Sketches — The Red Album // Semper Femina

In 2037, the bottom-dwellers of Old Mumbai, unlike those of NAT, refused to sign the entirely reasonable Grand Barter with the Aerial Government. The airwaves were filled with speculation of bureaucrats and politicians buying time, trying to reach a better deal. Even if such a deal existed, it evaporated with the completion of the Final Thrust Upward.

India was the fastest country to migrate skyward, building the world’s first skyharbour in 2030. Despite this, it continues to have a greater proportion of bottom-dwellers than most countries. The world’s largest democracy has always been too slow for the world’s fastest executive branch.

She races into the dark.

Down there, you’re never safe.

Her mother, like most responsible mothers, would often warn her not to race, or drive her Aztec at all, or mingle with the bottom-dwellers. Why must you go down there, asked her when she first brought up the idea of racing in her free time.

Because it’s there.

She was too old to be stopped, but not too old to be advised or chastised, she would never be to old for that, she surmised. So she just didn’t respond to mum, or even tell her she was going. But she was scared. Of racing, of driving her Aztec, of the bottom-dwellers. The hundreds of miles of dark road until Old Mumbai were particularly terrifying. There were rumours of marauding hordes, white-sari ghostinas, rumours of all things unholy. It was veteran racers who started most of these old-drives’ tales. Bored bottom-dwellers, as old during the Final Thrust Upward as she is now, a motley crew of rats, quiet-rioters, poisons, cinderellas, and warrant-fiends. Scaring newbs like her served as entertainment, she thought.

But there was more to it than that. She ignored the element of truth in their stories. These badlands were always unsafe, even in the heyday of the twenties, especially for a young woman like her. Today, they’re likely to be far worse.

You have no business being here.

Tomorrow’s would be her third race ever, and her first start. In her first couple of trips to Old Mumbai, she wandered, lost, asking strangers ‘where the races were’. They laughed at her, asked her if she was a bot, told her to shell out her precious skyrupees, darling, and I’ll show you where. Several thousands of rupees later, she gave up.

Nevertheless, the trips weren’t a total bust. Her second trip ended with a conman-dressed-as-a-taxi-guy dropping her off at Crawford Market, directing her to what she expected to be a racecourse. She now knows how idiotic it was for her to expect there to be actual designated ‘racecourses’. As she wandered through lanes and bylanes, following his instructions to a T, she got lost. There was no racecourse at the end of the sojourn, but there was an internet archive.

Until then, she had only heard of these libraries of the unregulated internet of old. But once she finally found herself in one of them, she spent hours rifling through old pornography, vlogs, webcomics, zaps, and memes. She found most of it stupid, but all of it fascinating. When she finally walked out of that library, she did so with an archived e-vel — Sketches For My Sweetheart The Goth — and a sense of profound hatred toward the world in the sky.

At least here the world is dog-eat-dog, unsanitised, the way the world upstairs is, but without fake broad smiles. This is where people are real.

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