Calvin walked through the empty, silent city, dressed in a tailored suit a century-ish out of fashion. Though he was the only person he was aware of that considered fashion a thing worth consideration.He waited on a corner for the walk signal, enjoying the inanity of doing so given the circumstances. He waited for the signal because he could not be sure when this one would go dark, and when it did he knew his stupid mind would miss even inconveniences like waiting to cross streets. …Which made him laugh at his nostalgia for waiting in lines.
“Time?” he asked aloud, staring at the botfly that was staring at him, hovering silently two feet from his face. He swatted it down and wondered what was going on with the bugs. Only the insectBots ever gave him the slightest indication he could be seen.
Which is why Calvin loved his suit. One of the spinners various heights above his head may or may not have ordnance left to attack him… And would do so only if they knew he wore a suit that fed all gadgets continuous data that continuously made him out to be what should be detectable to each bot according to its abilities.
But the bugs were… Looking at him. And didn’t sound alarms nor take any action of any kind. They just stared into his face. He felt sure they weren’t focusing on anything his clothes told them was there.
“Enough with the goddam bugs, Calvin! Time to move..”
“Jesus! You still freak me out!”
“Oh God, I’m sorry… Did we piss our paranoia pants?”
“Some fucking day I will kill you. I swear.”
“Maybe a shrink can.”
“Fuck you. You’re not in the DSM. You’re in a–”
“You’re gonna be late.”
Calvin ground the BugBot into the street as he crossed it, wishing his debate partner could be treated the same. He walked a few blocks.
“You know I know where it is. He’s the last guy outside a coffin.”
Calvin rolled his eyes.
“Except me, yeah. Now shut it so I can get it together for this thing.”
Calvin jumped in place, shook his limbs, rolled his head on his shoulders. It became a ritual necessary in itself, but originated from the nervousness and anxiety these situations used to make him feel.
He stuck out his tongue as far as he could, cleared his throat,
“Sir? Calvin Mathison here!”
Calvin stood upright, hat in hand joined behind his back by the other, smiling genially for the man who would see him from every angle because the door was removed from the street by an alcove and the alcove, he assumed, was covered in cameras.
Two minutes passed. And then a voice of an aged person startled him a bit by saying this:
“I heard you, but you sure aren’t here Mr Mathison.”
Calvin exclaimed “Oh shit!” just loud enough that the man likely heard it, ran half a block into another alcove, said “Suit cease program Emperor’s New Clothes.”
“Shit!” he said again swiftly and softly, beginning the word in one place and finifhing it in the other.
“I apologize sir, I called your home ahead of my arrival. But–”
“You’re here now, so what of it! Please come in. Drink?”
Calvin was reminded of the man’s deistic age — assuming he meant alcohol, which people gave up for Amp which they gave up for the boxes. Calvin slapped an Amp PuncturePatch onto his arm. He felt it disappear into the skin in the time it took to pull shirt and sleeves over the forearm they covered.
The man returned with a bottle of whiskey or bourbon or scotch or rye or whatever the hell and two glasses. Calvin thanked the man very much for offering the drink, which he accepted to be polite as he tried not to smell what made him do a ReBe of puking all over his shoes…He had been eleven then. And now he wondered if it had been the polite thing, taking whiskey from a man who wouldn’t be bothered to loot more. …But then again he was having what was surely another and not a first drink of the day and it was only–
“Christ on fucking Christmas! Don’t yell in my fucking head! You know I–”
The man with the whiskey stood still and upright and regarded Calvin in a way he could not readily ascribe any emotion, any state of mind to.
The man could have been a hologram on the hiss, until finally he momentarily obfuscated his stare by raising and draining the gold liquid in his glass. Calvin dropped into a chair as the man’s forearm swung as on a hinge back to his side.
And finally Calvin stared back from beneath his dark brow, smiling beneath eyes the color the sky had been sometimes. But by looking up and smiling with lips unaccustomed to the formation casta sinister shadow on his face — and that shadow the man felt he saw drove him to speak.
“Well… Do excuse my staring — I’m not used to people, y’know, and I’d been moments from forgetting… Um… I do apologize, but is that an ImpMod?”
Calvin took a moment in which to lament the fact that the last time h’d been asked the same thing had not been the last.
“Yes. It is. A schizophrenic would have more and likely better company and insanity is a dissociative fugue, and people don’t talk much in those. With the former a person can’t be alone. With the latter a person can’t be himself.”
Calvin stood. A sigh sudden and long left him, reminding the man of certain dying exhalations — death breaths. His daughter had breathed shorter and shallower, shorter-shallower as she died.
“I wasn’t calling you crazy… But you kinda suggest it does something to you.”
Calvin breathed out a leaden exhaustion. The words weaved within it were barely audible..
“I just want peace…”
Though Calvin had risen from the chair as a marionette and stood slumping at the floor, he suddenly snapped his head and looked the man in his eyes. His own were blue and flashed like Tesla Coils crackled behind them.
He smiled broadly.
In DC two whiskey tumblers shattered and hundreds of thousands were there but did not hear. Every house, every historical anything, the Metro — any building, any place that could repel rain and snow were packed with what one would assume to be caskets made of something like plastic.
These thousands of burial boxes each contained a person. And each person was skewered with needles infusing fluids and with others removing them and more still so each seemed to model The Wounded Man. But the more horrific for the tubes for every orifice. The stranger for wires attached to many needles and the thicker cable that terminated somewhere behind the center of each forehead.
Despite the living things hidden in any space they could be fit into, Calvin was happy in thinking he was more alone than he had been. And it made him feel more like himself.