“You’d be hard-pressed to find another apartment in midtown with the same charm at this price point.” The realtor continued on with a vacant smile, “The Scandinavian furniture balances modern taste with millennial nostalgia, complemented by the carpet and walls…”
I stopped listening to her pitch, simply politely nodding along, and I’m sure she didn’t notice, the entire process being automatic at this point. The apartment itself was entirely unremarkable aside from the inclusion of a bedroom, tiny as it was. The carpet was a splotchy brown against the white of the walls, and all the furniture bore an IKEA tag. The location was so-so, midtown being a transit hub but not particularly close to anything of interest. It was the very picture of mediocrity, but I already knew I was going to sign off on the lease, as my biometrics were taken onto the realtor’s tablet.
“I’ve no doubt you’ve made the right decision,” she said with the same plastic expression.
“Good to know,” I replied with a polite levity, or at least the closest thing to it I could muster.
As soon as she left, I began rooting through my satchel, my only piece of luggage. I managed to find my deck in the back, stripped of most of its mods to fit it in the bag. Still, it was certainly a high-end piece of hardware, unmarked keys with RGB backlighting, as per tradition. I set the device on the desk in the corner of the room, just beyond the sickly fluorescent glow.
I dug out the other hardware I had hidden in different articles of clothing and compartments within the bag. Well, not hidden, more put out of mind. Custom hardware wasn’t a crime by any means, but it would draw attention, and attention rarely ended well. The hardware was mostly network-oriented, made to disperse signals and access old transatlantic lines. Didn’t really matter honestly, but I took the couple minutes needed to reinstall it anyway, figured it wouldn’t hurt.
I logged in with a shitty password I threw together while I was hungover a few years back. Certainly not a password in the fashion recommended by consultants, but I’ve found that matters very little if someone is trying to get into your account. By far the best defence is to simply go unnoticed. No need to seal yourself in a fortress if the enemy doesn’t even know you’re there. Blue light shined in my glasses as the deck finally loaded.
The vanity lacked any lighting surrounding the mirror (I suppose that it’s not really much of a vanity in that case) leaving my only light to be the flickering fluorescent tubes that hung above. I’d gotten used to it by now, everything cast in a subtle pale hue. I splashed some water on my face before leaving. The living room had become a mess of notebooks and wires, the coffee table moved from the centre to make room for a futon covered in clothing. The table itself had a collection of used Chinese take-out boxes scattered across its surface, an underpowered laptop separating them.
I take a detour to the refrigerator at the opposite corner of the room, beyond a countertop that lay beneath a collection of papers, all printed off with a scrawl of illegible edits and notes. I open the bottom section of it and see a near empty fridge, only assorted brands of energy drinks and alcohol scattered throughout. In the back there’s one cylinder of ramen, it feels about half empty. I throw it in the microwave and take out a Guinness.
The job never gets easier, there’s always one more layer that we have yet to uncover, only to get too close and end up back at square one. Patience is the name of the game, just need to wait for the right opening. Gerry came in with a box full of take out, Thai based on the smell. They took a seat at the counter as I drank.
“A bit early to start hitting the liquor, isn’t it?” they say with an exasperated stare…
“What are you talking about, 5 o’ clock was hours ago.”
They were interrupted by the microwave before they could continue. The outside of the container’s hot, but as I hold the noodles with my chopsticks, I can already tell they’re lukewarm at best.
“Well, did you just get takeout, or are we closer to getting you out of my living room?”
“My contact showed, can’t say it mattered though.”
“Vague info is still info.”
“They just said, ‘The eye keeps watch,’ like that’s supposed to mean something.”
I put down my ramen and grab an energy drink from the fridge, “Why didn’t you open with that?”
“Huh?” Gerry looks confused.
“Are you seriously telling me you didn’t catch that?”
“Unless ‘that’ is the corps being after us, no.” They shrug.
“Forget it, first take out your contacts.” I stretch out my hand.
Gerry backs away, “What for.”
“I need to do some work on them, it’s important, trust me.”
“Sigh… Fine.” they take out their contacts and give them to me like I asked.
“Are your glasses made by mirrored visions too?”
“No, but why would it matter?”
“Think about who owns what for a moment.”
Gerry wears a thoughtful expression before the epiphany kicks in, “Oh, I see, yeah, that hint was pretty on the nose.”
“Hell, we might actually get it this time.”
“Maybe, but that just leaves me with work of my own.” I down about half a can of what I think is a Monster before retreating into my room.
It’s dark and almost entirely empty. The only bit of clutter is the deck on the desk, mostly satellite routers for certain P2P downloads I needed. I take my seat and set the contacts on a small scanner built into the deck. As it powers up and the RGB kicks, blue light fills my glasses, and my work begins.
I disassemble my deck in practised motions as I hide its components among various compartments of my satchel. This with the notable exception of an M.2 drive that I leave on the table. The only lights that shine are the neon from the floats that accompany the festival below, bathing the room in its cool glow. It was dark enough that it didn’t really matter, but I needed to book it, nonetheless. I shove drive in my pocket and grab my bag before tipping over the vodka on the table. I had considered burning it with the rest of the apartment, but ultimately decided against it, too much attention.
The living room saw the lights flickering with an almost strobe light effect. It was hard to tell, since nothing moved. Gerry’s mark had long since dissipated, returning to its base state. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get that security deposit back, but it looks like I was wrong. The fridge had been emptied and everything that wasn’t important was either thrown out or incinerated. I had never been here as far as evidence was concerned.
The room shifted between the streams of neon and the fluorescent glow because of the inconsistent lighting. The mood completely shifted between the two. One has an almost dystopian coolness about it while the other maintains the blandest impression imaginable. Though, still, I suppose that it mattered little at this point. My job was done, for better or worse, and the room was no longer mine.
It would go to the next in line, and so on and so forth. The location wasn’t particularly near or far from anything, and the price was good for what it was. Despite this, no one would stay here long, they would simply cycle between this and any number of identical copies you could find.
I left the building, and I would repeat the cycle once again.