Gum Balls and Pirates

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Howard Wallerton's diamond smile was front and center on the WorldCore simulcast that hung above the bar. This was the moment that Keller had been waiting for. He had parked himself in the chain joint, overdecorated with Jolly Roger kitsch and swimming with too-perky waitstaff because it boasted something like fifty flat-screens. He had endured the bartender's perpetual can-I-get-you-anything glances just so he could watch this broadcast.

Otherwise, Keller would not have been caught dead watching WorldCore anything. He had to admit that Wellerton's segue from newsy opinion piece concerning breastfeeding women to the story on the Lincoln Park Incident was smooth; too smooth. Even the product placement felt like silk on his ears. It tickled in a bad way.

This was Keller's moment, the one he had been working toward since he dropped out of engineering school back in '21, and he'd be damned if he was going to watch it as a rebroadcast. The words that Keller had been waiting and working for all this time began to drip from Wellerton's chiseled lips like warm honey.

"And now onto our feature story. Lincoln Park, a small holdout enclave south of Detroit, has seen its fair share of rioting recently. Reportedly, residents hit the streets demanding better food rations, an all too common complaint of the voluntarily disenfranchised. However, when rioters resorted to violence the Michigan Heavy Police contingent was brought in to quell the disturbance. Police believe that terrorist elements may be providing material aid to street rioters, thereby escalating the conflict. Viewers should be aware that some images may not be suitable for all audiences. You may want to pause the broadcast and remove children from the room before watching."

"Yeah, get on with it," muttered Keller. The bartender saw his lips moving and seemed to imagine that this meant he wanted another pint. The bartender pointed to the tap, Keller held up the half empty glass of Amerifuzz and mouthed, "Not yet."

"For more, we go to Jessie Kay, our Midwest correspondent on the scene," said Wellerton before the screen flickered to show a slender newsy-model hidden within an oversized urban camouflage flack vest. The word "PRESS" emblazoned in highly reflective white letters across the chest piece negated any concealing effect the printed pattern might have should reporter Kay find herself in the midst of a firefight. Keller grinned in recollection. Those letters had represented a particularly nasty problem.

Her über-platinum hair, almost as reflective as the lettering on her chest, was pressed over her delicate ears by the riot helmet balanced atop her tiny head. Keller wondered for a moment at the woman's age; impossible to estimate simply by appearance, given that there appeared to be more applied medical whizbangery in the thirty-six square centimeters of that face that had ever been offered to the denizens of Lincoln Park. This was a person who had been fundamentally altered for ratings. Something about her appearance momentarily moved Keller. It was an uncomfortable sensation, simultaneous affection, and loathing, like watching his mother leave on a date after her divorce.

"Bill, I'm standing behind Michigan Heavy Police barricades, now located within Detroit proper." High-lift armored troop transport vehicles made up the backdrop for the on-site simulcast. The broadcast could have been pitched from anywhere.

"Earlier today, police conducted an organized retreat when Lincoln Park rioters were surprisingly assisted by a swarm of unmanned aerial drones." Keller wondered whether even the woman's voice had been altered. If anything could make this beer worse, it was the saccharin sound coming from her lips.

"With me here is the Heavy Battalion Incident Commander, Marc Creech. Commander Creech, can you tell our viewers what happened today and why your men were forced to pull back?"

Creech held up something in his hand. The camera zoomed in on a device, and Keller got to see his creation for the first time in the wild. "This morning we started to notice these drones collecting above Lincoln Park. For most of the morning, they would pop up above riot lines. We believed they were just performing reconnaissance for riot organizers."

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