Shadows in Neon City: Part Five
This City Is A Palace in the Sky
Written by: Zack
Art by Hydra ヒドラ
The Oaysis drink cleared Murph’s head, but his body was still riddled with aches and pains. He climbed into the shower to wash off the previous night’s grime and sweat. He barely had the energy to stand, so instead he laid in the tub, one leg craned outside as the shower cascaded over his worthless form.
The hangover would wear off as the day dragged on, but today was the first day of his interview with Asutenki. Beneath the fog of early morning grogginess and cheap beer, Murph’s mind was replaying Daaron’s video over and over again. He moved his face to take the direct blast of the shower head. He needed to push that back for now. He needed to worry about it later and focus on the task at hand, the reason he was here to begin with.
When he was done with his “shower,” Murph looked less shitty overall. His eyes had bags forming under them and his skin felt… well, shitty. Does this look like the face of a Megacorp worker? Is that a question desk jockeys even ask themselves?
“I guess they only care if I look good enough to blend in with the others,” Murph said to himself. He stretched various parts of his face and applied some moisturizing cream to the bags under his eyes. He then brushed his teeth, flossed and shaved. It was an improvement only because no one else saw the festering degenerate beneath the skin.
“As long as I’m the only one who knows, it should be fine,” He continued. Murph finished grooming himself before stepping back out into his room. He averted his eyes when he noticed the vomit stain on the other side of the bed. As he got dressed, he began to smell the wretched odors of last night. The vomit and musk of the bar hung in the air like an ominous cloud. Murph gave his neck a few sprays of his cologne before he gave the room a spritz. It was the same cologne he used last night. It quickly reminded him of last night and mixed with the other pungent reminders that lingered in the room. Murph cringed at the overbearing smell and decided to just open a window.
The streets were still as crowded and busy as ever,the sun just barely over the horizon. He checked the clock; it was just past seven. He opened up his interface and mapped out a route to the Asutenki headquarters from his hotel. By cab it would take just under thirty minutes. If he left by 7:45 he could make it with minutes to spare.
“Nope, you have to be at least fifteen minutes early,” He said aloud. Who came up with that rule anyway? In all the interviews Murph had been a part of, the hiring manager was always late. Of course, they could be late all they wanted, they weren’t the ones being scrutinized. A disgusting, hollow gurgle rumbled up from Murph’s stomach. He hadn’t had breakfast and was running on just that one energy drink — and what was in his stomach before was staining the carpets and parts of the wall now. Murph left the room donned in his best threads; a pressed blue suit with a white undershirt and grey tie. He spent a good wad of cash on this and he still felt out of style compared to the average city goer.
There was a continental breakfast buffet being served in the lobby, and Murph helped himself to some cheap coffee and a danish. He inhaled both and made sure his fingers were clean before he left the hotel and hailed a cab. It took him a few tries to finally hail one down. The older man had a salt and pepper beard and didn’t greet him when he opened the door.
“The Asutenki building please,” Murph said. The driver just looked ahead. He punched in the address on his dashboard’s display and started the meter. It was all the same to Murph, he didn’t want to talk either. He casually slid the divider closed and rested his head and let the sights of the city passby.
Just 24 hours ago he had been blown away by the sights and sounds of Neon City. That awe had left his body, or to be more accurate, something much more foreboding weighed upon it instead.
“Whatever they want from you, as long as your reward is getting to stay here, give it to them. What’s one little thing compared to the rest of your life?”
“Whatever they want from you, as long as your reward is getting to stay here, give it to them. What’s one little thing compared to the rest of your life,”
Those words echoed through his head. It reminded him of what Trish said. This city changes you. From what Murph experienced last night — or at least what he remembered — Darron had changed drastically since leaving the Yupe. It was silly to think moving to a different city wouldn’t change a person. Neon City was so much more than the Yupe could ever provide. What Murph remembered about Darron from last night was that he seemed happier — freer, Murph might even say. Though he knew that’s not what Trish meant when she warned him.
“It can’t, Trish. I won’t let it,” Murph said. The taxi driver didn’t even look in his rear view mirror. If Murph had to guess, this man was just coming off an all night shift. He was probably the last customer before turning in. He put his hands on his lap and brought up his interface again. He checked his messages and contact info to pass the time and to also check to see if anything new had been added or taken away. He narrowed his eyes when he saw that a new contact had been added: Lauren ❤
“I don’t like the look of that,” Murph muttered. It was a potential issue to solve, but one that could wait until tonight. Another thing that stuck out to him was that Simon’s note and info were missing from his contact list. Had he deleted it by mistake? In either case he decided to dismiss his interface just as the taxi crossed a bridge that spanned Lake Scourge.
On the other side was Corpo Plaza, the district that held the headquarters for the five main Megacorps that ruled over Neon City; Incubo, Virtua, Skyline, Pyramid and Asutenki. Murph watched five monolithic towers come into view as they crossed the bridge. That awe and wonder he had felt returned a little bit when he saw these colossal buildings.
These were not mere skyscrapers, Murph had seen plenty of those. These were in a different league altogether.
Each building was different in design and aesthetic, but they all had one thing in common: they were gargantuan megatowers that disappeared into the sky above. Neon City was home to tens of millions and expanded over several districts, but these five towers and their adjacent structures could probably house everyone with room to spare. As Murph got closer to the five megatowers, his wonder and awe were replaced with foreboding doom. At that moment all thoughts retreated from Murph’s mind. Lauren, Simon, Darron. Nothing else mattered now. The taxi driver didn’t seem phased by this. Sights like these were so mundane to a man who’s been doing this for — Murph only assumed — thirty years.
“I deserve this,” Murph told himself. He took a deep breath. In and out. Again. In and out. “I worked hard to get here. It may have been luck, but Trish saw what I was capable of. I believe in her because she believes in me,” Murph said quietly to himself.
“It all comes down to this, then. The moment where all my blood, sweat, and tears pay off,” He clenched his fists. “Yes, these corporations control every facet of living — and not just in Neon City. Inside these buildings are people. Asutenki is run by people. Fallible, emotional people. These buildings are made of glass, steel and concrete,”
“Imposing as they may be, I can just walk right in. I’m allowed inside. I deserve to be inside,”
“I can fucking do this!” Murph opened his eyes, to meet the cold stare of the taxi driver. He looked out the window to see they had stopped right in front of the Asutenki building. Scores of employees were walking up the grand steps that lead up to the building. Many lanes of cabs and other cars pulled up to drop people off. It was a morning rush, but much less chaotic than Murph had anticipated. The taxi driver tapped his meter with increased irritation. Murph felt his cheeks burn bright red.
“Ah…yeah, that…um. Listen, I have this big interview today and I’m from the Yupe. So, you can understand…” Murph began.
“Can you pay or not?” the taxi driver said with a flat tone.
“Of course, sorry I…yeah I’ll get right on it,” Murph took out his card and paid. He stepped out of the cab.
“Hey!” The driver barked at him as Murph walked away. Shit, had he underpaid? Murph turned around and saw the man out of his seat and looking at Murph. His expression hadn’t changed, but the way he was looking at him felt like he was piercing Murph’s soul.
“Do you really believe you can do this?” He said simply. Murph looked around and opened his mouth to speak. Nothing came out at first.
“I have to. Why else would I be here?,” Murph said. The driver stared at him for a couple seconds more.
“Okay,” He said. Without looking back, he sat back in his cab and drove off. Murph turned his attention back to the main gates. All around him, well-dressed employees walked past without a second glance. Most of them were looking at their interfaces or taking the last gulp out of a coffee cup before chucking it towards the waste bins posted to either side of the main gate.
Murph stepped up onto the stairs that led in. The steps were just like the tower itself; white with a marbled sheen of grey swirls. Brass between the tiles. The morning sun made everything around him brighter. He had to shield his eyes because of the sudden light that reflected back at him. If he didn’t know any better, Murph would think he was ascending a stairway towards the pearly gates themselves.
The lobby of the tower was organized chaos. The employees filing in from outside now made their way to a series of elevators past a security checkpoint. Murph was treated to a medley of approved clearance beeps as employees swiped their badges or looked into retinal scans to make it past a security gate. Beyond that was a station of elevators that would take them to their desired floors. He made himself as small as possible to avoid bumping into people. He had some practice in avoiding unnecessary contact from the dance floor last night. However, the people he accidentally bumped into were far more polite than the party goers last night.
“Excuse me, pardon,” a small man said, giving Murph a small nod before scurrying off to the gate. It was a level of organized chaos Murph was not used to. He scanned the room and found the reception desk in the middle. The large, angular marble station acted as a kind of island that parted the hurried professional masses. The security gates were on either side of the reception desk, and all but a few employees avoided it like a stone in a stream. Behind the desk was something else entirely. The being behind the desk didn’t look human. Not completely. Murph watched from afar, but slowly walked up to the being. Their skin was mirror-like, almost entirely made of chrome, which made their body appear more androgonous. They wore a white suit lined with teal and their jet black hair traveled down and past their shoulders. Murph made his way to the desk, any fears or anxieties were choked down deep within as he got close.
“Excuse me,” He said with a firm but professional tone, “My name is Murph Bell, here from Orion Electronics for an interview.”
The secretary’s eyes glowed teal, the same color as their suit lining, and they nodded. “Yes, thank you for coming early,” Their voice was monotone and, if Murph had to guess, a little bored. They handed Murph a white keycard with the company logo on it; a yellow and pink sunflower.
“This will allow you access to the seventh floor. Your first tests will take place in seed world 2,” the secretary droned. Murph looked at the card and the secretary went right back to work. Murph didn’t linger in the lobby any further. He swiped the card through the gate and passed through the screening arcs. From there he was led to an elevator on the left side of the terminal, where his card only took him to floor seven. It was a fast trip. Murph shared the elevator with a half dozen other applicants. With each beep of the passing floor, Murph’s heartbeat quickened.
This was it. This was the beginning of what his coworkers called “The Crucible.”