Your Cyberpunk Stories
Wide Angle Lens- pt.1Wayne Clarke
I needed a shit, and some way of making the world look abnormal. I'll settle for the first one for now. The complex wasn't that big, say 9 stories. It took 15 minutes running through the carpark to find a way in. Zellers, an enormous labyrinth of unnecessary garbage, closing in on me. The lens seemed to kick in as soon as I passed thru the doorway. I tried to walk casually thru the kidsware section. Attempting to look like I wasn't going to steal anything, wasn't going to subtly misplace a terminal briefcase, that I was just another customer passing through. I failed miserably. "Can I help you sir?" asked a beefed up securi-cop, hand on the stun-gun. Lens makes you tragically observant, I read his body language; he really meant; /"Can I hurt you sir?"/ "I'm panicking here, I'm in a hurry and I need to find my way to the main plaza." "Oh ok you just take the escalator up then turn right, follow theÖ." Lost it. I can't concentrate under these conditions. He accompanied me to the escalator and up I went. Soon's I got up another cop was waiting. He ushered me politely but sternly through the toy department. A million vacant VR Barbie dolls glared at me through tiny pink rimmed optic overlays. Everywhere enormous monuments of brittle plastic. A mob of cynical parents and wide eyed kids stood around a demonstration display of the latest craze, more evil toys infinitely more annoying than the last. The Tae-Kwon-Do bears from Korea. One costs a grand, it talks in an irritatingly cute voice, and fights robotically. They market them with the "buy another, double the fun!" pitch. A cutesy poo arena features contains 7 of them. Each one is different, all kicking, punching and taunting each other in their sickly sweet voices. I get into a menacing spiralling thought process, millions at once, as many as the toys, and each one more unnerving. Fuck these damn side effects, paranoia, nausea, panic attacks. I'm sweating, trying to fight back my gaspingÖ "Evil little bastards ain't they?" "ÖYeahÖ" For a second I thought he meant the kids. "Yeah well, my son wants on eh? You know how much them things cost? Benn showin' the commercials for 'em a month before they were available. And it's still 4 months to Christmas." I feel his vibe, that of a no BS kinda guy. I relax a bit. "And as soon's you get one they'll keep tryin' to offload all the software upgrades, full 'o bugs of course. And by then lets face it by then they'll either be bust or gatherin' dust while the kids bust my balls to get 'em some other ridiculous piece 'a crap." "That's if you can get one." "Well yeah, I've put in an internal order, they let us do that, one of the perks 'a workin here /eh?"/ "Lucky you!" "Yeah well I can't believe kids would wanna buy that crap." "Not like the stuff we had in our day!" "No way man!" "Android Assassins!" "GI Joe!" "Yup, and we had to make our own machine gun noises!" "Yeaw! /No doubt!"/ "Well let's be honest," I ventured, "It's just corporate brainwashing really I meanÖ" "Hey don't get me wrong /buddy/, I'm privileged to be working here. I got a wife and 2 kids and I own my own place." "So you don't live in one of these consumerism pits." "They pay my wages-*Buddy*." "Hey look I didn't mean offence I simply meant thatÖ.î "There." "Is that the way out." "That's the way in, I'd gladly show you the way /OUT/." "Oh I see." "Not that difficult really." "Never here before." "HmmÖ.î "Look thank you Mr.?" "Lieutenant." "/Lieutenant?Ö"/ "*Lieutenant.î* "I see." Easy peezy-/ha!/ But it got worse. / Walls of frenzied shoppers./ / Struggling,/ / Pushing,/ / Stress,/ / Strain,/ / Pain./ **** Am I the only earthling alive who thinks that Christmas shopping at the middle of August is ridiculous? Seems so! Not that there's a shortage of witches, ghosts, pumpkins and the like. That's how it is in these places. People spending to live and living to spend. Inadvertently paying for the air they breath. Brainwashed into thinking that they need an entertainment console in the shower, that they can't survive without a voice-recognition cappachino maker. Or for that matter, that they simply must see Marilyn Monroe team up with the late martial arts star Jake Stroke (real name Julian Stokes) to defeat gen-eng'ed samurai zombies in the latest and greatest (i.e. since 5 days ago) Hollywood blockbuster /"Blonde Fury."/ I felt like asking one of the 500 strong legions of moviegoers the point of going to a movie without human actors, but I also needed a shit- /Badly./ The line-up for the 3-theatre premiere was blocked all the back to the food court. My feet were trampled on as I fought against the tide of human gridlock. Hacking through a jungle of frantic arms and plastic trays dripping luminous yellow nacho cheese. The food court stank. Along with the regular burger joints and greasemonger chains, was the pungent, putrid, heavily spiced air of the combined foods from over 70 countries under one badly ventilated roof. / Arby's, Harvy's Wendy's/ / McDonalds, KFC, A&W/ / "Five Star Freddy's Hot Dogs,î/ / "Little John's Fish'n'Chips,î/ / Chinese food, German sausages,/ / Deep pan pizza, taco stalls, sushi,/ / Eye-watering curry, parmesan cheese./ And there it was, the can/ -joy!/ I staggered sweatily, a red-eyed monster lurching through the throng. My stomach was on spin cycle, I winced, hoping I'd make it. The smell made me even queasier. Perspiration cascading down- my boxers felt moist, stuck to my ass. I passed a stall selling Nepalese food and I gagged. Holding my breath- retching. I've no idea where Nepal actually is, let alone that they made food. I've no intention of visiting there- nothing to eat bar yak testicles fried in bamboo sap or whatever. Who knew? It smelled vile. Fuck, I needed my ID barcode to take a shit. Horrah for the ludicrous national-security of the A.U.-/ no illegal immigrants, terrorists or commies can have a dump in our country!/ I have 3 separate cards depending on who wants to know. I gave 'em Paul Malone, a self-employed plumber, a nobody. I won't, but I'll enjoy this. **** Guinness doesn't travel. Japanese businessmen do. Together I discovered, it can get messy. Last night I was sat in a dingy hangout in a run down district. One of my regular haunts, "Lucky Charms" Irish bar. Well into my seventh beer, I looked up as this flamboyant yellow bastard strutted up beside me. Rich little fucker he was. Rolex, Roland Casey suit, silk tie, and a pair of Rayban "Top-guns.î Extremely expensive things aimed at those with ridiculous amounts of cash. I've seen the favs. Not so much a melting pot as racial graffiti sprayed across the outskirts. Subsisting on rats'n'rice, toxic water, prostitution and crack. Not a million miles away sits this despicable character with his H.U.D. <#_top> shades. He lights up a thin Cuban/ Coheeba/ and orders a Long Island Ice Tea, blissfully unaware of the contempt and tension he's attracting. As soon as I open my mouth he turns and slurs, arm sliding from under him; / "Aaahh!!!/ Yu sounda like a /real/ Ayeishmin. You muss drinka tha Ginnis?" It wasnít a question. Before I can answer he orders two pints, and says it's on him. It was just as well, my tab was starting to frighten me. He strikes up a conversation with me, and laborious as it was I felt I had to indulge my beverage benefactor. Forcing back yawns, I listened to his tale, he was planning to buy shares in the Ontario Power Company. He believed that its privatisation will make him rich. "As opposed to the peasant I see before me?" "Ah- ha ha ha! You funny- /ah?"/ "Paul, Paul Malone." "Ah, what business you in?" "I'm a plumber" -his face flinched slightly. "We don't get many stock market traders in this neck of the woods. In fact so few that I reckon you should loose the Rolex before you loose your hand with it. This isn't the most reputable spot in town. No offence Paddy." "Nun taykin Daniyi- eeh, /Paul/." The bars proprietor, Paddy Rashid, not exactly you're clichÈd pasty faced, red haired Mick, but the thick North Dublin accent is a dead giveaway; "Youse wanna nudder Ginnis?" The nip nodded, and I had many a pint for the arduous yarns and financial pedantry. I soon sunk into a soft drunken oblivion fuelled by boredom and the taxing task of trying to be polite. He didn't get killed either. BBCN <#_top> guides never tell you how to make friends in a rough bar. It's something you learn. And my Jap buddy had perfected the art of alcoholic philanthropy. Rounds were bought, toasts were made, and assets were liquidated. Livers were polluted and my guts were garrotted. Just like any other night for me, it seemedÖ **** Pine disinfectant vapour raped my nostrils as I sat on the shitter. I braced myself and bit the bullet. Nothing, followed by epic, dynamite flatulence, amplified by the reverberant shape of the bowl, echoing across the tiles, * BOOM!* Nothing else, squeezing, sweating, pain. One more time, heaving. / FLUUNK! /Ohh! / FE-DUNK! /Ahh! / TUM-te-tum-PLUSSH! / Awwww!!! Sitting there, breathless in post orgasmic bliss. Slumping back against the wall; / Oh I really needed that! / Soon as I stood up the toilet flushed automatically. I went to walk out but was verbally accosted, / Bastards!/ I often wondered did they actually watch you taking a dump. I pondered this as I walked out and begun the trek to the nearest wing- And open spaces. **** The intensity escalated. I felt lighter and ecstatic, but I also felt chilly and shakey. Time for a remedy. I bought a cheap naggin of Scotch. As I exited I smelt the distinctive, heavy metallic tang I'd grown to despise. It was going to snow again. What a fuckin' surprise! Over a metre of the shit last week. Global warming my ass. Back home we never got snow, it wussed out before it hit the ground; can't say I blame it. I hiked back through the carpark to the bus-shelter. Nobody there, I gulped down the entire contents of the whiskey. I hardly tasted it but relished the warm soothing sensation it gave me, armour against the icy cold, dry air. Fuck this town, too big, too fast, headwrecking. Cold, damp grey, snobby, lonely and hostile. A glacial dungeon of skyscrapers and smog. My ears forever drowning in Oriental clucking, Caribbean gibber-jabber, and French written on everything. Like it needs to be/. Damn foreigners!/ Except of course, truth be told Iím the foreigner. And I'm the odd one out, not them. I contemplated this, watching passing motorists, shuffling sense like a deck of cards, planning my alien's agenda. Re-aligning my itinerary, wishing I had a decent ëtop-sideí TSP so that I could find out the bus timetable. Stopping off to halt my gastric agony cost me serious time. Fuck it. I would never have survived without it. The lens continued its onslaught on my sanity. It was merciless, despite the whiskey barrier my sensory diligence was unfazed. I could almost see the chlorophyll in each blade of grass, calculate the wind's effect of the trajectory of a passing crow and read the faces of every passing motorist. The derisive expressions upon each face spoke to me in great volumes; a telepathic trip again. They're the scariest. **** I got on the 704B shuttle to Pearson International. Ignored the stares as I alighted. I knew I smelt of sweat and scotch. Hadn't shaved or washed. I looked like a tramp, a degenerate, or worse. And the people thought so too. I wish, perhaps, that people were better at hiding their own contempt for /the likes of me/. Or, that they might ever want to. At the back were gaudily dressed tourists sitting amidst their boundaries of shabby veteran suitcases. There was a closely-knit pocket opposite me, a geriatric jamboree, all wearing the blank expressions of soon-to-be-culled cattle and matching Daz-white jumpers adorned with embroidered maple-leaves. / Fuckiní Brits/, I guessed, and I wanted to be nowhere near them. I didnít need to wait to hear their clueless utterances, I just knew. Because no other nationality would ever stand with such pride yet dress with such a lack of style. Even Americans know how to be inconspicuous if need be. But then thatís rare isnít it. At the front were student types with /Gangsta-Gear/ sports-luggage. And one spare seat. Beside an anorexic Asian girl dressed in a business suit and hair exactly like sit-com star Jasmine Cliff. She sat almost stuck to the window. I couldn't see her expression but I could read her aura. Fear. She secreted it as much as I perspired. And boy did I perspire, it ricocheted off her anxiety and caused some bespoke pheremonal reaction. Chemical and metaphysical demons wrestling as I continued to sweat and slip further into reality-induced trauma. Her eyes also spoke to me, only this time it was simply one descriptive word. Now the Brits began to speak, and it turned my blood cold. Their voice drilled into my soul, their casual commentary on all they saw from the window made me want to hack them into limey puree. Sure call me prejudiced, I donít give a fuck. You never had to work for them. You never had to live with them. And you never went out with one either. Which is why their voices lance me so, and which was the C.S.ís came back again. Cold Sweats. The bane of any Lenz-hedís pathetically over-informed existence. **** It took only 40 minutes to get to the airport. Although it felt like an eternity for me. More security beef and another shuttle bus to the desired terminal. As I arrived at Terminal H, I begun to daydream. Hypnotised by the swirling snow outside, and inside, thru the glass, watched minions of the multitude of greedy Asian multinationals. Swarms of Japs, Honks, and Koreans; herd instincts like sheep, killer instincts like wolves. Outside was a small separate building, on the exterior it looked rather dreary. But this was the spot. I knocked on the door and a scrawny gimpish prick answered; "/Yeee-yasss?"/ It reminded me of the chicken chick with the glasses that Foghorn Leghorn was always tryiní to get his leg over on. His face wasnít too far off either. I gave him an alias of mine and he looked me up and down incredulously. "/You're/ Mr. Burke?" "Yes Brendan Burke, I replied, I'm a /journalist/." I growled as I handed him the relevant ID. He paused and then ushered me in all flustered and apologetic. "So sorry Mr. Burke, my name is William, welcome to the /Pentium Club/Ö. May I take your coat sir?" "Just fuck off please. Your presence enrages me." "Certainly Mr. Burke sir, sorry about that little mishap, enjoy your evening." "Like you give a shit,î I snarled as he puttered off back to the doorway. Then I heard an intrusive bark. "*Yo!* Over here!" Sinclair looked almost the same as when I saw him last, five years ago. Now his hair had grown as silver as his tongue, but his appearance was still as flamboyant as ever. Black pinstriped suit, yellow silk Carrera shirt, two chain-smoked empty packs of Camels and the ubiquitous mood shades. They hid his greedy eyes (half Jewish half Scottish- what a combo huh?), behind emerald and flecks of neon blue. He sat back, surrounded by his new apostles, silent, cross-legged with a ghostly smirk on his plastic, prettyboy face. "Ah at last, /Danny Boy/!" Daniel Oí Mara is my real name. I wanted to keep my first name. A bad name to have being an Irishman in the AU. Sinclair scanned my dismal attire with an invisible shake of his head; "Ale?" "Yeah, sure." Sinclair slithered up to the bar and ordered a jug of Honest Abe's Ale. I sat down, crushed by the venomous scrutiny of the group. I felt uneasy. Threatened. PowerlessÖ Sinclair returned bearing beer, wearing his golden, gameshow host smile; brandishing a Motorola card communicator. He waved it subtly around the room. "I take it that phone stunt was a bug detector?" hissed a Hispanic greaser to my left. "One of Josh's toys. Bugs, cameras, even nannos." "What about your retina cam?" The party turned to me gaping, Sinclair smirked again, "All except to the reconfigured frequency of my retina camÖ ÖWhich I haven't operated in four years." I attracted the wild stare of a gigantic steroid cowboy. "You frim Newfin-layand?" "Irish." "Oh! Lemmie geyass, explo-zives rye-it?" Sinclair shook his head, "This is Daniel Bannon folks, ex-EuroTel. A systems whizz. Comnets and that." / Comnets and that,/ Sinclair wasnít just technically inept. He was violently technophobic, which was odd, considering the circles he ran in, the people he worked for, and his, well, /general makeup/. A lean athletic black woman eyed me suspiciously, "Yo mean 'ez a hacka ryde?" / Hacker? What fucking timewarp.../ / ...or perhaps she picked this word deliberatly, as a means of describing my 'retro' appearance /. "More or less,î I reply. "E don luke like much've a hacka to me,î the cowboy snarled, "E looks maw lyke a / wiy-no/." "Believe me, he's the best." Sinclair stated, "Too good in fact. Which is why he's here." A nice way of summing up my self-inflicted exile. **** I was the golden boy at EuroTel, a mighty merger of multiple privatised telecom companies, into one semi-private, Parliamentary-controlled netmonster. Six years ago, when it was still being incubated I helped install the mainframe operating system on a colossal Grieber rig. My mentor was their no.1 tech-man, the illustrious Austrian Dr. Klaus Henkel. Henkel had taken a week off at his lodge to get some skiing in. It turned out to be a permanent holiday. I was left a week before the system was to officially go on line with reams of bug-ridden, skitz code. I managed to crack through walls of STANdard to find an "anomaly.î For a week I battled through it to find a chilling truth. Henkel was bought and paid for- Russian mob. Paid handsomely it turned out. Heíd fixed it so that buried deep in the software were certain concessions for them. Firstly, they could piggyback EuroTel satellites, untraceable and free of charge. A technological miracle at the time. Secondly, all messages passing through servers go thru rigorous intelligence screening. Any unlawful correspondence was then transmitted to the European authorities and action taken. This was during the early days of the Parliament. /And they didnít like to take any chances./ However the server machines were all connected to the mainframe, which subtly filtered out any mention of the Russians. Plus any useful data could be relayed to them via the sats. I kept this secret for a while, unsure of what exactly was going on, until a Swiss man turned up to question me. He was investigating Henkel's apparent accident, and he helped put the puzzle together. I was arrested but co-operated with the authorities who found out nothing from me that they didnít already know. (They being Europol) Shortly after my release, I was killed in a failed carbomb attempt. There was only one witness. As I staggered out of the car and hopped to safety I was scooped up by a man in a Red-Cross uniform, and carted off in an ambulance. He wasn't Red Cross however, he was CIA, and his name was Jacob Sinclair. **** Of course that was only the start of my troubles. CIA wanted to know everything, and I mean /everything /about my involvement with Henkel. And like a fool I told. I had no choice, I was over a barrel. Grilled over and over again, examined, cross-examined. Sodium pentathol, polygraphs, hypnotism, intimidation, rigorous verbal whipping, even more vigorous beatings, frequent ones. And on the sidelines, stood Sinclair, playing the concerned father figure. And it so I was adopted, not by Sinclair, but by his boss, whom I found out wasnít the CIA, or indeed any other appendage of the President General. Far from it. His boss hated McCoy, his boss was Arthur Coine. The little bug-eyed kid, who invented STANdard, standardised it, and became the undisputed Kingpin of all things software related, albeit at the age of 17. My skills interested him, and in time he utilised them. Back then I thought he was legit, but time changes people. And in that week I changed completely. New face, prints, retinas, new identity. I was now Daniel Bannon, 2^nd generation Boston/Irish. Or I was Paul Malone, a plumber from the Big Apple, or sometimes, I was Brendan Burke, the RTIE <#_top> journalist who looked just like a shanty-townster. Sinclair it turned out had more connections than a super-budget flight to Australia. Government, agency and federal brass, high level industrialists, Arabs, Chinese and Koreans, Mafia, Yakusa, Triad and Kaybees. He wasn't about to send me off to a farmhouse in Montana, no, no- he had /plans/ for me. So he gave me extra ID's and credit accounts, and a lot a lotta grief. The AU can be described as a continental dragnet, from Alaska to Panama. Surveillance sats in space, (LAPD has four) enormous robotic, helium, City-Sentinel balloons and choppers in the sky, Coast Guard and Navy at sea, cameras, bugs and hoards of intelligence and counter-intelligence forces on the ground. Every inch of the land was under the microscope, mostly electronic, and therefore could be jammed. Perception is reality. Iíve always known that perceptions can be altered, and I learned that Sinclair was an expert at pulling the fibre-optic wool over the nations eyes. I caught on quick. At first I was bitter and resentful, almost suicidal, but robbed of my life in my prime, I decided to make myself a better one. And one big score is all I'd need. A casefull of hard currency, another face job, and a life of wealthy anonymity in the sticks of economically-decrepit Australia. **** But no one was to know. And I perceived my biggest threat to be the cowboy. I couldn't let this beefcake rustle me. So I shrugged off his bullying and gave him a coy smile; " I am the best hacker on God's green Earth. The wino thing's a just sideline. I can break into systems like a catburglar, make an incision like a brain surgeon yet do more damage than the Texas chainsaw massacre." (I wasnít referring to the movie.) "Hey! I'm from Texas, bow-ay!" "Everythingís bigger in Texas huh?" "/Day-am ryde mayan!"/ "Cows, cars and mouths, but when it comes to balls and brains I'm afraid us Paddies have it sewn up." He started bellowing obscenities at me but was silenced by Sinclair who sighed and started, "Moving along, this is David Chow from Vancouver.î And that was all I was ever going to know. Chow was a weedy framed Chinaman with oversized eyesockets. I shook his hand, he returned the gesture with a limp finger-fondle and I continued shaking hands along the table. Next the tough, leather clad, black chick, "Robyn from LA, ex-KaybeeÖî Her touch made me tingle. ìÖMiguel, from PeruÖ" Quiet, dark shades, baggy suit, conservative looking despite the hackneyed oily hair. Almost as hackneyed as the name, which I figured were all fake anyway, including, of course, mine. "ÖYou all know my cousin Josh, and," Sinclair giggled to himself, "This Texan-titan, is Mother." "Pleased taw meet yaw." He sneered, crushing my hand in his. "Why they call you Mother then?" I asked, ignoring the pain. "Way-al, yaw know Motha Tereza?" "Yeah?" / "I ain't nutin' lyke 'er!"/ I had despised Mother the moment I clapped eyes on him. He was a threat. Sinclair was Sinclair, and the rest I filed under unsettling. The bad vibes I had been getting was accentuated by the lens. It was getting stronger, feeding on my fears and combined with the extreme heat of the bar was making me sweat buckets. And then there was the snub. Burning cold steel beneath my shoulder. I always feel nervous carrying it. I can never control my traitorous body. I seem to radiate guiltiness. Just as I did at the mall-city. As the drink went down the volume went up. The others talked and I stayed shut. Sinclair too, was disengaged. This was a social occasion, criminal bonding. He allowed the others let fly and judged their reactions. Except me, but he knew how I worked, I wasn't a team player. He didn't trust my character, but he trusted my methods and judgements. He knew I was only wired to world by LNS, and not by human contact. I was a lonely angry soul who conversed with machines. They were logical, they were impartial, and they were the only things in life I could control. Sinclair was like me in two ways, he was a talented observer and although he commanded order and cerebral symmetry he was scintillated by chaos, enamoured by the complex neurosis of the less disciplined mind. A mind like mine, a whirlpool of emotions and paranoia. The night was lubricated with liquor and other amenities. Mother was drinking Bud and bourbon chasers, accentuating twenty decibels with each round. He bought us all a few rounds of tequila. Josh, Miguel and the Chinaman were trotting back and forth to the gents, returning sniffling and hacking with planetoid pupils, immersing the bar in an abrasive deluge of inane banter. Their triumphant golf moments, their nefarious deeds and whimsical accomplishments. I was drowning in noise, laughter, and colour. Everything was moving too fast, a nauseating light-speed quantum-carousel that I clutched to for dear life. I'd lost the plot hours ago, and I felt alienated. Snapshots of faces, beer, smoke, Sinclair, strangers, people talking into my face, too close for comfort, spiralling in social paralysis. In the throes of a violent free-fall. Shit, this is /WAY/ too strong. I'm an East Coast fella, it's all good. I got this lens on a recent trip to LA. High power, High octane, one drop was more than any man could handle. I'd had my fair share of free-falls but only once had I felt this intensity. It was during a three-day stint in my room, cracking a Dallas posse's code, barricaded in the dark with my trustee, crusty IBM. I'd mixed up a righteous dose, mixed with amphetamine, and just shot it in my arm. After going for 36 hours straight I went outside for air. It was raining, but in slo-mo. I could distinguish each solitary droplet as it hit the ground. I thought for a second I was dead, and I freaked out, crawling on my belly to the safety of indoors. I screamed, and all I heard was silence, until some time after, I heard a baritone blip, my voice echoed back thru me. And I collapsed, foaming slowly. Free-falling is Einsteinís theory of relativity- relative to the brain. Your thoughts are moving so fast that the outside world is slowing down. An avalanche of perception. A relentless army of outside stimuli battering down the walls of sanity, overloading the brain. In the early days the airforce often prescribed the wrong dosage. An overdose of LNS <#_top> can cause dehydration, hyperventilation, heart and blood-pressure problems, memory loss, depression, aneurysms, brain damage and often death. And I was close to it, I could feel it. Strapped into a cognitive roller-coaster. Rising, twisting, swooping, looping plummeting. Blurring the edges of truth. Past, present and future seemed to meld together for an instant eternity, then broke like waves on the shores reason, ebbing out to the infinite ocean of timeÖ. / Time./ / Uncertainty./ / Seconds./ / Minutes./ / Hours;/ / Without moving,/ / Without blinking./ / And a warm shock, to revive me,/ / Itching, burning cold./ Without knowing, in the endless gulf that is a breath between two words, I had sunk into forgotten oblivious nightmares, and unwittingly cracked a tiny shotglass in my left hand. The damage was negligible. I picked a little shred of thick glass out of my palm feeling only the slightest of stings. The others were enraptured in a fermented testosterone booze brawl. The tear was long and wide but shallow, resulting in only a tiny trickle filling the grooves of the cut. I sucked my palm, licking warm, tangy blood and spitting dusted glass on the floor behind me. The object off my "wuss"-dome was still in front of me. An untouched tequila shot from Mother that I poured on my hand. It felt freezing. Then I placed Kleenex in it and clenched a fist around it. I lit a smoke and refilled my glass with a pitcher of Abe's that Sinclair bought. I felt the pain a little now. Nagging and throbbing, lucky me, I had something to concentrate on. Knowing that with the lens it'd escalate into unendurable agony quite quicklyÖ "Aw-ride! You can mooove?!" It was Robyn, "Weyl-cim back! De ye talk too?" I couldn't. "Done che worry. I can read faces. Kann yu?" She subtly lifted her top-left eyelid with her index finger and smiled at me. I stared back blankly. "Tawt so, steroids fu de miynde! Dun ye know tha shit'll shrink ye baws?" "It's my ears I wanna shrink." And I nodded in the direction of the others. She smiled, "I dun free-falled first'n' lahs tyme I dun tha' shee. Got an antedote doh, checkitÖ" I was handed a brown and white capsule. "Scoop it back widda soma tha' muddy beer a yaws." I followed her instructions, if hesitantly. "Ögen-enged shroom powder, 'sgonna knock yu dome up a bit." "That's if Mother don't do so first." "Fuhk tha' Hillbilly muddafucka, I whoop 'iz ass good 'fe tryz te." "Thank you, I hope." **** For a while I talked to Robyn, she seemed like a tough cookie, but a breed apart from the others. She was street level, and like me, came up the hard way. I got the impression that she didn't like Sinclair any more than I did, and that she was coerced or blackmailed as I was. "Saw what'ye thin' this's aw 'bout then Danny?" "It's big, I know that." "Weyal, lemmie tell ye, see that Chinamin? 'Ez Triad, and that guy Miguel? Peruvian. They've a secret alliance." "Where did you find this out?" "You pick stuff up." I smiled, "And you know whadit's all about?" "No." "Sats, the Koreans are giving them their own satellites." Robyn looked speechless, I whispered, "You pick stuff up." "Sinclair tell you this?" "No, I know it, I'm a hacker remember? Sinclair doesn't give information easily. He knows no other way. He'll brief us tomorrow, and tell us the minimum knowledge required, the rest he'll embellish with unnecessary background trivia. Historical and geographical, but never names." "I see." From there it went to small talk. We were both wise enough not to compromise our respective pasts. Anecdotes, stories of childhood, lost loves, firearms and music. It calmed me down. And the lens was giving me a different vibe now. She was no longer a threat, and was enjoying my company. The drink flowed, the scene got hectic. Miguel and Josh were philosophising aimlessly between drinks and lines of coke. Sinclair was securing more alcohol and perusing women. Mother and the Chinaman were hammered. The Chinaman was loud and legless, talking to the garrulous Mother whose Texan drawl resounded throughout the bar. **** The pill was starting to take effect. It didn't cut the lens, only warp the effects. The more I drank however the easier it got. I decided to ëwe got off on the wrong footí Mother and asked him to join me and down some Jameson. He agreed and we propped up the bar for a bit. We drank shot after shot, he could hold his drink better than me but he couldn't hold his tongue. Within fifteen minutes I knew all about him, that he was a Marine, martial arts pedigree, dishonourable discharge for manslaughter in the arena, and the exact company he was with. And the trip started to slowly crawl up through meÖ After half an hour the lens seemed to subside and the capsule took over. The bar had filled up dramatically now. Scores of Oriental businessmen had arrived for a taste of the latest Japanese fad to hit our shores, Hologram Karaoke. Any artist or band you want to perform with can be digitised before your eyes and ears. The software is highly intelligent, and is hooked to a global network so that any performance can be computed and synthesised. Mother's face was flushed, looking like a lobster that could benchpress a Buick. He got louder, but also became amiable, loving this Irish whiskey of mine. Soon's the Holyoke was activated he was quick to comment; "That dere's American Tik-nollogee, 'course dem Jaypin-eeze had to copy it'n turn inta buhsheit!" The following yarn he spun amused me thoroughly: Ten years ago the AU military had apparently developed such a system, holographic simulation training. Mother literally got his kicks using it for unarmed combat training with a sensor-suit. A light, skin-tight, nerve-stimulating garment similar to those used by acupuncturists. Each area was mapped out, linked optically to the brain, a proto-AI engine. The high-resolution holographic image emitted on a similar frequency; as the image got closer to the suit, the more phasing occurred. A full 180-degree cancellation triggered the suit to excite the nerves. The speed, power and exact position of each attack could be calculated with finite precision, making for a painfully realistic fight. Basically when Mother's virtual opponent hit or kicked him hard in whatever area- he felt it! He begun to gloat about the hypothetical asses he kicked; Jake Stroke, Mohammed Ali, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and countless other people I'd never heard of. He also took on numerous computer game characters and cinematic villains from his youth, recommending its therapeutic potential. And the sanguinary rapture of attacking a six foot version of Pinky Panda, the satanic star of the cutesy-poo-overkill Japanese kids show, hearing its helium screams as you slowly split its cranium apart with a rusty virtual chainsaw. **** My mind reeled. It was all so bizarre; the drink, the dementia, the sounds and visions. At this point it was on a jukebox default setting. In one corner of the room, B.B. King was picking "Smoke on the water" on Lucille in the Grand Ole Oprey, followed by Frank Sinatra and elec-rock band Snide in the Apollo singing some country song. Elvis singing punk. Metallicaís renditions of Gilbert and Sullivan. It sounded both incredible yet plausible. Twentieth Century pop was in vogue now. The Beatles, heavy metal, disco, punk, everything. All jumbled up together. And, odd as it may sound, it sounded right. Each voice was spot on, each musicianís interpretation was utterly credible, each component that made the artists unique was intact, plus the sound reflections of whatever venue were calculated and simulated with finite precision. Or perhaps it was the drugs. I can't say that they weren't a liberating factor. Robynís pill tipped the seesaw. Or maybe more like it catapulted me into comical convulsions. I laughed at the Jap and Korean businessmenís laudable attempts at ësingingí. They can bust blocks of wood with their head but those bastards can't hold a tune to save their life! It all felt like some crazy cartoon, a psychedelic satire. Intergalactic lounge-lizards coloured in the eerie hues of a neon aquarium. Mother's phantom ten-gallon hat, Sinclair's Martini holding, James Bond antics and the coked up trio prancing around, grinning and tittering. Chow insisting over and over again that they all sing "Sex machine.î Everyone's eyes were glowing a sickly minty green. The room was shrouded in an internal fog. A glimmering mist was draped over the counters and hugging the walls. And in time, so was I.