Jenny pulled her tin box up to the sink, stood on it, and stretched to reach the tap. She turned on the cold water and it chugged and creaked before exuding a thin stream of brown, flaky water. She let it run until it was as clear as it was going to get, then filled a pitcher covered with a piece of cloth secured with an elastic band. The dirt collected on the fabric, though the water in the pitcher was still cloudy. She turned off the tap and looked over at her grandmother, snoring in her chair, with needles still in her bruised arm.
Jenny moved the pitcher to the far side of the counter, removed the cloth, then moved her box, and pushed the pitcher into the microwave. She closed the door and punched in some numbers. The microwave whirred to life and Jenny put her chin down on the counter to watch the pitcher slowly spin around.
Outside their airlock, on the walkway, there was a thud and a scream. Jenny turned around and stared at the door. Loud footsteps, laughter.
"Grandma," she said. She looked over to see her still snoring. "Grandma?"
She jumped down from her box and ran to her Grandmother, pulling out the needles and shaking her arm.
"Grandma, wake up! I think they're here!" she whispered loudly.
"Open up!" bellowed a man.
"Go away!" Jenny screamed. "You ain't got no right to take from us!"
"Shut up!" yelled her grandmother. She shoved Jenny to the floor. "What'd I tell you before, girl! You stay quiet!"
"Oh, looks like we got ourselves a little domestic dispute in there!" There was laughter from outside the door.
"You go away now!" yelled the grandmother. "Don't you have someone else to bother?!"
"Not right now!" Laughter.
WHAP WHAP WHAP!
Jenny scrambled into the corner of the room, behind her grandmother's chair, pulling her knees up to her chest.
"We know your lock's faulty--"
"No it ain't! I had it fixed yesterday!"
"With what money? You owe us!"
"I don't owe you nothing! You're not the dealer! You're not the landlord!"
"No, we're just the police. You want to not get beat by us, you pay!"
"Go away!" screamed the grandmother, throwing a licey pillow at the door.
There was clicking and a rattling, and the airlock wheezed open. The grandmother launched herself at the opening, punching and kicking, but she was thrown back onto the threadbare sofa. Three teenage boys and one teenage girl burst in. Two of the boys held the grandmother down, squishing her face into the soiled upholstery. The other boy immediately spotted the drugs and needles and scooped them up, putting them in a large sack.
"No!" the grandmother screamed.
"What else you got?" he asked the grandmother calmly.
"I ain't got nothing! Give me my medicine back! Give it back!" she cried frantically.
"Lady, you're so far gone, I'm doing you a favor," said the boy.
"Hey, what do we have here?" said the girl. She looked around the chair and pointed at Jenny.
Jenny crawled around the chair and dove for the space behind the sofa. The teenage girl lunged and grabbed her by the foot and dragged her out. Jenny kicked and scratched at the girl.
"Calm down!" yelled the teenage girl. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I just want to see you."
"You don't touch her!" yelled the grandmother.
The teenage girl pulled Jenny's arms behind her and held her by the wrists. Jenny thrashed until the girl slapped her face with her other hand.
"Geez, lady," said the teenage boy to the grandmother. "What've you been doing to this one? She's all bruised up."
"Grandma, help me!" Jenny sobbed.
"You want her help?" asked the teenage girl. The boys laughed.
"If we don't pay the rent--"
"Shut up, Jenny!" said the grandmother.
"--the landlord will turn off the oxygen and the heat!" Jenny tried to pull away from her captor, scraping her bare feet across the floor.
"Oh, that is sad," said the teenage boy.
"Then if we get evicted, we'll have to live in the walkways with the animals and the trash! Let me go!"
"That is a conundrum," said the boy. "Especially since this level has such a problem with carbon monoxide."
"Not our problem," said the girl.
"Yeah," said one of the other boys. "Let's just get whatever they have and get out of here!"
"Now, now," said the boy. "We are not psychopaths. If we bleed our sheeple dry, there will be no more blood eventually."
"Wha?" asked one of the other boys with a puzzled look on his face.
"No, my brothers, compassion is a useful tool."
"Oh come off it, Spence," said the girl. "What, you're just going to let these two pass?"
The boy stepped over the coffee table and sat down on it, putting an arm around Jenny.
"No, but I think I'll make a deal. How'd you like a job kid?"
Jenny horked up mucus from a ready supply from her unhealthy lungs and spat it at him. He wiped it away with a tattered sleeve.
"You haven't even heard what it is yet. Aren't you even a little bit curious?"
Jenny shook her head vigorously and frowned.
"Sure you do," said the boy, ignoring her reaction. "I want you to be my courier. Do you know what that is? You deliver messages and small items. It's really easy, and in return, I won't hassle you're grandmother. Well, as much."
The other boys laughed.
"What do you say?" asked the girl. "I used to do it for our old boss. Ain't much trouble at all."
"I don't know," said Jenny, squinting at the boy.
"Don't trust them!" said the grandmother. "They'll rape you soon as they can!"
"Oh, I think you'll be safer with us than with her."
"Let my arms go," said Jenny, "and I'll think about it."
The boy nodded to the girl and she released Jenny's arms. Jenny rubbed her wrists, and sauntered over to the kitchen area. The others looked expectantly at her. She stood up on her box and put her arms on hips.
"Come on kid, hurry it up!" said the girl.
"I'm thinking!" Jenny snapped back.
The microwave dingged. The teenagers looked at each other and shrugged. Jenny popped open the door, pulled out the pitcher, jumped down from the box, spilling steaming water, and threw the water at everyone else. They started screaming and clutching their faces. Jenny kicked the teenagers in their knees.
"Get out! Get out all of you!"
"I've got more acid! Don't you ever come back!"
"Acid?!" "This isn't acid? Is it?" "It's burning me, it's burning me!"
"You need to get to the hospital floor!" screamed Jenny.
The teenagers fell over themselves as they left through the airlock. Jenny secured the door.
"It's on me! It's on me," sobbed the grandmother, looking at her soaked shirt.
"It's not acid," sighed Jenny.
"It's not?" asked her grandmother, bleary-eyed.
"No," said Jenny, as she put the pitcher back on the counter. "It was just hot and you're suggestive."
"What'd you mean by that? Are you sassing me?"
Jenny sat down heavily on her box.
"How much medicine would it take for you to leave the apartment? Like for good?"
"What?" asked her grandmother. "I ain't leaving this place. I ain't ever leaving. And how dare you ask me to leave! I'm you're only kin! Wait, why, did you steal some from the dealer? Tell me if you have medicine, tell me girl."
Jenny narrowed her eyes.
"What would you do for it, if I had it?"
"You have some don't you? Don't you!?"
"What would you do?"
The grandmother mashed her toothless mouth together and sat in her chair. She threw her arms around her chest and pulled on her sweater.
"You better not be holding back on me," she said, spitting out the words. "You're in for a beating if you are."
"No," lied Jenny, glancing down at her tin box. "I ain't. Do you want a tea, grandma? I was gonna make tea for you before the police kids came. I don't think you've had anything in your belly since yesterday."
"No," said the grandmother, rocking forward. Suddenly she plunged a hand between the arm of her chair and her cushion. She withdrew her credit stick and checked the balance. "But you can run go get me twelve pills from the dealer."
She held the credit stick out to Jenny. Jenny got up, picked up her tin box, and took the stick.
"You hurry back now. I'm sweating."
Jenny opened the airlock and looked out both ways. There was no one but passed out drunks and roving tomcats on the walkway. She looked out into the inner cavity of the ship. There were hundreds of levels of walkways and behind those, tens of thousands of apartments identical to her own. Below the walkways on the lowest levels were the engines, but no one had ever told her what they ever did other than make low rumbling sounds every so often. It was the whole world at her door. She wondered if all the occupants lived like her. She looked back at her grandmother, settling back down in the chair for another nap.
Jenny stepped over the threshold and let the airlock door close. She squatted down and opened the tin box. The inside was packed with pills she'd siphoned from her excursions from the dealer over the past two years. She fished through the various bags and found her mother's old credit stick. She slid the two sticks together by their tongue and groove, and transfer another small amount to her stick. When it was done she slid them apart and put hers back in the box and closed it. She decided she was nearly ready to set up her own business soon.