My Father believes that a fifth-floor walkup is the best defense against the nastier class of thieves, vandals, and no-goodniks.
They have to WALK all the way up five stories, you see. There's no elevator. So it's not the sort of target an opportunistic hoodlum would go for, nor someone who was looking to steal large items. Nor do most window-breakers have the strength to throw a brick five stories up. And it's good exercise, says Father, perfect for building strong bones when you're young. And it's cheap, says Father, cheaper than buying a dozen locks that aren't worth crap if the wall is flimsy, says Father. Up here, he says, you just need a few good dead bolts and chains and a peep hole.
Cheap is important. We, ah, don't have all that much money. Not like we have trouble paying our bills, most of the time, and there's some set aside for disasters, but...there's not much more than that, and it takes a while to save up for the next disaster. We're not...sualor-poor, or crush-your-soul-into-a-hard-lump poor. But we are fifth-floor poor. Fifth-floor walkups go to people like us, the dedicated, or the desperate, who judge that the advantage of the fifth floor is worth the walk. It's a bit tougher for old people, of course, and there are none on this floor, save Nonna. I have no idea how she gets up the stairs. Actually, I've never seen her leave this floor. Maybe she's been here since it was built. Maybe they built it around her. That wouldn't surprise me. She talks to the bricks like she knows them all personally.She talks to the water and it heats up. Which is a trick I need her to teach me, because it's a cold-water flat, and sometimes she's asleep when it's my turn to do the dishes.
As for my young legs, it's a pain to get the groceries all the way up there, and the textbooks, and crystals from Jo, which Dad says are cluttering my room, but I'm never going to refuse a glowing crystal from Jo. They make great soft lighting, and they even clap on and off. I just have to keep them away from the window, in case anyone decides to come looking for baubles.
And the floor has advantages that I, with my talents, can make use of.
For example, it's very easy to persuade the roof-access door to open. Having access to the roof, I can check for aberrant water towers, and negotiate with the air-vent units to keep watch for human threats. People who roll up holding baseball bats and no gloves are not there to play ball, unless one of the residents is the ball, and when that happens, the air vents can warn the entire building. We shut all our doors, then, and grab whatever improvised weapons we can find, and crouch below the windows while waving our blunt objects above our heads, presenting a rather brutal puppet theater.
We've only had to do that a few times, really, and none in the past few years. Petty street crime avoids our building. No muss, little fuss.
Then again...The system has a serious weakness. If someone wanted to wear us down, they could pick a really bad time of the early morning and come bearing arms, and the alarm would wake us all up. Three mornings of that in a row and we're sunk. Suppose someone decides that this building represents A Challenge?
Not that it's entirely likely. I mean, this is 2014. The Eighties was a long time ago. There's no rats in the front room, and the roaches in the back know I've got my eye on them; the junkies in the alley don't have baseball bats anymore, and nobody pisses on the stairs, except Elmer, but he's clearly trying to get me angry. We're not on the edge the way we used to be, even if the cops still are. It is extremely rare that anyone comes to the front door with murder in mind, now. I'm lucky enough to have been born after the crime rate around here dropped like a rock.
But still...there are bigger threats than the common folk with the common weapons.
What if we stop paying our protection money to Big Jake, and the Mob decides to roll in?
Or the Russian Mob?
Or some young rich person decides the place is Trendy, and they bring their friends and all the buinesses change and the rent goes up and we're priced out of this place?
I asked Nonna about all this. "Nonna," I said, "What if somebody buys off Big Jake with a bigger amount of eels than we can provide? What happens if he leaves us?"
"Well," said Nonna, "You've got the people in this place willing to defend themselves. But you know who's missing?"
"You've never grabbed a broom or anything."
"Ha! I'm too old. No, I'm talking about the building itself, child! No building should be willing to let its windows get smashed! No building should be willing to let its tenants be injured! You just go and tell the bricks to fight for themselves. Tell them I sent you."
The bricks, for their part, were willing to listen to me, but pointed out that they were scared to do any sort of moving. Load-bearing walls, and all that. So they told me to talk to the windows. But the windows had the same problem. They told me to talk to the electrical wires, who were only willing to rip themselves out of the walls in extreme emergencies. So I tried the bars on the windows. Those were willing to wrap themselves around intruders. I went back up to my place feeling like I'd done something, at least.
The next day, the fire chief came and told us we had to get rid of those bars on the windows, because they were a fire hazard.
I was getting pretty desperate. That night, I went to the roof to ask the vents if they could blow cold air down to the sidewalk, or something.
The moment I opened the door to the roof, I froze. There before me was an extra water tower.
I know, I know -- I'm supposed to call animal control. But this one wasn't stealing our water or anything. This was a chance to see it in action, before it settled. A rare sight.
It stepped lightly around, for a while, on its four tall legs, looking for a good spot.
And I decided to take a gamble. "Hey!" I shouted, and waved my arms.
A Dopplegang Water Tower has eyes in place of a conical roof, which look like solar panels. They wrap around and give it a wide field of view. It also has eyes on gimabls on its legs, in the form of large Videocameras lenses. Upon seeing someone jumping about in front of it, these cameras all swiveled to point at me.
A panel on the tower's underside slid open, and on a pole descended a boom microphone. It lifted a leg and tapped the microphone, as if to prompt me.
"I, uh..." What was I supposed to say to an insect-machine intelligence? Then again, I'd talked to bricks. "I was wondering if I could pay you for your services. Somehow. You see, I organized this community to defend itself, but I don't know how we can stand against bigger threats. Unless the building itself comes to our aid, but that might mean ripping apart the entire structure. And the rest of the block isn't exactly under my aegis...is there any way I could hire you to keep watch over this street? Warn us when someone comes here looking for trouble? That kind of thing?"
The mic shot up into the tower, and in the next moment, a speaker was lowered. In a metallic monotone, it said:
I glanced at the buildings around me and frowned.
"Function of Mobile Water Tower: Seek water. Method: wander over rooftops. Nights spent in one place: 1. Water taken: minimal. Fools suffered in the past week: 0. Small human wishes to "hire" this unit. To keep watch. Price: water. Method: this unit will remain here. In return: this unit will guard an area corresponding to the dimensions of this roof, plus the surface area of the street in front, plus the same for five tenement buildings on either side of the aforementioned area. Accept? Respond Y/N."
The speaker vanished, to be replaced by the microphone.
"That's kind of a hard bargain. I mean, people live in this building. And yet...what if you were to only feed after midnight, when nobody is using the water?"
The creature did not answer, but stepped over to a section of roof, and settled there without lowering a pipe into the roof.
Well, that was something.
The panel opened once more, and the speaker lowered.
"Small human: methods sound familiar. See: French Maginot line. See: Great wall of China. Your side: good people. Other side: bad people. Small human: remember the following.
"1. Physical structures impervious to time: 0. Physical strucutres impervious to human weapons: 0. Tenement building below this unit: not rated to withstand the worst this city offers. Recommendation for greatest threats: gather your people and flee. Landlord: not you. Financial loss: not yours.
"2. What the small human has made her people: Look at them. They gather weapons upon provocation. They unite in defense of their territory. Modern Civilization: definition includes "system of laws and professions devised to prevent necessity of people grabbing weapons." Method of survival demonstrated by small human: ignore civilization, negate a negative. Risk: you become what you fight against. Example: The Drug War, modern police officers. Alternative: build something positive. Example: Hip-hop; secondary and tertiary education.
"3. Most difficult and least visible enemy: always within. Infiltrators, traitors within ranks, yes, but greatest enemy: The enemy within YOU. Inner temptation = sweet lies. Inner temptation = much harder to negate than spies and traitors. Greatest challenge of will: to overcome oneself.
"Personal worry: that the small human bargaining with this unit has failed to overcome herself. That the small human has given in. That the small human has tried to become Big by acting like the people she fears. Instead of the better path. The harder path. Threats against this area will come, probability 100% within 10 years. Massive threats. Quantity which can be best resisted with blunt instruments: 0.