Arthur enters back into the neighborhood on the bridge side. Ever since the bombings, the main gateway’s been closed and it’s much easier to get in this way. It’s nearly dawn as he makes his way down the narrow alleys of his street back to his house and walks in the front door.
Arthur used to have to sneak carefully when he came home, but nowadays, nobody is paying attention. Arthur’s dad is fighting on the front lines on the other side of the city. His mom, once a doctor at the hospital, is stuck taking care of the injured fighters. His older sister, Toni, delivers food and water every couple days. Sometimes she stays and chats with him, but even though the city is crumbling around them, she’s still a teenager with better things to do than hang out with her younger brother. So, Arthur is mostly left to do as he pleases.
Arthur spent last night at his friend Devin’s house, which is why he was making his way back home so early. Devin lives on the north side, colloquially known as Slums of Gold, due to the gaudy gold trim that adorns all the buildings there. At some point in history, some point very long ago, Arthur imagines, Devin’s neighborhood much have been considered elegant. Now, the gold trim, broken chandeliers, and marble floors are signs of poverty, reserved only for those who can’t afford to insulate their homes themselves. Devin’s place, like Arthur’s, is freezing most of the time.
Arthur visits Devin almost every day. He doesn’t have much else to do and there’s no fighting over by Devin’s house. Arthur is too young to take care of himself and not old enough to fight. The best time to travel between the neighborhoods is at night, when the fighting stops. It’s not totally safe, as the metal hands positioned around the city are capable of catching you at any time of day.
Arthur’s dad used to tell him stories about the hands. How once, long ago, people feared the metal eyes that watched over them. But as time went on, people grew used to the eyes. Since the eyes could watch, but not act, they weren’t threatening. Then the metal hands showed up. The hands worked together with the eyes. The city was given a body.
The eyes watched over the city while the hands operated faster than any police force could. Eventually, the system also operated as judge and executioner, often carrying out a sentencing before human authorities arrived. The machines were better at policing than any human police force ever was.
But the people of the city noticed issues with the system. The metal hands would injure people for minor infractions, like when a small child dropped a candy wrapper and the wind took it away before he could pick it up. Littering, the citation said, as the metal hands crushed the bones in the child’s hands into dust.
As people started to get worried, the weather turned, and everyone forgot about the hands and eyes. That was three years ago. The sun has only broken through the clouds a couple of times since then. Temperatures haven’t risen above 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The neighborhoods began to fight over supplies until eventually the whole city seemed to erupt in chaos.
But the eyes still watched the streets and the metal hands still grabbed anyone who broke the law. In most of the fighting zones, the equipment was destroyed, but not in the Slums of Gold. Nobody goes there. So the machines continue to watch and rule, untethered from human supervision.
Arthur has memorized where the hands and eyes are. When you know that much, it’s easy to avoid them. You can do whatever you want and watch the hands grasp at the air, attempting to grab onto whatever they can. With a strong mechanical grip, a shirt sleeve is all they need to hold you down. But Arthur has a good memory, so he plots his way through the hands elegantly.
The machine remember everything. At some point, the eyes saw Arthur break the law and they’ll never let him through the neighborhood, even though no human police care anymore. There are no politicians. No judges. If he’s caught, he would either be crushed by the hand immediately, or held until he died of exposure.
It’s worth the risk for Arthur. His other option is to sit home alone, laying awake as gunshots ping off walls.