Image, Kowloon. I stayed in this mansion for four days, sleeping on two vinyl chairs in a room the size of a cupboard.
This is my new Dystopian novel, set on the American continent, near the Mojave Desert. But for the untamable spaces, the continent, from Canada down through the South American countries, is a sprawl of cities. Most of them are barely functioning. Think feudalism and the remains of high-tech, and you get the socio-political picture.
Januta held the arrow tip steady, just above the water’s surface, watching, waiting for the micro-second of release. The half hour of motionless attention was all but nothing to her; she had trained her muscles so that they seldom twitched, despite the escalating pain. Her father had sharpened the arrow’s metal point to a razor’s edge, even while laughing at her chances. No arrow, they said, would cut through the armour of these manufactured Warrior fish. Januta was determined to prove them wrong, to slug home with a giant one strapped to a pole. Then they could wrench it open, scale by scale, and finally see what it was made of.
They probably were foul to eat, maybe not even flesh at all underneath those white “Teflon scales,” as her grandfather called them. But she would have one, today. She would prove that they could get their revenge on DevaCity, on the genetic engineers who had released these monsters that consumed everything in the murky waters. These bitches ate through nets effortlessly. Their razor scales sliced through any trap.
If she could just kill one, they’d stop laughing. And then they could hunt them to extinction and maybe, just maybe, bring the carp and the salmon and the trout back.
Januta’s painstakingly trained eyes differentiated tones of white that moved in the current. She saw weeds, tubers, bellies of dead fish. Way down in the murk, a large carp swayed, rooting in rot, but Januta ignored it. Today was about the capture of a Warrior.
At last she saw one, just at the edge of her vision. She knew its predatory drift – a seemingly effortless line, straight, unbending. Warriors sliced straight, upstream or down, flying with incredible speed once locked onto prey, and never missing.
This one came on, from the edge of her sight, closer, closer. She willed her arms not to bounce with her pounding heart. She had to fire before it spied prey and vanished. Her throat constricted. It came on. She was nothing but her fingertips, her eyes and the arrow point. The Warrior fish inched directly under the arrowhead and her entire body disappeared from consciousness. She felt the split-second of opportunity and her fingertips released. The arrow plunged, spraying foam.
Two seconds. She peered through ripples.
She looked downstream and saw her arrow floating. Again, it had hit and deflected. Again!! Januta jumped into the current and slogged angrily downstream. She swore brazenly then stopped dead in the water, ignoring the chill creeping through her leather trousers, and apologized to the river spirit.
“Forgive my mind pollution,” she said earnestly. “I was angry. You know why.”
Back on the bank, she slipped her arrow into its hard sheath and retrieved a wooden barbed fishing-arrow.
“Please bring me a carp then,” she asked resignedly. At least she could feed herself and her father tonight.
No, she would feed all of them. She looked to the sun, low in the sky. Dusk would come soon, but she would kill a few big carp before it was too dark to see, then bring them to the communal fire. Their smiles would be her reward this night. “Good ol’ Januta has fed us again,” their minds would say as they slurped the tenderly baked fish.
They would realize, at least, that she excelled at what she loved best. Warrior fish or no, thirteen or no, she was a primo hunter. Even Carson, one day, would acknowledge that. She pictured the rifleman’s long stride, his malamute-blue eyes and long black hair, then purposefully refocused on the water. She spied a fat carp and pulled the waxed twine taut.
DevaCity 1 – Everyday.
The day they cloned and revived Jerry Springer, Peter was sitting on the decrepit couch in his neighbour’s apartment. He groaned at Springer’s face on the wall screen, took his jacket from the couch, and walked to the corner PharmaFair where he signed himself back onto anti-depressants.
The clerk tried to sell him Neuphoria for, as she’d said, “Everything – panic attacks, palpitations, anxiety…”
“Is there a difference between a panic attack and palpitations?” Peter asked.
“Oh mose def.,” she burbled. “The studies show ever so. Too fine for us to ken but, you know…” Her fingers deftly called up a score of extra selling points for Neuphoria in image and vid on the cashier interface. Neuphoria was the panacea for an infinite list: sexual dysfunction, aversion to pedophiles, racist thoughts, chronic rage, genetic frustration, foggy thinking, or “kenning” as she called it.
He left PharmaFair totally disgusted with her sect, the Nu-Gospel Kenners, and wishing he had known of her existence ahead of time. He could have borrowed his neighbour’s Taser.
Another summer hailstorm darkened the sky and slashed needlepoints into his face and hands, then blew away, leaving hailstones melting in his hair. At least the comfort of his enclosed cell, with its single bed, toilet, sink, and ancient microwave awaited him.
Street-fear would probably stay with him for life. Four months of skid row, over a decade back, had stripped his spirit naked, eaten into his mind. Now his soul prayed for continued shelter.
When he was locked in, safe and hidden, he sometimes wrote, between long bouts of drugged, abnormal sleep. He would re-read the last paragraph he had written, then take some pills and sleep. Eating was overrated. Maybe tomorrow he would eat.
Home. He stepped around the shopping cart that some persevering vandal had rammed through the wired-glass lobby doors since he had been gone. His feet crunched across broken glass to the elevators, where he pushed at the shit-smeared elevator button with a piece of broken floor tile. He counted to ten, surrounded by silence, then climbed the garbage-strewn stairs. Home was on the fifth floor. The fifth floor of purgatory. Hell was the streets; purgatory had a locked door and a working computer.
If it also contained his cat, Lucy, he would have his small piece of heaven. But the Residence Officer had caught him smuggling her in, and reported him to the Life and Wellness bureaucrats, and that had been the end of it. Live in his cell, cat-less, or keep her and return to the streets.
Homeless, they would have died. He didn’t have it in him any more. So he had convinced himself of the Life and Wellness lie that they would adopt Lucy out, and had taken the cell. The shame just kept piling up in him like dust… He wrote, now, to atone for the shame of letting her go.
Home. Peter stood in the hallway’s funk of stale tobacco and pot. The door swung open to his touch, the lock and frame smashed. His gut plummeted and his heart hammered in his throat. ‘Thank god no Lucy,’ his mind bleated desperately. ‘At least they couldn’t have hurt her.’ He turned about on the patch of linoleum that was his living space. ‘No Lucy, no Lucy, thank God.’ But that blessing withered as the reality broke through and stared at him, hard, through the computer screen. He froze, blood draining from his arms, his head, his chest. He felt blinded. He collapsed on the desk chair.
Writing. The work of a worn out Sysiphus. He knew that some day, he would reach the end, a spark-less body, like a man dying in a desert, dehydrated and hallucinating. Some day, the last word would fall from his mind and stare absurdly back at him from the screen, and he would shut down around it, a fruit shriveling back into dead seed. But not like this. His eyes stared into the empty, vibrating screen, uncomprehending. Why had they done this?
Tears welled up and trickled as he stared into nothing. He gripped his head in his large hands and squeezed his skull, and a thin whine escaped him. They had wiped everything from his computer. Everything. Not a single icon had been left behind.
All the work he had ever done, erased. Every photograph, his parents, his nature scenes, animals, every single picture of Lucy… His library.
Every word he had ever written. Every measly story and article published. Every. Single. Thing.
The worst of it was, he knew he had brought this on himself. Nobody trusted the Ether; it collected everything, knew everything in time. His gut had told him, just as he was tapping the keys, “Don’t do a search. Just live with it. Tell nothing.” But he had gone ahead, searched for case histories, diagnoses, ways to manage whatever it was. He had been pleased to find something that seemed to match. Health and Wellness, and all the pharma Avatars he had talked with, had said much the same… PDD, Psychic Delusion Disorder. They said his “friend” had all the symptoms: benign presences that spoke with you, especially in those split-seconds before sleep; dreams in unknown tongues; massive, symphonic delusions of sublime, or terrifying music; future visions, clairvoyance, especially with numbers and seemingly irrelevant, casual conversations of others…” The list was exhaustive, and he had experienced ninety-percent of them.
One PhD. theorist, a white-bearded ancient of at least sixty years old, was on vid saying that it was a phenomenon of the Ether Age, with everyone, (he used the antique phrase), “plugged in” and matrixed on so many levels. He blamed it on “Subliminal Data Overkill,” and advised the government and everyone in general that constant “floating the Ethernet” caused psychic overload, hence, delusional symptoms. Peter had thought it yet another conspiracy theory designed to keep everyone terrified of floating, of information itself. Another way to make people even dumber than they were. And he had kept on floating, a PDD transgressing protocols at every opportunity, and even sending his etheric double into Deep Fathom Ether once in a while.
So they knew. When the Ether knew, the bureaucracy of the entire continent got the message, literally. He had been flagged, then. As he had feared, they had then begun constant surveillance.
He had taken some precautions. He’d stored his writing – books and essays and studies of himself, his mind – for publishers who no longer existed and readers who had vanished – on three pirate Net clouds, and on off-board storage. He had been careful, had replicated everything but the junk – and they had taken even that. Deva, the police, some cruel bureaucrat, had rubbed out every word. They had been viciously thorough, left his room ransacked, found the flash drive he taped under the lid of the toilet tank, the other he hid between the floor joists under the kitchen tile. Finally, as a sign of utter contempt, they had brought in a shredder and shredded every single sheet of paper, every magazine, every secret journal in his shoddy home.
They didn’t kill most PDDs, perhaps because they were usually so young. They sent them off to what Health and Wellness called Advancing Schools – a euphemism, as everyone knew, for prison-asylums. Those kids never saw home, the streets, their friends, ever again.
But they had finally killed him.
For no reason. He had harmed no-one. Wouldn’t harm anyone. His only form of rebellion was being a grouch – and – now it was evident – thinking and writing.
That was it. They had killed him because he pushed his mind, and because they could.
All they had left him was his identity: a rice pellet under the skin of his forearm.
© A.H. Richards, 2014. All rights reserved.