My alarm buzzes and I scramble to turn turn it off and the shoutouts on before Lime wakes up. "To the girl who works at the candy store in Venice Beach, do you ever get lost in the cables? I hope you call my number. I can't stop thinking about how you twisted those peppermint spirals."
There's that Flea Market pickup. Maybe Lime will want to come with me. I nudge her to wake her up.
"You wanna go to the Flea Market?" I ask as softly as possible. She groans.
"I feel like crap!" she complains. I get up and refill the water bottles. When I return from the bathroom she is sitting up. "You want to go the the Flea Market?" she asks, with a half smile.
"I've got a couple jobs before, I could come back when I'm done and then we could go?" I ask. She flops back down on the bed.
"Perfect," she says. Can I hear her snoring already?
I put my clothes from yesterday into the instant laundry hole and pull them out with that black t-shirt from last night. Maybe I'll wear it. Might as well. I turn to grab my skates and realize I forgot to clean my socks. Uhg whatever, I'll get new socks later. At least she can't smell them.
J isn't in the living room when I sneak through. I grab some more fruit from the kitchen before heading out. The sun still hasn't completely woken up yet. I hope my pickups want me there early because here I come. My first pick up is at Venice Beach. I should be grateful to get one there so early before the tourists come in. There are already artists and musicians setting up for the day. I nod to everyone, waiting to find the person looking for me. I pass the historic Beach Doctor's office. There is a pile of kids sleeping on the staircase.
I find my pickup by the bleachers facing the basketball courts.
"You are early!" they say.
Am I early? No. I'm here for the first request slot. I always come right away in the morning. Don't I? It's taking me a long time to say something back to this person. "Yeah, I mean you request the first slot, you get me here early."
"That is very very fine," they say, handing me a parcel bigger than a shoe box with an address at the top. "I need you to arrive there at exactly 12:35. Is that possible?" The address is on Westwood. It is a bit of a hike from here, but I can stop at the Cables on the way.
"Yeah." I nod and push my handheld at them. They look at me before entering their number.
"Maybe this is a bit too early to be working?" they say slowly. Do they think look tired?
"Maybe," I say and turn east.
I hold the package under my arm and turn down a side street towards the canals. There is a small bridge in here that I used to go to talk to spirits. It feels like it takes me too long to find it and I swallow glug after glug of water. There aren't any spirits here anymore. There haven't been for a while. They were water spirits and those don't always hang around a place for long. But I think I know someone who would. I look down into my backpack and pull out the blue-grey spirit.
["This might be a nice place for you to live."] I say to it and hold my hand over the foot bridge railing. They sparkle in the sun and roll around on the handrail, looking down at the water and around at the houses. I sit down and try my best to shove the package into my backpack. It fits if I put my handheld on top. I stand up to look at the spirit again. It should be a beautiful moment but I can't feel any joy coming from it. They are rolling around like they are enjoying themsleves but I just feel tired and miserable looking at them.
["Is this no good?"] I ask.
["Very Good. Very Good. Thank you!"] They reply. I guess I have to believe them. I don't know, it just doesn't feel the same out here as it usually does. Maybe I need something to eat. I rearrange my backpack to remove the fruit to eat on my ride north.
My next stop feels so far away. I'm not hungry at all but I eat the fruit anyway. I zone out which helps the travel time go by faster but it feels hard to talk to the pickup when I get there. It's almost 12:25 so I race over to Westwood and circle the block until it is exactly 12:35. The address is an apartment building and I stand outside for a minute until someone in a suit walks up to me, holding out their hand. I nearly forget to get their confirmation number. Why does everything feel so weird today? Is the drug still working? It can't be. How many hours has it been since my last dose? What time did we take that last one in the bathroom? What time did we go to sleep? No wonder Lime is still asleep.
The dropoff from Cables is confusing. They gave me what seemed like specific directions, until I got there. In the alley, next to the dumpster, is a door with a blue window... or was it, next to the blue dumpster is an alley with a door... There are so many dumpsters and so many alleys. Okay. Maybe if I circle around the neighborhood, it will be more obvious. Did they say something about a smoothie stand? The sun is already beating down on me. It feels so bright. It feels like it's pushing though my skull into my brain. I pull my goggles down over my eyes. My head feels so slow- why did I think I could rememeber these directions? I pull out my handheld to send Lime a message and stare at it for what feels like hours. She hasn't messaged me yet. She probably isn't awake yet. There's no reason to tell her I'm late if she isn't even up yet. Is she even going to feel like going to the market today? Uhg I want to die. How can I feel this shitty? It's like every joint in my body is sore. My arms and legs feel so heavy. I drink some more water. Where am I supposed to be? Where am I supposed to be? It had to have been a blue door. I curve down each alley looking for a blue door. I find one with a blue sticker on it. This can't be it? But if it is then I'll be done. I knock on it. And stand back, in full view of the camera. I wait and slap my hand against the door louder. It opens. The person inside looks confused to see me. "Did you place an order to be delivered today?" I ask.
"A delivery? Here?" they say. They turn around and look behind them. "No, but... I'll take it I guess."
"I need the person who is supposed to receive it to enter their confirmation number, so maybe you could... ask...?" I try to look inside, or at least pretend to be looking inside. This probably isn't even the right place. I'm going to be out here all day. They close the door slowly. I decide to wait and try to think of a new plan. I have been running for a long time but never failed to find a contact. It takes a while sometimes but then there they are, and suddenly all that time waiting disappears because now the job is done. It's easy to forget how much uncertainty there really is. The door opens and someone new is standing there.
"Hello, I'm sorry but I just can't think of a reason why anyone here would have ordered something that wasn't going to be delivered by drone post."
"Maybe I could get your name and number and we could contact you once we have it figured out."
"That won't be necessary. I'm actually looking at the address now and realizing I have the wrong place. Sorry about that!" I exit as quickly as I can. I hope my light-flare hair dye was working today because goggles aren't always enough to prevent a camera from IDing someone. I turn down the corner and get on the next main road. Great. What the fuck am I going to do? I guess I could report a failure to pick up to the Directory. Or bring it back to Cables. I should ask Lime. Uhg that would be so embarrassing. I circle through all the alleys again looking for anything blue on a door or on a dumpster. Nothing.
Okay I guess I'm going to head back to Cables. Although if that person at Sticker Door does report me, it won't take that much work to track me back to Cables. I stop and put on Mix's hoodie. Hopefully I won't get it too sweaty in the meantime. I try to double back before heading back. What am I going to say to them? I plan how I'm going to explain my failure to deliver. Maybe they can just give me the directions again. Cables is an electronics mall with hundreds of shops that sell various legal electronics supplies, computers, stereos, handhelds, and make repairs. But many of the stores also sell modified devices, illegal software, and black market hardware if you know how to ask for it. Handheld computers, for example, are made by a few highly regulated companies with very sophisticated road blocks installed to prevent hacking. But many of the programmers for these companies, although well paid by their employers, still long for more underground comforts that can only be bought with CASH. So it usually doesnt take long for hacks to develop. Every hacker will claim that they figured it out themselves, but I've made deliveries to these companies and I know those salary programmers have to be getting their CASH from someone.
The sun is filtered through the glass ceiling of the courtyard of the mall. There are 4 stories of shops, each market with glowing and blinking signs facing inward. In the center of a courtyard stand several small palms and ferns with a white fountain pushing water obscenely into the climate controlled air. I glide straight over to the shop that took me a few minutes to find before. I have to wave to a lot of awkward faces before someone beckons me over with that look of recognition that I really wish I would have found behind that sticker door. I glide up to the counter smoothly but the words don't come out the way I planned.
"They said they didn't place an order," I say, handing the package back.
"The fuck?" they say, looking at the package. They stare at it for approximately 8 years before saying. "Are you sure you went to the right place?"
"Yeah the alley, the dumpster, the door. I found it but they had zero idea what I was talking about and said no one there would have ordered something to be delivered by anything other than the drone post and so I got out of there as fast as I could. Had to recloak myself and everything. Not a great feeling, man."
"Fuck," they say, looking at me and back to the package. "I don't know what to do."
"Yeah me either, but I figured I should come to you before contacting the Directory, just in case you had some insight."
"Yeah, thanks. I hope I didn't fuck up. I don't know what happens when you fuck up. Let me look at the request again." They pull out a small notebook. "I just write them down you know, so it isn't saved anywhere. But maybe that's bad like I could make error. Maybe I wrote it down wrong." They seem really nervous. I feel guilty. "It says, off Sepulveda near the oxygen bar, turn down the alley with a dumpster and look for the door with the blue sticker."
"That's where I was!" I exclaim. Relieved to not be wrong. They look even more nervous, now. "Sorry. I don't know what to tell you." If they don't contact the Directory then it will just look like a failure to deliver, and the Directory will stop assigning me jobs until the client confirms delivery. It is supposed to protect the system if a runner gets arrested in transit but I haven't been arrested. "There isn't a way to cancel the transaction?" I ask them. They rub their hand over their mouth. "Um. I don't know. I'll have to ask somebody." There is a long pause. "I'm sorry. I'm on eddies today. So like, it's hard to think."
"It's cool," I say. Eddies are a homemade drug for anxiety. It helps soothe anxious thoughts but has the inconvenient effect of soothing away the thoughts you want to have too.
"So neither of us are getting paid," they say.
"No, I guess not. But hey I mean, it's okay. They'll be more orders."
"I hope so." They sigh. "This was a custom request, I'm not really going to be able to sell it to anyone else, you know."
"That sucks," I say. They look really dissapointed. "So like... what is it?"
They think for a moment and then open the box. There is a small green device inside with a clear back and small square screen. They push a switch on the side and the screen glows yellow with black pixels spelling the words "Eco Chamber." After a few moments, it loads a chart and a 2d map.
"It locates nearby plant life for harvesting. People use them to forage in the city but it's illegal because it can detect algae blooms in water pipes and the city, you know, doesn't want to admit to the water problem. I mean there isn't a law it's just like deemed illegal surveillance hardware, you know. This one has a special fungus mode that took a lot of time to develop." They scroll through a menu and select Fungal Search. "Almost no one wants it so I was really excited to sell one, let alone one with this special green casing. I had to make that special. Oh well."
"That's so cool though! What's it reading right now?" I ask. They fiddle with the settings and then point it across the courtyard.
"Well there are the palm trees and those ferns behind you." They show me the screen. There is a list of Latin names that I can't parse, some symbols, and their distance and direction. "And the water pipes below us, of course. You can switch those off though so they aren't included in the search since they are pretty much always there."
"What does the map show?"
"That's just what's within a 3 foot radius of the machine, because sometimes things are small and hard to find. Like right now it says that there is a something growing under your feet."
I set to the side and look at the cement. There isn't even a crack for something to grow out of. Maybe I skated through something?
"What is it?"
"It can't identify it. Maybe like a seedling, or some spores is more likely... Oh wait it just moved when you moved!"
I wonder if it's my young spirit.
"Is it following me?" I ask as I skate away from the stand, and make a few circles.
"Hah! Yeah what do you have in your bag?" they laugh. I lift the leaf out with my last young yellow spirit on in it. "Did you just pluck that? Usually it won't pick up just some leaves. It looks like a ficus leaf."
"I picked it yesterday. But it has a young spirit on it."
"A what?" they ask, looking closer at the leaf, the spirit rolling off the leaf and clinging to the underside.
"A spirit. The tree that the leaf came from had an older spirit living in it and this and a few younger spirits were bothering it so I promised to take them to new homes."
They fiddle with the settings on the device before pulling out a different device. The second device is larger and black with a big lens on the front.
"Like a fungal spore?" they ask.
"I don't think they are fungal, they are more like... uh... only partially corporeal..." I try to explain.
"I don't really know anything about that but um. Hmm." They squat down and think for a while.
"They are like... natural phenomena," I say. "But they aren't like, on Wikipedia."
"See, I'm mostly just a programmer, I don't know that much about botany, partially corporeal or fully corporeal. So I'm thinking this is a glitch but I'm not sure where. But there is a nonfungal, maybe plant creature in this leaf?"
"Um, sort of. I don't know if they are plant life. I would guess they are just helping this leaf stay alive by sitting on it. But it's not coming up as Ficus or whatever on here?"
"No," they say quickly. They aren't actually listening to me. "Maybe Gloria would know... Could I borrow this leaf for a while?" they ask.
I ask the spirit if they would like to stay with them. The spirit appears enthused although they aren't very good at speech yet.
"Yeah but I'll warn you, the spirit might leave the leaf and you could lose them. They will probably stay near you though. They usually stay with their object but if you have food or an alcoholic drink near by they may move off the object to eat it."
They are staring at me blankly. "Okay," they say slowly. I'm not totally sure this is a great idea but what's the worst that could happen? The spirit sneaks inside their machine and makes it glitch? I write down my contact number in case they want to talk about it some more. And I warn them that spirits are volitile, espeically young ones. Although this one has been peacefully contained in my bag for over a day without problems, who knows. I usually don't give out my number to people who adopt spirits. They can blame the spirit and then me for problems they have that are totally unrelated and suddenly I owe them new equipment or clothing or vehicles and it's just a nightmare. But I just have a feeling that they really do need my help. Also I've never seen a device that can detect spirits before, it will be interesting to see what develops.
Also I always get a little excited when something objective confirms my experiences of spirits. Sometimes it's lonely to see something that no one else sees and, I don't know, it just feels validating I guess.
"You'll contact the Directory, right? Because otherwise I lose my job because they think I stole your mechandise, you know," I say before turning to leave.
"Oh shit. Yeah I will. Um. Yeah..." They look nervous.
"Thanks. I really appreciate it. I need the CASH and stuff. Well, you know how it is."
"Yeah. Okay." They nod. I am not completely convinced they are going to do it. But what can I do? At least I know where they have a shop here in Cables. It's getting late and I still need to pick up Lime before I can go to the Flea Market. At least I don't have to worry about Spiro. He isn't going anywhere. I've been late to his pickups before without any problems.
I get back to Lime's and have to take the hoodie off to get J to let me back in. He offers me a taco when I get back to their unit. I'm not going to say no to food. Although I still haven't really gotten my appetite back, I'd rather eat now so I don't have to pay for something later. Lime is awake and scrolling through a forum. She has been looking for the past couple hours for ways to feel better. She says we need to raise our serotonin levels and there is no way to just take some to replace what the drug made us use up last night. She seems annoyed. I tell her that's probably why the drug went out of style back in the dark ages. Now she looks even more annoyed.
"I just feel like garbage," she whines.
"So do you not want to go to the Flea Market with me because I have to go get a pickup from Dial and it's getting late." Sometimes I feel like Lime has no concept of how long things take. I don't know how she makes it as a runner without tons of complaints. Although she has changed delivery groups a few times.
"I'm definitely going. The only thing anyone says helps is getting exercise and eating and living normal until it comes back. And I think if I lay in here any longer I'll just melt away."