Monday, February 9, 2015

The Last Smartphone in John Stoian's Front Closet, Part II

 This is the second part of the first of two short stories I've written which take place in the same "universe": one possible near future, in which a collective consisting of technologists and creatives has carved out a niche for themselves in a world of diminishing opportunity.

Part 2 of 4

 The streets were as familiar as the faces of loved ones. Here, an abandoned liquor store, still completely empty, and the rest of the strip mall awaiting redevelopment that may never come. There, a fabbed apartment complex, brightly colored with unnatural geometries, in the modern style that Chungy liked to call “Rio favela chic”. He also liked to remind her that they weren’t really fabbed. Just the concrete infrastructure and the drywall. Everything else was still put there by a worker. Just so you know.

As she headed north, the main drags became less familiar, and more residential. The old strip malls had largely been replaced by flag lots with new, modest-sized houses and shops, some of which adopted the favela chic, toned down slightly for the discriminating palate. All of them looked happy—physically happy somehow, and though the paving in the lots was a bit haphazard, the miniature neighborhoods seemed so much more healthy and alive than the older homes on the sidestreets.

She popped off the scooter on one of these sidestreets, in front of a large, cookie-cutter house that appeared to have been built during the 00s housing bubble. Beige, tan, gray. Stucco everywhere. Rounded corners. It was a sight. She never thought someone as edgy as John Stoian would live in a house without, you know, edges. She called Chung again.

“Hey, I’m here.”

“Alright,” then in a muffled voice, “John, Lucy’s at your house. Can you buzz her in?” then back to Lucy, “OK, you should be in.”

Lucy tried the door. “Perfect, thanks love.”

The inside of John’s house was spooky, silent, gray. Lucy found a light switch that revealed an intriguing (to her, at least) lack of decor. Directly to the left of the entrance, there was a door which was likely a walk-in closet. She opened the door to find jackets and a small bookcase, which held a wide variety of technological artifacts in various states of repair. On the top shelf, there was a lone brown cardboard box.

The phone on the inside was very odd looking. The body was uncolored, translucent and matte-finished. There was a small sticker with a serial number near the top, by the front camera, but there were no logos, or branding of any kind. It looked like it must be a prototype of some sort. There were various unfamiliar accessories in the bottom compartment of the box, which Lucy decided she would explore when she returned to the apartment.

“Hey, Chungy, I got the new phone. This thing is so...badass,” she said, “Do you not realize how much money you all could make just by selling these things? It’s like I’m holding some kind of secret government phone or something. Anyhow, I love you, and I’ll let you get to your conference. Call you tonight your time, while I’m on my way to the meetings. Bye!”

Lucy hopped on the scooter, and forgot about dialing Google Maps again. She got herself out to John’s house; she could certainly get back to the apartments.

Soon enough, Lucy was lost, ducking behind a defunct gas station in a terrible neighborhood. She could hear the reports of backfiring gas engines, mixed with what sounded like either fireworks or guns discharging. It must have been drag night in one of the nearby slums.

This is just how things had shaken out in parts of LA and across the country. Politicians had tried, but not very hard, to prevent the massive unemployment and poverty inherent in last decade or so in technological advance, but they fought all the wrong battles. In the end, no one seemed to be able to explain why things had gotten so bad, and no one seemed to be able to turn it around. Those who could freelance did so, and those who couldn't retreated rather desperately into what became suburban slums.

Lucy stood by her scooter, and picked up the old backup slider phone, trying to get the Outboard phone service to pick up on her location. After the third failed attempt, she pocketed the phone and reached into her bag to grab the cardboard box. The translucent body of the device caught a glint of the streetlight.

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