Wednesday, February 03, 2010

86 Memories of the Underground

My fingernail is itching. I take a quick look around for a blank wall against which I should be able to see the message clearly. It's getting painted on my retinas right now but my text-projector is an older model. Cheap and low-powered, but I like to be unobtrusive in the dark. 

Some idiots turn their text-projectors up to the max in the clubs. Makes their eyes glow. Eventually makes them blind too. They have to get replacements if they can afford to. I swear it's getting ridiculous. I shiver violently, startling someone passing by. Some people are so paranoid these days it's as though anything sudden or unexpected you do could have you facing the wrong end of violence. I shrug and continue looking for any blank space.

However, in the middle of downtown New Los Angeles, it's easier to win the lottery than it is to find an unadvertised wall. As rare as parking spaces. Some people carry pocket sized custom slabs of imported off-world marble to read their messages on but I prefer to use the back of my wrist even if it makes me look like an overgrown teenager. I like to keep my hands free, is all.

I read the message off my wrist. It's from Johnny Marks wondering what I'm doing tonight, he's built a new toy and he would  like me to see it.

Sally, my wife, says I'm wasting my time with Johnny. She's probably right but he does invent some interesting things and once you get to a certain age you want to hang on to the friends you have. However imperfect or crazy they are.

It starts to rain like a bad cliché. Your bureaucracy in action. How else to explain why an underground city needs rain? Wasn't there some other way to irrigate or is this a cheap way to wash the dirt off? It's a pet peeve. I never cared enough to find out and besides, rainfall doesn't last forever, in fact it never lasts more than a hour.

I head for the metro, realising on the way I've decided to meet Johnny. I was supposed to be working on a rush job for an overseas client and there was something else but it's slipped my mind. Too much to do recently. The client is asking for some expert judgement of some antique photographs taken by her grandmother. There's going to be an auction but there was something else. I'm sure. I just can't quite remember what.

I get on the metro heading for the Wilson docklands and count the number of stations from Central station. It's a habit. When I get out of the metro, the streets of Wilson are still wet but it isn't raining anymore.

Johnny lives in a convenience apartment. Just four square walls, a hot plate, a bar fridge and a toilet with integrated sink and shower. Johnny rented one of the internal units to save money so there isn't even a window onto the street. This is one of the reasons Sally doesn't understand how we could be friends. Johnny has been struggling just above the poverty line his entire adult life. If you take Sally's judgement. Meanwhile, Sally and I even have a front door on hinges. Not a full-size floor-to-ceiling model but it is still sized to a respectable standard and opens out onto a respectably wide hallway. Johnny makes do with a cheap, sliding model. He doesn't care though, he doesn't even get live video feeds. He said he doesn't believe in video. I would have said he's an idiot except that being my friend, I wonder what that would make me.

This conversation about video was a few months ago. Which would make it last year. I realise that this will be the first time in the new year I would be seeing Johnny. The last time I saw him he wasn't looking too well if I'm to be honest with myself. He'd picked up some odd mannerisms. He'd started to cackle. I don't mean an old throaty chuckle like some middle aged men get. I mean a cackle. Like a lunatic. My fingernail itched. I knew it was a message from Sally.[1] With a sinking feeling I remembered what else I had to do tonight.

"Wake up," I said. This told my phone  module to pay attention. "Call Sally," I said. I only heard the first note of her wait tune in my inner ear before she answered.

" Frank, where the hell are you?" I was glad I had the night time setting turned on. It cut loud noises automatically and Sally was yelling.

" Sorry honey, Johnny asked me over but I'll cancel and pick up some Chinese. I could be home in 30 minutes."

"Why do you have to be so unreliable? I'll order myself."

"I'm sorry hon--"

I heard the disconnect squelch. She'd hung up on me. Fantastic.

The rain had soaked my trousers and my legs were chafing. I debated whether I should just give up and go home. I was already in trouble, I told myself. I decided I might as well see what Johnny was up to. I gritted my teeth and kept going.

[1] . Custom haptic feedback. In other words, a signature itch.