Cheung couldn’t help but notice that something was wrong with his vehicle. The full panoramic scenic view suddenly disappeared. All that remained was a blank viewscreen. The beverage and snack bar just as quickly closed up with a snapping of armor plating guaranteed to resist any vandal armed with less than military grade equipment. Equally alarming, the glare from his clothing seemed to display an image he couldn’t imagine being found dead in. He glanced down at the inverted image and figured out that he was displaying an ad for a common soft drink. Clearly, something was wrong.
“What’s wrong? Is there a power failure?” Cheung asked just as he felt a mild thump beneath the vehicle.
“Out, please,” a speaker from the vehicle intoned.
“What’s going on? Why have we stopped?” Cheung asked as he stared out of the open door at one of the worst slums imaginable. “That’s not my home.”
“It is now. Out, please, or the authorities will be asked to respond.”
“I’m an important businessman. You can’t... Oh no! I’ve been fired?”
“Out, please. Authorities will be called in five more seconds. Four. Three.”
Cheung slipped out of the vehicle. He was barely clear before the door slapped shut and the vehicle launched back into the air. Within two more seconds, it had whisked out of sight. He stared after it for a moment before his thoughts returned to his predicament.
Somehow, he knew that he’d been fired, though he didn’t know why. What was worse was that he apparently owed more than he possessed. Otherwise, his vehicle wouldn’t have abandoned him in a ghetto. Cheung knew now that his home and vehicle had been foreclosed upon. That, in turn, meant that his bank account was zero. Possibly even worse since his clothing was displaying ads rather than fashionable designs to reflect his personality or the current trend of the day.
At least he was still earning something, though it would probably be only enough to pay the government for his meals each day and a bed at night, if he could find one. He didn’t need to be told that government shelter for the night was on a first come basis. He’d seen the news reports too many times about the need for more shelters. However, he’d voted against those since he felt that might encourage people to avoid honest work.
Around him, many of the walls displayed endless advertisements. Few signs gave any indication of where to find work. A few, however, did point the way to recycling centers, one of which he needed to use right then. He followed the signs without paying attention to others around him. Just as he was about to reach the recycling stall, he realized that he’d failed to notice the thugs waiting nearby. One held out a pot.
“Give or we’ll beat it out of you,” the tough in front of the stall demanded through a sneer that boasted one missing tooth.
Cheung realized that he’d forgotten that some people would steal anything if there was the least amount of profit to be made. “Sorry, gents, but I came to do a number one. You’re welcome to it, though.”
“Then why’d you come here? Can’t you do that in the gutter?”
“I’m just a little too used to having some privacy,” Cheung said as he continued his bluff. “Give me a break, I just got fired a few minutes ago.”
“Boys, we got us some rich squeezin’s here if he don’t mind hangin’ out with us just to prove his sincerity,” the tough said without taking his eyes off Cheung. Nor did he move out of the way of the recycling stall.
“I guess I don’t mind. Would you mind answering some questions while we wait?” Cheung asked.
“Such as?” the tough replied.
“Such as where you can go to find jobs. I don’t want to remain out here like this,” Cheung said.
“You don’t like our company already?”
“It’s not that. It’s just that I’d prefer to have a job. I need something to challenge my imagination and give me a goal to aim for.”
“So you want a recruiter?”
“I guess so,” Cheung replied.
“Sure, I’ll tell you. After you fill the pot, that is,” the tough replied to the accompanying laughter of his buddies.
Cheung kicked up at the pot when the tough happened to glance at his buddies for their approval. The pot whipped up out of the tough’s hands and into his face just as he turned back to face Cheung. When the pot fell away, the stunned tough fell backward with a glazed look in his eyes. As he fell, a thin trickle of blood dripped from his newly brown-stained face. The tough’s two buddies were similarly stunned by the suddenness of the attack. They were both still taking in the fact that a fight had started when Cheung regained his footing and kicked out at the nearer of the two. Cheung’s foot caught the second thug in the abdomen. Doubled up, the second tough staggered back with his hands clutching his stomach. By then, the third thug was into a defensive stance. However, he backed up as soon as he saw that he would be fighting alone. When he saw the second tough staggering away to leave, he turned and fled, too.
After stepping over the unconscious tough, Cheung carefully checked the inside of the recycling stall before he entered. Though the latch was broken, he reasoned that anyone seeing an unconscious man outside would hesitate before trying to barge in upon him. With that in mind, Cheung faced the identification sensor. He sat down to take care of business only after seeing that he would properly receive credit for his deposit.
* * *
The tough came to with a howling scream. “Oh god! I’m blind!”
“No, you’re not,” Cheung said as he sat down upon the man’s chest. Cheung pulled the pot away from the tough’s face so that light fell upon the man’s eyes once more.
“Oh, man, I thought I was blind. Why’d you put the pot on me?”
“It was better looking than your face. Now that you’re conscious, you’re going to show me around. Otherwise, I’ll take this pot and recycle it for whatever I can get. Then you won’t have a pot to...”
“All right, I get the picture. You’ll put me out of business if I don’t cooperate.”
“Yes, I think you do get the picture. First off, you can get on your feet while I hold onto your assets. Then you can lead me around. Start with the recycling places. Then show me the dining facilities, shelters, and job placement centers.”
* * *
Cheung entered beneath the awning that served as the only roof available to applicants. The awning was meant to keep inclement weather away from the openings where applicants would enter one or more appendages for the purpose of giving samples in order to qualify for a job. At that, the awning wasn’t for keeping any samples from being contaminated. It was solely there to protect the equipment so none of it wouldn’t have to be replaced as often. He approached the ID sensor and faced it without fear.
“Yes, I’m Cheung Wilson. I’m looking for a job. What’s available?”
“Enter a sample first. Unseal your clothing and present a full sample if you want to be considered for all available jobs.”
Cheung stared at his reflection in the area within the sampling area. His unshaven appearance was enough to startle him. He hadn’t realized just how bad he looked after less than a day without work. The poor night’s sleep he gained had left him feeling aggravated at his situation, particularly since he still didn’t know why he was unemployed. It would have been different had he done something wrong. For a moment more, he hesitated. Then he reached for the seals on his clothes and opened those so he could insert a leg, an arm, and his private member.
Within two minutes, Cheung was breathing heavily. He hadn’t expected the machine to go as far as it had in gaining any samples. It would do no good for him to object. The law stated that he had to go through with any testing once he gave his permission. He just wished that he had known beforehand that the sampling process would be that detailed. Though he tried not to, he wasn’t able to suppress a moan of relief once the final sample entered the machine.
“You may withdraw and reseal your clothing now. Please wait while your samples are analyzed.”
Cheung withdrew himself from the openings and staggered back while feeling that he’d almost been in a race. Certainly, the machine hadn’t been gentle in getting what it wanted. He was still breathing a bit heavy moments later when he finished resealing the last of his clothing. However, his breathing returned to normal before the recruiting machine announced the results a minute later.
“Cheung Wilson, you are qualified for the following: advertisement billboard, advertisement army, gigolo....”
“Gigolo? You’re kidding!” Cheung exclaimed.
“You have a very low sperm count. You would be highly desirable as a gigolo if there was an opening for one at present.”
“How about just telling me what I’m eligible for based upon what’s available? Don’t bother telling me I’m eligible for something that’s not open.”
“As you like. In that case, I am finished.”
“I’m not eligible for anything that’s open?”
“You are eligible for the jobs I already listed. Are you asking me to go through those once more?”
“Uh, yes. The only jobs I heard you mention were for advertising.”
“You are eligible for only two jobs that are presently open. Actually, you are already working as an advertisement billboard. Therefore, there is only one other job that you can apply for. Do you want to be considered for the advertisement army?”
“What is it? Does it pay better? Excuse me, that last question of mine was dumb. Everything pays better than being an advertising billboard. I meant to ask how much more it paid.”
* * *
“I don’t give a rat’s ass how much those duds cost you. You’ll strip and put on these or you can get the hell out of here,” the woman said with her face only centimeters away from Cheung’s face. “I don’t want to see anything still on you in the next ten seconds that you weren’t born with. Now get those off!”
Cheung wondered exactly what he was in for as he opened the seals on his clothing and shucked his clothes from his body. He managed to get totally naked in front of a strange woman in only eight seconds, though he clearly wasn’t aroused by her. He doubted she could arouse anyone with her looks. As well, she was simply too domineering for him to react that way. He couldn’t help but notice that she gave him a thorough once over from head to foot with her eyes. When her gaze returned to his face, he couldn’t help but notice what seemed like some disappointment in her face.
“Put these on. Then go over there and stand with the other gonads,” she ordered.
Cheung accepted the new clothing from her. He studied the clothing for a moment before he understood how it slipped on and into place. Just as he sealed the clothing, he felt something take hold of him.
“So, you weren’t expecting that, huh? Good. You just passed your first test,” she whispered.
“Spies know to expect that. I thought you might be one a moment ago when you didn’t react to me looking at you.”
“Sorry, but I already gave at the recruiter’s office today. Besides, you don’t seem like my type. No offense meant to you.”
“We might change that for you soon enough. Get over there and wait with the others.”
* * *
“I’m Sergeant Melinda Meer. Some of you might become spies who will infiltrate enemy corporations strictly for the purpose of learning what they’re up to. The rest of you will become soldiers whose mission is to hold and gain advertising territory. Right now, I want everyone of you to reach out to the nearest terminal and plug in your suit.”
No sooner had all the recruits plugged in than Sergeant Meer began to undress. She barely broke the seal on her collar before one of the terminals signaled. She stopped immediately as two other uniformed personnel hurried over to the man whose terminal was lit. He was instructed to unplug his suit and soon left with them.
“I want everyone of you who might have seen that man to forget his face and name. The rest of you will now become soldiers. You slugs can unplug and follow me.”
Cheung unplugged his suit and took up a position behind the sergeant. “That was another test?”
“Don’t worry about it, slug. You’re a soldier now, so just concentrate on learning that.”
* * *
Cheung fingered his Cherry Blossom 210. Essentially, it looked like a cherry. His job, however, was to get close enough to lob it at someone in clothing that displayed a competitor’s product. Once the projectile smashed into the person, it would blossom out, hence part of its name. The 210 came from how many minutes the projectile would interfere with the competitor’s advertising before the clothing’s built in nano technology reversed the damage and restored the competitor’s advertising.
Not far ahead, someone created a disturbance. Quietly, Cheung paused long enough to pull some material from his collar to cover his head. Instantly, all of his clothing activated to respond to the surrounding environment and provide concealment in the same way as a chameleon. So long as he moved slowly, his clothing would reflect his surroundings.
Using deliberate steps, Cheung walked around the corner and slowly glanced around in search of his victim. He gave no thought to the security monitors stationed on the mall ceiling. Those wouldn’t spot him unless he became impatient and tried to move too quickly. Around him, other soldiers held their positions relative to each other and at a steady pace so that no one would accidentally collide with Cheung and disclose his presence prematurely.
For almost a block, the small group walked with only the slightest of variations in their positions so that they appeared natural to all outward appearances. They reached another intersection in the shopping mall when Cheung spotted a target of opportunity that he knew he simply couldn’t let pass.
“Break!” Cheung whispered.
Quickly, the other soldiers moved out in different directions and at a quicker pace while Cheung halted. He drew back his arm and hesitated for only a moment so that his target would be totally clear. Then he threw. His arm became a brief blur that activated a silent alarm as one of the security monitors spotted the sudden movement coming from nowhere. Instantly, security personnel looked about in response to the alarm they heard over their earpiece radios. However, Cheung was already standing still once more while the Cherry Blossom 210 headed straight for its target.
“No! Not me! Not now!” an anguished voice cried out from the woman whose clothing suddenly went blank and then reconstituted into an ad for the competitor who sponsored Cheung’s squad.
“Security, find whoever did this!” a man shouted. “Joan, run over to Teclothes and get Ms. Bolloc a new suit immediately! The rest of you, stand around her before any of the Techarazzi show up! I don’t want this on the news! You don’t either if you value your stock options!”
“Well done, Cheung! You got their Chairman of the Board,” Cheung heard through his earpiece radio. He couldn’t help but smile while thinking of the bonus he’d receive for a good day’s work.
“Cheung, move now,” a more familiar voice said through his radio.
Immediately, Cheung glanced around, spotted Sergeant Meer, and then began walking backward as she walked toward him on what would have been a collision course. He knew that she was giving him a chance to escape the security net being cast out for him, not that it would do much good. Still, if he was captured, his temporary internment could be made more than a little uncomfortable. He’d heard rumors during training that prisoners were sometimes executed, even though it was against the law to kill anyone for an advertising attack. For targeting someone as high up as Ms. Bolloc, he felt certain that it was better to be safe than permanently sorry.
“How did we do?” Cheung asked as he swivelled about so he wouldn’t walk into something he couldn’t see.
“I’ll tell you later. Keep quiet now.”
* * *
Sergeant Meer quietly stepped to the front of the room. She glanced around at all the soldiers, especially those who had participated in the campaign that day. Then she smiled. “You all did well. Not only did you hit some high up individuals in our targeted company, you also caused them to cancel their meeting with another company whom our sponsor is interested in buying out. Consequently, our sponsor might now have enough time to finish their negotiations. If things work out for them, then we’ll probably see bonuses in our bank accounts very soon. If not, well, we still got paid for a good day’s work. That’s all for now. I’ll see you all here tomorrow at oh-four-hundred.”
Immediately, there was a short-lived celebration. Then it quieted down almost as quickly as most of the soldiers left for their homes and pretended that they had regular office jobs like everyone else. Cheung headed for his ground vehicle. It wasn’t as nice as the hoverjet he once almost owned, but it was at least his. He’d already paid it off.
Copyright © 2003 by Atk. Butterfly