the fourth of julie

Were the fireworks misplaced?

She liked to think not. What was a more fitting reason than the fourth reboot of her life? To be unfolded from the wreckage her body had been – a bloody car-crash, at her age? It seemed ridiculous, pointless … all those things one said when they were in disbelief. And all the protocols that were supposed to be in place to make sure that an agent intervened before her body was shipped from the morgue to the graveyard had failed, what did that say about the state of the organisation?

She looked over at Walker and he was sweating bullets.

‘Yeah,’ she said ‘You know you fucked up, and how.’

‘Sorry, ma’am.’

‘Ah, save that shit for someone who cares. Answer me a question.’

‘Sure, I mean, affirmative, ma’am.’

‘Did you get a trace on Betty?’

‘Betty?’

‘The bitch who just totalled my car. OK, well, from your dumbfounded expression I am going to guess not.’

She checked the read out as it booted up in her newly recovered left eye. Time to move on and close this operation down. Walker was a liability – one quick shot to the head with a metaboliser and he was twitching on the floor like an epileptic as his body broke down into its constituent parts.

Where had she been going in her car? Ah, yes – her Independence Date – the day her body mods  were paid off and she became a free woman … who would fuck with that? Someone funded Betty because she was a cheap bitch otherwise.

Hack the bank – trace it back, and there she was … her new job: Bruce The Robot. Jealousy wasn’t good – Bruce’s freedom was a way off. She was sure that the satellite she had just tasked from a weapons array she paid for a back door into last year was going to put a crimp in his day when it dropped that superheated carbon rod through the center of his villa and reduced him and it to molten slag. Try coming back from that one bitch.

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Mr Shuffle

For Bram

The cold was biting, breath in the air, making him think of the cigarettes he had given up. The romance of the thought spiced his saliva with a wonderful analogue of nicotine – fuck the vapour from the electronic dick he had to suck to get his fix … it reminded of everything else that had gone south in his life. Synthetic alcohol that gave him a half-hour kick before the government sanctioned nano-purge rendered all that wonderful buzz generating drug out of his system. How long before even the vapour was kiboshed? You had to be a fucking miracle worker to tie one in Glasgow anymore.

Man, some people were dicks; some people were dicks in private; other people were private dicks. He was the latter, wondered lately with the nicotine cravings if he was being the second to his long suffering cohabit fuck-buddy, and feared he might be becoming the first just by default.

So, what was he digging into today? What pile of shit had his assistant floated across his desk this week? He breathed into the little tube on his hand-held and the screen flashed into life.

‘Fuck the Maskbook updates, skip the Shitter-feed, and just give me the work-notes.’

A face popped up – not the fresh-faced poppet he was expecting or wanting – nope, not even close … this dude looked like he’d sell crack to kindergarteners. Who the fuck wanted this bastard found? Everyone is someone’s dad always seemed such a lame cliche but if he didn’t find something to hook his interest on then he’d be about as much use as an e-cigarette to a nicotine addict. And there he went – reach in pocket, pull out Thomas The Tank Engine’s Tiny Inadequate Penis as he had come to think of it, and puffed on it. It wasn’t working properly. Shit, maybe gum was better after all, he’d looked like a freak wearing all the patches.

He clicked the tab that came in the document about old stony face and accepted the job, got a new message that told him the money had already dropped, then got a second one that gave him a meeting place for the contact. It wasn’t far to walk – a brisk walk … how fucking jolly.

He sat down in the snug and he waited. What sat down opposite him was not what he had been expecting. His hope for some kind of cute female presence in this story, of whatever kind, seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. A bloody artificial clunked itself down – some pre-war rust-bucket that he was surprised was still working. He didn’t like it – an old man as his quarry, a meeting with an artie piece of shit; didn’t bode well; made him tink that first money drop was a fluke and the rest of the case would be as dry as a nun’s snatch.

‘So, what’s this all about?’

‘I, Mr Shuffle, am Centurion, and my owner, Mr Clavicle has gone missing, as you might say, and his daughter provided me with the funding to ensure he is found. She loves him very much.’

‘I’m sure she does. What, if I may ask, does Mr Clavicle do? If you don’t mind me saying, your appearance, and his both lead me to believe he is not necessarily kosher.’

‘Hence coming to you, Mr Shuffle, with your not so sterling reputation. That aside – his business? The finest Cuban cigars, Marlboros, and whiskey.’

‘Now, I know you have to be kidding.’

‘I haven’t used my sense of humour since before the war. Here is more pertinent data that you might need.’

He was glad to bid goodbye to the hunk of rust, and then he dug into the file. Ten seconds of synthetic alcohol buzz, a puff or two of vapour, and a vague glimmer of interest. This case should not take too long to work out. Clavicle had to be discreet – there weren’t too many places where he could talk about his wares, let alone sell them. Narrow it down further by the fact that there were not that many people with the pocket change to buy any of it. Shuffle knew a doorman at the Hilton and it would get him in long enough to speak to someone before the inertia of a shit-heel being in a rarefied atmosphere crashed into him and some unfriendly fucker showed him the door.

Gary was glad of the funds. Shuffle was glad of the Irn Bru he decided to drink instead of wasting his time for once. It cost a bit but it tasted good; gave him faith in something at least. Shawn the barman didn’t give a fuck what he said or he said it to – he was gossiping in the ten minutes before Shuffle approached him. Shuffle showed him the picture of Clavicle.

‘Oh yeah, I seen him.’

‘In here?’

‘Yeah, two nights ago with some big cheese.’

‘You have 360 cams in this place?’

‘It’s a bar, what do you think?’

So, then, the question was, how does someone pull off a deal with contraband in even this place?’

‘Can you get me a print of this guy and his guests?’

‘Sure, it’ll cost you.’

‘Doesn’t it always?’

The print was one of those pictures that is worth way more than a thousand words. Clavicle looking uncomfortable, Government Contraband Enforcer Smythe looking unctious and eager to please the third man in the picture, and who was that? Why – none other than Belsley Tincture, E-Cigarette and synth-hol magnate. He smiled. What fucking use was this data? Who was going to prosecute these bastards? It was obvious Clavicle met a sticky end.

He scanned the picture into his hand-held, dictated a long illustrative piece which he attached to it, sent one copy to Centurion and his owner’s daughter, explaining what he was doing, and one copy to Bump his editor friend. Bump would run the story as a speculation dot-the-dot provocateur piece, and it would do what it needed to do – get the right people looking in the right direction. Shuffle hoped it might sink the whole synth-hol and E-Cigarette business too.

He reached in his pocket, pulled out his least favorite thing in the world, and launched it into the cold night. Know what he was going to do? Find a pack of real cigarettes and inhale deep.

Fred Bloggs

He had warned them not to operate on him – he had told them he was a systemic necessity manifested in the shape of an individual, but that he was not as he appeared. He was an avatar of something greater designed to act as an interface to facilitate communication between those who dwelled here on this plane where information translated itself into apparently three dimensional beings. They did not believe him.

The first pocket universe they encountered within him was a revision of the current universe they occupied – but because they were at the centre of the change they just unwittingly initiated, they could not see the scale of the damage they had done. They were a fixed point in a changed reality.

They kept digging. Fred Bloggs was a miracle disguised as a cliche. To look at him you would have guessed nothing of what he was. It was his supposed harmless outer shell that had allowed his initial approach to them to seem so innocuous. When he spoke to them of concepts that occupied the outer reaches of theoretical research and gave them practical solutions by which they might confirm their theories, and then suggested that within him, if they studied him, they might find untold secrets that they could unlock and elevate their planet with, they listened but they did not hear.

What they heard was that within him was the key to saving their planet – that meant they had to find out what was in him. That to them meant cutting into him. The cautionary tale of the golden goose, raised as a point by one of the more cautious scientists in the group, was wilfully ignored.

Stood around that table, rib-cage spread, looking inside a body that turned out only to be a very surface replica of a human body – they weren’t quite sure how to proceed. The next thing that they cut into though – it did something to them this time. The first scientist that changed to resemble Fred Bloggs, held at gunpoint, was soon looking out on a room full of people that looked just like him.

Staring at each other they suddenly understood that this was an invasion. That thought faded as their memories and thoughts became those of their invader. The underside of the informational system that was the universe had woken up, as it occasionally did, and had decided it needed to rewrite the code that shaped its manifestation in the four dimensional location that local inhabitants called the physical universe. This was the flood.

Don’t Go Fly A Kite

The bastard children of carnivale ran the street in animal masks – through the cultural delineation zones, chasing their balls, their hoops, their friends. Kids orbited each other and the gravity wells of society in a different way – their maps weren’t the solid things that adults were trapped in; they ran free through the back-alleys of imagination and the landscape of dreams … and they saw no difference between what they fantasised and the waking world. Because they willed it, it was so.

Jerome stood on the cross streets of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Ennio Morricone and flew his goldfish kite high in the air. He was being scoped by two cops, suspicion bred into them from the moment they dropped from the maturation chambers – was he flying an aerial for a pirate radio station? They’d been trying to  shutdown Bluebeard Pirate Zone for the longest time but it was like trying to nail down jello.

Out here Jerome chewed the Smoke Gum and never popped  the Skull Smokes in his mouth … anything vaguely out of sorts and you’d be on a one way trip to the kerb with a trepanned skull, night-stick wielding cop stood over you, espousing the Creed of Decency. He hadn’t thought flying a kite was dangerous, but he was being seriously eye-balled. He tap-tapped the All Porpoise in his pocket and and traced the sigil that he’d short-coded to get Heela , his ride to pick up quick-smart. The AP buzzed twice – the number of buzzes signifying how many minutes Heela was away from him. Not far, but in two minutes he could travel to a world of hurt, if Fascist Cop and his buddy decided to walk over.

These streets were usually safe, but introduce certain elements and the day would start to see-saw on a hair trigger regardless of a place’s usual disposition. Jerome was reeling in his kite, bringing it down from the beautiful blue sky that had said to him this is going to be a good day; now looking at that sky he wondered if he had just been reading misleading omens in the clouds. He hoped not.

Heela pulled up in her Green Bug Taxi.

‘Jump in, bro.’ He did. And they peeled out. He looked over his shoulder and the cops had thankfully become disinterested.

‘Thanks, Heela, you really pulled my fat out of the fire.’

‘Why you sweatin’ it?’

‘Two cops checking me out.’

‘For what?’

‘Flying a kite.’

‘Oh, shit, man – you’re out on the edge; original punk rocker status confirmed.’

He smiled: ‘Crazy fucking city.’

‘You said it, dude.’

Dream Meat

The first time Dream Meat hit the market he didn’t believe in it – he thought it was a gimmick, a con, an outright lie.

They started bringing round mobile machines that they would hook up to sleeper’s heads, and the huge imaginary feasts they would create in their sleeping minds would manifest right before their eyes. It was a mixture of dream image sequencing and sub-atomic particle build, pulling data from the sensory equipment of the dreamer. He was sold. Gerhard bought the machine.

He wasn’t sure he had eaten anything but Dream Meat for the last few weeks now. He had been reading a recently conducted study that expressed doubts about the long term effects of the meat on people’s health. There was no definitive evidence that any damage may result from consumption, but the article was keen to point out that they just didn’t know enough about the actual substance to make any definite conclusions.

It tasted great. It was cheap – his budget for food had dropped through the floor, and it gave him more money to spend on other things. He thought he looked svelte, and that his skin had a new healthy sheen. It may have been true, or all in his head – he had stopped going out and hadn’t got any real feedback from anyone.

Insomnia was not a problem he had suffered from before, but now he found he couldn’t sleep for days at a time. He would get hungry because he couldn’t manufacture the Dream Meat. Then he would glut upon it. Feast and famine did not do well for him – the only reason his mood swings escaped notice was because he was so isolated.

Narcolepsy came next, and that brought with it the problem of overabundance of meat, of which he could not adequately dispose. He was stuffed most of the time. Was it having a narcotic effect? Something like tryptophan in turkey? He didn’t know, but he didn’t feel quite normal.

Reports started to come in of people being found strangely mutated, their bodies bursting their bounds and spreading throughout the rooms of the houses they lived in; the matter still seemed to be somehow alive, and still sentient, but it was not exactly human anymore. It changed colour as people entered the room, strange mirroring shapes formed in it, as if it were trying to communicate with it’s audience on a subconscious level.

They never found Gerhard – whatever it was that they took the flamethrowers too in that room was not Gerhard. That’s what they said. But then only a mother might recognise her child’s distinctive screaming, and she was too busy to visit.

Wakebox

Jazzed in the wakebox. A night of piped dreams and rapid learning protocols spinning in through fractal patterns, while the body gets worked over by nano-mechanics and all those little issues get gone over and worked out. He woke up and felt like a new person.

The evening before he had been on a wreck and forget mission – another sad break-up. He didn’t emote-wipes, and he had a bad experience on beat-off-the-heart, so the good old tradition of liver and kidney damaging intoxication was the option he chose. It was expensive, especially in this prohibition speakeasy joint era, and the relief was temporary at best, but in the moment? It worked.

But he also knew he had to be up and ready for it this morning, so, being of a pragmatic nature he had budgeted for a rapid repair cycle in the wakebox.

He felt a little strange as he stepped out onto the street, his feet were heavy and he felt a little light-headed. His vision started to swim and when he touched his hand to his forehead he was burning up. His on-board bio confirmed it – a translation-viral leaping from informational to meat construct. It had him pinned and he was transmitting his location somewhere.

Dark in the wakebox. Was that a dream? No – this wasn’t the luxury facility he slept in last night … this was something else.

‘Hello?’

No answer. A dart jabbed him in the thigh – cool liquid seeped up his left side in a way that suggested bio-nano-goop to him; a fucking infiltrate. Designed to do what? Reprogram? Why him? He was a nothing – a non-important bookstore clerk.

The fractals cycled up, a vocal element was introduced, and the sickly feverish feeling spread and undulated through him in rolling waves. And then it ended.

Wet and cold atop the wakebox. His own wakebox at home. How had he been transported and what was the purpose of the kidnap?

POTUS liked to shop for books. He was working that day. Standing behind the counter, slacking off, reading Catcher In The Rye, a classic.

Suited

Photomelt skin kicks in and she’s gone. Across the rooftops, invisible, no blur. But someone is following her. Her co-pilot peeking through eyes in the back of her head runs a full spectrum analysis, and this bastard somehow has a hack for penetrating the suit’s defensive scramble protocol. Considering where the suit came from and how goddamn rare it is – this is not good; really, it only means one thing … the people they stole it from are onto them.

And the guy isn’t hiding, either his pursuit, or his ability to pursue in ways no non-enhancile could manage. If you are that confident about no interference from local authorities then you already have them in your pocket.

‘Can we shake this fucker, Spey?’

‘How fast can you run, D?’

‘So, no tech back-up.’

‘It’s the muscle’s night off too.’

‘Jesus, how did they get on us so quick?’

‘We always worried that activation would compromise the integrity of any hacks we carried out. These guys are serious firepower types. Hold on though, I’m gonna memeblast the area and see if we can’t slow his roll.’

‘KK.’

The memeblast hit her too – rapid fire cycling and loud and blaring and urgent sounding. Usual inflammatory bullshit to stir up the neanderthals – guys who spent their whole lives elbow deep in violence had a different attitude when it came to violence against kids.

She pulled away from him as the first wave of have-a-go vigilantes hoved into view and got between him and her. D glanced back and she saw that these poor putzes weren’t even speed-bumps on the road.

‘Pull me up a map on the left-eye visual, Spey.’

‘K.’

‘Now plot me the shortest route to the Lead Lion.’

‘How about the Faraday Cage?’

‘Even better.’

‘Good, here you go.’

Punched up and running. She tapped the suits visual baffle unit and hoped that it might work to confuse him. She had to hope that given the prototype nature of the suit that its tech was even a smidgen more advanced than this bastard’s. Her rear-views confirmed he had actually stumbled and fallen, great she started to weave through the crowd towards the Faraday Cage – it wasn’t one of her regular haunts so the combination of a sealed system that killed all transmissions dead, there was also no data-trail he could follow to this particular establishment.

He stopped, he stood still, issued a command into the sub-vocal mike. He had a four dimensional model of the whole city (a visual of the three spatials and a timeline dotted with easiest access places that might make her “vanish”. These kids were lucky, but Wagner had been doing this for a long time, and he had a support network that made Homeland Security look like paupers. The Faraday Cage – surely they wouldn’t be that obvious? His tech team ratcheted through every single camera feed in the immediate area and picked up the tell-tale emissions they had programmed the suit with.

No need to blunder in – just make a cool entrance. If they were this obvious it wouldn’t matter that they couldn’t use the tech in the club. Even his enhancements would be dialled down to imperceptible levels by the dampening field in there.

D was chatting up one of the bouncers, an ex-paramilitary guy turned survivalist who hated corporations and government lackeys. She painted for him a great picture of the creep following after her, and he seemed to appreciate the challenge of taking the bastard out. They had some interesting toys in this place – The Pinch was a targetted EMP which had been further customised into an anti-personnel weapon. The idea of someone coming into his territory irked him – they were going to fry him.

She just knew walking in here wouldn’t be the end of it; suspected the guys tech was far off her limited radar. But in here the playing field was now levelled quite a bit. She pointed him out to the bouncer, and the guy, who was sanctioned to use the Pinch whenever he thought it necessary moved in with a rapidity and skill D had not been expecting. She watched the pinched man’s epileptic dance only briefly, and then she was out and on her way.

‘I have a ride for you two blocks over and moving towards your position – red taxi who’s on the network.’

‘Good, thanks Spey.’

She was sprinting, she saw the car, it’s door opened and she was inside.

‘Are we cloaked?’

‘We are so far off the grid in this thing you’d think we were in another country.’

‘Good. Spey, run the visuals in the Faraday and see if our pursuer is up and running.’

‘It looks like he’s in the back alley sparking.’

‘Jesus.’

‘One hell of a test-run, eh, D?’

‘Yeah, there’s some kinks to work out for sure.’

‘Yeah, the whole thing needs to be worked over until it’s locked down tight.’

‘I know you can do it.’

‘For sure – being chased by guys like that gives you some pretty strong motivation.’

D smiled, what a night.