A single light bulb hums egg yellow above a door of iron and glass. Candle light orange and the warm chatter of conversations glow from within.
The door faces out to slate-colored cobblestones and then deep green grass that disappears into darkness. A pair of leather boots emerge and move across the grass and stones. Black jeans, a white linen shirt with a v-neck. A soft tuft of straw-colored chest hair and a thin bronze chain dangling a small piece of metallic rock. On his wrist a dark metal watch with emerald hands ticking in silence.
The boots stop in front of the door, murky figures through the fogged glass and iron. He loosens his watch one notch with a quick unlatching and a wave of the wrist. The twisted iron handle is cold and soothing as he pulls open the door.
A burst of laughter. On the left a long grey stone slab bar top. To the right, a group of five standing semi-circle around a man with a grin tilted to one ear.
“I was in it back then. Those early versions were something else. I’m glad we made those mistakes back when there were only a few hundred deep users.” A sapphire blue chain around his neck, which he stroked gently with two fingers. “One of our big mistakes early on was perfection. No cracks in the road, flawless skin, we tested a model where the user would go almost comatose while they were in. Pharmaceutically, You wouldn’t feel thirst. Unless ladies like you three came online,” he throws his head back laughing, a silver cap in his left molar sparkling for his small audience.
“See, this is why I wanted you to meet Hermie,” beams a woman with silver lipstick.
“You’re allowed to talk about this stuff?” asks a man through his mustache.
“This system doesn’t require secrets,” Herman strokes his silvering beard. “Directive 22 was like a switch. Once it started harvesting resources it opened itself. Full transparency. Open source intelligence."
The man with the boots passes this small crowd. The space opens to a lounge, with oak floors, couches of dark red leather, an iron fireplace. To the left, the long stone bar counter. Barkeep wearing a brown leather apron with tattoos of leaves snaking down from his elbow to his thumb. One two three four bar stools empty. Upon the fifth a pair of curvaceous legs in canvas combat pants, a belt made of olive drab parachute cord, and a grey cotton blazer with orange suede elbow patches. Black Doc Marten boots, scuffed. A leather band, the color of embers, wrapped six times around her coconut brown wrist. She lifts two fingers. The bartender places two crystal whisky glasses in front of her, with a pair of frosty steaming tongs he drops in two pyramid-shaped ice cubes, and fills them each with two fingers of amber liquid from a green bottle.
She uses her left hand to slide one glass in front of the empty stool beside her.
He looks around him. Chatter, laughter, ice cubes clinking. He smirks, twisting his wrist to loosen his watch, and walks towards the bar.
“Mind if I…”
“Fuck, why do y’all ask?” She shakes her head and picks up her glass, touching it to her bottom lip. “It’s for you, come and enjoy it."
“Nice elbow patches.” He takes his glass and sniffs it.
She turns her head softly to look at him. Her hair dyed amber orange and buzzed into a close fade. Her cheek bones shimmering in flickering candle light like the skin of a fruit. Two beads of orange light dancing in each pupil. "What are we drinking to?”
“Ay. To reality.”
He sips the amber liquid. She tosses the empty glass onto the counter, leaving it in a spinning wobble. The sound of glass on stone.
“Is this apple juice?”
“It’s set to spike you. You should still feel it.”
“You don’t drink out there? Don’t like the taste?”
“I find its take on apple juice to be somehow creative. I’ve never had a natural apple outside. This tastes somehow ancient.”
“Why are you here?”
“In what sense?”
“Mostly only see locals in this site.”
She raises an eyebrow. “What are you asking?”
“Would you like to be seduced?”
She looks at the ceiling, laughs, and runs her tongue along her molars. She holds up two fingers to the bartender.
“Want to play a game?”
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Em. Close your eyes.”
She turns toward him. He gazes at her pupils moving about below her eyelids, like sleepy feet moving below sheets.
“Imagine a sphere. It’s floating in front of you. It has a certain size, color, a texture, maybe it’s moving or still. Maybe it has a smell to it. Focus in on every detail.”
He gazes. Her eyes lay still.
“What do you see?”
“It’s massive. Much larger than us. Oozing green and orange, like lava melting off of a smoldering green cherry. It’s hot. Smells like wood, like a burning house. It’s spinning slowly. It looks like it’s stretching out. Like it’s splitting into two. I want to touch it.”
“Why don’t you touch it?"
“I want to touch it.”
She opens her eyes. Smirking. “What the fuck is this?”
“Uh, ok so all the details say something about who you are. It’s large because you see yourself as very significant. A massive personality. Like a stone in the pond. Green is a color of growth, so you like to create things,” she narrows her eyes.” “And orange because you’re very passionate. The melting represents your temper and the spinning means you’re in a state of change.”
She turns back in her chair and swallows another glass of amber liquid. “Fun party trick.”
“Did you touch it yet?”
“Send me your number.” She swallows the second glass and stands up.
“Hold up. You free tonight?”
“I don’t make plans on the system. Send me your number I’m out.” She begins to march toward the door.
He gestures toward her with a soft flick of two fingers on his right hand towards her. He hears a chime inside his head as she accepts his contact data. She walks out the door and fades away beyond the light.
“Do you know her name?” Em asks the bartender.
The bartender places two glasses of amber liquid in front of him. He swallows them and turns to the door. The audience around the silver bearded man erupts in laughter as Em passes.
“Ok, that’s funny. But Nolan created the first and second versions. He hired me. Sure he may have blasted off the deep end, went nuts and all, but he’s not a fool.” He said with one finger raised in front of him.
Em crosses the street, his boots following the grass into the darkness.
Em takes a slow breath through his nose. Silver text hovers in his vision.
‘You have logged out. You are now back home.’
He slides a black cloth headband off of his eyes, rubs them for a moment, and blinks, gazing softly at his palms. He rubs the blonde hairs on the back of his neck, just below a small rectangle of polished metal stuck flush against the base of the skull. He takes the metal rectangle between two fingers and his thumb, and removes it from his skin. It snaps off smoothly, releasing from a magnetic pull under the skin. He places the metal rectangle on a silver dock on the table. It snaps into place magnetically, a light glowing green in the center of the rectangle.
He is reclining in a large bean bag chair. He folds his hands behind his head and gazes up towards the ceiling. The room has wooden floors, a red futon, and a low coffee table with scattered magazines, three coffee stained glasses, a small notebook, and a scattering of marijuana stems.
He raises his thumb and finger pinched together, and opens them in a small gesture in front of his face. He sees a grey window appear a half a meter in front of him, the size of a deck of cards. He glances at a circle in the top right with a silver number ‘1’ inside. When Em focuses his attention on it, the circle pops out as if it were three dimensional. With a thought, he selects the button—clicking it in his mind— and sees it depress. The levitating rectangle stretches to the width of an envelope, displaying a list of messages. The first unread, sender unknown.
‘That game with the sphere was corny. Meet me at my place. I have flatmates. They’re psycho.’
He laughs and shakes his head.
`Address?` As he thinks this response, the characters appear in a silver box to the right of her message. With a sweep of his hand away from his chest the message glides off into the distance, disappearing with a metallic ding.
`Meet me by the Musk memorial.`
`That’s fine. See you in an hour?`
`You’re a fierce one, eh?`
`I’ll be there in one hour. Fifteen minutes and I’m gone.`
Em waves his hand, the silver rectangle glides off beyond the edge of his peripheral vision, disappearing. He stands up, cracks his spine between his shoulder blades, and shakes his head, smirking. He spots a joint resting against the foot of the futon, half smoked and bent like a straw. Crickets sing under the moonlight. He picks up the bent joint, lights it, and takes one long pull.
A room with purple amethyst walls, square, just wide enough for someone to stretch their arms out to each side. Eggshell lights illuminate the white ceiling. A flat, rectangular kneeling pillow one meter wide, the color of eggplant, rests on the black stone floor. One meter above the kneeling pillow, a small metal rectangle levitates, suspended in the air by a magnetic system embedded in the walls. A slab of petrified ginkgo tree sits to the side of the pillow, stained with a broken circle of tea residue.
A rice paper sliding door separates this room from another. A king size mattress with fine white linens rests on the floor against a grey wall. A window seven meters wide, stretching to the ceiling, tinted electronically to let in but a shadow of the morning sun bouncing off the skyscrapers outside. A white stone table sits next to the bed, two tattered yellow books written in Mandarin on top.
A walk-in closet contains a dense array of clothing. Suits, dresses, blouses, military fatigues, winter coats, and a collection of fine fabrics arranged meticulously by color. White, yellow, red, purple, grey, and black. At the back of the closet, in a clearing uncluttered by the dense collection of clothing, a yellow button in a glass case. Below that a yellow jumpsuit folded and pressed, made of flexible kevlar and gore tex, pockets pre-loaded with a knife, torch, flint, GPS system, rations, a gas mask, first aid supplies, a small rectangle of polished metal, and a vial of cyanide.
A steel door 22 centimeters wide separates the bedroom from a hallway. Cubicle-white walls with long strips of fluorescent lighting buzzing overhead. Dark green linoleum floors and dozens of green doors facing each other one after another after another down the hallway. At the end of the hallway a black staircase leading down to a foyer with seven waiting chairs made of wood and grey cotton.
The foyer leads to a small hallway with a steel platform for a floor and a screen on the wall. The hallway leads to a kitchen. A small island with a bamboo cutting board and a collection of knives made from forged meteorite. A black metal oven and stove top, with a stone tea kettle, steaming with the scent of steeped jasmine and lotus flower.
A pair of black slippers descend the stairs silently. Flowing black fabric pants closed with a satin cloth at the waist. A silk kung fu button up shirt, collarless with long sleeves and pearled purple buttons. Head bald and smooth, glistening like still water.
The bald one turns round the stairs and stops short of the hallway. They slip off the slippers and step into a pair of simple black shoes with rubber soles, awaiting them in the foyer. These soles step in silence onto the steel platform in the small hallway.
Silver chinese text appears on the screen. “Good morning Chair Li. I await your intentions.”
Li closes their eyes.
“Intention received. Destination: the Directorate. Travel time: 7 minutes.”
22 centimeter thick glass doors lower from the ceiling around the platform. With a hiss the platform begins to descend. Chair Li accelerates downward, silver white lights whizzing towards the sky until the platform slows to a halt several stories below ground. A glass door swivels open. Beyond the door, a compartment with diamond plate steel floors. White boxy sofas on either side, facing each other. A small white desk with an appliance offering a selection of teas, coffees, and liquor, poured instantly at a glance. A magnetic panel on the wall with four small metal rectangles.
Li takes two silent steps to the center of the compartment, the door hissing closed behind. Li turns toward the magnetic panel, a slight squeak from the rubber sole on the steel floor. Li selects one of the metal rectangles, holding it between two fingers. Delicate. As if holding the shell of a small blue speckled egg between chopsticks. Li moves their hand with the steady grace of a chameleon, positioning the rectangle a thumb’s distance from the back of the neck. It snaps from the fingers and holds flush to the base of the skull.
Li blinks and their vision flashes white. As if a pilot emerging from the clouds, a world begins to mist into view. A green meadow. Willow trees speckled with purple flowers. Fog-shrouded mountains in the distance. A large chalk-white waxing moon in the bright blue sky. Fog clears from around Li, who stands feet pressed together, arms straight and pressed to the side.
Li inhales deep and slow, lifting the hands slowly in front of the purple buttons of the silken top. The left foot rises and the legs flow apart to shoulder width. The eyes hold a soft gaze. Exhale, the hands push down and settle in a circle in front of the belly button, as if holding a sphere. Li continues to breath deeply, swirling arms with slow strength. Eyes soft.
A breeze flutters through the willow trees. A small flower flutters across Li’s face. With a nod, Li exhales and releases their hands in a wide circle. Li presses the feet together, bows softly to the moon, and closes the eyes.
Li’s eyes open again to the white and steel of the container, feet pressed together. Lights begin to whizz by the windows, first one every second then speeding up to indicate impending arrival. The container hums to a stop and the doors open. A small screen beside the door reads:
‘Welcome to the Directorate. Travel time, 6 minutes 42 seconds. Distance, 220 kilometers.’
Li lifts the metal rectangle from the back of the skull, places it back against the magnetic panel, and steps off the container into a marble room with tremendously high ceilings and ionic columns. Li’s rubber soles walk 60 paces across the floor to a tremendous steel door. With the deep moan of tons of moving metal, it swings open the width of Li’s shoulders. Li slips through into a room with green black velvet walls and a long ovular table made from ancient sycamore wood, stained a dark brown.
Six people stand around the table, facing the door as Li passes through. Three large men stand in the shadows along the walls. Li moves silently to the empty chair at the near end of the table, and gazes one by one into the eyes of each of the six. A clean shaven military general with deep wrinkles in his forehead under a pale blue beret. A black man with a tight Afro, black turtleneck, silver chain, and grey blazer with wide lapels. A woman with bronze skin, a unibrow, a feather dangling from her ear, and geometric tattoos criss crossing her right arm. A tanned and bearded man with a knit cap, a supremely starched white gown, prayer beads wrapped around his wrist, and a pair of gold rimmed sunglasses in his breast pocket. A woman with a grey pant suit, dyed blond hair and wrinkles around her thin lips. A girl in her late teens with a protruding forehead, a pink t-shirt, and one glossy eye. Li takes a long silent bow, followed by a bow from the six. They sit.
Li begins in Chinese, in a voice low and misty.
“We remind ourselves. The decision we make today is a matter of will. I trust that some of you slept not through the night. Ask your mind, when you find yourself awakened at twilight, was it you who decided to be awake? Who awoke you? And who became awakened?
“Perhaps you will choose to fall asleep this night. To surrender this wakefulness, trusting it will find you as the horizon finds the sunrise. One day that wakefulness will not come. The nothingness will rise where the sun had.
“This is the nature of our decision today. Of awakening and of nothingness. Let us begin.”
Em sits in silence, coasting across town in a rideshare transport pod. Halfway to his destination, the pod stops to pick up two teenagers who nod to him as they settle into the bench across from him.
“I’m telling you, dude. There’s a reason they made graduation optional.”
“I know, but I was talking to my grandpa yesterday and he got really upset when I said I wanted to drop out and learn more on Paradigm.”
“Of course your grandpa won’t get it. What’s he, 80? The paradigm is like a mirage to that generation. The seed doesn’t work as well with their brains, so unless they go through reconditioning it won’t make sense to them.”
“Yeah I get that. But he was also talking about the way things keep changing. He was actually in Alaska when that nuke was blown up above the Pacific. Everything was just, different all the sudden. A decade ago LearnX didn’t exist. Now there’s what, a billion users?”
The transport pod comes to a stop and the doors slide open.
“I think it’s 9 billion.”
“Yeah, so who knows what’s next. I just don’t want to be left out if some shit blows up and degrees matter again.”
“Dude, you’re thinking like an old man.”
“Hey,” One of the teens says, staring at Em. “You going to get out?
“Oh, yeah. Listen, uh.”
“What?” One of the teens narrowed his eyes.
“I think you should do what feels valuable to you.”
Em gazes into the kid’s eyes for a beat, laughs quietly shaking his head, and exits the pod. The doors close and the vehicle zooms off into the night.
A circle of brownstone homes surround a cobblestone circle. In the center, a statue made of titanium. A man in an Italian suit, gazing towards the stars with squinted eyes and straight lips. A space helmet under his left arm, and a set of keys in his right hand. A flamethrower strapped to his back. “S.O.Species” in black spray paint across his ass.
A street light flickers overhead. Footsteps.
“This was one of the first.” She steps out of the darkness wearing a pair of scuffed black Doc Martens, soft grey booty shorts, an olive green sports bra, and a long robe loosely knit from thick orange brown yarn. “That’s the only reason people remember this funky ass memorial. So sad he didn’t make the journey. I think about that.”
He looks at her. She gazes up at the statue’s squinting eyes. He glances at her boots, that thick orange yarn, her buzz cut.
“I know this white boy isn’t going to ask if this is my natural color.” Her hair is dyed egg shell white.
“No it’s. I liked the orange.”
She looks at him, furrowing her brow. “Are you trying to fuck me tonight?”
He closes his eyes and chuckles. “I’m not trying to do anything.”
“Why are you here?”
“That’s a big question.”
“Make it a smaller question then.”
“Why don’t you make plans on Paradigm?”
She leans in toward him. He sees his reflection flickering in her brown eyes as she brings her nose close to his. She brushes her cheek past his. He feels her breath on his earlobe.
They stand in silence. He feels three warm breaths on his ear. Goosebumps rise on his neck.
She pulls away and screams into the sky. She laughs hysterically. Em looks around at the nearby homes. A light goes on in a window. “I’m fucking with you. I just try and limit the data I hand over.”
“Mother fucker read your history. People like me been used for millennia. What do you think the Directorate is about?”
He nods slowly.
“Follow.” She turns and starts marching into the darkness between the brownstones.
She crouches and moves quickly past one of the brownstones. They turn the corner. A dog barks and jumps at the fence, causing Em to scream and trip onto his ass. The dog was smaller than a football with white fuzzy ears and a pink bow. She turns her boots around and gazes at Em as he makes his way back on his feet.
She slips through a narrow break in a concrete barrier and crosses train tracks. A man stops in the middle of spray painting over an abandoned train car and ducked into the grass.
“It’s all good, Larry. It’s me.”
“Ah, what up sister. Bless.”
They keep running and slip through a hole in a chain link fence. She pulls out a large ring of keys splattered with paint as they approach the back of a blue aluminum warehouse. She inserts a key and turns it gently. A well practiced finesse of lifting the knob to just the right height, turning they key gently until you feel the click, and then kicking the dented corner of the door to pop it open.
“Knob’s a little fucked, come in. Keep your shoes on.”
A large room with high warehouse ceilings. No windows. Three large light bulbs with buzzing currents burning orange through large glass globes, hanging from long black wires, dimly filling the space. Wood pallets, bottles, and screws scattered around. A huge spool of cables.
On the far wall a mural stretching from floor to ceiling. A woman, on her knees, head slumped toward the ground, long black hair, skin a smattering of purple, green, red, and pale flesh tones. Roots stretching from her fingers and toes into the ground. A red-trunked evergreen tree sprouting from the back of her neck towards the sky. “Unmix Reality” spray painted in read letters across the wall.
In the corner a room made of plywood, covered in layers of melted wax. Knives and carving tools scattered across a cracked desk. Large hand-carved candles, shaped in the image of pyramids, rectangular prisms, and human figures. Beyond the room a kitchen with a large pile of pots, pans, plates, and cardboard bags covered in grease. Clanging can be heard around the corner, along with a scratchy voice yelling “shit!”
A skinny man with shaggy black hair, a myriad of black cartoonish tattoos across his torso and arms, tight yellow underpants, and black rubber rain boots dashes from the kitchen to the candle room, quickly closing and locking the door behind him.
Em turns around. She was out of sight.
A speaker switches on in a room behind an orange curtain, playing grungy hip hop. Em steps over debris and spray paint cans, bobbing his head to look through the cracks beside the curtain. She is facing the other way, topless, sorting through a large pile of wrinkled clothing on her bed. He walks slowly forward and moved the curtain to the side with his hand. She slipped on a black t-shirt with a large skull on the front and the sleeves ripped off.
“Beer?” she asks, digging through the pile of clothing, throwing select clothes into a pile on a chair across the room.
“Smoke?” Em slips a hand rolled joint from his pocket and holds it in the air.
She pauses front he laundry pile, pursing her lips as she gazes at the marijuana. She grabs a neon orange lighter from the table and tosses it to him.
“Cool to smoke in here?”
She smiles and glances at a fire extinguisher in the corner, stained with soot. She walks slowly toward Em until the joint is directly between their faces, just a few centimeters apart. Em gazes at it cross eyed. She stares at him.
After a beat, she snatches the joint and lighter from his hands, and lights it with her eyes closed. A long, slow pull. The flame canoes down one side of the paper until she blows it out with a quick breath of white smoke. She hands him the joint.
Em takes a long pull. He speaks through the smoke as it rolls from his lips. “You hear Paradigm started farming marijuana?”
“I don’t want to talk about Paradigm.”
“Why were you there?”
“Why are you here?”
She takes the joint from his fingers, pulls a puff of smoke into her mouth, opens her lips to let the white smoke roll out, and inhales the smoke through her nose.
“Let’s play with something. Breath in through your nose.” She pulls another puff of smoke into her mouth, takes a step forward, and touches the tip of her nose to his. Her eyes are closed. He gazes at the blurry shimmer of brown skin and sparkling light reflecting in her eyelids. She opens her lips and a fountain of white smoke snakes up from her lips. He inhales deeply through his nose, filling his chest.
Em slips the tips of two fingers into the waistband of her shorts. She pinches his wrist. He slips his nose past hers, and bites her lower lip. She grabs the back of his head and pulls him in, kissing him deeply. He pushes her backwards, until she falls back over the pile of clothes on her mattress. She pulls him on top of her, running her fingers over the goose bumps at the base of his skull.
Em wakes up naked, face down in the pile of clothes. She is face up on the other side of the mattress, snoring, wearing sweatpants and a wool sweater. Sunlight creeps in through a crack where the aluminum wall meets the ceiling. He stands up, cracks his shoulder blades, and peels away a sock that’s stuck to his penis, tossing it on the chair in the corner. He finds his jeans, slips them on, and pushes past the orange curtain in search of the bathroom.
He hears a voice from the kitchen.
“Egg yellow, lean lean lean, how about the fucking pan. Sister!” A loud crash. “Fuck! It’s fine. I’m fine. No need to fucking… help me find this pan or shit. Let’s see. Oil oil oil. Papas papas fritas. Venga.” Another crash, followed by the sound of a dish wobbling wobbling wobbling until it comes to rest.
Em buttons his pants and fastens his belt as he creeps towards the kitchen. The man front he night before stands in the kitchen. A pair of tattered skinny jeans cut into knee length shorts. A dirt stained white shirt with a cartoon of the capitol building in Washington D.C. being struck by a giant yellow lightning bolt. He notices a curved purple scar across the back of his neck.
The man picks up the pan that had crashed to the floor, looks at it sideways, blows on it, scattering charred crumbs across the kitchen. He pulls off his t-shirt, dips it in foamy water from the sink, and scrubs the pan. The muscles in his boney shoulder flex like twisted ropes as he scrubs with fury. He twists the knob on the gas stove and searches his pockets. He looks around the kitchen, darting his head left and right. He twists around and freezes as he sees Em. Em pulls a lighter out from his pocket and offers it to the man. The man stares at him frowning, then snatches the lighter. He lights it, and brings it close to the stove top. The gas had been flowing, and a cloud of flames lights up in front of him. He screeches and hops back. Burnt hair wafts through the room. He waves out his shirt, wet and stained black, and slips it back on. He slips the lighter into his pocket and throws the pan on top of the lit stove. He grabs a beer bottle with a piece of masking tape over it that reads “s-flower oil” and pours a generous glug glug glug into the pan.
“Make yourself at home,” the man says, peering into a greasy paper bag on the counter.
“My name’s Em.”
“Oh, uh…” the man turns around, wipes his hand on his shirt, and extends it for a handshake.
“And you are?” The oil in the pan starts to sizzle.
“Me? I’m here in the kitchen cooking.”
Em smiles. “Yeah, but your name?”
“My name?” the oil in the pan pops, spraying scalding oil onto the man’s forearm. “Ouch!” He sucks on the burn. He flips open a carton of eggs, takes out the one last egg remaining, and cracks it open with one hand over the pan.
Em turns around and looks through the open warehouse space behind him. The aluminum door is open, flooding the space with bright morning sunlight. Pigeons in the parking lot outside peck at an old slice of pizza.
At the far wall buzzing heat lamps illuminate a collection of potted herbs, greens, and a stalk covered in red hot chilis. Next to that a square canvas several meters tall. Covered two-thirds in an incomplete painting. A lush forest floor, rich with green leaves, mushrooms, a snail, a spider, and a snake. An ape sitting in the middle, it’s toes dug into the soil. On its head, a space helmet, with wires twisting out the bottom around the ape’s neck. It’s hands reaching towards the sky, which is filled with stunning purple yellow star systems and nebula. The hands reaching with outstretched fingers towards something in the blank white unpainted segment of the canvas.
“Here!” the man yells, startling Em. He brushes past him and tosses a plate down on a low table made of pallets. A single fried egg and a large blob of ketchup. “We can share.” He brushes past Em again, disappearing into the kitchen, and returns with the greasy paper bag. He turns it upside down over the plate, dumping a pile of cold fries over the egg and sauce.
“Sorry I don’t have any paprika or anything. I infused the sunflower oil with curry seeds so it’s pretty dope with fries.”
Em nodded, gazing at the painting.
“Nesu’s painting that,” Thomas said, taking a bite of egg and fries. He looks up at Em, and reaches out to hand him the fork. He sees Em glance at the orange curtain. “Haa, she didn’t tell you her name did she?”
Em takes the fork, sits on the ground next to Thomas, and takes a bite of a fry soaked in yolk. The fry is cold, but its flavors are delicate and comforting. “That’s good. Wow. Thomas, thank you.”
“You’re welcome my friend,” Thomas takes another bite. “Please don’t call me Thomas.” He scratches the back of his neck.
“I’m serious dawg. I don’t know what my parents were thinking naming me that. What am I a fucking saint. Or that fucking train. You know that train? From the old school kids show from way back. That ballsack blue tank engine with the grimace on his face. Looks like that motherfucker’s got something buried deep under that crazy ass smile and bug eyes and all.” He takes another bite, hands Em the fork, and keeps talking through the eggs. Em smiled at him. “I woke the fuck up when I was 16. Started dating this pale chick with buzzed hair. Tattoos and shit, obviously. She had this one tattoo. Jiggled on her ass cheek. Green Thomas Jefferson, all thatched like on the old dollar bills, with sunglasses and devil horns.”
Over Thomas’s shoulder, Em sees the orange curtain move.
“She was nuts though, man. I mean nuuuts. She opened my eyes to this whole technology complex. You awake to this shit? Get this homie. Schools. The economy. The government. Movies. All of it’s part of this thing, this complex. Not complex, like, intricate and shit. Or like an apartment complex. But a system. Get this...”
Nesu comes out of the back room, walking quickly towards the outside. She’s wearing a grey jumpsuit with a pair of dark, boxy sunglasses, with bare feet. Em watches as she rushes across the room, outside, and out of sight. Em thinks back to the night before. The tenderness, between the biting and fucking. Something deep in her lips calling for something. That moment, so close to ecstasy. She withdrew. She whispered something. What was it?
Thomas takes the fork back.
“I mean, look at the little kids. Take recess for example. The darkest fucking recess of society, more like it. They box these kids into a slab of concrete. No running. No talking above a whimper. Authority, my dude!”
Thomas notices Em gazing at the door.
“Oh, yeah. She just leave? She usually does that. She’s not coming back anytime soon. You can chill out for a while if you want. There might be another egg somewhere. Feel free to search for it.”
Em stares at Thomas, blinking. Thomas picks up the last fry, dips it in ketchup and yolk, and tosses it in the air. It lands with a splat on the corner of his mouth, leaving a splatters of red and yellow on his cheek. They stand up.
“I’m out.” Thomas gives Em a big hug, leaving a streak of sauce on his cheek. He turns around, grabs a skateboard that was laying on a tattered couch, and skates off into the sunshine.
Em sits on the couch and slips his small metal rectangle from his pocket. He snaps it in place at the base of his skull, lays back, and closes his eyes.