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The busy streets were filled with chatter --both voice and text-- and numerous bodies engaging in a diverse array of activities filled the crowded void of the street. Jimmo walked peacefully, his SAF (Small Analog Format) music files playing overhead but heard only by himself. There was no worry. He walked down the sidewalk intent on accomplishing his mission.

He entered the supermarket and noticed many other people --like him-- engaged in the task of finding food to fill the hungry bellies of themselves and perhaps even their circle of peers. The aisles were stocked in a plethora of items according to the supply and demand of the local economy; rarer items that were desired tended to fetch higher amounts of the local currency while more common items were very cheap. Jimmo didn't come here for much; he took what he needed, paid for it at the counter, and walked out to fulfill his next task.

He walked down the sidewalk again to parallel the cars in the street. He was filled with a slight envy; these people had been here longer and thus had been able to save more money for their rides. One day Jimmo would be like them. But not today. Shaking off his jealousy, he traversed the busy city and made his way home and dropped his items off into his container. He glanced at the calendar and gasped in shock as he realized he had to work today; earlier he was too busy exploring an abandoned house where it was rumored jewelry was located. Unfortunately, no such jewelry was found but he found other objects of interest that placated him. He ran outside while considering the prices his objects would fetch in the local market. Perhaps a member of his gang could have a better use, though.

Running through the avenue he noticed that the immobile trees and the beautiful bushes gave a false sense of security. It was too quiet. He stopped for a second and heard a sound that broke the serenity... the sound of something following him! He turned around and stared at the looming figure of a huge bear.

"Graaar!" roared the angry bear.

Jimmo immediately got to work fighting the bear. Both parties were privy to scratches and bites, cuts and bruises, but Jimmo was the stronger of the two. The bear cried out in pain and fell to the ground, the environment before Jimmo quivering as if sympathizing with the bear. Jimmo chuckled at his success (it was no contest from the beginning: he had fought bears before), cut the bear's paw off and put it in his knapsack. He also felt more adept at battle, if only slightly so.

Low on stamina, he came gasping to the place where work was to be done that day. His buddies sat waiting for him, one smoking a cigarette in a sophisticated manner. She was the star of the gang; everybody paid attention to her and she reveled in it. She loved the popularity and the power that comes with it. Nearby was his best buddy, Hectire. Hectire wasn't physically strong, but tended to help Jimmo out whenever it was needed. His other acquaintances he did not know too well, but he got along with them amiably. He was familiar with some of them to an extent, but not everyone. Even so, all had one purpose in mind: work. In this society, work was done for money, which was required to not just survive, but to keep up with the Joneses and become who you were through flashy articles of clothing and other items. In a sense, decals for your soul.

"Yo, Jimmo, you late. We were just gonna go and start picking pears. Pears go good on the market recently. They're like twice as much as last Surnday! We reckon we're going to split up into two groups; you and Hectire and some of the people here will go down near the river and pick pears from the trees there. Quistina is coming with us as well as the rest. We're going up the mountain to pick the pears there."

Hectire's eyes flashed jealousy. "No, I think Quistina is coming with us. She is the best here in regards to swimming."

"Don't think so," the Kevlar vest wearing, AK-47 wielding, ridiculously muscled, smirking warrior who spoke up before said. "You go down there and play nice; you lucky to be with us in the first place.

"What?" cried Jimmo.

"You heard me." spoke the muscular man.

"No, I'm sorry. My music was too loud."

"Oh. Well, she is coming with us. Go down there and be a good little boy and get those pears."

Jimmo turned and looked at Quistina. She eyed him and took a slow puff of her cigarette, her enchanted eyes met his and then darted away. She stood up and her slender body walked seductively with the departing mountain-traveling group.

"Well, Hectire, what now?" Jimmo asked. We're going to have to pick pears from both sides of the rivers, and none of us are good at swimming. Especially those damned fish; they fucking hurt and killing them gets us nothing."

Hectire contemplated and rubbed his chin, his stubble making a scratching sound as his magnified eyes turned to the side as if they were staring at the rim of his thick, black-rimmed glasses. "Hmmm..." he thought to himself, weighing the options with the strengths and weakness of his group taken into account. "We'll think of something when we get there."

The group walked down the hill to the river, checking back a few times to see their friends walking the other way in the distance towards the mountains. Once they got to the river they began picking pears, stopping only to fight wolves and an occasional bandit or two. The bandits were always grown men who had the voices of thirteen year olds; nonetheless they were easily dealt with through the combined might of Jimmo, Hectire, and the rest of the group.

They looked longingly to the other side of the narrow river where the rest of the pears remained. They certainly could not swim across the river; they lacked needed skills in swimming and the fish were too dangerous to encounter. There had to be a way safe way across. Suddenly, a member of the group came up with a brilliant idea: cut a tree down and use it to cross the river. Everyone agreed that this was the only solution for them, but reminded each other to be careful to not fall off the log. An axe wielding bodybuilder of a lumberjack nodded to his friends and cut down a tree with all his might, it falling conveniently over the river and formed a bridge.

Three members had already crossed, as well as Jimmo, and the rest of the group watched as Hectire walked slowly with a noticeable fear of the ominous water below him.

"Don't fall, Hectire! You don't know just how powerful those fish are!" Jimmo yelled. He didn't want to have his friend die in the river.

"I'm not. I'm doing just fi-." Suddenly Hectire tripped over a small branch, his body falling face first into the murky waters below. For a second he submerged below the murky water, but he soon surfaced and peered back up, his thick glasses lopsided. He smiled at his unpredicted survival. Then as quickly as he had surfaced he was pulled down again, his face contorting mostly into disappointment and not fear or pain. He was sucked under the water in a bubbling fight as the water near him appeared red and increasingly chunkier. Then, silence. His fashionable emo glasses floated to the top of the river and the instant peace gave no sign of a struggle before, except for a few bubbles. The glasses floated out of reach and Jimmo cursed the fact that Hectire would have to buy a new pair of glasses as he could not salvage them for his friend.

"We'll have to continue without him," muttered a gruff construction worker with a yellow hard hat and a body decorated with tattoos. Everyone reluctantly agreed. They continued picking pears and after fighting off a few bears and wolves they decided to cross the river again and go back to the meeting place.

The other group came back fifteen minutes later with only half of the people from before the prior departure. "I see you lost only one," the battered and camouflaged guy with an AK-47 said. "Quistina wandered off into an area that had too stronga mountain lions, and she was attacked by three o' them at once. My men went to protect her --being a lady, of course-- and were torn to shreds and eaten by the mountain lions. Then they bit Quistina by the neck and shook her body, resulting in a nasty snap. We couldn't revive any of them."

"Shucks. We lost Hectire; he fell into the river." Jimmo solemnly said, shaking his head slowly. "Damn fish. Damn fucking fish."

"You guys did pick a lot of pears, though. These will sell for a lot on the market. You guys get 150 credits each. I'll save the rest for the fallens' hospital bills."

Jimmo and everybody else thanked him, and went their respective ways.

Jimmy took the headset off and blinked. His bedroom slowly came into view as his brain adapted to the instantaneous change in environment. The walls of the cave were brightly illuminated by the lamp, and the noise of his Virtua-Set shut off with the pressing of the power button. He yawned and decided to go see how his friend Hector was doing.

Jimmy put on his gas mask and radiation suit and went into the deradiation station. The door to his home closed behind him tightly and the huge doors to outside opened up. Outside was a hazy brown fog in a world of cement, and the only color came from the neon billboards near the airway. Fusion powered aircars hovered over the streets in a bustling symphony of whooshes, beeps, honks, and the amplified, digitized voices of people talking through their gas masks. Ominous buildings loomed overhead, all looking like each other except for a corporate logo plastered on the side in one more attempt to capture free advertising. Walking down the cracking sidewalk Jimmy glanced at the petrified tree in a small inlet with artificial grass that had carved out an existence despite the odds against it. Though hardly considered alive, it continued remaining without any purpose or care except for the all-important need for existence. A strange tree, it was. It was almost a "silly" tree; Jimmy was unsure of what it reminded him of. He walked past it, quickly forget the tree, and came to Hector's house.

Jimmy stomped on the lid of the hole covering. A paranoid eye looked through the peephole and within the next minute the lid opened up and Jimmy climbed down into the deradiation bay. The lid closed and after being cleansed of radiation Jimmy walked into Hector's house (which was a converted sewer).

Hector greeted him at the door, though was in a foul mood. "Jimmy, that was fucking bullshit, man! I lost a level and my fucking glasses! Those cost 750 credits! Fucking bullshit, man!" said the pockmarked face of his friend. "Fucking stupid game! I'm never playing that again!"

Jimmy knew that wasn't true.

"C'mon, Hector, you've had bad luck recently but there is no reason to quit!"

Hector's mom walked into the room carrying recently cleaned radiation suits to hang up. "Boys! You guys need to stop playing that silly game. It takes up all your time! You need to focus on real life, not this ridiculous fantasy game you worship!"

Hector shook his head. "Mom, you don't understand. I need something to do after working for most of the day. Every day I go to work and break open rocks to harvest minerals that are used to decontaminate water molecules of estrogen. It's boring and there is nothing else to do around here."

"Sounds just like that game you play," argued Hector's mother.

"No, Mom! No, it isn't!" squealed Hector in his high-pitched voice. "You don't understand! This is different! Besides, what else do you want me to do? Go outside? Hah!"

Hector's mother didn't say anything; her son had her cornered.

Jimmy didn't say anything; he knew both of them were right: there was nothing to do in life except work all day and play games in the Virtual Plane if one had time. Later that night after mulling life and existence in the privacy of his own home (except for the Xorno Corporation conducting a secret survey for marketing purposes and the government tapping his Virtua-Set to fight against evil), Jimmy v-mailed his account's password to Hector.

The night was bright as day from the illuminating colors of the nearby billboard signs as Jimmy walked outside through the illuminated haze without a radiation suit. He died three steps from his house as his lungs liquified and his skin peeled. The authorities ruled it as another suicide and he had a proper, though expensive, burial a week later after all the proper forms were filled out.

May 17, 2006

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