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Pink Glass by Travis Latona


So me and Snork the Dork crack a pose. Two buds rolling on the tubeway. Hot as naked silver. What could be better? The cams take us in. They guzzle our juice. They frame us, assign us, sort us and put us where we belong. Bottom feeders. So what?
     Snork rocks to the beat of the mag pulse, the sway. He smiles at a joke popping off inside his rigged-up noggin. I do a cat stretch and swim the overhead vids. I dive deep and gobble the ghosts off the screens. They moan going down. They bellow when they turn to gas and blow on out my impeccable ass.
     Jimi Jingle, that’s me. Cue the laugh track and die, motherfucker.
     The tube humps the tunnel, the tunnel fucks the city. We roll on. Got the car to ourselves. Ad vids bleed their pitches all over the seats. The Main Feed plays big on the front wall. Zero alt. Kiddies, puppies, pet tricks, hair tips. We catch the beat of it all. Our heads do the bird thrust.
     Station stop. A consumptress gets on. Dingo hide boots, sculpted butt, alligator jacket. Locked and loaded. Maybe a hundred credits on her lobe. The Snorkster thinks even higher. She flies right on past to the next car. Fuck you, bitch.
     “Fuel,” Snork says. His beak bobs to the retail beat.
     “Limp Node,” I say.
     “Next stop,” Snork says.
     The tube slides in slow and easy. Doors whisper open. We smell the heat flood in. The station lights cook our corneas. Grease and steel. Cheap perfume. Spent weed. We bolt up the stairs and out into the night. White light, red light, yellow light, green light. Dusk and drizzle. Towers punch their steel dicks up into the dark.
     Snork stabs hands in pockets and bends into the drizzle. I fall into his stoned wake. A quick block and we’re there. Off the street and into the lobby. The cams take us in, suck us dry. They throw us against the knowns and we come back bad. Lock-down coming up. But then one of the elevators goes green. Limp Node’s on the case.
     The elevator swallows us. Our bellies sink, our heads soar. Vids splash us from all sides. They probe our wants, they cook our needs. Soap, panties, bracelets. No prize, no pussy, the vids explain. The doors open on eighty-three.
     Head pops out down the hall. Limp Node. Pinched face. Hair near gone. White pencil arms.
     “So guys, what can I do for you? “
     “We wanna top off. “
     Limp Nodes nods us in. Palace in the sky. Marble, wood, leather, pix all over the walls. We sink onto a couch. The stims are fading, the slump coming on. Limp Node stands and smiles.
     “So maybe something can be worked out,” he says.
     “Okay, let’s do it.”
     “Not so fast. It’s gotta go by The Doc.”
     The Doc. Taught college, they say. Humanities one zillion one. Quick mind, short fuse.
Does all the brain work for Boss Lady. Big brain, big bucks. Real-time scribner supremo.
     Limp Node dumps us in The Doc’s office. Fancy carpet, ebony desk. The Doc looks us up and down.
     “I understand you boys wanna work. That right?”
     “Can’t work if we’re not up.”
     He settles back, he smiles. The grid glows and blinks out the window behind him. High guy, high times.
     “I have but one question for the both of you: If we can remember the past, then why can’t we remember the future?”
     Snork squirms. The Doc is fucking with us. Just like always.
     “Because it hasn’t happened yet,” I fire back.
     “You sure about that?”
     I go to lock one in the old yap chamber. Doesn’t fit. Fucked again. I shut up.
     “Smart boy, Jimi. You show real potential. Maybe it’s time you met Vivian.”
     Vivian. Boss Lady. Consumptress Queen. Super discriminator. Supreme shopper. Big bucks built on impeccable taste. The stats tell the story. A Boss Lady buy means one point in market share. All the big corps bought in. Even the little corps paid up. But Boss Lady plows it back into the shows. Big ones on the Main Feed.
     The Doc unlocks a cabinet and throws two packets on the desktop. We snarf them quick as a wink.
     “Prime your phones before you leave. Yolanda’s got the street. Meet her at Zimps at ten.”
     We head for the door pronto to prime our pipes. The Doc takes one last shot.
     “You guys know what’s at the end of the tube when you look out?”
     “Yeah. Pink glass. Far as the eye can see. All cracked and shiny.”
     “You sure? You ever gone and looked?”
     “Don’t have to. Seen the vids.”
     “Oh yeah, the vids. I forgot about them. Good luck.”
     The Doc smirks. We split.
     And there’s Vivian. Boss Lady. I gawk. Snork swoons. MILF squared. Forty going on twenty. Best work ever.
     “Let me guess: You’re Jimi and you’re Snork.”
     We nod. The pipes can wait. She sports black latex pants. Tight. Really tight. I can make out the contours of her most perfect mons. My rod twangs to the tune.
     “Snork,” she says. “That’s very cute. You’re quite the pair. I just caught your piece on the triple alt. Nice work. Maybe we can do something.”
     “Sure,” I mumble.
     “Good luck on your gig. Something might happen. You never know.”
     
     Two puffs and a snort. We shake and bake in the tube. I feel better than good. I waltz with the vids. Big slow circles inside my head.
     We’re off and up the steps into the Core. Steel and glass sprout into the sun. We drift into Zimps. Yolanda sits in the back, all hot and bitchy. Afro halo, swollen delts. Tight little tits. Snork’s kind of thing, not mine. Yolanda runs the crew and Vivian runs Yolanda. She’s second unit, all the way.
     “You boys ready to roll?”
     “Ready.”
     “You’re zone two. Prime your gear. Ear buds in.”
     We go to audio. She sweats bad juju. I don’t like it.
     “Good luck, guys. You never know.”
     “Heard that before.”
     “Fuck you, Jimi Jingle.”
     
     Up and out onto the street. Snork takes Third. I take Fourth. I thread the crowd and float the block on balloon feet. Lemon yellow cabs go mustard on me. I inhale their perfumed exhaust. Chanel meets Chevron. A few more blocks and my zone’s over. I turn and start back.
     I go on auto. I cruise the zone. Shadows creep. The crowds flow. Yolanda comes on my earbud,
     “Stay with it, Jimi boy. Keep locked in the zone.”
     I set up to go smartass on her. But then, the screams. Next, the splat. Like a sack of potatoes at full tilt. I turn and see the body. Big boy, fat boy. Popped like a water balloon on the sidewalk.
     But it gets better. A roasted boy. A burnt weenie. I look up and get the answer. Condo fire. Flames bulge orange. Smoke billows black.
     Payday. I whip out my phone and tap in. I bull through the gawkers and shove the cam tight on Burn Boy’s face. Yoland sees it on the link.
     “Great! Great! Now tilt up to the fire!”
     I swing my cam to the sky. It gulps down hell on high.
     Big crash down the street. Metal buckles. Glass explodes. I whip the cam around. A falling fridge punctures a cab roof.
     My ear waits for Yolanda. No go. She’s running a dozen other cams. I sprint up the street. I hurdle car hoods. The fridge pins the cab driver to his seat. His arm flaps out the window. It does the spaz dance, the last dance. My cam gets it all. Yolanda comes back on.
     “Jimi, good shot. Now back on the fire. Stay wide.”
     My cam goes up and into the action. Flames on four floors, maybe more. Little yellow sprouts poke out everywhere. Death circus.
     “Okay, good,” Yolanda says. “Now here come the rigs. Get ‘em and get out!”
     Sirens scream and whoop. Ladder rigs, ambulances, cop cruisers. All flashing red and blue. I frame tight up the avenue, then pull back.
     “Jimi, Doc wants more shot of that burned body. Double back and pick it up on the way out. Haul ass.”
     Haul ass, yeah. Suppose I haul your ass over a couch top. Suppose I do you the wrong way. Suppose you start to squeal before I’ve even got the tip in.
     I push back up the sidewalk toward Burn Boy. Fucking Doc, he’s on a real-time script trip. He wants detail. He’s making up Burn Boy before he burned. Vivian’s ready to cast and all over him to deliver. She’s on a deadline. The Main Feed’s hungry. It’s read the menu and now it wants dinner.
     I stiff-arm the cam through the gawkers and get the shot.
     “Hey you!”
     Fuck. Two cops, battlefield ready. I see a hole in the mob. I dart through and worm my way up the street. Gotta stay loose. They get me, they got me bad. Rogue Crew. Major offense.
     Shit happens and you shoot it. Not so for Rogue Crew. Shit doesn’t just happen. Not with a dozen cams synced and ready. Shit’s planned. Bad shit.
     I dart and dodge for blocks. I rip out the cell chip and stomp on it. I duck down to the tube level. I throw the phone down onto the tracks.
     The tube scoops me up. I settle back and chill. The Main Feed is all over the fire. The vids baste and broil it. It bubbles into every seat.
     I close my eyes and immerse myself in the process. The Doc’s wired on stims and watching the cam feeds as they come in. They define his characters. They drive the narrative. They guide the plot. Vivian’s polishing and casting. Auditions done by net cam. The sets are already going up in some industrial stinkhole.
     Six days. It’ll be done in six days. And the seventh, Vivian will rest and Main Feed will feast.
     I’m almost to the end of the line. The Doc crawls up from the bottom of my brain and looks around. He does a rewind and we’re back in his office:
     “You guys know what’s at the end of the tube when you look out?”
     “Yeah. Pink glass. Far as the eye can see. All cracked and shiny.”
     “You sure? You ever gone and looked?”
     Nope. Never done that. But now I’m here, so why not? I get out and the doors hiss shut. The platform’s empty. The tube slithers off. I look around. No signs, no vids, no nothing. Cement on concrete.
     Except for the utility door. Gray, oversized metal. I know it well. Especially the lock. Mechanical model. The tumblers do what they’re told.
     Two minutes and I’m in. I start up the metal stairs. I see sky and daylight through an opening at the top. I smell fresh air.
     The Outside. Already know it. Already see it. From one vid after another. They pile on each other and shimmer. Pink glass. All the way to the flat horizon. Like a giant mud puddle parched in the sun. Pink glass. Shiny, glittering, cracked and gleaming. I reach the top and shield my eyes against the glare. I look out.
     Uh oh.
     
     
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Travis Latona lives in Portland, Oregon. He has had four novels published, with a fifth due out in January 2014. When not writing, he plays jazz guitar in a little bar down the street.