Fabrication

Cold coffee was not what I needed right now, on top of everything else that had happened. Damn machine. Someone had probably made sure it wouldn’t work properly, too. The foul, black liquid spiralled down the drain as I rinsed out the synth cup and placed it back on the holder. Auto-pilot fingers jabbed mechanically at the small, dull-grey dispenser to make another, this time setting the temperature to scalding to reflect my mood.

Jarks probably all felt it dawn on them like this at some point, that weird feeling like the world’s conspiring against you, but then the consistent bad vibrations that led to paranoid suspicions. They would’ve only ever known rumours, quiet whispers on the dark nets if they knew where to look, but I should’ve known it was a fabber. Some sanctimonious bastard would probably have called it poetic justice to have seen me pacing the small, white-walled holding cell contemplating a world that was no longer my own. The eyes that were no doubt watching were probably saying just that. Someone, somewhere, was laughing as they watched my brain squirm.


The problem with knowing was that you started thinking about crap that didn’t matter, like when everything could’ve begun. The panic of realising that you didn’t know dream and nightmare from reality bubbled and corroded the brain like acid. Maybe it was just after skinning that last jark, a no-name brand tagged as fox that worked over at Mythical. It was a straightforward gig, nothing even that illegal, manoeuvre things so the guy quit his job and went to work with the Chinese. A few well placed newsbytes, a couple of dream sequences and life-cube alterations, and his world suddenly included a burning desire to work with CADO. Only took two days to clinch it, but something felt wrong. Good fortune is always a bad omen; life cut you slack when it was getting ready to smash you in the teeth, and I knew it.

Ever since then it had been like the curse of some cult horror movie set, but the skin had probably started much sooner, building up subtly as each fragment was grafted and put in place. Any one of those hourglass grains that drifted past aimlessly, untagged and unremembered could have been planted, suggested. This one had been complex, too. There were enough black marks in my past for a legit shakedown if someone was bright enough to dive around my data sediment, but for someone to have gone to all that effort of fabbing an entire skin to get me arrested … Christ, someone wanted me down, bad.

And that was the question to really ask: who was the bastard, and how the hell do you get your life back?

“Your coffee is ready,” said the machine in a cheerfully synthetic voice.

I took the cup and sipped it, burning my tongue on the bitter, steaming liquid; it didn’t taste any better hot, but it at least numbed the senses and took my mind off the gnawing feeling that ate at my intestines like a starving tapeworm. What had happened? What memories could I rely on? Coffee steam condensed and became artificial face sweat as I stared blankly at the bed in the corner, wondering what I should do. The throb behind my eyes was getting worse with no Modafinil at hand to keep sleep in its cage. The firm intellifoam mattress lay there invitingly, a white heaven waiting to wrap its synthetic arms around me and suck me down into an oblivion that promised a brief escape; tempting, but the nagging feeling of not being in control made me restless. A deep gulp seared my gums and throat into a grimace of brief pain, focusing my attention on what had happened, and I delved down into my cube while I still could and played back the whole scene.

Suspicion and apprehension had grabbed my throat the moment I’d walked towards New Soho from Oxford Station, that feeling of some collective consciousness warning you with subtle signs that are hindsight’s curse. The route through fluorescent billboards was second nature by now, but everything was slightly disjointed, out of place, pieces of furniture moved in unknown ways in an otherwise familiar room. The wind was blowing the wrong way, numbing the face and ears as I walked directly into it. The biting cold seeped into my chest and arms, the first signs that the smothering cocoon of cheap Eastern tech was already malfunctioning; the black synthetic nano-jacket constricted tighter as it tried to keep in a warmth that had already disappeared into the winter night.

Jostling shoulders were unforgiving and I vied for position amongst the flow of late night revellers, shoppers, conmen and other grim-faced strangers that spoke harshly above the noise of the traffic. Their shrill tones pierced the claustrophobic air as I huddled deeper into my hoodie, turned on my pod, and walked in a semi-Pavlovian trance; my face stared down at a world of shadowed shoes and dirt polished pavements to avoid as many eye scanners as possible. Old school binaural dubstep beats filled my ears and did little to ease the nerves.

Eventually, I was at the immersion cafe. Its sign was sinister, spelling Techies out in a red that was far brighter than I remembered, too garish to be of this world, a hellish halo for a lecherous bum that lay outside the drab building’s black-tinted entrance. He stared at me wide-eyed through caterpillar-like eyebrows, laughing and muttering incoherently, as if bringing messages from beyond that I couldn’t understand. I looked away, ashamed, memories of hard times that were not so long ago electrocuted back into existence from the places I’d hidden them; the fear that the dirty wretch could be a future mirror image of me pulsated down the back of my neck.

One mistake was all it took to go back there, so feeling footsteps carried me slowly on, past him and the doorway, my silhouette flashing across its dark glass, and I wound my way down the pavement past the gray and windowless concrete walls, my eyes scanning scared up ahead along the shadowed side street. The usual, late night crowd of camped-out gays, drunk or drugged party-goers and cheap entertainment lounging around LED-lit doorways seemed to carry a dark, sullen cloud through air smelling of dirty concrete and old Oriental take-away instead of the festive nights I could remember.

There had been nothing, no repeated faces that hinted at phantom watchers; not that that meant much. It was difficult to shrug off the feeling that someone had been scanning, and not just the cams that were perched on top of every available surface like scarecrows, either. It was easy to imagine someone, somewhere, reading my intent, knowing the next action. I shouldn’t have worried of course, since my custom neurosoft routine would’ve revealed a lust for total porn immersion, but every fabber in existence lived on paranoia, like a plant lived off sunlight, some sort of natural phobia-synthesis that transformed the fear in the air through our skin pores into some weird energy. We lived on a permanent paranoid high that only weed smokers, Neural lovers and adrenaline junkies could relate to, but being suspicious of every deal and grafted skin meant I was bound to be right sooner or later.

A scan of the trashcan just outside had revealed nothing, no messages or warnings, not even a QR code that something had gone down recently. Skinner lenses had picked up nothing in Next Life either, the digitally angular walls looked as empty as the real thing, no new tags or graf, just the usual crappy sigs of wandering kids. I shrugged off the vibes as normal, laughed at my own paranoia and walked in through the door, strolling past the bum, pretending he was a decorative ornament that was just a part of everyday life.

The reception room was empty as usual. It had always looked like some high-tech rundown motel where the owners, a nameless face I’d never personally met over the years of coming, had spent so much money on pods, comps, displays and console relics to decorate every flat-pack catalogue table and shelf that he couldn’t afford to wash the stained, wine-red shaggy carpet or fix up the peeling wallpaper. A few air fresheners wouldn’t have gone amiss, either, unless all he could afford was the smoke-tinted stale cigarette fragrance that permeated everywhere, but every fabber I knew loved the stink for some weird reason, every film noir hotel and motel recreated for the senses. The reader on the small table to the left of the silvery elevator came to life as white hieroglyphics lit its cheap display, the scanner allowed through the firewall and picked up my hand Verichip.

“Payment accepted. Cubic 38, please,” came the tinny voice from directional speakers.

Cubic 38 proved to be a decaying green door in a quiet corridor of other cloned entrances, each one holding a soundproofed room of eight by eight feet’s worth of hi-tech; behind each was someone either reliving old memories of someone they couldn’t let go, jacking off to porn, tripping on Neurals, or, like me, coming in to make a deal.

The door swung inwards as I approached, clicking behind me as I stepped inside. There was silence, except for the hum of tech and the smell of current pumping through electrical veins; my world, a place where paranoia was the alien instead of me. The comps were soothing, the walls stacked from floor to ceiling with high-def displays and consoles: a couple Fab machines lay on their own white, plastic tables, their boxes of colourful liquid synth ready to mould whatever design was in mind. Synapse receivers stood like miniature radio towers next to BMI‘s for anyone who hadn’t gone completely neurosoft, and a host of other digital gadgets to satisfy anyone’s fetish. A Horizon unit lay on top of a small shelf of its own; my eyes twitched involuntarily at the thought, but there had been little time for that. The Russian would be arriving any second, and I didn’t have much money. Using fake credit was always out of the question; none of us would at Techies. The owner turned a blind eye to us using the place, and we all made damn sure it stayed that way, so I sat down in the armless black leather chair, and waited.

But my contact never came.

Instead, there had just been some unfamiliar black haired and suited chisel face breaking through the door, a hissing noise, and then the smell of almonds before I passed out. And then awake, here, in this cell. I suspected it was much smaller than it looked – a mirage probably – but I didn’t feel like breaking my nose on a wall to find out. No-one had spoken to me except for when I was read my rights and the charges of child sex trafficking and paedophilia were mentioned through invisible speakers, realization dawning that someone had set me up at my own game, fabricating a reality that had never happened.

Now that I had played it all back, none of it made much sense. Paranoia was one thing, probably down to taking a few too many Neurals over the years and the adrenaline that comes from doing a trade, but I was really nobody, a small time drifter looking for that last final graft I’d always dreamed about. As usual, life’s sucker punch came just when you could taste the freedom only money could bring, and the Russian gig would’ve set me up with what I needed to get there.

I tossed the last dregs of now cold coffee into the sink, a dull ache in my neck signalling the need for sleep, and I crawled onto the mattress; nothing to do but wait.

Comments

There are 8 comments for this fragment. Why not join in?

  1. Comment by Flashie @ 7:02 am

    Good stuff…

  2. Comment by Matt @ 11:06 am

    An impressive piece of writing, Dystopian to the max, a future where Philip K Dick has a love child with Neal Stephenson (and frankly, in the sort of future this author seems to be envisioning, that would be possible (never mind the fact that both are male and one is dead, we are talking THAT dystopian)).

  3. […] future fragments » Blog Archive » Fabrication Part 1 of a scifi story (tags: science fiction sf future technology singularity transhumanism) […]

  4. Comment by Reg @ 1:28 pm

    Very very good old buddy.

    I’ve certainly read a whole bunch of published-on-paper stuff that’s come off a lot worse. (anything by Dan Brown being the obvious candidate :p)

    But you wanted ‘The Destructor’ (sounds like a Schwartzenegger movie to me, but whatever) and for that reason and only that reason I’m gonna pick a bit.

    Two things come to mind… well maybe three.

    I found it a bit purple in places – but then I went off and actually wikied purple prose and got this back:

    ‘It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader’s response.’

    which I really thought was cute in terms of the subject matter. Nice one! :p

    Secondly – for the most part you’ve got future slang happening. Cool. But, then in others you have phrases that don’t really gel with that – ‘black synthetic nano-jacket’. Cool. But it begs the question – are there non-synthetic nano-jackets? Maybe from nano-cows? :p

    It seems to be trying a little too hard to add to the story’s general plastic feeling.

    I don’t know if you’ve read any Ken MacLeod. I’m referring particularly to ‘The Cassini Division’. The great thing about his writing is that he makes the familiar (communism / capitalism / stuff ending in ism) seem extraordinary, whilst making the extraordinary (nanotech) familiar. Blatantly that’s not your purpose, I just mention it because his first person voice when referring to technology is nicely blithe – which you might expect the character here to be since tech appears to be his bag, baby.

    My last semi-quibble is – yes the playback does pretty much make your protagonist out to be a bit of a muppet. He’s paranoid to the eyeballs, but doesn’t notice the discrepancies… Are they coming across as too ‘loud’? Or maybe I’m missing something….

    £0.02 please.

  5. Comment by Craig Sefton @ 3:05 pm

    “Very very good old buddy.”

    Thanks.

    “Iâ??ve certainly read a whole bunch of published-on-paper stuff thatâ??s come off a lot worse. (anything by Dan Brown being the obvious candidate :p)”

    I don’t know whether I should be flattered or offended by a comparison to Dan Brown, even if I come off better LOL

    “I found it a bit purple in places – but then I went off and actually wikied purple prose and got this back: â??It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a readerâ??s response.â?? which I really thought was cute in terms of the subject matter. Nice one! :p”

    Right, I think I get what you’re saying, in that it’s too flowery in some places. Hmm. Maybe some editing won’t go amiss in that respect. I suspect that’s what editors are for 🙂

    Secondly – for the most part youâ??ve got future slang happening. Cool. But, then in others you have phrases that donâ??t really gel with that – â??black synthetic nano-jacketâ??. Cool. But it begs the question – are there non-synthetic nano-jackets? Maybe from nano-cows? :p

    Right, so I guess your main suggestion here is that there should be some sort of slang term for an item like that, or at least refer to it in a more offhand manner. Makes sense. I actually remember sitting down and thinking, hmmm, what should I call it, and I couldn’t think of anything so I just wrote nano-jacket heh. Lazy, I know, but I didn’t want to force the slang thing too much.

    It seems to be trying a little too hard to add to the storyâ??s general plastic feeling.

    Sure, that may well be the case. I suspect I should be a bit more off-handed about certain things instead of trying to elaborate them.

    I donâ??t know if youâ??ve read any Ken MacLeod. Iâ??m referring particularly to â??The Cassini Divisionâ??. The great thing about his writing is that he makes the familiar (communism / capitalism / stuff ending in ism) seem extraordinary, whilst making the extraordinary (nanotech) familiar. Blatantly thatâ??s not your purpose, I just mention it because his first person voice when referring to technology is nicely blithe – which you might expect the character here to be since tech appears to be his bag, baby.

    Never read it, but it sounds pretty interesting. I wouldn’t say my purpose is not to make the extra-ordinary ordinary; I think any sci-fi should be like that (extra-ordinary by today’s standards = ordinary by tomorrow’s), and if I haven’t come across like that, that’s a problem that’ll need reworking. I’ll try get a copy of the book

    My last semi-quibble is – yes the playback does pretty much make your protagonist out to be a bit of a muppet. Heâ??s paranoid to the eyeballs, but doesnâ??t notice the discrepanciesâ?¦ Are they coming across as too â??loudâ??? Or maybe Iâ??m missing somethingâ?¦.

    This is the one bit I didn’t get … what discrepancies are you referring to? What’s too loud? Hmm, and if the protagonist comes across as a muppet, that’s not so good :-/

    Thanks for taking the time dude, I really appreciate it.

  6. Comment by Reg @ 3:22 pm

    Ok – I’ve re-read the bit where he comes out of the station and I’m the muppet… went off on a complete tangent… ne’er you mind, matey : p It’s just always a danger when you write something like this that the reader might have to backtrack a bit.

    I think the trick that MacLeod manages is simply this: if it’s a jacket – call it a jacket – just have it do stuff that’s unusual and be casual about it.
    ‘My jacket clung annoyingly as it attempted to seal in a little heat’ – badly worded but you get the idea… Then again – you are trying to cyber it up… what the hell do i know anyway ; p

    No probs anyway ; )

  7. Comment by Reg @ 4:52 pm

    Also – as insulting as being compared to Dan Brown is (sorry) – my point was that he has made quite a bit of dosh from worse work…

    His only real skill afaics is that he finishes what he starts.

  8. Comment by Craig Sefton @ 9:04 am

    Hehe, thanks for all the input, bud, much appreciated.

    “finish what you start” is going to be my new mantra!

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February 11, 2007