TO LIVE AND DIE IN GOOGLETOWN

John Shirley
5 min readJun 27, 2023

— flash fiction by John Shirley

Emilio knew it was the googuys the second he saw them through the peephole in his apartment door. Despite their being warped around the fish-eye, he could see they were in their “casual but not casual” clothes; designer jeans, top drawer button-up shirts. The blond one wore the most high-end Google glasses. And something metallic hovered, just out of sight, barely glimpsed in the background.

Google Guys for sure.

“Yeah he’s there,” said the guy with the glasses.

“I’m picking it up,” said the other one.

Implant scanners, Emilio figured.

“Mr. Sanchez,” the one without the obvious glasses called. “Hi! We’re here from the Housing Interface!”

The drone being there told Emilio he had no choice. He knew it’d summon Hard-forcement if he refused to open the door.

He unlocked and opened the door and there they were, the googuys, their armed drone hovering over between them. It was a whirly little thing like a silvery frisbee, and on the stationary metal post in its center it had a tiny nozzle. It could shoot little blood-soluble glassy injectors with that nozzle.

And that was just the drone he could see. Emilio knew they often came with the little stealth drones, smaller and harder to see than a housefly.

He looked them over. No surprise. They were sparklingly groomed, and though the glasses guy, Chode, had long butter-colored hair, every inch of it was exquisitely coifed. The little silvery card clipped to his collar read, Romeo Chode, Google Housing Interface.

The other one looked mixed race, maybe Latino Asian Black Caucasian. His collar card read, William Nim, Google Housing Interface.

“Emilio, hi,” said Nim. “I’m Bill Nim. Can we come in?”

“You going to text me a warrant?”

“We’ve done that,” Chode said, smiling apologetically. He was looking past them at the small Mission apartment, an early 20th century construction passed down through the family, one of the last rent-controlled places in this shrunken San Francisco barrio.

“Then come the fuck in,” Emilio said, sighing, wondering if this was a check-on visit — or was it the Worst Possible.

Their frisbee-sized drone followed them in like a trained bird. Chode scanned the apartment, turning his head with the slow-sweep efficiency of a security camera so his glasses got a panning shot of the room; taking in the Immaculate Heart of Mary statuette in its shrine; the framed family photos, the worn sofa and cluttered coffee table; the slightly slanted floor, the old wood-framed archways painted in bright Mexican colors.

“Looks like the building’s settling,” Chode said, glancing at the floor. “Has it been safety-checked in the past six months?”

Emilio ignored the question. But he knew what it implied. “What are you guys planning to put in its place after you tear it down?”

Nim blinked at him. “We are not real estate investors or demolition persons or…”

“Whatever, man — my family is not leaving here,” Emilio said.

“There’s no definite decision on that,” Chode said, looking Emilio up and down, pausing to scan Emilio’s maimed hand. Two fingers had been removed from Emilio’s left hand as a contractual requirement when he’d signed on to work for OctoCorp. Part of their Full Commitment hiring policy.

“The housing authority has already granted us this building,” Chode went on, “as per the Corporate Financing Incentives Act of 2034. But as to the schedule, the short version is, if you apply for a Hispanic Heritage deferral, you can get an extra sixty days here. But — if you give us access to a cerebral usage unit, you can stay for an additional fourteen months!”

Emilio wished Carmen was here. She’d have torn these guys a new one. She was stronger than he was. He felt defeated already. But he stalled for time. “A Hispanic Heritage referral? How do I get that? I’m a Sanchez, for chrissakes. What do you want me to do, reel off some Espanol?”

Chode sniffed. “You look a little light-skinned. Our records show your grandfather was from Germany. I have your DNA read-out.”

“Everyone else in my family is from Mexico and this has place has been in our family for generations. My uncle lives here — he’ll tell you. He’s out playing dominoes now but when he gets back — “

“Daddy?” It was Julio, in the archway of the hall, rubbing his eyes. He had slept in, his first day of school vacation. He wore the Kwazy Kwacker pajamas he’d long since outgrown.

“Julio Sanchez, eight years old,” Nim muttered, gazing raptly at the boy. “Fully vaccinated, enrolled in Wal-Mart Elementary. Shows upper-level cerebral responsiveness in class.”

That made Emilio grate his teeth. Maybe he should call Carmen at work…

“Hi, Julio!” Chode said brightly, waving at the boy. “You know, you’d be ideal for our new Cerebral Youth program, and we’ve been tasked to find out — “

“No!” Emilio shouted. “Out, Chode! Both of you — out!

“Dad!” Julio ran to his father and clung to him. “Who are they?”

“Doesn’t matter, they’re leaving.” Emilio pointed at Chode. “You heard me — I said get out now or I swear I’ll — “ He was unable to finish he sentence. He broke off at the piercing sting on his neck.

He heard Chode say, “As you threatened us, we do have authorization to — “

Then Emilio was gone, instant-tranked by the drone.

When he came to, he was lying on the floor, his head on a pillow. He straightened up, feeling queasy, the room rotating slowly. The vertigo passed and he saw Chode and Nim straightening up from Julio who was stretched out on the sofa.

There was a little foam at the corners of Julio’s mouth and a metal stud in his forehead.

Emilio’s hands fisted. “What have you pricks done!”

They turned to Emilio as he got swaying to his feet. Nim smiled. “In the event of malicious resistance, we have All Access to the cerebral resources of tenants, as of the new law — it took effect January first.”

Chode nodded. “The boy is fine! He’s having a typical initiatory response reaction. Nothing to worry about.”

Stomach churning, Emilio looked around the room for a weapon. There were knives in the kitchen….

Then Julio sat up, smiling, wiping foam from his mouth.

He looked cheerfully at his father — but there was an infinite remoteness in his eyes. “It’s okay, dad, I feel better! Can I go with Bill and Romeo, after I get dressed? I want to see what it’s like to be a cerebral helper! I really want to!”

And Julio’s smile widened — as a little blood trickled down from the stud in his forehead.

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John Shirley

Author of numerous novels, including Demons, City Come A-Walkin’, Stormland and the A Song Called Youth Cyberpunk trilogy. Winner of the Bram Stoker Award.