Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 11

In which Jones remains inconspicuous

Dumbfounded, Jones watched as the man dashed off, screaming to anyone who would listen, which was no one, about the wave about to drown the desert valley. After a few moments, another voice rang out. 

“Hold, please!”

The man stumbled to a halt. Three or four other people around Jones froze as well, wavering on the cracked sidewalk with vacant, blinking stares. Jones watched as a woman in a polo shirt, cargo pants and an employee badge walked briskly past him. She was tapping on a small tablet and. Jones looked at her ears. She had headphones. He realized she was on the phone.

“Bluetooth is fucked,” she said. “There’s too much interference.” She walked up to the man and lifted his arm to look at a monitor strapped to his wrist. The man allowed her to touch him without protest, breathing shallowly and gazing into the middle distance.

“Yeah, I know, I’m already trying NFC. I’m standing right next to him. There are like four other customers and it’s pairing with all of them.” The woman looked around. Jones froze. Her gaze slid over him, uninterested, as she jabbed her index finger at the tablet. 

“I filed the same bug report last week. The issue here is not a lack of bug reports. Yeah. No, I can’t just leave him, his electrolytes are horked. He needs to go to medical.” The woman kicked at a jagged piece of metal jutting from the curb as she listened to the other end of the call.

“Manually? Seriously? Ok. What is his scenario?” The employee listened, then snorted. “Wow, what a prick. Fine. I got it. Thanks. You’re welcome. Thank you. I appreciate your help and expertise. Ok, thanks. Bye.”

She tapped the tablet a few more times and the customers standing around Jones jolted from their stupor. The man jumped, and tried to pull his arm away from the employee as she gripped his elbow.

“What the hell are you doing?” he shouted. “We’ve got to move!”

“Sir, I’m with the government,” she said. “You did it. We got the warning in time. Everyone is saved.” The man’s mouth dropped open, skeptical.

“I’m a hero?” he asked. “But what about the children in the bunker.”

The woman stammered, suddenly at a loss for words. “Uh, yikes, well, it turns out they’re ok, sir. You were hallucinating. But the wave was real, and you go the message out, and we heard it, and everyone is safe. You’re a hero!”

The man straightened, and flashed her an ingratiating smile. “All in a day’s work, ma’am.”

The employee could barely conceal her contempt. The man didn’t seem to notice. “Tell it to the reporters,” she said. “They’re waiting for you in the medical tent.” She led the man away towards the entrance of one of the grey,  concrete boxes.

Jones picked up his duffel and made his way towards the center of the strip. He’d always thought that Virtual Vegas meant virtual gambling, but the product seemed to have evolved. As he walked, the mealy, khaki-clad tourists darted and swerved around him, both oblivious to his personal space and unconsciously adept at avoiding direct collisions, often with millimeters to spare. On the plus side, Jones thought, athletic cyborgs with robotic limbs and armadillo tattoos would stand from this group. Wading his way across the crowded strip, Jones ducked into an outdoor arcade to avoid the jostle of the vacant crowds. It was just as packed, but at least there was more shade. He tapped a man carrying a box of sunglasses on the shoulder. 

"Have you seen any cyborgs around here?" Jones asked.

The man looked past Jones, wrinkling his nose. "I'm not sure. How about Tuesday?"

Jones tried again, louder. "Cyborgs!"

"Why don't you buy a damn calendar," the man snapped, and stalked away.

Jones shrugged and approached a woman leaning against the door of a beige three-story restaurant complex. He knocked on the doorframe, trying not to startle her. "Excuse me, ma’am, I'm looking for cyborgs. Have you seen any? Armadillo tattoos. Metal arms.”

Tears welled up in the woman's eyes. "It is so gracious of you to say so," she murmured. Overwhelmed with emotion, she hid her face as tears began to course down her cheeks. Jones nodded.

“Anytime,” he said, and backed away. He found a young woman doing yoga on an astroturf lawn in a small plaza. Next to her, a pink stucco fountain gurgled recycled water. She straightened up and smiled at him kindly.  

"Have you seen any cyborgs?” Jones asked, already sensing the futility of his approach.

The woman nodded sympathetically. "This man, he loved you?" She replied. "Sounds like it wasn't all bad." 

Two joggers emerged from opposite corners, shockingly fast in the desert heat. Jones watched as they collided, sending each other tumbling to the astroturf. Neither seemed upset.

"There you are,"  one of the men said, helping the other up. "I'm going to shut down the reactor. The only way out is through."

"Well, I'll see you in the semifinals," the other jogger replied replied. They nodded and went on their way. Jones looked at the woman performing a downward dog. She hadn’t reacted to the collision next to her, and appeared to have forgotten about Jones. A low, crackling hum filled the air. The fountain burped. The lights in the shops dim. The woman doing yoga fell over and blinked, staring at Jones with apprehension. The hum stopped, the lights came back up, and the fountain regained its flow. The woman blinked a few more times behind her glasses and started to work her way into a crow pose. Jones felt her attention disappear. He didn’t seem to be part of the Virtual reality of Vegas. For better or for worse, he was, for all practical purposes, invisible.