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I should have taken the story Gareth and I pieced together and run to my rank. A rank is what we glitches called the intelligence officer we were assigned to. Mine was Captain Allan Collins, more belovedly known as Captain Kumquat within my circle.
Collins was the typical run of the mill lifer with the military. Sparse gray hair, balding in the back, fat face, fat belly, fat ass. I guess if all I did every day was sit at my desk, eating and waiting for someone to bring me names I might have looked like that as well. As if.
Military types, as well as all government officials, had plenty of good food and drink. They were entitled; so said someone. I didn’t have a say, so it was no big deal to me.
Ma and I got along just fine on our allotted rations. As long as I could provide the brave men and women, who did absolutely nothing for the country, names of suspected peebs every month we had enough. It was the winter months where names were hard to come by that proved hardest. Even then, we got by because we pooled our meager supplies with others in our same predicament.
Whoa be it that anyone associated with the government ever had less than a full pantry. That wasn’t the way our country worked any longer. Government farms, burgeoning with government workers, produced everything we needed. First and foremost, employees of the States (as we were now called) were provided for.
They received the best of everything, all 200 million of them. The rest of the population, some 350 million of us, received the leftovers. They had prime rib, we received gritty fatty hamburger. They were given their choice of the freshest fruits and vegetables, we got the stuff that was deemed unfit for their consumption.
Worst of all, and I perseverated on it way too much, they could purchase alcohol anytime they wanted. The general population? Only the day before a government holiday. And there were only six of them.
Not everyone that didn’t work for the government was a glitch. Some swept streets from sunrise to sunset. Others cleared trash from less desirable neighborhoods. Their hours were even longer. Still more did cooking and cleaning and mending for government employees. Theirs was a thankless task.
And then there were people like me. I had tried trash duty once. No thanks. If the stench didn’t make you sick, fighting off rats all day got old fast. I knew a guy who got bite once and was dead within three days. Because he didn’t work directly for the government his body lied in his parent’s house for three weeks before anyone came to dispose of it.
Then there was my stint working for Child Development Administration.
On my second day of hell working amongst the spoiled brats of the entitled, I was reprimanded by some level four mother who claimed I had struck her child. The footage of the event revealed that her darling daughter bit me and I simply pushed her aside so she wouldn’t repeat the act.
Still, I was a lowly level nine; that was the entry level of all government jobs. The dregs of all positions. Because mommy dearest had me by some five levels a note was placed in my permanent file stating I needed to watch myself. Another note like that, within the next three years, would be cause for my dismissal.
Even as much as I hated watching a group of turds, it was the rules that got me canned. For some reason, still outside of my thought process, showing up to work at eight a.m. was mandatory. Here I thought it was just the suggested start time. Within two weeks I received three notes on punctuality and my days as a government employee were over for good. As much as I hated getting out of bed before noon I was actually proud of myself for lasting that long.
Making my way downtown, I wandered where I didn’t belong. I had no reason to be where I was – except I did. I needed to meet this Margo and have her answer a few questions. For some reason, I thought she’d be a pushover. Man, was I ever wrong.
I found her sitting on a high stool behind a counter. I marveled at how poorly lit the inside of the building was. I would have thought the government would provide better lighting so their employees wouldn’t go slowly blind.
Approaching in an easy manner, I leaned against the counter as the young woman shuffled papers around before herself. She, this Margo, was a non-descript person; perfect for this kind of work. Just like Lucy.
She wore no makeup; her dull blonde hair hung straight and lifeless, ending just above her shoulders. I noticed her lips drawn tight as if she was either hard at work or perhaps she despised her life. She was just like my friend, sans any shape. Though I did notice her rather loud chartreuse scarf. It seemed so out of place on her.
“Hello, Margo,” I whispered. People were required to be quiet inside of The Repository, as we called it for short. Ma said that’s how it used to be inside of libraries in the old days; back when the country was whole and people could travel anywhere they wanted. Ancient history – like 30 years ancient.
She peeked at me nervously through gorgeous light-blue eyes. Up close, in person, she was sort of cute. If it hadn’t been for the fact she had wrongly glitched on Lucy, I might have considered hitting on her and seeing if I could land her number.
She was startled at first and that made me chuckle. How could a clerk at a government building not expect people to talk to them? Did she really believe that filing papers all day, week after week, year after year, was her only duty in life?
“How may I help you?” she whispered. My god; if I hadn’t thought her appearance was mousy, her voice sealed the deal. She was a wallflower.
“I need to talk to you.” I gave her a half smile, hoping to put her at ease. Apparently, she wasn’t used to smiling.
“I can only discuss States appropriate topics during business hours,” she replied, her eyes falling back to her paperwork. “If you are looking for anything else, you’ll have to leave.”
Leaning over the counter, my face came within a foot of hers. I noticed her chin trembling when she looked up at me.
“I need to know why you glitched on Lucy,” I stated softly. “Can you explain that to me?”
Her lips tightened as she glanced past me. Presumably at the guard 15 feet behind me. “Lucy is my friend. I’d never do that to her. You’ll have to leave; otherwise I’m going to alert security.”
“I saw it in the database this morning,” I countered, unworried about her idle threat of security. My handler would vouch for me being where I was. “You did it. It’s all there.”
Her eyes became teary. Her entire body began to shudder. “I didn’t do it,” she insisted a little louder. “I would never do something like that.”
Again, she tipped her head to the left and stared at the guard making his rounds behind me. “You have to go.” She sounded nearly frantic. “I can’t get involved in something like this – someone like you. I need this job.”
She was about to break; I moved in for the kill. “So why’d you glitch on Lucy then? Jealously? Promotion? Was it a guy?”
Her head shook in small fits. “You have to believe me. I didn’t do it. You have to believe me, Trent.”
I bolted up straight. Shit, she knew who I was. But how?
I got flustered – really flustered. Maybe someone else wouldn’t have, but I did. The way Margo said my name – so confident, like she knew me, frightened me. But that was impossible, I thought as I hustled down the sidewalk away from the Repository.
I’d meant to interrogate her. Instead, she scared me off. Man, what a strange twist.
I still needed to go see Captain Collins, but first I needed to make a quick cell call. Digging in my beige jacket pocket, I pulled out two phones. Damn it, I was missing one.
In my hand were a red cell and a blue cell. The red one I used for everyday calls knowing that the government may listen in. The blue one was for glitch business mostly. If I needed to speak with someone like Gareth, or send a text that I didn’t really want anyone to see, I used the blue phone. For the most part, Gareth assured me it was clean.
I needed the black phone though. That was my secret weapon. It was what they once called a burner phone with an untraceable signal. Gareth and a few of his techie buddies figure out how to bounce around the various towers throughout the city. Besides that, it had a voice changing button that made me sound like not me. Pretty cool, actually…when the damned button worked.
I used the blue phone, hoping I’d downloaded the last patches Gareth had sent me. If I hadn’t the boys and girls of the States might listen in. Thus, I decided to keep my conversation fairly benign.
“Gar,” I shouted into the device after he picked up. “Possibly unsecured.” That told him to watch his tongue so none of our little secrets feel into the hands of our handlers.
“Need a name, buddy,” I continued.
“Where’s the black, dickhead?” he replied, not happy with me. “And you got a name.”
Damn him. Why did he always have to argue with me over the simplest requests?
“I lost it, man. Can’t seem to find it anywhere.”
I heard him sigh and then pound on his keyboard. “Bronson Pickerel,” he stated, sounding like he was doing me a big favor. “Low-level hack that shows up once in a while.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but I typed the name into my red phone. My idea of speaking in code and his varied greatly. Always had for as long as I had known him.
“Got it. Need to run,” I said, ready to see if I could glean any information about Margo from Collins.
“Anuk needs to see you,” he replied.
I felt my face contort. Of all the people I didn’t have time for, she was at the top of my list.
“I can’t spare any minutes right now with the oriental midget. She’ll have to wait.”
“She said it was important.” He made it sound like she had ice cream or some other treat waiting for me. Who knew, maybe she did.
I rubbed my oily face and surveyed my surroundings. If I hustled, I could get to Anuk’s place in 10 minutes. If I gave her a solid five, that made 15. And her place put me another 15 minutes from Collins’ office.
“Okay,” I moaned. “I’ll go see what’s got her undies all twisted. This better be good Gar.”
He laughed. “Since I don’t know shit, it could or could not be. Talk to you later, asswipe.”
We clicked off at the same time and I began to jog back towards the residential area of the city where Anuk lived. The way things were set up, residences surrounded the center of the city where most business took place. At least that’s where stations one and two were.
If you had a food or supply issue, you had to go wait in line at station three, or maybe it was four. Those two sat in the middle of the west side of the residential area. I didn’t know if there were similar stations set up on the east side of town, and I didn’t really care. Ma and I got our needs filled at station three.
Station nine distributed gasoline. And it was a bitch to get to. Just like the government wanted I’m sure. So few people had working cars that I only knew three or four that had ever ventured to the far northern reaches of the city where the station sat. When they got back they always bitched about something.
Usually, the problem was shortages. Someone with a car was allotted ten gallons a month by the government. If you didn’t have a car you got an extra ration of heating oil or natural gas. What that meant was you could keep your house at a comfortable 60 degrees in the winter, instead of somewhere near 50.
That last person I knew who had ventured to station nine for gas came back empty handed…and damned near out of gas. She was told some story of espionage damaging one of the local storage facilities. Next month, she was promised. She’d get her full ration next month. Of course, that meant she had to walk there, or hire a ride, to retrieve her allotted gasoline. But that was the way it was. Either figure it out…or do without.
Anuk’s neighborhood was just as dumpy as mine. Most of the streets and sidewalks were chewed up and nearly impassable. No one cut their lawns, or hedges, or bushes. The buildings and homes were either weatherworn and crumbling or were covered in government issued gray paint.
I counted broken and shattered windows as I turned down the last block. I quit at 15 because I was bored. At least in my neighborhood when a window got busted people boarded it up. These poor slobs didn’t appear to have access to the same supplies we did – even though they weren’t even a mile from Ma’s place.
Pausing at Anuk’s front stoop, I noticed her curtains were all closed. Maybe she wasn’t home after all. Maybe she had left to run an errand, or had somehow stolen a government ration card for booze or smokes. Maybe, I could just skip her bullshit for another day.
When the peeling, wooden front door opened I leapt back. I saw a hand signal me inside. Crap, no getting away from her anger today.
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