Neon signs are obsolete.
That's not to say there aren't any hanging around, they just aren't the exciting tech they once were. See, neon signs used to have text all over them. Text is no longer necessary. Text is also obsolete. Instead, the signs that dominate the world project their advertisements into your own thoughts. You could walk down to the main square and see hundreds of holographic images projecting food or cheap house products. All of them don't actually make noise, not real noise anyway. You hear the ads in your head. The holograms send thoughts to you, you pick them up, the sound of the ad plays in the space of your brain.
Thoughts are evil. Thoughts are dangerous. Ads are good because they aren't your thoughts so they aren't dangerous. Businesses and corporations and governments are all in agreement: Rebellion, whether it be a customer revolt or a citizen's protest, is bad for everyone. Businesses lose money, governments lose power, and all because the people thought of something they weren't supposed to.
It's cold out. Your personal feeling is the only one you can keep to yourself, so people take pride in what they can feel. Of course, even that is slowly being corrupted into something that keeps people satisfied. Strip clubs, orgy joints, live sex shows, are propped up against every corner. Red neon lights, big signs depicting men and women participating in some sexual deviance. Bondage dungeons dominate the poor districts while orgy joints are popular in the richer districts.
The streets are no more than filth with the occasional concrete square inch. Cardboard cartons filled with half-eaten fries and salt, burger wrappers float on the ever present breeze that brings with it dreams of emptiness. The city dominates the horizon. Gigantic metal buildings covered in neon lights, great signs depicting the avatars of every company placed securely at the top. Strong winds sway the avatars back and forth, giving them the impression of being living creatures.
Buddha, a once religious figure of peace, now sells cheap firearms, often nicknamed 'peace-makers.'
A clown named Go-Lucky, in every color of the rainbow, sells ice cream. The children think him the inventor of ice cream, the adults don't remember when he showed up in their lives.
The Knight of Roses sells insecticide. He wears gaudy plate armor, decorated with thin vines. Each vine has the name of one of his famous bug-killers.
A king dressed in golden robes and flowing furs sells beds, chairs, couches.
A queen sells antiques.
A harlequin sells sandwiches and drinks.
More and more avatars dominate the skyline, each one presenting their product to the people, speaking their lines in their heads.
Hover cars race back and forth through thin steel bottom-less lanes. Glass and light and wind race through each other in the hover-lanes. People seeking the next product, being bombarded by foreign thoughts and needs, being no more than zombies for a market. Blanks. Thoughtless.
Each man and woman wears the current popular fashion trends, which is black and white shirts, and pants with numerous fake pockets on the thighs. Gloves that give one access to the net, a square monocle that tells them where to go, and shoes that emit neon light whenever they step.
The rich wear grossly fabulous clothes covered in mysterious furs, with boots that tie themselves, gloves that gave them the ability to draw a path to their next product. They wear tall hats to set themselves apart in the crowd.
Beyond the city limits are the wastes. Concrete homes are coveted by squatters, animals, and even stranger beasts created by corruption and pollution. Those who live in the wastes are said to possess three eyes and four arms, dressed in rags and wielding pointed sticks that they use to kill any who wander onto their grounds. Trees grow far into the sky, vines stretch like highways and take you from the heart of the forest to the very edges of human settlements. Natural greens and browns replaces neon cyans, crimsons, and golds. Darkness reigns where light no longer shines, and some in the city desire this. Some want to be in the dark where their thoughts are their own. Some want to be alone in the quiet. These, of course, are the criminals and rebels. Those who abuse the drug Silence, made for headaches and migraines, prowl the neon streets looking for their next victim. Murderers, rapists, freedom-fighters, thieves, swindlers, these are hunted down by the glorious Patrol.
Armored in plasteel, wielding high powered rifles and outfitted with high-tech helmets that can track an individual using Silence. The Patrol is the enemy of every criminal and they strike back with ruthless efficiency.
The Patrol, however, can not find the source of the Silence abusers. Hidden in forgotten alleys, in abandoned tunnels and sewers, lies a cabal of free-thinkers. A rebellion is formed, is hunted.
He awoke in the middle of the night, wearing a clean white dress shirt, black slacks, and stained shoes that were tangled in his sheets. A tall hat rests in a trashcan. He was sweating, breathing heavily, a nightmare? He wasn't sure. He tried to remember his name, his age, what happened last night. Nothing jumped out at him, not a single word or letter gave him a hint as to who he was or might be. He kicked the tangled sheet off of the bed and watched it fall lazily onto patterned tile floors. The pattern made him dizzy so he drew himself back a moment to stare at the ceiling, hoping his eyes would adjust already. The room was dark and blank, save for a single television screen that dominated the wall in front of him. There were no trophies, no images of family or friends, aside from the television everything was bare. His vision finally came back to him and he rolled out of bed, heading to his kitchen and drawing a glass of water from the tap.
Whatever happened before he fell asleep was a whirling blur. He remembered working, pushing numbers, going down an elevator, walking the midnight lanes and a constant stream of commercials, ads, slogans, battering him on all sides. He took something, a tiny unassuming pill. Maybe he drugged himself? He felt strange now, in a way he couldn't quite place. He felt new, awake, aware.
The man stumbles to the bathroom, eyes bulging out of his head. He flicks the light switch and his eyes scream in their sockets. He quickly flicks it off and sees purple shadows dancing across his vision for a single moment. He stares into the bathroom mirror. On the counter was a name-card with the name 'Harrison' written across in bold letters. His face was unshaven, deep-set black bags hung under his eyes. His hair, short and brown, was matted to the sides of his face. Sweat glistened and dripped gently down his cheeks and onto his shirt where a dark blot had formed.
Harrison desperately tried to remember what he took, if it had been something he was allergic to and didn't realize or if it was some party drug. In the far corner of the bathroom was an empty orange bottle. He picked it up and spun it around in his fingers, found the label. Silence.
He'd taken Silence.
That explained the blackout. He realized just how quiet the world around him was. No commercials, no ads. Just quiet, calm and cool like a winter wind. Harrison opened the bottle and saw there were no pills left whatsoever. The bottles usually came with sixteen. Each dose would last an hour but they were meant to be taken two at a time. Apparently last night he downed every single one. His head didn't hurt, his stomach didn't feel any different. His memories were shot, a broken mirror into his past. He could barely remember his age. His first name was hiding behind a thick swirling fog. He prowled around his house looking for something that might have his name on it. Some piece of paper, a bill, a card, anything at all. He tore through his drawers, his cabinets, foraged through every pair of pants he owned. Nothing, not a single scrap of paper. He collapsed in the center of his room, whimpering.
"I'm fucked," he said quietly, surprised by the sound of his own voice in the silence of his room. "There has to, has to be something, anything. Who am I? Where am I?" Harrison rose and opened the blinds blocking his window.
A great neon light shone across his sweating body, dousing him in splendor and modernity. Holograms danced on starlight, avatars shook their bodies on the farthest horizon, seeming to replace mountains and clouds. Towers dominated the area around him, with highway roads snaking around each other where floating cars and cycles raced around and around. A hanging train line erupted to life as a bullet train screamed past. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people walked the streets with floating screens hanging in front of their heads, noses stuck in their phones, eyes blazing brightly with ads and commercials and slogans, a dead smile on every face. Strip bars sat on the edges of every street corner, pink naked women dancing around in circles to an imaginary beat. A Buddha with an assault rifle laughed emptily in the distance. Something told Harrison he would be able to hear the laugh if he hadn't taken Silence.
A distant ringing brought him back to his room. He fumbled around under his spilled clothes until he found a phone.
"Hello?" He said. "Who is this?"
"You know who it is, Harrison." The voice was feminine, but garbled with some sort of voice modifier. "We met last night. At the bar. We made a deal and it's time for you to pay up."
"What deal? I don't remember jack or shit from last night."
"That was apart of the deal, Harrison."
"I'm not doing anything, I don't remember you and I barely know who the Hell I am. Why don't you tell me and I'll-"
"A deal is a deal. My associates would be more than happy to 'persuade' you, Harrison."
"If you've got friends why not make them do it, asshole?"
"Because they'll be found out. You're a nobody - even more so now than before. A forgettable face. We're much too noticeable." He could tell that whoever was on the other end was smiling now. He could hear it in their voice. "One last time; either help us willingly or we 'persuade' you, Harrison."
"Let me think about it, gimme a minute, please."
"You've exactly one minute then, Harrison."
"Could you... Tell me what my first name is?"
The person on the other line didn't reply. They were waiting for his answer. Harrison thought that perhaps calling the police was an option, that maybe he could get some form of protection. But what if they had someone outside his door right this moment? If he hung up they could break it down, hurt and torture him. Maybe even kill him if he wasn't willing to break - though that was incredibly unlikely. He shut his eyes as hard as he could, trying to think of what to do. Go willingly or be forced. What they wanted was most likely illegal and might even get him killed. It was either die now or later, and he very much enjoyed living.
Maybe if I work with them, he thought, I can find out who they are and report them later, before they get me killed.
"Alright," Harrison said into the phone. "Where do you need me?"
"You'll see, Harrison." The voice on the other end almost laughed. "I recommend you find yourself some warm clothes. In two hours you'll get directions."
"What's stopping me from just handing my phone to the authorities?"
"They wouldn't find anything. We've considered this. If you hand in your phone they won't find any data whatsoever. While you were... sleeping we slipped a few things in. Satisfied?"
Harrison placed the phone gently on the bed and stared at the ceiling for a few moments longer, believing that somehow, someway, this was all some elaborate prank by friends he couldn't remember. He sat like that until the train barreled through the city and brought him back to his unfortunate reality. He searched his closet for something to wear for when they called him. A long overcoat, a pair of gloves, and thick wool socks were the only slightly warm clothes he owned, the rest of his wardrobe consisted of black slacks, white shirts, and a litany of ties. When he was dressed he sat back down on the bed, staring out the window and watching the ants down below meander through the city streets.
It was well and truly a maze. The longer he looked at the streets the more he saw. Alleys dissected long highways, roads that seemed to end abruptly simply vanished beneath a winding series of tunnels and appeared miles away. Light-posts were the mighty guardians of the highways, stretching high and covered in holographic projectors showing ads for new clothes, guns, food. Long catwalks connected the tallest buildings and were littered with businessmen and women, consumers, and cleaning robots. The only darkness Harrison could see belonged entirely to the tunnels that dropped below to the poorer parts of the city, where few cars emerged and even fewer entered. Tiny drones fluttered across the sky in small flocks, mirroring that of natural birds. The drones flew into the housing areas where they seemed to inspect people at random before gathering back into a flock and moving onto the next housing unit. The drones shifted back and forth like a rising wave and started heading towards Harrison's housing unit.
One of the drones appeared in front of Harrison's window and emitted a thin blue beam that washed over him.
"What the hell-" The drone interrupted him. "Please watch your language, children may be present!" The voice was tinny, light, almost feminine.
"Citizen, are you aware you have taken an excess amount of Silence? Please wait while I contact emergency services."
"Yes I'm aware! I, uh, already contacted them don't worry."
"Checking phone records..." The drone paused a moment. "No recent calls from your device detected. Citizen, are you aware lying to authority is punishable?"
"Oh, yeah! Sorry, I, uh, forgot. Silence and all."
"Emergency services will be contacted, do not worry citizen. This is for your benefit."
His phone rang just then, the drone didn't seem to notice it at all. Harrison hesitantly answered it. It was the woman again.
"Leave the apartment before emergency services arrive. You've got ten minutes before they bust down your door and shoot you."
"Yes, you've taken too much silence, you're awake now. You will be branded an intellectual, a terrorist. The poor children might be influenced. Nine minutes and forty seconds."
"But I'm not a fucking terrorist."
"Please watch your language, children may be nearby." The drone announced. "Citizen, emergency services are nearly here. Please wait patiently."
"Leave your apartment, lock the door, take a left and go all the way down the hallway. Further instruction will be given. Good luck, Harrison."
Harrison pulled his coat low over his body, wanting to feel the sensation of someone hugging him. Some sense of security keeping him close to the ground instead of floating into the realms of insanity and paranoia. He turned the knob of his door and the drone made a loud buzzing sound that pierced his ears for the briefest of seconds before he swung the door open, leaped into the hall, and slammed it shut. The sound, dulled by the strong metal door, still made his brain itch. He sprinted through to the end of the hallway, the loud banging of the drone slamming against the door pushed him to go faster and faster. His phone rang.
"Excellent, but you forgot to lock your door. There will be officers coming up the elevator. They've got your image on their 'screens. Take the stairs to the second to last floor."
The call ended, he kept it in his hand ready for the next set of instructions. The elevator opened and two Patrol officers stepped out, one pointed at him and the other fired his rifle. Harrison almost tore the emergency door of the hinges and started racing down the steep stairwell. The walls were covered in holo-screens silently screaming the word: EMERGENCY at him. Heavy footsteps marched down every floor he passed until he reached his destination.
"Exit into the hallway, take the elevator down to the last floor. Walk, be calm. Only the patrolmen are after you. Civilians don't know who you are yet."
"You sure about this?"
Harrison exited into the hall where three patrolmen were knocking on doors and searching every room on that floor. They didn't notice him sneak into the elevator. When the doors opened he took a deep breath and tried to calm his racing heart. He exited, walked calmly. The man at the front desk was looking off into space and didn't seem to notice Harrison leaving. When the sliding glass doors opened, the man only offered a half-conscious "buh-bye," before going back to whatever commercial he'd been watching in his head.
The phone rang again, he answered.
"Good job, Harrison. Now, we need you to........ left on..... Shit...... hacked again...... hold....."
"Hello? Are you there?!"
The phone's signal dropped, a red light appeared on the front of it. The screen suddenly turned black and white letters appeared on its face: Tracking Location.
Harrison's eyes widened. Should he keep it so they could contact him or toss it so he couldn't be found by the Patrol? Already he heard gunships in the distance. He threw it as hard as he could, no time to think now. Run, retreat, find place to hide. The phone slammed into an oncoming car turning the magnificent piece of technology into shards of sharpened plastic and glass.
Running now, through the alleys, towards somewhere closed off and discreet. But the city, it knew. It watched him with careful, focused eyes. Men and women turned to stare at the strange man sprinting through the shops they all came to visit. Twice he ran into blanked out shoppers, shaking them from their dazed states for a few moments.
"Watch it you fucking cunt!" A man with an English accent yelled.
"Street rat!" A woman called him. No time to pay attention to them now, keep running, keep hiding. Alleys offered momentary pauses to find his bearings, to breath and relax as officers from the Patrol sprinted past. They were just dark enough to hide him but wouldn't for long. Lights would shrink the darkness away and bathe him in all-seeing light.
Once the light had been a sign of the Heavens, now it only signaled the arrival of a hellish nightmare. What had he done to deserve this? He'd been normal, another blank citizen buying shit he didn't need for a life he didn't want. At least he was ignorant of this life, this strange existence. Eyes everywhere, can't stay in the alley for long.
He got the idea to run into the tunnels he'd seen from the top of his apartment. Salvation hid in the darkness, where the downtrodden lay in sewers and bathed in the excrement of the wealthy. They were just as blank down below as above, but at least they didn't have eyes down below.
Harrison picked himself up from behind the garbage can where he'd been resting. A Patrol car flew past the alley, missing him by a second. It would turn around soon, it would know. It had eyes. Harrison pulled the collar of the coat over his face. It was dirty, smelled of rotted food. But at least it offered momentary protection. The tunnels and the underground were only a thirty minute walk for a blank, someone who didn't have to worry about the Patrol. For him, a man under fire, it took two hours of walking, hiding, and waiting.
The eyes, of course, still knew.
Thank you for reading!