I wait in line like everyone else at the housing office, fumbling with my phone and trying to refresh my score. I'd been working hard to lower my number, but it hadn't budged. Even with the approved overtime requests at work and the endless hours of working the graveyard shift, I couldn't get my number down. Before my latest refresh, I was sitting at a comfortable fifty-five, but I need at least a forty-five to get my wife out of our crap apartment and into a better part of the city. With Vivian expecting our daughter soon, I know I need to work harder than ever.
Pulling down on the holographic screen again, I release my finger and wait. The circular animation above my name on the screen continues to swirl. From the groans of the others waiting in the lobby, I can tell they're experiencing the same issue. My phone beeps and displays my score.
"Shit. No, no, no," I say, pulling my finger down and trying to refresh it again, that couldn't be right. There was no way my score had increased that much. At that threshold, I was in danger of losing the apartment and would have to move into one of the project housing plants made for people with a score above seventy-five. There is no way this is happening. Seventy-five is unthinkable, and one hundred is death.
I curse at my phone and look to one of the large TV screens in the lobby. There is an attractive news anchor in a short, blue dress. The headline reads: 'Big Five suffer Depression: Citizens to pay?'
"Recent shortages and decreasing sales have resulted in increasing prices and lowered wages. The Big Five expect to mitigate the issue by adjusting payments and prices to offset decreasing demand, but it's going to be a rough patch for the city."
I continue to stare at the TV. The others waiting in the office are doing the same, and the line comes to a grinding halt.
A man enters the screen, and his title flickers in the overlay. He's a representative of McGuire Mercantile, one of the Big Five. 'Thanks for having me, Tiffany," he says, shaking the woman's hand.
"Citizens are already reporting steep increases in personal scores that are rising by the minute. Do you have any plans to increase the Threshold to prevent these artificial adjustments and instability?"
"At this time, we're not changing the Threshold, but will adjust it as needed if too many civilians are culled. The last thing we want is instability, and we're doing everything in our power in cooperation with the other mega corporations to bring the city back into a period of stability. If citizens find themselves sitting above a one hundred, they should speak to their local creditor offices and seek help if possible. At this time, the cullings will be taking place at the end of each week with standard operating procedures and the standard Threshold of one hundred."
The screen fades out, and the network jumps to another story, but my heart is already pounding in my chest. My phone beeps again, and my score comes back.
A woman standing in front of me sinks to her knees, her score, well above one hundred, flickering in red.
Quickly, I lift my phone and hold it up to the digital board that hangs above the front desks of the office. It takes a second, but the rate comes through with my augmented reality app. My rent will cost twenty-five points for the month now, which would put my score above one hundred.
People are starting to yell in the lobby, complaining to the housing clerks and leaving the building in panicked drones. I raise my phone to my ear and dial Vivian, accepting the .0005 point charge to make the call.
"Reports are showing a staggering thirty-five percent of the population approaching or at the Threshold now. The Big Five have yet to respond to the issue. In other news, networks are bogged down, and citizens may not get an accurate score update until more servers can be dedicated to the Corporate Mainframe to mitigate the increased network load."
I block out the news anchor as I connect with Vivian. "Honey?" I ask.
"Michael, come home, we need to figure out what's going on, I--I'm at an eighty-three now, and I'm scared."
"It's okay, honey, they're not going to cull everyone; I'm sure it's just a glitch. Significant population reductions aren't going to fix the economy, and it's not in the Big Five's interest to get rid of a lot of good employees. We're going to be fine, and we're not going to lose the apartment. They'll fix this mess."
"Can you come home? I need you here," she says to me, her voice shaking.
"I'm on my way. Do we have enough food and water?"
"Yes, we've got at least a week's worth. Did you pay the rent?"
"No, the rates are too high," I say, grimacing as my phone beeped again to display my updated score.
"I'll take out an extension, and we'll pay it once everything settles. I don't want to risk our scores any more than we need to in all this craziness. I'm on my way home," I say, ending the phone call to preserve my increasing score.
As I walk onto the streets, I see that people are running around, carrying bags of groceries and looking panicked. The Corporate Police have heavy rifles on and seem to be a lot more prevalent. I knew the depression was hitting the city hard, but it seemed impossible that something like this could happen in a matter of hours.
"Watch it, asshole!" a man yells at me, jumping back to keep from spilling his groceries.
I wave and apologize before flagging down a cab. The driver pulls it to the curb, and I scan the side with my phone. One point per mile.
"Are you seriously charging one point a mile?" I yell.
"Sorry, pal, I've got a family too, and my company is feeling the heat just like everyone else."
My apartment is sixteen blocks away, so I decide to run instead. Behind me, I see someone jump into the cab I had just declined.
I start running as fast as possible, dodging to the right and left to avoid the anxious-looking people that are constantly refreshing their phones. I jam my phone in my pocket, ignoring the beeping as my score continues to climb. I need to get home to Vivian, and checking my score isn't going to do any good. I've got some savings cards stashed at the apartment, and we'll use them to lower our scores if needed. I'm trying to fight the panic that's growing inside, to believe that the Big Five are going to fix this mess, but it's hard with the growing fear I see on the streets. People are starting to act irrationally.
As I'm running, I catch a snippet of audio from a news broadcast.
"Reports are now showing forty-two percent of the city's population at or in danger of reaching the Threshold. We're expecting--"
I'm panting for breath now, but I'm getting close to my apartment. The street lights crackle to life, and I check my phone's display. It's six PM, and my phone lost connection with the network. I tap it on the side a few times as I run, but I'm not getting anything. I clear the last couple of blocks and climb the stairs up to my apartment. I press my phone on the console by my door, and the light clicks green. As I enter, I see Vivian. Her long, dark hair is hanging down, and she's holding her face in her hands, crying. The lights are out inside the apartment, but I can see the red glow of her phone on the battered metal counter.
Her phone displays 116.9.
Thanks for reading the first chapter of Glitch Zero. If you enjoyed the read, please vote, comment, and follow!
My professionally edited cyberpunk novel, Absolute Knowledge, is available for purchase on Amazon in print and digital format.
Since I'm actively working on book two of the Absolute Knowledge series, this book won't be updated that frequently, but it is my next major publishing project after I complete book two of my trilogy, Absolute Zero.
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