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Jul 24th, 2013
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  1. Citizen Chip
  2. 1500450271
  3. 3267000013
  5. Light was peering through the windows of their home as Citizen 3267000013, Akira, fastened on his belt and jacket. The sun had yet to rise, but the military had activated the area lights for some reason, which meant he wouldn’t have to dress in the dark. His sister, Hiromi, had awoken earlier to wait through the bread line in hopes of getting eggs for them as well. His uncle began coughing as Akira smoothed the wrinkles from his jacket to expose his encoding and number that was stitched onto the breast of his jacket, right above where it was tattooed to his chest. “Akira, is your sister back with our food yet?” his uncle asked as he wiped the blood from his mouth. The tuberculosis was getting worse.
  6. “No uncle, she has yet to return,” Akira responded as he finished zipping his jacket up to his neck.
  7. “She is going to make you late. You mustn’t lose this job or you and your sister will both starve,” his uncle said as he pulled himself up against the wall of their home.
  8. “I know uncle. I’ll leave without eating if she takes much longer.” Akira double checked the contents of his belt to ensure he had all of his tools. He had missed half his meals for the past week. The lines were just too long.
  9. “I need some credit. What do you have to spare?” Akira was almost out the door when he had to stop. Yesterday’s pay had left him with thirteen credits to spare after giving his sister enough to feed them all and crediting the rent on their home. He had been planning on using it to put more credit on their utilities. “Give it to me Akira.”
  10. “I don’t have any to spare. I need the money I make,” he spat out as he threw the door open. “Every day you take my money and lose it while I work. I’m tired of this shit!” His uncle glared at him until Akira slammed the door behind himself. Hiromi was in the hall outside, clutching the chunks of bread to her bare chest. She used to have a part time job as a janitor, but they removed her when she walked in with paint on her arms. Now her entire body was decorated with paint, and Akira was the only income.
  11. “He’s the last family we have left, and he’s dying. You shouldn’t treat him like that,” Hiromi said as he examined the neon stripes coloring her skin. One of the squatters beneath the solar panels must have been the one to paint her, the patterns were far too complex to apply herself.
  12. “I have to get to work, so that we don’t join him,” Akira said as he ripped a chunk of bread from her and stormed off. A handful of his coworkers were also filing through the halls of the residential construct. It was impossible to miss them, they were the only ones legally allowed to cover their chests. Power conduits where humming around the residential structure, burning through energy, melting snow, and lighting the grey dawn.
  13. At the end of the dim hall was the exposed stairwell, overlooking the sector. Wind turbines sprouted like weeds, crowning every building. Every watt of energy that could be extracted from the wind was pulled out by the turbines slowly rotating in the sky. The solar panels were beginning to rotate around to face the morning sun, spraying the sector with their phosphorescence.
  14. From the fenced in stairs down to street level, Akira saw a military convoy hemming in pedestrians. Their riot vehicle was equipped with a hose prepared to suppress resistance, already manned and primed. Some young kid was talking back to the masked soldiers. Paint was covering the kid’s entire body, even his tattoo. The soldier stepped back and shot him. “Idiot,” Akira muttered as he rushed down the steps.
  15. As he pushed through the rusting gate to the gravel street, he watched the soldiers log the kid’s death and slit his throat to drain him. Akira shook his head and took an alley rather than expose himself on the main street. He had to climb over several conduit cords, but the shadows hid him from the soldiers. He rounded a corner and found himself on the edge of a cliff. The house that had once stood there had collapsed and fallen, tumbling over the rocks into the Radiation Zone.
  16. There were a couple citizens climbing through the wreckage, looking for the bodies where the blood had marked them. They were bundled in half coats and masks to keep warm while away from the conduits. There didn’t seem to be anything to salvage in the debris. One of them glared at Akira until he turned away.
  17. He was running short on time. When he first got his job, he used to stroll to work and watch the high atmosphere sunrise across the Sprawl. The brief moment when the sun would color the grey mountains yellow and red was his favorite time of day. Now he would be at work, constructing equipment with his face in the steel during sunrise. Akira began jogging down the alley.
  18. “You’re behind again,” Overseer Chopra said as Akira ducked into the plant. He was sitting at the chip scanner smoking a thin cigarette. As a young man he had worked construction, claimed to have helped build half the sector, but had grown frail. Where muscles had been, skin remained and drinking had given him a round gut.
  19. “Apologies. The military was in the street and delayed me,” Akira explained as he unbuttoned his jacket and stepped up to the scanner.
  20. Overseer Chopra watched him press his chest up to the scanner so it could read the identification chip embedded in his breast. “You are always running late. Don’t you have a family to take care of?” Akira held his tongue as he buttoned his jacket back up. His coworkers were just now beginning to trickle in behind him. “Get to work, you have a quota to fill.” Akira bowed out through the cigarette smoke, clenching his fists.
  21. The machinery of the plant was largely dark still. Sunlight was beginning to illuminate the uppermost reaches of the factory, but only the machines that had been started up provided any artificial light. At the far end of the factory the grunt labor was already at work unboxing the various prefabricated products and feeding them onto the conveyor belts. Nearest the entrance, and the loading bay, were the quality control workers. They were paid the most and worked the least. Their shifts were barely nine hours a day, hence why they were called niners. Akira started up his station next to the quality control stations.
  22. He scanned into his machine to activate it and began the tedium of his work. The roar of the machinery was all he could hear. His coworkers were hidden behind their own machines. The same day he had lived for the past month began again. This industrial plant produced the masks for the Asiatic Armed Forces, the military of the Himalayan Sprawl.
  23. The material pieces had already been fabricated elsewhere in the sector, here they were assembled. First the air filter was assembled and attached to the frame. Then the SMARTglass cover was adhered to the frame. Seals, straps, and padding were then attached, followed by a quick acetone wash. Finally the mask was passed to him to install the communication chips and test them.
  24. He had to fill a quota of a thousand masks before he could leave. He was lucky he was ambidextrous, what took his coworkers fourteen hours to fill he managed in eleven. If he was in a rush he could skip testing and be done in five, but the quality of the components just wasn’t high enough. Dozens of masks every day failed testing and if a single one of them was picked up by a niner he could lose his position for it.
  25. Around the time he clocked in his six hundredth mask he noticed that the power cord to his machine was loose. He ignored it and opened his pack of rationed cigarettes. Nearing the eight hundredth mask the rubber began burning away, smoking the air and dripping onto Akira’s work station. He looked up just in time to watch sparks spray across the machine. His last cigarette dangled from his lips as his coworkers shouted for him to get away.
  26. The lights of the factory browned out as the cord sparked and snapped. The loose end swung down from the top of his machine and struck him in the chest, sending thousands of joules of electricity into him. Akira yelled and convulsed as he entered cardiac arrest before anyone could cut the power. His chest hurt so much as Overseer Chopra started chest compressions. They tore off his jacket to help him, and all stared at the wound marring his tattoo.
  27. -
  28. Akira was stumbling through the alley outside the factory. His jacket was shredded along the bottom to bandage his chest, and looked like a half coat. The burn marks on his chest completely covered where his identification should have been, but at a distance could be mistaken for dirt. He stopped at the corner of the factory, he could hear the engines of the military transports on the other side. Their leader was already speaking with Overseer Chopra.
  29. Akira took a deep breath, clutching his wounded chest, and straightened his posture. Across the loading pavilion from him was a maze of storage structures. Within the shadows and turns of those buildings he could escape all the way back to his home without exposing himself until the very end. He set his eyes on his destination and strode out. He had to grit his teeth to keep from clenching his fists.
  30. Soldiers glanced at him, examining the damage to his jacket. He couldn’t turn to look at them or they would see his fear. Cold sweat was building on his skin as he listened to the sound of their boots approaching him. “Citizen. Turn around,” one of them commanded. Akira ducked his head and sped up. “Halt!” the soldier shouted. An overly aggressive cargo truck was Akira’s savior.
  31. Akira stole a glance back at the truck as it skidded to a stop through the snow, directly between him and the soldiers. The driver had begun work at the same time he did and knew him well. They nodded to each other before Akira sprinted to the buildings. When the soldiers ran around the truck, Akira was already enveloped by the maze. Ten minutes of running through blistering pain in the high atmosphere and he had made it back to his residential complex.
  32. He caught his breath and straightened his coat out. The shortest path to the stairs was ten meters across the open street. If the military had found his address, they would be arriving in moments. Akira glanced around the corner to peer down the street to the factory, the riot vehicle was all he could see, and it wasn’t moving. He filled his lungs and ran.
  33. He had to jump over the kid that had been shot in the sunrise. They had sprayed the paint from his chest to expose his number. 06:09 was scrawled on his chest in ink, marking the time of his death for the collection crew. His blood and lymph was still spreading along the gravel, staining Akira’s boots when he ran through.
  34. “Akira! What are you doing?” Hiromi called as he pulled the gate to the stairs open. He spun around and saw her sitting next to one of the squatters in the shade of the solar panels. The kid was trying to hide his vaporizer as Hiromi slid down the power conduit to ground level. “What happened to you?”
  35. “Why are you doing drugs with that shithead? Do you know how hard I work to keep us alive? You used to help now you,” Akira said until his chest began pounding again. He gasped and held his wound as he slid to the ground.
  36. “What happened to your chest? Do you need a doctor?” His sister tore open his jacked to look at the makeshift bandages covering his blackened skin.
  37. “Get me to our home. I have to speak with Uncle. And I never want to see that paint junkie again,” Akira said as he gripped Hiromi’s arm and pulled himself back to his feet. He stood for a moment before slumping onto her shoulders.
  38. “You need medical attention, not Uncle. I’ll get you to our house and ask Dr. Chan if he can help.” She kept trying to help as he struggled up the steps to their fourth floor home. Akira nodded but couldn’t respond as he gasped for breath. Every snow covered step became grueling. His stability lessened as the muscles in his legs fatigued. On the final flight of steps he gave out and fell to the concrete. “Akira!”
  39. “I’m fine, I just need to catch my breath. I still have youth. Go get Dr. Chan now. I can make it to Uncle from here,” he responded as he grabbed the step above himself and pushed up. His sister nodded and ran back down the stairs. As soon as she had rounded the corner an old hand grabbed him by his jacket and hauled him up the stairs.
  40. “What are you doing?” his uncle demanded as he helped Akira to his feet. He kept looking between Akira’s injuries and the military vehicles leaving the factory.
  41. “There was an accident. My chip is destroyed and the tattoo is burned. I don’t know what to do.” His uncle was wheezing, but gave Akira as much support as he needed to get back to their home.
  42. “They will come here. You should have gone elsewhere.” His uncle threw open the door to their home and let Akira collapse inside as he gave one last look out at the street.
  43. “You are the only person I trust Uncle,” Akira mumbled as he slowly pulled the bloody bandages from his chest, wincing in pain as clots ripped from his flesh.
  44. “As you should.” His uncle finally began coughing up blood once more. His entire body convulsed as his spittle ran red. When Akira moved to help, he was waved off. “Go to the bathroom. There is a tile. Behind the shit hole. It’s loose. Beneath it.” Akira nodded and ran to the bathroom as his uncle sank to the floor.
  45. Inside the dirty bathroom, he turned on the dim LED they were allotted, the only electronic light in their entire home. The spigot faucet was loose again, dripping precious water down to the drain in the floor for their bodily waste. The water was staining the dusty floor, and highlighting the cracks in the concrete tiling. For all the time he had lived here, he had never noticed that the furthest tile was loose. He pried it open and reached inside to pull out the object.
  46. At first he marveled at the orange canister. It was stamped and printed with American characters he couldn’t read, but he recognized it as plastic. The air tight container could probably be sold to an old noble for a hundred credits, plastics just weren’t available anymore. Then he recognized the dark material within.
  47. He forced open the cap and spilled the credits into his hand as he stumbled back to their main room. “Uncle! This must be over three thousand credits. How did you get this?” His uncle was resting against the wall and couldn’t muster the energy to respond, but Akira understood. “This is why you kept needing money? Why didn’t you tell me. We could have used it. This is enough to fix your lungs.”
  48. “And now it will save your life. Dr. Chan will be here soon, he’ll understand. You’ll need that money to pay for the procedure. You can’t stay here or the military will find you. And they will kill you. Footsteps… is that Hiromi, or them?” his Uncle said as his head listed to the side.
  49. Akira swallowed his fear, hid the credits, and peered into the hallway. Hiromi always had light footsteps, she ran on the ball of her foot and would never make the thudding that was climbing the stairs. “It is the military. They are looking for me.”
  50. “Go, find somewhere to hide before they get here. I will tell them nothing,” his uncle said as he gripped Akira’s hand. Then Akira ran into the hall. He rattled door after door, looking for one he could force open. The footsteps grew louder and louder as he worked his way down the hall. Finally he broke into a home and slammed the door shut behind himself.
  51. Inside was a young girl and a boy too young to have even been tattooed. He locked eyes with the girl. He was sweating and listening to the soldiers march past the door, looking for him. She was midway through a bowl of rice, with real chopsticks. “You’re a dead man,” the little boy decalred as he pointed to the wound on Akira’s chest. “Daddy says not to go near dead men,” the boy continued as he got up and wandered to the bathroom.
  52. A woman began moaning in the bathroom as the boy reached for the handle. Akira locked eyes with the girl again, she had put the bowl down. He shook his head no, but she stood up anyways. The boy opened the door to the bathroom as the girl bolted for the front door. He grabbed her and tried to muffle her screams as he heard the woman gasp and reprimand her son. “Get out of here! Didn’t your shit father teach you any manners!” a man yelled from the bathroom.
  53. The man grunted as the mother asked, “What’s wrong baby?”
  54. The girl slipped her mouth free to shout, “Officer! Help!” Akira cursed and let the girl run back into the room. Then the man stuck his head out of the bathroom and saw him, and his wound. The man was shirtless, strong, and well fed, a soldier
  55. “Get me my gun! And stay away from him!” the soldier boomed as he buckled his pants. The mother quickly pulled her children into the bathroom as the soldier strolled out to his discarded belt.
  56. Akira gritted his teeth and bolted back out of the door. The soldiers had already began questioning his uncle, so he took off for the stairs. Just as he reached the steps, a gunshot echoed down the hall. He stopped and stared at his home until the shirtless soldier emerged from the home ready to shoot him. Hands grabbed Akira and yanked him down the stairs just as the soldier was about to fire. “Run!” Dr. Chan commanded as they began rushing down the snowy steps.
  57. “Where is Hiromi?” Akira asked as they spun around the flights of stairs, winding ever lower. Boots were slamming down the fourth floor hall to chase after them.
  58. “She is safe. We will see her soon. Your uncle was a good man. Did he give you the credits?” Dr. Chan asked as he adjusted his glasses.
  59. “Yes, he did. Why do I need so much though?”
  60. “It is dangerous work, bringing the dead back to life.”
  61. -
  62. For the first time in weeks, Akira was able to enjoy the sunrise again, from the shade of industrial solar panels. His chest still hurt, especially where they had to graft it on the inside. He looked down at his new number, 1500450271, and thought about the man that had died with that on his chest. Now the chip had been reactivated, and it was his identity. Dr. Chan had said he was lucky, that the transplants aren’t usually ready before they are needed. This man had died in the collapse into the Radiation Zone. Dr. Chan’s accomplices had cut off the man’s identification before the military got to him, so the number was unreported and still alive.
  63. “We used very expensive synthetics to bond the skin to your body. It should be healed very soon and you can go back to the real world,” Dr. Chan said as he walked out next to him.
  64. “I can’t go home. I need a new life or people will recognize me.”
  65. “Then leave Sector 91. Half the men who operated on you could smuggle you across a border. Hell, you could just bribe the officer. You think he gives enough of a shit about his job to check you? He’ll just be glad his sector has one less kid covered in paint,” Dr. Chan said.
  66. “Do I really need to paint myself? I’ll look like a degenerate.”
  67. “Only for a weak or so, until the bruising goes away. Then you can do whatever you’d like.”
  68. “What about Hiromi? Won’t it be suspicious?”
  69. “You’ll look just like that squatter she’s been spending her days with. People may find it strange, they’ll ask where you two got the money probably thinking you ripped off a noble, but they won’t think it’s you. Smoke?” Dr. Chan offered as he held out his tobacco ration. There was already one in his mouth that he was lighting with his other hand.
  70. Akira accepted it and lit up as he counted the credits he had left. The operation had cost him three thousand credits, leaving four hundred and seventy-eight. More than he had ever had before, but only enough to support them for about a week without squatting. “Let’s get me painted up then,” he decided as he stood up on the roof, taking one last look at the red sunrise before walking back into the building with Dr. Chan. The nicotine was helping his nerves a bit, the left over morphine in his system helped more.
  71. In the interior of the condemned warehouse, a ring of electric lanterns lit the operating table where they had peeled the burnt flesh from his body. Now jars of colored dust and a bucket of white paint was spread out on it by Hiromi. “I’m heading out. I still have to keep up appearances and what not. I may swing the factory, see what happened. You’re free to leave if you’d like,” Dr. Chan said as he adjusted his antique watch. A moment later he was gone, and Akira and his sister were alone in the warehouse.
  72. “I never thought that I’d paint your stuck up ass,” Hiromi said as Akira pulled a stool over to her. She was combining the dyes with the white paint to make the exact colors she wanted.
  73. “I never thought we’d be in this situation. That fucking jacket was supposed to protect me after all,” Akira grumbled as he sat down and watched her mix a palette.
  74. “You were so proud of that thing. From the day they gave you your position, you kept care of that thing like it was a baby. Now it’s in the garbage.”
  75. “It was a badge of worth. Validation that I was worth something in this place. Day in and day out you see people who just all look alike you know? I was worth something, and didn’t have to stoop to the military either.”
  76. “That’s why I started painting myself. They give us regulation pants and regulation boots. They regulate our hair length and don’t let us wear anything on our chest. They try to standardize us so they can control us, using the infection as a scapegoat for their seizing of power,” Hiromi said as she dabbed her finger in the bright blue paint.
  77. “So we rebel, and show how we are individuals. Every one of us paints their own story on their bodies. Which is what I’ll do for you. I’ll start with a circle around your code, because of how this changed your life,” she continued as she applied the paint.
  78. “And to cover the damn bruising I hope,” Akira muttered.
  79. “That too. But you worked with electricity, communications to bring people together,” she said as she painted a line from his bottom lip to his collar bones, then down to either hand. “And now red for the sunrise you would always watch.” She put an arc over his navel for that. “Both your parents died, and so did your uncle.” Three black crosses on his right breast, same as her. “But you still have family left.” A white dot above his image. “And now we make it look good.”
  80. “I didn’t realize this stuff meant anything,” Akira said as he watched her fill in the gaps on his skin with patterns and gradients. She didn’t cover everything though.
  81. “You never asked, did you?” she said as she swirled paint around in her hand, getting the perfect color.
  82. “What do yours mean?”
  83. “Mostly the same as yours. The rings on my wrist are for the cleaning I did. The sad skull on my side is because I was removed from employment. Ninety-one is for our sector of course. The big design on my back is Haru’s insignia, because he’s the one who did the art on my body,” she explained, cocking her head from side to side to examine her work.
  84. “Ugh, that shit. Why do I have to pretend to be him of all people?”
  85. “He’s enlightened, and was helping me. Maybe one day you’ll understand. There, that should do it. We shouldn’t get too detailed. If someone asks you about your paint, you need to be able to explain it after all. No touching!” she said as Akira awkwardly hung his arms in the air. The draft was blowing against his skin, drying the paint and sapping his heat, but he knew he couldn’t smear the work as it bonded to his skin.
  86. “How long do I have to stay like this?”
  87. “Just until it dries. And don’t touch it. I didn’t paint under your arms much, so that won’t smear but if you start touching it I can’t help that,” Hiromi said. She was busy screwing lids back onto the jars and capping the white paint back up. The paint kit must have been loaned to her by the squatter, she couldn’t have acquired the materials herself.
  88. “I think I’ll be fine if it smudges a bit,” Akira said as he lowered his arms a bit, catching the ire of his sister.
  89. “I worked hard on that.” She was glaring at him reminiscent of when they had fought over rights to the last hard candy.
  90. “Let’s just get out of here, shall we? It’ll dry faster in the open air,” Akira said.
  91. “Fine, but I need to give this stuff back before we leave,” Hiromi responded as she slung the paint bag over her shoulder. Akira grimaced and let her lead the way. The warehouse was deep in the maze of buildings between his home and the factory. The misaligned buildings were entangled with power conduits from the turbines and solar panels, and virtually eliminated any breeze from the icy mountains.
  92. The paint on his chest began drying and cracking on his skin as they walked down the path he had sprinted through just days prior, running for his life. Occasionally they would catch a glimpse of the main road and see the squads of soldiers patrolling and breaking into homes. “Haru!” his sister exclaimed as they neared their old home. The squatter dropped down next to them, smiling and eyeing Akira.
  93. “So you’ve brought your brother in eh? Never imagined you’d stick your nose in our lifestyle Jacket,” Haru sneered as he assessed Hiromi’s work.
  94. “A lot of things happened. We’re going now, so take your stuff,” Akira responded, turning away as Hiromi handed the kit to him.
  95. “You know, I never knew that you were a one billioner. Which is really odd, you know?” Haru commented. Akira grabbed his sister’s arm and pulled her away.
  96. “What are you doing?” she complained as she stumbled over high efficiency power cords. The ground began to slope away from them as they fled through the warehouses and hovels, giving them a clear view of the sector wall. The patchwork concrete structure had grown sporadically higher and higher over the years, trying to keep up with the flux of buildings crawling up to share its stability.
  97. “He knows, we have to leave, now.”
  98. “How could he? He was just being civil,” she said as they stopped at the edge of the main transit road. A military vehicle blew past them, spraying them with slush. One of the soldiers on top gave them a lingering gaze before the vehicle turned and hid them behind a building.
  99. “Because you’re in the three billions, like I was. Anyone could figure it out if they knew we were brother and sister. We have to escape this sector and put it all behind us.” Akira took off running down the road again, dragging his sister with him.
  100. “What good will that even do us? We won’t be able to tell anyone who you are,” she responded as they ducked out of the way of rolling construction equipment. The machinery rumbled past them, crushing the dirt road beneath it.
  101. “Who I was you mean. Now I’m one point five what ever the fuck this number is. I paint myself and I live with you. We saved up money and moved. And if I don’t memorize this number we’re dead,” Akira said, staring at his chest and pushing through the crowd of pedestrians. He mumbled his number to himself as people bumped into either side of him. Some swore at him as they rubbed the paint off their bodies.
  102. “People are going to think we’re, you know, together.” Akira stopped and turned around. He furrowed his brow as he thought, looking at his sister. They were about two blocks away from the gate.
  103. “We’ll think of something. It’s just a lie anyways.” They slowed to a brisk walk, unrushed and calm, as they rounded the last corner. His heart was hammering away in his chest. His sister entwined her arm in his as he tried to catch his breath before the gate. No one but the construction workers were using the gate, the line was empty to the overseer. He took a deep breath and strode up.
  104. “What’s your business in Sector 74?” the overseer asked. The overseer was a middle aged man, wrinkled and tired. He had been twiddling with a pencil, spinning it this way and that on the desk. Then he saw their paint and his head perked up to stare.
  105. “Residential change, both of us.”
  106. The overseer perked his eyebrow. “State your numbers and scan your chips,” he said, checking the time on the wall clock.
  107. “3268100987,” Hiromi stated as she pressed her chest against the scanner. The scanner chimed and lit green for her, as the overseer scribbled her number and time down.
  108. “1500450217,” Akira stated, sweat mingling with the paint on his face. He stepped forward and scanned his chip as the overseer wrote his number down. The machine chimed as the overseer stopped writing and looked at him.
  109. “Can you say that again?”
  110. “What?”
  111. “State your number again.”
  112. Akira wracked his brain to recall what he had said wrong, how to play it off. “It’s written on my chest. Why do I even need to tell you?” He couldn’t remember what the number was, it either ended in seventeen or seventy-one.
  113. “I need you to state it. It’s procedure.”
  114. “You’re insulting me, you know that? What kind of quaz do you think I am? It’s written right there, do I really need to read it off for you?” He glared down at his own chest and slowly said, “1500450271.” The overseer glared at him. Akira glared back. A moment later they had Sector 91 to their backs and Sector 74 around them. “Oh God I think I’m going to be sick.”
  115. “Take it easy. We’re fine. We’re safe,” his sister assured him as he collapsed to the ground. “I’ve never seen you lie like that. Since when do you have so much bravado?”
  116. “What are you talking about? I lied every day of my life when I thanked Uncle… I should have been earnest,” Akira replied. Above them were the twirling blades of wind turbines, but also a tower of green. The terraced pyramid of a structure rose high above the residential hovels for the sector, overflowing with plants spilling out to reach the light. Inside would be rice and yeast mass production, but in the open air real vegetables thrived.
  117. “Come on, someone will wonder if we don’t get moving. Let’s start fresh,” Hiromi said, offering her hand to him. Akira smiled and let her help him to his feet. The roar of a military truck stopped them from leaving. The truck burst through the wall gate and skidded to a stop in the street. Soldiers jumped off and panned around them as they brought the water cannon to bear.
  118. Akira and his sister backed up to the wall of the building behind them. He shoved her away as the water cannon sprayed. The blast of water slammed him against the concrete and knocked the wind out of him. He was gasping on the ground as a soldier caught Hiromi by the arm and flung her back. A second shot knocked her to the ground. the paint from his body swirled and flowed with the pools of water, nearly everything had been blasted off.
  119. “We didn’t do anything wrong!” Hiromi pleaded. A soldier marched past her and kicked Akira in the side, rolling him over to his back. The scars on his chest were fresh and exposed.
  120. “Citizen 1500450271 has been apprehended, send a disposal team immediately. Get her away now, it’s dangerous,” the soldier ordered. Akira began to laugh, wheezing when he ran out of breath.
  121. “Citizens, vacate the area. There has been a containment breach. This man is infected with the Z fungus,” someone in the truck broadcasted. Doors began shutting, slamming against their frames. No one would watch him die.
  122. “Infected? You’re kidding right?” Akira mumbled. Five soldiers were all ready to shoot him.
  123. “He has advanced necrosis around the left breast. Pyrotechnic and chemical teams are needed for cleaning,” the first soldier continued as he glared down at him.
  124. “Stop! He’s not infected! That’s not even his number!” Hiromi pleaded. “There was an accident, his chip was destroyed, he had to get a new one. He isn’t infected!”
  125. “This isn’t fair, it was just an accident,” Hiromi pleaded as soldiers dragged her away.
  126. Akira stood to face the soldiers. “My entire life I’ve struggled to survive, everything I have to show for it can be held in my damn pocket.” He pulled out the plastic bottle, lightly filled with credit chips. “This is bullshit! Fuck all of you people. Your masks don’t even work. Did you know that? The fucking niners don’t check the air filters because they’ve consistently failed for the past two years. You just wear them to hide.”
  127. The soldiers began looking at one another. Some jumped back and grabbed their air intake, others held firm. “The only things that work are your fucking guns. All you can do is kill. Who are you even fighting? Everyone is too starved to fight back against you.” One soldier stepped forward, armed with only a pistol.
  128. Akira roared and lashed out at the soldier. His fist connected with the side of the mask, where the straps were weak, and broke it off. The officer was a young man, but tired. There was no anger or spite in him. He shot Akira three times through the chest and wiped the blood from himself as Akira fell to the ground. Hiromi screamed and kicked, but couldn’t get to his side.
  129. The officer bent down and picked up the plastic capsule. He held it up to the light and stared. “This is more credits than I’ve ever held in my life. Who was this man?”
  130. “He was my brother. He was just a factory worker, supporting our entire family.” Hiromi broke down crying.
  131. “Then I should have asked him how Sisyphus felt. At least his struggle ends in death,” the officer said as he tossed the bottle in the air. It caught the light just right to turn the sky orange for Akira for a brief moment. A cheap imitation of a sunset.
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