When Tayler is sent to Beta City to help its citizens disconnect from the all-knowing Social Media Central, he becomes the target of a deadly game.
Augmented reality players wearing head to toe gaming suits believe he is the Enemy Alien, and they shoot to kill. So Tayler is forced to hide in a secret bunker, trapped, with no way to escape this urban nightmare.
And as his friends hatch a plan to get him back home, they find the person toying with Tayler’s life is more AI than human.
CHAPTER TWO – Tayler waits for Carter
No Carter. Just a breeze blowing in search of the masses. But there were no masses. The trees were the only life form enjoying what the wind was offering. Except for me, of course. I sat on the red bench, frustrated that Carter was half an hour late. In this ghost town, there was no one to talk to, and I was desperate to talk to my friend. If I didn’t use words soon, I’d be staring at my shoes and mumbling with a crazed expression.READ MORE
Beta City was worse than Astra City had ever been. Everyone was their own prisoner, watching the world pass on Social Media Central, never letting their skin near natural light. From time to time, I’d see someone, or maybe a few people, covered in grey head-to-toe bodysuits that made them look like creepy mime artists. There was no way to tell who might be inside these snugly fitting costumes unless you had a good idea of the body shape of its wearer. Even the ears were tightly contoured which made me suspect these weird outfits were custom made for the individual.
These things had a bizarre face. The eyes, the nose, and the mouth were framed inside white plastic. But there was also fabric over the mouth so you could hear what the mystery human inside was saying. They communicated by shouting things that made no sense. I’d heard “Kill the blighter!”, “He’s a human dog”, and “This would never be right in Sebastian’s Lair” yelled at no one by these goons as they roamed the streets.
The day before, one of these individuals stopped behind me but acted as if I wasn’t there. He, or she, had a miniature camera lens hidden above the glossy black ex covering the plastic eye shield. I’d worked for tech company, A.V. Enterprises, a long time ago, so I was used to seeing this type of camera. After standing like a robot whose battery was dead, this person screamed, “I can’t take any more of your stray theories,” then left.
Carter was now thirty-five minutes late. The surrealism of this place got to me. Three days prior, I’d arrived with just a backpack, searching for accommodation. And the anorexic lady who I was told to meet by one of Ralph’s pals didn’t even make eye contact with me. Her world consisted of nothing else but her device and Social Media Central. I finally found my room after swiping the card I was given in the lock of every unnumbered door.
This accommodation was luxurious, even if it felt lonely. Beta City was probably designed by wealthy architects who challenged each other to build the world’s most sensational structures. Four such skyscrapers of varying height sat on an artificial harbour which shot out from the mainland like a beggar’s hand reaching for coins.
Several treasures of this metropolis once existed in this precinct. , a concert hall, and a gallery had been transformed into apartment buildings. Their original signage had been restored, but their purpose belonged to a bygone era.
I was in a building that looked like a sheet of curved cardboard; one of three overlooking the harbour. They all shone, reflecting sunlight with their mirror finish. They stood tall above the highways that lay between them and the water. But no one took their cars on these roads. I doubt anyone knew how to drive.
Carter was now forty minutes late. The grey-clad trio had moved on. Hell, the grass had a more meaningful life than these weirdos.
Rainclouds were moving in. If Carter didn’t make it soon, I’d need shelter. Or I’d need to go back and reclaim my accommodation.
“Tayler?” a funky woman with olive-toned skin asked.
Her hooped earrings, thin-framed glasses, and bold makeup choices made me wonder if she was from here. Her head was as bald as a bowling ball. And she smoked. Her vaping left a haze around her suspicious gaze.
“Carter couldn’t make it, so he’s sent me to meet you until he arrives.”
“How long will he be?”
“He’s not sure.” She beckoned me. “Come.” I stood.
“Who shaves your head?” I asked. It was an odd question but, as I never saw anything resembling a business district, let alone a hairdresser, it was the first thing that came to mind.
“I’m very good with a razor.” She snickered. “No. A friend does this for me. Never any blood. Never any cuts. She slides the blade like she’s spreading butter.”
“You socialise?” I shook my head. “Dumb question. You’re a friend of Carter’s. You must socialise. Are you from Cradle Edge?”
“No. Those cyber-starved peeps are unrelatable.”
“I like it there. I relate.”
“I gathered. That’s why you’re a friend of Carter’s.”
I didn’t know how to react. She embodied the starkness of Beta City itself.
We walked. Her shoes tapped on the pavement like a fast-paced metronome while the rubber slaps of my sneakers did their best to keep up.
One of those head-to-toe masked beings startled me when he popped out from the side of a building. We halted. Hudson stared into its face.
“The crust is the best part!” he yelled.
Hudson wasn’t fazed.
“And a survivor knows the true meaning of the cube,” she yelled back.
He let us pass.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“I have no idea. If they make up shit, so do I.” She smirked. “Try it the next time you see one.”COLLAPSE
“While “Orwellian” is a grossly overused term to describe narratives about dystopian futures, Klehr’s narrative fits the bill. If George Orwell were writing today, well beyond the year 1984, I imagine he would choose similar subject matter (Twenty Fifty-Seven, perhaps?) about the role social media plays in society.”
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