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“A week,” the man replied. “I wanted to come earlier, so I could be one of the first people to get one, but I only get five days of vacation per year from my job. I don’t know how those people in the front were able to take so much time off work.”
“I actually talked to the girl at the front of the line,” Jerome said, “and she told me she got there a month ago.”
“Lucky girl,” the man said.
“What do you do about bathroom breaks?”
“Over there, in that corner,” the man said. “People just kind of designated that spot as a bathroom. It's not pretty, but it serves its purpose, and everybody respects your place in line when you use it.”
Jerome looked at the corner, and didn’t dare step toward it, as the sound of buzzing flies told him all he needed to know.
Jerome thanked the man for his time and continued walking, hoping he’d reach the back of the line soon. He was getting tired from all of the walking, but he had no choice. There was no way he was going to miss out on getting a first-edition copy of the first novel ever written by Artificial Intelligence.
Six months had passed since the company that created the A.I. responsible for the novel made headlines around the world, declaring the novel was finally finished and ready for release. Fanning the flames of the public’s eagerness, three months later, the developers of the A.I. announced limited copies of the first edition would be released in only one bookstore in one city. Considering there were only a handful of bookstores left in the entire country, and one of the most famous ones was located in the city where Jerome lived, he liked his chances.
He eagerly listened to the announcement, and felt like he had won the lottery when it was confirmed the bookstore where the first edition would be released was indeed the famous one in his city, just a short bus ride from his home.
Every day since the announcement of where the book would be released, news around the world focused exclusively on the A.I.-written novel. Everything else going on in the world at the time might as well have not been happening because nobody was paying any attention to it. All they cared about was the pending release of the book. Yet despite constant news coverage, there were no details about the novel whatsoever, no page count, no plot details, nothing. Not even the title had been revealed. The only piece of information made public was the A.I.’s pseudonym: Sam Wild.
When Jerome finally made it to the end of the line, he was exhausted. He said hello to the woman standing in front of him, but the response he received was in a language he couldn't understand. He assumed the woman was from a country far away. He had no doubt that many people standing or sitting in line had come from faraway countries.
A group of three young men, about the same age as Jerome, arrived and took their place in line right behind him and greeted him. He was happy they had arrived because while he knew there was no way he would be first in line, he didn’t want to be last either.
More and more people came, and before he knew it, the line-up behind Jerome had grown so long he could no longer see the end of it. He sat on the pavement and leaned back against the wall of an abandoned building. The three young men behind him followed suit, as did seemingly everybody else behind them.
One of the young men behind Jerome introduced himself.
“I’m Yusef,” he said.
“These are my friends Van and Shawn.”
Jerome nodded at the other two men, who amicably nodded back.
“Where are you from?” Yusef asked.
“This city,” Jerome replied.
“Lucky guy,” Van said.
Jerome asked where Yusef and his friends were from. Yusef told him they were from the same country as Jerome, but from different cities, and had met during their respective journeys to the line-up.
Nightfall came slowly as dusk seemed to last forever. Jerome had brought some food, and started eating. Yusef, Van and Shawn ate the food they had brought as well.
A police car crawled by.
“Do you think the car goes along the entire line, or just the back of it?” Yusef said.
“When I first got to the line,” Jerome said, “I actually talked to the girl who was first, and I saw a cop car pass by, so I guess the entire line.”
As soon as the police car turned the corner, Shawn shouted, “What the hell is your problem?”
Van, Yusef and Jerome all turned toward Shawn and saw a man and a woman leaning against him. The woman was holding a small knife against Shawn's neck, while the man held a pistol against his ribs.
Jerome glanced at the people in front and behind them in line. Nobody seemed to see, or seemed to want to see, what was going on.
“What do you want?” Shawn said. “I only have a few bucks. It's yours. Take it.”
“We don’t care about your money,” the woman said. “We want to cut in front of you.”
“You do know that as long as you're in line by tonight, you’re going to get a copy of the book, right?” Jerome said.
“You really believe that?” said the man with the gun. “Have you seen how long this line goes? We've walked to the end of it and it goes all the way to the river.”
Jerome glanced at the faces of Van, Yusef and even Shawn, who despite his palpable fear at having a knife and a gun pressed against his body, showed the same obliviousness at the mention of the river as his friends. But Jerome for one knew how far the river was, and he couldn’t believe that’s where the end of the line had reached.
The man with the gun poked it deeper into Shawn’s ribs. “So what’s it going to be?” he demanded.