It was ridiculously hot in the darkened office. Johnny knew that he could switch on the cooling air con but he also knew that he could not afford it. Not this month, very possibly not next either. The picture business was not what it once had been. Sure, people still wanted art to hide the grim reality of the industrial mess outside their living quarters, they just wanted that art cheap. Cheaper than Johnny could make it. There was still some regulars, mostly from tech corporations that wanted to stand out from the others. It still was not enough. He had started making detailed, fully interactive landscapes that the user could enter and move around in. This had quickly morphed into vivid colours and sounds. In turn this became generic views of places that no longer existed. Probably never existed but that was what sold. What had started as a passion project had become a drudge. Employment was hard to find and he had decided to just scrape by for as long as he could.
There was a knock at the door. Putting down the laser brush, he flicked on the nearby monitor to see who was there.
“Jesus, what the hell does he want?”
The words were formed in anger and as the front door of the studio slid open, in walked what could only be described as a floating mess. Flies buzzed around outside the studio, the invisible electric barrier had clicked on and was doing its job keeping Mother Natures less desirable creatures from polluting the sanctity of his space. The man was hunched over, the result of a broken arm that he had not been able to afford to have set properly, as little fizzes of electricity burst all over his manky clothes as the barrier cleansed him. Camero was a man of the street and was a walking reminder to Johnny to never go outside again.
“Ah Johnny, I always love visiting you. I leave here feeling cleansed”. His voice was raspy and liquid. He liked the drink and when he could not afford alcohol, he would move onto anything he could lay his grubby hands on. Johnny sneered and was about to turn back to his work, when he noticed a second person enter. Dressed in the grey uniform of the recently revived, the man looked confused. Future Shock was a horrible thing and while he had seen many people struck by it, Johnny had not seen anyone go quite so pale during a bout.
“Who’s the grey?” Johnny indicated with a nod as he stood up, placing the canvas behind him. Something did not feel right and he wanted to have the protection of something in case he had to fight.
Camero was grinning. This in itself was an unnerving sight. The combination of missing teeth with the ones that still clung on was testament to the wonders of ignoring dentists.
“This man Johnny,” a dramatic pause while the mess gestured theatrically, “is you.”
A sigh forced its way out of his mouth. He was already calculating how long before he could force them to leave him alone. Johnny’s hand had subconsciously gripped the edge of the canvas, readying itself for whatever was coming.
The silence lasted for what seemed like an age, Camero still gesturing to the Grey while he looked for a reaction that was never coming. Slowly he lowered his arms, checked his fly and then walked over to the confused man. Putting his arm around him, Camero guided him towards a nearby chair and helped him sit down.
“He’s still a wee bit ice sick, the poor loon,” a grubby hand ruffling the mans hair as if a proud parent. Then he turned and walked straight up to Johnny.
“So you know me? I hang around outside the freezer and greet the new born as they leave. Show them around, tell them what has changed, some of which is even true. Help them spend their cash to get them started and graciously accept the inevitable reward for doing so. It has made life that wee bit easier over the years.”
Dirty fingernails prised open a can off alcohol that he had somehow liberated from the nearby cool box. One sip, two sips, three sips later, the can was empty and Camero looked directly at Johnny.
“In that time I have made a number of acquaintances that have made the whole job so much easier. Imagine my surprise when my latest friend,” he hooked a thumb over his shoulder towards the grey, “when we go through his papers and find out that his name is…”
Frantic ruffling through his many pockets produced a relatively neatly folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, Camero jammed it towards Johnny’s face.
“…Johnny Todd Christos.”
Johnny relaxed his grip on the canvas and noted where his laser brush was. If it came to it, he could probably use it to distract them long enough to force them outside.
“Yeah Camero…..having the same name is not really going to convince me is it?”
With the paperwork not having the desired effect, the street tramp lowered it slowly. There was a look of total defeat on his face. If you had looked close enough (assuming you could bear to be that close) you could swear there was a tear in the yellowed eyes. The paper was folded again and slid into a different pocket than the one he had removed it from. Turning his head, Camero looked at the grey and sighed. Then his left hand slowly rose and in it was clasped a very official looking police report. It was almost comical to see the lengths that he was going to. Johnny decided he was not going to play along, so he grabbed the report and scanned the contents.
100% DNA confirmation of identity
100%? Nothing was that accurate. Before the question could be asked, Camero continued.
“You see, I walked into the station on Queen Street and just happened to mention that I had witnessed a very well to do man jump from the railway bridge. While I could not find an actual body, I did manage to find a rag of bloodied clothing that had been left on a ragged edge of the bridge. They tested it to get the name and guess what? It came back as a match for you. I would imagine the police will arrive here at some point in the next few months to check if you are still alive.”
Anger is a very unpredictable emotion and Johnny was struggling to keep it under control. He could now see a rip in the grey mans sleeve, caked with a small amount of blood. What kind of nutter was Camero?
“Johnny…Johnny, calm yourself. This is Chiba level man…..Fucking Chiba.”
The grey suddenly became focused at the mention of that. He whispered “Chiba” and then his eyes became unfocused as his mind started to search through the memories to place it. Camero grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and span him round to face directly at him.
“All those churches that believe that their god will take them and put them back into the time stream way back, way before all the world went to shit. Every single one of them will play a pretty penny to get proof buddy. You are that proof. You are fucking Chiba”