To The Left Of The Corner Store
A story about a changing city
This story ties into the same world as “Under The Array”, “Above The Crest” and my longer novella I’m working on “The Wilds”.
Heads up, this story contains depictions of violence.
This is somewhat of an interactive story best viewed on a desktop. There will be music and background sounds dotted through if you want to add or subtract immersion in the story. Hope you enjoy it.
Rosie, Unit 445-43344, Everglade Towers
I have a daily routine that matches the daily routine of Everglade’s CTO, Mary Stader. “If you want to be like the best, act like the best” is the quote that floats at the top of my daily inspirational quote board. I wake up at four in the morning, never checking into work first thing, but making sure to meditate for at least twenty minutes.
Meditation helps with stress, and I want to be as productive as possible for the workday! After meditation, I start my morning skin routine to maintain my youthful skin. My favorite product right now is the Dew™ Liquid Foundation With Argan Oil and the Bright & Fresh™ Ultra Moisturizer by BioSyn. That’s one big upside to living in Everglade Towers! I get everything from BioSyn delivered for free, right to my door!
It’s an unlimited subscription for as long as I live at Everglade Towers so I never have to worry about my subscription ending, and I can keep my skin nice and fresh. After that, I eat my breakfast, delivered at the same time every morning to make sure I’m ready to start the day. I choose a vegan breakfast to help the planet, and because meat is extra credits to order and I tend to save it up for more important things. After breakfast, I do a routine of stretches in the mirror along with Julie, who is the absolute best fitness instructor. Julie runs most of the electronics in the apartment, I just ask her for help when I’m in bed and don’t want to turn the light off myself. On top of being super tech-savvy, she’s an amazing workout coach, chef, and motivational speaker. Ugh, I don’t know what I would do without her!
After my daily stretches, I pay my $OXYGN token before I start work. The oxygen really gives me a performance boost at work, it’s the entire reason I skip eating meat, to make sure I can afford to get a boost in both the morning and evening. I try to stay away from coffee and other stimulants because they tend to dry your skin out, so I stick to oxygen to give me the zip I need to start my day. Next is getting a handle on my work day, another perk of living in Everglade Towers is that I get to work from home. After the extra oxygen kicks in I plug in my Brain Computer Interface cord and get started checking my messages and responding to customers.
My job is amazing, I have some of the best coworkers I could ask for, my clients are always nice, and I never have to commute. I just plug in my BCI and once the company sees I reached my customer engagement quota for the day it ejects and I can go back to hanging out with Julie and watching my favorite shows. I like to talk about my newest favorite show “The Precinct Patriot” with my coworker DeAndra whenever there is a new episode. It’s about a grizzled Everglade Security Force detective who lost his wife to terrorists and spends his time hunting the scum who killed her. It stars Adrian Zedan, who is my absolute favorite actor. So much so that I made him the background of my phone. Tonight’s episode was really good, like incredible, I have to talk to DeAndra about it.
“Julie can you call up DeAndra real quick? I really need to talk to her about this episode. WOW!”. Julie sprang into action and her projection appeared right next to my bed. She was in nighttime mode and wearing the pajamas I bought on the assistant market.
“For sure girl! Also, remember that BioSyn is releasing a new formula of Dew™ Liquid Foundation With Argan Oil tomorrow at six am, would you like me to reserve your spot in the queue?” Julie held her hand and a little image of the foundation floated over her palms after the polygons filled in, pixel by pixel.
“YES, ah thank you so much Julie, you always remember what I need.”
DeAndra’s voice rang out through the apartment speakers.
“Can you fucking believe that his partner knew about who killed his wife and didn’t say anything! These writers are so good.” Her voice emanated through the apartment though not really because the sound was directly connected to my brain, so I could hear her as if she was talking to me face to face.
“Oh my god, I was sitting there with my jaw to the floor. Ya know I think the Zubov brothers wrote this one.” I said while flipping through a catalog of digital clothing for Julie.
“Well they better write season 5, or else I’m dropping it. Actually, I would still watch it, I’m way too invested now. Ugh. So good…” There was an uncomfortable silence after that. It was like she was going to say something and stopped herself.
“I’ve been thinking about a couple things that I might not want to say with Julie-”
“Oh she can’t listen to our conversations, only to what I’m saying. Right, Julie?”
She nodded with a reassuring nod, smiled, and pantomimed zipping her lips.
“I know that’s what everglade says, but this is a private thing… You wanna meet up in the nature foyer?” DeAndra sounded slightly flustered like she was trying to figure out that the nature foyer was the correct term to use.
“The nature foyer? I’ll have to skip my morning oxygen and use my tokens on that, but OK!” Shit. I hate not having my oxygen but at least I would get some in the nature preserve. Real oxygen. Might be worth the cost actually.
“Great! Make sure and leave your phone at home. Just to be sure… See you tomorrow. Meet up after eject?” DeAndra’s voice sounded shaky, in an anxiety ridden way.
“Yeah, see you then girl.” and the call ended.
Hopefully I could make it there before eject time, maybe finish up some of my client meetings early or get a jump start on the day with some extra oxygen - wait I won’t have enough credits after paying for the nature foyer. Whatever. I’ll just get some extra sleep.
I spent the rest of the night in a state of unease, looking out my apartment window onto the glowing city. I’ve never left Everglade towers. Well, down below I mean. No reason to leave when I can visit any Everglade property whenever I want to. Plus there was no reason to go down to street level. Everglade Towers Police Department says crime has risen 75% at the street level. It’s a shame how those people choose to live, without jobs, on the ground street. I could never do that, I worked hard enough to get here. Plus down at the street level they don’t have Dew™ Liquid Foundation, Bright & Fresh™ Ultra Moisturizer, Vegan tofu stir-fry, or even oxygen boosts. Who the fuck would want to live like that? With the criminals and rats. They really should try harder in life. Then maybe they would have a view like I do.
The next day I woke up early with my favorite music combined with Julie reading out my daily calendar. “If you want to be like the best, act like the best” still floated over my inspiration board. My morning routine went off without a hitch, skincare routine completed and it was time for breakfast. Something tasted off with the oats today, maybe the kitchen staff messed something up. It wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t have the same taste for some reason.
The sound of Julie going through my morning stretch routine faded in the background. I couldn’t stop thinking about why DeAndra would want me to leave my phone at home. What was going on that she needed to talk to me face to face in the nature pavilion?
Either way, I had to get started working after meditation. Which was uneventful because DeAndra was on my mind the entire time.
I plugged in my BCI and got to work.
Eject came early since I finished up a client meeting faster than expected. Julie was able to handle that extra meeting with Clay’s virtual assistant too, which is nice to have when you have a ton on your plate.
“Thanks for taking over that meeting with Clay, that really helped me out, you have no clue.” I said while taking a big stretch and massaging the BCI port on my neck.
“No problem at all Rosie, happy to help! Clay sends his regards about getting him and Omni & Robertson shipping all sorted in their latest Q4 shipment queries. He wanted to extend his gratitude.” Julie said while also doing stretches and punching the air. Did she need to stretch? She was virtual right? So why was she doing stretches?
“…Another satisfied customer! Wow that is awesome, the guys at O&R are really something else.” I reached down to check the time. “Well I should be getting ready, DeAndra should be getting ejected soo-”
“Be sure and take your phone so your steps get tracked! They lower your healthcare costs!” Julie cut me off mid-sentence.
“Thanks for the reminder Julie, but DeAndra said to leave my phone here. Said it was something private so I wanna be sure I listen to what she wants.” Julie seemed to be slightly flustered and almost looked around the room but her corneas just swiftly jumped and returned back to making eye contact.
“It’s against company policy to leave without your phone! ETPD escorts are mandatory and you will need your phone to access the green suite.” Julie seemed pretty adamant I take my phone with me.
“DeAndra asked, and I don’t want to break her trust. Plus I’ll have a police officer with me. They're on every floor, I doubt one of the street rats could make it to the four-hundreth floor anyways.” I said while turning to check my face, the moisturizer was really working. My skin was absolutely glowing in the mirror, or was it the faint glow of Julie coming up behind me?
“How will you get into the green suite, it requires payment on-site, you will need your-” I cut her off and held out my wrist.
“Remember, I paid for the biometric upgrade. I don’t need a phone anymore! The implant takes care of all my access tokens and wallets so it’s not a big deal.” I turned and tapped my wrist to the door lock. Julie just stood behind me watching and saying nothing.
The door unlocked with the proper authentication tokens and would only unlock after I had been ejected at the end of the workday. One time I kept having nightmares and actually woke up while in the BCI. I unplugged and tried to open the door but nothing worked. Just kept getting a red screen on the door. It all felt like a dream. Maybe it was? Whatever, I have shit to do. My biometrics connected to the door lock and a small sequence of text flashed. Then the door screen turned green and a loud thunk came from the core of the door.
I was greeted by an ETPD officer in the latest uniform gear. They had the same uniforms as the cast of The Precinct Patriot, in fact I think their uniforms were first worn on the show, just to give a sneak peak of the changes. This officer was pretty tall, they all tended to be, and was wearing a slightly scuffed comms helmet. They protected the identity of the officers after one of the street people tried to frame the police for killing his wife. Yeah right. The street people kill other people’s wives all the time. Must have killed her out of self-defense.
The comms helmet also spoke out loud in an encrypted voice and a decrypted voice. He started talking in a jumble of strange, muffled words and sounds. It sounded slightly staticy and extremely deep. Another office came from around the corner and started talking the same deep gibberish, then they switched over to unencrypted mode.
“Rosie, I’ll be your escort to the green suite.” The officer’s voice was modulated and slightly scrambled, though they all sort of sounded the same. Another tactic to keep them safe.
“Ah yes thank god! Wait, is the green suite the same as the nature foyer?” I always knew it as the nature foyer but different people called it different things.
“Affirmative. They are the same. Please state the person you are meeting with, if they are an executive and if you or anyone you know has worked for Omni & Robertson shipping in the past 6 months.” The office held out a flat sheet of glass with a pen.
“DeAndra, 445-43365. And no, I don’t have any outside contacts.” I signed my name onto the glass, which disappeared immediately.
The door across from mine made a thunk and DeAndra walked out into the hallway with us.
“Hey girl! You ready to get some fresh air!?” She was slightly sweaty, like she had just got done with a workout.
We made our way about 20 floors up and reached the top of the tower, to the green suite lobby. There were green plants everywhere, and the smell of soil floated in the thick, humid air. This was a special place because most plant life had been killed off outside, especially some of the rare ornamental plants that BioSyn had saved at the last minute.
They called it the green suite because at the topmost, restricted levels was where the C-Suite executives lived and worked. In a towering jungle above a rainforest. The geodesic dome ceiling loomed high in the sky, almost impossible to see from the artificial clouds that floated above. They were real, but I had never really seen clouds outside of the building before so I assume they were artificial. The lobby was a wide and open expanse surrounded by concrete and plants pointing out from gardens inset into holes cut into the ground. A thick glass partition separated us from the green suite, though if you paid a discounted rate you could look through the glass and appreciate nature.
But we were going in, so we were escorted up to an almost invisible slit in the glass pane. I held out my arm as the glass signaled to tap my access card and credits wallet to the reader. Since I had upgraded biometrics mine were combined and I didn’t have to swipe two things for access. Another perk of purchasing the Everglade Gold Loyalty Pack was that I got access to top-of-the-line implants. I had the option of exchanging my various tokens for an entry token into the green suite. $OXYGN, $WATER, $SECUR, $WASTE, $CONSU,$NETWK,$FOODS were all up for exchange. I was gonna exchange my oxygen token for this morning but I actually ended up using it for the extra mental boost. Water was not just to drink but also to flush my toilet and shower, and that would ruin my skin routine. Security was something I could skip, there were police on every floor so I doubt anyone would break in. Waste can wait since I don’t use very much trash and it’s just a small surcharge for more trash. Wait, does that include sewer treatment as well? Consumables are an absolute need. Network tokens too, since Julie needed access to the internet. Food…I could go a couple of days without food honestly. It wasn’t that big of a deal, I could move those tokens around. Ugh I don’t know!
DeAndra butted in and traded her oxygen token for my entry fee.
“This is kind of important. I know it’s hard to make a decision but we’ll be here all day until you decide.” She said with a faint annoyance and walked in.
We were hit with a rushing wall of oxygen, fresh air, and the smell of plants and soil. I stood there in awe as the air flowed into my nostrils and I felt my eyes widen. My body was frozen at the sight and feeling of full oxygen entering my body, my eyes started to water because it felt so good.
“Shit…That’s good…been a long time since I came here…” DeAndra also was having the same reaction as our guard pressed his hands to the glass and closed the hidden gate behind us.
“This is amazing. I feel amazing. I can’t imagine working here.” I was actually amazed, it was like the first time I got to smell the dirty air outside of the towers. I was in a shock, in a state of awe.
“Imagine living here.” DeAndra pointed to one of the executive suites that overlooked the enclosed rainforest in front of us, with a pool that waterfalled down into a pond fifty feet below. “Let’s find a place a little more secluded.”
Everywhere I looked was something I had never seen before. Animals that glowed in the darkness of forest shadows. Insects that seemed too big for their bodies, like they had been either shrunken or grown in a magnifying glass. There was food all around us, real avocados hung from trees. I never had a real avocado but I loved avocado-flavored food. We kept walking deeper into the rainforest, past people who dressed like us only nicer, they never made eye contact or even looked at us. All of a sudden I felt something tap my shoe followed by a beeping noise.
A robotic butler thing was carrying glasses of champagne and a little spilled on the top of it when it ran into my shoe. I moved out of the way, it beeped three times and a smiley face appeared on the front panel.
“Thank you for moving out of the way Everglade towers gold member, two oxygen credits have been debited into your account courtesy of Boti International.” The robot called out from small speakers on the back of it and it drove down to a couple sitting next to the waterfall, wearing expensive clothing and adorned with jewelry that had a bioluminescent glow to them. Platinum level members got access to the latest designer fashions. They were made from real fabrics instead of printed like most people’s clothes. They had access to more tokens, more of everything. They could go anywhere and do anything. I know that if I hit next quarter’s quotas I might get upgraded.
“Rosie, over here is good.” DeAndra snapped me out of staring at the couple, which at this point one of them was staring back at me while sipping the robot-supplied champagne. There was a small half circle carved into the side of rocks and hidden in a corner.
Once we sat down there was a rumble in the foliage around us as the leaves started to curl in like a door. I saw someone walk by in a police uniform, only this one was more of a muted brown unlike the dark blue the other police officers wore. The officer got halfway through the closing foliage and then started fading, bit by bit, like a fractal geometric shape, and then disappeared. I looked down to see footprints making indentions in the mud before the leaves fully closed like a heavy door. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Did the police have special uniforms to blend in? Was that even possible? Maybe it was the oxygen. I felt my chest getting heavy and my biometric heart rate monitor started to glow red under the skin of my left wrist.
“You alright Rosie? You look like you're about to throw up.” DeAndra put her hand on my back.
“Yeah it must be the oxygen, I’m not used to this much air… I’ll be good. So what’s up?” I said I was good but for some reason seeing someone disappear really shook me.
“Do you have your phone on you?” DeAndra asked and held hers out, it was smashed to pieces.
“No, I left it at home like you asked me to.”
“Good, good. Look there is something I need to show you. I really don’t know who else I could tell. You’re my best friend and I trust you so please, don’t tell the police, or management what I’m about to show you.” She took out a mobile BCI unit, something that only simulation technicians had access to. “I got ejected the other day, halfway through the day after I clicked on something while working. Usually nothing happens but I got a message from someone right after that. They said they lived on the street level, they sent me pictures of the tower and pointed at the floor we are on.”
“Someone from the ground? They don’t even have electricity let alone communications.” I scoffed at the idea.
“No they sure as hell do, they sent me a file. I opened it. I really wish I hadn’t. You need to see this. I’m telling you that this is important that someone else knows about this.” DeAndra was almost to the point of crying and was clutching my hands as hard as possible.
“Please Rosie, you have to understand who Clay is. Who your clients are. What happens at Omni & Robertson. I need you to see this.” DeAndra inserted a card into the mobile BCI unit.
“I ejected already I really don’t feel like working right now.”
“This is far from work, far from anything we deal with. I’m plugging you in.”
“Wait, I thought this was going to be a video from the chip, not a full BCI immersion.”
“You need to feel it.” DeAndra locked the BCI cord in and my body went limp.
Feel free to play the backgroud sounds to add more immersion. Open it in a new tab so you can control the volume or pause it easily.
The simulation was dirty, the way the wrapper was coded was obviously done by someone who didn’t have experience with simulation software. Things felt jumpy once the BCI went in, and there was a noticeable static that covered my vision. Then it finally hit full force. I was on a boat, a ship really. Standing in the bridge with other officers. A member of the security forces, the helmet was the same that the Everglade Towers police wore. I could tell by the breathing, the encrypted speaking nearby.
An alarm rang out followed by a rush of movement from the rest of the security forces to the controls of the ship.
“Captain, unidentified vessel spotted nearby. About 50 or so tangos judging by infrared.” One of the masked men called out in a muffled and jumbled voice.
“Have they hailed us on comms channels?” A man in a dark suit was looking out at the sea ahead, not turning to anyone and just talking directly into the void.
“No sir, no radio communications. EMF readings show electronics are present but are lacking power.” Another person called out.
“Weapons?” The man in the dark suit checked his wrist and seemed to be polishing his ring with his breath.
“No sir, they seem to be civilians. Last check-in has them coming from the coast of Miami. Possibly refugees.”
“Miami eh? What’s the boat material?” There was a pause from the officers at the control board.
“Sir…I’m not sure why that matters, their civilians.”
“What-is the boat made out of corporal?” The man in the suit said tersely.
“Sir, it appears to be printed. Recycled sea trash. One second, looking for model files. Got it, an open design. Printed at sea. Density sensors detected voids in the hull that must still be wet.”
“Pirates print at sea. These people aren’t fucking civilians. Drop an intercept fleet and go closer.” The man walked to another control station and plugged a wire into his temples that made his eyes glow with a faint yellow.
“Sir, they’re civilians, unarmed. We confirmed it, we can let them go.” The captain slammed his fist into the control panel.
“Drop the fucking intercept drones.”
The corporal stood still for a moment, then pressed a glass panel to his side. Twelve interception drones activated on the hull of the ship and shot out above the sea. They all roared in a symphony of motors and flew into a formation at the front of the boat. Then they swooped high into the air in a synchronized pattern and then dove down to the boat. The boat was full of civilians, mostly climate refugees leaving Miami, and a couple of oil rig engineers who had been stranded by their companies after the last storm cut off their communication.
The footage from the drones was being fed back to the bridge, but only controlled by the captain. The corporal reached down to try and guide one of the drones away from the civilian ship, but nothing happened. A cryptographic key was required to gain control permissions, which he lacked. So he could only watch.
The drones flooded around the boat, surrounding it in an instant. The loud motors startled every child on board, and cries were piercing the sounds of the motors, then they went into silent mode and the ocean went quiet. Save the wailing of children, the only sound that came was the footsteps of a person, long hair on one side, shaved on the other as they stepped up to the nose of the boat.
“We are civilians, looking to pass safely. We lost engine power and floated too close to your ship.” The person screamed out to the drone that was floating just feet away from them.
“You have entered the restricted territory of the Omni & Robertson corporation’s Utani freighter. State your name and country of origin.” This rang out in sync from all the drones at once.”
“Aline Sousa, Miam-I mean Brazil… Originally.”
There was a silence between them and suddenly the drones circled in to scan the rest of the passengers of the boat.
“You are aware your ship was printed by pirates. Who printed this ship?” The captain’s voice rang out even louder as the drones started scanning the faces of everyone on board.
“No fucking clue, we were drifting in a lifeboat, some people came by and gave us a better one. What does that matter? They were helping refugees, not stealing shit.” They looked around stunned that the sheer fact that being in a 3D printed boat could get them in trouble just because of the person who made it.
“The boat design was stolen. It remains the intellectual property of Omni & Robertson shipping, and printing stolen schematics is a breach of copyright law.”
“Copyright law?! We are just trying to get back home, the last storm took away our homes, why the fuck would I care about copyri-”
“Under international law, Omni & Robertson is permitted to confiscate stolen data at our discretion. This vessel will be confiscated immediately. If you do not comply our orders will be met with force.”
“What force? We have nothing. What is wrong with you people?!” The refugees on the ship screamed directly at the lead drone.
“I will give you all three opportunities to abandon this ship and comply with my orders.” As the captain said this a drone latched onto one of the passengers of the ship with a metallic, hawk-like grip and pulled them into the sea.
Other drones started throwing people off board while they swatted at them with any weapon or object they could find. Didn’t matter how old they were. An old lady hunched over a walker, a ten-year-old kid trying to knock the drone claws off their shirt, a middle-aged man trying to shield his family from the drones. All thrown into the ocean. There was a wave of screaming on the ship combined with the whir of drone motors and the splash of people being thrown into the ocean.
“Comply with our lawful orders and disembark this ship. Under international law, Omni & Robertson is permitted to confiscate stolen data at our discretion.” The drones relayed the messages at different distances, some muffled from being attached to people. Then suddenly there was an explosion on the starboard side.
A drone had detonated a payload of ball bearings, common in maritime warfare. This wasn’t warfare though, these were refugees. The ball bearings ripped through the recycled plastic hull of the ship and into some of the passengers. Their blood mixing with the rush of the sea collapsing the hull of the ship and flooding the area below deck where people were rushing to get out.
“Comply with our lawful orders.” Rang from drone to drone while some detonated into the boat hull, others attached to people with their claws and detonated.
“You people are monsters! You’re killing children, what the hell wrong with you!?” Aline called out to grab the lead drone and the feed went dark after detonating.
The security force troops were stunned. There was a silence after the explosion and the video feed cut. You could only hear the faint whir of breathing from the sealed helmet masks. A sound broke out which was from the officers' point of view I was seeing the simulation through; throwing up in his helmet from the horror of watching people be blown apart and drown in the ocean. These simulations are all-encompassing, and I could feel the rush of adrenaline and fear rushing through his veins. It was a natural human reaction to throw up, or freak out in these situations. I saw it once on an episode The Precinct Patriot where the main character finds his wife dead. I had never seen something like that in real life, and the thought didn’t make me sick. Though I did feel sick from feeling the guy in the simulation.
Suddenly there rang out a sound over the officer choking in his helmet.
“Congratulations Captain Clay O’Connor, of the Utani freighter. You have removed stolen data from the market and will be rewarded for your efforts.” A voice that sounded like a game show host called out over the ship speakers and a holographic floating image appeared over the main control panel.
It was a spinning roulette wheel with the words ‘Intelectual Property Reclamation Bounty Contest’. Standing next to the words on one side was a cartoon police officer and on the other side was a tactical soldier, both smiling and holding up a square that just said ‘confidential data’ on it.
Then the wheel landed on three symbols of a tree.
“You have been rewarded a complimentary suite at Everglade Towers unit 445. Thank you for your dedication to the company and to our clients. Our platinum tier client Everglade wants to personally thank you for eliminating data breaches and privacy leaks of Omni & Robertson intellectual property and the rights and intellectual property of all subsidiary and partner companies.”
“Been a while since I’ve been on land. Finally can sit back and relax. Great work team, wasn’t expecting to do data reclamation. Has to be the easiest one of the quarter. At least we didn’t have to chase them down like the last one.”
The simulation cut off and went through the eject sequence.
You can end the background video.
I ejected straight into a panic, the blood rushing back to my eyes made the green jungle surrounding us look like it was drenched in blood. The blood of innocent people that had ball bearings ripped through them, or choking on sea water while the ship sank. I couldn’t breathe, I was suffocating. I finally was able to catch my breath.
“Oh my god DeAndra, that was amazing. It was like The Precinct Patriot but hyped up, wow I felt like I was there. And for this to be the first episode!? That was amazing!” I said while still half choking and the adrenaline of seeing that simulation.
“What the fuck do you mean. That was real. Clay, your client, is real. Everything you saw happened. Do you understand?” DeAndra was looking back at me like I had been the one killing people.
“No! That can’t be right! I have like, daily meetings with Clay, I never once heard that he was a captain of a ship or did any of that….stuff.”
“You never spoke to him, you spoke to his V-Assistant, you always spoke to his version of Julie, or you had Julie handle the meetings with his V-Assistant. The people from the street said this is what Everglade does. This is who our clients are.” DeAndra was frantically trying to convey the message to me.
“The street people are criminals! They are just jealous that they can’t get a good job and a nice place to live. Why would you ever believe them?!”
“They showed me. A picture. They said it was me when I was a kid. It looked like me. But I don’t remember it. They sent me a voice message and said he said he was my dad. The man from the street.” She was talking in short bursts, trying not to cry between letting out the words.
“I don’t remember it. Do you remember your parents? Do you remember before you worked here?” DeAndra was looking back at me, hunched over and crying.
I had vague memories of the time when I wasn’t here, and out on the street. It was hot, like too hot. There were fires all the time and my parents would move from town to town, city to city. Then we came here. I remembered being on the street level and living in a little shipping container. My dad got a job here and we were happy. Then he lost it, and I never saw him again. Everglade said he left me to do drugs. Then they offered me a job. But I never really remembered my parent’s faces, whenever I thought about them they looked like their features were blurred out.
“Yeah, I remember him, left me here to go do drugs. I said I would work hard and get a good job and never end up like him.” This was obviously a partial lie.
“Do you remember his face?” DeAndra said between her cupped hands, now sobbing uncontrollably.
“Of course I do! Why are we walking about the ravings of drug addicts on the street level? This is crazy DeAndra, what has gotten into you?!” I said while shaking her out of the near fetal position she was in.
“I needed to tell you, something bad might happen to me. I needed to show you what happened so you knew. Please. Don’t tell anyone I told you this. Please. You have to keep this memory and tell other people. Just don’t say I told you. Please.” DeAndra got up and ran out of the jungle room we were sitting in, pushing the leaves out of the way.
I just sat there stunned that she would actually believe some street drug addict hackers would ever give her real information. Was she on drugs herself? Do I have a responsibility to report her to HR? I don’t know what to think. Staring at the geodesic dome top of the tower, now fully visible through the clearing clouds. I wondered what it was like to be outside of this. Hot. Miserable. Something suddenly caught my eye on one of the executive terraces.
DeAndra had just left but I saw her up on an executive terrace. It was her for sure, every detail of her was there. How could she make it up there so fast and how did she have access to executive suites? She was wearing a diamond tier ELECTON spring-summer collection dress. With the included digital camouflage dazzle token active which gave her clothes a glitchy look to them. DeAndra wasn’t a diamond level executive, she was just crying and running away close to a mental breakdown with her makeup running. And now she’s there on an executive terrace, wearing an impossible-to-find dress, looking absolutely stunning.
Someone stepped from behind her and embraced her from behind. It was Clay.
I jumped up and started yelling out to DeAndra “DeAndra! You never told me you were diamond tier! DeAndra! Down here, you know, where we just met. Hey! DeAndra!” While I was jumping and shouting there were people taking a pause of drinking their champagne to stare at me, some were talking and looking back and laughing in a giggle of pitty.
I didn’t care. I couldn't believe she was diamond tier, and if she let me use her cryptographic key I could get special digital clothes for Julie only diamond tier employees get.
“DeAndra, let me swipe your wallet! Or at least you can give me a loot crate from your diamond membership. DeAndra!” I heard movement and saw the leaves around me start to shift. I looked away from the terrace and saw footprints making an imprint on the dirt below. But no one was standing there, there were just footprints appearing out of nowhere. Then I felt someone plug something into my BCI and I went black.
I don’t remember much from when I last met with DeAndra, just typical work stuff and catching up with our opinions of shows. I remember feeling tired but that could have been from the oxygen. Today I started my morning routine off with a running start. I honestly felt amazing, like there was an extra boost of energy. Must have been from the oxygen boost from the nature foyer. Can’t wait to save up enough credits to go back.
Julie started to read from my board of inspirational quotes when she stopped. She never stopped.
“Oh Rosie, did you notice your cryptographic wallet was charged an overdraft fee for insufficient funds this morning?” Julie seemed confused at this news and was going over the transaction logs on the ledger.
“Overdraft? What do you mean I have all my savings there in my account.”
“Well….here it is, you were charged a fine as well as a bad review on your employee profile.” Julie was even more confused at this revelation.
“What the fuck, a fine for WHAT?!”
“Disorderly conduct in a premium space. No clue what that really means.”
“And the bad review? What does it say?!”
“It’s a one-star review.” Tears started to come from my eyes. One star?!
“This lady was screaming at the top of her lungs while me and my wife were trying to enjoy a quiet day in the jungle. Really ruined my date. They should only let people with good reviews or a mental health membership in here. ” Julie shook her head and looked at me.
“I never screamed! DeAndra and I just sat and chatted about normal stuff, I didn’t get a decibel warning from my biometrics or had my heart rate rise the entire time” I was furious. This had to be a lie.
“ETPD says you have to pay the rest of your fine or risk an HR review.” Julie said somberly.
“NO, THIS IS BULLSHIT.” I slammed my phone on the table which made Julie jump in place.
The news was playing in the background, but muted and my eyes caught the screen while watching a broken piece of glass fly from my phone as something flashed on the screen.
Everglade Towers Infiltrated By Criminals?
This had to be what happened, they must have fined me on accident instead of the criminals that must have gotten into the tower. I frantically turned up the volume.
A breaking story coming from Everglade security intelligence saying that Everglade Towers unit 445 may have suffered from a cyberattack last week. Everglade cybersecurity incident response teams found the cyberattack was caused by rebels on the street levels attempting to steal customer data. This comes after concerted efforts to inject flase claims about Everglade and other corporate clients such as BioSyn and Omni & Robertson shipping. We interviewd Everglade Police Department Chief David Reynolds, about these unfortunate events. "That is a great question, at the moment we are stil investigating where the data leak happened. Our team is working around the clock to find the culprits and bring them to justice. We ask all residents to please ignore any inflamitory information about Everglade or our corporate sponsors and to report any suspicious activity." "And remember that it's our duty to protect Everglade, and the employees that pay our salaries!"
It was Martin Ruiz, the star actor that plays the main character in The Precinct Patriot! He was wearing the latest dazzle skin that ETPD rolled out after showing it on the fashion runway. His chiseled jaw, pale skin contrasted with the blue of the police uniform. I would think about him at night sometimes, knocking on my door to serve a warrant. He would kick it down and walk up to me and say “Rosie, your nothing like my wife. I love you. And would do anything for you and for my country.” And we would kiss and make love and I would grab his utility belt that was hanging low from him unzipping his pants and pull him up to me. Sometimes I would take his gun and shoot the criminal peeping through my window. The sick pervert. And he would blow the smoke from the barrel and embrace me in a kiss again.
A code flashed on the screen for a limited slot in a lottery to win the latest dazzle skin. It was an amazing deal because you got a physical copy, a digital one to wear when in simulations and one for your virtual assistant. I fumbled with my now cracked phone and scanned the code.
Sorry! :( You are pending an HR investigation and your cryptographic wallet has been flagged for suspicious purchases. Please contact your administrator for further assistance.
“FUCK!” I slammed the phone back down again.
“You know what Julie I need to make some extra credits. I’m going in early.” I ran over to the BCI cord and jammed it in.
It was an interesting thing to be working in a simulation, this was controlled by Everglade and it felt like I was in the most focused state ever. I could defy reality with how fast I could manipulate information because the data feed was directly into my neural system, I never had to type, I just had to think about things to make them happen. You only ever did manual stuff like typing or god forbid using a controller or even worse, a mouse. Only in debugging if things crashed on you.
I got back to my client calls, meetings, and talking with Julie on some of the projects I had started working on. I handed around 700 corporate clients. All of them were subsidiaries of course, but I did speak directly to Omni & Robertson Shipping which was one of my biggest clients.
After looking at the client folder I got a strange sensation at seeing Clay’s name on the roster of client contacts. Normally I don’t feel very much when I’m working, which is nice because I can focus completely on my work. But something felt really off all of a sudden but I pressed on.
Simulations can do things to your sense of time, which helped to make sure I was getting as much done as possible during the day. Time seemed to slow down though it was hard to gauge time because being in a simulation means fully being in it. It’s just a feeling that things outside of your body are moving slower. It also feels good to know I don’t have to check out of work, I just keep going until I eject. Which makes things so much easier! Just another perk of working for one of the top-rated companies.
I was killing it today! It must have been the boost of being pissed off about being fined that is just making me rip through these reports. Alright, it’s time for the biggest and longest client, Omni & Robertson Shipping.
As I opened the client up there was another window that launched just to the side of the file visualizer. The window looked like it was glitching in and out, like when I get dust in the BCI cord jack and the connection starts to wobble.
The screen grew and showed a scene from a boat.
Had I seen this before? Why was this playing during work? I never see videos after completing HR training. This didn’t seem like an HR video.
It kept playing at a volume that would make you go deaf if you were listening outside of a simulation. There were explosions and the sounds of people screaming.
Did I open up the wrong file? What the hell was this video?
The video moved over to someone on the boat. She looked exactly like me. Every detail including my clothes. I froze in place and I couldn’t move. My thoughts weren’t closing the window and I reached for the keyboard and controller to try and exit. The screaming kept happening. The video lunged towards this person that looked exactly like me while she screamed and there was a sound of an explosion.
With a whir of colors and pain I was ejected from the simulation but still heard the scream ring out in my ears. It was too early for an eject! I can’t even control my eject, only the company could. Was I imagining this?! Was this real?!
The screaming kept happening while I sat in the sim chair trying to open my eyes and get used to a rough eject. It felt like my entire body was on fire from the BCI cord not being safely removed. Why did I get ejected?!
The screaming kept happening, it was really happening though, it was muffled from the door. Julie was nowhere to be found more than likely because she was still in simulation mode. I started looking around frantically for where it was coming from. The hallway.
Normally all apartment doors are locked during the day to protect people from break-ins while they are working in a sim and indisposed. But my front door was unlocked and I opened it to two police officers standing over someone in the hallway who was screaming on the floor.
The familiar somewhat scrambled sound of the police officer speaking rang out just under the sound of the person screaming. “Stop resisting. You have been found guilty of copyright infringement and trafficking illegal information.” The police officer hit the criminal with his baton in the face followed by a symphony of crying and screaming.
“Oh thank god you boys are here, I heard her screaming and screaming and going crazy. She must have been breaking into apartments.” I had never seen the police do their justice in real life! It was just like The Precinct Patriot but real!
“Please, stop, I didn’t ask for it to happen, it just did. Please…” The woman pleaded on the ground and one of the police officers stopped hitting her and climbed onto her, trying to pin her arms to the ground.
She was able to land a punch so hard that it ejected the police officer’s helmet face right off. Instinctively he covered his face to conceal his identity.
“Shit, where did she learn to punch like that. These ones are strong.”
I laughed when he said it because without his mask and the voice changer he sounded just like Martin Ruiz, with his deep scratchy, and mysterious voice. He sounded so sexy, like it was a line from one of my favorite episodes when Martin turns to a criminal and says “You might be strong, but I’m stronger”.
A smile came to my face thinking of it when the girl on the ground jumped up and knocked the other officer’s helmet clean off. He turned around and showed his face.
It was the exact face of Martin Ruiz. It was him! He really did fight crime! The other officer who first got punched in the face showed his too. And it was the same.
Two carbon copies of Martin Ruiz were standing there stunned that this woman had landed such hard punches. She started to try and run away and turned. It was DeAndra. My face contorted from amusement to confusion and in that split second a baton swung and hit her on the top of her skull.
Blood flew from her scalp as she fell to the floor and the blood flung onto my half-smiling mouth. DeAndra’s blood slowly dripping between my teeth. I stayed frozen.
The first police officer looked down with the dripping baton and then back at me.
I was frozen. This wasn’t happening. Police killed criminals. Why would they kill DeAndra. She was my friend. She never did anything wrong. She never did the things they said, we met up that day. No. She was my friend, not a criminal.
The thoughts raced into my head, while I guess I lost control of my body because I just started screaming. The sound was the exact same as the video that came from the exact same woman on that boat before the explosion.
“Oh shit, you damaged a 13-class unit. Your gonna get a fine if they find her. She’s one of the new ones.”
I stood there just screaming straight ahead, frozen stiff, my eyes just locked 50 yards ahead.
“Fuck. My wife needs the oxygen, she's pregnant.” The first police officer looked down at DeAndra and the puddle of blood pooling around her head.
“I’m sorry. They can’t take my credits away. My wife needs the oxygen.” The officer moved forward and hit me across the face with the baton.
“Please, you’re not supposed to do this! I’m not a criminal! Please, don’t hurt me!” The officer kept hitting me, over and over again. Each hit flashed an image from the boat, of the girl that looked like me. Of Aline Sousa at the head of the boat, of me meeting with DeAndra in the nature foyer. Of the screams of people falling into the ocean and the invisible footsteps in the dirt. Then blackness.
“Damn, they keep making them more and more indestructible.” One of the police officers said while kicking Rosie’s limp body.
“We need to get rid of her, can’t take her to the engineering floor. It’s obvious what happened thanks to your dumbass.” The other officer replied in the exact same tone and voice. The two of them talking was like watching someone talk into a mirror.
“MY dumbass?! I had to shut her up, she would have told HR about us losing our helmets.” The first officer started to pick up Rosie’s body and motioned over to a trash chute.
The other officer sighed and helped move the body to the chute, crammed it into the small opening, and pressed the compact button.
A Highway of Living Things
I never knew how to introduce myself to people, or talk about myself and not have the other person misunderstand who I was. I was tired of doing the feminine performance, and the masculine one seemed pretty… boring. What did it mean to be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’? I wasn’t sure at this point. Did it matter? With everything happening you never really wanted to think about these things. At least now we try not to get so hung up about it and just lived our lives. It was hard to just live. But life has always been hard.
Life is hard, hot, miserable, and at times disgusting. But things are changing. There are more days where I feel actually happy about what we’re doing. Days where the heat doesn’t get to me as much when I’m walking on the rooftops. Days where after a good bit of work and my back hurts, I have a sense of accomplishment. There are plenty of people who think the world has ended, that things are just getting worse. You can tell who’s made it out from the street and walked up to the rooftops by how they think about the world. You can tell the people who feel the sun hit their skin and the ones that still stand in the shadows of the buildings downtown.
You can tell who is different, and who was working their way ‘on the path of the sun’. A term one of my partners came up with. Sounds kinda culty but xe is a real enigma, one of those far-out types. There wasn’t a real path per se - but a feeling. A feeling of shining a light on how we were all raised to think. Shining a light on how we expressed ourselves, how we projected ourselves into the world. There were people learning to embrace themselves fully, leave their conceptions of how they were supposed to be, who they were supposed to love, and how they were supposed to live down at the pavement.
There was a lot we left behind that wasn’t doing us any good, and we saw out of the cracks in the pavement, a new way to grow. That’s how I felt at least. Like a lily or a dandelion that popped out from a pothole. That’s kinda how we all felt now, people coming from the pavement, looking for something new.
Today was especially hot, and miserable, but every day felt that way. Dakaasin always walks around talking about the past when he’s moving pots off the solar ovens. “Eh you know my ancestors said this place used to get real cold. I mean real cold. The lake used to freeze over. You could walk on it, even drive a car on it. Used to get real cold.”
It was funny because his name was ‘cool wind’ in the language his ancestors spoke and yet he worked at the community kitchen, cooking food in literally the hottest spot in the area. Surrounded by solar ovens he would just bounce around and talk about how cold things used to be. It was nice to hear the stories that were passed down through him over generations. Stories that his grandmother would tell him while riding the mag-lev trains. Stories that her grandmother told her when on long road trips. So much history had been lost, but people like Dakaasin kept the history alive.
“Another scorcher Dak’, which way does the wind blow today?” I called out while he moved a pot to a cold stone that sizzled once the metal touched the surface
Dakaasin was wearing more makeup today, hair let down instead of tied up, longer earrings that dangled and reflected the sunlight from the ovens.
“Today the wind blows to the flowing waters. Felling very flowy in this hot wind!” Dakaasin whipped their hair around and twirled to let a hand-sewn dress move like their long hair into the hot air.
One day she was flowing and dancing between the solar ovens, and another day he would be hauling sacks of flour from the kitchen. Other days he would blend the two sides, and some days I couldn’t tell. That’s why I loved Dakaasin. Each day was different with them, but I liked the change, I liked all the parts of Dakaasin. But no matter what there was always that cool breeze you would feel in their presence.
“What cha got going on today Casey? Keeping busy with the cassava harvest?”
“You know it, kinda getting tired bending over all day. But later on, I got a council meeting talking about the new ‘dobe printer project.” I clapped the caked-on dirt from my hands to help move some supplies while Dakaasin started screwing together another solar oven.
“The adobe printers aren’t up and running yet? I thought the engineering and housing councils got that shit all squared away!” A loud thud came from a metal screw being fully tightened against the frame.
“Nah, we had a vote at the last general council but we didn’t get consensus on moving ahead. Had to make a few changes to the adobe printer design. Recyclers said they could make a metal replacement, and it’s fuckin’ awesome. Strong, won’t melt.” I slapped the underside of one of the ovens that was made from some of the early prototypes of the recycled plastic beams.
“Well, their early versions worked pretty well. Kinda smells like bad pond water sometimes but I guess that’s what you get fishing plastic from ponds!” Dakaasin sniffed one of the plastic beams and shrugged to signal it wasn’t that bad.
“Great place to test out heat resistance is a thing that reflects sunlight all day so that’s perfect!” I gave Dakaasin a thumbs up and they raised their eyebrows since they were carrying a giant pot of stew.
“Alright I’ll see you at the energy council meeting next week then, should really get this all taken care of” and I took off. I always stop by here, usually to sneak a snack in but also just to hang out with Dakaasin and see their infectious smile or hear some old stories.
I walked up a flight of stairs to the ‘skyway’ which is what the engineering council started calling the huge network of interconnected bridges made from live trees that connected the buildings. This is still a new phenomenon, this took years of dedication to get all of them connected this far out from where most people lived. It was a nice escape from the heat of the sun and concrete because the living bridge would make its own shade. The coppiced branches made twisted patterns along the walkway as vine plants grew into the intricate network of living lattices. It was refreshing to take a stroll here, pass by people and have conversations in the shade. The network would branch off to different buildings where people had community rooftop gardens, though it was harder and harder as each year passed to keep things growing up here people still found a way.
Every rooftop garden, every bridge from one building to another is a reminder of how it came to be. Every spot here under the tranquility is marked with the scars of what got us here. The scars and pain of the shit we went through to get all of this going. It used to be desolate, mostly destroyed. Every time I see one of these bridges another image floats just on top, slightly transparent of what it used to look like.
All the people who lived in apartments in these now empty shells of buildings, now with green vines overhanging the scar marks of bullets and mortar rounds. This area had been completely destroyed when the military came through and burnt or bombed everything for blocks. I came up to one of the larger buildings that the skyway cut directly into the side of, where a missile had torn through the building, making a gaping hole but leaving the tall skyscraper standing. There was a memorial to all the people who lived here, this had been at the beginning, the first general assembly hall.
We had been through so much, and it wore us down in some ways. But in others it built us up, to see such a different place. For some people to finally actually start living even though they may have been middle-aged before they could even start. I walked on a beautiful green bridge with its roots in the ash from the fires of the past.
The community was split by multiple geographic areas, mostly for protection because there still was police and militia presence in the area though we had mostly quelled the tensions from back then. For now at least.
Each smaller community was made up of different councils comprised of different actions, roles, identities, they all were different but all intersected like a Venn diagram. The education council intersected with the farming and cooking councils, the farming council intersected with the energy council, you get the drift. You were never forced to be in a council, but you usually just fell into one, you could also move and join others at your will. That way people didn’t get bored doing one thing, or if they loved something they could really hone their craft. There were things like trash, sewage, animal and human manure composting, worm bin keeping, and litter cleaning that everyone had to do on a rotational basis. There were roles for everyone and at first things were hard for anyone with a disability from the start. Over the years though we kept working on things, people kept changing. We started to see there were things anyone could contribute and started moving placements to be more equitable for all people to take part in things.
At the start things were very….by the books? I don’t know how to explain it but it felt like being in the military again. With commanders and stuff like that. Most of those people from those times are still here, though we completely changed how we do things. Sometimes they want to go back, but that requires consensus to do something big like that.
I looked out over one of the courtyards where clothes hung from clothing lines that dodged big pockets of passion fruit vines. There was a kid flying a tether drone on the other roof just floating above some of the cove panels. They were slightly larger and heavier than the old silicon cell solar panels but these cove solar panels were made out of a lightweight mixture of air and concrete combined with zinc-antimony, silver, and copper. All materials that the recycling council worked on harvesting from the mountains of ancient computer parts we stumbled on. The kid lost control of the tether drone in the hot wind and it went flying into one of the panels with an audible crack.
“Jason! What did I tell you about flying that damn thing near the panels, get your ass down from there!” rang out the familiar call of an angry mom.
“Sorry! It was a bird that dropped a rock, I swear it wasn’t me!”
I just laughed and kept walking.
Most people lived in the renovated row houses and the remaining homes that lined the streets. Every street was closed to any form of a car but there was a continuous tram system that the community had put in with cobbled together parts that got you around pretty quick. There were private cars you could summon, cargo cars, or just hopped on one of the larger ones, really whatever was available. Any new development were systems of interconnected super adobe homes that sometimes were partially underground. We copied the idea from termites and how they make underground chamber cities connected with tunnels with ventilation and so we did the same. The earth helped to regulate temperatures. Outside would normally be close to 120F-135F on a nice summer day, but inside the dome network, it would stay an extremely cool 70F.
It was nice to go from a shaded (but hot) skyway into the cool shade of the domes, where you would start seeing more people, the sounds and smells of food cooking all around you as you passed through the street. I took my time getting to the council meeting, not because I don’t like going to them, they honestly are like a party. But I like to stroll and take my time, talk to people here and there. Watch someone play music off their stoop, or just watch someone harvest peppers off their greywater gardens.
“Yo Casey! How’s the plastic holding up at the solar ovens?” Wynn called out from the main meeting space that branched off from the side of the main corridor. Her voice echoed on the adobe walls.
“Hey Wynn!! Ah ya know, a little stinky but no melting so that’s good.” I waved to the rest of the engineers in the circle that was standing near her.
“Whew, you ain’t got no clue about how worried we were about that stuff melting. Glad to hear it, kinda was getting burnt out on R&D. You ready to get started?” Wynn took out her tablet and started typing with one hand in an almost automatic, robotic rhythm.
“Hey folks, looks like all of the delegates are here for the circles that will be on the agenda today if we want to get started. Trystan is going to be the meeting facilitator this week which is awesome, and Kaylee will be organizing notes and creating new agenda topics for the next session and the general council.” Mrs. Dee called out to the delegates, we don’t really know her real name and just call her Mrs. Dee. Kind of a grandmother figure to all of us, she was one of the original delegates of our community.
Trystan went more into the middle of the circle, their hands were visibly shaking with anxiety. “Hey everyone, it’s my first time as a facilitator…but…I’m happy to be here and I hope we can really get some important stuff done today!” It was so cute to see them nervous. Trystan wasn’t the type to get nervous, always exuding confidence, it was refreshing to see xem a little rocky and unsure.
We started to turn on some music for the background and passed around drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, tobacco and other herbs were starting to get lit and everyone got their mobile systems connected to the network and confirmed their circles were ready. There was always a feeling of lightness when we all came together, these used to be serious and somber events, but now they are relaxed. We were here only to talk to each other as equals and convey the messages of the workers in circles we were voted to represent.
“Alright everyone, make sure you’re connected to the network and all your circles have checked in, I’ll put up the status indication in the middle here, one second…”
A large holographic readout appeared in the middle of the circle of delegates and it spun around as more people connected to the network. The holographic sphere started as a fragmented red circle and gradually changed colors to green as more circles checked in until finally the circle disappeared and the list of items on the agenda appeared.
“First up is an important one titled ‘Moving adobe construction to semi automated robots made from recycled plastics’. The last time we ran through the prototype stages and the community came to a consensus about letting the recycling circles and councils do their thing until a final vote. Any updates from the recycling council?”
Trystan looked over and raised their glass to cheers.
“Right on Trys’ - cheers. Right, so no major updates, we have been engineering a new reinforced plastic to replace all metal construction and manufacturing thanks to the chemistry, construction, and manufacturing councils. Tests proved well and I think we are ready to move ahead.” The delegate from the recycling council typed out messages to the people in his circle while images of confetti and fireworks showed up in the central hologram, all showing the individual sentiments of the people in his circle.
“Is everyone in consensus to pass this?” Trystan looked around to make sure all the delegates were talking to their circles.
In the middle were all the votes of the people who worked in the circles involved in the vote. Thousands of little dots were fluttering and combining until a near-unanimous yes started to appear. But not all were in the ‘yes’ category.
“Looks like we don’t have consensus. Most were objecting because they wanted to see how a specific concern was addressed, I’ll move it to the middle so we can address it.”
Hey you hippie dipshits. Why are we caring about metal use anyways, the recycling council is just trying to push an agenda. There is nothing wrong with using metals. I object. -32 backvotes
“Guess that’s the cost of democracy, gotta listen to some stupid shit.” I said out loud but other people weren’t as amused.
“I woulnd’t call it stupid, I mean I disagree with the…wording. But it’s a valid concern. Plus your job as a delegate is to put up with bullshit and let your circle speak.” The construction delegate seemed really unamused today.
“Just 'cause I’m a delegate doesn't mean I’m not entitled to an opinion. I’m still part of this community just like everyone else.” That all slipped out, I should have kept my mouth shut.
“And people have different opinions than you. Do you wish you lived with people who only agreed with you 100% of the time?!” The construction delegate leaned in towards me and I did the same.
“Ya know, sometimes I do.” We both laughed it off. People piss me off, I piss other people off. It is what it is, that’s life with humans.
“Haha Alright you two, chill. I agree that it’s valid! We care about metal use because we have to use it sparingly. We can’t mine ore, nor would the community agree to that. We can’t smelt. So there are no new metal manufacturing capabilities. The scraps we do find that is large, go into public works. Most of it is small and we find a good place. What we do have are mountains of plastics. Either from the natural environment or from the corpo-zone trash dumps. So we are making due with what we got. Not trying to push an agenda. Just working with the cards we were dealt.” The recycling delegate was also an expert card counter and gambler. So their metaphors about cards never seemed out of place if you had ever lost a game to them. Which I had lost many.
Fine, that answers my concerns. Just don't want to be doing stuff because of someones bullshit ideology. But I'm good. I consent. -0 back votes
“Just to reiterate, we as delegates and elected people are only here to serve the people. Though we all might have different opinions personally, we are here to represent the people in our circle, not personal ideologies.” Trystan wanted to put that comment to bed. Sometimes these votes can get a little tense, and as a facilitator, it was their job to keep meetings and votes running smoothly.
We voted on some more measures and passed all of them. They were all measures brought up by the community.
Revamping the community protection educational program to expand technological defenses against cyberattacks.
Plans to build more housing for refugees using the adobe printers.
Upgrades to personal rainwater collection and changes in natural rainwater capturing.
And finally the last proposal for the session.
“Ok now on to the big one. This is to vote for another humanitarian mission into militia-controlled territory specifically for the sick, disabled, or injured.” Trystan toasted to me, the delegate for the medical council.
“Thanks Trystan! No updates on our end, the medical council had doubled our care capacity and will likely be able to treat three times more patients thanks to the mobile domes coming out of the fabricators. Combat medics such as myself along with social workers, implant technicians, and signal jamming engineers will make our way close to Everglade Towers unit 445. Vidyao private security will be in that area along with ETPD and whatever remains of the national guard. We don’t expect to have any problems.” I hoped there would be no problems. It was always an issue dealing with the Vidyao militias.
“Alright, let’s put it to a vote!” Trystan pointed at the floating hologram.
Full consensus. No words from anyone. We were set to go. With that being said the session was over, and everyone broke out into conversation, excited to work together on the newly ratified projects.
Trystan walked over basically covered in sweat. “Wow you did really well! You never even had a delegate position before. That random sortition really worked this time.”
“I was so nervous I was about to puke!” Xe wiped the copious amount of sweat off and flicked it to the side.
“Nah don’t worry about it, you did great. I leave tomorrow, you and Becka want to come over for a….sleepover?” I gave Trystan a wink and Xe winked back with a cheeky raise of the eyebrows.
It had been so long since I left the community and went back into the corporate controlled areas. I never liked going there since pretty much all of us called it home at one point. But I needed to go back. I had to.
“Ya see, you gotta look for the ones that aren’t crushed, the seals on them get all fucked and leak all over the place and spoil” A muffled voice called out in the distance. I felt like I was wrapped in a warm, dark blanket. With the sounds of footsteps crunching around me.
“See, that one right there. Wait a minute. Pull that thing up next to your foot junior.” A small hand pierced the warm and comforting blanket, grabbed my arm, and yanked me into the burning air.
“Haha look ‘ma! It’s one of the new ones! Ewww this one is all messed up and ugly.” the voice rang out was one of a teenager, but this person was about half as tall as a normal teenager would be. They spoke almost like a toddler, in a bouncing little way contrasting against the pubescent cracking voice. Their face was dirty, wearing rags along with the older person there who was wearing similar clothes and just as dirty.
“Please….help me. Please, they hurt me in the tower. I need to see a doctor.” I could barely get the words out without blood rushing into my mouth, making me half gag and spit blood onto the piles of trash that surrounded me.
“Hey lady we aren’t doctors, don’t even know where one is. I can get you cleaned up though. You can’t go walkin’ around like that.” The older one called out, though she was only slightly taller than the teenager.
“Got you pretty bad in the face, and your arm will need some work. There are people who can help you in the city. I-I-I can point ‘em out to you if you help us with some things.” The lady reached out and dumped a pile of half used cosmetics, food, and other broken tech out in front of me. Then picked up a small bottle.
“Do you know what this stuff is? Can we eat any of it?” She held out a half-eaten acai bowl and a vegan meat replacement tube.
“Yeah, you can eat it. It’s good. Don’t eat this. This isn’t food.” I just stared at the bottle of Dew™ Liquid Foundation, it was too taxing to try and even point at it. They seemed to catch on.
“Thank you. Sometimes we don’t know what this stuff is that falls out of that tower. Thank you for being nice to us.” The teenager walked over and poured dirty brown water over my face and wiped away the blood with a faded red bandana. I fell back into the warm blanket, which was the spent algae from the nature foyer that had been thrown down the trash chute. All I could see was the green and red from the bandana glowing a fantastic red color from blood. I couldn’t move. Would I ever be able to?
ARE YOU READY TO WIN!!?!? PUT IN YOUR CRYPTOGRAPHIC KEY AND ENTER TO WIN!
I gasped awake from the sudden scream of an advertisement blasting into my ear drums.
Play this in a new tab so you can change the sound levels and stop it easily.
WIN BIG NOW, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS ACQUIRE 20 HYPER TOKENS TO ENTER. 100,000,000 CREDIT JACKPOT....
The people must have dragged me into the city. I covered my ears to muffle out the loud sound of the advertisement blaring right above me. It was almost like it was pointed directly at my head, specially tuned to rattle my aching head. People just walked around my legs in a flowing crowd of legs and wheels, and animals. The red of the bandana helped to shield my eyes from the number of lights that were flashing around me, and the array of floating advertisements that blipped when people walked through them. I reached for my head and recoiled in pain with an audible shriek and a groan. I had to get to a doctor, get up from this dirty street and get some help.
A man walked up and helped me to my feet. “Woah there sis, I got something that can take the edge off.” While holding me up with my arm around his shoulders he showed a small pill in his hands. “200 creds is a good deal, you look like you need it.”
“No….I need to see a doctor. Please help me get to one.” I pushed the pill away from him with my hand, but with my lack of strength, it looked like I was reaching out to take the pill.
“Nothings free honey. Unless you got an… alternative form of payment.” He opened his hand back up to reveal another pill while also raising his eyebrows in a suggestive way.
“I don’t have anything. Please, I need help.” He immediately dropped me down.
“You need help? I need help, I gotta sell this shit quick. Fucking waste of time.” He pushed me down into a bench with a hard jolt. He walked off into the crowds of people shuffling by, and the cars intertwining with each other. One drove by and left a cloud of thick smoke that choked me when it mixed with the blood pooling in my mouth.
I had always seen gasoline cars in shows, with the carbon shooting from the back of them, and the smoke. I thought it was just the show over exaggerating things but it was real, cars did make smoke. A disgusting cloud of it that lingered like an omen over the people walking on the sidewalks. The air was thick with humidity, the smell of rotting trash, and the slight smell of something familiar. Smoke. Not from the cars but something different. It had been so long since I smelled forest fire smoke. I had sometimes seen the ashes outside when I was in the tower, but I ignored them. They said the street people would light trees on fire, on purpose, just to send a message. To who? I have no clue. To the people they blamed their miserable lives on? The people who worked hard to live in the towers, who actually worked instead of walking the street and gambling their lives away. Who was really to blame, what did their fires solve? The pain was getting worse - I wrenched and threw my head back, with a spec of ash falling on my forehead. I was floating in and out of consciousness on this bench, my head flinging wildly back when the pain got too unbearable.
I needed to send a message to a doctor, to just find someone who could help me but each person that passed completely ignored me. They walked on like I wasn’t even there. An acknowledgment is one thing, but to keep walking on like nothing - no one was there was something I had never experienced in the towers. It could be the blood that was scaring people. Which is even more of a reason for people to just point me to a doctor. I was able to get off the bench and start walking, well walking was a stretch, it was more like dragging my body through the crowd of people.
This city is packed to the brim with people, with ramshackle and rusted homes pieced together from garbage that stacked on top of each other and made long spires of leaning junk piles. In between these stacks of trash were immaculate buildings. They were operated by brands I recognized when I watched The Precinct Patriot, their jingles would chime in over the crowd and holographic advertisements danced from all angles. Sometimes the technician would slip up and a hologram would clip into the ground or the wall. That’s the story I wanted to tell myself to keep my mind off the searing pain. The sound of loud electronic music loomed ahead but was always muffled in the background as if there was a nightclub that spanned the entire city. I stopped at a corner to catch my breath and clean the blood from my face. No one paid attention to me or frankly cared, they walked past me in annoyance as I stood on a corner half bleeding to death. I looked up into the store I was standing outside of to see it packed to the brim with slot games, roulette machines, and every other game you could imagine. It was a mix of a casino and an arcade, packed with people who stared straight ahead at the screens. Others sat in BCI chairs, plugged in. With signs above them that flashed on and off.
Want a credit bonus? Plug in and play the best play to earn games we have to offer! Plug in, Tap in, and get playing again!
There was a time dilation when you were plugged in. When I started work in the morning the time would zip by, an entire day floating past in what felt like an hour. Julie would always adjust the light brightness in the apartment right after eject, because evening would roll by. Julie…Julie!
I frantically reached down into my pockets and rummaged for my phone. Julie would be able to help me, or call for help, to call a tower doctor or the ETPD. I felt the phone in my front pocket and immediately dropped it to the floor from the slippery mixture of blood, tears, and trash that was coating my hands.
“Shit. Please. Julie, are you there?!” The phone was cracked but the screen still worked.
Network connectivity disconnected: Your employee ID could not be verified. Please connect to the Everglade Towers Corporate network to use your device. Or contact your administrator.
I frantically tapped the screen to try and contact anyone, each prompt bringing up the same window. I closed them, opened a new app, same thing. Contacts, empty. Assistant, deactivated. The same error. A help button! I tapped it over and over again until tears started streaming down my face and landing on the screen.
“How am I supposed to contact my administrator if I can’t even use the fuckin thing.”
I slumped down against the wall bawling my eyes out. Then a beep.
Having Issues? Take your device to the nearest Uni-Com-Co store and use your cryptographic key to unlock the help features! These features are only available to Diamond tier members with no additional charge.
“AHHHHHH. WHAT THE HELL!?” I threw the phone into the street and watched a car run it over, smashing the bits of glass and metal across the street where the battery swelled and caught fire. All I could do was watch the small flames grow in the pile of trash as my vision cut in and out from the people walking past. Only a small child looked at me only because I screamed and threw something into the street. I could see the pure terror on his face from seeing a deranged woman in the street, bleeding and screaming on the floor covered in trash.
There was something else I saw. In the distance of an alley, obscured by floating signs, holograms, and the crowd of people - was the international symbol of a doctor. I started laughing out of my despair about the phone. It could be the lack of oxygen at the street that was making me even more delirious. I had more important things to worry about at the moment. I shuffled as fast as I could, pushing people out of the way at first, but as I walked against the flow of pedestrian traffic people started avoiding me on their own. The crowd opened up until I reached the doors of the hospital. They were automatic and swung open as I slid my hands against the glass and shuffled in. Two armed police were standing at the side of the entrance, speaking in their familiar encrypted language. These weren’t the ETPD, these were private police. I looked at them frantically and they both stopped talking and stared at me while I shuffled to the front desk.
“Welcome in! How can I he-”
“I need a doctor. What do you think I’m here for. Please, you have to help me.”
The front desk was staffed with a plain-looking woman, plain only because she was the default skin for the AI assistant, so I had no problem cutting her off mid-sentence.
“No worries. We appreciate you seeking medical attention. Please insert your biometric identifier or place your biometric identifier on the pad to your right.” The front desk AI motioned to a small white pad that was slightly raised over the absolutely uniform white desktop.
I placed the wrist of my working arm on the reader and was greeted with a gentle beep.
“Oh no! It looks like your employment has been terminated. If you want to seek care you will have to pay out of pocket.” A menu board floated over the reader where I had left my limp arm.
I stared at the floating menu and the ridiculous prices. Most of them cost my yerly salary if it was spread out for over a decade. “Please see what you can do.”
“Unfortunately your wallet has been flagged as stolen and cannot be used at this time. We cannot continue with care without payment. I would be happy to give you a 10x credit boost token that you can redeem at any gaming shop. They are great ways to earn income and are amazing partners with this facility!” There was another short beep that signified that the token was transferred into my biometrics.
I stared straight ahead at her, then to my arm that had been laying on the reader the entire time. Then to the blood that hit the pristine white floors.
“You mean to tell me that someone walks in here, basically about to die. And you won’t fucking help me because my company froze my wallet? What kind of ghouls are you, the shows were right, you street people are criminals, all of you. I hope this place burns to the ground, I should come back here with the real police and have you all arrested!” At this point, I was screaming. The AI assistant stood perfectly still and took a quick glance to the side of the exit.
“That’s enough, get out now or we will have to use force.” One of the private security cops called out.
“And what? Beat me even more? I’m leaving.” I said as I hobbled out back into the street. Exhausted from my injuries, the lack of oxygen, the time spent here wallowing in the filth of the street. I needed to sleep. The park bench the drug dealer pushed me into seemed comfortable until I forgot there was a bar on it to stop people from sleeping on it.
More tears welled into my eyes, though nothing came out because at this point I had lost any extra water in my body to spare. So I stood outside of the hospital staring out into the crowds of people passing by. Just like I had found the hospital, I saw across the street a group of people that looked like the trash people that helped me. They were mingling in the crowd of pedestrians and then ducking between a trash pile into a stairway with the sign “subway”, rusted into the metal banister.
Light in the Darkness
Start this video in the background in a new tab if you want more immersion :)
The subway system was the lifeblood of our city - well we don’t really live in a city. I guess you could call it a large village? Hard to pin down. Did it fucking matter what we called it? There was a giant schism between the corporate-controlled areas, the private kingdoms of the billionaires that controlled their own sections of it, the barren wastelands of trash, and our own little slice of home out in the outskirts. We really weren’t far from the central corp zone, we were still directly in the city enough to have access to the subway systems. There was a point when they walled off the corporate zones to “keep out illegals” even though most of the zones didn’t have a formal citizenship plan outside of who you were working for in the city.
This wall was both a defense and a curse. It kept us out of the city, to the point where we had to sneak in to do anything on account of the constant street surveillance. Nothing a little infrared light and some spare batteries cant handle to at least throw off the facial recognition. We also painted our faces when we made our way into the city center to help throw off automated detections. The wall kept us out. But it also contained the police and military along with the rich assholes who paid them. There were the scars on the outer wall areas to show where things had popped off years back when we first took over those two blocks. Two blocks that spread over time, that died and came back multiple times. But that’s the circle of life.
“Feels like we’ve been walking for hours. Been getting hot in the tunnels recently.” I took my jacket off to let my skin breathe in the moist air.
“Been tapping geothermal experiments in this portion of the tunnels, so far no electricity, only fuckin hot air.” Becka was working with some of the engineers on the experiments happening in the tunnels but she tended to just stare at them with a blank face. She couldn’t care less about the details of anything the people in the engineering, farming, or research circles were doing, all she wanted to do was get her hands on some of the new corpo tech and get the communications system working over the wall.
“Not like we need any more hot air back home. I thought they were going to use the tunnels for cooling?” I couldn’t take my eyes off Becka and that lead me to step into an unknown gooey puddle, of almost alien origin.
“Watch your step ‘ya weirdo! Yeah one of the dudes in the engineering circle said they were going to cover one of the tunnels with water, like a thin coating, and use a big fan or some shit to blow air through. Said that should drop the temps enough to get us some cool temps for the surface.” She said all that while almost stepping in a similar unknown puddle herself.
“Watch your own step! Look at you lecturing me about not being a weirdo while you’re being one yourself.” I gave her a punch on her arm and she punched me right back. Which actually kind of hurt.
“Yeah yeah, do as I say not as I do ‘er whatever.” She nudged her head to the right and we split down into another tunnel.
There were other people down here, mostly with us, though there were others who came down here because they wanted to cool off from the heat of the street level. We reach out to everyone we see, tell them what we got going on. Plants, homes, clean water, (very little) electricity compared to the city. But a ton of them just say no. We can’t force them to live with us if they don’t want to but that doesn’t stop us from bringing everything we can into the tunnels and giving stuff out to whoever needs it.
For the most part, people say no because they’re tied back to the city core. They have family working off their contracts in a warehouse, so they are just waiting it out to pick them up when they get released. Others have addictions, we have trained people and ways of helping but again you can’t force people to get well. We were there if they needed help but sometimes people don’t need or want help. They just want to be left alone. Which I respect. Sometimes after a general council vote, I want to crawl back into these tunnels and set up shop in a dark corner. Not because I don’t like the votes or anything, but just because I tend to hate being around people.
But it was being around these people that kept me going. That made sure I showed up at the votes and represented my circle. People like Becka, Trystan, and Dakaasin made me hate humanity a little less. Hate is a strong word, I don’t hate humanity. Just. Humanity can be difficult sometimes.
“Alright, you ready to see some cool shit?” Becka lifted a flap on her jacket to reveal a wearable computer array strapped to her arm. Like the old days before implants but this was a hybrid system, the wires directly plugging into her skin.
“I don’t really see anything right now. Kinda…boring if ya don’t say.” I was looking around and all that surrounded us was slime.
Becka pressed something on her arm and the entire tunnel lit up with a bioluminescent blue hue. The slime pulsated with light, little strands of it reaching out from the main body like plant roots.
“We can feed it electromagnetic waves and it starts a chemical reaction. Turn it on and off if we need to, but it’s all alive, it grows out, seeks more space, and just keeps moving. Pretty sweet huh?” She looked around and the blue light reflected off her eyes, which made her even more beautiful under the dim but bright light.
“It’s…amazing. Oh shit, were we stepping in this stuff earlier?! Oh my god, can it feel pain or anything!?” I lifted my boots to check for any glowing blue slime.
“No! That stuff back there is the new stuff, it’s from a completely different family. Somebody a little smarter than me can explain that shit. All I know is you don’t want to smell it.” Right when she said that was when my nose was hit with the most putrid smell.
I almost threw up but I had to hold it in because we were coming up to some of the engineering circle and I actually needed to talk.
Play this in a new tab so you can control the volume along with the last video for ambiance.
We turned into a new tunnel and ran into a large machine that was working away, almost tipping it over in the process.
“Here comes the trouble y’all! Don’t go breaking our lab, we had to drag all that down here you know!” One of the lab techs called out.
“Yeah, yeah whatever science boy. What are you gonna do? Hit me with a beaker?” We both laughed and shook hands.
“Been a while Casey, you going back up to the street? Or coming down here to check out what we got going on?” They had been a staple in the engineering, science, and biology council for years. Started the labs back home and kept opening up new labs in the subways.
“Yup, back to the street. Looking for injured people this time, got some medical people with me. Then gonna pop over to see our old friends at the police union towers to escort people out.” I picked up a small test tube of the black goo I stepped in earlier.
“What about you, what’s this crazy stuff you’ve been working on?”
“I didn’t work on it at all, just got the ingredients and the files from the outskirts. One of the solar farm boys sent over a new specimen. It can absorb radiation. Fast too. Used that to make the blue slime mold variant. Crazy to think a guy in a shipping container made this shit.” They held up a test tube with the blue slime and the black slime, sealed up because of its horrendous smell.
“How the hell did you get files from the solar farms down here?!”
“Thanks to the wonderful work of your partner in crime Becka, and the communications circles, with the long-range communications upgrades they were able to send the files back home. Then we just had a data runner strap a drive to his back and run it here.”
“Glad no one is doubting my skills! Hopefully soon we can get a node to the surface and have connections down here!” Becka was gleaming, almost crying at hearing the news that they were able to send data almost 200 miles away on the crazy system they had cobbled together.
“Hopefully we will be out of here soon, right? Gonna make the big push and we won’t need to have communications down here, we will need it for every new person back home.”
“Yeah the push is coming soon. We need to get more people out the police union tower and protected. Becka is still working on an exploit to override any security on the people we bring back. Then we can get more people back home and make the move.” I looked around for the signs pointing to the security quarantine.
“Speaking of which we should head out. Check out what the newcomers have to say, make sure they're good to come back home.” I tapped a beaker with an unknown liquid sloshing around and one of the lab techs looked at me with disdain. So I shot back a smile and started off towards the security quarantine.
It sounded pretty ominous, but really it was a staging point for people before they came back home. Usually, we brought in people from the police union tower, defectors, their families, and almost always their pets. It was rare to get people from Everglade, but plenty of people who did gig work for one of the many trillionaires who ran the gambling halls and grocery stores. No matter what, people came to us with either oxygen deficiency, some sort of treatable but neglected disease, or malnutrition. We made it a priority to help anyone who was disabled, didn’t matter what it was, if they couldn’t make a profit they were thrown to the street. To us, everyone had value, even if they couldn’t work in the community physically, or mentally, they still mattered and were treated like everyone else. This staging area was to get people situated, rested, fed, and get them medications or assistive devices. Anyone who was sick got to see a doctor immediately. Pretty much all of the area was a mixture of doctors, physical therapists, and nurses.
“Yo Casey, glad to see you down here, I got some news for ya” Daxx yelled from across the way as we crossed between medical bays.
“Police just drop all their stuff and walk away yet?!” Daxx shot his familiar smile for a split second and then got all stoic.
“Almost, Molly here is married to one of ‘em. Police union tower. Just came with her kids. Molly, please tell Casey everything you told me.” He motioned over to her and put his hand on her back to reassure her.
She looked emaciated, you could see her jawbones poking from her skin, the veins in her pale face. Her children were obviously stunted from the lack of nutrients and oxygen.
“Things are falling apart there. They stopped giving families food and only saved it for on-duty police officers. They kept saying it was because of inflation or some stupid shit. I don’t care if my husband tries to kill me for taking the kids. I couldn’t live another day watching my kids suffer.” She broke down in tears. She and her kids had gone through a lot.
“Back home you will be protected. At any cost. I promise it. I know this is a hard subject to talk about.” I rubbed my hand on her back while she sobbed.
“They lied to my husband. They keep plugging him in. It’s messing with his head. They are lying to him and he comes back to the dorms like everything happening is fine. It’s not. But…I can tell you there are more police and military ready to give up. They only will listen to their family. But they are stuck in that hell hole.” She punched her leg between sobs.
“Keep ‘em there on contract now. Say they can’t leave, or else they starve the families. Or worse from what I’m hearing.” Daxx called over a burly man. Ex-military by the beard and the tattoos.
“Y’all should do the push soon. Morale is low in the police, military, and private security forces. Got my boys back in the city, say they're ready to take over key positions. Y’all got it all back home from what Daxx was showing me. Free house, free food, free education. You don’t even get that in the military now, that’s why I said fuck it and came here.”
“Making the push right this second won’t be good. We still need to up our housing, both temporary and permanent. We still have a large population in the city who are on the verge of death. Once we get more people housed, fed, and back in shape, we should be ready.” I said in my most militaristic voice to hopefully make that calm the vet and “his boys back in the city” down.
“Well, the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen 5 police raids in the city, and a couple made their way down here too. Not too far from here. They keep sending military units where y’all live, things are escalating. You can’t sit back and let them take it.”
“It’s not my decision to make. Anyone that’s affected has a vote and a say in what happens. We have emergency provisions if there’s a full invasion but our jammers and EMP barriers are working pretty well. We have time. And we need it to make sure everyone is well taken care of, not shuffled from one desperate situation to another.” This time I laid off on the military cadence, it didn’t seem to work on him.
“We have time?! No the fuck we don’t. You go up to the street all the time. We’ve run out of time. The fires are getting worse, the crops are failing in the city. Shit is getting worse. We have to take these fuckers down. And quickly.”
“I know. We’re reaching the end of our rope here when it comes to the shit happening around us. It’s putting a strain on us all.” I said this while looking at a sea of people, who would be coming back home with us.
“I’ll try and make it happen.”
From the Darkness to the Light
The subway station was cooler than the street. The dark and damp air was a welcoming feeling compared to the torture of being back out there with the heat and the smog. I halfway fell down the stairs leading down from the thick amount of slimy trash that lined the ground and a putrid-smelling black slime that made it clump together. I made it down into the lower platforms after fumbling down more stairs and barriers of trash and other things. At one point something happened here, months or maybe years had passed, but there were the scars of a fight. Bloodstains, tear gas canisters still left half exploded. Barricades that seemed to stop people from coming down the stairs. Cracked open helmets that the police wore. But stripped of all the electronics, their empty shells sitting in tatters. None of this mattered right now. I was still bleeding, and exhausted. None of this mattered because I was coming down here to bleed out in the dark tunnels since I couldn’t see a doctor, because the company I worked for so many years of my life froze my account. All of those years, ended in an abandoned subway station.
I came across a cot in a corner of the dark station, clean, almost to an abnormal amount. There was a faint blue glow along the tracks. Must have been emergency lights or a remnant of the trains that ran through here at one time. I laid down on the cot, trembling with pain. The blood instantly running into its clean fabric and slowly stopped. The faint blue light lulling me to sleep. Where was it coming from? They weren’t lights, they were glowing splotches, more like glowing tendrils of something that covered the station. Would this be the last thing I would see in my life? Glowing tendrils in a subway station?
“She’s messed up bad, they really did a number on her face. Send a call for trauma experience here.”
I jolted awake to the sound of someone talking, I took a panicked breath in, not because someone’s screaming echoed voice was shattering through my ears and the train station, but because I was alive.
“I need a doctor. Please. I don’t have the credits. I’ll do anything. Just please help me.”
“We got you. Give us one second here, someone who can really help you will be here in a second.” the voice sounded familiar, though deeper than my brain could recognize.
“I need to take a look at your wound, can you flip over? The voice called out. I went to move and the caked on blood had fused my skin to the cot fabric. Eventually, it slowly ripped off and I flipped over.
“WHAT THE HELL?” I stared ahead at the person the voice came from. They looked exactly like me. Though their hair and some features were different, we looked exactly alike. We sounded similar in how we talked, which is why their voice sounded familiar but their voice was deeper. Smoother. I was astonished. I couldn’t move or say anything out loud, only stare into their eyes in the faint blue glow.
“The first time is jarring. I still have to get used to it myself. The more times you meet yourself, the weirder it gets. Shit. Who did this to you?” I winced at them touching my wound but the stun of seeing myself almost in a mirror was a bigger shock.
“I-are….are we related?” That had to be the only explanation. I never grew up with a twin. They were the same age as me though.
“In a way yes, and no. I’m from Everglade towers too. Used to work there. Used to have the apartment, the assistant, the food deliveries. Everything. I’m a little older than you. But we don’t change much through each version. Too expensive to change once we get in production.” A trauma technician came over with a giant bag full of medical supplies and started working on stopping the bleeding fully and cleaning up my wound.
“What the hell do you mean we don’t change much with each version?! What the fuck does that mean?” I reached out to grab them by the collar, their hands grasping my wrist, at this point holding it up, because I didn’t grab their collar, my hand just faintly jutted out in their general direction.
“I can explain, but you need medical attention and good sleep. Hard to take news when you’re hurt. We’ll get you fixed up.”
“Got some stuff that might take the edge off, do you consent to taking this medication?” The trauma tech put their hand on my arm, in an attempt to shake me out of my shock, which didn’t work.
“Fuck yes. I just want to sleep.” I grabbed the pills from their hand and finally fell into a deep sleep.
I remember the first time I met someone like me. It was jarring. My head was spinning. I couldn’t think. It was a really unnerving feeling of looking in the mirror at yourself but your reflection was moving behind the mirror. And not like having a twin, because we were the same person. Genetically speaking we were exact copies of each other. It took me a while to reconcile that. To come to terms with my own life and how things had led up to this point. Almost like being depersonalized. Is that even a word? It felt like everything had been a lie. Because it had been. And in that moment I was waking up from being asleep and finally understanding that I could be something different, even though there were copies of me that were the exact same. Our brains were all unique, our life experiences, the changes between each other, but that all had to happen outside the towers. Because when you were ingrained in the system, it was hard to think of anything else. It was hard to think in another way.
“Thank you for helping me.” It was weird to see a copy of yourself injured. You felt the pain too because you could feel what they felt.
“You're welcome. Nothing else I could do. I had to help.”
“You didn’t have to, plenty of people didn’t help me out there. They could have, but they didn’t. Why did you help me?” Her voice was shaking, possibly with pain, but really what felt like shock and confusion.
“Because you’re a person. Simple as that. No reason behind it. Someone needed help in a way I could help with. So that’s what I did.” I held my hand out, our skin and complexion matching exactly.
“Casey. That’s what I go by now.” she reached out to shake my hand.
“Rosie. Thank you. Again. I’m feeling better.” Our hands made contact, like holding your own hand.
“You can keep the name if you want. I used to use Rosie when I first got here. Felt easier at first. Something familiar. At some point, you might want to change it. You will change a lot being out of the towers.” Rosie stared back in confusion.
“I-I still don’t understand what’s going on. With us. With you. Are we related?”
“Like I said before yes, and no. We are the same person, but different. Biologically engineered. By Everglade, we’re the main workforce for the company. Like I said I’m older than you, an earlier version. It can be tough hearing this. You might feel cheated. The only thing that’s different is our brains. We have real ones, just like any person. Most of our bodies are synthetic or a combination.” I had said this so many times, to so many other Rosies. But this time felt different. Usually, they left without being hurt, but this Rosie was so mangled when we found her.
“Well your voice is different, and you look different. But the same… So does that make me not real? Am I just something Everglade made?” Rosie was looking at her hands now, with a sense of shame, almost bordering disgust.
“You are real. Just like any other person. You’ve been through a lot. And just like every other person, you will go through a lot and change. That’s one good thing about having a ‘real’ brain.” I put real in exaggerated air quotes. “I say real because there are other people who might exist digitally. And we don’t want to cast them as not being valid either. All that to say, you are a real person. Yes.” I put my hand on Rosie’s shoulder.
“What happened back at Everglade-was that me making choices? Or was I on autopilot? Did they like, control my brain or something?”
“You had some autonomy, but every time you plugged in your BCI there were things going in the back of your head. You lose memories, sometimes they plant new ones in. Everything is calculated there. You feel on top of the world. Above the street, looking down. That’s how they want you to feel.” I had asked the same things when I first came here. It was comforting to know, after all this time. I had an answer. At least for something.
“Fuck. I did feel on top of the world. Above the people on the street. They disgusted me. Everything they told me was true. No one helped me. They only passed me by.”
“It’s not true. They are the same as you. The same systems of control are used on most of them. Keep in mind, that there are about fifteen other corporations in the city center. All of them with their own private housing, their own private militias, and police forces. They all are locked in until they aren’t. We try and snap them out of it. Sometimes it works.” Rosie’s eyes widened.
“That was you?! I had something happen to me. I saw a video. I saw something before they hit me.”
“Malware worked then. Been getting better range overtime.” Becka chimed in with excitement. That malware was her hard work after all.
“We’re trying to do it with more people. Move refugees out from the company towns, from the police barracks, and into where we live. Most come on their own. From all the crazy shit. Some we have to shake awake.” I looked back up to Becka and she nodded with a triumphant smirk.
“Who fucked you up so badly? You mentioned someone hit you.” Becka motioned a punch, which in this situation was not really as funny as she thought it was.
“ETPD. I saw them kill my best friend right in front of me.” Rosies' eyes swelled up with tears.
“Shit, every other person had the same thing happen to them too here. Sorry to hear that. It’s hard losing friends.” It was hard for Becka to ever really be serious. But she had also lost people, seen them beaten in the street, shot with rubber and real bullets. So she knew the pain Rosie was feeling firsthand.
“I want you to know that when you come back home with us, you will have to go through therapy. It’ll be quick, BCI stuff. But we want to help people physically and emotionally. Especially after everything you’ve been through.”
“That’s fine. I think I need it. But where’s home?”
I had spent days in the subway station underground. Going through mandatory therapy, and talking to people around me in the medical bay was how I spent my time. I met someone who actually worked on the Precinct Patriot set. She was behind one of the cameras, and worked on some other positions behind the scenes. She said the show was funded by the police union in an effort to recruit more people. They always showed the apartments they lived in, and the lavish lives they lead. But from what the people from the police towers said, the reality was nothing like that. They were defacto prisons for the families, held as collateral for the employment contract.
One of the engineering techs saw me, and asked if I could help them. They brought me down one of the subway tunnels, but the slime in these was really bright. Almost like artificial lights but with a slight pulsating drum to them. They led me to a long tunnel full of plants. It was like the nature atrium in the towers, but underground. They had similar plants too, and a lot that I didn’t recognize.
“You ever work with plants? The medical people say it helps people heal. Get some green in their lives. Here, pick this.” The engineer bent down and held a bright red fruit out. “These are easy to pick, just finish this bed and we should be good.”
So that’s what I did for a few days in the glowing tunnels. Picking these red fruits off vines. I liked doing it. Moving around, touching the plants. I never got to do this in the towers so it felt like a real treat. The smell of dirt was amazing, and it lingered in the cool damp air of the subway tunnel. A welcome retreat from the smog and heat at the surface.
I was branching out to new plants, learning their names and what they were. I learned that the engineering people were split into different ‘circles’, one of which was botany and farming. I still didn’t understand what these circles everyone talked about were. But it just seemed like groups. Some people belonged to specific ones, but also were part of others and a lot of it all intersected. I came across a new plant. Corn, which is a weird name for a plant when I say it out loud. The bumps of the yellow parts of the plant reminded me of the stitches on my face. I touched it and winced.
“Gotta let it heal. Messing with it won’t fix it.” Casey came around one of the beds.
“Good point. I’m ready to be back to normal already.” For all the years of my skincare routine, I had given up on keeping my skin perfect now that there was a huge line of stitches across my upper brow.
“Nah, fuck normal. You look badass!” Casey let out a laugh. And I did too. It had been a while since I last laughed.
“I keep hearing people in the circles talk about a push or something. What’s the deal with that?”
“We’re all doing a major attack on the city center. Physically getting people out of the police union towers. Doing cyber stuff to infect networks, hopefully get it to spread into Everglade systems. Getting people off the street and housed, shutting down the gasoline refineries. A bunch of stuff. That’s the push.” Casey looked down at the ground in a way that signaled that they were apprehensive about the entire idea.
“Also, what are circles? I keep hearing about them, I thought they were groups or something but they seem more formal.”
“Uhhh kinda more formal I guess? They are unions, built around specific ideas, identities, roles, hobbies. Let’s people come together and decide shit collectively. Like all this.” Casey waved their hand across the expanse of plants. “This was collectively decided by the people who did the work. But they also answer to a general council, where all the circles meet and figure out what to do as a whole.”
“Sounds interesting. A lot better than what we had in the towers.”
“It works pretty well, but keep in mind we’re a bunch of human beings. Even with all the shit we have, there are still assholes. But at least they can’t tell everyone else what to do so I guess I’m ok living with assholes.”
“I guess I’ve kinda been used to it too?” I let out another chuckle.
“Well, we think it’s a good way to do things. Speaking of which, once we get home we can get you situated. You don’t have to join a circle or really do anything. You’re still recovering. But at any point you can, just talk to people and see what you like. We’re heading back home later on today.”
“Wait, later on? What time is it?!”
“It’s like four in the morning. You lose track of time down here, but we should be back home by the afternoon if you want to get ready and packed.” Casey seemed amused at my lack of timekeeping.
“But-I don’t have anything to pack.”
“You will, we’re printing you some new clothes and shoes, a small wardrobe to hold you over until you get settled at your house. Then you can pick whatever clothes you want. Just have to get the plastic feedstock, which is easy enough to find.”
“What do I owe you for the clothes and the house? I don’t have credits, my account got frozen. But maybe your friend can hack it or something?” Was that Becka girl just her friend? I didn’t want to insult Casey.
“Nothing. You owe no one anything. We don’t do credits back home. And she’s my girlfriend. I guess? One of my girlfriends? Eh, anyways you get the gist.” Casey helped me get up to my feet, which still hurt from the concrete burns days ago.
“Better get back, and we’ll get you some accommodations if you can’t walk the way. Just ask.”
I ended up asking for something to help me walk. The pain was a little too much to handle when walking, and it didn’t help that this section of the subway tunnels was full of barriers and obstacles. Someone from the engineering team called out on a radio for someone to bring a “crab” down. A couple of minutes later someone appeared from the darkness of one of the subway tunnels. The first things I saw were the rusty legs moving in the dark, then peering through the glowing slime above, and the rider strapped into what looked like a ripped lawn chair.
“Alrighty, the thing is easy to pilot, got a joystick here. Glade girls can handle it.” The pilot was standing out of the ripped seat when a rock hit him on the head.
“What the fuck did I say about calling people Glade girls. Her name is Rosie you prick. Apologize.” Casey could throw a mean rock.
“Shit, sorry, It’s one of those old things. Really I’m sorry.” The engineer seemed annoyed at the fact that Casey threw a rock. It was stupid to be mad when you were the one talking shit.
“Not ‘just one of those old things’. One of those things that never existed.” And with that, I climbed onto the crab walker and we kept going deeper into the tunnels.
“If anyone calls you a Glade girl, please punch them, or throw something at them. Call out for help, and you will have a crowd help you. Fucking unbelievable. Thought we were over that .” Casey was livid, it didn’t register to me because it was my first time hearing the term, but I very quickly picked up that it was taboo to say.
“It’s-it’s alright, I never heard that before. But I’ll be sure to take you up on your offer.” Becka shot a little wink while punching the air.
We came up to another platform, though this one seemed used compared to the other ones. For the most part, the underground was abandoned, but you could hear trains screech in the distance. The screeching got louder, and the dark form of a train appeared from a tunnel.
“Alright, last line till we head home!” Becka seemed extremely excited to get back.
“Is this the only working train?” I had never seen one in real life.
“Oh no, we revived the network. This spreads out to other communities across the city and outside of it too. We took over the old commercial rail lines so we could connect to the big farms way outside the city.” Casey took out a strange tablet screen and produced a crude map of a train network that led out into the wilderness.
“Alrighty y’all let’s get back into the sun! I love the cool breeze down here but I need some vitamin D!” Becka slapped the side of the crab walker and it emitted a faint red light. The doors on the train opened even wider, and automatically moved seating around that was the perfect size for the walker.
When I first got to the town, it was a culture shock. I was like Rosie, we all were in general, the same. For the first time it felt like tasting something even better than freedom. People were doing things I never thought were possible. Not in that way. Well, kinda in that way. But no. This place had a level of self-expression I had never seen. It was scary to live your life a single way, and suddenly you had a choice. Each one wasn’t wrong, or right. And that freedom was jarring. I was one of the first people from Everglade brought to this town, city, village, whatever the fuck we are. I didn’t have the same help as new people. I always wanted to be sure that other Rosies had someone there to navigate the shock.
“Hey, we’re here! Damn, she’s really asleep. Usually the heat wakes ‘em up by now. Rosie!” I tapped Rosie on the head. Her eyes lit up.
“Enough sleeping rough. There’s a bed with your name on it.” I pointed to the dome home and Rosie followed my finger with confusion.
“That whole place is mine?!” She sat in astonishment.
“Yes! Well no, and yes. We don’t own land here, but the place is yours. Until you need something else, or your needs or life change.” I had to remember what it was like to have a home, a real one. Not owned by the company. I took that feeling for granted now.
Rosie broke down in tears.
“Just wait until you see the inside!” Becka knew how to cheer people up.
I let them go inside and heard the gasps from Rosie and the excitement in Becka’s voice, showing her all the gadgets the tech circles made for everyone off the latest find at an e-waste landfill. For some reason, I didn’t want to go inside with Rosie. There were a lot of complicated feelings about basically seeing yourself reacting the same way you did years ago when the Rosie in there was me. Complicated because I was proud. Proud of what we built, what we scrounged and dug up, and fixed up, fought, and died for.
And yet sick. Because there were thousands, possibly millions of other Rosies and DeAndras, Gregs, and Brians back in Everglade towers. Hundreds of thousands of people living in the city, all working for competing corporations. Who were just following the routine. Who still haven’t been able to be free. I felt sick that we hadn’t made to push to get the families held in debt slavery to the police union or to Ship & Pack. Sick there were kids starving on their shift at the warehouse, only to just shuffle back into the dorms still hungry. Falling asleep with hunger while the next shift woke up. All because their parent’s owed something to the company. All of those people. And yet here I am. Happy. But always suffering in some ways.
I eventually healed, though I would have a scar on my face. Casey said they can’t replace skin without stealing a grafting machine from one of the for-profit hospitals back in the city. Which was next on the list of things to do. It was still tough to look at myself in the mirror, or look at Casey and their lack of a scar, which was like looking in a mirror. One big change is that I got used to the idea of having a mirror, let alone a place of my own. That still hasn’t set in yet. A lot of things haven’t set in. But being here, I haven’t felt the need for it all to sit in.
Everyone did their thing. There wasn’t any judgment, or scrutiny in how you did things, who you were with who you wanted to be. Sometimes you would get a stare from the new people from the city who just moved in. But mainly they were looks of confusion. Back in the city warehouse barracks heterosexuality was mandatory. But like anything, people tend to break rules. There were some people from the barracks that lacked the confusion at seeing everyone together with everyone else. Sometimes they were the best to be with, because they wouldn’t seem well versed. But once you got started it was obvious that they were very well versed in breaking the forced heterosexuality rules. Most of the time they just weren’t used to living life enough to be out, which was fine. They were at a certain point in their lives and never had to catch up or really be anything, just comfortable with themselves.
There was a lot of experimentation, most of how things ran here started out as an experiment and are still that way, not set in stone, always evolving. Try some new things, see if they work, if not they get changed. Things were never stagnant.
I was trying something out too, Rory sounded better now that I had time to find myself. Casey said they felt the same way about things. After a while of being with Trystan and Becka, Casey felt like the name Rosie didn’t fit for them. Most people from Everglade towers changed their default name. You didn’t have to. But when you start living and seeing the world, you usually want to.
There were a lot of things that people couldn’t change, I couldn’t change the facial scars from before. I could however change out my limbs, something I had no clue about until Casey showed me one day, the fact that our arms and legs could twist off and be replaced. There would be blood involved but as a whole, people like us didn’t have the same worries as biological or assigned human at birth people. Once they were critically injured they tended to stay that way. There were some Rosies that came back from the towers that were so rattled and destroyed, it was nearly impossible for them to function when they got here. I always felt guilty that in many ways I could live my life different from ‘regular’ people. I hate using that term but it’s the only way to describe the separation. I was just as frail as a normal person if I got brain or spinal damage, but that was my only connection to knowing what being disabled would be like. For a while I was the only Rosie around, then more started coming in. Crackdowns in the tower happened, and more people from the towers were eventually brought here as refugees. Many of them so hurt that they were beyond medical intervention, but they were still people who deserved respect. And we made sure that no matter what, everything we did, how we did things, focused on making sure they could lead the same lives as everyone else.
Plenty of people didn’t see us as deserving respect, let alone think of us as human. Which was hard to deal with when people from the city would come in. Things were so different back there, how could I expect them to totally change overnight? Every person was guaranteed medical, mental health care, and therapy. Part of that would be talking to people who before, they would have mistreated. People from the Everglade towers who were comfortable with it would sit during group therapy sessions and talk about what it was like to be synthetic. We were just like them, locked into a system because they had no other choice, or sometimes no clue about the reality of things. We had the same experiences with forced labor, of going without. The trauma of dealing with violence both inside the corporate zones and on the city streets. We were the same in almost every way, what was different was what corporation we came from and the fact that some of us were both machines and humans. We had brains, just like a human would have, we have spines and internal organs. Parts of our bodies were robotic, but that didn’t make us any less human. Some people disagreed, they thought we were strange - not ‘real’. That hurts to hear someone say that you are less than human, because you were born a certain way. Even though we lived almost the exact same lives.
Most people like that came around. They worked with us on the mental health and disability circles, but most importantly while we spent time together working, we talked. Talked about The Precinct Patriot and all of our favorite episodes, the ones that were family of police would go on about how the show lied about what life really was like back at the barracks. We talked about our times in the city, our lives before, and most importantly about the future. That was the biggest thing, just talking on a human level. On equal terms. Some people still were wary of us, but there was a mutual respect. No matter what happened they would help me if I was in need, and I would help them. Even if they felt off about me transitioning, or my ‘humanity’ or who I was, they still respected the fact that I was all those things. And I respected the fact that they could overcome things enough to respect me in the first place. And that was enough a lot of times.
Like anyone here, I floated between different circles. No one was forced into doing anything specific, so you could explore your options. I spent some time with Becka in the technology circle, scrounging through e-waste dumps, fixing up old junk computers, and giving them to families who had never owned their own. Well most did, but they were company property or monitored by corporate security. These computers were theirs, with no surveillance, no fees. Spent time on the adobe printers, making the new houses for more refugees and travelers. Most travelers became residents, which was always nice because they usually came from places far away and would tell us about all the crazy (and boring) shit they saw along the way.
I didn’t like the adobe printers that much because I would come home covered in clay and straw.
Revitalization & Retrofit was a fun circle, they intersected with construction and were in charge of turning the old buildings into habitable ones. For the most part our now pretty big city was made of mostly the ruins of the city that used to stand here. Most of the buildings were abandoned, destroyed by military shelling, or set on fire, but now became circle headquarters, or community gathering places, playgrounds, or whatever people wanted to make. They called this the ‘suburbs’ before. There weren't tall skyscrapers like in the city, but there were some. Those were the first to be turned into housing since most of them were made of steel and really strong. The homes that were able to be repaired came back to life, and more families and people moved in. Some blocks there would be one house standing, the next in ruin, the other still fixable. So in the spaces in between, we cleared it out and planted more veggies and fruit trees.
That’s what I loved doing the most. I loved doing anything because I would learn so much and then go on to teach someone new. But it was planting stuff that really excited me. It reminded me of back in the tunnels when I touched my first strawberry. So the farming and gardening circles are where I really thrived. We would plant microplots with every home, both in old lots and wherever we printed an adobe dome. Which got confusing because there wasn’t like one central place of new and old homes. The people here came to a consensus to not make suburbs or sprawl, but to weave old and new construction into the existing landscape, to build up or underground when we could. That made giving each home a plot of food sometimes difficult. Especially the people who were heat sensitive and lived in the subterranean homes. But that just meant we had to get more luminescent fungi down there to provide light. There was something about how it pulsated that always brought a smile to my face. I wasn’t smiling when I had to go back to the surface and deal with the heat and the sun, but you know, working outside all day I’ve actually gotten used to it.
Today though was an amazing day. The engineering circle had just finished connecting another vent to the subway system which meant public spaces and retrofits were now cooled with the dry cool air of the subway tunnels. Each home or living space had a passive cooling system, state of the art. It was a recycled drainage pipe buried under a mound of dirt with a fan on it. It sounds dumb, but it actually worked, only issue was when the humidity and heat got too high, the passive cooling had to go into overdrive. And with us having elderly people and those recovering from cancer and radiation treatment, overheating was a problem we had to deal with. So the engineering circles together with construction, general science, renewable energy, and passive tech circles came up with the idea to scale it up. Most homes recycled their wastewater, but now some of that was being diverted into the old sewer system, which then was pumped into the subway tunnels and dripped onto the walls. There was also a thin line of mycelium and fungus that helped with the surface area while large fans that were driven off a solar radiation concentrator and steam, pushed the air. From the hot surface, the air was sucked down into the cooling shaft subway tunnels, then into the water and mushroom sections to make a gigantic air conditioner. This supercooled air was pumped back into a mainline that fed into each homes passive cooling tube, which almost quadrupled their cooling.
I stood in the vents’ path to cool off as I picked strawberries from a hydroponics wall.
A ping hit my deck, or at least that’s what Becka calls it, some old term for a wearable computer. I could barely see the message from the cracked screen.
Emergency General Assembly is being called. Circle delegates please assemble at the nearest voting hall. All citizens must consent to actions. Please check the countdown for deliberation times.
Fuck. General Assemblies were planned, I had never seen an Emergency General Assembly alert before. Just when the panic was setting in Casey popped her head into my house.
“Hey man, you ready for your first emergency deliberation? Let’s go! We can’t be late!” Casey motioned wildly in the direction of the voting hall.
I stood there in fear for what we were voting on.
It had been a long time since I first went to an Emergency General Assembly, back then it was when the police raided the outpost. When the scars on the buildings appeared, and whole neighborhoods disappeared. Back then we did things differently. We paid the price for that. Things were different now. This Emergency General Assembly was packed full of people. We had taken in so many refugees, newcomers, travelers, and defectors that our numbers had grown to four times the size when Rory joined us. Becka and her gang had to scramble to get everyone connected in with the voting system, once she got wind there was going to be a call for an assembly.
“Currently we have delegates from almost all of the circles, committees, and unions. Thank you everyone for taking part.” Trystan’s voice rang out strong, their voice sent shivers down my spine. I was so proud to see xem grow so much confidence over time, especially in these stressful moments.
“Ok, we have all the circles, committees, unions, and the people here. Thank you everyone for meeting for an Emergency General Assembly. This matter is important and will impact the lives of everyone. Following our values, all people affected by a decision must consent. All those whose lives will be touched by a collective action must consent. With that being said I will let the security and community defense union talk about the main topic. The only debt we have is to each other.” When assemblies happened we signed off with a creed of sorts. More so a reminder, that the only thing we had was each other.
“The only debt we have is to each other. Thank you, Trystan. Hello everyone I am Mox, the union delegate for the security and community defense union. Comprised of the community defense circles, technology circles, construction circles, and mental health circles. We came here today to offer a vote and to fill the community in on the situation in the city. Or what some people are calling “the push”. This morning we received confirmation that all groups that we ally with have consented in their own communities. As our region is part of the Twin Pines Democratic Federation, we now must come to a consensus on our own.” There was a murmur around everyone questioning if the push was really happening and what would that mean.
“The agenda for this vote is if we consent to join the rest of the Twin Pines Democratic Federation in breaking down the security barriers around the corporate zones, taking full control of all communications networks, and sabotaging the ability for corporate security, military, and police to continue operating in the city.” Cheers rang out from voting halls across the city combined with boos and screams of anger.
“We will take control of the city, and ensure all people must consent and agree to our core tenants. If they don’t, accommodations will be made and they are free to associate or cut ties with our community. We will democratically share control with our allies of the region and delegates from all circles will be voted on and also randomly selected from a consenting group to represent our community.” Trystan cut in while the screens went red. Objections, questions, and concerns all floated into a matrix of dots that all connected and showed what circles had issues.
“Mox we have objections from the people and some important questions that need to be addressed before we can move to a vote.”
I know some of our allies with the communities in the Twin Pines Federation. But who else are we allied with? Most people have no clue who we work with in the city.
“Good question, and an important one. As always we want to follow the will of the people, in accordance with our shared community values. In supplying food, medical care, water, and other supplies we have made many friends in the city. We will be allied with a clandestine union in the Ship & Pack central distribution warehouse. We also have gained relations with the Beccio family, Grove and 7th Aztecas, and various groups involved in pirating off the east coast. We have contingents inside Bivonic clinics and WisePharm hospit-”
Wait what the fuck, we are working with gangs and the scum that help move their drugs? We never consented to this at all. Why are we working with these people?
The message came in and cut Mox off, because it had gotten so many agreements from so many people in the community, along with some circle delegates, which meant the message basically jumped front and center.
“These are people just like us, doing what they can to survive. So what, they break the laws of the city. Would they break our agreements here? If given the right environment, housing, food, and healthcare all for free, do you think they would continue being violent? No. They resort to violence because all transactions in that place require violence - legitimate business or illegitimate. People seem to forget that selling drugs and being in a gang doesn’t mean that people don’t have skills.” Mox was getting angry, but a cool and controlled anger. Mox wasn’t super emotional but they for sure had strong feelings, having come from a street gang themselves.
“That also doesn’t mean that they can’t change. These people have extreme trauma from being forced to live in an environment like that. We can’t ignore the fact that almost everyone can thrive when they have the right surroundings.” This was the first time Rory spoke at a general assembly, his voice was a little shaky from nerves, but still strong.
“Thank you Rory. Can we come to an agreement that our community can work with gangs in the city? All of them have agreed to our values, they want out. They also have a hand in things that few in our communities ever deal with. The clandestine runners and networks that make this all possible. They are people too, who want to help in any way they can. Can we move for a general vote?” Mox turned to cast their vote, while everyone in the region voted as well.
“We have near consensus. Fifteen percent disagreement rate.” Trystan gestured out to produce a floating matrix of questions and issues.
The disagreements in general focused on central issues, and so they were summed up to make them easier to address.
What happens when these criminal groups don’t want to follow our way of life? If they're used to violence, why invite violent people into our communities?
“We address them like we always do. Nothing has changed in how we treat other people. If violent people come into our communities we will offer to meet their basic needs, and more importantly, offer mental health services. If they don’t agree to that then they will live outside our communities and still have access to meet their basic needs.” Mox seemed almost offended that this was such a big question. Then and again there were thousands of people who were new to the region, who fundamentally did not know what it was like to not live in a place without prisons or police.
“Thank you Mox, I want to add in for a moment that violence almost is never due to people being inherently violent. Most of the time it’s an act of survival, desperation, or despair. As everyone knows, our circles, committees, and unions are all connected. Mental health is directly tied to community defense, community defense is directly tied to maintaining autonomy with the agriculture, water, and power general unions. All of these issues are connected.” Rory’s voice got steadier, because this was his area, this is what he knew in his heart was true.
“So yes, we will defend ourselves from violence. We all have had enough violence in our lives already. We don’t need it here, but we also won’t use punitive actions against people without giving them a chance.” The question board dropped, as votes rolled in. There were people who changed their votes from “no” to “consent with compromise”, which didn’t mean they fully consented, but they did to acknowledge that their issues were addressed.
“Continuing on, we have insiders in Bivonic clinics and WisePharm hospitals who have access to their data centers. We already have exfiltrated their patient records so we can continue care for the people they extort. We have administrator access to their automated surgery bays and all AI that are staffing the hospitals. This way we can quickly triage anyone injured, instead of having to bring them to us out here, or using field hospitals that can get raided.” There were audible cheers from members in the medical and scientific circles who physically were down the street from us.
“No matter what, we should all remember that this isn’t the sole work of us.” The delegate from the regional connection circle, Mohammed started speaking.
“This entire struggle was built off the work of all the people before us, and will continue with the people that come after us. We don’t make these changes alone, this is happening because of the clandestine unions, the street gangs, the other communities in the democratic federation all are and always have been, working together toward a common goal. Our success only comes from solidarity with others.”
“We like to call this ‘The Push’ but this will only be the latest attack against the power structures and for most of us, our original home. This won’t be the end, and this isn’t the beginning. But we are ready to face things head-on.” A citizen in the region chimed in, with a sea of clapping and excitement.
“We’re ready. We have our long range jamming arrays up and ready to roll, we got our drone fleets and our cyber attack teams ready. Short wave communications are up, and we finally finished the messaging relay system to send messages to our allies with full encryption.” Becka shouted in excitement and put her arms around some of her fellow engineers.
“We’ve been upping our printing and scrapping, and have printed more than enough firearms and plastic ballistics armor for anyone going heads on with the police lines. We have mobile printers to move to the front lines to print drone chassis and to scrap anything the police leave behind.” The manufacturing union and the recycling circles roared.
“We now have housing to accommodate more than enough people. And have completed our mobile units, to help renovate and retrofit buildings in the city.” The infrastructure union clapped along with the housing and construction circles who appeared in the middle of the matrix standing on top of newly completed domes.
“We have enough seeds to meet most of the food needs of people joining us, including thousands of pounds of preserved foods that we have cooled in the subway tunnels. Thanks to the biology circles for updating the mycelium glow to emit UV light, so we can grow anytime, anywhere.” The agriculture union flashed into the visual matrix from across fields, rooftop gardens, and underground grow beds.
“We’ve increased our supply of linen and hemp fabric, thanks to the material engineering circles we can recycle old clothes!”
“We’ve added a hydroelectric station into the cooling tunnels. Along with improvements on solar steam generation.”
“Our circle has grown a biological filter to help with tear gas and wildfire smoke!”
“We’ve upgraded the greywater and blackwater fish ponds and installed more septic fields to help our friends in the agriculture circles keep their crops watered.”
More and more circles chimed in with the recent upgrades and initiatives they had done, in a frenzy of enthusiasm. It was infectious, it riled everyone up to hear the massive improvements. And yet. I wasn’t as enthused. I knew that we had made major strides in the right direction, and I knew that things were getting better. But through the enthusiasm, I knew what the reality would be when we smashed into police lines. The cheering and clapping continued but all I could think about were our crops being light on fire by police drones. All I could think about were the adobe domes being crushed in by artillery. Of the people on the city blocks injured, or worse. Of us doing the push and losing, of pushing ourselves into a brick wall. More than likely most of that would happen. For all of the enthusiasm, the enjoyment, the excitement, the fear was growing in me.
I was snapped out of it when I saw the votes roll in, the community had consented to the push.
Things started off silent. It started with one computer in the Ship & Pack main warehouse complex, and an employee sticking a memory drive into it. Nothing happened, no outward indication that anything had changed, but the malware was spreading. Ship & Pack wanted to maintain and maximize its profits, and with that came budget cuts to both the network security and physical security of the automated systems and robotics that ran the operation. Making sure only to pay a small elite to watch over these systems, the only problem was the pay never kept up with the cost of living. These people were at the top of their field and yet when their deposits of company tokens to spend at the company store came short, life got hard. These people kept the entire business running, while the CEO’s watched on the surveillance systems from one of their floating mega yacht cities.
The malware spread faster than what Becka and the tech circles could even imagine. Then there was a massive thud. The conveyor belts stopped all at the exact same time. The millions of packages and boxes that normally flew by in a frenzy were totally still. The workers who were locked in rolling cages were now immobile. The robotic arms of the warehouse floor and the arms that picked packages from shelves thirty stories into the air fell limp. The security doors that kept the private police and riot squads separate from the warehouse suddenly locked with a thud. The doors leading from the barracks and company slums opened.
In those seconds of silence, everything stood still. Each person just looking to the next, as the familiar roar of the warehouse came to a stop.
“Let’s fucking go people, it’s time!” One of the organizers of the clandestine union called out on every speaker in the complex. A roar of people yelling, screaming, clapping, and crying all rose up to twice the sound of what the warehouse complex normally sounded like. The workers in the warehouse floor cages pushed out of their mobile prisons and started running toward the racks that held food, water, and medical supplies. Usually guarded by armed drones, now they were under the control of the workers. The barracks overflowed with people who quickly jumped on the armed security who attempted to open fire, but their guns never fired. Their biometric identifiers failed thanks to the entire network being taken over. This gave people enough time to jump on them, hitting them with the poles of the bunk beds they were forced to sleep on. Thousands of people rushed through the doors yelling with ecstasy while the crowds roar muffled the sounds of beatings and the faint robotic sound of the police helmets’ voice encryption, now being used as weapons. The thuds being transcribed into a faint robotic tone.
Dockworkers rushed the rail transport lines, meeting up with the warehouse workers to load food, water, and medical supplies onto the rail lines. The trains would be sent across the region, to different parts of the city, and to the regions that made up the democratic federation. Another thunk of the rail cars connecting sounded like the thunk of a door lock being blown open.
The lock to the WisePharm hospital that denied Rory care few across the lobby, hurling past the AI assistant. The same malware had spread through a third-party company owned by Ship & Pack that handled WisePharms’ tech and medical deliveries. Back behind the lines, Becka handed Rory control of a small robot that was used for resuscitations, armed with multiple defibrillators. Rory just smiled and rammed the bot into the chest of the armed security guard that ruthlessly kicked him out months ago when he needed help. A flood of people came inside with stretchers and helped people who were abandoned on the street who needed immediate medical care.
Open these videos in a new tab to control volume and to stop them. Just incase you want more immersion!
Another flood of people was pouring out from the police union barracks, the families of police who were forced to live in the compound all moving to try and get over the razor wire fences. Groups on the outside had grounded the electrical fences and were cutting their way through the fencing when a freight truck from Pack & Ship appeared out of nowhere and crashed right into the fence line. This penetrated through the first five razorwire lines, but there were three more to get through. The police had caught on and scrambled drones and riot units to the fence line. The armed drones opened fire on the families. Their bodies dropped instantly into the mud with loud thuds in between screaming and pleading. These were the families of the police officers, being gunned down by the ones in charge of the drones. Their commanders, upper management, and the corporate donors took turns controlling the drones. Laughing as they pressed a trigger from the comfort of their floating yacht cities. Those sounds were blurred out as the police on the ground opened fire on the drones that were killing their families. Some ripped off their badges and name tags, took their armor off, and shot wildly in the air. Other police officers who were of a higher rank, had more to lose. The higher your rank the more rations you got. Some even had boats of their own, and access to drug evidence lockers. They wouln’t let these traitors ruin that for them. So the officers turned on each other, shooting at the drones and at each other in a frenzy of gunfire while the gangs on the outer fenceline breached through. The families poured through along with deserters who had ripped off their patches and badges and were firing back into the police crowd to keep the drones away from the families. Military helicopters flew over as the upper-ranking soldiers evacuated from their outposts, leaving everyone else behind.
A helicopter flew over us as Casey reached down to snap in a foregrip into a 3D-printed gun.
“Alright folks, we’re about to come up to their line, remember to let them rush us. It’ll be easier that way.” Casey tapped on a screen and the armored train car rolled forward followed by a symphony of cheers and other train leaders calling out to the armored car line to move up. We had created an almost mile-long line of armored cars, trucks, trains, anything we could get our hands on. All of this was meant to crash into private security and police barricades made up of riot vans and kettle cars. The cars lunged forward and the shots started coming. The police were stationed on the kettle cars, which were large armored vehicles with fences that extended out where they could shoot people and force them into the cages. We had made our own to combat them but added thick bulletproof sheets to stop their shots. We were getting closer and everyone opened fire. Some people peeked over and took a shot, only to have their guns shatter in their hands from the recycled plastic separating. Most stayed together, sending rounds downrange at the police line. Our line of vehicles rammed directly into the police line which sent people flying to the opposite side. Too close for firearms, they fought each other with whatever they could grab. Rocks, helmets, the spent plastic magazines that snapped off into sharp points.
With the contact, multiple police jumped over the barrier and into the inner circle of the kettle cars. Some of the areas were traps, where anyone jumping over would get shot by awaiting drones, others were calculated. We had gathered information on what officers would be stationed in specific cars, and we made sure to correlate that to if they had a family waiting for them on the outside. The police officers pushed their riot shields through our people, slamming their heads against the metal floors, and taking shots at the people who couldn’t get away. We kettled them into specific areas to make sure the plan worked.
They flooded over the barricades and into the first kettle zones to be met with their families. Their families had fled the barracks, fled the starvation and exploitation to come for a better life. Some of them stayed behind because if they tried to leave, it would mean death for them and their family. The police union forced some people to become police, signing themselves and their families lives to have access to food and shelter. Which ended up being a lie.
Some of the police would give up instantly after seeing their significant other or their family. Others would get pleaded down by their partners, begging them to come back with them, to a place where they could actually live again. Almost all of the defectors turned their weapons against the remaining police.
Others were not convinced, the years of brainwashing, the addictions being fed by the police force to keep them captive, the racists, the ones that volunteered instead of conscripted, believed that they were protecting the law. They protected the laws that caused their own children to starve, that locked up their family members if they weren’t straight. And so some of them raised their guns to their own families.
Was it pride? Anger? Confusion? What made someone protect the laws written by the wealthy, and want to kill their own people to uphold them. Shots rang out before they had the chance to fire. We would never let them hurt innocent people.
I was adjacent to one of those kettles, watching as all but one police officer ripped off their badge, kissed their family in relief, and then pointed their rifles back at the police line. All but one. He stood there terrified, his family pleading with him to come back home. He broke down in tears. “ I’ve done terrible things. How can I go somewhere and live a good life? The people I killed. They won’t have that chance.” His family was still screaming for him to come back. Sometimes the grief is too much for people, they volunteer or get forced into situations and can’t cope. Some people can’t go back, he brought his gun to his head, and right before he pulled the trigger, the woosh of a jet flew by. Followed by an explosion that rocked our armored kettle car on its side, dust flying into the air combined with screams and the sounds of rocks falling from above.
I was out for a second, the blast concussion knocked me out but I was coming back. The thick dust lingered with the hull of the kettle car torn to shreds. I walked over to see if anyone was still alive. Casey was coughing through the thick smoke, I tried to talk but the ringing in my ears made me deaf. I screamed to Casey and they pointed to the distance, I ran through the thick smoke and dust and found Becka on the ground, her hand jutting out from the unknown depths of the clouds. I knew it was her hand from the tattoos, I reached down to pull her up and saw her scream. I couldn’t hear anything still, but could feel the air pressure pops of guns firing around us. Becka pulled me down through the smoke until I could see that both of her legs had been blown off in the explosion. One halfway down the calf, the other above the knee. Blood was rushing out and I applied a tourniquet to one leg and tied my belt around the other. Casey stumbled over to us through the fog and kissed Becka. I needed to find another medic with actual supplies and I ran back from the smokey line of fire to find anyone that could help.
I jumped the barrier and climbed through a sea of gunfire over to the next kettle car. It was empty, save the thick smoke that swirled in the air. Out of the black came the barrel of a gun.
“S-stop, or I’ll shoot you.” a shaky voice screamed out, my hearing still wasn’t fully recovered.
It was a lone woman pointing a gun, with a crowd of identical women in the back, cowered in fear with weapons at their feet. I saw her face twist and change as she recognized herself on the other end of the barrel. More masculine, with shorter hair and stubble from testosterone, but nonetheless recognizable in an uncanny way. So we stood in the smoke all staring at each other. The bullets crackling above, the sounds of the people pushing the barriers, and police riot shields cracking over helmets.
“There’s a place for you back home. A real home. They forced you to come out here and die. But you don’t have to. Drop your gun.” I said to the identical Rosie, visibly shaken and almost on the verge of crying.
She kept the gun pointed at me, the barrel wobbling in the smoke, moving the whisps around in a circle. The same disturbance in the smoke appeared in the distance. It was coming closer, a familiar movement of a person, but all I could see was movement and nothing else. There were footsteps in the mud and the prints got closer, until I saw them stop right in front of me. I started to choke, an invisible hand choking me with all of its strength, my windpipe and vocal cords crushing under the weight. The air moved more and the camouflage subsided into a strange static of the background.
“You fucking bitch, you got my wife killed. They cut off her oxygen tokens after they fired me. All because you wouldn’t die” The police officer choked me harder and took off his helmet with his other hand. It had to have been the same one that beat me and threw me into the trash chute.
“They-they will do this to you too. Come with-come with us.” I tried talking but my words came out in a whisper. My vision was cutting out, the darkness of asphyxiation coming in. Then a shot. And I could breathe. It felt so good to gasp in the smoke and tear gas fumes again.
The Rosie stood there shaking as the camouflaged cop gasped for air, his suit glitching with different objects around us, trying to orient itself with the broken sensors.
I looked at the man laying on the floor, blood now rushing around him. His eyes had hatred in them, even to the end he wanted to kill me. For what? Because I opened that door. Because he decided to try and kill me. Because he failed.
I smiled and pressed my boot against his neck.
Recovering From a Broken World
We lost a lot of people during the push. We met the police line head-on, where their forces were the most concentrated to take the heat off our allies who were doing work and losing their own people. Those losses won’t be forgotten, and never will be. Some people talk about the push like it was some historical event. It wasn’t, it was an event in a long line of events, with real people who we knew and loved, and cared about. Even calling it the push took away what work people had done before to get us to this place, even now that we think we won, there are still thousands of police, military, and ex-billionaires in the exiled lands who never changed. That world that we thought we could stomp out in one big push was still alive, though diminished on the outskirts. It felt like we won, seeing the city center being used by all people instead of a few. But I don’t feel like a winner, from all the things I lost, all the people gone, this doesn’t feel like a victory. It doesn’t feel like a victory when we have group therapy sessions with the people who went through it all. It doesn’t feel like a victory when we have to shake hands with the people who at one time subjugated and killed us. Even if they were forced into being police or conscripted in the military, there was still that sting. I thought we had got over that sting, I thought we had progressed past the hate the corporate city and their systems forced us to have. And yet after fighting, sometimes those feelings would come back, even though they had gone through therapy, became part of our new city, and worked hard to move away from their old lives. There was still a tension through the peace, that they might still be cops forever. There were people who would not and sometimes could not forgive them for that past. The hard part was being OK with that fact. It was hard to push people away into exile, we wanted to help anyone that needed help. Yet there were people who could not overcome their violence, their hate, and their racism to be able to even live near us. It hurt to know that there were people who so badly hated you, that even when meeting their needs, they pushed you away. It didn’t feel like a victory because the illusion that we were perfect, that we had figured it all out had shattered. We didn’t know it all, we didn’t have a perfect grand plan. We had a good foundation, but the idea that the house we built around us was indestructible fell apart when confronted with reality. But that was also OK. It was just hard to accept.
Other times it does feel like a victory, when I see families that at one point were starving, doing well, and harvesting in their micro plots. It feels like a victory when I see the streetcars roll past our home, taking people in and out of areas that we never dreamed we would be living in. It feels like a victory when I see plants coming up from the cracked pavement in what used to be a barren parking lot. It feels like a victory when Dakaasin and the solar energy collective get another reflector to track the sun and direct sunlight into a highrise. Sometimes it feels like a victory when I know the thousands of people who now can live a life like me.
I always like to stroll down to the tech union square and visit Becka while she's working on some weird new invention with her engineering friends. At night I push her in her wheelchair down the treelined streets, and we stop at where the kettle car flipped, we stop at all the memorials on the way home and put fresh flowers and offerings. We used to take walks, but Becka likes being able to take notes on improvements that can be made with the urban planning and disability circles. Now we spend even more time together, in a closeness that I hadn’t felt before.
I love coming home to Trystan and Becka, watching the kids fly tether drones outside while sipping on some tea from the garden.
Every day I stop by to see Rory and the new groups of Rosies, DeAndras, Gregs, and Brians who are learning the ropes of how things work. He really has come into his own, found himself here, and been able to embrace who he really is. Rory always helps the newcomers try and find themselves now that they have the freedom to. From someone there who knows their issues, their struggles.
We opened up a new community center to the right of the farming mega tower, a joint venture of the education union, agricultural committee, and the retrofit circles. This tower was the same one Rory came from, taking advantage of the greenspace up top and the insane amount of watering systems already built into the tower we were able to produce around thirty percent of all the fruits and nuts used in the innercity. Luckily Dakaasin and the solar energy circle were able to get all the reflectors up, so the tower doesn’t require really any power to grow.
The streets were now lined with homes, community centers, union meeting halls, music venues, art gardens, all bustling with people moving in and out. When before this was a corporate corridor, full of tent cities, gambling halls, and parking lots. We put in a new community center for Rory and his work on making a new circle, the synthetic human circle, that fell under the artificial intelligence union. So all people, biological, hybrid, or artificial can have a place to meet and talk about what life looks like from here.
So now when I want to see Rory, I just have to take the electric trolley downtown, get off at artists alley, go down the street to the end of the block and I can see him teaching a group of people what it’s like to be free. In the building to the left of the corner store.
If you liked this story please let me know and share it with other people who might like it as well. I really appreciate you reading this. I never thought anyone would read what I wrote, so I really appreciate it. You have no idea. If this story did something for you, you might be interested in anarchism, social ecology, solarpunk and horizontal organizing. We can make a world like this happen, all it takes it trying.