"Game Over"

It was the worst of times.  If you were to have asked him, he’d have been hard pressed to say when it had been the best of times but this certainly wasn’t it.

“We could go to Puffin,” Manny had said dubiously, when told of his predicament.  “I can only ask.”


“Yeah.  Doesn’t care about anything, him, so going against that lot won’t bother him.  What got into you?”

He didn’t know.  Punch drunk from trying to fit in, he had gone too far and mouthed off at the wrong person, thinking it would gain him kudos.  Only he had done it on the wrong street and it had cost him the deal.  Where he lived today, being on the right street with the right people was what cut it and avoided you being cut.  Nobody went to school by now, even if there were any you could get into, so everyone was all around you pretty much all of the time.  They weren’t mean streets, really, just mean times to be living in, so turf wars were the right of passage.  You didn’t have much to own except your territory, certainly not your future, the way things were.

For the underclass white kids, it was a thing to dress smartly, over the top, so the boys and their girlfriends (this being a macho kind of business) roamed around like prom dates without a cadillac, all dressed up with nowhere to go but taking painstaking hours to get ready for it.  They only had time to kill, apart from people sometimes and since, despite all the effort they put into looking so good, they were all economically expendable, that could happen anyway without the culprits necessarily getting smoked out.  Things had been imploding here for some years but the economy and employment nationally were all reported to be strong.

Manny took him to meet Puffin.  They went to a bicycle shop owned by some black guys heavy on the dreads, where there was old style jungle playing loudly and a white guy behind the counter so wasted on something it had his eyes jittering everywhere.  There was a spider web tattooed on his chin and two stringy braids hung down from a dowdy, birds nest crown.  

“Hey, guys, whatever happens, kick it,” he greeted them, with absent randomness.  He directed them through to the back when Manny asked for Puffin.

Puffin was hanging out in the yard and didn’t seem to be doing anything at all.  With high camp, electric shock hair and a classically nihilistic sneer, he looked like Johnny Rotten in his heyday, only with a fake tan and make-up to die for.

“Fuck me.  Look what the cat puked up,” Puffin said, looking Manny’s companion up and down.  “What are you doing bringing me a Jock?”

Since leaving Europe, it was all about being retro American suburbia in their bits of the backstreets, only without the cars or the drive ins.  There weren’t many wheels around at all one way or another, since the whole car thing had crashed post exit.  If you had money, you bought Japanese or American (where all that had got going again trade wise) and let Europe go hang.  People like the Jocks didn’t have money for that, or access to loan deals any more.

“He’s not really one,” said Manny.  “He’s a bit new round here. Anyone can make a mistake.”

They explained the situation to Puffin, who came out with a whole load of guff about the need for rage.  He said people thought they’d done something to protest now if they’d crowdfunded a snit on social media and didn’t have a clue any more about the power of mass public disorder.

“So,” asked Manny, after they’d listened to all this, “will you help him?”

Puffin shrugged and agreed to think about it.

“Why’s he called Puffin?” he asked when  they had turned to go.

“I dunno, he just is,” answered Manny.

“He looks like a dick,” he said.

“Yeah, I know,” said Manny “but he can help you, if he wants.  He knows stuff, and people.”

They left through the bicycle shop (the kind of business still going these days since people needed them to get about) this one seeming to be a hangout in general for alternatives who didn’t care about the Jock scene.  The Jock scene in urban England was far from clean cut, in spite of them looking like a style version of American boys and girls next door.  They dealt in the Synths that had replaced street drugs, a market flooded from the laboratories of China through the labyrinth of the internet, the evidence of the impact of them lying impotently about on the dead high streets of poor towns and cities.  Train networks linked places up for the high flyers who could live apart in the business and commerce led central offices and apartment skyscrapers of what was a bubble boom time for them, only everybody else had to scrape about in the outskirts, the local youth trying to rule their networks of rented streets.  

“How do you know Puffin, Manny?” he asked next.

“I don’t know.  He just kind of appeared a while back, started drawing people to him.  He’s got a lot with him now.  Building up a movement, he reckons, if people will just see the light, so as to make a big new noise and shake things up.  'Course, he lives by selling Synths like everyone else but he thinks if everybody riots in the streets and gets together to do it, that’s going to change things.”

“Do you think it will?”

“Nah,” said Manny.  “What difference will that make to people like us?”

Maybe it wouldn’t, he thought but, knowing a bit more about history than Manny perhaps, he also thought maybe it would.  He decided that when they returned to see if Puffin could get him back the Synths he’d messed up on, he’d ask more about Puffin’s beliefs and see about joining in with him instead.  It had to be better than this.  Something had to be.

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