“Civilization was created by few, built by many, and given to most,” my father told me from his deathbed. “It was given to my generation, and we destroyed it, now it’s time for you to create a new one.”
“I’ll do it” I said half-assed before he closed his eyes and passed away. It took me months to revisit that moment in time when I sat next to my dad in his deathbed at the hospital. I had tried to block it out; just like almost everything that comes my way in this shitty city during my walk to work. Like that overfilled trash can, or the hobos who ask for food, money, drugs, or alcohol, or attention, or just anything that you can give them. Scums of the earth. I’m a scum of the earth too, as I kick that trash can on my way to the office. The leg of my pants get stained. It was a start to just another god damn miserable day.
I go to the men’s room and try to wipe it out with a soaked paper towel. Now there’s a seemingly obvious wet spot on my gray pants. I get even angrier as I walk out.
Because I’ve been in a bad mood, work was especially dreadful. My interactions with people were quick and dry, my motivation was low, and my morale was tainted. I hated everything about work; I hated everything about this city. I hated my life and I hated myself. Back in my apartment, I look at the mirror before I head to bed. I brush my teeth just to feel a bit more human. What disgrace I see in the mirror before me. I had ungroomed beard stubble and there were bags underneath my bloodshot eyes. I couldn’t comprehend how on earth women found me attractive, but they did. And because I hate myself, I hate them for not despising me. It’s like the analogy of a puppy in a pet store; you’re standing there thinking it’s so cute, but it’s miserable and it wants out or it wants to bite your face off.
In the limbo of the next day; I stand outside my apartment balcony in the morning and look at the sunrise as it slowly creeps up and starts to blind me. The concrete jungle sprawls before my eyes, and it just sickens me even more. Everything sickens me about this place. My dad, in his delusional Alzheimer filled last days, wanted me to create a new civilization. I promised him I would. I spat the mouthwash on the flower pot and headed inside. I had gotten up, dressed up, and now planned to show up to work. I looked at the hoards of sheep-like people before me, who looked just like me, dressed just like me, and behaved just like me. Anger and frustration in their faces; just like in mine. We were all zombies who lived and thrived in this concrete city.
“Start a new civilization” said my dad. I spat my gum on the gray sidewalk and disappeared in the force and momentum of the moving crowd.
If there was one thing I had, it was time. Had? Already discussed. Needed? Not necessarily. I knew what he said, I knew what had to be done, but in the tangled rubber band ball of a “plan” in my mind, nothing discernible could be found. When one doesn’t have a plan, what else is left but time?
I step on the metro.
See this peon’s face in front of me. See his slack jaw and hear his loose tongue, in your mind. See him hitting on women at bars and then getting belligerent at them for not sleeping with him. See the role model in front of you.
I turn on my phone.
Look out the window. Watch a few skyscrapers claw their way past the train (relativity?) before the deadly blackness of the tunnel consumes its prey. Look out. Always look out.
I look at the time.
The commute was little over 45 minutes long. I’m lucky, by relative standards. I’m a lucky bastard. I’m lucky I hate women. Attention begets violence, begets loneliness, begets death and nothing but death. Possibly debt on the way. Am I in debt? The groggy morning mindset finally hits me full in the face after another restless night of sleep and I realize once again who I’m working for. Beside my useless education, Talk Corp–a combination social media/phone/talk buddy corporation. Who knew it took so many peons to run a company that helps people… well, talk? What kind of world do we live in where people can’t just talk anymore? I hate it. I hated it then and I hate it now. The flashbacks start to show up and I block them out once more…
Talk Corp Incorporated, the megacity of the social media scene. The unofficial monopoly of smartphones and smartphone bills. (Because of course the government won’t lay a finger on what keeps its citizens in check.) And of course, the inventor of the talk buddy. What Amazon started and failed to fulfill, Talk Corp raised the ante on and won. Government statistics state that approximately 47% of all citizens owned a talk buddy. They popped up in Japan, but were a bit one-dimensional and only a niche market for the lonely 20-30’s business-nothing wanker. Then came the soccer moms: How do I deal with my passive aggressive husband who doesn’t pay attention to me except when I’m cooking and stealing his children’s attention? Honest questions. Honest answers. At least, that’s what the company strived to provide. I stretch my mind and remember a Kurt Vonnegut book about it but block that out, too. Too much history before a day of psycho-suicide isn’t good for the lungs. I haven’t decided whether I’ve started smoking, quit, or started again yet.
I… do not own a talk buddy. And it shows. If there’s one thing I haven’t lost, it’s my attitude.
And the one resource I do have, I notice, is slowly slipping away as well. The train arrives at my company’s stop. A city in and of itself. But this time, a faux-eutopia rather than a dystopia. The kind where the murders happen hidden in the minds of the victims behind closed office doors and livelihoods are ruined over typos in thousand-page reports on labor law influences in the married couple’s talk buddy relationship. Let’s talk together! I almost say, “I wish I could talk to my father one last time…” but block that out before it enters my prefrontal cortex, too.
I step off the train.
Time. Time for another miserable day. And another. And another. Time time time. Time to drain, decay, and segue. Do I have time on my hands?
Time to think of a fucking plan, you idiot. Argh. I fall irritated with myself. Perfect mood as I step into my cubicle and start the daily routine.
Over the weekend I received three hundred thirty-three emails, separated into three folders: one for all company-wide emails, one for emails sent directly to me, and one for anything highlighted important. I marked the first folder read without opening a single email, I skimmed through the second folder, opening up every one with a subject that applies to my current project, and opened all of the remaining four “important” emails; three of which were from a coworker who thinks I like him. In total, I only had eight emails to actually read
I finished the last email, ironically from my boss, to her knocking on my cubicle wall.
“I’m going to need you to finish debugging the automated content review code by the end of today,”
No good morning. No how are you doing. No, “Mondays, am I right”. No nothing. But I shouldn’t expect anything. She’s a real cunt. A real cunt that didn’t know shit about code or programming but still got a job managing an engineering department. How did she get it? The fuck if I know. The coworker who thinks I like him heard that she was just waiting for someone to say the wrong thing so she could file a discrimination suit…and there were plenty of ways she could take offense.
“Do you think she tans to make herself blacker than she already is,” a coworker joked.
“Do you think she converted to Judaism to increase her chances of being discriminated against? I mean, Muslim discrimination is so early 2000s; bigotry against Judaism is back en vogue.”
“Do you think…”
“No, she didn’t cut off her own leg,” I answered before he could finish his ridiculous, and possible, assertion that our Jewish African American boss cut off her own leg to increase the likelihood of her being able to twist a word or phrase in a way that could be perceived as discriminatory. I can imagine her presenting this quarter’s budget, and her boss saying, “Why do we need an extra engineer, they cost an arm and a leg,” and boom, she has his job, or wins a multimillion dollar suit and becomes an activist for the missing leg community.
“Yes I will have it done by today,” I responded in monotone to prevent her from being offended by inflection or cadence or rhythm.
She turned and gimped away without a word, and I dreamt, as always, of her losing the other leg in a freak shoe fitting accident.
“God, I don’t ask for much, but please, please, please, take her other leg—I’ll go to church everyday,” I whispered at the ceiling.
I stopped daydreaming about her maiming once I remembered how screwed I was.
I fucked-off most of last week going down rabbit holes on Wikipedia, covering nearly every current major conspiracy: holocaust denialism and 9/11 conspiracies, flat earth and the Illuminati, lizard overlords and chemtrails, the military industrial complex and medical industrial complex. I don’t think I believe in them, but I find the psychology of conspiracists interesting, and the raging of their creators and adherents hilarious.
When I got sick of reading about the cabal of people likely controlling the entire world, I imagined that my computer was the central hub for the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Every time I typed out a city or country’s name, my imagination flattened it via Peacekeepers, Minuteman I and II’s—I even borrowed the Soviet’s Tsar Bomba. Time flies when you’re daydreaming about dropping nukes on every population center on the planet. And now I’m fucked.
There’s no way I’ll finish the debugging by today…not without some performance enhancing drugs.
Kratom? Coke? Adderall? Hipster spliffs? Coffee?
All of the above.
Elijah dissolved three teaspoons of Kratom powder in his water bottle and chugged it, went to the bathroom and did a line off the closed lid of the toilet seat, and got a triple espresso from the automated machine in the breakroom. She was ready to debug the automated content review code.
First off, let’s talk about what working in the computer engineering department of a megalithic social media company is like. Imagine the library of Alexandria, in the palm of your hand. Then imagine that bit in the palm of your hand on a chip, and millions of those chips embedded in a server that is for all we know in a nuke-proof bunker under the company’s headquarters. This comprises the code library accessible by Elijah to get his job done. In a sense, he was a very powerful person; a flick of the wrist, a click of the mouse, and the GPS tracker in Talk Buddy turns into a fart joke machine. In fact, he had never before realized the catastrophe he could bring down on the company just by modifying a few key lines of code in the company code library. At least, that is, if he could get past all the security mechanisms on the servers and computers, redundant, foolproof security mechanisms, protecting the company’s second most valuable asset.
It’s first most valuable asset?: It’s customers. The lonely and downtrodden in need of “connection”. Like broken dolls being sewn together. An extra body part here, a spare appendage there; all perfect. Normal.
Elijah shooed the thought of risking his job to bring catastrophic downfall to his company’s servers from his head and logged into the company’s code library. He navigated to the workspace dedicated for the automated content review. Explaining what the project about is a little complicated. In simple terms, it was a filter. The sadistic part? It filtered both input and output. If the user requested something from a Talk Buddy that was above the rating of the user, the Talk Buddy would filter it and present something of lesser adulthood. It filtered both the user’s input and the Talk Buddy’s output. Censorship, in short. There’s no bothering asking how the largest social media platform on Earth got away with such rampant infringement of Freedom of the Press; those were just the times. But people bought Talk Buddies. People with money, sometimes people without money (and greedy predatory loan-lending banks). Everyone needed someone to talk to those days. Never mind how in vogue the technology was.
Then there was the applicability of the automated content review (ACR) system to the social media apps the company owned. Chatbots, automated moderation, scanning user content for illegal or unwanton activity, suspicious even. That was just the tip of the iceberg. With a little twist, the company could delete the word “kitten” from all user interaction in the blink of an eye. ACR, folks. The most cutting edge technology in keeping narrow-minded, trigger-happy, overly-sensitive, overly-belligerent, overly-needy citizens from shooting themselves in the foot.
The kratom started to kick in and Elijah started to nod off. Work became a half-dream and inspiration started to arrive in waves of fire and warmth. Not quite bliss, the opioid did its job well. Syntax errors began to go away which Elijah was barely aware of, it just came naturally. What was that? What idiot wrote that method that way? Why wasn’t this algorithm optimized yet when it was already commented the shit out of? In all honesty, Elijah’s job wasn’t hard–he had the skills. Motivation and energy, no. But drugs took care of that part. And well.
Time flew. Elijah was barely aware of it. Half his mind was daydreaming about women he had dated and slept with before he began loathing them for not loathing him so much that he decided to stop. He had been out of control. He played the scene. He probably knew the name of half the respectable women in the city by now. He could recall each lady’s face visually in his mind, run his imaginary fingers over their skin and through their hair. The bliss. He almost missed it, until a syntax error in the code would bring him back to the current world. He never understood women. Maybe that’s what made him so good at exploiting them. He had yet to find someone who made him feel like the prey. Flip the tables, so to speak. But that was about to change very soon.
Elijah was nearly finished debugging when South Silicon City experienced a power outage, the third in four weeks. Like the previous two, residence of SSC were not given an estimated time of when the issue would be resolved, but in the past, power outages were fixed within a few hours, though it seemed to have progressively gotten worse, despite SSC containing 3/4ths of the tech industry in SC, and each hour the county was down, companies lost a collective three billion dollars. The government reported the cause of these outages to be equipment failures, the result of the much rushed conversion from standard power to solar power the city implemented shortly after its creation, but they had no response to the failure of redundant power systems that kept the servers operating, creating suspicions that the cause was sabotage. Add in the fact that SSC had the least amount of residence in the city—most of which being wealthy executives, city employees, athletes, musicians, and the rest of those considered SC’s aristocracy—and the only other county experiencing similar outages was North Silicon City, where most of the remaining tech companies in SC were located.
Elijah was the first to ask to go home.
“The debugging is just about done. I only need an hour or two once power is restored to finish up, test run and implement. I’m off in an hour anyways, so I can just finish up at home, or on the train if the servers come back up. Either way, it will be done before midnight tonight, in time for a test run on the West Coast domain early morning, and if everything goes as plan, we’ll implement it world wide by noon tomorrow,” I spit at my boss through vibrating lips, forgetting that I only speak in paragraphs when I’m on one.
“I put our coffee machine out of business,” I follow up with an awkward laugh, hoping that would suppress suspicions that I’ve been putting coke in my coffee instead of sugar.
“Fine. But you know what will happen if it’s not done,” she responded with crossed arms and punchable frown.
I know what will happen? No I don’t, bitch, what the fuck is that supposed to mean, a threat? I thankfully only thought.
I ran to my desk to grab all my stuff, paranoid that the power might come on just in time for my boss to renege.
Before jumping on the shuttle to the train station, I smoked a hipster spliff to calm down.
The shuttle in and around Talk Corp was the only high speed transit SC had. The train lines across SC still operated on outdated technology. After 40 years of planning, California was still without a high speed rail. At first it was just a matter of funding, but now it was a matter of partisan politics. Southern California miraculously turned Republican over the course of ten years. First, the New Republican party proposed and passed an amnesty bill better than the Green Party had ever even proposed. Second, a national emergency was declared by the President over the treatment of Mexican immigrants on both the American and the Mexican side of the border. The Cartel Wars, that killed more than five hundred thousand people, some of which were Americans, was acknowledged by the government, allowing the reallocation of military funds used in projects across the world to be used to fight the brutal war raging on the continent. Joint military operations from the US and Mexican military crippled every cartel in Central America. This, followed by the legalization of drugs in all of Mexico, and parts of the US, destroyed the remaining cartels, making America and Mexico the top drug exporters in the world, and producing endless funds for the two countries to use to combat addiction and provide support to families who’d previously been destroyed by drugs. The final nail in the Democrats of Southern California’s coffin was a Wikileak exposing their decades long plan to exploit illegal immigration for votes, blocking bills regardless the positive effect they’d have on both Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants. The border wasn’t open completely, but an immigration program presented by the New Republican Party in Southern California allowed more immigrants than ever before to enter America. These immigrants were placed in programs all across Southern and Central California that provided proper education and job placement. It’s not known if the radical change by the Republican party was done out of empathy or a stategic coup de tat to take back California, but the citizens didn’t really care, as long as it produced a positive outcome.Ever since then, the Democrats of Northern California and the New Republicans of Southern California have been at odds over any program that even slightly preferred one over the other; one of them being the California High Speed Rail. This meant citizens in SC still had to travel an hour or more to get home, depending on the county.
I got to the train station right as one left. This is a bad thing to some, but for a misanthrope like myself, barely missing a train just means you’re one of the first to get on the next and catch a single seat in the back car. This isn’t a sure thing, occasionally rude people in the back will try to shove to the front, but I’m intimidating enough to keep the line cutters at bay, occasionally unleashing elbow jabs at those getting too close to me.
The next train was late, as usual, but I didn’t care as long as I got a spot in the back. The doors open and the race commenced. I sprinted down the aisle, jumped up the stairs two steps at a time, and got to my spot before any of the other passengers got to sit down.
Alone, in a train full of people saying things that don’t matter, blasting music.
“I put my headphones on for this world I ignore”
High and ready to ride.
Luna strutted into the back car from the only entrance, gracing the jointed doors of the train with ease, and sat directly opposite Elijah. Elijah’s immediate thought: trashy classy neo-punk anarcho-satiri-revolutionary foreigner with an attitude and a way with (around?) authority. Aside from that, he could not read her at all.
How: A Gucci bag covered in graffiti. Covered in buttons saying I love capitalism, Democracy, dollar signs and fuck Che and patch that said Extinct using symbols from various religions and ideologies to spell it out, similar to a design that made its annoying rounds in the 90’s and 2000’s. It signified rebellion. Transgressive thought and action. Old punks trolled the generation before them with shirts donning swastikas and rebel flags—this generations symbols were the American flag and pro democracy.
He could not tell if she was “serious” or “poking fun at the system”. Both were outdated concepts in any case, if you set aside the anti-anarchist groups trashing the social sphere those days.
The no-smoking sign at the side of the exit door glowed proudly, and Luna busted out her lighter and a gold tin of cigarettes–not just cigarettes but cigarettes–from behind the “Fuck Cancer” design on her knee high socks and lit up.
Elijah was too tired of the bullshit of the day, as with everyday, to tell her it was a nonsmoking train. Did he even care? He forgot.
The period of time that followed the lightup did not measure in seconds, but in sensuous puffs and blows of twirling smoke clouds. He imagined she would be a master at blowing rings if rings weren’t so symbolic of unity and cliche. Did she have a thing against cliches? He found himself obsessing over her in a way that no one in years had made him obsess. She was different.
And in those non-seconds-but-puffs that transpired, a train attendant arrived.
She spoke in French.
“Désolé mais j’ai une condition qui demande que je fume pour mon foie. C’est très grave et je demande un moment de silence a cause de ca et respite pour le santé,” she lied.
The attendant stared at her stupidly. “I’m sorry but there’s no smoking on here,” he brutishly spat out without qualm or concern for the state of her liver which he did not know.
She put out the lit cigarette on the underside of a bottle cap she withdrew from her bag, melting the rubber, and littered the leftover butt and the bottle cap on the floor of the car.
“No littering,” the attendant blurted, and walked off disdainfully.
Elijah took off his headphones. He had actually forgotten to start the music and had overheard and witnessed the whole scene transpire. “Where are you from?” he asked as politely and nonchalantly as he could.
“The country of dead romance and brutal African colonialism. Where cholesterol is a foreign term and the cheese and wine are wealthier than 30% of the population living in non-slums at the edge of Paris.”
“The capital yourself, or rural?”
“I prefer not to say I’m ‘from’ either.”
A silence hung momentarily.
Elijah couldn’t hold his attitude back any longer;
“Nice bag. Bet it was a wedding gift.”
“Weddings are the State’s symbolic rape of the populous’ psyche for fetishistic respect of the family unit. Consider how there is no law that applies to families other than taxes and divorce.”
He was surprised to be outdone.
Elijah couldn’t hold back his lust any longer;
“You’re a rather fine, respectable young lady for someone who comes from the class that lives of their parents’ inheritance checks.”
“I pretend it’s earned income. Let’s just say I do more than the 99% for the progress of the system.”
Words: system, progress, 99%. Elijah’s cup of tea.
“And what kind of work is that?”
“I find things, I reach places that are hard to reach, and I cultivate a sense of home for those who have none. Sort of like a greedy banker without the greed.”
He didn’t understand what that last phrase was meant to mean but went along with it.
“So you’re in finance?”
“Money is simultaneously a material and a symbol. It is the physical manifestation of value, which is realer than the money itself. I create value for those who have none, and take it away from those who break it.”
“Sounds like you’re in anti-finance, then.”
“No. Not at all. Think orthogonally.”
Elijah thought orthogonally for a bit, and decided with:
“The third party. You work for the Centrists?”
She pursed her lips for some reason, then relaxed.
“Let’s just say it’s a sensitive subject to be discussing on an SSC rail line. I can explain more later. We’ve almost arrived.”
“Oh this is your stop, too?”
“I live around.”
If it weren’t so sketch he probably would’ve asked her to sleep with him already. But isn’t that exactly what he wanted? The risk? What was holding him back?
She read his mind and said, “It’s okay; I know a lot about you.”
Elijah narrowed his eyes aggressively. “Well you shouldn’t. I’m not your type and I’m not interested.” Accidentally, he read a little of hers.
“Mon dieu, the man knows what he wants, besides luscious legs and a seat warmer. Besides, I haven’t asked yet.”
They got off the train and hit the streets. Elijah’s high was starting to touch and go. He hit a landing at the exact moment his foot hit the sidewalk.
“I’m over here,” he said. They turned left.
They analyzed each other during the walk. She had the upper hand but neither of them knew it. Conversation seemed to have died. They were both fed up. With the times, and the day. Elijah wondered what had happened to her that day.
“Well, 27 Clay Rock Rd.” he spouted.
“Enchantée,” she bemused.
“Do you want to come inside?” he offered strategically.
Surprisingly, she said, “No, you’d be scared of what I’d do to you if I even told you.”
“I’ll be off then,” she said, now aware of his address, and continued down the road to her unknown destination.
Elijah watched her disappear down the street into the crowds–of which strangely and fortunately there had been none during their walk together–gave up whatever it was he was trying to do–he wasn’t so clear himself–and went inside.
Feel free to contribute but please comment before doing so so we don’t have overlapping sections. It’s a chain story open to all authors and writers (or, you don’t even have to be one!). Ask for access to the Google doc, as well, if you want to see what’s going on behind the scenes.