Cyberia City, Vastaag Pleasure Oribital (Property of Eurasian Inc.) - 3200 miles from Earth
“I’ve got a new heart.”
Lewis raised an eyebrow.
“No, really. Look. It’s squirrel heart.” Karl pulled up his mucky t-shirt to expose a flushed line on his skinny, torso. “See.”
Lewis bit off another chunk of Conana bar and chewed it noisily, mouth half open. “You got something alright. But I can categorically say...” he swallowed, “it’s not a squirrel heart.”
Karl let his t-shirt drop back down and took payment for Lewis’s can of Kananga-9. “How can you be sure. I mean, you can’t see inside me can you?”
“You even know what a squirrel is?” Lewis took another bite.
Karl checked the CCTV. Outside the kiosk the early hours wore on. A few CRO, Common Residential Officers as they preferred to be known, were harassing a group of kids. Pallets of scuffed grey crates were being unloaded from an armoured lorry into a lockup while a pair of hookers yelled obscene invitations to the driver.
“Sure I do, big muscly things with claws. They used to use ‘em back on Earth centuries ago - to ride to war.”
“No,” said Lewis flatly. “The squirrel is a small creature about this big.” he held his arms a few feet apart. “It lived mainly in the tropics, that’s the hot part of Earth, and fed primarily on grass. It was a grazer Karl, and based on its size, I find it highly unlikely you are currently possessed of it’s heart.”
Karl took swig of Ariba and pouted.
“Besides, they’re extinct. So again. I find it hard to imagine you have a squirrel heart.”
“Well that’s what they told me at the clinic.”
Lewis took another bite of his bar working the the combination of mint, banana and sausage round his mouth. “Which clinic?”
“Doctor Husqvarna. Down Gates Street. Had a sale on.”
Lewis snorted and inadvertently spat a gob of wet yellow onto the scuffed polyplex screen. For the third time this week Karl was glad it was there.
“I bet he has,” snarked Lewis wiping his mouth with a sleeve. “He was probably hoping some idiot would come in with a month’s wages asking to have his perfectly healthy human heart taken out and replaced with that of a tropical badger.”
“What’s a badger?”
“It doesn’t matter. So why the hell did you want a new heart? What’s wrong with your old one?”
Karl served another customer. A tall white guy with hunched shoulders and a tartan mackintosh. More porn. It was always porn around two a.m. - porn o’clock.
“Why?” grinned Karl. “For this.”
Karl pulled the sleeve of his t-shirt up to expose his shoulder. There, fresh and blue though a little oddly shaped due to the Karl’s boney physique, was a cyberneticist’s decal. The cycal acted as a hallmark from the manufacturer which proved the wearer had a genuine part installed.This particular one was in the shape of a pair of melded heads looking away from each other.
“Hah! No! You didn’t. You sad little git.”
“Screw you, I don’t see you running any top of the line upgrades. When people see this they’re gonna know I’m augmented. They’re gonna think twice before messin’ with the The Snarl.”
Lewis eye’s bulged and he held his hand over his mouth to stop any more Connana spraying out. Karl took another slug from the can and crossed his arms. Once composed, more or less, Lewis swallowed and leant on the counter. “So let me get this right, and please, correct me if I’ve made a mistake somewhere. You went to see Doctor Chainsaw and paid him what? around a grand? to remove your perfectly good heart, which I imagine you forgot to bring home with you. Then had him install a moody squirrel heart or something akin to it and stamp your arm with a hooky cycal. You then, based on your new decreased capacity to pump blood around your body and diminished wallet, have created for yourself a nickname - The Snarl, which you believe will fend of the packs of psychotic muggers, murderers and organ leggers that frequent our fair city? Am I right? Is that along the lines of what happened?”
“It’s not hooky, its a real heart, it must be cos I’m alive aren’t I? And it’s not a nickname, its a handle, everyone’s got a handle these days.”
“Yeah, you got a better idea? It’s better than being called Lewis. And if you didn’t spend all your money on that I.S. you’d be able to afford a few augs too.”
Lewis leant unpleasantly close, his big sweaty head so close to the polyplex that his nose left a grease smear and his mouth a ring of spittle. “Augs? Are you in the military now? Are you an Agent? Come on? How do you think it’s gonna play out?Imagine three peddlers come up to you in an alley and they want to cut out your lungs. Are you gonna ask them to hold on a sec while you roll up your sleeve and hope they run when they see your terrifying cycal. Thing is Karl, if you do that, they’ll see you have a cybernetic heart and take that too. What were you thinking? The thing with you Karl…”
Unbeknownst to Lewis, Karl had shut off the intercom. The only sound was a feint shunting of crates outside and the distant cry of sirens. He took another look at the CCTV. It had started raining. It wasn’t supposed to rain tonight. Must be a VIP or maybe the satellites were on the fritz. The lorry was finishing up and the crates had vanished. The girls had given up too and were eyeing the CROs who were still engaged in a futile attempt to move the kids along. CROs had a pitiful level of authority, even the neighbourhood watch were more feared. They were jobsworths who revelled in handing out fines and citations but were seldom tasked with anything more serious than low level enforcement.
A bang on the glass.
“Are you listening to me?”
Karl extended his index finger and scowled.
The gesture was mirrored.
Lewis stuffed the items he’d bought into his rucksack and turned to leave. Maybe he was a bit hard on Karl, the guy was just trying to fit it. He didn’t have Lewis’s charisma. He pulled open the flyer-covered kiosk door and a cold blast of damp, night air washed over him. It wasn’t supposed to rain tonight. Maybe someone important was visiting. The corporation often did that when a celebrity or high profile guest was in town. It was why Cyberia was so popular, the place was designed from the ground up to be the ultimate cyber-dystopian city, a neon and concrete hell-paradise where tourists could come and experience life on the bleeding edge. It hadn’t worked quite as planned. Sure plenty of tourists came but they tended to stick to certain parts of the city and if they did want to chance the seedier areas, would either take security with them or end up in small pieces being shipped back to earth as replacement parts for the rich and unscrupulous.
He pulled his hood up and headed into the downpour. It was freezing. It must be a weather satellite malfunction, VIPs always got it warmed up.
The neon was doing it’s job, reflecting jagged lines of livid pink in the puddles and throwing eerie blue and green glows over the dumpsters and fire escapes. The smell of hot, strong noodles wafted through the rain and a few doors down, the tempting sign of the Shanghai Noodle House was lit in bright red and yellow. A couple of figures in long dark coats stood outside smoking, their stature unmistakably augmented and packing. No smork chow mien tonight thought Lewis shuffling past, eyes down.
He crossed the road just to be sure and rounded the corner. The gun store was closed, so was the Tad’s Electricals and the Gravity Bar. Opposite he could see the door to the immersion arcade was ajar and the tell-tale strobing, pulsing flashes called to him. He wasn’t interested tonight though. In about twenty five minutes what he wanted was coming to him. In truth he’d been a bit jealous of Karl’s upgrade. Sure, it was a waste of cash but now he had a cybernetic decal and despite what anyone said, they did get you a certain amount of kudos. The thing was, each upgrade was supplied with a single implantable cycal so there weren’t really any spare ones. The fakes were awful and cybernetics manufacturers were heavy hitters so anyone stupid enough to make replicas got squads of Agents sent after them. This meant the only copies around were quick low risk knock-offs and wouldn’t fool anyone.
It was a marketing masterstroke. Back in the day the only people who used cybernetics were independent military, elite government officers and corporate Agents. They were terrifying bastards who could throw cars, dodge bullets and survive falling off buildings. They were naturally idolised by the impressionable elements of society with many becoming international celebrities; it wasn’t long before low end cybernetics were being made for the consumer. Problem was, it wasn’t obvious you had them installed. Enter the cybernetic decal, a stylish way to show off the fact that you had sub-dermal armour plating even though you didn’t need it and couldn’t see it.
Of course, as with all fashion, it soon became important which upgrade you had and so the cycals evolved in design until those in the know could look at a girl’s cheek and immediately see what she was capable of.
Karl had a Gemini cycal, they were one of the largest manufacturers of bioware and as well as producing a ton of military grade augments produced a decent range of low end upgrades for the consumer. Whatever Karl had got installed was probably pretty shitty but a piece of Lewis was still jealous. Besides, all the Kananga-9 they both drank had so many stimulants in, there hearts would gonna collapse sooner or later so it was actually a pretty smart choice on the whole.
“Ah, so what,” huffed Lewis and he ran his hand over the ID scanner. A disembodied beep and the sound of a latch. The rusting steel door swung open to reveal a set of damp concrete, steps. It smelled of bleach; better than piss. He hauled his bulk up to the second floor and breathing hard, swiped his hand over another scanner. The catch clunked and the door swung inwards.
Lewis’s place was a functional tip that stank of hydrophobic single male. Finished concrete walls, the odd raunchy poster taped up. A low suspended ceiling, browning in places with with several squares cracked or missing. The floor was peeling, sticky carpet tiles and strewn with plastic wrappers, porn-zines, disposable chopsticks, underwear, takeaway containers and crusty tissues. There was a cracked window that was fogged over with pollution but Lewis was convinced that opening it reduced the air quality in the room. Through a flimsy, plastic door was a cramped, mouldy bathroom with a toilet and a recessed sink. To have a shower you sat on the toilet and held the flush for three seconds. No standing room. This moronic piece of design had, on many occasions, caused Lewis to end up sat on the can soaking wet with his pants round his ankles.
There was no kitchen. Cooking was a quaint notion that didn’t really happen in Cyberia. If you wanted to eat, you bought a pack of something or you went to a food joint. Nobody prepared meals. Even if you wanted to, the stores didn’t sell ingredients. You’d need to head to Arcadia Fields or Europa City for that kind of stuff. There was a thin plank of plastic and bodyfoam that folded out of the wall and was supposed to work as a bed but Lewis never used it. The supports had broken a while back and now it felt like it was going to break every time he sat on it, so it stayed folded away, the only evidence of its presence were a few dirty hand marks and some errant scraps of greying bedsheet.
But it didn’t matter, not to Lewis, because the main room was just large enough to house the Takata IS 4500. A large organic looking machine that almost reached the ceiling. It was dark pearlescent red and reminiscent of a bubble car with no wheels and a black windscreen. The IS 4500 was the best home immersion suite available and Takata had thought of everything. For starters, it came in a set of eighteen crates, each of which had been designed to fit through a standard apartment door and could be carried by a single adult male. This was crucial because 99% of users were single adult males living in tiny apartments. There were versions for females and families and kids and so on, but the IS 4500 was aimed at people like Lewis. It also came with a huge catalogue of software, an extremely capacious seat to handle all manner of users, an IV setup attachment and of course the all important biomonitor. This system was not cheap and Takata knew it. Lewis and those like him couldn’t possibly afford something like this so a hire system had been put into place. You rented the suite by the week and in three years time, the Takata guys turned up and swapped it out for the latest model. The older units were then sold to less hardcore users for a more reasonable price. If you were like Lewis though, you had to have the best and this was it.
He dumped his bag on the floor and did a circuit of the machine, stoking its erotic curves with a sweaty hand. His feet crunched on stray crisps as he moved around the 4500 and he wondered if he should clean up a bit. No, only six minutes left. After satisfying himself that everything was as it should be he took a quick piss and shovelled down another Conana.