by Kevin Weir
Copyright © 2018 by Kevin Weir
"Name and date of birth?"
"Kraft. August 12, 2105."
The Unemployment Office was bustling. While most lines steadily rolled people through, my line had not moved an inch in the last ten minutes. If the looks from the crowd behind me could kill, I would be dead twenty times over. It may have been my fault.
"Kraft?" The large middle-aged woman working the desk looked at me with a half-cocked eyebrow over the rims of her thick glasses. A picture of a fat white cat sat on her desk, and "Delores Briar" was projected on the glass separating us. So far, the conversation had been circular, third time sheíd asked me for my name and DOB. I was going hand over hand up Jacobís ladder. She pursed her lips and frowned at me. "Sir, for the last time, I need your full name."
"Just put quotations around it. Itíll come up!" I canít stand my full name, and I canít stand bureaucracy. All I needed was open water to create a trifecta of hatred.
The UO had a special way of getting under my skin, always filled to the brim with grime, bodies, and mediocrity. Worst of all, it had a weird almond smell; I pretended it was cyanide pumping into my lungs. Poison seemed a better end than death by boredom. Or death by starvation if I couldnít figure out why my unemployment check hadnít shown up in my account this month.
"Hurry it up, laghole! I got things to do!" The insult came from the quickly growing line behind me. The semi-reflection of the divider showed a gaunt-faced man with a greasy skullet hairstyle. Northsiders.
"Steps back, Skullcap," I said, staring into his reflection. "Youíll get your dome polish."
Skullcap shoved me hard enough that my hat flipped off my head when my face hit the divider.
I spun around and shoved two fingers against his chest. "Shut it before I shut it for you!" I forgot about lagholes; trifecta of hatred, here I come.
Skullcap growled at me, showing off a gap where a tooth should have been. He was either too cheap to get a fake, or thought it was cool. Letís see how cool you feel with them all missing. I stepped closer until I could smell the sweat on his stained hoodie. His gaze flicked to the security guard leaning against the sickly green-blue wallpaper in the corner. The guard tapped his stun rifle. Skullcap receded like his hairline and began looking at pictures on his phone.
I picked up my baseball cap. It was a little dirty, but not any worse for wear. I brushed the dirt off the HARDWIRE logo and put it on. Satisfied Iíd showed Skullcap who was boss, I turned back to Delores. "Just put it in, alright? Then we can both carry on with our meager little lives. Donít forget the ĎKí."
Delores rolled her eyes and turned to her screen. The light reflected in her glasses indicated her thin glass monitor had turned on. I stretched to see around the metal screenback that gave Delores her privacy, but the glass divider kept me from seeing the screen. What I could see were her fingers typing k-r-a-f-t into the red light-projection keyboard.
She arched one of her eyebrows. Barely a second had ticked by. Evidently, something came up.
"Iíll be damned, here you are. Kraft." Itís like she didnít believe me.
"Wonderful! Now can I please get my check?" I rapped my index finger on the counter, attempting to convey "hurry up."
"Youíve been canceled." She yawned and clapped her hand on the desk. The light in her glasses disappeared and the projection keyboard shut off.
"Canceled?" I balled my hands to prevent myself from tearing out my own hair. "Why would they cancel my unemployment? Who can cancel my unemployment?"
"I donít have an employer! Hence the unemployment checks Iíve been getting from you for the last year and a half!" I placed both hands on the windowís ledge and put my face as close to the glass as my hat brim would allow. A red warning flashed. please step back.
"Well, apparently someone hired you." Delores looked around me and waved for Skullcap to step forward.
Iím a little ashamed to say I threw a small hissy fit, flipping my green thigh-length canvas coat around to no desired effect. I took a deep breath and pushed all anger and annoyance down to my feet. Cutting Skullcap off from the counter, I swept off my hat and put on the sweetest smile I could muster. I was sure removing my hat left a mat of shaggy brown hair, so I mussed it up into something somewhat presentable. "Ms. Briar ó er ó Delores, if I may?"
"You may not." She crossed her arms.
"Fine. Ms. Briar, I donít work for anyone. I did work for someone, but now I donít. Once again, hence the unemployment checks. To that end, there must be some glitch. Are you sure you have the right file?"
Delores narrowed her eyes, seemingly attempting to use them to burn through mine. My charm had been ineffective.
"There is no one else in the system with only one name, Mister Kraft." She stood as though she was a giant. "You should feel lucky you had it for a year and a half as is. If you have a problem with your situation, I suggest you take it up with your employer, Glowing Future Technologies."
With that, the glass divider displayed a large, screaming red text: move along. I suppressed the urge to unleash every curse word I knew, dropping my hat back onto my head. Glowing Future Technologies. I knew exactly who to talk to. The only man at Glowing Future that had a score to settle with me. I spun around and smacked Skullcapís phone away before leaving. Showed him.
ó ęĽ ó
Glowing Future Technologiesí head office was not far from the southern edge of Montreal Island, in the coincidentally named Glowing Future Tower. There were no short buildings outside the trainís windows, only dozens of glass skyscrapers scattering light. I hopped off the train in the center of the Lighttech District, where most ó if not all ó the key developers of Lighttech-based technology were stationed. Stairs brought me to the streets where fleets of people bustled around south New Montreal.
"Sir!" A stick-thin vendor cut through the crowd. I lengthened my strides, but he slid through the mob like a snake through grass. "Are you in the market for a new screen? I have the Infitex Neo."
"I have a phone." I hurried to cross the street. The do not cross light came on and the crosswalk lines turned red. I halted at the curb and did my best to ignore the screen vendor I was now stuck with.
"Perfect, I suppose. If you want to deal with a tiny screen." He pulled up his sleeve to reveal a wristscreen. "This is great for on-the-go data management. I also have flexile, optic and the olí reliable solid body."
I stared at the second-tier street a dozen stories up, trying everything to show my disinterest.
"I can see by looking at you, youíre worried about the price. Well, itís nothing to concern yourself over. These are cheap, brother. In cost, not quality."
See by looking at me? My coat was a little faded, my jeans a little worn, and my stubble was a few days beyond the normal shaving schedule, but I didnít think I looked homeless.
"Donít tell me youíre one of those Lighttech-bashers. Neo-Luddites are out of fashion these days. Look, brother, weíre talking about the fastest connection to the Network here. Check out the net, update your status, even start your car faster than you ever have before."
I had to take a second to comprehend that. "YouÖ You canít be faster than instantaneous. Itís not possible. Or at least not worth it."
"Not possible is not a word to me, brother! This is the hardware the transit line uses to manage all those trains and buses."
Now he was straight-up lying. The hub that New Montreal Transit uses to communicate with the Network is the size of a small car. NMT isnít even the biggest transit line on the planet, so he definitely wasnít trying to compare his dinky screen to a place like London, Mosgrad, or Nuevo Tokyo.
The crosswalk turned white again and I started to cross, vendor on my tail. Glowing Future Tower had an impressive pavilion out front. The kind of display youíd expect from New Montrealís key producer of Lighttech. The head office was a full ten stories taller than any other building I could see and had twin videos playing on either side of its front door that expounded on every screen, hub, and receiver chip made by them. A gleaming tower among many more gleaming towers.
Suffice to say, with my ball cap and dirty coat, I stuck out against the polished architecture.
"Youíre not going to want to pass up these deals," the vendor said.
I had almost forgotten he was still shadowing me.
"Look at me, man." If I was going to be confused with a vagrant, I might as well abuse it. "Does it look like I have money to throw around?" I pointed at a group of people huddled around a table. One of them was playing something on his tablet. Their badges identified them as interns. "Try them, maybe theyíre looking to upgrade."
The vendor charged off toward his new prey. "Brothers! Are you interested in some top-of-the-line Lighttech?"
I never liked the word "Lighttech." It seemed far too obvious. Then again, there does seem to be a distinct lack of subtlety with these corporations. Or maybe everyone needs a pavilion and I just missed the memo.
With the vendor gone, I was free to return to the problem at hand, Glowing Future. Through the doors, I marched across the spacious glass and marble lobby. The entire first floor was a painfully cavernous void. A few chairs against the distant walls, but other than that, it was depressingly sterile. I pulled my black Gloves on as I approached the security area. A skinny security guard with an upside-down name tag, Daniels, sat next to a white bot. Daniels looked to be in his early twenties and was repeatedly trying to fix the knot in his tie. I tapped the gate as I passed, the circuits etched into the Gloveís fabric pulsing slightly as I did.
"Hey, yó" Daniels started to say something but stopped in his tracks as I swept through the scanner. No sound, not even the slightest beep, molested my stalk.
"Uh, alright, sir."
The guard returned to his seat, satisfied by the scannerís result. I scoffed inside my head at the lame guard. They were taught to trust the equipment. Unfortunately, the equipment didnít always work for them.
I arrived at the admin desk and knocked on the counter. The clerk across the desk took one look at my unshaven mug with my Righteous Beer tee-shirt and stuck up a finger in a "one-second" gesture. He turned back to his phone.
He had an Acog Theory phone. Acog made fairly secure devices, but "fairly" isnít always enough. I tapped a few icons on the back of my right Glove. Not even a second later, the clerkís prattling about his weekend plans stopped. He frowned at his phone. call failed blinked on the screen. With a sweet smile, I gently knocked on the desk again. "Iím here to see Mr. Godwin."
"HeÖ uh, do you have an appointment?" the clerk asked, barely looking away from his phone.
"Oh, heís expecting me."
ó ęĽ ó