Cold Shades Ch 2: Revised and Expanded Rough Draft

Suggested for ages 18 and up for harsh violence, strong language, sexual themes and rape, and drug abuse. 

It had been a week since Becca visited her brother and she was still saddened over the whole ordeal. Though he was difficult, she still loved him. But there wasn’t anything she could do for him. She wished that an employer would give Harold a second chance, but she knew that she was asking the nearly impossible. What he said about no one hiring him was true, even though he could speak numerous languages. What was the point of that if anyone from around the world, Chinese, Spanish, German, and so forth could have their languages translated in her chip, as though they were speaking English! Even if the former wasn’t an issue, the vast majority of employers didn’t want to take the time to see a potential employee, hence they had computers do it. She wondered if it was because they were afraid. Becca couldn’t say so for certain but it would make sense. After all, if a potential employer was forced to look her brother in the eyes, seeing his hardships and his struggles, would such an employer be willing to give him a chance? Furthermore, despite all of the technology, would more people, even if only a few more, have jobs if there were less computers to conduct the interview process?

Computer interviews were so convenient for employers. Harold was certainly a victim of the system that didn’t give any leeway or room for extenuating circumstances, or complex reasons for why someone did what they did, or why they lacked experience but could gain it. There was no room for bargaining, no room for understanding.

Then again, she shouldn’t feel too sorry for Harold. Her mother had left them behind enough of a will that even someone like Becca’s brother was comfortably provided for. True, housing prices had risen since their mother had passed. But at least Harold had a small home. That was more than could be said for most. Downtown there were those housed in govern-mental so-called improved housing, families and individuals living and sharing the space in barely maintained buildings.

Becca tried to stop thinking about it. The situation was just too painful. Instead, she redirected her thoughts to the day at hand. She had work to do. Her clients had been sending her more angry messages than usual. That was bad enough, but it was unbearable to think that her chip was set on the same frequency as Cinema Palace’s, meaning that if the president and vice president wanted to read her v-mails they could, considering any customer complaint was a complaint against the whole company. It would have been no hard task for them to tap into the messages running to her chip anytime they liked. Not many were employed at Cinema Palace, only a handful of them and Becca was lucky (if she could be called lucky) to be employed. To save money, there weren’t any other supervisors over the few employees except for the two presidents. When Becca was giving written warnings about her falling short on the job, and she had been a couple of times, it was by the heads of the company.

She was already on thin ice enough with them.

After she had gotten back from visiting Harold yesterday, she had gotten into a particularly volatile argument with a customer. This customer was so irate that she had paid extra to send a holographic image of herself into Becca’s home to berate her. She had waited, waited like a tiger hiding in the foliage, until Becca was back home so she could pounce on her. The chip wouldn’t play a hologram unless Becca was near her computer. She hoped it would stay that way.

With the stress of Harold already weighing on her, Becca had lost her cool and cussed out the customer before ordering her chip to block the hologram. Two hours later, she had received a message from one of the heads, Vice President Robert Johnson, which notified her that a customer had complained about her conduct (gee, she wondered who, sarcastically), followed by a stern warning that blocking cliental was against company policy and that continuing to ignore policy would result in her termination. Becca had quickly responded, even going so far as to pay ten digifunds each, twenty-five in total because of tax, to send a hologram of herself over to both the customer she had slighted and her employers. Because of this, she had a little less digifunds in her account. Yesterday had easily been one of her worst workdays.

Becca cursed. Those bastards at Big Bytes could charge whatever they wanted for through holographic calls though their Insite Chips, and the heads of Cinema Palace made use of it by having their employees send a human hologram instead of a normal v-mail when they dishonored the company, and there was nothing Becca could do about it. Work was so scarce, and Cinema Palace was just a few of the many companies left owned by 4evRPlay. Screw them!

Even if she did try applying with a company under the thumb of another corporation, say Hippocare, Cornucopia, Elain June, or Bigbytes, it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference if 4evRPlay fired her. She would become a pariah to all the big five corporations. And finding a job at an independent store would be a challenge in and of itself. She liked to think that she could look for another job now, but she knew that wasn’t possible. Her low-performance rating was transferred to the computers of all the corporations and the companies under them. In order to find another job, she would have to raise her approval rating first.

There were times that the Insite Chip didn’t make life easier, no matter what the commercials said. Job performance ratings stored on the chips were a good example.

She needed to relax. She could have fallen asleep and played a virtual game, but she hated virtual games. They were just absolute time wasters. No, she’d stay awake and watch another movie, a documentary.

Out from her small computer and touching the signal of her chip, a digital finger touching another digital finger, birthing an image of a crowd of people. It never ceased to amaze Becca. Never in reality had she seen so many people gathered together. Women wearing lose flowing, flowery skirts or harem skirts, men in tie dye t-shirts and ragged jeans, some of them from both genders wearing suede hats, brightly colored bandanas, and woven cotton hats. Some with shades on their eyes. People packed together, some unwashed, some with dreads for hair, all around a stage were psychedelic music wafted in the air. And while these unkempt, unwashed individuals sat on blankets enjoying the festival, Becca was enjoying it on her chair.

Come to think of it, why was she sitting on her chair? She had always wanted to experience Woodstock 69 the way the hippies did. Granted, she couldn’t sit on actual dirt or in actual mud, but she could have a feeling by sitting on the floor.

Becca sat on the floor just as the narrator began to narrate the picture, giving a history of the life at Woodstock. It was a brilliant documentary, cobbled together from archived video from 1969, reprogrammed to into a hologram.

It was one of Becca’s favorite documentaries. She had watched it so much that she knew what the narrator would say next, as if his words were chiseled into her brain and escribed onto her heart.

And yet the documentary never got old. WoodStock 69: A Remembrance, was a wonderland, a window back into time, yanking the past into the present, giving it fresh breath and new life, where the shades of colorful bohemian misfits could run, frolic, and play.

“My damn movie’s not working!” The voice broke the tranquility of the scene. Though not asleep, it shook Becca out of the lovely dream she had been immersed in.

Pausing the documentary, leaving a ghostly image of the past frozen in her living room, she gently asked, “I’m sorry, Sir. What’s the problem?”

Not only did he tell her the problem, but for thirty minutes he nearly chewed her ear off, pontificating everything wrong with Cinema Palace, how shoddy the service was. Becca profusely apologized while trying to make the situation right, all the while knowing that if she lost her temper she might as well write a goodbye note to her employers.

When it was all over, she tried to watch the movie again. But she couldn’t get into it. What if he called back?

She needed a drink. She poured herself some lite beer from the fridge. Too damn lite! She took out a normal beer and drank deeply from the can, savoring the bitter flavor that was like piss. She took one of her pills to calm her nerves.

She wanted to reach out and talk tom someone, to confide, and she didn’t want that someone to be Harold.

What had happened to her? Back in the day she had friends. Of course, they were friends she had met through her parents. By the time she was born, school was an archaic notion of the past. Becca had never known what a real teacher was like. Hers had not been one of flesh and blood but a virtual one. She was lucky though to have grown up in a time when virtual teachers hit the scene. During the day, Becca’s teacher, Mr. Driaza had taught her in holographic form. Nighttime lessons, when her mother had wished them, would then occasionally be given at night in Becca’s dreams, but in a subtle way in which Becca had never noticed she was dreaming about a lesson. With such a flexible schedule and programmed to know every subject from time tables, arithmetic, English, biology, to ecology; hell, the virtual teachers could do it all. A normal teacher couldn’t compete. In other words, there hadn’t been any physical buildings of learning for Becca to make friends in.

She had met her friends at dinner parties at her parent’s house, or at the homes of her parent’s friends. But strangely she had fallen out of touch with them, and no longer did she have their numbers saved within her Insight Chip. Using the chip, she could reactivate names of her friends, but that would cost money and she was too nervous about how awkward it would be if reached out to them after ten years of not speaking to them. What would she say? Better to find new friends.

She did have that date with Ted to look forward to. At least she hoped she did. Much to Becca’s frustration, she hadn’t been able to reach him. Whenever she tried calling him on his chip, his number was always busy. Talk about rude! Here she was pining for some meaningful human contact, and he wouldn’t even call back when she left a message on his chip. What was Ted doing? Making out with one of his jet cars? With the way he talked about them he may as well have been.

Or maybe he was intentionally avoiding her. Maybe he thought she was ugly. Becca gulped. She had been called ugly once. Well, not just once but numerous times. Not all the kids that her parents introduced her to thought she was pretty. Most didn’t. Some thought she was as homely as a rat and as skinny as a stick. Even her friends hadn’t thought she was much of a looker. As she grew up, her mom not once told her that she was blossoming into a beautiful rose. Becca felt like a weed then. She felt like a weed now.

Was that what was going on now? Did Ted actually think she was ugly? She took another drink of beer, and thought of going to the medicine cabinet to pop some more pills. The stress was killing her, wondering if she would die in this house alone. Her thoughts went back to her mother who had been alone when she was dying, except for Harold.

Heck, even Becca’s dad had been alone when he died. Alone except for some sex androids to pleasure him. It was all he had left, that and his drinking, after her mom had divorced him. He had been a cruel husband and a loafer of a father. He had drinking problems and refused to have a job, even though Sunset Harvest, a fruit and grain company, under the arm of Cornucopia Inc. had offered him a job.

“Damn, you’re ugly, just like your mom,” he had often told Becca.

One night he had grown so angry at both she and Harold for playing noisily at night that he had given them both a beating before telling them that there were always v-games to play that could keep the noise level down. He never liked the idea of her and her brother chasing each other around the house in a game of hide and seek or making box forts. This was hard because Becca had never liked v-games. There was something she felt that was so powerful about her own imagination that she preferred it over the digital realm of v-games. Her old man had never agreed.

In time, her mom had kicked him out. Not that it mattered. When it came to finances, Becca’s mom had kept most of the money. Her mom had been a prestigious lawyer (one of the few jobs that weren’t taken over by machines, at least not yet) who had commanded a lot of respect. She had earned good money from defending rich clients who got themselves into trouble, and since lawyers were a bit more sparse, her mom was able to charge high prices for her legal services.

To this day, Becca didn’t know how her mom fell for him. Her mom had said that it was his initial charm. If he once had charm, Becca never saw it. Regardless, when her father had once beat sixteen year old Harold nearly to death in a violent rage that was the last straw. Her mom had given him an ultimatum. Leave peacefully or she would call the police, and in Becca’s world the police, being fully functional androids with tough exteriors and heavy weaponry, were no laughing matter. Her old man, having a fear of the cops, as he called them, obliged her mom and took the little bit of money she had provided him to live in a dingy apartment with nothing but an old, rusty pair of sex bots to please him, and plenty of alcohol. He had died of alcohol poisoning later on, found attached, as it were, to a sex bot.

Not that it mattered. When it came to finances, Becca’s mom had kept most of the money. Her mom had been a prestigious lawyer (one of the few jobs that weren’t taken over by machines, at least not yet) who had commanded a lot of respect. She had earned good money from defending rich clients who got themselves into trouble, and since lawyers were a bit more sparse, her mom was able to charge high prices for her legal services.

Becca wished she could have said that life with her mom had been better. But it hadn’t. Though her mom didn’t ever beat her, she still gave her and her brother a tongue lashing. Her words could often be harsher than her dad’s; a sad, old man who died lonely. What was truly tragic was that her mother’s harsh words, such as calling Becca “skinny as a stick,” or saying that she was “plain-faced and dull,” was much better than when she flat out ignored her. Becca got the feeling that her mother had never wanted to be a mother to begin with, and as such, she and her brother were often neglected; only brought out for parties to show off as if she were a mother who really did care and who was proud of her.

“I’m so proud of my darling daughter. She means the world to me,” her mom would say at parties and social gatherings. It was all a load of dog crap. But her mother, with her eyes that sparkled and her smile that flashed, had fooled everyone there. A chameleon was what her mother had been, able to change when the setting called for it.

Becca looked at a can of beer in her hand and wondered if she was turning in her old man. Now there was a horrifying thought. She tried not to think too much about it. Her stress level was bad enough as it was. She didn’t want to give herself ulcers. If she did, the nano-medical bots inside her stomach would fix it up, but then she’d have to pay afterwards to some nameless CEO of Hippocare who was bribing the politicians to let this form of costly medical care stay in service. Becca, like everyone else, was born with nano-bots (also called bugs), that were inserted into the mother’s womb. But not everyone could afford to keep paying for software updates when they turned a certain age. So many were still without medical care. Patients before Profit was the motto of Hippocare. But really it should have been Profit before patients with what they charged.

All these nagging thoughts. Drowning in a sea of worries. She didn’t need this. She needed to stop thinking about Ted, and whether or not he’d call her back. If only her husband was still alive. She missed him so much. He had never thought she was ugly. But thinking about him just made her stomach hurt.

What she needed was to get out. She could take a trip to downtown. Her jet car, a magenta color with a neon yellow stripe, was waiting for her in her driveway. Activating her jet car by thought, the driver side door read her brainwaves and her chip and then opened for her.  She then told the car where she wanted to go. Its wheels gently folded into the frame of the car as it hovered up to 200 feet in the air before taking off like a stream of neon light. The trip wouldn’t take long. Jet cars could travel 300 mph.

Only a few vehicles were out flying. It was true that many of them didn’t have passengers in them, but were instead piloted by computers. Some of the vehicles were even robots themselves, like the driver that delivered Becca’s food to her the day before. Like the robotic vehicle, many of the vehicles on the road were making deliveries to the gargantuan number of homebodies. Due to computers controlling cars that ran on a gridline, monitored by the FSA (Flying Safety Administration), traffic lights had been consigned to history books.

And the FSA computer was doing its job, so for, in making sure that Becca’s jet car was flying to the destination she had asked it to go, and that it stopped at certain intervals. As she flew to the huge spires of downtown L.A. that functioned as a castle among the urban sprawl, Becca knew that the FSA was no guarantee of her safety. Computers, no matter how well programmed they were, were prone to error. It had certainly happened to her husband.

Don’t think about Kirk, dammit! she thought to herself. Reprimand herself as she may, it didn’t alter the facts that air-born collisions or crashes into buildings, or any other jet car problems, were still a very real thing. Each time she got into her jet car, she had a slight fear that what happened to her husband might happen to her. Becca would have prayed for safety, if she had of been a religious, God-fearing woman.

It took her only four minutes to get downtown. But those four minutes seemed more like twenty-five, especially since she hardly ever flew downtown to begin with.

Tall steel buildings brushed up against the sky. It should have been inspiring, a testament to human ingenuity. Except most of it wasn’t. Many of the buildings were abandoned after having been built up during a boom period, in which the amount of jobs people would need were overestimated. The shiny surfaces of the buildings still shone, though, since there were hovering robotics of all shapes that sizes kept them clean.

The car, gently hovering down, allowed Becca to see a bot in action. It was hovering on the side of a glass building. A gash of melted glass ran down the side of the building. Becca wasn’t sure what caused the glass to melt, but she really didn’t care. She did think it was interesting to watch the hover bot, though. It was twice as tall as her, a long cylinder. On its back was transparent tank boiling with hot liquid glass. Two lanky arms were outstretched, hooked to a roller with lots of holes. It ran over a piece of thin, but sturdy, piece of biodegradable mesh that was plugging up the gas. Out from the roller came hot glass.

Robots to take care of things, but hardly anyone to use the buildings. Becca laughed. Her surroundings offered no comfort. Though downtown was beautiful on the outside, it was cold and hollow on the inside.   The neon lights that had once burned without sleep were now burnt-out. Shadows engulfed the streets below and the lower buildings. Only her InSite Chip along with the computers in the buildings, fooled her into seeing light emanating, forming holograms and brightly colored, flashing billboards to try and excite her senses by playing on that primitive emotion of greed. Columns of old elevator shafts stood empty on the outside of the buildings from bygone days in which they were a joy to ride, offering the viewer a splendid view of the city. So many empty office buildings, so many empty restaurants and clubs. A near ghost town right in the heart of the city, except for the poor who lived in one of the government operated high rises.

Winding its way through the downtown area at different heights, curving and twisting around all the structures was a monorail. Once the pride of Las Angeles, it was now a curiosity from the past. A structure once propelled by magnetism and solar power, its glass tunnel atop its supports gave the illusion of one long hamster tunnel wrapped around the downtown area. Jet cars and declining population killed the monorail in the long run.

The GSN (Government Serving the Needy) shelters were the most depressing. The buildings were sound, up to safety codes, though it didn’t appear that way flying over them. The structures certainly didn’t look inviting, lacking that feeling of home. They gave the appearance of a group of barracks clustered together, drab and grey, which made Becca shudder as if just by looking at them would make her a prisoner.

Gleaming in a wide space in the center of the other buildings, almost blinding Becca, the food center stood out like a silver pin in a pile of dried pine needles. It grew food mainly from rice paddies in hydro-ponds as well as grains. Lab meat was also grown, though it wasn’t the highest quality lab meat; only the rich could afford that. A good lab-grown piece of beef was the Kobe beef of today when it came to price. As for Kobe beef, good luck affording that. With inferior meat, rice, and a slice of bread, the needy ate more like prisoners than they did law abiding citizens, and even then they had to pay for their meals by earning digifunds by doing odd jobs around the shelters.

Still, they were better off than the homeless.

Becca felt sick to her stomach. Harold could easily be a homeless, even though her mom did leave him a generous sum. With the way Harold spent his funds, he could be out sooner than anticipated. Then where would he be? The government wouldn’t want to help him. He was a liar. Better to let him go homeless and get rid of him.

No matter, she would take him in. Though she liked to think that was still far away. It was at least further away than her destination, which she was now at.

“Find a parking space below,” she told the car.

The car hovered down into what should have been a dark chasm, if not for the radiant lights of billboards and holograms. Becca had read that at one time holograms were projected by a type of laser light that formed an image. The idea was bizarre to Becca, as bizarre as music at one time being produced on a vinyl record. Even the vibrant animated neon signs were produced by holograms that were produced by a signal that manipulated the occipital lobe.

And yet, all the lights and images advertising different commercials didn’t make downtown L.A. feel any more alive. No one was out walking. At least none that Becca could see. No one running about in suits and ties, late to work, or casually strolling about in nice summer dresses, or shorts and a t-shirt. It was empty, despite the holographic images and animated neon signs.

At one time downtown was a fully living, breathing entity. Not a sickly individual just barely hanging on. It was a carnival of lights, of circus street performers, and of fresh hot dogs served from food carts. It was a hub of businessmen and women, running to and fro to get to their jobs. Wasn’t that the way of things? Work during the day, sleep at night, take a weekend off, repeat the cycle, and then die. Now it was just fend for food and die for many, particularly the homeless, and not even the robotics that kept it looking neat and clean and constantly made repairs could change that.

Of course, there were no homeless out and about. Security bots and android officers made sure the streets were clean of homeless vermin. Becca couldn’t see any of those robots either. But that didn’t mean that they weren’t there. They would come out when they detected danger or a homeless person roaming about.

Becca often wondered how the homeless got food and water if they couldn’t stand out on street corners anymore and beg. Where did they live, for that matter? Did they live out in the woods (though there were very little woods left since the Great Sprawl), did they live in dark alleyways? Maybe they foraged in the sewers. The government didn’t care if they died. Jobs were scarce enough, and if someone broke the law, which prohibited them from living in the GSN shelters, then it was better off that they died off rather than having to worry about taking care of them.

Becca sighed underneath the colorful lights. A hologram appeared before her of a new shop that had just been renovated. A clothing store that only the very rich could afford, meaning that the clothing didn’t have monitors or screens on them with advertisements. An image of a man flashed before her, hair slicked back, dressed nicely in a suit and tie.

“Don’t you want to look the best,” the man said. “At Regal Vanities we can” –

Becca walked on, not caring what the hologram had to say. Another hologram popped up. It was a young lady. She was wearing a bikini top and bottoms that hardly covered anything. She had tanned skin, and beach blond hair, and a white smile that almost blinded Becca’s eyes. “We all want the perfect beach body,” the image said. “And thanks to liposuction nanobots, such is possible. All you have to do is call 1800-sxy-body and you can have” –

Becca kept on walking. She planned on never getting overweight. Though Harold, her poor sap of a brother, could have certainly used nano technology to burn away his fat.

It seemed like there were nanobots for everything, and not just weight loss. Aside from weight loss, there were also nanobots for hair removal. If Becca had of wanted to, she could have paid to have nanobots living in her scalp, using lasers to burn away her hair at certain intervals if it grew too long. If that wasn’t enough, she could go completely overkill and pay exorbitant amounts of money for these microscopic bots to be put under the skin of her armpits, around her legs, and even her vulva, removing her of any hair before it grew out. She wasn’t about to pay that much money. Besides, she was fine being on the hairier side. Nonetheless, all these technological breakthroughs didn’t cure much of society’s vanity any.

As fas as Becca was concerned, the medical nanobots, which were called bugs, that lived within her were more than sufficient. If only the bugs had of been able to cure her mother’s cancer. But they had not been able to afford an upgrade on her mom’s medical insurance, so cancer consumed her.

Damn! It sure was dark down here, and none of the holograms and bright lights made it feel all that much lighter. Of course, if her chip went out, she would be plunged into complete shadows. The very little light that would be given would be the sliver of light from the sky, because the buildings were so tall. Sometimes she could see a faint sliver of blue, but it was gone quickly, blocked out by another overhang.

The glare of a yellow light from a 1st story floor indicated one of the few shops left in the area and it was an expensive one. All of the stores in this area, which were few in number, were beyond her paycheck. These were specialty stores, dealing with specialty furniture, clothing, and even physical books for those who didn’t want to make use of V-books (virtual books). How Becca would have loved to have bought a physical book, but she couldn’t afford it. As for the rest of the stores, they were specialty based, in which she couldn’t afford their wares either.

That’s not to say that she lived without the necessities of life. Thank goodness for 3D printers that could print just about anything, from pots and pans, dishes and silverware, to furniture and electronics. That said, Becca would have loved to have tried something traditionally made, such as a bed. She had read that they felt better than printed ones.  Therefore artisans’ guilds, that were really just big businesses, had popped up, able to charge high prices for non 3D printed items.

Becca passed by a row of shops, each of them closed except for one. From the shop window was art. The 3D printed frames and canvases weren’t the only things done by computers. Becca stared at each of the paintings, from an elegant nude to a majestic mountain to a tranquil sea with islands and a sunset, amazed at that all of them were done with the greatest care and precision by computers. The glory days of the artists, their heads overflowing with the intoxicating wine of romanticism were long gone. Becca didn’t know of any Leonardos, Michaelangelos, Frida Kahlos, Picassos, or Georgia O’Keefes in art galleries today. Art galleries were an archaic notion. Sellers wanted art that could be mass produced at a low cost on their end, selling it for a higher price on the buyers end, and computerized art met that demand for cheap labor. Another Sistine chapel ceiling? No problems. Bots the size of mice could scurry up a wall and use lasers to paint a ceiling. Michelangelo would be out of a job today because the lay person could tell the bots or the computer what kind of art was needed and it would come out perfectly. The art from the window certainly matched the very definition of perfection. If Becca wanted to, she could buy a painting, and an original at that. They were all within her funds.

She wouldn’t even have to worry about dealing with an art dealer. Near the front door was a deposit box. Above the box was an InSite chip scanner. All it took was reading her chip, deciphering over what paining she wanted, her nodding in agreement, and then a painting would be deposited. It was one of the few downtown stores that were within her price range.

At the moment, Becca didn’t care about any of it. She just wanted to know if anyone was out and about. She would have checked one of the few stores, but she knew she had no chance of getting in. The computer at the door would scan her chip, revealing she didn’t have the sufficient funds. She didn’t care. Stored in her closet were some of her own works of art that she had painted years ago. Some even hung on her walls.

Why was she down here? What gave her the idea that a trip downtown could possibly make her feel any better?

Then she remembered that this was the location of town with Club Starlight. One didn’t have to be super rich to get in. One only had to earn a decent wage, and she did. Dancing had been her thing growing up. From her late teens to her early twenties, Becca had been a clubber. She loved everything about it. The blaring music that could rupture an ear drum to the dancing with a bunch of strangers in close quarters, Becca loved it all. Maybe it was time to rekindle her younger self. At thirty-two she wasn’t getting any younger.

She pressed below her ears and thought ‘take me to the nearest dance club.’ Her chip made a bright red line appear before her eyes. Five minutes walking distance, said the chip in her head.

Becca followed the line straight, then turned when the line veered to the right. In front of her was a building that didn’t look so run down. Constructed of glass and steel, it towered over Becca, and yet, even from outside, it looked so empty. At least empty of people. From the number of lights that were on, it was obvious that there were many stores still in business in this building, though she was sure that these retails had their own drivers like everyone else.

At the side of the building was a magnetic elevator. Becca approached it, and the computer at the lift scanned her head, making sure she had the necessary digifunds. When it was confirmed that she did, she took the magnetic elevator up to the top floor. Passing by her view were a plethora of chain stores and restaurants. Though the stores were open to the general public, she couldn’t see anyone working. Of course there were life-like androids as well as average robots, but even the life-like androids had aspects of the way they were built that differentiated them from people. For instance, androids had to be designed to show seams around the outline of their face in order to have a removable faceplate. This was made into law so that people could differentiate between a real person and an android. As for the lack of customers at the establishments, this didn’t matter, since all of these restaurants and stores delivered anyway, including Club Starlight, who delivered drinks.

It was madness to think that because of all the bots and androids, all these jobs were taken away from people, people who could pay for their products and services. Instead of rectifying this problem by delegating more work to people, though, companies instead chose to make the prices higher for those who still held jobs. It could be done because there were few major companies left anyway. Most of the major companies were now corporations, and they were few in number. As such, whether they operated in food, repair, robotics, computers, furniture, or whatnot, they could charge obscenely high prices, the rich feeding the rich, and the with people like Becca was barely living comfortably.

On the other side of Becca, facing outward, was sad, decrepit LA. The elevator passed by a one of the tunnels of the magnetic railroad. Even at the speed the elevator was going, she was able to get a good luck through the glass tunnels and at its cracked interior, graffiti sprayed everywhere. What a sad sight! One of the few things the bots didn’t bother with in their upkeep.

Finally she reached the top where the dance club was. The elevator let her out in an open air area. Already it was getting dark. Faint stars were beginning to peak out of the sky, competing with the light pollution from the city down below. On the roof was one Club Starlight. Its garish neon-green sign with a neon yellow star flying through the name of the club flashed in front of Becca’s eyes. A holographic image of a man in a sparkly white suit complete with a white tie, blond hair combed over, and an image of a woman in a dazzling blue dress, locks of black hair falling to her shoulders, her lips dark red, greeted Becca.

“Welcome to Club Starlight,” said the holographic man “Where you can reach for the stars.”

“And where you can drink to the moon,” said his female holographic companion, flashing a smile as bright as a crescent moon.

The doors slid open and Becca walked into the club. This club reeked of wild college days, if such days were still around. Well, the atmosphere was wild at least. There wasn’t anyone in the club except for a robot bartender at the very end who would tell extremely bad jokes, sometimes recycling the same ones over and over again. The dance floor was a constantly changing kaleidoscope of different stars, planets, moons, and nebulas, traveling across the LED squares at light speed. A holographic moon, from a projector, hovered in the air above the platform. Stars traveled across the ceiling. The music blared a pulsating beat, one to bring out the primitive, carnal nature of humanity. As cliché as the expression was, Becca could hardly hear herself think in this place.

Becca found a clear-neon plastic table and sat down. A menu on the screen of her table exhibited bright, bold images of the alcohol in stock. They all looked good. But Becca could have easily stayed home and drank. She was hoping to meet some people to dance within the club. No such luck.

She tried calling Ted. Still couldn’t get a hold of him. What a jerk! Asking her to hang out and then ignoring her calls. It would have been fun to have brought him here. At least she would have had someone to dance with, even if she had to listen to his palavering over jet cars.

Speaking of clientele, Becca wondered how a place like this stayed in business, considering the lack of it. Obviously, there was their delivery services, but was it worth keeping the building open itself? Maybe there were groups of friends, corporate CEOs that got together and rented the place out at regular intervals. Still, then why not just have it open at those reserved times?

Whatever. It wasn’t worth it.

Becca left the bar without stopping to listen to the robot bartender’s cheesy jokes.

She took the elevator down a couple of floors, deciding she’d explore the mall. Most of the original shops were closed, having made way for big corporations to take up most of the space. Along the halls there were a bunch of restaurants, all owned by the same corporation, Cornucopia, which also owned Club Starlight, and two clothing stores at each end, both owned by Elaine June. Hardly anyone was shopping at them, at least not physically. From some of the restaurants and clothing came out small, robotic hover vans. They zipped by Becca in the halls, just narrowly missing her. Talk about unnerving.

Next, one of the androids came out from the clothing store and addressed her. “May I help you ma’am?”

Becca should have been comfortable with androids. But she wasn’t. It wasn’t that she was afraid of them. Just uncomfortable. They looked too human. The android was decked out in a full tuxedo, and his skin and hair follicles looked authentically human. But it was the seams around the face plate that she couldn’t take her eyes off of. Removing it could make one think of peeling the flesh off a man, down to his skull, even if the skull was electronic.

“I’m fine, thank you,” said Becca, walking off.

She turned a corner of the store. A bunch of closed shops lined the hall under pale yellow lights.

Fatigued and bored by it all, Becca decided to head home.

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2 thoughts on “Cold Shades Ch 2: Revised and Expanded Rough Draft

  1. Hi, Jonathan.

    Thanks for the warning. That’s definitely not what I want inside my head. How are you doing?

    Lisa

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

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