His name is spliced in two as the doors of victory mansion open and the man walks out onto the pedestrian. It is a crisp spring afternoon and the day’s commuters are marching home from the nearby corpcentre. Shimmering glass sky towers line the side of Bowerman street like giant tombstones, each showing a reflection of the other and the bustling street between them infinitely. Despite the hundreds of people walking to and fro, the acrid smell of cleaning product is overbearing. Overhead, there is a traffic jam in the skyway. There are no horns tooting, no aggressive impatience, just a stationary line of platinum hovercars that stretches as far as the eye can see. Below, on the walls of the shimmering glass buildings, images are moving. An athlete is depicted in his starting blocks, then springing forward. “Nike. Just Do It”. The man walks faster and faster. He can feel their eyes piercing him and their whispers form an unbearable cacophony. Everyone is watching him. His swoosh itches now more than ever. Today, the posters are getting to him. It’s odd how used to his own face he has become, seeing it flash on the eletroposters that seem to cover every surface in this damned city. It’s even odder how freaky he finds his own face as he walks towards a place that defies everything he and everyone else reading the posters have ever been taught.
“Markus, Markus, Markus” he turns.
They swoop in like gulls to bread. Pens are thrust into his hand and he goes into autopilot. M-A-R-C-U-S H-O-O-N. A casual scribble that can be sold for thousands. He smiles politely, drops a customary “just do it”, and continues to walk.
The man is a picture of human beauty. Chocolate colored skin covers a lean, athletic body. Black hair is clipped tightly around his chiseled face, and covering his body head-to-toe is the complete set of Nike’s latest streetwear collection. He is dressed in the height of fashion. Or, more accurately, he is the height of fashion. Apart from his physical prowess, only one other feature of this man distinguishes him from the crowd. A large, sleek “swoosh” is branded into his left cheek: The mark of a sponsored athlete. The blessing that has become his curse. In Newmerica, and in Corpsoc in general, this small detail was the difference between gods and mortals.
He continues his vain attempt to blend in as he walks on, a task that his 6″4 stature makes particularly difficult. However, the streets around him are becoming quieter as he distances himself from the center of the financial district, and ahead, the dark streets of the outskirts loom. He has never dared venture this far from his quarters before. Despite everything going exactly to plan, his stomach shifts uneasily. Nerves he is used to, but today is different. Unlike every other race in the past five years, today there is a chance that he may lose. He isn’t performing for a crowd or satisfying anyone’s expectations, but today he can hear the clock ticking more than ever before. The air around him feels as though it is becoming thicker. It is no longer a crispy or clear day but rather a smoggy and humid one. He must be nearing the end of the range of the conditioning dome.
The streets feel inhabited again. The glistening towers of Bowerman street have become one and two-story huts connected by webs of washing lines. The huts appear questionably stable, built from a combination of hand-mixed cement, corrugated iron, and rotting wooden pellets. The warm, flickering glow of oil lamplight emanates from boarded up or rusting windows. Beneath his feet, the street is dirt, compacted to clay by the millions of feet that pass over it daily. The air is alive with a rich combination of smells that make him gag and salivate simultaneously – hearty vegetable broth with a less pleasant undertone of open latrines. The man has never seen such vibrancy and color, such human happiness. Children skip back and forth, yelling and screeching, only to stop as their little eyes fall upon his awe-striking figure. Unlike most, they are fascinated for only a moment before returning to their game. The eyes of their parents cautiously track the stranger from the doorways. Although barely visible through the dense layer of grey smog, the sun is setting and the factory workers have returned for dinner. A haggard-looking group of workers in their early teens passes the man as he walks on through the dirty streets. Their shoulders sag from the day’s labor and they scuff their feet in exhaustion, looking at the ground in silence as they make their final steps towards home. The man feels sick to the stomach at the sight of these shells of men, their ribs clearly visible through ragged uniforms. He has lived a life of luxury off the backs of these walking corpses, and seeing them in person brings on an overwhelming wave of guilt.
At last, he has arrived at the coordinates. The sun has long since disappeared and dancing shadows stretch their fingers across the street, emanating from a small firelit brick building. The low, squatting brick building was once a multi-story villa, but now only the basement is fully intact. A doorless arch leads the man into a roofless sitting room containing nothing but brick debris and the rotten remains of a wooden grandfather clock. From below his feet comes a consistent, rhythmic sound that stirs memories from before. Music. Something deemed unnecessary by the corporation, long since eradicated from the civilized areas. He follows the sound, along what was once a hallway and down a crumbling staircase. The cellar door is ajar just enough to make out a few moving figures. 1907. He is perfectly on time.