After walking for several minutes down the dull and ash-stained streets they round a corner and are met with the sounds and smells of the central commerce district up ahead. The sound of dozens of peoples’ voices blending together mixes with the aromas of fresh baked goods and the ever permeating metallic air. Dylan rarely comes to this part of town himself rather preferring the less busy and much smaller outlying commerce districts.

The two finally reach the source of the aromas and voices and leave the small winding streets to encounter a well-lit square plaza. Large skyscraper reach up to meet the ceiling above and neon signs run up and down the skyscrapers illuminating the area. Not advertising the businesses currently occupying them, but rather remnants of a time long gone. The business owners maintain them so as to mark this place as a safe-haven to the struggles of the now, some businesses even going as far as to try and replicate what this place once represented.

“I remember coming down here when I was still in the orphanage, nothing has really changed has it?” Dylan asks while looking around.

“In my forty years, this place hasn’t changed one bit. The only thing that changes here is the people. Same signs, same stores, different owners. Almost a time capsule.” Blake adds, barely looking around.

They continue down through the massive plaza, people milling about with their bags of goods when a familiar smell captivates Dylan and he stops. He looks to his left and sees a neon sign reading “McDonald’s” glaring at him with its luminous yellow “M” arching above the entrance to a restaurant.

“Mickey’s still serving those shitty burgers out of that place?” Dylan asks smiling.

“Of course they are,” Blake laughs, “That sauce recipe they discovered downtown in the McDonald’s warehouse has made them rich. The owner claims it’s the legitimate recipe from back in the 2000s. That stuff’ll kill ya.”

“It is addictive though. I could eat five of those things on our trips out here. I’d save up my chore money for a month just to eat there”

“Can’t argue with that. It definitely burns a hole in your wallet. The price people’ll pay for a bit of the past.” Blake chuckles, “Come on kid, you’ll have plenty of time to eat two-hundred year old food later.”

Dylan reluctantly turns away and follows Blake who has already started back down the street, taking in the neon glow and crowds, remembering the few happy times he had in the orphanage on his trips here. Kodak, LG, and Apple signs pass on his right and up ahead there is a massive part skyscraper and neon billboard marking the end of the plaza. An advertisement runs up the entire length of the building, Call of Duty: Interstellar Warfare 3 in big letters at the bottom whilst a man in a sleek white and gold spacesuit points a las-gun down at the street, an exploding starship in the background.

“Funny what they thought the future would be like back then huh?” Dylan comments.

“Space colonization and starships,” Blake chuckles, “What idiots.”

“If only they could see us now in all our grimy grandeur,” Dylan adds jokingly.

“They’d probably try and make a video game out of it. They loved the ideas of these defunct stratified societies back when this place was important.”

“How ya know that?” Dylan asks confused.

“My father loved history. Studied and taught 21st century history back before the colleges closed bot-side. His love rubbed off on me a bit I guess. All useless information now though.”

They pass the massive skyscraper and turn off down onto one of the side streets. A lot less people are here, but enough that they have to weave past meandering patrons. The stores here are much smaller and only occupy the bottom levels of the buildings and neon signs are replaced with more traditional painted wooden signs for the stores actual occupants.

“It’s not useless. One day we might need it to rebuild when all this falls apart.” Dylan motions up to the well-lit top-side through the class ceiling.

Blake scoffs, “You’re starting to sound like one of those DOC nuts. What you gonna do? Kill us all by breaking that damn ceiling? It’s indestructible.” He chuckles.

“Of course not. I just mean that this system can’t possibly last. It’s too corrupt. Too broken. The people will push back eventually.”

Blake raises an eyebrow, “You’re full of surprises aren’t ya. A highlander that wants the system to collapse?”

Dylan responds seriously, “I’m not a highlander anymore. And I’m not a lowlander either. I’m just a person living in this fucked up world and knows it needs to change.”

Blake smiles, “Seems like I might have misjudged you, you might just fit right in with us. We’re here.”

They walk up to a building at the end of the street. A wooden sign hangs outside the door held up by two thin chains. A broken barstool is painted above the word O’Konnel’s. The stench of spilled beer and sweaty bodies mixed with the humid and smoky air as they go through the open door. Uproarious laughter can be heard from the far end of the bar where a burly man has just fallen off his stool after downing one beer too many. Blake nods to the man behind the bar and the barkeep motions to a door on the backside of the bar. Dylan and Blake shuffle past the fallen man and his laughing companions and go through a battered door with the letters Private Guests Only etched into it.

The inside of the room is spacious and much cleaner than the main room of the bar. A pool table lines the right wall and a poker table is cozied up next to the back left corner. Closest to them is a much smaller bar running along the left wall. Blake jogs behind the bar.

“Liquor or ale?” Blake asks hefting up a dusty bottle of whiskey in one hand and two beers in the other.

“Wine.” Dylan responds cheekily.

“Beer it is then,” Blake slides a beer to Dylan and Blake pops his top off against the grainy wood of the bar top and takes a swig. “Ahh. That hits the spot.”

Dylan catches his own and leverages his against the bar top mirroring Blake and is rewarded with the beer fizzing out of the top.

“Fuck!” Dylan jumps back and holds out the frothing bottle, disappointed in himself.

“You can clean that up later,” Blake chuckles and motions to the poker table, “for now we got business to discuss.”