Here we are for another short story post. This one is Sci-Fi like the last story post was. Its about 3500 words and I don’t think there’s much else to say, so here we go.
“Hey Joe, wait up!” Francis calls as he tries to run to catch up to his friend, Joe.
It’s been a long couple of weeks at work without his lunch buddy. But as Joe turns to look back in Francis’ direction, the world cracks. Not the ground, but his entire vision. It’s like he’s looking through damaged glass and then it goes black. Not the kind of black you get from passing out. Just the kind you get when there is no light for your eyes to see and Francis has to admit, it’s eerie.
“Is this really what you want?” A voice from the dark ether asks, with a harsh accent.
Francis knows the voice and rolls his eyes, thankful that Piotr can’t see them.
“Yes, it’s what I want. Why else do you think I’d ask for it?” Francis replies in a calm yet sarcastic tone.
“Just thought I’d ask. Never known anyone want something…so…so…” Piotr says trying to find the right word in English.
It’s rare for Piotr to take this long searching for whatever word he wants to use to complete his statement, Francis knows. But still he decides to offer his own take.
“Normal?” Francis adds trying to be helpful.
“I was thinking…boring.” Piotr replies bluntly.
Francis doesn’t have to see the great bear of a man to know that’s he’s grinning from ear to ear. His several gold teeth almost certainly on display as he no doubt chuckles to himself.
“Just put me back in.” Francis asks conscious of time. Even though he can’t see a clock face anywhere.
“As you wish.” Piotr says unable to understand how a man like Francis, that has so few extra credits and so little unregulated time, can be content with whiling away in such a boring sim world. He knows he’ll never understand it. Most of his customers, in contrast, want the high life, or the danger. Those options all makes sense to Piotr. Not that you would ever catch him in one of these sim generators, his or anyone else’s, no way. Bear of a man or not he suffers from claustrophobia and no matter the pretty images and projections his brain knows he has a bucket on his head and he can’t stand that.
Piotr flicks the switch to send Francis back in. The sim begins again, seeing as it was only a few seconds in, from the start. Francis smiles, in the real world, pleased to have returned to this fake one.
“Hey Joe, wait up!” Francis calls for the second time trying to get his friends attention.
It works as Joe turns and waves back at him, smiling. A few weeks without seeing him had been hard for Francis. In fact, it had been nearly unbearable at times. The long hours, the crappy commuting, the pills, the sleepless nights, all of it had drained the life and energy out of Francis.
“How’s it going Fran?” Joe asks as they meet in the middle of the mass of people, who continue on their way, flowing round Joe and Francis like they’re some sort of island.
Francis finds it pretty funny in the moments before he realises he hasn’t answered Joe, who is staring at him, waiting, patiently.
“Yeah good. You?” Francis replies.
“Ah, not too bad. Single again though?” Joe replies with a simple shrug and a matter of fact tone.
“Again? What happened?” Francis exclaims shocked. He’d met Joe’s now ex and been speechless. He doesn’t know how Joe does it. He always manages to pick the best looking women around. He wishes he could do the same. But he isn’t Joe, though he does wish he could be. Even if it lasted for just one single day. That could never happen though. This was the ‘real world.’
Francis chuckles to himself as he says that. He knows this isn’t real. Everything he’s seeing is a projection being fed directly to his brain, via his eyes. You couldn’t grow old here, die, or take it with you. It’s just not how it works. Pity, he thinks as he and Joe resume walking up the street, side by side now.
“Oh I don’t know. She said something about me never paying attention.” Joe starts.
“And?” Francis replies.
“I don’t know I wasn’t paying attention.” Joe says erupting into laughter as people, walking faster than them, pass them by giving them disapproving looks for not keeping up pace with everyone else.
“So what will you do now?” Francis then asks curious.
“About what?” Joe replies casually.
“Jessica.” Francis clarifies.
“Oh, Ica will be back before you know it.” Joe replies confidently.
Francis has never been sure why he refers to Jessica as Ica. It had always been an odd way of shortening her name. Usually people said Jess, but then Joe could never be considered to be like everyone else. Not with his thick brown hair, always perfectly styled, his pristine gleaming white smile, moisturised tanned skin, muscles, six pack, piercing blue eyes. Hell, Francis had to admit that the man looked like a model. He still couldn’t understand why he worked a desk job, shuffling papers.
Don’t go down that route Francis, he tells himself. You know if you pick at the sim it will all come crashing down. I know. I know. He tells himself. It’s an issue with this program. It’s one of the reasons it was cancelled. Well, that, and the fact that it was widely unpopular. Very few people wanted to run a sim that was essentially just a normal life. Like Piotr said, most considered it boring. But Francis loves it. Bar the best friend who doesn’t fit in, that is.
“How can you be so sure?” Francis asks.
“She always comes back. It’s her thing. She gets pissed, storms off for a few weeks, maybe a month, then floats right back in saying we should pick up right where we left off. You know that. Or have you been away too long?” Joe says in a way that it makes it sound like it’s inevitable and Francis, like always, buys it. Mainly because Jessica is just so…wow. He can see her in his head. Well, technically it’s in the head of the sim, which is also in his head. As he thinks that the sim shudders. Ok, I can’t think like that or it’ll crumble and if it does that Piotr will kill me, but only after he’s not the maintenance charges from me to cover his repairs and the downtime of a unit.
“Do you want her back?” Francis asks making sure not to think about what this may or may not be.
“Honestly, not this time.”
“Really?” Francis exclaims surprised.
“Yeah. It’s too much hassle. Ica’s a great girl, but…Why don’t you ask her out?” Joe says changing the conversations direction mid flow.
“What?” Francis exclaims a lot louder than he meant to. People around him glare angrily at him as he stands on the spot in the middle of the street again. Just like before the masses flow around him like they’re a school of fish and he’s an rock.
“You can’t be serious!” Francis says making sure his voice is quieter now.
“Why not? I know you like her.” Joe offers casually as he motions with his head that they should start walking again before the flowing mass of people become agitated and perhaps even aggressive.
“Wait, you do?” Francis says surprised as the pair resume walking.
“Yep and I think she might like you too.” Joe replies as he rolls his shoulders clockwise and then anti-clockwise.
“Yeah right.” Francis says without thinking.
“No seriously. I think she might like you. After all, she was always asking about you and how you’re doing and so on.”
“And she says you don’t listen.” Francis offers with a chuckle.
“I do as long as she’s not trying to start a fight. Then I tune out.” Joe flashes his usual wide smile, showing pristine sparkling white teeth between his parted lips as they reach their stop. The towering grey office building dotted with small mirror surface windows that stretch upward high enough that Francis can’t actually see where the building truly ends.
“Ready?” Joe asks.
“As I’ll ever be.” Francis replies moments before they enter the revolving door. Francis steps into the section of the revolving door behind Joe, who as he steps out of it and into the foyer is collared by another of their department, Justine. Francis rolls his eyes wondering what that gossiping busybody wants now.
“No, its fine Justine, I’ll ask around.” Is all Francis catches of the conversation as he steps out of the revolving door and into the hundred foot high foyer with its polished stone floors, reception desk, black and white couches and line of turnstiles.
“What did she want?” Francis asks as he pulls up beside Joe.
“You didn’t listen did you?”
“You know me too well.” Joe replies with a smile.
“Come on. Before we’re late.” Francis says looking at his watch. He thinks it’s a nice watch, but truth be told he knows nothing about watches, so for all he knows it could be some cheap piece of junk. He just thinks it looks like a nice watch as they circumvent the turnstiles, a perk of Joe knowing people, so they can get to the thirty fifth floor quicker.
They board the lift filled with its terrible jingles, all of which sound nothing like the songs they’re supposed to imitate. Francis wonders who comes up with them and why anyone would even pay for them. He has no answer to either as the doors open to permit him and Joe access to the thirty fifth floor.
They’d been the only ones on the lift. That meant today was looking up. He always judged how good the day was going to be by how crowded the lift was. So it gives him hope, that is, until he rounds the corner only for Clark to walk right into him. The other man’s coffee stains his shirt. Thankfully it’s cold, so it doesn’t burn him. Nevertheless Francis curses as Joe reassures Clark that it’ll be ok and that he gets another coffee on him. Clark thanks Joe as he scurries off; looking fearful that Francis might lash out at him. Francis, at least in part, would like to, but knows it was an accident.
Maybe, today isn’t going to be a great day after all, Francis thinks as he stands in the men’s room trying to clean himself up. He knows he can’t do anything about the coffee stain that covers his whole left shoulder. He just hopes he can mop up whatever excess may not have been soaked into his white shirt. If only he’d worn grey or black, he thinks as he finally gives up the futile attempt at removing whatever excess there might be. He knows there isn’t any, but it has helped him kill time before he’ll have to start filling in fields. Who even employs people to collate data anymore? Francis wonders as he takes a seat in his cubicle. He fidgets for a while as he wonders when this sim is even supposed to be set. Maybe the nineteen nineties? He doesn’t know and as his desk shudders he decides to instead focus on his work. But he knows it’s going to be long, boring and filled with the stench of coffee. He hates coffee.
“Come on. Time to go. Can’t leave you sleeping at your desk.” Joe says having sprung up beside Francis, who has been so focused on his work and on trying not to slam his head against his desk because of how mind numbingly boring it is, that he hadn’t noticed the time.
“Thank God.” He exclaims as he reclines back in his seat, feeling the stiffness in his back and the aches in his shoulders from sitting in the same position for too long.
“Really? Don’t want to put in the overtime?” Joe mocks as he laughs.
“Only if they pay me quadruple pay and then I don’t have to come in for a month.” Francis answers as he stands; his legs protest the sudden use after such a prolonged period without movement. He promises he won’t do it again, sit for so long without a break, but he knows it’s a lie.
“Don’t forget what I asked you?” Justine says to Joe as she passes by.
“Yeah Justine. I won’t.”
Francis looks at Joe who suddenly feels his friend’s eyes on him and looks his way.
“What?” Joe exclaims.
“Nothing.” Francis says with a shake of his head as he finishes stretching his legs, which are giving all signs that they are now willing to comply.
“We going?” Francis then asks as he peels out of his cubicle with Joe in hot pursuit.
“No really. What was that look? It had to be something.” Joe starts questioning.
“Hey, who, or should I say, what, you do in your own time is nothing to do with me.” Francis responds while trying to keep a straight face, but it isn’t really working. Instead it looks like he’s been sucking on a lemon.
“Come on, it’s not like that. And you know it.” Joe protests as they step onto the lift.
They aren’t alone on the lift this time and have to squeeze themselves into positions that have been left by the other workers, from other floors that are trying to not just leave work, but also do so without their personal space being violated. Good luck with that, Francis thinks, as he squeezes into a space just big enough for him between a balding guy and a miserable looking woman.
Joe and Francis say nothing to one another on the journey back to the ground floor. Especially as Joe is wedged, quite literally, between the side of the lift and a sour looking man whose face is etched into a scowl.
“Hey, I know nothing.” Francis says resuming the conversation now that they are on the ground floor and shuffling towards the exit.
“Really? And here I was about to give you Ica’s number.”
“No you…” Francis starts but never finishes his response as everything goes black, the simulation having ended abruptly. Francis exhales in exasperation at his luck.
“Piotr, come on man. The hiccup. We started late. Just a little more time. Please.” Francis says trying to plead with the sim bars owner. He knows Piotr is a hard man, but he’s always fair and this doesn’t seem fair, he thinks, though he gets no response.
Francis realises that he’s never known the man to be silent. A man of few words sure, but never the silent type. But as the seconds tick by Francis begins to get the feeling that something is wrong. So he lifts the headpiece up slowly, carefully until he can see the room around him again.
“Oh shit!” Francis exclaims as his eyes focus and he sees Piotr dead. A pool of dark crimson, thick and pungent, sits around his head. Francis can’t see any wounds from where he is, but is in no way inclined to take a closer inspection as he feels suddenly starts to feel nauseous. Francis had never known, before now, that blood had a smell, but he is sure that is what he is smelling and its making his stomach flip, violently.
“Well, well. Looks like the sim junkies awake.” A male voice says from a doorway off to Francis’ left.
Francis turns his head too fast as the room starts to spin and he is sure he’s about to be sick.
“Think he’s gonna pop.” Another voice, this one female, says with a giggle.
And with that statement and as if he is on cue, Francis vomits all over the blue, white and brown rug at his feet.
“Argh and Piotr kept the place so clean.” The female voice says with a laugh.
“Don’t think it’s gonna matter though. He’s kinda dead.” The male voice replies laughing.
“Who…who…who are you?” Francis manages as he feels his head spin, while strands of spit, not vomit, hang from his lips.
“Well my little chum…that’s none of ya concern. Though, you would have done better to have kept that bucket sim generator on yer head. That way ya would’ve been able to make it out of ‘ere with a pulse.” The male voice says, sounding closer now as the female voice erupts into a sickening cackle.
“No…please…I’ve seen nothing…just…just leave me here.” Francis begs.
“Oh we’ll leave ya ‘ere. Not just breathin’.” The female voice manages before another hyena cackle.
Suddenly Francis feels his head pull back, but he knows it’s not him lifting his head. No, instead it’s the owner of the male voice, the face of which is covered in a mixture of scars, tattoos and piercings, as well as dark, almost shark like, eyes, a pointed crooked nose and a wide evil smile.
Francis curses his fortunes as his head still spinning tries to process what he’s seeing, even as the knife in the man’s hand is paraded in front of his eyes. He can guess now how Piotr died.
“Why?” Francis manages.
“Sim bars are a good place for dough. Simple as….” The man, a killer, a thief, offers in response while still smiling.
“Say night night darlin’.” Francis hears the female voice say as a flood of images flashes before his eyes.
They aren’t images of his life, or his dreams, or fears, or any of what people have always said you see in the moments before death. No, these images are something else. Francis doesn’t understand them. He’s never seen them before, yet they are definitely a part of him, he realises as the man pulls the knife back ready to jab it into Francis’ throat. But the man never makes it. Instead Francis grabs the man’s balls and squeezes tight, crushing them in his hand. The man lets out a deafening high pitched scream as he tries to break away from Francis, flailing his arms. Francis catches the arm holding the knife and violently snaps it at an unnatural angle. The man bellows again, cursing as he does. But Francis has the knife now as the woman, also tattooed and pierced, but with a shaved head and no scars, lunges for him. Francis, as though she is attacking him in slow motion, dodges her once, twice, three times before he drives his fist forward. The blade of the knife between his curled fingers. The woman realises too late as the blade pierces her cornea and lances right through her eye and into her brain. She dies instantly, but Francis pays no mind as he releases his grip on the knife. Her body falls backward as stiff as a board. Thudding as it comes in contact with the floor.
The man screams bloody murder, a mixture of his pain and anger at Francis having killed his partner. The man rushes head long at Francis who calmly, unusually so, simply rolls his shoulders anti-clockwise once waiting for the attack. The tattooed and scarred man throws a punch, but Francis dodges it, then catches the second, spins the man around and snaps his arm violently at an unnatural angle. The man collapses to his knees as he howls in pain. He has no more arms to fight with as he starts to plead for mercy. Francis though simply stands there looking down at the killer before him and wonders how many innocent lives he’s taken.
“You should have walked away.” Francis says calmly.
“Fuck you!” The man spits back as he raises his head to look at Francis’ face.
“Who the fuck are you?” The man then spits.
“I’m Joe. And this is my show now.” Francis says as he grabs the killer by the throat and squeezes. The man struggles and kicks at first, trying desperately to break the man’s grip on his windpipe. His legs thrashing as he is lifted clear off the floor. He thinks that if he can just get a solid hit in he might have a chance, but he doesn’t and before long his vision goes black and his struggling and thrashing becomes little more than a slight twitch. Then he stops moving completely and at that point the grip on his windpipe is released and his now dead body crashes in a heap on the floor. Francis, as he had been, Joe, as he now is, again rolls his shoulders a couple times, casts his eyes over the carnage and then shakes his head.
“Looks like we’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do.”