Dreambox Junkies, p.1Richard Laymon
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by Richard Raymond
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The Fiction Works - Science Fiction
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The Fiction Works
Copyright (C)2002 by Richard Raymond
First published by The Fiction Works, March 2004
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She'd gone right back to the McClinic and rescued her brain; you could do that free of charge under the statutory seven-day clause. At last her head felt hers again. No one could say she hadn't given it a chance. Some people couldn't handle Mindseye implants—that was the all-too-human fact of the matter, and she, Processia Roffey, just happened to be one of those unfortunates. It freaked her out, she couldn't cope, so back out the thing had come after barely a day. It would take a lot, a frucking lot, of getting used to at the best of times, having yourself chipped for incoming thoughtmail. And she'd complained about the shitfilters not doing their job, letting ads parade across her psyche all afternoon. One jingle in particular, the very height of whitebread powersoul retrokitsch, had taken up permanent residence, its smirky lyrics etched upon the inside of her skull. Even now, driving home up the Edgware Road and through Maida Vale, it continued to plague her:
SmarTampax for the twenty-first century gir-hirl...
Sma-har-Ta-a-a-a-am-pax for inside infor-ma-tion...
Of course, Mindseye was merely the first stage. Electrotelepathy was as yet in its infancy; you could only receive, like with early TV. The much-vaunted ThoughtNet remained a dream of tomorrow, along with cities on Mars, inoculations against envy, and men you could actually live with.
Her head ached like fruck. And little wonder, with a hole in it. Pain-free Mindseye removal? The analgesics were crap. Her brain, her eyes and her jaw, her back teeth, even—THROB THROB frucking THROB. She couldn't bear to wear her smartspecs, and to have to keep peering at the poky screen of her mobe was to court ocular peril. Serves me right, Sesha thought ruefully. Early adoption's a mug's game. They rush out all this fadgetry and use us as cost-cutting guinea pigs.
Needless to say, this would put her at a grave disadvantage, marketwise, in the event of her moving on from the Institute. If you couldn't wear a Mindseye—your ticket to the brave, brained-up world of the future—bosses, most bosses, soon wouldn't want to know. To quote that famous Bertrand Laurel soundbite: ‘Commerce is combat.'
Not that Sesha would have been contemplating a move, ordinarily. She was happy working for Frances, quite content with the sweet deal all PsyTri employees enjoyed. And they weren't about to dismiss her on incap grounds, claiming a Mindseye as sine qua non. Frances wasn't a bloodshark. Frances Rayle valued people.
But Sesha had nevertheless felt the need for one or two career precautions. For the sake of her resume she had gone along the previous evening to the new McClinic in Bayswater, taking advantage of their special introductory limited-period low-cost implantation offer, having first okayed it with her stars.
Well, so much for frucking astrology.
It had started out as an unpleasant rumour, that Frances had been undergoing anti-age telotherapy and had begun to show signs of that dreadful, dreadful side-effect, Angel Syndrome. And now today Ajit, the London chief, had confirmed it: Frances was being treated for AS at her hideaway in Spain. It was incredible bad luck; AS was so rare. And no one, so far, had recovered from it. How could you not worry?
And yet, perversely, from time to time Sesha still found herself wondering whether in, say, a decade or so, once the ageing process really went to town on her—and telotherapy was no longer so prohibitively expensive—she would herself turn to telothine to try and stablilize her cells’ reparative powers. Probably. Even at the risk of AS? Probably, yes.
Rain coursed across the windscreen, great dirty inky clouds denying the city its sunset, as they had for most of this dull, wet February. The traffic, as ever, was horrendous. Sesha couldn't imagine what it must have been like before Backseat, although half the drivers out there, if surveys were to be believed, got their kicks from leaving it switched off and relying on their own reflexes. At least there were no more meetings to attend for the rest of the week. Renowned for her quirkiness, Frances insisted on a maximum of physprox and as little telepresence as possible, set great store by face-to-faceness. Which was wise, in all probability, but on a day as damp as this, simply disastrous for someone with Sesha's PsyTri profile. For the weather had, yet again, gone and put paid to her Psychotrichological Congruence. Her hair had fallen out of phase with its Quasiplatonic Ideal: that single, ultimate hairstyle maxoptimizing one's attractiveness, self-esteem and all-round wellbeing. Sesha's own QI had been defined as a glossy black helmet-like bob as worn by Louise Brooks, that old-time actress currently enjoying a giddy synthespic afterlife. Sesha's hair being by nature wavy, the requisite sleekness was a challenge to achieve, and rain—excessive humidity, even—was an absolute killer.
Fruck it anyway, Sesha thought, feeling victimized, horribly victimized, being cursed with wavy hair when you were a psychotrichological straightie. Who was that in the mirror? Medusa? She didn't know what she would have done without her mobe. If it found her in this state upon receipt of a vidcall its PhonePhace function would automatically smarten-up her screen image. Mobes were the only friends some people had. Sesha wouldn't place herself in that sad category, quite, but she'd been pretty cut up when her last mobe had haywired.
She had a bedboy coming round at nine but the mood wasn't there, what with the head, eye, and jaw ache, and now acute hair depression to boot. She would reschedule the session, take a good long shower instead, fruck the water meter, take two McSnooze and say good riddance to a bitch of a day. And then, tomorrow, she'd arrange a reconsultation. For it was possible that she had been misdefined. It wasn't unknown—there had been rare cases: the odd erroneously prescribed fringe, cinnabar tints that had proven unquasiplatonic, one or two ill-advised headshaves. The Institute of Psychotrichology had never claimed infallibility; Frances was far too humble to allow that.
The Kilburn High Road, as usual, confined her progress to tiny mad sprints with snail's-pace interludes. And to make matters worse, they'd got rid of that ad for Dial-a-Dong, the bedboy agency. She would miss the familiar vidclip of that guy, Italianate and doubledropdead gorg, boogieing away with a big stiffie bulging out through his lime Lycra kilt. Instead, almost every single roadscreen now proclaimed
DREAMBOX—THE ONLY LIMITATION
IS YOUR OWN IMAGINATION
It was everywhere, now, that slick, mantraic slogan. Mags, NeTV, e-shots puppeting your mobe, hardmail on your doormat. On buses, advertaxis, on the Cricklewood railway bridge wall when you slowed at the traffic lights. Rapped out on the radio. You could even win a Dreambox—or, if you preferred, a genuine original 1975 Texas Instruments vintage pocket calculator—by sending in a snapshot to the Roody Noody Breakfast Competiton, so the tinny tones of her muesli box would remind her every time she filled her bowl.
That would, no doubt, be the next big move after Mindseyes: they'd be expecting you to box up and put in extra hours under chronocompression. Already it was being tried by hardcore workos, cutting-edgers shooting through a whole week of brain toil in one single twelve-hour box binge. But it tended to backfire on the employers, so Sesha had heard. Dreambox use was so addictive that even the most zealous careerists were dropping out like twentieth-century hippies, lost in their personal boxworlds. Sesha wasn't too clued up on Dreamboxes, the finer details of how they worked, although the onslaught of ads had left her vaguely aware that the box used the immense amount of inf available on the Net, plus the brain's own, no less considerable resources, to construct and store a facsim of the real world, a total artificial environment which, when subjected to the Berkeley Effect—whatever the fruck that might be—became a playground for the box user's psyche. Apparently, the human mind found this freedom quite frightening, and fought tooth and nail to keep control, sticking all kinds of barriers in the way of facile wish-fulfilment. Weird. Sesha wondered if she would turn out to be allergic to Dreamboxes also. Well if so, then so be it, fruck it. Too much, it was, even with all her FuShok training. A desert island, she thought desperately. A mud hut. A warm sun. A grass skirt.
“Soon be home,” sang her car, its dodgy seat sensors for once reading Sesha's stress level with accuracy.
“Soon be home,” echoed her mobe.
“Soon,” Sesha agreed.
“Sesha?” Her mobe—a cool little sixth-gen Hitachi in the style of a 1950s shocking-pink powder compact—knew all about tone of voice, how best to go about troubling her for decisions. Its vocal pattern was that of rock god Janko Brauch, her all-time crush; although the mobe concerned itself with banalities any self-obsessed superstar like Janko would never have given a flying fruck about."Sesha, your WARMGLOW debit expires this month ... you wish to continue?"
“Yes please,” she said.
Every month Sesha donated a fraction of her salary to WARMGLOW, that convenient, conscience-salving blanket answer to all your charitable impulses. WARMGLOW took the hassle out of doing good. No need to notice street beggars; you'd already done your bit by giving to WARMGLOW. You were told where your money went, although Sesha never got round to perusing the bi-monthly newsbursts. It was the same story with the weekly bulletins from her bookjuicer, tirelessly combing text libraries, extracting kernels of wisdom, key insights. When had she last found the mindtime for an update? But then, didn't that go for everyone?
“Oh, and Sesh ... shall I renew your McCops contract?"
She had taken out the extra protection a year ago, after her mobe had alerted her to a local newsbite: her next-door neighbour had been attacked in the underground car park, and said she probably owed her life to their building's McCop. Sesha knew the ‘neighbour’ scam to be a common advertactic, but better a safe stupe than a sorry cynic. So she'd gone out and bought a Heartmonitor Alarm Bra (in Funky Fuchsia) and one of those Pepperspray bodyguard bracelets. But she'd decided against image-grabbing contact lenses, being more concerned with preventing rape than recording it.
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Sitting shoeless and dry-haired and Congruent at last again in the kitchen of her micrapartment in newly fashionable Cricklewood, chilling out with a Janko Brauch album, refuelling with some transorganic pasta and transorganic pesto and trying to remember who had christened this the Age of Solitary Pleasures, Sesha listened to a report from one of her subselves; she kept a dozen out there trawling the Net for loveleads. Four more hits. Two in the States, one in Germany, one right down in New Zealand, all in search of the perfect partner. A banker, a geologist, an epigeneticist and a ThaIrish Fusion restaurateur.
The geologist, from Maine, was an eighty-three percenter, the most promising compat coefficient in weeks, and Sesha immediately asked for a pic.
Cute, somewhat cute. But too thick-necked for her taste; she didn't even bother to check his Korsch-Wrightson mental stability score. To her lovelead criteria pool she appended Neck Girth. As with so many other criterial elements, she cited Janko Brauch as her template. Janko's neck had been gorg. How old, she wondered, would Janko Brauch have been now, had he lived? Mid-forties? Still a rock god, a viable shigshag?
Sesha winced at her crassness. Poor Janko. The manner of his death had never failed to bring a shudder. Murdered at a gig by a fan of fifteen, a warped little girl with a bowie knife.
A couple of months ago she'd seen a synthesp Janko ‘acting’ in a Wuthering Heights remake. It may have looked just like Janko, with the voice and all the cool moves present and correct, but a computer-assisted guess as to the performance Janko might have given was no real reincarnation of Janko Brauch. They were enormously talented, these Hollywood pixelpuppeteers, but you could always tell a synthesp from a real, live, breathing actor. Always. If you couldn't, you were a stupe. And in any case, the whole idea was gross. She wouldn't normally be caught watching synthpics. She had only looked at that one out of morbid curiosity.
Sipping transorganic red grape juice, Sesha had a quick glance through her idiopape. The big stark headline sent a shiver through her.
'SICK NICK STRIKES AGAIN'
This time Sick Nick had infiltrated the latest in the interminable series of Simon Bermuda spy flicks and, after raping and maiming the suave secret agent, had spent the remainder of the film subjecting the female lead to a particularly unspeakable variety of sexual torture which, mercifully—annoyingly—the ‘pape didn't detail. (Sesha could have got more inf, but she disowned that dark little part of herself.)
As always, when hearing or reading about Sick Nick, Sesha felt nauseated and repelled. And yet, every time she saw a film she found herself half-dreading but half-hoping for Sick Nick to outwit the shitfilters and gatecrash the story and get to work, carving up the characters. (With the exception of anything starring Janko Brauch. She couldn't bear the thought of Sick Nick attacking poor Janko, even his inadequate synthesp.)
Naturally, Hollywood was in two minds about the Sick Nick problem. On the one hand, directors were up in arms about having their work intruded upon, vandalized by this malicious cyberspook, and, as secure quantencryption was still some way off, had begun to insist on a return to the pre-digital age, to shooting films on celluloid and sending them out in cans, and fruck economics. On the other hand, though, boxoffice takings were no longer in so steep a decline. And it was the same with NeTV: viewing figures had held steady now for months. Inevitably, it was widely suspected that the whole thing was a desperate corporate ploy to woo back punters from their Dreamboxes. Not just Sick Nick, but also all those other schoolboy-prank pirate programs, like the roving erotoroutines that hypersexualized every image in their path.
Sesha instructed her mobe to delete Sick Nick from her newstopic pool. Grow up, girl. Okay, so Sick Nick's villainies were only ever virtual, illusory; what the cyberspook perpetrated wasn't real violence, but his acts were still emblematic of actual incidents, of genuine crimes committed every day by some sicko or other somewhere out there in the world. All those awful true-life horrors her mobe filtered out when compiling her ‘pape. She had no appetite for anything too harrowing; why be harrowed? Who wanted to be told and told again that you were living on the thin skin of a big balloon that was being blown up and blown up and stretched beyond its limits, and sooner or later it just had t
She'd deleted Sick Nick three times already. Doubtless she would weaken and reinstate him again in due course. She always ended up missing the frissons. Pathetic.
She asked for Lifestyle. The smartpape obliged, words dissolving into more words. The reading wasn't helping her eye ache, so she opted for audio. To her delight Sesha heard that raw silk was now officially rehabilitated following a period in the aesthetic wilderness. “So, it's bye-bye to bombazine, girls.” She had always loved the look and the feel of raw silk, and she welcomed it back to her wardrobe's front line. She also made note of another couple of tips for next season: royal blue nylon housecoats and, for the evening, unshaven left armpits.
Declining the chance to win a dream kitchen that would be the envy of all her acquaintances, Sesha checked out Celebs & Goss. She was listening to a frank interview with Cheryl Spleke, the EBC topless newsjockey, on shopping, sex, breasts, and her bulimic son Sholto, when a hi-pri call interrupted. Sesha opened her eyes to find the sleekly-bearded face of Ajit on the screen.
Ajit had big news. Frances wanted to see her ex-husband. Paul Rayle was living with his new partner and child in, of all places, Hilford Abbots in Cambridgeshire, only a hundred kilometres up the motorway. Hilford Abbots was a craft village, one of those painstakingly quaint touristic backwater enclaves full of dropouts, burnouts, people who couldn't stand the pace. The Luddite element.
Or, Sesha thought, those few among us who have seen sense?
It was common knowledge at the Institute, how Frances had married her domestic, a directionless philosophy graduate twenty years her junior. They had been divorced for some time, after what were, by all accounts, several happy years of union. The reasons for their split were none too clear. In the past, such rifts had often occurred over the issue of children. But these days, with all the nataltech options available, Frances's lack of progeny would seem to be a choice thing.
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