APROXM: SHORT STORY

RAT RACE

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PREFACE: Assignment. Wrote this not long after reading an article about putting the punk in cyberpunk. Guy asks me after class, "You read this article about..." Wish I'd read one on writing more concisely instead, though.



Raindrops poured down from above in what would be the fourth rainstorm this week, almost certainly generated from the Weather Control Station to "wash out" crime--not everyone is comfortable dealing Neon or Morph-Ed these days, especially when you're getting yourself soaked in the process. You can't wash out crime, though, no matter what President Rothschild thinks, seeing as I'm heading out of my apartment mega-complex with a loaded submachine gun tucked away in my rucksack. And as I stare upwards into the air above--my tech goggles piercing the dark clouds and sky that resembles the static of an old time television set, I observe several Blackwater stealth copters traveling to and fro as elegantly as the raindrops descend. Snapping myself back to my objective, I lower my head and enter the sea of people making up the population of New Hong Kong.


Radiant, pink mohawks. Jackets lined with popping green and mellow blue. Crowds gathered around television stores--their TV's displaying the news, offering citizens another glimpse into the latest shooting and criminal outing. As I trudge through the sidewalk, you can't help notice the people around you. Most keep their head down, not daring to exchange glances with someone else and violate some unknown law. Some stick together in hopes of deterring the persistent muggings and, on occasion, killings. Above all, one thing is certain: everyone in this city is trying to survive, and just traversing point A to B is congratulatory enough.


Observing the local wildlife is just one of many pastimes available in the Kong, though. When you're not paying attention to the populace, you tend to realize just how bleak everything looks. Constant rain doesn't help that a blue fog permeates its surroundings with pollution giving storm clouds a helping hand in blanketing the ever expanding metropolis. Buildings, both newly constructed and from the old world, ever expanding and criminal short, offer a range of dark gray to black in terms of color, with vibrant neon signs to accompany the structures, depicting lustful women,amalgamations of Chinese and Japanese letters, or simple "We're Open"'s. A cursory glance inside the storefronts gets me interested for a few moments as I glance at the variety.


With skyscrapers that pierce the dark veil of the sky belonging to the corporate elite, small scale stores are for the low life scum such as I and those around me. Gun stores dominate the scene, seeing as everyone's scared half to death, offering high tech and highly expensive arsenals while also providing low tech (and obviously stolen) police batons and other law enforcement equipment. Clothing stores are far and few between, and you never really know if you're getting something that's bugged with a tracking chip in it or not. Brothels are what really attract people's attention--I've stepped in one far more than a few times, and they're always packed with rowdy, desperate men and sometimes women who have nowhere else to go. Sometimes a stripper comes out with an augmented, robotic leg, and it's always hit or miss whether the crowd is receptive or not. I've heard stories of whores getting offed just for their tech. Savage killing, but maybe I'm no better. Hell, I've even got an augment myself.


My scattered thoughts are interrupted as a beggar stops me for credits. I throw up my hand to pass her request, but she insists, producing her QR code ticket, begging me to scan it and deposit something--anything. There is a pause--and it's just her and I standing too close together--an island in the middle of an ocean of human beings all destined for different locations, all trapped here in this congested city. With a sigh, I register her QR code in my tech goggles and give her five credits--enough for a beer.


Digging my hands into my trenchcoat's deep pockets, I feel for my weapon until remembering that it's stored in my rucksack. The slick feel of the grip. The tightened silencer on the end. I remember when I bought this--It was all too similar to the scenario before me. Rain. Dark skies. Crowded people. The dealer and I took shelter in an alley just two blocks away from a Blackwater tower--I remember that so clearly for there was an expansive screen dominating the front, advertising the Blackwater Private Security firm and asking citizens to do their part and join them. Blood red dots appeared in their visors, and advertisement or not, I felt fear lay a palm on my neck.


Security firms (or rather, private armies) aren't the only company that advertises in the Kong. With the government losing more and more of its power while companies gain advantages in dictating the lives of citizens such as myself, they make their presence very, very well known. For every two doors of a building, a monitor displays the newest alcohol beverage, an upcoming generic action flick, a line of "technologic" makeup, or just a reminder that our actions are careful monitored. By who? Only the meager amount of rebels care nowadays. There's enough problems to go around in New Hong Kong that worrying about corporate stooges is pretty damn low on the totem. Most people can't afford to eat twice a day, making all the advertisements for the newest burger at McDahew's a grim reminder of their mortality.


Some kids run by, jumping in mud puddles and shooting each other with imaginary guns, most likely playing a game of "Military Police and Robbers". It's already strange enough to see kids, given that half the population is forcibly sterilized, and the other half is too damn poor to even consider it, but it's even stranger to see such innocence make light of the reality we face daily. I walk through the street catching people's glances and all I can see are eyes that belonged to my friends--to my family--lost in riots and police corruption. So many dead--so many not held accountable. You can't exactly sue a police department--someday or another, someone on their behalf "pays you a visit".


Speak of the devil. Too young to be pulling stunts like this, a tattooed woman runs up to a Blackwater personnel member and begins arguing loudly. There is little movement, but the sights in his visor are clear--he draws his baton and begins beating the rebel savagely until there are no breaths to be drawn. Despite the gruesome scene, not a single person turns their head--this won't be the last time they see someone die. This is their reality.


With the population split into those who rebel and those who rebel only in thought while just trying to survive the day, it's no wonder New Hong Kong is the mess that it is. Surviving the day. Making money. Buying food and making it last. That's what's important. No matter how many protests break out, there's no ground to take--no liberties to be earned. When President Rothschild declares curfew to be at 11 o'clock, you listen, and you obey, or you end up lying in an alley clutching your chest as rain pays visit to your informal funeral.


Bullets. Bullets. Bullets. Raindrops smear across my goggles, and as I wipe them, I notice the address of the apartment complex before me. This is the place. I tighten my grip on my rucksack and climb into the elevator destined for the twenty seventh floor. Every level passed means a tiny glimmer of light shines through the cracks of the lift door onto my goggles. The usually peaceful elevator music is unusually distorted and glitchy--just another maintenance issue that won't be fixed. While the elevator ascends, I stretch my arm out--feeling its delicate, mechanical craftsmanship. Sometimes, to do the job, you have to make sacrifices you don't particularly want to make.


Ding.


Creaks moan from the elevator as it comes to a grinding halt with the doors opening slowly. Stepping out, I scan the apartments with my goggles, bringing up heat signatures and important information attached to each door. In just a few minutes of scanning, a number appears: 451. That's it. That's where I'm destined.


I approach the door and examine the keypad for a couple of seconds, deciding whether it's easier to hack the door or simply break the hell out of it. Drifting to the thought of what I'm going to eat (perhaps at the new Ramen stand?), I decide on a quick method of preparing my augmented fist and firing a punch through the door. The door groaning intensely, I deliver a swift kick to the door and enter my target's living quarters.


Among the wall, several posters are taped and stapled, depicting shows such as New Gatcha Warriors, The Neo Dead, and Police: Real Tales. Months upon months of dishes and leftovers dominate a corner of the room, its contents spilling onto the dirty tiling of the floor. Magazines, video games, and a plethora of both Neon and Morph-Ed, among other drugs, are spilled all over the floors and draped over dressers and wardrobes. Empty Valentine's Day candy boxes lie in several trash cans, with wrappers forming mountains of their own. A cybernetic desk is propped up against the opposite corner with several monitors and computer towers lying on top of each other. And in the corner facing the desk… is my target.


Drawing my weapon, I cock it and aim towards the figure huddled into the corner as I approach. Getting closer and closer, I realize he's wearing a virtual reality head dome, its cord draped all along the floor and connected to the monitors. Glancing over to the screens, I can see him--he's walking along a virtual garden, a brilliant blue sky hanging overhead with puffy, white clouds interspersed. Water rushing to and fro, a river runs opposite of him, with another… character… on the other side. She waves over to him, and they embrace in the middle of the river, water soaking their clothes and splashing everywhere. They grip hands and exit the river, continuing their peaceful walk down the garden. Trees. Birds. Everything this world is not.


I feel a lump in my throat and hesitate, if only for a moment. In this world--in this city, New Hong Kong, you have to do whatever it takes to survive, even it means doing something… savage. My eyes return to the huddled figure, murmuring as he wraps his hands together. In an instance so very rare, I flick a switch on my goggles and disable my sight. My gun is raised. I pull the trigger.


Turning around and stepping over the flattened apartment room door, I flick the goggles back on and call in my "representative", reporting the successful assassination. After a brief congratulations, twenty five hundred credits are deposited in my account. Emerging back into the storm, with rain pouring among its millions of citizens and skyscrapers and advertising screens and helicopters and… and me, I realize that I am just another contributor to the low life of the Kong.


But at least I'll eat tonight.

===========================

RAT RACE, REVISION (2017)



Raindrops poured down from above in what would be the fourth rainstorm this week, almost certainly generated from the Weather Control Station to "wash out" crime--not everyone is comfortable dealing Neon or Morph-Ed these days, especially when you're getting yourself soaked in the process. You can't wash out crime, though, no matter what President Rothschild thinks, seeing as I'm heading out of my apartment mega-complex with a loaded submachine gun tucked away in my rucksack. And as I stare upwards into the air above--my tech goggles piercing the dark clouds and sky that resembles the static of an old time television set, I observe several Nightlake stealth copters traveling to and fro as elegantly as the raindrops descend. Snapping myself back to my objective, I lower my head and enter the sea of people making up the population of New Hong Kong.


Radiant, pink mohawks. Jackets lined with popping green and mellow blue. Crowds gathered around television stores--their TV's displaying the news, offering citizens another glimpse into the latest shooting and criminal outing. As I trudge through the sidewalk, I can't help but notice the people around myself.. Most people keep their head down, not daring to exchange glances with someone else and violate some unknown law. Some stick together in hopes of deterring the persistent muggings and, on occasion, killings. Above all, one thing is certain: everyone in this city is trying to survive, and just traversing point A to B is congratulatory enough.


Observing the local wildlife is just one of many pastimes available in the Kong, though. When you're not paying attention to the populace, you tend to realize just how bleak everything looks. Constant rain doesn't help that a blue fog permeates its surroundings with pollution, giving storm clouds a helping hand in blanketing the ever expanding metropolis. Buildings, both newly constructed and from the old world, ever expanding and criminally short, offer a range of dark gray to pitch black in terms of color, with vibrant neon signs to accompany the structures, depicting lustful women,amalgamations of Chinese and Japanese ideograms, or simple "We're Open"'s. A cursory glance inside the storefronts gets me interested for a few moments as I glance at the variety.


Below skyscrapers that pierce the dark veil of the sky belonging to the corporate elite, small scale stores are for the low life scum such as myself and those around me. Gun stores dominate the streets, seeing as everyone's scared half to death and in dire need of protection, offering high tech and highly expensive arsenals while also providing low tech (and obviously stolen) police batons and other law enforcement equipment. Clothing stores are far and few between, and you never really know if you're getting something that's bugged with a tracking chip in it or not. Brothels are what really attract people's attention--I've stepped in one far more than a few times, and they're always packed with rowdy, desperate men and sometimes women who have nowhere else to go. Sometimes a stripper comes out with an augmented, robotic leg, and it's always hit or miss whether the crowd is receptive or not. I've heard stories of whores getting offed just for their tech. Savage killing, but maybe I'm no better. Hell, I've even got an augment myself.


My scattered thoughts are interrupted as a beggar stops me for credits. I throw up my hand to pass her request, but she insists, producing her QR code ticket, begging me to scan it and deposit something--anything. There is a pause--and it's just her and I standing too close together--an island in the middle of an ocean of human beings all destined for different locations, all trapped here in this congested city. With a sigh, I register her QR code in my tech goggles and give her five credits--enough for a beer.


Digging my hands into my trenchcoat's deep pockets, I feel for my weapon until remembering that it's stored in my rucksack. The slick feel of the grip. The tightened silencer on the end. I remember when I bought this--It was all too similar to the scenario before me. Rain. Dark skies. Crowded people. The dealer and I took shelter in an alley just two blocks away from a Nightlake tower--I remember that so clearly for there was an expansive screen dominating the front, advertising the Nightlake Private Security firm and asking citizens to do their part and join them. Blood red dots appeared in their visors, and advertisement or not, I felt fear lay a palm on my neck.


Security firms (or rather, private armies) aren't the only company that advertises in the Kong. Law is power, but advertising is king in a corporate dominated concrete jungle. For every two doors of a building, a monitor displays the newest alcohol beverage, an upcoming generic action flick, a line of "technologic" makeup, or just a reminder that our actions are carefully monitored. By who? Only the meager amount of rebels care nowadays. There's enough problems to go around in New Hong Kong that worrying about corporate stooges is pretty damn low on the totem. Most people can't afford to eat twice a day, making all the advertisements for the newest burger at McDahew's a grim reminder of their mortality.


Some kids run by, jumping in mud puddles and shooting each other with imaginary guns, most likely playing a game of "Military Police and Robbers". It's already strange enough to see kids, given that half the population is forcibly sterilized, and the other half is too damn poor to even consider it, but it's even stranger to see such innocence make light of the reality we face daily. I walk through the street catching people's glances and all I can see are eyes that belonged to my friends--to my family--lost in riots and police corruption. So many dead--so many not held accountable. You can't exactly sue a police department--someday or another, someone on their behalf "pays you a visit".


Speak of the devil. Too young to be pulling stunts like this, a tattooed woman runs up to a Nightlake personnel member and begins arguing loudly. There is little movement, but the sights in his visor are clear--he draws his baton and swings his savage force. Most people's eyes are fixed upon the wet sidewalk beneath their steps, but not mine--I witness a rebel bob in and out with the grace of a ballerina--something I'd only seen on a fuzzy cathode set. After dodging a fourth strike, she rises up to meet the mask of the irate personnel guard and douses the visor with black spray-paint. While the guard clutches his mask, the rebel glances over towards her only audience, smirks, and runs off, dissolving into the crowd around us.


Rebels aren't exactly a new sight. With the population split into those who rebel and those who rebel only in thought while just trying to survive the day, it's no wonder New Hong Kong is the mess that it is. Surviving the day. Making money. Buying food and making it last. That's what's important. No matter how many protests break out, there's no ground to take--no liberties to be earned. When President Rothschild declares curfew to be at 11 o'clock, you listen, and you obey, or you end up lying in an alley clutching your chest as rain pays visit to your informal funeral.


Bullets. Bullets. Bullets. Raindrops smear across my goggles, and as I wipe them, I notice the address of the apartment complex before me. This is the place. I tighten my grip on my rucksack and climb into the elevator destined for the twenty seventh floor. Every level passed means a tiny glimmer of light shines through the cracks of the lift door onto my goggles. The usually peaceful elevator music is unusually distorted and glitchy--just another maintenance issue that won't be fixed. While the elevator ascends, I stretch my arm out--feeling its delicate, mechanical craftsmanship. Sometimes, to do the job, you have to make sacrifices you don't particularly want to make.


Ding.


Creaks moan from the elevator as it comes to a grinding halt with the doors opening slowly. Stepping out, I scan the apartments with my goggles, bringing up heat signatures and important information attached to each door. In just a few minutes of scanning, a number appears: 451. That's it. That's where I'm destined.


I approach the door and examine the keypad for a couple of seconds, deciding whether it's easier to hack the door or simply break the hell out of it. Drifting to the thought of what I'm going to eat (perhaps at the new Ramen stand?), I decide on a quick method of preparing my augmented fist and firing a punch through the door. The door groaning intensely, I deliver a swift kick and enter my target's living quarters.


On the wall, several posters are taped and stapled, depicting shows such as New Gatcha Warriors, The Neo Dead, and Police: Real Tales. Months upon months of dishes and leftovers dominate a corner of the room, its contents spilling onto the dirty tiling of the floor. Magazines, video games, alcohol, and a plethora of both Neon and Morph-Ed, among other drugs, are spilled all over the floors and draped over dressers and wardrobes. Empty Valentine's Day candy boxes lie in several trash cans, with wrappers forming mountains of their own. A cybernetic desk is propped up against the opposite corner with several monitors and computer towers lying on top of each other. And in the corner facing the desk… is my target.


Drawing my weapon, I cock it and aim towards the figure huddled into the corner as I approach. Getting closer and closer, I realize he's wearing a virtual reality head dome, its cord draped all along the floor and connected to the monitors. Glancing over to the screens, I can see him--he's walking along a virtual garden, a brilliant blue sky hanging overhead with puffy, white clouds interspersed. Water rushing to and fro, a river runs opposite of him, with another… character… on the other side. She waves over to him, and they embrace in the middle of the river, water soaking their clothes and splashing everywhere. They grip hands and exit the river, continuing their peaceful walk down the garden. Trees. Birds. Everything this world is not.


I feel a lump in my throat and hesitate, the sight of the rebel dodging the Nightlake's strikes fresh in my memory. Watching someone defy the logic of this carefully constructed city made me carefully consider what my own role served. With this brief change in heart, I strut slowly over to the computer connecting my target's fantasies and press my index finger into the power button.


Thrashing about wildly, the figure huddled in the corner struggles to throw off his headset. As the goggles come off, the first object to greet him is the muzzle of my submachine gun and the shouts leaving my mouth.


"Get the fuck up. Now. Raise those hands. What do you have in your--no, don't move, don't you move one goddamn bit, do you understand me?"


He nods, shakily.


"What do you have in your pocket? Credits, give ‘em here. I want all of it. Give it here, now."


As I wave my gun, he waves his financial rights. Refusing to take any online transfers considering the possibility of tracing me, I demand only his physical credit chits. He throws as many as he can into my hands all while sobbing profusely and begging for his life. I collect what he's produced and seal them into my rucksack.


"Alright, you with me? Are you with me right now?"

"Yes, God, please don't--please don't pull the trigger, please, my father is the--"

"I don't give a shit about your father, I give a shit about you, and you're going to do exactly what I say unless you want to start talking to the end of this barrel, here."

"No, no, please, I'll do whatever, what do you want?"

"I'm going to give you back 500 of your credits, and you're going to take the closest train here up north--or south or, look, I don't care. You're wanted dead, and no one, especially your father, can protect you here. So you're going to take these credits, and you're ass is out. Understood?"

"W-who wants me dead?!"

"Excuse me?"

"I-I-O-okay. Okay, I'll--let me pack up my t-things and…"

"Now."

"Okay, okay, okay. I'm going. I'm going."


I toss him a couple chits and run him out of his cave, striking fear into the runaway bear. Placing my hand along the empty doorway, I consider if I've made a huge mistake, and further consider chasing down the target and finishing the job. Instead, I acquire a couple of the stray alcoholic beverages and pour out the contents along the apartment. Stepping outside and dragging a freshly lit cigarette, I briefly wonder if the scared kid'll make it, but my thoughts quickly change to what sort of dinner I'll be eating as I toss the lit cig backwards, igniting the once inhabited abode.


Emerging back into the constant downpour of New Hong Kong, I observe several Nightlake operants patrolling the city streets, their giant steps demeaning and their presence offensive. And I wonder--just for a moment. But I wonder.