“Yeah, my parents kicked me out, I can’t come to the racing night, sorry,” I told David numbly, trying to keep the anxiety out of my voice.
He was silent for several long seconds, and I pulled the phone from my ear to make sure it was even still connected. Had he just hung up, was he mad at me or something? No, he hadn’t hung up, but he was muted. That was bad, maybe I should hang up?
“You still there, Clay?” he asked, unmuting right as I was about to disconnect out of sheer anxiety. God I hated how my brain worked.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, my voice refusing to produce any meaningful volume.
“I’m going to assume that the little whisper I just heard was a yes,” he said dryly. “Anyway, I have a plan. Ed and I have an extra room at our place, so you can come live with us, yeah? You know, that thing we always said would be cool but never actually did?”
I stood there on the side of the street, stunned. He and his boyfriend would just… let me stay with them? I wouldn’t even be paying rent until it was official that I was both unemployed and not living with my parents. Well, actually… I had savings I could call on.
“Claaay?” David prompted, interrupting my train of thought.
“If… if that’s okay,” I answered, feeling oh so small in that moment. Accepting help from my basic income friends, how low I had fallen. I probably had more money in my savings than the government gave them in a year, and yet it was me receiving the help. My parents would be laughing if they knew.
Glancing up the tower I stood at the base of, I wondered what they were doing up there right now. I couldn’t even see the top of it from here, the penthouse where I had lived until a few hours ago.
“Cool as,” he said happily, and I could hear rustling in the background as he and Ed moved around in their apartment. I think they were putting jackets on? “Where are you now Clay? Did they let you keep any of your stuff? I assume we can reach you by car?”
“I’m just outside the building, let me send you the location,” I sighed, turning to look at what belongings I’d been able to keep. “My parents aren’t that bad though, they let me keep some of my stuff at least. My pod is here.”
“Dude, come the fuck on. They kicked you out because they are too stuck up to help you deal with all that nasty shit in your noggin,” he exclaimed as a door slammed in the background. “They are that bad. No parent should be kicking out their child who has multiple mental health issues. It’s fucking disgusting.”
“Oh… okay,” I replied meekly, shrinking in on myself as his raw assessment of the situation slammed into my eardrums.
I heard a groan and keys jangling. “Sorry Clay, it’s the truth. We’re on our way, hang tight buddy.”
This time he did hang up, but it was okay because he was on his way to save me. I hated that I needed saving, I always needed saving. I needed help when clients at my dad’s company had gotten angry at me, I’d needed help when bullies had targeted me back in school. I’d even needed help completing my degree in finance. I was a guy, and yet oh so definitely a damsel in distress. I was the picture of a gender-neutral wimp. Guys can be helpless too.
Sitting down on the lid of my pod, I glanced around at the street and wondered how long it had been since I was even down here at ground level. Sydney was one of those cities that really wanted to be like United Nations City. The council kept trying to push the slogan, UNC of the southern hemisphere.
It made a passable effort, with its huge high rise towers that reached aggressively for the ozone layer. I mean, I’d spent most of my life up in those towers, only rarely coming down to the streets below.
These streets though, they hadn’t changed much in a hundred years, or so I was told. This area of Pitt street was still a hive of shopping, although all the high end ones had moved up into the clouds with the rest of the elite. I think the main luxury shopping center was now at the top of the often-rebuilt Centerpoint Tower, which was quite literally above the troposphere.
Wait, shit… my head turned on a swivel as I frantically searched for a sign. Pitt street only allowed cars down its length at certain times of day, but I couldn’t remember when those were. Heartbeat rising, I eventually found a small sign that put my mind at ease. Okay, there was no problem, I was within that time. A car drove past, further driving home the stupidity of my sudden panic. Fucking hell Clay, you dingbat. Just look for cars. Jesus.
It didn’t take my friends long to arrive, they lived just around the corner by Sydney standards. The sprawl was real in this city.
Pulling up in their munted old 2088 Subaru Outback, Ed gave me a wave from the passenger seat while David pulled into the nearest parking space.
Ed was first to hop out of the car, walking straight over to pull me into a big hug. “Hey dude, sorry about your parents. We’re going to have so much fun though. Roommates!” Ed was not a small guy, at six foot three he towered over my five feet and eleven inches. He was also a bit pudgy, in a muscles sort of way.
“Ah, yeah…” I murmured, feeling extremely awkward about the hug. I hadn’t met them very many times, just twice since we’d made friends in an old MMO. I think I met them in dungeon matchmaking or something.
“Let him go, Ed,” David chided as he came over, patting his boyfriend on the back. “You know how awkward Clay is.”
“Nah, he looked like he needed a hug,” Ed shot back, pushing away to give me a grin and a wink. Okay, maybe I didn’t feel soooo bad about a hug.
David rolled his eyes and wandered over to where my pod sat. Where Ed was muscle with a healthy layer of fat covering it, David was all buff, with buff on top of that buff. He was that stereotypical gay guy, almost obscenely fit and and good looking.
“Damn, wish I had a pod like this,” he whistled, leaning down to take a better look at it.
The pod in question was a Ricci Skyline, a pod specifically designed for those who lived their lives above the clouds. It had shock absorbers and a backup supply of nutrient paste and power. The thing could survive being dropped from my parents’ apartment and then a small nuking. It was next level in both safety and comfort. It was also very new, designed to mitigate the effects of pod sickness, allowing business men and women to hop in and out of the pod at their leisure.
It was also just a beautiful piece of hardware, sleek black carbon fiber and aluminium, with deep purple accents at every seam. The glass over the top was an iridescent dark purple that you could look out of, but not into for privacy reasons.
“Yeah… I think it’s the single most expensive thing I’ve ever bought for myself,” I told him truthfully. “I had them do it in my favourite colours.”
“Suits you, actually,” David said after a little back and forth consideration. “Not like, your lanky ass body, but personality wise… definitely fits you.”
“Thanks,” I laughed, rolling my eyes. He wasn’t wrong. I was the picture of a rich eldest son, tall-ish, a little bit of muscle, but not enough you’d call me strong. Short hair, square jaw, dumb shorts on, polo shirt. I made myself want to vomit every time I looked in the mirror. I was a fucking caricature, the very essence of what my parents wanted me to be, and yet it was only skin deep. Inside, I was a failure.
“Enough staring at it,” Ed told us, moving around to the front of the pod. “Let’s get it in the car before someone calls the cops on us because they think we’re stealing it.”
“Good point,” David chuckled, moving to the opposite end. They didn’t bother asking me for help, they knew I was mister wimpy arms.
They got my stuff into their car in record time. Not that anyone had recorded them getting my stuff into the car before, this was their first time doing it, but that was besides the point.
As we all piled back into the car, I asked, “How come you have an extra room? I thought you only lived in a two bedroom apartment?”
They both turned back to stare at me, amused eyebrows raised on all fronts.
“We sleep in the same bed,” Ed laughed, reaching back to pat me on the leg. “We’ve been dating for like four years,” David explained with a laugh of his own.
Ed took their proximity as an opportunity, and planted a quick kiss on David’s lips. “And it’s been fuckin’ awesome.”
“You two are so gross and so adorable,” I said, a rare heartfelt smile pulling at my lips.
“Aren’t we just?” Ed remarked, giving his boyfriend a loving look.
The rest of the trip was a whole lot of good natured bickering between the three of us. It took me a long time to get used to people, but when I did, I was able to act pretty normal around them. Assuming there wasn’t a ton of people around, and then I locked up tighter than my dad’s bank account.
We pulled into the carpark at the bottom of their building about thirty minutes later. Getting all my stuff into one of the lifts wasn’t too hard. The lifts were made to be pretty large for exactly this reason.
“It’ll be a bit of a squeeze, but I think we’ll be able to get your pod into the pod room just fine,” David mused as we moved everything into their apartment.
“Thank you so much, both of you,” I told them sincerely as I watched them maneuver the thing through the house. It wasn’t the heaviest pod in the world, but I’d never have been able to lift it by myself.
Once it was safely installed in the room, Ed turned to me with an inquisitive expression. “So, what do you think you’ll do with yourself? Now that you’re no longer beholden to the whims of your genetic material donors?”
I opened my mouth to say that I would be going to work, but then my shock-numbed brain remembered that being kicked out also meant that I was fired. “I… don’t know,” I finally told them, shoulders sagging in defeat. My whole life ripped out from under me.
“Well…” Ed began, giving David a sidelong glance, who nodded in turn. “We’ve had our eye on Digital Galaxies.”
“Wait… that SAI made and operated MMO? The new one?” I asked, perking up instantly.
DG sounded amazing. It was a year after the SAI had gained their rights, and they were already changing the world for the better, much to the anger of my parents and their peers. This new MMO was their latest breeding ground, so to speak. After it had become more widely known that interacting with humans within CORA had been strangely effective at lifting AI up into sentience, they had begun work on this new game.
It was supposed to have even more AI running it than even CORA had used, but that didn’t mean much to us humans who would be playing it. What everyone was so excited about, was the crazy claim that they would be simulating not just one world, like CORA, but an entire galaxy cluster. Well, that was their aim… they were starting off with only the one single galaxy. As if that was somehow too small. SAI were crazy.
Tentatively, I asked, “Okay… so uh, I’m guessing you want to play it?”
“Yeah,” they both agreed.
“And you want me to play it too,” I continued, feeling a little happy that they wanted me to come along. I wasn’t used to people wanting my company.
“Definitely,” David grinned, and for some reason they both high fived. Guys were weird. Yes, I know that sounds strange coming from one, but still.