Thirteen

Herring rushed down the wet road toward the dock. Thirteen minutes till the grid went live. Thirteen, an unlucky number. Herring thought about knocking on one of the doors in the first class residential district, pretending to be a businessman trapped by his late hours. It would have worked before his counterfeit identification card had been confiscated. He paid good money for that thing and now it was a loss. No one would believe he was second class without identification.

This morning, the city had turned the season to winter, the big clock that dominated the North side displaying a snowflake for the seasonal shift. It was almost ten o’clock, curfew, and the temperature was dropping.

Nine minutes.

Herring ran past merchant quarter, and those dark windows, everyone already home well in time for curfew. The only people out now were the police, flying above the streets in their hover copters. Herring ran for a block and then stopped taking eight seconds to run back to the alleyway next to the Cookie Crumble store.

Seven minutes.

Herring remembered one winter night spent without protection, how before the morning he began to wish for unconsciousness, that he might slip under the water and just die. The memory of the cold and the wet made him shiver. At the bottom of the silver Cookie Crumble dumpster, under the oily boxes and burnt cookies there was a blackened tarp. The tarp smelled terrible, like ash and oil. Herring pulled it out of the dumpster and broke into a mad dash. The cold air flowed into his chest, cooling him from the inside with each deep breath. His face flushed, the wind smacking his cheeks, but he could not stop.

Three minutes.

The dock was in sight, He could see the little crowd gathered next to the only pier with a broken scanner, dark figures under glow lamp. They shuffled under the pier, slipping into the water. Herring balked. It was two minutes early! How could they go into that water a full two minutes early?

He felt the heat on the bottom of his shoes and cursed. His watch was wrong. Herring cursed the guy that sold him the thing, the shop it was replicated in and himself, for not double checking the time. He was running during the Hot Minute. The minute before the system went live, the city turned the heat up on the sidewalks. His shoes were melting, making sticky rubber marks on the faux wood boardwalk.

Thirty seconds.

His feet were boiling; he could feel his heels burning, his socks absorbing the melting rubber. The ground sparked, and Herring screamed, falling on one knee. Current ran up his leg and shook him violently. Herring forced himself up and forward. His mouth and eyes were frying; his bones were shaking inside of him. He screamed again. Nearly there. A few more steps. He leaped into the water, under the pier, the salt water burning his feet, bringing water to his eyes. He gasped for breath and stumbled, head slipping under the water. He found footing and forced himself up, splashing. The cold bit him viciously, and slammed into his wounds. The chill of the winter ocean hung around his shoulders. He heard grumbling in the darkness.

“Sorry, sorry.” Herring shook his head and touched the bottom of his feet, which burned his fingers. “Shit.” He stuck his fingers in his mouth, trying to suck off the salt.

“That tarp smells awful.” Said someone in the darkness.

Herring wrapped it around his body, waist deep in the water. “It’s all I got.”

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