Scene 5

Efficiency City, February 10, 2084. 2230 hours.

 

Dude, if I hang out in this apartment one more minute, I’m going to jump out the window. I throw on my coat and head out the door. If the city could have gotten any darker, it did. Not only are the streets soulless, lifeless, and disinterested, there seems to be an extra blot of somber futility about them tonight. I wander about the streets for a while and find myself in front of a library. Most residents of Efficiency City stopped using libraries years ago. The city government, a for-profit subsidiary of ABI, did not even bother locking the front door. I wander in. I can see only what the street light shows me as its amber rays illuminate the stacks through the filthy windows.

I wander about at random and pick out a volume. Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. I remember once being in a cyber fantasy by that name. I got to play the role of Edgar. I was a young, handsome jet-setter, well-tanned and fond of tennis. Catherine was a svelte socialite, sexy as all hell, and ready to rumble. I sent a complaint to the writers of that fantasy, though. For no good reason, things didn’t end well. After a few afternoons of hot sex after sipping mint juleps, this guy called Heathcliff bursts in on us right as we’re going at it hot and heavy and hollers he’s going to rip my head off.  Wow! I didn’t get my money’s worth on that one. I saw they closed that imprint of OmniFantasy pretty soon after. I wasn’t surprised.

I put the book back on the shelf with fluttering fingers, and feel cold. I feel a shadow growing behind me. I look around quick, but see nothing.

I take the stairs and see another floor of stacks. I ascend again. More stacks. I keep on walking up, not knowing what I’m looking for. I walk up, utterly out of breath and exhausted, many more floors than I thought the building comprised. Finally, I come to the top floor. Another floor of stacks. I see a ladder and a trap door to the roof. I take it. The roof is large, square, and flat. I walk to the edge of the building. The entire city is laid out before me, amber necklaces of streetlights on boulevards crisscrossed by aquamarine bracelets of streetlights on side streets.  In places, the lights light up darkened shopping malls, factories, huge parking lots, Wal-Marts, apartment complexes. The river I can only see by its absence. No lights there. The river cuts a black stiletto scar through the city, from cheek to cheek.

I wander around the roof. On the far end, there is a block of book stacks. I walk toward them, and see that in the stacks are maybe a half-dozen shadows. The shadows! I instinctively crouch down, then run-tiptoe to a chimney. Fighting my flight instinct, I watch them, peeking out from behind the smokestack. The shadows pick up and crack open books at random, gaze at them for a while, put them back on the shelf. They murmur to each other. They don’t seem like mean shadows.

I approach them, and, as I get closer, the shadows resolve into flesh and blood. One of them turns and, not at all surprised at my appearance, says:

− Nate. Don’t just stand there. Help out. We’re looking for something.

It’s Aria.

− Aria, what are y’all doin here? Dude, why don’t you just read this shit on line?

− This isn’t on line, fuck-face, Flex says.

− What? They’ve digitized every book ever published.

− Every book they want you to know about, Aria says.

− Why would they keep secret books at a public library?

− It’s the safest place in the world, Nel says. Hidden in plain sight.

− So what are y’all looking for?

− A reference to the Schmooziface Veluptur, Aria says.

− The what?

− Schmooziface Veluptur. Start looking.

We spend some hours flipping through volumes.

− Fuck this shit. It’s starting to get light.

We walk down the stairs, out the front door, around the corner, and into an alley. We zigzag through many alleys until we get to the van.

− Come along.

We drive out of the city and into the hills. After several miles on dirt roads, we come to a large house haphazardly constructed of tires, coke bottles, glass, and dirt. Nel makes a fire in a fireplace at the center of a large central dome-shaped room, and everyone gathers around to sing.  Flex plays a drum. I fall asleep with my head in Aria’s lap while she is in the middle of an impassioned discourse about art and the conscience of an awakened individual.

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