by Tom Dillon

This story started as a follow-up to Uprising, and was also an experiment on writing fiction in tiny chunks (a couple hundred words published 3 times a week). I forget exactly what happened, but I wasn’t able to keep up that schedule, and the project has been on hiatus ever since. Since I like what I have so far, I’m leaving it online. One day, I hope to return to it.

Ethan knew he was exposed, dangerously so, standing in the plaza surrounded by others doing the same, his peripheral vision full of drones hanging in the space between the buildings. At the same time, looking at the man standing on top of the long-empty newspaper box, Ethan was transfixed. The man was normal looking, wearing a long sleeved thermal against the chill and his breath hanging in front of his stubbly face.The man had been speaking for the better part of an hour, drawing an increasing number of drones like flies to a wounded animal. “We no longer live in a democracy! Welcome to the Corporate States of America: of the many, by the few, for the few! We must rise up, take to the streets, take back our country!”

With those words, the spell was broken for Ethan. He turned to run, but it was too late. There was a sound like a bottle rocket whistling through the air, then a sound so loud that his ears registered only static and a concussive wave that knocked him forward onto his stomach. He caught himself with his hands against the rough pavement.

It was as though the blast had knocked his consciousness out of his body. He couldn’t hear anything and the pain in his hands and knees felt like they were happening to someone else. He picked himself up and started running again, shielded by numbness and silence.

Ethan unlocked his door as quietly as possible and opened it a crack, pressing his face up to the jam to peek inside. He had spent the night at a diner, drinking the endless coffee refills and trying to think of a way out. No solutions had presented themselves, so he had gone home. Apparently his baseball cap had prevented the drones from getting a facial scan on him, because no one was waiting for him.

He slid in sideways, as though not opening the door all the way would keep him safe. Inside, he locked the door and drew the curtains shut on his two windows. Even that small semblance of safety was enough to push him over the edge. His entire body started to shake, like the jitters after nearly getting in a car accident, but multiplied a thousandfold. The next thing he knew, he was in the bathroom, hunched over the toilet, retching. He cried.

It was mid afternoon when Ethan woke up. He took a long shower, and when he looked himself in the mirror, all he could see was himself looking like he was still in college, sans the blind faith in the job market’s willingness to provide a return on his educational investment. He brushed his teeth, then shaved, then combed his hair, until he looked more presentable than at any time since his last interview, months prior. Somehow, the facade of confidence that he put on helped.

He sat down at his computer, but did not touch the keyboard. He reached for it, but withdrew his hand. He repeated the process several times, each time stopping short of actually using the machine. Finally, he stood back up, frustrated. The idea of surfing the net while constantly worrying if his browsing would mark him as an enemy of the state wouldn’t take long to drive him insane. Instead he grabbed a shoulder bag and a baseball cap and left his apartment.

The City had not changed after the events of the previous day, only him. It was no surprise. The killing of a bunch of domestic “terrorists” wouldn’t have even made the evening news, and anyone who was watching the indie news would already know the score. He walked, paying more attention to not looking up at the drones hovering overhead than to where he was actually going. Finally, he noticed that he was in an unfamiliar part of the city.

It was a like a pocket neighborhood that had sprung up spontaneously in a wide part of an alleyway that wound between and through a cluster of empty office buildings. In what had once been loading docks and dumpsters was now a microcosmic town. Halfway between an open-air cafe and a farmers market, there were tables everywhere and people selling things out of makeshift booths. None of the furniture matched and ran the gamut from chairs made of milk crates to tables that had clearly once belonged to a Starbucks somewhere. And people. Almost all of the seats were taken up by people eating and drinking, talking or having heated debates.

“Hey,” a man said, walking up to Ethan. “This your first time here?”

“Is it that obvious?” Ethan said. “What is this place?”

“It doesn’t have a name. We just call them Bazaars. I’m John, by the way,” the man said, extending his hand.

“Ethan.” Ethan hesitated for a moment, then reciprocated and shook John’s hand. How did they know he wasn’t a cop? It was then that he noticed that there were no drones overhead.

“Let me show you around and get you a Kit,” John said.

John ignored the confused look on Ethan’s face and led him around the perimeter of the Bazaar. In short order, Ethan had acquired an SD card, a flexible plastic card printed with a QR code, and about a thousand unanswered questions.

“So why don’t the drones come in here?” Ethan asked after the brief tour was finished.

“We hacked the map that they use for their patrols. We can’t change too much or they’ll notice, but making it so that the drones ignore an alleyway seems to fly under their radar,” John said. “And as to your next question, we know you’re not a cop because all of your RFIDs read Civ and you don’t look like you are trying to fit in with what the cops think we all look like.”

“OK, so what is this stuff, then?” Ethan asked, holding out the thumb drive and the card.

“The SD card is our custom Linux distribution BazOS. Plug it in and it will attempt to connect to our mesh network and if that fails, it will rout all of your activity through anonymizing servers. The card is our currency. It’s a link to a bitcoin wallet. It’s how you pay for stuff at Bazaars. It is preloaded with 50 credits that have been donated by the community, but you can earn more by selling stuff or doing things.”

“Why does the wallet have a JCPenny logo on it, then?” Ethan asked, holding up the plastic card.

“If you get arrested, and they scan the code, it will show up as a coupon. The actual wallet information is encrypted into the coupon information,” John said.


“Not our idea, really. If you look at the library on your BazOS card, you can find out more about it in the file about steganography,” John said.

“What is this, Sweden? I just show up and you give me things? Don’t people steal from you? How do you know that I won’t just turn around and go to the cops?” Ethan asked, the questions coming out as a constant stream of words.

“I don’t have a perfect answer,” John said. “But the fact is, most people want to do the right thing. Welcoming you with open arms is far more effective a deterrent to theft or betrayal than secrecy and suspicion. Being closed off to the world keeps you safe, but it also keeps you small and powerless. All we ask is that you keep the SD card hidden and don’t leave it in your computer when you aren’t using it.”

“How many Bazaars are there? Why haven’t I heard of them before?” Ethan asked.

“Hundreds, maybe more. And how would you have heard about us? We try to stay below the radar,” John said. He glanced down at his watch. “Listen, I need to get some other stuff done? Any more questions before I go?”

“I assume that a lot of them have been answered in FAQs already, so I won’t worry about it too much,” Ethan said, and John turned to leave. “One more thing, will BazOS run my phone?”

John turned back and slapped his forehead with his palm. “Oh yeah, forgot to mention, it will run your phone, too. That’s how most of us use it, at least.”

“Thanks. I’ll just wander around for a bit, if you don’t mind.”

“No problem, and welcome,” John said before heading off into the crowd.

Ethan found an empty table and sat down. He removed his phone’s case and then the back cover and battery so that he could insert the BazOS card. After replacing everything, he restarted the phone. It came up with a setup screen that prompted him to set three unlock patterns, one which would take him to BazOS, one which would take him to the normal phone OS, and one which would wipe the SD card and load the normal phone OS.

He booted into BazOS. It was a fairly standard looking smartphone distribution so he didn’t spend much time with it. He pulled out his bitcoin wallet and scanned it with the phone. It brought up a bitcoin app and asked him to create a pin for the account by connecting the dots on a grid. It took a few tries for him to create a pattern that was complex enough to satisfy the app, and after he had repeated it a couple of times he was done. After he had gotten everything set up, he slipped the phone back into his pocket and started to wander around the stalls that surrounded the Bazaar common area.

The first few stalls were what he expected, people selling honey and eggs and vegetables, just like a farmers market. Then he came to a stall that smelled like burning electronics to find a man soldering together a circuit board on a table. Small electronic devices were hanging from clips like Christmas lights.

“What do all of these do?” Ethan asked.

“Electronic countermeasures, mostly, but with sufficient time and funds, I can make whatever you want,” the man behind the table said after he had finished the joint he was soldering. “What are you looking for?”

“I really don’t know. I just found this place,” Ethan said.

“Ah. Welcome. If you got a Kit, then you have more than enough to keep you occupied for the next couple of days. Eventually you’ll want to get a weather station, though.”

“Why would I need to buy my own weather station?” Ethan asked.

“Sorry, jargon. A weather station is what we call one of these,” the man said, holding up a grey plastic box the size of a pack of cigarettes. It was featureless, with no plugs, switches, or lights. “It passively counts how many drones are within a radius of a few hundred feet and pings your phone or a server of your choosing. There are about a thousand of them spread throughout the City, more every day, and they function as a sort of early warning system.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Ethan said.

“Yeah, it works pretty well, but it still leaves us vulnerable to lo-tech raids. And those are expensive enough to make them scarce.”

“I’ll let you get back to your project, thanks,” Ethan said.

“No problem, see you around,” the man said.

After the electronics stall, there were more food stalls, and people selling everything from clothing and books to bitcoin exchange stations. Finally, he found a booth with a sign that said simply: WORK. The woman inside saw him coming and stood up, smiling.

“New guy, eh?” she asked, her words having the rounded edges of a Canadian accent. “You’re probably wondering what we want you to do, now that you’ve seen the rest, right?

“Indeed,” Ethan said.

Some part of his mind knew that she was waiting for him to say something, but he was transfixed by the sign. The words were handwritten in black marker, but they might as well have been flashing neon. It had been so long since he had held a real job that he had forgotten what the possibility felt like.

“So,” he began. “How does this work?”

“You do stuff and we pay you. Pretty simple, really,” she said.

“That’s not–”

“I know. It’s weird, isn’t it? The idea that your time might be valuable? It takes some getting used to,” she said with a reassuring smile.

“What sort of stuff do people do here?” he asked.

“Most of it involves taking care of the basics: food, shelter, that sort of thing. Beyond that we have the second level stuff: people scouting for new locations, security, doing outreach, and stuff like that,” she said. “Your bitcoin wallet stores your R rating for each Bazaar that you are a part of, which determines the sort of stuff you can do. The more stuff you do, the higher your R rating.”

He remembered seeing the R value on his dashboard when he set up his wallet. “So I’m at a 1, right?” he asked and she nodded yes. “So where does that put my options?”

“The only options for this week are working in the gardens. Next week you can sign up for maintenance duties or providing shelter, if you want,” she said. He really didn’t want to work in the gardens, and it must have been plain on his face, because she continued. “Don’t worry, it isn’t that bad. Even after we get to a higher level, most of us still spend time in the gardens every week.”

He was skeptical, but kept it to himself. “Where are these gardens?” he asked. He looked at the towering buildings all around, and couldn’t picture gardens fitting in anywhere.

“Some of them are an rooftops, some are in empty office buildings. There’s probably one close to where you live,” she said. “Do you want to sign up for a shift, then?”


“When are you available?”

“I can start tomorrow, I guess.” If he was going to do this, there was no point in putting it off.

“Excellent. Let me scan your wallet and the system will figure out where to put you,” she said. He held his wallet out to her and she pointed her phone at it until it beeped. “You should get a message that will have a link to determine where you want to work in a minute or two. Shifts usually start around at ten in the morning this time of year. Wear something comfortable that you don’t mind getting dirty.”

“I’ll leave the interview clothes in the closet,” he said. She laughed.

“Have fun tomorrow,” she said. “And I’m Bridget, by the way.”

She stuck out her hand and he shook it. He would expected the Bazaar people to be more like stereotypical hippies, saying “groovy” and hugging all the time, but the repeated hand shaking made it clear that he was still in the City. He wondered if it was deliberate.

“Ethan,” he said.

“See you around, Ethan.”

When Ethan woke up the next morning there was a blinking notification on his phone. He tapped it and it put a new destination on the map, labeled ‘Garden’. He started the coffee maker and went back to his room to get dressed.

“I guess I’m really doing this,” he said to the empty room.

He pawed his way to the back of his closet, past the plastic wrapped interview suit that he had placed in front of everything else as a sign of optimism but that was gradually turning into an icon of despair as the shiny garment bag was dulled by the gathering dust. After that were work clothes, khakis and polos and button-ups. Finally he found a couple pairs of jeans. He looked at them side by side and picked the more ragged of the two. He pulled a plain T-shirt out of a drawer and tried to shake the gravity-pressed wrinkles out of it.

In the mirror, he looked completely nondescript, he couldn’t have picked himself out of a crowd. In part, his outfit’s plainness made him feel safe, but it also reminded him of how desperate he had been to fit in, to the point where he had been unwilling to attach any sort of statement to himself even through something as transient as clothing. Was the conformity that he had embraced any better than conformity that was pushed on someone by an overbearing authority? Was it worse?

He filled his travel mug with seven parts coffee to one part sugar to two parts powdered creamer and started making his way to the digital pushpin on his phone’s map.

Bridget had been right, the garden that he had been assigned to was only a few blocks from his apartment. He hadn’t even finished his coffee when his phone beeped at him through his headphones. The screen read ‘Roof 8341’. He hesitated outside. It was an apartment building with a locked door between him and the lobby. He looked at his phone again, then pressed 8341* on the keypad. The door buzzed and he went inside.

He took the elevator to the top floor, and then found the door that said ‘ROOF – RESTRICTED ACCESS’. It was unlocked. A short flight of stairs later he was standing under an open sky hemmed in by mostly empty office buildings, their purpose having fled overseas. Three people were standing around a plastic storage box that was being used as a table. One of them peeled off to meet him halfway.

“Ethan, glad you made it!” Bridget said. She tapped the screen of her phone and pocketed the device.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” he said.

“I”m not stalking you, I swear,” she said. “Come on.”

She led him over to the box/table and introduced him to David and Jess, complete with the usual handshakes. David offered him a big mason jar of orange juice, but Ethan declined, holding up his travel mug.

Jess offered him a donut, which he took. “See, donuts are what the people want,” she said to David.

“You just wait, OJ will win out in the end,” David replied, eyes narrowed in exaggerated hostility. They both laughed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t bring anything,” Ethan said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Bridget said. “It’s probably for the best, these two can get a bit competitive.”

“Really?” Ethan said. After the laughter subsided, he asked “So what are we going to be doing today?”

“Let me show you around,” David said, and began leading Ethan around, narrating as he went.

The roof had been covered with soil formed into long rows. They were growing everything from spinach and lettuce to potatoes to garlic and onions. The northern edge of the roof had a row of short trees and bushes planted in large makeshift pots, most of which appeared to have been cut from 55-gallon plastic drums. Stacks of white boxes were sitting in front of the trees, and it took Ethan a moment to recognize them as bee hives. Near the stairwell was a series of cubical compost bins.

“This looks like a lot of work,” Ethan said.

“Not really, with everything in rows and well spaced, three of us can usually go through it in an hour or two with the hoes,” David said and pointed to where Jess and Bridget were already halfway through the rows that they had started.

“What about the rest of the time then?” Ethan asked. “Why the four hour shift?”

“After that, we harvest and pack up anything that’s ready to head to the Bazaar, and do other maintenance things, like turning the compost and maintaining the tools,” David said. “Ready to get started?”

“Sure,” Ethan said.

David retrieved two long handled hoes from the tool bin, and after a brief tutorial on its use, Ethan was able to spare enough of his attention to talk as he worked.

“This isn’t so bad,” he said. “I had pictured it as spending all day on my knees pulling weeds out under the hot sun.”

“I know, its like people have been farming for ten thousand years, right?”

“When you put it that way,” Ethan said, feeling like an idiot.

“Don’t worry,” David said. “All you ever see on TV is people planting everything so tight that they have to do things the hard way.”

“Why do they do it that way, then?”

“With intensive gardening, you can get a lot more food out of a smaller space, but it just doesn’t scale. It makes sense for a three hundred square foot garden, just not here.” David waved his free hand to indicate the entirety of the roof area. Ethan did a quick mental calculation and realized that the roof was probably 10,000 square feet.

“Wow,” Ethan said, and turned his attention back to his work, questions temporarily exhausted. David did the same.

They worked side by side in silence for a while after that, both lost in the rhythm of work until Ethan spoke up.

“I know this is a weird question, but . . .” he began.

“Don’t worry about it,” David said.

“What’s with all of the handshaking? It feels like a cross between a cult and a leadership seminar,” Ethan said. He had hoped that the translation of his thoughts into spoken words might make them less awkward, but David didn’t have an immediate answer and the words just hung between them.

“You mean you differentiate between the two?” David said with a laugh. Ethan let out the breath that he hadn’t realized he had been holding. “Good question, though. Think about it this way, as a society we no longer form communities, just networks.”

“Wait, what? What’s the difference?” Ethan asked.

“A network is a group of people who all agree with each other, a community is a group of people brought together by the common good,” David said. “We no longer associate with people that we don’t agree with. When was the last time you heard about someone asking their neighbor for a cup of sugar? We no longer need our neighbors, we just run to the convenience store and buy some rather than risking interaction with the people who we should know.”

“OK, but I don’t see how that fits in with handshakes,” Ethan said.

“I’m getting there,” David said. “My point was that communities are a function of necessity. And in order for a community to function you need manners. Manners are basically protocols for how to act around someone who you may dislike or disagree with but may have to rely upon in the future.

“One of the goals with the Bazaar is to build a community, and part of that is taken care of by our collapsing infrastructure, we all need each other in ways that we haven’t in generations. But we don’t have the luxury of waiting for all of the forgotten etiquette to figure itself out, we don’t want to be stuck in the middle of pointless internecine conflict as the world falls down around our ears.

“Which is where the obsession with handshakes comes in. If you look at manners as a protocol similar to the ones that run computer networks, then you can codify it. Furthermore, you can treat it as an open source protocol, all you have to do is try a behavior for a while with the people you meet, and document the results. The great thing is that you don’t even need the other person to agree with you or know what you’re doing.”

“Does that mean that you’re going to go and post that I’m a bit weirded out by all of the handshaking, then?” Ethan asked.

“That was the first issue that we ran into when we posted the handshaking protocol,” David said. “Right now the debate is about whether it’s genuinely weird or just unfamiliar to people, and what benefits it might have.”

“You’ve really spent a whole lot of time on this whole etiquette thing, haven’t you.”

“We are, and I’m also part of the working group that deals with it, but really the credit goes to a science fiction writer a while back who started the ball rolling on this whole thing.”

“I’m trying and just can’t think of a good way to ask, so I’ll just ask,” Ethan began. “What’s the point of all this? What do you hope to accomplish, in the end?”

After a moment David said, “It depends on who you ask, there are probably as many goals as there are members, but I would venture that most of us would say something along the lines of building something that will survive, even if the social structures of our society do not.”

“Are you saying that you think that the government will collapse in our lifetimes?” Ethan asked.

“It seems likely. Every day it seems increasingly concerned with the welfare of the few at the top at the cost of the many at the bottom.” David said. “But if we’re wrong, then we’ve wasted our time building a better life for ourselves.”

Ethan didn’t need to hear the rest of the argument. What David said was true. Even Ethan could see that the American economy was completely dependent upon cheap labor from overseas, and that if transportation of goods became expensive the entire thing would fall like a house of cards. There was only so much the military could do, and that line fell well short of what was necessary. He had seen all of the individual pieces, but had never put them together, it was just too difficult to imagine the consequences.

“So why don’t you leave the country? Or at least the city, move out into a small town somewhere?” Ethan asked. “There has to be an easier way than this.”

“You’re right on that point, and a lot of us agree with you,” David said. “But my take on it is that there is a value in cities, despite their faults. There are places that would be easier, or are already closer to where we want to be, but the point of this isn’t to do the easy thing.”

“Are you two about done over there?” Jess called from the other side of the roof.

“Yeah, just give us a few minutes,” David called back.

Ethan took the cue and went back to work. Within a few minutes they were finished and met Bridget and Jess back at the stairwell after they had locked up their tools.

“Anyone up for a beer?” Bridget asked. Jess and David both accepted, so Ethan did too. It was just after lunchtime, he had nothing better to do.

A couple of blocks from the building was a pub in a basement space. The only indication of it from the street was a small bronze plaque embossed with the letters PVP. Inside, there were only a couple of tables, most of the space was taken up by arcade games and pinball machines, the older ones flashing primary colors, the newer ones glowing with the bluish white of LCD screens. The sounds of the games made the place feel pleasantly full, even though it was almost empty on account of the hour.

“How have I never heard about this place?” Ethan asked.

“They don’t advertise much,” David said.

“Probably on account of them not actually being a legitimate business establishment,” Jess said.

“I see.”

“What do you want? I’ll buy,” Bridget said.

After they had all decided, Bridget went over to the bar to order while the rest of them searched for a place to sit. They eventually settled on two Pac-man arcade tables that had been pulled together. With the game demo going on underneath the beer glasses, it looked like Pac man was trying to eat power pellets that were ten times his size and the ghosts were merely guards chasing him around.

“So what did you think of working in the garden?” Jess asked from across the table.

“I didn’t think that I’d like it, but it wasn’t bad,” Ethan said. “Beats not working.” He had been thinking about it as they had walked to the bar. At first he thought that maybe it just felt good to be useful, to be doing something, anything. But then he had flashed back to memories of his last job, working as seasonal holiday help in a big electronics store. Working in the garden was better, much better.

“Glad to hear it,” Bridget said.

“I do have a question, though,” he said. “I was under the impression that the Bazaars were trying to decouple themselves from the global economy, but here we are, drinking beer in a pub. Is the pub part of the system, or what?”

Jess answered. “You’re right about trying to decouple from the global economy, but it’s not something that can happen overnight. A few years ago, the Bazaars were mostly people selling handmade illegal or semi-legal technology, anti-surveillance stuff. Now we grow enough food to feed a thousand people or so, and there’s exciting stuff coming with 3D printers and cheap CNC machines. It’s a process.”

“There’s more to it than that,” Bridget said. “Really, what we’re trying to do is get rid of our reliance on the global economy. Ultimately, we still want to be part of it, but we want it to work for us and not the other way around. As for the pub, the owner has similar thinking, but he isn’t part of the Bazaar. He does accept bitcoins, though, because of his semi-legal status.”

“That helps, thanks,” Ethan said.

“There’s more about it on the BazOS, if you’re interested,” David said.

“I get the feeling that I’ll be hearing that a lot,” Ethan said.

“I think–” Jess said, but cut herself off as her phone started to vibrate against the glass.

Next to it, Davids phone was doing the same, and Ethan could feel his phone going off in his pocket. A second later Bridget’s phone began ringing. Ethan didn’t know what was going on, but judging by the looks on the others’ faces, it wasn’t good. They all checked their phones, and Ethan found a notification waiting for him when he woke his up.

Drones massing in area, attack on Bazaar imminent. Remove SD card and meet at Alternate C in six hours. Everyone else was already popping out their SD cards or prying off their battery covers, Ethan did the same.

“What just happened?” he asked when he had finally gotten his battery out and removed the SD card tucked underneath.

“Before an attack comes on the Bazaar they like to scout it with drones, so when we detect them massing nearby, we assume the worst,” Bridget said.

“Will everyone be alright?” Ethan asked.

“Probably, we usually get out in time. We lose a lot of our stuff when this happens, but we can usually be up and running again in a few days,” Bridget answered.

“Sometimes they manage to change it up so that we don’t detect it in time, but not often,” David added.

Ethan didn’t need to ask what that meant. He thought back to the man speaking at the impromptu rally less than a week ago, about the drone that had silenced him. He felt a shadow of that same helplessness, but when he looked around the table, none of his new friends seemed to feel the same way. It was as though the mere presence of a plan and the knowledge that they would simply pick up and start again immunized them against defeat.

“Six hours, we’re just supposed to wait this out?” Ethan asked. The idea of doing nothing seemed antithetical to everything he had experienced of the Bazaar.

“No, that message is sent out so that people don’t feel obligated to join a confrontation with security forces,” Jess said, standing up from the table. The others followed suit. “That doesn’t mean that we need to stay away completely, however, just that we need to be careful.”

“Do you want to come with?” Bridget asked.

“Yes,” Ethan said without hesitation. He wondered how much of his motivation was due to actually wanting to help and how much was because a cute woman had asked. Either way, he was going. He got up from the table, and the four of them started to leave the bar.

Before they reached the door, David told them to wait for a minute and ran back to the bar. When he returned, he said, “Sorry about that, I just wanted to warn Bill about what was going on.”

“Good idea,” Bridget said.

With that, the four of them climbed the concrete steps out onto the sidewalk, squinting under the midday sun, and started to make their way towards the Bazaar. As they walked, Ethan was torn between watching the sky for swarms of drones and telling himself that people weren’t staring at them, that it was just paranoia on his part.

“I know it’s kind of a strange question,” he said. “But what are we going to do when we get there?”

No one had an answer, and for the next fifteen minutes the conversation skittered from topic to topic as they made their way to the Bazaar. When they arrived they found the entire alleyway cleared. Or at least that was how it looked to Ethan. It had been less than an hour since they had received the alert, the alleyway was almost certainly under residual surveillance.

“So what now?” Ethan asked.

“In about five hours, it will be rush hour and we can make it to Alternate C,” Bridget said.

“Until then?” Ethan asked.

“We need to lie low, you can come over to our place and get cleaned up, or you can head to your own place and we can meet up later,” David said.

“If it’s not too much trouble, I’ll come with you,” Ethan said.

The apartment was not what Ethan expected. Apparently, when David had said ‘our’ he had meant his, Jess’s, and Bridget’s. The apartment had two bedrooms and a common area with a semi-detached kitchen. Other than that, it looked remarkably like Ethan’s apartment: there was a large couch that faced a TV on the wall, bookshelves loaded with books and other random items, and several tablets all vying for outlet space.

“Give me a minute to find you a towel, then the shower’s yours,” David said.

The shower felt incredibly good, and it was only the knowledge that three other people were waiting on him to finish that got Ethan out in a reasonably short time. When he emerged, the common area was noticeably cleaner, although it hadn’t been very dirty to start with.

“How–” Ethan began.

Bridget cut him off. “Jess is a graphic designer. Between that and unemployment we make it work.”

to be continued - eventually