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[Academy RP] Lost in Transportation

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Yuan Mu District was never quiet. Like a discordant urban symphony, the sounds layered upon each other in tandem—the low buzz of air conditioning, the harsh hiss of neon signs, the lilting chatter of voices behind the thin walls and the persistent rush and boom of airplanes approaching Tai Long Airport. For Chen Xinyi, this was music to his ears. As he hefted his envelope sack through the winding maze of corridors in the vertical slum’s rotting bowels, Chen tried to pick and choose what sounds to listen to. Similarly, he tried to pick and choose what smells he wanted to pass through his nose: blocking the garbage stench rising like steam around him and seeking out the succulent scents of noodles and fragrant pork buns rising through vents in the floor. He supposed, after a while of daily descents (ascents?) into Yuan Mu, that he focused so much on the other senses because his eyes were so deprived of stimuli. Aside from the passing neon sign blaring out “HOT NOODLES” or “NIGHT COMPANIONS” (or something more vulgar) and the occasional, seemingly random naked bulbs, the winding passage was as dark as night. Surely, Chen thought as he clumsily sidestepped a discarded TV set, one could live in these artificial caves and not see the light of day for weeks at a time.

Chen often wondered what kind of mail these people were receiving and mailing out. He often noticed that, when he picked up mail from deposit boxes in Yuan Mu, that the envelopes would often have their return and target addresses reversed and be missing stamps. This trick to deliver free mail is as old as time, and Chen had used it himself as a boy. Regulations said that he was to return the mail to the address nearest the deposit box in these cases, but Chen knew that the people in Yuan Mu probably only did this because they hadn’t the money for stamps, so he delivered them anyways. Even when the addresses were in place, they made no sense—the Post Department had made frequent attempts over the decades to try and bestow some sort of ordered numbering system on the slum districts; every time, in defiance of the government, the residents kept their previous, nonsensical system. 14 was next to 8 and 15 was across the compound entirely. No naming system for the corridors was known to exist at all. The slums maintained a reputation of being 14-plus storeys of orderly chaos, with the abnormal elsewhere being merely the expected within its cluttered, crumbling walls. This time around, though, Chen noticed something new. The Urban Services Department had posted a warning that rat poison was in use in the area. It was a surprise for him that someone from outside cared enough about Yuan Mu that they would try to clean up the rats, who had formed a society all their own, so numerous they were. Strangely, the rats seemed not to bother anyone in the towering mega-hovel. They kept to their own and focused on their business, like the human residents of Yuan Mu.

After a long day without sunlight, Chen finally had delivered all the letters and collected everything from the outboxes. Now he could treat himself to a delectable pork bun at the edges of Yuan Mu. Outsiders often frequented the vertical slums like Yuan Mu just for their delightful food, free from the constraints of a modern urban society’s mores. Today, though, the bun meat was smaller and stringier than usual—he didn’t put the pieces together in his head until he had already finished them.

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