Gutter Rats

By the time it reached the decaying bricks and damp asphalt of the cold, dark street, the pouring rain was barely a drizzle. Drip. Drip. The rain slowly formed at the corners of the large neon billboards, which lined the walls and hung facing downward above the street and dripped off, falling to the ground. The billboards and signs, so large and so plenty, protected the street from the elements. Although many of the signs and advertisements were anchored to the wall as one would expect, a nearly equal amount had opted for a slightly different angle. These signs hung above the street by wires attached to bars that ran between the tall buildings, their imagery parallel with the ground. Any human, animal, or other that passed beneath them had simply to glance upwards and would then be presented with the latest artificial intelligence bookkeeper, the latest news from the Robotics Control & Enforcement Unit, or the latest new invention or whatnot. A building code prevented them from being too close to the ground, but nothing limited how many signs could obscure the sky. Hundreds, thousands of brightly lit digital billboards and signs within a stretch of several blocks, covering the sky. Giants stretching from wall to wall. Small ones with simple messages and bright, harsh colors. Large ones with propaganda, messages, and advertisements from larger corporations that could afford them. Video ones, blaring their advertisements for everyone to hear and see.

And although these boards covered most of the sky, they weren’t the only cause of the darkness which covered the streets like a blanket, smothering all sources of light which did not originate from the neon signs themselves. Above the neon lights, between the countless apartments, pathways stretched. From one to the next, covered pathways ran, intertwining. The pathways had been covered long ago to make maintenance and upkeep easier. Now, they proved to be yet another obstacle the sun and rain had to navigate past if they wished to reach the ground. But that still wasn’t all. Here and there giant magnetic railroad tunnels ran, a pulsating field of electricity surrounding the gigantic hose-like structures which wrapped around and through the city like a pile of gigantic snakes. And there and here the two sides of the street seemed to merge hundreds of feet above the ground, seemingly forgetting they were separate buildings.

Down on the ground was where the poorest of the commoners lived. The first 50 floors of the gigantic skyscrapers that lined the streets were considered “down on the ground” for most people. Especially when most buildings reached heights of 400 to 500 stories. But down there even lower than the first 50 stories, down at street level, was where the most interesting things took place. Interesting things of all fashions, things so bizarre and strange that many people would claim didn’t exist till they were faced with the truth, which existed – down at street level. The occasional human who walked the streets was forced to wear an advanced filtering mask to avoid the stale, static air that permeated everything, which had existed unchanging for centuries, and was inundated with the molds that lined the walls and streets. Breathing that air in might not have harmed you at first, but continuous exposure could lead to all kinds of complications. Even, some people said, mutations. But that was just speculation and conspiracy.

And down there, between the walls which were so dark and damp, so clammy and cold, there ran rats. Massive rats, in multitudes. Hundreds, thousands of them, ran in and out of the drains which lined the walls and floors. The drains did some good, at least. They prevented water from building up, stagnating, and becoming poisonous, as nothing could evaporate down here. But ho, the rodents who were their offspring. Massive, quick, vile creatures. Some of the large ones were the size of fully grown cats. These rats ran constantly around preying upon each other, as cannibalism was the only method that provided means for survival.

Walking along the desolate, lonely streets, you might occasionally hear those rodents squealing and screaming as they fought, and would sometimes even see a lone one run past, staring at you with its beady eyes. But they weren’t all rats. Well, you could call them all rats. But they weren’t all alive, strictly speaking. The bottom-dwellers of the human race knew this, but they weren’t in much of a position to tell. After all, who would believe them – them in a state of near slavery, those who existed solely off of the meager rations provided to them by their government in return for long hours of labor, constantly and relentlessly working at the most demeaning of jobs. They wouldn’t – couldn’t tell anyone. None would care, and none would listen.

But they knew that those strange, special rats weren’t rats. Some of them looked different. They felt different when you kicked them out of your way, that was for sure. They still had a type of fur, but a metallic clang sounded from the rats as your boot struck their side. Some people had even claimed they had seen sparks emanating from some of those ‘different’ rodents. Artificially intelligent monitoring robots, those metal ones. They weren’t rats, they were robots.

Nobody knew exactly what they were built for, or why they kept track of everyone who lived down there. But they were built, and they did keep track of you. And sometimes people who questioned too much disappeared. It probably wasn’t the rats. But the only people who could tell us are the ones who disappeared. The ones who have never been seen or heard from again. The ones who just might have seen the rats.

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