The New Poor

The sound from the slums is no longer the groan of bodies. Hunger cries, cussing, gunshots, the crackle of fires in old trash barrels—all of these are gone. Our poor no longer freeze or hunger.

I hear it every day on my way home from work, from beneath the narrow steel and concrete bridge that I cut across to make the 20:41 train. It’s the reason why so few commuters take this route, even though it’s a shortcut around the backlog of foot traffic in Darby Square. The noise comes from below, so far down that I can’t see them—not that I look. But I can hear them.

It’s a clattering noise, the metallic clicking of limbs or antennae against hard rock and metal. I hear that the streets down on the low levels aren’t always steel, but it sounds like it. Sometimes I hear a low thrum, dozens of them moving at once, milling around aimlessly and hopelessly without work or power. Sometimes it’s only one, and I can follow the mournful clinks as it wanders from outlet to outlet, cable extending and retracting at each one, jacking in to search for even the smallest hint of stray electricity.

Some activists claim that abandoning them is cruel, that it behooves us to care for our creations or at least to destroy them when they’ve outlived their usefulness, but the city can’t be bothered with the costs. I don’t think anyone pays much attention to those fringe groups, anyway. It was one thing to protest cruelty to living things, but to machines? Even the liberals thought that was taking things a little far.

Me, I don’t buy into all this ‘machine rights’ bullshit in the activist pamphlets, but I do think something should be done about those things. I know the government says it’s too late, that it’d take more time and manpower and money to round up all the little creeps than they’d get back from selling the recyclable parts, but hell. It’s only getting worse.

Most people don’t ever hear the noise. If you stick to the main corridors, you won’t. They’re all insulated anyway, so sounds from the lower levels don’t filter through. When I have to catch the late train, though, the mournful clatter from below makes my skin crawl.

The fate of the lower classes has been a platform for re-election since history books were invented, but times have changed. Politicians say that beating poverty is our responsibility to the poor, but just between you and me? It’d be more like a service to the rest of us.

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