City of the Dead – Part I

By Francis Marion – First Published January 6th, 2017

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City of Vancouver, July 17th, 2099

Marcus sat at the window of his 17th-floor apartment watching the rain fall and the traffic slip idly by on the street below. The rain formed droplets and streaks on the glass that obfuscated the tail lights from the vehicles as they went by making them appear misshapen and oblong.

It was a normal summer day for the region but for the cherry trees. Prunus serrulata had typically blossomed at this stage in the season, late by historical standards of course, but this year its signature pink and white flowers were still noticeably absent in the boulevards and yards of the neighborhoods and parks outside of the downtown core going into mid-July.

 
Winter was growing longer and the summers shorter across the northern hemisphere in Eurasia and North America. Much of the northern part of the North American continent, over the past twenty-five years, had become more or less uninhabitable. Living conditions varied of course, depending on where you were, but almost everything north of the 51st parallel was covered in a permanent layer of snow and ice. The region of British Columbia in the Cascade district was still by far the best place for the northern population to congregate. With the warmer air coming off the Pacific, making much of the coastal regions and some of the interior areas still livable south of the 52nd, what was left of the native population had flocked there en mass over a decade ago. Anything north of that was no man’s land, covered in many places beneath a sheet of winter close to thirty meters or deeper.

On the other side of the Rockies, the snow had been far less aggressive. But the cold had not. Farmland, forest, town and city had been frozen for decades, the temperature in the region rarely climbed much above the zero degrees celsius mark on a warm day. Snow came and went further south but the frost in the ground didn’t. People still lived there, sort of, but by and large the region was abandoned. It’s where Marcus’ family had come from when he was just a child. He had no memory of his place of birth, of course, it had been frozen since he was two and after they left he and his parents never returned.

Marcus turned his attention from the window and the few cars on the street below to the black star-shaped tattoo on the back of his left hand. He touched it once and the window darkened. His topless reflection stared back at him in the dark glass and as he touched the tattoo again the room brightened as artificial sunlight radiated from the window’s surface. Marcus paused and touched the bottom of the tattoo a third time.

“Come to bed Marcus. I’m lonely.”

The female voice from behind him beckoned. He paused, staring at the mark on his hand. Contemplating.

“Marcus, come to bed. I’m lonely. I want you,” the voice called again as he breathed a deep, internal sigh.

He turned to look at the bed in the middle of the apartment behind him. She was state of the art alright. Perfect in every way by his standards. Young, maybe twenty or twenty-one with flawless skin, long blonde, thick, wavy hair and ever so slightly curvy with full pouty lips and large, natural breasts. What was not to like?

He hit the tattoo again and the woman vanished.

Marcus pulled himself up from the chair next to the window and wandered listlessly through his apartment. He opened the fridge and poked through it. Two-day-old pizza, artificial milk, some stale bread and a couple of apples sat on the top shelf. He stared at them for a moment then closed the door and opened the pantry between his bed and the ‘kitchen’.

Crackers, a can of soda, sugar, coffee and brownies of questionable age and origin. Where did they come from? He couldn’t remember.

“Incoming call from Jacob.”

The walls of the room pulsated with a dim orange light and spoke to him. The tattoo vibrated for a second. Marcus threw himself onto the unmade bed and pointed his index finger at the window. The room dimmed and the window lit up once more, projecting the torso and head of a twenty something Indian male into the area where he’d been sitting a few moments earlier.

“Jacob. What’s up?”

“Not much brother. What’s up with you? I haven’t seen you online or even at the coffee shop all week. Where have you been?”

“Around I guess. Kinda ‘coffeed out’ to be honest.”

“Dude, seriously, me and the other guys have really missed you in the box. It’s not the same without you standing shoulder to shoulder giving them Alien Nazi bastards hell. You need to come back. We need you, bro!”

“Yah. Well, I’ll see if I can make time to pop in tonight. I was thinking of maybe going to a club or something.”

“Bro, you don’t look like yourself. Just come for a coffee. We’ll chat.”

Marcus rolled over on his back, stared at the ceiling and stretched before rolling back in resignation, “Ok. I’ll throw on a shirt and brew some java. I’ll meet you at ‘Coffee Talk’ in a few minutes.”

“No brother. Not online. In person. You look like you could use some living, breathing company. Am I right?”

Marcus paused for a moment and thought. He hadn’t been outside his apartment building in over a week. There was no need. But he was low on groceries and thought maybe he could use a bit of fresh air. He rolled over and sat up on the edge of his bed and ran his fingers through his shaggy chestnut colored hair.

“Ya, okay. I’ll meet you at the Starbucks by the market in thirty,” he replied.

“Atta boy, Marcus! I’ll be down in fifteen and grab us a table and drinks. It’s on me.”

Marcus chuckled. He wasn’t sure who it was ‘on’ but he liked that Jacob enjoyed appearing generous. Like most of the unskilled masses, Marcus was on a guaranteed income. It was enough to pay the rent, food, clothes, and the entertainment he needed. Anything left over was banked and carried over to the next month in a simple savings account separate from his operating account. If he spent too much out of operating the system would pull funds from his savings. Once that account was depleted services were severed. The web was the first thing to go. Most people wouldn’t let things get that far. Being disconnected was almost unconscionable so Marcus had gotten really good at staying out of his savings and living beneath his means. Besides, in a few years, there would be enough in savings to cash in and possibly take a trip somewhere warmer.

“Warmer,” thought Marcus. That would be great.

“I’ll see you in a bit,” Marcus replied, moving his hand in a downward motion and turning the window black again. He grabbed a plain navy colored shirt and dirty old canvas jacket that had belonged to his dad when he was alive from the back of the only chair in the room and headed out the door.

The streets were typically not busy for a crappy, wet Friday. Marcus could see his breath as he pulled his jacket tighter and his collar up to keep out the cold. As he made his way north of the apartment towards the market a lone ‘Global’ cruiser made its way slowly from behind him and carried on along the same path towards the North Shore. Its white paint stood in sharp contrast to the black and silver star painted on the back of its rear hatch. The words “ORDO AB CHAO” were written beneath the star that had been the symbol of global governance for over fifty years.

Marcus kept his head down and tried to pretend the cruiser wasn’t there. It slowed a bit as it pulled past him, Marcus knew he was being scanned. He kept moving and the cruiser, a moment and a scan later, sped up and continued its journey northward.

As Marcus rounded the corner to the market and coffee shop he stopped. Jacob was already inside paying the holoclerk for the drinks. He watched him run his left hand through the clerk’s scanner, pausing for a moment to make sure the funds were transferred, then move to the other side of the cafe. There were only a handful of tables inside but there was no one else there anyways. “I guess it is going to be a private visit,” he thought to himself as he pushed the glass door open and stepped inside.

“Marcus. Good to see you,” Jacob stood up and extended his right hand. Marcus took it and removed his jacket, hanging it from the back of his seat.

“Sit down bro. Grande Hazelnut Non-Fat Latte right?”

Marcus smiled and picked up his white and green cup and saluted with it before he took his first sip, “Yep. Thanks by the way.”

“No problem. None at all. So tell me big guy, where the hell have you been? The other guys are convinced that you are spending way too much time with Suzy 2.0. I’ve got money on the possibility you bumped into the real thing. So, do tell. What the hell is going on?”

“It’s neither really,” said Marcus with a bit of a fake smile, “I’ve just been sort of busy is all,” Marcus broke eye contact and started staring at his cup.

Jacob raised an eyebrow. “Busy, eh? Doing what? When was the last time you left your flat? A week ago? More? Common man,” Jacob paused, grinned and raised an eyebrow, “I’m your friend. You can tell me the truth.”

“Can I?” Marcus replied as he looked Jacob in the eyes again. The response was so automatic it couldn’t be classified as anything but brutally honest, even if he wasn’t sure why he said it.

Jacob set his tall Mocha back on the table and straightened his posture. His smile vanished, “We’ve known each other almost since we were kids. We hang out every day in the box together. I loaned you some of the money you used to by Suzy from my personal savings. You paid me back right on schedule. You trust me and I trust you. I’m your best friend, man. Why would you question that?”

Marcus bit his lower lip and shook his head, a wave of shame washed over him as his lily white cheeks flushed red.

“That’s not really what I mean,” Marcus’ train of thought was becoming scattered and flustered. For months now he had been going offline more and more. And thinking. And questioning. Everything. He found himself staring quietly down at the tattoo on the back of his hand watching his index finger from his right-hand circle it clockwise. He began to think of his parents, gone now for close to five years and how they were. Together but separate. Detached. Addicted. Lost. He was about to start scratching at the tattoo like he had been for weeks when he realized Jacob was speaking to him.

“…and I’m telling you, man, you really just need to get back in the saddle again. Why don’t we head back to our flats, hook up, meet in the box and kick some fucking ass! All you need is a little adrenaline to get you going. We’ll pull an all-nighter and a couple of days from now you’ll feel like a million bucks again. What do you say?”

Marcus shook his head in agreement, stood up and grabbed Jacob’s hand. He pulled him in and they gave each other a quick hug, tossed their cups in the recycle bin and headed out the door.

“See you in a bit,” Jacob shouted as they headed their separate ways back to their apartments.

At the last minute, Marcus remembered that he still hadn’t been to the market. It was only a few doors further down, the opposite direction of his flat. He jogged up the street towards the market’s front entrance, paused, stared through the glass doors for a moment, then turned and kept right on going.

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