In dreams, p.1
A Waylines Media Book
Copyright © 2014 Darryl Knickrehm
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Published by: Waylines Media
Cover Art by: Darryl Knickrehm
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PART THREE OF THE CHRONICLES OF
THE CITIZENS OF OBLIVION
Citizen 1 – A Two Bit Reality
Citizen 2 – Missing the Mark
Citizen 3 – Subliminal Encryption
Citizen 4 – A Man Obsolete
2081. Heaven on Earth was actually made - New Babel City.
2228. Paradise fell. The Easter Square Incident shook "the pinnacle of the new world." Right in the heart of the city, shown to every citizen via flatvision, upload and dreamcast – a crowd was slaughtered on the steps of New Babel's largest corporation. 2,606 dead in less than 20 minutes. Heaven was never the same again.
Like millions of other citizens, I had many unanswered questions. Who did this? Why did these people die? How could this even happen? Wasn't this Paradise? But no one had any answers. The media simply condemned the incident, calling it a desperate act of a few deeply disturbed individuals. But I thought 2,606 dead bodies could not be the result of a "few" in desperation.
So I have spent the last year of my life tracking the answers. And this is what I've found – the stories of those involved.
These are the tales of those who have seen the underside of Heaven, of those who prelude its great awakening. Abandon all hope, ye that enter here. For many have traveled within only to discover that they too are a citizen of the outcast, a citizen of a false utopia, a citizen of oblivion.
You're not going to believe any of this. It's all bullshit. I still don't buy it myself. But hey, I'm in here. That's got to mean something.
So where do you want me to begin? Two weeks ago? When I was put in bracelets? I know. The last day at that goddamn, soul-sucking job. That's really when it all came together, or rather, fell apart.
"What did I do?" I said, sitting up in the twists of sheet. "What the hell did I do!"
Parts of last night were coming back to me. That burnt out dive, the copious amounts of nitrous, my crew cheering me on -- a no-holds-bared celebration for my last day at MPAC. The last day I was now late for.
My eyes darted to the clock. Thirty minutes late for! They were going to dock me. They were going to--
They were going to make me stay on that goddamn job another day!
"What the hell did I do?"
I dashed out the door, faster than a sprinter on laxatives.
The noxious medley of speeding levitators, a hundred pedestrians, and who knows how many buzzing projections hit my ears like an amplified explosion. It was like the city had dialed its volume up to 11. And as I tried to tune it out, as I tore through the morning masses as fast as my spindly legs could muster, the moments of last night began to coalesce in bits and pieces. The glinting tank of nitrous. The sassy little hostess. Jack vomiting all over both. Every image of the evening was one big regurgitated nightmare. Christ! How much of that shit did I suck down?
Careening around the dour customers of an ASP booth, I came upon the colossal MPAC compound. At the top of the kilometer-long block of rusted steel, in humming fluorescence, a two-story sign glowed: The Mechanized Psychiatric Analysis Center.
Then the worst of the night hit me.
A chewed up memory of that sparky hostess. In her hands, she clutched a datapad. The bill. On it was an amount that was... that couldn't have been right. 65,000 credits? That's a years pay! There's no way we could have inhaled more than 500's worth. What the hell had she dosed us with? Before she could push the datapad on me though, Jack bolted. Before I took off too, Jill tumbled out the window.
Blinking back to reality, I found myself in a throng of pedestrians swarming at the gaping entrance to MPAC.
"What the hell did I do?"
The rest of the memory is of us stumbling down fifteen flights of stairs. Of big, cleaved thugs yelling. Of that little hostess, screaming about calling the Enforcers.
My neck tensed. My pulse rocketed.
If MPAC ever got wind of that...
I nearly dropped to the pavement.
I was going to have to stay at that job for much longer than another day.
Cramps spasmed up my neck. Heartbeats crescendoed. Then in a tendon twanging twitch, my head jerked to the side.
I couldn't take any more of this job. It was doing shit like this to me.
Shutting my eyes, I rolled my shoulders, loosened the tension. Blinking eyes open, I shook my head.
If I kept low, put in an extra hour, did everything to a T, there'd be no problem.
Eyeing the robotic ranks funneling in to the two-story gateway, my neck relaxed, my nerves calmed. These bots, this place was like it was every morning. No one was the wiser. There'd be no problem.
Or so I thought.
Now, I should stop for just a second and tell you a little something so you can understand where I'm coming from with all this. I was a CHIMP. Not literally, you know. That's what we called the Cybernetic Habitual Improvemental Mechanic Personnel.
MPAC told everyone that "CHIMPS are the final stage of the R21-8 Cybernetic Rehabilitation process -- the 'psych' department, so to speak, repairing the coding, personality and psyche of bot's behavioral routines." What a load of crap. What we CHIMPs actually did was: administer the same, mind-numbing test to those sparking bots. And do exactly what MPAC demanded.
Ask the same questions, no deviation!
Get the same answers, or MPAC will reprimand you!
Press finish, and repeat one more time! Everyday. Twenty times a day. No brain necessary, just click here. It was so mind-numbingly simple that, well, even a chimp could do it.
And all of that was what lead me to wanting out. No one was made to last more than a year at a job like that, and I had been at it for decades. So long, in fact, that I couldn't even remember exactly when I had started. I just knew that I had to get out of there before I went madder than those bots that I was treating.
So two weeks before all of this, I handed in my resignation with the dream of escaping all this. Boy was I a brick to think it was going to be that simple.
I slinked into the Tech Lounge and slapped my badge on the clock. Beep.
I was OK. I wasn't that late. Things were fine.
Eyeing the clock, I sighed. Who was I kidding?
I peeked around the rack of glowing schedule datapads. Dim fluorescence buzzed, stacked crates took up most of the lounge, a vinegar-like stench oozed from somewhere, and buckets littered every other inch, catching the drizzle from sagging pipes above. Our cozy little prep lounge looked like it did every day. No one was around. Nothing was different. None of Deputy Director Finigan's pinheaded Code Administrators were lurking to catch an infraction. Maybe things really were OK.
I blew out a long breath of relief.
Then my crew stepped in.
Jill and Jack were the only other organics I ever saw in that corrosive job. They were my only outlet. Day in and day out, we three su
As they lumbered in, already geared up in their teal Tech jumpsuits, both stared intently at a datapad in Jill's hands.
"...and for its third straight week," a stiff reporter recited from the tiny screen, "the number of Pox infected has increased on the lower levels, with the first cases on Sector 6 being reported yesterday.”
“World's going to hell,” Jill murmured.
The reporter continued. “Pest tents have now been established in every district on the level--”
Suddenly, the screen flashed then scrambled into a hiss of code. With a pop, an ASCII skull and cross bones filled the screen, followed by big text flashing: D-Death.
“What the hell?” Jill said. “Damn hackers getting into everything recently.”
Jack reached for the screen and flicked it off.
“The world is going mad,” he said, plopping down on a hill of crates, right next to a brimming pail of water.
“I hate to say it, but sometimes, it feels safer in here,” Jill said.
I couldn't help but laugh at that. Both of them turned.
"Oh, hey, Bob," said Jill. "Surprised you made it in after last night."
I cringed, trying not to remember any more than I had to. "I can't believe we got out of there in one piece."
"It looks like some of us didn't," she said, aiming a thin finger at the collar of my teal Tech jumpsuit.
In the cracked glass of the datapad rack, I spotted in my reflection a large cotton bandage taped to my neck. I couldn't for the life of me remember what had happened.
It was right about then AL rolled out of the shadows.
"I wish I could have come," the large toaster on tracks said, nodding its pancake head at us.
"Sorry, AL," I said, patting it on the head. "We didn't make up the rules about nutbuckets in the Dis Precinct."
Well, actually we did, a complete, absolute lie. But telling AL that would have defeated the purpose. A bot was the last thing I wanted to talk to, so I turned back to Jack.
"After today," Jack said, "you won't have to be sucking down the nitrous with us every night at dumps like that Broken Crown."
"God, I can't wait." A grin slipped out. "It just feels like this job is never going to end."
"Fortunately, Bob, all jobs end," Jill said. "Nothing lasts forever."
AL wheeled up. "To move on to today's schedule, as per usual, you have a full cycle--"
"Dammit, AL. Do you have to always talk about work?" Another thing I couldn't take any more of, were these goddamn nutbuckets.
"That is all there is to talk about," AL said, tilting its head, confused. "To return to your schedule, it appears that you have nineteen plus a private today."
"AL! I don't care!" Grunting, I unlatched a schedule datapad from the rack and took it. "They're all the same."
Jill stood. "I know how you feel, Bob, but these bots are here to get better."
"I really couldn't care less."
Jack stood too. "I guess the reason you're here has kinda gotten lost, eh?" And with a pat on my back, he left the room.
“Don't sweat it Bob." Jill turned to leave, but stopped, glanced back and grew a snide smile. "Just don't mess up any of these sessions or they might not let you leave.”
I feigned a laugh as she left, but I was scared to death that was what they really would do. MPAC punished those who didn't perform their duties properly. Things like arrest, fines, or even worse -- they lengthened a guy's contract once.
Just as I headed for the door, AL squeaked up.
"Did you encounter any Code Administrators today?" it asked.
I froze. "Um, no."
It started to wheel away again. "Understood. For parameters unknown to me, the pinheads are all over the compound today," and it was gone.
Right then, in a swell of heat from head to toes, I got a very bad feeling about that day.
MPAC's penalties were infamous.
Sessions run long? Well, you're staying until you get all twenty done. Even if it runs into your next shift.
Make a slip-up in a session? Saturday is now on your shift. For the next three months.
And don't get me started about wanting to get out of your contract. I was lucky I had gotten this far without outright rejection. Usually, if you asked for a release and you hadn't done every single operation in you entire career 100% right, well, they'd do something to you. They'd dig up some remote clause tucked away in your contract and slap a lawsuit on you for breach, or reduce your wages for illegal behavior, or who knows whatever else they could come up with. Sometimes, they even called the Enforcers.
Fortunately, there was one place safe from all this. There was one place MPAC wouldn't touch us. In a session. Because like with the rest of MPAC's policies, they didn't want to damage that illusion that everything was one hundred percent perfect.
Unfortunately for me, the madness in a session was just as bad for my health as MPAC and its policies.
I slogged into the processing chamber, neck taut and pulse already over a hundred.
Fortunately, just an eyeful of the drab decor was instantly sedating. Everything was white -- the large block panels tiling the walls, the ovoid table, the chair, the circular hanging lamp -- all designed to bring tranquility to the subjects. After fifty years in operation, however, all that white had faded into a stomach-churning, uneven yellow. Thankfully, even in that state, it was exceptionally boring.
Spotlit in pale fluorescence, three bots stood around the table. This session's nutbuckets.
Spotting the closest of the three, I tried my hardest not to roll my eyes. It was a C47.
Still, rigid, its skinny can-head teetered to one side. It appeared to be pondering something as it clanked a curved claw against its conical, grilled stomach. C47's were always in there. The anodes in their neural circuits tended to corrode after a year or two, a flaw in the design. This in turn made their processing degrade. In other words, it made them--
"--stupid?" the bot said, its vocal diaphragm popping.
"I did not say that," said the bulky, flaking bot next to it. That one reached out its bolt-laden arm into a five-finger stop sign, while the other arm, or actually port interface tool, counter-balanced, looking like a severed limb.
That was an MIR108. We didn't see many of them in there. They were an older series, designed for maintenance, mostly on Sector 15. They didn't have much of a personality matrix. Just rudimentary emotional routines and minimal responses which made them come off as pretty cold to most. On my datapad, I could see this MIR108 was sent in by its pit boss. He stated that the bot had become too--
"—aggressive," the C47 cried.
"What are you implying?" the MIR108 said, gears grinding as it leaned toward the C47.
"Enough," I said as I sat down.
The two persisted, however, bickering like an old embittered couple. I doubt they had even noticed I had entered.
As for that third bot, it hadn't moved an inch through all of this. And if anyone outside of MPAC would have strolled into that room, they would have never suspected it was a bot. Pale synthetic skin, crisp blue eyes, the finest linen suit -- it was a Sentient Class. No different than any organic in appearance. No different in its programing too. Able to feel, emote, forget, dream, imagine, hypothesize and do any other thing we organics could do, the only thing that was different, was this guy's guts were metal.
This one was an Irving 5-0, if the datapad was correct. A '25 model. It really shouldn't--
"--be in here," it blurted out in a spastic fit.
The room came to a dead silence. The other two oscillated their heads toward the Irving 5-0.
All I did was raise an eyebrow. I knew who wasn't passing the test that day.
"Wh-why are you looking at me like that?" the Irving said, craning its twiggy neck forward
My eyes dropped to the datapad. "Let's just start the test."
I poked the big red Start button on the pad. Blocky black text then popped up.
"Has your routine changed in the last week?" I read.
The MIR108 firmly stated, "No."
The Irving 5-0 crimped his lips and shook a big, no.
The C47 tilt-tilt-tilted its head. "Yes...wait." Its head flopped to the other side. "Um...no?"
Nodding, I ticked a box on the pad. The next question popped up.
"What was your routine for the last week?”
Tapping its corrugated foot, the MIR108 said, "Following your stupid prescribed regime!"
"I'm not stupid," the C47 then yelled.
"That's not what I said," the MIR108 said, mid-section shifting, head gyrating toward it.
And they began again. Complaining. Arguing. And through it all, the Irving 5-0 started to mumble.
"I'm not going to talk about these things with everyone watching," it said. "I shouldn't even be with these two. They're certainly not of the same caliber."
Sucking in a slow breath, I tried to block out the madness. Covering my ears, I tried to shut out the noise. Doing that, however, made my pounding heart only louder. And with each beat, the chaos only grew.
Thump. The MIR108 shoved the C47 to the cement. Thump. The C47 screamed an awful digital howl. Thump. The Irving scurried to a corner. Thump. I dipped my eyes to my datapad.
"Stop it," I said, my words splintering against the noise.
No one heard. In fact, things only got worse. The Irving started to rock back and forth against the wall. In nervous twitches, he began to chant.
"Merry had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb."
Shit. He was Neuro Looping. It happened when they snapped. Programming regressed, they got fixated on a phrase, caught in a rudimentary vocal loop. Usually a nursery rhyme, the first words used during verbal programming. There was no way this bot was fixed.
In Dreams by Darryl Knickrehm / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on16 votes