He was starving, the winter was near. None of his crops grew in the harsh cold of the north. He had nowhere to run to. Surrounded on all sides he would starve if he stayed. He would face the hounds of the law if he wandered onto private ground. He could not afford the life of a citizen. Registry was too expensive and would tie him into endless contractual obligations he could not support.
He lived on his own land, one of the last free spaces in the country. Everywhere else was private, government owned and subject to regular patrols. If he was found on private land without the means to pay registry he would be imprisoned as a foreign national until deportation.
He hovered on the edge of uncertainty for days as he grew weaker. The last of his rations of grain were running as thin as he was. Desperation parted him from his land at last. To leave risked confiscation but to stay meant certain starvation. The border of his land was marked with endless signs. Private land, registration is mandatory. He knew he would have to hide to live outside his own land.
Other civilians, registered citizens just stared at him. Did they know what he was. Could they sense his absence in the system? He moved quickly through the estates toward more empty spaces between tall tower blocks. Of course they knew him. He wore the clothing of his fathers father and was one of the last free men in the country.
He could not buy an appearance like them but he could steal it. He needed different clothing, anything would be preferable to his outlaw uniform. Clothes lines were rare but three flights up a tower block he saw washing on a door and dimmed lights. Climbing up the side of the tower might have been hard but for the regular ledges that he found just enough to take his weight. The clothes were too large but still he thought them better than his own betraying garments.
Dressed in a baggy sports uniform and quickly wishing he’d not changed the freeman had opened himself to sectarianism. Sporting opposition supporters extolled the virtues of their own team to him along with threats and warnings. He resolved to change again. It was hard to find a space in the territory that was not being used. Under contract to use every available gap the citizens did not fail in their duties to maximise the profit of each metric square of land. He had to look up for the hollow points, unused gaps between floors of buildings on the uneven land. When he knew to look for those shallow spaces they were everywhere. Levels sought a flat average and beneath those level floors were odd, tilting floors unknown to the occupants above. Through grills and ventilation he found a new home. It was far less dignified and spacious than his previous home but Arthur did not have the energy to waste expressing his feelings on the injustice.
Arthur slithered like a snake through the busy streets, glaring at anyone with the gall to look at him. Rage was rising in the long suffering freeman. Society had lain siege to his life outside their system. His independence had failed to sustain him and now he was running the gauntlet in their streets. Except they were not the streets of the citizens. The gap between the people and the power had not been wider since the days of kings. Men and women could never afford to own the land they lived on as tycoons merged their empires which were no longer abstract systems of wealth. The landlords had risen and all others were in freefall. Rights had been sold for rags.
New age nomads bridged the gap between accepted society and others like Arthur. Begging was no longer an option for the homeless in the registration system. Arrest and deportation, which was essentially banishment, were the prospects for anyone without a sanctioned occupation. He would have to find one of the semi-legal jobs that no one with any other choice would do. If he worked hard then maybe he would, some far distant day, be able to buy a legal life and something akin to the life citizens had.
There were no good deals to be had in this insult to life. Death was only free for the dead. The living were charged per person to attend a state funeral which all funerals were. Optional extras included seats for the mourners, a proper burial and a respectful manner from the funeral home employees. An unofficial putridity charge was often levelled against the family of a deceased by the staff whose souls were by infinite measures more putrid than any corpse they might half bury.
Respect was not shown to the dead in that system but less so even to the living. Ownership meant everything and corruption as a crime had been removed from the books law. Landlords indulged their worst perversions upon their indebted slaves who would grimace and bear them for the grim life they led.
Arthur would not join the enslaved without a fight. In the crawl space he had for free he gathered the instruments needed for a life of subversion. He lived in the shallow dusty spaces the people above would never want but he would never be a slave like them. He would forever miss his old home. It had been repossessed in his absence. He would live in the spirit of the life his father had. A proud free man amidst the slaves, defiant but destitute. This was his way. There were no other choices.