HEATSEEKERS


Nixie exhaled. The plastic numbers on the clock flipped from 4:59 PM to 5:00 PM, indicating it was time to venture outside again–time to travel the mile from work to home. Work this month was a ramshackle used bookstore–one of few left in city. It would probably be shut down soon–they were already having enough trouble sending the Feds fake inventory reports, and when they finally caught on Nixie would be out of a job, again. They already paid him under the table, since Nix wasn't technically registered with the Government. Not that the store stocked anything too inflammatory...but Plato's Symposium would be enough to close the store down, at the rate things were going.

The cash register was locked, the floors sweeped. It was already starting to get dark, which would make his journey home a lot tougher. He pulled up the hood of his black sweatshirt, and pulled on a pair of gloves. He locked the front door of the store, then took off running. He ran down the back alleys, where it was darker. He was more likely to run into thugs this way, but less likely to run into the police–thugs he could handle, police he would rather not have to. The police required papers. Papers required a permanent residence and proof of U.S. birth. Neither of which he had.

He cut across a junkyard and a repossessed car lot, keeping his back arched low as he ran. Barely making it to the fence before the junkyard dog, he scaled the chainlink and plopped down onto an empty main road on the other side. He slowed down here–almost home, shouldn't raise suspicion. A small scanner was screwed into the wall of one of the buildings he walked past–one of thousands of such scanners in the city. The scanner's thin red beam of light broke as Nixie passed through it. "Unidentified citizen. Possible threat," a robotic voice spoke from the box. Normally the scanners would give your name, age, race, gender, and your threat level. For reasons of national security. For reasons of his own security, about a year ago Nixie had taken a razorblade and cut open a small area behind his ear. He found a small microchip there, as would any registered, legal citizen of the United States. He threw the chip away. In the eyes of his country, he was nameless and faceless–and could be shot on sight.

A quick trot down a few alleyways brought him to an old arcade that he called home. Technically he had bought it for cheap as a commercial property, but in reality he had no intention of ever turning it into a business–it was just cheaper than a real apartment in this city. Old mannequins and ancient automatons leered out from the front display window as Nixie unlocked the roll-down gate, and then the front door. The inside was filled with broken pin-ball games and fortune-teller machines, thrown in with the place when Nixie purchased it. The walls were covered in strange, psychedelic, multi-colored murals, and a huge neon "ARCADE" sign was suspended from the ceiling, casting an orange glow over everything. A few pieces of decrepit furniture were scattered among the games–nothing was really worth anything. His record player may have once been worth something, but it was in such a sorry state that it was probably worthless now, as was everything he owned. Outdated, obsolete.

A cat was sprawled out on a "She-Bot" pinball machine. She had no name–she came and went as she pleased, and Nixie allowed her that freedom. Vermin were the only things that could come and go as they pleased these days, and he felt bad interfering with that. The cat was thin an lanky, like Nixie, with bright blue eyes to match, as well. While the cat was a suspiciously bright white, Nixie hid under a mop of long, unwashed black hair. He'd been wearing the same boots and tight, patched-and-repatched jeans for about five years now. Shirts were rotated. Most people didn't wear jeans anymore–synthetic materials were cheaper to make these days. Outdated, obsolete, that was Nixie.