My http://nanowrimo.org contribution. Please provide constructive feedback.
Mira trudged in the thin sliver of shade before the abandoned storefronts. She pulled a mildewy t-shirt across her face to keep some of the swirling dust out of her nose and mouth. The California sun was pounding down like a molten hammer onto a filthy anvil. Mira squinted across the broken pavement of the parking lot, dry weeds thrusting upward as nature reclaimed this place. It had been a shopping complex of some kind once. She had seen places like this on shows. She looked down at her cardboard visor and shook it. The power bar was good, she had been in the sun for hours so it better be, but the picture was dead. She pinched the reset dot for a moment, nearly pushing her cracked and dirt encrusted thumbnail through the flimsy material.
“Fuck,” she spat. She rarely had to look at default reality, and it made her feel bad. This place was goddamn ugly. Everything was brown and dry and crappy. With her visor on, she could just follow the map and it would abstract away all this ugliness. It lit her path with little green dots, gave her points for avoiding obstacles, and she could keep chatTime running all the while, her friends never out of reach. But without her visor, well, this whole thing just sucked. She had no idea where she was or how to get to where she was going. She wandered forward aimlessly, surveying the deserted plaza.
“What’s the matter, wirehead? Your rig broke?” croaked a voice, making Mira jump. She twirled around, trying to see where the voice was coming from, but she couldn’t see anything. “Heehee, up here, idiot,” said the voice, and Mira looked up to see a tiny sparrow drone hovering above her. “I jammed it! That’s why,” it said. “This is my turf, you gotta pay the troll if you wanna pass.”
Mira scratched her temple and thought about this for a moment. She’d never heard of a drone trolls before. Usually the gang that controlled the area around a blood bank would just post some guys a few hundred meters out and they would tell her how much tax she would have to pay. But she was trying out this new place, because she heard they were paying more if you were young enough. Maybe the gangs were different out here. But they usually just had guns and didn’t mess around with this high tech stuff.
This sounded like bullshit to her. Real gangs toted AKs. An AK will blow a big ragged hole in you. What’s a stupid little drone going to do? Also, the voice sounded like a kid, someone her little brother’s age. Maybe twelve or thirteen. But still, her visor was toast and she was stuck. “How am I gonna pay you if my visor won’t work?” she asked the drone, hovering above her head, well out of reach. She glanced around for a good rock. There were plenty of loose stones around.
“That’s not how you’re gonna pay this troll tax,” said the voice. “There’s another way. With your body.”
Mira shivered with disgust and glanced around fearfully. “Ew, don’t be fucking gross,” she shouted. She doubted there was anyone with muscle around here to grab her. And she was pretty fast if she had to run.
“That’s not what I meant, wirehead,” said the drone. The whiney tone of voice was definitely that of a petulant tween. “Put your visor back on, it will work again, sort of. Just follow the blue dots this time. You are gonna make a little detour on the way to the blood bank.”
Sure enough, when Mira donned the visor again, the display was lit. But everything looked wrong. It wasn’t setup as she liked. She tried opening chatTime windows, but they were all greyed out. She could see her friends posting frantic updates about how Mira had dropped offline, but Mira couldn’t respond to any of the messages. Still, it felt good to see the hit counts ringing up for #whyMiraOffline.
“Can’t you stay off chatTime for 5 seconds?” complained the drone. “Just follow the blue dots.”
Mira saw the dots lead right up to the metal graffiti covered door of one of the shuttered shops. She never bothered checking these any more. They were always locked tight. And if you found a way into one of these deserted places, someone had usually found their way in first. Unsavory someones, mostly. So Mira only went into squats with a group of friends, and only if they knew people who would vouch for the place. But it looked like this snotty kid with the drone had truly hacked her visor, so she was sort of stuck and had to follow his directions.
Mira pulled on the barred metal door and found that it swung open, reluctantly. She gasped in surprise at the lush green interior, and stepped eagerly inside, pulling the door shut behind her. The roof of this place had mostly caved in long ago and sunlight was filtering in between the beams, which offered bands of cool shade from the unrelenting sun. A water main must be leaking somewhere, because the bushes and small trees sprouting through the floor of the shop were fresh and healthy seeming. Mira pulled off her visor and saw that this wasn’t an overlay, but part of default reality. She couldn’t believe that this verdant garden was thriving behind that rusty metal door. She wondered what other magical places hid behind the other battered storefronts.
The little drone dropped into the space between a gap in the rafters. “Nice, huh?” said the voice, full of boyish delight.
Mira noticed that one of the trees was an apple tree and had actual apples dangling from its limbs. She had never seen an apple tree in real life. “Can I have an apple?” she begged the drone boy as she approached the tree in wonderment, visor tilted back on her head.
“What? Oh yeah, sure, I guess. Are you hungry or something? We have SocStab rations,” said the drone in surprise.
“I’m sick of social stability rations,” said Mira, grabbing a ripe apple and yanking it down from the tree. Several other apples fell and she guiltily scrambled to grab those as well. She crammed the loose apples into her bag and took a bite of one. It’s crisp, sweet, juicy flesh exploded in her parched mouth and she nearly fainted with enjoyment. It was undeniably the best apple she had ever had in her life. Though she rarely had anything like a fresh fruit or vegetable, so that wasn’t saying much.
“Will you put the visor back on now and follow the blue dots? I can’t loiter long with this drone, it’s battery is almost done,” complained the little drone; and then it was gone, buzzing quietly up through a gap in the roof and soaring away out of sight.
Mira idly consider blowing the drone boy off and hanging out in the leafy refuge for a while. But then she remembered that he had fucked up her visor so she couldn’t get on chatTime, and she needed to find that little bastard and make him fix it. She dropped the visor back down and found the blue dots, occasionally pawing impotently at the sem-disabled chatTime windows as interest in her whereabouts quickly faded to be replaced by conversation about the latest shows. At least she had the wonderful apple to comfort her as she gnawed it down to the core and picked her way through the miniature forest as the dots led her toward the back of the building.
The forest ended abruptly 30 feet from the back wall of the store. The tiled floor was oddly intact along this wall, somehow impervious to nature’s prying fingers. The dots pointed Mira toward a pair of doors with crash bars, the exit sign above them illuminated. Mira was startled to see that electricity was still flowing through this destroyed place. She lifted her visor to be sure it was real, and, sure enough, the exit sign glowed brightly. She pushed through the doors and found herself in a massive warehouse. The ceiling soared above her into darkness. The only light was the sunlight filtering through the ruined roof behind her. Her path led down an aisle between towering racks stacked with cardboard boxes. She let the doors shut behind her and was engulfed in darkness, her visor providing a wireframe of racks and obstacles in her path.
She felt gypped when she scrambled over a pile of tumbled boxes, but didn’t get any points for her effort, and she watched the chatTime feeds longingly, wishing she could post about this adventure right away. Her social status would definitely spike up once she told this story. She sure hoped her visor wasn’t too screwed up to be recording this part. Going from that weird overgrown store into this huge warehouse was as interesting footage as any video game she had ever played. Her friends would love it.
After a while, the dots led Mira down an aisle to the right, and she came to a door with a punch clock next to it and a little stand with a coffeemaker on it. The light was lit and Mira could smell a fresh pot of coffee. She found a stack of paper cups under the coffee machine and poured herself a cup. It scalded the inside of her mouth and tasted bitter. She rummaged around the stand a bit more and found the non-dairy creamer. She emptied five or six creamers into the cup, which cooled the coffee and made it smoother, though they added a slightly greasy flavor. Refreshed by a few sips of coffee, Mira pressed ahead and went through the door.
She would have been blinded by the bright fluorescent lights of the break room she found herself in, if the visor hadn’t attenuated the brightness. A middle aged woman in a white lab coat sat at a table, performing some virtual task as Mira entered, her fingers flitting deftly above the bright white tabletop before her. A young teenaged boy, maybe thirteen years old, sat across from her, kicking his legs as he manipulated something, probably the drone, Mira decided.
The woman promptly left off from her work and lifted her glasses when Mira entered. She had brown hair streaked with grey and a hard expression on her face. She looked like a rich woman, both she and the boy were in clean clothes that looked expensive.
“Close the door, sit down. We don’t have much time,” said the woman, gesturing tersely to a strange chair with one padded armrest and a reclined backrest.
“The fuck?” asked Mira, lifting her visor to her head. “Your boy messed up my visor! Tell him to fix it.”
“I’m the one who told him to break it in the first place,” responded the woman, taking Mira by the shoulders and firmly pushing her down into the chair. Mira complied because it felt good to sit down and when she leaned back to face the ceiling it felt pretty comfortable. “Don’t worry, we have plenty of those cheap cardboard visors around here for you. I can give you a whole box if you want them. But I need you to run a little errand for my employers.” The woman sat on a stool beside Mira and brusquely rolled up Mira’s sleeve.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked Mira, trying to struggle. But the woman was surprisingly strong and quickly strapped Mira’s arm to the armrest. Mira realized that this was sort of like the chairs in the blood bank. “I’m not giving you any blood for free or even a box of visors, I was on my way to go get real money.” Her heart started racing as she wondered if this woman was trying to steal her blood, but something about the woman’s demeanor gave her pause. The woman wasn’t friendly by any means, but she wasn’t angry either. She was business like, but her eyes didn’t have the deadness that Mira saw when people really intended to harm her. And she had seen dead eyes plenty.
“Oh shucks, I messed up, Ma,” said the boy. “I must have missed a security system somewhere, private security is getting dispatched out here to check on the cameras.”
“That’s fine, son, this was to be expected, get us a car,” said the woman, unwrapping a tiny hypodermic needle from a plastic bag.
“What are you shooting me up with?” asked Mira, more curious than afraid. “This is going to look so cray on my feeds when I get out of here.”
“You aren’t going to be able to put any of this on your feeds,” said the boy smugly. “I’m wiping your visor history.”
“You fucker, do you know how much status I could gain from this?” cried Mira, more upset about the loss of her social attention than whatever it was that this rich woman was about to shoot her up with.
“This isn’t for you, Mira,” said the woman calmly, as she swabbed Mira’s filthy arm with alcohol and deftly sank the needle into her bulging vein. “It’s a present for the blood bank. You won’t feel a thing. It’s perfectly harmless to you.”
Mira believed the woman, because she handled the needle so well that she could barely feel the prick as it pierced her. A few seconds later, the woman was done and had released her arm from the restraint. She then pocketed the needle and the plastic wrapper as she and her son got up to leave.
“There are some stability rations and a box of visors as I promised,” said the woman, pointing to a pair of cardboard boxes on a counter in the corner. “Take them and get out. Security will be here soon.”
“But what the fuck did you just do to me?” asked Mira, annoyed. She felt that she should be standing up for herself more here.
“I don’t really know, dear,” admitted the woman with a shrug. “I just took this gig off of a job board. I did test the vial first and I can assure you it isn’t toxic, but that’s all I know.”
“But it’s for the blood bank? Why?” Mira called after them as the woman and her son exited from another door opposite the one Mira had entered.
“That blood bank is a longevity clinic. The blood goes to plutocrats,” giggled the boy. But his mother shushed him and then the door closed and they were gone.
Mira sat stunned for a moment. Looking at her arm, she found no evidence of the point where the needle had entered her. And she sure didn’t feel drugged up at all. Maybe a little jittery from the coffee. She jumped up, stuffed the boxes into her bag, and bolted out the back door, hoping to ask more questions of the mother and boy. But an autoCar was pulling away, just as she exited the warehouse, back into the pummelling heat of the day. Mira found that the visor she had been wearing was dead again and she tossed it away in frustration. She pulled a fresh visor out of the box and it logged her in properly after scanning her for a moment. The green dots leading to the new blood bank reappeared, and all of her windows came up, just as she liked them. Her friends were practically shrieking with excitement when Mira’s feed came back up on chatTime, and she was texting away so intensely that she didn’t even notice the security vans pulling up and all the security people jumping out and pounding into the warehouse behind her, laden in body armor with weapons out.