The boat man noticed my confusion and snickered to himself. Probably thinking “Get a load of this asshole, never even seen an upside down party before.” In fact it would prove to be the least astonishing sight of the day.
All the rich people watercraft were docked in cloistered marinas by the shore. The rest of the bay was given over to floating trash piles I’ve occasionally heard the media refer to as “hoboats”. I wonder if they ever hold hoboat regattas.
The motor whine died down as we approached what looked to be a massive trash barge. “Hey, hang on. This isn’t what we agreed to.” He gestured for me to hold my horses. I was about to swim for it, figuring he meant to have a buddy shoot me, then hide my body in the trash heap.
Instead, somebody shouted at us. Muffled shouting, from an unseen source. It almost seemed to come from…but that can’t be, surely? It seemed to be coming from…inside the trash heap. That’s when I noticed for the first time that it didn’t even stink of garbage.
I awkwardly stepped off the dinghy and onto the barge, running my hands along what I now realized was just a thin fiberglass shell with trash glued to the outside. Newspapers, candy wrappers, soda cans. Very little of it could decompose. It mostly just smelled of glue, and a trace of something else. Burning chemicals?
“Hey, where’s the doorbell on this sumbitch?” The boat man made a swooping motion with his hand that seemed to mean I could expect there to be an opening on the bottom to surface through, should I dive underneath it.
I called out more questions, but he swore at me and shoved off. Before I could jump back onto the boat, he’d pulled away and was headed back to shore. Still better service than an autocab! I didn’t come all this way to twiddle my thumbs on a fake mountain of garbage, so even as I pre-emptively regretted it, I dove in.
The water was a soupy mixture of fuck knows what all. I took care to wipe as much of it as possible from my face and hair after climbing up through a hatch in the floor. Unseen hands offered me a clump of rags.
Once I got as much of that shit outta my eyes as I felt I was able to, I opened them. To my astonishment, the fellow who’d offered me the rags was a white man. Frazzled grey hair with a few visibly burnt ends. A face full of mangy stubble. Decked out in oil stained swim trunks and most of a T-shirt. The tattoo on his arm read “Crazy Dave”.
“You must be the glorious motherfucker what arranged for that Panopticon blackout. I guess I owe you one, don’t I.” He didn’t yet say what he owed me one of. I reminded him the specific amount we agreed upon beforehand.
“Oh, I don’t know about all that. Look where you are.” I glanced around. The hollow interior of the faux trash heap was populated by a dozen other twitchy, snaggletoothed criddlers busy with welding torches. They all focused intently on the task before them, bodies trembling as they worked. One paced frantically back and forth, animatedly arguing with himself in whispers.
The burning chemical smell was much stronger in here. My eyes once again began to water, the skin around them swelling slightly. I briefly considered the cost/benefit analysis of having nictitating membrane implants put in under my eyelids. How could he stand it in here without a mask on? They all seemed totally unbothered.
“So you’re fucking me over. Is that it?” Dave said that was unnecessarily strong language. “You’re new. I couldn’t find anything about you except that you’re a body hopper, everything we turned up was about the conshelfer who used that body before you.
The way I see it, that probably means you’re running from somebody. You already got enemies you can’t handle. Can you afford to cross me?” I grimaced, but didn’t dispute his analysis. He smiled slightly, rotten brown teeth showing through the gap between his lips.
“That’s what I thought. You also beat up one of my guys, or did you forget? After that, you think I should roll out the red carpet for you? On the other hand, that was some impressive work you did. I might could use you again in the future, so I tell ya what. I’ll let you go with one of the bikes. Your pick.” The filthy fucker. That load of bikes was worth at least three D-coin.
Wishes aren’t horses though, nor are they bikes. If this beggar means to ride, a deal will have to be struck. “It’s funny” I chuckle. “The first ex-pat I see in China, and he immediately fucks me over.” Dave looked bewildered. “We’re in China??”
At the far end of the enclosure, I found a row of freshly rebuilt ebikes. Frankensteinian combinations of mismatched parts, though at least a token effort had been made to spray paint the plastic body panels and fairings to match.
What a sorry looking stable to choose from. Behind the bikes was a stack of sleep capsules and a gas shelter they must’ve jacked. The hoses, normally hooked into city air utilities, were instead fastened to industrial sized compressed oxygen cylinders.
I understood where he got the sleep capsules. There was a glut of them even six years ago, manufacturing overproduction due to the intensifying exodus of climate refugees from parts of the globe no longer fit for people. Now bums lug them out of the landfill, run them off a jacked solar panel or splice discreetly into city power. The modern shanty.
I also understood where he got the gas shelter, and why. But how did he get his hands on those O2 cylinders? How did he manage to build this fake trash barge? How fucked do your priorities have to be, when you can accomplish feats of criminal brilliance like the one I’m standing in now…but you can’t hold down a job, or an apartment?
When you’re that far gone, all your brainpower goes to taking whatever steps are necessary to keep the meth flowing…no matter how elaborate. Intelligent stupidity. The limitless energy and fanaticism imparted by a brain full of crank, misdirected into the construction of this floating fiberglass absurdity.
It’s my fault for trying to make sense of it. None of this was the result of a rational decision making process, after all. I mentioned offhand as I browsed the bikes that I knew of a woman he ought to meet. I described the flat-earther whose vlogs I binge watched on the plane.
He seemed tickled. “Naw bro, if I was gonna get tied down, it wouldn’t be to some nutjob like her. Only fluorinated sheeple with calcified pineal glands believe the Earth is flat. That’s just a CIA psy-op to make alternative ideas about the Earth’s structure seem ridiculous to the public, so they will never discover it’s actually hollow and populated by advanced beings with a limitless energy source.”
Uuuhhhhhh huh. I slowly nodded, not breaking eye contact, then pointed to the bike I’d chosen. Out of them all, it looked the most like a real vehicle, the metal frame enclosed in a hollow plastic body with a nice wide pleather seat. The rest of the bikes more or less resembled scaled up toys. Some little more than motorized kick scooters with a seat, turn signals and a speedo.
“Yeah, this will do.” He hobbled over, put his hands on his hips and nodded in apparent approval. “Good eye, but those go for about 450 Yuan. You sure I can’t talk you into-” I glared at him. He played it off like a joke, now assuring me I could have the one I’d chosen. One minute a thug, the next minute a coward. Probably if I waited long enough he’d forget he owned any of this.
I gasped as the malformed conning tower of a poorly made submarine of some kind surfaced through the same hatch in the floor I had earlier. A ramp folded down. An acrylic bubble canopy opened up. Then a crew I assumed were just more of Crazy Dave’s buddies climbed out to help me load the heavy-ass bike into the sub, via a small indoor crane of the sort often used to lift battery packs or motors when working on cars.
“Drop him off at the harbor” Dave called to them in Chinese. Then he made a gun cocking gesture with his thumb and index finger at me, and winked. “Don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya. That’s the Crazy Dave guarantee, you’ll never leave empty handed.” I forced a smile as the ramp folded back up, the acrylic bubble hatch sealed shut, and the sub began to sink.
It was roughly ten feet in diameter inside, packed front to back with yet more stolen ebikes. The mystery of how they transported the finished bikes back to land was solved, not that I particularly needed to know. Where’d they even get a sub? Is there anything these fuckers can’t get their hands on?
Stay Tuned for Part 18