Only a week ago I hadn’t even been in contact with another human in years or heard about the fundless. Neither had I seen a kid in all of my adult life, or heard about the possibility of a world outside of the City. And all I had known about religion had been death and darkness. Now I was drinking ‘outsider tea’ in a hidden room in a squat with a fundless kid and my new friends Evelith and Leste, and a levitating AI monk who seemed to be following a new religion of life and light of his own making. Strange enough all of this even seemed to make sense somehow.
We would never have been able to find this secret meeting room without the help of little Vi, the shy but very smart girl that couldn’t older than nine or so. She had nonetheless been living alone in this building for almost two months now. The whole building clearly held no secrets for her at all, and she even seemed to know a lot more about it even than the adults of her gang had. Which is probably how she had been able to escape the violent preachers, whoever they were, and their followers who had taken over the gang she had lived with in the past years, and survive her on her own for all this time without much trouble.
The room wasn’t big, and cramped with stuff. There were no windows but the girl had installed tiny diode-lamps on eternal batteries scattered everywhere which lighted up the place in different colours. We sat on wooden boxes and ancient chairs and we drank our tea from china teacups that seemed to belong in a museum. It must have been a secret hoarding place for generations of smugglers, but the tea itself was made from actual dried leaves that must have come from trade with the outsiders relatively recently. She shared it generously with us, even though it was undoubtedly expensive on the black market. She was probably was too small to understand the significance of such things though.
It had taken a while to convince the poor Little Vi that we would not harm her, and that not all ‘fundslaves’ as she kept calling us were evil monsters out to destroy her and the ‘free people’. She still didn’t seem to trust San YaoYao much though, but the holographic monk didn’t really mind being the only one that was not getting tea from her, being an anorganic being anyway. No-one could blame her: the fundless generally had a deep mistrust of AI already, and the girl had had a very bad experience with religion recently.
“You stayed with the Xando gang until they left the building because of the preachers?”
“Yes, because Xando took care of Little Vi. But the others were not very friendly. Except for Zap and her husband Argon. They were angry most of the time. I don’t know what for. And when we came to this place again the bad preachers were here. They preached about death and hate and the dark god Fhanfhelos. And then they suddenly tried to kill Xando. He ran away. Zap and Argon too. They caught Mongi and beat him up, but he also ran away. And after a day they went away to the new temple of Fhanfhelos.”
“A temple of Fhanfhelos?” San YaoYao hadn’t spoken yet but his AI voice sounded quite concerned now. “What temple?” Little Vi looked at him, and hesitated to answer. “Little Vi don’t know. It’s a City fundslave religion, so it’s bad and evil. The preachers always sound mean and angry. They speak about death for unbelievers, and about hell. And they want to go to nirvana or something. If you die for death you get seventytwo bottles in nirvana or something like that. Fhanfhelos is ugly and evil. Little Vi seen pictures of him.”
“This is worse than I thought.” The monk mumbled, more to himself.
“This is not good indeed.” Affirmed Evelith. “So there are indeed enemies rising, another dark religion. We could do without that.”And she turned to the little Vi. “They could come back here anytime. This is not a safe place for you. You can’t stay here.” The child protested wildly.
– “Little Vi can’t go anywhere else. Little Vi is safe here in this room.”
– “Safe against humans, but not the killerbots. You know they can scan through walls.”
– “They haven’t come inside yet.”
– “They might. You come with us. We find Xando.”
– “You promise that no-one will hurt Little Vi? They always told Little Vi the fundslaves would try to catch Little Vi and lock Little Vi up.”
– “We’re not slaves. And we’ll protect you. No-one will lock you up. I promise. On my little pinky.”
-“But Little Vi don’t have funds. Little Vi cannot live in the fundworld.”
– “We have a building without fundlocks, even though it’s an official building. You can stay in my room if you want. And you can use the unused concert hall if you want.”
Suddenly I looked at my screenphone. Terrified I said to the others. “I have to run, can’t miss my shift.”
Ghostified City: introduction and index