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Feel-Goods in an Unabashed Dystopia

Reggie spaced over his laptop, watching surveys scroll down his screen, each of them less valuable than the last. He could earn fifteen cents for his seven-minute opinion piece on firewalls. He could earn fourteen for his thoughts on last night's episode of Husband & Wi-Fi. Thirteen for a shirtless self-portrait (pending approval). Twelve for a standard self-portrait (pending approval). All the way down to one cent for a good thought to put into the communal recycling bin for someone else to fish out. Reggie preferred these feel-goods as a source of income, and he accepted a batch of one thousand to complete.

Feel the air outside. It means you're alive. $0.01

The sunlit coffee shop hissed and cracked around Reggie. A steaming metal man created to look like a flesh one named Mitch funneled beverages through his arms into white mugs on the conveyor belt winding through the entire shop.

Enjoy the brew. It means you're alive. $0.02

Reggie reached out in front of him to catch a mug roving past him. The porcelain was cool to the touch. This cup is a rarity, he thought. One the measured, oiled man Mitch missed. Without looking from his screen Reggie lifted the mug into the air, as high as he could. Above the silent heads of everyone in the crowded shop. Mitch started towards him. He was built into the floor—on a track in between each table.

Weather the pain. It means you're alive. $0.03

"You missed one," Reggie said.

Mitch shook and released steam from his fingertips. "Second today," he said. "Please speak your name into my receiver." Mitch leaned in close so Reggie could speak into his mouth.

"Reggie Laine."

A recording played back from Mitch's mouth in three separate voices: his, Reggie's, then another's. "Errors to date: two. Most recent: Reggie Laine. Previous: Lisa Marie."

Lisa Marie had a voice that stopped Reggie from living for a sweet moment, even when garbled through Mitch's inner workings.

Pursue a goal. It means you're alive. $0.04

The oiled man began pulling away. He had empty mugs to fill. Reggie grabbed his arm and whispered into Mitch's receiver.

"Who was that?" Reggie asked, looking in all directions. "Where is she?" He stood up and shouted. "Lisa Marie."

A commotion like this was uncommon in the coffee shop. People around Reggie grew uneasy and sunk deeper into their laptops and surveys, sipping on their warm brews.

Aggression. It means you're alive. $0.05

A woman three tables down from Reggie stood up. She wore her white well, had short raven hair, and two moles on either side of her eyes. She held a cup to the air—an empty one with no light copper brew stains inside. A grin spread across her face, like she had known Reggie for all her life and the two of them had plans to reconnect the stars together.

"That's me," she said, laughing. "Lisa Marie. This is so weird."

"Right? What are the odds?"

Passion. It means you're alive. $0.06

Mitch stood between them, turning his crafted head to Reggie, to Lisa, and back. "What is this? Bonding?" The green coloring of his vivid eyes swirled with red. "You know the rules of this shop. You all agreed to them."

Forget the rules! It means you're alive. $0.07

Nervous patrons stole glances at the unfolding scene while completing their tasks for the day. Reggie had eyes only on Lisa Marie, who shared his gaze. They urged each other forward with unspoken words. Lisa climbed over her table, Reggie shoved past Mitch, who wobbled in the floor.

We are not extinct yet. That means you're alive. $0.08

Mitch grabbed Reggie and offered him some fresh brew from his arm. "Have some, Reggie," he said. "It'll take the edge right off." Reggie denied the drink and kicked Mitch in the chest. The oiled man slid clear across the store on his track, using a shirtless man mid-selfie to stop himself. 

Reggie hurried toward Lisa Marie, who hurried toward him. The two stopped just short of each other. Neither spoke until one stammered a "Hey" and the other a "Oh, hi."

Embrace another heart. It means you're alive. $0.09

A mug of warm hazelnut brew shattered on a wall to their left. And another at their feet. Mitch slung the mugs off tables in their general direction. But he was not built for combat, and these activities had him steaming more than usual. He spoke in a sluggish, jumbled way, as if the steam melted his faux vocal cords.

"No procreation, please," he said. A rule. "We do not have the means to survive. No meet-cutes."

Reggie took a mug to the back. It burned his skin through his bare white cotton blend t-shirt.

"Do you wanna get out of here?" he asked, looking deep into Lisa. "I'm kind of over the place."

"Totally," Lisa smiled, playing with her hair a bit. She took a mug to the shoulder. "The brew isn't even that good. No whipped cream. What is that?"

The two ran for the entrance—toward the sun-drenched day outside. Lisa threw the doors open with some cheerful abandon.

Whipped cream was available upon request, but Mitch had stalled in his track. He leaked brew onto several patrons, who still worked on their tasks.

Momentum moved Reggie and Lisa out onto the dirt and sand. The desert stretched out in front and behind and above and below them. The supernova sun drained their skin. Their lips cracked. Together, they breathed in lungfuls of air.

"What do you do for a living?" Lisa Marie asked.

"Feel-goods," Reggie said. "You?"

"Reviews."

Reggie smiled, then violently coughed some speckles of blood. Lisa Marie did the same.

"Hey," Reggie said, looking around the landscape, tears falling from his skull. "Would you like to get some coffee?"

Enjoy the brew. It means you're alive. $0.10

About the Author
Nick Perilli is a freelance writer and musician currently living in Philadelphia with a canary. He completed his MFA at Arcadia University with humans. Unwilling to let the real world get its claws in him, he is now pursuing another Master's, this one in Library Science. Work of his can be found in Maudlin House and Between Worlds Zine. You can follow his tweets at @nicoloperilli.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link