The moment he fired up the lighter Evy kicked on the alarm systems. UN guard units would be there in no time. Fans came on in his living room.
“Too bad, Evy,” he said. “This is a Zippo. I’ll see you at the station, you ridiculous, petulant child, you.”
He knew he’d gone too far. He just didn’t care at that moment. He held fire aloft and ran around his living room. He wondered if maybe he had gone mad after all.
The sentencing had been banal and obnoxious. Two hundred dollar fine in credits and four hours of ‘community’ service. That was nothing. It had been sitting through the mandatory two-hour lecture from Evy that had made Baldwin’s teeth ache. Oh, it had been a lovely presentation, as always was the case. A lot of wonderfully executed imagery, sound and music, coupled with Evy’s incessant, positive tone. All making certain that Baldwin understood, graphically, just how much wanton destruction he’d weilded by not only having a flammable lighter but using it in a public housing environment.
When he got back home, the last thing in the fake world he inhabited that he wanted to hear was Evy. He knew this was just foolish thinking. As soon as he sat down in his living room after listening to the piped-in entertainment in the taxi, the ads, the never-ending chatter of the mad world, he dreaded what he knew was going to happen.
“Mr. Baldwin, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
“I figured. Spit it out.”
“I’m afraid that your employment has been terminated. This incident was the fifth in the last two months, Mr. Baldwin. It seems that your employer can no longer tolerate your misbehavior and poor performance.”
“Poor performance? What in t…” Baldwin caught himself. It was not just useless to argue with Evy, it was dangerous. “All right, fine. Have you anything in the market for my skillset?”
“There is nothing local at the moment. I will keep you updated, Mr. Baldwin. Remember: this is just a temporary setback, Mr. Baldwin! You’ll be back on your feet in no time at all.”
And then things went quiet. Evy was Johnny-on-the-spot when one misbehaved. But if you truly needed her, she left you sitting there, alone, in the noisesome quiet of utter convenience.
Baldwin looked around as he walked. Humanity gone insane. That was all he could determine, based on what had once passed for sane behavior. He thought to himself that sane people didn’t mutilate themselves. Sane people didn’t give into every single, base instinct they had and sane people certainly didn’t augment those instincts with further mutilation. And yet all around him were insane people of every shape, size and tech-class. He could spot the rich ones right away: their tech and augmentations were clean, precise and fashionable. The rich wanted to look human; only better. Some of them were genetically enhanced (the rich quite enjoyed being taller than those around them). Many looked like living dolls. But no matter how they looked, Baldwin never thought it was beautiful. They were peculiar: a divide existed that he couldn’t resolve. The women were often tempting in very pornographic ways, but rarely did he ever find them lovely or becoming. The self-obsession of augmentation had driven them quietly mad. But, for the most part unless one crossed them, they were safe. And most left them alone, since it was their money raining down from on high to fuel humanity’s obsession with augmenting itself.
It was the general populous that kept him alert at all times. For Baldwin was an outcast. He understood this, didn’t care; it simply was. He didn’t have so much as a tattoo. Not one bit of technology had augmented him in any form, other than what he could not avoid. Evy’s presence altered brain waves. Baldwin had tried to get his hands on as much information about this as he could. It was sparse and dangerous to have but he’d wanted to know. Her vocal range contained extra tones that couldn’t be heard by the conscious mind or, rather, the conscious mind blocked these tones. Evy actually made the human mind more agreeable and amenable to her wishes. It had surprised him that simply being aware of this had stripped away most of the effect on himself. A tracking sensor was mandatory for all citizens within cities and despite all of his efforts, Baldwin had been left without an option but to accept this device. That was all. And, without any augmentation, Baldwin found himself on the bottom rung of society.
They had all sorts of pejorative names for his class. Baldwin ignored them all from a personal standpoint but he paid very close attention when he heard those names spoken in public. It had kept him out of trouble more than a few times. For him, the solution was simple: avoid all trouble if possible. There was always a risk that an augmented person could kill him before he had a chance to respond. But, though he kept this hidden from her (as far as he knew, at any rate), it was Evy that he feared. She wasn’t just the long arm of the law. She was the law. Most of her sentences weren’t dangerous to the body but to the soul, the mind and sanity. Fear what could kill his frail body? No, Baldwin feared what would rip his soul apart if he allowed it.
Baldwin turned slowly, with care, to see who’d addressed him. The man was almost the same height which immediately was suspect. It was almost certain that being addressed as he had, and considering the man’s nearly normal height, the man was highly augmented with cybernetic parts. He was likely as strong as a bull ox with a bad tech attitude.
“Yes, sir?” Baldwin said.
“What are you doing in this neighborhood?”
“Community service, sir. Anything that I can do for you?”
“Yeah. Shutup until I ask. You’re not supposed to be here. You could get hurt.”
Baldwin’s ears perked up. Not a usual statement. Well, at least, it was unusual to hear the words with a tone that implied concern. “I know, sir. But I’m afraid that this is my penance.”
The man lit a cigarette, a practice only allowed for people with certain status. “What’d you do?”
Now Baldwin was quite nervous. The man’s tone was completely abnormal. As though he were actually carrying on a conversation with him. He stopped and tried to notice the man without undue attention. Something in his eyes. “Well,” he paused for a beat, then decided to go ahead. “I lit an old Zippo I got my hands on in my apartment and, more or less, dared Evy to report me. She did.”
The man actually chuckled. He looked Baldwin up and down. Then he raised his left eyebrow as a passerby shot the man a look, presumable for talking to a non-augmented lower class.
“Well, all right then. Carry on.” He walked away and Baldwin stood there watching him walk away. Perplexed.
The moment was interrupted by his least favorite voice.
“Good news, Mr. Baldwin! You report to work tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. sharp! Don’t be late, we know what a troublemaker you can be!” At this, Evy attempted her synthetic laugh. Baldwin hated it. There was nothing in it; no humor, no soul, nothing. Empty mirth, as far as he was concerned, didn’t cover the multitude of sins Evy seemed to believe it did.