Part 1: Technology and Creativity--Jazz--
A loud bang, followed by a long stream of profanities woke Jazz up. Her face was pressed against the ground, her body slumped awkwardly around her work. The cold and damp had seeped through the floor and into her body, making her numb and very, very cold.
The room was just as she had left it; piled high with scraps of metal just waiting to be turned into something great, a small space cleared out to make a path to the door and give her enough room to tinker and build.
Jazz slowly rolled to her feet, seemingly unaware of the aches her muscles were feeling from sleeping on the hard and cold ground.
She licked her lips and got back to work.
Jazz hummed along to the old record playing scratchily on her home-made phonograph, her thin fingers moving swiftly as they worked in time to the music. The oily pile of metal that had been on the ground in front of her only minutes before was now taking shape into one of the guns that were so often seen peeking out of the waistband of the Manager's pants.
The dim lights of the basement flickered, plunging her into darkness long enough for her fingers, which had just been moving nimbly and confidently, to slip. Jazz watched, emotionless, as her blood dripped from the jagged cut along her palm and onto the already damp concrete floor.
Before the cut, which was rather deep and outlined in a black smear of oil and grime, could splash any blood onto Jazz's precious inventions, a cloth was wrapped tightly around it, applying pressure to stem the bleeding.
As Jazz tied a knot to keep the cloth in place, her foot was already reaching out and pulling the wrench she had dropped closer to her, her body aching to continue building as soon as possible.
Puck pushed his black hair out of his eyes impatiently, not wanting to stop drawing for even a moment. A mess of colored pencils surrounded him, in horrible disarray as opposed to their normal color-coded neatness. The sketchbook in front of him was no longer a blank white, but was now popping with vivid colors and solid black lines, all swirling together to form something spectacularly new and almost blindingly colorful.
Huge piles of crumpled paper, discarded sketchbooks, broken pencils, and stubs of erasers all littered the floor around him. His hand ached and his stomach clenched at not having eaten anything all day. His eyes stung from staring too hard at the same thing for too long, and his brain was mush from concentrating on something extremely difficult for days on end.
But is was all worth it. It was all worth it because finally, after almost a whole week with nothing new to give to his impatient father, he had not only a fresh idea, but a masterpiece. It was a good thing too- his father was getting antsy.
Jazz groaned as she woke up to the familiar booming of the shift bells. One...Two...Five...Ten. Ten minutes until the factory would grind to a halt as hundreds of workers filed out and hundreds more filed in to take their place. A process that was well practiced and took exactly five minutes.
That left Jazz, who knew only too well the punishment for coming to work late, fifteen minutes to get to the factory. The factory that was a good twenty minutes away.
. . .
Jazz's feet were pounding on the cracked pavement as she ran, faster, faster, faster. Her breath was coming in short gasps and her side ached sharply as the rest of her body just ached dully. People who were slumped in door frames and sprawled over the sidewalk shouted at her as she ran past.
“Ha ha! Somebody's gonna be late!”
“Run girlie, run! Don't wanna have to 'talk' to the Manager's now do you?”
“Looks like someone's not gonna make it to work today! Maybe they'll hire me this time!”
“You're not gonna make it, better run the other way!”
Jazz just ignored them and continued to run.
. . .
The factory came into view just as the final bell was ringing. The long stream of old workers were quickly filing out of the side doors, and the even longer stream of new workers were steadily disappearing through the front doors.
Jazz looked at the stretch of road that lay in between her and the last person in line to enter the hulking brick monster that was the factory. Just a little farther. She would make it; the number of seconds she needed to reach the factory was smaller than the number of seconds it would take for that last person to vanish and the heavy doors to lock behind them. She didn't even need to think for longer than a second to know she would be on time. The answer just appeared in her mind as answers always seemed to.
She made it- just as the doors were going to swing shut, she slipped over the threshold and out of the way of their crushing force. Black spots were clouding her vision, it was almost impossible to breathe, and she had to turn and throw up in the trash can next to her, but she made it.
As Jazz straightened up from the trash can, the Manager by the door glared at her, obviously displeased at being unable to dole out a punishment for lateness.
Despite her pain, Jazz flashed him a grin, making the Manager's mouth drop at her audacity, before she strode into the factory's machine room to start her shift- on time.
Puck rubbed a towel through his damp hair, trying to get as much of the moisture out of it as possible. After showing his father his drawing- the usually cold man had actually given Puck a hug, he was so ecstatic- he was dismissed to take a quick shower and get something to eat before he had to get back to work.
Puck's stomach was full from the rich meal of the finest steak money could buy, and his body was now relaxed after just a few minutes in his spa-like shower. The full-length mirror that was encased in a heavy gold frame showed him his reflection, which he went over critically- after all, he had to put out a good image for the company.
The man staring back at him was just over six feet, and his short black hair spiked out in different directions from when he had been drying it. His face was finely boned, and through the opening of his unbuttoned shirt, you could see that his body was lithely muscled.
He looked every inch like the super-rich business man he was.
Except, when Puck continued to study his reflection, little things began to come to his attention, things that gave away the fact that the stress he was under seemed to build every day. His eyes, while still a shocking dark gray, seemed a little duller than they had a month before. His black hair had lost a bit of it's shine, and his usually tanned skin was almost as pale as if he lived in a Factory City.
He certainly had been spending a lot of time locked up in his office, per his father's request. But no matter how luxurious his office was, it was no substitute for the bright West coast sunshine.
Resolving to take the rest of the day off, Puck discarded the white button up shirt and black silk suit pants he had donned only minutes earlier in favor of a pair of gray swim trunks.
Today would be the first time in months that he got to just relax.
. . .
The clear blue water of the pool was chilled to a sensational seventy degrees, the perfect temperature to cool off from the mid-day Californian sun. The sky was a clear, azure blue, and a gentle breeze was constantly blowing thanks to the Air Purifiers that wound around his house.
If Puck looked anywhere other than straight up, he would be able to see the line where the sky darkened ever so slightly with a wisp of pollution that the city's Purifiers didn't catch, and if he looked far off into the distance, he could see another layer of gradual tinting in the sky as the air was left to just the work of the Living Quarter's Purifiers.
But Puck, if he looked at the sky at all, never did look anywhere other than to the air over his property. He never did like the way the slightly darker sky looked compared to his sky.
Puck floated along in the pool on his back, both the dark sunglasses he was wearing and his closed eyelids shielding him from the glare of the sun. He could feel the warmth of the autumn day seeping into his skin, and he breathed in the crisp scent of freshly cut grass, despite the fact that there hadn't been real grass within a hundred miles in fifty years.
He was totally at peace, relaxed, and a gentle tingle of contentment flowed through his body.
The heat was nearing unbearable, a far cry from her icy basement. Jazz's normally pin straight blond hair was curling from the humidity, and her fingers were red from repeatedly brushing against the scorching metal that roped around the room in a hazardous maze.
The machine room was the second most dangerous place to work inside of any Adkins Industries factory, the first being the assembly room, where losing a finger to the sharp drills wasn't an uncommon occurrence. But despite the dangers, Jazz loved working here almost as much as she loved working in her basement.
She loved the fact that she could observe the countless machines; that she could commit to memory what made the factory tick; that she could, on a lucky day, even tinker with one of the machines. And most of all, that she could spend just about the entirety of her ten hour shift out of sight of the Managers that plagued every other room.
The Managers were the cruel people that supervised all the workers. They were authorized to do anything to keep the factory running at maximum level at all times, and they had no problem abusing that power. Which was one of the reasons they were picked for the job.
But no matter how eager Managers were to catch someone slacking, even they didn't want to have to stand in a boiling hot machine room for ten hours. The machine room, unlike any other room in the factory, was hot, dark, and cramped. If you so much as brushed against anything in the room you would get scalded. If you breathed too deeply your lungs would be on fire from the hot smoke that hovered nonstop throughout the room. And the looping metal pipes and hulking copper furnaces blocked your view of more than a couple of feet in front of you. Not exactly optimal conditions to catch someone doing something they're not supposed to.
So Jazz could do what she liked without worry of getting in trouble, the closest Manager standing outside the thick doors and in the cool hallway. The only other person in the room with her was a small, mouse-like boy. He was twelve, went by the name of Gerard, and was possibly the best thief the Factory City of Baltimore had ever seen.
Gerard, as if sensing her thoughts about him, appeared from the shadows somewhere on her left. Jazz gave him a brief nod, not bothering to smile since the black bandana that was tied over her mouth to keep the smoke out blocked the view of half of her face.
“Hey there Jazzy. You need any more scrap metal?” Gerard looked at her out of the corner of his eyes while he swept at the fine layer of ash covering the floor, something Jazz was supposed to be doing, instead of staring at the heat gauge on the furnace and trying to think how she could make one when she got home.
“No thanks. My room is still full from the last haul you brought me.” She had to shout a little bit to be heard over the rumbling of the machines, but was careful not to shout too loud. The last thing either one of them needed was to alert the Managers to the fact that they had metal. Or that the infamous Scrap Yard Thief was among them.
Gerard just nodded, and Jazz knew he was refraining from any further conversation to limit the possibility of being caught, and because he knew it would be pointless to try and get her to say anymore. It was a miracle he had already gotten more than a one word answer out of her, no need to push his luck.
Puck was walking back into the towering mansion he called home, a towel slung around his now bronzed shoulders, when his father stormed towards him, looking murderous. Despite the fleeting nervousness in his stomach, Puck raised his chin and looked at the man head on.
“Son! Where have you been the last couple of hours? Your attendant said you hadn't returned to work after I gave you the break earlier!” His father's voice never rose above a loud speaking volume, most certainly never rising into a yell, but the tone set Puck's teeth on edge, and the murderous look- which was really the same impassive face his father always wore, just with ice chips instead of eyes- was still firmly in place.
“I decided I needed to take the day off. I've been working non-stop for the past two months, I looked half dead. I needed a day out in the sun to get my health back.”
His father's eyes flashed, the emotion disappearing before Puck had time to analyze it, but it nonetheless made Puck feel like he had suddenly been drenched in ice-cold water. “Well you wasted half the day! Go wash off that chlorine, get dressed, and actually get back to work this time. I'm telling Smith that if you're not sitting in your office in twenty minutes to find you and bring you there by force.”
Something in his father's tone of voice made him think he wasn't joking, and just the thought of Smith, Puck's burly attendant who looked like he ate houses for breakfast, dragging him anywhere by force made him immediately turn and shoot down the hallway so he could get back to work as soon as possible.
The lunch bell rang out sharply, the harsh noise ricocheting off the metal walls. The door burst open to reveal a Manager holding his arm over his mouth to ward off smoke as he leaned into the room. “B's are eating first today! Get a move on!” The door clanged shut almost before he had finished speaking.
Jazz sighed before nodding once more to Gerard and propping her broom against the wall. The shuddering of machinery got louder for a moment as everything in the factory lurched to half speed to allow half of the workers to head to lunch.
Slipping out into the hallway, Jazz made sure to shut the door firmly behind her, not wanting the Manager on machine room duty to complain, or to give him a chance to catch her only friend doing something he wasn't supposed to.
The Manager glared at her before demanding roughly, “ID.”
Jazz held back an eye roll. She had been working here since she was seven, and even after ten years they still demanded her ID just for her to head to the cafeteria. She dug into the pocket of her tough black jumpsuit and pulled out the laminated card with her information on it.
“Jazzlyn Teel. Machine Room. Day Shift. B Lunch,” the Manager read aloud off her card, “Looks good. You can head off now.” The last part was said grudgingly, making it only too obvious how displeased he was at not being able to call her out on anything.
Jazz just silently took her card back and quickly strode away.
. . .
The cafeteria was a large room, bitterly cold, all concrete, and crawling with Managers. Jazz slipped off her bandanna and pulled her hair off from where it was sticking to the back of her neck with sweat. The boiling heat of the machine room had actually helped relax her aching muscles, and now that she was in the icy cafeteria, she could feel them tensing up again.
As she put her bandanna in her pocket, she felt around to see how much money she had on her. Her work ID doubled as a credit card for any Adkins Industries owned business; it allowed the many workers in the factory to buy lunch without having to worry about being mugged. The only problem was that anything you charged was taken out of your paycheck with a ridiculous interest rate.
Luckily for her, Jazz had a few dollars. She refused to use her credit card, and didn't think her body could handle another day without something to eat.
The lunch line was long, everyone shifting impatiently. There was only fifteen minutes allowed for lunch, and no one wanted to waste their precious freedom waiting in line. Jazz only had to wait five minutes before it was her turn at the plexiglass window.
The person behind it was short and pudgy, their angry eyes barely reaching her shoulders, and Jazz was no giant at five foot four. “What'll you be having?” Their voice was scratchy, probably from years of smoking, and if it weren't for the name tag that had “Bessy” written on it, Jazz wouldn't have known if the person in front of her was male or female.
“An apple.” Jazz pushed forwards all the money she had. An apple was the only thing her two dollars could buy.
The thing that rolled towards her was small and the brown patches on it almost completely covered the red skin that marked it as an apple. It was also the best thing she had been able to eat in three weeks.
Jazz to took the apple and moved out of the way of the next person in line.
Eating her entire lunch in three bites, she threw the core into a trash can before walking up to the bathroom door. There were only two bathrooms available to the factory workers, both were located in the cafeteria, and both could only be used during the lunch break.
The bathrooms were empty, all the workers used to going through their entire ten hour shift without having to use them; she only used the bathroom to wash off the layer of sweat and ash that built up on her skin during the first half of her shift. Jazz pushed her ID card in the slot next to the door to unlock it and stepped inside.
The floor was made of peeling laminate tile, everything else in the room besides the flickering florescent lights and the warped plastic mirror was made of porcelain. Jazz went straight to the sink and turned the cold water on full blast. She used her bandanna to scrub until the ash was washed away to reveal her red hands, white skin, and blond hair. The cut on her hand was an angry red and stung sharply when she washed the dirt from it, but it didn't reopen, so she tied the cloth back over it.
Next she wiped the bandanna over her jumpsuit, scrubbing away half an inch of filth. The tough material took five minutes to soak through with cold water, but Jazz was meticulously sure to get every inch of the fabric. For the first half of her shift, she could be in that hot room without overheating because she was still frozen from her nights in her damp basement. But without getting drenched in ice cold water before she went back in for the second half of her day, she would overheat and collapse- something she had had to learn the hard way.
She rinsed her bandanna out for the remaining time left in her lunch break, trying to get as much ash out of it as possible before she tied it back over her mouth. The now wet cloth would block even more of the smoke, and she didn't want to ruin that advantage by having tainted water running into her mouth for the next five hours.
When Jazz emerged from the bathroom seconds before the lunch bell would ring again, no one gave her sopping appearance a second glance. They were all used to Jazz's weird behavior, and if they hadn't of been, they wouldn't have noticed anyway.
Once again standing in front of his gold-framed mirror, Puck had a sense of déjà vu. He was wearing the same silk suit pants and unbuttoned white dress shirt as before, his hair was once again in disarray from him running a towel through it, and his body was still just as fit. The differences were minute; his black hair was shinier, and his skin was now deeply tanned.
However, his gray eyes still lacked their life.
Shaking off the sudden spike of chills that ran down his spine, those same gray eyes that had just caught his attention in the mirror slid away, and for the last five minutes that he spent in the bathroom, they never once strayed towards any reflective surface again.
The machine room was making steam rise off of Jazz's clothes, but she didn't even notice. She was too focused on the problem in front of her; today was one of the very rare days that Jazz got to tinker with the machines.
Every once in a while, something would break during her shift. And being the little mechanical prodigy that she was, she couldn't pass up the opportunity to fix it. This was the biggest perk at not having Managers lurking around every corner. She could exercise her gift all she wanted and there would be no one there to exploit it.
In her world, technology was everything. Everyone in the world wanted the advanced and oh-so-cool toys that Adkins Industries provided. That created three big problems; all metal was now priceless and Adkins Industries would go through anything to get it, the majority of the world that had the money to pay for the new toys needed the minority of the world who didn't have the money to work themselves almost to death to make what they wanted, and, last but not least, Adkins Industries needed new ideas.
The rich were fickle and child-like, wanting more, more, more, and only giving what they had a seconds worth of attention before looking for more once again. That meant that to keep the people happy and their own pockets full, ideas for new toys, and the mechanical minds needed to make those toys a reality, were in as much of a demand, if not more, as metal was.
Unfortunately for Jazz, those with the know-how to make things were worked harder than the underfunded factory workers were. They were worked day after day until their value was gone. Until they were dead.
And Jazz had no intention of literally being worked to death. So, she kept her gift quiet, the only other person in the world who knew about it was Gerard, and that was only because he got her supplies and because she trusted him not to say anything, him being smart enough to see what happened to people like her.
It was only at moments like this, when she got the opportunity to tinker with the broken machines, that she was really happy. As she twisted some bolts and tightened others with the wrench she had hidden in a corner of the room, Jazz smiled. She loved working with machines, and it was only these rare moments and those lovely hours in her basement that she got to do so.
Gerard, who had long since returned from lunch, just moved her broom out of her way and got back to work sweeping the floors. He had seen Jazz like this before, and she knew he didn't have the heart to break her away from her work just to sweep her fair share of the room.
Puck was once again in his office, although now all the pencils had been sharpened and organized before being safely put in their drawer, the paper had all been picked up and recycled, sketchbooks had been put away, and the eraser stubs had been swept up and disposed of.
He had pulled a new, blank sketchbook down from the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf on the wall behind him, and it was currently opened to the first page, just waiting for something to fill it up.
There used to be a time when all Puck had wanted to do was draw. He could still remember when he had first discovered his natural talent for anything artistic; on his fifth birthday, left alone in a spare office somewhere in the mansion, he had come across a pencil and a pad of paper laying on a desk. Inspired by that blank slate, his little five year-old fingers had grabbed the pencil and had begun to draw the magical toy he had dreamt about the night before.
When his father had found him, hours later and still drawing different things, he had taken one look at the paper and suddenly began making more frequent appearances in his life. His first drawings, although shaky, were of an almost professional quality- or so he had been told. And that wasn't even mentioning how wild everyone went over the toys he imagined. Almost immediately, they began to show up as real things, manufactured by his father's company.
From that moment on, he had been given private art lessons, enrolled in the top art school, and told to draw, draw, draw anything and everything that came to his mind. Puck had loved drawing from the first moment, and the attention and love he received- especially from his father- only made it that much sweeter. The fact that he had inherited his talent from his late mother was the sentimental cherry on top of the whole situation.
But now, fifteen years after that day, Puck was exhausted. Extensive schooling and practicing had honed his skills so sharply that his drawings were some of the best in the world. It was after fifteen years of being told to draw new toys for Adkins Industries to produce, with a bigger workload building up each day, that Puck had almost completely ran out of ideas.
He used to come up with new toys every hour, and then a few years later it was every day, and now it was one every week, if he was lucky. His stream of ideas was steadily drying up, and as that happened, his father's love dried up just as quickly.
The encouraging words had turned into badgering for new ideas, and Puck's free time had completely disappeared to “make up for lack of output.”
It wasn't that Puck disliked drawing- on the contrary, it was his favorite past time- it was drawing for work that he disliked. The part of him that loved art for art ached to be let free and draw what it pleased, but, thanks to his father, Puck was confined to only a narrow option of what he could create.
Despite everything, Puck didn't dislike his father. He respected the man. Puck even understood why he was so strict with him. There was a demand for new products, and with talents like his, Puck would be immoral not to help fill that need. His father deserved his respect because he had done so much to help Puck help the world, and he had taken the time to explain why it was necessary.
If Puck became a little worse for wear along the way to helping people, then so be it. It was a sacrifice both Puck and his father were willing to make.