A Cyber Punk – Pt. 7

I step out of the cab, my side still hurting from the rondo that took place not even hours age. The sensation of being full on pizza mixed in with pain makes for an uncomfortable, undefinable kind of nausea – disgust at personal life choices? A bad attempt at recuperation ending in regret? Weltschmerz? What language even is that. That same familiarity, of a word you know how to use but feels clustered in its origins and how it made its way onto your tongue is a taste you cannot remember, I’m feeling that right here.

Community college.

I’m familiar with education. Like, I’ve attended classes, approximately. Sorta. It was on Third Life, in one of my earliest roleplaying groups. It was… very contextual. I was a teacher, who taught. I taught students. Things. Many things. Long things. We emulated what we thought was the real thing by equipping school outfits on our avatars and never took them off. One dude in the group was a slime puddle? That was a weird lesson, but I liked it. We did research to make it as authentic as our subscription fees and VR-helmets could allow. We also found out school uniforms aren’t really a thing outside of smut. It felt sexy, to contribute to false stereotypes.

Never been to college, though. Or high school. Didn’t have the money, didn’t have a parent to pay for me either. It’s not something I’m sad about, or actually know how to feel sad about? Grief is something you learn and I never got the IM. From what I know, college or any educational institution you’re rich and lucky enough to get into, it’s pretty good. It teaches you things, how to think clearly about things you care about. It also gives you more things to care about, in new, microscopic ways. You begin to love the world in ways and manners so close to its inner workings, so familiar with the cables underneath your desk, you are put in an office chair and forced to look at how endangered it really is. It becomes something you want to, but continuously fail to protect. I care about surviving and getting my frick on, but that’s not very academic I don’t think.

“So, love, what are we here for again?”

I glimpse at Exeter. His face, although obscured by that visor (or his visor IS his face?), still manages to convey cold, distant professionalism. If I were him — if I were a ‘he’! — the setbacks of tonight would’ve left me sufficiently distraught to go for the universal ‘hiding in a dumpster’ solution. But this guy, he’s driven. “Orlando.” His voice splashes against me like the puddles of rainwater filling the broken sidewalk, pretending everything’s alright. “This plant is extremely important.” He’s been holding it close ever since we got on the cab – I haven’t seen enough plants in my life to really know how it’s doing. It’s alive? I guess? It’s green with bright green leaves. “We’re here to drop it off. To… make something work.” He looks over his shoulder and at me when he says that, pausing not with skepticism but with hesitation. He can’t let me in on his plans, or maybe he doesn’t want to? To protect me? My face flushes at the thought.

We enter the courtyard, dilapidated and over-strewn with silicons and plastic wrappers. “So uh, what was Caesar supposed to deliver, anyway? Some kind of data?” Data barks approvingly. “Yes. Data–” bark “…containing instructions on how tp sustain plantlife. Flora, as you might imagine, hardly has any chance of survival in these parts. Seeing as the datadrop went awry and I antagonised not only my contract but two extra people courteous to your doing, I’m in a bit of a rush. Not to worry, though–” I can see his visor flicking to a confident :-J. “– it’s all still in motion.” “This isn’t actually a community college, is it?” I not so much ask as I flat out realise, my voice inflexed with a similar epiphany that I might be in over my handsome head. Exeter chuckles. “No. Not at all.” “Yeahhh, I could kind of tell, doll.” I admire the sudden air of mystery that’s beset him in the same way fear can feel sexy. He performs an intricate knock on the tall, shoddy rotwood doors, and I perform a rubbing notion across my torso. I didn’t even notice how cold it’s gotten. I could really use a shirt. Datadamn, my nipples are cold.

A door opens to the side: someone picked it up and moved it out of the way in its entirety. A large man wearing a bandanna of the Angolan flag pokes his head out of where a door used to be. Sure, it may be ancient history, one that’s never been taught – I found out Africa exists and is a huge continent by accident while browsing BBS for ‘cool flags’ – but if a nation has a machete in its national flag, you remember that funk. “Aye, Exeter. What brings you here? Next meeting’s not till next week.” He speaks clearly, with a pleasant and warm, but commanding cadence. Exeter leans in to whisper something and I’m met with single, sometimes double glances. The man shuts his eyes in a quick thought and nods.

“Come in. You too, naked man.”

“Person.”

“Ah. Naked person.”

“Thank you.” Once inside, the man, who I assume to be named Hanna going by the ‘Hi, my name is Hanna’ nametag pinned to his pink leather jacket, fits the door back into place. Tucked into his tailored, moth-bitten slacks is a one-size-fits-all, soot black silicon bag.

We are not so much welcomed inside as we are forced into the interior a horror mansion. Like the one in DEATH CUM CYBER ZOMBIES 7: HOUSE OF HORNY HACKERS. Three people-shapes meet us. Strapped in ill-fitting, violently bright, green skinsuits, kowtowing in a perfect line a few feet ahead. Their necks are contorted inhumanly – or even inrobotically -, their oviform faces pointed straight at us and clearly visible. Or clearly non-visible. No mouth, no eyes, no nose. But they’re staring at us, facelessly. “uhh, Ex…?” No response. Data modulates a sad whimper. He’s never been a growler. I’ve never been a fan of body horror. Especially when it’s real. From the corner of my eye I can barely glimpse Exeter’s visor displaying a small ‘-_-‘. It seems serene, in a regretful way. “Exeter. I really don’t like th–” My words become a muffle and a taste of synthetic filth fills my mouth as a cold, silicon bag is yanked over me. I can still see the glowing figures through the fibres.

My nipples are still really cold.

A CYBER PUNK, Pt. 6.5

This place has always been like a haven for me, which is a strange thing to say about a pizza place. It’s quiet but not abandoned, and pastel pink and blue are my favourite colours. When you walk by from the outside, it looks like you’re in a movie theatre, looking at a bright screen displaying a feelbetter-than film. A good meal and peace of mind seems to only happen in the movies nowadays. And the owner’s great, too! Falstaff is the only other person on the block who pays extra for the REALLY OLD THEATRICALS AND SUPER DEAD AUTHORS channel. I know because the first thing I did when I signed my lease was tap into his TV reception. (He also has this channel called REALLY OLD THEATRICALS AND SUPER DEAD AUTHORS (SEXY) but I don’t really want to look at that.) After I’d moved in, Falstaff visited me in person and gave me a free pizza. I think he said something among the lines of, “Welcome to the neighbourhood! I pray you soon feel at home, most comparative, rascalliest, sweet young prince.”

And I did! Him being a cyborg certainly had something to do with it. His metal face was surprisingly warm and gentle despite having two vertical yellow bars for eyes and one oval for a mouth. It’s, like, not a race thing, but humans make me uncomfortable. Anyway, I ate at his place whenever my schedule allowed it, and he always made sure I was doing okay. He told me once, “I am little better than one of the wicked, for my pizzas are loved by all! The freshest ingredients, enjoyed by crook or cop! I do not care, as long as it supplies me with the monies, so I can keep buying the freshest ingredients!” and he kissed his own fingers and rollerskated back into the kitchen.

“Mm, you’re a cyborg, right? Shouldn’t you have like, ordered a pizza with, I don’t know, gears and thermal paste?” The slice I was about to eat slides out of my hand. It falls face-up on my lap, covering about the same distance as my jaw unhinging in pure disbelief. I don’t even think my emo-visor is displaying anything, or maybe it’s incapable of transcribing the stupefaction I’m feeling right now into any known ASCII. “Oh my god. You have no idea what a cyborg even is.” The shirtless diletante opposite me, clearly unversed in the ways of basic respect or empathy, is looking not quite as confused but an honest approximation of how confused as I am feeling. “You’re like robots, yeah?” I gently scoop up the fallen slice and almost drop it again at his continued, casual blunt assault. I can feel the sloshing of hydraulic fluids in my arm so vividly and clearly, it feels like I Was born with my hardware. Like I Was born to punch Orlando really hard in the face. I take a deep breath.

>:|

“This is. Not something we chose.” “I’d have loved a robot arm, honestly.” I take a really deep breath. “Listen closely, morlock. They don’t tell you this in Bigotry 101, but notice how this is not a clean place? No sunlight, no real garbage disposal services, not to mention the industrial waste and occasional radiation hazards. Children are born with problems. Becoming a cyborg makes sure they get to live. Apparently, live into a life where nobody wants them.” I wipe the tragic remnants of a pizza slice from my hand with a napkin. For once, they don’t have a witty comeback and I sure as data hope they aren’t trying to come up with one.

“Just. Call a cab. We’re going someplace.” They do so, regret in their hazel eyes, shimmering like the aftermath of a boot mercilessly stomping on a puddle.

I wave Falstaff goodbye. Orlando and I step out into the rain and into a cab. I hurry out of the cab to pay Falstaff for our pizzas and get back in. We sit in silence until the car stops at our destination.

Community college.

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 6

The elevator bell dings, we step inside, we’re spit out into the lobby. It’s not completely deserted, which is surprising when you go over the brutal disco that went down just now. Caesar, Skyscraper, and Casino are nowhere to be found. The only one here, behind the pexiglas, hole-riddled and boarded-up again booth is the landlord, Roel, reading an uninteresting magazine. He’s six screens tall and incredibly Dutch. We haven’t talked much, just the standard “so I pronounce it as Rool?” and “godverdomme man wher the fock is mijn rent?” His eyes drag up from his read and ours meet, then his drop to my bruised, notably shirtless body. He cocks a scarred eyebrow, his smog-covered lungs cough up a cloud of words that hardly manages to squeeze through the intercom. “Godverdomme man wher the fock’s je clothes?” I spin up to his tube-station.

“Rool, baby, when you see a tall, beat-up halfbot stroll down here, stop him for a second, won’t you? He’s trying to kill me, y’see.” A big sigh wafts into my face and I hack, wheeze, think of my last words. “Oké, wen I see tet man, I take matters in mijn own handen. But godverdomme man, effryone is trying to kill je.” I throw a proud smile back at Exeter, one that says, “see? I’m tough.” I also tell him that, just in case. His visor flicks to a faded green “-_-” and he trudges towards the exit carrying the plant from his apartment. I follow with a hop, followed by a dog carrying a ruined steampunk arm in his mouth.

The streets are colourful, but not in a technicolour kind of way. It’s still daytime, but sunlight doesn’t reach here. Sodium streetlights barf orange, blue, and purple from above while the city passes a perpetual, smoky gas. There’s nothing beautiful about it. A couple of bat-wielding boys wrecked a lumpia cart and shoved it into the nearest sewer entrance. The old man that runs it is crying for help, trying to pull his only livelihood out, but he doesn’t stand a chance against the swellers pulling it in deeper. Swellers, by the way, is short for ‘sewer dwellers’. That’s people who live in the sewers. It’s free housing, you shouldn’t judge them, you classist. Every hip and trendy passerby knows swellers love lumpias, though, so no one bothers. Neither do we, so we keep on walking. But even more miserable than that urban scene is this glitching awkward silence. That, and I’m still not wearing a shirt. Holy slag, I’m cold.

“Sooo, uh, you ever visit a poetry forum? I remember this poem that was all ‘oo, the neon blood pumps into my heart. I feel the beat of the city and it is my own.’ What’s up with that? Like, how pretentious and ignorant do they have to be? The view they have of the city’s amazing ’cause they can pay for it – meanwhile we get our doors kicked down for going out to buy brown cabbage past the curfew!” A low-toned vocoded murmur assaults my organic eardrums worse than any nerdcore concert: “You don’t like my poems?” I turn my neck like a rusty screw. A damp visor displaying a bright yellow ’;_;’. “I. Well. I mean, there’s a certain positivity in your work that can only exist within a privileged socioeconomic– Wait. You’re a cyborg. Aw, jammit. I’m so sorry, I–” I can see him chewing on the inside of his cheeks. “I’m not human, I’m piss poor, but I’m happy. Is that so bad?” The softly flickering sign of Falstaff’s Pizza Place is my salvatory light, a neon bible, ascending me out of this social hell.

I feel your circuitry pulsing
(what a thrill)

Like a shock I’m convulsing
                               (like I’m killed)

What I’m feeling is amazing
                               (programmed for love)

My electric heart, it’s racing
                              (baby don’t stop)

Twobit speakers are playing Trish Rigs’s latest single, ‘Robot Love feat. Shinobu the Samurida’ and I’m singing along with tears in my eyes. “Ya, two pizzas?” asks the waitress bouncing on epileptic rollerskates, doing halfhearted twirls not even half her heart is in. Exeter is pouting opposite of me on a turquoise bench, trying his hardest not to pay attention to me or the waitress. Deciding she’s had enough of waiting, she pops her TONGUE ATTACK FLAVOR BOMB APPROXIMATION OF MINT-FLAVOR (not real mint) which creates a small tremor at our table. “JESUS HACKING CHRIST,” is what we both yell before digging into the pizzas practically thrown at us. “That’ll be 70 hyperdollars, sugar.” I once again exclaim, “JESUS HACKING CHRIST!” before slamming the table. Exeter looks frightened. “SEVENTY HYPE FOR TWO PIZZAS? WHAT A BARGAIN, A CYBERSTEAL!” I pay her with a wink. Literally. She aims her retinal scanner and I lose some chump change. We continue eating, one in silence, one in song.

“Listen,” begins a condescending femme voice, “we shouldn’t be here. Together.” “Why not, babe? Our meeting was so intense, it’s only natural to go on a first date.” His jaw slams shut on a slice of ‘za and violently severs it, the metaphor winceworthy. “Don’t kid yourself. This is not a date.” He takes a deep, autotuned breath. “ANYHOW. We were never supposed to meet. But we did. Now I’m back to square one and I’m richer not one, but three people who want me in a cooler.” I throw on puppy eyes and a pouty lip; he quickly checks his human emotions guide, sighs. His visor turns into a frustrated -_-“.

“I want to help you, doll,” I assure him through pizza-filled mouth. “You’re disgusting. And, what? You don’t even know what it is I’m doing.” “Noooot a clue, but right now it’s my best bet at survival, escape, and so on.” “I’m being hunted by a hubristic datadropper and two angry debt collectors.” “Technically just Caesar. Casino, and Skyscraper just want me. Caesar, too, I guess.” “Oh, true. We should go our seperate ways, then.” I clasp his muscular metal arm and stop him from taking another bite. “Nononono babe, please don’t. I’ll help you. I’m not bad in a fight, and I can cook. Noodles and soup. Oil? I have oil. Do you drink oil?” “What? No, of course not. I’d die. And calm yourself, Orlando. I was kidding. Japing. Doing the comedy jive. You can tag along. You have a lot to make up for, anyway.” I shove a tearstained slice into my sad, quivering mouth, gratefully. “You won’t regret this.”

“I will, though.” [:S] “Please put on a shirt.”

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 5

“I don’t think so.” I say that, but I’m not thinking at all. Thoughts race through my head like magnetic cars glued to the sideways of The Sphere as I’m hurling a shirtless weirdo at three people who will not appreciate me doing this. I realise I should have put more thought into who I should throw at them, or who I should throw them at. Caesar? He’s unstable, untrustworthy, and quick to anger. His pompadour just poofed into a terrible mohawk of road rage and a steaming sewer grate

Man, they’ve got a pretty cute butt in that pants. Not much else going on, though. How about the girl? She has got a shotgun. A very funny shotgun. God, this all could have been avoided if he just hadn’t brought up the plant. It’s why the drop happened in the first place! Okay. Focus. Maybe the big guy? He seems respectable and calm enough. I should definitely get on his good side, which I’ll do by not throwing the person he unequivocally hates at him. Let’s hope that’s not what’s going to happen here–

“HAHA, EAT IT!” Excited and accomplished yells break me out of my digital reverie. As if I’m playing BOWLZONE PINMASTER at the old ‘Death of the Gamer’ arcade hall, I managed to knock over one of three unorthodox bowling pins. My loud, incorrigible projectile spun themselves around in mid-air and, with a crotch-thrust dead ahead, landed in the face of the tallest one. The one I did not want to hit. He slams onto the floor, cracks audibly forming in the carpeted concrete, eating the groin of his hated enemy through reinforced leather pants. In the span of seconds, my visor flicks from ’>:(’ to ‘O__O’ to ‘O///O’. I am SO featuring this in my next slagfic.

“All right, that’s it. You’re dead you son and offspring of glitches.” So screams the autotuned voice of a cute musclegirl. My fantasies are rudely interrupted and I begin to panng that this might end very badly for any of us. My visor springs to a red ‘X’ and all goes black. Last thing I remember is hearing an error sound.

I was in a gameshow once – the first-ever gameshow with cyborgs. Of course, the host was human, and most of the audience was. It was supposed to be a simple quiz, but it was a neon circus. They didn’t tell us for each wrong answer they’d sever the connection between brain and a piece of hardware. I was nervous. Biting on the hand that still had nails. The halfbot before me got it wrong, they cut her lungs from her system. She was gasping for air, hanging over the brightly-lit booth next to me. The audience roared with laughter and excitement. The host turned to me and smiled, a terrible smile on the other end of the humanity spectrum. Demonic, not robotic. “Why are cyborgs inferior to humans?” I tried to laugh it off, asked if it was a trick question. I heard something snap. I started panicking. I came to, not in the studio. There was blood on my hands, both hands. I remember hearing an error sound.

I come to, still in my apartment. “You did good, doll.” I feel a warm hand on my shoulder. It feels nice. They’re still not wearing a shirt, though. I’m holding the crumpled remains of a gaudy, bronze arm in my left hand, and a robotic dog in my right. It makes a happy bark. The arm makes a creeking noise as the wrist gives out. “What happened…?” They look at me, suspicion in their hazel eyes. “You want me to tell you because it happened so fast, or because you’re veeery quick to enter a bloodrage and can’t remember what happens during?” “I’m, uh… very forgetful?” I know this face. Eyebrows raised, mouth opened slightly. The equivalent of saying ‘c’mon, really?’ At least, that’s what McCrank’s Guide to Understanding Facial Expressions of the Unmodified says. “Yes…?” I give out a diffident chirp.

“Well, lessee. First you tossed me all powerlike at Skyscraper and I made him eat some of this.” They make a vulgar gesture at a vulgar area. “Then you jet-punched that Caesar bloke so hard his arm popped off and he crashed into Casino – the musclegirl – and they flew out, into the hallway. Her shotgun went a-flying so I snatched it, still faceseated, arched over backwards to shoot the guy in the microphone. That.” They look kind of flustered saying this. “That’s slang for ‘robot penis’. At least, I think that’s what Trish Rigs calls it in ‘My Robotic Lover (Let Me Use Your Microphone)’.”

“Anyway, he then headbutted me in the regular penis and I went somersaulting backwards. Then you, welllll…” They pause, point at the cyborg-shaped hole in the floor. “Busted a guy through cheap carpet and cheaper concrete.” They pause again, giving a light applause.

“The other two probably heard and-or saw that and got the jack out of here, because I ain’t seeing them anymore. Then for some reason you picked up my dog, dialed Falstaff’s Pizza Place on him, and ordered two tuna pizzas, takeout. And back to earth you are! By the way, we have to be there in like 20 minutes.”

“Pizza…?” I look up, three blue question marks on my visor. “Yeah. Yeah, okay, let’s do that.” Trying to process all that and figuring out what to do next isn’t going to do me any good right now. Besides, I’m starving. I look at my food-date and extend an organic hand. “I’m Exeter.” They throw on a genuine smile. Yeck. Haven’t brushed their teeth in a while. “Call me Orlando.”

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 4

Read the last part here!


“The shotgun.” “Oh.” He looks over at the gun and reads the message painted on its side. It takes him a second, then he lets out an ugly chortle. Through his vocal modulation, what’s supposed to be a laugh sounds more like a wasp nest inside of an industrial grinder. The debt collector I remember as Casino raises an eyebrow, her cyan eyes flamelike with intensity. “What’s so funny?” Her voice crackles with electronic rage, but she keeps her distance. Probably remembering my sweet pants. I stretch my leathered leg as a taunt, also because I’ve got some serious cramping going on. Before she can do anything, a hand grabs her shoulder. Each finger a cinderblock, each nail a saw. The owner steps aside her: it’s the skyscraper from before. He extends his index finger – the tip of which a hypnotising swirl.

“That your man?” he asks. I break free from the hypnosis, blushing heavily. “We just met!” Cyborg’s visor flicks to ‘:|’ and looks at me with computerised disdain. Skyscraper grunts a gutteral ugh. “Not you, gratis.” That means ‘freeloader’ in the racketeering business, someone who evades corporate tax by moving around a lot.

“For an insult, it’s not that cutting. Could’ve gone with, I don’t know, leech, or sapper, or society blighter. Someone on Third Life called me a ‘pantaloser’ once. That really hurt my feelings. These pants mean a lot to me, you know. You gotta get personal with these insults, I’m just saying.”

From behind Casino strides in a third member and joins motley duo, now a motlier crew. His leather jacket is covered in grime, and banana peels and empty tin cans are sticking to his chrome: two bulky arms with cogs and clockwork designs. His silver hair is gelled into a frictionless pompadour, like a lumpia of grease and grunge. God, I’m starving. His expression is unamused, his head tilted back to glare at Cyborg and I from the bottom of his sockets. He parts his dry lips.
“That’s him, yeah.” “Hey. ‘Them’, not ‘him’,” I object. The trio close their eyes in sudden shame and retroactive respect. Skyscraper repeats himself, “this the scumbag you were looking for?” “That’s them, yeah.” I nod in approval.

Pompadour forces his eyes wide open. “Yeah. That’s the one who stole my drop.” He’s struggling to keep a cool composure. Steam is blowing from his arm vents. A single hair flicks out of the formation of his perfect pompadour. “Jumped from a few floors lower than me so…” A vein on his forehead bulges, “he could be grabbed instead of me.” His bloodshot eyes jut at Cyborg. His visor switches to an alarmed red ‘!’.

“Wait… Don’t tell me. YOU’RE Caesar?” “Yeah, that’s me. Mind tellin’ me ’bout that poser you hooked up with?” I can feel both their burning stares plus an uncomfortable heat from a very, very angry visor. I look away and whistle an inconspicuous tune. Namely, Trish Rigs’s least-known song, ‘Silence after an Unsuccessful Surgery’, released on a 100-copy EP before her first major hit. “That song is rumoured to be autobiographical but she hasn’t confirmed or denied this yet so–” Four voices command me to “Shut up!” and I oblige.

Skyscraper steps forward and makes a cracking motion with his flawless metal neck, mimicking what that would sound like with his mouth — very unconvincingly I might add. He addresses the boy I’ve admittedly rudely imposed on and probably manipulated to a degree. “Here’s the situation, halfbot. You did your job wrong, snatched the wrong dropper. They ain’t even got the right data. Just a dog, called Data.” Cyborg shrugs, Data barks. “In fact,” he continues, “we were already chasing ’em. They’s a freeloader.” He looks at me with electrifying, condescending eyes, “A society blighter.” He lets out a chuckle, Casino follows suit with an equally forced one. “Now Caesar here,” he pats his leather jacket to wipe off some of the grime, “we met him on our way down. Told us about this shirtless freak that stole his drop. So, you see, our interests… they were… uh…” “Similar?” “Yeah, ‘similar’. Shut the jack up.” I do so! “So it was only natural we teamed up. That way, we can all have some fun with ’em, the three of us.” He cracks his knuckles, again doing the mouth thing. Ugh.

Cyborg looks lost in thought. I can tell ’cause his visor’s displaying a big blue ‘?’. “So, what undertaking would you have me do?” Caesar traipses forward and puts a disgusting, steampunkish arm on his shoulder, in clear violation of personal space laws. “You’re a smart kid. This is probably your first drop and this glitch took advantage of that. So, here’s how’s it gonna work. I give you the data, you give us the leech. And… I’ll be taking that with me, to cover for the inconveniences, mm?” He points at the terranium in the back of the room. If he was seriously considering Pompadour’s offer, he sure as cyber isn’t anymore now. Gripping Caesar’s hand and pulling it away with his real(?) arm, his visor turns a blood red, displaying a furious ‘>:(‘. His actual mouth clenches, too. Pompadour struggles to break free, pulling at Cyborg’s arm, gnawing at it with fake teeth, but fails so hard. Never get retroware installed. It’s weak and I mean, at no point was steampunk cool.

He clutches my arm with his robot hand. Huh? “I don’t think so,” a chilling femme voice fills the room. All falls quiet, all feels quiet, and the world rushes past me as I’m hurled at the debt collectors, pants-first.

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 3

Read part 2 here!


 

Hanging outside a window, some 40 stories high, I see the city for the first time in weeks. Not, like, literally, although I did have the blinds drawn. No, I’m looking at a city, naked and exposed. A neon sprawl, covered in an oppressive haze (read that on a tourist BBS one time). Skyscrapers of corporations stand out like machine parts: each a cog in something we don’t understand. Sunlight hits their sickeningly spotless chrome exteriors, even in the dead of night. Corporations control the weather, after all.

Any sunlight dies before it gets to bounce off to the rest of town, let some light in that isn’t from a neon sign. The corps have unlimited renewable energy that way; monopoly on solar panels. They need to power The Shell, after all. Rest of the town, though? Not so much! Electro’s rationed for cityplayers and it is expensive. Ten days of earnest pay is worth an hour of computer a day, one laundry tour, and maybe a light or two (or two Trish Rigs virtual displays) for a week. Nooo thank you, I’ll take my sweet chances with running from debt collectors.

My urban soliloquy is rudely interrupted by the rooftop gestalt plummeting down. They pass me, too fast for me to really catch any details other than the shocked realisation on their face. I hear a scream, followed by a small ker-ploff into a garbage dumpster, concluded by a series of words I’d rather not process. I feel a heavy tug on my leg. My face slams against the window as I’m pulled into the apartment with Data. “Jesusch Hacking Chrfist, thanksh for catchig me but show soum restrainpt, woldya?” I’m clutching my nose in pain, blood running like an Android W.K. album cover. “You signed up for this job, datadropper. Get used to it.” A lightly-modulated femme voice tells me off and I’m sort of into it.

I slowly get up. “D’you hab like a servette or somthing? I bink my noes is brokem.” Before I get a good look, they suddenly storm off into the bathroom. “Uh, you okay?” “You stay there,” a mechanical snarl commands me and I obey. “You’re BLEEDING. I can’t stand that, that red stuff.” I take a look around the apartment – no tissue around, save for the bits from my nose. Black sofa, black table, black paint. A ceiling fan missing half a blade whirs softly. The only remarkable, colourful thing in here is a terrarium under ugly, fluorescent lighting. The fan and lights hum softly together; a sad, generator-powered post-ambient seems like a fitting soundtrack for this place. I wipe my nose on the black curtains, blow a bit. Hurts like hell.

“Okay, I’m coming out. You better not be phlebotomising all over my apartment anymore.” “What?” “Bleeding.” “Oh. No, I’m not.” I make sure I stand in front of the bloodstain.

My saviour reemerges from the bathroom. The only applicable word I can think of is “surprising”. Plain tanktop and pants, dyed a faded purple and green. Their shoulder-length black hair, as they’re tying it into a knot, is almost invisible against the paintjob of the walls. But what strikes me and my fancy are their hardware: a chrome throat-plate, similar to the debt collector’s, used for voice modulation; a disproportionately-sized robotic arm where most folk would have dangling an organic limb; and a triangular glass visor covering most of their head, both sides ending in a sharp angle just above the mouth. It’s got one of those fancy, built-in emotion displayers, a great invention for the disabled and socially awkward. Right now it’s showing an unimpressed ’:-|’ face.

“You mentioned ‘datadroppers’ earlier, mixter–” “Mister,” he cuts me off and I dare not speak again. “It’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” They turn to me and gesture at my dog. “This the data?” I nod diffidently, “this is Data, yes.” Data modulates a bark. “Sooo, my name’s–” “I know who you are. You’re Caesar, expert datadropper. 32 independent jumps, 13 corporate. An impressive record.” The visor flicks to a ’:-)’. I’m pretty confident that I’m not, but that emotion displayer is making it real hard to disagree.

“I, yeah. Sure.” I nervously scratch the back of my neck, pulling at the spot my dataport once was. He crouches down and lets Data sniff his alloyed hand. “I think it’s genius, using a pup as a datastorage. I’m still going to need to check his hard drive, though, if that’s OK with you.” I slowly nod and tell Data it’s okay, my face clammy with sweat. What do I have on there again? Educational/inspiration kung-fu videos, some Third Life ’emergency’ contacts, blurry .bmp files of Trish Rigs from her live concert at the Technope Drome last Tuesday… Aw jammit, this is bad.

As the cyborg moves to plug in his USB jack – he has to flip it around twice – the door busts open. A familiar cocking sound fills the apartment. I look up, hesitantly, realise this just got a lot worse, and whisper. “Ask me about cock…”

“…excuse me?”

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 2

Read part 1 here


 

It may as well have been a sniper shot. The pellets from the shotgun virtually have no time to spread, and inject themselves into my leg like a hacker lunges at a dataport. I crumble to the ground, screaming in pain – what else is there to do? I look up at the debt collector with tears and sweat in my eyes – not a single drop of mercy in hers. Her bright cyan lenses shine pure condescension on me. Like, actually. For real. “Could you maybe turn those down, love?” Her artificial pupils widen, obviously unsure why the hell I’m talking instead of doing the screaming and bleeding.

I inform her politely, “bulletproof pants with kick boosters.” I jump up on my right leg and rapidly pivot on my heel, slamming my shin into her side. Oh, how the airhockey tables have turned! She stumbles against the west wall, dropping her shotgun. I pick it up – lasered into its side it says, in bright magenta, “ASK ME ABOUT COCK”. Datadamn, I would’ve loved to take this muscle girl to a bar instead of Painzone, population: uh, her, I guess.

I hop backwards into my apartment, snatching as much Trish Rigs memorabilia and downloadables as I can, also gently nudging Data awake. “Time to go, little one.” His voice modulators emit a yawn and he stretches a bit. His joints really need an oiling or two. I put in my earbuds again; now it’s playing ‘Let’s Fall from the Control Spire Together, Baybee’.

“Definitely one of her darker, more experimental songs – her producer for that album was being blackmailed by this neondim bloke. He found some ‘saucy pictures’ of her, the producer, which he meant literally. He found some camsnaps covered in sauce at this restaurant and he let her know and she took it the wrong way? Offered to let him compose like four tracks on that album.” Done updating Data’s knowledge on Trish Rigs trivia, I start hurrying towards the door, carefully stepping over the now-passed out debt collectress.

“You alright in there, Casino?“ The sudden voice stops me dead in my tracks, and also bumping into the corporate headquarters of a man does. He’s wearing one of those gimmicky suits, the ones that are mostly transparent as to show off muscles or mechanics. “Uh, hoi. I’m gonna assume that’s Casino over there?” I look over and gesture at the lady gracing my carpet. I try to level my shotgun with any organic part of his mostly-cybernetic body but I’m guessing he has a fine set of wired reflexes in him, because that was an insanely fast punch.

I fly backwards, crashing into the radiator, knocking off most of my figurines from the windowsill. “I don’t care about your damn debts. You’ll be paying with your life for this.” Datadamn, are all debt collectors this witty? I get up, feeling not so sweet, especially in my ribcage area. I raise my arm to allign the shotgun with this jake, which goes significantly easier than before. Then again, lifting your arm up is way easier when you’re not actually holding a shotgun. “Aw, jammit.”

The newest-appeared debt collector cocks the shotgun that I rightfully looted and goes for the shot. His metal finger crawls around the trigger. I’m sweating beads, trying to come up with gnarly acrobatics that could let my pants block the shot without also doing things to my spine. “You shit mutt!” I open my eyes, still in a fetal position, and see Data chewing on his expensive electronics. I also see Data getting flung right over my head, out the window. Without even a scrap of cogency I jump out after him, which has the neat corollary of narrowly keeping me from getting ventilised by an angry cyborg with a shotgun.

Jumping out of a 68-story apartment window to save a dog doesn’t really have the same death-preventing effect, though. I can make out a faint, faintly purple outlined figure standing on top of the roof two stories above me. “Hey, don’t do it man. Life’s pretty sweet.” I really do believe that, even now. As gravity does its thing, I begin to sing along to the final chorus of ‘Let’s Fall from the Control Spire Together, Baybee’. Data modulates along. We practiced.

You and I are ether and inter

nether regions, yellow tape to pieces

soaring down but babe we’re uploading

heaven’s waiting, let’s get downloaded

I suddenly stop. Soaring, that is, not singing. “Probably won’t make it as a singer, ace.” The very straightforward person who’s got me grabbed by my ankle pulls me into their apartment.

Yeah, life is pretty sweet.

A Cyber Punk, Pt. 1

“I’ve never done this sort of thing before.” She unlocks the hotel room door and creeps in. Smiling like a streetlight, she pulls me in. In for a kiss, in for more. We exchange spit like politicians trade in lies. Our hands move on bodies not our own, trying to open locks to secrets begging for taking. Her shirt dissipates. My tongue leaves a trail from her lower lip to her neck, her shoulder, her chest, her stomach. She grabs my head and hisses, “you’re an awful liar.” I move to unequip her leather pants–

She starts blurring. The hotel room melts. My body doesn’t feel my own. I am lunged backwards. The world races past me, faster than I can comprehend. Everything is a haze, is in front of me. Complete darkness envelops as I get more and more removed from the place I wish I could stay in. In that place, now less than a speck of bright in the distance, I know she’s just as disappointed and frustrated as I am.

“Just as it started to get good.“ I chuckle to myself and shake my head to no one in particular. Stark naked in a leather office chair, wearing only an older model VirtuCom helmet… Sure am glad no one’s watching me right now, not that I’d care. I unplug my headgear, saunter over to my bed where I put my clothes and begrudgingly redress myself.

As I struggle to get into my tight brown leather pants, the ones with bright-magenta strips on the back, I notice the A/C’s off. I’m beading with sweat, the choking urban heat instantly noticable. I look at my computer. Third Life didn’t crash, the power was cut off. “Ah, jammit.”

My door flies off its hinges. I fall on the bed and narrowly dodge it. Like a grenade went off, the door explodes against the north window, into a googol oakwood splinters. My desktop becomes a pin cushion, my prized digital display of E-rockstar Trish Rigs is skewered and glitches out. It starts displaying an ad for nerdcore act The Angry AIs and I begin to scream. My dog looks up to see what all the commotion is and goes back to sleep.

I roll off the bed and blindly grab under it, taking the first things I get my hands on. Electrum knuckles with integrated music player? Why do I even have these? I slide them on my left hand, put in the earbuds, and take cover against the south wall.

“You’re overdue on your debts, Mx. Cureleathers.“ I can hear the thick, gutteral voice booming over Trish Rigs’s 2087 hit single ‘Let Me Hack Your Soul, Baybee’. That one’s so good, I’m crying a bit. “And like cyberhell that’s your real name! Now you gotta pay up twice – once for the debts, and another to change that two-bit pseudonym of yours. Unless you want it listed in tomorrow’s obituaries.“

She bellows like a maniac at her own joke, which was actually pretty good. I’m laughing too, despite my situation. “Mate, you interrupted something real sweet. Come back tomorrow, alright?” I glance around the corner: the debt collector’s size isn’t as impressive as her boombox of a voice, but she’s still pretty big. Oh, gray plate on the throat. Of course, voice modulation. She also has a shotgun. That’s like, bad for me.

“How abouts I drag your broken body back to office, wrangle some Cybucks out of your pathetic ass?“ “Only if you’re plugging the USB in, doll.” The unmistakable sound of a shotgun getting cocked sends shivers down my spine. Or it’s that freakin’ draft from the window. I’m not wearing a shirt, just these sweet, sweet pants. A muffled footstep on my cheap carpet – I take a quick look at Data; still in her box, whew – the collector’s coming closer.

I take a deep breath and let Trish guide me to sweet survival, baybee. I sway around the corner and rush at the collector, singing the lyrics with full voice. I hit the SHOCK MODE button on my knuckles and prepare for the meanest left hook, ruder than social media. Right before my fist connects with her admittedly very fair face, the song abruptly stops, and a robotic voice nowhere as lovely as Trish’s informs me, “INSUFFICIENT BATTERY FOR SHOCK MODE”.

My fist on her face, a sheepish smile on mine. “Ah… jammit.” She aims her shotgun at my leg and pulls the trigger.