Jordan Klein strolled down the rain-kissed streets, hands shoved deep into his pockets. A tattered baseball cap was perched over his hair, effectively hiding his dark curls. He wore a gray sweatshirt, black pants, and a navy blue shirt (no logo). It was the optimal outfit for a con man. Unremarkable, bland, and above all, difficult to pick out of a lineup.
His mark was waiting in a heavily graffitied bus stop. Once it had been walled with thick clear plastic panes, but now only the metal framework and some dagger-sharp shards of its old covering remained. The mark was a young man in his early twenties, perhaps as young as nineteen. He wore a polo shirt, slacks, and had a pink sweatshirt slung over one shoulder. A spoiled brat, doubtless nursing a hangover as he waited for a friend to pick him up.
"Hey." Jordan strolled up to him, all casualness. "What kind of mount is that?"
The brat grinned. "It's pretty sweet, huh?" he brushed an imaginary piece of hair off the black plastic knob grafted to his neck. It was ugly as all hell in Jordan's professional opinion. The mount had been carved to resemble a skull, with the long rat tail of chips dangling out of the gaping mouth. It was a cheap plastic job, not fitting with the rest of his uniform.
"Yeah, it's real nice." Jordan agreed out loud. "What model?"
"It's the Screaming Skull, fifteenth generation. It can handle over a terabyte of input, and it's wired with twelfth-generation firewalls against viruses. It's even got-"
"Slow down there, dude." Jordan chuckled. "Did you say fifteenth generation?"
"The latest and greatest." The brat said proudly.
Jordan gave a fake I-feel-sorry-about-this smile. "Not quite, I'm afraid."
Jordan drew a package from his backpack. He'd spent a long time getting the label right, but it was paying off now. "I just so happen to have a sixteenth-generation SlimPro mount right here."
The kid's eyes bugged. "Sixteenth? But those haven't come out for civilian use-" he stopped as Jordan put a finger over his lips and grinned with a secretive air.
"I know they haven't come out for civilian use yet," Jordan murmured, "But I've had this little issue with some boys up at the casino if you take my meaning. My old fourteenth gen works fine for now until I find a good way to lose it. Until then, I just need enough to pay off my debts and I'm in the clear." He rattled the box alluringly. "I only need fifty gigabytes, so even though it's worth at least two hundred, how 'bout we split the difference and say seventy-five gigs?"
The mark shook his head. "I can't spend that much, my allowance only goes so far. How about fifty gigabytes?"
"Deal." They shook. The kid reached back to his mount and unclipped a fifty-gigabyte chip, a ten-gigabyte chip, and a five gigabyte chip. He handed them over, and Jordan passed him the box.
"Pleasure doing business." Jordan said, then checked his watch, gave an alarmed look, and scooted away. As soon as he turned the first corner, he started running at a rapid jog, cutting through alleyways and public buildings. After a short run, he arrived back at his car, unlocked the door, and sank wearily into the driver's seat. He untucked his own mount from inside his shirt and plugged the new chips into it. A moment later, he felt the cool rush of power as an additional sixty-five gigabytes of processing power linked neatly onto his brain stem. He absentmindedly wondered when the kid would open the box, only to find it contained nothing but a few rocks taped inside and a note that read: sorry for your loss. It was an easy scam, as long as you picked your targets right.
Meanwhile, Jordan linked up his mount and closed his eyes. The car's feed imposed itself onto his vision, and he pulled away from the curb, looking around with his new 360-degree vision for traffic. Finding none, he accelerated onto the street and drove away.
He cruised down the road, his new monochromatic camera lenses taking in the view. The air tasted of steam and garbage, with a hint of grease from a nearby fast food joint. The streets were littered with garbage, of both the plastic and human variety. The plastic garbage- wrappers, bottles, various abandoned odds and ends, most of which were mashed into brightly-colored mulch by the feet of passers-by. The human garbage was slightly more resilient, the brain-drained wretches, the lucky ones able to stumble about and even to beg for chips, while the unfortunate simply sat in puddles of their own waste. Watching them, Jordan's gut twisted. His father, he knew, would have stopped for each one and given him a whole megabyte, maybe two. Jordan reflected that perhaps this was part of the reason his father was no longer among the awake.
Jordan stopped in a busy parking lot and walked a short distance to an enormous, looming building. DEBTOR'S PRISON, it read in huge stone levers across the front. Inside was a long desk, populated by a single crone-like receptionist. She looked up in irritation as Jordan walked in, and set down her crossword book.
"Can I help you?" she asked wearily through two inches of bulletproof glass.
"I'm here to see Betzalel Klein." Jordan said.
The crone closed her eyes for a moment. "No name listed in the directory." She said.
Jordan scribbled a series of numbers and letters on a piece of paper and slid a two-megabyte chip underneath it. He pushed this into the divot beneath the glass. "Could you try this serial number?"
The crone took the paper, felt the chip underneath. "Yes, here he is. Must have been a spelling error." She creaked to her feet and unlocked the door to one side of the window. She led Jordan down endless hallways, each more poorly lit than the last, until they arrived at junction four-seven-six-ZZ. "I'm not supposed to leave you alone down here." The crone hinted. "But an exception could be made..."
Jordan handed her another two megabytes and she left him alone in the RAM crypt. The smell was not so bad here; it reeked of unwashed bodies of course, but at least Jordan had managed to get his father a cell with plumbing. He walked over to where his father was entombed.
Betzalel Klein was very nearly buried in machinery. A thick, gurgling tube was stuck down his throat, feeding him a nutrient sludge, the waste products from which were removed by two other tubes in his crotch. A few electrodes were half-heartedly taped onto his torso, monitoring heart rate and breathing. His limbs were encased in thick, bulky covers, strapped tight enough to prevent distraught loved ones from attempting to tear him out from the wall. His head was entirely covered by a massive helmet, obscuring his face and terminating in a thick cord trailing from the back of his neck. A pair of digital displays flickered above him. One in green indicated the sentence already served: 9.45 YEARS. The one in red indicated the remaining time. 0.55 YEARS.
His breathing was heavy and labored, crusted layers of nine-year-old sweat built up around the straps that held him in place. He had shrunken in his time here, muscle and fat bleeding away to feed the meat servers. Skin had faded to a pale yellow, and ribs now crested forward from a gray-haired, wrinkled chest.
Jordan drew a scrap of worn paper from his pocket and read it aloud. "Mi sheberach avotenu, May the one who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless and heal Betzalel Klein. May the Blessed Holy One be filled with compassion for their health to be restored and their strength to be revived. May God swiftly send them a complete renewal of body and spirit. Amen."
"Hold on, Dad." Jordan whispered.
A few minutes later, he pulled up in a gravel parking lot outside a brooding concrete block of a building, streaked with black stains from acid rain. The windows were grimy and dark, and the grounds outside were littered with soggy cigarette butts and shattered bottles. Jordan put himself in park and then disconnected. He waited a moment for the disorientation to pass, then climbed out and headed inside.
Unlike its exterior, someone had clearly put a lot of effort into keeping the inside of the building clean, despite being on a shoestring budget. The creaky wooden floors were scrubbed within an inch of their lives, the ancient, rickety furniture was lovingly polished and cleaned. Still, no amount of cleaning or polishing could scrub out the overwhelming sense of ancientness oozing from the dark walls. They were old and stained, pitted with places where the concrete had begun to crumble. A small box sitting on a battered chair in the entryway was accompanied by the plaque: "Every bit helps! Donate to the Veteran's fund today!"
"What veterans?" Jordan muttered to himself. He brushed past the chair, grabbed a yarmulke and a siddur from the shelf next to it and headed into the sanctuary. Services were nearly over, and Jordan took a seat near the back as the rabbi ascended to his podium.
"Today's parsha is parshat Emor. As I'm sure you are all aware, the holiday of Sukkot is upon us, the harvest celebration. It is a time of renewal, rebirth, and a celebration of all that we have..."
After the sermon and concluding prayers, Jordan stood. At the front of the room, rabbi Coastman was exchanging a few words with his congregants. He looked towards Jordan, making a brief eye contact and a small twitch of his head toward the study door before returning to the conversation. As the rest of the congregants filed out, Jordan opened the door to the rabbi's study and leaned against a sagging bookshelf. A moment later, the rabbi entered. He was getting on in years, perhaps fifty or sixty years old. His hair was grey heading towards white, with a close-cropped beard below his strong-boned face. A black yarmulke perched atop his thinning hair. He smiled when he saw Jordan, but it was a weary smile.
"Good to see you again, Jordan."
"And you, rebbe." Jordan pulled out the memory chips he'd swindled and set them on the desk. "Will this tide you over until next week?"
The rabbi took the chips as if they had recently been removed from a manure pile. "It shames me that we have come to this." He sighed.
"We do what we must." Jordan replied. "You keep up on your end, I'll keep up mine."
Twenty minutes later, Jordan unlocked his apartment with the simple action of plugging his mount into the lock and triggering its release. He walked inside the tiny, dingy room and sighed. "Home sweet home." He mumbled sarcastically. The apartment was the cheapest one he could find; it wasn't like he needed to spend much time in it. The floor tilted on either side towards a massive crack that promised to one day let the entire room collapse down onto whoever lived below him. A thin smell of boiled cabbage and dirty children pervaded the apartment, wafting in from elsewhere in the building. The faint sounds of men and women screaming at each other echoed through the thin walls, mixed with a baby's caterwauling.
Jordan ignored all this and went to flop on top of the single couch that occupied the back wall. In front of it sat an old-fashioned analog television, along with a much more modern-looking box which held the television in a many-wired embrace. A single long cord led out from the box over to the couch, and Jordan plugged it into his mount. The television screen flickered to grainy life.
"-And the crime rate in the New York metropolitan area has continued to rise, now with-"
"-Take the casserole and then gently coat it in the marinara sauce. Next, we will add-"
"-But how has Katie's divorce from Brad affected her singing career? Find out next on-"
Jordan gave the television a mental command, and the sound switched off, the channel flicking over to display the recent stocks. He pulled a legal yellow pad and a Bic ballpoint pen from the small pile of both that rested on a table constructed of old milk cartons. Looking up over brief intervals, Jordan copied down the relevant information, reading it over once or twice before sending it to his contacts who needed a bit of a boost in their portfolios. A few he reserved for himself, pulling out enough money for the month's rent and some groceries. "A charitable life is the only one worth living." He murmured, and twisted his mouth in half a grin.