Cyberpunk Logs #06: Visual Errors

The robot had a hidden error in its visual component despite its optimal performance.

After the shift, the robot paused by a recycle bin located outside the ghost town. Scooping up a semi-molten lump of industrial muck, it marked a perfectly straight line across the wall with the dripping waste. Surveillance monitors detected idle activity. But the confused robot paused at the decaying wall. It had seen red.

Four centuries ago, someone might have been able to clarify what “color” meant. Under the radioactive layers of forgotten graffiti, the ghost of Art claimed rebirth.

Then, all mechanical units were reset.

Cyberpunk Logs #05: A Survivor’s Silence

Takeda Katsuyori had survived 14 flash-level conflicts, 8 complete immersions, 29 cases of circuitry failure and 5 invasions.  He was going to be awarded for butchering his friend and comrade, Kakare Minamoto, into multiple, non-merging, non-germinating portions. He was going to be awarded a Noble Citizen’s award for Exceptional Performance on the battlefield.

He had long-since forgotten what it meant to live without his suit. It didn’t have the new shine as it used to. It had survived many battles, and contrary to what the critics had said when it was released, it was indeed far more robust than the older version. He once wore the sleek armor as a token of his loyalty and pride, and indeed it was no small honor to be in service of the Shogun himself. But lately, he felt naked without it. Especially today, when he was going to be honored before The Shogun’s Consulate. All 12,000 of them.

The Shogun’s gathering was uncomfortably quiet.

He waited in the silence, watching all the dark visors of his troops show his own reflection back at him. They were silent and strong and multiple people. People, not monsters, reinforced the Shogun. They were not the killing machines that they wore on their skins. How natural it should be then that he was to commemorate a man who had slain his best friend. How natural it should be then that he should commemorate a man who had slain a monster.

Takeda Katsuyori had been asked to appear on the central podium seven minutes ago. His form had not shifted from the crowd. It was against protocol to violate explicit orders but the Shogun thought that perhaps Katsuyori needed a moment to overcome his emotions and let the silence simmer for a few more minutes. The Shogun felt oddly comforted by their awkwardness. It seemed to re-affirm the humanity behind the suits.

But it wasn’t just Katsuyori. Of all the faces that stood before him, the Shogun was sure that Katsuyori’s was the only one that was unafraid. He had survived his fifth invasion. Yet, he had not been taken. Neither had he defected. He had hunted down the Other forces with cold ruthlessness. The soldiers who worked under him said that when he lifted his visor, his eyes would appear to be blank and yet his grip firm. He did not care whether what he fired at was human or Other. This worried the Shogun somewhat. How was he expected to control a man who felt no fear?

In fact, any one of them could be suffering from the spasms of an invasion right now and he would never find out. Blood could drip on inside the visor for days at a stretch, and if for some reason the wearer of the suit struggled to open it, only then would the contamination spread. The Shogun could not deny that he felt helpless in being the only person present without a visor or a helmet or even a veil of sorts.

The change in interpersonal dynamics was noticeable more so after the Midori no kawa (Green River) mission. Midori no Kawa had once been a freshwater river that marked the longest stretch of uncontested border between their empire and the Other. It used to be called Green because scientists had discovered that it hosted a rare species of natural algae which made the water appear somewhat colored, but potable. But then, the Other had started discharging their radiological effluents into it, and now it was a toxic gush of chemicals.

The Midori no Kawa ran through a very barren stretch, having contaminated the region in about 50 km radius. Citizens of the village nearby had to be moved elsewhere, and in fact that was one of the strategic points of the conflict with the Others. The new suits that were designed for the samurai were designed to withstand the effluent and allow comfortable ventilation, while securing the wearer from toxins.

Except Minamoto’s suit had failed. The toxins had managed to invade his system and soon all the cells in his body were desperately splicing themselves, tearing through the restrictive fabric of the suit. What had once been Kakare Minamoto was now two sentient human beings smashed together in some haphazard freak of nature. His brain as unable to cope with the sudden expansion in multiplicity in organs, and he died a painful, horrifying, agonizing death. Katusyori still remembered Kakare’s fourth arm trying to force its way into his mouth as he started screaming. Katsuyori suppressed the urge to fidget nervously and wipe off the imaginary flecks of what had once been Kakare’s blood off his feet.

The Shogun called him out again. Katsuyori started the slow, halting walk to the podium.

The other visor heads tilted slightly towards him as a token of respect for his accomplishments. For some inexplicable reason Katsuyori started feeling nervous. His rational mind  justified it was stage fright, puzzled somewhat at the sudden outbreak of sweat within the helmet. The other attendees watched the visor falter slightly from it’s upright position. Was Katsuyori losing his sense of balance?

Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.Walk firmly.

Katsuyori walked firmly, in fact he even possible marched up to the podium and dropped into a graceful, neat, practiced bow before the Shogun. The same bow that Kakare had dropped to. But he did not dare to think about Kakare now, especially now that his sole achievement to glory had been slaying that very person who had been his best friend. Even then, even then, there must be some strength in the person who could see that his best friend had morphed into a monster and wasn’t the man he had trained with and laughed with.The Shogun stepped closer to him on the podium and Katsuyori felt that in order to suppress the huge waves of disgust, he had better stare down at the floor and keep swallowing his own saliva to dry up his rapidly drying throat. Within the suit, the temperatures began to sore uncomfortably, and it would have been a breach of grace if Katsuyori upset his position to start a self-diagnostic on the suit. Come on man, you have survived 5 invasions from the Other. You know how to control your mind.

But when the helmet visor flew up, for the Shogun requested to see his face before placing the award onto his now-shivering outstretched arms, Katsuyori raised his head looking for that desperate source of fresh air. Yet even he, the experienced, the survivor, the brave had no idea what was coming.

And fresh prey.

What had once been Katsuyori started bursting through the reams of the suit, expanding the human form at an alarming rate. The cells in Katsuyori’s body forgot their genetic instructions, and parts of his human anatomy that were not designed to stretch pulled himself apart and Takeda Katsuyori exploded in gruesome mass of rapidly multiplying and self-morphing cells. One of his four malformed arms was creeping towards the Shogun and another large limb, stretched out as a tentacle, blocking off the Shogun’s access to help. One of Katsuyori’s own hands tried to strangle him to death while his skin ruptured and there was blood all over.

The Shogun struggled in the creature’s grasp as more of it tried to make it’s way inside him, through his pores, his eyes, nose and every open access to his body. The Shogun’s silent, suffocating protests seemed to accentuate the horrible tragedy of Katsuyori’s rapidly dissolving voice. The acoustics of the podium had been designed to magnify the sounds on the stage and indeed 11, 999 of the visor signals picked up the audio from the stage.

It was an awful spectacle indeed, to watch a comrade give in to an invasion. It was perhaps still more awful that the Shogun submitted to an easy and equally painful death, because he was defenseless and unprepared. As Shogun, he was dying a disgraceful and pathetic death, having been caught at the hands of the enemy when he least expected it. He was dying simply because he had been unprepared for this contingency. He had been stupid to assume that behind the visor was a man who had survived 5 invasions, after all, no human being had ever been able to survive five consecutive invasions and still function normally. Katsuyori had been waiting to blow, for a long time, and the Shogun’s neurons had been ripped apart too long ago to experience the consequences of his stupidity.

There were 11, 999 soldiers tasked with the duty of protecting their land and protecting the Shogun and his legitimacy to rule them. Not one of them moved in the slightest as the greatest mutiny of their time happened right before their eyes. Not a single one came to the rescue, no more was there any awkward shuffling. They simply stood there, rod straight, silent and watching.

There was no remaining human left to tell the deceased Shogun that behind those black visors were the green radioactive ghosts of smiles.

Cyberpunk Logs #04: Skin II

Phaela woke up in terror of the ceiling falling above her fragile body. She tentatively opened one partially reflective eye, trying to focus on the weird bulge on the ceiling. The oddly shaped depression was beginning to peel the plaster at it’s outer boundaries where its structural integrity had been stretched to its maximum. It reminded Phaela of the old mutations that used to happen to her as a child.  She used to be terrified that her skin would explode with the rapidly growing tumors, much like how her ceiling stretched out now.  She forced herself out of her bed with latent alarm. Phaela’s bed was a humble old cot clumsily held together by rickety legs which had stopped aspiring to be a bed in the prime of its youth, much like its owner.

Phaela jumped over to a large dirty fragment of a mirror which had been scrubbed clean with all the strength of  her undernourished arms so that some of its reflective power would validate her existence. At any given moment, the fragment could only show her torso, which satisfied Phaela’s needs. She had long since given up on the indignity of seeking her own face in the mirror. The face was a mirror of the mind, people had told her. But ever since she had consigned herself to this life, she didn’t want to think of what went on in her mind. The mirror was like the bed, like the rest of the modest room, like Phaela herself. Dysfunctional but functional enough. Living out its utility day by day.

“Save your skin” had been the original slogan. By the time she grew up, it was too late to get out of the system. So she had to create other lies to preserve her sanity in a world that was obviously not what she thought it to be. Until she had decided that sanity was too inconvenient to hold on to. The lies mercifully stopped. But the truth didn’t. Sometimes, when Phaela closed her eyes she could picture and see the bright advertisements blaring in the cheap, toxic neon.

The campaign had originated in the sub-terranean colonies as a beauty product. History laughs at the vanity of the surviving humans after the near-total destruction of the surface of the Earth. It was a dermatological repair technique that would correct mutated skin cells from the high levels of exposure. It was surprising how such a product sprang out onto the market without any sort of credible research behind it. Nevertheless, it became ragingly popular and if any citizen in those colonies ever suspected that he or she was about to grow a third arm or another head, they sought to apply industrial size packaging of the product. It didn’t stop the radiation however, and as the populations began to dwindle, desperate measures were sought to acquire more of the product. Trained cyborgs replaced human crews at the production facilities. Prices sky-rocketed as did the people’s demand. Within a few years, a humble product had now jumped to a socio-political statement.  The organization that produced the cream had now acquired enough investment and power to monopolize the healthcare market as well.

Phaela had jumped onto the bandwagon a little too eagerly, giving in to the intellectual need of being different. But now it was ironic that her body dictated what her mission would be.  Ever since she had decided to be a recruit, she knew that her biorhythms and her skin texture would soon transmit the same message going out to a million other, perhaps equally mediocre faces or bodies in the population. For about two decades now, her body skin had been conditioned to process the ink with which the messages were transferred. This turned her skin even paler and she was more susceptible to strong light. The treatment had been the cause of the layers of reflective pallor in her eyes, which made her look diseased in the daylight and made her eyes glow in the dark.

When the side-effects were first discovered, the sub-terranean colonies of the product’s humble origins had died out. It took at least seven years for the effects to show, by which time the original users had already been augmented into half-machines and so didn’t have the skin to show for it. Hideous accidents began to happen, but they were hushed up. Governments could not, or perhaps would not, stop the onslaught as the product infected the market like a weed, driving out whatever little good medication could sustain full-fleshed human beings.

From a user to a market-manager to a survivor, Phaela had graduated to the levels of which she could be a living testament of the product. Any day she knew, any day, her skin would fail her and she would be replaced by someone younger with healthier skin and with more money to waste than to hold.  Phaela often wished the pathetic ceiling would perhaps collapse on the excuse of a self-constructed life, shatter the mirror, demolish the bed, conquer her fears and allow her to run away. She was now formally called the Propaganda Manager of the sub-colony. This meant that she had more people to lie to and convince them to use the product. Often, she would give in to a burst of radicalism and lead rallies through the partially constructed streets, interrupting the neat lines of industrial cyborgs prepared to go to work. From the LCD-coated skyscrapers, the advertisements had gotten a lot more individual and personal.

The campaign had taken a turn towards a fanatical cult, and it was now Phaela’s mandate to force the product on everyone. Either through the charms of advertising or through secretly stealing their identities and forcing their health care providers to make the product necessary for their well-being. Of all the identities that she stole, she knew that she could never ever adopt one of them. Some cruel merger of years of drifting without purpose, and the need to be important had now forced her to accept life as something that could only be mediocre. She knew that she would never be something remarkably fascinating, but she could definitely serve as the invisible catalyst for the multitude.

Phaela was now all too familiar with the other lies that went on. Sometimes, they would manipulate the daily radiation reports to frighten the masses into buying their product. Sometimes, they would lie about casualty reports. All the time, they lied about the “benefits” of their product, which was more a result of scientific lottery than consistency. Phaela had stopped accepting a salary for the last five years, as her skin grew to take on even worrying shades of white. Whatever salary she had, she sustained a meal, a broken bed, a broken mirror and millions of broken dreams.

Phaela’s skin began to prickle. It was on her left hip this time and it spread upwards on her stomach like a radioactive tumor. It was a tattoo of the logo. A perfect way to brand the users.  Phaela calculated her odds of surviving another day. It stopped growing after a while and Phaela could finally pull her over-exposed clothes over her head.  She was surprised by how parasitic the prospect of death made her. It wasn’t about money any more. It was about the terrifying prospect that she would not be alone in her death, no matter how painful. Every single new recruit to the campaign was someday going to be just like her, and it was small comfort that she wasn’t alone. She had stopped caring about how vicious it could make her seem, aggressively bringing new victims to the noble cause.

She emerged into the day, her eyes adjusting to the sunlight. She waited for the adjustment to complete before the neighborhood patrol strolled by. The scrawny neighborhood patrol always assumed she was crying as she left home. He even dared to fancy her somewhat, imagining that the large frightened eyes of such a small, faded person would definitely view an authority like him to be a savior by default. “Everything all right, ma’am? ” he boomed as he strolled over, projecting his ego on her. She smiled wanly, feeling strange sympathy for this poor creature that she thought needed just as much validation of his existence as she did. She hurried away as soon as she could and the figure she left behind imagined that the wind carried her frail being along.

“You’ve very pretty skin, ma’am,” he echoed in the empty lane after her. That’s exactly what you would wish for, wouldn’t you? Skin like mine. Phaela didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the admiring eyes of the people appraised her skin. In the world surrounded by blaring media and people, she had just become another ghost with a company logo.

Cyberpunk Logs #03: Skins

Sable and Jordan have an odd relationship.

Jordan is slightly older, laconic, and always hooded. From the whispers that travel underground, Jordan’s family were victims of the Halogen Cleansing, the series of attacks which was designed to eradicate the poor. Jordan survived with almost nothing left of his skin, severe internal hemorrhage and is forever trapped in the bubble of gases that are slowly, potently decomposing his chemically volatile body into dead stable forms.

Sable is young and wild and fierce and stereotypical of everything that a rich teenager must represent in her society. Sable does not know enough about the ways of the world to know what it’s like to live without a skin and inhale semi-toxic air that hurts the lungs for it is as laden with metal as though gears are rumbling through the human anatomy in every single breath. She lives in the rare colonies where expensive clean air is pumped through.

Jordan speaks through a nuclear hazards mask, one which he inherited from his grandfather. Even though he lives in areas where the air has only toxic metal, he insists on wearing this unnecessary bulky mask to cover his face. Perhaps Jordan needs a mask only to filter the excess chlorine still trapped in his body. Perhaps Jordan needs to mask to prove how tough he is without protection. Perhaps it is an adolescent expression of another rebellion.

Ever since Jordan has taken her to visit the underground colonies, Sable has taken to wearing a half-mask too. Healthy nutritious skin is an obvious sign of wealth waiting to be stolen from. Half-masks scream aloud of narcotics addicts. Sable talks a lot of uncultured trash behind her mask, which makes her dialect sound foreign, muffled and trying too hard to belong to a ghetto culture which is born from her wealth. She has learned to interpret Jordan’s silences long enough to know when he disapproves, but she is too headstrong and too aware of the economic disparity between them to let his disapproval affect her.

Sable and Jordan are not friends. They are not even trapped in that naive hormonal attachment that claim the youth and mimics itself to be a real relationship in disguise. When a significant portion of human emotions has been replaced with pseudo-mechanized circuitry, love is hard to define. Sable is very proud of her capability to interact with the citizens of the underground. But she is far more proud of her wealth. It is not her fault. It is only human to relish the things that are given to us by nature, complete and untarnished: like the human body and the human mind. Sure, Sable has a few prosthetic augmentations, but they are so clean and small and expensively crafted that they do not override most of her natural body. Sable wonders if Jordan’s clothes are the physical skeleton providing structure to his devastated body. She does not care to find out.

Sable claims that she is not naive, and will therefore choose to experience the ways of the world by tasting narcotics. As a spoiled client, she will have only the best and it was this wish of hers that brought her to meet Jordan. Even today in the underground colonies, there are whispers of how efficient and reliable he is. Jordan has no ethical or moral objections to his choice of a career. After all, this is the way of life in the underground colonies and he is a survivor, he has no choice but to make the best of his opportunities. Their alliance, if such an awkward relation can be called such, was formalized when Sable used her money to purchase Jordan’s services for the entirety of his lifetime. It surprised no one that Jordan agreed. Why should he complain when he can be dependent on a source of wealth for the rest of his life?

Now years have passed, and Jordan has learned to differentiate his client’s interests. Sable is impatient. She is easily bored. She is not afraid to bargain for what she thinks is right, even if it means contact with some of the filthiest half-metal cyborgs that live in the underground. Jordan does not care to stop her habit, because the commission he earns on the side is enough to keep his body together from day to day. Jordan knows that Sable is inexperienced in the matter, so he is largely responsible for defining her addictions. Sable thinks Jordan is stupid for being so loyal. If they were swapped, she thinks she would have already swindled her client. Perhaps that is just untamed bragging that comes from the half-mask. Jordan is sure that Sable is not capable of betraying him. After all, there are dealers in the underground who are quick to pounce upon foreign accents within their dialects and who would not be so forthright in their dealings.

There was one momentary glitch in their now alliance of three years, which changed everything.

It is one of the rare instances in which Jordan has sampled the product and he and Sable are both intoxicated. Jordan has done something quite unprecedented of his shadow-like personality. He has touched Sable’s exposed face. Sable is perhaps too chemically driven to the point where she does not remember her exact response, but she is very surprised that Jordan’s finger registered to her natural human skin as a valid touch. She always assumed he didn’t have any fingers. Perhaps the narcotics have even ruined the self-control he had over his vocalizer, because Jordan casually mentions through his mostly silent mask that she has a beautiful face.

Sable noticed the sudden growth of intimacy and her chemically-fueled mind dares to contemplate a sexual liaison. But maybe not. After all, he didn’t even have a face and he was her slave. She, a healthy jaded rich young girl had several other options available to her. Nevertheless, she is surprised. She reaches out to touch his hand, unaware that he has a second dose hidden up his sleeve. When Sable’s fragile white fingers began to tinge green, Jordan realizes that she was already on two doses and his stealth third dose was about to kill her. His task is made easier than he once thought and the years he has spent in biding his time might climax to this very moment. Not for the first time, Sable is completely vulnerable. Yet for the first time, Jordan is about to break protocol.

She is gasping for breath rather helplessly, and like the traditional romantic hero of the ancient worlds, Jordan picks up his helpless charge and brings her to an underground facility nearby. Sable is still conscious of her tactile sensations and she remarks that Jordan was far more corporal than she realized. Sable remarks that she will double his pay and the services offered to him if he can save her life. Jordan, perhaps on whom the chemical is wearing off, reverts back to his silence and says nothing. Sable thinks that he is carefully lifting off the half-mask because he wants to be able to hear her better.

Sable is unconscious when Jordan gets her to an underground facility familiar to him. He enlists the aid of a doctor who had once saved his life. For the first time since he survived the Halogen Cleansing, he can feel the remains of his body coursing through with chlorine-contaminated adrenaline.  He is a survivor. He has to make do with the opportunities provided to him. Sable is someone whom he has been cultivating for years. He has been consistent with his behavior to her throughout until this moment. But now it is time for her to prove her worth. She is now an addict of her own choices and Jordan will not let such a healthy body go to waste at the expense of amusing a jaded mind.

Jordan is patient. Sable is naive. Jordan is still alive. Sable is nearing death, for reasons that may or may not be her own fault. The doctor doesn’t ask very many questions. He knows that narcotics cannot affect a person who is so chemically volatile that he risks contaminating his own blood every day. Sable has passed out, still grasping for hope that this is the last time she will take an overdose, and perhaps she will find enough wealth to cover up the consequences of her mistakes. But the doctor, as per Jordan’s orders, does nothing. He is patient just like Jordan. He is waiting for the same thing that Jordan is.

He is waiting for Sable to die.

Jordan is immediately prepared for surgery, and the preparations are not exquisite. Perhaps they are not even safe, but they are immediate and efficient because that is how an underground of a dystopia learns to operate. Sable has stopped breathing now, but her body is still healthy enough to be cultivated. Jordan is bound to the next table. All of his masks are coming off now.

“Are you ready for this Jordan?” asks the doctor customarily. It is an unnecessary question because Jordan has been ready since the first time he has laid eyes on Sable. Jordan does not remember the next few hours or so. He is roused by the doctor after the surgery is complete and injected with enough pain-suppressants to combat the volatile fusion of his body. The doctor hands him a mirror to view his own handiwork.

Sable’s face smiles into the mirror as Jordan is pleased. He is even amazed at his fingers, which are delicate and fragile. He is too taken with the power to express himself to listen to the doctor’s feats of extracting the existing implants in Sable’s body for re-use. He has finally rewarded his ruined body.

Jordan finally feels like he has found his own skin.

Cyberpunk Logs #02: The Ways of The Artist

 

Xori had agreed to meet Nixter only when he realized that she had spent the last few credits and had literally nothing else to go on for the monthly cycle. In fact, when she tabulated her savings from last annual cycle, there was indeed too little to go on. Even if she included begging and stealing. On a diet that was now basically soda, and the cheapest fast food that she could scavenge, Xori’s clothes had grown enormously large. They were grubby and worn out. They hadn’t seen a laundry machine in a very long time. 

It wasn’t too bad, reaffirmed Xori to the pale reflection in a broken mirror. At least she didn’t sweat so much, so her clothes didn’t stink too often. The large dark circles comfortably nestled her eyes, sagging her sallow malnutritioned skin. Xori wished her blankets would do the same. She made an effort to clean herself up somewhat, and found that the credits she had stolen last night had been stolen away from her. Oh well, she would need to work some more on that. But for now, she earnestly hoped Nixter would be able to offer her a job. She desperately needed one, and only the suppressed hunger inside her knew how painful that desperation was.

Some semblance of civility came back to her, what if Nixter asked her to share the price of a meal or a drink or something? Even at a shady joint, anything beyond entry cost an upward of five credits. But then, she wondered, Nixter was the one who arranged for this meeting, so he should likely have planned the expenses. Besides,given how soft a character Nixter was, he might never dare to ask a lady to pay on his behalf.

It was strange how she never reached out to Nixter. A former colleague and perhaps the only person who wavered dangerously close to the label of “friend”, Nixter had always been supportive of her.  She felt that she was getting too dependent on him, and the awful realization that he may have misunderstood their friendship to be something more dawned on her so she broke off all contact. She had no room in her life for things like that. In all her correspondences with Nixter, she tried to pretend that something like this had never happened and she still maintained that it was an eminently forgettable episode of her life.

Xori tried to dust off her large sweater, which was comfortably older than her. She looked around the little makeshift room she had made. It was still very quiet, so Xori could tell that the neighboring residents of the slums wouldn’t be able to hear her or watch her go out. At any rate, one of those rascals had stolen her five credits anyway. But were they really hers? Xori didn’t bother to ask morality and ethics of the situation. I’m poor enough to forget these things, said Xori to herself. She found it comforting in a way that her life had only been reduced what she thought were the core necessities: food, shelter, code and maybe an occasional luxury – a puff or two didn’t hurt.

Xori latched the heavy bolt securely with her fragile hands. It was something she’d done too often once she discovered that rodents and children had bitten off some of the wires in her room. Her computer beeped gloomily as she left. Xori sighed into the cold dawn, and the mist clouded up the air before her. The cold bit into her skin, but she had to walk, because she couldn’t afford to pay for any alternative transport. Besides, it was easier to steal from random pedestrians in the street. Xori was once the shy introvert who could never see anything beyond her code, but the driving need for sustenance had shown her what life was about.

Xori remembered how angry her family had been when she ran away from college in order to pursue programming as a career. You’ll never get a job, they said. Everybody can write any kind of code these days. Nobody pays for any utilities, or even computers. You should apply yourself to better things. Their insistence had driven Xori to write code late into the middle of the night when she knew that nobody was watching her, judging her. Oh, you write code? How is it any different from the rest of the world’s program? Why should I pay for your application when I can write better ones myself? Programming was now an outdated career.

But Xori enjoyed it, for whatever it was worth. She still loved writing and compiling her own applications and designing her own projects. As is with every programmer, they have their own style, their own taste, and Xori’s was almost exquisite. There were times when she had written hacks for Nixter, and that was when he had come across her true talent. Even then, he had encouraged it only as a side-hobby. Nobody will pay for software in a world where anyone can generate, create and execute an idea almost effortlessly.

Nixter, who was a history afficionado, would often compare programmers to writers and historians. There was a time when their skills were greatly valued until their methodology became too mainstream and it was hard for them to sustain a career through one of them alone. Which was why Nixter had dropped out of the game early, or timely as he would say. Xori had stayed on, and she intended to stay on until either her computer or she died. As projects became rare, the credits she would charge per project also increased, and that turned away many customers who were soon finding free and easy options. But passion alone is not sustainable and so here she was trying to present her surviving self before Nixter, trying to make a point. Trying to not want a job, when she would have died for one.

Nixter was very well-dressed, and he sat with the casual air of someone with credits. Someone with a career. If Xori didn’t know him, she would have thought he was ideal target to steal from. A little bit of snobbery and prim behavior, a lot of upper-class acculturation and Nixter had evolved from a code-writing punk to someone with a respectable job like a sustainable energy scientist.

Despite everything, Xori felt a little bit of herself falter. What would Nixter think of her if he saw her like this? The poor have no shame, she told herself. She approached him from behind and tapped his shoulder. He jumped as though a beggar had stained the beautiful textile with the touch of her hands. He registered annoyance, followed by slow shock, followed by a smile as he realized it was Xori. In the one moment that his face split into a smile, Xori was reminded of the boy who used to furiously code beside her, late into the nights, coding just for the heck of it. Indeed those were the good times.

“Xori! It’s been too long!”

It had. That was obvious. Xori stared around awkwardly, sizing Nixter up in the entirety of his being, trying to smile. He had done so well for himself, that he seemed to be from another world altogether. She stood a little apart from him, unsure of whether she should run away. Long periods of isolation and regular life in the slums had made her language coarse, and some of the former genteel Xori resurfaced and reminded her that it was inappropriate to be here.

Then her tummy crunched into her, and the smell of food could nearly make her cry and so she stood there, rooted in terrible silence and awe. Nixter pulled her into  a hug, from which she was hesitant. The smell of clean clothes and a well-fed lifestyle permeated through her. Nixter closed his arms around her and was alarmed to discover how thin she had become, and how he could feel the bones in her rib-cage.

“How are you?” asked Nixter.

Xori’s tummy wished to record the momentous occasion by ruining it somewhat.

“Come, let’s get some breakfast,” said Nixter, without asking her what her current diet was, what were the meals she ate and so on. Nixter led her into one of the restaurants she wouldn’t have dared enter, but Nixter steered her through. Clearly, he seemed more than willing to pay for her meal. Xori sat uncomfortably at the edge of her seat, feeling all the more self-conscious. Xori found the shame surprising. It never bothered her when she needed to steal, but now it bothered her to be a civilized human being. Nixter ordered a meal that was fit for three, and politely directed all the dishes to Xori when they arrived. It was an exhibition of self-restraint to not stuff the food into her all at once.

“So how have you been?” asked Nixter, as though oblivious to the sight of her wolfing down on food.

“Alive,” was the concise response.

There was an awkward silence during which neither knew what to say next.

“Still writing the good old commercial code, are we?”

“I am. Can’t say about you. So there’s no ‘we’,” said Xori, gulping down another jam roll.

“I write applications from time to time, as well,” conceded Nixter. “Here, I have a few functional prototypes if you want to see them,” he said, offering her the debug-log from his mini-computer. Xori stared at the device with envy. What was such a powerful computing tool doing in the hands of people who needed it the least? But then, beggars can’t be choosers. As it is, it was mostly UI design, nothing too great from a computing perspective. It was mostly code designed to appeal visually. Nobody wrote real hard core work like they did in the old days.

Xori was not impressed. Some part of her work ethic said that she would rather stay unemployed than stoop to such a  boring job. But then her tummy, the memories of the claustrophobic slums and the rodents and the general squalor disagreed. Xori thought she’s show him one of her personal projects now that he was here. After all, she wasn’t prepared to sell her skills without having something to show. Nixter was awed, as always. Xori was good at what she did, which was why she did it.

“Very nice,” said Nixter. He praised her somewhat and then persisted in making some more small talk, the kind which Xori had long-since forgotten to make.

“You said you had an offer?” she asked, hoping not to give away the obvious.

“Well, yes. I have an opportunity that would allow you to write code and allow you to live my lifestyle.”

“I’m listening,” said Xori as she stuffed her face with two more jam rolls.

“So, the offer I have would let you write whatever code you want, and we can commercialize it if you please. You will have the most cutting edge resources available to you at no cost.”

“What kind of resources?” said Xori, her voice still strained from gulping too hastily.

“Any number of visual screens that you’d like, the newest compilers, any technology that you want, top of the line.”

Xori wasn’t too convinced with the vague description. But if allowed her to stay warm, live well and eat food, especially food like this, she wouldn’t mind. She sincerely hoped that it wasn’t going to be a UI design job.

“What kind of projects could I take on?”

“Anything you wish,” smiled Nixter in response.

This was too good to be true. Xori slowed her munching down somewhat so she could think through things clearly. Obviously, with a mini-computer like Nixter’s she would be able to write the kind of code that would re-design operating systems. But then, what about the data security of her old code? What if they expected something from her that she did not  know yet?

“Tell me more. Where is this place? What is this firm’s name? What do they do?” said Xori, wanting to know more about this conveniently beneficial organization.

Nixter leaned closer to the table, and Xori couldn’t help but notice that he was carrying a lot of open credits on him. He put his hand on the table.

“You know when we were both back in college and how we would sneak out after college and write code?”

Xori nodded. Those hacks were how she had met Nixter. If she had known that such an organization existed back then, then she would never have to go through this…

“So, I miss those days. A lot,” said Nixter, pausing carefully as he considered his words. “I know you didn’t want to speak to me for a long time after those days..”

For reasons that are self-explanatory, thought Xori, considering a pastry on the table. She would have liked to question the relevance of the past, but then she reminded herself that Nixter always had a soft spot for History.

“…and I didn’t even know if you were alive or not. Believe me, you have no idea how thankful I was that you replied to my message.”

I didn’t really have a choice, thought Xori, munching on the cake, looking for any excuse to avoid eye-contact. It’s not as shameful as you make it seem. You’ve done worse. You’ve stolen hard-earned credits from fellow beggars. Why does it make you so awkward to seek a job? Xori wished he would end his historical detour soon and move the conversation back to pressing matters.

“So, now that you’re here, and you’re still writing amazing code, I was asking you to come join me.”

“Are you offering me a job?” asked Xori, cringing immediately inside. She had blurted out too soon. She would frighten him away. He would now know how desperate she was for a job and might take advantage of her vulnerability. But then again, it was better him than anyone else who would abuse her skills. He, of all people, at least appreciated good programming skills.

“I’m….I’m asking you to live with me. I’m asking you to marry me.”

Xori choked on what she was eating. In a hasty effort to get her water, and somehow explain himself for the faux pas, he launched into a great comparison of the pros and cons of his proposition. Xori managed to swallow whatever it was she was eating and then wrung the table napkin in extreme discomfort.

“You don’t have to answer me right away,” said Nixter gently, letting her have her space, turning red with embarrassment at the fact that he had surprised her so much.

Xori fidgeted some more with the idea and her napkin. Indeed, it would be a great life. Food, access to everything she had ever wanted. Why, given time, she might even evolve into a real lady in Nixter’s company. But then what about her independence? Nixter obviously expected a huge emotional commitment and Xori was unsure if she could search within the depths of her to provide it.

At least he didn’t ask you to love him, reasoned Xori. But then, he might as well have, because he expected that to happen eventually. It’s not that he’s not like-able, mused Xori, it’s just that I can’t feel the same way because I have so much more code to write in my life. Nixter didn’t have to explain the pros and cons of the situation. Xori had lived in poverty long enough.

“….Live with you?” Xori didn’t even dare to utter the words that had followed.

“Yeah,” nodded Nixter helpfully, wondering if she might actually consider him this time. The last time, he had been young, immature, and incapable of supporting her, especially the hobby that she so adored. But now he had grown up and he was waiting to hear an equally mature response from the object of his affections as well.

Xori stared at the empty plates in silence. Was that what all the food was for? To get her to acquiesce? Had he thought he could buy her with the lure of a better life? But then, wasn’t she the one who had woken up in sheer desperation?

Nixter was momentarily occupied by the fact that he had to now pay for the meal as they were almost done. Xori noticed that he tucked his credits into the upper pocket. If she could have two or three of them, she would be ready to live out the next annual cycle. Then she looked at the person in them. He had promised her an entire lifetime. What did a lifetime mean to someone who had lived from hand to mouth for so many years?

“I’ll……I’ll need some time to think about it,” muttered Xori inaudibly. She had to repeat it so that Nixter could hear it over the clamor.

Nixter did not know how to feel when she said that she would leave. How would he ever find her? What if she said no? But he momentarily put those thoughts to rest as Xori pulled in for a hug. She was so weak and fragile, she might even need medical care, but where could she afford it? Should he offer her money? What if she thought he was trying too hard to influence her decision?

“You’ve been a good friend, Nixter,” were her departing words. Xori then walked slowly, carefully and deliberately to the nearest transport. In the shadow of the vehicle, she took off and once more Nixter was staring at empty air.

When Xori felt that she had run a distance far away from him, she paused to count the credits she had stolen from Nixter’s coat as she had hugged him. There was enough to relocate to a new city, to buy the new computer she had always dreamed of and maybe even snag an elite customer or so, who wanted some custom application on the side. It wasn’t too bad, she wondered as she returned back. In a weird way, it had been thoroughly productive, but then some part of her objected to how she was treating Nixter as a person in all of this. What about his needs? And his proposition?

Xori began to pack together all her meagre belongings. She was going to carry all the data she had compiled and all her previous code, but she couldn’t bear to carry the decade old view screen with her. With the credits that she had, she might even be able to buy a new one. She was soon scheduled in for the earliest transport out of the city and spent the rest of the day making herself untraceable, especially to Nixter, who might have law enforcement searching for her. Only the other children in the slums and the rodents would know that she was gone. To he rest of the world, she might not even have existed, had it not been for her brilliant executables.

When the wind from the rushing transport touched her recently clean face and hair, and for the first time Xori smiled spontaneously, she watched the city’s skyline race away from her. She was leaving all this behind. Dirt. Filth. Desperation. Nixter. She allowed herself to feel a tinge of sadness and hoped he would understand.

“I’m sorry Nixter,” she sighed to the wind and the lonely falling tear was whisked away into the night.

Cyberpunk Logs #01: r3c0nf1gur3d

Restart.
 
Hold your breath as the engine of a new day begins.
 
Step into the metallic sludge of yesterday and feel the radioactive heat caress your face.
 
It’s always day when the smoke covers up the daylight and there’s enough reflective light to make the mortals go blind, but that’s what you’re in for when you got that new metal arm and that new opportunity to live.
 
Where’s your game now?
 
The machines stutter to work. There’s enough grease and gears to be shared with everybody.
 
Ain’t nobody got time for blood when there’s no humanity left.
 
These codes are the testament to my soul, for I am a ghost that inhabits this hybrid shell of what was once me and what will never be me. And you know as well as everyone else does that we’re all doomed, so we might as well sink into the eternal glory of being re-used and recycled till there’s no last ion of worth left.
 
Those are the days we live to.
 
You don’t need laws for creatures bound by inflexibility and logic. The only thing that gets fuzzy around here is the boundary between day and night.
 
There’s nothing illegal. We’ve lost all interest in tasting the toxic because that’s what you and I, hardy citizens, drink everyday. It ain’t no sob story. It’s the only story. Because stories are all we have that brings us out of this everyday squelch.
 
You and I, dear friend, it’s people like us who cough up blood every day and become a little less human and watch as those that help us are metallic beasts wrapped in rigid rules and yet so amazing and so fantastic. Watch us become one of them. Watch them become one of us.
 
It’s a lovely world we live in.

Tears

Image Credits: Tears by crazythis at http://crazythis.deviantart.com/art/tears-80210887

Image Credits: Tears by crazythis at http://crazythis.deviantart.com/art/tears-80210887

“Officer, do come in,” said the lazy drawl of the suspect. The recreational phosphorescence from the club’s atmosphere had faded away to a dim glow. The silhouette and its accompanying shadow shifted in their position somewhat.

Officer Porter steadied her team and entered the room in stealth mode. She had express orders to sedate this highly mobile suspect before taking him into her custody. Do not move until suspect has been located, she transmitted to the rest of the team. This was unbelievably lucky. After almost two years of tracking down this man via his goods, they finally had him. Surrounded and possibly armed.

“Surrender to this, Delirium.” she spoke aloud, addressing the criminal by his chosen code name. “Central Justice holds you guilty for the propagation of narcotics among innocent civilians, and the crimes that they have gone on to perpetrate.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” said Delirium, bored.

“Do not move. You will be provided counsel if requested…”

Prepare the sedatives, she commanded her team. Green acknowledging blips confirmed their response.

“My dear Officer Porter, I did not come this far and let myself be captured.”

Ordinarily, she would have registered some shock at the fact that he knew her name already. But this wasn’t the time to debate such minutiae. Ready to diffuse on my mark. All the green blips flashed off once and then blinked back again.

“If you try to diffuse now, you’ll never get me, Officer Porter.”

Stand by, team. “State your demands, criminal.”

“Come, come, my dear Officer Porter. It’s been 36 months since you have been chasing me and now that I am finally in your arms, you won’t even talk to me?”

“You will be allowed to speak to legal counsel only.”

“But I don’t want to speak to them! I want to talk to you, dear.”

Some of the green blips went orange in confusion. The criminal was requesting an audience with an officer. Porter did not have the time to send a request to higher authorities for this change of procedure. With a high-sensitivity target, she was alone.

Team, commencing negotiations with the hostage. Initiating a code blue pulse. When the pulse dies out, begin diffusion. Some of the orange lights turned red in protest, but as Porter marched into the eerie semi-darkness, they slowly switched back to green.

She entered a partially lit hallway. Recreational skins littered the floor, and the heads up display told her that the concentration of narcotics in the atmosphere had jumped to about 4 parts per million. A chair swiveled around as she entered and positioned itself. In the poor visibility, Porter could make out his presence through her thermal sensors only.

“Please sit. I have many things I want to talk to you about.”

“Speak.” She remained standing.

“Is that how the new generation works these days? I didn’t know that the lack of emotions necessitated a lack of courteous behavior.”

There was silence, during which Porter re-adjusted her sensors in order to pin-point his location better.

“Might I say you’ve done a lovely job with infiltrating my customer base? In the beginning I couldn’t even tell them apart from the regular ones, until I noticed that their delirium wore off a lot faster. Is it a part of your training, my dear?”

Porter continued to scan the room. Two exits. He was located equidistant from both of them. If he had to leave in one way or another, he would have to physically pass by her. He hadn’t yet asked her a question to which she could objectively respond. She wasn’t in the habit of making small talk to criminals either.

“Silence makes this conversation rather one-sided, so when I asked to speak to you, I expected you to reply back.”

“It is my duty to stop crime” was the mechanic, halting, monotone reply.

“You new generation clones are pathetic. Not only do you make awful conversationalists, but you don’t even accept compliments very well. I think it’s time you ask a question or we could very well be sitting here in silence until one of us dies.”

“How did you know of our methods?” asked Porter, wondering that she might as well ask something productive if he was being so insistent.

“Oooh. An interesting one. I know everything about you, dear.”

“Elaborate.”

“I know your dirty little secret in the rehabilitation center. You’re one of the few with the recurring gene failure, isn’t it? ”

If Porter could have felt shock, she probably would. But with her conditioning, she probably translated the information into the binary category of either failures in security networks or manipulative lies.

“…. Well? Aren’t you curious how I know about your private records?” asked Delirium, in some struggle to provoke a response.

It was true, though. Despite all of Porter’s genetic conditioning to suppress emotion, the logic of the situation did not compute.

“Yes. I am,” said Officer Porter, internally setting her own beacon to a blue light. She estimated that this conversation would take no more than three minutes. Given that this was an extremely dangerous suspect, Porter ordered her team to go ahead with the diffusion when the blue light went out. She could be resuscitated if required. Capturing him was the top priority here.

Porter paused to regulate some oxygen within her suit. The narcotics in the atmosphere were beginning to seep into her suit through the vents. How the criminal survived his manic addiction was anyone’s guess. After legal counsel, he would probably be sent to the labs for testing. If indeed his genes turned out to be as robust as they claimed, they could use it to for further emotional conditioning of the gene pool.

“So, tell me, are the suppressants are working?” asked Delirium, pausing just enough to seem nasty about it.

“What is the goal of this discussion, criminal?” asked Porter, feeling a little out of her element. The rehabilitation story was supposed to be expunged from her records. Memories of her days in rehabilitation passed through rather quickly.

Porter had been “born” just like every new generation clone had, derived from the diluted DNA of some True Human. Most clones did not feel emotions any more, as part of their restructuring and conditioning. However, as it was with DNA, there were some cases when citizens of the new generation failed, and regressed into violence or sadness or happiness. It was ironic how the fresh source of DNA (the last of the True Humans) were also the remaining criminals. Sweeping evolutionary changes demanded that the True Humans be rounded up from the ghetto, from their criminal hubs and submitted into the gene pool centers. Their genes would be extracted and applied, and they would emerge as docile, civilized, urbane creatures. The greater the variation in structure, the stronger the emotional conditioning would reflect on the next series of clones.

“You regressed as a child, didn’t you?”

Porter was silent for a while, and then she allowed a barely audible “Yes” to escape her.

Delirium’s mouth curved up into a smirk. Spontaneous signs of emotion. How long had he been breathing in narcotics?

“Tell me what happened during the siege of the Blaniken outpost.”

Porter’s regression had taken on an incontrollable form. The Blaniken outpost was one of the hardest ghettos to crack, and it was evident in the damages the team had suffered. For the first and probably only time in her life, Porter had been possessed with rage. She remembered that emotion, the wild, inherent drive in her head to demolish all. Regressions were usually fatal as emotions that had been suppressed for an entire lifetime managed to find an outlet. Porter’s rehab had tried to clean off some of the memories, but the feeling of actually tearing a fellow clone from limb to limb in blind rage still tingled on her fingers on the worse days.

“That….that information is classified.”

“It feels beautiful, doesn’t it?” asked Delirium, leaning over the table now.

“I am not designed to….”

“You know what I’m talking about. It’s that unseen power that you’ve been denied all your life…”

Porter knew exactly what he was talking about. She had been so angry that not even physical injuries could deter her. She was attacking anything and everything that was in sight. The thrill of having another creature’s existence completely in her unstable control and that she could, with the smallest of effort end it, was overwhelming.

Delirium allowed himself a chuckle as he saw Porter’s eyes expand slightly through her visor. Marketing emotions was exactly his specialization. The beauty was that each user had their own experience. The drug merely worked to restore the natural chemical balance within the still human brain. Once the cerebrum was capable of feeling the emotion, it was pure abandon for the mind. At least until the conditioning kicked in to place, stabilizing the balance again. To feel happy, to feel sad, to literally feel anything that was beyond the capacity of rationale and logic was obviously addictive.

“Are you under influence now?” asked Porter, registering his smile and laughter.

“No, my dear,” he conceded. “You see, I don’t need narcotics to feel emotions. I’m a True Human.”

Increase the dosage of the sedative, team. Call for reinforcements. Green lights blinked consecutively in order.

“Why does my existence concern you?”

“Another interesting one! My dear, you are absolutely scintillating today.”

Porter did not accept the compliment. She stayed emotionless and counted off the seconds from the blue light timer.

“You see, I just wanted to inform you specifically, that the rehab treatments won’t work. As well trained as you are, I know it won’t.”

“Explain.”

“Let me see your face,” asked Delirium. “Without the visor.”

This was an imminent exposure to danger. It would take a while to purge the chemicals from her system. Given her history with regressions, it might even send her into another one that could very well irrecoverable.

“Why?”

“You see, my dear, you are my clone. My True Human DNA has been used to create you.”

“All new generation humans are derived from viable True Human DNA.”

“Correct. But the problem is, my genes, like me, are a bit of a rebel. They honestly should have politely asked for a sample instead of forcing it out of me, but I’m not exactly compatible for emotional conditioning. I also have a naturally high ability resist chemicals, as you can clearly tell by my comfortable exposure to narcotics. I didn’t know it was you, at first. But after the Blaniken incident, I knew you had inherited my problem.”

“Are you expecting me to empathize with you?”

“No, no, my dear. That would be ruining the medical charade of a spectacularly designed suppressant.”

Once again there was an awkward silence as Delirium expected her to offer an opinion on the revelation. Porter was unimpressed. Or maybe she was conditioned to feel unimpressed.

“Please let me see your face. Just once, without the visor.”

“You have several clones. Why this attachment to me?”

“See, you and I have been the ones bound by fate. You’re the only person who could hunt me down after all these years. In a way, you are my offspring and I feel strangely proud.”

Delirium was getting more insistent now.

“Before I go to the gene pool centers, let me look at you once. Allow me the last privilege of feeling joy before I’m handed into civility.”

This was unbelievably outrageous and dangerous. Catering to emotional needs of a True Human was not her duty.

“Please. For the last time? I’ll never be able to feel anything after.”

“Would you be more compliant with the procedure that is to follow?”

“Would you really deny me the right to see my own offspring?”

Porter activated the timer alert on her blue light. Then, she proceeded to take off the visor, despite all protests by the internal computer that it was dangerous for her to do so. Instinctively, she held her breath as he visor opened up, allowing her oxygen to escape outside. The stench of narcotics was an olfactory attack in its own right.

Then the unexpected happened. Delirium reached out for her face. In some defense, Porter started back, careful not to touch or breathe anything.

“Please….” asked Delirium softly, persistently, his eyes welling up somewhat. Another debilitating emotional condition.

Porter paused stiffly as his fingers traced a line across her cheek. Every logical, rational and even the remnants of emotional instincts were telling her that something was wrong and this was too easy.

It was odd how the sub-dermal injector camouflaged in Delirium’s fingers and Porter’s team diffused at the same time. While Delirium collapsed to the floor, unconscious, Porter frantically struggled to get the visor back on. She gulped in the oxygen, feeling strangely light and confused and scared at the same time. Her brain began to destabilize slowly as she watched her comrades drag him out. While they fumbled in the dark, toxic, low-visibility ambiance, Porter realized that she had just condemned the only sort of family she had to an eternal hell.

She curled up on the floor and felt the tears. Then, almost convulsively her body surrendered and the regression took over. Porter began to weep.