From rock bottom, it can only get better, right?
That bike had been with me through thick and thin. When it had all been too much I would ride out, put myself in the hole for a few months, work off the insurance debt, then do the dance again.
But it was gone now and I was walking the streets alone. Over a thousand in Bits burning in my pocket.
My building was somewhere up ahead. I had tried to track down a garage within a reasonable distance. But with my heart and sedentary lifestyle, the trek was killing me. I had reached the point that my mind slowed to a dull rumination while I carried on, unsure if I was even going the right way.
The highway was over my head, rumbling and squealing. Under its coverage, I was dry enough, so I had followed it by memory. Every mistake would be just another toll on my muscles for the morning.
I stepped over people lying in the street. Navigated around blockades of garbage.
Even with the money in my pocket, I wasn’t really afraid. Theft was an uncommon crime in this era. If you could call it that. Nothing singled me out, so I was safe. Safe because petty theft stood to gain no one anything.
Every homeless person on this road had a phone on their person. They were dispensed from vending machines like cheap candy, free on every street corner. An ear in every pocket, the currency of privacy a price they were blind to.
They want our secrets.
The vagrants’ grimy faces and absent stares were lit by Smiler’s enticing eye in their palm. Even in the grim darkness of the underpass, the candied glow remained.
Looking up and around, I had to admit it to myself; I wasn’t sure where I was. All the concrete looked the same at this hour. Every shop was a chain, every piece of architecture the same repetition. There was no such thing as a landmark.
As I kept walking I stayed on the lookout. As much contempt as had just been on my mind, I couldn’t deny it. I needed a phone.
At the next corner, a white vending machine stood out. I ducked through a patch of open air to drop my hand down on its faceplate.
Somewhere down the next few blocks, a gunshot sounded.
I didn’t like the implication. My paranoia surpassed my placating rationality.
This isn’t a high crime area. It was supposed to be subdued, bleak, and docile. I had paid to live it. There was seventy-percent camera coverage in this district. I knew it for a fact.
But I was missing something obvious.
The clear glass phone dropped into the bin at the bottom of the machine. I took it out and swiped my thumb. My data was there already from the cloud. The map came up without request.
Goddammit. I had been going the wrong way.
To get home I would have to cut through an alley, take a street elevator, and then hop the next train. I’d only just be able to arrive and collect what I could before instant eviction at dawn. Sleep was nowhere in that plan. The creeping exhaustion I felt boded ill, but I didn’t have a choice.
I had taken the cat out of my shirt and wrapped her in a jacket. The smell of piss lingered, but I had given up caring. She was snug in my arms as we entered the next unlit passage.
A short while late, my phone began to vibrate, messages pouring in after the moment’s delay on the data-sync. I rolled my eyes and tried to hold both the metal head and manipulate the display.
Through so much spam two words stuck out beside her name.
>’Nyx’_yesterday | “Call me.”
I stopped where I was. I placed the cat and Jerry into an open dumpster and closed them in, jumping up to sit on top. Water drizzled down in strange patterns from above.
I dialed her number.
Looking on, the street lamps gave me a clear view of the elevator’s entrance out the mouth of the alley and across the way. My sore, soaked, and freezing legs needed that last ounce of motivation.
The ringing stopped. “Delilah?”
“Frode? Is that you?” She answered.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I said. “I saw your message, what is it?”
“I texted you like twelve hours ago, Frode, to see if you wanted to get lunch or something. You never take more than a minute, so, you know, I’ve been kinda worried. I couldn’t sleep. Didn’t want to jack in, it only stresses me out more. Where the hell are you?”
I sent my location with the press of a button. “Sold my bike, walking home.”
“You sold your bike? But you love that thing. What’s happened, Frode?”
“You shouldn’t worry Delilah dear.” Dear? I bit my tongue. “I mean, I just thought it was time. I can’t afford her anyway.”
“…You went driving out again, sure. But I know you’ve done that before. What happened?”
“Something else. I’m properly broke this time, Delilah.”
A shadow rolled forward in front of the alley mouth.
“Are you gonna tell me? Frode?”
I recognized it immediately, even through the illusion. My blood heated up at the sight.
“I’m gonna have to call you back.” I hung up the phone and put it away, stepping out into the center of the alley.
A man sat atop a blurry figure. The holographic blur flickered away, revealing yellow.
That’s my fucking bike.