A (possibly upsetting) cyberpunk adventure comedy.
You know how there’s those girls that you know but don’t really know?
Marine’s one of those girls. In a stroke of what some people would call amazing luck, a massive corporation stole something from her workshop while she was sleeping. Our protagonist, being the upstanding (and not shiftless, anti-social pervert) citizen that he is, offers to help.
And so he does.
Cover Art by: Josan Gonzalez
I FELL OFF THAT BIKE A LOT
MEET THE AUTHOR
This is the area of the site where Randall P. Fitzgerald pretends that Randall P. Fitzgerald isn’t writing Randall P. Fitzgerald’s own biography.
Randall was raised in rural North Carolina and is currently living in Portland, Oregon. He’s trying not to let the constant motion sickness caused by rapidly moving plaid destroy his productivity. Other than that, he writes books. Sci-fi and fantasy, probably. Maybe with some other stuff in there.
Requisite snide remark about Portland out of the way, Randall is continuing to refer to himself in the third person and it makes him sick. He’s going to stop writing this bio now.
KEEP IN TOUCH
So it was Thursday and as much as I fucking hate it, I was out in the world. Is there anything more bullshit than Thursday? Like, as a day, I mean. Wednesday gets a lot of shade, but being the middle of the week is something at least. I mean it should be something anyway. Whatever, it was Thursday and I was at this pizza place. I didn’t want to be, I just am. VR gear was busted, hoverbus— they actually call it the fucking hoverbus— smelled like piss and now I was at some place where the waiter smiles too much. I thought about saying something about it, but where do you start with that? People are supposed to like smiling but it’s just off-putting in a situation where all I wanted was a slice of pizza while I waited for the shop to open.
The girl who ran the place I was going was nice enough. Real, smart as hell… well, book smart. Tech smart. She’d probably get murdered if she ended up anywhere without plugs or wireless. She wouldn’t smile at me. Or maybe she would. But at least she fucking knows me. Not like this pizza asshole. Who’s it even for? The smiling. Stupid people? Is it supposed to make him less threatening? More inviting? It’s maybe one of the most basic transactions of a given day for any human being and now I’ve got to act like I care. They tried to replace the whole thing with robots, but then the robots smiled weird or something so I guess parents complained. A few places still used robots. The new kind that smile right. Expensive, though. Not this place. That’s a genuine “happy to be here” sort of retail worker. That’s creepier than the robots.
The slice came. I stared at it more than I should have, hoping the waiter’d go away. The guy smiled at me— I could feel it burning the side of my face like a hot lamp— and asked if I needed anything. Or probably he did. I heard that end-of-the-sentence tone raise. I really, really wanted to say no without looking at him but I did it anyway. Some sick reflex left over from before I turned into a real pile of shit. I raised my eyebrows and winced.
“Nah, man… that’s… I’m good.”
He said that was great. Well, he said “great.” But it’s not. He knows it’s not. We’re just lying to each other. I don’t know why. Said to let him know if I need anything. One of those things that really could have gone unsaid. I ignored it. I felt like I could get away with that one. He can’t make me say okay and if I ignore the line and stare at the pizza slice he’ll have no follow up. It’d take one real autistic weirdo to force me to confirm that I’ve heard him offer to do his job. Or a sadist, maybe.
I wanted to just eat the slice real casual. Take my time, sort of dab at it with some napkins. I like grease as much as the next guy but there’s a limit. Plus, then I can feel like I’m not exactly a disgusting grease-drinking slobfuck. It’s the little stuff, right? The little victories. Well, that plan was out. He kept looking over. The place wasn’t that full so fair enough, but what did he expect to happen? Like I might get four bites in, realize I am in desperate need of companionship and beckon him over? Maybe he was disgusted I didn’t dab the grease. Well, I was going to dab the grease you son of a bitch! I was going to do like four napkins worth of dabs but you kept just… GAH!
So I ate the slice faster than I wanted, only drank half my drink, and I left. It’s a hard argument to make that the sidewalk is better than a pizza hole for people who don’t want to talk to anyone, but I made due. Large headphones are a good trick. And being unkempt helps. I’m pretty sure the shirt I was wearing was a few weeks past needing a wash as well.
The walk to Marine’s shop was pretty short. I’d probably have to stand out front for a bit because of pizza boy but the weather wasn’t too cold yet. Streets were crowded for a couple of blocks, but it fell off on the backstreet where the shop was. Almost an alleyway, really. The sort of place you’d go to get mugged or knock on an unassuming back door to get let into some kind of sex club or crime thing. I guess that wasn’t entirely far off of what I was doing.
So anyway, I knocked. Of course, she wasn’t down yet. Marine worked nights. No posted hours. Nothing before 1pm, she told me. I liked to aim for three just to be on the safe side. It was barely two now, so there was a real chance I was going to be standing in an alley for an hour. I’d text her, but that wasn’t a thing she did. Or maybe she did, but not with me. She lived above the shop, but there were no windows to throw tiny rocks at. There were also no tiny rocks, but there was probably a fish store… is that what you call it? Fish… fish store? Aquatic pet retailer? I don’t know. There was probably a fish store somewhere nearby and I could buy a bag of those little rocks for fish and huck some of those up. You know, if there was a window.
A couple of delivery robots rolled by. Trashcans on wheels, covered with screens. One of them tried playing an ad at me, but they never slow down unless something’s blocking them so I didn’t hear much of it. That’s the nice thing and the problem all at once. The robots tend to just fuck off, they’ve got deadlines. But they don’t respond to awkward silence as predictably if you happen to end up awkwardly stuck around one. That said, I heard that if you nudge it with your foot— which may have been code for kick it— that it’d shut up. Honestly, I’m too much of a pussy to try. Thing’d take like twenty pictures of me and I’d owe somebody a bunch of money for molesting robots or something. Not really worth testing shits you read online.
I heard crap getting moved around in the shop so I knocked again. She seriously not going to open the door?
“Hey, Marine. Stop being a slut and open the door.”
Nothing. Slut usually got her motivated to come complain. Maybe she was in a bad mood. Whatever, I had nothing better to do so I went back to waiting. The rustling stopped after a few minutes so it was back to leaning pointlessly against the wall. Probably… twenty minutes later or so, I heard the locks running down on the other side of the door so I turned around to wait for the door to open up.
The top half of the door cracked open.
“You finally remember I knocked?”
“Huh?” She sounded groggy. “The fuck is you talking about? I saw you on the cameras.”
She leaned over and looked down the alleyway in both directions. It was a pretty half-hearted check. She was in a loose shirt that’d had the neck cut off it. Now, and I can’t stress this enough, I tried to look at her nipples. I didn’t see them, but I tried. Too hard. She saw me, and scoffed. The top of the split door shut and then the whole thing opened.
“I’m never going to fuck you.”
She was wearing brown… I don’t know… yoga pants? But they weren’t the tight kind. Upscale sweat pants without elastic on the ankles? I don’t fucking know what girls call pants. Just pants, maybe. She turned and headed in so I followed her.
“Yeah, I wasn’t really worried about it.”
“Bullshit. You want this whole deal. Pervert.”
I didn’t say anything. Felt like I could have carried on with the banter but the options laid out didn’t really leave me in a good position conversationally speaking. Sure, I’d love to lay a jizz in just about anything willing but sex just seemed like so much effort lately. It’s not like in porn. If you don’t want to be called an asshole, you either have to get the girl off or date a chick who had a bad series of high school boyfriends and doesn’t understand what orgasms are. Really, I just wanted to see her nipples. She was some kind of half Asian, I think, and I wanted to know if they were brown or not. This shirt seemed like my best bet on getting a look. She was pretty short. Still, it wasn’t a thin shirt so I couldn’t rule out brown just based on the light getting through.
She moved behind her little counter and sat down. The shop was the same mess it always was. Parts, half-finished projects on work tables, the skeletons of robots of two dozen different makes and models.
“So what were you doing in here before you finally decided to open up?”
“What are you talking about? I opened the door as soon as I got down.”
“Guess it was thieves then.”
It was supposed to be a joke, but Marine went pale. Paler, I guess. She stood up and looked around the shop.
“Are you sure?”
“Are you fucking sure, I said?!”
She didn’t wait for an answer out of me, it was straight to the racks behind the counter, sliding things over. She got more frantic as she poured over the contents of each shelf in turn.
“Oh no, no… come on.”
She was tearing things off shelves now. Nothing that hit the floor seemed to give her any satisfaction. She grabbed her head, groaning. Marine turned and walked to me. She grabbed my bag and unzipped it.
“What did you hear?”
“Nothing in there but my busted VR rig.”
She threw my bag on the ground. Really wanted to say something about it, but she seemed pretty upset and when she calmed down she’d probably feel bad anyway.
“What. Did. You. Hear?” It wasn’t quite screaming, but it was certainly louder than I’d have preferred to be spoken to.
The pizza guy never treated me like this. Maybe I’d misjudged him.
“Nothing specific. Just rustling. Blame your giant door. Hard to eavesdrop through that thing.”
Her shoulders dropped and she looked around the shop. There was an expression slowly working its way on to her face, like a kid realizing they can’t fix that vase before mom gets home. She sort of dragged her feet back over to the chair behind the counter and sat down.
“So, this is bad?”
She did not look at me in a kind way after asking.
“Don’t you have cameras in this place?”
I’d forgive her for forgetting. She was probably still pretty tired. She thought a minute after I said it then stood up.
She went up the stairs behind the counter. My hands felt greasy. I should have dabbed the pizza. I take it back. Fuck the pizza guy.