For the last F3 challenge by Flannery Alden we were asked to write a story on a themed word list. Much to my surprise, they were all sci-fi related. I decided to tie this in with the other stories I’ve written and, well, here’s my contribution. The words:– Stellar Engine, mind food, needler, superluminal, and wetware
Building a Nation
When I was younger and a plump prostitute was doing calisthenics in my hotel room after a wild night of cleaning souls, I was repulsed by the rolls, the grunts and heaves.
I was a stupid kid.
How any woman could be fat enough to need to exercise after the The Restructuring should have tipped me off, but it didn’t. Like I said, I was a damn stupid kid.
So I was climbing into my pants when she stops and gives me this look, you know, like a woman whose dumb as a fucking slug purposefully crawling into a pile of salt and says, “you want to make some credits.”
I shit you not.
I just gave her half my Rations to bang her and then she asks me if I need some fucking credits. Why didn’t she ask me this before I gave her half my food?
She wiped her forehead with a towel and smiled at me. For a brief moment I understood why I thought her beautiful. She had dark hair, cut short, and big eyes. Her lips had a slight upturn in the corners that made it seem like she was always grinning. I liked that. It wasn’t often people smiled, shit, just had anything to smile about. And at that moment when she really let it loose, baring her teeth and crinkling her eyes, I was just a simple kid again.
“Suits might want street kids for their holo-screen tattoo games and in-house scat shows, but I’m not…”
“No, no. This has nothing to do with the suits.”
“Everything deals with the suits.”
Grabbing her clothes off the floor, I watched her
“There’s this guy over at GameWorks, and he’s got this, this idea he’s looking into.”
“Oh, that guy,” I say pulling my boots on. “I’ve run into him and he’s an asshole.”
She smiled and stuck out her tongue. It glowed orange. I never understood tongue skins. Colors transform as it processes flavors and supposedly they enhance those flavors. That might be great for fruit, but what if you have vomit skunk from drinking all night? Besides, only the suits could afford fruit now. And she sure wasn’t a suit.
“His name’s Berg. He was some kind of bio-mechanic engineer before The Restructuring.”
I pulled my half of the Ration out of my pocket and took a bite. Cardboard. Apple-flavored cardboard.
“You know, wetware.”
Fully dressed, she went for the door. I was surprised at how distant she seemed. I thought we just shared a moment after all.
“Go, don’t go, doesn’t matter to me.” Opening the door, she turned one last time in my direction. “But if you go, tell him I sent you.”
“I get a commission, silly.”
She blew a kiss and stepped into the hall where some countrified electronica reverberated from another room.
GameWorks was in the midst of disrepair. In zone 3, it was situated between dives, pubs, third-hand stores, and shitty apartments. It used to be two-stories of the finest games and jumbo hotdogs. Now, not so much. I heard the blasts and music from some of the games, but they were clearly dated.
Even so, outside a few kids hung on sidewalks smoking cigarettes. Inside, they were sprawled out in booths, crouching on the second floor, legs hanging over the edge, playing a few of the games, their dirty faces only smiling when they were able to run their mouths about beating some other stupid kid.
Berg was in back and bigger than I remembered. He was huge. Judging by holo-screen documentaries, bear huge. He had a whiskey in front of him and some skinny teenager next to him.
“What do you need boy?” he asked as I approached.
“First off, I need you to not call me boy.”
The skinny teenager laughed. It was a high-pitched, Hyena clipped kind of laugh that went on for far too long. Clearly I watched too many extinct animal documentaries.
“What’s wrong with him?” I say jutting my thumb at Hyena instantly making him snap shut his jaws.
Now it was Berg’s turn to laugh.
“I take it you’re here to earn some credits?”
“I’m not here to do anything. Yet.”
Berg slid out of the booth, his blue eyes glassy with whiskey. Funny thing, I was immediately drunk with adrenaline. When he slid up next to me and put his arm around my shoulders I realized it was too late. I wouldn’t be able to run even if I wanted to.
“C’mon. Let me show you something.”
He led me to a back room littered with electronics and mechanical parts. Wires hung from shelves, old woodbins overflowed with chips and processors, prosthetics hung from hooks on the walls. In the middle of the room hulked a battered hospital bed with a huge light precipitously hanging over it. To be honest, it was fucking creepy and I would’ve walked away if he didn’t have his paw gripping my shoulder.
“You know what I was, am, otherwise you wouldn’t be here, but let me lay this out for you son. I want to make you better.”
“Damn right. Better. These things,” he said spinning me around so I could see him pointing at his body, “are like those games out there. Outdated, inconsequential, unable to do what we need them to do.”
“Yeah, whatever you say, but I’m a little attached to this they way it is.”
“How do we get by with the PCG on our asses all the time, sucking at the Ration stations, begging for the scraps from the suits? This is a way to level the playing field a little.”
“I don’t even have any jiving tats, so why would I do this for a few lousy credits?” Jiving tats was another thing I never understood. Who wants to put moving cartoons on their fucking bodies? “Fuck nose rings, tongue skins, lips suckers, jiving tats, and especially your, well, whatever the hell you’re doing. Keep your credits.” I headed back out into the raging sound of the games.
“We’ll get food, real food.”
My body seemed to stop in its tracks. I imagined the sweet aroma of pear, the juice on my chin, the explosion of orange that fills a room when you pierce its skin, the simple beauty of bread.
“Yes. Food. And credits. And more.”
I faced him. He was grinning like a child as he walked over to a metal table next to the bed. He picked up a small chip and turned on the light. Raising the chip into the glow, he almost seemed like he was in dream. “This little baby is mind food. Mind food on hyper-roids. You’ll be a genius.”
“Smarter than anyone on the planet. Even me.” I had to turn my head to smile. I didn’t feel like getting my head broke by this man. “It processes information faster than anything ever created. Even after The Restructuring.”
“It’s not processing at superluminal speeds, but damn, I made a product that….”
He lost himself in his own greatness again. I couldn’t believe I was actually listening to the guy.
“You really want to put that shit in my head?”
“It’s virtually painless.”
“Virtually like smash your fingers in a sled door virtually?”
Berg laughed and exchanged the chip for a pen like object about the length of his forearm.
“I’ll use this. It’s like a needler without the instant death, of course.” Berg giggled. Clearly he had a twisted sense of humor. I wasn’t a fan.
I have to admit, I liked the idea of being a genius. Who wouldn’t? I could get into the PCG and rise through the ranks faster than any of the corporate suits. Plush living. Girls. Steak and cupcakes.
“Where’s the battery?”
“Good question,” he said. He strode toward me and jabbed his fingers in my ribs. I hoped that was an example of his “virtually”.
“You are a Stellar Engine. Your body is the star and the chip itself will draw power from you. As long as your alive, you’ll be smarter than anyone on the planet. Best part,” his lips form a grin, “mentally you’ll never age. Smart till the day you die.”
If Berg hadn’t been a bio-mechanical engineer, he sure would’ve made one hell of a used Sled salesman.
“We can do this tomorrow, if you want.”
“Right now,” I said.
Berg cocked his head at me, like a dog hearing some high-pitched scream.
“Ok,” he said. “Give me a moment.”
He left the room but immediately returned with Hyena on his heels. Hyena was beaming: Yip, yip, yip.
“Lay down on the bed.”
I did. It was like laying down on a metal platform with a plastic sheet under your ass. Berg switched the light and colors danced in front of my eyes. Before I regained my sight, I felt the straps around my chest and legs.
“What the fuck, Berg?”
“Get his arms,” Berg said ignoring me while throwing another leather strap across my forehead. “We have to keep you still, you understand.”
“No I don’t fucking understand.”
“Good thing I’m making you a genius.”
“That whole ‘virtually’ thing, well, you realize we don’t have anesthetic, right?” I nodded. Well, tried to nod. “And we have to cut through your skull and mess around in your grey matter, right?”
I felt my body release and my pants go warm. I couldn’t breathe. My fingers tingled and I struggled but the straps constricted tighter. I heard Hyena’s choppy snigger, but they seemed far away.
The last thing I saw: the needler, fantastically shiny and unscathed, the hum like a child’s song – brand spanking new.