Thirty-six hours later I’ve got both feet reluctantly back on the ground, new tech in my blood courtesy of Bright, and a vague idea of what’s next. I'm still feeling a little sluggish, so I eat breakfast and follow it up with a low dose of stimulants. When I feel my skin start to crawl I grab my jacket and head out.
My neighborhood is one of the worst in the mid city. Full to busting with other transplants like myself, or other folks on government assistance for whatever reason. It makes for cramped, congested living conditions, but it's still head and shoulders above life in the lower city—at least there’s garbage collection on a semi-regular basis.
Exiting the complex, I pass the guy who lives across the hall from me, a tall, muscular, bald-headed black man who'd be intimidating if it wasn't for his constantly dazed expression and shambling walk. He's another freezepop, thawed out a few years before me.
I know “Doghouse Reilly” is an odd name, but like so many others who came out of the ‘banks, I had no recollection of my real name and wrote down the first thing that seemed familiar enough. Comparatively, I hadn’t done so bad. This poor bastard had blurted out “Motorola Discharge,” the only words that had rung a bell with his cyro-addled brain.
Mostly I call him “Moto” for short. Sometimes Mr. Discharge—but never to his face.
Down at the next corner I catch the public transit line that'll get me closest to the lower city. Nothing goes all the way in—most of the infrastructure has collapsed down there due to ages of neglect. At the end of the line I still have about twelve blocks to go. The afternoon sun is beating down mercilessly. It’s barely a half a block before my t-shirt is soaked through with sweat. The Dome keeps the radiation and the rest of the toxic crap out, but it also does one hell of a job of trapping heat and humidity.
About twenty miserable minutes later, I’m into the thick of the lower city. This time of day, it’s a ghost town, no one on the streets. Any business that gets done in the lower city is the kind that's better taken care of under cover of darkness anyway. Despite the stench, I’m almost more comfortable down here. They do things the old fashioned way. I’m going to talk to Jimmy Hartford, and I don’t have to bother trying to link to him on the neurocomm—I just go to his place and knock on his door. It's a comfortable echo of a simpler time.
I wait, wiping at the sweat dripping from my brow. As I’m about to knock again, Jimmy opens the door, half-dressed, his immense gut straining against the belt of his bathrobe, threatening to break loose at any minute. He smiles when he sees me. “Reilly, come in!”
I know Jimmy from my own business dealings—he mainly trades in drugs, but he’s got his fingers in everything, and therefore on the pulse of the lower city. His apartment is dark, and smoke hangs in the air like a curtain, a mix of incense and…other aromas. It’s a relief compared to the stink outside.
The door shuts behind me. Jimmy puts his fat hands on my shoulders and fixes me with a stare loaded with fatherly concern. “You should slow down, buddy. You were just here, what? A few days ago?”
“Don’t worry about me, Jimmy. I’m just here to pick your brain.” I casually duck out from under his grasp. I've still got a bit of a speedy buzz going, and the weight of his hands is suffocating, restrictive.
The smile returns to his doughy face, his beady eyes lighting up behind his thick glasses. Glasses. Another comfortable anachronism. I'd say he's happy to have some company. “Ah—sit, sit down,” he gestures towards the darkened living room. “I’ll get us some drinks.”
I pass through the doorway into the living room. Dimly lit would be an overstatement. The harsh afternoon sun can barely penetrate the thick drapes hanging over the half-boarded up front windows. I step carefully between the piles of ancient newspaper, the weird accumulated relics of the past. Jimmy's not a freezepop. I don't know where his affinity for the days before the first big thaw-out comes from, but it's made the place a bit of an obstacle course. There's an old microwave near the coffee table that I always bang my shin on. I do it again, and it hurts like a bitch, the last bruise still tender. But I find the couch with relative ease even in the dark, navigating as if on autopilot. I make myself at home, realizing I know the layout of his apartment a little too well.
Jimmy returns with a couple of beers—somebody’s home brew in “recycled” glass bottles. He hands me one. The armchair creaks as he lowers his bulky frame into it. “What can I tell you?” Jimmy's always been good for information in the past. It doesn't hurt that I've helped him out a couple of times with some debt collection.
I sip my beer and it’s cold enough to be palatable. “I’m looking for a guy that put a bullet in me. Did you hear an explosion a couple of blocks over? Would have been...” I have to pause for a moment, checking my internal calendar. Once again I'm thankful for the chemical boost to my mental processing abilities. “...three days ago. Building went up with me in it. But I survived, so I'm betting he did too. And maybe he said something to his buddies about it. I know word gets around.”
Jimmy takes a long swig of his beer and settles back into his chair. I can practically see him thinking. “Yeah. Yeah—I think I heard something about that.” He stops, considering. For a second I wonder what other allegiances he might have, who else he might occasionally invite in for a beer and some casual questions. I tell myself not to get paranoid. “You out for revenge? I mean, really, what’s a bullet matter in your line of business?”
It wouldn’t have mattered, if it had been a normal bullet—but I decide to keep that tidbit to myself. “Nah, it’s nothing personal. You know Bright, she just likes to be thorough.”
Jimmy's known who I work for since I started working for her. He still cringes a little every time I drop her name. If there's anyone who's more adverse to tech than me, it's Jimmy. “Yeah. Is she—?”
“Still human? Mostly,” I shrug. It's hard for me to gauge her progress, considering she's usually just a voice in my head.
“She’s a bit of a legend in the tech circles—but you probably know that better than I do.” He grins, running a hand through his greasy hair.
“I know. God forbid she ever gets in touch with her inner cult leader.” The thought makes me laugh awkwardly. As it is, her dominating streak seems to be sated simply by bossing me around. Not that I’m complaining. “So, any idea where I can find this guy?” I pop the knuckles on my right hand, inadvertently punctuating the question.
Jimmy nods. “All of those two-bit thugs hang out down at Fee’s. It’s this incredibly shitty bar out past the abandoned Transient Center on 31st.”
“I’ve heard of it.” I pour the rest of my drink down my throat before it gets warm enough that I can taste it. “Thanks, Jimmy. Let me know if you need any favors.”
“All right, Reilly,” he raises his beer. “Here’s hoping I don’t see you again too soon.”
“I make no promises.”