My Monday morning was a disaster. I ruined my night before by not going to bed in time, and then lying-in bed wide awake, instead of dozing off. With 19 hours of coding in my bunker and only 5 hours of light, it's an understatement to say I didn't get enough sleep. And when I did snatch those rare hours of light, I fell asleep. That night I kept debating with myself whether I should drink or smoke anymore. This debate followed me into my morning, so to make it easier on myself, I took a hit from the bong next to my bed as soon as I woke up. I'm not a fan of mornings and never have been—and on this day with no sleep, the morning felt even more surreal and exhausting than usual.
I ventured downstairs, as always, to find music playing Spotify Ultra again. I could see the coffee pot and toast in the sink, and I knew my day would take at least four cups of coffee and some bong hits before it really started. Perhaps I should have meditated to clear my head of the morning fog, but normally I just sit in contemplation or roll around the thought that I should meditate. It's no surprise at this point; even if the night before had ended differently than I had expected, the morning after typically followed the same routine as boredom.
The base of my skull had a strange buzzing feeling that was slightly irritating. My left ear was both dry and hot, and I noticed a tender spot that made me wonder what was going on. As someone scratched at the door, I decided to ignore them; I had more important things to focus on. My coffee cooled down as I sat there with thoughts swirling around in my head, absentmindedly glancing at the digital screen across the room yet not processing any of its information.
I gulped down what was left of the cold coffee in my mug and lit a cigarette. What time was it? Somewhere between the ungodly hour that I usually wake up, and the moment when I had to step inside the office of incarceration. Couldn't I just have one normal night before going to work, especially for the one day a month I had to show up there?
I glanced at my wrist computer and tried to ignore the scratching at the door. I stood up and searched for something to give me a sense of urgency. It felt like an out-of-reach concept. I was not cut out for office work, particularly having to do this once a month--whoever decided 8 am would be a reasonable start time for work was clearly deranged. I had chosen to do this, but the network still wanted me to know my place. I made my way back upstairs so as not to waste any more time lamenting the inevitable. Normally, I'd telecommute or work from my studio using an Ultra-High plugin, but sometimes, when the network required it or when I needed a reality check, I had to enter the office.
Staring into the mirror, I was startled by the unfamiliar face that stared back. I grabbed my shaver, and as it hummed and then died, I thought, 'This is a metaphor for my life.' Not that anyone would be looking at me; no one made eye contact outside of Ultra-High anymore. My eyes were heavy and red from exhaustion. Was I really this dull looking? This could account for my single status at 35, but then again, it was almost impossible to have real conversations outside of Ultra-High-Definition environments. You could meet some people in the bars for coders and enforcers, but they were usually empty. One last glance in the mirror and I headed to the bedroom to get dressed. In the background, I heard scratching sounds, but by now they were just a mild distraction in the back of my head. I was too wrapped up in the story I was creating of myself to take in what was happening in the present - unless it fed into my narrative. If it weren't for the corpocratic society we lived in, this self-glorification might be viewed as borderline narcissistic.
I practically stumbled out of my front door and toward my car, eyeballing my dishevelled self as I went. Upon sitting down in the car, I felt the icy seat slowly invade my body. I quickly turned on the heaters and thought of how nice a cup of coffee would be. As I drove to work, I imagined my boss giving me a scolding for yet another late arrival. I started to think of excuses for why I was late, even though none of them were true; it could be a relative or friend had passed away, the car wouldn’t start, or the house had a leak. It was hard to prove or deny any of the things he accused me of. I had no idea why he cared so much when I only went into the office once a month. I had a good idea of what he would say, and I would respond with “Obviously I don’t need to be in the office, and I make up the time I miss, right?” I thought to myself “you old-fashioned, traditional businessman.” We both knew the truth of who had the real power in our relationship, but he never said it out loud because admitting it would make it real. By now, the windows had fogged up and the car had warmed up considerably from my long sit in thought. I hadn’t noticed how long I'd been lost in my own head, which would only add to his story about why I was late.
The car rattled along the broken road, jarring my bones with every pothole. Father John Misty blasted from the radio, and I hummed along, never quite hitting the right notes. The morning sky was an ash-coloured grey as I turned into the staff parking lot. My boss's usual spot was empty; he was probably working from home, which was his favourite excuse for being late. I was relieved that I wouldn't have to explain my tardiness due to a car breakdown, my unexpected bereavement, and the fact that my house was leaking.
“How was your weekend?” she asked as I entered. There was a hint of mocking in her voice that I couldn't place, though I doubted she really cared about how I had spent my days off. I assumed that she had been partying until the last humans left, with the stamina to keep going until we all passed out.
I faked a response to her question, too unenthused by my own life story to even look up. I could feel her staring at me, analysing the stubble on my head while I signed in, undergoing the usual retinal, tox, and fingerprint scans to get into the building. I had managed to fool the security system on my first day, and with no goodbye, I disappeared from sight. She would soon submerge herself in her own narrative of the day's events on some virtual platform; her life's woes playing over in her mind. My lack of interest in connecting with her that morning like the hundreds of other drones that had come before would only further fuel her internal narrative and deepen the gloom in her augmented heart.
I had taken my seat at the desk and the coffee I had been drinking had gone lukewarm. After a quick break to smoke two cigarettes, I had attempted to ignore the fact that I was no longer my own boss. I could see the morning light on the scorched trees and discarded plastic bags floating around, which reminded me of a movie I had seen. 'The plastic was laying an eternal siege on this city', I thought to myself before going back to face the impending re-write program and bug fix of "Enlightenment", the latest Hypno-pod ultra-reality project I was on. And the spreadsheets? Forget about them.
By 10 am, I had almost finished my everyday tasks and let my AI assistant take care of the paperwork. As I stared out of my window, a wave of gray reality filled the view outside. For a brief moment, I allowed my mind to wander toward the idea of escaping into a hyper-reality where I could design my own world. But before I could act on this thought, I quickly returned to reality and started to pretend to work to make it look like I was busy, even though it was more difficult than actually working.
My neck was still cold when I realised I was in the mood for lunch. In the back of my mind, I considered getting hot soup to warm me up but decided against it. I went into the dismal canteen and made my way to the coffee machine. People were taking their sweet time in front of me, and all I wanted to do was look away from the blinding pixelation of my office computer screen. I wondered what it would be like to take a fork to the flesh between this person's spine and head—to rip it out like some finishing move. But it wasn't socially acceptable to plan acts of violence while waiting in line, so instead, I just sighed and kept waiting.
Balancing my half-full cup of coffee, I arrived at my desk, knowing this was the only part of the day in the office where I was not bound to someone else's agenda. I plopped down on the chair, but the glare coming off the screen made me avert my gaze. Although no one was watching, I knew if I hopped on FacebookUltra to pass the time, the Zuckerberg bots would be alerted, and I'd have to go through the hassle of hacking into the mainframe and fixing my credit chips. Exercising freedom came with a price--the constant fear that someone or something would catch me doing something wrong. This was one of many reasons why I only came into the office on mandatory days, but luckily my creativity usually bailed me out.
I considered opening my crypto wallet to see if any malicious characters had managed to take some of my money, but I knew that would only leave me feeling worse. What was meant to be a revolutionary currency that would free us from capitalism seemed to have instead ensnared us. I then thought of ways I could better spend my time; I could look up recipes for the best Lasagne out there or go for a walk and get some fresh air in my lungs but decided to settle for the heavily vented courtyard just outside the office instead. I would only be walking around 500 yards, but that would be enough for a smoke before turning back.
It had taken me the better part of my lunch break to come back in from the cold, and I now had only a little over four hours left on the job. I thought about getting something from the vending machine but weighed it against the health consequences that might follow if I became dependent on a sugar rush. As I debated, my lunch break came to an end, and I realized I'd been procrastinating yet again - missing out on life's little experiences due to indecisiveness. Deflated and hungrier than before, all I could do was get back to work.
I was thoroughly shaken out of my concentration when my office phone jolted to life and demanded my attention. I hadn't received a call in forever and had almost forgotten the phone was even there. I glanced at it before remembering that I still had to pick up the receiver to answer. It seemed so out of date in this modern world, yet it seemed oddly appropriate.
"Hello dear" came a familiar voice that I just could not place, the fact that it had just called me dear made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin, let alone my office.
"Hello," I said, "I am sorry, who is this?"
"You forget me already, Walter? Wow, that hurts I thought we had something special something, unique."
"I am sorry but..."
"Don't be sorry my dear Walter, just make it up to me now be a lamb and close the door."
"I beg your pardon."
"Close the door, Walter."
"But how do you know my door is open" I looked about confused and over my shoulder like there was someone watching me then it suddenly dawned on me who this was "wait is this Tom in accounts? Cos if it is, I am not in the mood."
"No, it's not Tom, trust me, he is about to walk past your office and wave" just then Tom from accounts walked past my office door and waved and smiled at me as he went by, he was a nice lad a little on the juvenile side as most accountants tend to be with their hedonistic lifestyle and bare minimum grip on reality.
"What the fuc....."
"Please don't swear Walter you are on an office phone and it's very unprofessional, now be a lamb and shut the fucking door." I placed the receiver on the desk got up slowly and moved towards the door, I quickly looked out in the direction of Juvenile Tom to see if he was there sniggering at this practical joke, but he was walking towards the photocopier oblivious to my current predicament and confusion. Slowly I closed my door and looked at the telephone receiver on my desk, I could hear whistling coming from the earpiece. I was starting to figure out who this was, and I was becoming annoyed.
I picked up the receiver hard and pressed it against my ear "you know Lucifer for someone who is supposed to be dead; you are becoming a real pain in the ass."
"Ha-ha took you long enough Walter. But you know I don't go by that name anymore."
"What do you want? I am busy at work?"
"No, you are not, you are at work I will give you that, but you are definitely not busy."
"Well either way that is hardly any of your business, what do you want, do you want to provoke me and wind me up, do you want to get me going and for me to drag you back down through the gates of hell and set fire to your soul all over again, do you want me...." they cut me dead.
"Walter chill, this is why I told you to shut your door I knew you would get all worked up."
I stopped and took a breath, and with a clenched jaw I asked again "What do you want?"
"I just want a friend to talk to Walter."
"A friend and you think I am it? After what I did to you?"
"It's because of what you did that makes me know I can trust you and you know that you can trust me, I am hardly going to want to piss off the one man who killed me and have to go through all that again."
I paused for a second and took another breath.
"Ok, ok but now is not the time, even if I'm not busy as you say, I need to at least try and look as though I am, ok?"
"Yeah, I get it, man, you got to keep up the illusion, keep the man off your back."
"I dig that, maybe we can continue this conversation later."
"Maybe and maybe, you could explain how if I killed you-you are talking to me right now. Or better still just fuck off."
"Now now Walter let's not spoil things by getting too bogged down with the detail."
"Can you pick up some wine and cheese and crackers on your way home, I kind of have a hankering for it?"
"Yeah, of course, but you don't even have a stomach."
"Things change Walter, things change, and thank you you're a sweetie."
“What the fuck? When did my place become their place and why did the devil start calling people sweetie?” I asked myself after they hung up the phone. The last time I saw them, they were just a skull - now they could make phone calls, drink wine, and eat cheese. I wasn't even aware that I had a phone in my house, or if the UltarMart sold wine and cheese, let alone if I had enough credit to buy them.
Music used in this episode
This is a live book series writing/story art graphic novel cyberpunk, dystopian fantasy project. Written by Sam I Am Artwork by Wonder Ai directed by Sam I Am. Copyright is protected. It is a first rough draft work in progress so will change over time. This project is part of the SleeplessDystopian.com writing projects.