[Part 15] 12:01:57 // 04-JUN-2042

Updated: May 24


When the image recognition cameras at the condo came back negative on Dodge, showing he had no rep to speak of, the manager insisted on seeing some form of ID. People with non-existent social faith scores didn’t tend to be the most trustworthy.“How much for a room if I don’t have any?” Dodge asked.

“How can you not have any ID?” The manager brushed his hair back behind his ears. “It’s one thing to have no rep, I guess, but how are you going to pay for the room?”

Dodge held up the cashcard. “I have this.”

“You just expect to walk in off the street and rent a room with a blank cashcard and no ID?”

“I—ah,” Dodge felt the small room get smaller as the door opened behind him. Klaxon—no, Joshua, Dodge reminded himself—had gotten tired of waiting.

“This is just a—” Dodge whipped his head back and forth. What was he supposed to say? “He’s um—”

“A Klaxon Overdrive look-alike?” the manager asked.

“Exactly,” Dodge said, snapping his fingers. “Yes. A look-alike.”

“You sure do look like him,” the manager said, squinting at Joshua.

Joshua didn’t move.

“So, you said you wanted a room?”

“Yes,” Dodge answered. Joshua’s presence must have triggered a sub-clause in the manager’s rules about needing ID.

“I’m not supposed to do this,” the manager said while encoding a room key. “But here, room one-eleven—” he handed the key to Dodge “—I’m going to need a deposit though. Five hundred.”

Dodge just nodded and gave the manager the cashcard. He had no idea how much was on it.

The manager tapped the card and, apparently satisfied with whatever total he saw on the screen, handed it back to Dodge with the key. “Let me know if you need any towels or whatnot. Good luck with your impersonating.”

“Thanks,” Dodge said. Then he had a thought. “How much was left on that card?”

“Five hundred,” the manager answered. Thousand dollar cashcards. And Blair had a whole bag full of them …

“Thanks,” Dodge said as he he hustled Joshua out of the office and into the parking lot surrounding the U-shaped condo.

“I thought you were going to stay in the car.”

“It was hot.”

“I cracked the window.”

“I couldn’t see.”

This wasn’t getting them anywhere, he had to get Joshua into the room. They found one-eleven, which was right at ground level with an exterior entrance, and Dodge used the keycard to open the door, flipping it over twice before getting the lock to buzz green.

With the blackout curtains drawn tight, the room felt like a bomb shelter furnished with two double beds and floral wallpaper. The smell of the nearby water treatment plant stained the air. Dodge didn’t want to breathe, let alone touch anything. He dumped the duffel bag on the chair by the door and a cloud of what he hoped was dust coughed from the maroon cushions.

The late-morning humidity was already seeping in through the thin walls. Dodge pressed ‘High’ on the rickety air conditioner beneath the window. The unit hummed to life and almost immediately started clanking.

Joshua dropped on the bed furthest from the door and stared straight ahead, hands folded in his lap, unmoving except for his twitching cheek.

Dodge slumped onto the unoccupied bed. It wasn’t comfortable, but he’d be safe here. For a little while at least. He’d have time to think. Maybe come up with a plan. Or, failing that, try to figure out what was going on.

Dodge looked over at Joshua. He still couldn’t believe he was sitting this close to Klaxon Overdrive. “Really though, aren’t you supposed to be dead?”

Joshua pried his blank gaze away from the wall and fixed it on Dodge. “Obviously not.”

“Then who was it?”

“Who was what?”

“That they killed.”

“Where?”

“At the Needle.”

“Someone died at the Needle?”

“Yes.”

“Who?” Joshua asked, clearly upset. His blank mask had drooped into shock.

You.

Joshua stared.

Dodge stared back.

“What do you mean?” Joshua finally said. His voice was hollow, like a barely audible radio signal originating from the distant past. He glanced down at his hands and then back up at Dodge.

“I saw you. Dead. In the Needle,” Dodge said. “With a bullet hole the size of a softball—” he reached out and touched Joshua in the chest “—right there.”

Joshua knocked his hand away.

“They actually did it,” he said and his face seemed to collapse in on itself. “She told me they were going to use someone else. Said she had fixed it. Said she wouldn’t let Entropy brainwash anyone. I …” He trailed off, as if he’d forgotten Dodge was even there. “I think she said that, anyway.”

“Who?” Dodge asked but Joshua turned away. “Blair? Did Blair say that?”

“I don’t know who it was, but it wasn’t me,” Joshua said, answering a question he hadn’t been asked, then abandoned the conversation by lifting and examining the back of his right hand.

This guy was a superstar? A political minesweeper? People with inoperable brain tumors could focus longer than him. And where was Blair already? What if she had been caught? What if Entropy was on their way here right now?

Dodge jumped up, dashed over to the curtain’s edge and peaked out—trying as hard as possible not to jostle the heavy fabric. He squinted into the bright sunlight. Except for the Suzuki, the parking lot was empty.

He had to calm down. Letting himself slip into a freak out as he waited for Blair to show up wouldn’t help his situation. He needed to stop from thinking about all the bad things that could happen to him.

He flipped the ancient LED TV on. Possessing only a retrofitted adapter, the television was passive—capable of receiving and displaying multicast feed, but unable to access interactive content. There was no chance of it being voice controlled and the remote was glued to the wall next to the set. Dodge zipped manually through the available feeds. The only ones not showing something about Klaxon Overdrive contained porn. He stopped at ENTROPY.news.

The display was split into three sections, with the interactive controls a ghosted bar running along the bottom. Three separate commercials played simultaneously along the right. If Dodge had been at an terminal, he could have designed and ordered a custom Lexus, bought an advance copy of a Klaxon Overdrive Memorial album, or signed up to be a Technomancer Chieftan in the virtual world of ChronoPhase.

The content section showed remnants of the Needle. A flock of drones hovered above the hectic ruins, providing wide-angle and close-up aerial views. The display cut from one camera to another, flashing from scene to scene around the blast site.

The lawn adjacent to the Needle’s remains had been cordoned off with aerogel barricades, allowing the police, Entropy employees, and probably ten other private and governmental organizations to trip over each other’s investigations while keeping the crowd out. The abundance of black suits scurrying about made it look like the site of an alien visitation.

Visitors had crammed the rest of the island full, right up to the barriers: an army of fans laying siege. Tents pitched. Fires smoldering. Homemade shrines honoring their fallen idol. Some camps already seemed semi-permanent, built from plastic sheeting ferried to the island and fashioned into vivid blue and orange shacks. A clearing had been marked off and scurrying figures were busily erecting a large wooden structure, like a group of alternative-lifestyle Mennonites performing a barn-raising.

The island being of limited space, people had taken to the water to get as close to Klaxon’s vaporization point as possible. Boats, rafts, and barely floating cobbled-together garbage encrusted the shoreline. Already some of the craft had tied together, forming drifting ramshackle communities. Thin wisps of smoke trailed up from improvised cooking pits. Police boats circled, but they weren’t stopping anyone.

All this in a matter of hours.

“She said they’d use someone else,” Joshua muttered.

He had stopped the investigation of his hand and was watching as well. How many people get to witness a spontaneous memorial in their name?

The camera cut back to Jolene Tewksbury, in a mingling-with-the-crowd outfit of a slim-cut rhino jacket and jeans. She couldn’t have slept much in the past twenty-four hours, but you couldn’t tell by looking at her. Dodge wondered how she managed to do it. What combination of drugs, make-up and surgery were used to make her appear eternally like she had just returned from a two-month vacation. She’d probably been up as long as he had, and while she looked amazing, Dodge felt like he had stepped in front of a bullet train after running a marathon.

Then again, she probably wasn’t being tasered as often. And would have access to military grade orexin-boosting supplements, making sleep unnecessary for days at a time, whereas he hadn’t even had so much as a cup of coffee. And she probably wasn’t going through withdrawal from a psychoactive drug.

He got up, flipped the in-room coffee maker on, and slid the sugar setting as high as it would go. It wouldn’t be real coffee, but the simulated coffee-flavored jolt of caffeine and sweetener would help clean the fog from his brain. It wasn’t a dose of tryp, but it’d have to do.