Zero Hour

Archived Parts: One, Two, Three

Part Four

The coffee shop filled with men in white. Each of them had a metal tazer glove on his left hand. In addition to a T-glove that was larger than the others, the leader had a W3 link flashing on his temple.

They were quick, but Will had been quicker. Will had also locked some doors behind him with those old-time keys of his. The old doors couldn’t be opened via W3. They had to be kicked down.

The VR customers blinked and swayed as the security ops ended their sessions by yanking off the helmets. “Where’s the clerk?” demanded a man in white.

The tech and the woman shrugged and said they didn’t know. Ernest did, too. He even made sure to act as dazed as the other customers, even though the caffeine coursing through his veins was urging him to stand up and run.

But why would he? He didn’t even know where to go.

“Come on,” snapped a security op. “Shunt out. Go back to your PODs.”

The woman moved first. She disconnected her shunt and staggered through the crowd toward the door. The tech went next. Ernest noticed that he took the VR helmet with him, which gave Ernest an idea. He pulled his own shunt--a strange feeling--then made his own way through the men in white. The book-shaped monitor was clutched to his chest. None of the security ops challenged him. In fact, none even looked at him twice.

The woman stood at the curb, squinting at the magnetic strip. She seemed stunned. Ernest was about to check and see if she was all right, but then he remembered that he probably looked as if he was stealing Will’s monitor. How could he explain that he figured it was best to remove it, especially if it contained contraband? And besides, the sight of her mouth, slightly open, made Ernest wonder what it would be like to poke part of himself inside.


The street was jammed with PODs that clustered together, jockeying for position over the magnetic strip. L0U15E looked like all the others, matte black to catch the solar power and oval for aerodynamics. Ernest picked her out when her viscreen lit up.

He broke into a run. It felt good.

“Ernest! Why are you running like that?”

“Open up,” he said, without answering her. She’d tap into W3 soon enough and see that the coffee shop had been raided.

“You’re flushed again.”

“It’s just the caffeine.” The POD rotated so that the door faced the curb as it sighed open. Ernest climbed in.

“You have a piece of equipment with you.”

“It’s a portable monitor.”

A diagram of the book-shaped monitor flashed onto the POD’s interior viscreen. “It’s an antique. Almost 150 years old. Does it work?”

“I guess. It’s got visual, but no audio.”

The diagram spun, and a C-shaped piece of electronics lit up. “You’d need an audio interface for that.”

“I want one,” he said. Because maybe the wet open mouth and the huge penis would make more sense if he had an audio context in which to place it.

“Searching...” said L0U15E.

Ernest clasped the monitor to his chest, slipped his hand between his body and the screen, and touched the on-pad. He tilted the monitor so he could just make out the image. Not that he was ashamed of it, of course. It just seemed that if the monitor had been made for privacy, he should keep its contents private.

“Three audio interfaces for sale located within city limits,” said L0U15E. “Lowest price including travel tariff, 19.125 credits.”

The man pulled his penis out of the woman’s mouth and rubbed it on her lips and cheek, leaving a glistening trail behind. “Louise, what’s the term for the fluid in a mouth?”

“Saliva. Why would you ask about something like that?”

“No reason.” He shielded the top of the portable monitor with his hand and viewed it through the narrow gap between his hand and his chest. The man’s penis was coated with saliva, shining with it from top to bottom.

“Well? Should I find a route to the seller of that audio interface?”

“Hm?” The woman had trapped the man’s penis between her breasts and was sliding her body up and down the length of it. The man said something to her and they both laughed. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

“The audio interface?” L0U15E repeated.

He would have been in on their joke if he had the audio interface. “Oh. Uh, yes. I want it. How much is it?”

“I just told you. 19.125 credits.”

“Really? That much.” And yet, Will had promised Ernest an 18-credit brew in exchange for his silence. It all seemed to balance so nicely. “Let’s go get it. I’ve got another 24 days to enjoy it.”

The resale shop was in a building as ancient as the coffee shop, but it was a different type of architecture, more angular and square, made all of concrete and metal inside. Ernest would have been utterly fascinated with it, had he encountered the place before he'd ended up with Will's book-shaped monitor in his possession. But now he simply wanted to purchase the audio interface and go back to his POD.

Or did he?

“Excuse me,” he asked the clerk, a bored-looking girl in her early second decade who had handled the transaction with as few words as possible before returning to her feed-game. “Have you got any rooms in the back?”

The girl looked up, brow furrowed. Confused.

“I wanted to be alone game.”

Her eyebrows went up. Empathy. “They're back there,” she said. “But they're dirty.”

“May I?”

“Do you need anything? A port? A light?”

“No, nothing. My game is all powered up.” It occurred to Ernest that by calling the antique book-shaped monitor a game, he was lying. Just like people in those old-time feeds. It worked, too. What a thrill.

“Do what you want,” she said, fingers flickering under her scanner. “As long as you don't need anything from me.”

Ernest went through the door at the back of the room and found himself in a short hallway with a door on either side and one to the back. The one in back had a sign over it that read “EXIT” in old-time letters, probably on plastic or vinyl, crackled with age. Ernest checked the door on the right. Inside the room there were banks of components along the walls, their tiny round light-emitting diodes blinking as they controlled the temperature, lighting and W3 link for the building. Ernest backed out, figuring there was a camera somewhere amid the small flickering lights.

Behind the left-hand door was a room that had once been covered in tiles, though many were broken, or simply gone. Rusted piping gaped from the floor, and slabs of bent metal marked off individual stalls. An old-time bathroom. Most buildings more than three centuries old had them. Some of them still had plumbing that functioned, though who knew what sorts of pathogens the water carried?

The plumbing was gone from this bathroom, and nothing had been invested to remake it into anything else. Old-time buildings had been made much bigger than people needed them nowadays, when a majority of their necessities were handled by their PODs. Rooms that were too expensive to renovate were often closed off and forgotten.

Ernest stepped into the crumbling bathroom and closed the door behind him. A thick layer of dust coated everything. The room hadn't been used in years. There was no reason to monitor it, nothing powered within it at all. In fact, the only light that reached the room was the gray daylight that filtered through the grime-smeared glass block windows.

Ernest scanned the room for telltale blinking LEDs. He saw none. And even though he was probably the first living soul to set foot in the room since the year he'd been born, he wedged a broken scrap of lumber under the doorknob to ensure that no one would take it into their minds to explore the deserted bathroom while he was using it.

He twisted the audio interface onto his ear and turned on Will's monitor. The sound staggered him. The man grunted as he jammed his penis deep into the woman's throat. She made a noise like “mmm-mmm-mmm.” Ernest had expected words. He found the bizarre noises acutely disturbing.

Ernest brought up the menu and found a speed setting. He adjusted it a few ticks higher, hoping to scan through more of the Purged feeds before L0U15E began to worry. The feeds went by much more quickly this way, though Ernest paused the feeds and slowed them to “normal” whenever the characters spoke. Many of the words were new to him: fuck, tits, pussy, suck, balls, bitch, cock and dick (though those were synonyms, as far as he could tell), whore, lick and ass. The idomatic use of “come” was fascinating, and “eat” was downright bizarre.

Ernest finished the last of the hetero and looked up from Will's monitor in a daze. The glass block window was dark. It was late, and Ernest's arm felt heavy. Time to shunt into his POD. He left the bathroom and said goodbye to the girl behind the counter on his way out of the shop. She said nothing. Her game must have been very interesting.


Ernest's POD detached from a nearby dock and glided toward him.

“How was your shopping, Ernest?”

“Good,” he said. “Very educational.” It occurred to him that he was lying again.


Go to Part 5



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