Part 1: Haven in purgatory
Ask me anytime and I will tell you they’re the best hideaways when you need things to cool down, but I still hate those condos.
I try to settle in decaying corporate areas: virtually no neighbors, kids are gone, any reasonably performing worker left years ago.
Now, income covers modest life and the yearly week to amusement park to escape the shame and monotony. Or you got sick and it just pays for health support, when you’re lucky. No perspective, no contact. Just. Perfect.
That is when your cobbler is a decent man and does not get busted with cyber-hookers, their pockets full of meth and your picture on their computer! Just when you needed this cable TV, food delivery subscription and some ID. You just got fucking hot, well you were already pretty hot, dickhead! But now you’re a glowing piece of shit with 50k credits that you can’t even deposit.
So. Here I am, in this pre-combat zone area. Inside a shitty apartment with mold and no air conditioning. The neighbor’s sporadic fights over the choice of the TV program have been the best (next on the top of the list is definitely their dolt offspring). Thanks Capitalism, they don’t send ambulance unless you’re about to die or have a valid credit card. He beats her, I hear the punches. Belly. She probably never has marks when she goes outside, keep the family pride up. I swear I want to gank this motherfucker. Would bring some quiet and free the bitch, although with the high level of drama around here who knows ? The poorer the more emotional they are. Loud when they talk, loud when they cry. Hailing, fighting, having obnoxious quick sex, hugging at any time of the day. Anyway, I left a small piece of meat rot next to the door and glued a wooden sign of the “church of redemption” at the top, even fools stay away from that.
Enough to run for a while, plan my upscale. Enough for the corpo to drop priority on recovery once the new fiscal year kicks in. My father was a middle manager in accounting, I make use of the endless discussions between my parents when he got stressed frauds and theft were making him lose his bonus. I play my own game. “Hey dad I could get you this luxury van if I wanted!“. That is if he did not have that heart attack. This is my kind of revenge. I don’t fit the society but then again no one does. You either own the system or you’re out of it, if you play along you never truly exist.
Part 2: We have company
Someone knocks at the door.
If things go south I’ll have to flee, unless it’s too late?
A basic hunter would try to catch me by surprise … A team then? If it’s a decoy, the window is gonna blow up and they’ll extract me.
I grab my gun, it’s not exactly yet the silent neuro-interfaced toy that would give me an edge.
Get close to the door, heart pumping, and catch a glimpse.
It’s like 95 degrees, but he’s wearing a brown tweed suit, with a serious look along with bulgy eyes. Not Mormon, not Jehovah and last time I checked the followers of Redemption don’t carry beaten leather suitcases. They also don’t try to suppress funny mimics to appear focused. I open the door, take a step back in the narrow space to give him just a bit of room, I don’t need a loud speech in the corridor.
“Hi, what do you want?” That’s when he leans in.
He’s a teacher, from the neighborhood, he wants to invite people on Mondays because he’s also a writer and a scientist.
Usually he’s not around as he travels a lot. He starts showcasing a slew of “short stories” he probably printed himself.
He smells quite funny and mumbles in a high tone.
“I ask 3 bucks to cover my costs, my name is Oscar by the way“
I can talk my way out of dodgy deals in the street, I make my way to serious targets in cocktail parties. I even had my fair share of cute girls when I had the time. But this fine man, is leading the conversation.
He leaves with 5 of my precious bucks, I got an extra, free book and I can’t help staring at him for a good 3 seconds before I ratchet the door.
Stash is getting low, you don’t spend certified credit chips in this sort of area. Turning the society to full cashless did not only fail because of systems fragmentation, there’s so many poor bastards in the world they have their own economy.
I have my routine, wait for the falling night, walk a couple of streets and hit a different shitty shop every-time to buy express ramen, water sterilization pills and a couple of fresh items. Second market fresh apples? All the party when I get home.
I started pinging people through the net, slowly pulling a decent contact. I might not be able to spare myself the minor facial surgery when I pry myself back into the circuit again: low grade IDs leave traces. It may not be a bad idea, still working on the big plan. I can’t stay here too long, the loneliness is OK but not having any purpose is excruciating. Also after today it is clear that my escape plan is not on par with the safety level I should have. 3-4 weeks and I’m out, let’s find out. At first I thought the metallic taste of the pills for the water really made the noodles disgusting, but now I’m getting used to it, another serious warning.
I checked the books, on one of the covers he added a picture of this famous pop-singer he co-wrote the story with, what a blessed soul!
Part 3: Shopping encounter
The streets of decadent suburbs somehow could be the paradise for the blind. The street corner braseros burning with all sorts of plastics, the abandoned cars turned into shiters, the rattle of dying air-cons, the blaring TV sounds from every other window, the occasional roars of street-race engines and their acrid smokes… But I guess the pungent scent would ruin it all for them too.
I’m walking towards the farther but cheaper shop, I need to turn 23 bucks into my last 2 weeks of supplies. Then it’s bye-bye. Meeting is arranged in a crowdy eatery in china town. I’m to sit alone at the back of the dinner room, order food before my “friend” joins me and starts a wild discussion about the tiger’s last season’s record. Once he gets my face 3D-scanned he’ll proceed to show me some stats on his phone to let me choose the surgery options.
I got out a bit earlier than usual, this should be a 30 minute walk but I don’t use the streets twice in a row. I’ve already recognized a couple of faces, I don’t like this.
Pulling the right connection has been tricky, you can never be dead sure that the operation is gonna be swift.
All you can do is work on the balance between cost and safety. I’ve spent the past last month setting up my exit.
Here’s my order Santa:
Light jaw remodeling.
Permanent contact lenses.
Level 4 cryptographic ID.
Spicy fermented vegemeat sauté and a cold beer.
That’s complete enough to avoid butchers and scammers and does not require reaching out more than 3-4 contacts, before finding the right team. Then trust your guts… For real though, fermented vegemeat is the second root-cause of intestinal infections after spoiled tap water.
Talking about food hazard, welcome to “Johny’s dollar shop”. The sign is hilarious I think. Its yellow and red colored letters withstood years of acid rains and abuse way better than the building it stands on and the surroundings.
As I arrive, I see an older guy biasing towards the entrance, the grids were half closed and lift as he approaches, I quickly follow him.
“How you doing Billy, the usual?“
That’s the cashier holding a remote, his tone changes to less friendly
“Hey you, we’re about to close, you’d better make it quick“
It’s my chance to make the best out of my stash, let’s rush it
Protein powder or everlasting algae bread ? Tough calls
“We’re closing, you’ll have to use the side door”
“Ok, Ok just one sec, and I’m done”
The guy counts my items
“That’s 21.80, do you want some Dozers Joy for 1 dollar?”
They stopped selling them 6 years ago
Some noise echoes from outside. He pushes a button and the main grid fully closes.
“You get out this way“, he shows me a small metal door, checks his camera. “There’s no one“
I tell him to keep the change as I put my hoodie down and walk past the door.
He was not offering to give it back anyway.
Part 4: Man down
I hear some noise, like trash getting kicked. I take a quick glance, the rumble comes from the right, blocking the return to the main street.
Friday night firefight I guess. Smash legalization was a bold move at the time. Sure it was less toxic than alcohol but free access for the masses ? It was gonna break havoc! It did not, at least for a while, everyone was numbed, no need for petty crimes or outrages and cars burning when you can stare at your shoes for hours. Kudos also to their slogan “Energize, don’t jeopardize”, criminality went down, investors rushed in. But the honeymoon only lasted so long. Shit-in Shit-out, the chemical beverage is dull, no one actually gets excited when they buy it and the prickly nuclear strawberry or flavor du jour only gets new young customers. New gang profiles appeared, high as fuck all day for years those guys are angry. Random acts of senseless violence waves crashing onto even the cleanest parts of the city, I call them jeo-partys.
“So what do we have here? You thinks you more clever than us, whaddya do now with your little books?“
“Teach him Jacy! Show him good!“
I rush and lean against some bin container while they use him as a kicking-ball.
A loud humid crack, a muffled scream, they must have broken his arm.
Shit, 3 guys on 1 even with my gun I would get out of that, they’re savage.
2 flimsy guys, with colored hair and synthetic blazers, one a few steps back doing most of the encouragement the other waving razors at the poor guy’s face. But the impressive one is the 200 pounds boar holding him down by pressing his knees right down into his shoulders.
There’s nothing I can do for him, he’s done.
“Finish this clown, do like, do like the Angel smile from the Tuesday’s!“
“No please! The money is not mine, I’m just walking my dog, I work at a fast-food.”
I jump as I recognize his voice. Unfortunate reaction, the 2 extra guys waiting at the back of the alley spot me as I spot them.
They immediately start moving in my direction, one has a crowbar, they’re at 100 feet.
From my get-up you could never guess I have a gun and I used to run semis, that’s slim.
(More squeaking and squishing)
I’ve got to move, gun safety off. I take a peak at my only exit… A guy has just jumped over the 8 feet fence from the other side.
He immediately throws a massive punch at big boy. First hit, took half his stamina away.
I hear my 2 incoming fuckers start running, 50 feet, less than 3 seconds. I can’t think of a better plan, there are none.
I picture the steps:
Rush through the fight, dodge all contacts, don’t trip
Jump and roll over behind the first car in the main street
Start shooting and hope I’m not the one meeting my fate
3,2,1 Oh shit, the gardener has raised his scissors above the back of our good Samaritan
I shoot right in the back of this guy, he’s not completely fallen when it happens, a big blow from the crowbar
My face explodes, I shatter on the ground
Part 5: Rest makes rusty
I opened my eyes a couple of minutes ago, bouncing back and forth from oblivion to a whacky train of thoughts. There’s a light above me, I’m not sure it’s yellow or green. I feel no pain at all and barely sense my limbs. But I can tiggle my woes, no, tickle my poes, foes… Oh, I’m plunging… I can wiggle my toes!… How did I get here ? Am I alive ? Where is, where … Ah. All is well maybe ? Gosh, I hope I’m not under benzo painkillers, I’m hooked. I’d rather die now If I’m hooked! And who’s hooked me ? The room is sinking. Blue, I’m sure the light is blue.
“Come one Denis! Get those wheels grinding!” Think and clean the valves, if I’m not dead, I need a grasp of my reality.
So, let’s get this straight, this light is blue. It’s a radio wave scattering emergency device, and the greenish color (Where am I lying ? Feels like a cart) with this pattern. I’m under some kind of military tent. There is some distant hum. No cars, no voices, I’m inside a basement maybe and I am hearing the ventilation?
I can look at my left hand, I moved it and now it’s laying sideways on my hip, I have a drip line. Have not been able yet to turn my head and check the cocktail slightly dissociating me from my body.
The tent rips open, pain peaks for a second, so bright !
The silhouette is massive and athletic, it’s like a dancing shadow impressing my eyes.
“Shoots an Armalite .44 2057 vintage edition, low fragmentation composite bullets and can’t take a single punch. You are something.”
“Can’t keep you long though, 5 days you’re out, gonna feed you through the tube and keep the antibiotics to the max.”
“The paralysis is gonna wear off but I advise you keep your mouth shut like a virgin’s butt. Your jaw needs at least 24 hours to fully solder.“
He turns his back, starts sealing the wall, peaks behind him
“Don’t be sad fellow, extra dry beef jerky: no good for you.”
He starts shaking his head “No room for the loosy toothy fairy honey! Dismiss!“
I hear a few things being moved around, a slight burn in my vein. Off I go.
Time stands still, only disturbed by the random appearances of my host. Mostly one-way bullshit chit-chat.
My mind is clear now. I’m sure who he is: the verve, the combat ability, early 50’s, recluse in the same no-man’s land I’ve been hiding… Roy. The elite black-ops, the guy who used to date the most geisha female solo, I fantasized about her when I turned a boy. The flexi-conspiracists say he killed himself after Mara left him: Out of the blue he announced his retirement, but months later some of his companies got dismantled and as crazy he may look, he was always solid at business as well as killing.
This is my scale-up! But for now, I need to wait.
Part 6: Commit or eat shit
I can finally talk.
At first I only made weak sounds but my jaw seemed to hold. I quickly progressed: mumbling, glue-sniffer whispers, now I’m sounding more like a sleep-deprived information desk clerk on a Monday, but, I can use my lungs:
“Hey! Anyone there? I’m good now!“
Some steps approach
“I need a drink please! Actually, can we talk, actually?“
Tired face and serious look, even with the tent open I can only see the upper part of my host.
“You’re already awake, that’s a fast recovery! Yes we can talk sweetie, about how I get rid of you for example,” he’s looking down on me. This is probably my unique opportunity. I quickly answer.
“I’d be glad to but I’m not sure I can stand up, let alone walk.“
He takes a breath: “It’s been 34 hours, you’ll be doing fine. Oh, you might wanna do yearly checkup for cancer now. Those nanites will fix a rocket hole, but you should not use them too long after they go stale… It’s up to you, I’ll ship you to a cheap doc and make us even. You did save me some trouble. Tomorrow, and don’t look for me after that.”
“I really thought you were dead when they defaulted XX Inc.“
He stops still for 2 seconds, his eyes are killers.
Through his clenched teeth, he manages to articulate, “Best cash cow ever my friend, this one would have kept any city mayor in place for decades.” He sounds short-breathed, you hit him hard Denis, that’s your opening, unique opportunity!
“Talking about finance, I have an offer. You send me to a decent shop and I pay for my surgery, better balance for both of us.“
“Now don’t push it young man, I don’t need your advice and no one’s checking my lost and profits accounts.“
“I went to night city Saint Richard, I have some connections.“
“So what you fucking dick-head, want a medal? Those damned grey-suits and their neuro-programming corpo bullshit! What’s the use for your kind?“
It’s now or never: “I give you that, the suits suck, but I could shift money. But no, the real reason you should listen to me is I bought a whole box of mister X-rays sneakers when I turned 13. And I got all the guys wearing them for the school trip to Nature Square.“
“Nature Square, the neo-zen corpo exclusive park, only connected by express-maglev?”
He shows a small rictus.
“The mister X-rays, the ones that show big johnsons on security scanners?“
He bursts into laughter and slaps his knees, I did it
“Alright, you might be my last true fan now and you do have some grit, you may be of some use.“