Shadows in Neon City: Part Two
This City Is From Me, To You
Written by: Zack
Art by Hydra ヒドラ
He didn’t know what to expect. Murph Bell had gotten close before, but never this close. Perhaps the closest was when he visited the satellite cities. Everything was bigger than he imagined. The idea of a large building was so easy to envision. There were large buildings in the Yupe. Some got to be about six or seven stories tall. When he first heard the word skyscraper, it sounded so outlandish. The bus passed by a bright and decorated sign that read “Welcome to Neon City” in light blue and pink lights. Murph looked ahead out of his window to see the cityscape before him. The way the rising sun glinted off the many mirrored panes of the tall buildings only added to their splendor.
It was like something off of a postcard, from where they were the city just seemed so unreal. The closer the bus got, the more detailed the cityscape became, but Murph didn’t need any further exaggerations to be overwhelmed by the city’s size and grandeur. Yet, when Murph looked to his left he saw the enormous lake that Neon City sat on. Back then, it was called Lake Michigan, but now it was known as Lake Scourge. Murph read somewhere that the MegaCorp Incubo had acquired the lake and renamed it about ten years ago. The article stated that they named it so after their latest product, Scourge Cola. To celebrate, Incubo had released a non-toxic dye to the lake that turned it blood red. When it finally made its way up to the Yupe, the people there had one hell of a scare. Murph looked out at the now calm blue waters in quiet appreciation.
“It can be a little overwhelming can’t it?” Simon said. Murph was pulled out of his sightseeing stupor and looked back at Simon. He smoothed out the wrinkles in his suit and combed his hair back. “I get it, really I do. I’ve lived in Neon City for well over two decades and I never get tired of the skyline. Of course, there isn’t much to see now because of this damn fog, but you get the idea,”
“It’s more than I could have prepared for,” Murph said. His gaze returned to Lake Scourge. It still amazed him. This was the same lake he saw back home. But he couldn’t see his home when he looked towards the horizon, and he realized just how far from home he was.
“Well look at that, an honest answer. Most people try to act like Neon City is so passe when they first come, yet they spend their first three days with a perpendicular neck,” Simon said with a chuckle.
h felt the city’s presence all around him. The sidewalks were filled with a clash of people dressed in everything from Corpo casual suits and slicked-back hair cuts to loose-fitting denim and pompadours. Murph brought up his interface to check his reservation with the hotel Orion had booked him. Simon walked into his field of view, hands in his pockets. He turned back to Murph and cocked his head.
“Well Murph, I wish you luck. If you’re in a pinch or if you want another soul to celebrate with you. Hit me up,” He said. Before Murph could take another step, Simon blended into the crowd. On his interface, there was a contact notification. He opened it and it was Simon’s com-link number. Attached was a memo note.
“Sorry to bud in. I made myself at home. Nothing fancy just stuck a post-it with my deets. -Simon” Murph shook his head and added the memo to his contacts. The addition of another contact took a back seat when Murph looked up to see first hand what exactly Neon City was.
The morning sun cut through the rest of the fog and Murph could see the undertaking before him. Back in the Yupe, everyone worked and moved at their own pace. That rang true in Neon City but everything was kicked up to 11. Murph made sure to firmly grasp his duffel bag before he plunged into the crowd and walked with the flow of foot traffic. The sound of hundreds of people walking around him in close proximity jarred Murph’s senses.
“One foot in front of the other. Can’t let your lack of sleep get you trampled now,” Murph thought. He picked up the pace but soon overcompensated and bumped into a woman in front of him.
“Excuse you,” the sharply dressed woman said. She gave Murph a quick scowl and walked ahead before he could offer an apology. He adjusted his pace in order to keep up with the masses. The uneven rhythms of shoes hitting the pavement made it feel like he was in the middle of a stampede. He kept his bag at his side, his eyes darted to and fro to make sure he didn’t bump into anyone else on the street.
After a half dozen blocks Murph’s calves were starting to scream. He pushed the aching down and fixed his gaze up at the skyscrapers. Insecure thoughts of looking like a tourist popped in his head. Until he was hired, he was a tourist. After that pill was swallowed, the rest of his anxieties about being in this crowd vanished. Murph’s eyes began to wander from the tops of people’s heads to the soaring buildings overhead. He took in the sights more authentically.
Holographic advertisements played overhead. Some had well-dressed dancers leap from rooftop to rooftop, people larger than life floating as if made of vapor. Delightful lights began to write out various slogans that faded after a second in midair. They were a whimsical assault on the senses, one part explosive one part captivating wonderment. Murph took note of each as they passed overhead, but one stuck out to him that was coming up ahead.
A waterfall cascaded down from one building and into a virtual grotto. Murph could have sworn he felt droplets of water mist his face, but he had to remind himself it was all just in the hologram. From the mist cascaded the words “Rain Temple” arranging themselves over the speed walking masses before the letters faded away into nothing. Murph nearly mistook the roar of the crowd for the waterfall. Adverts like that were only on billboards back in the Yupe.
Orion had booked him a weekend stay at the Scourge Suites, a hotel that looked over the lake. It was a medium-sized hotel chain run by Incubo, a more affordable option than the more luxurious Scourge Palace that was just a dozen or so blocks down the shore. Medium hotel or not, it was far outside Murph’s price range had he paid himself. The lobby was lined with a purple and black marbled floor. Gentle piano music greeted Murph as he walked in. The gentle keystrokes of the piano created a kind of weightlessness Murph hadn’t realized until he stepped into the lobby. It was only when he slowed his steps did Murph become aware of the throbbing in his legs. He checked his map and the walk from the depot to the hotel was just over three miles.
“I should have gotten a cab,” he said to himself. He would have had he not been swept up in the human rapids that were morning foot traffic. He sat down on a violet and black leather couch to catch his breath. Murph processed his arrival in full. He was here. The first but most crucial step in his plan was complete.
He passed the time by people watching. Of course, during his walk, he was looking up at the buildings and advertisements. Here, Murph could really get a feel for the people of Neon City. Just like his expectations for the city itself, the people within were a surprising mix of paths. Though, he wasn’t sure what people from this city might look like. Simon gave him an idea, but after what he saw the spectrum was a lot broader than he thought. From clothes to accessories, each patron in the hotel lobby showed an aspect of culture Murph had never seen before. He couldn’t help but notice the number of cybernetic implants. Some were subtle, like a chrome-plated finger or two while some showed entire limbs or parts of their bodies that glinted with a brilliant silver or metallic color. What was to Murph a symbol of high status, was seen as commonplace. It only added to his overall culture shock.
“I wonder if I’ll ever get implants like that,” Murph thought to himself. He could barely afford the cyber brain implant, but if things went his way with this interview, he could let his mind wander. This idea of permanently modifying his body filled Murph’s tired head as he lifted himself off the couch.
Murph spotted a sharp chinned girl manning the front desk. Her high cheek showed a tint of purple blush over her dark brown skin. Just above her left eyebrow was a purple metallic piece of chrome, an implant no doubt, with a wire that disappeared up into her neat curls. She looked straight ahead with a stance that said she was prepared for anything that might walk up to her desk. It was intimidating. Perhaps it was his lingering exhaustion that made Murph nervous about jumping into yet another social interaction.
“Good morning sir,” She said.
“Hello, good morning. I’m uh…Here to check-in. Murph Bell. It should be under Orion Electronics,” He said. She gave him a small nod and looked directly at him. Murph averted his gaze again. Her eyes glowed with the familiar interface light. Her lenses were a smokey swirl of purple and black.
“Yes, one standard room for the weekend. Our cleaning staff is just finishing up Mr. Bell,” She held up a silver key card and handed it to him.
“You may go up to your room. I have been told that by the time you get to your room, the cleaning staff should be done. Room 247. We hope you enjoy your stay,” She said. He nodded and took the keycard from her “Yeah, um..have a good day too, ma’am,”
“Thank you sir,” She replied. Murph took his bag and walked towards the elevator up to his room. As he pushed the call button an alert brought up his interface. He stifled a gasp when he saw that he had 10 missed calls. He dismissed his interface and let out a deep sigh.
“Let me rest first,” He said to himself. He stepped into the elevator and the smooth life ascended him up to his room.
The concierge was right, by the time Murph had gotten to his floor he saw that the cleaning staff were just about to finish up. Murph stood there awkwardly as the two older women apologized incessantly about needing to finish up.
“Really, it’s no trouble just take your time,” Murph said in an attempt to calm the cleaning staff. Around the corner from his room was a viewing lounge where bay windows overlooked the lake.
“I’ll just enjoy the view for a bit,” He told them. Before he could round the corner his interface popped up again. It was a phone call, one he’s been putting off since he got on the bus. He turned the corner and stepped towards a couch next to a window that overlooked the lake and answered it.
“Hello Trish,” Murph began.
“Well it’s about time you picked up! Jeez, I was beginning to think you skipped town altogether and were heading for the border,” Trisha answered. Trish Volka was a hard-working coworker of Murph’s back at Orion Electronics. Five years his senior and the first to crack open a beer, she made an excellent drinking partner after work.
“I only had enough to get me here Trish, any more and I’d be in a foreign land without a penny or peso,” Murph said.
“True. So how’s the view? You made it to the hotel and everything?” She said. Murph looked out of the bay window where the morning sun was out in full. From here Murph could see more of the lakeshore and the buildings off in the distance. Just at the far end of the shore, one building stood taller than the rest; Atsutekni headquarters.
“Yeah, though I mean…you could have seen it for yourself,” He said. There was a long silence before Trish answered.
“We’ve been over this Bell. It’s a gift. From me to you,” It was Murph’s turn to be silent. The more he thought about the exchange back home, the greater his sense of guilt became.
“It was yours, Trish,” He said finally.
“It was mine to give away too. I’ve been to Neon City Murph. It’s fine when you’re passing by or staying for a vacation, but to live there? It changes you. It’s not good for people like me. It’s not my city,” She said.
“It’s not my kind of place either Trish, it’s no one’s. It’s about what you can take, and make your own,” Murph said.
“We’ve been over this before Bell. You wanted it more than me, you always have,” She said.
“I mean, you earned it though. You could have at least come with me for the weekend. We could have gone on a bender or something,” Murph said. Trish let out a bark of a laugh.
“I’d drink you broke, Bell,” she said. “Besides, you gotta keep your head in the game. This isn’t going to be a walk-in-the-park interview. That’s why it takes up two full days,” Trish said. Murph rested back on the couch.
“I know,” He said. “Still, I could use a friend here,”
“Have you called Daaron yet? I’m sure he would drink with ya,” She said. “He’s only been in NC for a little over a year. I can’t imagine he’s changed that much,” She said.
“I won’t let this place change me, Trish. It can’t,” He said. There was another long pause.
“It will Murph. Maybe not now, probably not after a few months, but eventually, it will. You have to be ready to change on a dime and adapt to new things there. So stop being so stubborn,” She said. One of the cleaning people poked her head around the corner.
“Your room is ready Mr. Bell,” She said. Murph waved to her and nodded.
“I should get going. I could sleep for about 10 hours. I’ll call Daaron afterwards,” Murph said.
“Alright Bell. Call me when this is all over. Good or bad,” She said. Murph hung up the phone.