NeuTraffic, by Andrew Gaines

When the first bombs went off we were hit with that instinctual panic and ran ran ran though there were those among us who had planted them we all ran scared of the fiery fruit we’d been waiting for for so long some cried revolution some cried terrorism some simply cried and looted and pillaged and raped as if their eyes had rolled back in their heads and they saw their own pulsing animal insides and went mad we were all mad mad mad mad mad mad at the rich capitalists mad at the rich communists mad at the rich church leaders mad at the rich government mad at ourselves ’cause really we knew we were all to blame but how else does one react when all one sees all day is violence in the revolving world around us but think bring it home let’s bring it home and sacrifice again new blood to our old angry gods and start again so start we did with the bombs exploding all around us in mad harmony we started to sing with them a primal anthem as we ran pat pat pat the shots began to add their cadence and in the thunder of our composition we lost two of our team the first time a number of us saw reality splatter and seep into the pavement before our spoiled eyes though we knew the media had been skewed in their representation of war they had also left us unknowing of what the human anatomy does to all five senses as the order of the inside is forced into the chaos of the outside oh god it smelled but like the flowers we just didn’t have time though some stopped and we never saw them after that all we could do is run run run until we reached our checkpoint and a third of us broke

neusepding

John awoke to a rough shake on his shoulder.

“Hey. Hey! John Graham, right?”

John peeled his face from the notebook. It was getting near dusk; the shadows of the pines across California Avenue had overtaken him in his sleep. Shit. He looked up to see a bearded young man, probably in his late-twenties, staring down at him. The man’s forearms had the tell-tale size of a regular solar-sailor. John sighed.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s me. Must have dosed off. Sorry about that. I take it you’re my new Tee-Cee.”

“Correct.” The man held up his identification card: Marvin Reynold, Thought Commuter License 214. To the average Cascadian, it looked like an old pre-rev driver’s license from Oregon, expired in 2029; those familiar with the Thought Commuter system could read the code hidden among the endorsements and license number.

“Damn, kid, it’s been two and a half weeks since the last Commute. What took you so long?” John held up his own identification card, then put it back into his breast pocket. He had a feeling this wasn’t going to be a great night, but figured that the sentiment was due to the thudding headache left by his interrupted—albeit unintended—sleep.

“Nothing, sir… nothing. I got my message, I came here. Shall we do this?”

John led the young man the required hundred yards away from his Hamilton Park station table, towards the woods. Pretending to look at the view, Marvin Reynold, Thought Commuter number 214 of the New Cascadian Order, delivered, word by carefully (and quickly) memorized word, the message from Chief General Steven Hammond to Arms Mayor Perr Smith, to be delivered, word by carefully (and quickly) memorized word, immediately.

“Are you serious? It’s almost dark out!”

“Orders are orders, you know the regs. Speaking of which: where’s your cabin? I could use a nap, too.”

John pointed down the block with a sneer. “Green one, on the left. Door code 453.”

“Thanks. Nice tattoo by the way.”

“What? Oh. Shit,” John muttered, and wiped the penmarks from his forehead, smearing his memoirs across his face. Shit, shit, shit.

John picked up his government-issue bike and began to pedal; he estimated that he still had another hour before sunset, enough time to get most of the way to the District; he hated riding in the dark. He let gravity pull him down the hill to Harbor Avenue, then pedaled fast to keep his momentum along the flat, bay-side street. Across the water to the northeast lay the city of Seattle, which wove its way over and through the arboreal hills that composed its landscape. He sped across the Lower Spokane Bridge, dodging the upper bridge’s rev-era remains, chugging through the concrete swamp to the aging interstate. The Olympic Mountains to the west began to cast their ancient dusk upon the city; his home in the Wessea neighborhood was already blanketed in shadow. The sky burned pink and orange flames of whispered clouds; the ruins ahead of him sparkled as the remaining windows of the towers, their fallen titans, reflected the day’s last promise; John was pedaling too hard to notice.

Reaching I-5, the long, now divided snake of the west coast, he trudged up the onramp, keeping right on the bike lanes. Not that it mattered at this point in the day. As he made his way past the Downs, he was passed by only a handful of solar sails, weary commuters heading home from a long, tiresome day. Bikers were even fewer in number, though John saw three or four ahead of him, pedaling with practiced haste, desperate for their destination. His own legs burned, and his lungs ached as he hauled the summer air in through his dry mouth. The sooner he could get beyond the ruins of the downtown area, the better.

He eased up as soon as he felt he was safe, but by that point his body was all but giving up on him. Halfway up the interstate bridge, he stopped to walk, cursing whenever he found the breath. He should really be keeping in better shape. He had one damn job to do, and a simple one at that, and it turned out even that was a challenge for him. As soon as he got back, he thought, he’d start up a workout routine. This time he meant it.

Over the divider wall, he saw the glowing silhouette of the Citizen District, its solar lights taking full advantage of the day’s charge. He could make out the brick vent towers of his destination: once an underground parking garage for the University of Washington, now a Kafkaesque maze of government offices and meeting rooms. At least the Green Square covering the structure was nice, trees and grass and native flowerbeds, park benches and an ancient statue of George Washington. Maybe he would be able to eat his breakfast there, if they didn’t send him on another damn “immediately” Commute. He didn’t feel good about his odds on that, though. At the crest of the bridge, John hopped back on his bike and coasted off the interstate.

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