The composition of our group was rather unusual: a boring-looking working man in grey clothes, a long-haired semi-outcast dressed like it still was the late 20th century, a casually dressed woman with long black hair, and a levitating self-projected AI monk. No-one seemed to have noticed us though. This might have meant that either all the people here were replaced by AI’s on autopilot, or maybe that the humans that were still walking around were in the same trance that I had been in for years.
The building that had been referred to as ‘the squat’ was even older than the Ecstasy Nirvana, and in even worse state. There was a broken fundlock by the wooden door, with a weathered paper taped next to it. ‘Danger’ it said in big capital letters, that were hand-written with a thick marker and illustrated with a roughly drawn pirate skull. The others didn’t seem to mind this warning and just walked in, so I followed without letting my fear show.
Inside the building wasn’t just dusty, but it was also strangely alive with organisms like insects and fungi. I even saw spiderwebs as in an old-fashioned horror-holofilm. I almost expected a ghost or otherworldly entity to suddenly appear in front of us yelling ‘Booo’, but nothing bigger than a tiny black spider appeared. “So, who lives here?” I asked Leste. “No-one in particular. Maybe no-one at all at the moment. The fundless are nomads without a fixed place to live. We have to check out any of their hideouts that we can find, and this is as good as starting place as any other one. Most others are further away, if we even know where they are. And this building is also a neutral zone where they sometimes meet up with, eh, regular people who want to trade something. Not that that happens very often. And…” Leste seemed to be the biggest expert here, but he was interrupted by Evelith.
“Shht. There is something here. Or someone.”
We all were silent now, looking in the direction of her pointing finger. Something vague, much bigger than a spider moved in the twilight of a corner, and then hid behind a pile of boxes and empty cans of food.
“That’s not an animal.”
“Stay here, I will go looking” Evelith said, switching her screenphone to lamp mode. “Won’t it be dangerous?” I asked? “I don’t think so.” She replied to me, following up with “Hey, hello, little one.” to a tiny human caught in the light of her phone. Huge blue eyes beamed with fear in a small face that seemed almost pale orange in this light, with messy hair of almost the same colour in all directions, a bit like Lestes dreadlocks. She wore strange clothes in all kinds of colours that had seen better times, and seemed to see a great danger in us.
“Don’t hurt me! Please don’t kill little Vi!”
Evelith turned off the lamp. “We won’t hurt you, little Vi. Why would anyone hurt you? Why would anyone kill you?” The child didn’t answer and stared from her to me to San Yaoyao and then to Leste. “Are you alone here? Where are the others?” Evelith asked. The child was silent for a while, and then said one little sentence, so silent it could almost not be heard.
“There are no others.”
I looked at Evelith. I heard Leste utter a silent curse. “What do you mean, no others? You’re only a small kid. You can’t be living alone here.” The girl nodded to her. “Little Vi been living here for eight octoweeks, there’s enough food and other stuff here for much longer. The gang left this place when the radical preachers came. No-one left a phone here and Little Vi don’t have a hackphone myself, so Little Vi couldn’t reach anyone. Little Vi tried to find Zap and Argon but she don’t know her way here. But they were not in the other squat here. And there are killerbots around outside. Little Vi saw them.”
This was a lot of information to process, but for now we had to focus on the child herself.
“So did you check the other squats?” Evelith asked her. “Little Vi wanted to, but she only found that other one, and there was nothing there. So I’ve been staying here ever since. And Little Vi been afraid of the fundslaves. They told Vi that fundslaves are dangerous. Are you people not fundslaves? Aren’t you enemies of the free people?”
Evelith nodded. “We are fund-users but not slaves to anyone. And we’re not enemies to the fundless. We are looking for them actually” The girl was visibly relieved but seemed still suspicious nonetheless. “I’ve heard the names of Zap and Argon before.” Leste interrupted. “They were together with Xando last time I heard news from the fundless. Are you from the Xando gang?”
“Y… Yes! Little Vi was with his gang. They where the grown-ups who took care of me. But radical preachers came, and everyone went crazy. They wanted to kill Xando; He left, and only Zap and Argon followed him methinks. Little Vi hid, and the rest of the group went with the preachers. They seemed to have forgotten Little Vi, and she’s been all alone ever since.”