Authors: Ren Warom
Print edition ISBN: 9781785650918
E-book edition ISBN: 9781785650925
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: June 2016
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Ren Warom asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
Copyright © 2016 Ren Warom
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
For Jacqui—who drank with the Blue Monkey God and laughed and loved life.
Curled up against the window like a squashed bug, Shock squints down at the tops of rain-swollen clouds, the plunging cliff-side drops of the ’scrapers, and half imagines he might be dying.
The mono speeds up, merging clouds and ’scrapers to silvery grey smears. It looks like the world is melting, an ugly dream swilling like full-body nausea just under his uncertain flesh. He’s never been in Slip as long as that before and never will again. It’s made him unsure of everything, thinned reality out to an untrustworthy husk.
He can’t find his focus, his physicality. Keeps wondering why the fuck he has legs and can’t swim. What this meat sack is with its tight skin and ever-present grind of hunger in the goddamn fuel tank. Can barely think, his brain swilling like half-liquefied tofu in a bone box.
Can’t work out, in fact, what he’s doing in this sardine-crush mono on the way to Plaza of all places. He has a bed calling him, probably musty by now but still warmer than this, dryer at the very least. A baggie with two bumps left hidden under the pillow he’s pretty much been jonesing for.
So what the fuck is this?
The mono slows, approaching lower Plaza. He thinks he’ll stay on for the round trip, back to where he started, but then he gets up, driven by impulses he’s not yet making sense of. Too scared to take the shoot in case it pulverizes what’s left of his brain, he careens down flights of stairs, fingers gripping the rails spasmodically, convinced the ground will disappear, or he will, or both.
Drops off the last into the usual Plaza crowd and allows himself to be carried, bound by a straitjacket of bodies streaming toward the high end. Tries again to riddle out why he’s come here of all places, but only two thoughts wriggle through the tofu mass toward comprehension.
First, the commitment to hunting down and bitch-slapping the little POS in Risi who fed him this giant cosmic shafting. Ten neurone-frying days jacked into Slip writing virads for fuck’s sake. Outrageous. Frankly uncalled for. What was that punk’s name? Reg? Ralph? Rudy?
Second, coming off the back of this road-kill feeling and the lack of those pillow-hidden bumps, is the cell-deep need to find a little chemical relief for his ills. He’s going to hate himself for this in a week’s time, but only because he’ll need more and he won’t have enough flim to eat, let alone calm his head.
Tracking into a line of liver-whore salarymen half-cut on synth-saki, he manoeuvres by degrees over to a grubby little coffee stall with dimly lit back seating known as Ducky’s. Ducky Took runs the joint; a sleazy, skinny little Euro, claims to be Irish but talks like wharf-jocks, all dropped aitches and hard consonants, ready to punch your tongue out. If he’s anything near Irish, Shock’s a fucking Scandawhoov.
“Yo, Duckster,” he croaks out as he swings in, clinging to the cracked plastic of the counter like grim death. “Got any bumps? I’m screwed from ten days in the swim.”
Ducky struts out from in back, pipe-cleaner legs shucked in skin-tight denim, old school, and sweat-soaked wife-beater hugging his bird-bone chest. He’s got swagger all right, but no meat to back it up. He sniffs, wiping snot off on the back of one thin, hairy forearm; it glistens in the lights, snail-trailed next to several the same.
Ducky whistles. “You in the swim? How the mighty ’ave fallen, aye? Fought you was a gonner, I did. Like them other Haunts.”
“What other Haunts?”
“Ones gone AWOL.”
Shock tries to parse what the hell Ducky might be saying. Fails miserably.
“Yeah, got some Haunts gone bye-bye. Signal dead an’ all that.”
“Ducky, Haunts don’t
a fucking signal, that’s why we’re Haunts.”
Shrugging, Ducky picks his nose. Grumbles, “Jus’ what I ’eard, innit. No need to split ’airs.”
“Whatever. Have you got bumps or fucking not?”
“Might ’ave. Yuh got flim?”
“Just got off ten days, Ducks. I have flim.”
Ducky nods. “Then I’ve got me some scrams and a few baggies of skippers. Wot’s yuh poison?”
Shock screws up his face. He doesn’t like the S-series. Whoever synthed that shit got their quantities cracked. S high starts ugly, like drowning in syrup, and thins out to something too close to normal. But the nearest dealer to Ducky’s is about a mile further down the Plaza and Shock won’t make it, can already feel withdrawal seeping into the matter of his cells like rot. He leaves it any longer he’s gonna be scooped out hollow and fold to the floor like an empty suit, carrion for the crows of Plaza to pick clean. In other words, choice is a city hub in high orbit, way beyond his reach.
“Gimmie a dozen scrams.”
Ducky goes out back, returns dangling a baggy in filthy fingers. Handing over a stack of flim, Shock tries not to think about those fingers bagging up his S; it’ll make him hurl whatever poor-excuse-for-food synth he was tube-fed for the last ten days, and keeping things down is a priority of his.
It takes forever to open the baggy, the meat jacket still refusing signals from the tofu brain, but he finally peels the plastic lips apart and shakes out two. Presses them hard into the skin of his neck until they pop, leaving as always a gross taste in the back of the throat.
Totally worth it.
Veins of cold steal in on the back of that foul taste, carrying relief to tired matter, beginning the inexorable slide from dead cells to cellular fireworks. Saluting Ducky he pushes off from the counter and stumbles out onto Plaza, tucking the baggie next to his flim.
As the buzz hits, Plaza lights become stars bleeding to mildew stains on a rotten canvas. The street stretches, sags, melting into heavy folds. Muting sound. Diffusing movement to a glutinous crawl. Shops ooze around him, droning out noise that only a moment ago was the frantic beat of dub-tech, the chitinous whir of machinery, the jabber of voices ramped to eleven.
And he’s swimming again, legs treading water, arms fanned like fins. He grins, some sort of sloppy bastard brother to a smile, and rolls off down to wherever it was he was headed. Should check his IMs, but can’t figure out where his brain is any more at all. Bliss.
The crowd trickles past as he floats through, unable to strike the lunatic smile from his face. It’s stuck on with S—sticky psych glue. He waits it out, jaw aching, like it’s a shuttle on the mono, until the glutinous drag fades from his bones, his brain, and leaves him clearer, a little awake, verging on aware.
The trickle transfers from crowd to cheeks, a physical/perception shift inexplicable without experience of S, and allows his smile to drool away. He lifts hands heavy as orbiting moons and scrubs at his face, anticipating the ticklish needles that follow the numb and trying to rub them away before they set in. It’s useless, but he does it every time.
His IM blips at him, loud as a thunderclap in the skull. Too loud, like his brain’s achieved self-awareness and rebelled by throwing the vol-switch on his drive to max. Halfway through seriously considering this as a possible version of reality he finally clicks to the fact that it’s been doing the same damn thing for about two minutes, gradually getting louder. Something he programmed in to make sure he got calls about work even when he’s so borked on bumps his head might as well be a meat popsicle.
“Oh screw you, past me,” he mutters, accessing his neural drive.
Where the fuck are you, Shocking boy?
Mimic, tart as a pickle. Her voice provokes instant intestinal distress.
He’d forgotten all about Mim. She hit him up the second he broke surface for air, so to speak, with a job offer he could have done with ten days ago, before being forced to resort to trusting Ronnie. Rick? Or was it Rita? He
He’d love to tell Mim no, interacting with her in any way being so much like oil choosing to co-mingle with water it’s ridiculous, but she’s his only remaining decent meal ticket; a fact that makes him want to smash his face into the sidewalk or something.
He cannot believe this is his life. It can’t be.
Six months ago, he was sure it would go differently. He Failed his Psych Eval, smiling the whole time. Walked out of that room without a backward glance, practically waving both middle fingers. Didn’t want the life of a Pass, no thank you, he had a whole different career progression in mind; a way back to Sendai District, his holy fucking grail.
He jumped straight into high-level, mui, mui illegal jobs with payoffs that make the wad in his jacket look a goddamn joke. Had every reason to believe himself a shoe-in for the top echelons of Fail society, the kind of flim that makes Sendai a given. Only it’s all gone horribly pear-shaped. Or rather Mim-shaped.
They used to be a thing. Or at least he thought they were, until she put him into a situation that helped him understand how mistaken he’d been. Thanks to her, his career took a swan dive, and he currently holds the dubious honour of being a walking corpse in the eyes of three of the Gung’s significant players. Only one of those hanging death sentences is directly her fault, but as a beginning of the end goes it was a doozy, setting the scene for all the rest, and he feels entitled to a certain visceral dislike. So why does he still work with her? Simple mathematics. Before Mim, Shock was alone.