As if they stepped right out of those ads. Or took them to heart, discontent with the way they came out of the womb. Believing that they can improve upon the handiwork of evolution, even where it has made no mistakes.
I arrived at the apartment building to find the slumlord embroiled in a loud, animated argument with two tenants. It allowed me to park my bike unnoticed and begin sneaking the stuff I bought into the building like some sort of reverse burglar. There was no parking to be had on the street, rather a huge wide hallway just inside the entrance with plentiful wall outlets.
Despite the width of the hallway, it was difficult to traverse on account of it was jam packed with charging bikes lined up along either wall. The walls themselves bore recognizable marks of this long time misuse, lined at handlebar height with dents, at wheel height with stains, and elsewhere generally scuffed.
I found an empty spot, leaned my bike against the wall as there wasn’t enough room to use the kickstand, and plugged it into the nearest unused outlet. The little LED on the charger turned red, and I heard its fan kick on.
The apartment itself, though it remains generous to use that word, was cozier than expected. Smaller than it looked in the photos, but also mysteriously cleaner. I couldn’t imagine the slum lord had bothered to scrub it down just for me.
The mystery was solved some minutes later when, as I hauled in the second load of stuff I’d transported here by ebike, I passed a cleaning robot in the hall. The way I was carrying the load, divided into two bags held at my side, the antiquated wheeled machine couldn’t get past.
It didn’t scold me or try to push its way by. Just patiently waited until I turned sideways to edge past it, then continued diligently down the worn out, dimly lit corridor. I bet the charging alcove it returns to after this is bigger than my apartment.
The first order of business was to screw in the bulb so I could at least see what the fuck I was doing. To my surprise it flickered to life once tightly twisted into place. Turned out the light switch had been left up.
Second task was to arrange the bedding. No egyptian cotton here. No fine linens. Soft enough to sleep on however, and crucially, not yet saturated with the accumulated filth of human habitation like everything else in this dump.
Next I plugged in the rice cooker, filled the bottom portion with water, then emptied ten of the frozen gyoza into it. As yet, I had no way to keep them frozen. The cooler would drastically slow the melting, but if I didn’t eat the rest of these later tonight they’d be a soggy mess by morning.
On the upside, the cooler consumes only 55 watts. A small fraction of what an actual fridge would suck down. It could also just as easily be used to store liberated body parts I intended to extract subdermal payment chips from at a later date.
Lastly, I re-assembled my phoneputer, gingerly inserting one phone after the next into the long row of slots and watching their bridgeport indicator LEDs light up in sequence. After the encrypted handshake for each completed, the janky mess booted up and I was greeted by a familiar homescreen.
I reflected for a moment on the absurdity of my situation. Stomping around in this great big body, riding a dinky little ebike that’s too small for me, living in an apartment that’s too small for me, using a computer that’s too small for me.
Gulliver, trapped in the land of Lilliput. Ironic then, that China’s such a massive country. Here I am, despite my hulking frame, nothing but a little fish in a great big ocean. Busted down to nothing, living in squalor…It feels demeaning, yet also exhilarating.
I was riding high for so long back in the states, even my most audacious heists had begun to feel mundane. Like I couldn’t be taken down by anyone. Maybe subconsciously, I wanted to be caught. Maybe I was sloppy up on purpose, because I wanted a real challenge.
Well, I fucking got it. Lady Luck has dumped my ass and left all my belongings outside in the rain, too, judging by how far the price of SeaCoin has fallen since yesterday. Not that I imagined it would be that easy, that somehow I’d become an overnight crypto millionaire straight out of prison.
I wish I had the common sense to buy something less perishable than frozen dumplings. How am I supposed to make these last? Why didn’t I think of that back in the supermarket? The more of my own mistakes I notice, the more my impression of my own intelligence continues to deflate.
I didn’t wind up living in a shoebox, mining crypto on a computer made out of trash phones because I’m clever. Surely now’s the time to at last banish all delusions that I’ve ever been an especially clever man. More likely it was a mixture of remarkable luck and incompetent police.
“Smart, not hard”, huh? What a joke, to which my life is the punchline. As my self-evaluation grew ever more dismal, I felt as if I was gradually becoming smaller and smaller. If that keeps up, perhaps soon this apartment will be tolerably spacious.
If Dad were here, he’d say something like “Being humbled builds character.” Too bad I can’t eat character. My stomach growled, despite the fact that I put ten dumplings into it just a few minutes prior. Doesn’t bode well for their nutritional value…
I ignored my stomach, feeling lower than ever before as I crawled into my makeshift bed and pulled the covers up to my neck. My feet poked out the bottom. For fuck’s sake, even the blanket is too small! My shoulders and upper arms rubbed up against either wall, and the top of my head was touching the wall opposite the door.
I sighed, resigned myself to all of it, and got as cozy as I could. That’s when the thumping started. Coming from the unit next to me, I pretty quickly figured out it was the sound of his head against the wall as he masturbated.
Feverish groaning coming from the other side of the flimsy plywood wall soon confirmed my suspicion. Come on, I thought. Really? On top of everything else, this is what I have to fall asleep to?
I banged on the wall several times and shouted “You’re disgusting!” whereupon the rate of the thumps grew suddenly quicker. Like the dog who begins chewing much faster when you ask what it’s got in its mouth.
I shouldn’t have to know what my neighbor climaxing sounds like. There’s no way that particular hardship could build character. It made me wish I was deaf, until it dawned on me that I easily can be. Elective disability is very much one of the possible uses of extensive cybernetics.
I turned my hearing off, and immediately relished in the relief. Blinding myself was also a cheaper alternative to picking up a sleep mask. I felt a bit cold despite the blanket, so I set my skin to feel a few degrees warmer by spoofing the appropriate electrical impulses.
It couldn’t stop me from shivering. Some part of my body still registered that it was cold. Either that or my neighbor traumatized me. If I focused, I could feel the rhythmic vibrations through the floor. He’s still going at it.
Oddly soothing actually, with the accompanying noises removed. I was gradually lulled to sleep, and soon afterwards began to dream. Down, down, down into the blackness I floated until I found myself wondering where I’d descended from.
Oh, right. The temple. The flags, the carnage. I felt something within me sink. What was it all for? Is the ultimate reality such a violent, chaotic and purposeless place? If so, it hardly seemed worthwhile to seek after it.
I now found myself on a smooth plain defined by glittering survilinear lines. Trees sprouted from it, but these branched into impossibly dense, complicated fractal clusters. As I looked closer, I could see fleeting images amid the smallest twigs.
Color, moving, three dimensional images of beings somewhat like me. Two arms and legs anyway, one head, two eyes and one mouth. As I studied them, I shaped my own face to more closely resemble theirs. After all, that must be what it’s supposed to look like.
Stay Tuned for Part 28!