Shadows in Neon City: Part 8
This City Is An Iconic Bitch
Written by: Zack
Published On: August 31st, 2021
Art by Hydra ヒドラ
“I swear to god, Dale I could see myself…or well, like a poorly rendered version of myself. It was some of the scariest shit I experienced,” Murph said. He had grabbed a cab back to the hotel after the interview. The cabby wasn’t the same as the one who took him there. Murph wondered what that grumpy man was up to. After a quick meal, he found a walking path around Lake Scourge and decided to call up one of his buddies back home, Dale Parcel. He was one of Orion’s full-time divers. He was one of the old-timers and had given Murph pointers before this trip.
“Did you get to dance with yer ghost?” Dale asked on the other end. Dale spat out some chaw and let out a chuckle. “Did I ever tell you I did the two-step with mine?”
“The two-step? Come on, Dale. You’re pulling my leg here,” Murph said with a chuckle.
“Awww, big man dippin’ his toe in the binary ocean and thinks he’s a diver now? Psssh, fella I’ll tell you what, you can do all kinds of fucked up shit when you get past the whole lookin’ at yerself,” Dale said. Murph thought back to that moment and could only remember the panic and adrenaline running through his body. Even though it had been hours since his dive he still felt uneasy, like he wasn’t put together right. He took a few steps and felt solid.
“Yep. The two-step with mah ghost. It wasn’t easy. Seeing yourself like that never is but you gotta remember it’s all in your head Murph. None of it is real. You swallow that pill and anything is possible,” he said. Murph thought back to his breaks and days off working for Orion. Dale and the other divers would sit around the bar and swap stories. Murph never felt particularly close to them since he had never fully dived into the VDR before, but was happy to be included all the same.
“Thing is, tellin’ yerself that is one thing, but your brain’s an old stubborn organ. It’s got millions of years of evolution baked into it tellin’ you what you is and what you isn’t,” Dale continued. “Heck, in mah 55 years of living I’m still findin’ new things every dive in. I tip my hat to ya, Murph. I just wish I was there to see ya freak out,” Dale said. Murph leaned on a railing that overlooked the beach. Boats dotted the horizon and Murph spotted some kites and drones soaring high overhead.
“Yeah, I just hope tomorrow goes well. If I screw up this next step it’s all over,” Murph said.
“Boy who said it’s over? What are ya, like 30? There are other things in life than werkin’ for the big dogs up in the city,” Dale said. “I learned that after damn near 15 years of working for corpos like ‘Tenki,” He said. Murph was listening but he watched the people below enjoy the bright mid-day sun.
“Perhaps, but right now it’s something that’s right in front of me. I might have a different story to tell in 15 years Dale, but I don’t try to look that far into the future. It bums me out,” He said.
“That’s something I could never get about you boy. You never wanna talk about yerself, ya never wanna talk about yer upbringin’. What do you look forward to then?” Dale asked after spitting out more chaw. He had a point. Murph never liked to talk about himself. He just thought he was being humble. I mean, who was Murph Bell? A 29-year-old desk jockey working at a too-small company in a too-small town. Is that what he thought of the Yupe? It’s where all his friends and family were. It’s where he lived all his life. Off the shores of Lake Michigan looking at a city he was told was just a dream. Only when he learned there was a possibility for that far-off city to be real did Murph jump at the opportunity to go. And all from one woman’s generosity.
“I guess I just look forward to tomorrow,” Murph said with a shrug. That made Dale laugh so hard he wheezed and coughed. Bless his heart, Dale Parcel. He was a salt of the earth kind of man. A man who would take you down a peg only to keep you grounded. He’d tell you what’s what and then chat about it over a beer. It was the kind of honesty and tenacity Murph welcomed. He was grateful to have someone so honest yet supportive in his life.
“Trust me, Murph, start thinkin’ a little bit further than a day. Try a week. You’ll find yerself a brighter tomorrow. I know that don’t make a hell of a lot of sense now, but it will,” Dale said. Murph nodded. It couldn’t hurt to try and think of a future. Murph had gotten used to a kind of mindset some might call self-destructive. He kept his nose to the grindstone but kept his aspirations up on a shelf, just out of reach. Every time he thought of doing something about it, that day’s tasks laid before him.
“I’ll try Dale. Tomorrow’s pretty big. Maybe the day afterward will be smaller,” Murph said. He thought of what he could do the day after his big interview. Job or no job, what was something to look forward to that anyone could get? Just thinking about tomorrow made his stomach drop. It took Murph a minute to properly swallow.
He watched as a man walked past him drinking coffee from a paper cup. He got a whiff of the freshly brewed aroma and let it lift his spirits a bit. It was the kind of effect only coffee could have on a person.
“Maybe a coffee,” He said.
“A coffee eh?” Dale said. Murph focused and realized he said that out loud. The man looked over his shoulder just as Murph looked the other way.
“You know Frank swears by this Resolute Brand coffee. You remember Frank, yeah?” Dale said.
“It’s only been two days Dale, yes I know Frank Moole from your little posse,” Murph said.
“Watch it, boy, we’re a squad, we’ve earned the right to be named as such,” Dale said between spits of chaw. “But yeah, Frank. He gets this imported fru fru coffee by means of the Texico Islands down south. Tastes jus’ like a cuppa joe but he swears by it sayin’ all this shit about accents and profiles. Sounds like some blue blood shit ya know’ wha’ mean?”
“Yes, but does it taste good? Like even if you can’t taste the things Frank said, do you think it tastes good?” Murph asked.
“Boy, coffee be coffee. I swear up’n down that I could take Frank’s fru fru coffee and mix it with that there insta-brew and he ain’t know the difference,”
“Is there a rest stop between here and the point, Dale?” Murph said with a smile.
“I’m gettin’ there! Point is, I betcha there’s some outfits that’ll sell ya some of that fru fru stuff. If’n ya wanna take Frank’s side’n this and getcha something to look forward to, try some expensive coffee,” He said. Murph let the idea roll around in his head for a bit. Coffee was perfect. It was decadent enough to be a treat yet inexpensive enough to not break the bank. The pit in his stomach lifted slightly as the idea rolled around in his mind.
“You got it Dale, a good cup of coffee it is,” Murph said.
“Alright, that’s step one. Now, I know we were talkin’ ‘bout lookin’ past tomorrow, but keep yer head on straight and yer ghost in ya shell. Dig?” He asked.
“I dig,” Dale nodded. He could hear the shift in Dale’s tone now. Even his Chaw spits had a more serious ring to them.
“I’ve been to Neon City back then. For a job with ‘Rion ya see? The diver’s in this city ain’t like me and the squad. This city, it’s one iconic bitch, ya see?”
“Iconic bitch?” Murph repeated.
“As in famous and a real nasty place. Keep up boy,” Dale said. “Look, these corpos like ‘Tenki. They’re invasive on their own. It ain’t business as usual like it is at ‘Rion. They want something from the folks that work there,” Murph thought back to the video Daaron left him. The last words echoed in his head.
“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?” Dale said. Murph’s stomach tied itself in knots.
“I get the feeling tomorrow I’ll be asked to give them something. I have no idea what that means but Daaron said it. Now you.”
He didn’t know what to say next. He didn’t want to think about it, but that only made it worse. The intrusive thoughts crept in like inky black tendrils. He began to analyze his entire time in the Atsutenki office. What did they do while he was under? Murph started to look at his fingertips and arms for anything. Ink residue, stick marks, tags, trackers, anything. Was he followed back from the offices? Did they upload a virus or tracking program while he was in the VDR? Did June do something? What about Trish? Why did she give up her chance to come to Neon City? She said this place wasn’t for her, but could she have been lying? Or worse yet, did she want Murph to have her fate? Save her own ass?
“Now don’t get yer ghost rattled Murph, calm down. Look, you got a full day to think about it. Ain’t nothing stopping ya from comin’ back and forgettin’ all about this,” Dale said. Murph felt his chest tighten. He looked around the crowd that passed him by. His eyes darted from one person to the next. He locked eyes with them and darted away. He hated it when they looked back. He thought he saw an Atsutenki pin, but when he looked back they were already gone.
“Why is this happening? Why now? I was so close!” Murph walked down the path some more, his heart racing. How did June know he’d been partying? Was it on his breath? Or did Daaron report him to Atsutenki?
“Murph, yer getting all worked up fer nothin’. Forget what I said. I was just talkin’ shit you k-”
“Shut up you rambling hick,” Murph said. The line went silent. Murph could feel the blood pounding in his head.
“You want me to come back home so I can be a miserable fuck like you! Well, I am not. I’m better than that, I’m better than you. That’s why I am here and you’re back there sucking down shitty beer!” Murph said. He didn’t notice it until now, but people began to stare, only for a moment.
“I gotta say, I am disappointed, boy,” Dale said. The call ended. Murph Bell ran his fingers through his hair and sat down on a nearby bench and let out a long ragged sigh.He felt the knot in his throat catch midway out of his mouth but coughed it back. The tears stung his eyes.
“Why the fuck do you talk you decrepit old shit,” Murph said. He spent the better part of this bright summer day trying not to completely lose it as the panic attack worked him over. Waves of utter terror threatened to rip free a pent-up wail of panic. All he could do was take deep, ragged breaths and try to calm his nerves. He had earned this spot. He was so close to everything just clicking in his life.
Just as his anxiety began to settle in his mind, a message appeared from his interface. It was from Lauren.