The crowd screamed a unified, unintelligible plea of panic and anger. He understood their fear, he felt some himself. How would he react if he had no money and the only store in town would not extend any credit? He would probably take what he needed anyway, maybe even take something he just wanted. This is why he spoke to them through a window, behind a locked door. He posted a sign that morning and few of the people that read it had left. Instead a mob gathered to confront the closest thing to a Links Corp representative they could find. Continue reading
Justin asked for travel and got it. Lloyd connected him with a kind of caravan. It would be continuous movement, and the itinerary was westbound. The travel was slow though, and the days long. When Lloyd, the career counselor, described the job, Justin daydreamed through the job responsibilities and particulars of the schedule. While Lloyd talked, Justin imagined himself arriving in California after a restful, free ride. Probably he would step off the train, go to a nearby diner for lunch and find Allison waiting tables. Her hair would be dyed and oversized glasses would hide her face, but he would recognize her. Before Justin could tap his sister’s shoulder, Lloyd was pushing him out of the door and shoving a train ticket into his hand. Continue reading
A bald, soft man was helping a woman who was either his wife or daughter load a magnum of wine into their cart. His youthful movements belied his age. The woman was unremarkably beautiful. Everything was in the right place and she looked exactly as young as she was. Not a single tooth was out of place in her smile. Marcus fought back a yawn as he watched the couple. They could have been any couple on the island; the population here was worse than a holoroom gathering with everyone in avatar. Did these wives even need avatars when they used the holonet? The husbands, sure, but they obviously did not care how they looked in public. Why would they care when they are on the net? Continue reading
Justin tried not to think about the fact that he had spent his last few dollars on this room. He had actually spent his last dollar days ago, but was living off credit and overdraft tolerance. The hotel manager offered charitable discounts that just so happened to put the room at the exact credit left. Now his account was useless. Continue reading
No amount of staring made it any clearer, yet Justin looked on and waited for some dawning of understanding. It was hypnotizing, this loose web pattern. It could be a toddler’s scribble or a fine fractal. It could not really be a map, could it? It was a static, printed. There was no way to zoom in or out; the scale was what it was and no matter how much Justin wanted to zoom in on this region or that, he was stuck on this broad view. It was odd, but odder still was the meaning of all those lines and circles. The interconnected destinations were completely alien to him, yet they overlaid a familiar geographic setting. Continue reading
The population of the island exploded. It was as if the bombs contained the future residents, blasting them from who knows where into their new island homes. Most of the world was debating the meaning of the attack and whether or not the landbridge should exist. These people were rolling in with the tide. Were they people coming despite the explosions or because of them? Either way, there was nothing reasonable about moving to a new, remote neighborhood moments after a terrorist attack.
Justin sighed, exhaling a warm mixture of exhaustion and boredom. How could walking take so much time? There was never a reason to travel by foot and so he had no concept of how walking compared to driving speed. Until now. His legs ached and his shoes were rubbing a burn into his heel. All this to get, well he did not really know where he was, but not far enough.
People traveled this way for most of human history, without the benefit of the nice shoes or portable music. It only took a few generations for the tedium of walking to become prohibitively painful. Neither Justin’s parents nor grandparents had any experience walking. Even two more generation prior to his grandparents, pedestrians barely competed with automobiles on the road. Now travel by foot was as familiar as horseback riding.
Justin decided not to steal one of the family cars. It was a tough decision even without knowing how inconvenient this trip would be. The reasons not to drive were myriad, romantic ideas about rugged freedom abounded, but the main reason was they are so easy to track. Leaving the house for anything was such an occasion that cars automatically broadcasted the trip on the net. The Fahrs are going to Slathers! James Fahr is on the way to his neighbor’s house! Jennifer Fahr is leaving the volunteer neighborhood clean up! On top of that, Surveillanet automatically followed every car that passed one of its cameras. The act of traveling outside the home was suspicious and should be tracked.
Walking seemed like the most definite, reliable way to run away from home. There was also the idea of “the road” that Justin held in his imagination. These thoughts had been fed by classic literature and old movies. Twentieth century novels often talked about something called hitchhiking; the idea was sounding better all the time. He could preserve his anonymity and travel at a reasonable pace. The trouble was finding a place that cars could or would stop. Justin was but a boy, sixteen by only a couple months, and by no means a large one. Still, the sight of someone walking was just too suspicious. The thought of stopping never entered the mind of the drivers, most let the car do the driving and rarely looked out of the window.
How effective could this plan be? He left home in haste, packing what clothes and supplies would fit in his backpack, but what choice did he have? It had been months since he saw or heard from Allison. Now her face was showing up on the news. Of course he had to find her. Surely, his own sister could not be part of a terrorist plot, a plot rippling through international waters. What would he do when he found her, not if, when? Like most boys his age, he knew little of his own motivations.
He could not have timed his departure worse if he tried. The sun began to set not two hours after he jumped out of his window. Two hours in the late spring sun was enough to drain his energy, but not enough to make significant progress while he still had light. If he had waited until the after dark, it would have at least been cooler. There was nothing to see in the daylight anyway. Since walking and spending time outdoors was universally recognized as dubious, streetlights did not exist. Cars drove themselves and were equipped with infrared sensors and GPS guidance; they did not need much light, certainly not as much as the human eye. Though Justin’s eyes were young and able, he was quickly losing his sight to nightfall. The world became a kind of silhouette of itself.
He could go further, despite the protests of his feet and the side stitch, but not if he could not see. He needed a place to stop for the night. The options at hand were to lay down in the ditch, walk into someone’s yard and find an out of the way corner, or start knocking on doors. If just being outside your own home was cause for alarm, who knows what kind of reaction he would get standing on a stranger’s doorstep. Perhaps simply walking towards the door would cause Surveillanet to alert the authorities. Now there was something. If he could get arrested, he would certainly have somewhere to sleep. Before he started out, he imagined he would walk right into a town center that would have countless hotels and restaurants. In the two hours he had traveled, he barely left his subdivision. He saw nothing but houses separated by large swaths of marginally kempt lawns. From the road the houses were tiny, appearing no larger than his fist. There was plenty of space to stop where no one would notice him. Camping out was looking more realistic. If not exactly realistic, necessary.
Justin reached into his bag and pulled out a metallic object the size and shape of a pack of cards. He pulled it apart at the middle and it unfolded to four times the size and projected an image a few inches from its flat surface. Justin swiped his hand over the image a few times, he had always preferred manual commands to voice, and a high-resolution tabloid size map spread out before him. A pleasant blue dot marked his current location. The dot blinked in empty space.
“Ok,” he said, directing his voice at the device, “find hotels.” The map immediately zoomed out, leaving a blur as it shrank the scale. A cluster of red dots appeared in an area where the roads looked fantastically dense with outlines of buildings traced between them. Beyond this was another expanse that looked much like the one in which Justin sat. The cluster of activity stuck out like a glistening sore on otherwise perfect skin. A label floated over the cartographically busy area: Neopolis 46052. From it ran a strange line that looked like a road but was thicker and a different color. “Computer, what is that?” he asked pointing at the route.
A soft androgynous voice replied <That is a railroad, Mr. Fahr.>
“Really? Out here? How far is Neopolis?” This had to be some kind of error, or maybe some kind of novelty. Perhaps there was a railroad museum there.
<About five miles, sir.> Five miles? It was already too dark to make it that far. The only light around was the soft glow of the computer. This Neopolis was in the right direction and it supposedly had hotels and a railroad; he had to try to get there. When he left home, Justin used the map to point himself west. That was about all he knew concerning Allison’s location: west, maybe somewhere in California. He was comfortable with using maps through countless hours spent in Siege. Unfortunately he could not just point to where he wanted to go and teleport there in real life.
How was there a town a few miles from his home? Granted, he did not leave the house for much, but shouldn’t the local news report on the town occasionally? Even if only for the weather? After staring at the map until he was almost looking through it, a realization hit Justin and turned him red with embarrassment. He turned the device, pointing the screen at the ground. A small aura illuminated his feet. He tilted the screen enough to see the ground ahead and continued walking.
The glow cresting the hill turned his legs to gel. Hours of walking, or rather stumbling, in the dark focused his thoughts to a pinpoint goal. He just had to put one foot in front of the other. He could keep going, as long as he remembered he could always go one more step. The last one did not kill him, surely he could make one more. The light though, the first light outside of his mobile, was a feet freezing kilolumen.
A wind rolled over the hills and cooled the sweat on Justin’s arms. When he left the house he was suffocating from the heat, now he wished he had a coat. He flipped the mobile opened and closed in a steady beat. Mobile computers were paper-thin and lighter than a wallet. Actually most people no longer carried wallets. Mobiles linked directly to credit accounts, maintained contact information and acted as identification. Justin’s device clicked and snapped as he opened and closed it. It was the sound of two small but strong magnets colliding and pulling apart.
A dome of light, a kind of orange white haze, poked over the horizon directly in his path. This was a welcome sign of civilization; the last house he saw had to be more than a mile away. Really, it felt like further, despite what the GPS said. Seeing a glow coming from what had to be Neopolis did not exactly give Justin a burst of energy, but it did stop him from laying down to sleep in a field owned by God knew who. Even now, with his goal in sight he thought he might not make it. Young though he was, and more fit than his average peer, walking more than five miles in a day was beyond anything familiar. His head pumped with his heart and his feet ceased sending signals to his brain. The slight up and down motion of the world let him know he was still moving.
Time skipped between his sighting of the first rooftop, high above the treetops, and his arrival at a green metal sign. He shined his screen on the sign, “Welcome to Neopolis 46052,” it read. He had supposed the number at the end was a sort of map code, not part of the name. He was accustomed to neighborhood names like “Running Meadows” or “Rest Haven;” the prospect of speaking a number every time he referenced a place was tedious. Maybe it had something to do with the population, but the town he saw on the other side of the sign did not look that big.
What lay before him was like something out of an old TV show. The town was set on nearly flat land that sloped gently towards a creek. What Justin initially thought was a hill overlooking Neopolis was actually a ridge stretching for miles to his left and right. It was a sheer drop, but not more than a few stories. The Earth was level before him and behind him. Viewed from directly overhead, Justin considered, one might see a continuous plane and not notice any difference in elevation. The ridge seemed out of place, but Justin had no sense of what was and was not natural, geographically speaking.
Looking down he saw the streets marching in an orderly grid with cohesive yet not identical buildings filling the gaps between. The street was brightly lit and revealed almost no automobile traffic but he could see specs of people walking, some of them fast. Really fast. Wait, he thought, are those bicycles? Just had ridden many virtual bikes, but never had seen a real one, let alone mount one himself. The concept of really riding a bike was as anachronistic as riding a horse, or walking for that matter.
Justin traced the pedestrians and cyclists with his eyes until it made him dizzy. This place was too strange, too different to process. It was so foreign that he was able to skip feelings of surprise and go straight to acceptance. He was also exhausted from the walk and could not summon the energy shock would require. He checked his map again and found a hotel marked almost on top of him. Zooming in he found that he need only climb down the ridge and enter the city outskirts to find it.
Maybe twenty steps past the sign he was on a footpath lit by a series of lamps hammered into the ground. The path was short, traveling mostly downhill before feeding into a real, though narrow road. No one was about on this side of town, it seemed, though the buildings were all illuminated. Each was inviting in a way, but it was hard to tell businesses from homes. Most were three to five stories and close together. They were of brick and stone, he saw little wood, save for the trees to the side of the road. They were short but robust and as orderly as the streets themselves. As Justin approached a corner, he looked at the map and found himself transposed with a red dot. It had to be this building flooded with windows and at least three stories taller than any surrounding structure. He found great double doors under an awning and too tired to question the wisdom of opening a strange door in a strange place, he rushed forward and grasped the handle.
Inside he found himself perpendicular to a long desk. The desk enveloped a man not much further into adulthood than Justin. He was formally dressed in a way that seemed to match the décor in the room, which if he had the vocabulary for such things he would have called “Old World.” The hard, dark wood and the strips of velvet carpet were a stark contrast to the chiseled stone and stacked brick outside. The young man was looking down at something below the desk and, not looking up, acknowledged Justin with a “’Help you?”
“Umm, yeah. Is this a hotel?”
“Well I’m not sitting here looking pretty for my own amusement.” The receptionist said with a snort then looked up, “Say, how old are you? Little young to be traveling alone eh?”
Justin said, “Nineteen,” a little too quickly for he had practiced this question in his head. He figured adding a year to the age of adulthood would lend some credibility. From the look on the clerk’s face, he figured wrong.
“Yeah, alright. It’s fifty a night.” Justin pulled out his mobile and began to login to his payment account. “Whoa, that’s fifty hard dollars. It’s a hundred digital.” Justin knew fifty was too cheap, but what were hard dollars? He did not ask questions, he wanted to keep the transaction as short as possible. Justin transferred one hundred dollars to the clerk, who looked none too happy considering he had just succeeded at extortion. The clerk had shifted his gaze downward. He was looking at a book and flipping pages, Justin tried not to stare but his eyes kept darting back to it. His parents had a few paper books, but they were treasured antiques. No one read them or even touched them. Watching the clerk casually turn pages and take sips of coffee over the book made something inside Justin squirm. The clerk slurped his coffee and a bead of amber liquid rolled down the outside of the mug. It dangled at the bottom, ready to fall at any second and stain the page he was reading. Justin held his breath; the clerk continued reading as he reached for a key card and held it out for Justin to take. The clerk set his mug down and the coffee drop safely soaked into the desk. Justin let out a puff of air as he took the key and left the lobby.
When Justin got to his room, he looked around only enough to find the bed and fall into it. Besides the late hour, he had just spent more time on his feet than ever in his life. It was only once he laid down that he truly felt the ache of his tired muscles; fortunately, his eyes were already heavy and he fell asleep before enduring discomfort for too long.
The sun crept in through the window to wake him. His legs ached instantly. How long had he been sleeping? He did not dream, did not perceive any passage of time. Whatever relief he felt laying down was short lived. His body was tired, but there was no chance of getting back to sleep. Actually, he had never woken so quickly and definitely. Usually he rolled around for hours and slept through his first two classes. It was a recurring problem until Justin invested in an avatar to sit in class for him. He still needed to dive into the backlogged hours of classes his avatar recorded for him. It was there full time now; a sour taste bubbled up in his throat when he thought about all the recorded lectures that he would have to watch when he got home.
Why did he wake so well today? His eyelids were glued open while the rest of his body remained frozen. An acute beam of light shone on the floor a few inches from the window. He had not thought to close the curtains because he had never slept in a room with a real window. The first thing he saw was the neatly arranged decorative pillows he had neglected to move when he collapsed on top of the bed. He gathered his arms under him and pushed his hands against the comforter he had slept on top of. Yet too tired to sit up, he flipped onto his back.
Rolling over revealed the stiffness in his back. He expected the legs and feet to be sore, but his back? And what’s this? A twang in his shoulder? He had never encountered such full body punishment from walking. Maybe tired feet, sure, but who knew he was using so much of his body for his long walk! Attempting to free his thoughts from his somatic pain, he shifted his gaze from the textured ceiling to the adjacent window, a large landscape single pane view of, from his angle, a mostly clear blue sky with a few puffs of clouds. The unchanging sky, he thought.
Except, he knew somewhere in the back of his mind, that this was not true. The sky was as much its own realm as the sea. It was not uniform. Somewhere storm clouds slithered across an ashen sky, somewhere it had holes allowing harmful radiation to pass through, and here it was azure. It moved, or did it? Maybe just the surface of the Earth moved but not the sky? Perhaps both. Either way, however similar looking, this was a different sky from the one he saw the day before. Yet it comforted him as something distant and immutable in appearance.
Holoroom skies could not offer this kind of comfort. They were manipulated to no end, or rather to whatever ends the user had in mind. Even live feeds could be altered so that it appeared to be raining in the desert or the sun shining in the winter Arctic. A virtual sky was one’s own creation, or perhaps someone else’s creation. Justin found something vexing about situations where he had too much control. Now he was feeling tranquil.
Finally sitting up, Justin surveyed his room. The bed occupied about a third of the floor space. In the remaining area was a little chest of drawers, a desk, an uncomfortable looking chair, and three doors at the end. Two were closed, one open. The open door led to a closet sized bathroom. One closed door he knew to be the exit, the last was he could only assume, a closet. From his new, upright position Justin could see the town through the window. There were buildings of varying size, but most were about five to ten stories. In the distance was a sort of earthen wall, another ridge. Even from his elevated position he could not see what was beyond the town, but he knew from his map that it was nothing. There was something odd cutting through the middle of the city. It was like a road but raised above everything but the tallest buildings. There were no visible on or off ramps. He could not see the surface of the road, just the pillars supporting it and the walls to its side. Was it some sort of highway? When he looked at the map yesterday there were no major highways running through here. But, he did remember now, a strange path, extending beyond this little city. A railroad his computer told him. He had never seen one in person, or a train for that matter. As if the universe were responding to his very thoughts, a train shot by so quickly and quietly that he almost missed it. A metallic flash almost knocked him out of bed. He leapt up and put his face to the window, but the train was long gone.
That was motivation enough to send Justin straight out of his room and into the city. He did have to slow himself down enough to groom and change clothes, which he did in the most cursory way. He later found that even his most meticulous grooming was sub average in terms of New Urban standards. The rushed clean up Justin performed before his ran out of the room left him conspicuously grungy.
Briefly, while packing up and exiting the room, Justin thought of home. Home was not so far geographically speaking, but already seemed a light-year away. He wondered if his parents found the note he left. He wrote it in haste, almost an afterthought, on the way out of the house. He hoped they were not worried. They were not really the worrying types, but they were still parents. Who would not be disturbed by two children missing, one wanted for terrorism?
Questions about his parents did not concern Justin for long. His mind shifted to Allison: how would he find her? If he could find a whole new civilization, new to him anyway, he could certainly find his own sister. He wished he could stay here longer, but as interested as he was in Neopolis, Justin had keep moving. He was almost through the hotel’s weighty double doors when he heard a voice shouting out, “Hey! Are you checking out or what?”
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“That was quick.” Mike said, watching Helen exit the holoroom. He had been against the call in the first place. What was the point of all their precautions, the effort they went through to be under the radar, if they were just going to make calls when they felt like it? After Helen entered the room, his concern shifted to suspicion.
“Yeah, I’m not much on the holocalls actually, but my mother insists on it.”
“And you needed to talk to her now? Why again?”
“I told you, she worries. She might call on a search if she doesn’t hear from me after a few weeks. We don’t need a search committee out here do we?”
“Yeah, yeah. I got it. Anyway, keep quiet in front of the hopkeepshay.”
“The what?” Helen blurted a little too loud. They had left the apartment and were now in the sporting goods section of the store where Earl and Marcus were admiring a kayak. They began to turn at the sound of Helen’s voice, but Mike had already pulled her aside with a scolding look.
“Didn’t you ever learn Pig Latin?”
“What? No. Why would you assume I know some kind of Latin? Do I look like a classicist? Actually, don’t answer that.”
“Not Latin. Pig Latin. Its wordplay. You take the first part of a word… you know what, nevermind. My family had old-fashioned games I guess.” They walked on, giving Earl and Marcus a nod and thank you for letting them use his holoroom as they passed. They were looking for Pat and Al; naturally, they headed for the grocery.
Marcus was not prepared for more customers. He thought Earl had traveled alone and was not sure whether he was hallucinating when what looked like four college kids strolled in. He was like a cloistered monk asked to host a dinner party. He was gracious and accommodating, but also tense and unsure. Any peculiarity Marcus showed went unnoticed; none of them had much experience with storeowners, or stores for that matter.
Something about Marcus endeared him to Helen. She felt an urge to talk to him, to learn more about him. What was he doing out here? What path does one take in life to end up alone in a store on an island that may as well not exist? She wanted to know, but she knew she should avoid interacting with others. Fortunately, Earl occupied most of Marcus’s attention, removing any opportunity to start a conversation.
“There they are!” Mike pointed to the refrigerator aisle where the other two members of their party were deliberating over different kinds of breakfast sausage. Helen made a small shutter. “What? Are you cold?” Mike made a move as if to remove his over shirt.
“No! no.” Helen flushed, afraid she spoke to quickly. While she did not want Mike’s chivalry, it would not do to have him upset with her. “Just the sight of all that processed meat is all. Anyway, do they have any money for that stuff?”
“Not really, no. I’m holding the purse I guess. We got a little traveling money from Rick, but don’t worry, it’s not going to that stuff.” They did buy plenty of meat, just not those particular sausages that Helen so reviled. They bought some vegetarian meals for her as well. Al found a bottle that Mike pretended to disapprove of, but put into the cart with plans to help consume anyway. When they were ready to check out, they called up to Marcus, who was still in sporting goods with Earl, now discussing fishing rods.
“Connie!” Marcus called, yelling more for their benefit than the computer’s.
“Make them an account, would you?”
“Actually,” Mike said, “we have cash.”
“Nonsense,” Marcus replied, “take what you need and pay me later. No interest. Hell, I don’t even need your UBNs, just one of your names is fine.”
“Put it under Helen Rose,” Helen said. Mike started to open his mouth before she pinched him. He hushed, but seemed a little too happy about the pinch.
<OK, Helen, that’s: three pounds ribs, six pounds chicken wings, four pounds ground beef, one loaf white bread, one head lettuce, one pound tomatoes, one block tofu, seven chocolate bars, one liter dark rum, sixteen ounces cheddar cheese, forty pounds fertilizer. Will that be all?>
“Yes, that is all,” Helen said looking over at the over laiden bunch beside her. The forty-pound bag lay beside her on the floor. Nice, she thought.
<That’s one hundred seventy three credits billed to your account. See you next time!> The men were already out the door as Helen grunted over the bag. She waddled out with it draped over her shoulder.
“That was generous of you Mark,” Earl said.
“Well Earl, any friend of yours is a friend of mine.”
“Friend? I don’t know those people, they just hitched along with me from New St. Louis. They seem alright though.”
Marcus rubbed his brow. “Great, nice way for me to start a business, ‘here strangers, take what you want and pay me later!’”
“Wow Mark, that sounds like a terrible start to me.”
“Sure buddy. Say, you got a video wall around here?”
“… On the docket is Resolution 1066. Chairs will yield the floor to the representative from South Africa to discuss said resolution.” Spoke the freckled redheaded chair of the UN Council. Her wavy, strawberry curls rested on her nearly bare shoulders just above the skirt and blouse that were about two sizes smaller than professional. She pushed her rimless glasses up from where they had fallen to the top of her nose as she sat. Approaching the podium was the mocha skinned representative from South Africa wearing what appeared to be a traditional African wrap dress, pulled tight to reveal a flawless figure. Her hair was pulled back loosely with erratic streaks of almost blond mixing with her dark hair.
“Good evening. As we are all aware, the Links Corporation has dramatically changed the landscape of our planet…” Her just too sharp to be English accent was cut by a few seconds of repeating muzak. A disembodied, glistening, head floated before Chester’s eyes. The meeting continued in the background as if nothing were happening.
“Rob! What do you want? I’m watching the UN here.”
The head turned and surveyed the room. “I’ll say. When did ambassadors get so hot? You know the difference between the UN and Miss UNiverse right?” Rob loved to troll his friends’ holorooms. It did not matter what you were doing; he liked to ruin it.
“Ha. ha. It’s a new feature I just downloaded. It’s called HotSwitch.”
“Nice!” It was not a particularly new feature. Every teenager that discovers it thinks he has found something illicit. As these things go, the plugin quickly spreads to all his friends, their friends and their friends. In fact, this “Hot Switch” concept had been around since Chester’s parents were his age.
Cable news channels developed the first version of the module to make politics more palatable. They originally used it on streaming video, but the conversion to Holovision was not that difficult. It was controversial at first, but no one could argue with the correlating rise in civic participation. Never before had teenagers and twenty-somethings been so well informed.
A new seat materialized next to Chester and the rest of Rob plopped into it. “… have to be stopped. We cannot allow the unrestricted colonization of the ocean. The ocean is out last…”
“Dude, this sucks, even with the filter on.”
“Shh…” It was too late; the South African ambassador was walking back to her seat.
“Hey,” Rob said, “want to go on Siege? Becky and I were just at Justin’s village, the whole place is in revolt.” The ambassador from Japan was walking towards the podium, wearing a kimono closed just enough to pass the parental filters.
“You go siege if you want. I’m staying.”
“… cannot impede the freedom of developers…”
“We can turn this thing on the Game. We can storm Justin’s Castle with a bunch of bikini models. If his content filter allows it, that is.”
“… No legal president concerning international waters…”
“Later man.” Chester had been following the development of the Links Land Bridge and was starting to feel unexplainable anxiety. He did not care that much about who own an artificial island. He had no intention of traveling to Nesson, or any other place really. Something about the lack of clear ownership stayed with him, but he lived on solid American soil. Why was he worried?
“Uhg. You’ve been so boring lately. Fine, I’ll see you later.” and Rob was gone. The Japanese ambassador was already walking back to her seat. For just a moment Chester wondered if it really was a woman.
Curiosity won out and with the wave of a hand Chester found a room full of old men wearing funny headsets. The chair was occupied by a turkey-necked man with a five o’clock shadow. Chester watched for a while longer with the plugin off, but little of interest was discussed. It was too bad, Rob’s interruption. Chester was pretty sure he was really interested in the broadcast.
The concept of the islands seemed kind of nice to him. To have some space, nice weather, and fresh air. Sprawlers derided their own lifestyle in public forums; Chester knew many of the kids out in the sprawl romanticized the city, but he did not get it. The city, in his experience, was grey and just as isolated. There was more pollution and less quiet. No romance to his mind. His parents seemed to love it though. They had been born there, in Chicago, as had both their parents and theirs before them. The city was real. Proximity meant something: connection to your fellow man and on and on. They, in fact, left their holoroom less often than Chester did his. Between work and entertainment, they more or less lived there. At times, he had to call from his holoroom to theirs just to talk to them.
Chester’s friends were not even in Chicago. Most lived exactly nowhere, in huge houses. Meanwhile Chester and his parents packed in a downtown flat, being urban for the sake of it. What Chester needed now was some civic destruction; perhaps he would go on Siege after all. He was sick of Justin’s bragging about the “architectural integrity” of his village. He could tolerate Rob’s presence, maybe Becky would be there too.
The boxes lay haphazard and teetering on top of each other. Marcus took the time to drag them inside and even brought them to the proper departments, but they remained there unopened. Their presence did not bother him; he was nearly blind to them.
Since Earl’s stowaways came and left, there had been no more new customers. Marcus’s eyes never strayed far from the door, but no one walked through it. He was not sure what those four, or however many there were, were up to. Where were they staying? Were they still on the island? It was probably better not to think about it. Ever since they came, though, Marcus felt obligated to watch the store. No more hiding out in the apartment relying on Connie to alert him of new arrivals. The past few days he wandered from department to department while always watching the entrance.
Earl returned to work the same day he brought that group led by Helen. With him left any hope of business or conversation. The returning to solitude after interruption was far more disturbing than if no one had come. Now his thoughts revolved around when the next person would arrive. Marcus wanted to convince himself that Earl and the others had never come in the first place. If he could believe that, he could go back to the slow void in which he had spent the past few weeks. Maybe it was a dream. Could the isolation be blurring the lines between dreams and reality? That one about the dolphin still floated at the back of his consciousness, but he knew that was not real.
They had been there. Earl was gone, but maybe the others remained somewhere on the island. It was a strange comfort, thinking they were out there somewhere. It was a pleasant paranoia. Thinking about whatever unpleasant things they might be planning at least relieved boredom.
“Connie, would you drop a screen over the first floor?” He had considered having real conversations with Connie, but never could bring himself to it. All he managed to convey to her were commands.
<Certainly Mark.> A theater sized high definition screen appeared before him, projected from who knew where. <What should I tune it to?> Tune, that was a strange word. When was the last time anyone truly tuned a television set or radio?
“News, I guess.” Marcus was not really a news guy. News media was a thriving industry, though. Why did people want to know about the world when nothing outside of their front door truly affected them? It had to be a morbid curiosity. For Marcus it was morose and infuriating. Especially since the advent of Holorooms, news aimed to fully immerse the viewer in the mayhem. If they wanted that kind of experience, virtual reality was sufficiently advanced, but it was something about the news being real that drew people. It never seemed real to Marcus. He experienced real disgust and horror, but he never thought of news broadcasts as real. Even if they were real events recorded by real people, something about the act of recording and transmission changed the meaning.
Marcus hated the news, and hated himself for choosing it, but he craved connection with the outside world. The screen showed Percival Wolff sitting behind a glowing desk, his face illegible:
Today at the UN, South Africa and Japan debate the actions of Links Corp. Links, the company behind the California Landbridge, has furthered their Pacific expansion by starting to build from Japan. Links Corp hopes to accelerate the connection of the US and Japan, and ultimately Asia, by land. The South African ambassador accused Links and Japan of quote “recklessly intruding on international waters” and that the oceans should remain quote “unspoiled by development.”
Japan cited the immense benefits of uniting the globe by land. There was no vote on the resolution to condemn the actions of Links Corp. The date of the vote is yet to be determined.
In related news, a conglomeration of environmental protection agencies calling itself Pacific Peace has condemned Links and threatened action if the governments of the world do not step in.”
The image behind the reporter resolved into an unrelated story as Wolff swiveled to look at another camera. Even in the days of the holoroom, twentieth century journalistic norms endured. In between being thrust into war zones, natural disasters and political rallies, everything pulled away and the viewer was no longer a participant. A reporter sat behind a desk, reading off a prompter the viewer could not see, smirking before a soft gradient background. A square box to the left of the reporter illuminated the story. For the immersive elements, the viewer would see this box enlarging as the reporter’s voice slowly trailed away into a deep whisper. The viewer would be sucked into the box and become part of the story. For viewers using a screen instead of a holoroom, these scenes were simple video.
On the screen now was Surveillanet footage of a bear terrorizing an upscale shopping center. Terror was of course relative, most of the video showed the bear roaring at passing humans but when left alone simply sitting inside a candy store pawing in the establishment’s stock of honey flavored chews. Marcus could feel the story’s chord rumbling through Middle America. The bear was the protagonist, a karmic agent humbling the wealthy shoppers. Viewers wanted to see the lifestyles of the rich. They wanted to see them outside of their homes shopping, going to restaurants, having parties. They wanted to see them having real human interactions mediated by money and status, but they wanted equally to see them fall.
The video faded and a new anchorwoman appeared. She had big blonde hair and heavy eye makeup. She was young, not past thirty for sure, but styled herself like a much older woman. Marcus always thought reporters were aesthetically locked in his great-grandfather’s era. Not the typical style of the late twentieth century, just that of the news reporters.
“The bear was captured unharmed and is being transported to a wildlife reserve in Alaska. Injuries were limited to two cases of panic attack, and a few scrapes and bruises suffered while fleeing the area. Residents are relieved that they can once again shop in peace. Returning to our continuing coverage of the controversial election results in the Georgia…”
“Ok Connie, that’s enough.”
<Certainly Mark.> The screen irised-out. Marcus always liked that effect, not just the image, but the entire projected screen disappeared in the wake of a shrinking circle.
The world shook. Marcus, already burdened and unbalanced, toppled and spilled the load he carried. His shoulder hit first and a splash in the eye followed as the pail of ice cream smacked to the ground. The top dislodged and scattered flecks of melted cream while the more viscous, still frozen portion flowed like lava. A tremor rolled in the cryogenic flow. The remaining contents of the bag had rolled across the floor but at least remained in their own packaging.
The items Marcus had been carrying were gifts for the stowaways. Isolation grated at him until he no longer cared what their purpose on his island was; he needed the presence of others. Probably they really were Links employees. Something about them did not seem corporate, actually, nothing about them seemed corporate, but otherwise he did not have a reason to doubt them. He had hoped they were still on the island. Now he was sure they were.
The presents lay scattered before him, some still rolling away. The second blast rang out and this one he heard. During the first, he had been too busy falling to process the sound. Now the reverberation shook Marcus and he had an idea of what was happening. Marcus pushed himself up and ran back whence he came, back to the store, leaving the gifts behind.
Helen was just sitting down, yawning and picking crust out of her tear ducts when the first blast sent water rushing up her back. She fell forward and caught herself by pressing her palms and knees against the bathroom door. Despite the explosion she could not help thinking thank God I hadn’t peed yet. Only then could she focus on the sound and the earthquake and wonder what was that? She heard her companions scrambling around in the hall, making an unintelligible racket: “Whaa.” “oooohaaahh” “huuh?”
She needed to check on them and the house. Probably she should leave the house, but she really did need to pee. The second explosion shook her as she settled back on the commode, this time not forcefully enough to disturb her.
Helen pressed handle unconsciously and without slowing her movement to the door. Her hand was on the knob when Al burst in, knocking her back on to the seat. At least this time the lid was down. Al ran to Helen and shook her by the shoulders as he cried “Shit! Shit shit shit!” Tears speckled his face. Helen had nothing to say and walked past him into the hall. Pat appeared at the other end and almost bowled Helen over on his way to comfort Al. She found Mike in the living room pacing back and forth, moving his lips and pounding his right hand, knife shaped, into his left.
“Mike?” Helen ventured.
“We didn’t do it!” he threw his hands in the air.
“I know that. What should we do?”
“We were going to but we didn’t. Now someone else has!”
Helen’s first thought was so what? Who cared about who did what or the irony of the situation? The island was, at least potentially, exploding all around them. “We’ve got to get out of here!” she said. Mike did not need to say a word; the look he gave was enough to ask simultaneously how? and are you nuts?. “Ok so we can’t get out of here. Let’s at least find out what’s going on.” So she said, but was it really a good idea? Was staying put a good idea? It did not matter, she was a jitter and needed to move. She wound her way to the front door and stepped out to a sunny, otherwise calm day.
Marcus was back at the store staring in surprised relief. He was sure the explosion came from his store. What else was there to target? Some empty houses, pristine unused streets? This store was the only thing of consequence on the island. Could it be an accident? A natural disaster of some kind? A construction flaw? He knew that landfills could build up caustic gases, perhaps there was a methane pocket somewhere on the island. A careless spark anywhere could ignite such a thing. Yet he knew thoughts of accident were fantasy. Not one of these garbage islands had exploded before.
On his way to the store, he saw two plumes of smoke coming from opposite direction. How would both be accidents? So close in time and so far in distance. Sure, stranger things had happened but his instincts told him this was planned. To what end, who knew? Marcus guessed who might know. There was only one group of people on this island.
“Are you able to detect the presence of people on the island?”
<Not exactly, but I can review camera footage.> That was odd, she would not do that before. Marcus decided not to press the issue.
“Ok, did you see anyone on the island besides Earl’s stowaways?”
<One moment… … … No. Mark, there are still fires burning at the points of explosion, shall I call emergency services?>
“Sure… wait. Who would service this area?”
<Links Corp keeps rescue boats within three hours of all developments.>
“Of course, yes, please, call them. And…”
“Keep track of those four if you can.” Three hours to wait while terrorists run loose on the island. Great, why did he leave that little bamboo shack anyway? Mark drifted into fond memories of his last store as he wandered into the sporting goods section of the new one. The gun case shone, casting a glare over his eyes. He felt a thrill of nausea as he opened it. The rifle looked harmless laying on the velvet lining. It was never meant to be bought or used; it was an aesthetic choice. What kind of sporting goods section did not have a rifle somewhere in view? Marcus closed the case, leaving the firearm behind.
Helen watched twin smoke clouds billowing from opposite ends of the island and wondered to which she should go. Reason told her to go back inside, to hide with the others. She was thinking lucidly and knew exactly what the prudent choices were right now, but instinct was pulling her. There was something creeping below the surface. She thought she had been heading towards the center of something; she was not sure what that something was, but knew there was a story there. Now she knew Mike, Al, and Pat had not been taking her to the center but to a point of tangency.
Gratitude washed over her. For all the annoyance they caused, her companions from Open Acres brought her closer than she could have gotten on her own. Now, though, she needed to break away before their path carried her away from the story she sought. The smoke rose in her peripheral vision, stilling Helen’s thoughts. The black clouds were not calling her to their source, they pointed to the center.
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It was a short trip. They left Shack Island, as Helen had named it, a little after dawn. Their shadows were still long and narrow when they set foot on their destination. It had only been an hour, maybe two, but they were a world away. Helen looked left and right at her awestruck companions. A horrified admiration laid plain on their faces. Helen set her countenance hard, determined.
They had driven through the haphazard sprawl of pacific California and Hawaii, walked beneath the towers of New St. Louis, and watched a wilderness in between. When she added Open Acres and her childhood in the sprawl, Helen was sure she had seen the full spectrum of existence. Now she found this fully built, unoccupied city. It was not that the place was finished and empty, that was common in Nesson. It was the houses themselves and their surroundings. So much wood and metal, rock and brick. It was generally considered that recycled and raw materials were identical, but it was clear now that people only believed this because they had never seen homes built from raw material. Only the wealthy bothered to use non-recycled materials in any capacity. These were usually accent pieces, not full construction.
This place was unattainable. It was nonexistent on a map, so there was no way to get here. There was no telling how much the houses cost to build, let alone for how much Links was selling them. Yet here they were. She guessed she owed Mike some credit, and maybe she owed Earl her thanks. Earl, for all his rough edges, was a good guy. Helen felt her stomach turn when she thought about how they had lied to him and used him. Even if he was working to build something they wanted to destroy, he was one of the most welcoming people she had ever met. That was not saying much, but his generosity was important to her nonetheless. Open Acres, despite its name, offered none of this graciousness, if that word could apply to a man like Earl.
There was no motive in Earl’s charm; he barely acknowledged that Helen was a woman; he was just naturally accommodating. In contrast, Mike had become increasingly friendly the past few days, but not in a way Helen enjoyed. It was one thing if they had made some connection from the start, but until recently, he had shown nothing but distaste for everyone. A distaste he still seemed to have for Patrick and Al. It was not that Mike was unattractive; he had a prickly quality that usually interested her. In fact, he reminded Helen of a boy she dated in college, Hunter. Hunter was always half unshaven and three quarters clean and dressed. He liked to speak about ecology and communal living. If she thought about it, he was probably why she was here. Whatever resemblance Mike had to Hunter though, Mike’s demeanor was naturally repulsive. His artificial kindness was almost as hard to take.
Memories of a past relationship mixed with the realities of the people who currently surrounded her. An icy regret was rolling in her stomach. In an attempt to turn from her guilt and frustration, Helen focused on the city before her. It had a sort of polite charm, warm hominess beneath its affluence. Of course, no one had ever lived on this island, except for a shopkeeper in the central store. Earl said he knew the guy and figured he must be going out of his mind living alone.
“Then again,” he said, “Mark never did care much for people.” Earl asked if they had everything they needed and headed for the center of the island, leaving them at the dock.
The good feelings this place evoked had to be a manufactured, right? Helen could not help liking the island. The whole settlement was walkable. On foot, they could travel the whole island in a day. The houses were close; whoever lived here would have neighbors and the appearance of community. It had potential to be a real town. The place was hard to hate. It actually encompassed many of the principles of ecological living. So why was she still angry, why did she still feel it needed to go?
Over the course of the trip, Helen had developed some doubts. Her heart had not turned, but her mind felt like it was swimming. She was grasping at the source of her beliefs. What was wrong with a place like this or one like New St. Louis? Sure, the land bridge was harmful, shameful; it enabled an unsustainable lifestyle. Did that mean they could not keep the good? Maybe this island was where the bridge would connect and whence Links would plan further development, but did they have to destroy something beautiful? What was her responsibility as a journalist? She could not help but be involved, but how far should she go? Would it be ok to try to talk them out of their plan? Would it be right not to?
“Dibs on that one!” Pat called.
“On what?” Mike asked.
“On that house. That’s where I’m squatting.”
“What about me?” Al asked, pretending he was not already invited to join Pat. The house was three stories and looked like a page ripped out of Modern Housing and Right Angles Quarterly.
“No one is calling dibs,” Mike said, “We’ll pick one house for all of us.”
“But no one else is here and there’s all these new houses. Why shouldn’t we have our own?”
“What do you mean, have your own? We’re not on vacation here, I don’t even like the idea of breaking into any of them. We’re certainly not breaking into three houses. We should probably sleep outside.”
“Who’s breaking? Look.” Al ran up to the front door of a home that looked to be fifty percent raw wood and fifty percent glass. He pushed the door open with one finger and looked back to Mike.
“Come on Mike, why would they lock these places when there is no way to get here?” Al said, still hesitating between the threshold of the door and returning to the street.
“We’re here,” Helen said, “maybe they should have locked them.” Al’s eyes widened and Helen smirked.
“Alright, ok. But still just one house.” Mike put a hand over his eyes and began scanning the distance.
“Aww.” Said Pat, “Can we still stay in that one?”
“What? You want the first one you see?” Mike asked.
“So now we’re being selective? I thought you wanted to sleep outside.” Al said.
“Yeah, well, if we are going to break in…”
“But we’re not breaking in!” Pat corrected.
“Ok, if we are going to sneak into a house that is not ours, shouldn’t we pick a nice one? What? Why are you all looking at me like that?”
“So…” Helen interjected, “Who has the food? I don’t want to go house hunting on an empty stomach.” The guys all looked at each other and shrugged.
“I took that can of ham from that last island,” Al said. At the time, this had been a great source of humor to them all. If the concept was not bad enough, the packaging was worse. The picture of the food on the cover was not even close to appetizing.
“I found some dried noodles,” Pat said, “but I ate those on the boat.” Helen looked at Mike.
“Don’t look at me.” Mike said.
“Great. So we go to that store Earl was talking about?” and so they did. It was easy enough to find the way. The island had been designed so that the store was at the absolute center. It mattered little where they wandered, the store was always visible, being three stories taller than the houses and always a straight shot via one of the boulevards.
“So much for our low profile,” Mike muttered.
“It’s just one guy managing a store Mike, what’s the big deal?” Al said.
“Justinian! The villagers are demanding grain and more housing.”
“Forget them! I need a new wing on this castle.” Two young men stood on a hillside overlooking a village surrounding a modest, relatively modest anyway, castle. Both concealed their healing acne with two months’ worth of overgrown hair. The houses below were arrayed in an organic serpentine pattern with meandering roads running between. They were huts made of mud, stone, and whatever debris was adjacent at the time of construction. On top of them were thatched roofs of surprisingly clean and yellow hay. Some had tendrils of smoke flying from earthen chimneys. The two boys wore leather vests and tight pants. They each sported embroidered, gilded crests on their chests and swords on their hips about as tall as themselves. Though they had shaggy hair, each was oddly well gelled for a medieval lord.
“But Justinian, they’ll riot.”
“Wait… what? Did you just make a bleep sound? How did you do that?”
“Oh,” Justin flushed, “my mom put a language filter on our holoroom.”
“Lame,” Art said, checking the direction of his waving hair then resting his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“No kidding, it BLOOP BLOOP.”
“Arthur! Look out!” Justin cried. At the base of the hill opposite their town came marching a band of warriors led by Rob and Becky. “It’s Robert and Rebecca on a raid.”
“BLOOP them!” Art said, “They agreed to a truce. Remember when I gave Becky the answer to that question in class the other day? Now they want to attack my city!”
“Your city? You mean our town.”
“Yeah, that’s what I meant.”
<Justin, time to get out. I’m expecting a call.>
Justin could see Rob and Becky giggling in the distance, why did his mom always have to use the public channel? He tilted his head about thirty degrees. “Mom, ok, just a second,” he turned to Art, “So embarrassing.”
“Aw, it’s alright, most parents don’t have a clue about how to use holorooms.”
“Why can’t I just have my own, like you guys?” he was pointing to Art, Rob, and Becky with a sweeping motion. Before Art could offer any commiseration, an arrow flew between their heads.
“BLOOP!” Justin said.
“BLOOPBLOOP,” Art said, “hah hah, BLOOP BLOOP BLOOP.” Laughing and cursing they ducked from the arrows while Art fumbled for his bugle. Rolling down the hill towards the town he let forth a mighty blast. As they stumbled towards the village, fleeing the arrows of Rob and Becky, Justin began to look agitated.
“Say, what’s taking so long?”
“Told you, you should have built that granary.” Art said. A moment later saw a band of AI villagers emerging from the town, still tightening their armor and adjusting their swords.
“AI, finally,” Justin muttered. “YOU, MEN, CHARGE!” and charge they did. Rob, Becky, Art, and Justin approached each other on the sidelines of the ensuing battle. Over the clang of men’s swords could be heard the juvenile japes.
“Dude, we’re totally taking your town.”
“Nuh uh, we’re kicking your BLOOP out of here.”
“Wait, what was that? Justinian, do you have a language filter on?”
Justin was about to agree with his friends’ assessment of his mother’s lameness when the world turned sold green and his mother’s hand was on his shoulder. “Come on mom!”
“I told you, I’m expecting a call from your sister.”
“What? From Allison? You didn’t say that, you just said ‘a call.’”
“And that should have been enough.”
“Ok, you’re right. When is she calling? I want to see her.”
“Mmm. Not this time.”
“What? But we haven’t seen her in months, not even virtually.”
“And maybe there is a reason for that. If she asks for you I’ll get you.”
“Fine. I’m going out then.”
“Sure, not past the front gate though.”
She had always treated him like a kid, but since Allison left, she went into overdrive. It was like being twelve again. “What? I was going to take the car.”
“You will do no such thing. Where do you think you’re going to go anyway?”
“Does it matter?” Justin knew that there was really nowhere to go. It would take fifteen minutes to get to the next house, maybe an hour to see something interesting. “Whatever, there’s nothing to do anyway.”
“Oh come on, I’m going to be on one call. You’ll get the holoroom back in less than an hour I’m sure. Just be glad you have one, when I was your age…” a synthesized musical chime sounded on the house intercom, eliminating the need for Justin to interrupt his mother’s story of her youth. “Oh, I bet that’s her.” She patted Justin’s head and closed the holoroom door behind her.
Justin Fahr walked upstairs to his room and closed the door. He waved his pass-pattern at the wall. His arm floated here and there as if fencing while the look on his face was bored. Where there was a wall covered in science fiction and fantasy themes, there was now a wide screen, full depth display. A medieval village, surprisingly still intact, was before him. He had a three quarter view from a tall hill. It was enough to see his town but not his rivals’. It looked like Becky and Rob failed in their attack, despite his interruption.
“Enter legacy mode,” he said. The village disappeared and the display flattened. Video streamed across the wall and Justin flipped his fingers to change “channels.” It was a rising trend for teenagers to mimic, as best they could, their great-grandparents’ television habits. They ran scripts to create channels from hundreds of programs streaming simultaneously. Justin and countless others wanted to recapture a spontaneity from the past. They sought an element of randomness, a lack of control. Technology allowed people to mold their lives into whatever shape they wanted. Traffic and distance penned them so that nothing outside their designed lives could penetrate. Justin’s generation was discovering chance as something desirable. The aleatoric din created by rapid changes in music, voices, and sound effects drove most parents insane. They were unaccustomed to it, found it distracting. Parents were continually yelling at their children to shut the door and keep the racket down.
Justin found that channel surfing allowed a sort of trance state. One both watched and did not watch. It was watching for the sake of watching or “meta-watching.” The term started as a joke, but it became standard usage. Full attention to one program could not be granted for the thought of what else might be on that could be missed. Attention to the outside world diminished such that it might as well be another channel. People became absorbed in the art of watching itself, an expression of pure sensory utilization. Justin and his friends just called it ‘channel surfing.’ American youth could not understand how streaming supplanted this kind of experience.
No one could really change channels like people did in the days of Television sets. There was no more broadcast, no more use of radio waves to disseminate the same shows to all. Entertainment had shifted from enjoying whatever happened to be on, something with mass appeal, to choosing something. Usually that something was highly idiosyncratic. Here inlay the problem with recreating channel surfing. The channels had to be composed of programs designed for streamers, programs that would appeal to a niche market. Hundreds of channels could be made of these programs, but there may only be one or two worth watching from any individual perspective. The general feeling was that you might as well stream, if that was the case.
VJs had recently emerged, looking to create a true channel surfing experience. They create channels based less on subject and more on spirit. Some of these VJs even started creating original programming; viewership for these shows was exclusively under 30 years old. A universal favorite was VJ Analog’s Retro Broadcast Network (RBN). Analog’s Network could only be streamed live, no on demand viewing. Even recording was locked, not that channel surfers would record anything. Only the most flippant would joke about it.
Allison used to watch RBN with Justin. They could chuckle along with a laugh track on old sitcoms. They would nod their heads to new dramas satirizing Holodrama, the stuff of his parent’s generation. He was used to her commentary, as if it was part of the television experience. Now the news was on and he was alone with no one to gossip.
<.. ening sanctions if efforts to claim islands developed by Links Corp are not ceased immediately. China’s Foreign Minister claims no foul play.>
“As if anyone wants piles of trash in the ocean,” Justin said to no one. Who cared who owned remote islands with nothing but road, tracks, and a few scattered residents housed on them? China still has large living cities. If anything, the US should be after those.
Justin imagined living in a city: walking out of his door to find other people on the way to work, to school, to restaurants, doing these things in person with other persons. He imagined being able to walk to his friends’ homes, the way kids did in the old shows. He even got a little thrill thinking about the dangers of crime and staying off certain streets, fearing people instead of cars. Physical crime was as much of a relic as the city. Some of his classmates claimed to have family in the cities that they even visit sometimes. These stories were exaggerations at best. Perhaps they had been to a large suburb, denser than average but no New York City. New York, once considered a sort of world capital was rarely mentioned anymore. One heard of the vast spread of L.A., but what people were doing in Manhattan? You may as well ask what people did out on those trash islands. Justin promised himself that he would see for himself someday. There had to be places left where people bumped into each other on the street, strangers surrounded you, and your neighbors might show up at your door unexpected. A mode of life could not just disappear completely could it?
The pseudo window on his wall showed it was not yet dark, the sun had set but a faint glow fell from the clouds onto the grass, turning the lawn purple. It was not actually his yard; he did not think it was anyway. It was somewhere in the neighborhood though. Of course, he had not actually gone outside in a few days. Justin could not be sure that it was really dusk out there, maybe it was noon. He trusted the view that his video wall gave him and the clocks on every screen. The screens told him what time of day it was and when it was time rise, eat, and sleep. It was 7:36 pm, too early for bed, but Justin grew tired watching a 1990s sitcom about nothing in particular. His head nodded twice and his eyes slid shut. That night he dreamed that The City welcomed him into its void and he would never be heard from again.
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The water was hot and unusually calm. Did he take a wrong turn? The current was supposed to continue this direction for a full day’s swim, but here he was tiring from flipping. Something was ahead, something big. Actually it was two things, an average size humpback and an oversized something he could not make out. It would be a few moments before he could set eyes on it, but he called out to the whale. Continue reading