"You hereby agree to hold FutureStream, Inc. harmless for any and all--"
"Save it," I told the assistant--an actual person, since I was signing a waiver--and I scrawled my signature across the touchscreen. "Read it a thousand times."
Magnetic locks clanked loose in front of me and the heavy, reinforced-alloy door drifted open.
The assistant smirked and walked away--they're all smug here, from C-suite to custodial staff, because they all hold FSI stock, the only real currency left.
I sighed, gazed into the empty chamber, and stepped inside.
FSI's "Gateway to the Future" seemed an overpriced novelty at first, attempted by only a handful of wealthy thrill-seekers.
They paid their money, recorded boring speeches, and shut themselves in FSI's chambers and disappeared--for years.
When they finally re-emerged--healthy, happy, and eager to charge even farther ahead--it was suddenly clear that, for a price, anyone could go grab their piece of tomorrow.
That's when the floodgates opened.
Masses sold their homes and possessions to finance their "jumps." Markets collapsed, unemployment skyrocketed, food supplies shrunk. The present spiraled into the deepest bowels of hell.
It was sickening.
My chamber still smelled like ozone from the last "experience," and a patina the color of rotting seaweed covered all the brushed-metal surfaces inside.
They'd never let their premium modules get this bad, I thought. Disgusted, I walked to the wall scanner to confirm my identity and ensure the right sequence had been entered.
A solid clank echoed throughout the room as the main door sealed shut behind me.
Most lacked the funds to escape, and I defended as many of them as I could, battling FSI from every angle in court.
They caused this mess and everyone knew it, but they were also the only way to escape--a fact not lost on the judiciary.
But someone had to nail these guys. And, after I'd finally won my first victory--just a modest judgment for a small group of clients--I was convinced that that someone was me.
One battle at a time, I told myself. That's how wars are won.
Yet before I could come up with another self-congratulatory war analogy, all court services were suspended indefinitely.
Game over. War lost. Those sons of bitches had even broken the system. I was sunk.
I disrobed, jammed my clothes in what looked like a trash chute, and stood there, shivering and naked, pondering fate.
The day before, I'd been summoned to what I assumed would be my last client meeting.
It was at the hospital--her choice, not mine--and I realized when I pulled back the curtain that she was about to suffer a much worse loss than I had.
She forced a smile and asked me to sit. I did.
"It's criminal what they're doing," she said, "ushering the rich into the future and leaving everyone else to starve."
I nodded slowly, and she leaned forward and whispered, "It's too late to make a difference now, though. But that's not to say we should give up."
I looked at the welter of medical equipment keeping her alive, and decided not to argue.
She reached in her bag. "I have one last job for you, but it could be years before you finish." She flashed a wolfish smile, then handed me a piece of paper--an FSI stock certificate.
I bunched my face and looked up at her. "Why--"
"--am I still here? I couldn't leave knowing the mess I'd be contributing to."
"What do you want me to do with this?" I raised the sheet.
"Courts can't stay closed forever. When they reopen, someone should be there to hold those monsters accountable. Someone who knows what really happened." She nodded at the certificate.
"That pays for your trip. Anything left over goes to the clients you're leaving behind."
I could have cried. "I--"
"A second certificate will be waiting in FSI storage box 896B when you get there, to fund your work."
"How do you know I won't just take both and run off?" It was all I could think to say.
"If I had any doubt, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Now take that and go."
That was yesterday.
An AI voice snapped me back to the moment: "Thank you for choosing FutureStream's economy service. Please stand in the center of the chamber and close your eyes."
My teeth ground together and my muscles twitched as the electromagnetic field changed around me. The AI voice finished its sequence: "Take a deep breath and prepare yourself."
You first, I thought, as I laughed and moved toward the middle of the chamber, one step closer to justice.