X-Country

Trying not to feel some type of way, I close my eyes and count to ten. We’re three days into the trip, in the vast central territories, dimly lit and weakly wired. The roads are in disrepair and Wolf is driving because the autopilot needs wifi and we’ll get nowhere fast relying on that out here. 

Unlike cars, which can be driven manually, wired people can't function independently. Everywhere we stop on the road, folks have the faraway looks of bio-bots. It's the effect of living in areas without a constant connect, I guess. The current stoppages led to wifi rations in unincorporated territories, causing major sys-glitches. It damaged implanted brains. People are like autopilots on the fritz, bugged programs, repeating fragments of ads arising in their minds when wiring occasionally reconnects. Substantively speaking, it’s like talking to a steak. But maybe that’s just the few dudes we’ve seen working roadside shops. 

I'm keeping my eyes peeled for another place to stop now, eager to check my tek for news from MoreCorp. But there's nothing -- no news, no shops -- has not been for a while. “I suppose there’s no hurry,” I say, breaking a long silence. “If we never hear from MoreCorp again, then there’s nowhere to get to on time.”

“We’ll be fine.” Wolf sits up straight, rolls his neck around, takes a swig of Xtreme Red w/Caf+ and grins like a lunatic. “It’s got good-cals! It’s good for you!”

“I’m sure. Do you need a break?”

“You said this was our big break.”

“Haha.”

“LOL.” He lights a cig and cracks the window. The dark desert night speeds past. 

“How can you even see the road,” I ask. 

“I can’t. I just sense it.”

“That’s reassuring.” I pet Hound in the back seat behind me. He is keeping quiet and busy trying to balance in the back of the crowded car, barely accommodating the doge’s enormity and our worldly goods. I left stuff on the sidewalk in the Point and it was all gone lickety-split because no resources. But the mid-country’s much worse, it seems. Reduced to near zero. I muse aloud, “I guess that’s suxess…” 

“What is? Transition missing. You have failed.”

“Total suxess,” I explain. “MoreCorp’s total takeover. The Single System System. Look, even we're running to play. It’s gross. I’m gross.” 

“Hound’s gross. He hasn’t bathed in years. You’re not gross. You’re just a kid. Or a Borg.”

“Hardly a kid.” 

“Yet innocent," Wolf sighs. "Look, El. You can feel some type of way, whatever way. Just don’t let it show because survival.”

“That’s all anyone ever says! 'Survival, no resources, greenies, hamstrung, gotta do what you gotta do.' But we used to want things that were great, not just great for Gross Universal Product.”

“Who?”

“Us. Me and you.”

“GUP is great,” Wolf reminds somberly, pronouncing it goop. “It is our duty to grow GUP."

"Ha."

"Seriously. I feel you, that’s why my 3-pronged labor philo. But there’s rhetoric and reality.”

“And I agree with that, practically. But still, fundamentally, totally disagree with. Actually.”

“My approach is pro-resistance, Ellipsis.”

“What’s this? Do I know it?”

“I don’t know. Do you? You should,” Wolf chides. ”We’ve discussed it.”

“We discuss a lot. Tell me again.”

“Ok, so, prong one. Don’t play a rigged game.”

“Nice. I like. Let’s apply.”

“We can’t. Two,” Wolf continues, “If you have to play a rigged game, do it your way, within your tolerance for consequences, to the extent that you believe you can calculate them.”

“But we can’t calculate them. We know that. So we’re screwed.”

“Yes. But there’s a third prong, my friend." Wolf raises a fist from the steering wheel triumphantly. "Those in chains must complain!” 

“So totally not a philo for the SSS then?” I’m disappointed. 

“Why not?” 

“Because we play a rigged game and we don’t complain and you tell me resistance is futile. Which it is, I know. I mean, I tell you too.”

“We reinforce each other’s servility, darling.” Wolf pats my knee. “Isn’t that what ideal? To be assimilated?” 

“Maybe?" I steer the conversation somewhere happier. "What I always wanted was to pack my garb, get in a car, and cross the lands with a doge and a man.”

“You got it, babe." Wolf asks, "Hey, did you hear about the dudes who got stuck in the mountains headed west and ate the people on their expedition all winter?”

“The Donner Party? Or should I say The Dinner Party?”

“Punny," Wolf replies. "But I’m serious. I imagine the Lovesport is a little like that. Everything is brutal and people believe in doing anything to win. We have to be prepared for the worst.”

“Ooh,” I mock his gravity. “Are you afraid we’ll end up eating each other?”

“No. Still, beware. That’s all. It’s a fight.”

“What do you think it was like before? When there was more?”

“They ate each other,” Wolf replies. “Maybe there never was more.”

“We read, I mean…”

“What? Myths? We were never more than a blink in the eye of a machine.”  

“Feels real,” I dismiss. “Whatever that means. Anyway, I’m not going to eat you. I’ll play the way they say they want. It’ll be as much a test for them as us.”

“You’re sweet. And what do they want? They’re incomprehensible, right? We agree on that.”

“Still they want positude, It’s weird to say cuz they’re super mean but yeah. That.”

“Like what,” Wolf asks. 

“Like, you know how I’ve got that sponge problem? So I can hear corp voices, phrases in fake-o steak-o.”

“That’s awful, my love. What do they say?”

“‘Put your game face on or you won’t play long! Or, smile at every mile!’ Shit like that.”

“Wow,” Wolf marvels. 

“Oh it’s easy. I can teach you.”

“Not necessary.”

“But necessary," I object. "Just think of the most asinine way to say something and make it shorter and stupider, but more plus and less direct. That's effective communication, positive platitudes, posi-plats.” 

“That’s so rude.” Wolf growls disgustedly.

“Don't worry. I'll help. I’m a team player, plus certified knows prose. I don’t just reduce words, I use them! Creation and destruction! All in my power!” Hound paws my head, rather hard, either in support or because I’m showing off, and I turn to kiss the doge’s cold, wet nose, saying, “You’re adorbs. I heart you.” 

After midnight we finally spot a roadside shop and stop. Wolf walks Hound around the parking lot while I enter a great concrete block, barely lit with a loud generator, the front door alerting a clerk to my presence with a weak alarm, a high-pitched beeping. He is a big fellow, standing in the back wedged behind a counter, raising an arm in welcome, friendlier than most. I wave back.

The shop is barely stocked, shelves mostly empty, one fridge with dusty pop bottles. I scan the meager pickings -- snak-pax, candy, synth-meat, canned goods -- and grab an assortment of crap, making my way to the counter to address the clerk. “Hi, how’s it going?”

No answer. Upon closer inspection, he looks like a middle-aged man with a bad case of bio-wire blues, despite initial indications of life. He acknowledges the greeting with a wave, just as before, but utters no reply. His frame is intimidating, grotesque, filling the space behind the counter — face blank, eyes empty, soiled sweatsuit in a neon green. 

I try again. “Hi. Hey. So, umm… do you, I guess not probably but do you have wifi or?” He neither replies nor rings up the random assortment of goods on the counter. I wait, moments, a brief eternity, hoping he has absorbed the inquiry. We stand silent. I give up, leaving greenies in front of the clerk and heading back out to the car, totally bummed ... and not just because all we’ve eaten for days is shit in fanciful artificial flavors.  

There’s no wireless, so no way to allay concerns about contact with MoreCorp, or MidCorp, whoever is in charge. Maybe there hasn’t been any contact anyway, which is also worrisome. I close my eyes, breathe deep. 

There is nothing to fear. This is what I wanted, out of Metropolis. The west lies ahead. Silicon. Sunshine. Hope. Trees. The ban on dogerman winters in SF turned out to be a positive prohibition for the pack, and we’ll live in a cabin in someone’s backyard. Edge of the forest, UnCorp, hush-hush, an infrawebs deal cryptically arranged. So even if MoreCorp is a bust, we’ll see trees. It’s been so long. 

The west, although in a drought, seems promising. It has vast unincorporated territories still not totally paved or wired, green, dwellers in two worlds, balancing old and new, growing GUP and troots (true roots). Or so it’s said. It’s interesting, though there are social risks.

MoreCorp aspirants want a certain life. They need trees but only enviro-clones. Funday brunch is much more important. Regi-profs live in spensi centers in cramped cubes, scramble, spend money to make money. It’s the story Wolf and I have been living for a long time. To deny the rightness of it is to deny the logic of the market, which is undeniable, and the logic of a class, which is likely unadvisable, especially when headed for the belly of the beast. And yet. And, yet. The forest is a secret prize at the end of the ride. It’s our ace in the hole in a rigged game.