: a lone palm tree that had somehow survived all the excavation and construction. Spike was already there, his face illuminated by the weak red security light on a nearby loading truck.

‘Hey, man.’

‘Hey, Spike.’

Spike wore shorts and a white vest, revealing his numerous tattoos. His nickname came from his crazy hair which was also coloured blue and pink. He didn’t look like a Head of Construction but, apparently, he came from a well-known American family who’d been in the building trade for years.

‘Selling crystals or buying crazy red?’

‘Selling,’ said Dale firmly. The meeting had been arranged through an intermediary and it was the first time he’d spoken to Spike face to face. He’d heard about this crazy red stuff but didn’t know much.

‘Show me what you got.’

Dale took a brief look around to ensure they were alone, then took out the bag and passed it to Spike. The dealer dropped the crystals into his hand and examined them with a flashlight.

‘Can’t be too careful,’ he said. ‘Some asshole tried to give me a ruby last week.’

‘So what’s this crazy red stuff?’ asked Dale.

‘Man, what you discovered is pure magic. You know about all these applications they’ve found? Me and my chemist pal found another. If you melt down the crystals and mix them with the right ingredients, you get something really special.’

‘It’s a drug, right?’

‘Well yeah – gets you high. And it’s a unique high.’

‘Safe?’

‘Well, nobody’s died yet,’ said Spike with a chuckle. ‘In fact, some people think it can cure illnesses, even satiate hunger. You interested?’

‘No. I already have enough addictions.’

‘Oh, yeah, you’re a card player, right?’

‘Right. So, you interested in those?’

‘Sure. These are premium. Deserving of a premium price.’ Spike reached into his pocket and pulled out a selection of WOK credit cards. ‘These are pre-loaded. I’ll give you six thousand for the three crystals.’

‘Make it seven.’

‘Trying your luck, huh?’

‘Always.’

With a grin, Spike took out another card and handed over the 7000 WOK.

‘Thanks,’ added Dale, already on his way. ‘Pleasure doing business with you.’

Two days later, he found himself at City Hall for his mandatory virus check. He wasn’t nervous; there had been very few cases recently and he was careful to keep his social circle to a minimum. As he sat alone in a holding room, waiting for the result, Dale thought of the stack of WOK cards he’d hidden below a floorboard in the house. He reckoned there could only be a handful of people on the island with more. It was time to start reaping the benefits of his acquisitions. The island’s stores possessed only limited stock but Dale decided to buy a gift for both his wife and daughter.

The door opened. He’d expected to see Dr. Ross, who’d carried out his test. In fact, it was Mark Bryce who entered, along with another of his security team. Both had holstered guns on their belts; and both were wearing masks that covered nose and mouth. The implacable Bryce said nothing, simply waiting until Dr. Ross followed them in. He too was wearing a mask, which muffled his voice. Dale heard him clearly enough though:

‘I’m sorry, Mr. Fox. It’s not good news. I double-checked your blood sample to be sure. Your test is positive.’

Author TheWolf
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