A surge of adrenalin pulsated through his body as he plunged into the icy dark depths of the river. He used the jolt of energy to focus, he was in grave danger and he needed a strategy, immediately. The opposite side was in sight, marred by a haphazard collection of logs and brush that had created a barrier to the shore. Frantically, he waded across the river until he could no longer touch the bottom, and then paddled the remaining few metres to the brush. He grabbed hold of one of the logs to keep himself steady, and with his other hand he ripped off half his tattered flannelette shirt and spiked it on a branch, so it was on full display. With the diversion in place, he let the fierce current wash his body away downstream and hoped that he had enough control over his faculties not to drown. It wasn’t until the river had hurtled him hundreds of metres downstream that the perfect escape from his icy luge presented itself; easy access to the left bank and a trail into the darkness beyond. He meandered towards it with a laboured paddle, the current was strong and painstakingly slow to navigate. The force of the water lessened closer to the river bank, and he finally was able to disembark onto an improvised trail that had been beaten into the brush by predecessors for his convenience. He ducked low, listening cautiously. Swaying of the trees in the night breeze, nocturnal creatures squeaking and cackling at each other, but nothing human. Soaked to the bone, shivering and completely charged with raw panic, he scuttled along the cluttered bush track, jumping logs and boulders. Vision was impaired in the half-moon light, though he had to be thankful he could at least see two feet in front of him. His teeth were chattering uncontrollably, and he needed to get out of the heavy, wet rags that were weighing him down. He needed a ride. As if some cosmic force kicked in at that very moment, the faint, but unmistakably sound of a vehicle hummed in the distance. He scanned the area for a glimmer of the headlights, and saw a slither of light cut the trees. He found the road, and due to the winding track, managed to arrive in front of the oncoming vehicle. He stood in front of it in order to wave it down, and then the words ‘End Sim’ scarred his view. Damn. Abe had known that there was only about three hours left of juice, but having a sim cut out just as he felt truly immersed was comparable to being dumped in a bath of ice seconds before reaching climax. Reality jerked into place. He removed his neural plug and tried to collect himself through a blurred gaze, staring outside the transparent end of his apartment. The garish pink holo gliding past, ironically advertising power solutions, indicated it was ten o’clock, January 4th, 2300. Abe rubbed his eyes and focused, enabling him to drink in the muted panorama that his humble apartment afforded. The haze of Acetyl was floodlit with flares of neon light, bleeding into swarms of coloured smoke that clung to the mega dwellings of the slums. Mirrored exteriors gave the surrounding high-rises the appearance of psychedelic staircases, reflecting the rainbow shimmer of a city forever pushing its wares. Abe watched as the procession of advertising blemished the otherwise perfectly murky cityscape, circulating like an ethereal parade. He slipped his shades on in anticipation of the next round of projections that were headed past his domicile window. The glare was enough to give him a tan. He scanned for his favourite holo of the week, and was promptly rewarded. Pinky’s Sex Palace, represented by a gigantic animated avatar of a stripper in school girl uniform, bursting out of the top half of her outfit and kneeling on both knees whilst swinging her pigtails from side to side. There was an undeniable sexual playfulness about it that he was drawn to, he must remember to check that place out. Sex certainly did sell. It would likely be the only action that he would be getting in light of his recent acne flare up. Abe’s view of the holo was annoyingly removed when his entire domicile window panel, from floor to ceiling, manifested into a scene of a young boy playing in a lush field. The boy ran in circles, giggling, until he exited the scene and a voice over entered with, ‘Lysericorp, invest today for their future.’ Fucking apparitions, he thought. If only he could pay the body corporate fee to opt out. Abe considered his options. Sleep would have been the sensible thing to do, but the thought of crashing out so early was utterly depressing. He might as well venture out and see what the twisted city of Acetyl had to offer, which of course was only going to lead to one thing, getting his nose into some enhancements.
Abe threw on his BioCoat, hit the Pneumatic lift and was out crossing the foyer of his building. The iridescent blue light dazzled his retinas. Standard issue. Can’t find your veins that way, that was how his super had explained it, anyhow. Abe stepped outside. The warm smoky air assailed his senses as he stepped out onto the street. The air was thick and overpowering, a rancid dry atmosphere that made his eyes water. It was all he knew, and he basked in it. All of his memories fit this same sensory profile and there was a nostalgic comfort he felt every time he stepped out of his claustrophobic apartment. The good city of Acetyl claimed that oxygen levels were at least on average 6 to 7%; he would risk a brief excursion despite the potential damage to his lungs. Air was getting worse. Oxygen was only averaging 8% Myopia wide. Abe started his evening constitutional, heading to the closest transit hub to jump on a MagnaTrain that would take him to downtown Acetyl, the belly of the beast. Home to three million residents, junkies, cyber crims, sex slaves and any other debaucherous walks of life that you could fill a husk of a dilapidated city with. Despite the risk he was taking basking in the sweet, humid night air all by himself, he cherished the walk. Abe was the only person left that did it anymore, it seemed. That was the best part. He imagined walking on completely different terrain, a rolling hillside, traversing a river bed or sinking barefoot into the sand on a beach. Real. Not simulated, not augmented, not a spatial visual. Real fucking earth. Abe was blasted out of his reverie as some dust was funnelled directly into his face via the jet wash of one of Acetyl’s service drones. ‘Oi!’ snapped Abraham. ‘Apologies citizen, my proximity sensor is not operating at maximum efficiency,’ the drone rattled. Abe ignored the drone and banked right down 3722nd street, from memory it converged with Pfizer station, which would get him access to the city proper. A slight westerly breeze swept his hair up, and with it a light foam sheet drifted over his head in a swirling flurry, twisting this way and the other as it floated forward, dancing down the street like some portentous invitation to follow. Abe admired the interplay until he had to cut through the thoroughfare to get to the station. As he arrived, the express to Acetyl CBD was pulling in. As Abe stepped into the first carriage, a familiar thought occurred to him as his eyes soaked in his surroundings. It never ceased to amaze him how strangely eclectic the mix of passengers were that frequented the MagnaTrain city loop, particularly past ten o’clock on a Wednesday night. He meandered down the middle of the carriage, weighing up his options as to where it would be safest to sit. Safe to Abe would be avoiding anyone that would want to interact with him, in any way. The varied profiles presented themselves. A group of three youths wearing completely ridiculous clothes conversed in an unruly, borderline violent manner and clearly had their moods enhanced by one of the new designer drugs of the moment. An enamoured couple, he couldn’t quite discern whether it was male female, female-female or two very slight males, were attempting to swallow each other’s heads, it would seem. A dishevelled elderly man raved in a language he did not recognise and did not care to have his BioCoat decipher, clearly outraged at the conduct of the youths. Ah, perfect. Abe spotted an immaculately dressed man consulting a Visual Display Unit, lost in his work. Mr. Business was by far the most out of place commuter on the MagnaTrain. Abe reckoned he could bet his last thousand credits that he would not instigate a conversation with him. Abe stepped forward and sat down next to him. Mr. Business was drenched in a pungent, no doubt expensive aftershave, which suddenly made Abe conscious of how he smelt. Ripe, he would have guessed. Abe leaned slightly to the right, as if this simple action would mitigate any odour he was producing. As he did this, he caught a glimpse of a multi-pass jutting out from underneath some files that lay on the grav tray next to him. Roger Emerson, Chief Technical Officer, Lysericorp industries was glittering an inch above the pass, a holo projection transmitted by the pass itself. Quite an impressive title, at any company, but it wasn’t just any company. Lysericorp was a behemoth, a multi mega-cap force that specialised in genetic research, interstellar travel, terraforming and world domination, if you believed the current allegations of the media. The question was, thought Abe, what was a big swinging dick like the CTO of Lysericorp industries doing getting a Magnatrain with the rest of the vermin? Surely someone as prestigious as an executive at Lysericorp had personalised Gyro’s or high-speed jet craft that could chauffeur him around in luxury? This was definitely out of the ordinary, Abe mused, as he began to cautiously reassess the man sitting next to him with renewed interest. Black, slicked back hair clung to his scalp. This accentuated a face which certainly fit the successful type profile, high cheek bones, a long sharp nose and a masculine angular jaw that writhed with tension as he clenched his teeth, which he was doing periodically. He exuded intensity; Abe could almost feel the seriousness radiating off of this man. This was no doubt par for the course, thought Abe, as he began to busy himself with locating his own screen. He reached into the large inside pocket of his BioCoat and removed his VDU, in comparison, a disconcertingly ancient model in the form of a cumbersome six-inch cylinder. Abe tossed the cylinder forward, his allocated grav tray raised itself to meet the unit until it was floating mid-air on a hazy blue platform. As the cylinder twirled his display protracted upward and he was greeted with the usual propaganda, news stories, statistics on weather conditions, potentially fatal synthetic storms, air quality and the latest footage of celebrities in various compromising predicaments. Abe tried to busy himself flicking around news stories in an attempt to portray a semblance of sophistication, not that he was in any danger of impressing the heavy hitter sitting next to him, but he felt an overwhelming duty to act like a professional within his proximity. Abe swiped until coincidentally, he stumbled across a slanderous article concerned with Lysericorp’s latest Machiavellian business interest. The reporter was making loose accusations about Lysericorp’s ties to The Evanescence. Abe felt like a prick. The last time he had seen a news clip of someone flitting, he had laughed his arse off. He wasn’t sadistic or anything, but the reaction that onlookers had when suddenly un-seeing someone else was positively hilarious. He wasn’t the only one that thought so, either. There was an entire channel on the most popular DataStream that made a point of seeing the lighter side of footage that documented confirmed flitting episodes. Lost in this train of thought, he didn’t even realise that the Lysericorp big wig had brushed past him in his rushed effort to depart the MagnaTrain at Central Acetyl station. Abe snapped back to the present moment, and a casual glance at the seat Roger Emerson was occupying a few seconds ago revealed a slim, tubular receptacle that looked like it was made out of black glass. Abe stood up in an effort to yell out to the guy, but he had already slipped off the train just as the warning tone sounded, and the doors abruptly closed. Abe scanned the carriage to check to see if anyone was watching him. Everyone appeared to be absorbed in their VDU’s or talking to fellow commuters. Aware of the surveillance points on the carriage, Abe draped his BioCoat over the seat and slid his hand underneath it until he felt the side of the cool, sleek glass capsule. He pulled at it with two fingers until it was safely on his seat, and then proceeded to carefully insert it into the pocket of his trousers.