By R.L. McGuire
A body on the sidewalk was a common sight by the time I moved into the Roosevelt. Some weren’t quite dead and would reach out at you, so it was best to walk in the street to keep your suit a little cleaner. The street was safe; the traffic had died with the people.
Collectors had become as scarce as rain in the desert. Turns out there was a limit to what people would do for money after all.
The dead littered the sidewalk like leaves in a New England fall, waiting to be collected. If nobody came, the thriving rat population would get to work, a force multiplier for the plague.
The stench of human waste and pot smoke that hung over Hollywood Boulevard had been replaced by something far worse. I could always tell when it was time to replace my filters.
Before the plague, the Roosevelt Hotel had been converted into luxury flats. They were nice, but the Roosevelt had become inexpensive, in line with demand.
The glory of her restoration had faded away, along with the tenants and the rents. The papered walls and polished brass once again tattered and dull, dirty carpets removed. There was no one left to clean them and scant few left to care.
The Roosevelt had a decon chamber where its grand entrance once stood. You didn’t take your suit off, just stepped in, got hosed, and you were all set. It was the last new thing left in the building, notable for its regular maintenance.
I spent a lot of nights on the roof watching ships launch from Vandenberg. Once the rockets got going, you could watch them burn their way to space, bound for Mars.
The colony went silent a year into the plague. People, myself included, thought for sure they’d abandon the place and bring everyone back home rather than leave them up there to starve. Then one day Mars sent a message. Something like “Come to Mars, everything’s hunky-dory.”
The super-rich went first, pretty much emptied out L.A.; then the price dropped. By the fifth year, people were lining up to buy tickets.
When Davy got his chance, he bought a ticket of his own and left me the house, the furniture, the near-empty bank accounts, the cars, all of it. Signed it all over, said he didn’t give a damn.
“If you change your mind, sell everything and come find me. The colony’s not so big, you’ll be able to track me down.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” was all I said. He walked through the airlock, climbed aboard the shuttle, and that was it. I tried to cry, but couldn’t manage it.
That night I drove up into the mountains to watch. Four hundred feet of spacecraft, accelerating into the heavens. It blasted away with so much force it shook the earth beneath me and warmed the vibrating air around me.
Hadn’t heard a peep out of Davy since.
A few months later they stopped flying out of Vandenberg and moved everything to Texas.
Davy always had a nose for trouble. He sold his investments early on, hoarded cash, then bought gold. Not paper gold. He went for coins, ingots, and one kilo bars. He kept everything in a safe he had installed in the basement.
I used to say you never lost money on an investment until you sold it. I guess I learned my lesson. By the time I realized the whole damn game was over, well, it was over.
I was broke long before Davy left. We fought about it all the time. “I told you to unload that shit,” Davy would scream at me.
“I didn’t have a fucking crystal ball,” I’d scream back.
“But I told you,” is where he usually left it. He was right, but that didn’t make it easier. He left me a stack of his coins to “tide me over,” but I figured gold would be worthless like everything else before long. Wrong again.
When I did sell everything, it didn’t fetch much. But when I moved into the Roosevelt, I felt a degree of security for the first time in years. That’s when I decided to buy more gold.
I bought jewelry mostly, and I got pretty good at it pretty damn quick. I didn’t so much buy it as take it off dead bodies and leave a few greenbacks stuffed in a pocket. Nobody gave a damn anymore, so why not? It was easy enough to clean.
Then the price of gold went through the stratosphere and like that, I was flush again.
It helped that I didn’t have to buy food. The military would drop crates of MREs from a helicopter every so often. It had to be some kind of mistake. What didn’t go to the rats came mostly to me. I thought I’d won the lottery when one of those crates contained a case of filters for my breather. I could go out in comfort again.
Things were looking up for me at that point.
I stayed at the Roosevelt even after they shut down Vandy. I was one of the few paying tenants left, which made it easy to knock the price down when the time came.
I lived that way another year. I crawled the streets in my hazmat, haunted the gold exchange, ate freeze-dried food, and spent nights on the roof drinking gin and staring at the stars.
Then my time was up. I dropped a few coins on a dying man for an electric truck with bulletproof glass, armor plating, high-density solar panels on the roof, and the best air scrubbers money could buy.
When I was loading up, piling cases of MREs into the bed, I wondered what they were eating up on Mars.
All those new arrivals, they must have figured something out.