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Pixel Courage 12

Laying in bed, I hadn’t gone to sleep. The same thoughts had been swirling in my head all night, no matter how hard I’d tried to distract myself.

Just wanted the sun to rise. That’s all there was to wait for.

“–markets have absolutely crashed. Manufacturing and services are both in the toilet. Gold hasn’t maintained its value, silver hasn’t maintained its value. Seems like Bitcoin isn’t anything other than a joke these days. So is it such a surprise that people are using MMORPG currencies?” the voice from my smartwatch radio said.

When the sun hit my face, I breathed a sigh of relief. Opened my eyes and grabbed my smartwatch.

“Of course people are investing in MMORPG currencies, Brenda. To do otherwise would be sheer stupidity! There’s–” The voice stopped mid-sentence when I turned my smartwatch off.

Tapped a button on the side that brought me to the texting screen. I was still laying down as I brought the watch within an inch of my lips, saying, “I’m awake, Brenda. Let’s get coffee.”

The letters appeared on the screen, just like I’d said them. I confirmed them by hitting the send button. I set my smartwatch down on my stomach and closed my eyes again.

Texting was good. I preferred it to talking on the phone, definitely. When you were taking on the phone, there was so much more you had to worry about: the tone of your voice, not mumbling. Much better to text. It was cleaner.

Hell, if I had a choice, I wouldn’t even talk to people in person. But there were things you had to do in the world that required you to get out, see people. I imagined what might happen if MMORPG currencies were just the beginning. What if everything became MMORPG-dependent?

If you could work in an MMORPG, play in an MMORPG, why couldn’t you live there? Why bother with all the bullshit you go through when dealing with people?

Why not live a good life? Didn’t matter whether or not you could afford it. So long as you could get your hands on a headset, you were free.

My smartwatch buzzed, so I picked it up and looked at it.

“Meet you there in a half hour,” it read.

I got up and went into my closet. Took off my shirt, put on a binder and then a new shirt. Didn’t bother changing into a different pair of pants; it’s not like anyone had seen me yesterday.

I grabbed my keys, and walked out the door.

My car was sitting in the driveway. As I pressed the button on my smartwatch to start it up, I noticed my neighbor lying on her lawn, half-empty tequila bottle in hand.

“You alright?” I hollered.

She groaned. “Not dead yet.”

Wasn’t the first time we’d had a conversation like that. I didn’t really like asking, but I also didn’t like the idea of her dying out there, choking on her own vomit or something. If nobody else was looking out for her, the least I could do was make sure she wasn’t dead.

Admittedly, my house wasn’t in a great part of the neighborhood. In fact, if we’re being honest, it was pretty goddamn shitty.

In this economy? I was just happy I had a place to use my VR headset. The rest didn’t matter, not really.

I got in my silver car. Had to lean on my cane, relying on my arm strength to get up and inside. I placed my cane in the passenger.

The car had been used when I originally got it, and that’d been a couple years ago. So at this point, the thing had been real used. I had to slam the door hard to get it to shut.

“Welcome, Chris,” the car said.

“Moe’s Coffee,” I said back.

The car and I drove there in silence.

When we arrived, I took the cane and had to lean on it to get onto the asphalt of the parking lot. Pressed a button on my smartwatch and locked the car.

Because Moe’s was located near the downtown area, parking was always terrible. Luckily I didn’t have to deal with finding the spot, and my car could always find the closest spot by communicating with all the other cars.

Still, there wasn’t always a close spot open. So I hobbled down the sidewalk, passing by some stores on the way to Moe’s. I also passed two homeless people.

The first guy I avoided eye contact with, and he left me alone. The second guy was sitting in front of a vape store. I avoided eye contact with him, too, but that didn’t stop him.

“Hey, man. You got any money to spare?”

“Sorry.” I kept walking.

“Just a buck or two?” He grabbed onto the leg of my pants. It was the good leg, too. I tried catching myself by leaning on the cane, but it didn’t work.

Twisted my body so that my right shoulder landed on the sidewalk.

“Shit!” I yelled. My shoulder hurt like hell. “What the hell is wrong with you? You think I use this cane just for kicks?”

“Didn’t notice the cane,” the bum said, voice gravelled. “You think these glasses are just for the sun?”

I did my best to get re-oriented. Planted one hand on the ground and lifted the upper half of my body up. Maneuvered everything so that my leg didn’t feel uncomfortable, even if my shoulder and face felt like they could use some painkillers.

Hadn’t looked the guy straight before that moment, but I saw his glasses tinted pitch-black.

“First of all, you’re still a fuckin’ asshole.” I grabbed onto the cane, trying to use it to get myself up. Was worried I would fall over again, so I sat back down on the ground. “But I’m sorry you’re blind.”

The blind guy chuckled. “Yeah, I’m sorry I’m blind too.”

“They’ve got shit to help fix that,” I said. Closed my eyes and took a couple deep breaths. It was fucking hot out, and I was exhausted.

Had to persevere though, because I’d promised Paula I’d be there in a half hour, and it was getting close to that time. Of course, she couldn’t be on time anywhere to save her goddamn life, but it was still the principle that mattered. If I had to get out of the house to see someone, the least we could do is meet when we said we were going to meet.

And besides, I wanted to hear about Alex as soon as possible. No way I was going to be the one lengthening the period of time between now and when I found out about her.

I continued, “You know, the Augmented Reality glasses with sonar. Body modders fuck with your brain, then you put the glasses on and you can see like a bat.”

“Like I have the money for that shit. Gimme a hotdog and I’m happy as shit. Just watch.”

“I’m not buying you a fucking hotdog after you made me fall.”

“You weren’t going to buy the goddamn hot dog anyway, you cheap son of a bitch.”

“Yeah, well, don’t go making your problems my problems.” Soon as those words came out of my mouth, I realized I was going to need someone’s help getting up.

People were walking up and down the sidewalk, but there weren’t a ton of them. When one couple passed us by, I wanted to ask for help.

But there was something about the way they were walking. They were wearing their Augmented Reality glasses, heads held high. Something about them didn’t feel right. Didn’t feel welcome. Like they were making me feel inferior on purpose.

I ignored the other passerbys. They were all wearing the glasses.

“You need me to help you up, don’t you?” the blind guy asked.

“Fuck you.”

“That a yes?” He stood up and put his hand out. I grabbed onto it. He pulled me up.

I leaned back on my cane.

“I’m an asshole, except when it matters,” the blind guy said.

“Well, uh, thanks. But also, fuck you. And I’m sorry you’re blind. But mostly go fuck yourself.”

“Yeah, you too, motherfucker. You, too.”

The rest of the journey to Moe’s happened without incident, much to my relief. Of course, even though I got there five minutes late, I still got there before Paula.

Fucking Paula.

I walked over to the robot barista, ordered a small cup off coffee, and sat at a table by the window.

About two minutes in, my heart started racing. When the barista came and gave me my coffee, I was thankful she was a robot — no need to say thank you.

She set the coffee down and said, “Hope you enjoy.”

Really, she looked just like a normal person. Only reason I could tell she was a robot was because of her dead eyes.

I twitched. Grabbed my neck.

Fuck.

I took a sip of coffee. Wouldn’t help my twitch any, but it was sitting there, and it would be weird to order coffee at a coffee shop and not drink it.

Burnt my tongue a little bit.

Shit.

I thought about robots a lot. Robots and AI. AI had outsmarted us, robots had better bodies than us.

Should’ve made things better, easier. And in some ways it did.

Convenience came real easy, but there was the matter of living.

These days, it felt a lot harder to live out here. We were at something like 40% unemployment. AI hadn’t taken over — it wasn’t designed to take over, and it didn’t have motive to take over.

But still, things had gone to shit.

Robots and AI meant that corporations didn’t need people. Corporations had become the only people that mattered.

I twitched.

Sipped the coffee.

Heart raced like a speed boat ripping through the water.

Goddamn. Goddamn. Goddamn.

“Fuck,” I muttered.

Sipped the coffee.

Neck twitched.

Tongue felt a little burnt. Stupid. Hated this fucking world.

Fuck robots and AI and corporations and the car that hit me and–

A hand on my shoulder.

“Shit!” I yelled, smacking the hand off of me.

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