Niko awoke, his back ached, his neck felt like it was stuck in place, and he realized his ‘pillow’ had sank into the bed. The bed had also gone rock hard. Looking over at his tab on the wall, it showed that he was a full hundred fifty in the hole, and the apartment apparently didn’t let you dig yourself deeper. If he got lucky, he could probably work his way out of that by the end of the day. Worst case he’d go to a shelter for the homeless. They might not take too much blood this time.
Niko counted himself among the working poor, his skin stretched taught over a gaunt frame, he bore some noticeable muscles, though probably smaller than they could be. Greasy black hair cut short but unevenly by an unskilled hand covered his head. A single set of heavily patched clothes, seeming to have formerly come from five or so sets sat folded in one corner of his tiny apartment.
Sliding his body off the bed. He worked to roll himself over, fighting tension that ran the length of his body. ‘Retract bed’ he groaned, as the pistons and noise pulled the nano-sheet back into the wall. Catching himself on his hands and feet on the scarce twenty four square feet he’d just gone into debt for.
He pulled out his phone, a crummy half broken device that the powers that be saw fit to ensure he had. Tracker he’d always been told, but his only connection to any kind of cash flow, and pulled up his usual sites. Found a few surveys, he qualified for, paying a tenth of a credit per, each taking about twenty seconds or so, he smiled, knowing he’d just scored bathroom time.
Punching in the answers, and doing some light calisthenics while the next question loaded, the ads always loading first, an unanswered question, cause the kind of people doing these surveys weren’t the kind that could buy much of anything, his data throttled because of course, he couldn’t pay for faster rates. Stretches and some light body weight moves got the blood flowing. The free yoga course he’d trade his last head of hair for had been paying dividends keeping him limber.
He’d settled about three credits, by the time he’d worked all the tension from the night out of his body, and he was feeling a little refreshed. He’d figured he could manage it. Gathering up all his worldly possessions he stepped into the hall, his door slamming shut behind him, a thin weasely computer voice informed him he’d need to settle the debt to get back in. ‘Thanks Jarvs, real pal.’ he grumbled, knowing full well he was being recorded. Had to give the monitor boys something to do he guessed. Keep them from being bored.
Walking down the hall to the community bathroom, he hooked his chit into the machine. ‘Oh come on!’ he yelled at the terminal as it read out his time. Five minutes and fifteen seconds, they’d shaved off fifteen seconds per credit, you couldn’t do anything with that. Time to be economical. He swapped it to shower time, and it read out three minutes. So at least that hadn’t changed.
He slid all of his clothes into his water proof bag, wrapped them around the top shower head, and pushed start, his eyes never left the wall timer, as he hurried as fast as he could to scrub as much of himself as possible. He’d skipped shaving, or doing any upkeep on his long hair, but economical he’d told himself, making sure he was fully rinsed off by the time the last minute came up. With that done, he emptied himself into the shower, trying to hold back the disgust as the water began to pool around the drain, the solids preventing it from escaping.
Killing the flow with four seconds to spare, he shook the water from his feet and stepped out into the hall. The door slammed shut, with the out of order display filling the order screen. He frowned, hating to have to do it, but they’d only barely given him the choice, he didn’t really feel clean but two minutes isn’t a long time.
Dressing in front of his door, after shaking off as much of the moisture as possible, he was surprised when he heard his cell chime. Pulling it out there was a text from an anonymous number with simply the words Wasted Opportunity. He shrugged it off. Some one was probably watching him, not that it mattered any way. That was just kind of baseline, and there was no real way of knowing who it might be.
Stepping out into a blustery day, he pulled his tattered jacket around himself, and started his long walk to the richer part of the city. All the wile digging through the net for anything he could do. Filled out a few more surveys, provided his biodata to a few people, and found a site that was offering three hundred to be whipped for a few hours, so he bookmarked it hoping he wouldn’t have to cash that in.
He walked for the better part of two hours and the chill hadn’t started to sink in yet. His luck was looking up already. Finding his usual corner, along a mall street he sat down, leaned into the wall of the small ad firm that occupied the corner, and pulled his sign out of his bag, setting his hat on the ground. No one actually carried cash, but people liked you playing the part. His sign read free advice, which no one ever actually asked about, but again, he wasn’t asking for things which did seem to intrigue some of the better off people wandering this district.
A few hours passed, and he’d managed to score a whole twenty credits, when he started to get up, he got another one of those weird messages. Up the street to your left, down two blocks to your right. The purple hat. He figured there wasn’t much to lose, as it only put him a block off where he was going any way, and it was unheard of to kill the homeless in broad daylight that close to the shopping district. Though he wondered if this had been the bait before.
He rounded the corner and found himself at a restaurant intersection. Street food, and a few fast food joints marked the first floor, but the food got nicer as you went up, the mix of smells was quite pleasant, and this place was out of the wind, but there was signage warning him off thinking about moving his usual spot.
He didn’t have to search long, before he saw a pair of young women, probably early twenties, sitting at a coffee shop, excitedly talking about something. He walked up to the window and tapped it to get their attention. Niko thinking this was all bullshit any way, but not like they could have him arrested for that. Having got their attention, he waved, and did a small bow. Their faces looked really confused, then really excited.
The one with the purple hat, stepped outside, walking toward him but clearly keeping her distance, a can of pepper spray in her hands. ‘Hey, are you homeless?’ her face was wary.
Niko thought about the question, and considering he couldn’t get back into his apartment without money technically did, though the government would probably argue. ‘Yes’ he gave a wiggle of his hand ‘Technically.’
‘So, why are you waving at us.’ now he was a bit perturbed. He’d just assumed who ever was sending him the strange messages had probably coordinated something, why else would she have even stepped out of the shop if not.
‘Just being friendly?’ he intoned, ‘Why are you talking to me then?’
She curled both of her lips into her mouth, dropping her brow, her eyes going up and down him.
‘Well, I uh, I wanted to get a feels good story you know, for my social feeds, cause people just eat that shit up you know.’
‘But?’ He hadn’t a clue where this was going, but he had a good feeling so decided to push her to put it all out.
‘So, me and Jaqlin were talking, and well, everyone likes a good take care of a homeless person story right, but they’re you know?’
‘The kind of people who stand in their own shit yeah.’ he nodded knowingly, trying to turn on whatever little spark of charm he had. ‘Well, I’m only technically homeless, and I’m not dangerous. State certified that last time they kicked me back into the streets.’ he added, trying to deliver that as a punchline.
She cautiously returned her defense tool to her bag, and waved for her other friend to come out.
‘So he’s homeless?’ the newcomer asked, ignoring Niko altogether.
‘He says technically’
‘They’ll arrest me and repo my only possessions if I try to get back in.’
‘Are you some kind of criminal?’ he really wasn’t sure how to read that, with her mix of tone and facial expression, considering how excited she looked
‘No, just poor sadly.’ he smiled as apologetically as he could, not that he meant it strictly, but he was trying to score a sale here.
‘So um…’ the first girl said cutting back in. ‘I’m Myrtle, this is Jaqlin’ she said gesturing from herself then to her friend.
‘It’s a pleasure. I’m called Niko. Usually’
‘So, can you be hour homeless guy, at least for a couple of selfies?’ Jackpot, he thought to himself.
‘Ladies, for the low low price of two hundred credits, You can have me all day. Selfies, crying tearfully into a camera, hugs.’ dropping his tone as he tilted his head looking into Jaqlins’ eyes ‘I’ve even showered. Tell you my whole life story, or even a fake one if you want. Pretty low price to look like saints.’ he pressed his hands together as though praying, tilting his head back a tad in imitation of the only piece of Catholic art he’d ever seen.
‘Can you, give us a sec.’ Jaqlin pulled her partner in crime to the side, and set about whispering something or other. Niko made no move to listen in. Figuring he’d played his bit as well as he could. He was worried for a second he’d over shot, but the two came back all grins and he thought to himself that things might just be looking up.