Author: Gabriel Land

In every direction, there was nothing but baked dirt, tumbleweeds, and flat death. The blazing sun weighed down on me. I didn’t know which way to walk, and I didn’t know why. How I’d gotten there was long since forgotten.

Being lost wasn’t the pressing problem. No, the immediate threat was that I was thirsty, more than I’d ever come close to knowing. I was stumbling thirsty, the kind that makes you hallucinate refrigerators where cacti stand. This was the kind of thirsty that killed within a day.

I stumbled and I fell. I couldn’t get back up, not past my hands and knees. Now I was the kind of thirsty that killed within an hour. Still, I clawed my way through the dirt. If I kept going perhaps I’d reach a ravine, some shade, a spring, anything. In such a survival situation, everything’s a gamble.

Then I stopped. There right in front of my face was a Gulp Brand hydration pouch, the kind marketed to athletes and mercenaries as a way to boost performance on the field. The neon purple package sweated, with beads of condensation collecting on its surface. I didn’t believe my eyes but I picked it up anyway. It was ice cold in the palm of my hand.

After wrestling with it with my weak grip I finally tore the cellophane open and drank. Saccharine electrolytes cascaded down my throat and cooled my guts. There had to be few contrasts in life so stark as that between deadly dehydration and the relief bestowed by chilled, life-saving liquid.

“You have arrived at Century City,” the speakers inside the Tesla Taxi said as the curbside door opened.

The wireless neuralink connection to the taxi’s system was severed. At once I was snapped out of virtual and back in the real world, my commute over.

“Due to your participation in the paid Gulp advertisement, your wallet will be deducted a reduced sum of only fifteen Satoishis.”

“Great,” I said as I exited the vehicle, briefcase in hand. “Only fifteen.”

The car didn’t leave. I looked up. It was a hot midsummer Los Angeles day. Beyond the top of the nearest skyscraper, a cloud seeding blimp floated across the sky. It wasn’t doing its job very well. There was no rain and the sun beat down on me again.

The car door closed as I stood by.

“I’ll be sure to purchase a pouch next vending machine I see,” I said.

“We can service you from the on-board supply, sir, at the cost of only one Satoishi.”

I held my hand out, open palmed. It was good for one’s social credit rating to demonstrate brand loyalty.

“That’ll be fine.”

A pouch shot up out of the Tesla’s sunroof, like a single slice of bread ejecting from an over-zealous toaster. I reached to catch it then slipped it in my briefcase, wiping the condensation from my hand onto my shabby corduroy sports jacket.

The Tesla sped off as I walked towards the doors for my job interview. The distance was only a hundred meters but it was also a hundred degrees outside, so I started sweating beneath my suit. Good thing I had a Gulp brand hydration pouch on standby.