Lime lives in a luxury apartment building only a couple miles away from me. Unlike mine, this one's still maintained and kept in the current style. She lives there with 4 roommates: J, Fairy, Acid, and Nozzle. J is the only one actually registered to the apartment. Fairy, Acid, Nozzle, and Lime are legally his "guests," but really his employees.

The security camera watches me as I approach the building. A glowing screen swirls an obnoxious WELCOME HOME graphic next to the door. I punch in the unit number and it sends him a message. I stand in front of the camera. I can hear it moving and refocusing. It's taking forever. Is he just watching me stand here? I skate around in a circle until I hear the unlock tone. I push through and zoom into the elevator.

J rents the apartment with registered income he makes from a smut magazine. Well, he may not call it smut, and the models might not call it smut. And it may not legally qualify as Pornography, but that's what it is. The magazine's called Secrets and it boasts "real" stories from "real" people who want to expose their thoughts and bodies anonymously. Most of the stories are fictions written by J, the models, or a combination of both but every once in a while someone will contact him, believing that the confessions are really real and want to submit their own along with being photographed. The magazine readership is surprisingly wide considering its obviously fake content. J claims that people want to believe the fiction is true and it's his duty to provide the promise that it is. Sure, lots of readers don't believe the stories but the facade gets propped up every so often when a moderately famous person will want to be featured. Their rabid fans will be linking to the publication like crazy, insisting that "you can tell it's really them because of the scar on their left hand," or whatever. And naturally all those reposts and links help nurture the bourgeoning fame of the celebrity. So J is always in the mood to celebrate anytime he contracts someone even slightly famous to be featured. Several months ago when he booked Aeron Klyne, he took the girls to an artificial winter resort in the mountains. I wonder who he got this time. Do I really wonder? I kind of don't want to care at all. The whole thing is bullshit and another way of skirting laws to pretect workers making Sex Content while still making Sex Content.

The mirrored walls of the elevator remind me that I haven't fixed my makeup since this morning. I try to wipe the smudged eyeliner away from my under-eye puffs. Sometimes I wonder if the suction on my goggles is making my eyes look puffier. Maybe I should fix them from making a suction. It doesn't rain here. There isn't really a need for them to be waterproof.

More often than not, the stories in Secrets are written by and feature photos of the girls that are living in J's apartment. They each have a few different characters that they have created based on their own ideas of what it might be like to be a sexually repressed office worker. "I want Lola to have just moved into a new condo and like to stand in the window naked so that her neighbor will see," I heard Acid tell J the last time I visited. "She does it every night when she comes home from work and she hopes that someone is watching."

"Would you do that?" J asked, practically foaming at the mouth.

"Maybe if I lived by myself..." Acid mused. "And I didn't already get more than enough attention from you." It was pretty horrible.

I'll admit that getting featured in the magazine is mutually beneficial for these rare instances of a celebrity feature, but most of it feels like exploitation to me. Especially since the girls that live with him don't really get paid properly. I mean they get paid, but not enough to get their own place and leave. And if he decides he doesn't want them around anymore, I can't imagine how they would have the means to get by on their own. It's not like they can even claim having modeling experience since it's all anonymous.

I re-smooth out my hair back to each pig tail. Not bad. I fluff them both out so that they look rounder and try to smile in the mirror. I really should have taken another bath. Maybe I can sneak one in after Lime while she is getting dressed. Oh god my socks. I'm wearing dirty socks. She is going to see I'm wearing dirty socks. She is going to smell them. I guess I'll just keep my skates on forever.

J gets emails from innocent morons who think their spouses have submitted or coworkers who suspect their crush is in the magazine. Even victims of blackmail begging him to tell the blackmailer that it isn't them in that weird photo of a naked person holding a handheld in front of their face. He, naturally, extracts a fee to help these people. This provides enough CASH flow to keep his dirty hands in a few Underground stews. For a while he was obsessed with collecting vinyl records. He claimed it was a noble hobby practiced by "gentlemen of the past." But vinyl records are pretty awful. They can't survive hot temperatures and most have been damaged in police storage unprotected by the desert heat waves. I have no idea what percentage of his collection is actually playable, but I'm willing to bet there is a reason why he only plays a few of them even though the shelf in taller than I am with my skates on.

I reach the door to their unit and stand here, waiting for the camera to recognize me. Eventually the door slides open and I step inside. Music pulses through the air. A gentle synth fading in and out floats above the heavy, deep beats. The door opens into a large circular room with a sunken floor where a couch curls around the perimeter. It's shiny, and I remember it looking magenta, but tonight it looks like a pale blue. Inside, the circle is lined with fluffy shag carpet and there's a large desk cluttered with glossy black computer equipment sprinkled with tiny blue and green LEDs blinking slowly. J is sitting among three monitors with a large headset on that covers his eyes. "Hey Sugar!" he shouts to me from the other side of the room. I step down into the sunken floor. There's a huge circular monitor that's glowing down from the ceiling. It's displaying a sparkling sun viewed from underneath a cyan swimming pool.

"Nice ah... water ceiling..." I say, passing underneath.

"Right, Right, Riiiiight?" J spits excitedly, pulling his headset off and dropping it onto a pile of keyboards on the desk. He shoots up out of his chair and points up to it. "It's supposed to be just like ultra super immersive for water elementals," he says, nodding.

"I bet." I want to sit down on the couch and watch it but I know I'd just be feeling his gaze the whole time. Maybe later when he's working with that visor on and he can't see that I'm there, I could sneak out for a sit.It does seem like it would be great to watch on Water. "You planning on testing that out soon?" I ask.

"Nah. I don't have the CASH right now to get any. All my jobs have been paying in registered credit and I blew all my CASH on this soft serve machine." He points to the other side of the room. Next to one of the bedroom doors that surround the living room is a large steel machine and a heavy power cable hanging off it. "Pretty cool, right?"

"Wow yeah. Does it work?" I ask, hoping not to sound too incredulous.

"It's supposed to. Problem is I can't get any goo, ya know. Get the goo for it. The ice cream goo. There aren't really any underground sources for ice cream goo. Everyone wants to know my organization code and I haven't been able to find a restaurant code crack yet. I'm no hacker, ya know. I don't know how to do this stuff. I'm an artist, not a hacker hah!"

"Ahh... Tragic," I say, hoisting my hands up onto my hips.

"So now I'm thinking I should probably just get rid of it. I could really use the CASH right now. You know anyone who might want it?" he asks.

Who the fuck would I know that would want that piece of junk? "I don't know anyone who would be able to get the goo either. I'll keep my ears open though," I lie. Like I'm going to help him with anything. He'd probably want me to deliver it for him. What a nightmare that would be. It probably weighs like 200lbs.

I swing into the kitchen to raid the fridge. J calls over from his desk, "Oh yeah help youself just uh, don't eat the, ah, the big green jar. The algae! Sorry to be stingy but it's really expensive and I need it for my Antonyne Balance ya know! Gotta keep all my oils right!" I wonder why anyone would want to eat algae, when so many people in the city are desperately trying to avoid the algae blooms in the city water supply. J's building, of course, has a state-of-the-art water cleaning system that adds its own trace minerals and cleans out all the bacteria, algae, and chemical treatment residue from past attempts the city made to clean the water.

I find a box of bobble fruits. I was only going to grab one but after hearing that annoying statement about the expensive algae, I decided to grab three. I swing my square water bottle into the sink and fill it up. The water bangs hard against the light plastic bottle. I cap it off and scoot over to Lime's room and knock on the door. There is no answer but the lock symbol is glowing green. "It's me, I'm coming in!" I call before pressing the button to slide open the door. There is a plastic curtain filled with antique Compact Discs that Lime has hung in front of the door that anyone entering the room has to pass to get inside.

"It's me!" I repeat.

No answer.

©2018 by Zita