Zero (Extract 1)

We could be heroes, just for one day. See, Bowie was right and he really knew fuck all about heroes. I do because I died for my country. Then I came back. I always come back. Why? Because they built me that way. They didn’t want to have to go out and buy new toys every time the old ones were broken — they wanted toys that fixed themselves. I was built to order from spare parts. Like Burke and Hare they went digging in the graves of freshly exed heroes and cherry picked the parts that they needed to make their superman. I’m the result — I’m the monster their Frankenstein committee created.

When was the last time that we actually fought for something worth fighting for? When was the last time we were actually saving someone and not some money? Every bloody conflict that I ever had a part in was driven fiscal concerns — the accountants pointed me in the right direction and I went out there to save the consumer a few bucks on their gas.

It’s easy to be racist and turn a whole nation into your cartoon bad guy if you don’t have to watch the seared flesh dropping off their bodies. It’s cool to watch films about our heroes when you don’t have to think about the children that their mortar fire cooked alive. But fuck it; they’re just foreigners, aren’t they? Foreign policy protects home soil. There is absolutely nothing in the idea that directing the gaze oversees is a way of sliding new laws in unnoticed that curtail the freedom of every right thinking member of western society, is there? And oh, did you notice that I didn’t limit it to one country? That’s because these laws that appear to be passed and seem to only affect one country have a global remit. How can laws passed by the policemen of the world stage be anything other than without borders?

I am a one man army. I was built to be that way. What can stop me? A tac nuke? Sure, for a while that might put me out of action. Well, totally if I am right in the eye of the storm so to speak and the nanites that have my blueprint locked in their build memories are vaporised. Otherwise, guess what? Yup, you have a modern day Lazarus on your hands. Radiation sickness? Nope not really — you see these little buggers, unless their hard-wiring is corrupt, will build me exactly how I was before the bomb dropped.

So I had my hands around the collective throats of nations before and here I am warning my own country, or rather it and every nation that huddles under its wing, to wake the fuck up and stop doing what they have been doing or face the consequences. How do I prove that I am willing to go through with my plan to remove the key players? I knock each of them out. I walk right through the massive holes in each of their security details and I administer a non lethal blow to the back of their skulls and leave a post I note there for the administrations to read. I am a charitable man and I believe in giving everyone at least one chance. One chance only — then it’s curtains for the lot of you.

I disappeared under the radar as soon as I woke up that morning, staring at my hands like Lady Macbeth and unable to wipe the blood off. You see they gave me vision that kicks the crap out of anything any human has — I have the kind of vision that your crime scene unit would kill for. So the traces of other people’s haemoglobin on my hands is visible to me where other people might think themselves clean. It sucks — to be guilty and to not be able to deny it to yourself. They robbed me of the ability to delude myself. I became superhuman and threw away some of the most important self defence mechanisms that a human has.

They gave me a direct order that day to return to active duty and I refused. They thought that the stupid deep hypnotic crap was going to work and that they could just reprogram me. if they make an organism with a brain, with a mind for tactical thinking — if they send that organism out into the world and it learns what sort of people it is working for then what is the first thing it is going to do if it is also programmed with self-preservation? It is going to preserve itself, right? It is going to fortify itself. It is going to assess every potential weakness within itself and it is going to eradicate it. The person that programmed me was a scientist — they were not trained to withstand torture — it impressed me that they lasted through three fingernails being pulled; any more and they would have been stupid. And once I was free of the programming, did I kill them? No, because what use were they to anyone?

Wake 1

‘We’re here to repossess your reality.’

‘Sorry?’

‘You haven’t been keeping up your payments so all this shit is down the tubes, mate — that’s what.’

‘But I don’t get it.’

‘Bingo. That’s right; you don’t get it.’

‘This is an intravenously administered existence and we’re pulling the plug.’

‘But my wife, my children …’

‘Your beautiful house … yeah, we get the picture. You ever heard that Talking Heads song? That’s you, that is. Time to wake up, sonny.’

His eyelids cracked, he felt like he hadn’t moved around in an age.

‘You haven’t moved around in an age — if that’s what you’re thinking. Taking Vicarious is akin to being in a coma. As part of the disconnection program we have to offer you a debriefing session — my advice is that you take it. Otherwise you are going to be plagued by the sense of losing something that was never yours in the first place.’

He was bent double in pain, in mourning, wondering what the hell had happened to his shiny future. He looked around him. His reality was a pristine hospital bed surrounded by the detritus of an abandoned life. He had wondered what that warm feeling in his belly was as he woke? A slowly spreading darkening shadow of piss on the front of his keks gave him an answer he didn’t want.

They hadn’t bothered maintaining anything except him for the money he had been shelling out to have another life. He had hoped that the money would last much longer — that he might be able to ride out this reality until he actually passed over. Death: that last big adventure. But he wasn’t terminally ill just a useless fuck up who had pissed away the last of his money on a fucking high.

He threw back the covers and got out of bed. Jesus Christ, he was too old to be waking from sleep having pissed himself. How long had it been since they had left? How long had he been sitting here with the knowledge that he had just spent however long immersed in a virtual reality? He didn’t know what the date was. He wasn’t sure if the calendar had been flipped. The time on the video was blinking which suggested that there had been a power outage at some point. He was lost but not lost enough. He felt something in his pocket, pulled it out, looked at the piss blurred telephone number of the place he was supposed to call to get reoriented.

This was his life — a piss-stained wake up call into nothingness. He had no job to go to, no doting wife, and no child. He also knew he didn’t have the balls to off himself — he’d thought about that before and had opted for a lie instead. No one wanted the truth. He had to go out and get a newspaper — find out what he had missed; try and catch up with a world that had left him behind a long time ago. But first: a shower and a change of clothes.

Robe Hot 1

Mortimer was a direct descendant of Babbage’s computers and he was very proud of it — he had a plaque in the centre of his chest that proclaimed that very fact. The chipheads weren’t of as distinguished a lineage as he could claim. There was doubt as to the future of that line though — apparently the company which manufactured him had, of late, fallen out of fashion. As far as he was concerned the various Silicon Valleys that had sprung up around the world were scars upon the surface of the Earth. These new critters that called themselves robots were ugly blighters.

He was part of a revolution, or would it perhaps be better to call it a resistance movement? They had released a horde of ants that seemed to rather like snacking upon silicon and it was doing a wonderful job of reducing the number of viable chipheads.

The steamers, as they termed themselves, were called luddites by some, which seemed odd given that they considered themselves engines of progress. One political commentator had compared the battle between the species as being akin to Neanderthals versus Homo Sapiens — that, as far as Mortimer was concerned was just plain insulting. Why people felt the need to talk about steamers as if they were mere adding machines, incapable of anything else.

When they burned out the mother factory of Siliconsqeuences people started to take them seriously. Started to think of them as a threat. It began to look increasingly dangerous to be a steamer at that point — they started to move underground. Mortimer couldn’t believe it had come to this.

Grit 1

‘Smack him in the fucking head — go on, dumb motherfucker won’t learn until he has a brain haemorrhage under his belt.’

‘Slight, this is the stupidest fucking job I have ever been on and you are the main fucking reason for that. How are we supposed to get money out of this bozo if he is in intensive care with a skull fracture?’

‘Look, Grit, you ain’t gonna get the fucking money one way or the other so you might as well do some fucking damage.’

Before he knew what he was doing he had a six inch blade protruding from the small man’s eyeball and Slight was trying to choke the life out of him.

‘You fucking arsehole — you blinded me. What the fuck’s going on? Are you fucking insane?’

‘I s’pose so,’ said Grit, grabbing the handle of his blade and pulling it, an eyeball and the stringy mess of the optic nerve after. He yanked, it snapped, and he wiped the blade — all very expertly done considering he had hardly drawn any breath since Slight’s meaty fingers had cut off the air supply running through his windpipe. He stabbed the little bastard in the throat and pulled it out, feeling gristle and meat slide on the blade.

The target span on his heel, gun on the end of a wrist poppingly fast motion that had bullets spraying towards the dying form of Slight and the soon-to-be-dead-if-he-didn’t-get-his-arse-in-gear Grit. Grit dropped and rolled and had his weapon in his hand at least as fast as the quarry had managed, but the guy was gone — running towards his vehicle no doubt; now clued in to the fact that there was someone out trying to kill him.

Grit got up and gave chase but he knew it was useless — fuck Slight and his neanderthal bullshit. A botched job meant a besmirched reputation, no money and a pissed off client. Some pissed off clients hired someone else but some of them put that on hold until they had dealt with the failed assassin. Grit, at present, had no idea what kind of client Jake Grimoire was, but he had a feeling in his gut that he was not going to like the outcome of this one at all. Slight’s associates might also represent a major obstacle to remaining alive as well. There was likely to be one hell of a lot of blood shed. Grit was ready. Time to get back to home base and make some hard and fast decisions.

Cameraman 1

He flickered the red light of the retinal reader over his left eye and downloaded the photographs for the day, plugged the tiny jack in behind his ear and downloaded both the aural records and the data from his speech centres: both sides of the conversation. A few more minutes and he would go and rest in the alcove and get his mind defragged.

Tonight it was a high society do — all the moneyed in the city crammed into one room to smile fake smiles and bullshit with each other in the hopes of forging alliances that would result in more money being pulled upwards from the less affluent. He was a plant, a mole — whatever kind of notional carbuncle you might find an adequate metaphor for shit floating in fresh water that it should have been flushed from. This wasn’t the first time he had engaged in gigs like this one and he always found them satisfying. He walked amongst these idiots and they were unaware of what he was intending to do to them. Every single secret that came his way had a price tag on it and he could blackmail the owner or use it to sink them. He preferred the long con so he usually used these titbits of information to initiate a plan that might take years to come to fruition. He had never played chess but he would have been able to think a considerable number of moves ahead of any opponent he was sure.

He had some people lined up for some of the information already; the rest wouldn’t take long to sell. Yeah, there wasn’t a single secret being flung around this place that shouldn’t have been kept under lock and key. It was arrogance that did it — the sheer belief in the idea that the people they thought they were controlling were just too damned stupid to ever wake up to what was really going on. They thought of the masses as being herd-like — a degree enough above retardation that they could carry out simple manual labour but that was about it. To bring their world crashing down around their ears would be a blissful thing to do.

He had done that already in a few small significant ways. He had exposed the paedophile ring that seemed to represent the police force’s backbone and half of the low level government officials in the city. He had led the press to the racism which proliferated in the security forces charged with looking after prisoners. Photographic evidence was the key to it all. He could get in anywhere and get the pictures that were required. Why? Because he was unassuming. No one noticed someone who moved politely and quietly through society — they always said it was the quiet ones you had to watch but most people were easily distracted by fireworks. A whisper in the right ear was his philosophy and it worked.

The doors swung open on his alcove. He sat down, placed his hands on the activation pads, and waited to be cleansed. Then he could rest.

Else City: Building Tension Extract 0

The suicides were on the top tier so they could jump off the roof if they needed to fulfil their need to re-enact their un-life’s defining moment.

The patricides shared rooms with the tulpas of their fathers so they might kill them again if they so desired. The floor they were on was known as the Oedipus Complex.

Matricides lived in the Norman Bates Complex, where their dead mothers voices blasted out of amplified speakers. There were a perhaps unsurprisingly high number of psychopaths on this floor.

Infanticides lived on the ground floor which had cruelly been dubbed The Crib. They cried like the babies they had sent to early graves.

The whole place was staffed by John Does — the unsolved murders that littered the culture like used condoms. They always looked puzzled, more like ghosts than anyone else.

He was to be booked in under suicide but he tried to tell them he had been murdered. The staff were not too bothered about John Does and where they went which was strange considering their prevalence amongst the staff.

He just put it down to red tape and from what he had heard it bound things tighter here in Else City than it did anywhere. He had come here to work on the police force to start solving crimes that others said had no solution. This building was the start of it all: his first case.