The above image was made with stable diffusion using the prompt 'fancy rooftop party.'
Harlen's street had once been paved. All that remained of that were crumbled chunks of asphalt more hazardous than cobblestones. The City maintained the sewers and a few streetlights, but not the actual streets. Human City workers rarely entered the neighborhood. Infrastructure maintenance was typically handled by robots.
The sidewalks were a little better. While concrete slabs were askew here and there, their surfaces remained mostly navigable. Delivery of mail and other parcels was handled by drones. One day, Harlen found a letter waiting for him in his box. It was the first piece of physical mail he'd ever received.
The envelope didn't have a return address. Harlen opened it, not knowing what to expect. Inside was a payment card with his name on it and a handwritten note inviting him to attend a party in the Elite District the following week. The card, explained the note, was to be used to purchase clothes suitable for the event.
When Harlen showed Silver, she said it was probably some sort of scam. Regardless, the card worked. Harlen used it to buy a fashionable suit and a pair of featherweight loafers. With the funds remaining, he bought a personal taxi ride to the event, which was being held on an upper floor of a skyscraper in the ED.
Most buildings in the ED had bot security, but this one also had a human guard sitting at a desk as Harlen entered the lobby. "Sir, your scan has been approved," said the guard as Harlen approached. "The elevator to your right will take you to the correct floor."
"Thanks," said Harlen, following the directions. In the elevator, he tried to prepare for what was coming, but had no idea what that might be. When the silver doors opened into an ornately-decorated suite, he stepped out, trying not to look bewildered. There were a few dozen people all dressed up, talking in small groups. A bot approached and served him a glass of something that tasted unfamiliar and expensive.
A man in a green fedora caught sight of Harlen and waved him over. "Everyone," said the man. "This is Harlen Ornay. He's unfit, but he works for the Historical Society."
Harlen recognized the voice. "You were in one of my tours," he said stupidly.
"Jack Bobay," said Jack. "Thanks for accepting my invite."
"Sure," said Harlen. "But I'm not sure I understand. What's this all about?"
"When I heard you explain why the Water War was more about arable land and control of financial markets than about water, I knew you'd be perfect," said Jack.
"Perfect for what?" asked Harlen.
"How would you and your girlfriend like to go to Rio?" asked Jack. "You'd be traveling with a team from my company. We'll pay for your Qualification exemptions and everything. There you'd be free to do as you please, as long as you agree to perform some somewhat sensitive work for us there."
"Funny, we've been talking about Rio," said Harlen.
"Yes, we know," said a woman in an iridescent gown.
"Of course," said Harlen, recalling that nothing was ever truly private to elites, who could afford to pay for anyone's data.
"I'm Dara Newcastle and I'll be leading the team," said Dara. "Officially, we're there to discuss a merger between our company DIA and the Brazilian firm NID. This merger may or may not move forward, but that's not important. What is important is that you will be meeting with a high level corporate defector while we're there. Convincing this defector to come back with us, if at all possible."
"Is that legal?" asked Harlen.
"It's legal here, maybe not there," said Jack. "But if you got caught, the worst they could do is deport you back to here."
"So this doesn't have anything to do with history?" asked Harlen.
"Everything has to do with history," said Dara.
"But no, you're right," said Jack. "We picked you because you're both unfit and very bright. That's an uncommon combination."
"Eat," said Dara. "Drink. Be merry. Think it over. Let us know by the end of the night. Oh, and the pay for a successful mission is one point four million bits. In case that makes our offer more attractive."
Harlen was stunned. He said he'd do it, then got drunk and barely managed to make it out of the building before throwing up. The walk home was a stumbling affair, but he made it. Back on his own poorly-lit street, Harlen heard a noise and turned to find his neighbor Rex walking uncomfortably close. Rex was holding a stunner.
"What the hell?" demanded Harlen.
"Oh shit!" said Rex. "It's you. Thought you were lost, wearing that suit around here after dark."
"Wait, so you were going to mug me?" asked Harlen. "Man, don't be doing that around here."
"I know, I know," said Rex. "Brian already talked to me about it. But my unfit card isn't buying me any nice suits. Hey where'd you get the suit?"
"I let rich people pass me around at one of their parties," said Harlen.
"We all do what we gotta do," said Rex, shrugging. "Think you could get me in on that?"
"Depends," said Harlen. "Can you stop mugging people on our street?"
"If it's not me it's the Tyler Boys," said Rex. "Same difference, really."
"Whatever," said Harlen, noticing that lights were still on at the old car wash. "I've got to go talk to someone while I still look good."
Harlen found Silver dozing in a chair, waiting for a vacuum pump to finish pulling all of the air from composite materials. "How was it?" she asked, opening her eyes.
"They want me to go to Rio," said Harlen. "They said I can bring you."
"You're drunk," said Silver. "All that Rio talk is just for fun. No way I'd actually want to go."
Read my novels:
- Small Gods of Time Travel is available as a web book on IPFS and as a 41 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt.
- The Paradise Anomaly is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Psychic Avalanche is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- One Man Embassy is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Flying Saucer Shenanigans is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Rainbow Lullaby is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- The Ostermann Method is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Blue Dragon Mississippi is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
See my NFTs:
- Small Gods of Time Travel is a 41 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt that goes with my book by the same name.
- History and the Machine is a 20 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt based on my series of oil paintings of interesting people from history.
- Artifacts of Mind Control is a 15 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt based on declassified CIA documents from the MKULTRA program.