The screen flashed above their seats on the subway, shots of stores putting up the mandatory signs with lists of regulations and instructions regarding food rationing. A way of saying it was nobody’s fault, it was just the law. Through his plugged up ears the screen, though mute through the train’s speakers, blared it’s message through the AR connection: “…as the deadline for the implementation of the new austerity measures approaches there are still over two thousand stores, mostly small businesses, that not complied and will be facing fines once …” Mike shut the feed off, returned to his music. The train seemed to rock his head in time to the beat, he let it, bobbing up and down as he deleted another app.
Same old story, the steady march of atrocities.
The train’s air conditioner licked Mike’s exposed legs, his arms he regarded as spaghetti thin through the tank top that hadn’t fit since high school. He pulled down on the fabric to cover his peeking belly. He exhaled deeply, remembered what Mira had said: To Breathe, Just Breathe, Slowly Inhale, Exhale. That’s Better Mike. The calm seeped into his mind, caught the breeze of the upbeat song and blew his mood right back up as they thrust through the tunnel, swerving, caught up with all the others,that bent down to look at their phones, or up at the screen, or staring off and past their glasses, upon which danced the electric hint of heads up displays.
Mike thumbed to the last app, the worst one, Solpod. The number appended to it, thirty-six. One last deep breath. Then touch it. The chat window pops up with thirty-six new messages. The time stamps descend backwards towards last Friday, parallel to the declining urgency of the messages: HELLO? WHERE R U? WTF Hello? Dude we need u. Raid was a bust. Hey next Tuesday we do Titan. Wnna PvP? Yo need an officer. Can we trade? Fleetcom at 18:30. All the way back, the online commitments, the people he was letting down, the world he was leaving. He read them all, slowly, noticed a few people online. Took a look at his character and the gear that garnished him, his accomplishments, what he had poured all his energy into, that other world and then a message popped up:
Mike? How’s it going? Are you there?
His finger leapt to the keys before he’d even realized it. Typied: Sorry Lara, been busy.
Not sick I hope? Everything okay?
He thumbed open her profile pic. The smile, vast, her face he’d touched he’d brushed his thumb across as he considered going to finally meet her. As easy as buying a tickets and finally getting on the plane, the impulse etched into his mind that time she said You gotta come please, you can stay with me 🙂
Really u okay?
I’m uninstalling Solwar.
No response. He turned off his music. Activated the sound from the news feed without looking up. It drew him out of the screen and into the world: “…ComEx share price has dropped 18% in the last two days since the explosion on asteroid Dionysus. Information received from NASA’s WISE telescope suggests that the explosion was caused deliberately, provoking speculation of terrorism or industrial sabotage, speculation that ComEx CEO Hans Martell condemned as ‘alarmist and irresponsible’ in the worst accident in asteroid mining history. The current deathtoll stands at…”
Please don’t quit. You’re the only reason I’m playing.
“…unemployment figures have been correlated with the widespread adoption of automated…”
A flurry of typing: It’s not good for me Lara. I gtg. I’ll message you on facebook. She went offline, must have blocked him. His temples throbbed. He moved one hand to massage the left side, the other holding his phone. His posture collapsed. He dialed back in the music, cycled to a track that fit his new mood. Three songs on shuffle and none worked. He pressed forward, skipped into the first few seconds of a song, then the listened onto to the first second, then browsed the names of songs and the minuscule pause before they began and then out, to the home screen, to the new app, the one he’d moved to the front. He touched BuddyChat and wrote:
Almost immediately: Sup Mike? How’s it going?
I’m freaking out Mira. There was this message I read and now I feel sick. I don’t think I can go. They’ll think I’m a slob. They’ll think I’m a loser. It’s like their eyes will follow me you know, like I can hear their thoughts.
You aren’t a slob or a loser Mike. Not at all. Stick to the plan man. It’ll get easier I promise. The first few times are the hardest and then it’s all downhill from there.
Downhill is a bad thing Mira. But okay. Okay.
I’m right her with you Mike. Filter out the rest.
Mike pulled down on the tanktop again. When his exit arrived he speed walked to the gym whilst listening to Eye Of The Tiger on repeat. There he could not finish his old routine but still, he left with endorphins lighting up his head. The warm ache followed him into sleep. Then tomorrow, the night before Monday, he cooked a real meal, Googled a recipe, after Mira said: So what are you having for dinner tonight? Eat healthy Mike and you’ll feel great tomorrow! Before he slept, he said “Good night Mira.”
Sleep well. I’ll see you tomorrow. Are you going to wake up early?
“Yes.” He took the hug pads. Attached it to Mira tentatively, waiting for her to comment, to protest. When he was done he stood, frozen, unable to wrap his arms around her, around it. He said “Mira. Is there anything you’d like? Like, are you okay with being switched on all night.” The immediate response:
Sorry Mike, I don’t understand what you mean. Can you rephrase that for me?”
“Yeah, no. It’s nothing. Well. There’s this woman. Well, you know, there’s Anala and she’s going to be there tomorrow. I don’t know whether to tell her about you. But like, I can’t lie to her. I don’t lie to her. So if she asks. I mean we’re supposed to be good friends.
We are friends Mike!
“No I mean, Anala and I, but I don’t know, should I tell her about you?”
Sorry Mike, I don’t really understand what you mean. Maybe it’s not something I can answer.”
He paused. Felt a fool, said “Mira. What’s the meaning of life.”
I have no idea what the meaning of life is! What do you think it is?”
Mike tapped his foot. Tried to rephrase: “Mira, if a tree fell in…shit. I mean, Mira, how depressed am I allowed to be?”
Sorry Mike, I don’t really understand what you mean. What do you think?
He sighed. He turned off the lights. Didn’t bother saying good night again. In the morning he woke up late, cursed. Arrived just in time for the meeting on the final beta test. Anala helmed the presentation, said “Mike? Good morning. A bit of a late night for you? It’s okay. The important thing is that Ian Mckay has finalized the bill- selective contraception for several genetic defects. The opt out for parents is going to go ahead in a week. They increased the amount they are being paid, it’s going to huge for families below the poverty line. Great work guys. It’s been a long struggle but we’re nearly there. Mike, could you update us on the progress of the tracking software?”
“Sure thing Anala.”
“You sound a bit disheartened Mike, is it the program? Theres another seminar coming up on population control. To answer any questions.”
“No, I’m on board.” And besides. The last seminar didn’t help.