Killing Time OST – 5b – Shopping

<< 5a – Shopping

In a corner of the mall’s underground parking where no camera spied, I glued on my Alice identity and scrambled my ID chip; my real face couldn’t be seen where I was going to shop next. First, my dad’s reputation would go down the gutter along with mine. Second, I might as well tattoo “ransom demand” across my forehead. But, most importantly, my real face had no street cred. This personality had.
I drove to the bad parts of town while my head swayed to the beat of some Guns n’ Roses. The name of the group inspired my assassin signature. The contrast between the harshness of guns and tenderness of a flower suited me just fine. The nightshade in and of itself was a metaphor for the impact of technology: a life saver in small, controlled doses; a poison in the wrong hands. Since tech was every bit as much our generation’s cancer as it was its cure, the image befitted my take on reality.
What most people from my neighborhood qualified as the “bad parts” actually housed ninety percent of the population in a third of the city’s space. That begged the question: who made it bad in the first place? No one could expect to remain sane and sensible when they literally couldn’t see the sun. At the end of the tunnel going in that sector, there wasn’t any light. And the only people allowed out – where the light was – were the ones with a permission slip programmed in their ID card.
Obviously, that aspect alone encouraged counterfeiting – which sprouted more and more additional crimes until you had yourself a full blown slum running on black market business. And who was really to blame for it?
I exited the tunnel under the artificial light, despite the theoretical high noon. Nothing got through the tight ranks of superscrappers and the smog. Walking along these streets reminded me of psych ward. I spent a few months there to try and find a cure for the nightmares. Nothing came up but a really heavy depression.
Entering a psych ward, even voluntarily, was tantamount to stepping in Guantanamo; no rights whatsoever. And your bunk mate was the kind of person who obsessed over your boobs and left erotic notes on your pillow.
Comfy.
So instead of actually getting better, the nightmares decupled and chased you down the halls in the middle of the day until you went fetal in a corner. Eventually, you realized no amount of human psychology implants could make uneducated dudes understand you. Machines knew no madness; how could they figure out a cure for it? Ever since knowledge could be bought – for a fortune but still – few humans bothered actually learning: students loans sometimes were about equal to implants money-wise. Implants were always faster though.
In the end, you got home worst then before and reminisced of those days in third person to forget you actually lived them.
Sufficed to say I related with the high suicide rate within the inner city and I better geared my thought on something else before I ran over someone.
My presence within the inner city’s wall sparked a chain reaction invisible to untrained eyes. When a resident came back, people prepared to unload as soon as possible his legal or illegal merchandises. It involved an armed militia to protect the goods and a bunch of arms to carry it. When an unknown outsider drove in, an escort group assembled to track him, figure out what he was up to and gun him down if necessary.
And when a regular customer was identified at the border, messengers ran to their employers to lay out the guns, ammos, and whatever else their catalog advertised. The faint glint of artificial light on a low quality metallic arm twenty-five feet in the air told me messengers were on their way to my usual suppliers. Their eagerness to be ready for my arrival made me feel like a valued customer, no matter how life-threatening stepping inside the inner city was.
Because there were so many people piled onto each other, free running was actually the fastest way to navigate the neighborhood. I would gladly join the messengers and adopt that transport myself but it wasn’t practical once you had recently purchased stuff to get around with. Especially when, like today, you were out to buy some heavy duty chemicals; for some reason, I really didn’t want acid to be slouching around in my backpack while I sprinted. Maybe I didn’t like to live dangerously after all.
One hour escaped the clock while I drove from the entrance to Djeb’s place, which was a fifteen-minute run. When I finally parked my car, the half man waited for me by the door, the width of his smile only limited by the tech on his face.
“Alice,” Djeb said coldly, extending an oversized mechanical arm to shake my hand. “Welcome back. What department interests you today?”
Despite the outdated physical modifications, the status of wanted criminal and the coldness, Djeb was more of a clerk than most mall stores had; he was human and he knew his stuff. Black market’s customer service could teach a thing or two to the city.
“I would like some quality time with Greg if he’s back in shape.”
Djeb nodded and invited me to follow him.
Greg was the absolute best chemist I knew. Unfortunately, fiddling with dangerous liquids without much in the way of protection called for accidents. Last week, a canister blew up in his face, taking his left eye and ear. Today, the lost pieces shone under the light, replaced by artificials way under the city’s standards. Among the rich, modifications were basically invisible but here, every enhancement manifested on the outside; nano-technology couldn’t be replicated without sophisticated equipment.
“Down the rabbit hole again?” Greg greeted me with a Cheshire smile.
“And hoping to off some heads.” I hugged him. A young man nearby raised his gun at me. I looked at the cannon with a cocked eyebrow. “Hey new guy, what do you think you’re doing?”
Djeb pushed the gun down with a finger and eyed the boy intently. Still silent, the center of attention shrank back into darkness. Poor boy.
“We’re terribly sorry about that, Alice. It won’t happen again.” Djeb snapped his finger and a woman entered the room with a tray to offer me a cup of tea. No mall offered such an awesome customer service.
“Alice deserves the rudeness!” Greg taunted. “I should never have agreed to sell you my recipes. I miss your visits.”
I eyed the chemist over my cup as I sipped. He welcomed the money I paid for his teachings, which was more than the profit he would make on a life time supply of each chemical compound. And I still bought straight from him when I felt too lazy to make my own mixes. In fact, he most likely owed me an eye and an ear.
“I’ll try to drop by for a social call more often. Despite the guns.” If at all possible, the young man cowered further in the dark corner. “Have you perfected that plasma-proof window melter yet?” I took a seat and crossed my legs.
“What a casual thing to ask!” Greg laughed. “Let’s see if I can recall that particular acid. That would be the one that blew up in my face. The untamed beast that wrecked my office. The damned –”
“– Sorry Miss Alice, the short answer is no.” Djeb translated with his impeccable butler attitude. Greg mumbled some more colorful descriptions; he was the one who baptized my black market persona. I should start calling him Absolem. The fumes didn’t do him any good either. Nor did the sanitarium atmosphere of the neighborhood.
“Didn’t you have a stable version?” I waved my cup for a refill of tea.
“Yes but it takes half an hour to eat through plasma-proof. You won’t speed paint yourself a hole in the wall with that.”
“Not an issue. I’ll take a pint.”
The two men froze for a moment but they knew crazier people than me. They didn’t mind my eccentricity. Djeb signaled to a boy to go fetch my order.
“Since when do you shop for crafts here?” Greg asked. They really did a nice job, though low-tech, on his face; he could still cock his metallic eyebrow.
“Not crafts. Just not in a hurry this time.”
“Sneaky, sneaky, Ali!” Greg grabbed a pouch from the hands of the recently returned boy. “The only thing it doesn’t react to is rubber so there.” He shoved the pouch in my hands. I flipped the cash to Djeb.
I would need a special gun for this.

5c – Shopping >>

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About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

4 responses to “Killing Time OST – 5b – Shopping

  • Jenn

    And my fav quote of the day “a life saver in small, controlled doses; a poison in the wrong hands”.
    I have a question for you: how is it that Alice & L can drive the same car without comment?
    Oh, and I can totally picture that inner city. For some reason, it reminds me of the movie The 5th Element.

    • Aheïla

      Well, from my point of view, a car isn’t necessarily remarkable in and of itself. Then, unless you get yourself in trouble, no one will check the registration and the driver’s face.
      But maybe in a rewrite I should add something about switching plates while she drives. Nice catch!

  • mish

    Great details on the inner city slums . The smoothness and efficiency of the black market trade system is like a well-oiled machine and Lorelei fits comfortably into the whole equation .

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