A WIP prologue for a longer work. Detailed reviews welcome!
It is fairly dark out. There are some cities where it is as if the sun never goes down, neon worlds full of caffeinated people who never sleep until the day they die. This is not one of those cities, so the only light comes from the streetlamps, uniformly placed by some nameless city planner so that each circle of light touched the next just at the point of fading. The warning bulbs on top of the lamps are currently colorless– there has been no disturbance. If there were, the lights would beam out flickers of color, speaking some code only the police know. The common patterns, of course, are simple– green for drunkenness, blue for violence, yellow for robbery, purple for assault. Each police cruiser features a chart with typical combinations and flash patterns, despite the fact that the lamp system is merely a backup for the 360º cameras within, more reminiscent of the manned watchtowers of the past than of the automated dispatch to which the cameras are linked.
Tonight, though, a crime is about to go unnoticed. Not through some failure of the system, though perhaps designer negligence could be considered a failure– no, tonight someone is about to outwit the system, and while perhaps there are greater masterminds behind this feat, that someone is a child.
In the days of the creation of the lamps, much thought was given to the climbing of these lamps, and eventually the lamps were designed with electrical defense systems to prevent such behaviors. Ladders and ropes would be quickly recognized and removed, it was believed, and so no thought was put into surveilling the top of the lampposts. Who could remain so perfectly balanced as to avoid falling or electrocution?
The designers of the lamps, however, did not anticipate the emergence of a ghetto within their shining city, a ghetto in which it became too expensive to maintain the lamp system. Besides, with the lamps operational, the high rates of petty crime diverted so many police resources that it was more economical to leave the lamps broken – a state of affairs which left a child-sized gap in the city security. Should someone mount a disabled fixture and then travel from lamp to lamp, they would go unnoticed. This loophole would, of course, be nigh-impossible for any adult to use; the balance of a professional gymnast would be needed, and most professional gymnasts do not turn to a life of crime. Besides, what professional gymnast would be small enough? One would need the size of a child and the natural balance of a cat, and that is a combination hard come by. Nevertheless, we will see in a moment that such a combination does exist, and the possessor intends to profit from it in full.
Along the tops of the streetlamps, leaping from fixture to fixture with an uncanny grace, runs a figure matched only in that grace by both caution and fear. The figure is small, a child’s silhouette, clad in tight-fitting black garments that leave little skin exposed; pausing briefly atop each post to firm its balance, the figure moves with a haste that suggests either desperation or pursuit. Once the figure nearly slips; the moment of panic gives way to greater caution and haste both.
The figure pauses. Looking up to the stars, it sees the moon edging closer to the west. Time is drawing short: whoever this child is, they must be hidden from view when the first curious eyes peer sleepily from their windows to see the dawn. Looking from window to window with furtive movements, she – for she is a she – makes a choice.
Leaping suddenly, she departs her lamplit path and sails through the air towards a second-story window. For a moment it looks like our story will end here, as her jump falls short and her trajectory seems pavement-bound – but her desperately reaching hands catch the sill, and in an exertion that would have won the gold medal in any arena she curves, bringing her bare feet back and above her head until they grab the ledge, then in one sudden movement righting herself with a flip so that she stands, impossible feet holding tight, on the windowsill.
She crouches, legs bending into a shape that would look unnatural on any other human. Removing some device from a tiny pocket of her tight jumpsuit, she clutches it tight as she draws a tiny square on the windowpane. She pokes her finger through the square, finds the latch on the other side, and pulls. Gently, ever so gently, she pushes one side of the window, causing the other to swing out slightly. Her fingers find the tiny gap, and the window swings open. She slips inside.