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Two low-orbit laboratories bump into each other. Twenty-seven scientists die. Terrestrials call for greater international traffic control. Space travel suffers, as it always does immediately following this type of thing. There are videos of coffins draped in flags on monitors in Canada and Australia. In the U.S., the season finale of _Did I Really Do That?_ nets record numbers.
My home is new. Or, new to me. It’s a fresh cardboard box with a tarp to keep the rain off. It sits on two plastic palettes. It’s warm enough. There are two others that share this section of the alley. We leave each other alone, but share the burning barrel on cooler nights. They don’t drink either, so the bullshit is kept to a minimum. Just surviving.
I’m sitting against the building, waiting for that nice lady that works in the plant store to walk by. She almost always drops a dollar into my lap, and that buys me a sandwich or a 3-day clip of synth meals. She looks nice, smells nice, and probably has a nice life with her nice boyfriend in her nice apartment. I’m waiting for that nice to rub off on my sorry ass. I see her down the ways.
“Hey, indigent. Get your stink off my block before I end you.”
Some kid. A thug-in-training, exerting his new power. His street persona, “Killer McBadass,” fits him like hand-me-down shoes, so I know he’s pulling his reserves from a piece tucked in his pocket. He’s talking to me but won’t look at me directly.
“See that fem there with the bag of dirt or whatever? I’m gonna move right after I talk with her a sec, okay?”
The thugling seems confused. Can’t decide if my response is a plea, a negotiation, or an act of defiance. His picture book of gangster ways didn’t cover this, so he errs on the side of offense.
“You ugly AND deaf? I said you gotta get up off your homeless ass and get off this block.” He pulls out his little gun. I look at it; it’s a joke. He’s holding it 8 inches from my head… dumb. As I stand up, I slide my arm up under his grip and step into him. The wrap is elementary, and I follow through with the move that shatters his elbow. He may never use this arm again, but I’m saving him years of grief… giving and receiving. He quietly sits down, mute with agony. Probably in shock.
The nice plant lady sees me. I smile. She drops a buck into my lap.
Weightlessness; a sensation worth the planet’s riches. I’ll never experience it. Orbital real estate promises 8-hour long sunsets and high dives that last 90 seconds. My most valuable possession is a dozen paperback novellas, but the thing I use the most is a tarp.
I have $24.32 in a baggie. It’s almost enough for a bowl of yakisoba at the Noodle House down the way. The synth meals—a clip of fortified wafers that curb the appetite provided by the Department of Social Services—don’t satisfy the primal need for a full belly.
The wagon is locked to a tumbledown cyclone fence in a derelict lot that looks like a showroom for burnt mattresses and broken pieces of office furniture. This neighborhood is where unwanted things come to die. Nature reclaims everything here. The sidewalks look like pea-patch gardens where saplings have come up through widened cracks. Darkened tenement building are full of residents; you can see the glow of small cooking fires and hear the mumbles of addicts in the quiet evenings.
I see the Noodle House ahead. It’s one of the few independent businesses operating in the district. Probably not licensed, but it’s cheap. They know their market. A man holds up the wall near the door… a nouveau artiste living in the slum to satisfy a requirement of his urban studies degree, perhaps. He smokes a pipe reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes that spreads the sweet stink of synthetic marijuana. The steamed windows diffuse the one bit of signage; an LCD bowl of noodles with rays of curly white steam lines. Half of the lights aren’t working.
“You don’t wanna go in there. Place is getting robbed,” stoner Sherlock tells me as I reach for the door. I pull the door anyway, sending the bells hanging from the inside clanging.
Inside, a kid waves an antique shotgun at me, then quickly brings it back to the proprietor. There are two patrons holding their hands out flat on the tables in front of them. Their bowls of soup cooling while the thief conducts his business. “MONEY! GIVE IT!”
The Noodle House had converted to an automated teller years ago. Shotgun is too amped on adrenalin, synthetic or organic, to have figured out that he’s not going to get any money here. He hops from one foot to the other, constantly pulling his gun to one target to the other. It’s probably Buzz or Queen Maple… the two street speeds that are addictive enough to make a person rob a place for a few bucks and cheap enough to make it worth it. I step into the florescent shop.
“THAT BAG. HERE!” I hold up the baggie with my dinner money. “MINE NOW!” he announces. He takes his hand off the stock to grab at the bag of coins.
I swing the baggie forward. It arcs in his direction, higher than his outstretched hand towards his face. He reflexively reaches up to grab at it as I step forward. I hook the barrel of the shotgun with my thumb and draw it upward until my hand can close around it, then slam it downward onto his foot. The metatarsals make a popping sound when they break, or maybe it’s his index finger. He should have removed the trigger guard. He yelps in surprise… too high to feel any pain (yet). I bring the gun back up swiftly and drive the end of the barrel into the underside of his jawbone. It closes his surprised mouth… a bit of tongue, blood, and chalky tooth fall onto the floor. The unnecessary gun is pulled away while I lead him to the door and eject him onto the sidewalk. Sherlock looks a surprised; perhaps this will find its way into his thesis.
The patrons, relieved, return to their soups as I retrieve my bag of coins. The proprietor waves my offer away and puts in the order for a hot bowl on yakisoba, on the house.