023 – Gutter Talk

The rain fell, of course. Zee’s rain coat and the bright yellow rubber gloves kept her damp but not wet. A gray canvas jumpsuit kept the chill of an early morning off her skin, though it chaffed. A few flecks of moldy leaf matter flicked onto her face when she reached her hands into the rusted gutter and grabbed a squishy handful. She tossed it over her shoulder and resisted wiping her face with the dirty gloves.

“Hey,” Rice said, wiping the gunk off her Hexsuit.

“Sorry,” said Zee. “Don’t stand right below the ladder.”

“This sucks,” Rice said, her voice sounding slightly tinny from within the suit’s helmet. Zee didn’t reply, but turned back to the gutter and dug out another handful of gunk.

Rice sighed. “Come on,” she said.

Zee paused. “What?”

“This sucks, so we should complain about it. Together.”

“Isn’t this the kind of work you guys do on a regular basis?” Zee asked.

“No,” said Rice with a sniff. “This is the kind of work Ben does on a regular basis. My equipment is far too specialized and my skills way too awesome for cleaning the gutters. And you are taking forever.”

“Complaining doesn’t help anything,” said Zee.

“Sure it does. It makes the time go faster.”

Zee stopped and looked down at Rice. “What would I complain about?”

“How about the fact that you are basically cleaning gutters for free?” Rice asked.

“Well, not free,” Zee said. “I get to hang out with you and do things like breath and think.”

Rice retracted her helmet. Her eyebrows peaked in worry. “Seriously? I was joking. They don’t even give you a stipend?”

“If I’m not leased out, Far Corp places me in storage until a new lessee wants a Model Seven service analog with my skills. This,” she grabbed a handful of leafy gunk, “is far preferable to storage. I don’t need to get paid—”

Rice held up a Hexclad hand. “Wait, storage? Like cryostasis or something?”

Zee turned back to the gutter. “No, nothing so elaborate,” she said.

As Zee removed a handful of leaves, Rice crossed her arms. “Well?”

“Well what?” Zee said without looking at her.

“What do you mean by storage?” Rice asked, a note of anger in her tone.

“It’s not that big a deal. It’s basically like sleeping. They put me in my containment cylinder, and I just…stop.”

“You stop? Stop what? Stop breathing and thinking?”

“Yes.”

Rice stared at her. “That’s not sleeping.” Zee threw down another handful of leaves but didn’t answer. Rice shook her head. “Does Ben know about this?”

Zee shrugged. “Why does that matter?” Rice chewed her lip. Zee turned back to the gutter. She stopped, sighed, dug out a large stick, and tossed it over her shoulder.

“Watch it,” Rice said. She ducked the stick, but bent down to pick it up and throw it off the bridge. She stared at it. “Is this a femur?”

Zee paused and looked down. “Does it matter?”

Rice held up the stick that did look suspiciously like a human leg bone and examined it. “Uhh,” she lowered it and tossed it over the edge of the scaffold bridge. “No, no it doesn’t. Keep cleaning.”

Read the next chapter.

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