The elevator bell dings, we step inside, we’re spit out into the lobby. It’s not completely deserted, which is surprising when you go over the brutal disco that went down just now. Caesar, Skyscraper, and Casino are nowhere to be found. The only one here, behind the pexiglas, hole-riddled and boarded-up again booth is the landlord, Roel, reading an uninteresting magazine. He’s six screens tall and incredibly Dutch. We haven’t talked much, just the standard “so I pronounce it as Rool?” and “godverdomme man wher the fock is mijn rent?” His eyes drag up from his read and ours meet, then his drop to my bruised, notably shirtless body. He cocks a scarred eyebrow, his smog-covered lungs cough up a cloud of words that hardly manages to squeeze through the intercom. “Godverdomme man wher the fock’s je clothes?” I spin up to his tube-station.
“Rool, baby, when you see a tall, beat-up halfbot stroll down here, stop him for a second, won’t you? He’s trying to kill me, y’see.” A big sigh wafts into my face and I hack, wheeze, think of my last words. “Oké, wen I see tet man, I take matters in mijn own handen. But godverdomme man, effryone is trying to kill je.” I throw a proud smile back at Exeter, one that says, “see? I’m tough.” I also tell him that, just in case. His visor flicks to a faded green “-_-” and he trudges towards the exit carrying the plant from his apartment. I follow with a hop, followed by a dog carrying a ruined steampunk arm in his mouth.
The streets are colourful, but not in a technicolour kind of way. It’s still daytime, but sunlight doesn’t reach here. Sodium streetlights barf orange, blue, and purple from above while the city passes a perpetual, smoky gas. There’s nothing beautiful about it. A couple of bat-wielding boys wrecked a lumpia cart and shoved it into the nearest sewer entrance. The old man that runs it is crying for help, trying to pull his only livelihood out, but he doesn’t stand a chance against the swellers pulling it in deeper. Swellers, by the way, is short for ‘sewer dwellers’. That’s people who live in the sewers. It’s free housing, you shouldn’t judge them, you classist. Every hip and trendy passerby knows swellers love lumpias, though, so no one bothers. Neither do we, so we keep on walking. But even more miserable than that urban scene is this glitching awkward silence. That, and I’m still not wearing a shirt. Holy slag, I’m cold.
“Sooo, uh, you ever visit a poetry forum? I remember this poem that was all ‘oo, the neon blood pumps into my heart. I feel the beat of the city and it is my own.’ What’s up with that? Like, how pretentious and ignorant do they have to be? The view they have of the city’s amazing ’cause they can pay for it – meanwhile we get our doors kicked down for going out to buy brown cabbage past the curfew!” A low-toned vocoded murmur assaults my organic eardrums worse than any nerdcore concert: “You don’t like my poems?” I turn my neck like a rusty screw. A damp visor displaying a bright yellow ’;_;’. “I. Well. I mean, there’s a certain positivity in your work that can only exist within a privileged socioeconomic– Wait. You’re a cyborg. Aw, jammit. I’m so sorry, I–” I can see him chewing on the inside of his cheeks. “I’m not human, I’m piss poor, but I’m happy. Is that so bad?” The softly flickering sign of Falstaff’s Pizza Place is my salvatory light, a neon bible, ascending me out of this social hell.
I feel your circuitry pulsing
(what a thrill)
Like a shock I’m convulsing
(like I’m killed)
What I’m feeling is amazing
(programmed for love)
My electric heart, it’s racing
(baby don’t stop)
Twobit speakers are playing Trish Rigs’s latest single, ‘Robot Love feat. Shinobu the Samurida’ and I’m singing along with tears in my eyes. “Ya, two pizzas?” asks the waitress bouncing on epileptic rollerskates, doing halfhearted twirls not even half her heart is in. Exeter is pouting opposite of me on a turquoise bench, trying his hardest not to pay attention to me or the waitress. Deciding she’s had enough of waiting, she pops her TONGUE ATTACK FLAVOR BOMB APPROXIMATION OF MINT-FLAVOR (not real mint) which creates a small tremor at our table. “JESUS HACKING CHRIST,” is what we both yell before digging into the pizzas practically thrown at us. “That’ll be 70 hyperdollars, sugar.” I once again exclaim, “JESUS HACKING CHRIST!” before slamming the table. Exeter looks frightened. “SEVENTY HYPE FOR TWO PIZZAS? WHAT A BARGAIN, A CYBERSTEAL!” I pay her with a wink. Literally. She aims her retinal scanner and I lose some chump change. We continue eating, one in silence, one in song.
“Listen,” begins a condescending femme voice, “we shouldn’t be here. Together.” “Why not, babe? Our meeting was so intense, it’s only natural to go on a first date.” His jaw slams shut on a slice of ‘za and violently severs it, the metaphor winceworthy. “Don’t kid yourself. This is not a date.” He takes a deep, autotuned breath. “ANYHOW. We were never supposed to meet. But we did. Now I’m back to square one and I’m richer not one, but three people who want me in a cooler.” I throw on puppy eyes and a pouty lip; he quickly checks his human emotions guide, sighs. His visor turns into a frustrated -_-“.
“I want to help you, doll,” I assure him through pizza-filled mouth. “You’re disgusting. And, what? You don’t even know what it is I’m doing.” “Noooot a clue, but right now it’s my best bet at survival, escape, and so on.” “I’m being hunted by a hubristic datadropper and two angry debt collectors.” “Technically just Caesar. Casino, and Skyscraper just want me. Caesar, too, I guess.” “Oh, true. We should go our seperate ways, then.” I clasp his muscular metal arm and stop him from taking another bite. “Nononono babe, please don’t. I’ll help you. I’m not bad in a fight, and I can cook. Noodles and soup. Oil? I have oil. Do you drink oil?” “What? No, of course not. I’d die. And calm yourself, Orlando. I was kidding. Japing. Doing the comedy jive. You can tag along. You have a lot to make up for, anyway.” I shove a tearstained slice into my sad, quivering mouth, gratefully. “You won’t regret this.”
“I will, though.” [:S] “Please put on a shirt.”