The view outside is barely visible. Rain pelters against the side of concrete and steel wall. The buildings here are murky, aphonic, and tiled in such a way as to give off a rather dissatisfied appearance. The man walks between steel girders, through an open underpass – a half empty parking area, positioned beneath stilted blocked apartments of ancient design. We follow him, watch him buttoning up the grey raincoat he has wrapped around him. He dodges from building to building, underneath them all. When briefly unsheltered, the rain fires down, but then he is back again in the parking area’s protection.
No one else is around and we wonder why. What is this place? But we follow patiently.
Spotting a set of steps ahead leading downward, we watch him descend, and then he is lost.
We fly through the underpass and up into the sky. Behind us the dark, stilted apartment blocks reveal themselves to be abandoned. We circle the area, then shoot along a street to a nearby night market. Here, the buildings are shorter with sloping roofs. The walls are a variety of colours, but under the moon’s light they appear in duller shades of what must be a much brighter daytime appearance. The street itself is littered with blowing rubbish. There are people browsing, chatting, silent and engaged in raucous conversation. They dive between stalls, most under protective umbrellas. There’s smoke and steam that willows upwards from the eateries.
The man, we see him now, emerging from a street elevator by a subway stop’s entrance. Pulling up the collar of his coat, he strides purposely through the crowd, distinctive in his fashion – a dull smudge trickling amongst the tapestry of rather lambent designs.
You get the feeling he doesn’t fit in here. That this isn’t his sort of place. Why and how have I ended up here? he must be thinking.
Quickly, he turns right into an alley, then left under a shallow arch that buzzes in blue and red neon. He’s looking at his pad, checking where he is. That he is, in fact in the right place after all. We follow his back, his shoulders are broad and tough. People move aside as he strides through this indoor area with yet more stalls and life. Dark faces, white faces, they all peer at him quickly, then immediately forget the shiver that they felt. They go about their business, untouched by his presence. Upgrade your pad to the latest network. Holo-spas for your apartment. Command boxes for droids. Grow your own pet.
A small sign ahead reads ‘Android Pleasure Parlour.’ The acronym rings a bell and we realise that this is where he’s headed.
We rush through a curtained doorway and inside are sat two youths of opposite gender, engaged in a game of spit. Holograms project from their pads, deep in battle.
The man, behind us, coughs and one of them looks up for just long enough to have his character, a dark green saurus, bitten and ripped apart by his friend’s sabre-toothed rodent.
“Game over!” shouts the girl gleefully, while the other snarls back at her in response.
The both of them turn to the man.
“So, you’re after a good time?” says the boy.
“Is this …?”
“Best droids in the area,” smiles the girl. “No need to be shy.”
“I’m not …”
“Next shuttle’s in five,” says the boy impassively. “Slip us a bait and we’ll get you head of the queue.”
They are each dressed in dark green, tight fitting uniforms, with large robotic boots. The boy has short red spiky hair while the girl’s is long and dark.
“Yeah, man, bait,” says the boy. “What’re you got?”
The man takes out a wad of notes, hands them each a bill.
Tucking hers into the lining of her trousers, the girl asks, “Any ills?”
“Nothing illegal, no,” replies the man, but throws her a pack of unopened nicotine sticks.
She smiles, shaking the pack. “His fat,” she replies, pointing to the boy. “But he’ll have to swipe me for one.”
“No fair,” whines her companion mockingly.
“Motivs,” she says in reply, ripping the pack and breaking one open. “Share and shares.”
The man stares down at them. “Five minutes, you say?”
“There abouts. Four, three.”
“And you can get me …”
“Speed service, yeah.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.” The man’s face appears tensed. Failing to make eye-contact with either, he continues: “The model. According to my device, this APP has –”
“– The top, yeah,” says the boy, looking back at the girl. “Nother game, eh?”
“Laters. When he’s gone.”
“Nother’ll be here anways. Or ya thin’ I’ll slide.”
“Hasn’t swiped me all night,” smiles the girl, looking back at the man. “You after the eighty-seventh, then? It’ll cost ya.”
“You mean …?”
“No here,” she laughs. “Though ya lucky we tell ya straight. Many’d av more from an obvious first-timer.”
“Forget it. Natural, like. No probs. All done it.” The girl winks at the boy. “Just say, for the eighty-seventh you’ll hava pay ex. Tell ’em straight and speed; show cash an’ you’ll be streeeeeeeeeee!,” she finishes, making a strange noise which we sense is another youthful expression, for it sends the boy and girl into laughter; cackles which are broken by the sound of a high pitched whine, rising in pitch quickly before the wall ahead of them shunts upwards to reveal a small turbo-lift.
“Quo’ password ‘fish7’,” says the boy while the two of them settle back down together. The man steps towards the shuttle-lift’s opening while behind him holographic figures re-emerge from each of the youth’s pads.