By Francis Marion – First Published February 3rd, 2017
City of Vancouver, July 17th, 2099
Marcus pounded on the outside of a steel door at the back end of an alley somewhere in the northeast side of the city. Since he’d left Jacob at the Starbucks a half hour earlier the rain had turned from a light drizzle to a steady downpour. After about thirty seconds, he pounded on the door again and waited. Nothing.
He kept going over everything in his head. He’d made the right turns on the right streets and gone up the wrong types of alleys in the right direction that was supposed to lead him to the club. He shivered and hit the door again with the palm of his hand. The rain was freezing and making its way past the collar of his canvas jacket and down his back when he heard the sound of metal sliding against metal coming from the other side.
The door popped open an inch or two and Marcus took a step backward.
“What do you want,” asked a deep and raspy male voice from the other side?
“Caesar sent me,” responded Marcus. Clubs, the legal sort, were by and large defunct and non-existent. Over the past twenty years, new online technology and interfaces had done away with them. People connected electronically, by and large. At first, it was a novelty but as mediums like the ‘box’ spread and became more mainstream other means of interaction followed a similar path. Coffee shops, clubs, theaters, all of it dried up and more or less blew away as people found they could access everything they needed or thought they needed, from those providers easier and with less risk and cost, online.
But the new way, the trendy way, had its price too. The lack of real flesh to flesh human interaction appeared to be correlated with a spike in mental illness, depression, and anxiety. So programs were developed and embedded into the nanotech that was used to interface individuals directly with the web. They would help combat the side effects of ‘being connected’ over extended periods of time. The programs would measure things like serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain and do their best to front run any problems caused by physical isolation or a myriad of other factors by increasing or decreasing neurotransmitter output. It wasn’t a perfect fix but it worked well enough for most. With the implementation of the new tech, suicide rates had been falling steadily for the past decade. It was hard to argue with the math. Unless you were one of the shiftless.
Unable to cope with the prolonged use of the modern web interface small groups of people had banded together and gone underground. Initially new clubs, offering the dazed and confused something different, began to pop up sporadically and slowly here and there and then like a virus, they spread. Their locations were secret, what they offered was illegal and so their directions were embedded in a combination of code on the web and graffiti on the alley walls of major North American cities under UN jurisdiction. Jacob had figured out this location a year ago and had shared it with Marcus for no other purpose than to prove it existed. Up until a few days ago, Marcus hadn’t considered actually seeking it out. But here he was.
“Umm hmm,” replied the voice from inside as the door opened to reveal a man dressed in black. He was of small stature, maybe five foot six with scraggly black, greasy hair. Beneath and behind him was a stairwell that was poorly lit and which descended into darkness.
As Marcus entered the man closed the door behind him. Marcus stood next to him in the entry way. The man reeked of body odor and smoke, probably hashish. Cannabis products were not illegal in UNNA territory but almost everything else was. His smell was more offensive than shocking or surprising.
“What do you have to trade,” asked the little man dressed in black?
“What do you mean,” replied Marcus with a puzzled expression on his face?
“First timer, eh,” the man smiled, his grin exposed his blackened teeth, “you can’t use that to pay for things here my friend,” he pointed at the black star tattooed on the back of Marcus’ hand, “you have to trade something of value. What do you have?”
Marcus stood in stunned silence. He hadn’t considered that there would be a cost that couldn’t be covered like everything else was covered in his world. His mind started to race and he stammered, “Ummm, I, Uhhh,” he paused, “my jacket? It’s good canvas, probably close to a hundred years old. Sort of like a collectible??”
The short, smelly man picked at his nose and flicked its contents against the concrete wall then continued in frustration, “Fuck. You don’t have anything do you?”
Marcus nervously ran his hands through his wet hair causing the water from his dark curly locks to run down his face and through his three-week-old beard where it gathered at the tip in a slow drip onto the concrete floor below. He was visibly flustered, “Maybe I can trade for services, work or something?”
The doorman shook his head and began to free the steel gate from its metal latch, “Come back when you have something worthwhile,” he said and began to push the door open.
“Wait,” a female voice came from a lens in the corner of the ceiling above the door. Marcus looked up at it and it spoke again, “Wait Lex. Send this one in. I think I can find a job for him.”
The doorman, known as Lex, shrugged his shoulders, latched the door shut and began a slow, stiff descent into the basement below. Marcus, unsure of what to do, stood and watched.
Lex turned and motioned with his hand to follow, “You heard the lady, you’re in. Let’s move.”
As the two men descended further into the darkness Marcus reached out blindly to grab the walls to balance himself. As they neared the bottom a weak yellow light illuminated another steel door with a small, blackened window in the middle.
Lex pounded on the door in a quick, methodical rhythm and the small window went translucent and a set of eyes appeared on the other side. In a second the window went dark again and the door opened into a small room containing a young woman in a purple skirt and tight black top. She was kept company by a small glass table with a lamp and a book set upon it, a chair, and a wooden door on the opposite side of the room. Marcus could hear the sound of music coming from beyond the far wall.
“He’s got nothing but Diana says to let him in.”
The young woman looked Marcus up and down, raised a contemptuous eyebrow and said, “Well, whatever the boss wants the boss gets.”
Lex chuckled and turned back towards the staircase, “Good luck kid,” was the last thing he said as he disappeared back into the darkness.
The young woman in black and purple closed the door behind him and blew a purple bubble from some gum she had been chewing. The bubble popped and the gum exploded onto the surface of her cheeks. She peeled it off as she looked Marcus up and down and stuck it back in her mouth and began chewing it again.
“You’ve never been here before have you,” she asked?
“No,” was all Marcus replied.
“Well, there’s a few rules here handsome. First, if someone says they aren’t interested, then they aren’t interested. Simple, right?”
“Ya. I guess.”
“Second, if you’re not sure if someone is interested then assume they’re not. Everything else goes. Got it?”
“Sure,” Marcus replied in a shocked and confused tone.
The young woman in purple laughed, “Holy fuck. You are fresh, aren’t you? Well, good luck in there champ and have fun.”
As she opened the door the music grew louder….
A weak blue light and a haze of smoke filled the air of the club from corner to corner as Marcus navigated his way through the myriad of bodies filling the room. The smell of perfumes, hashish and body odor mingled in the air with the sound of music and muted voices. Around the edges of the room were sofas, pillows, tables, and chairs. The dance floor was half filled with the bodies of slowly undulating men and women of all ages and colors, locked tightly together, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.
A bar, lit by the soft glow of purple, azure and white light and trimmed by mirror, bottles, pipes and glasses lined the wall across from the dance floor. A young man in his early twenties with long brown hair tied back in a ponytail and a slightly Asian appearance stood behind the counter pouring a dark liquid into a short glass filled with ice.
Marcus approached the bar and took a seat with his back to the glass and simply observed. In the background behind the dance floor, people shared bongs, hot knives, and drinks. At the tables, others sniffed a white substance through straws from the table’s surface. Some of them were fully clothed, others were not. On the sofas, some were engaged in open intercourse for everyone to see but no one seemed to pay attention. Once he realized what he was looking at Marcus began to feel uncomfortable so he turned back towards the bar.
The young man on the other side of the counter made his way to where Marcus was sitting and asked, “What would you like?”
“Good question,” thought Marcus. He didn’t really drink and most drugs that were legal never interested him. He was speechless. The other guy could tell he was out of his element.
“Listen,” he said as he pulled a beer from the fridge under the bar, “Why don’t you just start with this cowboy, and we’ll go from there. Once you loosen up a bit we’ll figure out what your real pleasure is.”
“Ok, thanks,” Marcus replied in a nervous and lost tone. He picked up the bottle and took a drink. It was bitter.
“I don’t have anything to pay with,” he said as the bartender walked away.
“Oh don’t worry, you’ll pay,” the bartender responded as he laughed and moved onto the next patron.
Marcus turned around and leaned against the bar and surveyed the crowd while nursing his drink.
“Hi. What’s your name? I’m Lexi,” the voice came from the seat next to him.
Marcus turned on the stool to take a look. A petite young blonde woman, probably twenty-one or so, sat next to him with a drink in her hand. She was wearing tight jeans and a red halter top. He noticed she was barefoot.
“Um, yah, hi, I’m Marcus.”
“Well Marcus, you’re new here aren’t you,” she replied in an upbeat and chipper manner?
“Yes. Is it that obvious?”
Lexi laughed and put her hand over her mouth as she did. Her eyes were completely bloodshot, “Oh, you’re cute! Like a lost, little puppy! Say, ‘Marcus’, would you like to dance?”
Marcus thought about it for a second. He wasn’t much of a dancer and he had no idea who this young woman was but decided this was the reason he’d come in the first place. So he stood up from the bar and set his beer on its surface and followed Lexi onto the dance floor.
As she wrapped her arms around his shoulders she stood on her toes and sniffed his neck. For a moment Marcus felt stiff, awkward and uncomfortable. He felt self-conscious; like all the eyes in the room were watching him.
“You smell good Marcus,” Lexi said and she moved her hand off his shoulder and onto his hip, pressing her abdomen against the side of his body. For a moment he was shocked at how forward she was. But he forced himself to relax and follow her lead.
“Just go with it fool,” he lectured himself as he pulled her tighter into his body. As he did his left hand ran the length of her torso, over her shoulder blade and onto the nape of her neck. He pulled her face in closer. The smell of pot permeated her hair and Marcus began to feel a little light headed. He wondered, “What was in that drink?” and the room began to spin.
As they danced and held one another he could feel the hands of another person caress his body from behind. As the new set of hands found their way to his chest they were followed by the breasts, breath, and scent of a second woman. While the music played he could feel the drug that had entered his body begin to take over. His inhibitions began to fade and his body let go and moved with the rhythm of the song and the crowd.
“Come with me,” whispered the woman from behind and Lexi let go of Marcus, grinned, and waved goodbye.
He took the woman’s hand and turned away from his original partner to face the new. She was taller, about five foot eight, slender with long black hair and perfectly shaped breasts barely hidden behind the surface of an almost translucent, white silk blouse. She was older but beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful. Marcus followed her through the crowd of slowly moving bodies on the dance floor to the back of the club and through a veil made of fabric and beads, down a short hallway, and through a second wooden door.
As they entered Diana’s office the music continued to play and Marcus, now under the influence of whatever was in his drink, stood dumbfounded in front of an unmade bed in the corner of the room.
He could feel Diana’s hands move up his back and across his shoulders along with her warm, sweet breath on the back of his neck.
“Welcome Marcus,” she said in a hushed and subdued manner.
“How do you know my name,” Marcus asked as she ran her hands over his shoulders, around his chest and down his abdomen to his belt?
She laughed quietly as she nibbled on the back of his ear, “I know a lot about you Marcus. Your life since you came to this city of the dead has been an open book. I know more about you than you know about yourself.”
Marcus removed Diana’s hands from his waist, turned around and grabbed her by the hips. His gaze met hers as he reached up and took her by the hair and bit the bottom of her lip. She responded in kind. As she released his lips she stepped back and pushed him onto the surface of the bed and began to unbutton her blouse.
“You’ve never been with a real woman before have you, Marcus,” she asked as her discarded top hit the floor?
Marcus paused. His heart was racing, pounding in his ears like a jackhammer, “No,” he replied in a hushed and intense manner.
“Well,” replied Diana, “then you’re going to enjoy this. I know for a fact I will.”
Forty minutes later Marcus laid flat on his back staring at the ceiling of the office trying to collect himself. The effects of the ‘beer’ were slowly wearing off and his head was beginning to reassert itself in space and time. As he laid there Diana dismounted and reached forward to the corner of the bed to open the drawer of the table sitting next to it.
She pulled out a small bag with bits of pieces of something in it and crawled back to where she’d been before. Marcus watched her unzip the bag with a smile, “Do you know what these are Marcus?”
“No idea,” he said, “I’m guessing something illegal?”
“Oh, you’re such a smart boy,” she replied, “It’s Amanita muscaria, a favorite of mine, especially with new guests like you. It grows naturally not far from here. Why the UN has made it illegal is beyond me. It’s oh, so much fun. Try some?”
“And if I say no?”
“Well, then I’ll have to play without you. Remember the rules. No means no. Even for me. But let’s not be a stick in the mud. It’s been such a lovely evening so far hasn’t it? Why ruin it?”
Marcus paused for a moment and thought, “Should I? In for a penny in a for a pound.”
“All right, let’s have some.”
Diana removed a piece from the bag and popped it gently into Marcus’ mouth then began to massage his shoulders and chest as he chewed and swallowed.
At first, Marcus felt nothing. He laid on his back looking up at Diana as she massaged him. His hands caressed the soft skin on the side of her torso and the bottom of her white, supple breasts.
Then like a flash it hit him.
His body stiffened like a board, his hands froze in place, tightening around the bedsheets in an iron grip. His eyes were hit with a bright white light and in the background, he could hear Diana calling his name until like a train moving away in the distance, her voice faded into nothing.
His mind’s eye was flooded with visions of men spanning across time, continents and oceans. He could see a man in a canvas jacket herding sheep over a vast plain, and he could see that man’s father, and his, and his. Farmers, soldiers, peasants, senators, and slaves, going back further and further and further through time. He could see it all. He could hear them all.
Then there was another flash of light.
And he could see a large boat, filled with men in flowing robes, women and children, sailing across a vast sea and a kingdom of stone perched upon the top of a mountain.
He could see towers stretching from continent to island to continent and he could hear them all, whispering,
He wailed and pivoted, throwing Diana from her perch to the floor and began to vomit. Everything he had eaten and drank, every ounce of phlegm and mucus in his body found its way onto the surface of her bed.
Marcus’ world swung wildly from the past to the present then went gray as he struggled to regain consciousness and get a grip on the reality around him.
As he kneeled on the bed naked, his face and beard drenched in his own fluids and sweat, he tried to correct himself. He rose then fell then rose again and shook his head to clear it when suddenly the door to the room blew open.
He sensed a flurry of movement and voices but couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it.
He tried to stand one last time but couldn’t. The weight of the world sat upon his shoulders pushing him down. He couldn’t see or make sense of anything. As he tried to speak he felt a sudden and sharp blow to the back of his head. It didn’t hurt. It just was. And for the first time in months, his world went completely and utterly dark.