Stephen passed a billboard as it flickered from an image of a naked woman wearing nipple tape and a g-string (he thought it was an ad for teeth whitening but couldn’t be sure). A trailer began to play for the latest film on Disney’s Amazon streaming service^. The latest Avengers reboot was a remake of the previous reboot, but now batman was fighting mickey mouse.
Distracted momentarily, Stephen allowed his thoughts to return to his current task. Looking down at his black watch, it bleeped at him to indicate that he was nearly at his destination. The surly accommodation, buried within an old soviet era brick building, admitted Stephen with a creak of an old metal door as he scanned his device to prove his reservation. A cleansing mist showered him as he entered. Thoroughly sterilised, for which he was eternally grateful as the dusty streets outside had a potent stink of decay about them, he moved up the stairs in search of the reception. The outside odour was even more offensive than Australia (and that was saying something) and similar, but not quite on par with England where he had been staying for some months, earning extra cash#. He’d spent that time trying to understand peoples’ speech patterns. He had been assured that it was just their varied accents. However, he wasn’t sure that perhaps he was merely encountering an endless sea of people with speech impediments.
‘Hello,’ said a woman with an olive complexion and long dark hair as he ascended the stairs and reached the hostel reception. Her eyebrows were 3D printed purple mohawks doing caterpillar impersonations. Stephen noted this as they were the least glaring constructs he’d seen on a woman in many years.
‘Oh, I didn’t expect an actual person,’ he fumbled, waving his wrist around in circular motions, imitating either a wave of greeting or the actions of a non-plussed window cleaner. He estimated the hostel scanner’s location on the fifty-year-old metal desk that was leaning to one side.
‘Sure,’ the woman replied with an accent he couldn’t quite place. She could have been Asian, maybe Kazakh. He remembered an old documentary with a man with a crazy hairstyle, she looked a little like that. ‘We’re old school here, can’t afford the tech required for a digital assistant.’
‘Oh, yeah, sorry,’ Stephen fumbled again as she gestured for him to stop contorting his body, the watch had apparently been scanned and his identification verified.
‘Do you agree,’ she started in a bored monotone that said she read this out five times a day and had long stopped caring about the message, ‘to the following terms and conditions?’ She rambled on as tedious text scrolled on Stephen’s watch. He didn’t have the implant so instead had to read the projected screen with some ten to fifteen swipes worth of content. ‘… upon forfeiture of all your civil liberties.’ She concluded.
‘Yes. Wait, what was that last bit?’
She appeared not to have heard him and signed off on the agreement.
‘I have updated your device, it will direct you to your room. Curfew is standard, midnight we’re closed.’ Seemingly completing the official proceedings, the young woman took on a more relaxed tone and casual demeanour. ‘How is your trip so far?’
‘Good,’ Stephen replied. He wasn’t sure how these things were supposed to go, so he kept it simple, ‘how’s business?’
‘Not bad. We’re finally bouncing back.’
‘Yeah, COVID was rough,’ Stephen nodded.
‘Which one?’ The woman paused before changing tracks in a heartbeat. ‘So where are you from?’
‘Australia, but I’ve been living in The Kingdom lately.’
‘You know, England.’
‘Oh, right. You should try the frontier.’
‘You know, Scotland.’
‘Yeah, I’ve heard it’s nice.’
‘Shame about all the deaths.’
‘The revolution was rough.’
‘Yeah,’ she replied as they shared a solemn moment reflecting on mortality and existence. ‘Plenty of cheap pubs nearby if you want to get shit faced,’ she waved a hand, her shoulder snapped back into place, and Stephen’s watch buzzed with blips on his map and recommendations.
‘Thanks, I’ll get settled in and have a look around.’ He followed his watch and made his way to the room. They were all single rooms now, of course. The last in a series of pandemics finally did what common sense, decency and basic respect couldn’t and obliterated all shared room accommodation. He swiped away the three messages he’d received confirming that he’d checked in and more recommendations came from the Disney booking agency. He swiped away a fourth that read ‘thinking of visiting Scotland?’ without a second thought. The room was tiny and impersonal, it was the perfect place to start his journey.
^ only available on i-implantstm
# Not literally of course, but the term still remained in the lexicon.