“Good afternoon sir, how may we help you today?” the clerk asks.
“Pick up for Ash Deliveries,” I say quietly.
“Certainly. Before we get your order, would you be interested in our-” the clerk's words are reduced to muffles as my ad blocker detects the intentions behind them. I keep my eyes down at the jewel case in front of me, my blinders filtering their gleam and shine to a gray lameness, their temptations reduced to a price tag. I can see the clerk’s reflection in the glass, her blinders and ad blockers working overtime.
“No.” I reply. Remember your training, keep your head down.
“Very well, one moment please,” the words are clear now. I see the clerk’s shadow step away through a door and I relax my muscles. Last delivery of the day. Then I can get back to my cube and turn off for a while and read my stories.
I bring my C-pad up in my field of vision and check the details of the order while also blocking my view of any items for sale. A moment later the clerk returns and from my peripherals I can see she’s holding something up . I feel for it with my hand and snag it. A small black box about the size of a book. I scan the barcode. It’s good.
“Thanks,” I mutter and quickly make my way to the exit.
The automatic door asks me if I really want to leave and blurry text pops up, another offer. I hit the red blob and another comes up, and I hit the red blob again. The words ‘Thank you, do come again’ appear and the doors open and my ad blockers activate, filtering the hurricane of noise into a series of methodical beeps. My vision fills with pre-set images of random letters and numbers, covering all of the visual ads which beckon me from all angles. I keep my eyes down in front of me, just enough to see where I’m going and maneuver around other pedestrians, the ground the least crowded with ads as per global law. Just a few more blocks, then I’m done.
As I pass by an alley I hear a sound. Someone is singing. I know because the words filtered by my ad blockers make no sense in the strange flat pitch . Fucking criminals. I peak down the alley and see a man with no shirt on, spray painting something. “Open ur hart” it says. I hit a red button on my C-pad and type in my coordinates. It’s what I’m supposed to do. The authorities will come pick him up. Not my problem.
I turn the corner and make my way up the set of stairs to the store. The doors open and my ad blockers and blinders whir with power, protecting me from the many indulgences. I walk up to the counter.
“Good afternoon sir, how may we-”
“Package. I.D. here please.” I stick out my C-pad and gesture towards the thumb print scanner, my gaze on an empty corner. I hear the three beeps confirming the signature and add my own. There. Job’s done. I extend my arm with the package in it and-
The lights go out. I’m in complete darkness. A power outage? Eyes on the floor, keep’em on the floor. Could be a trick. Check your C-pad. That’s out too. Breathe and remember the signature symptoms of fear. The best way to calm down is breathe and-
The lights sputter back to life and my arm is still extended outwards, holding the package. I keep my eyes glued to the floor. Probably just a power surge. I exhale loudly and let the suppressors in my blood even me out. I feel the clerk grab the package and it slips out of my grip. I begin to walk away and get to the door.
“Before you go, would you be interested in our new offer? Only 500 Credits for 5 Soul stones!” The image on the door says.
What the hell? What’s a Soul stone? Wait, why can I read this? Oh, shit.
I hold my breath and close my eyes, my eyes focused on my feet. I quickly find the reset button on my blinders and hold it in. It’s ok. I just need to keep my eyes closed until they-
“Have you heard? Only 1000 credits for the ultimate diamond! Pressurized from the power of a thousand sun, it-”
I make a sound like the emergency siren as best I can, trying to drown out the ad. Shiiiit, the ad blocker’s out too? My other hand quickly comes up to the reset button near my ear, and my C-pad crashes to the floor. I hear pieces of plastic break off but I pay no attention.
"Aaaahhhh!!!!" focus on my voice and- oh shit…
I have to breathe.
I keep the long moan as long as I can until my lungs begin to collapse on themselves.
I can’t. I have to breathe.
“FIND THE REAL YOU WITH THE ARCONIAN STONE!”
Tears flow down my cheeks. It’s so loud! A crash of shattering glass makes me jump and I turn around instinctively. The clerk has both her arms in the case as she reaches for stones, shinny and electric and tantalizing. Blood from cuts on her arms sputters down on the counter as she holds a diamond up, her face in tears with an expression I can’t describe.
“It’s so...beautiful…” She reaches in for more and screams in pain as a piece of glass imbeds itself deeper into her arm.
From my belly a sickening feeling rises and my lips shake and my body trembles.
Remember your training. Deep breaths. Get out. I need to get out. I try hitting the red cancel button on the door but it’s not reading my touch. Another scream and more glass breaking behind me. I try again. Nothing. A spike of fear hits me and I crash my fist through the door, shattering the glass. I burst out and feel pain in my arm and see glass imbedded in chunks in my flesh.
A a force knocks me over followed by a loud bang. When the smoke clears and my vision comes back, the streets are screaming and everyone is running. There’s fire and bangs and sounds and I’m so scared and I want to run. So I do. I run and run until I find an alley and hide behind a dumpster as the world goes insane around me. I close my eyes and cover my ears.
Don't move. Just stay where you are. Focus on your breathing. breath in, breath out. Breath in, breath out-
My eyes burst open as something sharp enters my chest and my whole body goes numb. There is a shadow in front of me pushing the sharp object deep inside my chest, a wild grin staring me down. As the world begins to fade my eyes fall on some graffiti on the wall.
“Open ur hart” it says.