21st Century Chic – a flash science fiction story

The minute I walked into the bar I knew I was going to regret it. It was a 21st century theme place, some alien brand manager’s attempt to evoke humanity in the Age of Outrage. I liked irony as much as the next over-educated civil servant, but you could have too much of a good thing. And let’s face it, the early 21st century wasn’t even a good thing.

I slipped the six-armed bouncer a cash card worth enough to pay for her next ten tattoos.

“I’m Julian Atticus,” I said. “We spoke on the phone. Where is he?”

A discreet twitch of her antennae directed me towards a corner booth, underneath a screen showing flashing memes of cute dogs accompanied by dumb captions.

“Get him out quick,” she chittered, “or I’ll have to throw him out.”

I walked over to the booth and stood, arms crossed, looking down at Warren. He was wearing an old-fashioned suit, just like always, and his tie was trailing in a puddle of beer.

“Shouldn’t you be writing press releases?” he said.

“Shouldn’t you be running security at the embassy?”

“S’my night off.”

“And you decided to spend it proving that humans are loud, drunken arseholes?”

“You’re the arsehole.”

I looked down at the menu. It was made up of listicles. “10 Drinks You Should Try Before You Leave!” “15 Starters to Get Your Tastebuds Buzzing!” Utter garbage. Yet for some reason this place had become popular. There were press outside watching for celebrities and politicians to drag through the dirt. Warren wasn’t either of those things, but it wouldn’t look good for embassy staff to be caught out like this.

“You hear me?” Warren bellowed. “Arsehole!”

The screen behind him picked up the shout and flung the word into a social media flow that sprawled across the walls and ceiling. Then some AI started arguing with itself about who the arsehole was. The AI was more articulate than Warren right now, even though it was playing the role of 21st century social media star.

“Fine,” I said. “Stay here. Get seen. Get fired. You’ll make my job easier in the long run.”

I turned, ready to stalk away.

“Knew it!” Warren bellowed. “Ambassador doesn’t care. Government doesn’t care. You’re all arseholes.”

I pressed fingers against my eyes and took a deep breath. I could feel a headache coming on already, and this was only going to make it worse. But I couldn’t leave Warren out like this.

I turned back to the table.

“What’s the matter with you?”

Warren looked up with bloodshot eyes, then he pulled out his phone and waved it at me.

“She’s finished with me,” he slurred. “Said I’m not available enough.”

“You did take a job light years from home.”

“Thought you’d be on my side. Thought you were my friend.”

“What on Earth made you think that?”

I barely had time to hear the words before I regretted them.

“You’re an arrogant wanker,” Warren said, wobbling to his feet. “But so’s everyone in this city. Politicians and pundits and fucking, fucking, fucking trade delegates. Wankers, the lot of you!”

Half the beings in the bar had turned to look at us. Years of training and a complete indifference to other people’s opinions kept me from blushing, but I was intensely aware of how bad this situation was getting. I needed to get him out, but there was no way he’d do what I asked.

Which left one option.

“You’re the wanker!” I yelled and shoved him in the chest.

Warren wobbled, almost fell, then staggered from the booth. As I backed away he followed, fist raised.

“You scrawny little fucker, Atticus. I’m going to give you the beating you deserve.”

“Oh yeah? You and whose army?”

I backed across the room. In the entrance, the bouncer I’d bribed pulled the door open.

“My army.” Warren lunged at me. If our blood-alcohol levels had been any different he would have knocked me flat, but I managed to leap aside and then shove him out the door.

Lights flashed. Seeing some sort of disturbance, low rent reporters came to see what was going on.

I hailed a cab and gave Warren another shove.

“You’re a shitty security guard,” I said loudly. “And I don’t need facts to prove it.”

Warren looked at me, confused.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Questions are for experts and chumps. The people want to hear the truth!”

“But you just said-”

“Truth not facts!”

The cab rolled up next to us and its door slid open with a hiss.

“You’re such a wanker, Atticus.”

Warren took another swing at me. I ducked, then barged him in the midriff. He landed with a thud on the back seat of the cab and a seatbelt immediately latched onto him. As he struggled to get free, I straightened up and turned to the assembled press.

“Ladies and gentleman, I hope you’ve enjoyed our reenactment of the unique debating style that was 21st century human politics. For more of the same, please come to the British embassy for our events celebrating Earth History Month!”

I leapt into the cab, pulled the door shut behind me, and let it carry us away.

With a sigh of relief, I sank back in my seat. Warren, still grappling with the child-proof catch of the seatbelt, looked up at me, his face crumpled.

“What’s Earth History Month?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But do think any of that lot will turn up?”

“I would come,” the cab’s robotic voice said. “I enjoyed the video feed of your lively debate.”

I groaned and put my head in my hands.

“It wasn’t even a good century the first time around.”

***

It’s been a while since I’ve written a story about Julian Atticus, cynical PR officer and public face of the British in space. But I have a story with him in coming out in Metaphorosis next month, so it seemed like a good time to come back to his life on Herrje. If you want to read more, the first of his stories can be found in Lies We Will Tell Ourselves – more details below.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

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Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.