Oh Wow the Future Gee Whiz
Jackie sucked the triple-filtered air in through her mask; it tasted like ash. She folded the list into a little square and tucked it away in the inner pocket of her overcoat. It was a hot day – moreso than normal. Jackie wondered if they’d finished another Craft up in the sky, maybe its exhaust was heating things up.
She laughed at herself. As if you know anything about anything, she thought. The sound of her laughter echoed around inside the mask; it almost sounded like a cough. She looked up: on a day like this, she ran the risk of heat exhaustion. Or of going mad and taking off the layers of clothes protecting her from the air – a slower, more painful form of death. Jackie considered hailing a taxi… but she only had enough money for one way. Better to save it for the return journey.
‘Right,’ she said, and started the walk down the street. It was quiet: through the smog she glimpsed the occasional traveller, but always far away. Nobody liked to be outside: by day you risked roasting alive, by night you risked meeting the kind of people who went out on the streets at night. It wasn’t safe. The news broadcasts had told her so.
By any objective measure it wasn’t far at all. Jackie had travelled many thousands of kilometres virtually, on her little treadmill linked up to the holodisplay. She had seen the world. Her friend Aisha had managed to earn a second-hand bicycle machine, but under the rules of the game they were half a continent apart; it was not a resource they were allowed to share.
She looked up again, at the skyscrapers. She could not see more than a metre in front of her, but the giant flashing billboards of the higher levels were perfectly visible. Jackie soon found her landmark. It said: ‘Eat. Drink. Be Merry.’ She nodded happily: she was outside Berlusconi building. Named for one of the great pre-Diaspora European politicians, she thought, happy with herself for knowing that nugget of information.
Jackie felt her way along the wall until she reached a door. She pushed – it felt like it was stuck, and sweat was pouring down her back, and she could barely breath in her cheap filtration mask, and she was starting to panic and just then the door gave way. She collapsed in a heap on the floor, coughing with exhaustion.
‘Right,’ she said, when she had caught her breath as much as she could, and stood up. She’d made it – she was indoors. Safe. The door clunked closed behind her, sealing out the poisonous smog.
Jackie took off her mask and looked around, confirming that she was in the right place. She smiled and laughed, only stopping when the laugh threatened to become a cough. I’m alive, she thought. She reached into her overcoat and pulled out the list.
‘Eggs, soybeans, realMeat…’ she read, walking into the supermarket.