Sheryl wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, rising up from her knees. She wobbled on unsteady legs, feeling ill in so many ways.
"OK, I did it." Just like so many times before, she thought, loathing herself. "Where's my stuff, Lorenzo?"
"Ain't got it," he leered, buckling an eel-skin belt that matched his supple olive-colored coat. Either garment cost more money than Sheryl had ever seen; years of turning tricks at the height of her salability wouldn't have brought her even close to affording clothes like that. He chuckled. The coarse rectangle of bristly black hair ringing his mouth did nothing but accentuate his cruelty, and light from the strip club marquee opposite their alley gleamed on his gold tooth.
"But you promised!" she all but shrieked, her tone rising even as her hopes plummeted. "'Five grams of Yellowjacket,' s'what you said, Lorenzo! And I already..." she trailed off, one limp hand waving vaguely in the direction of his spent groin.
Tears of despair cut dirty lines through the smudges of black makeup underlining her eyes. What am I going to do? Her entire body felt ragged and flimsy, like a torn plastic sheet flapping against a vent. The nosebleeds and sledgehammer headaches had been coming on even more frequently and severely now than they ever had when she had a regular supply of the drug. A few days ago, during a particularly excruciating episode, she'd even pulled out a fistful of hair -- her beautiful blonde hair, her only remaining pride -- in a futile attempt to distract herself from the searing pain inside her skull.
She sagged to her knees once more, skinning them on the cold, dank concrete. "Please, you don't understand," she pleaded once more, her voice catching on a sob that she lacked the energy to complete.
Lorenzo sneered down at the pathetic, desperate whore, prolonging the moment. Watching her debase herself like this was such an exquisite pleasure. He relished having this power over her and his other customers. He owned them.
"Relax, bitch," he hissed. Lorenzo spoke with a malevolent sibilance that immediately put people in mind of the slick predatory eels whose skins he wore. "I got what you need. But it ain't YJ. Nobody does that shit anymore." He omitted the fact that a bad batch a couple of months ago had killed off a sizable proportion of the Nineveh customer base, thus causing much of the decline in Yellowjacket's popularity.
"I got this instead. You'll like it. Trust me." He reached inside his coat, producing a small glass vial. He dropped it into Sheryl's eager, grasping hands, snorting with contempt.
She eyed the tiny blue crystals the vial held. Her mouth was watering. "What is it?""The new stuff. It's called 'Icepick.'"
Illegal drug use on Utopia dates back to the first inhabitants. The richest Ore Magnates were infamous for their decadent cruiser-based parties, and the latest designer drugs were a perennial fixture. These narcotics were imported from Earth and Caprice at incredible expense and legal risk, but the prestige a host could gain by having these drugs on hand and "magnanimously" providing them free of charge to guests was simply too attractive to pass up.
As Utopia's technical infrastructure developed, the drugs consumed gradually shifted from off-world to domestic in origin. Accordingly, prices dropped and, for better or worse, drug abuse became a middle class phenomenon rather than just a hobby for jaded dilettantes as it had been previously. Utopia was a massive success story, widely hailed as Earth's greatest colony, but many people forget that it was built on a foundation hard work by a core of tireless terra-formers, miners, and corporate laborers, many of whom relied heavily on stimulants to get them through extra-long work weeks and depressants like alcohol to help them blow off steam during the occasional stretches of downtime. However, as long as profits continued to rise exponentially, the conglomerations managing the colony's development saw no problem with turning a blind eye to employee substance abuse.
Ironically, during the frequent periods of armed conflict leading to Utopia's devastation civilian drug use actually declined. The reason for this is actually quite simple; nothing unites a population like a common enemy, and the intense feelings of patriotism and community inspired during wartime act to ward off much of the ennui and feelings of isolation that can drive many to substance abuse.
Conversely, as substance abuse on the home front waned, drug use among Utopia's armed forces exploded. From the dawn of history, soldiers have turned to chemicals to help dull the horrors of battle and fill the periods of interminable waiting between conflicts. However, the vast majority of military drug use was not carried out in secret, instead it was promoted by the highest levels of the chain of command and involved narcotics issued directly to the troops. While enjoying a better (or at least less negative) reputation than their illegal counterparts, these so-called "combat drugs" often differed from street narcotics in name only, retaining all of the harmful side-effects and addictive qualities. While well aware of the health problems associated with these substances, the measurable dramatic improvements in soldiers' performances, most notably by helping them operate despite pain and extreme fatigue, made those in command reluctant to discontinue their use. Consequently, between wars many veterans returned home with an addiction to stimulants, and underworld drug labs stepped up production in order to meet the increased demand.
The nearly continuous state of warfare has had an immeasurably deleterious effect on all facets of Utopian life, and the current worldwide drug problem has its roots in the latter decades of constant battle. During the darkest days of the nuclear war, when civilian populations huddled in isolated underground community shelters and supplies were strictly rationed, drug manufacture and use in secret was virtually impossible. However, when these shelters were consolidated into underground metropolises and life became slightly less cramped and desperate, there was again another boom in production. The afore-mentioned mass addiction of soldiers who subsequently returned to civilian life with a habit to support added further fuel to the fire.
Life on Utopia is a stressful one. Although Utopians have now been living in the massive underground Deep Cities for generations, the fact remains that humans simply were not intended for life in such an environment. The absence of direct sunlight, scarcity of wide open spaces, and even access to a visible sky places Utopians under a certain constant amount of strain that residents on other colony worlds would find adapting to virtually impossible. Even average residents, who are born and spend their entire lives beneath the surface of the planet, are occasionally diagnosed with a low-grade variant form of claustrophobia, whereby those afflicted accumulate stress merely by going about their daily lives. This strain tends to builds up unless there is some sort of an outlet, and in cases where no such release is at hand a violent outburst is often the final result.
The cramped nature of the Deep Cities, with their incredibly high population densities, makes it difficult to get away from other people, adding a further source of tension. Frequently, this causes people to withdraw into themselves to a certain extent, escaping inwards when outward flight is impossible. This phenomenon has led some Deep City residents to tend towards impatience when dealing with their fellows, and in extreme cases even to consider themselves somehow more tangible and real than other people.
Even after the much-touted lifestyle improvements introduced by the CEF, chronic depression, suicide, and violent crime rates remain at epidemic proportions in all of the Utopian nations. For many people, drugs and alcohol are the only available means of coping with the unique pressures of Deep City life. Consequently, each of the Utopian factions plays unwilling host to a burgeoning community of drug users and abusers, along with all the additional social problems and burdens that entails.
Next month's Part 2 concludes "Pharmacopoeia" with a detailed look at the current state of Utopian substance abuse and a list of sample drugs for use in Utopia-based campaigns.
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