Unnetworked

Wednesday 12 September 2074 : 18:00 : Industrial Terminal : Uneasy

Dean was being followed. He pushed his way through the crowd. A large snake of people stretched away from him, as he watched the local account list update quickly on his HUD. Users dripped in and out of view like the rain disappearing into storm drains.

Each block of the city extends upward. The street level forms the pillars of the First Tier. The horizon is hidden by walls of glass and steel. And the sky is blocked by the framework for the Second Tier; which forms a second elite street level suspended sixty floors up.

‘Fuck. They’ve got an alert on my account.’ Dean muttered to himself. His lips were tight and slick with sweat.

Dean was surfing the SocNet on the inside of his sunglasses. He monitored the Cyber Narcotic and Crime Agency’s SocNet page and checked for posts tagged with tracking alert. Dean would have to avoid the camera drones and ID scanners. He kept an eye on the enclosed space overhead.

The CNCA would try to trace the echoes of his Neural Computer implant which anchored him to the city’s network.

All his life Dean had been biologically connected to the city. His Neural Computer and SocNet account were directly linked to his DNA.

That was life in Neokyo. Even the unqualified, like Dean, were networked in.

He was recently hired for a transport job. It should have been simple cash, just drop off the chip. His friend Lester had found a contact in one of the maintenance crews. Some low-end technician was looking for a supplier of narcotic software. And he’d requested Lester’s skills for a special design. The chip Dean was carrying contained a test, a proof of concept.

But the contact had compromised the meeting.

I-District, 18:00. Guy caused a lot of chatter.

The message popped up as private chat, its origin was scrambled. It had to be Lester. He always bounced messages through multiple channels. They only provided limited windows, but Dean typed fast.

ya I g2g ax town ttyl

To lose the CNCA he’d have to get away from other users whose accounts could be pinged to force locate his position. Or those do-good users who’d report him.

He ducked into a building on the northern edge of the industrial district. Its concrete showed signs of mould behind peeling posters and worn graffiti. A woman in the doorway followed him with yellowed eyes behind straw-like hair. Thrusting her hands toward his shoulders she let forth a stream of garbled words.

‘… networked … slaves to … chips … rotten … artificial immorality …’

Dean pushed past her and headed for the basement. His SocNet had updated his location and mood twenty minutes ago. He hoped he made it far enough away from the Industrial Terminal by now.

He squeezed past the buildings server racks, generators, batteries, and rusted plumbing to descend further. His hands turning greasy brown as he travelled through the buildings decomposing innards.

Dean took a breath. Under ten floors of concrete and reinforced steel, he would temporarily disappear off the network.

Slumped in the corner he took out the narcotic chip. He needed to wipe it. Plugging it into the port behind his right ear the program overran his NC and forced it to send signals to his amygdala. It produced a chemical concoction that stimulated emotion.

The faint smell of melted silicon filled the air.

#

Tuesday 11 September 2074 : 13:00 : Medical District : Anxious

Neokyo was the first fully automated city. All of the infrastructure and services are operated by Limited Artificial Intelligence and robotic systems. The only human labourers are those who tend to the most basic robots, the ones without self-servicing subroutines. These manual labourers—along with all the other unqualified people living in Neokyo—occupy the slum districts of the First Tier.

Dean stepped out of the Podcar and headed for the Willow Mental Health facility. The medical district on the Second Tier was bathed in sunlight. Its green parks were tightly packed between the transport tracks and glass buildings. Dean looked up at the pearl blue sky as drones carved through the thin cloud cover.

The WMH facility is a large structure built to merge with the surrounding gardens. Its green façade constituted of plants embracing white steel. The interior is wrapped in silver and plate glass. A water feature dominates the entranceway, its three jets of water arcing onto small rocks. At the front desk Dean’s NC was scanned and his ID was checked. He had no relatives here, but his name was on file so the secretary checked his previous visits.

‘Mrs Reid is in room 102c today.’

‘Why was she moved?’ Dean asked.

‘She had a bad day yesterday and needed to be sedated. Room 102c is just down the hall on the left, closest to the head nurse’s office.’

The secretary’s eyes only briefly left her desks projection screen. She was focused on monitoring the WMH facility’s SocNet page.

#

Outside the willow trees drooped, as if they were melting under their own weight. Mrs Reid sat upright in bed. Staring out of the window with her reflection in the glass staring back. The raised cracks of her skin were pale in front of a pattern of blue veins. As Dean entered she turned slowly and her eyes seemed to pull her head around.

‘Hello … Alastair?’

Dean sat down in the chair by her bed. ‘No, I’m Dean. Remember me?’

After a moment she spoke, ‘You used to play with soccer with Alastair? You looked so cute in your little uniforms.’ Her words came out slowly and some slurred into others.

‘Yeah that’s right. I lived with you and Alastair when I was at school. How have you been?’

Dean had dropped out of school three years ago.

Her silence saddened Dean, she seemed so broken.

He cleared his throat, ‘Um, Mrs Reid, when I came to see you last you mentioned enjoying art class. I’d love to see some of your paintings.’

He had been hopeful when she’d mentioned painting. He thought maybe it meant she was coming back, she’d been an art teacher before being admitted to WMH.

Mrs Reid’s head dropped forward, revealing the large half-square scar across the right side of her skull. She sat staring at her hands in her lap. Tracing the lines of her knuckles.

Some of the earliest NCs couldn’t graft to brain tissue properly and would cause extensive synaptic decay. They had to be surgically removed, along with the surrounding tissue. Most people never recovered.

#

On his way back home Dean stopped off at the Neokyo Digital Memorial, a wall of urns inside an enormous dome. Calling up the SocNet page on his father he skimmed through the familiar bio.

Mr Richard Cloud : Born 28 July 2015 : Died 09 July 2065

Mr Cloud was one of the last labourers performing construction on the skeletal structure of Neokyo. His work was integral to the prosperity of our city. Neokyo owes him a great debt. He leaves behind his only son, Dean Cloud.

Dean always felt bitter resentment swell within his chest as he read that. He stared up at the displayed urns, unsure of which one was his father’s. They all stood anonymously and unidentified, unlike all the users on the SocNet who weren’t anonymous but were just as indistinguishable.

‘This city owes him a fucking debt alright,’ Dean spat under his breath

His father had been crushed by a malfunctioning construction robot when Dean was 12. Since then Dean had lived with Alastair and Mrs Reid, until Alastair had died and Mrs Reid had been admitted to WMH.

Dean and Alastair had expended their youths skipping school and watching the world move. They ran through the tunnels, watched the drones dance in the sky, and stole into the construction zones. And on hot summer nights they’d leave the city walls and get lost among the migrating sand dunes.

#

Wednesday 12 September 2074 : 20:00 : Network Error

Flakes of concrete were wedged under his nails. He ripped at the walls and clawed at his arms. A hint of melted silicone still lingered in the air.

Dean paced. Stalking through the dank, dungeon-like basement. His clothes were caked in filth from the untended core of the building.

The right side of his head flooded with warmth, and his ears rang with a sharp screeching. Memories swelled within his skull, dredging up rage along with them.

He was red. Spittle hung from his lips.

The arms of his sunglasses exerted immense pressure behind his ears. He threw them on the floor. The black nano polymer shattered, and the OLED lenses splayed across the concrete.

His past clamoured for attention: thoughts of his mother’s absence, voices from school calling him ‘a gutter rat’; Alastair’s death, and how drugs had consumed him, eating away his flesh; his failure to fulfil his father’s expectations, how he’d thrown everything away; and at the surface was his self-loathing. He was just a runner in the street, a fool playing in the headlights, and his destiny was entombed in bowels of the city.

The narcotic software surged within him. It devoured his serotonin hungrily. Dean stormed through the slum building—in his delusion he rose and fell, he faltered and was struck by wave after wave of his own anger.

From the shadows she thrust her face toward him and barked with whining cries. Her ragged figure offended him. Dean railed against the dirty skin of this new body stepping into his way, his bloodied fists rose and fell, throwing his weight around wildly she submitted to him, limply careening into the floor, Dean’s mind raced, he felt as though his skull had burst open, and yet the pressure in his neck and shoulders remained, his fists were numb and caked in thick blood, his chest heaved and he thought of his own body melting away and splattering on the walls around him, his arms tore through the air and rebounded off of flesh and concrete. The sound of wet slapping reverberated through the suffocating space, Dean’s nostrils flooded with the acrid smell of copper, and his vision drowned in darkness.

#

Thursday 13 September 2074 : 08:00 : North-western Wall District : Upset

Stepping out into the humid morning air Dean squinted in the light. He hadn’t showered for days and his clothes hung off him like rags. Flecks of blood peeked out from behind the old cloak he had found, trampled in the mud outside the Industrial District.

The chunky Smartband he had taken from the woman in the slum was heavy on his wrist. He had keyed it into his NC and its flickering touch display was projected on his forearm. Dean paused and held back tears as he read the PM from Lester.

Hey D what’s happened

Lest I fukd up

Dean typed as he moved across the street and into a wall-side construction site. He’d been hopping between the half empty derelicts in the north-western edge of the First Tier for the last two hours, trying to stay off the network as much as possible to avoid detection.

He’d be able to access the cities outer service tunnel system through the bottom of the construction site.

In a new tab Dean checked the CNCA SocNet page, the tracking alert was still up. And a body had been found in the Industrial District.

At the sides of the SocNet page were adverts for specialist medical care and NC refurbishment. He stifled a laugh, the CNCA were tracking him and yet the networks predictive behavioural targeting was still tailoring advertisements for him.

D what happened?

the chip fryd me idk wat hpned

Shit, you need to get off the network

Dripping with sweat Dean went back underground. He careened down the concrete stairs into the darkness. As his network connection flickered a final message came through from Lester.

I’ll get the Doc to set up

A swarm of drones came around the corner, obscuring the underside of the Second Tier. Surveillance and scanning drones, flies monitoring the users on the network. CNCA response vans screeched to a halt outside the slum house.

Twelve men in tactical nanofiber gear, with OLED backed bullet proof vests stormed into the tunnels after Dean.

Dean had a lot of ground to cover. He had to skirt around the city, deep underneath Neokyo’s outer wall. Snaking around corner after corner, his heart beat drowned out all but his rapid breathing. He’d escaped the footfalls of the CNCA men—and the whir of drones bouncing through the tunnels—after dropping through a sewer grate.

Crawling through the filth he headed for Lester’s place.

#

Friday 28 September 2074 : 11:00 : User not found

Dean sat unmoving, curled into his knees. Harsh halogen light made his skin pale blue. A large bandage looped around his head and under his jaw. Drool slipped off his lips and soaked into soiled bedclothes.


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