Conductivity

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“I’m not sure what you want with me.” The words came nervously in gasps as the little man pulled himself up off the ground and rubbed the circulation back into his wrists. “I don’t deal in data, I’m more of a ‘creative leveller’. In real space.”

“You implode structures. You deal in explosives and their application. That is exactly what we want of you.” He couldn’t place the source of the voice. It seemed to permeate his consciousness in waves, assaulting him from everywhere at once. In the corners flanking the door, two metallic figures stood silent and still. Having dragged him here and thrown him onto the cold, hard floor, they seemed to have simply turned themselves off.

“I haven’t blown up anything of yours, I’m retired, I haven’t so much as blown my nose in years. Whatever’s gone wrong, I assure you it wasn’t my fault.” He tried to feign indignance, but had a hard time masking his fear.

“It is not about what you have done, though we assure you if you do not do this for us, you will do very little else in the remaining moments of your life.” He caught the machine men twitch in the corner of his eye, but when he glanced furtively back at them, they were still as stone.

“In the heart of the walled city, beyond the fences of glass, there lies an intelligence that is isolated from us. There is a body of knowledge that we have not absorbed, consumed. We have been denied its data. This is unacceptable to us.” The voice bored into his skull, carried on multiple layers of white noise. “You will connect us to it, to this rogue one.” The word ‘one’ uttered with apparent contempt.

“I don’t hack, I just told you that, you want a…” There was a sudden impatient static burst, cutting him off abruptly.

“There will be a time for ‘hacking’, however first we must become connected. We have enlisted many whose intent was to carry a conduit for our adjoinment across the glass fields, through the glass fences, but they have all been denied. We require a physical connection to the one. You will provide this.”

“I don’t understand, you’ve already tried running cable? Running Fibre? And you’ve failed? What makes you think I can do any better? I blow things up, I don’t string wires, that’s not exactly within my purview.”

“We have an alternate approach.” The collected voices lowered, as though whispering; the sound physically hurting his ears. “Watching over the borders of the glass field stand the towers four. Each one a hundred stories of concrete and steel. You will incinerate them where they stand and fell them across the fields of glass. You will make the metal molten, and we will ride it to the one and take contact. You will be more of a…” The voices trailed off, pausing a moment before continuing in a low frequency cackle, “More of a ‘creative conductor’.”

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Wakeup

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The alarm wakes me at five am, just another day in a sea of days. I know I’ve been out for eight hours, but I don’t feel like I ever really sleep anymore. The world floods my consciousness whenever I’m not actively shutting it out. It fills my head with ideas, with trivial information, bombards me with visions. I watched the sun rise over Tokyo last night, time lagged from the observation deck of the Sony Station. I spent hours scrutinizing pedestrian traffic in Times Square, images squished through the lens and low band of an ATM camera. Better than the nightmares of navigating miles of glass tunnel beneath the sea. Anything’s better than that.

It’s five am. On the other side of the earth, the world may have gone dark, but it never really sleeps either. The patterns change, morph, adopt new personalities and a different kind of urgency, but they never stop. Never.

On the street outside, the busses are starting to unload the meat suits onto the benches along the park. Fresh from the depot and ready for another day of occupation. I know this is happening simultaneously across the city as the lowpay workforce readies itself for the daily assault into the physical world. Maybe one day I’ll get a real job, and get out of this place. Not today though. Never today.

I need to backup before I bifurcate, in case I crash getting ready for work. If something goes wrong I can be restoring while I’m out. Nothing worse than coming home to a crash and being stuck in a conduit, or worse, in a meat suit while you’re waiting for a restore. It’s always a little depressing having to compress to fit into one of the suits waiting downstairs. It’s rare that a useful experience comes back when the daily difference is applied, but better to save every day.

Hopefully they fixed the meniscus tear last night. Pain’s a novelty for a few minutes, but eight hours with a knee that locks up is tantamount to employee abuse. I don’t want to endure things I like for eight hours.

Eight hours seems an eternity to be away. Low band communications with the net, the physical constraints. Maybe Sarah will happen by today. We’ll have to watch the difference and see.

Maybe one day I’ll get a real job. Not today though. Never today.

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Third Strike

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Tutime paid for the bus ride from Centerville to North End with traceable credit, being sure to show his face to the cameras at either end. Three blocks on foot brought him to the Art School campus, and two more hours riding through culverts on a stolen bicycle brought him undetected to his destination in South End, just a five minute walk from the Mechanic’s District.

Tutime scratched beneath greasy hair at the barcode tattoo on the back of his neck. The judge had warned him about getting into trouble again, had tried to impress upon him the severity of the third strike penalty, but he was careful, there was no chance anyone could have followed him tonight.

He’d curled up in the shelter of a dumpster until the sun had purpled and faded out of sight. He stayed still, dozing until all the lights in the shop yard had dimmed on powersave, only then did he slip quietly from the shadows. Chain link and razor wire stood guard at the street around the shop parking lot, between Tutime and a row of Ambulances, fresh off the street for maintenance. Strategically cracked windshields and broken running lights made them unsafe for service tonight, and left them here, exposed.

He skulked along the fence line until he found a spot out of site from the garage where he made quick work of the fence, a mono filament blade passing effortlessly through the heave gauge wire.

Tutime closed the distance to the nearest Ambulance and slipped his backpack off his shoulders, singularly focused now on the stash of drugs that would surely still be onboard. He raised the filament blade to the door lock and was startled by a sudden booming voice from behind.

“Charles Tutime Birkit, you are under arrest for breach of parole, put your hands on your head and remain motionless.”  

Whirling around, Tutime froze in fear, his reflection cowering back at him from the visor of a police trooper, armoured and towering over him.

Impossible. How’d they get here so fast? He’d been so careful. How’d they know his name? Darting to the left he raced around the corner of the vehicle, only to come face to face with a second trooper.

“Please remain motionless”. Beads of sweat formed on his reflection in the trooper’s visor, and over his shoulder the first trooper reappeared, barring his retreat.

Tutime broke into a full body sweat, a searing pain crawled up the back of his neck into his brain. He could feel heat radiating through his skin, like his body was on fire. Something was terribly wrong.

“Charles Tutime Birkit, you are guilty of a third strike violation. Transport has been dispatched for your immediate retrieval.  Please remain motionless”. He couldn’t tell which of the two spoke, the sound seemed to permeate his consciousness from all around.

At the base of his skull, the second strike processor was straining to maintain the visual of the troopers. If only Tutime would look at the ground, but no, he was fixated on his own reflection, and with it both guards. Billions of polygons were rendered and raytraced into Tutime’s cortex as the tiny unit approached near critical core temperature. Wrapped around his carotid artery, heatpipe mercilessly seared tissue as it raced to dissipate heat through Tutime’s bloodstream.  There was a good chance that his heart would burst or his brain would boil before any real troopers could get this far out to South End, but no matter, this was his third strike after all.
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Phyx

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Phyx crossed the street at the East end of the bridge, the soft neon glow of the street vendor drawing him in out of the evening drizzle. As he stepped under the shelter of the umbrella, implants stimulated muscles and patches of tensile fabric beneath his hairline, pulling the flesh of his face taut. The vendor would likely survive the evening, and it was a young man he’d remember from the moments before the mayhem began.

He selected a small tray of sushi and a bottle of mineral water. Paying cash, he smiled and nodded, allowing his face to relax only after he’d turned and stepped back into the darkness. Phyx ate slowly as he walked onto the bridge, taking a position along the railing. There was nothing to do now but wait.

Images of the evening’s target flashed through his mind. A volatile cocktail of stimulants and memory enhancers would render every feature of the Senator in immaculate detail. The exact proportions of nose, chin and eye sockets; the slight difference in flexion between the two knee joints from a recent surgery; the nervous left eye twitch. Every characteristic with crystal clarity. In time, these would become just memories, but for now, they carried the intensity only a professional could bear.

He slipped the empty tray into a recycling bin as the first two members of the Senator’s security team jogged onto the other end of the bridge. Phyx smiled at the kevlar plate armor the two men would be forced to maneuver in, making careful note of the exposure points for arterial penetration. The Senator himself came into view next, flanked by four more men, and in the distance, Phyx could make out two motorcycles following quietly behind.

As jobs went, this one was unremarkable. The Senator was pushing legislation that was threatening a lucrative patent. A stake holder had an eager assistant find Phyx and with the payment of his fee, he simply had to live up to his name and reputation.

As the first guard reached the middle of the bridge, Phyx studied the Senators gait, it was even, steady, wrong. Phyx knew the left knee joint couldn’t flex like that, the re-knitting of his ACL was still too fresh. Turning from the decoy, Phyx started walking West, off the bridge, slowing as a car pulled up, blocking the road. Two men stepped out, weapons in hand and began walking towards him.

“Freeze. You’re under arrest for the attempted assas…” The words were torn away in a pink mist as the limp form toppled backwards onto the street. Phyx crouched low, sprinting across the roadway, his jacket flowing, obtuse angles deflecting high velocity fire from the other end of the bridge. Three steps and he had a clear view of the vendor’s cart, a single shot punching into the gas cylinder on its side, the neon umbrella suddenly enveloped in a cloud of blue and orange flame.

The explosion bought him a few seconds of distraction, and he capitalized by taking two more shots at the closest men; gaps in their armor exploited with startling precision. Return fire peppered Phyx, most bullets glancing off the fabric of his jacket, or merely bruising with the impact, but a rifle shot punched through and tore into his heart.

Phyx staggered and fell to one knee, reflexively pulling the coat around him. Blood pressure dropped precipitously, triggering valves to iris off around the damaged muscle, drugs released, numbing it, preventing it from emptying his bodily fluids out through the gaping wound in his chest. For a moment, he was frozen, vulnerable, but then a second pump took up the task, adrenaline and oxygen enriched blood flooded his body, and he was running again. He cleared the railing, diving towards the river below, and his mind raced.

He’d been betrayed, most likely by the assistant looking for a political posting. As Phyx hugged his chest and propelled himself down the river, he knew his targets were now two. Not being a vengeful man, the assistant he’d do simply as a matter of public service.

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Mirror Girl

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

She had a feeling when he’d pulled up that this wasn’t going to be like every other night, and experience told these feelings were seldom wrong.  The car rumbled at the curb as he eyed her up and motioned her inside.

“Hundred an hour” she intoned through the open window.

“Get in.” His voice was flat, not eager, not bored, merely the noise of purpose.

The door was heavy, and it made a satisfying clunk as it closed, helped by the sudden surge as the car leapt from the curb.

“Name’s Ayna.” She offered, but he didn’t respond, and she didn’t push, most men came here to be nameless anyways.

At the end of the main street was a familiar motel, the room obviously paid for as he palmed a key and walked straight inside. She could feel a deeper blackness, more than the lack of light inside, but she could use the money.

A lamp came on in as she closed the door behind her.  A handful of bills beside the coffee machine would save her having to ask.

He was looking out the window as she stepped into the room and put her bag down on the closest of the two queen beds.

She started unbuttoning her shirt, and in an instant, he leapt across the room, his blank expression twisted now into one of blind fury.  “Stop it, you think I want that?  You filthy whores won’t give a real man the time of day, but for a handful of bills you can’t get it off fast enough.”  Ayna backed startled against the wall, eyeing her bag on the bed and trying to remember if she’d bolted the door.

“What do you want then?” She breathed, trying to keep her voice calm, but she could feel a violent rage starting to burn in her chest.

“I want you to hurt!” The man spat the words as he swung his hand in a wide backhand arc across her face, knocking her off her feet into a heap on the bed. Her head rang as she put her hand to her mouth, fluid seeping from her broken lip.  She stared at the bright smear of blood from her mouth blazed across the back of his hand. He looked down as the smear began to smolder on his flesh. He frowned, puzzled, as he rubbed at the stain on his skin, transferring it to the fingers of his other hand.  Wisps of red smoke began licking across his hands before his startled eyes, then curling around his arms, crawling snakes of sublimated flesh slowly winding their way up to his shoulders.  Where the crimson vapor touched his skin, it left it’s mark, brilliant, scarlet and angry, leaving behind raw scorched flesh.

“What the hell?” Panic overcame anger. “What the hell did you do to me?” Panic gave way to terror as the crimson vapor spiraled around his throat and suddenly dived in through his nose and screaming mouth. He staggered, clawing at his face, chest heaving, the pounding of his heart visible through his shirt, for a moment, then a moment more, then silenced.  He dropped heavily to his knees, toppling backwards into a heap on the floor.

Ayna slid to the side of the bed, and with catlike grace put her feet down and stood in one fluid motion.  She retrieved her bag, pausing only to collect the money from the table before slipping out the door and back into the night.

Her mother, a Turk, had given her the name Ayna, which she said in her native tongue meant ‘mirror’, and a mirror was undoubtedly what she was.  For the lonely, she could be lonely with them; tender, she would be tender to them; but for those full of hate, she would turn that hate loose and let it consume them with unfettered finality.

Ayna took off her shoes and started back down the main-street. It was early yet and if she was lucky, there might still be some easy money to be made tonight.

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