Julius put the recorder to his lips.
“August 16, 1996. You’re not working tonight because Ashton took your shift because you’ve got that thing later. It’s late and the sun is down but it is still hot as death. You have no girlfriend, so you’re heading out to get pizza and a movie. You wish you had a girlfriend. You wish you had some friends. You don’t like living in Provo. You haven’t spoken to mom and dad since graduation. They call sometimes. You ignore them. You need to get your life together. Tonight could be the first step. Today, you are Julius Parker, 22, of Provo, Utah, unknown hacker with seven dollars to his name. Tonight, you will be…”
The road hadn’t seen sunlight in an hour, and yet it gave off such an intense heat that Julius had to hurry across the crosswalk lest the asphalt burn his feet in his sandals. The sidewalk wasn’t much better, so he cut across the empty field behind the Brigham Plaza strip mall and popped out of an alley between a movie theater and a nail salon. He spied the Blockbuster Video at the end of the row, but took a detour across the parking lot to the bank of gas station pay phones. He dropped a quarter and a dime into the slot.
A muted ringing burbled from the earpiece.
“Domino’s West North, how can I help you?”
“Delivery,” said Julius.
“What and where?”
“Two large pepperoni. Hold on.” He barely covered the receiver with his hand and turned his head away. “What? You think we need more?” A man getting out of his car gave him a puzzled look. Julius returned to the call. ” Alright, make that three large peps. Chad thinks he can eat a whole large by himself. “
“Name for the order?”
“And where’s this going?”
“Village at Starwood on Canyon. Apartment 301. Gate code is 1844.”
“That’s $19.22 plus tip, Mr. Babbage.”
“Thirty minutes or less or it’s free, right?”
“Something like that.”
The phone went dead. Julius placed it back on the hook.
A stale wind brought the smells of Provo Bay to the gas station. When mixed with fumes from the pumps, it gave the city a unique aroma that Julius knew he would miss were he to ever escape this place. He had only been beyond the city limits once in his lifetime, on a field trip to SLC, which addmittedly was just up the road but offered the same cracked streets and abandoned buildings as Provo. The year after the field trip, The Net came to Provo, followed a few years later by VNet. And while both virtual realities gave him the opportunity to travel beyond the borders of Utah, it wasn’t without the smell of Provo Bay seeping into his immersion rig, reminding him that no matter where his mind travelled, his body remained stuck here in this momument to failed potential.
Julius checked his watch. 8:22 p.m. Thirty minutes to burn.