Deliverance from Evil
The City, Eastern Coastal States
The synthel left Mike without a hangover.
It was good for that, but if you tried to drink it regularly, it’d wipe your kidneys out in a couple years. Of course, refurbished kidneys went for a few thousand hours on the market, a little less on the blackmarket. They were accessible to most income brackets that could afford a regular synthel habit. Serious people in the city’s party scene had standing orders with their surgeons. Often, their iPlants, or whatever hardware they’d had installed, would alert their surgeon of oncoming kidney failure before it even made the patron aware. Of course, that went for more than kidneys and livers on rich party kids, but that was one of the most lucrative markets for replacement organs since the heart sleeve had made replacement hearts obsolete. Not that Mike was in the market for any of that. He’d thought about it when things were good, but he wasn’t much of a service subscriber. He wasn’t much of anything these days.
Hadn’t even been out on the town in a dog’s age. He didn’t have to worry about his kidneys, and he was glad to feel at least a little fresh, even if the synthel did leave him agitated and on edge. It was a shake day, for sure.
He was already on edge trying to figure out how he was going to live.
The City didn’t care about any of that. It just flashed by the bus windows.
New York City was the flagship of the Coalition of Coastal States. You might even call it the capital of the Eastern Coastal States, but there wasn’t a properly designated capital. Most of the work that would have been done in a capital was done online, via secure video feeds on CitySpace that would log watchers and votes and where minutes could be kept precisely and time over runs muted immediately.
DC was still a capital in its own mind, but only because the federal government hadn’t fully dissolved in the early twenties. Instead, it had devolved. Which meant that congress still existed, a president was still elected, and all of the states nominally recognized that they were still loosely associated under the auspices of the federal government. But, the IRS was gone. The Fed was gone. And the state department was gone, in favor of states each handling their own foreign policy. Well, at least the diplomatic aspects of foreign policy (read: trade).
The military, of course, was much too big to go under. Rather, the military had gone private and immediately brokered accounts with various states. Some of those sates were not of the original fifty, which was an issue of contention, but no one was sure whose jurisdiction it fell in, and no one felt secure enough to take the military to task about it. If a state were to lose coverage from USJFCOM, its neighbors would start nibbling little bits off of it. A parcel of land with factory here, a few hundred acres of farmland there, a water source or some other resource wherever.
None of the devolution was planned, it had been forced by circumstance, and as such, there were no systems in place to handle many of the situations that arose. The previous sentence is much too politic to accurately describe how bad things got.
What precedence was upheld and what precedence was shot down depended on the judge in the city in the county in the state in whichever coalition. All law was local. How far local reached was dependent only on how far it could be enforced. Which from New York, extended pretty far. The FDNYPD was one of the most well known security forces in the world.
The Coalition of Coastal States had come together by twenty five, the Eastern, Northern and Western coasts had naturally fallen into place, with little struggle. The ECS stretched from Maine through DC. Much of Virginia had become Northern Virginia, which had been ceded to the ECS by Virginia, which struggled to remain a state.
Virginia retained its statehood by spearheading the Appalachian Coalition. Appalachia unified a wide swath of the east and south, cutting from central Pennsylvania, which was already beginning to be split between the ECS (Philadelphia) and the NCS (Pittsburg), through Virginia, the Carolinas all the way to Birmingham. Atlanta held out, joining New Orleans and Miami as the Southern Coastal States. Greater Texas had swallowed some of its poorer neighbors, and given up places that it deemed didn’t have the right populations. Well, GT was also having trouble with Houston, which was being courted by the SCS.
It had been a wonder to see who had been willing to relocate and just how quickly. Atlanta was a new city. That’s not to say there weren’t white people there, just that, with all the history certain people had seemed so attached to, those same people were much more attached to other priorities when the city had made the decision, along with the Savannah Corridor, to join with the SCS.
The devolution was sad, but in a way, it was beautiful also. It had been handled in a largely nonviolent, if not an entirely amicable, manner.
Well, “handled” was a strong word. If it looked like devolution had worked out, it was an illusion.
Life just keeps happening, as Mike himself had recently discovered, again.
The federal government still existed, and ostensibly still gathered everyone under one big tent, but no one actually paid any attention to the federal government except as entertainment. Which was natural because after the dissolution of the IRS, entertainment had become the main source of federal income.
Mike didn’t want to think about battlerap.
The bus was lumbering up Seventh Avenue with the early afternoon sun shooting down cross streets lined with stalls and food trucks. There were a few vintage food trucks. Their combustion engines weren’t legal, but the food was. So, the entrepreneurial spirit found ways to make already owned assets work. Many were on blocks and paid rental fees like any other stall, others would hitch to droneplats that would tow them wherever the business was best. These days, most of the food trucks were built directly on droneplats.
The mouths of the cross streets were thick with parked scooters and bikes. People milling around, pulling their masks down to eat, talking with friends, walking their kids. It was that time of day.
Mike wasn’t looking out the window though. He was looking at it. Specifically, he was looking at the reflection of the other window in his window, the reflection of the reflection. A reflection of what he could see through the window, but momentarily ahead of it, as if it forecasted what was immediately to come, superimposed over the reality outside, which was always a moment behind the reflection from the opposite window.
Each sign, each issue, each slaugger and street prophet, all seemed to meet their reflection in passing. It passed over them going the opposite direction, and they paid it as much attention as they did to just about everything else they passed. Each in their own world. Seeing only what their hardware made room for.
The streepro were always first to catch Mike’s eye, in their upgrade kit, dripped with technological ostentation layered over an almost ascetic plainness. Gene hacked and modded with prostheses both for aesthetics and for toppin out. They were kitted to the nth. Streepro always were.
The streepro’s reflection disappeared into an old person who was speaking loudly to no one. Whether they had an implant or were dealing with some form of mental illness was anyone’s guess and no one’s business. Homeless. Fucking unions.
Since the ECS had declared Universal Basic Income, (two years before the WCS, and the SCS, but a year after the NCS) it had been decreed that only people who could pay into the tax burden could remain as citizens of the Costal States. As such, a lot of slauggers had gone underground, literally, into the tunnels of the metro system that had been too expensive to convert for clean technologies and ended up being the dumps that kept the streets of the city so clean.
But the homeless had years since unionized. They had a business plan. The homeless were not and never could be a monolithic community, however, a large group of them in New York formed a labor union.
What labor? Well, what could be more effective in disbanding protests and demonstrations than a horde of homeless crashing the party? It worked particularly well with the ult-right, because they felt no compunction about attacking the homeless. (Thank god for the union medical coverage!) Screens blew up with the footage, which precipitated the decline in popularity for groups on the ult-right, the boogaboo boyos, the pride boys, et al, and, in the end, cleared the way for the coastal states to reaffirm socialist underpinnings for their very capitalist society. Complete with unionized homeless.
Now, that was a bit of an odd position. The homeless made money, which was handled by a union and paid out to them, but they had to remain homeless in order to stay in the union. Many would save the money in the union holdings until they had enough to get themselves a place and try to “make it in society.” Interestingly, though, when the homeless first unionized, the number of people from society attempting to join the union dwarfed the number of homeless attempting to reenter society. The faux-meless, as they were quickly called, thought it would be an easy life getting paid for doing nothing except showing up to a protest once a month or so. ‘Doing nothing’ was harder than many of them assumed. Not necessarily harder to do, but harder to accept. The number of people who washed out from being homeless and were repatriated into society was staggering. Fully nine out of ten who became homeless to capitalize ended up back in society, but at its lowest levels, attempting to work their way up again. Though some could depend on nepotism, which always was prevalent among hiring practices.
Another upshot of this (and there were quite a few) was that the actual crazies, who were homeless because they’d been lost to addiction or to mental illness, could often fly under the radar in the camouflage provided by the working homeless. Which meant that when you saw an older homeless person talking to themself, it was a pretty even 50/50 break whether they were talking to figments of their imagination or to someone through a ridiculously expensive hardware implant.
Mike didn’t pay them any mind.
He didn’t want to pay anything any mind.
He would have put his buds in, but his ears were blasted from the night before. Besides, he was tired of music. Of constant noise. Constant stimulation. There was enough stimulation if you took it in at its natural pace and didn’t shove it into your head along with everything that was already headed that way.
Mike didn’t want to think about it.
Didn’t want to think.
It was a new day.
He ground his teeth.
Mike was less than excited. Somehow, he had to make rent. His space wasn’t going to pay for itself. Or his fucking screenbill. His bank service had been pinging him lately. Warning. They liked to let you know before things went too bad ever since the twenties when they got stuck with a lot of debt, the second great recession. The Fed had dropped the rate to zero, but they couldn’t do more than that, and the lending had gotten out of hand, again. The government had been giving tax breaks to the corporations for decades; inflation was already high over depressed wages in most places, so the cake fell. And this time, rather than being able to save the banks, the government couldn’t save itself. The Treasury ended up printing money to fill the banks, and by that point, the whole thing was shot. Of course, the decimation of the dollar succeeded in destabilizing a lot of countries that had their currency backed in the US currency (the administration claimed that as strategy after the fact.). The fact that many other well to do nations tumbled with them saved the states from entirely submerging in the global economy. It was probably all that did. That wasn’t entirely true, but the states that had submerged had often been swallowed by their neighboring states, when there was any economic viability in it. There were more than a few towns that had been abandoned wholesale. Ghost towns dotted the South and Midwest.
But here in the City, Mike had to pay his bills. So, he had to get paid. When he was a university student in Lubbock, he’d really thought being a time travel technician would have been more lucrative. That wasn’t fair. It had been lucrative for a while, and the Pastion Institute had paid for his education, his “scholarship.” But now, five years after graduating and taking the job at Pastion, he was out looking for odd jobs whenever he wasn’t needed at the office.
Which was most of the time.
It’d been so good to begin with. The first few years, he couldn’t spend his money fast enough. It seemed like it would be that way forever. All the promises of a future in time travel were panning out as advertised.
It wasn’t really time travel, but no one cared. People loved it.
You weren’t going back in time, you were entering memories, someone else’s memories, the Thymesian, they were called at first, Tymies, later. So, like, seeing the Stones at Hyde park or going to Coachella in 2007, or living through the battle of Kadesh, or surviving Aleppo, or the quake of ’22, experiencing it exactly the way the brain chemistry said the Tymies had experienced it themselves.
It was huge. Better than VR by a mile. No head gear, nothing. It was like a lucid dream. And you were in the person’s memory, as them, so every decision they made felt like you made it. You felt like you were in total control, because they had been in total control when they created the memory. Well, optimally. Or not. Some great memcaps were memories from… subordinate positions, but you knew what you were getting into. Managing the client’s expectation was almost as important as managing their brain chemistry throughout the experience.
Then someone got the idea of memcapping engrams from people who’d known celebrities as children, who had seen them before they were famous, friends who had lunch at the local diner with them. Pastion’s sales had gone through the roof. They’d already been making money hand over fist. Now, Mike had been sure, he was set for life. Even thinking of that era washed his thought process in acid. Bitter, etching acid. Life had been so perfect. Everything he’d dreamed before he left Frisco. But of course, it had to be taken too far.
Disreputable memcap outlets had been in on porn from day one. Most of the porn stars were really into it, because they could make money without having to do any new work. But as soon as the celebrity dam had burst, people who’d had sex with celebrities started selling their memories to those porn memcap clearinghouses. So now, all these different celebrities sex memcaps were available. Different celebrities, yeah, but it was the Kristin Dibon memcap that did it all in.
Pastion never sold those experiences, but plenty of seedy purveyors made the memcaps available. They were there, and there was no way to keep people from getting ahold of them. Pretty soon Kristin Dibon took Pastion to court, claiming Pastion had infringed on Dibon’s right to privacy and had participated in nonconsensual pornography. However, Pastion had records showing that they’d never had anything to do with the particular memcap in question. The fact was that Pastion had created the technology, but they hadn’t created or sold all of the content used by the technology. The courts sided with Pastion, so, Dibon brought a second suit, this time claiming her intellectual property rights had been infringed. The argument was that her image was her intellectual property, and memcapping as a technology infringed on her property. This time the courts sided with Dibon, though the ruling was largely symbolic. The ruling did give Dibon the right to “protect” her intellectual property, the language ambiguous enough to be meaningless. Dibon took that part of the ruling as a kind of carte blanche, and to insure her rights, she paid to have a virus designed that would attack any engram with Kristin Dibon in it, censoring her from anyone’s memories so that she could never have her image and property rights co-opted by memcaps again.
People in Mike’s industry had vaccines developed, to keep viruses that attacked engrams from working on them, as they had to be able to monitor all memcaps that where offered. So Mike and his colleagues were well aware of the situation, whereas the other people on the bus had forgotten completely who Kristin Dibon was. As had everyone else. When her designer virus went to work, its main casualty was her career. And Mike’s. Memcap income bottomed out pretty hard after that. The thought put a sour look on him. The acid boiling forth.
His screen buzzed.
Fuck. It was his mother. In Frisco. Alone. Wanting to talk, of course.
Mike put the screen to his ear, took a sighing breath and answered.
“Oh, thank you so much for calling, Mike. You’ve no idea how good it is to see your name on my phone.”
“Uh… yeah, ma. You know, I’m always thinking of you.”
“Bless your heart, son. Thank you.”
“But, uh, I’m actually headed into work. I just wanted to hear your voice and uh tell you that I love you.”
“You calling your poor mother uh, son? They got you talkin like a yankee up there!”
“C’mon ma, I’m on my way into work. I can’t do this right now. I just wanted to tell you that I love you.”
“Thank you, son. You make your mother’s heart sing.”
He could hear that she was crying.
“I’ll call soon when I have time to talk.”
“Alright, Mike.” Gathering herself back in. “Thank you for calling.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
After she hung up, Mike, still holding his screen to his ear, said “is that your idea of a joke?”
After a short pause the screen answered, “it’s been two months.”
“Today is not the day for you to have an attitude with me.”
“Look, Mac, it’s your mother. You told me you wanted to make sure she was as happy as she could be. So I did.”
“Yeah, well. Work on your timing. It could be a little better next time.”
“It really couldn’t have been better. You’re almost at your stop. Quit getting distrac—”
Mike hung up on his screen and was putting it in his pocket when a teenager walking down the aisle said, “Wizard screen, dunny, that thing is jagger! Is it original or a copy?”
“Nah, kid, it’s just a copy.” Mike replied as jovially as he could manage. As if he’d say on a bus that he had an original iPhone 4 body. Much less to this kid he didn’t know from Adam. Wannabe streepro.
“Aw, juck, but that’s cool, though. It’s still glide!”
“Straight jagger, dunny.” The kid said, walking away.
Mike hated that shit.
But, his iPhone? His iPhone was one of the last splurges he had been able to afford. He’d rodded it himself. 1.5teras, with a solid 2PHz multi-core. Projection A4 touchscreen. So retro. So future. So powerful. The new iPhones were buds with projected watchscreens, but you could always get an iPlant. Samsung had gone all implants with hardware solid enough to take software updates without needing any change for a few years. Their goggles could be switched out with all kinds of upgrades that all worked with the hardware systems. The hardware systems were tiered of course, with the plat level being ridiculously outfitted. And ridiculously expensive.
Everyone said the surgeries weren’t too invasive, but Mike liked the old style. He liked getting ridiculous performance out of his handheld. He liked the weight of it. He liked not going under a knife. Besides, now, with the state of his finances, it wasn’t really an option. And his screen, well, it was absolutely state of the art. In 2032.
Like just about everything Mike had. Still, good enough to get by, but a couple years out of date.
“It’s your fucking stop, Mac.” His screen said through his pocket.
“Fuck off.” Mike replied, standing and making his way to the door as the bus glided to a stop.
The restaurant was something like half a block away.
His stride was quick, but it was the City. Everyone’s stride was quick, well, most everyone. It was the City, so even the natural urban stride with its ‘get the fuck out of my way’ attitude could be slowed by an octogenarian whose ‘walk the fuck around me’ attitude swung with more weight.
Everyone was on the street. Fast, slow, tall, short, in every form of fashion yet invented. Some debuting, most likely. No one paid much attention. Every color and style of hair: frosted cotton candy hawks and opalized spkies. Platnium bobs and blowouts, edge lines and fades, braids and free swinging long hair. Nothing new had been created for hair in the last fifty years, but everything had inched toward its incrementalized perfection.
The bone grafts and prostheses, the hardware implants; those were new. They weren’t necessarily all “legal” surgeries to perform, but the were no legal repercussions to having had the surgeries performed. iPlants and android hardware were perfectly legal to have implanted, but fashion forward thinking streepros were constantly pushing the limits of what was possible.
Elite streepro would fly to Chiba to get work done, but most would find black market shops in the City or just head to Durango. It might not be as reputable as Chiba in Wyoming, but since Wyoming, along with Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas went full libertarian after devolution, all kinds of questionable doctors had gathered in Durango, feeding off the former resort atmosphere and practicing all kinds of weird science on the willing and the paying. That was scary shit to Mike, though. He’d had a recurring nightmare as a kid, looking at one of those quacks as he went under.
Surgery was easy for most people though. It seemed like, at least. There were some people who still showed their age, but you didn’t even have to go under the knife for that anymore anyhow. Plastic surgery was just how elective surgery had been normalized. Gene therapy creams were available over the counter at RiteGreen’s. Looking your age seemed like a moral and aesthetic choice, a stance that the individual was taking. It was punk. Counterculture. A counterculture exclusively for those who could show their age. Which is tantamount to saying a counterculture to which the media paid no attention at all.
Everyone paid attention to success story that was RiteGreen’s. RiteAid and Walgreen’s merged, adding cannabis and CBD dispensaries to each of their locations and obtaining exclusive rights to sell Prescogene’s Anti-Aging Hand and Face Lotion (which actually worked). They took over the between-convenience-store-and-grocery-store-sized-store market. Which was too say, RiteGreen’s became the place for the elderly. “Gen X” couldn’t get enough. RiteGreen’s themed their dispensaries after BlockBuster’s. Not in the experience so much, but in the aesthetic, and the edibles. Because candy. And Blockbuster. Not much to add there. Their marketing was genius. Touched. Well, for the very limited scope of their ambitions.
The youth seemed disinterested in the entire experience. Cannabis wasn’t the drug of choice with them. It was well and good when things were well and good, but these days, you had to stay sharp. They preferred dExtra, mephadrone, duocane, and maybe an ox or some fent to chill out.
Mike wondered which they were on as a clump, a certain unnamed tribe of youths, passed him together, wondered which ones were chewing their lips under their masks. Otherwise everyone mingled. A panoply of moving color and texture. It was almost impossible not to get lost in it. Like one of those old Attenborough nature shows. Like that old shit Nassarian had shown him, Koyanisqaatsi. Where the fuck had she dug that up from? The internet was a wild place. Nothing got by it. And if it was there, Nassarian would find it. Not like she was a great hacker. No. Mike would have put money down that wherever the fuck she was, she didn’t even have a screen. Mike had been the coder, but she would find the most fucked up, weird, amazing videos and music. She could rabbithole ideas and come out with dissertations worth of shit like, “here, watch this.”
Those had been some fucked up years.
Nassarian would have fit perfectly in these crowds, as foreign as they might seem to her. She had always been her own thing. She might have been closest to something like a slaugger. She’d had some slaugger friends. Real deal though. She never bougth in. A hipster slaugger or something. One of the ones who goes by the aesthetic while not going whole hog on the philosophy. Hipster slauggers probably accounted for most of the ones in the city. Most the one’s you’d see anyhow.
You didn’t often see real slauggers.
See, the city had banned internal combustion engines in what? 2020? Hell, it had almost been fifteen years. But there were plenty of vehicles around, electric aDrives, bicycles, droneplats, rollers, scooters, skateboards of all kinds of description, even some antique segways, and of course, the long slim buses that fairly dominated the city now. They’d even shut down the MTA. The tunnels were used for waste management in a stopgap measure in 2024. The declaration had basically been that if you could drop it down there, good riddance to it. There were no restrictions on dumping in the old subway tunnels and stations. It was the Wild West for a few years. The measure proved extremely unpopular. A kind of political third rail. A moral uproar went up around it, even as almost every human being in the city utilized it. People loved tossing their shit down there like it didn’t matter. The City finally halted the ordinance and everyone rejoiced even as they rushed to get rid of old furniture before the date of the law’s change. That entire time and since, the only people who stayed down there were the slauggers. The real ones.
The clumps of kids playing hanging drums and dumbeks on street corners that forced Mike to step over them had places to sleep in apartment buildings in the City. A few were Mike’s neighbors at the lot. Mike needed an antacid.
The streets shooting off the sides of the avenue were filled with stalls and stands. Smells wafted out them as Mike walked past, surrounded by a mass of pedestrians. Getting on and off those damn buses. Buying something suspect to eat fresh out of the frying oil, or looking over a rooftop gardener’s produce. Some making an imitation of happiness that they’d seen imitated similarly on the latest screenflick. Some looking just as joyless as Mike was sure they must actually be.
Mike was surprised at himself. He’d had an amazing night. He’d seen good friends. He’d run into Stazy. He hadn’t had to pay for a thing. He should be in a good mood.
Right. He’d also lost his only source of income other than his CityCheck, which wouldn’t cover his screenbill, much less his space. He’d also just turned 28. He hated birthdays. He hated birth. Why did it keep happening?
Fucking flesh sacks. Tugging around their fuck trophies all dressed to the nines like little dolls. He was sometimes surprised families didn’t stop, pose and turn around all in unison. With cameras flashing all around. He swore that was what the families looked like they expected.
Mike shook his head, and turned to walk in the open door of the restaurant. He turned about a foot early and stepped full force into the wall, head first, splitting his eyebrow wide open.
“Shit.” He pressed his hand against the gash to stem the blood, but it was coming fast, down his face. He looked at his reflection in the door, open across from him.
“Hi, I’m here about the ad for service staff.” He smiled. Didn’t really work with half his face covered in blood. “Fuck.”
His hand was about covered. His shirt was joining pretty quickly. Now, he had to cross town to his space on a goddamn bus holding his fucking face together. Would they even let him on a bus like this? Their gleaming white, antiseptic New York electric buses. Hell, he could catch a charge for being a public contagion. They were getting more and more strict about that. Would he have to walk? Maybe there was a clinic on the way. But walk? Really? He needed to get the 6 back to crown heights. This day just kept getting longer.
And again, “fuck.”
Mike looked in the door. There wasn’t much to see.
The lights were down.
Two lemons and a plastic cup under a table. Music drifted out of the kitchen along with the sounds of laughter and plates. Flies buzzed and stopped, idling a moment on a glazed tabletop. Mike was almost shocked to find a place like this in the City. It reminded him more of the restaurant he worked at in Lubbock than Del’s. That high-faluted self-impressed piece of shit muff huggin gargle blasting narcissistic house of bastards. Whatever.
Mike looked across the restaurant floor. The lino floor pealed under chrome barstools with red cushion tops that spilled their yellow guts like presidential administration officials. The place was empty, but for the few flies and the music that came softly from behind the kitchken doors. Which only opened after Mike had cleared his throat and attempted his greeting with a little more force. There was some conversation behind the doors that Mike couldn’t discern, and a head (a shaved head, no eyebrows, mask) popped out of the doors and said, “Yeah, buddy, uh, we ain’t open.”
“Yeah, no, I was here about a job ad I saw posted on the CitySpace/nysi page, but, uh, now I need somewhere to clean up, and uh, you wouldn’t happen to have a first aid kit I could use would you?”
“Aw, damn, buddy, are you okay?” The head was followed by a body, a whole person, shuffling toward Mike in rubber clogs, their plastic apron wobbling with that watery bouncing sound as they moved.
Mike replied, “yeah, just a … misunderstanding.” About where a door was.
“HAH! I have misunderstandings all the time, myself.” The head-turned-body said. “I’m Joey,” they said as they thrust out a hand at Mike.
“Uh, yeah,” Mike replied, bumping Joey’s right hand in his left, since Mike’s right hand was blood covered and still holding his face together. “Nice to meet you Joey, I’m Mike.”
“Mac?” Joey answered. “Alright, let’s get you to the first aid kit.”
Their first aid kit was massive. At least, to Mike. It was a cabinet, the door lined with pill dispensers, each with its own graphic label: HeadHelp™, Gas Gone™, Flare Away™. It had packets with alcohol swabs, antiseptic spray packets, hemostatic adhesive bandages, gauze rolls, suture kits, tweezers, eye wash, burn cream.
Mike washed his hand and face. His brow was split, but it wasn’t too deep. The Johnson and Johnson Chitosan Band Aid™ would suffice for his needs.
“Industry, aren’t ya? Ya see, kid, this is why you shaved your face, ain’t no hair to worry about getting in that cut, hell, or taking off that bandage. And if you got that job here, you’re already shaved up and ready to go. Bosses’ll love that. Of course, they won’t love the cut over the eye, so. But, really, though, buddy, I’m glad we could help and all, but you’ve still got blood all on your shirt. If an inspector comes in here, we could take a ding, and my boss wouldn’t be too happy about that, so come back tomorrow, cleaned up and you know, ship shape, as they used to say, and try in like an hour, you know? Like closer to three is when Benny’ll be in and looking to talk, but I’ll tell em you came by. I’ll tell em ‘a kid, Mac, came by, great kid, looked good, I told em to come back tomorrow around four or so, boss,’ so, that’s what I’ll tell em, and you’ll come by tomorrow, right? Jagger. Right, well, I’ll see you tomorrow. Try not to have any more misunderstandings! HAH HAH!”
And Mike was out front, looking back as Joey disappeared into the restaurant, dissolving into the music wafting lightly out of the kitchen. Mike wasn’t sure how that place had stayed open. But, he had his own problems to deal with, now.
Mike looked at his reflection in the door again.
The bandage pulled his brow too tightly, giving his face a quizzical look. A grotesque Jack Nicholson look. All work and no play. God, he was a sight. Split eyebrow. Eyes heavy, red. Rusty bloodstains dripped down his shirt. His only good shirt left. And it reaching to threadbare. Whatever. Nanopor Poly was out, anyway. Made you look like such a grease ball. He needed something new. He must still have credit somewhere. He must still have something left. When did his eyes get so bad? He stepped toward the door, pulling his left eyelid down. There were no worms.
Mike shook his head and started down the street, walking over a grate in the sidewalk, a vestige of the old subway days. In places where the grates got good light, you could see the green of the slaugger farms underneath. Mike had seen them himself.
“Watch out, garçon!”
Mike barely heard the wheels before they swarmed around him. Bunch of fucking bama ass Bamf boys. The kid who yelled, making fun of Mike’s shaved head, caught Mike’s eye, still bloodshot. Shirt bloodstained. The shiner just beginning to rise. The bandage above his eye that pulled the skin together too tightly.
The kid, resplendent in their Bamfi-ness, JNCOs and a flannel over a birdhouse t-shirt, choked a laugh but couldn’t seem to break eye contact for a moment. They lost it and plowed into a commuter on a VespElex. The other bamfs skated on without them. Laughing. They were alright. So was their victim, having been shielded by the scooter’s hyper responsive re-inflatable airbags. They shot out fast enough to catch the skater and bounce him back into traffic, without much disturbing rider much at all.
Well, the commuter was left yelling after the bama about how long it takes for the airbag to suck itself back in and how they lacked the time to deal with the result of the skater’s stupidity.
Mike wanted to laugh, but his head hurt and the commotion and yelling hadn’t helped any. Mike hated any thing to do with BAMF. They may have begun as a graffiti crew, but that had been fifty years ago. By thirty years ago they’d been a street gang. And by twenty five, they’d gone into “security.”
By now, most of these kids were wannabes, hang-arounds who would pledge when they got old enough or serious enough, or they were hipsters, into the look but not actually affiliates.
At first, BAMF attempted to regulate on the perpetrators, but then they, BAMF, realized that the wannabes only heightened BAMF visibility and offered them an easy scapegoat whenever they were caught out. “Wasn’t us. Must have been wannabes, kids and false flags trying to discredit our name. Couldn’t have been us because we don’t do whatever it is, so by definition, etc etc ad infinitum.”
The BAMF-boys had grown in influence and power, but graffiti itself had faded.
The city didn’t play, and even line tags or slaps were only left to ride in the derelict spaces. Slauggerhia. Underground mostly.
Graffiti had become almost derelict, and so itself was in the realm of the slauggers. The slauggers also had roots in a graffiti crew, but one that had gone the militant protest route, and when that seemed to fail, the survivalist scavenger route. Now, when they tagged, it was in tar and homemade inks that etched glass and metal alike so that any attempt to buff the tag clean would only reveal the depth of the damage. They still got up in the city periodically, but not too often. The FDNYPD didn’t play games with cosmetic crimes.
There were old school graff heads who blamed slauggers for “destroying the culture” because slauggers largely didn’t use spray paint, since they didn’t have a way to produce it themselves. Of course, that was just a bunch of handwringing and pearl clutching, as the rail freight systems were still largely covered, even if the lines only still ran because a few rich artists kept them going for people to paint on. They’d converted to electric engines and ran cars with clean flats on both sides, and always a few cars with doors and amenities for anyone about that hobolife.
Some claimed it wasn’t graffiti if it wasn’t illegal. Some claimed that it wasn’t hobolife if there were amenities provided. Some claimed that—
Mike’s screen rang.
It didn’t have to. Should have buzzed, unless it was an emergency. Mike was pretty sure it knew he had a headache. Fuckin screen.
Mike didn’t recognize the number or the name: Wes Evans Marriage Counseling, but it wasn’t blocked. He wasn’t sure he wanted to answer anything at the moment. His head hurt. Fuck it.
“Uh, hello?” he answered, but the line was ringing. “Damn screen,” he was saying as the line picked up.
“Thank you for calling the offices of Wes Evans, Marriage Counselor, are you calling in reference to the job posting?”
“I... uh, yuh, yeah, yes.”
“Good afternoon, Mr…”
Mister? He hadn’t heard that in ages.
“Doyle. Michael Doyle.”
“Thank you for calling, Mr. Doyle.” Processing. “So, this vacancy is for someone with experience as a memory capture technician.” The nasal voice stopped a moment. “Well? Do you have memory capture technician experience?”
“With whom do you have said experience?”
“The Pastion Institute.” Mike responded confidently; Pastion was the industry leader.
“Are you available to come in and talk with Dr. Evans this coming Thursday?” (the “doctor” was new, huh. Was just Wes a second ago.)
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Where are your offices?”
“1202 South Sheridan.” She paused, waiting for recognition. She continued only when none registered.
“Tulsa. Oklahoma. Greater Texas.”
What. The. Fuck.
A fucking red state? Growing up in Texas had been enough sacrifice, hadn’t it? The culture in the city didn’t always sit well with Mike, but still, it was miles ahead of the red states.
“What kind of compensation are we discussing?” Mike said after the pause.
“Well, Dr. Evans is working on a new application for memory capture technologies, utilizing their unique characteristics to help struggling couples to understand what each other are going through.”
“That’s an interesting use for the technology.”
“What kind of compensation are we discussing?”
“Well, long term it will depend on the success of our trials, so we can’t really talk salary.”
“The compensation for our four trial couples will be 10,000 hours for each. We will pay accommodation expenses if you’re chosen.”
“I’m in New York.”
There was a pause.
“You said that you’ve experience with Pastion?”
“I started with them in August of 2030 under Simon Petro.”
“Directly under Simon Petro?”
“When and why did you leave the Pastion Institute?”
“No, no, I still work there. There just isn’t much work.”
“And how would Mr Petro feel about your coming to work in Tulsa with Dr. Evans?” (Mister wasn’t really surprising now that he knew the call originated in Oklahoma. Hell, the caller probably didn’t even appreciate Mike’s use of the unspecified honorific. But then, to be fair, Mike had no evidence that the caller was even a person.)
“Well, as you said, this is just on a trial basis. I don’t see any conflict of interest. There are only a few formulas that are Pastion patented, and I know work-arounds so we shouldn’t be infringing on any intellectual rights.”
Another long pause, and a young street prophet walked past Mike, one eye behind a yellow plexi lens that showed the reverse image of the information it displayed to its user. That was pretty flash. So were the twin bone growths grafted along each side of their skull. Hair grew around the bone grafts, pulled back between them, straight down on the sides. The street prophet wore a long, thin robe over a rosary of usb drives and low crotched pantaloons. Mike only noticed them because of the glint in their eye when they saw his screen. But the prophet walked on and Mike realized that the voice on the other side of the line had spoken.
“Excuse me, what was that?” He asked as politely as he could muster.
“I think the doctor would be willing to pay your travel expenses.”
Mike almost stopped in his tracks.
Score one for the good guys.
But, but, but!
In a fucking red state.
“So, four trial couples; capturing and then the experience; we’re looking at, what, week and a half, two weeks?” He asked.
“We had a very similar schedule in mind.”
“So, Thursday, then?”